From Religion to Biology: Various Cool and Worrisome Items

Had loads of fun at the recent Singularity Summit 2011. I gave a talk to all those folks who think that technology will soon empower us to construct super-intelligent artificial intelligences, or perfect intelligence enhancing implants, or even cheat death. The title:  “So you want to make gods. Now why would that bother anybody?” Here I present some Singularity-tilted theology. 

And while we are reaching across the Great Divide… Science and Religion Today interviewed me in a brief Q&A re: “Can altruism be addictive?” Riffing off of the new volume Pathological Altruism, in which I have two articles.

For more on observation flaws built into human nature… see a fascinating story about “validity bias” where people routinely misjudge their own competence and procedures, even in the face of evidence. This especially applies to my longstanding call for neutral Predictions Registries. Read this and ponder how hard it is to be a mature person in this modern world.

== Biology!  Biology is Destiny! ==

Family living conditions in childhood are associated with significant effects in DNA that persist well into middle age. Researchers found clear differences in gene methylation between those brought up in families with very high and very low standards of living. More than twice as many methylation differences were associated with the combined effects of  wealth, housing conditions and occupation of parents (that is, early upbringing) than were associated with the current socio-economic circumstances in adulthood.

Now let’s be careful.  This is not Lamarckianism (inheriting of acquired traits by the next generation). Though another science report seems to imply that result in methylization studies, as well! No, what this shows is that the effects of childhood conditions can last for life, beyond mere malnutrition stunting of the brain or general health or psychological damage caused by poverty.  Those latter effects should be enough to convince anybody that society should invest in the children of the poor, even if adults are consigned to libertarian perdition, for their foolish choices.

But the new result reinforces the lesson. I consider myself to be a style of libertarian. But anyone who rejects socialist intervention to help poverty-wracked children is not only evil but also now clearly shown to be batshit crazy. And wrong.

An MORE waw-biology! Fascinating.  You’ve heard of “jumping genes” or retro transposons – that shift from one chromosome to another?  It turns out these events actually take place surprisingly often. According to one recent estimate, they occur in many or most brain cells, perhaps several hundred times within each cell. Each neuron is likely subjected to a unique combination of insertions, leading to a genetic variability within populations of cells.The full significance of this “genomic plasticity” is still not clear, but the authors suggest that it could influence brain development and behavior. It may, for example, partly account for the differences in brain structure and behavior between identical twins, and could even affect thought processes by subtly influencing the changes in nerve cell connections that occur with experience.

“The full significance of this “genomic plasticity” is still not clear, but the authors suggest that it could influence brain development and behavior. It may, for example, partly account for the differences in brain structure and behavior between identical twins, and could even affect thought processes by subtly influencing the changes in nerve cell connections that occur with experience.”

== Interesting Developments ==

This cartoon that distills a point I’d been making for years. Everything we must do re Climate Change are things we ought to do anyway (TWODA). “Ruin the economy?” Who wants that! A strawman. Efficiency is next to godliness.  Use this argument. Pry open skulls… or we’ll get Nehemia Scudder!

While Facebook has earned billions of dollars selling ads next to the content shared by their 800 million members, users haven’t earned a dime from their posts. Now a new site, offers to reward its posters. The site, which allows individuals to post photos, links, videos and text in two thousand character “chimes,” will give users 50 percent of the revenue it earns from selling advertising on their profile pages. This may even begin a long-overdue re-evaluation of social media.

On the Transparency front: A critical but neglected transparency law could be updated for the 21st century if a new congressional proposal succeeds. The  (S. 1732), introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) on Oct. 18, would update the Privacy Act of 1974 . The Privacy Act governs what actions federal agencies must take when collecting personal information on American citizens and how agencies use and share it.

Artist John Powers writes a fascinating riff, comparing Star Trek to the American dream… and weaving in a number of my own observations about the underlying design of the 200 year American Experiment.

==Science: From the Sea to Space==

From sea-floor… Scientists have discovered a community of 4-inch amoebas living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the world’s oceans.

Is sub-sea mining (of metal-rich sulfide muds near old oceanic “smokers”) about to take off? How will it change things?

To space… A Rover’s Eye View: Watch this three minute time-lapse video of Opportunity’s thirteen mile trek across the desolate surface of Mars, from Victoria Crater to Endeavour Crater—a journey spanning three years.

The moon may be a harsh mistress, but Russian scientists say they want to establish a colony below the lunar surface. According to Russian space official Sergei Krikalyov, recently discovered volcanic tunnels could provide natural shelter for the first colonists.

== Brief Political Stuff ==

Sorry, but if we’re to prevent Nehemia Scudder… (Heinlein called 2012 his year!) .. we are all gonna have to get more active.  And some of you must wake up.

Read this. Our civil war is no longer left-vs-right. It is about bewildered American pragmatists and a “side” that’s gone mad. “Mike Lofgren recently retired from a lengthy career as an esteemed Capitol Hill republican staffer a respected, knowledgeable figure. Read  Lofgren wrote for Truth Out, published yesterday with this headline: “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.” How I miss Goldwater & Buckley!

Here’s the source.

See a map of which states are the most/least violent.  Even the first impressions are devastating to the big fib of “civility” in Red America. Now take into account that New York and California and Illinois have an excuse… dense cities and lots of immigrants and urban poor and drugs… And even so score way above average. New England does best of all.  So much for the moral superiority of Limbaugh-land.

Ever seen the maps for teen sex, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, divorce, domestic violence, and transmission of STDs?  Same story.  The preachy folk who claim to have a better handle on morality are, well, on average far less moral.  And their man Bush managed to make every measure of national health and middle class economics plummet during his reign. By all means, let’s heed their advice!

Interesting changes in the degree that the international uber-rich can “helvetian-hide” their booty from the tax-men.

Here’s a quotation from one of the world’s top technology pundits, Mark Anderson:

“For me, there is no more poignant example of the Bush 9.11 era, and the need to get beyond it now. Like two slides, I picture, first: an army of soldiers surrounding bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora, and then being ordered by Team Bush to wait until the locals can get there and participate, at which point the enemy has escaped.

“I compare that slide to the story of this year: after a year in secret investigation and preparation, Team Obama finds a likely target compound in Pakistan, orders in Seal Team Six via stealth choppers, uses overwhelming force, and shoots to kill. DNA samples are taken to confirm ID, and the body is dumped ignominiously in the ocean, with no propaganda pics for the enemy, and no burial process or site to rally round.” What a difference.  And yet, which man is called a “wimp”?

A vastly detailed and deeply disturbing article in Bloomberg about the Koch brothers. Seriously, read at least the first ten paragraphs or so.

== Oh, If Only… ==

Finally, one prays something like this will happen. From The Onion: Nation Finally Breaks Down and Begs its Smart People to Just Fix Everything!

Alas, look at history.  At the obstinate delusional stupidity that ran every previous civilization and keeps threatening ours.  Shall we bet on this?  Sigh.

1 Comment

Filed under economy, society

One response to “From Religion to Biology: Various Cool and Worrisome Items

  1. TCH

    If only America’s smart people would just fix everything. Would the sublunar surface colony be a nightmare in terms of keeping Lunar dust away? Also what about the cost? I know it could not be cheap to build.

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