Category Archives: Science

Natural philosophy based on evidence.

Death of the calorie

Death of the calorie | 1843 Magazine – The Economist

“For more than a century we’ve counted on calories to tell us what will make us fat. Peter Wilson says it’s time to bury the world’s most misleading measure.

I always thought that digestion was extremely complex and not just dependent on the type of food we ingest, the physiology of multiple organ systems digesting, but also our microbiome and overall state. Inheritance certainly is a key factor.

“As a general rule it is true that if you eat vastly fewer calories than you burn, you’ll get slimmer (and if you consume far more, you’ll get fatter).“ But it is not that simple. “Each body processes calories differently. Even for a single individual, the time of day that you eat matters. The more we probe, the more we realise that tallying calories will do little to help us control our weight or even maintain a healthy diet: the beguiling simplicity of counting calories in and calories out is dangerously flawed.”

“The only major organisation to shift the emphasis beyond calories is one dedicated to helping its customers slim down: Weight Watchers.”

The Atlantic: How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology

How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology – The Atlantic

“He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.”

A German University gave Toby Spribille the opportunity he could not get in his native country.

“You’ve seen lichens before, but unlike Spribille, you may have ignored them.”

“In the [last] 150 years […] biologists have tried in vain to grow lichens in laboratories. Whenever they artificially united the fungus and the alga, the two partners would never fully recreate their natural structures. It was as if something was missing—and Spribille might have discovered it.”

“He has shown that largest and most species-rich group of lichens are not alliances between two organisms, as every scientist since Schwendener has claimed. Instead, they’re alliances between three. All this time, a second type of fungus has been hiding in plain view.”

“There’s been over 140 years of microscopy,” says Spribille. “The idea that there’s something so fundamental that people have been missing is stunning.”  

Space.com: Physicists Reverse Time for Tiny Particles Inside a Quantum Computer

Space.com: Physicists Reverse Time for Tiny Particles Inside a Quantum Computer | Space

“Time goes in one direction: forward. Little boys become old men but not vice versa; teacups shatter but never spontaneously reassemble. This cruel and immutable property of the universe, called the “arrow of time,” is fundamentally a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that systems will always tend to become more disordered over time. But recently, researchers from the U.S. and Russia have bent that arrow just a bit — at least for subatomic particles.

In the new study, published Tuesday (Mar. 12) in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers manipulated the arrow of time using a very tiny quantum computer made of two quantum particles, known as qubits, that performed calculations.

At the subatomic scale, where the odd rules of quantum mechanics hold sway, physicists describe the state of systems through a mathematical construct called a wave function. This function is an expression of all the possible states the system could be in — even, in the case of a particle, all the possible locations it could be in — and the probability of the system being in any of those states at any given time. Generally, as time passes, wave functions spread out; a particle’s possible location can be farther away if you wait an hour than if you wait 5 minutes.

Undoing the spreading of the wave function is like trying to put spilled milk back in the bottle. But that’s exactly what the researchers accomplished in this new experiment.”

Nautil.us: Here’s How We’ll Know an AI Is Conscious

Here’s How We’ll Know an AI Is Conscious

“Our conscious experiences are composed of qualia, the subjective aspects of sensation—the redness of red, the sweetness of sweet. The qualia that compose conscious experiences are irreducible, incapable of being mapped onto anything else. If I were born blind, no one, no matter how articulate, would ever be able to give me a sense of the color blood and roses share.”

“The 21st century is in dire need of a Turing test for consciousness. AI is learning how to drive cars, diagnose lung cancer, and write its own computer programs. Intelligent conversation may be only a decade or two away, and future super-AI will not live in a vacuum. It will have access to the Internet and all the writings of Chalmers and other philosophers who have asked questions about qualia and consciousness. But if tech companies beta-test AI on a local intranet, isolated from such information, they could conduct a Turing-test style interview to detect whether questions about qualia make sense to the AI.”

The key to everything

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via 3QuarksDailyNYBooks: The Key to Everyting

Freeman Dyson reviews Geoffrey Wests book on “Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies

“Geoffrey West spent most of his life as a research scientist and administrator at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, running programs concerned not with nuclear weapons but with peaceful physics. After retiring from Los Alamos, he became director of the nearby Santa Fe Institute, where he switched from physics to a broader interdisciplinary program known as complexity science.”

Freeman’s review nicely summarizes the book for some heady reading. But his view on the subject is not without criticism driven by differences in philosophy:

“The choice of an imagined future is always a matter of taste. West chooses sustainability as the goal and the Grand Unified Theory as the means to achieve it. My taste is the opposite. I see human freedom as the goal and the creativity of small human societies as the means to achieve it. Freedom is the divine spark that causes human children to rebel against grand unified theories imposed by their parents..”

I share Freeman Dyson’s view. But this is still worth reading and stimulating to think about.

New Years is as good a time as any to make changes to patterns making you dumb!

As I contemplate the year and our life it has become clear that following my current patterns will not give me the future I want. My habits are not destructive, but also not constructive.

This is a very personal thing, but I am sure that many in my age group will find themselves needing to redefine their life, start fresh and complete, what they always wanted to do. Since we are embodied, we must start there. Sleep, food, other things. What pattern makes us truly feel good and able to achieve what we aspire to?

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I have decided to abstain from some things I like in exchange for feeling better long term. I also want to find myself in control of my urges. Wine and beer is one of those things I associate with relaxation.

Reading biographies of the many good people who ended up their lives struggling with dementia, it is surprising to see the widespread problem of alcohol. I am not an alcoholic, but I have noticed the heightened sensitivity to it with age. The pleasure is not worth the risk. This blog is a great collection on Dementia: Going Gentle Into That Good Night

I ran across it doing research for a story I am planning out.

But there are also other habits most of us share.

Over the last few months I have self observed patterns of electronic media consumption, which by themselves are not obsessive, but can become so. Apps like Flipboard claim to search for your interests presenting the results, but they are designed to keep your attention like a drug. Facebook has the same ultimate intent as do many other social apps like imgur, Pinterest, and even Quora.

All really aim to permanently capture your attention via continually changing visual stimuli in an unconscious way. While you are aiming to take in this information, you DO NOT THINK. You are just visually processing. And you are becoming addicted! You keep spending time.

It turns out that “flipping those boards” and reading those abstracts one after another or “Liking” the posts on Facebooks as you scroll endlessly also might have more long term effects on your intelligence and creativity – perhaps even eventually causing dementia.

The site mentioned above has a great book review of “The End of Absence” by Michael Harris and analyzes some of these patterns further in Technology and Neurology – A Perfect Storm For A Lifestyle Dementia

I am not intending on becoming a Luddite, but “attention must be paid!” In this case, I want to look at my patterns and be aware and in control . In the end our life experience is about how we consciously spend our time.