204. GMO’s Evoke Unwarranted Fears

25 Feb

GMO-Picture-CornI write blogs, tweets, and other comments on a variety of subjects. Studying the critics of these pieces suggests to me, that many people don’t understand and/or distrust science in general. My position is that the work of scientists provides numerous benefits for all citizens, including better foods, electronics, transportation, health care, pet care, climate-change info, etc. Scientific information and discovery for many is also exciting and interesting and helps us to understand the world around us.

My current scientific topic is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods. Genetic modifications involve the manipulation of DNA molecules in the laboratory. The  manipulations lead to relatively permanent changes, including: enhanced plant growth, plants that better survive insect and disease attacks, plants that require less water, and will grow in unhealthy soil, and other improvements.

Given all the potential and existing benefits, GMO foods should be carefully studied and regulated. Certified products will provide extensive nourishment for an ever increasing Earth population. Also, global warming can reduce crop yields due to fires, droughts and other weather anomalies. It is extremely important to have the best plants available as demand increases. It will be of particular benefit to farmers in developing countries that are struggling to survive. Crop plants modified to do well in unusual soil conditions, in somewhat salty water, and in partial droughts, will be of great benefit.

Here are a few facts: Even now, GMO crops are widely used as livestock feed without any adverse reports. If they were poison, surely they would have made our hamburgers toxic, but this has not happened. Note also, that modifying plant DNA by “breeding,” is common and has occurred for ages.  In my previous blog, I discussed seaweed as a potential major food source, and also for its absorption of the greenhouse gas CO2. Genetic improvements of seaweed could be of great benefit.

An advantage of GMO as a way to modify, is that the modifications are known and can be evaluated for safety. Many natural modifications are unknown. Nature, in some cases, does produce toxic plants. There is always a tendency to want natural products, and I am the same way. Yet for many years we have modified plants through breeding, developed medicines that are not natural, and we all eat food that undergoes many “processes.” We need to move forward, in a safe way, with valuable innovations.

Here is a good, easy-to-read source of GMO facts by Kurzgesagt:                                                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TmcXYp8xu4

203. Ocean Science Can Save the World

8 Feb

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the Earth’s water. Ocean researchers say that we know more about our moon than the deep ocean. Recently, there is more concern about oceans as a source of food supply and because of their role in climate-change. As I will describe below, better usage of the oceans can both feed the world and save us from the dangers of global warming.

Johnson and Davis (TED-ED June 2019) and a World Bank Group Report have suggested improvements to ocean farming techniques. Currently, there is an aquaculture, in which many large pens, offshore, are used to hold and grow fish for human consumption. The fish are crowded and stressed. Large concentrated piles of waste result and can lead to disease. Often, breaks in the nets can cause a dangerous release of the penned fish.

It is better to  farm seaweedSeaweed-imageand shellfish. These species have a very low maintenance. The seaweed feed off of sunlight and operators do not need to supply food. The seaweed can be prepared in various ways so as to be more appetizing, can be ground-up and mixed with animal feed, and can also be used as a bio-fuel. Growing seaweed can help with the depletion of fish and can counteract ocean acidification by absorbing CO2.

“Seaweed” is a group of algae that are only found in marine waters (salty sea waters). In terms of  human consumption, it produces algae protein and algae oil similar to soy. It also is a source of valuable omega-3 fatty acids similar to fish oils. There are three different types: red, brown and green.

Growing massive amounts of seaweed can help with global warming.  Seaweed captures CO2, removing it from the atmosphere. A good reference for this  feature is: Tim Flannery, TEDSummit 2019 Can seaweed help curb global warming.”  One problem with this system is that seaweed eventually rots and the carbon is released back into the environment. A solution is to lower the seaweed in the water to a depth where it will best retain the CO2. Scientists are working on various solutions to the release. As research continues, it may be possible to develop seaweed species that are more efficient in using CO2 and in keeping it stored.

There are many publications regarding the depletion of fish in our oceans.  A really good discussion of this is: Jackie Savitz, TEDxMidAtlantic 2013, Save the oceans, feed the worldShe describes how good international regulations can restore depleted species and greatly increase the fish available for increasing populations. 

Angelicque White (TED@NAS, Nov. 2019) writes about microbes in the oceans, that indicate and affect ocean health. When there are major changes such as ocean warming, the microbes are the first affected. 

Ocean microbes are tiny plants and animals that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They are at the bottom of the food chain. All animals in the ocean depend ultimately on this basic food source. Microbes absorb CO2 and produce oxygen, so they improve the composition of the atmosphere. 

Climate-change results in warming water, which tends to increase harmful algal blooms. The extra CO2 in the air also leads to ocean acidification, which has many adverse effects on ocean life.  The ecosystem health is generally affected. The changes impact economically important fisheries, like crab and salmon; and also affected are marine mammals like whales, dolphins, seals, and otters. Also important is that warmer waters increase the intensity of hurricanes.

Here are all the climate-change and other ocean problems listed by Angelicque White: harmful algal blooms, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, eutrophication, melting of the polar ice caps, expansion of oxygen minimum zones, pollution, loss of biodiversity,  and overfishing.

My conclusion and main point here, is that ocean science has the potential to help with many world problems. A responsible government will support research in this area.

202. Deaths and Traffic Lights.

2 Feb

There is an old saying going back decades: A corner only gets a traffic light, when there is a traffic death there. When I think about what is currently happening in our world, this saying comes to mind. In order for certain good things to happen, we need the impetus of a disaster. Many do not address issues, unless they perceive some sort of major risk.  We could say that the enemy of good government is complacency. 

.                        Complacency Leads to Dictatorships

The first application that comes to mind is the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Under past presidents, Republican or Democrat, people were not really alarmed. Of course, there were criticisms and complaints, but generally, most of us went about our business not particularly concerned. After a long period of questionable actions, concern really mounted. In the 2018 elections, Democrats finally became alarmed and massive numbers voted.  In fact the surge also led to an impeachment. Now, we clearly see the need for a “traffic light on the corner.” And, after a little hesitation, I will state that the President’s behavior has been so egregious for years, that even if you think the articles of impeachment are a little weak, they are still justified. I am sure that if the founding fathers were presented with our current facts, they would agree with his removal from office.

For many people, there is a complacency about climate-change. They might even believe the science, but in their narrow world they don’t feel the danger. It’s another variation of the traffic-light dilemma. No traffic light because my life is OK.

The traffic-light principle could also be applied to the errant evolution of the Republican party. It appears that after Trump was nominated, the Party was able to eliminate more responsible and intelligent members, and attract more transactional and financially desperate folks. The Repubs and Dems ignored the dangers and the errant drift was not prevented because there was no dramatic “death,” just a slow almost invisible decline. After the firing of Comey, the problems were more visible and a Special Councel, Mueller, was appointed.

I want to point out that the “traffic-light” effect is very common.  In one of the subdivisions I lived in, a minority faction was elected because the majority of residents, really did not care much. They were only concerned after the minority group did some inappropriate and expensive things for themselves.

I think if you look around the world, you can see how this traffic-light principle has had its effects. In many nations, there is an acceptance of government for a long time, and change (often bloody) only occurs at some breaking point. I think many of the “Arab Spring” nations went through such a transition.  In Russia, the initial effects of Putin’s leadership were beneficial. And so the population just did not get very alarmed about Putin’s gradual transition to autocracy. Hopefully, some day they will be able to put in the “traffic light.”

 

 

 

201. Current Issues, Briefly #7

20 Jan

This is the 7th of a series of blogs with brief discussions of current issues. The material is based on my Tweets (@RichardLeeWB), unpublished thoughts, and descriptions of various publications that I feel are valuable and worth emphasizing.

I just listened to Alan Dershowitz, stating that “abuse of power” is not a high crime. His extensive research trying to understand the thoughts of early leaders is really pointless, and not a justification for this confusion of issues. His problem is that he does not recognize different levels of abuse. Trump’s abuse was very serious, involving elections, delayed military support, and making Ukraine more vulnerable to Russia. Ukraine is like a buffer zone for us, limiting Russian expansion. It is frightening to think that Trump aids in Russian efforts to dominate.

.   Dershowitz Fails to Recognize Different Levels of Abuse-of-power

Famous attorney Alan Dershowitz says that Trump is King, in fact, even more powerful. Well, if Trump is King, then Dershowitz is the court jester. Trumpism is like a disease that infects everyone near him. Star Ken Starr is also participating.

The NY Times just endorsed Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. For many years I favored Warren, but recently her arguments with Bernie were a little discouraging. For the last year or so, I have been impressed by Klobuchar, who has high intelligence and good judgement.  I also think that Tom Steyer could make a good candidate and president, if elected. Note, any of the Democratic candidates would be a great improvement.  In the end, whoever gets the most public support is probably going to be our best choice for beating Trump. Another four years of him would be a catastrophe for all Americans.

Rachel Kleinfeld in a 2019 TED talk looks at the relation between politicians, gangs, and police; in an effort to understand high murder rates in certain surprising locals. She writes that several major US cities have very high murder rates. For example, in “New Orleans, more people per capita are dying than in war-torn Somalia.” Throughout the world, there are many small areas that have very high murder rates, surpassing those in wars. The ultimate cause for this, is various patterns of corruption. This TED talk is well constructed and fascinating, and the analysis is impressive.

It seems that every human system in existence for some years becomes corrupted. I just read that drug companies are manipulating patents to limit competition and raise prices.  See this December 2019 TED talk by Priti Krishtel.

Don’t be fooled by the RISING stock market. The market rises when investors believe that major corporations will be profitable. Increased corporate profits generally have little or no effect on middle-class wages. Most important: does a full-time salary cover reasonable expenses?  Also, under President Obama, the market was rising at a steady rate and when Trump took office the market simply continued this rise. Obama had major financial problems when he took office, while Trump had the benefit of Obama’s policies.

Imagine a president that encourages and supports scientific methods for improving our lives; rather than growing military, insulting our allies, withdrawing from worthy treaties, and using government for private enrichment. We need a President that works well with scientists and innovators.

Trump is desperate to win in 2020 because when he leaves office, he is very vulnerable. Briefly, the problem is that investigations of criminality will be easier and likely, tax returns will be revealed. Desperation led to the Ukraine extortion, aberrant  military actions, and other mistakes.

A sure sign of a dictator is that he uses government systems to attack his political opponents. Trump and Republicans have had numerous investigations of Hillary Clinton. The latest three-year investigation found nothing. Six Republican Benghazi investigations found nothing. These unethical investigations are not consistent with our traditional American values.

Major World problems are: climate-change and food-supply. Both can be solved with improved laws and methods for ocean fishing and policies. See TED Talks by Johnson & Davis: “Underwater farms vs climate change“.  And, see Savitz: “Save the oceans, feed the world.” National leaders must understand and use science to solve many of our problems, like depletion of fish and acidification of oceans. The same methods for increasing ocean food-supply, also help with global warming.

To Adam Schiff: Dedicated people like you should be proud to receive Trump insults. I would like to see a website that provides a medal for the most vicious Trump abuse. Adam, you are so effective and patriotic that he must attack. Keep up the great work.

Candidate Tom Steyer is becoming a top contender for US President. It is true that he has 1.6 billion and is spending much on his campaign. But that isn’t a negative because he has spent the last 9yrs on worthy causes, like climate-change and health care. Tom Steyer is a good choice.

How many Republican voting citizens have essentially said that domestic factors are great under Trump and the international policies don’t matter much. Well, Trumps disastrous dealing with Iran, which started with withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, brings us close to a major war.

If you like people that really tell it like it is, then Steve Schmidt is your man. Earlier, he was a major Republican strategist. Starting June 2018, he has forcefully denounced the Republican party and Trump, in graphic terms. I also like the honesty in Morning Joe, and others.

Considering all aspects of the Iranian military leader assassination, it seems the dangers somewhat exceed the benefits. First, killing one official does not change government goals or policies. Second, Trump acted alone, ignoring Congress and allies. Third, major retaliation is likely. 
The Iran Nuclear Deal according to those involved, was working properly. But Trump, who is obsessed with winning and proving his superiority, decided to abandon it and impose more powerful sanctions. As a result, military actions are increasing and we are closer to war. Trump should have worked with allies on improving the treaty, rather than abandoning it. One reason for this serious mistake is that Trump’s unethical history requires him to find loyalists rather than competence.  Note that money given to Iran was mostly frozen assets that belonged to them. Some money was interest on a debt.

 

 

 

200. Iran and Trump: Explained

9 Jan

00TrumpTweet-on-Iran5

There are many interpretations regarding our crisis with Iran. This essay outlines the facts and my interpretations.

The original “Iran Nuclear Deal” of 2015 involved the US, UK, Russia, France, China, Germany, and the E. Union. Its only purpose was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal, a very important goal. Neutral observers all agreed that it was effective. Money given to Iran was simply the release of their frozen funds.

Trump withdrew the US from this deal, alleging that it was very defective. He complained that the deal was generally bad, and did not cover many non-nuclear factors. My view is that Trumps main goal was to negate an Obama accomplishment. Clearly, if Trump wanted to cover other areas, he could have tried to add something to this effective deal. Sad to say, but Trump mostly relies on dramatic threats and sanctions, while reasonable negotiations are rare.

.    .       Trump Rivalry with Obama Makes for Bad Policies.

Trumps plan was to develop a whole new deal that included everything negative that Iran was involved in, and to increase sanctions. The effect of his withdrawal and increased sanctions was to insult the other members of the deal and to cause distrust by Iran and many other nations. This withdrawal and his withdrawal from climate-change agreements has caused general distrust in the US. I want to add that “sanctions” most often are not effective with leaders, but do cause serious harm to the people. Trumps withdrawal and plans have actually caused Iran to break the original deal in several ways and to be more dangerous.

The Trump impeachment and his concern over the 2020 election caused him to do something radical and possibly illegal. He needed a distraction, and a boost from his base, so he decided to assassinate a number-two official of Iran, Major General Soleimani. He probably was advised not to do this, but he wanted something dramatic. Also consider that removing one official will immediately result in a replacement, who will usually do whatever was planned. Killing an official of a nation is much different from killing a leader of a terrorist group, and may violate international law.

Perhaps the effect was more dramatic than he expected. He did what many consider to be an act of war, without any Congressional (for example: gang of 8) discussion or approval. This act of Trump was considered by most to be extreme and ill-advised. Trump and his staff were evasive when asked for details of this decision. They also lied when describing its effects on various populations. Iraqis were also angry, perhaps because some of their people were killed in the raid.

Iran promised serious consequences for this killing of its top general, and Trump promised 52 ways Iran would regret its aggression. So far, both sides have limited their military actions.

Iran attacked two US military units, but cleverly in a safe way, causing no casualties and little damage. This was to satisfy his people and to cool down the conflict. All parties described what happened in a self-serving way.

My conclusion is that Trump decisions have caused considerable distrust in him and in the USA. Internationally, he has failed in his dealing with Iran, climate change, N. Korea, and his relationships with our traditional allies; while aiding Russia. His plans to withdraw troops and promote peace have not worked.

 

 

199. Trumps international Assassination Policy

4 Jan

00Soleimani-General-Iran

Major General Q. Soleimani of Iran was assassinated by order of our President Trump on January 3, 2020. This General was commander of the Quds Force, a division responsible for various operations include clandestine. Our Secretary of State claimed that the General  was plotting  actions “that would have put dozens, if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” Critics state that the consequences, retaliations, of this assassination will be more harmful than the benefits.

The benefits of this action are claimed to be American lives that will be saved. Trump pointed out that General Soleimani “has killed or wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more.” He ordered the death “to stop a war and not to start one.” Our military blamed Soleimani for recent attacks on our bases in Iraq, which resulted in the death of a US contractor and some Iraqi personnel. Also, he was blamed for the attacks by protestors on the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Trump administration provided no details on potential attacks by Iran on our people.

The most important criticism for this assassination is that killing this popular General will elevate the US – Iran conflict, moving us closer to war. Severe retaliations have been threatened. Here are other considerations.

Killing one official does not change a governments goals or policies. There always are others that can take over. An “imminent” Iranian attack would already be planned and could be executed by other military officers.

Trump acted alone, ignoring Congressional leaders, which would usually participate in major decisions. Also, as a general rule, any serious attack would be more acceptable if our allies were consulted in advance. Our role in international conflicts, is always more justified if we work with other nations. Our previous Presidents always worked with others.

The assassination of a government official in a major nation is a serious and unusual act. History tells us that this is only done when an actual established “war” is in effect, or the terrorist is not in government. It is a real break of international tradition, to assassinate foreign leaders; and it makes no sense if you want to do valid negotiations.

I suspect that Trump ordered this radical action, more for his personal benefit than for our country.  So far, the effect is more troops in foreign countries and the disruption of many lives, mostly due to evacuations. More of our soldiers will be exposed to dangers.

 

 

 

 

 

198. The Democratic Presidential Candidates

1 Jan

CandidatesDebatePic3Here are my thoughts about the Democrat candidates for President. I have included all those doing well in the polls and a few others that I think are notable.   The ages shown are as of Election day 2020.  Source for the ages and titles is: Jim Geraghty, National Rev, Feb 1, 2019.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 79, I have always liked Bernie, he is a proven patriot and established progressive. Would make a good president, but is really too old for the stresses. For most of his first term, he would be in his 80′s.  After 80 there can be serious losses of memory and other mental capacity.

Former NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg, 78, a decent and experienced man, but not likely to get enough votes.

Former Vice Pres. Joe Biden, 77. I have always respected Biden, but never thought he had the speaking ability to be a great president. He would not be my first choice, for one thing, he is too old to be optimal. However, if nominated or the best choice for beating Trump, I would certainly support him. He could gather a set of top experts that would help him to do well in office.

Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren, 71. I have followed her career for a long time and know her to be patriotic and a supporter of the people. She really could drain the swamp, which is much worse than most know. I like “Medicare for all,” but she may have pushed this too hard. If elected, she might be able to do more for the middle class, and for our country, than any of the others.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, 69 I was disappointed when he dropped out early. He pushed climate-change programs long before it was so popular. He appears to be a very competent governor and so far, has no negatives. My studies of his record as governor would suggest a good choice.

Democrat Activist Tom Steyer, 63, has $1.6 billion. Around 2011 he started an interest in politics and liberal causes. He launched a group “NextGen America.”  He is a Democrat, and supports progressive positions: climate, immigration, healthcare, and education. Mostly, he was an investor, but for the last eight years, has worked hard for the people. I know of no negatives and he could be a good choice.

Minn. Senator Amy Klobuchar, 60. This lady has a great record of winning elections and speaks exceptionally well. I am impressed by her intelligence and ability to answer difficult questions.  She could be the best President if elected, but may not be the best candidate. I think that some people would say that she does not have a presidential charisma, on-the-other-hand, she wins elections. I would be happy with her election.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, 59, is not likely to be nominated, as of today.

California Senator Kamala Harris, 56, is younger and strong. I think she lost some support because sometimes she did not express herself well. Could be very good in 2024.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, 55. Not well known, but could emerge.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, 51. He is strong and has good ideas, but does not seem likely to get enough votes.

Entrepreneur   Andrew Yang, 45has proposed a number of unusual far left plans, such as a “Universal Basic Income” of $1000 per month. He is intelligent and answers questions well, but probably too radical for many voters.

Cal. Congressman Eric Swalwell, 40, dropped out early. He is comparatively young, but has considerable strength, speaking ability and charisma. Could be a choice for Veep, or may be great for the 2024 election. He could develop into a top leader.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 38, makes a great impression because of his high intelligence and great speaking ability. He seems to have a good understanding of the main governmental issues. Could be a great president if elected. For some, however, may not have enough presidential charisma. An asset is his good record in the military. If nominated, I suspect he could do well in debating Trump.

So, who do I think is the best candidate? For a while, it was Eliz Warren. Now what I see is that each of the top contenders has certain compelling elements, and for me it is hard to pick out one. I think I will have to go with whoever gets the most votes in the primaries. Most important, as many others think, is beating Trump.

 

197. Brain and Computers Compared (Revised)

28 Dec

Brain-Vs-Computer-Pic2This essay is an addendum to my previous blog-193 “Brain uploading ideas are nonsense.”  It also provides my understanding of what is known about human brain functioning.

Those interested in downloading a human brain into a computer, and have it function, such as answering questions, should consider this. Although the human brain can be called a computer, it is profoundly different from a man-made computer. THE FIGURE above illustrates the fixed regularity of a computer (upper box) with every component specified and with definite location. The Brain below shows a changing and branching structure, where the actual array of components is the “program.”  Every human experience makes at least a slight structural change. Converting from an entire brain configuration with quadrillions of control points,  to an equivalent computer representation, I assert is impossible. (More explanation below.)

BRAIN AND MAN-MADE COMPUTERS ARE VERY DIFFERENT

Man-made computers have a FIXED structure of electronic components. Modern microchips have thousands of transistors and other components in a well-defined, set pattern. Computer programs, cause the chips to function. When a computer is activated by a program, it makes use of many of the components, such as microscopic transistors, so that something meaningful can go to output devices like printers or screens. In a word, the electronics are fixed and the program varies. Note: a “computer program” is a set of instructions that can be written down or typed into a file that can be “read” by a computer. It tells the computer how to utilize its well-defined components in performing certain tasks. There can be many programs to provide for a wide variety of computer functions.

The human brain is nothing like this. A live brain in a body, is constantly changing. Instead of using an external set of programming statements to control the action, the control components themselves (such as transistors) quickly vary to produce a certain output. These variations include additional nerve cells, additional connections, and each connection (a synapse or gap junction) can undergo substantial change. A synapse, based upon its chemistry and inter-connections, can be more excitable, blocked, or anything in between. The nerve cells, axons, and dendrites form branching structures that provide many paths for its operation.

THE BRAIN FUNCTIONS BY CHANGING ITS STRUCTURE

If you look at a magnified computer microchip you will see regular rows of components. The components will vary in different places, but within each part, there is exact duplication.

But in a brain, you will see great variation in size, shape, and connectivity. The “program” is built into the “brain electronics” and varies as the individual is exposed to many different environmental factors, such as learning, imitation, memorization, food supply, social features, etc.

THE BRAIN IS LIKE A CITY, WITH MANY ROADS AND PATHS

Here is a helpful analogy. Think of the brain as a city with millions of roads and pathways. The sensory systems, like vision, hearing, and touch are roads leading into the city — and there are roads going outbound causing the movement of muscles, activating vocal cords, affecting glands, etc. Between the inputs and outputs are millions of pathways with wide streets and narrow paths, free-flowing and constricted in various ways, all to provide something meaningful. At millions of junctions (synapses, etc.) there are traffic cops that speed things up or block the passage. If someone pinches your arm, action potentials flow down wide roads (axons) leading to the brain and spinal cord. Within these structures there is a maze (inter-neurons) that quickly processes the input information and activates outbound pathways, or simply stores info. (This maze is where complex thinking takes place.) The outbound paths (motor nerves) lead to many muscles that can move your arm, body, and make you say “ouch.” If you are pinched over and over again, the relevant pathways tend to widen, causing increased flow and a more efficient reflex. In our city (brain) there are also archive centers that store memories, and other mechanisms that enhance the whole process.

The ability of a brain to function in this way developed over several billions of years. It is a marvelous structure and its exact functioning at the nerve cell level is still unknown. But we can make good educated guesses as to how much of it may work. We don’t know exactly how words and ideas are stored. And we don’t know exactly how millions of memories are accessed during a wide range of operations, and how a brain creates an essay or scientific theory. Yet, the fact that there are many trillions of “control points” (like transistors) suggests that amazing things can result.

A DEAD ISOLATED BRAIN CANNOT PERFORM IN ANY WAY

I might add that a disembodied dead brain can never function like it did live in a body even if fully preserved. Cutting out a brain removes inputs, outputs, the spinal cord, and feedback loops that are critical to functioning. And would involve damage to the brain itself. A removed brain can never be the same as a live intact brain so any hope of living-on in a computer representation is impossible.  Any sectioning of a brain would destroy many interconnections.

Consider this fantasy. You transfer a brain into a computer, and it can talk. Most likely it would scream, “I can’t see, I can’t feel my legs or arms, I can’t hear, I can’t touch  anything,  where am I, HELP!” How could you talk to this isolated brain that has no ears. So you would really have to save a whole head and even the spinal cord. As you contemplate all of these difficulties, it is clear that trying to save a human brain, which can function, is nonsense. Also, for all the reasons outlined above, it is not possible to “read out” specific thoughts or ideas, by any brain recording method.  (Note: recording sub-threshold “thoughts” from vocal cords is not a brain recording.) 

I might add that although uploading a useful brain, or reading specific thoughts, is not possible, what is remotely possible is a good understanding as to how a brain functions at all levels. This could take decades or even centuries, but it is worth discussing and exploring.

 

196. Democrats Want the Senate Trial? (Revised)

20 Dec

I heard several commentators say that: of course, Democrats want the Senate impeachment trial. Until Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke, I assumed that it would take place, ASAP. But then Senate Leader Mitch McConnell stated that he would provide a trial that would not be fair, but totally biased towards Trump. So Pelosi is now holding up the triggers for a trial — a brilliant move. The Democrats want witness testimony in the trial, and Senator Chuck Schumer, tried to reason with “Moscow” Mitch regarding this, but did not succeed.

So, there is a real strategy to her holding up the process. Because of the Republican Senate majority and the policy of McConnell there is a 99% chance of acquittal. Trump, of course, wants the trial to happen quickly because he could brag that the impeachment did not succeed and he is innocent. This is his current goal, and it would allow him to pursue whatever illicit acts he wants, almost with impunity.

On the other hand, while the impeachment trial is on hold, it remains a threat. Any illicit actions by Trump could provide further evidence and trigger a trial.  In any event, it is pointless to have a totally biased trial with a negative conclusion.

The delay also has another advantage. There are several investigations in process and the Democrats are waiting for court decisions regarding subpoenas. So it is very possible that more evidence will be available at a later date.

.         MONITOR AND NULLIFY TO LIMIT TRUMP DANGERS

Since removal from office by way of conviction is unlikely it is important to monitor his actions as much as possible. And, additionally, everything that can be done to nullify his orders should be implemented. Congress can do much in this regard, and the states can develop laws that limit Trumps dangers. For example, the states can do much in the area of climate-change, while his tendency is to ignore it.

Just in, the magazine, Christianity Todayhas published a condemnation of Trump for all his immoral and criminal actions. This magazine is very popular among evangelicals, which are major Trump supporters. This is just another type of event, that can make waiting beneficial. At some point, Repubs may feel it is possible to break away from the Trump cult, which holds them with a power, like that of a religion.

The House Democrats have made a highly significant achievement, a presidential impeachment, and in a few weeks (or months) a conviction may also follow. To be rid of this dangerous leader would make so many of us sleep better.  (Please see my blog 194 and others.)

 

195. The Science of Evolution and Life

19 Dec

In some recent discussions, I was disappointed by how biological evolution is poorly understood by many people. Here are some facts about evolution and life, which may be helpful.

The unbiased scientific view is: that life is just a complex variation of matter and will begin when certain organic (based on carbon) compounds happen to combine in a particular way, without any purpose or design (see below for details). An exploding star or the “birth” of a star, just happens,  without any purpose or striving. There are many amazing processes in astronomy and on Earth that just happen. Does the moon circle the Earth due to some striving? When an earthquake occurs,  is there a purpose or goal?

The origin of life and its gradual evolution, in the same way, just happens. Some philosophers and other non-scientists see purposes, goals, striving, drives, etc. in many areas. Scientists ignore all this and are concerned with physical laws and objective descriptions of events. Nothing that happens on Earth or in space seems designed, particularly because of general disorganization and imperfections.

The origins of life and evolution, progress by the principle of “survival of the fittest.” Life and death provide variation and some variations are relatively permanent (mutations). If a variation leads to a better chance of survival, at least long enough for reproduction, then on a statistical basis, it is more likely to occur. Evolution depends on the fact that variations may be persistent and occur in subsequent generations. For example, a species of bird may  have small variations in the length of its beak. It may be that birds with a slightly longer beak are able capture food better. Under the concept of evolution, birds with longer beaks likely will survive better and eventually, this species will have longer beaks. There is no design or purpose here, it just happens as a property of matter.

At this point, you might ask, how can the amazing and complex features of life, occur without the design of someone or thing? In order to understand this, consider that these developments happen in a slow process over billions of years. It is difficult for people to mentally cope with things out of the ordinary time spans and sizes that we are used to. Can you comprehend the size of our solar system, or worse, the galaxy or the entire Universe.  In the same way, five billion years is beyond our comprehension. It should not  be surprising that amazing things can happen in that incomprehensible long time.

You might further inquire, how can there be a transition from ordinary matter to the very first life? The answer is this. The Universe is mostly filled with very simple atoms, mostly hydrogen and some helium. The more complex atoms and molecules develop mostly through supernovae, which are gigantic star explosions (see for example: Wikipedia: “Abundance of the chemical elements.” Right from the very beginnings of the Universe, there was ubiquitous movement. Almost everything is in constant motion, at the very smallest levels (atoms) and the very largest (stars and galaxies). The movements of certain atoms, especially carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc, resulted in the formation of organic (carbon based) compounds. Movement and accidental contacts of organic compounds resulted in something extremely unlikely, a compound that had the property of “life.” It only took one extremely unlikely combination of compounds out of trillions and trillions of chance interactions, to produce in one instance, a compound that could reproduce itself (living). Because of reproduction, this one case could spread life all over our planet. It may be difficult to understand all this, without reference to chemistry and biology textbooks.

Now we come to people. We all want to feel that we are “special,” but like all life, and all actions we see in the Universe, we just happen. Every plant or animal is constructed and develops as a consequence of the DNA it inherits, and all of the experiences it is exposed to. Experiences include learning, parenting, imitation, food sources, environmental and social factors.

This may be disappointing and confusing for many people, but scientists see no evidence for anything else. Given this bleak picture, my advice is to live your life in a normal, responsible, and enjoyable way, but when appropriate for some intellectual reason, recognize reality. Personally, I like to live my life with kindness because it is good for me, and for others — a win, win. (I welcome criticisms and comments.)