Ethylene: The Most Important Molecule You’ve Never Heard Of?

Ethylene is a gaseous hydrocarbon with the molecular structure C2H4. It is commonly produced when hydrocarbons are exposed to oxidative stress, such as that found during lightning, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and photochemical reactions on the ocean surface. Plants coopted ethylene biosynthesis during evolution to manage their response to oxidative stress from biotic and abiotic sources. Further exaptations of ethylene include modulation of plant life history events such as development, transformation, senescence, and death.

Due to a number of factors described below, humans may be subject to increasing ethylene exposure. The potential health consequences of ethylene exposure are not part of the public consciousness and warrant further exploration.
[Continue reading…]

Freedom and Population Density

Humans seek to maximize their freedom. What happens when a person’s freedom encroaches on the freedom of another person? A person who maims another person would reduce the freedom of the latter. Taken to its logical extension, what can this simple tenet of personal freedom teach us about political philosophy?

At play is the conflict of maximizing individual freedom versus preserving the overall freedom of the group. A theoretical ideal balance occurs when each individual curtails his own freedom at the boundary limit of another individual’s freedom. Conceptually, one can respect another’s boundaries by either contracting the sphere of one’s freedom or moving further away.

As population density increases, a greater need develops for people to subordinate their freedoms to the needs of the group. Some examples follow.
[Continue reading…]

Has Death Outlived It’s Usefulness?

In a monastery in New Hampshire in 1981, two groups of men in their seventies and eighties relived the 1950s. The men talked about the launch of the first United States satellite and Castro’s victory. They watched Anatomy of a Murder and black and white television and read back-issues of magazines. They engaged in discussions of sports figures of the 1950s. The first group pretended they were really experiencing the 1950s for the first time, whereas the second group simply remembered what it was like to live in that time period.

Afterward, the men’s minds and bodies were tested — both groups performed better physically and mentally. However, the men who pretended they were youthful again, as opposed to those who reminisced, demonstrated a dramatic improvement in performance. The youth had awakened within them.

Most people believe that aging is inevitable, that our bodies decay, a process that culminates in death. Through the study of the two groups of men, psychology professor Ellen Langer found that ideas internalized in childhood can shape the aging process. In fact, research shows that finding the Fountain of Youth is not as far-fetched as it may seem and the potential for immortality lies within our own bodies.
[Continue reading…]

Compound Thinking

Abstract

Children are trained to count linearly: one, two, three, four, five, etc. Long before mathematics was invented, however, a subjective process of estimation was used to quantify and make decisions. If the ability to appreciate quantities in linear terms confers fitness advantage, that edge appears to have eluded Darwinian selection. Studies of the Amazonian Mundurucu indigenous tribe and preschool American children all suggest that humans are innately wired to use a compressed scale to understand magnitude – not unlike those depicted by logarithmic, exponential, or power-law functions. A compressed scale is biased toward achieving higher resolution at the lower end of the spectrum where smaller numbers reside, where discriminating subtleties in degrees of scarcity can provide the greatest benefit. Psychophysical studies assessing the magnitude of subjective estimation of sensory inputs such as light intensity and sound intensity also reveal innate mapping of signals on compressed scales. From an adaptive perspective, a compressed scale of subjective estimation enables a wider dynamic range of sensory processing which is valuable in environmental signal interpretation. The hypothesis that selective pressures favored the cognitive adoption of a compressed scale for subjective estimation is consistent with the reality that natural phenomena generally unfold through iteration, yielding patterns of development that are best understood through the prism of compounding rather than the lens of linearity. Like an intellectual slide rule, modern mathematics reprograms children. It obligates them to abandon their natural cognitive tendencies, which rely on compressed scales and estimation and coerces them into adopting linear scales that provide uniform resolution along the entire scale. It resigns them to participate in a wholesale exercise of indiscriminate precision with respect to all things. This force-fed mental framework may help individuals thrive in the artificiality of our modern socio-cultural-economic landscape, replete with man-made straight lines and standardized tests. However, we believe that the conflict between our innate instinct to estimate on a compressed scale and our learned ability to quantify on a linear scale is a source of profound decision dysfunction in the modern world, particularly impairing the ability to assess the possibilities of outlier outcomes.
[Continue reading…]

Darwin in Medical School

Some scientists call for a bigger dose of evolution in doctors’ educations

By MITZI BAKER

Joon Yun, MD, began considering how evolution applies to human health a decade ago when his first heart disease patients died. These cases disturbed Yun, then a Stanford radiology resident. But they also intrigued him.

Having studied evolutionary biology in college, Yun tried fitting these medical failures into that framework.

His mind wandered to the early days of humans when heart disease was a rare trigger of death. In the prehistoric era, a more likely cause of death would have been an attack by a predator. The human body’s response to trauma handles this type of assault by immediately springing to action: The blood forms clots and the blood vessels tighten, together with slowing blood loss, and inflammation kicks in to combat infection. The genes governing these responses to trauma presumably were favored during evolution and have become the “factory setting” in modern humans.
[Continue reading…]