Friday, May 30, 2008

cosmological natural selection

so i have a question.

if universes are created by the collapse, matter compression and explosion into a new layer of universe, where are the replicators? the black holes themselves, yes, but where on the microcosmic scale of creating the sentient characteristics of the new universe? why, oh mighty hawking (and everyone else who has addressed this theory including lee smolin for whom i have a great deal of respect), do you not address the necessity of replicators in the atomic binding and splitting that gives birth to stars, black holes and life as we understand it? you can't just spill matter into a gravitational vacuum and watch it go, something has to be introduced to use the matter to make its copies.

and aligning with the heavily reliable proposition that matter is neither created nor destroyed but recycled and re-synthesized, why do particular minds who recall living past lives never recall living those lives in past universes? as a chemist, it seems a little obscure that the first thing my brain averts to with regard to the big bang as a child of black hole implosion is christine korsgaard and the continuity and connectedness of minds. nonetheless, that's where i go.

my romantic side wants to believe that if matter is neither created nor destroyed in the recycling of universes (so to speak; and yes, i regard replication of life on earth as biochemical recycling), then the minds that accompany and/or exist in association with that matter are of no less substance and should be recycled as well. so i feel as though if you've got access to your past selves, that has to include the self of a past universe. right? why does nobody recollect their alien or other creaturely self? maybe it's an artifact of universe replication via the black hole replicator. no copying process is perfect, errors are wont to crop up. maybe the lost connectedness of selves and minds was lost in the spitting out of our universe. a macromutation, if you will.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


i’ve never understood the whole “the science has been settled on this issue” argument. it kind of gives science a bad name. it’s statements like this that make conservatives hate science and deem its arguments meaningless or frivolous.

the real deal is that science never settles on anything. anything. that is why i love it so ardently. scientific research doesn’t prove things, or provide succinct answers… rather, it makes the questions more invigorating, and answers more mysterious.

[note: the question of the earth being flat and other such self withstanding phenomena are outside of the realm i am addressing because they are not correlational with other phenomena. likewise, we may someday discover that earth really isn't round after all, but is part of a ten dimensional schema which gives us the perception of its being round.]

how do i place any weight in the arguments made by science if i believe this to be the case? well first of all, you have to make the distinction between basic science and pseudoscience (or the politically preferred, applied science). the former being research for the sake of making connections between cause and effect, and discovering interaction between phenomena with the understanding that what the discovery reveals may or may not be the answer to an important question… like the cure for cancer (which for the record, i believe is RNAi). the latter, then, is science for the purpose of moving money: find this cure, find that technology, we will fund you if you provide us with an answer, we will fund you if you side with us on this policy issue. i fucking hate money.

that being said, in believing that scientific answers lead to heightened mystery, i avoid discrediting the substance science provides by referring only to basic science, and excluding pseudoscience. pseudoscience takes the hints and suggestions of scientific findings and exaggerates and tweaks them to make a pronounced argument (lead levels in kids causes this behavior, tobacco causes cancer, etc.). basic science takes the same hints and suggestions and throws them into society as just that – possibility. this has been shown to work under a set of conditions which are all we have to rely on at this point in time to mimic the conditions of the public. let’s throw the information (or drug) out into society and see if those conditions were accurately mimicked and if our discovery has enduring merit. i astutely believe that the answers provided by basic science - if properly interpreted by the public in the way i’ve just described – can provide answers to questions while at the same time be subject to contradiction by progression of scientific inquiry. that is the nature of science. all answers are subject to being proven wrong, or to one of several possible answers.

so yes, the science is settled in pseudoscience to the end that it settles where the money tells it to, and does not respond well to criticism or contradiction. basic science, on the other hand, is never settled. and yet, i believe the latter is the genre that lends greater value to expanding our understanding of the world and our implementation of technology and healing processes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

polar bears

interior secretary dirk kempthorne, you are a douchebag. i don't even care how little control you had over the decision; your so fervently speaking on its behalf is quite sufficient to deem you worthy of being sent to the corner stool to baste in shame.

dirk: arctic sea ice is essential to polar bear survival. sea ice has melted in recent decades. computer models say that it is likely to recede more in the near future. therefore, melting sea ice is linked to global climate change and is a threat to the polar bear species.

natalie: thank you sir, for that illuminating gesture of disclosure.

[note: there was a subtext to this in which he more or less said that computer models don't necessarily predict the future, they're just tools for analyzing possibilities so we shouldn't jump to the assumption that polar bears are endangered based on climate change models. well yeah, jackass, there is no medical cure that is 100% correct, there is no scientific analysis that is 100% fool-proof, there are no political policies that are so thorough in content and application that they outlast time. we still use these tools to make predictions because they are the best we can do without being omniscient. if we don't employ action to exercise what we do know, what is the point of knowing it? we might as well just sit around and wait to rot. but, i digress...]

environmentalists shouldn’t use this threatened species status to force govt action on climate change, our man so adamantly declared immediately following this announcement. to be fair, what he really said was, "we need to reduce avoidable losses of polar bears, but this should not open the door to use ESA [endangered species act] to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants and other sources." come on. are you serious? so then how, my gentle snowflake, do you propose we go about "avoiding the loss" if we're not using the loss to entice the govt to protect what we're losing?

there must be something i'm missing here...

essentially what he’s saying is, we’re going to say this animal is threatened, but we’re not taking responsibility for it, and we sure as hell aren’t going to change our behavior to protect it. doesn’t that seem a little retarded? i consider myself fairly informed as far as climate change activists go – meaning i actually know what i’m lobbying or campaigning for when i’m doing it, and have a personal crafted investment doing so – and still i seem to be missing the key constructive benefit of dirk’s caveat. and yes, we are on a first name basis because he is an ass hole.

someone clearly needs to explain to me the purpose of listing polar bears as threatened if the statement specifically prohibits using this categorization to impact the decisions of the energy industry. it just seems like that particular caveat nullifies the entire purpose of listing the animal in the first place.

stepping back a piece, the reason i got into this battle had nothing to do with saving the polar bears or penguins – they just happen to be the poster children of the environmental crisis. i got into this with the hope that dealing with this umbrella issue (being human-induced/exacerbated/whathaveyou climate change) would enable us to simultaneously ameliorate its effects on poverty stricken regions who are in such condition because climate change is dramatically increasing the agricultural devastation caused by their monsoon season... or forcing them to cross borders in illegal migration to escape deadly drought and heat wave. my concern is that most of the American public does not seem to understand that this issue goes beyond polar bears. which on the one hand pisses me off, but on the other i am very aware of the fact that if people are not already invested in the severity of the climate crisis, polar bears and penguins are needed to reel in their emotional speculation.

which brings me to summarizing why i’m pissed off at dirk (which i've more or less already stated): you cannot “avoid the loss of the polar bear species” unless you protect its habitat. you cannot protect its habitat unless you fight greenhouse gas and other environmentally unfriendly emissions. and you sure as fuck cannot fight emissions without approaching the govt about setting caps, limiting consumption, transitioning away from dirty energy and responding to the ESA.

so explain to me the purpose of declaring polar bears "threatened" if you are going to include a clause specifically preventing the world from protecting them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


i'm realizing something about myself as i step into a more active role in the CCN: i don't regard project proposals for community activism in the same way as project proposals for scientific research.

when i think of a scientific research project, i zoom in to methodology. have a target question, have several collaborative methods of addressing that question, request funding for each of those methods, follow through with the implementation of all of those methods. my tiny, unexposed world is completely turned by the alteration of this process in sustainable community organization.

the NICE project (previous entry). this is an institute that was proposed and initially funded before my involvement. an incredible project was developed by my CCN comrades (and gurus) to work with the Sunnyside Neighborhood Energy (SunNE) group to research the feasibility of implementing a geo/solar thermal energy district, whereby community heating and cooling is provided not through individual water heater and cooling systems, but by a community source. the feasibility report would be used to convince a few engineering companies to invest in the geothermal energy district.

initially, the objective of the NICE project was to provide several college students with paid internships to head research groups in four areas of primary focus in the feasibility report: economics, policy, engineering and sociology. a new development as of this evening's conference call has required the alteration of funding distribution such that interns will no longer be paid. interestingly, the focus of the NICE project's direction seems to have been shifted almost entirely from research and the feasibility report to providing volunteer students with training/engaging/organizing experience. now, i whole heartedly support the necessity of such a direction. that being said, i feel that the SSC's Sprog was designed specifically for that purpose (previous entry). the NICE had incorporated Sprog into it's agenda so that student interns could take a break from their research to participate in these trainings. now that funding shortages have seemed to cause a refocusing of the project objectives to a part of the project that is already being provided by another organization... this is where i get a little knocked off my rocker.

in scientific research, you expect things to go wrong and cause a divergence from the original plan due to failed methods or unexpected data from a technique which causes a redirection to correctly answer the target question. in fact, you plan for things to go wrong. troubleshooting is the key to a successful laboratory... which is something that they don't emphasize in college, which was one of my critiques of the program upon graduation but that's entirely tangential and irrelevant to my rant. it's really not a rant so much as a pondering. nevertheless. despite the arise of obstacles, you remain focused on the original question. my discomfort with the alteration of the NICE project objectives is that in refocusing on student training we lose the original objective of the community energy research itself. it may be because i am so enthusiastic about the benefit of this project that i am not willing to accept the transition. but i would like to think it is a rational concern that the NICE seems to be transforming into a program to simply fund the participation of students in Sprog.

what i would like to come out of the next week or so is the restructuring of the NICE agenda in a way that keeps the focus on the community energy research and the collaboration of SunNE (previous entry) with NICE, CCN and the Sunnyside Elementary School. i prefer to not give up on acquisition of additional funding for individual interns, and to maintain the unique focus of the NICE project. i'm not as familiar as i'd like to be with the stipulations of the initial funding grant, but i maintain that they cannot be so different from those of scientific research that changing the objective of the NICE wouldn't have a negative effect on our credibility with our sponsors.

i can't tell yet if i'm even cut out for this kind of position.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

election hysteria

alright folks, here it is.

i voted today. for the united states democratic presidential candidate, among other things. you may have noticed that i did not disclose my preference before now. that being said, your jaw may hit the floor. fair warning.

i am pissed off at the democratic party. i am furious that they have pitted against each other the best two candidates we have ever had, and may ever have. and i am severely irritated that they coaxed obama into running for this term. if i had it my way, obama would be the vp on hillary's ticket for 2008 so that he could get his foot in the door in washington, and get some ground established onto which he would step in the next term as the president and actually make the changes he wants to make with some indisputable certainty. unfortunately for america, we have forced such disdain between the two dem candidates that neither one will likely be willing to run as the other's vp. we've turned them into all-or-noners. travesty. as it is now, obama's wanting to dive into washington with so many things he wants to completely about face. it's not that he's unproven or novice that concerns me, it's that i don't think god could pull off in eight years what obama wants to achieve in washington after the devastation that the bush administration has fostered. i'd rather have hillary do the initial cleaning up of bush's mess. she already knows everything about how washington works and who she's dealing with, and they know her. obama should take over for hillary later, and clean up after whatever mess she leaves over. that is what i would like to see.

there's so much hysteria on the democratic side of this election that people don't seem to be thinking about the complete picture. the democrats don't seem to be able to acknowledge that we have the opportunity to take back washington for sixteen years.

if obama takes washington this term, we might hold the white house for eight years. maybe. unless it turns out that the man is not superhuman, and fails to follow through on all of his ambitions as president. then people will lose faith in him and the pendulum could swing back the other direction. ergo, the democrats lose washington to the republicans again after four years. there's also the fact that she is sixty and he forty. obama can run for president again in eight years. hillary can't, and wont. if hillary wins now, democrats could hold the white house for up to sixteen years. sixteen fucking years. eight of hillary, and eight of obama because eight years from now he wont even be fifty, and he can run as strong a campaign as ever - stronger because he would run as former vp. that would be beautiful... since i don't forsee the appearance of any democratic candidates in the near future that will be anywhere near as amazing as either of these two. the longer democrats hold washington, the more likely it is that obama's change is really going to happen. if hillary gets in there first, she has the vigor and the direction to get the stones turning in the white house. the complete about face that is necessary in this government might actually occur in her hands. then obama will have the optimal place from which to take over.

there is not a single college student i know who looks at it this way. not a single one. every liberal college student is an obama maniac. which is understandable - the man is the real deal. but come on... i know evolutionarily humans are not built to deal with foresight, and long-term planning, but i also know that we have developed an insane level of intelligence and capacity for creative thinking which allows us to understand the importance of long-term foresight.

somebody explain to me why the hysteria of fulfilling the immediate needs and short-term satisfaction is winning this battle.


so i voted for hillary. even though i like obama better. even though i know that he is going to win the democratic vote.

Monday, May 5, 2008

the roo cow

you have got to be fucking kidding me.

it is unbelievable to me what we are willing to do to other creatures to avoid making changes in our own behavior. in sydney, scientists are trying to isolate a bacteria present in the kangaroo digestive system that increases the efficiency of digestion such that they do not produce methane in their flatulence. they want to make transgenic anti-methane-farting cows.

my immediate reaction to this is to emphasize the extent to which we already use hormones and steroids to manipulate the physiology of sheep and cattle to support our consumption habits.

secondarily, i migrate to thoughts about feed production and the amount of grain used to fatten cattle that could be used in fair trade to help poverty stricken areas of drought and lack of food. supposedly, this bacteria increases efficiency of digestion such that farmers could reduce the amount of feed used to fatten cattle... of course, "decreasing the cost to farmers by millions of dollars," but who really cares about what benefit that might have to the animal, right?

here's my dilemma. do you fight against yet another forced alteration in cow physiology in the name of turning the action toward changing human behavior? or do you allow the isolation and transduction of this bacteria that might make our forced feeding protocol easier on the cow, but continue to steer responsibility away from humans?

autonoetic awareness and episodic memory

Much of the human experience – the way we characterize ourselves as persons – can be attributed to our episodic memory. This is the ability to travel through time, in the form of recollection, to past experiences in order to know how and why we acquired certain knowledge. Episodic memory is characterized by Endel Tulving by three qualities: sense of time, self, and autonoetic awareness. He describes it as a phenomenological quality distinct to humans, and not experienced by non-human animals. But here's where it gets hazy... it is difficult to assess whether non-human animals exercise episodic memory because they can't linguistically report their personal experiences. As such, our best shot at at studying episodic memory in non-human animal models is to assess the animal’s memory of what happened, where it happened and when it happened. Because such tests do not require a consciously directed inference to memory, they are said to assess episodic-like memory.

This consciously directed inference is what Tulving called autonoetic awareness... being the directed retrieval of a specific object of memory. This is distinct from autonoetic consciousness, which Tulving does not reference in describing episodic memory, but which is important to defining the phenomenon in non-human animals. Autonoetic consciousness has no object; rather, it is the fluid link throughout one’s past memories, present, and future projections.

Autonoetic awareness requires the use of mental time travel: reliving a targeted event of the past and using it to consider possible future scenarios. Autonoetic consciousness, because it does not require identifying the context of a specific event, does not imply mental time travel. One can conceivably travel back in time along a conscious continuum without targeting a specific time and place for an event, but knowing that it occurred somewhere in the past. For example, a person knows when and where they were born without remembering the experience. It becomes difficult to assess which of the two phenomena occurs in non-human animals because they can't declare thoughts about specific events of the past. We can't assume that because non-human animals can’t verbalize mental time travel that they do not have it, and therefore do not have autonoetic awareness. This confound requires the development of tests that allow non-human animals to declare their thoughts not with verbalization, but gesture or other physical expression.

Rhesus monkeys can appropriately refuse to submit to a visual image test when they do not think they will choose the correct answers. This test design successfully demonstrates that monkeys know when they remember a learning event or not. However, it does not directly implicate mental time travel, or presume autonoetic awareness. More likely, it suggests autonoetic consciousness - knowing that a particular piece of information is lodged somewhere in memory, but not necessarily targeting it on the streamline of consciousness. Because studies like this one more closely imply autonoetic consciousness, they support the theory of episodic-like memory, and not human-like episodic memory.

Clayton and Dickinson are pretty famous for their studies on Scrub jays argue, again, that non-human animals exhibit episodic-like memory based on an experimental design which targeted two of the three qualities of episodic memory: sense of time, and self. Clayton and Dickinson designed a caching apparatus in which scrub jays could store both preferred perishable (worms), and less preferred non-perishable (peanuts) foods. After a short period away from the caching apparatus, Scrub jays preferred to recover the worms. But... after a longer delay, they chose to recover the non-perishable although less preferred food. This fairly ingeniusly exemplifies the use of autonoetic consciousness in the birds... but in spite of its brilliant layout does not speak to autonoetic awareness.

It's worth noting that an argument could be made for the presence of autonoetic awareness in scrub jays based on their ability to distinguish between a 4hr and 124hr time period. This observation (part of the Clayton/Dickinson study) suggests that the jays were able to target a general place in time when they cached both foods so as to be able to discern that the preferred food (worm) had likely decayed since. Inferring this kind of targeting argues for autonoetic awareness... However!, it may also be the case that as with the Rhesus monkeys, the 124hr delay may have allowed scrub jays simply to forget when they cached an item. It has been shown to be the case in both rat and primates modeled in similar tasks that the memory of “when” was poorer than “what,” and “where." So... if this was the case with the scrub jays, then not being able to recall exactly when they cached the food stuff, they may have recovered the less-perishable but less preferable food simply to avoid the risk that the preferred food may have decayed. The propensity of risk averse behavior in scrub jays may give stronger baring to the argument for autonoetic consciousness than autonoetic awareness... eh?

So my last blip of this rant is this: there has been insight into the anatomical component of episodic memory in humans that may provide a link between behavioral demonstrations in humans and non-human animals. In humans, the right prefrontal cortex has been identified as a key brain region in the recall of episodic memories. Given that Clayton/Dickinson claim that their experimental design targets episodic-like memory retrieval, it would be a valuable experiment to investigate the prefrontal cortex activity in these birds as they are retrieving cached food. If the same region of the prefrontal cortex is activated during this activity, it suggests the biochemical validity of the Scrub jay findings. However, the Scrub jay is evolutionarily several orders of phylogeny removed from humans... this presents the confound of their significantly less developed prefrontal cortex. In the primate and rat models of episodic-like memory, it would be invaluable to compare a PET assessment of right prefrontal cortex activity during memory tasks. If, in the primate model, there were both a behavioral correlate in episodic-like memory tasks and activity in the right prefrontal cortex, we might be able to definitively say that animals experience episodic memory in the same way that humans do. That is, that they exercise sense of self, time and autonoetic awareness.

For now, we are only able to infer that non-human animals exhibit episodic-like memory. It remains to be concluded whether non-human animals exercise autonoetic consciousness or awareness. Determining which phenomenon is occuring will give greater insight into the behavior of non-human animals, and better address the question of whether episodic-like memory is as close to episodic memory as non-human animals get. It is entirely possible that non-human animals have only episodic-like memory because they have autonoetic consciousness, and not autonoetic awareness. However, it may also be the case that we have not found a way to enable non-human animals to declare their past experiences in a suitable way...

Sunday, May 4, 2008


"thinking of things like 'the world' and 'the highway of life' are a little too absolute to be practical. it makes trying new things too insignificant"

"we’re piping liquefied natural gas through the soil, gaseous clouds of coal dust through the pipes of lungs and greenhouse fumes through arctic walls while hot air pipes through shards of clay drenched in drought, and exacerbated monsoon seasons make new pipelines through crops and homes and fashion environmental refugees.

"immigration lines pummel through desert through mountains because poverty does not recognize boundaries and when survival is hard we fall into lines to trick ourselves into thinking that we are leaving these volatile seasons behind, but don’t think that your cultural walk is distinct from the walk of industrial revolution whose footprint stamps over the pipelines of refugees seeking life beyond inhospitable domain because we are what’s gotten us here.

"climate chaos charges in waves but waves are crashed into lines and redirected back to the sea where this all begins and ends and I feel as though if we were more directly evolved from fish we would know this – that when streamlining pipelines get dirty and breakdown they are not suitable for rebuilding our home.

"we can’t break this by putting down any more pipelines. human lines are our green sanctuary and the invincible indispensable inexorable force against the chaos of fuel. we are cultivators and innovators tide breakers and bullion bulwarks rising higher and louder than the rising tides, against the pipelines. "

- ride your bike, wear slippers, flush selectively, talk to your senators.