Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chaos is next to God

Swedish Poet Stagnelius said Chaos is next to God. He might have had knowledge of ancient creation myths, a wide range of stories tells us how life and order emerged from chaos.
This might also be true in a “brain sense”. A group of neurobiologists that work with mice have showed that the cells that are involved in sex are also involved in violence. Creation/God/Order and Chaos/destruction are two sides of the same coin. If you have a dualistic world view this is logical.
This dualistic theme of lifecreator/lifedestroyer expressions runs through the ancient world, every fertility Goddess was also a warrior Goddess. Aphrodite has lost this aspect but she had the warrior God as her lover and half of her children were associated with war.
Today several myth still tell the same tale. Kali is the face of death, destruction and ecstasy. According to the myth she emerged in a fight with a “super-villain” referred to as the Buffalo demon. She got blood struck and continued her slaughter. Many myths tell how Shiva-her husband- calms her. In the tantric version, he lies down naked and Kali, seduced by his good looks starts to make love to him. Her chaotic bloodthirst is converted and she changes aspect into Parvati or Durga. Thus the goddess is both warrior/destructor and mother/creator. Just as in the braincells of mice. The hypothalamus in mice and men are of similar design so perhaps the old myths are telling the truth and describing how our minds are working? They are showing us that the expression itself might be due to the same braincells, and that creating and destroying life might be intimately linked? Just as I wrote in my post about cancer and death in the body in “everything changes, nothing remains the same”, life is dependent on death.

The science behind this project is nothing more than mind-blowing. They were conducted I the so called brainbow mice. The technology is called optogenetics, but that will be another posting.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

of mice and men, monkeys and dictators

A less sciency post....

A funny thing met my eye on Dagens Nyheter home page the other day. A small notice wrote about monkeys resistance to things they knew that they would fail. The headline said “Monkeys feel insecurity too”. Next to it, a big notice wrote about Kadaffi’s resistance to give up power.
Beneath the monkey notice it said “Not only people have insight and feel insecurity, tests are showing that monkeys feel the same”. So does my family cat.

DN is quoting BBC homepage that in turn is reporting from a scientific meeting.
Now why are we amazed that monkeys show insight to cause and effect and also that they hesitate when they might fail? For the first time scientists have actually proved that animals have awareness of their own thinking. Apparently I did not understand this, I thought it was proved by all those Machiavellian intelligence experiments like 40 years ago.
These monkeys were taught a computer game where they could win a treat, loose, or not loosing not winning but get a new chance by “pass”. They quickly learn to pass when they could not answer. "Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error," "They seem to know when they don't know." Dr Smith reported. They just tried two spieces, one new world and one old world monkey. The new world monkey failed, whici tickled the imagination of the scientists to claim that this was a difference between the conintents that made evolution of humans possible.

For example, every cat owner knows that not only monkeys have and express human emotion, our family cat have a range of expressions, like shame for example. He knows when he has shamed himself and deals with it by extreme sucking up. That is how you know something has happened if you missed him falling of the shelf. The cat is aware of how he is being perceived.

Now to my question …Why are we studying animals for human emotions and insights to cause and effect, when we have all these dictators that lack all there of. Is it not more interesting to analyze why these men has gone not only inhuman but apparently in-animal as well. Lack of cause and effect; check. Lack of empathy; check. Lack of experience of shame and guilt; check. The family cat is more fit to rule a north African country. And my Sister would say that he is also evil enough :D

Just saying…

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Oh, and I certainly don't suffer from schizophrenia. I quite enjoy it. And so do I."

Headline is borrowed from Emily Autumn.

Schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder whose genetic influences remain elusive. When I studied freudian psychology, I was told the disorder being induced by growing up in an environment that gave you double meassages; double bindings. After growing up myself, I am wondering if you can grow up in our society without being affected by double binding? It is probably a combination between genes and environment.

The “Guru” or spiritual teacher Osho saw modern people as Schizophrenic; "Schizophrenia is a normal condition of man--at least now. It may not have been so in the primitive world, but centuries of conditioning, civilization, culture and religion have made man a crowd--divided, split, contradictory.... The whole effort of Zen is how to drop this schizophrenia, how to drop this split personality, how to drop the divided mind of man, how to become undivided, integrated, centered, crystallized. The way you are, you cannot say that you are. You don't have a being. You are a marketplace--many voices. If you want to say 'yes', immediately the 'no' is there."

Supporting Osho is popular author Terry Pratchett. In one of his books- according to my sister who forgot which one so I cannot properly refer to it but rather to her- a demon tries to possess a human. The demon fails, once inside the host the demon is lost in a big meeting between voices that constantly argues. The demon is perplexed "which one of these voices should I possess?", it cannot take it and leaves the body.

I do not mean to slack the actual syndrome involves a much louder and serious version of this "human state", including  severe hallucinations and paranoia. We healthy individuals might have annoyed voices that complain about missing the bus.

Good news for patients and their relatives. An American group has identified a genetic duplication of a receptor in the genome of 1% of Schizophrenia patients. A receptor is a protein that sits in the cell membrane in order to pick up signals from the outside and convey these meassages to the cells on the inside of the membrane. In the duplication patients, instead of making one copy of the receptor, the cell made two. Consequently, the cells in a Schizophrenic patient have a higher numer of receptors in their membrane. This means that the signal that the receptor is conveying is twice as high. If there is a drug that can inhibit this receptor from signalling, one can in theory cure the syndrome.

It is interesting that syndromes like Schizophrenia shows similar receptor distributions as people who are creative and good at thinking outside the box. The same structures that might induce the symptoms might also help the brain to extend itself outside imprinted thought structures. This indicate that other factors are needed to develop the syndrome.

Words on meditation and zen work and how it can help schitzophrenia, of course it should not replace medication but it could be another great asset among many tools to live with this disorder.

your eyes might not deceive you, but who has taught them where to look and what to register?

Your eyes might deceive you, wise words from Obiwan Kenobi. In the world of science we keep an ongoing dialogue with nature, life and existence. The data never lies, but our interpretations might. The same thing goes with communication, I might know what I am communicating but I have no clue what other people will be hearing. But I used to think that if I smile, people will probably know what is going on. It might not be as simple as that.

A bit more than a year ago a publication showed that we interpret facial expressions different in Asia and Europe. East Asians tend to have a harder time telling an image of a face with a fearful expression from a surprised, disgusted from angry. As a Westerner I was surprised to learn this, cause I thought everyone looked at a human face in the same way. The study showed that rather than scanning evenly across a face as Westerners do, Easterners fixate their attention on the eyes. Easterners neglect the mouth. The easy-or so it seemed-communication of feelings was apparently more complicated than we thought, there is no universal face expression to convey emotion in cross-cultural situations. 

This also explains differences in emoticon language.

Where a Westerner writes :D and : (
 thus using the mouth to convey feelings, 
Asians write ^_^ and T_T
 ignoring the mouth and using the eyes to communicate emotion.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

There is more and more of us to love; some thoughts on the obesity epidemic

The world is suffering from an obese epidemic, which is not exactly news. Films like “supersize me” have pointed a “j’accuse” finger in the fastfood industry direction. Lack of exercise and bad food leads to serious health problems which in turn are fast becoming the number one cause of death on planet earth- among humans. Yes it is correct, famine is a problem on earth but so is the way we- who have the food- eat as well.

There are many suggested causalities for the obesity epidemics besides life style. For example researches have found an adenovirus that might cause increased fat storage in humans thus leading to overweight. So part of the obese epidemic might be caused by a virus, this is far from being considered as a truth but companies are producing tests for this virus so that health care providers and people alike will be able to test for it
In a recent publication, biostatisticians are indicating that not only humans are growing in size, it seems to be true for several other species as well.
If it is true, can we understand why? Besides changes in life style and viruses, it could be due to epigenetic changes that stretches through generations as response to earler environments and/or new molecules found in our environment-like plastic and other pollutions. Probably the truth is a combination.

Or are we just getting bigger so that there will be more of us to love?

overview of putative causes for the obesity

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Food for thought, diet have an impact on the development of ADHD

 We are what we eat, perhaps not always in a direct manner.
As I wrote in an earlier postings "we are all inviduals, I am not, and the Gaia hypthesis is also about us" the bacterial flora in our guts have immense effect on our wellbeing, an impact that we are only beginning to understand.

Since the development of the flora depends on the environment of the host i.e. us, and what we eat, it is not surprisingly that there are now indications that food intake affect our mental states. One report states that there is an association between food intake and the development of ADHD.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorderADHD is a neurobehavioral developmental disorder. It is primarily characterized by of attentional problems and hyperactivity, with symptoms starting before seven years of age. ADHD affect about 3 to 5 percent of children globally.
The question is whether the food intake has a direct impact or indirect impact on neurology. I personally think both. I think that the gut flora is affected and shaped by the environment we create by our food, and this flora will affect us in various ways. Also the chemicals and refined sugars in modern food might affect us, although the body is an expert at expelling “shit” out of our system. And the third possible way that I can imagine right now is the actual bowel movements of the internal food organs and that this affects the nervous system. There are loads of yoga exercises that affect bowel movements. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How is the weather on the sun today?

There might not be many years left before the weather channel also reports about space weather.

Foretelling the weather have always been a major human interest.The ancient studied the behaviour of animals and forming of clouds to understand what was coming. In this way, they could live more accordingly to our environment. Today the weather people on TV are our oracles. They foretell the future and we adapt our plans to their predictions.

In our modern society, there are other types of weather that we need to understand in order to plan ahead. Studies of the sun help us understand solar outbursts that -might- have a major impact on electric circuits and on communication technology here on planet earth. The sun rotate 21 days at a time.

Sunweather depends on magnetic activity. The activity is higher when the sun has an increased number of spots. The sunspots/the magnetic activity have a cyclic frequency. During these last years, there was a first devoid from the cycles since one started to register the numer of spots for approximately four hundred years ago. The number of spots went down, and for a while it looked like that the activity would not increase again. You can read about this in the links below.

Now Nasa has managed to, with increased surveillance of the sun-by sending up two satelites- and technology-bringing the images together-, to analyze the sun as it rotates. If a spot/increase of magnetic activity is created when it is turned away from us, we will know it. The space weather forecasts will be much more accurate.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oneness it is not a breath away, it is the breath

There is a lot of talk in the spiritual community to achieve the experience of “oneness” and it has been proposed as one of the goals of meditation.

One of the first things you learn when you are taught meditation is breathing. Is breathing something you have to learn?
Well, yes the body seems to take care of that department by itself. At the same time, this is the precise reason why you can use it to deepen your presence. You become conscious of something that is profoundly present in your own organic reality, the constant breath of your body.

What is breath, why do you breathe? What is the body up to? And how can it actually connect you with presence, with oneness, with timelessness and limitlessness of being?
You are breathing to provide your body with oxygen. Oxygen is used in the constant breakdown of organic molecules inside our cells. The atmosphere is composed of approximately 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen and trace elements of other gases. There is a constant cycle of oxygen between beings on this planet. Oxygen is produced through photosynthesis, which I mentioned in an earlier post. We are breathing out carbondioxide , the plants inhale our carbondioxide to produce oxygen. Thus, there is a constant cycle of change in our bodies and exchange with our environment through our breathing. We have always a new set of oxygen molecules in our blood. Breathing puts us in organic connection with the biological context around us. But there is also a connection in breathing to timelessness and to places beyond the stars.
According to a group of scientists, volcanoes were not the source of the Earth's earliest atmosphere. They tested volcanic gases and came to the exciting conclusion that the atmosphere and oceans must have come from somewhere else, possibly from a late bombardment of gas and water rich materials similar to comets.

The scientists used new techniques to measure tiny quantities of the unreactive volcanic trace gases Krypton and Xenon, which revealed an isotopic 'fingerprint' matching that of meteorites which is different from that of 'solar' gases.
Thus these trace elements are present in our atmosphere and we breathe them. Breathing not just puts us in organic exchange with our present environment, we exchange atoms that came here millions of years ago from other stars. The meteorites might have originated on other planets and brought gas molecules from their hosts. Breathing sets us in contact with them on the organic level.

So it is not just a tool for deepening our presence here. We are unaware of the constant molecular exchange that goes on in the breathing and what wondrous net of events it connects us with. Breathing actually does what many people seek, it makes us limitless and connect us not just with this planet but with places way beyond. Suddenly breathing seems pretty amazing, right?

BTW there are several ways of breathing, in this post I focus on the aerobic type of breathing, common in humans, animals and some microbes and is defined by; breakdown of organic molecules in the presence or involving oxygen (O2).
There are several anaerobic types of breathing, where other elements have to accept electrons in the absence of oxygen, for example when we exercise. This takes place during fermentation processes.
Then we have the whole story of therapeutic breathing and yogic breathing exercises, so I might return to body chemistry and breathe at a later stage.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Know yourself, or should I say ourselves?

Be who you are-Know yourself, or perhaps ourselves? 

I have earlier mentioned gut flora and that we are colonized, by a plethora of creatures. Our skin, mouth and gut are homes to a myriad of bacteria and viruses. They are “friendly” and live in symbiosis with us. They take up space and thus prevent hostile microbes to make themselves at home. Just like the planet we are living on, every human is walking around like a huge ecosystem.

If you look at yourself, you are in one way of looking at you more bacterial than human. We also have 10 times more bacterial cells in our body than human cells. This means that there are more genes in the flora in the intestinal system than the rest of our bodies. Therefore scientists have dubbed it the "second genome"This is why you get problems after eating penicillin. You kill your friendly microbes in your gut. We are colonized already as small babies.

One way you can follow human colonization of the most unreachable places on this planet like Antartica, is through the changes in the gut flora of the animals in the vicinity. The penguins have change their gut flora since the humans came to there are. So there are more than one way that we can pollute.

How can you study the impact of gut flora on an individual? There are screening studies up and running that will study the correlation with cancer and anorexia for example. There are also animal models that are born into sterile environments; they are called germ free or GF mice.

In a recent study, colonization by gut flora did have an impact on the behaviour of mice, and thus it might affect mammalian brain development.
The study compared germ free mice to mice constituted with normal gut flora.  It showed that germ free mice display increased motor activity and reduced anxiety. “This behavioral phenotype is associated with altered expression of genes known to be involved in second messenger pathways and synaptic long-term potentiation in brain regions implicated in motor control and anxiety-like behavior.”

This brings up the question of mood and food. I have lived both as a vegetarian, vegan and these days I do eat meat. Why did I start to eat meat? Because it helps my migrains in a way that science have yet to explain. I do not know if it slows the bowel movements of it affects my gut flora in a way that is beneficial to my brain. My friend has just gone the other way, his stomach problems pushed him into eating vegetarian and suddenly his moods improved. Perhaps the bacteria in our gut, who we are depending upon for nutrional intake and immunology, are affecting us in ways our imagination have yet to dream about. It is way to early if this will play an important role in treatment of the future, but I can dream. Will we give capsels with designed mixes of certain bacterias? Or will food get more attention among the medicals?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

We are all individuals; I am not!

The first headline for this post was; The thin line of living as an individual in a population vs as part of an organism.

We humans do both, we exchange molecules all the time, that affect you, me and everybody else. We exchange virions, bacteria, hormons and so forth just by being in the vicinity of each other. Just like cells talk to each other. Or just like ants behave. The live in a chemical world, if you "speak ant" you speak in chemicals. Where is the fine line between the indivdual and an population as an organism? If you see a good soccer team play, do they not sometimes behave as if they were an organism rather than a bunch of individuals?

in regard to the newly published ant genomes. Do you think that it is a long step?
Just follow my lead. I will refer to epigenetics and how what we are is more than what we think.

The publications in PNAS (and it was reported in the Swedish paper Dagens nyheter- where as always one tries to simplify science so much even to a specialist has to think before understanding what they actually are talking about), has not only sequenced the genomes of several ants. They analyzed the epigenetics. I will not go into why these specific ants were chosen above others but refer to findings of epigenetics in the study.

In an earlier posting I wrote something about epigenetics. As every cell in the body has the same DNA, how come a skin cell looks and behaves different from say a muscle cell or a brain cell? The answer is epigenetics. The DNA contains the codes for every protein that every cell needs, but the genes that code for these proteins are not available unless you need them. Complicated? You are more likely to find curry in an Indian kitchen than an Italian right?
The intricate step of differentiation, when a cell becomes more specialized, is marked by a change in epigenetics. It is a wide range of methods to distinguish which DNA you want to use and which genes you do not need. Therefore the genes of a brain cell that codes for brain specific proteins will be epigenetically silenced in a skin cell, while the genes that code for skin specific proteins will be epigenetically enhanced.
Epigenetics is an umbrella, it refers to chemically modifications of the DNA base Cytosine by adding a methylgroup to one of it’s carbons. It also refers to chemically modifications of the DNA organisation, and some people include antisense RNA.

So what does this have to do with ants? Well, first of all ants and bees share some traits, they have specific “castes” with specific roles. You are a worker or a queen. The study mention that early epigentical changes at the larvae stage will define your future as a queen or a worker.
The ants, although an individual, are at the same time regulating themselves as if they were a big organism.

So what about humans? There are some discussions in the field that epigenetics play a big role in how we program ourselves to fear certain things and not fear other. This is of course very to study as we cannot take brain cells from living humans and analyze the chemical modifications of their DNA: Neither can we analyze the changes in brain cell growth and neural connections that arises with change thought behaviour.
One study of monkeys showed, against assumptions that it was not the male with the highest level of testosterone that become alpha male. The one who wins the title develop a higher level of testosterone after he becomes alpha male, not before. I have heard that this might be true in several studies but now I only found one on google.

We are individuals, yet we are connected in many many ways, and often in ways that we are of conscious of. Perhaps fake it till you make it is not such a bad idea, fake it until you imprint it on your epigenetical level. Then you have made it!  Now I am going to say something that I have wide empirical experience of and heard from several teacher in personal development field- but there is not a shred of medical data or evidence to attach it to. I just like to find parallels, and I mention this as a poetical parallel.
This is why you cannot just think yourself into new behaviour, you have to act it out first and then the body will be able to make the necessary changes. The monkey did not think himself into alpha male position. He got there and the body adapted to the new situation. Obviously there is an organic shift here that responds to a change in behaviour and a change in his social environment.  Thus fake it till you make it.
We are not differentiated skin cells for a whole lifetime, we can actually change and shift our identities, going from one class to antoher for example. We are optimized to be flexible. I will extend on this poetical parallel some other time.

If you want to know about the ants, the scientists are trying to limit their numbers to lower their impact on the environment. As the ants is very poison resistant, and poison is bad for the environment although for some reason I do not believe that this an object for them, one way to affect the number of ants would be to chemically lower the numbers of queens in a colony. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

cancer screening doggie style!

The most important survival factor for cancer patients is early detection. The earlier we can find cancer the better. Most screening is time consuming and expensive. There is an attractive alternative, to use dogs to simply smell people for cancer, just like drug dogs at the airport. They can sniff you, your breath or what comes out of you backways.

I am suffering from migrains, which is caused by a sense of constant dizzyness and displacement. After five years of medical evaluation it turns out that I need a pair of glases. Why do I write this? Cause I know what it is to have a different experience of this world. Where a light is just a light to most people, to me it is a scream.

So I can relate to the idea of using dogs to screen for cancer. Their world is based on another level of experiencing and  in a world that is concentrated on experiencing smells. Their range of experiencing smells is so attuned they can sense the difference of small changes of organic molecules. What is invisible to some individuals is a scream to others.

The idea of using dogs to screen for cancer goes back several years. I also remembered Oprah Winfrey doing a show with the theme “angels in disguise”. It was of course tearproducing parade of beautiful stories where pets have sensed their owners coming seizures or heart attacks. The pets’ behaviour had then made the humans to make choices like not getting into the car or going out for a run, thus saving them from accidents.
Are these animals psycic? Well perhaps they are- but their world looks different. They sense mere shifts in organic molecules. It is invisible to us but strong differences to them like strong colors.

The guardian is reporting a Japanese study today, where dogs can regonize bowel cancer. They can sense it by smelling the breath or the feaces. Previous, dogs have also distinguished urine samples from people with prostate cancer from healthy individuals. We do not really know what they are sensing yet, but it will sure be the cheapest and most accessible way to have people screened for early detection. In the future, every doctor might have their own cancer sniffing dog? Or even several of them, one for cancer, one for diabetes and so on. I am not allergic so I would love that. People who are afraid of needles might welcome this as well.
I like this vision even if it is a bit far fetched.

Nurse at work sniffing away at the samples. This is what it might look like in the future. Maybe.The picture is borrowed from