Jeff Kaufman continues to survey the history of efficient charity with an excellent post about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. After a traumatic experience in which he wanted to give a poor person money to buy a coat but found he had none left to give, he resolved to consistently give away all but 28 pounds of his 1400 pound income. This seems sufficient to earn Methodism second place in the ‘Most Disappointing Religion Considering How Wonderful A Person Its Founder Was’ stakes.
Speaking of religion, on Leah’s blog I made fun of how religious people say “because of human dignity” when something weirds them out but they have no argument against it. Some people doubted me, or thought I was making a pattern out of noise. To these people I present Three Parent Babies Incompatible With Human Dignity.
Just some perfectly ordinary cool science: Molecule from venom of Chinese centipede could lead to painkiller as effective as morphine. The theory is that these centipedes knock out their victims’ ability to feel pain so they can prey on them more effectively, and that some of these chemicals might be able to disrupt pain function in humans as well. An elegant combination of evolutionary biology, molecular biology, and medicine. But this isn’t just ordinary cool science! Pain is one of the biggest and most debilitating medical problems in the world, closely followed by the negative effects of opiate pain medication. Anything that can substitute for that would be a godsend.
I want one of these tiny mobile houses. I’m still trying to decide whether I’ll use it to drive across the continent in style, or just as a safe quiet place in the backyard if I one day have a big noisy family. Also need to figure out how I can have both one of these and a yurt without it being overkill.
This might be an honest-to-goodness shock level 2 technology: Craig Venter building digital-biological converter. Imagine being able to print any protein, DNA sequence, or microscopic life-form you wanted. Venter thinks the application is hospitals using it to produce drugs quickly or maybe produce bacteriophages to fight specific bacteria. As revolutionary as that would be, if these ever become privately available then enforcing prescription rules and drug patents becomes as hard as fighting music piracy. Also, biological progress accelerates by a factor of a hundred. Also, we all die of bioterrorism.
Also, a fully generalizable approach to killing microbes with no side effects or vulnerability to resistant organisms.
Stanford Ovshinsky, the greatest inventor you’ve never heard of. Flat screens, phase change memory, CDs/DVDs, the rechargeable NIMH battery. And he did it all without going to college.
Another curveball in IQ research: performance on culturally loaded tests is actually more heritable than performance on culture-neutral tests. They give a very culturalist explanation of the finding, but I’m not convinced. An interesting corollary – the Jensen Effect now seems to argue somewhat against race-IQ differences being genetic.
And speaking of implausible effects on intelligence, the heartwarming story of how one Mexican teacher turned his class of underperforming uninspired lower-class students into mathematical supergeniuses using revolutionary teaching techniques. I will be even more disappointed than usual when someone debunks this article.
The newest episode in the “Scientists Discover The Reason We Need To Sleep!” saga is a study from the University of Rochester saying brain cells need to shrink to allow the clearance of metabolic waste. I like this one less than the old “neurons need to normalize their connection strengths” theory (also, it sounds kind of hippie with the whole toxin removal angle) but only time will tell. I’m working with a doctor who specializes in sleep medicine next week and I’ll ask her what she thinks.
Fermi’s Paradox is why, if there are so many opportunities for life to evolve in the Universe, we aren’t seeing any of it. Philosopher Clement Vidal points out that actually, there are certain binary star systems that astronomers can’t currently explain, but which look sort of like what we would expect if a superadvanced civilization had modified stars into power plants. Warning: paper has not yet been confirmed as non-stupid by a legitimate astronomer.
If you want to experience life-disrupting LSD flashbacks without the hassle of actually taking LSD, your best bet might be watching YouTube’s Ten Hours Of Infinite Fractal And Falling Shepard’s Tone
You remember the Invisible Gorilla Test? Now they’ve done the same thing, except that this time they ask radiologists to evaluate a patient’s lungs for potential cancer, and see how many of those radiologists fail to notice that the patient’s lungs also contain a gorilla. I am not making this up. One day, we will tell our grandchildren about the bad old days when science was about discovering bosons and stuff instead of just cataloguing the situations in which we can trick people into ignoring gorillas.
I dare you to read this interview with the author of Two Serpents Rise (h/t Leah) and get through the whole thing without tab-switching to Amazon to buy the book (I couldn’t; it should arrive tomorrow).
Acute Reflex Seizures Produced By Thinking (full text with free Medscape subscription) is a paper on the titular phenomenon of people who get seizures when they think about specific things. One man had seizures whenever he thought about a toothbrush or toothpaste; another when he thought about his family home. No word yet on whether these can be treated with zorninone.
Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid is a video of a band/surrealist art group burning one million British pounds. Key quote: “Every day I wake up and I think ‘Oh God, I’ve burnt a million quid'”