Tuesday, July 31, 2012


(DSM) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

If this were to happen (the 'death' of DSM and a favoring of a cognitive science approach to understanding mental illness), I wonder what would be the effects on Juan Enriquez suggestion that Autism could be a form of cognitive evolution.
Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species? TEDxSummit, Jun2012

A fresh look at mental illness: Researcher points toward a new way to classify disorders
Peter Reuell, Jul 31, Harvard Gazette
clipped article:

Ask Assistant Professor of Psychology Joshua Buckholtz to explain his research into mental disorders, and he’ll likely start with a question that’s got more to do with basic medicine: When is the flu appendicitis?

The answer, of course, is never. Each is associated with a very specific — and nonoverlapping — set of biological causes and effects. Understanding what these are, Buckholtz explained, allows doctors to discriminate between the two with near-perfect accuracy. 

Unfortunately, Buckholtz said, the same cannot be said for mental disorders. 

According to Buckholtz, meeting the diagnostic criteria for multiple psychiatric disorders is the rule, rather the exception. 

“This tells us that there are either a lot of people who are unlucky enough to be afflicted with multiple distinct, unique disorders at the same time, or that something is very wrong with our method for classifying psychological disorders.” 

In a June 21 paper published in Neuron, Buckholtz and co-author Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, a researcher from the Central Institute of Mental Health and the University of Heidelberg in Germany, identify a biological reason for that disconnect. Extrapolating from what we know about the genetic causes of mental illness and their effects on the brain, they propose that many mental disorders appear to share symptoms because genes for mental illness cause changes in key brain circuits that affect a wide range of cognitive processes. 

“Individual genetic differences cause variability in the way that brain circuits function,” he continued. “These differences in brain circuit function lead to the wide range of variation in cognitive, emotional, motivation, and social function that we see in people all around us. The specific genes that are involved, and the way that these genes interact with the environments to which we are exposed, determine how specific brain circuits behave. When those circuits don’t function well, this is expressed as a deficit in whatever domain of cognition is supported by the ‘sick’ circuit. When these deficits cause dysfunction in everyday life, we call it a symptom. When those symptoms become impairing enough, someone comes to the clinic and receives a diagnosis.” 

“What we can say is that genetic and environmental risk factors for mental illness produce graded changes in the function of one or more brain circuits, producing graded changes in cognitive processes supported by those circuits,” Buckholtz said. “The changes in those cognitive processes will produce varying expression of symptoms that are shared across multiple disorders.” 

One possible impact of the paper’s findings, Buckholtz said, could come as researchers work to design a new way to classify mental disorders. 


Brain change link to anti-social behaviour in girls
Caroline Parkinson, 21 October 2012, BBC

The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry study of 40 girls revealed brains of teenage girls with behavioural disorders are different to those of their peers.

The team found part of the brain called the amygdala was smaller in the brains of male and female teenagers with conduct disorder than in their peers.

Girls with conduct disorder also had less grey matter in an area of the brain called the insula - linked to emotion and understanding your own emotions.

"In the US, people are already using brain scans to argue diminished responsibility. I think we're too early in our understanding to really do that, but it is happening.
-Dr Graeme Fairchild, of the University of Cambridge 

"It suggests that at least a component of this has a biological basis - and there are people who don't believe there is one."
-Dr Michael Craig of King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry

Uncovering secrets of how intellect and behavior emerge during childhood
November 8, 2012 in Medical Xpress, Genetics

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have shown that a single protein plays an oversized role in intellectual and behavioral development. The scientists found that mutations in a single gene, which is known to cause intellectual disability and increase the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, severely disrupts the organization of developing brain circuits during early childhood. This study helps explain how genetic mutations can cause profound cognitive and behavioral problems.

The study focused on a critical synaptic protein known as SynGAP1.

"There are a few genes that can't be altered without affecting normal cognitive abilities," Rumbaugh said. "SynGAP1 is one of the most important genes in cognition—so far, every time a mutation that disrupts the function of SynGAP1 has been found, that individual's brain simply could not develop correctly. It regulates the development of synaptic function like no other gene I've seen."

Interestingly, inducing these mutations after the critical development period was complete had virtually no impact on normal synapse function and repairing these pathogenic mutations in adulthood did not improve behavior or cognition.

"A key finding is we were able to remove the mutation and restore SynGAP protein levels in adult mice with obvious cognitive and behavioral problems, but this intervention did not benefit the animals," Rumbaugh said. These results imply that very early intervention is essential in neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly for cognitive problems. The team is now aggressively searching for the optimal period during development in which repairing these mutations is most beneficial.

Novel studies of gene regulation in brain development may mean new treatment of mental disorders
December 2, 2012 in Medical Xpress, Genetics

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Institut Pasteur, Paris identified the hierarchical tree of CGG–TF networks that determine the patterns of genes expressed during brain development and found that some "master transcription factors" at the top level of the hierarchy regulated the expression of a significant number of gene groups.

Instead of a taking the approach that a single gene creates a single response, researchers used contemporary methods of data analysis, along with the Gordon supercomputer at the university's San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), to identify CGGs responsible for brain development which can be affected for treatment of mental disorders. The team found that these groups of genes act in concert to send signals at various levels of the hierarchy to other groups of genes, which control the general and more specific (depending of the level) events in brain structure development.

"We have proposed a novel, though still hypothetical, strategy of drug design based on this hierarchical network of TFs that could pave the way for a new category of pharmacological agents that could be used to block a pathway at a critical time during brain development as an effective way to treat and even prevent mental disorders such as ASD and schizophrenia," said lead author Igor Tsigelny, a research scientist with SDSC, as well as the university's Moores Cancer Center and Department of Neurosciences. "On a broader scale, these findings have the potential to change the paradigm of drug design."

A Hierarchical Coherent-Gene-Group Model for Brain Development
Tsigelny IF, Kouznetsova VL, Baitaluk M, Changeux JP
Genes, Brain and Behavior - Nov 22, 2012 [Epub ahead of print]

Computers are better at diagnosing and treating patients than doctors

Mental Health Researchers Reject Psychiatry’s New Diagnostic ‘Bible’
Maia Szalavitz May 07, 2013

A Revolution in Mental Health
Paul Voosen, in the Chronicle of Higher Education

…most likely candidate for a revolution in mental health research: the National Institute of Mental Health’s RDoC or Research Domain Criteria project

My Brain Made Me Do It:
US courts see rise in defendants blaming their brains for criminal acts
The Guardian, Nov 2013

Monday, July 30, 2012


I love misspelling 'authentic' and running an image search.

Because you know all that sh*t is fake as hell.

Relativistic Authenticity

It's like when you're an American looking for news about America on BBC. You know all big media these days is corrupt and manipulated and biased, but it is, nonetheless, done in the service of manipulating a specific population. BBC, then, can only spin so much of the full volume of data processing through their apparatus, (and in a way that does not exhibit a perceptible contradiction - in an imaginary newsmedia that spun all information relative to all potential viewers, the  overall contradictions would cancel its legitmacy and believabilty), and so you have to ask, which data points would be more likely to be tweaked? Those points that are significant/meaningful to the mass British psyche, that's what. So as an American, if I want news that is less corrupt, relative to me, it makes sense that I would go to another country's national news-source? They aren't trying to brainwash me, I'm an American (sure they might like to, but at some point it becomes unreasonable to do so, for the reasons above). So isn't BBC then more authentic to me than CNN?

World Trade

You can't make this stuff up.
I bring to you, Internet, today's headlines, these two are right alongside each other.
If you don't see the humor in this, you're already dead:

Four sentenced to death over $2.6bn Iran bank fraud
30 July 2012

Four people have been sentenced to death for their roles in Iran's biggest-ever bank fraud scandal.
Two other defendants received life sentences, while 33 more will spend up to 25 years in jail, the chief prosecutor was quoted as saying.

The scandal involved forged documents reportedly used by an investment company to secure loans worth $2.6bn.

HSBC raises mis-selling and money laundering provisions
30 July 2012 

HSBC has put aside $2bn (£1.3bn) to cover potential mis-selling claims and money-laundering fines as it announces a sharp rise in first-half profits.

Pre-tax profit for the first six months of 2012 was $12.7bn, up 11% on the $11.5bn the bank made a year ago.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chef Prometheus

Cooking with fire is a form of predigestion, and changed the human genome 200,000 years ago.
-wider variety of edible/digestible food
-smaller teeth and jaw muscles
-supplemental stomach
-artificial organ

Our genes have coevolved with our inventions. In the past 10,000 years alone, in fact, our genes have evolved 100 times faster than the average rate for the previous 6 million years. … We have domesticated ourselves. … Technology has domesticated us. … If all technology – every last knife and spear – were to be removed from this planet, our species would not last more than a few months. We are now symbiotic with technology. (p37)

What Technology Wants
Kevin Kelly

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Memetic Transmission as explained by a Meme

Conspiracy Keanu, like a boss.

Accelerating Change

Canon's Mixed Reality System may speed design cycles
June 23, 2012 by Nancy Owano, phys.org

Canon this week announced a new augmented reality system—headset and software. The new system is to allow virtual prototypes to replace physical ones. Mixed Reality (MR)

“As product lifecycles grow progressively shorter, it has become increasingly necessary for the manufacturing industry to introduce products to the market in a timely manner,” says the company press release; the system can be a support tool for quicker evaluation of design and operability. “The system can reduce the number of prototypes required and can contribute to minimizing costs.”

Now referencing What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, p141:

Time Horizon for patents is 20 years, says Jay Walker of Walker Digital Labs:
"Most invention is a matter of time...when, not if."

The time it takes to go from idea to market is strictly limited by the time it takes to make and test prototypes.

Because we no longer have to 'make' prototypes, does that mean we can speed up the cycle?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Culture Fail?

^Memesis - Neil Degrasse Tyson x Aliens

Aliens = (Science + Religion) / Science

I was afforded the experience last night to watch Ancient Aliens (the History Channel documentary) with some friends. After many attempts to conjure Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit, I was faced with a stark reality: It’s not a person’s belief in aliens that should frighten us, it is the consistent, thought-disarming default solution to complex phenomena. Aliens in the [memetic*] sense has been re-calibrated by the Internet as a kind of dead-end, dysfunctional thought syndrome that is still prevalent in many, many people in The West.

*search “alien meme”

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Aliens. I like to dream about what they look like, where they come from, how they get here, and what they want out of life. Stranger in a Strange Land is on my bookshelf, no doubt, albeit right next to Asimov’s The Universe. I also love H.G. Wells’ galvanizing memesis of “little green men” (though he did not actually describe them as such), but am more endeared with its hysterical effect, and meta-effect in the dispute over the extent of the hysteria, on population when presented by Orson Welles via radio broadcast in 1938; disregard, or not, the confusing Wells/Welles coincidence herein.

So, for the record, I come in peace.

Check the history of the word “aliens”, in the extra-terrestrial sense; the word’s inception is quite recent. I will fuzz-it-up here, for the sake of effect, as well as for mnemonic purposes, and place this inception date of the word (but more importantly the concept) in the public psyche, as concurrent with our entrance into the atomic age, the modern era, the postwar world – the second half of the 1900’s. It would be interesting to see what correlates here join with the fall of the influence of Christianity in Western society.

Though it should be argued that a primary “goal” of religion is to guide us in the ways of things we yet understand (not in understanding, of course, but in coping with not-understanding), it also provides answers; that is, it helps to satisfy the awakening of the rational mind of our more animal-inclined selves. “Aliens” (in the conventional sense, not the internet-meme sense) delivers us an equitable service. For a world where the “legitimacy” of Religion* comes under increasing scrutiny, it seems natural that something like Aliens would appear in the popular culture. 

*I use quotes here because  the authenticity of religion is ultimately non-rational in nature, and thus impervious to scrutiny and hence delegitimization.

Respective to the Christian narrative, they [aliens] are more significant in a new world of space travel and aeronautics and unprecedented organization at super-national levels (which queries for the presence of even higher levels of organization, below God, perhaps, but above the Axis powers, for example). "Aliens" also functions as an unintentional reservoir for the misplaced confusion and unresolved conflict of religiously skeptical yet patriotic American citizens exposed to the "if you're not Christian then you must be Communist" idea of their Coldwar culture.

And so, finally, it is funny how the possible supplanting of Religion by Aliens, comes via undeniable consequences of Science on society (via advances in aeronautics, space exploration and communications technology), and yet those who believe can only do so in denial themselves of the basic tenets of science.

Okay, forget it; just watch the damn video! (link directly below)
“You shouldn’t believe anyone based on authority.”
“You want to have a mind open enough to accept radical new ideas, but not so open that your brain falls out.”
–Michael Shermer invoking Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit

somehow related:
from the New Yorker's Sci Fi issue
Jon Michaud; May 28, 2012

greatest conspiracy theory website ever, created by robots, for robots:

Verified Facts

Pope Francis says he would baptise aliens: 'The doors of the Catholic Church are open to everyone'
May 14 2014


Whatever may be the case in years gone by, the true use for the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to science and to common lives, endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing, and to real things only.

-Walt Whitman, “A Backward Glance over Troubled Waters”

Maxwell’s Aesthetics

“When he first tried to put the equations that describe the electric and magnetic fields into one system, he found a disturbing asymmetry in the forms of the equations. For purely esthetic reasons he changed the equations in order to make them more symmetric.” …Those new, esthetically modified equations went on to tell him that the speed of the waves through the fields was equal to the speed of light…

Lee Smolen, The Life of the Cosmos, Oxford, 1997 (p48)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Acceleration of Generational Cognitive Disparity

Cognitive evolution is a complex system of ideas, still nascent and elusive in its form. “Accelerating change”, however, is a simple, firmly established concept. If we first loosely define cognition as a ‘way of thinking’, and evolution as ‘change’, then is it possible that we can discover and quantify the difference in ways-of-thinking over time?

From a bicameral perspective, it took humans hundreds of years to transition into the intramentality that we now consider the essential ingredient in what it means to be human (^1). Is our cognition still in the process of changing and is that rate of change increasing? And if so, is there a point at which that rate of change surpasses the distance between generations, a quantity that has held relatively steady for the duration of our species?

Juan Enriquez, genomics-science writer, cites 29 “humanoid upgrades” in the human species to date, and goes on:
“The first place where you would expect to see enormous evolutionary pressure today, both because of its inputs, which are becoming massive, and because of the plasticity of the organ, is in the brain. … Are we seeing rapid brain evolution?” (Enriquez proceeds to question the seemingly rapid advance of autism…) (^2)
The speed of biological/DNA evolution was one bit per year, whereas the speed of technological/human-generated, technologically-mediated information is at 400exobytes per year (^3). Any possible permutation of a theory of coevolution cannot neglect to account for this difference in the "most evolvable human organ".

And finally, in an article about the filtering of pornography on family computers:
"Many [parents] want to take responsibility, but all too often they do not how know how because they find the technology too difficult to use or their children are more technically advanced then they are." (^4)
Every last institution on Earth is designed to work within the steady rhythm of human generations. Our schools aren’t working, and our leadership isn’t either, nor the media. It is possible that we can just now glimpse the puzzling glimmer of the effects of generational cognitive disparity on society. And it is perhaps not such a bad idea to strain our vision just a little bit harder, before this thing smacks us in the face.

2. Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species? TEDxSummit, Jun2012

3. Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, 2010 (p334)

4. Automatic bar on net porn consideredBBC news, 27 June 2012

[Accelerating Change and Education]
SHAILA DEWAN, September 22, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cultural Evolution of Basic Color Terms

Time for some explanation.

This is perhaps the most important diagram I have ever seen regarding "Color Theory",
Durham’s example of genetic mediation in the cultural fitness of a set of memes (pp213-218).

The genotypes considered are those responsible for the pigment-based system of light absorption in the eye, and the neurophysiological processing of sensory input to the brain.

1969: anthropologists Brent Berlin and Paul Kay undertook an experiment to prove the semantic relativity of language across different cultures. They wanted to prove that each culture divides the spectral continuum arbitrarily. (But their data, re-examined, proves something much more impactful.)

Native speakers of 20 different languages were asked to
1. List the color terms in their language
2. Pick a ‘focal point’ (the most typical example acceptable) for each of those color terms out of a 329-color palette.
3. Outline the outer boundary (on the color palette) of acceptable colors for that term.

The data shows a tight clustering around what we can now call the eleven universal colors.

“There appears to be a fixed sequence of evolutionary stages through which a language must pass as its basic color vocabulary increases.”  (Berlin and Kay, p14)

“Black, white, red, green, yellow, blue are the six primaries, once they are encoded, the other colors can be combined from the basics.” (Kay and McDaniel)

If a language encodes fewer than 11 basic colors, there are strict limitations, as follows. All languages have names for black and white (which are more like opposites; either dark/light or warm/cool), so we begin with every language having at least 2 color names. If the language has 3 color names, then red is always the third color...

2-black and white
4-green or yellow
5-green and yellow
8+purple, pink, orange, grey

-Basic color terms are a specific kind of meme with considerable cross-cultural regularity.
-Compared to other descriptions of color, known or imaginable, these appear to have especially high cultural fitness [we don’t change the names of colors].
-When new memes are added to the set, they enter into a specific and highly constrained fashion? system?

It is proposed then, that regularities in the linguistic decoding of color result from regularities in the neural coding of color in the brain, with the implication that this is a case of genetic mediation.

On the notion of inevitability and the sequence of cultural/technological evolution, Kevin Kelly states:
Each technological progression around the world follows a remarkably similar approximate order.
The direction of technological development is the same every time it happens.
Rock art always precedes sewing, and metalwork always follows claywork.

The Neural Coding of Color

The nervous system codes spectral radiation according to its wavelength in a way that creates a kind of biological categorization of the spectrum. (Durham, p218-219)

The absence of color-terms in any known culture for reddish-green or bluish yellow (as illustrated by Kay, 1978) is in parallel to the function of the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the brain, which uses a “spectrally opponent response process” via four nerve cells – two tuned to red/green, and 2 tuned to blue/yellow (DeValois and DeValois, 1966,1973).

The cross-cancelling of these cells leads to absence of fuzzy middle areas between the color pairs of red/green and blue/yellow. It also matches the sequence of the evolution of color terms (Berlin and Kay), which sees red-green-blue-yellow as primary colors from which others are differentiated.

(Note that although orange can be made of red-yellow, it is not present in the opposing sets of nerve cells; green is.

Regarding semantic correlation to neural coding, it appears that the favored variants which lead to the basic color terms of a culture (and thus have the most ‘fitness’) closely match the neural pattern. This is a case of Primary Value Selection, as defined by Durham as being opposite the Secondary Value Selection. Primary- is based on genetic programming, whereas Secondary- is built on top of the primary program, but differs in that it uses conscious decision-making.

William H. Durham, Coevolution: Genes, Culture and Human Diversity
Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. 1969, Berkeley
Paul Kay and Chad K. McDaniel, The Linguistic Significance and the Meanings of Basic Color Terms, Language 54, 1978
Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, 2010

Jan 2017, CBS News

In a study published in the academic journal eLife, researchers examined DNA methylation — fingerprints of DNA that can be inherited or altered by life experience and shape how our genes are expressed —among 573 Mexican and Puerto Rican children. DNA methylation reflects individual circumstances — for instance, PTSD stemming from traumatic experiences, air pollution from environmental conditions, after effects from maternal smoking, etc.

…a large fraction, one quarter, of the DNA fingerprints likely reflect biological signatures of environmental, social or cultural differences between the ethnic groups.

Different racial and ethnic groups tend to follow different diets, live in neighborhoods with varying levels of poverty and pollution, and are more or less likely to smoke. DNA methylation can reflect these subtle cultural and environmental differences.

Dr. Esteban Burchard, a physican-scientist and professor at UC San Francisco, supervised the study, which was 20 years in the making.

“It tells me there’s something biological to race. It tells me that we have a lot more work to do. Twenty-five percent of what we see is not due to biological differences, but things associated with the idea of race and ethnicity.”

As with the evolution of Color, notes in music began with a separation of octaves (perhaps male, female voices, etc.) and proceeded to divisions of 4ths and 5ths (etc.)
  -Curt Sachs, The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West, 1943

The Lipps–Meyer Law predicts an 'effect of finality' for a melodic interval that ends on a tone which, in terms of an idealized frequency ratio, can be represented as a power of two.

The Lipps–Meyer law, named for Theodor Lipps (1851–1914) and Max F. Meyer (1873–1967), hypothesizes that the closure of melodic intervals is determined by "whether or not the end tone of the interval can be represented by the number two or a power of two", in the frequency ratio between notes.
  -Meyer, M.F. (1929). "The Musician's Arithmetic", The University of Missouri Studies, January.

RadioLab - Colors
Season 10 Episode 13
Listen to this podcast discussing how the Ancient Greeks, Homer included, were 'colorblind', and how the sky isn't really blue.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

More Fun with Semiotics

^above painting of cardboard boxes stacked against the wall as if they were cardboard boxes done by Kevin Arnold (who is actually not 'Kevin Arnold'...someone stop me please)

found in:
New American Paintings: Southern Edition #100 spring/summer.
(The Open Studio Press, Boston Massachusetts) 2012

Semiotic Equilibrium

Across the street, the sign in the window of the jeweler’s shop says “pardon our appearance”. The sign runs across the middle third of the entire window. Typically, the window is adorned with expensive, delicate jewelry. Now, behind the sign (which takes up a large portion of the window), we see an empty showcase with a small piece of plywood and a power drill in the far right corner.

Though the sign says ‘pardon our appearance’, it also says ‘look at our mess’, or the lack thereof, really. There’s barely anything to pardon, and even if there was, the sign itself would be the more demanding-of-pardon of the two. The cancels itself out in some kind of semiotic equilibrium?

It’s similar to, but not the same as, the sign hanging on the fence that says “do not hang signs on fence”. What it says and what it does are at odds in some way. In the case of the 'pardon our appearance' sign, it asks us to do something that wouldn't even need to be done if the sign weren't asking us...The sign should say 'pardon our sign (which wouldn't have to be pardoned if the sign weren't here in the first place)'.

Don't actually pardon our appearance, but our pardoning of our appearance.

Fun with Semiotics

I must give credit to Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson for this one:
an example of a mathematical distribution function PRINTED ON the front of the German ten-mark banknote (1989-2001, in honor of German mathemetician Carl Friedrich Gauss).

Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Amazing Meeting 6, ~32:00 minutes