Monday, December 18, 2017

Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen by Mark Buchanan

     Build a sand pile grain by grain. At some point one grain will cause others to fall. At first only a few fall but overtime one grain can cause all manner of avalanches, big or small, depending on the history of the sand pile and its current structure. There can be a critical state where one grain causes a big effect but there si no big cause just a grain dropping in the wrong place.
     The author illustrates with examples from earthquake prediction, forest fires, evolution, historical events and more. Trying to predict big earthquakes or historical crises may not be possible. Extinctions may not have great causes but may be just the result of an event at the wrong place in the historical flow.



Breathe: The Simple Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health by Belisa Vranich

Proper breathing is essential for good health. It really does make a difference in ones physical and mental health. She recommends full breaths from the diaphragm so that the stomach expands and contracts not the shoulders. The books goes into details with analyses and exercises. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge

Doidge gives fascinating insights regarding the neuroplasticity of the brain.

Chapter 1 reports on a case study of a doctor who had an accident that caused intense pain, but he found that the brain can eliminate pain. If you don't move your brain rewards you because pain is a danger signal and there is no danger when you don't move.  The use of much morphine prevented his nerves from becoming chronically stimulated and saved hi from developing a chronic pain syndrome.

The brain controls how much pain we feel. When neurons in our pain maps get damaged they fire false alarms that make us feel the pain is in our body. A chronic injury can cause pain maps to expand so we feel pain over a larger area. Pain can expand to adjacent brain maps causing us to feel pain over a larger area of the body. Chronic pain is a more top-down process.

The same brain areas that process pain also perform other functions. If we can perform those other functions the brain won't process pain. Brain maps are dynamic allocating space according to use it or lose it.  Moskowitz used visual activity to overpower the pain. He asked patients to imagine that the are of the brain devoted to processing pain was shrinking. He never let a pain spike occur with doing some visualization. It takes time but by six weeks his pain was almost gone. It took a year for him to be almost always pain free. He formulated the MIRROR principle for patients to organize their minds: Motivation, Intention, Relentlessness, Reliability, Opportunity, and Restoration. Patients got pain reduction when they stretched or compressed fingers and a camera magnified the effect.

Chapter 2 tells about a man who overcame the symptoms of Parkinson's disease with an exercise program he devised and a special kind of concentration.  Exercise, fast walking, is effective and reduces the risk of dementia.

Chapter 3 covers the stages of neuroplastic healing and the how and why it works.
The Pervasiveness of Learned Nonuse
       Put the good arm in a cast otherwise it will take over the functions of the weak arm whcih will 
       get weaker.
The Noisy Brain and Brain Dysrhythmias
        Turning off the sympathetic nervous system improves the signal-to-noise ratio in brain circuits.

Chapter 4  Rewiring the Brain with Light
Chapter 5 Moshe Feldenkrais ... Healing serious brain problems through mental awareness of movement.
       The brain cannot think without motor functions. Emotions show.  Awareness of movement is key to improving movement. Differentiation -- making the smallest possible sensory distinctions between movements -- builds brain maps. When a body part is injured its representation in the brain map becomes smaller or disappears.  If the stimulus is small then we can detect very small changes.  Slowness of movement  is the key to awareness and awareness if the key to learning.  Reduce the effort whenever possible. Errors cannot be avoided. Let your nervous system decide how to do the movement. Random movements provide variation that leads to developmental breakthroughs.

Chapter 6 A Blind Man Learns to See
     William Bates did for vision what Feldenkrais did for movement. He showed that the habitual ways eyes move affect the eyesight. Eye muscles change the shape of the eye allowing change of focus. Movement of the eye is essential to vision.

Chapter 7 A Device That Resets the Brain
     The device fit into a shirt pocket. The part that goes into the mouth looks like a stick of chewing gum and rests on the tongue. It has 144 electrodes to turn on the tongue's sensory neurons. When it stimulates the neuroplastic brain it modifies and corrects how the neurons are firing. A singer who had lost his voice to 30 years of MS got it back withing a week.  The tongue is one of the most sensitive organs and tongue stimulation activates the whole brain. The team invents exercises to help a person to regain whatever function was lost. The device treats many brain conditions.Yuri believes that the device works by triggering the brain's self-correcting, self-regulating system that allows it to achieve homeostasis. There are no side effects.

Chapter 8 A Bridge of Sound
     Singers were singing themselves into deafness; they sang poorly because they heard poorly. If hearing is fixed it can heal the voice. People with good listening skills mostly speak with the right side of the mouth. Most professional singers are right-eared.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Testament of Man series by Vardis Fisher

Vardis Fisher, born in 1895 to a religious Mormon family in Idaho, became a write and English professor at Columbia. The Testament of Man is an amazing series of 12 novels that cover all of human history from a religious perspective. He has studied religion carefully and provides much historical context for the development of religion over the years. The volumes are:

Darkness and the Deep
     Prehistoric man's discovery of himself
The Golden Rooms
      First sense of the supernatural
Intimations of Eve
      The power of primitive woman
Adam and the Serpent
       The male learns to dominate
The Divine Passion
       Sun-worship and the power of sex
The Valley of Vision
       King Solomon and his times
The Island of the Innocent
       The wars of the Maccabees
Jesus Came Again
       A new Messiah in Israel
A Goat for Azazel
       A search for truth in the ancient world
The Passion Within (Peace Like a River)
       Holy men and sinners in the desert
My Holy Satan
        Death and love in the Middle Ages
For Passion, For Heaven (Orphans in Gethsemane: I)
         Passions of modern man
The Great Confession (Orphans in Gethsemane: II)
         Our own time -- and the unending search for fulfillment

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Tresspassing on Einstein's Lawn by Amanda Gefter


  This book is a well-written, fascinating treatment of the lastest results in physics and cosmology in the context of the author's quest to understanding nothingness. Below is an inperfect summary for me to recall what I read.
Asking a yes or no question gets a bit of information. John Wheeler suspected that the universe is built up bit by bit by these measurements. Ours is a participatory universe. Wheeler like to say that the universe is a self-excited circuit, and that the boundary of the boundary is zero.
Wheeler "believed that the universe was right for observers because, somehow, observers create the universe." In special relativity the Lorenz transformation moves one path to another so that you are both loooking at the same world whatever your reference system (in unifom motion). With accelerated motion the parth through spacetime is curved. To match it up with a straight line path you need to curve space. "The wrinkles are gravity." "An inertial frame with a gravitational field is indistinguishable from an accelerated frame without a gravitational field."
Guth said, "...Today we think that the universe has zero values for all conserved quantities." Gravity has a negative contribution to the total energy. It always attracts and it takes energy to separate. It takes energy to bring electric charges together. Guth also said "Everything we see is in some sense nothing." Hawking said that we need to work from the top down, from the present to the past. We create the history of the universe.
"Something is real only if it's invariant." The same in every reference frame.  "..all the forces arise in essentially the same way--specifically, to account for the fact that things appear differently in different reference frames." An electron is described by a wave function which has a phase. If you step to the left you change the phase. The phases don't line up because you can't change it everywhere so you have to bend things which is electromagnetism which is a gauge force.  To "keep all reference frames on equal footing, you need a gauge force.
Chapter 7, Carving the World into Pieces, has much in it, and is too hard to adequately summarize. Gefter talks about the arrow of time and entropy which is a measure of hidden information. Temperature and pressure are shorthand for the detailed information about a gas. An individual molecule doesn't have a temperature. Gravitational entropy points in the opposite direction. It clumps stuff. Gravity is interesting at a black hole. The area of an event horizon can never decrease which resembles the second law of thermodynamics. Bekenstein claimed an event horizon's area is entropy. Hawking showed that black holes do radiate. The event horizon restructures the vacuum. It restricts the wavelengths of zero-point energy that can fit, spawning particles that wouldn't otherwise be there. The particles of Hawking radiation are observer-dependent. An accelerated observer sees a Rindler horizon which is like the event horizon of a black hole. Gravity and acceleration are equivalent. If space expands you get a deSitter event horizon, so we are surrounded by an event horizon. We each have our own universe.
The idea that the total amount of information in any region of three-dimensional space scales with the area of the two-dimensional boundary is called the holographic principle. Two descriptions--inside and outside the horizon--are complementary. The location of a bit becomes observer-dependent when gravity becomes important. Spacetime is no longer invariant.
Geometry, spacetime, doesn't fluctuate.
There isn't a single reality that all observers share. Wave-function collapse is observer-dependent. Interference in the two-slit experiment refers to a comparison between what is observed by one observer and what would be observed by another observer, a comparison between two different frames. If reality weren't observer dependent we wouldn't see interference. Interference cancels out the disagreements between our perspectives.
Light uses up its entire spacetime quotient on space, leaving none for time. It sees all of space in no time. Light is everywhere in a single instant. A photon sees a singularity. Horizons don't have horizons. The boundary of the boundary is zero. Eleven points in Chapter 15 summarize her results. The universe is nothing. If it were something it wouldn't be described by quantum mechanics.You need a broken symmetry to have information and information gives rise to the world. It from bit.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Life on the Edge The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili


            The European robin uses its ability to detect the earth's magnetic field to migrate, yet the magnetic force is very weak but the robins use quantum entanglement to make it work.
            The steam engine works by heating water so that the random motion of the steam pushes a piston. A balloon inflating is producing order from the disorder of the random motions of the air inside. But Schrodinger thought order from disorder would not apply to life because of the small scale and fewer molecules involved.
            "This process by which random molecular motion disrupts carefully aligned quantum mechanical systems is known as decoherence." But life can produce order from order. Quantum tunneling allows particles to cross a barrier that should be impossible. A body made up of many particles must remain coherent to tunnel. Enzymes allow quantum tunneling. Electrons travel along respiratory chains via quantum tunneling. Protons can also quantum tunnel.  At the molecular level biological processes can be very fast and confined to short distances so tunneling can have an effect and decoherence avoided. In photosynthesis a protein (FMO) keeps decoherence at bay trying all path like a quantum computer. Photosynthesis and respiration are not that different underneath. Plants obtain carbon from air but we get it from organic sources. Maybe this quantum coherence can be brought to solar cells.
            Biomolecules can detect vibrations of chemical bonds via quantum tenneling. Olfactory receptors may work this way.
            Further chapter treat quantum genes, mind, how life began, and quantum biology.



Monday, August 28, 2017

The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam

The Spotlight Effect -- An honor coffee pot in an office collected three times as much in weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7 of a study than in weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8. The odd numbered weeks features a picture of watching eyes while the even-numbered pictures were of flowers. Workers did not notice the photos.
When a waitress mimicked the customers ordered verbatim after a short delay, tips were 140% larger. Changing the words did not get the increase.
Couples can work together if they achieve in different areas but not if they compete.
Kids learn faces very early. Seventy percent of children studied assigned positive adjectives to white faces and negative to black. Bias weren't coming from parents or teachers. Kids pick it up from what they see.
Our hidden brain is quick to draw conclusions. At middle school age when kids are able to correct these early impressions they start to drop their friends of other races. This is the stage of defining ones group.
When workers change gender to male they are treated better, and when they change to female they are treated worse.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

10% Human by Alanna Cohen

  For every one of your cells there are nine other,
bacteria and fungi. Our physical and mental health is affected
by these residents.
A mouse has 23,000 genes, a worm 20,500. Humans
have less than 21,000. But we have the genes of all the
microbes in us which provide services. These microbes evolve
fast so can adapt much faster than if we waited for evolution
of our genes.
The appendix may be a sanctuary for microbes to help
repopulate after recovery from infection.
Rats would need 30 percent more to eat without
microbes.
Our digestive tract is an outside too, colonized by
bacteria.
Stools are mostly bacteria, some dead, some alive. 75%
by weight with fiber 17%. Bacterioids are the most common.
Microbes synthesize some vitamins.
Infectious diseases are being controlled by vaccines
and antibiotics but there other ailments like diabetes,
obesity, allergies, and autoimmune problems are much more
prevalent now.
A virus made chickens fat. Obese mice have more
Firmicutes and less Bacteroidetes with the reverse for lean
mice. Obese mice absorbed 2% more calories from food. Leptin
resistance plays a role. Leptin signals fullness. Obesity
could be an infectious disease. Lean people make more fat
cells to store energy. Obese people make bigger fat cells.
Microbes can change behavior. Antibiotics might kill
protective bacteria that allow C, Tetani to infect brain via
gut. Toxoplasma parasite implicated in schizophrenia, OCD and
ADHD. Microbes can produce hormones that increase happiness.
Clostridia species produce propionate which produces autism
symptoms including better memory.
Being too clean may leave immune cells underutilized
so they cause autoimmune problems. They might attack our
helpful microbes. The author sees herself and her microbes as
a team.
Antibiotics make cattle fatter and may do the same to
us.
Many soaps contain antibacterials which kill microbes.
Then allergies are more potent. Regular soap just washes the
bacteria off. Using antibacterials helps bacteria develop
resistance. Strep is more prevalent after washing as it
survives better than other bacteria.