From Brain Imaging to Parasite Infestations

==April Fools’ Day Technology==

Google’s April Fools’ Day “product releases” are infamous, but this is one I sure hope they actually implement as an app. (Anyone care to try it?)  “Tap” is an implementation of two-thumb texting that would let you exchange messages truly eyes-free… via Morse Code!  (Hey, I even portrayed this in my new novel Existence (June) without knowing of Tap in advance!) Check out the advance features they “promise”–  which I hope they will implement. Not mentioned?  Using a phone’s vibrate mode to *receive* Morse  incoming messages.  Wouldn’t it be a hoot if this restored Morse usage and took off?

Meanwhile, Google promised a self-driving car for NASCAR, Richard Branson “announced” his plan to take passengers to the center of the earth, and Sony lives up to its slogan — “Make. Believe.” — with its April Fools’ Day introduction of quarter-sized laptop  “with a gorgeous .75-inch by 1.25-inch high-definition display.”

==Brain Science: Fiction, Memories and Parasites==

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.  “Reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Read the article in The New York Times:

Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica… The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters. … Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

In a new MIT study, researchers used optogenetics to show that memories reside in very specific brain cells, and that simply activating a tiny fraction of brain cells can recall an entire memory.  If you read the article – the generality of the result may be overstated.  On the other hand, this suggests intracellular computation really does take place.  And if so, the Singularity may require a LOT more computing power than today’s transhumanists expect.

High-resolution brain imaging from the NIH indicates an elegant simplicity in the brain’s wiring. “Far from being just a tangle of wires, the brain’s connections turn out to be more like ribbon cables — folding 2D sheets of parallel neuronal fibers that cross paths at right angles, like the warp and weft of a fabric,” explained Dr. Van Wedeen of Massachusetts General Hospital — a pervasive 3D grid structure with no diagonals.

I have written before about the Toxoplasma gondii parasite that millions of humans get from close affiliation with cats. (It also features in my next novel, Existence.)  Rats who are infected with T-g develop unique neural and behavioral traits that make them easier for cats to catch.  Cats are the natural T-g hosts (where the protozoans breed). So what happens when humans are infected? (55% of French people and about 15% of Americans, for example.) T-g appears to cause many sex specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. Those who tested positive for the parasite were about two and a half times as likely to be in a traffic accident as their uninfected peers. Now, more findings associate infection with schizophrenia.

Read this fascinating article in The Atlantic: How Your Cat is Making You Crazy. T-g is just one of many parasites that are being discovered to alter their victims’ behavior and even neurology, in ways that Greg Bear seems to have foreseen in his deeply disturbing novel Vitals.  It is a new frontier that makes us wonder, might some of the calamities of human behavior not always be our fault?  Might our civilization benefit simply from the right antibiotics?

==Shifting Online Empires==

Visual displays of the rise and fall of internet empires. If you track the histories of MySpace, AOL, Yahoo, and several others… Facebook may be riding for a fall.  Indeed, the interface is so bad, so cumbersome and lobotomizing, that some group with wonderfully new approaches to social media ought to eat FB’s lunch.

On Star’s Family Link now offers real-time tracking of your family’s automobiles, enabling you to follow cars driven by teens and/or spouses, with updates sent to your PC or smartphone. On Star is advertising “peace of mind”…  Yipe.  Both creepy and inevitable.  We are SO going to have to be agile in this coming age.

Creepy… and shades of the movie Gattaca! Employers are now asking for Facebook log in information.  So they can prowl through your past postings for pecadillos, and evaluate the kinds of people you hang with?  Mind you this is inevitable, at some level. (As they portray in Gattaca.)  But where is the effective ability to look back?  The human resources folk who do this judging should somehow have to answer to the people they are nosing into. Facebook responds that users should not have to share their passwords “or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.”

Hackers are winning: The FBI’s top cyber cop offered a grim appraisal of the nation’s efforts to keep computer hackers from plundering corporate data networks: “We’re not winning,” and the current public and private approach to fending off hackers is “unsustainable. Senior officials say there is not a single, secure unclassified computer network in the United States.


If you haven’t reached your full quota of depression and outrage yet, have a look at accumulating evidence that pesticides and plastics have saturated us with artificial hormones that are affecting the next generation in countless ways. e.g. the age of puberty in girls has been plummeting to around ten years old.  I do not know enough to be certain that the alarmists on this issue are right in the intensity of their warnings.  (In fact, I would bet good money they exaggerate by a lurid degree!) But suppose they exaggerate by even a factor of ten.  Even then, isn’t it time to boost and unleash science, and not squelch it?


Take a gorgeous “street-view” voyage down the Amazon

Three new studies of using aspirin to prevent cancer, led by researchers at Oxford University, raise the possibility that a daily low dose of the drug could be effective, not just as a preventative measure, but as an additional treatment for those with cancer. This follows the finding that aspirin can reduce the chances of tumors spreading.

You will find this entrancing & captivating.  500 years of female portraits.

SWIPE — a new method to sift Wikipedia for more complex answers than a simple keyword search.


1 Comment

Filed under science

One response to “From Brain Imaging to Parasite Infestations

  1. Teresa Shirley

    “There is a higher disease prevalence of toxoplasmosis in regions where it is common to eat raw or undercooked meat.[5] It is estimated that half of toxoplasmosis cases in the United States are secondary to foodborne transmission.[15] A recent study that compared Seventh Day Adventists, a religious group that practices a vegetarian diet, with a control group that ate meat and meat products found a statistically significant difference in seroprevalance for toxoplasmosis.[9] Pork products have the highest incidence of tissue cysts in the U.S. meat supply.[14] T. gondii has not been isolated during tests of U.S. beef.” Note is does not say anything about cats here. Not all cutures allow cats inside . Most of the studies I have seen regarding T-G and mental illness seemed to ignore a rather large number of alternate explanations for their conclusions. However, I think it would be wise to always wash your hands after gardening,changing cat litter or changing babies !
    Tes Shirley, Cat lover and gardener

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