Sunday, May 30, 2010

Playing God...You be the Judge

In a recent issue of Science magazine, the genome pioneer Craig Venter announced that he and scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute had created a “synthetic cell.” Mr. Venter heralded it as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer” and said it could allow humans to create new vaccines and biofuels using artificial microbes.

Mr. Venter’s claim to have created a synthetic species is likely overstated. But there is no denying that he has brought us an important step closer to the possibility of artificial life. President Obama has asked the White House bioethics commission to report back to him on the significance of this development.

“Synthetic cell” makes it sound as though Mr. Venter had constructed the entire cell, molecule by molecule. What he has done is create a synthetic genome — the longest string of DNA to be assembled in a laboratory — and place it in a bacterium. There, the synthetic DNA takes over the cell’s DNA, causing the bacterium to synthesize the proteins specified by the new DNA.

For the rest go to: New York Times

A Real Inconvenient Truth

New research from Harvard Business School shows that federal spending in states causes local businesses to cut back rather than grow. In other words, when government spending grows the private sector shrinks. Key findings in the study:

For the rest go to the Source: National Review

What I am reading

I am in a philosophical frame of mind (not a New York...apologies to Billy Joel) and I am currently reading some of the select works of Henti Poincare (on the philosophy of science...always an issue that is dear to me) and Lou Marinoff. Marinoff uses philosophy as a psychology tool. He has been criticized for his approach but I personally find his take refreshing.

Footer Season in Review

9 Positives

1. Manchester United failed to win the EPL and more importantly the Champion's League.
2. Liverpool did the double over Everton.
3. Twente Enschede won the Dutch Eredivisie proving that their is still a sliver of hope for the small market clubs.
4. Real Madrid came away empty handing even after their big buck spendings on Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema.
5. Superb individual performances by Lionel Messi in he makes a strong case to possibly be the game's greatest.
6. The fantastic run of Fulham in the Europa Cup...too bad they came up short.
7. World Cup Anticipation....there are at least seven candidates who can win in South Africa.
8. Barcelona's pure footer that verged on the poetic.
9. Pepe Reina solidifies his credentials as one of the best goalies in the world.

9 Negatives

1. The crisis that is Liverpool and their disastrous 90/10 season.
2. United win another League Cup
3. More boredom in the FA Cup as Chelsea triumph again.
4. Jose Mourinho wins a treble with Inter Milan...another boost for his ego.
5. English teams perform poorly in Champion's League.
6. Rangers top Celtic in winning the SPL.
7. Egypt win the African Nations Cup.
8. England suffer key injuries and look increasingly anaemic as World Cup 2010 rolls closer.
9. Diego Forlan axes Liverpool then Fulham in Europa League.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rational Mysticism

As mentioned earlier I was disappointed with John Horgan's End of Science (he seems to have completely underestimated Thomas Kuhn's work on the Paradigm Shift) but I decided to give his book Rational Mysticism a chance (after all the material greatly interests me). Rational Mysticism is a survey work that starts with the Perennial insights of Huston Smith, the Post-Modernist critique of Steven Katz and the writings of Ken Wilber before addressing the arguments of Susan Blackmore, Andrew Newberg, Alexander Shulgin and others.
I enjoyed the first half of the book but was disappointed by the latter portion's emphasis on drug induced mystical sensations.

I tend to be critical of the whole Timothy Leary school of accessing deeper consciousness through drugs as a cop out and an unnecessary one at that. I am not convinced that the findings of this approach have any merit at all and would have liked Horgan to focus on more legitimate avenues of understanding consciousness that bridge the gap between science and theology. In short Horgan's work steps off the rational train and doesn't seem to return..its a pity as this book opened up with much promise but at the end did not deliver much.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Something to think about

"Absolute certainty is the privilege of uneducated men and fanatics.” -- C.J. Keyser

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The British Elections - 2010

I have yet to warm up to David Cameron and his Fuzzy Conservatives but he certainly seems to be a better choice than Labour's Gordon Brown and the Lib-Dem Nick Clegg.
The Conservatives fell twenty seats short of a majority and will have to rely on the Whigs to govern. Many of Clegg's supporters claim that he has failed them by forming an alliance with a party that seems to be at odds with the Lib-Dems on many issues (election reform, immigration, welfare state etc) but Clegg's move was one of his expediency that may serve to prevent him from being another David Steele or Paddy Ashdown (ie. a perennial occupant of the political wilderness). Only time will tell. Nevertheless Cameron's biggest challenge is clear: the anemic British Economy uber alles. I wish him luck.

On the Synthesis

Despite the lack of time I have managed to sneak in a few good reads. Lawrence Kelmen's permission to believe was a useful diversion. Kelmen puts forth the rationalist argument for G-d under the sub texts of absolute morality and cosmological/teleological principles. As a rabbi he further extends his reasoning into the Judaic universe. While I have heard these arguments before (including the case for atheist irrationality) Kelmen's succinct approach is commendable.

I am now reading James Horgan's, Rational Mysticism, which seems to have some early promise. I was disappointed by Horgan's early work, the End of Science, so it is worthwhile to see if he can redeem himself with this newer work.

The overlap between religion, science and by extension reason is a topic that continues to intrigue me. For those with a similar fascination I would urge you to read Harold Morowitz's ' The Emergence of Everything'. Morowitz is systematic in his outlook but broad in his scope. His understanding of complexity is constructed along a logical narrative that opens the door between Cartesian Reductionism and Holistic Emergence.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

50 Myths about Psychology

Taken from: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions About Human Behavior (Paperback)

Introduction: The Wide World of Psychomythology

1 Most People Use Only 10% of Their Brain Power
2 Some People Are Left–Brained, Others Are Right–Brained
3 Extrasensory Perception Is a Well–Established Scientific Phenomenon
4 Visual Perceptions Are Accompanied by Tiny Emissions from the Eyes
5 Subliminal Messages Can Persuade People to Purchase Products
6 Playing Mozart’s Music to Infants Boosts Their Intelligence
7 Adolescence Is Inevitably a Time of Psychological Turmoil
8 Most People Experience a Midlife Crisis in Their 40s or Early 50s
9 Old Age Is Typically Associated with increased dissatisfaction and Senility
10 When Dying, People Pass through a Universal Series of Psychological Stages
11 Human Memory Works like a Tape Recorder or Video Camera, and Accurately Records the
Events we have Experienced.
12 Hypnosis is Useful for Retrieving Memories of Forgotten Events
13 Individuals Commonly Repress the Memories of Traumatic Experiences
14 Most People with Amnesia Forget All Details of Their Earlier Lives
15 Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Certain Groups of People
16 If You’re Unsure of Your Answer When Taking a Test, It’s Best to Stick with Your Initial Hunch
17 The Defining Feature of Dyslexia Is Reversing Letters
18 Students Learn Best When Teaching Styles Are Matched to Their Learning Styles
19 Hypnosis Is a Unique "Trance" State that Differs in Kind from Wakefulness
20 Researchers Have Demonstrated that Dreams Possess Symbolic Meaning
21 Individuals Can Learn Information, like New Languages, while Asleep
22 During "Out–of–Body" Experiences, People’s Consciousness Leaves Their Bodies
23 The Polygraph ("Lie Detector") Test Is an Accurate Means of Detecting Dishonesty
24 Happiness Is Determined Mostly by Our External Circumstances
25 Ulcers Are Caused Primarily or Entirely by Stress
26 A Positive Attitude Can Stave off Cancer
27 Opposites Attract: We Are Most Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ from Us
28 There’s Safety in Numbers: The More People Present at an Emergency, the Greater the
29 Men and Women Communicate in Completely Different Ways
30 It’s Better to Express Anger Openly to Others than to Hold It in
31 Raising Children Similarly Leads to Similarities in Their Adult Personalities
32 The Fact that a Trait Is Heritable Means We Can’t Change It
33 Low Self–Esteem Is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems
34 Most People Who Were Sexually Abused in Childhood Develop Severe Personality Disturbances in Adulthood
35 People’s Responses to Inkblots Tell Us a Great Deal about Their Personalities
36 Our Handwriting Reveals Our Personality Traits
37 Psychiatric Labels Cause Harm by Stigmatizing People
38 Only Deeply Depressed People Commit Suicide
39 People with Schizophrenia Have Multiple Personalities
40 Adult Children of Alcoholics Display a Distinct Profile of Symptoms
41 There’s Recently Been a Massive Epidemic of Infantile Autism
42 Psychiatric Hospital Admissions and Crimes Increase during Full Moons
43 Most Mentally Ill People Are Violent
44 Criminal Profiling Is Helpful in Solving Cases
45 A Large Proportion Of Criminals Successfully Use the Insanity Defense
46 Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It
47 Expert Judgment and Intuition Are the Best Means of Making Clinical Decisions
48 Abstinence Is the Only Realistic Treatment Goal for Alcoholics
49 All Effective Psychotherapies Force People to Confront the "Root" Causes of Their Problems in Childhood
50 Electroconvulsive ("Shock" Therapy Is a Physically Dangerous and Brutal Treatment