Archive for May, 2009

S is for Spirochete

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

This is the story of the wiggling spirochete. According to biologist Lynn Margulis, this tiny, spiral-shaped, highly-mobile bacteria is the origin of consciousness, the reason we can think and communicate at all. The basis of her theory is that these helix-shaped spirochetes that emerged billions of years ago evolving through symbiotic relationships are not only the origin of mitochondria and chloroplast (which she has proven) but also evolved into cilia, which she suggests is the origin of our sense organs; as well as evolving into the axons and dendrites of our nerve cells or neurons. The common denominator between cilia and the axons and dendrites of neurons is the fact that tubulin proteins are the building blocks for both. Now, as everyone knows, axons and dendrites are responsible for bringing information to-and-from neurons, and there are approximately 100 billion neurons in the brain. The theory suggests that these spirochetes, no longer able to rotate and swim, evolved to become the motion agent of consciousness itself. Now, who wants to wiggle?

S is for Speciation

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

In the natural world, speciation happens all the time. A species becomes isolated, no longer breeds with its kind, and a new species is born. In addition to symbiosis, speciation is one of the key evolutionary processes responsible for diversity of life on Earth. According to E.O. Wilson’s venture, Encyclopedia of Life, there are currently 1.8 million known species. However, reports estimate there are probably an additional 50-100 million others living on the planet. The cataloging of species has obvious direct benefits since insights gathered inform everything from the invention of new medicines and technologies to providing clues for coping with climate change and pollution. Typically when asked if humans will speciate, the response is “Definitely not!” However, when it comes to reprogenetics, off-planet living and artifical intelligence, all bets are off. Today, in vitro fertilization and sperm and egg donations are commonplace, as is prenatal genetic screening. The ability to understand how genes code personal characteristics such as physical and mental attributes through assisted reproduction techniques is slated to follow, as the desire of parents to have a perfect child could be attained by inserting new genes into babies to make them cuter, smarter or more successful. The potential Gattaca-ization of society, if the service is not free, could lead to the fact that haves and have-nots no longer reproduce, eventually leading to speciation. But, considering the educated consensus is that the planet is too small for two types of humans, and space habitation will occur by the recreation of biospheric conditions on various planets throughout the universe, surely a speciated human will be born sooner than later, somewhere. Now, with regards to the rise of sentient machines, posthumans, or the notion that people will choose to download their consciousness and ride into the Noosphere, well, let’s just ignore that for now and look up into the sky and see that the diversification of new forms of life, in many respects, is similar to the diversification of celestial species that surround us: galaxies, stars, planets, comets and dust clouds.

S is for Sensethyself

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

The olfactory bubble is the space that surrounds each person’s body. It is the space filled with one’s scent of self. Like a fingerprint, studies show that every individual is born with their own unique, distinct scent based on the immunogenetic system of the body, the system that tells immune cells what is the self, and what is the non-self. Although this fact is as controversial in the fragrance world as Luca Turin’s suggestion that receptors are cued by the vibrational frequency of odor molecules rather than the accepted theory of lock-and-key, already DARPA has designed “The Unique Signature Detection Project” for the purpose of identifying terrorists stating that scent-identification is not only less invasive, but as effective as retinal scans and fingerprinting. Researchers are also hopeful that scent signatures will be leveraged for health and medical diagnosis, as well as used to identify compatible immune systems for organ transplantation. Moreover, operating as a sensorial feedback loop, it is suggested that a person’s body odor not only has the power to influence their own hormonal system, but the hormonal system of another. In fact, scientists now suspect that pheromones, historically perceived as legitimate folly, may nonetheless be plausible, as studies show that the ability to actually smell love is influenced by the MHC gene of the body, a large gene family that plays a role in the immune system and reproductive success. Whether or not couples will stand in front of an odor-meter at CVS to validate their love is yet to be seen, however it’s safe to say that in the future, one’s true personal body odor will be considered a status symbol, a sign of a healthy, happy and beautiful body.

S is for Selfhood

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

To authoritatively assume the definition of the self would be absurd. But it is evident that recent discussions regarding its meaning are reflective of our times. Individuality as an isolated unit is no longer interesting. The universal desire to socialize has given emergence to the notion that individuality is found within a crowd of individuals. In modern biology, we find that life is the result of mergers that occurred between our evolutionary predecessors in the bacterial world. In physics, we learn in the book, Into the Cool, by scientist Eric D. Schneider, and science writer Dorion Sagan, that selfhood is not stable, but metastable as an open, energetic system of flux and flows. The understanding that the self is not fixed, but a continuum of energy is one of the lion’s roars of Buddhist teachings that states: There is no self. Meaning, under analysis, the self cannot be found, it is not a static state of being, but a constant state of creation. The most simple example, as explained by scholar Robert Thurman, is illustrated by using a pen to put a dot on a piece of paper and realizing what you have drawn is a tiny circle. A self: a circle of possibilities interdependent upon the processes of life. Notwithstanding, the core tenet of individuality remains consistent as the individual becomes creator, producer and audience, acting as node in the network. And while it’s evident that our sense of self has expanded as we traverse worlds within worlds inside digital terrains, the challenge, it seems, is not to become too entangled by homogenization and evaporate. As rocker-philosopher Keith Richards says: “Everybody is brought up these days to think that everybody is average. Nobody is average. Everybody is themselves. It’s called individuality. We are born different, and the thing is, you have to find out your own thing.”

R is for Retrieval

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

As memory increasingly becomes externalized, the hunt for memory has become a cultural pastime. The idea that nature has a memory is not only evident with the fact that cells have a memory, like a computer has a memory that can be stored and accessed, or for that matter that stem cells have the capacity to memorize the form and function of all cells, allowing blood cells to become muscle cells and so on, but that memory may be an inherent property of all matter and space. Physicist John A. Wheeler mentioned to Sputnik that on his windowsill at his Maine cottage there was a rock that came from the garden of Academia in ancient Athens and that it was his wish that one day, there could be a mechanism that could unlock its sounds so that he could hear the discussions between Aristotle and Plato. The animistic capacity of nature to remember extends itself to the theory of morphic resonance in which biologist Rupert Sheldrake suggests that memories are no more stored in the brain then sitcoms are trapped inside our TVs, that the brain is a tuning system that taps into the collective memory of nature, located invisibly in and around all organisms. Then there’s the idea that memory could be stored as a hologram, one of the leading hypotheses of neuroscientist Karl Pribram, suggesting that memory is not stored in specific brain sites, but distributed throughout the brain, and considering that neurons are so packed together, these expanding ripples of electricity operate like a wavelike phenomenon, constantly crisscrossing one another to create interference patterns, giving the brain its holographic property and allowing memory to be stored and activated by wave frequencies. Thomas Goodwin’s research at NASA also signifies an important link between field phenomenon and memory, as studies show that human cells exposed to the electromagnetic field of microgravity grow in three dimensions, as if they are remembering their natural state inside the womb. Moreover, Goodwin’s research suggests that the genetic composition of all cells remember their evolutionary history and, in the future, science may be able to find the right signals to “turn on” specific genes to get a cell to express behaviors or forms it hasn’t shown in millions of years. Whether or not we’ll be able to grow dinosaurs in space or whether or not Proust was visiting the past or creating the past in the present when he dipped that Madeleine cookie into his tea is unknown, but if we are programmed to forget, as other theories suggest, well, we just may never know.

Q is for Qualia

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Typically, the subject of qualia is a question for philosophers as it’s central to understanding the nature of consciousness, but today this idea is being explored by medicine, art and marketers alike. Although an obtuse concept, qualia is fundamental to the way we perceive the world, for qualia is a term that describes the “qualities” of one’s experiences, qualities such as happiness, color and beauty. The problem with qualia is that every experience is not only different, but each person’s experience is subjective, so the qualities that shape the moments in our life, like feeling your toes twitter in the sand, can never be truly reproduced, nor recreated by another. But now that Sony has a brand called Qualia, and advertising campaigns from Coca~Cola are joined by the trend of books that promote the benefits of happiness, not only is the concept of qualia becoming embedded in the global cultural psyche, but is currently transforming our perception of health now that mind-body medicine has matured. Dubbed “The Science of Qualities” by biologist Brian Goodwin, the overall goal, with the aid of neuroimaging, is to quantify the effect of qualia on health to prove that health or well-being can no longer be measured solely by physicalities such as temperature, X-Ray or blood work, but must also be based on the quality of feeling one experiences. The power of this introspective, ineffable and ephemeral phenomenon has also attracted individuals such as Lars Spuybroek, whose D-Tower structure, located in the Dutch city of Doetinchem, changes color to reflect the emotional status of its inhabitants, as well as Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar in their project, We Feel Fine, which uses a particle system of small dots to represent human emotions mapped on a global scale. The desire to analyze the world of feeling is also the basis of the theory Social Intelligence, which suggests that our reactions to others, and theirs to ours, has a biological impact, sending out hormones that regulate everything from our hearts to our immune system, making good relationships act like vitamins and bad relationships sting like poison. As society begins to understand the important role that qualia has on our lives, it’s no doubt that we are reaching further into the mind of Goethe as, together, we rediscover that the spectrum of feeling colors our world.

P is for Proprioception

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

If you’ve ever been stopped by a cop who’s suspicious that you’re DUI, you know that you have to close your eyes, spread your arms and touch your nose. Your ability to do this sobering feat is due to your sense of proprioception. Essentially, proprioception is your extended sense of self. Your ability to know where all of your body parts are in space, their relationship to each other, and surrounding objects. So when you type without looking, that’s proprioception. Reach for a glass of water while reading, that’s proprioception. What’s interesting today is that designers of experiences are manipulating this seemingly unknown sense in a variety of ways as research shows that our body map is surprisingly flexible if there is a tight coupling between what we see and what we feel. For instance, architect Lars Spuybroek, who states that feeling not only constructs space but our movement through space, designed a liquid environment called Water Pavilion in which there was no distinction between horizontal and vertical, no angle was square, and localized and group movements cued sensorial projections triggering a constant, inescapable out-of-balance experience. For artist-writer team, Arakawa + Gins, proprioception is the key for living forever, and has driven them to design playground living spaces in Japan that force the body to maneuver through slopes and bumps believing that if a person keeps alert and awakens instincts, death is impossible. And artist Hiro Yamagata, known for his dynamic use of light, created a disco game of holograms in his installation NGC6093 with the sole purpose of disorientating one’s sense of balance so that they may realize consciousness is highly inaccurate. As technology wii-fits forward with haptics that serve to re-invent our mobile devices so that we can actually be “mobile” and continue to concentrate on the real world, and gesture-recognition games like Mirror’s Edge advance so that we can truly become one with our avatar, it’s apparent that this malleable sense will provide us with new perceptions of ourselves and our world—even if we’ve fallen and we can’t get up. (LOL)

P is for Plenum

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

To understand the plenum one has to go beyond the idea that the vacuum is a sea of quarks, muons or dimensional strings, and consider that information underlies and structures all energetic processes. That we are living in a world where quantum wavicles are nothing but 0′s and 1′s, that the physical world is digital. In physics, we learn that information and energy are two sides of the same coin, that information can be transformed into energy and visa-versa. Yet in schools, only the physics of energy is taught, and according to computer scientist Jacques Vallee, there should be a physics of information, an understanding that physical events are not based on time, but linked by information and association, similar to the way “search” functions on Google or Yahoo. If this is the case, then coincidences would be nothing strange, it would just be how the universe operates. Like when you do a “search,” you get “answers.” It’s not that these “answers” were pre-organized for your particular search, but it works nonetheless when you type in a key word. If the universe is essentially a database where there is no time, this is a paradigm shift: we must begin to view our brains as primarily information machines whereby consciousness give us an illusion of the physical world.

P is for Panspermia

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Panspermia is a theory that suggests that life on Earth was created by alien space-based spores who hitched a ride on the backs of meteorites and comets, enduring the extreme cold of interstellar space, ultraviolet radiation and cosmic death rays, eventually landing on Earth spreading their “seeds” to sprout life. This alternative theory to biogenesis, today’s accepted notion that life formed naturally on Earth through chemical complexity, was originally presented in the fifth century by Greek scientist Anaxogoras, and championed during the 1970s by iconoclasts Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramsinghe who suggested that these space-travelers were microbes. Considering that bacteria are highly simple yet complex self-replicating organisms that could serve as a starter-kit for life, over the years Panspermia has been taken more seriously and embraced by leading scientists such as Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, and genomics researcher Craig Venter. And while there are various competing theories that include the hypothesis that life began as an RNA world, it has been recently reported that both Will Wright, in his development of the game Spore, and Zaha Hadid, with her architectural rendering of the Performance Arts Center in Abu Dhabi, chose to draw their inspiration from Panspermia. As to why Panspermia theory is culturally relevant in our time is simple: Just like these bacterial seeds that fell from space to sprout life on Earth, it’s overtly apparent that the driving desire of today’s society is to be a part of the universality of life. May all cosmic creatures everywhere unite.

O is for Optics

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

If there has been one constant in the world, it’s that nothing travels faster than the speed of light. However, according to physicist Joao Magueijo, the speed of light in the “early” universe was faster, in fact, 60 orders of magnitude quicker than its present recorded speed of 3 x 106 meters/second. And if this heretical idea is true, then not only would there be implications for future space travel, but Einstein was wrong. Coincidingly, scientists have recently been able to stop light in its tracks. The hope, of course, is to revolutionize information transfer to deliver rapid, extreme connectivity with optical computing. Meanwhile, the notion that DNA strands can be converted into fiber optic cables is underway, and researchers at Kiel University, according to Journal Science, have shown that since DNA has a high-degree of photostability, light may be the answer for diagnostic testing for future gene repair. And while Mystery Schools advocate DNA activation, upgrading our dormant 12 strands for the advancement of human consciousness, light therapy, or laser-light cellular photo-repair for anti-aging is also now considered chic. Then there’s the idea that full-spectrum light invigorates our bodies, providing heath benefits, which was the basis behind the work of Dr. John Ott, and more currently, the light installation, Polaria, where artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson of London Fieldworks captured the 24-hour daylight of Greenland to create an interactive virtual daylight chamber that used sensors to biomonitor a body’s physiological response. As photochemists develop polymers that can change shape when activated by photons, and scientists vie to develop edible optics for food safety measures that will serve to detect harmful bacteria, like e-coli, in our spinach, it’s safe to say that light is, indeed, a dazzle.