By Jesse Bryant
The Pasteurian Revolution of the 1800’s heralded in a new paradigm of disease. Previously unexplained health phenomena could now be shown to be derived from “germs” – microorganisms invisible to the naked eye. The term “germ” quickly took on a negative connotation and until recently the microbial world has been seen primarily as a breeding ground for invisible enemies to human health. Its pretty incredible actually, the distaste the word “bacteria” instills in us, when really, it simply refers to a domain of prokaryotes. So, is the entire microbial world bent on our demise? I think the answer to this question can be summed up in one simple statistic:
Inside of you there are 1013 human cells and 1014 bacteria cells.
In other words, for every one cell of you there are ten that are not you…Wait, what? The first question this recent discovery may fuel is a stumbled WHAT? But lets digress for a moment and ask, why?
In light of the Obama Administration’s decision to commit $3 billion over 10 years to NIH’s Brain Activity Map project, we thought it may be important to go back to our roots.
Who are we? This is the ultimate question posed by all of Western thinking and perhaps NIH’s Brain Activity Map is the culmination of our efforts. The goal of the project, in a nutshell, is “mapping the activity of every neuron in the human brain in 10 years.” Absurd, outrageous, momentous, profound! Okay, so when did we decide that this was possible, or even that we should try? In their modern form, these beliefs spring from a movement in cognitive science called Connectionism.
This is in reference to a 2011 lecture entitled “Plato’s Philosophy of Art”, given by Dr. James Grant of the University of London, Birkbeck. An audio recording of the lecture can be found at the bottom.
Today, Plato is probably known best for his work Republic, an outline of a highly idealistic and just city-state. Many remember bits and pieces from their Intro to Philosophy classes, but a criticism that is generally brushed over in discussion of the Republic is Plato’s flat-out renunciation of art. A prerequisite in understanding Plato’s position is realizing the role that art, and specifically poetry, played in Greek culture.
Poetry in the time of Plato played a similar role to the Bible in early American culture. Sections were recited at schools, in homes, and children were expected to memorize various passages for later recitation. Much like the Bible, these poems formed early moral backbones in young Greeks and were very much responsible for the development of certain cultural norms. It wasn’t so much a problem for Plato that art had such a grip on the cultural norms and moral fibers of a society, but rather that the artists themselves had no understanding of what they were representing, and thus inspired corrupt and destructive morals. In the eyes of Plato, the artist or poet was typically not the ideal moral character in any society, and thus should not have been in charge of dictating moral grounds or developing cultural norms. A second complaint Plato had about the role of the artist was that even if they were generally a moral and civilized human being, they were falsely representing reality through their art, something which Plato very much opposed to and which undermined a central theory in Platonism. More
Dr. Frank Werblin at UC Berkeley has dedicated nearly his entire academic life to the study of the eye and visual processing. More recently Dr. Werblin has completed his model of the retinal processing system he has deemed “The Retinal Hypercircuit”. The Hypercircuit itself is made up of the five classical retina cell types: Photoreceptor, Horizontal, Bipolar, Amacrine and Retinal Ganglion Cells, but more recently, a collaborative effort has identified over 50 morphologically different cell types. Of this vast array of unique cell types the most variance falls in the morphology of the Amacrine cells, which offer horizontal properties in the Inner Plexiform Layer between the Bipolar and Ganglion Cells. Although the mechanics behind the Hypercirtuit are fascinating, what I find arguably more important is the output of the system, a topic which Werblin has indirectly stumbled upon, but which I believe could potentially lead to an incredibly progressive line of research. More
Paul Zak, the director of The Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at the Claremont Graduate University, for years has been searching for what makes us moral, and he thinks he has the answer. In this short talk Zak explains why massage, dance and prayer may increase donation to charity up to 50%, and how morals from a Californian high schooler to a primative Papua New Guinea subsistence farmer may have an identical physiological basis. The answer he claims, is Oxytocin. Here is the talk (via Youtube):
Trust, morality — and oxytocin – Ted.com
The mantis shrimp diverged evolutionarily from the crustacean mainline about 400 years ago and have since developed unique characteristics. Unlike most other crustaceans, they actively hunt prey and kill it with a crushing blow which has been theorized to be strong enough to create bubbles containing gas at temperatures upwards of 2000 Kelvin. This quality, however, is nowhere near as stunning as the mantis shrimp’s most incredible attribute: their eyes. In April 2001, the most comprehensive paper to date describing the mantis shrimp’s visual system was published by Justin Marshall and Thomas Cronin in The Biological Bulletin. In their paper, the authors described the unusual characteristics of the mantis shrimp visual system and hypothesized the applications of this system in the development of machine vision. More
Most would agree that the most important of our basic senses is sight. Without it, many basic forms of communication fall apart, the vibrance of the world around us dulls, and our understanding and ability to sense the complexity of the physical world diminishes. Without the ability to see, it would logically be impossible to portray our surroundings artistically in a coherent and visually realistic manner…
In Justin Bieber’s 2010 smash hit ‘U Smile’ he addresses the idea that when “You smile I smile”, obviously deriving his inspiration from recent work by V.S. Ramachandran on the human mirror neuron system. Over 50 years before Justin Bieber’s efforts to bring Ramachandran’s research to the forefront of the media, Dale Carnegie noted in his 1936 masterpiece, How To Win Friends And Influence People, the undeniable positive effects of smiling on the people around you. Carnegie goes on to explain how smiling can actually have a positive affect on the smiler as well. He notes a passage written by the great psychologist William James: More