Saturday, January 15, 2022

Science updates: A focus on biotech and biology wonders!

Ever more it is a world where biology becomes the foremost science. That is, if we can save science (and all other fact professions) from those seeking to impose a new Dark Age.

For starters: 

== Biotech updates ==

In the journal Neuron, a team of researchers expected to show biological neurons are more complex—they were surprised at just how much more complex they actually are. They found it took a five- to eight-layer neural network, or nearly 1,000 artificial neurons, to mimic the behavior of a single biological neuron from the brain’s cortex. They called this an upper bound to complexity, but I doubt that aspect, and predict we will find computational aspects to the glial and astrocyte cells that surround neurons in a functioning brain.

From where does this complexity arise? As it turns out, it’s mostly due to a type of chemical receptor in dendrites—the NMDA ion channel—and the branching of dendrites in space. “Take away one of those things, and a neuron turns [into] a simple device.” Alas, this model is actually theoretical. Measurement in actual neurons will have to wait.

And of course, all of this complexity is before admitting to the possibility that quantum effects are involved, akin to Penrose-Hameroff theory.

How are nerves controlled? Some invertebrates, such as the hydra, can regenerate their heads after decapitation. Researchers are studying "which genes are switched on and off during regeneration and how they're controlled."

Meanwhile, the origins of some of our ‘junk DNA” may go back to the origins of mammals, in ways creepily like my chilling-creepy story “Chrysalis.”

== More bio wonders ==

A decade after gene therapy, children born with deadly immune disorder remain healthy. 

An anti-aging vaccine? Japanese researchers are developing a vaccine to remove "zombie cells," senescent cells that accumulate with age - can can harm nearby cells by releasing chemicals that lead to inflammation.

Researchers discovered a bizarre way that a cancer cell can disarm its would-be cellular attackers by extending out nanoscale tentacles that can reach into an immune cell and pull out its powerpack mitochondria. One more reason to believe there must be something more to cancer than just wild, malfunctioning reproduction. Again, see my story "Chrysalis" for a theory about that... one that triggered correspondence with researchers

Almost yearly, we learn of yet another promising treatment for spinal injury and paralysis. This one using ‘dancing’ molecules appears to have truly breakthrough effects on neural connection restoration. 

The rise of multidrug-resistant bacteria has already led to a significant increase in human disease and death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 2.8 million people worldwide are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, accounting for 35,000 deaths each year in the U.S. and 700,000 deaths around the globe.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have identified nanoparticles released from cells - supermeres - which transmit chemical 'messages' between cells. These may serve as biomarkers for disease.

Nanome is a UCSD spinoff that uses VR and Augmented Reality to visualize complex molecules for science, pharma and other advanced uses. Take a look at their great new demo video. Full disclosure: I am on the advisory board. 

Gradually, some companies are coming to realize what some of us forecast long ago, e.g. in novels of Vernor Vinge – that the ‘neurodivergent” or folks along the autism spectrum often have traits that make them superior employees at many kinds of tasks. Adjustments to interview processes have opened doors and assessments show good results and now the trend is growing in India. Oh, but there are five very different "spectrum people" with roles in my novel EXISTENCE.

Can poor nutrition and ultra-processed foods contribute to irritability and outbursts of angry rhetoric? 

== Adaptive animals ==

Increasingly, researchers are gaining up-close insights into animal behaviors in the wild - using bio-mimetic robots, realistic-looking programmed versions embedded in the swarm, herd, flock or school of animals. Robotic bees, falcons, termites and fish are some of the early experiments that have yielded fresh insights into animal's social behavior.

While it’s long been known that some fish and amphibians can do parthenogenesis… females producing young without contributions from a male… it is very rare among warm-blooded creatures. But lately it’s proved that California Condors have done it recently, much as in my novel Glory Season.

A fascinating article on The Post-Human Dog: Much like the History Channel show Life After People, a new book - A Dog's World: Imagining the lives of dogs in a world without humans - by J. Pierce and M. Bekoff imagines possible future evolutionary trajectories for how our canine friends would adapt and survive in the absence of humans. Though large numbers would die off in the beginning, others would go feral and spread to newly changed ecological niches across planet earth.

And a fascinating look backward: The bizarre dog types that time forgot: a vast variety of canines that no longer exist: wooly dogs, vegetarian dogs, lion-fighting dogs and other working dogs - chronicled in The Invention of the Modern Dog, when the Victorians instigated and propagated rigorous 'breeds' of dogs.

Talking with cetaceans? A project is underway, using advanced machine learning methods to parse the language (if any) of sperm whales. It will be an ambitious undertaking, calling for drones and robots to collect data on whale actions, to correlate with the utterances... hoping the robots won't interfere or bother the creatures, lest most of the translations turn out to be stuff like "I knew I shouldn't have swallowed that thing; it complains more than Jonah did!"

== And pig hearts... ==

Yes, sure. Xenotransplantation is a big deal. More later.

And finally....

The rapid progress true Science now makes, occasions my Regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried in a 1000 Years the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity & give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour & double its Produce. All Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a Way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and the human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity. 

                        —Benjamin Franklin

Friday, January 07, 2022

Politics, polemics, but especially... prediction!

First, an item from the news.
So, only the Cheneys sat on the right side of the Aisle as every Republican member of the House boycotted… um, found ‘important business elsewhere’… when the House met to memorialize the officers killed by the rioters on 1/6/21. 

When the Cheneys - who stole billions from us in the Great Iraq Logistics Scam that was the sole real purpose of the Second Saddam War - say THEY have had enough of the Trumpist nightmare they helped create?

Sigh, history repeats. Like the Prussian "Junkers caste" lords who in the 1920s were SO sure they could 'control' the brown shirts they had subsidized. And around 1936 started murmuring: "what have we done?"

Heed this from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

Oh, here comes my master! Help me Lord, I plead!

Spirits I have conjured, no longer pay me heed.

== Prediction time? ==

It’s ‘prediction season' again! For example Mark Anderson of the Strategic News Service has one of the most brilliant predictive success records around. See Unveiling SNS's 2022 Predictions

I’ve dribbled-out my own across the years and have written extensively about the need for predictions registries and the use of wager demands to hold blowhards accountable.

But for years I’ve gone on record in many places calling 2023 the Year of the Flying Car… though at first it will likely be hobbyists away from town… plus licensed air-limo services in cities. For the Rich, of course. And watch how that works out!

One of my better recent items: Repairing the World: is that creative, preserving power in human hands?” I am interviewed by the legendary John Elkington for Green Swans Observatory. (October 2021).  A PDF transcription is available.

I participated in this report by the World Economic Forum on Positive AI Economic Futures. "Many computer science experts believe that, in this century, machines will be able to do most tasks better than humans. Given these sorts of predictions, it is important to think about the possible consequences of AI for the future of work and to prepare for different scenarios. Continued progress in these technologies could have disruptive effects: from further exacerbating recent trends in inequality to denying more and more people their sense of purpose and fulfillment in life, given that work is much more than just a source of income."

One of my most biting essays about politics and economics has been updated and reposted on The Street. As is my wont, I pause often to demand wagers, e.g. whether Supply Side/Thatcherism ever made a successful prediction of positive outcomes. No one ever steps up to bet, proving the cowardice of adherents of that mad cult... but also the polemical stupidity of Keynesians, for not using this simple method to highlight who's been right a lot... vs. who is always, always wrong.

Oh, any guesses why the Street folks chose to conclude the essay with an image of the grave of Karl Marx?

"Former White House strategist Steve Bannon on Monday dug in on this threat that Donald Trump-loyal “shock troops” will move to “deconstruct” the federal government the minute a Republican takes over the Oval Office again.

“We need to get ready now,” Bannon said on his “War Room” podcast. “We control the country. We’ve got to start acting like it. And one way we’re going to act like it, we’re not going to have 4,000 [shock troops] ready to go, we’re going to have 20,000 ready to go.""

== we’ve got anti-vax & climate denialism backwards! ==

Everyone (it seems) gets this backward. It's accepted that our fact professions - from science/teaching/journalism/medicine to the 'deep state' intel/military officers - are attacked by the Mad Right in order to prevent action on climate change. 


Instead, climate denialism... and anti-vax and the rest ... are agitprop used to rile up confed/MAGAs, getting hem to aim their resentment at 'elites' of knowledge, rather than the elites of money/lordship who are actually stealing from those poor schlumps. In other words, oligarchy is applying exactly the same trick used by plantation lords in the 1860s to get a million poor whites to march and die for their class oppressors. 

Just watch Fox for a while or listen to Sinclair radio (kremlin) jocks. Vastly more time and energy is spent explicitly attacking nerds in the various fact professions than explicitly attacking races/genders etc. Make that a wager. Moreover, there's a reason for that. While disempowered victims (races/genders/the poor etc.) are hurt most by Mad Right policies, they are not the ones standing in the way of oligarchy's current putsch to grab all world power.

(Think. The powerless aren't the chief worry of the powerful. That is a tautology.)

The empowered clades who are blocking that ambition are the fact and knowledge professions. Including law and civil service and the officer corps and above all scientists. Discrediting the boffins is among the very top oligarchy priorities.

Hence, the anti-vax 'movement' and denialism and all that are inexplicable except in this context, where it suddenly becomes clear WHY the Foxites are deliberately killing thousands of their own followers with a campaign to divert them away from life-saving medicine. If they did not have climate denialism and anti-vax and abortion, they would have to concoct some other cult mythologies to use in the war on nerds.

Stop fracturing the coalition to save democracy and the enlightenment! See "Democracy Cannot survive the fracturing of the Democratic Coalition" by Ian Bassin in The Bulwark: “In the early days of the first Trump presidency, our organization cohosted a “Summit for Democracy” at which the keynote speakers were a Democratic senator, a Republican senator, and opposition leaders from Russia, Poland, and Egypt who had experience facing off against autocrats. At the end of the event, the foreign opposition leaders were asked to each give one piece of advice to Americans now facing the specter of authoritarianism. 

The Polish MP Agnieska Pomaska said this: “Don’t let the opposition fracture.” Her advice was born of experience. In Poland, the increasingly autocratic ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), initially rose to power in 2015 on only plurality support (35 percent in the first round of voting) because the opposition could not stay united. In Hungary, the autocratic Fidesz Party managed to translate its own plurality support into legislative supermajorities in large part because the Hungarian opposition fractured in the lead-up to both the 2014 and 2018 elections. Once in power, both PiS and Fidesz then engaged in a program of dismantling democratic institutions and checks and balances. …”

The conclusion of the Bulwark article: Bassin notes, “In their book How Democracies Die, the Harvard scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt compared four countries’ experiences in interwar Europe. In Belgium and Finland, far-right extremist parties gained some traction after World War I. In both countries, the center-right united with the left to block those anti-democratic parties from ascending further to power. 

In Italy and Germany on the other hand, the center-right in both cases chose not to do that, and instead sought to co-opt the political appeal of rising far-right movements by incorporating them into their ranks. We all know what happened next. Thus far, most pro-democracy Republicans have chosen to try to tame, or co-opt, the rising authoritarians in their midst. This is a mistake. Stopping the next authoritarian attempt will require a broad, united opposition. This unity of purpose is more crucial than any legislation.”

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Life in the cosmos: reflecting on SETI

I have studied and listened and written extensively - in fiction and nonfiction, for most of my life - about SETI, METI and life in the cosmos. For decades I have refused to glom onto premature conclusions or "Aha! This must be it!" declarations. Though new information or insights by others can change how I rank-order the possibilities.

In discussing the possibility of alien life, the UK Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, pretty much describes one of the plot lines in my novel Existence in this article: Why Intelligent Extraterrestrials are more likely to be artificial than biological. He notes, "I’d argue it would even be worth looking for traces of aliens in our own solar system. While we can probably rule out visits by human-like species, there are other possibilities. An extraterrestrial civilisation that had mastered nanotechnology may have transferred its intelligence to tiny machines, for example. It could then invade other worlds, or even asteroid belts, with swarms of microscopic probes."

And yes, I agree with Martin, which is one more reason we should emphasize missions to asteroids over the sterile-poison and almost useless (in the near term) Luna. (That sandbox should mostly be left to the kiddies - with some important exceptions.)

Here's one explanation for alien behavior, curtesy of Candorville by Darrin Bell. I've discussed the "cat laser hypothesis" in my posting: What's really up with UAPs/UFOs?  Another take can be found in my story Those Eyes.

== They keep getting fuzzier. Why would ‘aliens’ do that? ==

Eray Ozkural shares “UAP” footage he took last June, showing glowing dots dancing over waters near the Princess Islands, darting about and occasionally causing explosion-like airbursts. The latter phenomenon I’ve not seen before and it’s worth a viewing. Still, instead of refuting my “cat laser” scenario, these airbursts only re-double the likelihood of that explanation! 

Alas, zealots keep repeating the fundamental assumption that these are 'objects' experiencing 'propulsion', and hence, since the movements seem to violate Newton, inertia, and even Einstein, they must be super-advanced alien ships. 

Alas for that scenario (and I have spent my life exploring concepts of the ‘alien’, including many decades involved in SETI), what I see there has NONE of the properties of an actual, physical 'object' and all properties of an excited patch of atmosphere! A compact patch (of probably excited plasma) that glows and occasionally causes air detonations. 

What always lingers in the air, after one of these sightings, is one of the several key questions that I ask in my most recent UAP/UFO posting, which is why do these sightings keep getting fuzzier and fuzzier, now that there are approximately a MILLION times as many active cameras as there were in the 1950s? 

I'm not the only one discussing this vexing (actually damning) paradox. See this appraisal.

Then there is the locale, once again over an ocean where the real 'objects' doing all this – presumably ships on the water - aren't being watched by any of the people aiming cameras at this blatant example of a 3D cat laser.  

Of course the crews of those ships aren’t posting videos. I bet they are too busy messing with us.

Good kitties. Oh, you funny kitties, chase the spot! Chase it!

== Oh, it gets much worse! We're being messed with. ==

Oh. While we’re at it… and not a lot dumber than UFO fetishism… Flat Earthers are doing what all of that ilk do, when refuted... doubling down on the mystical inanity. In a blatant hearkening to Teutonic (Yggdrasil) mythology (a romanticism that then fed right into naziism), this latest hate-science chant-incantation spends 90 minutes persuading more of the gullible than you'd believe possible. “Flat-Earthers Have a Wild New Theory About Forests: What it means to believe that “real” trees no longer exist.”  

Oh and what's with "birds are fake?"  

Only one thing makes these - and political - cultists flee. 

Demands for cash wagers. 

Watch them vanish, poof, like magic!

== Planetary protection provisions ==

A highly controversial proposal may be overdue… to allow careful relaxation of some ‘planetary protection’ rules for spacecraft sent to certain parts of Mars where instruments show no substantial presence of water ice or brines near the surface. 

“Such regions could include a significant portion of the surface of Mars, because the UV environment is so biocidal that terrestrial organisms are, in most cases, not likely to survive more than one to two sols, or Martian days. For missions that access the subsurface (down to 1 meter), regions on Mars expected to have patchy or no water ice below the surface might also be visited by spacecraft more relaxed bioburden requirements, because such patchy ice is likely not conducive to the proliferation of terrestrial microorganisms.”

Erring on the side of caution is good and wise! We stand on a mountain of our ancestors (oft well-intended) mistakes! Still, it is worthwhile seeking a path that still enables forward movement.

== An age of wonders! ==

Earlier in 2021 we watched robots scoop asteroids and Perseverance land on Mars and a tiny helicopter fit over the Red Planet... and so much more!

Oh, and see fabulous video of how the Webb Space Telescope will unfold...

... and a list of amazing space endeavors we hope humanity will accomplish in the coming year.

And yes, we are amazing, accomplishing wonders through goodwill, cooperation, FAIR competition and science and - above all - citizenship. Which is why enemies try so hard to get us at each others' throats. 

Let's defy them and make a better tomorrow. Start by opening a window and shouting "I am NOT 'mad as hell' and I refuse to let you lure me into that self-destructive trip!"

May 2022 be your best yet! And the worst of all that follow.