Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Babylon in all its desolation is a sight not so awful as that of the human mind in ruins." - Scrope Davies

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect

Theodore Dalrymple post is one of best piece of writing I have read so far this year.

"When people speak of their low self-esteem, they imply two things: first, that it is a physiological fact, rather like low hemoglobin, and second, that they have a right to more of it. What they seek, if you like, is a transfusion of self-esteem, given (curiously enough) by others; and once they have it, the quality of their lives will improve as the night succeeds the day. For the record, I never had a patient who complained of having too much self-esteem, and who therefore asked for a reduction. Self-esteem, it appears, is like money or health: you can't have too much of it.
Self-esteemists, if I may so call those who are concerned with the levels of their own self-esteem, believe that it is something to which they have a right. If they don't have self-esteem in sufficient quantity to bring about a perfectly happy life, their fundamental rights are being violated. They feel aggrieved and let down by others rather than by themselves; they ascribe their lack of rightful self-esteem to the carping, and unjustified, criticism of parents, teachers, spouses, and colleagues.
The twin qualities leading to self-esteem are (an allegedly) just appreciation of one's own importance and of one's own worth. Neither importance nor worth, however, are qualities to be found in nature without an appraising mind; it is the appraising mind that confers them upon their object.
Let us take importance first. There is no doubt a sense - that of the American Declaration of Independence, the supposedly self-evident truth that all men are created equal - in which everyone is important simply by virtue of drawing breath; but of course this kind of importance is not sufficient for the self-esteemist, who derives no comfort from it whatsoever. What he needs is to be more important than someone else in order to have his self-esteem. Nor is it sufficient that he should be more important than somebody else only in his own eyes, because we are all more important in our own eyes than anybody else.
Hence the self-esteemist demands the recognition of others - "respect," in the lexicon of the slum hoodlum - in order to prop up his self-esteem. Unfortunately for him, the world of others still usually insists upon some kind of achievement before according recognition: achievement in a broad sense, but achievement nonetheless. But the self-esteemist wants to skip this arduous requirement; the result is that he is an angry and bitter soul."

Ain't that the truth?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What I've been reading

Wisdom: From Philosophy To Neuroscience by Stephen S. Hall. It's a fantastic read. This book is not a guide on how to cultivate wisdom but rather it's more on emphasizing the importance of wisdom. Given the state of our society, its an important book. (while at it, let's learn a thing or two from Wisdom of Elephants)

Stephen list's eight pillars which he considers the back bone of wisdom - Emotional regulation, knowing what is important, moral reasoning, compassion, humility, altruism, patience and dealing with uncertainty. It's a Sisyphean task and one has to go through perpetual heart ache to even just get their toes wet in the quest of wisdom. Barricades of
 ridicule needs to be surpassed and prove constantly to the society they are devoid of any hidden intentions. This road less traveled is riddled with thorns but it's a paradox why someone gives up so much in the quest of something unquantifiable (no wonder most eschew it). I guess, dopamine is the culprit in this quest, constantly feeding the reward system. This probably is the mother of all rewards.

Young Adam Smith's words has an answer to that conundrum - "In a lovely evocation of that timeless fork in the road between material and spiritual well-being, he spoke of two different roads - one of "proud ambition and ostentatious avidity," the other of "humble modestly and equitable justice" - that await our choice. "Two different models, two different pictures, are held out to us, according to which fashion our own character and behavior; the one more gaudy and glittering in its coloring; the other more correct and exquisitely beautiful in its outline: the one forcing itself upon the notice of every wandering eye; the other attracting the attention of scare any body but most studious and careful observer. They are the wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshipers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshipers, of wealth and greatness."

Even before reading this book, my belief was (and is) wisdom doesn't came naturally with age (grumpiness replaces wisdom if it's not nurtured all life long.  Alternatively, the stereotype of monk = wisdom is absurd too.). The importance of life long accumulation (bayesian inference per se) is so eloquently put by Laura Cartensen, a psychologist at Stanford University - "When the future is vast and open-ended, people need to adapt to the temporal context by preparing for that future, and that means you collect - you collect people, you collect experiences, you collect information, and you bank on it, because at one point in time it may become relevant, even if it's not relevant today. But it's very much this preparatory state that people are in. And in that state, information is so valuable, and any information is valuable. You have to be able to digest it, to learn it, to remember it, to encode it, to build on it, even if that has costs to your emotional well-being."

To paraphrase Darwin, there is grandeur in this view of life. The only reason we thrived and thriving (misnomer??) is not only because of wisdom we inherited from thousands of years of our evolution but most importantly by endlessly upgrading and honing by some noble souls.
Again to continue the rant, very few realize this to embark on that route. But ranting and complaining will not lead us anywhere since it was always been this way and probably will be forever (hoping neuroscience breaks this logjam). One has to pursue this in-spite of social hurdles like what Confucius advised to Zilu - "
Zilu asked about the truly better person, and Confucius said, "One cultivates oneself carefully." Zilu asked if that was all, and Confucius said, "One cultivates oneself so as to help other people." Zilu asked again if that was all, and Confucius said, "One cultivates oneself so as to help all the people. Even Yao and Shun found that difficult." Confucius began with the primary step-improve yourself. If a person could do that, then one could help others. If one could help some, then one could strive to help all humanity. Thus he showed the successive stages. On another occasion Zilu asked about government, and Confucius said, "Lead by example; work hard for them." Again Zilu asked for further instruction, and Confucius said, "Untiringly."

"Every moment instructs and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson put it beautifully but miserable life taught Confucius more pragmatism:
"When the Way prevails under the Heaven, then show yourself; when it does not prevail, then hide."

Raise of Snake Oil Neuroscientists

Welcome to Planet Earth - the fight of all fights is in the horizon:

I have such high hopes for neuroscience that I’m so upset by two trends in financing of the field. One involves neuroscience’s growing dependence on the Pentagon, which is seeking new ways to help our soldiers and harm our enemies. For a still-timely overview of neuroweapons research, check out the 2006 book Mind Wars by bioethicist Jonathan Moreno of the University of Pennsylvania. (PR disclosure: I brought Moreno to my school to give a talk on March 10.) Potential neuroweapons include drugs, transcranial magnetic stimulators and implanted brain chips that soup up the sensory capacities and memories of soldiers, as well as brain-scanners and electromagnetic beams that read, control or scramble the thoughts of bad guys.
Here are some ethical questions: Will the militarization of neuroscience really make the world safer, or just trigger a new arms race? Have researchers considered how non-Americans are likely to perceive our neuroweapons program? Some neuroscientists dismiss bionic warriors as a sci-fi fantasy unlikely to be realized soon, if ever. But then should researchers exploit the U.S. military’s gullibility?
What about taking advantage of baby boomers—like me--desperately trying to ward off the effects of aging? That brings me to another disturbing neuroeconomics trend. A firm called
Posit Science recently started sending me unsolicited emails bragging about how its software programs, which cost about $400 each, have been “clinically proven to help you: Think Faster. Focus Better. Remember More.” The marketing reminded me of cheesy infomercials for exercise gadgets like the Ab Rocket or Bowflex. The Posit Science website revealed, to my surprise, that the company was co-founded by Michael Merzenich of the University of California at San Francisco, an authority on neuroplasticity."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Metacognitive Apes

Jonah Lehrer has a great post on meta-cognition in Apes. I wasn't impressed by the series of tests  because meta-cognition cannot be inferred by  anthropomorphizing. The truth is probably:

"Does a dog search longer in the backyard for a bigger bone? If so, is Fido practicing metacognition? My childhood cat was the laziest creature in the world. But she was willing to rummage around the recycling bin for hours searching for the empty tuna can. Did she posses the same metacognitive qualities as those chimps spending more time looking for the tastier treat?
The moral, though, is that even the loftiest of human talents, such as the ability to reflect on our own thoughts, have plenty of animal precursors. We're so much less special than we like to imagine."

Worlds tallest Dog - George

GiantGeorge !! (thanks

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Vulcanization of the Human Brain

Vulcanization is a process of hardening rubber to enhance it's strength. I came across this great economic journal by Jonathan D. Cohen called Vulcanization of the Human Brain. Cohen presents an apt and very informative argument on how evolution vulcanized our brain via the prefrontal cortex. This simple journal covers lots of ground.

The prefrontal cortex evolved in the context of pre-existing emotional pro- cesses and must therefore have developed to interact effectively with such pro- cesses. However, the full emergence of the prefrontal cortex, and the technological and social innovations to which it has recently given rise, have begun to produce changes in the physical and social environment that have outpaced evolution, creating circumstances for which the emotional mechanisms in our brains may not be fully adapted. This situation, coupled with the apparent heterogeneity in the development of the prefrontal cortex across members of the human race, intro- duces a potentially fundamental instability: A world in which the potency of technology introduced by the prefrontal cortex, and perhaps manageable by it, is equally accessible to mechanisms that were not adapted to the use of that technol- ogy. Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying: “The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them” (MacHale, 2002). It remains to be seen whether the prefrontal cortex (and associated structures) has the capacity to meet the challenges that its appearance seems to have introduced, or whether evolution has truly taken a bite of Eden’s apple."

he point is vulcanization is incomplete in all of us. It's up-to us to continue the vulcanization life long and yes, it's easier said that done. 

Animals do not commit suicide

"Science" replies to this.

Time magazine says there is a "scientific debate" going on about whether animals commit suicide. What a load of poppycock!

Mind Hacks blog links to Time's article, at least pointing out that: "The piece doesn't answer the question of whether animals can end it all, but is a fascinating look at how the idea that they can has gone in and out of fashion."

In case there's any confusion about whether animals can top themselves: they can't.

Animals would first need to be shown to have a well-developed sense of self before we could even consider the idea that they might decide to voluntarily end their lives. There is some evidence in a few animals for this, notably great apes, dolphins and elephants. Some corvids - birds in the family that includes crows and rooks - might be able to "know themselves" too.  

robots have passed the mirror test, but dogs, horses and cats? There's no evidence that these animals have a sense of self.

Time story comes from a paper discussing the history of the idea, from Aristotle to Victorian times. How this discussion of dusty anecdote becomes a "scientific debate" is unclear, to say the least." 

Don't be so sure and hasty in refuting (mirror test = self aware is absurd) else science becomes religion. The right answer is WE DON'T KNOW YET, so much for humility.

The irony is if animals do commit suicide, the proof of that will be inferred from science someday.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Hone Morality, Think - Sam Harris

My Brain Made Me Do It

We are creatures longing for free rides one way or other (albeit it's explicit only economically) and given the explosive growth in neuroscience, this blame game is something inevitable. The new book My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility by Eliezer J. Sternberg captures excatly that. Great review - Here:

"Keep some grains of salt handy as you are reading. The tone Sternberg takes to the possibility of widespread acceptance of neurobiological determinism is of the sky-is-falling variety. With over 40,000 practising neuroscientists, it isn't hard to find juicy quotes dismissing the existence of free will, but it is inaccurate to characterise this as the general attitude of the field.
Sternberg addresses two related problems throughout the book. The first concerns the wide range of influences on our actions that we are unaware of at any given moment. If an action I take is triggered by unconscious sensory input, am I employing free will?
The second, known as the "causal exclusion problem" in philosophy, is the one that really disturbs Sternberg. You, in the grand sense of "you" - your thoughts, emotions, volition and moral reasoning - depend on neuronal processing in your brain. If the firings of any neuron are enough to cause the next neuron to fire, your brain runs all on its own. There is no extra place in which you, as a higher-level, conscious being, can direct proceedings and assert free will. This clockwork determinism undermines any causal role we could have in our own actions - and, by implication, our responsibility for those actions.
So what is Sternberg's answer to the problem of free will? Emergence. This concept can be roughly summed up as "the whole is more than the sum of the parts". Just as temperature emerges from a collection of molecules even though it does not exist at the level of individual molecules, free will, Sternberg argues, emerges from otherwise deterministic processes at the level of neurons."

But what about neural plasticity?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Economics is an art, not science

Check out David Brook's latest column and you will understand why I tend to learn so much from his writings.

"One gets the sense, at least from the outside, that the intellectual energy is no longer with the economists who construct abstract and elaborate models. Instead, the field seems to be moving in a humanist direction. Many economists are now trying to absorb lessons learned by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists. They’re producing books with titles like “Animal Spirits,” “The Irrational Economist,” and “Identity Economics,” about subjects such as how social identities shape economic choices.
This amounts to rediscovering the humility of an earlier time. After all, Adam Smith was a moral philosopher, Friedrich von Hayek built his philosophy on an awareness of our own ignorance, and John Maynard Keynes “was not prepared to sacrifice realism to mathematics,” as the biographer Robert Skidelsky put it. Economics is a “moral science,” Keynes wrote. It deals with “motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogenous.”
In Act IV, in other words, economists are taking baby steps into the world of emotion, social relationships, imagination, love and virtue. In Act V, I predict, they will blow up their whole field.
Economics achieved coherence as a science by amputating most of human nature. Now economists are starting with those parts of emotional life that they can count and model (the activities that make them economists). But once they’re in this terrain, they’ll surely find that the processes that make up the inner life are not amenable to the methodologies of social science. The moral and social yearnings of fully realized human beings are not reducible to universal laws and cannot be studied like physics.
Once this is accepted, economics would again become a subsection of history and moral philosophy. It will be a powerful language for analyzing certain sorts of activity. Economists will be able to describe how some people acted in some specific contexts. They will be able to draw out some suggestive lessons to keep in mind while thinking about other people and other contexts — just as historians, psychologists and novelists do."

The nightmare is that not many try to understand economics leave alone comprehending the need of assimilating human emotions into it. May be the of curse and blessing of humanity is that our fate is meant to be left in the hands of abled few who try to comprehend and self-sacrifice for greater good.

Addressing the Ivory Surplus ...

Even though Elephants have been "confirmed" as one of the few creatures (with Apes and Dolphins) capable of self-awareness, this tragedy is still going on a mass scale.

"The 1989 ivory trade ban has led to government stockpiles of ivory (from seizures/arrests and herd culling), and no legal means of selling the stuff.  In recent years, “countries considered to have well-managed stocks of elephants and reliable systems for tracking tusks have three times been allowed to sell consignments from government stockpiles.”  Recent requests for permission to sell ivory stockpiles from Tanzania and Zambia, however, were denied by the U.N.’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  Some environmentalists applauded the decision, on the grounds that any ivory sales encourage elephant poaching (the data on this is mixed), while others pointed out that occasional legal sales are not the biggest problem facing elephants today.  ”While the issue of whether sales should be allowed to proceed or not has dominated much of the discussions here… the key driving force behind the ongoing elephant poaching is the continued existence of illegal domestic ivory markets across parts of Africa and Asia,” said one expert.  Meanwhile, Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating wonders if the ivory decision may have been politically motivated. Do any Freakonomics readers have a novel way of eliminating government ivory stockpiles without encouraging poaching?"

I cannot think of a better idea than building memorial/museum as a token of appreciation for pain and suffering animals went and go through every minute for our betterment. Portraying the story of butchery behind the each adorned
Ivory might be a stimulus for next generation to change.
We, the rational creatures never had the humility to build a memorial for animals.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Knowledge is Power

Like most people, I am big supporter of open source for pretty much anything under the sun. I do have have high hopes for  "do-it-yourself-biology" and anybody with even a cursory knowledge of history understands it's immense potential. Here is a fantastic post starting with this great quote and bashing open source:

"Intellectuals in their self-flattering wish-fulfillment say that knowledge is power, but the truth is that knowledge further empowers only those who have or can acquire the power to use it."

This is a quintessential quixotic dreamer trying to take us back in time. Platonic dialogues cannot rationalize and change the ground reality. We have to give them credit for trying but society simply doesn't work that way. It never has and probably never will.

Open source was and is never meant to be an alternative for University education or any other traditional venues of epistemological quest. Open source is a launch pad for hidden geniuses who want thrive in-spite of - insurmountable bureaucracy, lacking social skills, being autistic, financially constrained, geographical limitations, being a women victimized by culture, religious dissonance and every other conceivable adversities some misfortunates among us face. Unlike woo-meisters, open source is real and quantifiable hope for the unfortunate. It has already proven itself to be precocious and will continue to evolve to be a competing force. May be its not yet explicitly exploited by the unfortunate but that doesn't mean it cannot or will not be.  Open source is not a panacea but bashing the very concept of open source for quixotic dreams is ridiculous. Open source provides a venue to acquire and empower knowledge even when all odds are against them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Simon Jenkins, On Cruelty to Animals


"Our concern should be not so much for the supposed rights of animals but for the vices of humans. The principle of not doing unnecessary harm "does not involve extending to animals the privileges and protections that are the gift of moral agency". It derives from our aversion to the human vice of enjoying suffering for its own sake"

Look Deep Into the Mind's Eye

If you want to know how weird, malleable and mysterious our brain is, please read Carl Zimmer's latest column - Mind's Eye:

"One day in 2005, a retired building surveyor in Edinburgh visited his doctor with a strange complaint: His mind’s eye had suddenly gone blind.
The surveyor, referred to as MX by his doctors, was 65 at the time. He had always felt that he possessed an exceptional talent for picturing things in his mind. The skill had come in handy in his job, allowing MX to recall the fine details of the buildings he surveyed. Just before drifting off to sleep, he enjoyed running through recent events as if he were watching a movie. He could picture his family, his friends, and even characters in the books he read.
Then these images all vanished. The change happened shortly after MX went to a hospital to have his blocked coronary arteries treated. As a cardiologist snaked a tube into the arteries and cleared out the obstructions, MX felt a “reverberation” in his head and a tingling in his left arm. He didn’t think to mention it to his doctors at the time. But four days later he realized that when he closed his eyes, all was darkness."

We Can Learn Self-Control From Dogs

This research is hilariously, considering we are supposedly conscientious creatures and we tend to look down on dogs.

"The study, in the journal Psychological Science, confirms the notion that self-control is a limited resource, one that can and does get depleted. It also suggests this is not “a uniquely human process.
“Dogs given a glucose drink persisted in interacting with the toy whether or not they had had to exert self-control prior to the test,” the researchers report, adding the glucose apparently replenished the animal’s capacity to keep at the task.
Miller appreciates the irony in this finding, which suggests the way to replenish one’s self-control (say, to resist junk food) is to drink a sugary beverage. But she hastened to add she’s not recommending a trip to the soda aisle of 7-Eleven.
“All carbohydrates, once digested, are converted into glucose,” she said. “Some carbohydrates are digested quickly and have immediate effects (e.g. a glucose drink). Some are digested more slowly and have a longer lasting effect (e.g. apples).
“If I were translating this into the recipe for a good weight-loss intervention, I would advise people to eat when they are hungry and always choose foods that are low on the glycemic index. These foods will provide the brain with energy for longer durations of time and thus fuel the ability to inhibit eating unhealthy foods.”
So these experiments on dogs contain an interesting implication for humans: Willpower — presumably a foreign concept to canines – isn’t so much a question of character as it is one of biology.
“People can control their own behavior,” Miller said. “When they fail, it is not because they are terrible or weak; it is because they are depleted.
“They need to evaluate what they are eating in order to determine if they are eating wholesome food at regular intervals. And if they want better self-control, they can build it. They can encourage their bodies to store more self-control fuel via exercise.”
So, to conserve the fuel crucial to making smart choices, go out for a run. Better yet, take your dog."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Michael Lewis on Fareed Zakaria

Between David Brooks says his book is due in four weeks , I hope he slogs and finishes it on time !! As far I remember the untitled book is about the forthcoming impact of neuroscience on our society. I am so looking forward to it since this column started it all.

Interview with Michael Lewis starts after the 20th minute. 

Creatures of the Deep Provide Insight into Diabetes

Interesting insight once again from species we least expect. For people who don't give a hoot about animals and nature - this is why bio-diversity is so important. 

"A new study in Gene could help explain a rare form of diabetes that causes sufferers to urinate more than three liters every day. Maurice Elphick from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences says that some marine animals, like sea urchins and acorn worms, produce NG peptides, which help the creatures release their eggs and sperm at the same time.
Elphick has also found that NG peptides are made by a gene similar to the mutant gene in humans that causes diabetes insipidus. Tests on patients with this type of diabetes reveal that their symptoms are caused by an inability to produce the hormone vasopressin — which tells the body how much urine to produce — and Elphick says the sea creatures produce NG peptides the same way our brains produce vasopressin. By studying how sea urchins produce NG peptides, Elphick hopes researchers might better understand the faulty human vasopressin gene."

Halal - Slaughter Regulation

The hypocrisy in this is obvious and there is no need to elaborate. What dazzled me is Nesrine Malik's audacity to write this piece. I wish there were more like her. There is no need for the quintessential euphemistic warning before reading this piece since the truth and evidence is safely stored in our "innocent" looking refrigerators. I have seen this as a kid and my life was never the same. Since we don't get to see this anymore is the reason for the hypocrisy.

I remember vividly the first time I saw an animal slaughtered at our home in Sudan. The hapless sheep was brought to the house and tethered in the garden days before the Eid festival. My sisters and I fed it, watered it and giggled at its silly bleats outside our bedroom windows at night.
I was vaguely aware that this sheep was to provide food for us, but as a five-year-old had not fully grasped the concept until I walked out on Eid morning just in time to see the butcher slit its throat.
Having spent my first few years in a non-Muslim country, I had grown familiar with anthropomorphised animals on TV, in children's books and bedtime stories. We bought our meat from halal butchers, but never saw it killed.
So, arriving back in Sudan, I was somewhat more sensitive about the slaughter process than other children in my family and neighbourhood.
That fateful day, our neighbour's two boys dropped by to witness the killing. Once the sheep was dead, the butcher sliced an aperture in its body and blew air between its skin and its flesh – a practice that makes skinning easier. As the carcass inflated, the two boys punched it gleefully.
Sorry to be graphic. I could go on. It was pretty gruesome. The poor animal certainly did not die immediately, since the religious stipulation on halal slaughter is that it must bleed to death. The logic behind this is that remaining blood in the body may become polluted and harmful to humans. By the time I eventually moved to the UK, my original cuddly approach towards animals had been eroded by years of mini-abattoirs in the back garden. If anything, the whole process had begun to take on pleasant associations as sheep were only ever slaughtered at our home in celebration of a happy event.
Brian Sewell, the art critic, had his own reverse epiphany, having previously consumed "half a calf's head in a Brussels brasserie, tĂȘte de veau complete with ear, eye and half muzzle, the cheek, the tongue and brain" like an "unthinking glutton", he found his unflinching carnivorousness did not translate to indifference towards the way his meat was killed. When he witnessed halal and shechita slaughter, he saw animals kicked, bludgeoned and felled so that the butcher could get at their necks.
Isn't there some hypocrisy in heartily consuming meat but being precious about how animals are butchered? Apart from lethal injection in a Swiss clinic somewhere, I cannot imagine that any method of execution is particularly pleasant. If you're squeamish about the killing, surely vegetarianism is the only tenable position."

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Plastic Bag" - A Short Film By Ramin Bahrani

A spectacular idea, spectacular fliming and with a spectacular voice over (thanks). A must watch. 

Tanezumab - Keeping my fingers crossed

New drug Tanezumab will be soon being labeled and marked as "panacea for pain".  We all know how this goes unless we are from another planet and just visiting Earth for summer. In any case, an interesting aspect of this new drug is it handles pain via the brain.

"Studies have shown that physiology and genetics can increase pain sensitivity and one thing for certain, without the brain there is no pain.
But recently the big pharma company Pfizer has developed a new drug, tanezumab, that inhibits a protein involved in transmitting the pain signal to the brain.
This protein is called nerve growth factor (NGF.) It’s a naturally occurring protein, but its levels rise dramatically in response to some diseases and injuries. In the short-term it activates pain-signalling nerves and this results in what we feel is pain. But it can also increase the expression of neurotransmitters and this can change how sensory nerves transmit pain messages for the long-term. It’s as if NGF amplifies the pain message to the brain.  

Tanezumab apparently neutralizes NGF and puts a halt to this amped-up pain signal."

Long term effects of blowing the fuse

Yes, I am obsessed with cognitive biases. We live in world were self-reflection is ridiculed, living in a self gratifying cocoon is promoted and lauded by the society. There is a reverse wisdom of crowds, our individual shortcomings has a profound effect on our civilization as a whole (duh!!). My hope is understanding our cognitive biases will help promote self-reflection and yes, I am an optimistic dreamer as well. There cannot be better explanation for my obsession that this column:

The heat of the moment is a powerful, dangerous thing. We all know this. If we’re happy, we may be overly generous. Maybe we leave a big tip, or buy a boat. If we’re irritated, we may snap. Maybe we rifle off that nasty e-mail to the boss, or punch someone. And for that fleeting second, we feel great. But the regret—and the consequences of that decision—may last years, a whole career, or even a lifetime.
At least the regret will serve us well, right? Lesson learned—maybe.
Maybe not. My friend Eduardo Andrade and I wondered if emotions could influence how people make decisions even after the heat or anxiety or exhilaration wears off. We suspected they could. As research going back to Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory suggests, the problem with emotional decisions is that our actions loom larger than the conditions under which the decisions were made. When we confront a situation, our mind looks for a precedent among past actions without regard to whether a decision was made in emotional or unemotional circumstances. Which means we end up repeating our mistakes, even after we’ve cooled off.
I said that Eduardo and I wondered if past emotions influence future actions, but, really, we worried about it. If we were right, and recklessly poor emotional decisions guide later “rational” moments, well, then, we’re not terribly sophisticated decision makers, are we?"
So now I’m thinking of the manager whose personal portfolio loses 10% of its value in a week (entirely plausible these days). He’s frustrated, angry, nervous—and all the while, he’s making decisions about the day-to-day operations of his group. If he’s forced to attend to those issues right after he looks at his portfolio, he’s liable to make poor decisions, colored by his inner turmoil. Worse, though, those poor decisions become part of the blueprint for his future decisions—part of what his brain considers “the way to act.”
That makes those strategies for making decisions in the heat of the moment even more important: Take a deep breath. Count backward from 10 (or 10,000). Wait until you’ve cooled off. Sleep on it.
If you don’t, you may regret it. Many times over.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Max!!

Four years ago when I held this little fluffy brown velvet ball, little did I know how much he was going to change my life. Thank You & Happy Birthday!!

Breakfast With Socrates

One of my all time favorite speech/essay is Philosophy Who Needs It by Ayn Rand . This new book Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day by Robert Rowland Smith seems to have essence of that speech sans the quintessential Randism. A great review here:

Every day we follow a routine filled generally filled with the same day to day activities. Some of our routines vary from week to week and every once in a while we mix in other similarly mundane but less frequent activities. We have a passive acceptance of the behavior and mental state associated with these tasks, taking for granted the psychological possibilities that exist within each routine activity. From waking up, driving to work to going to lunch, on vacation or having sexual relations there are deeper meanings for our particular function in each of these seemingly mundane routine behaviors. It’s these deeper meanings that Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day seeks to explore and explain.

Author and former Oxford Philosophy Fellow Robert Rowland Smith takes the reader into a worm hole of psychology, sociology and theology when explaining these aforementioned every day activities. With help from some artists, philosophers, poets and some of the other great minds throughout history, Smith sets out to show us the hidden meanings in our daily lives.
mith keeps it fairly free of the “shop-talk” that would turn off the average reader. Each chapter flows well for the most part, though Smith does have a tendency to ramble as if he’s a radio host with ADHD. Some of the sentences seem to drag a bit long to make a point, because several asides were made while coming to that conclusion. Mind you, the asides are coherent and relative to the overall subject of the chapter, but some prove to be a bit distracting and by the time they are finished you have to re-read to catch up your brain on what you may have missed. Thankfully, there is plenty of humor and lighthearted takes on popular culture and behavior that any strict philosophy is smoothed over and made easier to swallow.
Overall, Breakfast is a very thoughtful and continuously entertaining picture of human behavior. Smith adequately and expertly matches the right classical mind or system of thought with each chapter subject without making it seem like a stretch. Rooted deeply in philosophy and psychology, the book is never too complex or confusing that anyone with a normal level of reading comprehension would have a problem with. The theories and hypothesis presented are a great precursor to decision based analysis, presenting theory to preclude statistics that appear in such analysis."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lessons from Angelica Archangelica

We all are underpaid, over-qualified, under appreciated, brilliant except others don't perceive the same of us. These pleasures of living in Lake Wobegon eventually weans away - here:

"You've got to learn from life's ups and downs. Here's an analogy from the world of pharmacognosy: A special plant grows in the mountainous areas of Iceland's interior, called Angelica archangelica. It produces flowers, seeds, and roots that have been used as medicine by the local population for nearly 1000 years. It was only recently that scientific research highlighted the value of these roots, which led farmers in other countries to grow Angelica in controlled environments.
At first, botanists were impressed with this cultivated Angelica, as the plants look lovely when tended properly in a garden. But unfortunately, although the specially cultivated plants look beautiful, they are nearly worthless. The medicinal value of Angelica develops only under the stressful conditions of real life in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Fertilizer, pesticides, and good soil do nothing but build a very weak immune system in the herb, translating to a plant with little or no commercial value.
Like Angelica, which only develops its magic when it hits the ups and downs of real life, we can't achieve our ultimate career success by sitting around feeling special. If you're going to succeed in the workforce, you've got to first understand what makes you unique, and then build something special through intense labor. Finally, and almost more importantly, you then have to translate that something into special benefits for those who would employ you."

My Name is Khan

Puppies in Afghanistan:

Dogs are as integral to war as bullets, people or tragedy. When I deployed to Afghanistan, regulation forbid keeping dogs as company mascots. But I didn't step foot on a FOB that didn't have at least one dog. Or a resident feral cat. Or pet monkey purchased off base. Or captured python.

We named the above puppy K2. He wasn't my favorite war dog, but the most picturesque. K2 was our second attempt at raising a puppy on our FOB. The first puppy, with the Star Trek-inspired name "Khan," had an unfortunate run-in with anti-freeze in the motor pool.
K2 was the youngest of the three dogs at Camp Joyce. The alpha dog was a bitch nicknamed Mama. She looked like a wolf, with gray fur and menacing eyes. Mama single-handedly kept our FOB clear of other animals, ferociously defending the FOB from any wild Afghan dogs who tried to scavenge our trash pit. Once, she led her pack to run off a herd of lost cattle that made its way to our side of the base. Mama stood her ground and drove them right out the front gate, deftly snapping at their heels. Mama was flanked by a black and white dog about half her size who never even got a name. He was just that dog with one eye. "

Friday, March 19, 2010

What I've been reading

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. I don't look forward to reading business books but I read this having bought into Dan's sales pitch on TED.This book is for people thought his TED talk was baloney.

Maslow's hierarcy of needs laid out a good theory on Human motivation back in 1943; this book is an amplifier, re-emphasizing the obvious.

More on GM food

Same ongoing debate with more insights but no news on the mediation front. With exponential globalization it will only get worse but would make a "splendid" intellectual debate. Long live the dopamine drive.

"In The Guardian article, plant scientist Eoin Lettice points out that most of the genetically modified (GM) plants brought to market today primarily benefit giant multinational corporations rather than the consumer. Tomatoes designed to last longer during long-distance shipment end up tasteless and mealy, and the most common genetically modified foods are designed to be resistant to the weed killer that Monsanto produces, the chemicals in which may actually contribute to health problems (although the numbers in the one study are worst than shaky and a lot more work needs to be done). Moreover, Monsanto and other GM producing corporations aggressively patent their products, holding back research in plant science by not allowing university researchers to use naturally occurring plant gene regulatory sequences that they have patented, and forcing small farmers around the world out of business. Government delays in approving the use of GM products cause a lot of problems for these corporations, and it is in their best interest to make their products seem natural and good and their opponents seem crazy and stupid.

For the most part, real and tangible benefits from current GM technology are not going to be felt by well-fed consumers in Europe and the U.S., but already GM technology has made an impact on the yields and quality of food produced by farmers in developing countries around the world. According to The Economist, 90% of the farmers currently benefiting from GM technology live in poor countries, where soil quality and access to water and fertilizer can make it difficult to grow at the high yields needed to feed the community. The spread of the technology has also made an impact on how companies like Monsanto think:

Attitudes are also changing at Western agribusinesses, some of which used to dismiss poor farmers as mere "seed pirates". As developing countries develop GM crops of their own, these firms are now pursuing public-private partnerships or joint ventures with local firms and otherwise softening their stance. Monsanto, a hard-nosed pioneer of transgenic crops, is donating its drought-resistant technology to a coalition called Water Efficient Maize for Africa, for example."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Should Everyone Know?

Small Dogs Prove Susceptible to Flea Poison

Wish I knew this earlier... Is there a herbal non-toxic alternative which works?

"Warning that the powerful poisons can endanger dogs and cats, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require new instructions and labeling for on-spot flea products.

The products, including the popular Frontline and Advantage brands, are small vials of liquid pesticides that pet owners apply monthly to the backs of dogs or cats to kill fleas and ticks. The EPA began investigating the products after discovering a sharp rise in the number of pets reported to be sick after they were treated.
The yearlong investigation, conducted by a team of veterinarians assembled by the federal agency, concluded that certain pets – small dogs between 10 and 20 pounds – are most susceptible to the problems, which include rashes, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures.
EPA Assistant Administrator Steve Owens said Wednesday that no products are being banned at this point, but “we’re going to be watching the situation very closely.”
New instructions and warnings are expected on product labels within the next several months. If these steps don’t reduce the problems, “we will take more significant action. We will remove products from the market if we have to,” Owens said.
Fleas and ticks can cause discomfort and diseases for many dogs and cats around the country. As a result, the on-spot treatments are commonly recommended by veterinarians.
Many pet owners who use the treatments think they are applying medication to their pet, but they actually are treating them with potent pesticides, including permethrin, which also is used to kill pests on crops and yards.
“These are poisons that we are applying to our pets,” said Owens, who said it is a personal as well as a professional issue for him because he owns two dogs and three cats. “Pet owners should exercise caution.”
Incidents reported by consumers who used the products on their pets rose from 28,895 in 2007 to 44,263 in 2008, an increase of 53 percent in one year.
Most of the problems were minor, such as skin rashes, but about 600 dogs and cats died in the incidents reported in 2008, EPA records show.
Chihuahuas, shih tzus, miniature poodles, Pomeranians and dachshunds had the most reported incidents, according to the EPA report released Wednesday. For products containing cyphenothrin, those breeds accounted for 33 percent of the reported problems. For products containing permethrin, shih tzus, bichon frise, chihuahuas, yorkshire terriers and maltese were involved in more than 25 percent of the incidents. K-9 Advantix for Dogs contains permethrin and some Sergeant's products and Sentry's Pro XFC contain cyphenothrin."