A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

In his 2014 book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, top synthetic biologist J. Craig Venter offers powerful words supporting a future shaped by ubiquitous synthetic biology in our lives:
“I can imagine designing simple animal forms that provide novel sources of nutrients and pharmaceuticals, customizing human stem cells to regenerate a damaged, old, or sick body. There will also be new ways to enhance the human body as well, such as boosting intelligence, adapting it to new environments such as radiation levels encountered in space, rejuvenating worn-out muscles, and so on”

An open source future for synthetic biology
'Smart genes' prove elusive - Study of more than 100,000 people finds three genetic variants for IQ — but their effects are maddeningly small. - Scientists looking for the genes underlying intelligence are in for a slog. One of the largest, most rigorous genetic studies of human cognition1 has turned up inconclusive findings, and experts concede that they will probably need to scour the genomes of more than 1 million people to confidently identify even a small genetic influence on intelligence and other behavioural traits.Studies of twins have repeatedly confirmed a genetic basis for intelligence, personality and other aspects of behaviour. But efforts to link IQ to specific variations in DNA have led to a slew of irreproducible results. Critics have alleged that some of these studies’ methods were marred by wishful thinking and shoddy statistics. A sobering editorial in the January 2012 issue of Behavior Genetics2 declared that “it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge”. (via 'Smart genes' prove elusive : Nature News & Comment)

'Smart genes' prove elusive
-
Study of more than 100,000 people finds three genetic variants for IQ — but their effects are maddeningly small.
-
Scientists looking for the genes underlying intelligence are in for a slog. One of the largest, most rigorous genetic studies of human cognition1 has turned up inconclusive findings, and experts concede that they will probably need to scour the genomes of more than 1 million people to confidently identify even a small genetic influence on intelligence and other behavioural traits.Studies of twins have repeatedly confirmed a genetic basis for intelligence, personality and other aspects of behaviour. But efforts to link IQ to specific variations in DNA have led to a slew of irreproducible results. Critics have alleged that some of these studies’ methods were marred by wishful thinking and shoddy statistics. A sobering editorial in the January 2012 issue of Behavior Genetics2 declared that “it now seems likely that many of the published findings of the last decade are wrong or misleading and have not contributed to real advances in knowledge”. (via 'Smart genes' prove elusive : Nature News & Comment)

Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?
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A design for a home anchored to a sheer cliff face offers a striking vista. But what would it take to live in such a place, asks Jon Kelly. For sale: distinctive seaside property with spectacular coastal views. Would suit high-value buyer untroubled by vertigo. So far it only exists as a concept, but the design for the Cliff House by Modscape, an Australian firm that designs and builds prefabricated homes, is enough to give a lurch to the stomach of anyone uneasy with heights. Here’s the pitch - it features three bedrooms (two doubles, the other en-suite), a stylish living space, a carport, separate bathroom and (tantalisingly or nausea-inducingly, depending on your tolerance of sheer drops) an open-air spa and barbecue area on the bottom floor. Artfully minimalist interior décor focuses visitors’ attention on “transcendent views of the ocean”. According to the company’s website, the plans were drawn up after a couple approached the firm asking its designers to explore how to build a holiday home along “extreme parcels” of coast in Victoria. (via BBC News - Would you live in a house clinging to a cliff?)

Freitag’s F-abric clothing belongs in the compost … eventually
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We’ve already got biodegradable shoes and bikinis, but how about just regular ol’ shirts and pants? Well, while existing natural materials such as cotton and wool will biodegrade under the right conditions, Zurich-based clothing manufacturer Freitag is producing clothing made from fabric that’s specifically designed for quick and easy composting. Known as F-abric, the material is made from a blend of flex and hemp fibers, along with modal fibers (a type of rayon) made by spinning cellulose obtained from beech trees. Additionally, a special weaving process contributes to the textile’s ability to readily disintegrate once composted, as does the use of wood pulp-based Tencel yarn for sewing the sheets of F-abric together. In order to keep its carbon footprint low, the company has also made a point of using all-European growers and manufacturers. The end result is a line of clothing that will reportedly biodegrade completely within about three months, once placed in a compost heap. Needless to say, in order to maintain your green credibility (and to get your money’s worth), you’d want to wear and mend the heck out of the stuff before getting to that point. The buttons aren’t biodegradable, but are designed to be unscrewed from the clothing for reuse. F-abric was originally conceived as a type of workwear for Freitag employees. The product line now consists of men’s pants, men’s and women’s shirts, and a bib dress. They should be available in the company’s stores in Europe, as of Oct. 31st. There’s currently no word on price, although they likely won’t be cheap. (via Freitag’s F-abric clothing belongs in the compost … eventually)

This might seem like a confounding point of view. It’s true that no matter what any adults think of circumcision, babies are unanimously against it: for them, it’s just inexplicable pain. And it’s true that when parents and communities hold a circumcision ceremony with the infant as the unwitting star, they’re using babies as a way of spreading a particular culture and pleasing dead ancestors. Then again, isn’t this what having kids is all about? Few people have children because they want to care for random free agents who don’t share any of their values. Children are beautiful, perfect, cherished little bundles of meaning. That role is usually compatible with their wellbeing, but sometimes it isn’t. This leads to conflicts of interest. It would be fascinating to try to resolve them all in the child’s favour. But until we do, it seems odd to try to ban circumcision because it fails to meet an impossible standard of parental selflessness.

If you were circumcised, are you a victim? – Rhys Southan – Aeon
read of the day: The first cut -Most American boys are circumcised as a matter of course. Now, many of them feel violated. Should the practice be banned? - My first encounter with an ‘intactivist’ was in my freshman speech class. Our assignment was to sway our classmates on a contentious issue, and she opened her speech by asking if any man in the class still had his foreskin. I raised my hand. This being late 1990s America, only one other student joined me. ‘You’re lucky!’ she said, before launching into a polemic on the many advantages of the male prepuce and the barbarism of infant circumcision. I can’t remember all her specific arguments, but I know they roughly matched the intactivist or anti-circumcision talking points that I explored in depth later on. The foreskin has sensitive nerve endings; it provides gliding and natural lubrication that is useful for unprotected sex and masturbation (its main failing, as far as influential 19th-century Americans were concerned) and it acts as a protective layer, shielding the glans from harsh friction that can dull sexual sensation over time. In the opposing corner was circumcision, which destroys all of that for no good reason. More ideologically, by making this irreversible change before the child can consent, circumcision infringes on the autonomy of the individual in a way that can’t be justified in a culture that claims to care about bodily integrity and freedom of choice. This all sounded fantastic to me. I sat back in class, revelling in my uncompromised state. About a year later, for some reason, this wonderfully reassuring speech sprang to mind, and I found myself wondering what a circumcised penis looked like. I went to one of my school’s computer labs and glanced over my shoulder before searching Yahoo! for ‘circumcised penis’. As I clicked through the images of seemingly normal and natural penises, I felt like I was staring at a ‘spot the difference’ puzzle in which the same picture had been printed twice by mistake. It was impossible to say what made these penises circumcised. They all looked just like mine. Then I had a troubling thought and did a search for ‘uncircumcised penis’. I was 19 years old when I realised I was circumcised.
go read:
(via If you were circumcised, are you a victim? – Rhys Southan – Aeon)
Image: Foreskin Man to the rescue. Image courtesy Matthew Hess

read of the day: The first cut
-
Most American boys are circumcised as a matter of course. Now, many of them feel violated. Should the practice be banned?
-
My first encounter with an ‘intactivist’ was in my freshman speech class. Our assignment was to sway our classmates on a contentious issue, and she opened her speech by asking if any man in the class still had his foreskin. I raised my hand. This being late 1990s America, only one other student joined me. ‘You’re lucky!’ she said, before launching into a polemic on the many advantages of the male prepuce and the barbarism of infant circumcision. I can’t remember all her specific arguments, but I know they roughly matched the intactivist or anti-circumcision talking points that I explored in depth later on. The foreskin has sensitive nerve endings; it provides gliding and natural lubrication that is useful for unprotected sex and masturbation (its main failing, as far as influential 19th-century Americans were concerned) and it acts as a protective layer, shielding the glans from harsh friction that can dull sexual sensation over time. In the opposing corner was circumcision, which destroys all of that for no good reason. More ideologically, by making this irreversible change before the child can consent, circumcision infringes on the autonomy of the individual in a way that can’t be justified in a culture that claims to care about bodily integrity and freedom of choice. This all sounded fantastic to me. I sat back in class, revelling in my uncompromised state. About a year later, for some reason, this wonderfully reassuring speech sprang to mind, and I found myself wondering what a circumcised penis looked like. I went to one of my school’s computer labs and glanced over my shoulder before searching Yahoo! for ‘circumcised penis’. As I clicked through the images of seemingly normal and natural penises, I felt like I was staring at a ‘spot the difference’ puzzle in which the same picture had been printed twice by mistake. It was impossible to say what made these penises circumcised. They all looked just like mine.
Then I had a troubling thought and did a search for ‘uncircumcised penis’. I was 19 years old when I realised I was circumcised.

go read:

(via If you were circumcised, are you a victim? – Rhys Southan – Aeon)

Image: Foreskin Man to the rescue. Image courtesy Matthew Hess

Our Cyborg Future: Law and Policy Implications

See on Scoop.it - Cyborg Lives

Benjamin Wittes and Jane Chong examine how the law will respond as we become more cyborg-like, and the divide between human and machine becomes ever-more unstable. In particular, they consider how the law of surveillance will shift as we develop from humans who use machines into humans who partially are machines or, at least, who depend on machines pervasively for our most human-like activities.

See on brookings.edu

Fake platelets could keep you from bleeding to death - Futurity

See on Scoop.it - The future of medicine and health

A new class of synthetic platelet-like particles could give doctors a new option for curbing surgical bleeding and addressing certain blood clotting disorders without the need for transfusions of natural platelets.

Based on soft and deformable hydrogel materials, the clotting particles are triggered by the same factor that initiates the body’s own clotting processes. Tests conducted in animal models and in a simulated circulatory system suggest they are effective at slowing bleeding and can safely circulate in the bloodstream.

The particles have been tested with human blood, but have not undergone clinical trials in humans.

“When used by emergency medical technicians in the civilian world or by medics in the military, we expect this technology could reduce the number of deaths from excessive bleeding,” says Ashley Brown, a research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology and first author of a paper describing the research published in Nature Materials.

“If EMTs and medics had particles like these that could be injected and then go specifically to the site of a serious injury, they could help decrease the number of deaths associated with serious injuries.”


See on futurity.org

Consciousness exists (whatever its relationship to the physical world happens to be), and it is the experiential basis of both the examined and the unexamined life. If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — “What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!”— is just another thought, arising in consciousness. If you repeatedly turn consciousness upon itself in this way, you will discover that the feeling of being a self disappears. There is nothing Buddhist about such inquiry, and nothing need be believed on insufficient evidence to pursue it. One need only accept the following premise: If you want to know what your mind is really like, it makes sense to pay close attention to it.

Sam Harris’s Vanishing Self - NYTimes.com

The feeling that we call “I”— the sense of being a subject inside the body — is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking. The moment that you truly break the spell of thought, you can notice what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one. And consciousness does not feel like a self. It does not feel like “I.” In fact, the feeling of being a self is just another appearance in consciousness (how else could you feel it?).

Sam Harris

Sam Harris’s Vanishing Self - NYTimes.com