Posts Tagged ‘science’

kägˈni sh ən
the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

It seems science is well on the way to proving that, yes indeed, thoughts actually are things, but not in ways many like to consider them to be. Creative visualization for example, the process of wishful thinking that is said to have the power to produce desired results, could now be touted as little more than a molecule doing the backstroke in chemical soup.

It’s this article titled “Evolution of cognition might be down to brain chemistry”, in New Scientist that’s stirring the chowder this morning:

“Brain metabolism probably played an important role in evolution of human cognition,” Khaitovich says, “and one of the potentially most important changes was in glutamate metabolism.”

Glutamate is the “brain’s main energy metabolite”, he says. “And as the main excitatory neurotransmitter it is responsible for virtually every possible cognitive task, including learning and memory.”

Apparently glutamate is not thought, but rather the chemical that “that energises brain cells and ferries messages between them” — the grease on the wheels, so to speak — but there’s no doubt a search is on for the chemical … a combo of chems, perhaps tweaked with a jolt of electro-juice? … that is ideas and concepts.

How much of who and what we are is simple biology — not “simple” in an it’s-easy-to-grasp way, but will someday be a cinch to quantify — is a question I ponder often these days.

David Kingsley of Stanford University in California was not involved in the study, but his team recently revealed genetic differences accounting for humans’ larger brains. “It’s clear that humans have accumulated some interesting differences in the thinking regions of the brain,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how such differences arise from changes in our genomes and those of our closest relatives.”

Are we nothing more than a link on an evolutionary chain with reactions dictated by a dollop of this and a drip of that? Do we fall in love because the smell of someone trips a switch that floods our brain with a feel-good bisque? Is art created out primal dictates to pass along DNA? Are dreams just random spurts in some electro-chemical tango that hears sleep as a beat? Is thirst for knowledge simply an inner empty road we’re primed to navigate for the heck of it?

If this is all we are, biological beings at the mercy of meat and related juice, then … well … the point would be … ?

As meat au jus with glutamate, and whatever else has yet to be identified … My Self Glutamate sounds tenderizing … perhaps all these thought things are merely distractions; jingling keys that draw attention away from the tedious process of living only to eat, shit and reproduce, the true mandates if there is nothing more to us.

What we are has longed seemed to me a waste of evolutionary energy, however. If a hummingbird developed speedy wings and a long beak to fit a niche … if mandrills grew glorious asses because dense jungle habitat favored those who could keep track of others … if hibernation preserved life in cold climates (and, yes, all that did happen) … then why, oh why, did humans become so over-engineered in the thoughts/dreams/creation department instead of growing thicker hair and perfecting the art of arboreal living?

Why must the chemicals in my head put words into verse? What is the evolutionary benefit in concertos and cubism? Where does a broken heart fit into the picture? And why is there any picture at all?

If all this thought stuff is just a series of shiny objects grabbing our attention for a while as we plod, perhaps they’re what keep us plodding. Maybe the chemical for ego is the difference between offing ourselves out of sheer boredom and sticking around long enough to eat, shit and reproduce.

Given the state of the world, however, that prospect seems an evolutionary shot that backfired since just about everything else on our planet would be better off were we not so wrapped up in what we think are our thoughts, and may very well result in us doing ourselves in.

Awash in MSG as I am at the moment, I can’t help but go back to the combo of chemicals that has me asking again:

And the point would be … ?

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Writing the other day as I did on medical research that sounds hopeful, I was primed for sciency topics, so this post on my friend Grant’s blog … the ever-interesting and always entertaining Guild of Scientific Troubadours, where science meets music, shakes hands and dances … caught my eye and held it long enough to create no little despair.

Referring to an article from Science Daily titled American Adults Flunk Basic Science, Grant is apparently as bemused as I am over the results of a survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences that found that:

* Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

* Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.

* Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.*

* Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Also worrying is the discovery that “40% of U.S. adults say they are ‘not at all knowledgeable’ about sustainability.”

Well, of course they’re not, thinking that “The Flintstones” is a documentary series and clueless about what makes a year a year and all.

Feel free to test your science savvy here … and while you’re on the site you can launch the penguin cam and learn something about monogamy … and a species that needs ours to really grasp the concept of sustainability.

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No, I’m not harkening back to the flap last year that had tacky t-shirts emblazoned with the what was either cleverly hip or cynically horrid “Adoption: the New Black”, but rather the REAL New Black, which is black.

Yep. Black: The New Black.

Blacker than black, this new black is amazingly cool to a science geek wannabe like me.

It’s the Washington Post that puts out a version of this I can wrap my head around … almost … as it describes a new material that absorbs — get this — 99.955% of any light that hits it.

Hmmmmmm … If a moth gets to it, does it leave a Black Hole?

“It’s very deep, like in a forest on the darkest night,” said Shawn-Yu Lin, a scientist who helped create the material at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. “Nothing comes back to you. It’s very, very, very dark.”

I’m trying to imagine aiming my eyes at a bit of fabric from which nothing comes back.

What’s that like? Brain death, maybe? Like, I’m looking, I’m looking, I’m looking, but there’s so much nothing to see that I might as well not have eyes?


Wondering what use the New Black will have, besides being the height of whatever heights get that groovy designation?

Well, the military is jazzed about adding it to stealth coatings that absorb radar waves. Why not?

But check out this stuff:

Solar panels coated with it would be much more efficient than those coated with conventional black paint, which reflects 5 percent or more of incoming light. Telescopes lined with it would sop up random flecks of incidental light, providing a blacker background to detect faint stars.

And a wide array of heat detectors and energy-measuring devices, including climate-tracking equipment on satellites, would become far more accurate than they are today if they were coated with energy-grabbing superblack.

Of course, I’m thinking of the fashion potential. Those extra pounds I’m toting could disappear with just a little nip and tuck, not of me, but of an outfit sporting strategic touches of “super black”. And think of the contouring possible if it could be added to a makeup line! Double chin! What double chin?

And Halloween! Head! What head?

I also can’t shake the idea of Bug Bunny’s portable holes … those disks of black he’d toss when he needed a quick getaway. With big enough circles of the New Black anyone could appear to exit Stage Right for “Wonderland”.

Of course, having all the light sucked out of the immediate area is one way to hide, but not the only one almost possible these days.

Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak is also in the works, but rather than gobble light the stuff being used bends it backward.

Known as transformation optics, the phenomenon compels some wavelengths of light to flow around an object like water around a stone. As a result, things behind the object become visible while the object itself disappears from view.

Does that or does than not give goose bumps the size of headlamps?

Okay … now that we can cloak a Volkswagon like a Klingon war bird, can we please get that beamy-uppy thing in the works? I’d really like to meet my oldest son’s girlfriend.

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