Google

Winc

YouTube

Spotify

Scientific Sense Podcast

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Brainy bitter

A recent study (1) suggests a novel way to control blood sugar and more generally, reduce the complications arising from type II diabetes, the disease responsible for over half of healthcare costs around the world. Meat eating homo-sapiens found agriculture recently and an overdose of carbs now threaten to create a negative slope to their expected lifespan for the first time in human history.  As millions around the world take to processed food and sugar-infused drinks as their economies improve, the world is moving closer to a healthcare precipice. They lose feeling in their feet, sight, movement and even reach amputations of limbs, not to mention the complete loss of life due to heart attacks and strokes, due to a simple condition - excess sugar and insulin in their system. The miracle of insulin has kept them going beyond expiry but all attempts at delivering the drug in easier ways, have failed.

Now, the intriguing new study shows how the brain could play an important part in the regulation of glucose (1) in the body. Dopamine release induced by deep brain electrical stimulation seems to improve insulin sensitivity, the loss of which portends the arrival of the wretched disease. Loss or lack of production of dopamine appears to reduce insulin sensitivity, likely leading to type II diabetes over time in non-diabetics. The pancreas which is responsible for optimally producing insulin to break down the bad intake is totally within the control of the brain that appears to behave differently based on the amount of dopamine it produces. The experiments explained in the study appear to support that neuronal activity in the forebrain could improve insulin sensitivity with beneficial effects on humans, either suffering from or tending toward the well-understood condition.

An active and stimulated brain could be the least invasive intervention to most diseases.


(1) Striatal dopamine regulates systemic glucose metabolism in humans and mice
http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/442/eaar3752



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Revisiting economics

As countries, run by clueless leaders, proliferate, it may be worthwhile to revisit economics in a modern context. Pure empiricism, albeit a small sample, tells us that decisions made by a few people will always be inferior to the wisdom of the crowd and markets. Although there have been a few examples of a benevolent, yet autocratic, leader maximizing societal utility through finely crafted policies, it is not something modern societies can aspire to. Humanity has been degenerating to such an extent that benevolence is not an attribute that one thinks of in leaders.

Recent findings that (1) the Greenland ice samples show how greed and ignorance, did the Roman empire in, are interesting. Money, based on a dirty metal, resulted in led pollution and the subsequent fall of an autocratic syndicate. As academics cling to pure notions of last century economics, they may be missing some important ideas. First, the value of countries and companies are not based on resources or balance sheets, but rather the ability to innovate. Second, there are different varieties of market failures with differing loss of value. For example, a country or company, with an educated and healthy population will have such a high competitive advantage, market failures in these domains will likely result in loss of value, much higher than anything else.

Markets and crowd wisdom provide good guidance for policy. As democracies get manipulated by information webs, it is unclear that the systems and processes that evolved to an optimum position will survive. As countries and companies bifurcate into red and blue without any brown in between, we are approaching a policy impasse. The gap is widening between those who want to focus on tactics to maximize today's cash flow and those with stars in their eyes, setting out to change the world. Neither is likely to succeed as the former will be like the frog that got cooked in a pool of water with slowly increasing temperature and the latter, learning to fly by jumping off the precipice.

Ultimately, it is a comedy - if you do not find the irony, it is time to check out.

(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/05/rise-and-fall-roman-empire-exposed-greenland-ice-samples







Friday, May 11, 2018

Loss of limbs (and mind)

A recent study (1) that demonstrates how to make electrotactile stimulation for human-machine interfaces more effective seems to move us closer to electronically controlled humanoids. More generally, acceleration toward the assimilation of humans and machines could have far-reaching effects on society. A bifurcating humanity, one part fast forwarding to applications of technology and the other left behind, searching for basic needs, may not be sustainable.

Humans appear to have a faulty objective function. Given the right initial conditions, any of the current seven billion samples on Earth could do as good as any other. So, the observed final outcomes in individuals is not a measure of capability but rather differences in initial conditions afforded. An advanced society will attempt to maximize societal utility by providing optimal initial conditions to every individual. And, such a society will celebrate accomplishments and mourn failures as a function of the slope of the knowledge created by the individual. Such a society will be free but also understand that most stand on the shoulders of giants who gave them advantages.

A singular statement emanating from the madhouse, "he is dying anyway," referring to an individual who helped build a country, is incomprehensible. It appears that we have failed to perpetuate a dream that assimilated the world, propelled innovation and remained to be the envy of the populace. Those who consider skin color to be a defining characteristic of success need to learn more, those who believe wealth is a defining characteristic of capability need to learn more, those who believe power is a proxy for arrogance need to learn more, those who believe segmentation schemes such as countries, languages, and religions are useful constructs, need to learn more.

As we enter the dark ages of the modern era, it is useful to look toward the guidance of science.



(1) http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/17/eaap9770

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Irrelvance

Professor Hawking's swan song that implies an infinite number of possible universes is apt. It seems interesting and it makes humanity utterly irrelevant. The idea that there could be an infinite number of universes with different physical laws appears very likely. If one could not transverse such universes, then, the existence of an entity within a narrow container does not explicate possibilities. 

Humans have developed in irrelevance. Out of Africa, they enveloped the world to kill and pillage and to eliminate anything that did not have the same skull shape. The species have been very destructive, suffering from biases based on surface features and most recently they apparently elected a leader, who in spite of getting educated in the "best schools," harbor few brain cells. He dictates his own health records and surrounds himself with lawyers, who could get him out of trouble. Not so fast. Lawyers are not sufficiently value-adding - in fact, they destroy value in most cases.

Future generations who look back to these dark ages will be astonished at the lack of intelligence. But then, humans have never been so intelligent.