Thursday, December 31, 2009

What I've been reading

It's ironic that the last book I read this year was The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Homes, which is considered the best science book of the year. There was an article couple of weeks ago on how science is boring!!

"ASTONISHING discoveries in space, revelations about human nature, frightening news on the environment, medical advances that will banish life-threatening diseases: an inexhaustible stream of wonders runs through the pages of New Scientist. All tell the same tale. Science is exciting. Science is cutting-edge. Science is fun.
It is now time to come clean. This glittering depiction of the quest for knowledge is... well, perhaps not an outright lie, but certainly a highly edited version of the truth. Science is not a whirlwind dance of excitement, illuminated by the brilliant strobe light of insight. It is a long, plodding journey through a dim maze of dead ends. It is painstaking data collection followed by repetitious calculation. It is revision, confusion, frustration, bureaucracy and bad coffee. In a word, science can be boring."

That's one reproachable hypothesis albeit its omnipresence. The issue of being fascinated by and addicted to science doesn't come adrenaline pumping overnight but it's like an life long beautiful romantic love story which grows every day. Richard Homes brings light to this theory so beautifully by chronically the stories of Joesph Banks, Humphry Davy and William Herschel. Science (and history) writing cannot get more thrilling than this, it has all the necessary ingredients of a Hollywood potboiler. Besides the science in the book, the human drama that unfolds and the dramatic changes people go through in their life span is something that acts as a purveyor to philosophize in general.
Reading this book makes one melancholic and wonder how life would have taken a different turned if we had read these books as a kid. But its never too late since the human curiosity and awe for the unknown can never be satiated.

"Two things fill my mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the more often and persistently I reflect upon them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me... I see them in front of me and unite them immediately with the consciousness of my own existence" - Closing phrase of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1788)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Magic of behavioral eoconomics

What Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky started has been slowly ballooning into a world changing concept but the paradox of it, is lesser the people know of them and their theories, faster the changes for better. Good news is they and others like the "nudge team" aren't popular like rock stars for obvious human shortcomings when it comes to hedonic sound byte driven media.

My belief in behavioral economics is drawn from their premise of  rightly
assuming humans as irrational but they can be subconsciously nudged to act rational for their own benefit as well as the benefit of the society. There are limitations to it but we haven't even embarked much into the process and it's too early to worry about the threshold level. An interesting article on how behavioral economics can have an impact on climate change process:

"If human beings were the perfectly rational creatures imagined by classical economists, we would have done something about climate change by now. But the central insight of behavioral economics — the once heretical but now ascendant paradigm in economics, particularly following the 2002 Nobel Prize awarded to one of its founders, Daniel Kahneman — is that humans aren’t fully rational. All sorts of cognitive limitations prevent us from being so, and behavioral economists have spent much of the past decades discovering, describing, and naming our many mental shortcuts and biases, and ascribing our various irrational tendencies to their effects. Ben Ho’s particular interest is in how people’s feelings of guilt and altruism can be leveraged to reduce their carbon footprint, and he presented his findings at the November conference in a talk he titled “Using Behavioral Economics to Save the World.”

Early in Ho’s presentation, he mentioned a book called Nudge, written by the behavioral economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago and lawyer Cass Sunstein, his former colleague, now a professor at Harvard Law School and the Obama administration nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In their book, Thaler and Sunstein coin a term: choice architecture. They argue that because the way in which we are presented with information changes our response to it, the best choice architecture gently steers us into the salubrious behavior that more thoroughly rational beings would choose."

"Ironically, the very problems these social scientists are identifying plague the scientific and policy communities themselves. That includes poor communication. Economists and psychologists “don’t talk as much as we should,” Ho confesses, when first hearing of Leiserowitz’s research. And Leiserowitz, for his part, says that the socialscience community has put together “nothing as sophisticated or coordinated as what the natural scientists have done.” Natural scientists have the IPCC, but the social scientists occasionally have conferences Leiserowitz calls “one-off, singleafternoon kind of things.”

And there’s a second thing social scientists might learn from their own research: how to market themselves to a particularly stubborn audience. Social science may be able to save the world from climate change, but only if there’s a change of heart — not just among the public, but among natural scientists and engineers. “I see more social scientists interested in public-policy issues and a growing awareness by natural scientists that it cannot be improvised.” But, Fischhoff says of natural scientists, “many of them do not believe in the social sciences. They grudgingly see that people matter, but they are not willing to share power with social sciences, or to entertain the thought that their own message is not the right one and that you need to include the social scientists in a strategic way.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How are memories saved?

Sci-American gives a brief answer:

"Understanding exactly how the brain encodes and stores memories is one of the central, unsolved mysteries in neuroscience. Currently the most widely accepted theory is long-term potentiation (LTP)—the lasting communication established between two neurons when they are stimulated simultaneously.
As a person processes an event, two neurons pass information through a small space called a synapse. This chemical conversation triggers an intricate cascade, inviting nearby neurons to fire and ultimately creating a network of connections with varying strengths. Afterward, this pattern of connections, or memory, remains within the network of neurons that processed the event.
Although many areas of the brain contain synapses capable of creating strong patterns of connectivity, the hippocampus is a particularly favorable spot for recording memories. This brain region plays a critical role in learning new information, forming spatial memories and storing short-term memories as long-term ones.
Memories formed with the hippo­campus are especially rich because they integrate input from several areas of the brain, and the ­hippocampus contains densely packed layers of neurons. In addition, damage to this region and nearby areas causes profound and perm­anent amnesia—an inability to store new memories or to recall old ones—and is observed in patients who have Alz­heimer’s disease."

Quote of the year

This had been an eventful year with some phenomenal happenings around the world and there had been a myriad of great quotes. Nevertheless, being human, we connect instantly to only those words when it nourishes the essence of us.

My first favorite quote is from Meg Daley Olmert's book "Made for Each Other : The Biology of Human-Animal Bond" :

"The satisfaction that washes over us as we watch our pets sleep is the ancient reminder that when all is well in their world, all is well in ours."

If I were put on a ground hog day moment for eternity and if I had an option, I would pick watching Max sleep. It's one the most beautiful scene ever and has such an immense power to rekindle the mind and body. It melts away all the days anxiety, complicated ape algorithms and the mounting apprehensions about the future. In this serenity, he dreams - blabbering, shaking his legs and his whole body shivers and the best explanation I could come up is he is dreaming of catching a ball or frisbee. I wish someday neuroscience can help me visualize his dreams and I do wonder, if I am part of his dreams.

Next quote is by Colin Powell, quoted in Jonah Lehrer's book "How We Decide":

"First tell me what you know. Then tell me what you don't know. Then tell me what you think. These are 3 different things."

It's a simple statement but its very hard to practice. We tend to mix all three (talk about categorical imperative!!) to derive a weird rationalization of our actions and beliefs. Every since I started practicing this trifurcation, I realized practicing it wasn't the hardest part (since it reduces the dissonance and makes the process perspicuous) but the hardest part was to not to get annoyed when others don't trifurcate. Every decibel heard with a note of conviction starts feeling nauseating. So at night, I go back quote number one and watch Max sleep.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The find of the year

There is an unspoken social taboo in the quest of some things deemed important in life. Last time I heard it was in the movie "Into the wild", Vince Vaughn tries to pacify Alex not to venture into the unchartered territories.

his is a mistake. It's a mistake to get too deep into all that kind of stuff. Alex, you're a hell of a young guy, a hell of a young guy. But I promise you this. You're a young guy! Can't be juggling blood and fire all the time! "

He was right since Alex character went too extreme without realizing the importance of finding the right balance. It's the curse most quest hunters fall into, more the taboo, more extreme they tend to go and lose themselves in the process. There is no one to impress upon, there is nothing to be expedited and ironically patience is the only thing to  fuel and contain the dopamine and adrenaline.

There are things we always believe in, "felt" and "feel" being the right thing, the process of listening to the heart and the importance of prudent decisions evolving from the brain which sometimes goes against the very fabric of self preservation. One of the great mysteries in the universe is the human consciousness and morality. This has been perpetually perpetuating seminal events which defines our civilization. This leaves us with a burden of honing the consciousness and morality perpetually to enable us to move forward in the right direction as a species. Paradoxically there is an antigravity in the form of intellectual laziness, social taboo, religion, cultural norms and homosapien compromises forcing us stray away with an implicit warning of considered a social pariah. Finding the right balance between these two forces is a life long calibration and swimming against the tide may be seem hard but it does makes us stronger and keeps us awake. There are times in our lives when our consciousness raises red flags with a deafening mute siren. The frequency and the situations for red flag to pop up varies between individuals since its shaped and defined by the balance between the two forces acting against each other. In time we become aware of timing of popping red flag and unheeding to it leads to our cognitive dissonance. But yet there are numerous popping red flags which we cannot seem to give a name, shape or purpose.

I had this one red flag (which probably is the father of all my red flags) popping all over the place, trying to break social "norms" flirting with autism, made me even taste the innate nauseousness in the white lies, occasionally driving me insane because of its incomprehensible inability to convert it into a sound byte and this enigma lead to serotonin driven philosophizing. Somehow this enigma felt right and listening to it and giving it a pragmatic shape felt even better. I just accepted it as a part of me and life went on until this year I learnt this red flag had been honed close to perfection and was baptized over 200 years ago by Immanuel Kant. He called it Categorical Imperative because the mere act of hypothesizing will enable us to rationalize anything under the sun.

It's often dismissed as idealistic only because we expect it from others and that rightly is idealistic. But yet practicing it oneself can never be considered quixotic. The question is how far and how deep is one capable of venturing into it without losing the balance between the two opposing forces?

"Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end."
He goes even further to state ....
"He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mr. Monk and the dog

Again, one the famous fallacies of our memories is how soon we forgot the intricate details of the past years and retain just the essence of those years in a easy comprehensible sense. Being with Max for over 3 years now, the memory of my fear of dogs seems like a distant memory and a bad dream which we hope never recurs. Honestly and very convenient for my conscious, I simply forgot details of those paranoia.

Monk is one of my favorite
serials (sans the quintessential TV dose of sex and violence) came to an end last month after 8 years, but not before showing me the glimpses of who I was before Max!! It's hilarious to see how irrational and ludicrous I was with dogs.
I could get full episode in parts 
here but hoping it will stay on youtube for ever. 

Are we alone?

Fantastic post arguing we are not alone. Spider man's uncle Ben used to say "With great power comes great responsibility" and we grossly eschew our responsibility for other species, leave alone aliens. We fail to even understand the umwelt and instead anthropomorphize the dog, the most luckiest animal in the planet pre-programmed to placate man.

Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose that dogs were trying to signal another species of dog. How would they do it? By barking or howling, right? Would we notice that, as a signal of that type? Would we care? How much smarter, given some theoretical maximal potential for intelligence, are we than dogs? Infinitesimally, I would say. Our brains must fit, badly, inside our heads, folded up, in order to have expanded to the amount they have, which is about all our bodies will take, both in volume and metabolically.
Suppose we found out how to increase head size, or produce more efficient folding, or better, connect ourselves to our computers? Where would our intelligence go then? In the latter case, the practical limits would be… well, Icertainly can’t even begin to envision it. Now, given that we could be, let us conservatively say, 100 times more intelligent than now, how would we signal… what indeed would our picture of the universe be, our physics, our electronics? We are not now 100 times smarter than dogs. How would our physics compare with our present idea of physics? Etc. You see my point? To aliens, if they notice us at all, we are, until we can consciously increase our intelligence, merely another species of animal on this planet. So why should they want to contact us, any more than we would want to contact those dogs? And how would we notice or understand it, if they did, any more than dogs could conceive, build, and use a radio set?"

"The second theory is that we can’t contact them because when a civilization gets advanced to that stage, they just all move into their computer(s) and live happily ever after, in a virtual heaven of their own design, with the computer protected behind layers of armor and powered by something reasonably perpetual. Sounds good to me, anyway. So that’s my second theory as to why we haven’t and won’t contact them. They’re out there, zillions of them. They’re just living luxuriously in the basement, so to speak, hoping to go unnoticed for as long as possible.
Or it could be a combination of the two above, with extremely advanced virtual civilizations communicating with each other by means unavailable (and incomprehensible) to us, until we get to that point."

We as a species are always fascinated by the "unknown". That fascination and belief to decipher the unknown, has been an unique human trait (at-least as far as I can confirm) and it has been the central force behind science. I don't know if there are species outside our planet but believing that they do will enable us to thrive for more giant leaps. It's a kinda of a quasi Occam's razor but you have to agree it works like a carrot and stick approach. Here is the quote from one of my all time favorite movie by an all time favorite character:

I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?" - Contact,  1997

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Book of the year

This year for me was full of books on Neuroscience and I did read quite a diverse selection but not to the extent I want to, given the time (hate to say that) et al. It has been an educational ride but the book that struck a chord with me has nothing to do with neuroscience, Mark Rowland's - "Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons in Love, Death, and Happiness".

Mark's relationship with his wolf Bernin was analogous to mine with Max albeit thankfully my story continues. In-fact Mark's inability to remember lot of details about Bernin, a decade since Bernin passed away was my nudge to write this blog and study the neuroscience behind fallacies of our memory. There is an immense solace to find people around the world who felt and feel the way we do and the impact it has and had on shaping who we are and who we become. Like it or not, we do act as tribes, longing for creatures with similar perspective as we do.

The love we feel for our four legged friend, knowing one day it will bound to break our heart is a conundrum especially when economics of self-interest is preached as a virtue and sadly proven right most of the time. The simple truth is a little self-interest is also hidden inside this love as well. I long to be like Max and the inability to do so makes me admire him more and for showing me the joy of living and some day he will teach me the wisdom in death, leaving me bereft of sanity and a broken heart. I know, my life will never be the same but I do have a life long obligation to preserve the innocence I inherited from him.

Someone we love the most never leave us in death since they became a part of us and part of us becomes who they were and life does flourishes in that virtual symbiosis. And there is always that life long convergence in the dreams.

Sidney Awards - 2009

David Brooks last year lauched  Sidney Awards,  awarded to some of the best essay's of the year. Mike Lewis's phenomenal essay - "The End" own the first Sidney award.
Phew, a year has already gone and the new list (part 2 here)came out - I am so delighted to have read at least all of the health care related essay's.
Atul Gawande's series of essay's has been the quasi -bible for anyone who cared to understand the healthcare issues in this country. I cannot understand, how anyone can even begin to form an opinon (so much for somatic markers) without reading his essays - HERE. 20 years from now, his essay's will definitely seem clairvoyant in retrospect but it is shame that the contemporary world prefers dopamine drive polemic rhetoric on TV (well, what else is new?). Last week when I went for my routine checkup to the dentist. He is a very nice old guy but he was very anxious about health care changes since they were 2 things at stake. First, he is a doctor and the impact on his pay check is unknown. Second, he is a senior citizen and the impact on his medicare/medicaid is unknown. After my checkup, we logged into his laptop and he bookmarked Gawande's New Yorkers essay's. Hoping to get his feedback in six months when my next visit is due.
The other poignant essay on health care was How American Health Care Killed My Father and this one is sadly hilarious.

I have to read the other essays on list before the new year, especially this one on death penalty and this one on held in captivity by Taliban.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Operation Sanctuary had a fund raiser with free Christmas picture with Santa.
Our ingenious model was more than delighted as you can see. Btw he is eyeing the treat hovering near the camera !!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Max holiday card 2009

Well, Sir is in a pensive mood.... Lake Hopatcong, NJ

Connecting the dots .. only in retrospect

Early this year Tyler Cowen gave a splendid talk on our human fascination with story telling and the limits of it. Story telling presents everything on a platter with  sole purpose of ease of consumption and grossly edits the facts to mere "trailer" (and there that limits of our memory). Nevertheless, there are few stories (and only few) which are very essential to make us who we are and who we become.

On this Christmas eve, I never thought I would listen to this heart warming Stanford University commencement speech by Steve Jobs - "
How to live before you die":

P.S: A nice coincidence - I was planning to upgrade the OS on my Mac today.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cognitive dissonance of chinese nouveau riche

A colleague mentioned few years ago during casual pet-lovers chit chat, she has a cat which she had rescued. I kept nodding until I realized what she meant by "rescue". During a visit to China, she went out for dinner and before the menu arrived, she saw a few weeks old kitten in a cage. When she inquired, the waiter was delighted to offer her different "feline" dishes. Appalled, she offered to buy the kitten "live" (which, by the way was a higher charge than the meal) and eventually took the kitten out of the country after the customary nuisance at the customs.

The irony is China is a country where for centuries where vegetarianism was (and still is) preached as a virtue but yet, this is the country where anything that moves are delightfully devoured or powdered for "placebo healing". It's hard to imagine what will happen when China starts emulating the American flesh industry (can IVF meat succeed where even Buddha failed?). Of-course they still eat dogs and now the nauseating cognitive dissonance is, with the exponential growth of their economy, they are paying $600,000 for pet dogs - just to show off their riches.

"Pet ownership is booming in a nation where dogs and cats are featured as part of meals and animal abuse remains widespread. But none carries the cachet of the Tibetan Mastiff, one of the largest dog breeds, which can weigh 180 pounds.

Last month, a Nanjing breeder paid $234,000 for his purebred pooch, reported the Yangtze Evening Times. In September, a young woman in Xian paid $600,000 for her pet, according to the Xian Evening News. Both led airport welcomes with long convoys of pricey automobiles.
"It's like gambling, as people think they can earn large sums from expensive dogs, but the reality is that it's very hard to breed a top quality purebred Tibetan Mastiff," Beijing breeder Zhao Yanjun says.
Others buy to show off their status. "Like men around the world, Chinese like to own big dogs as it shows 'I am successful, I want to dominate more women and big dogs,' " Zhao says.
In the USA, $5,000 is the upper limit for a show quality puppy, says Martha Feltenstein, president of the American Tibetan Mastiff Association. In China, prices have leapt this year amid a nationwide "Tibetan Mastiff fever" that shows little sign of cooling."

"Ma is still trying to represent his country by pushing for China's full membership in the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), the World Canine Organization. It's a tough sell, Ma admits, as the FCI is concerned by China's low level of vaccinations, the culling of dogs to prevent rabies and the eating of dog meat.

Those worries are well-justified, says Jeff He, China communication manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an advocacy group. Culling continues in some areas, he says, even though vaccination and education are more effective. "The No. 1 threat to companion animals is the lack of animal welfare legislation in this country," he says.
Respect for animal rights is growing, says Qin Xiaona, chairwoman of Beijing's Capital Animal Welfare Association, but the absence of laws slows progress, she says. Last month, Qin rushed to nearby Tianjin to help rescue 800 mostly stolen cats that were locked in cages en route to diners in south China's Guangzhou."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Science of Success

One of the most amazing power of the ongoing genome research et al is at times it reinstates some of the old wisdom and sometimes it completely rewrites the stereotypes and conventional wisdome we are imbibed in.
Starting for religion, caste, fedualism, Darwin, DNA, Blank Slate and human genome project, its been an evolving process and there isn't an end in sight of discovering why and how we become who we are. Ever since the human genome project, there seems to a consensus as well disparity between all these ideas. Cacophony of current political scene and all the fancy economic theories are primed to balance the imbalance in the evolutionary lottery - our genes. Paradoxically, geneome studies have been pointing to an alternate direction - Genome Plasticity. Success is not only defined by birth but by nuture (and ad infinitum). David Dobbs chronicles
the ground breaking research of Marian Bakermans Kranenburg - Orchid Hypothesis (audio):

"Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.
Of special interest to the team was a new interpretation of one of the most important and influential ideas in recent psychiatric and personality research: that certain variants of key behavioral genes (most of which affect either brain development or the processing of the brain’s chemical messengers) make people more vulnerable to certain mood, psychiatric, or personality disorders. Bolstered over the past 15 years by numerous studies, this hypothesis, often called the “stress diathesis” or “genetic vulnerability” model, has come to saturate psychiatry and behavioral science. During that time, researchers have identified a dozen-odd gene variants that can increase a person’s susceptibility to depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, heightened risk-taking, and antisocial, sociopathic, or violent behaviors, and other problems—if, and only if, the person carrying the variant suffers a traumatic or stressful childhood or faces particularly trying experiences later in life.
This vulnerability hypothesis, as we can call it, has already changed our conception of many psychic and behavioral problems. It casts them as products not of nature or nurture but of complex “gene-environment interactions.” Your genes don’t doom you to these disorders. But if you have “bad” versions of certain genes and life treats you ill, you’re more prone to them.
Recently, however, an alternate hypothesis has emerged from this one and is turning it inside out. This new model suggests that it’s a mistake to understand these “risk” genes only as liabilities. Yes, this new thinking goes, these bad genes can create dysfunction in unfavorable contexts—but they can also enhance function in favorable contexts. The genetic sensitivities to negative experience that the vulnerability hypothesis has identified, it follows, are just the downside of a bigger phenomenon: a heightened genetic sensitivity to all experience.
The evidence for this view is mounting. Much of it has existed for years, in fact, but the focus on dysfunction in behavioral genetics has led most researchers to overlook it. This tunnel vision is easy to explain, according to Jay Belsky, a child-development psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London. “Most work in behavioral genetics has been done by mental-illness researchers who focus on vulnerability,” he told me recently. “They don’t see the upside, because they don’t look for it. It’s like dropping a dollar bill beneath a table. You look under the table, you see the dollar bill, and you grab it. But you completely miss the five that’s just beyond your feet.”
Though this hypothesis is new to modern biological psychiatry, it can be found in folk wisdom, as the University of Arizona developmental psychologist Bruce Ellis and the University of British Columbia developmental pediatrician W. Thomas Boyce pointed out last year in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. The Swedes, Ellis and Boyce noted in an essay titled “Biological Sensitivity to Context,” have long spoken of “dandelion” children. These dandelion children—equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes—do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.
At first glance, this idea, which I’ll call the orchid hypothesis, may seem a simple amendment to the vulnerability hypothesis. It merely adds that environment and experience can steer a person up instead of down. Yet it’s actually a completely new way to think about genetics and human behavior. Risk becomes possibility; vulnerability becomes plasticity and responsiveness. It’s one of those simple ideas with big, spreading implications. Gene variants generally considered misfortunes (poor Jim, he got the “bad” gene) can instead now be understood as highly leveraged evolutionary bets, with both high risks and high potential rewards: gambles that help create a diversified-portfolio approach to survival, with selection favoring parents who happen to invest in both dandelions and orchids.
In this view, having both dandelion and orchid kids greatly raises a family’s (and a species’) chance of succeeding, over time and in any given environment. The behavioral diversity provided by these two different types of temperament also supplies precisely what a smart, strong species needs if it is to spread across and dominate a changing world. The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them. And even when they lead troubled early lives, some of the resulting heightened responses to adversity that can be problematic in everyday life—increased novelty-seeking, restlessness of attention, elevated risk-taking, or aggression—can prove advantageous in certain challenging situations: wars, tribal or modern; social strife of many kinds; and migrations to new environments. Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements.
This orchid hypothesis also answers a fundamental evolutionary question that the vulnerability hypothesis cannot. If variants of certain genes create mainly dysfunction and trouble, how have they survived natural selection? Genes so maladaptive should have been selected out. Yet about a quarter of all human beings carry the best-documented gene variant for depression, while more than a fifth carry the variant that Bakermans-Kranenburg studied, which is associated with externalizing, antisocial, and violent behaviors, as well as ADHD, anxiety, and depression. The vulnerability hypothesis can’t account for this. The orchid hypothesis can.
This is a transformative, even startling view of human frailty and strength. For more than a decade, proponents of the vulnerability hypothesis have argued that certain gene variants underlie some of humankind’s most grievous problems: despair, alienation, cruelties both petty and epic. The orchid hypothesis accepts that proposition. But it adds, tantalizingly, that these same troublesome genes play a critical role in our species’ astounding success.
The orchid hypothesis—sometimes called the plasticity hypothesis, the sensitivity hypothesis, or the differential-susceptibility hypothesis—is too new to have been tested widely. Many researchers, even those in behavioral science, know little or nothing of the idea. A few—chiefly those with broad reservations about ever tying specific genes to specific behaviors—express concerns. But as more supporting evidence emerges, the most common reaction to the idea among researchers and clinicians is excitement. A growing number of psychologists, psychiatrists, child-development experts, geneticists, ethologists, and others are beginning to believe that, as Karlen Lyons-Ruth, a developmental psychologist at Harvard Medical School, puts it, “It’s time to take this seriously.”"

David Dobbs has a phenomenal personal story to tell as well:

"Suomi, Lesch, and NIH colleague J. Dee Higley set about doing a type of study now recognized as a classic “gene-by-environment” study. First they took cerebral spinal fluid from 132 juvenile rhesus monkeys and analyzed it for a serotonin metabolite, called 5-HIAA, that’s considered a reliable indicator of how much serotonin the nervous system is processing. Lesch’s studies had already shown that depressed people with the short/long serotonin-transporter allele had lower 5-HIAA levels, reflecting less-efficient serotonin processing. He and Suomi wanted to see if the finding would hold true in monkeys. If it did, it would provide more evidence for the genetic dynamic shown in Lesch’s studies. And finding such a dynamic in rhesus monkeys would confirm their value as genetic and behavioral models for studying human behavior.
After Suomi, Lesch, and Higley had grouped the monkeys’ 5-HIAA levels according to their serotonin genotype (short/long or long/long, but not short/short, which was too rare to be of use), they also sorted the results by whether the monkeys had been raised by their mothers or as orphans with only same-aged peers. When their colleague Allison Bennett charted the results on a bar graph showing 5-HIAA levels, all of the mother-reared monkeys, no matter which allele they had, showed serotonin processing in the normal range. The metabolite levels of the peer-raised monkeys, however, diverged sharply by genotype: the short/long monkeys in that group processed serotonin highly inefficiently (a risk factor for depression and anxiety), whereas the long/long monkeys processed it robustly. When Suomi saw the results, he realized that he finally had proof of a behaviorally relevant gene-by-environment interaction in his monkeys. “I took one look at that graph,” he told me, “and said, ‘Let’s go pop some champagne.’”
Suomi and Lesch published their results in 2002 in Molecular Psychiatry, a relatively new journal about behavioral genetics. The paper formed part of a surge of gene-by-environment studies of mood and behavioral disorders. That same year, two psychologists at King’s College, London, Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt, published the first of two large longitudinal studies (both drawing on life histories of hundreds of New Zealanders) that would prove particularly influential. The first, published in Science, showed that the short allele of another major neurotransmitter-processing gene (known as the MAOA gene) sharply increased the chance of antisocial behavior in human adults who’d been abused as children. The second, in 2003 and also in Science, showed that people with short/short or short/long serotonin-transporter alleles, if exposed to stress, faced a higher-than-normal risk of depression.
Suomi made another remarkable discovery. He and others assayed the serotonin-transporter genes of seven of the 22 species of macaque, the primate genus to which the rhesus monkey belongs. None of these species had the serotonin-transporter polymorphism that Suomi was beginning to see as a key to rhesus monkeys’ flexibility. Studies of other key behavioral genes in primates produced similar results; according to Suomi, assays of the SERT gene in other primates studied to date, including chimps, baboons, and gorillas, turned up “nothing, nothing, nothing.” The science is young, and not all the data is in. But so far, among all primates, only rhesus monkeys and human beings seem to have multiple polymorphisms in genes heavily associated with behavior. “It’s just us and the rhesus,” Suomi says.
This discovery got Suomi thinking about another distinction we share with rhesus monkeys. Most primates can thrive only in their specific environments. Move them and they perish. But two kinds, often called “weed” species, are able to live almost anywhere and to readily adapt to new, changing, or disturbed environments: human beings and rhesus monkeys. The key to our success may be our weediness. And the key to our weediness may be the many ways in which our behavioral genes can vary.
Even if you accept that orchid genes may grant us flexibility crucial to our success, it can be startling to ponder their dynamics up close and personal. After I FedExed away my vial of saliva for genotyping, I told myself more or less to forget it. To my surprise, I managed to. The e-mail that eventually arrived with the results, promised for a Monday, turned up three days early, during a Friday evening when I was simultaneously half-watching Monsters, Inc. with my kids and distractedly scanning the messages on my iPhone. At first I didn’t really register what I was reading.
“David,” the message began. “I ran the assay on the DNA from your saliva sample today. The assay ran well and your genotype is S/S. Good thing neither of us think of these things as deterministic or even having a fixed valence. Let me know if you want to talk about your result or genetic issues.”
When I finished reading the message, the house seemed quieter, though it was not. As I looked out the window at our pear tree, its blossoms fallen but its fruit only nubbins, I felt a chill spread through my torso.
I hadn’t thought it would matter.
Yet as I sat absorbing this information, the chill came to seem less the coldness of fear than a shiver of abrupt and inverted self-knowledge—of suddenly knowing with certainty something I had long suspected, and finding that it meant something other than I thought it would. The orchid hypothesis suggested that this particular allele, the rarest and riskiest of the serotonin-transporter gene’s three variants, made me not just more vulnerable but more plastic. And that new way of thinking changed things. I felt no sense that I carried a handicap that would render my efforts futile should I again face deep trouble. In fact, I felt a heightened sense of agency. Anything and everything I did to improve my own environment and experience—every intervention I ran on myself, as it were—would have a magnified effect. In that light, my short/short allele now seems to me less like a trapdoor through which I might fall than like a springboard—slippery and somewhat fragile, perhaps, but a springboard all the same.
I don’t plan to have any of my other key behavioral genes assayed. I don’t plan on having my kids’ genes done, either. What would it tell me? That I shape them in every encounter? I know this. Yet I do like thinking that when I take my son trolling for salmon, or listen to his younger brother’s labyrinthine elaborations of his dreams, or sing “Sweet Betsy of Pike” with my 5-year-old daughter as we drive home from the lake, I’m flipping little switches that can help light them up. I don’t know what all those switches are—and I don’t need to. It’s enough to know that together we can turn them on."

This changes everything, no one can find solace and excuse from their faulty gene - Dr.Fallon didn't become a psychopath and David Dobbs has never been affected with manic depression.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A talk with Jonah Lehrer

One of the best books of the year was "How we decide" by Jonah Lehrer and here is his talk (earlier talk on edge here), he mentions the famous Somatic Markers Hypothesis card experiment :

Our brain is such a fascinating piece of fluffy flesh and god knows what all its gonna unveil in years to come.

One of the famous lines ever in movie history is from Gone with the wind - "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
Now, check out the next line (which happens to be the last line of the movie) from Scarlett in response to the above lines after he walks away - "
I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."
I think, these lines have lots of neuroscience to it that famous lines. No?

Benefits of Appreciative Thinking

It's a western issue and to be more specific, its an American issue. It's a quintessential residue (which is a gross  understatement) when the essence of "self-reliance" is misused or misunderstood (earlier post here). In other words it's hard for some people to appreciate ideas of others (esp. grand ones not the routine chorus at work) and it's evident from the scarcity of role models in this country and overabundance of contrarians offering no alternatives except lots of ad hominem. Trust me, its frustrating since some people think they know everything (Epistemological Modesty, anybody?) and they dwell on this fallacy by constant criticism, which is self-depreciating and of-course they are oblivious to that fact and thrive in their phantasmagorical creation feeling omnipotent. I cannot even begin to write these experiences since there are so many and worse, lot of otherwise very nice people dwell on this fallacy. Having the privilege of influenced by both east and west, this fallacy seems obvious from my perspective but it might not for someone without a dose of eastern thoughts or well .. the good old self-reflection, metacognition. Seth has a fantastic post, most of it targetting the academic circles but the last line vindicates my hypothesis:

"To learn appreciative thinking is to learn to appreciate, to learn to see the value of things. More or less the opposite of critical thinking.When it comes to scientific papers, to teach appreciative thinking means to help students see such aspects of a paper as:

  1. What can we learn from it? What new ideas does it suggest? What already-existing plausible ideas does it make more plausible or less plausible?
  2. How is it an improvement over previous work? Does it use new methods? Does it use old methods in a new way? Do it show a better way to do something?
  3. Did the authors show good taste in their choice of problem? Is this a problem both important and possibly solvable?
  4. Are details done well? Is it well-written? Is the context of the work made clear? Are the data well-analyzed? Does it make good use of graphs? Is the discussion imaginative rather than formulaic?
  5. What’s interesting or enjoyable about it?
That sort of thing. In my experience few papers are worthless. But I’ve heard lots of papers called worthless.
The overemphasis — the total emphasis — on critical thinking has big and harmful consequences on graduate students. At Berkeley, in a weekly seminar called Animal Behavior Lunch, we would discuss a recent animal behavior paper. The dozen-odd graduate students could only find fault. Out of hundreds and hundreds of comments, I cannot remember a single positive one from a graduate student. Sometimes a faculty member would intervene: “Let’s not be too negative. . . . ” But week after week it kept happening. Relentless negativity caused trouble for the graduate students because every plan of their own that they thought of, they placed too much emphasis on what was wrong with it. Trying to overcome the problems, their research became too big and complicated. For example, they ran control groups before obtaining the basic effect. They had been very poorly taught — by all those professors who taught critical thinking."

One of the most obvious message from Malcom Galdwell's (irrespective of our love/hate relationship with Galdwell) Outliers was "No one in the history of the world has reached the top alone." (Gladwell concludes in a chapter comparing a high IQ failure named Chris Langan with the brilliantly successful J. Robert Oppenheimer, "not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses-ever makes it alone".)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Robert Sapolsky - The Uniqueness Of Humans

Thanks - Oh my god!!, after listening to Robert Sapolsky's talk few days ago and instantly becoming his fan, this speech is phenomenal. What we can infer from reading like 20 books, has been delivered in this 37 minute talk.

My thoughts on what makes us unique are here and in a weird sense it does overlap with Sapolsky's answer.

9/11 hero cloned!!

Wonder why I love bio-tech albeit the caution it evokes?

Before becoming a moralist, we need to be pragmatic and get ready to face the reality with good dose of skepticism, only after educating ourselves in at-least basics of biotech.
Since we like it or not, we as a civilization are going to take a route which has never been ventured before.
Michael Sandel's lecture is great place.

now, Ronald Bailey's wisdom...:

Life's lessons from stray dogs

Painter Aruna Nene has an exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai and yes, she paints stray dogs, a tranquil beauty of the serene slumber in a place like Mumbai.

Stray dogs are so much a part of our daily life but we hardly take notice of them, says Nashik-based artist Aruna Nene who has painted the canines in acrylic on canvas.The paintings capture stray dogs in various moods at different locations that could well be any spot anywhere in Mumbai. While a pensive-looking brown dog slumbers on a footpath layered with paver blocks, another catches snoozes on a carpet of grass.
Amidst the grind of daily life, Nene, an animal lover, says she took time to stand and stare at dogs that “know to live better than us humans”. “Whenever I visited Mumbai and travelled by its local trains, I would often see people running along, forever in a tearing hurry to get to their destinations. And right there, these stray dogs would lounge comfortably without any trouble whatsoever,” says Nene who hails from a family of defence personnel. And Nene says we can learn a thing or two from dogs.
“We are forever racing through life, the list of our chores never ends. But where we are headed?” she asks. “In contrast, these dogs seem so content despite the fact that they possess nothing.”
The phrase ‘dog’s life’ takes on a new meaning when you see these dogs, says Nene who will donate the proceeds of the exhibition sales to the Parel Animal hospital."

It seems like an elitist act when India needs better things to be done but this need not be a zero-sum game. Caring about stray dogs has nothing to do with poverty in India and both can be handled and they are mutually exclusive (and in-fact poor people are the ones care for the strays more than anyone else). The
lessons from history has taught us humanitarianism started as a elitist propaganda since sometimes they happen to see the forest when masses gets lost in the trees.  Living in India, I got used to and worse became oblivious to it albeit the omnipresent stray dogs. My genome has all the traits to rationalize it and even give deplorable talks, masquerading our short comings in "humor". Things changed after Max and a mere look at a stray dog, sky rocketed the anxiety level and for once, neurotransmitters did their job. There are some of great ideas - here and great acts - old age home for dogs:

A Chennaite has done that precisely. Forty-two-year-old Ashok has set up an 'old age home-cum-permanent shelter' for abandoned dogs and cats at Injambakkam near Chennai. "It is already functional but the formal inauguration is on January 7," says Ashok, a professional dog trainer. "I have always been an animal lover right from childhood,” he adds.He had set up a temporary shelter for dogs, Benji's Dog Academy at Injambakkam eight years back. The present home is about 4000 sq feet.
"I have about 80 dogs and nine cats," says Ashok who bought the property and set up separate enclosures for the animals with his money. There is also a pet cemetery. He spent about Rs seven lakh for the property and building. Dogs have to be treated with love and affection. This home allows them to live their life in peace and dignity. You should have the heart to take care of them"

Peter Singer's philosophy is right and it will take few more generations since civilization is an on-going process and at the current state it will seem ludicrous to most. We cannot make the world a better place for these animals with one single stroke but we have the power to make the world inside our homes a much better place for them. A reader
comment about caring for animals after Pepper's story says it all:

I have a child with insulin-dependent diabetes. I am constantly aware that every single advance keeping her not only alive, but so healthy that others never notice her condition, rests on the shoulders of thousands upon thousands of creatures. These animals have suffered, and these animals feel pain as much as we; many are almost unbearably intelligent and are emotionally...sweet, endearing. It is for this reason that I keep lab rats and greyhounds as pets--a small thanks that cannot go nearly far enough, and an act which has only made me simultaneously more grateful and sadder for the involuntary plight of the laboratory animal."

It's impossible to pay back what animals went and go through each minute to make our lives better and making the life of one stray dog a little better is the least we can do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Learning to love the reality

but yet not only keeping a dream alive but even fueling the dream with it. Here's again a small clip of Agassi talking about his epiphany.

It reminds of a thoughtful piece written by Po Bronson - "What should I do with my life?", something which we should reflect on at-least once in a while without getting lost in the whirlpool of cacophony.

"What should I do with my life? it really is all in your head. The first psychological stumbling block that keeps people from finding themselves is that they feel guilty for simply taking the quest seriously. They think that it's a self-indulgent privilege of the educated upper class. Working-class people manage to be happy without trying to "find themselves," or so the myth goes.
But I found that just about anybody can find this question important. It's not just for free agents, knowledge workers, and serial entrepreneurs. I met many working-class people who found this question essential. They might have fewer choices, but they still care. Take Bart Handford. He went from working the graveyard shift at a Kimberley-Clark baby-wipes plant in Arkansas to running the Department of Agriculture's rural-development program. He didn't do this by just pulling up his bootstraps. His breakthrough came when his car was hit by a train, and he spent six months in bed exploring The Question.
Probably the most debilitating obstacle to taking on The Question is the fear that making a choice is a one-way ride, that starting down a path means closing a door forever.
"Keeping your doors open" is a trap. It's an excuse to stay uninvolved. I call the people who have the hardest time closing doors Phi Beta Slackers. They hop between esteemed grad schools, fat corporate gigs, and prestigious fellowships, looking as if they have their act together but still feeling like observers, feeling as if they haven't come close to living up to their potential."

nice but the most brilliant lines were...:

Shouldn't I make money first -- to fund my dream? The notion that there's an order to your working life is an almost classic assumption: Pay your dues, and then tend to your dream. I expected to find numerous examples of the truth of this path. But I didn't find any.

Sure, I found tons of rich guys who were now giving a lot away to charity or who had bought an island. I found plenty of people who had found something meaningful and original to do after making their money. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the garden-variety fantasy: Put your calling in a lockbox, go out and make a ton of money, and then come back to the lockbox to pick up your calling where you left it.
It turns out that having the financial independence to walk away rarely triggers people to do just that. The reality is, making money is such hard work that it changes you. It takes twice as long as anyone plans for. It requires more sacrifices than anyone expects. You become so emotionally invested in that world -- and psychologically adapted to it -- that you don't really want to ditch it."

Friday, December 18, 2009

What I've been reading

Tyler Cowen's review made me pickup The Persistence of Poverty by Charles Karles and yeah, it was a wild wild ride. Any moderately well off person with active mirror neuron system will be puzzled and appalled by the persistence of poverty with no end in sight esp. in a rich country like USA leave alone Africa. We shouldn't be a relativist when it comes to understanding poverty since just by comparing African poverty we should never neglect the poverty in developed world (learnt that slowly after coming to this country) and the purpose of this book is not African poverty where mere survival is at stake. Its about poverty where survival is not at stake but about a condition where life becomes worse than death and about the political ramifications on controlling it.

Five common reason why poor remain poor are:

  • Not working
  • Not getting education
  • No saving
  • Alcoholism
  • Taking risks with law.
and why they act irrationally by acting against their ticket out of poverty? or is it completely rational from their perspective? Karles builds a case for his hypothesis, whether the actions of poor rational or irrational, if so who is responsible or why any of the existing policys make little progress? And his hypothesis -  It makes sense to help poor who are on verge of success (who are more motivated to succeed) rather than poorest of the poor who need the most but aren't motived enough to succeed as they should have been. I loved his theory and it makes sense to help more the people who will succeed sooner and join the otherside to rescue more poor out of poverty and cycle can continue until an equilibrim is reached. It sounds fabulous on paper but ... try fine tuning this theory in Washington.. I hope someone in congress looks into this. I am optimistic, since the Cass Sustein and Richard Thaler (of Nudge fame) are now very influential in White House and not long ago they were unknown to the world except the academic circles ( they are now number 7 on top global thinkers).
Until the dreams comes true, we have Malcom Gladwell and the advantages of underprivileged.

Follow up on Hygeine Hypothesis, Symbiosis, Parasites et al

This theory is up there with grand unified theory, God debate etc and honestly, its going to take more than our lifetime to uncover and comprehend completely and its understatement. Nonetheless, its fascinating and will have far reaching consequences which we cannot even begin to envisage. So, for the ease of following, I am going to club the microbes and parasites albeit the utility of microbes has more positive but as per these evolving theories both have a profound impact on who we are (earlier posts - here, here, and here).

Edge has great talk on now famous, "Toxo - The Parasite in the Brain" by Robert Sapolsky explaning how it makes mamalians attracted to felines and also how uniquely it is capable of identifying and disabling just one specific fear circuit in amygdala, which till date no neuroscientists hasn't be able to do.

"The first thing we did was introduce Toxo into a rat and it took about six weeks for it to migrate from its gut up into its nervous system. And at that point, we looked to see, where has it gone in the brain? It formed cysts, sort of latent, encapsulated cysts, and it wound up all over the brain. That was deeply disappointing.
But then we looked at how much winds up in different areas in the brain, and it turned out Toxo preferentially knows how to home in on the part of the brain that is all about fear and anxiety, a brain region called the amygdala. The amygdala is where you do your fear conditioning; the amygdala is what's hyperactive in people with post-traumatic stress disorder; the amygdala is all about pathways of predator aversion, and Toxo knows how to get in there.
Next, we then saw that Toxo would take the dendrites, the branch and cables that neurons have to connect to each other, and shriveled them up in the amygdala. It was disconnecting circuits. You wind up with fewer cells there. This is a parasite that is unwiring this stuff in the critical part of the brain for fear and anxiety. That's really interesting. That doesn't tell us a thing about why only its predator aversion has been knocked outwhereas fear of bright lights, et cetera, is still in there. It knows how to find that particular circuitry.
So what's going on from there? What's it doing? Because it's not just destroying this fear aversive response, it's creating something new. It's creating an attraction to the cat urine. And here is where this gets utterly bizarre. You look at circuitry in the brain, and there's a reasonably well-characterized circuit that activates neurons which become metabolically active circuits where they're talking to each other, a reasonably well-understood process that's involved in predator aversion. It involves neurons in the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and some other brain regions getting excited. This is a very well characterized circuit."

From the above research, he has some enlighting hypothesis...

On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders, and this is not a rare pattern. Look at the rabies virus; rabies knows more about aggression than we neuroscientists do. It knows how to make you rabid. It knows how to make you want to bite someone, and that saliva of yours contains rabies virus particles, passed on to another person.
The Toxo story is, for me, completely new terrain — totally cool, interesting stuff, just in terms of this individual problem. And maybe it's got something to do with treatments for phobias down the line or whatever it is to make it seem like anything more than just the coolest gee whiz thing possible. But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think."
A few years ago, I sat down with a couple of the Toxo docs over in our hospital who do the Toxo testing in the Ob/Gyn clinics. And they hadn't heard about this behavioral story, and I'm going on about how cool and unexpected it is. And suddenly, one of them jumps up, flooded with 40-year-old memories, and says, "I just remembered back when I was a resident, I was doing a surgical transplant rotation. And there was an older surgeon, who said, if you ever get organs from a motorcycle accident death, check the organs for Toxo. I don't know why, but you find a lot of Toxo." And you could see this guy was having a rush of nostalgic memories from back when he was 25 and all because he was being told this weird factoid ... ooh, people who die in motorcycle accidents seem to have high rates of Toxo. Utterly bizarre."

You want to know something utterly terrifying? Here's something terrifying and not surprising. Folks who know about Toxo and its affect on behavior are in the U.S. military. They're interested in Toxo. They're officially intrigued. And I would think they would be intrigued, studying a parasite that makes mammals perhaps do things that everything in their fiber normally tells them not to because it's dangerous and ridiculous and stupid and don't do it. But suddenly with this parasite on board, the mammal is a little bit more likely you go and do it. Who knows? But they are aware of Toxo."
"There's a long-standing literature that absolutely shows there's a statistical link between Toxo infection and schizophrenia. It's not a big link, but it's solidly there. Schizophrenics have higher than expected rates of having been infected with Toxo, and not particularly the case for other related parasites. Links between schizophrenia and mothers who had house cats during pregnancy. There's a whole literature on that. So where does this fit in?
Two really interesting things. Back to dopamine and the tyrosine hydroxylase gene that Toxo somehow ripped off from mammals, which allows it to make more dopamine. Dopamine levels are too high in schizophrenia. That's the leading suggestion of what schizophrenia is about neurochemically. You take Toxo-infected rodents and their brains have elevated levels of dopamine. Final deal is, and this came from Webster's group, you take a rat who's been Toxo-infected and is now at the state where it would find cat urine to be attractive, and you give it drugs that block dopamine receptors, the drugs that are used to treat schizophrenics, and it stops being attracted to the cat urine. There is some schizophrenia connection here with this."

There you go, that darn
dopamine again ... but I will keep my promise. Well, next one is a follow up piece on the microbes, nothing new but now there seems to be an unaminity among the researchers on the humility of "not knowing anything".

Bacteria, viruses and fungi have been primarily cast as the villains in the battle for better human health. But a growing community of researchers is sounding the warning that many of these microscopic guests are really ancient allies.
Having evolved along with the human species, most of the miniscule beasties that live in and on us are actually helping to keep us healthy, just as our well-being promotes theirs. In fact, some researchers think of our bodies as superorganisms, rather than one organism teeming with hordes of subordinate invertebrates.
The human body has some 10 trillion human cells—but 10 times that number of microbial cells. So what happens when such an important part of our bodies goes missing?

Well, all I can say is ... oops  ( and did a tiny "thingee" had hand in making of  Hitler and Gandhi?)