Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Jesus: His Life after Death": glossy timeline book from Newsweek on supermarket checkouts

I picked up a Special Newsweek Edition of “Jesus: His Life after Death”, by Topix Media Lab, Johnna Rizzo and James Ellis as principle editors, 96 pages, glossy paper – at a Harris Teeter checkout.
Of course, the edition reminds me of the books of my childhood, but I don’t present it here to proselytize. There are (despite the title) three heavily illustrated chapters: “The Way and the Life”, “The Passion”, and “He Is Risen”. There is a particularly detailed timeline chart on pp 10-11.
I can imagine if I were a young adult male living at that time, with a chance to “follow Him”.  We didn’t have access to modern science yet.  We wouldn’t for another 1900 years or so. “Truth” was indeed connected to scriptures and passed down through chains or religious (or secular political) authority.  There was nothing else, other than order. It almost sounds like the mentality of some of the Islamic world today, or of Vladimir Putin for that matter.
Jesus is often presented as a physically fit and attractive young white male (even by modern “gay” standards).  He might have been a few years older (if born around 4 BC), but still his demeanor and appearance would have invited the “upward affiliation” process that I have often talked about.  It seems to be ironic to say that it would be virtuous to “drop everything”, give everything away to the poor (like the Rich Young Ruler) and “follow me”.
In fact, earlier in my adult life (especially before my “second coming” in 1973, as I describe in my DADT-1 book) clinging to people was a big deal.  I suspect that some people who knew me during that period could attest to this.  So the “follow me” has always sounded like a moral paradox.
But the parables and stories all seem to point to some kind of personal “right-sizing” (or “point of humility”) as a moral necessity, not so much out of scripture as out of logic – if all human life is to be valued.  There is emphasis on finding interactions with others who don’t seem “intact” (read privately, “worthy”) to be a valuable experience.
The political trial is grotesque (with many modern history parallels with dictators) as is the crucifixion. The disciples may have been “armed” when they went to the Garden – again, that tracks to some modern issues.  The events surrounding the body and the resurrection Sunday morning, and the days that followed, would have seemed miraculous to anyone wired like me living through that time. They would have seemed like the equivalent of an alien landing today.
There is something else about the actual “Life” of Jesus – all the miracles.  In the CWTV (WB) series “Smallville”, that ran for ten years, we called them “powers”.  In fact, once he got away from red kryptonite, the teenage Clark Kent came across as almost Christlike in many episodes (especially in the earlier years, when Christopher Reeve appeared).  Yet, he was a teenager, capable of enjoying adulation, too, and exploiting attention for his own purposes.  I thought it interesting that Jack Andraka mentios the idea near the end of his book (previous review) when he mentions telekinesis (short of self-teleportation) and speculates as to a base in physics.  Do these things really happen sometime? Is there some connection between DC Comics and the Gospels?  Remember, the Temptations were about turning down the "opportunity" to misuse "powers" for one's own selfish purposes. No, normally you can't cheat the time arrow of physics, in our universe. (Vladimir Putin doesn't believe that.) 
Although Stephen Hawking might disagree with this, I think that modern cosmology, with quantum mechanics, branes, and string theory actually support the idea of an afterlife, that consciousness precedes everything else in our universe, and we are part of continual consciousness.  Maybe the Monroe Institute, tucked away in the mountains near Charlottesville, VA, is on to something. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Jack Andraka: "Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World"

Author: Jack Andraka (with Matthew Lysiak)
Title: “Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World
Publication: Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-236965-9; Introduction and nine chapters with numerous appendices, 240 pages, hardcover. Many black and white photos.

Author’s own site
In early 2014, CBS 60 Minutes (my TV blog, Nov, 6, 2013) reported on Jack Andraka’s medical innovation, of a simple laboratory test for proteins indicative of early stages of pancreatic cancer.  It is possible to imagine that similar tests could be developed for other tumors.  The test involves mixing antibodies to a particular protein with carbon nanontubes, introducing the patient’s blood drop (or other fluid) that might have the protein in question, and look for change in electrical conductivity.  He says the idea came to him in biology class by putting two ideas together.   (Typical explanation by Smithsonian, here.) In theory, the idea could work to detect a lot of things.  Maybe it could be engineered for quick identification of certain bacterial infections and prevent overuse of antibiotics. 
Andraka won first place and the Gordon E. Moore Award at the ITEK science fair competition in Pittsburgh. His competition included a possible early test for Alzheimer’s, and a new way to search the “Deep Web”.  He discusses a lot of other ideas from teen and college age scientists, which could even involve quantum computing and major cyber security innovations.  At one point, he mentions telekinesis (maybe eventually teleportation, “Smallville” style).  I could chuckle, except that I think I have seen this happen once.  Jack also discusses the Raman spectrometer, and imagines how it could lead to “Fantastic Voyage” style healing of disease with nanorobots, rather a premise for the TV series “Jake 2.0”.
In fact, one has to mention his older brother, Luke, now in college at Virginia Tech.  Luke did a project on acid mine drainage (here ) which could relate to one of my favorite topics – mountaintop removal and coal strip mining,
In fact, on a couple of occasions, authorities questioned the brothers about the scope of their science experiments at home, and once (for Luke) at school.
The other main part of the book, of course, is Jack’s personal narrative, about his coming out as gay in middle school, around seventh or eighth grade.  I was shocked at the level of harassment that was still permitted in this “blue state” school as late as 2000.  Even Luke had a hard time dealing with it at first.
It’s interesting to compare to my experience in the 1950s.  It just wasn’t possible in those days to “announce it”;  but I was teased for being behind other boys physically.  My experience got much better in senior school (tenth grade then).  But then I was thrown out of William and Mary in the fall of 1961 after effectively being force-outed, and then “admitting latent homosexuality” to the Dean. As far as physical non-competitiveness, that was a stereotyped association with homosexuality in m in past decades.  Andraka relates having become an accomplished kayaker and swimmer. (No, he doesn't need the concussions of football, anymore than Malcolm Gladwell.)  I once tried kayaking unsuccessfully, at a company party in 1997 (shortly after my first book was out), rather unsuccessfully, as related on my main blog Oct. 9, 2007.
That narrative generates the course of my own “Do Ask Do Tell” books.  Jack’s level of detail is comparable to mine in the first chapter of my first DADT book (1997), on Amazon.  My narrative tends to be a little more abstract.
I also had science projects in high school, but much less ambitious.  In tenth grade, I made a wooden diagram of human anatomy.  In my senior year, when I was “inducted” into the Science Honor Society in my own basement (Dec. 9,, 1960) I had a project replacing carbon with silicon in certain compounds, with the idea that silicon could somehow support Martian life. Another speaker proposed a medical research project that in retrospect predicted the HIV research that would occur 25 years later. That particular speaker's project reminds me that science fair projects can indeed predict innovations that will occur (or become necessary) in the coming years, sometimes far out in the future. 
The book has an Appendix, “The School of Jack” (that sounds like the title of a future Jorge Ameer film doesn’t it, like “The House of Adam”), in which he gives “recipes” for home science experiments, like how to make rain clouds.  He also provides advice on anti-gay bullying, particularly online, and is rather blunt about the possibility of having to hibernate or delete social media accounts (especially Twitter) which seem unable to prevent bullying.

Notice in the THINKR video he rises when the word “medical” is said.  He explains that in the book.  

Jack is still a senior in high school, and one wonders how he can get all his homework done ("senioritis").  He is set to enter Stanford in the fall of 2015.  (A good chance to meet Mark Zuckerberg.)  He travels constantly, and even indicated in a tweet that a hotel gave him a "free fish" to take care of in a bowl in the room.
See also the "Andraka" label on my "Major Issues" blog (Jan. 28. Feb. 27, 2015).

Update: March 26, 2015

Not to throw cold water on Jack's accomplishment, but a piece in "Scholarly Kitchen" by Kent Anderson takes him to task here (with the "Jack in the Beanstalk" analogy from "Into the Woods").  Note it is dated early Jan. 2014, before Andraka's 17th birthday. The issue (as explored in many detailed comments) is the lack of a peer-reviewed published article on the test, before Andraka set up an LLC and filed a patent application. Some observers (in the comments) see a contradiction between Andraka's embracement of Open Access (via Aaron Swartz) and his own lack of publication.  Of course, a peer review article takes a long time to get published.  And his $75000 prize was for a science fair competition, not a royalty from the pharmacy business.  Still, it would seem that the test would have to undergo rigorous testing at various labs (hopefully including NIH-NCI in Bethesda) before it can claim commercial value. The real importance of the innovation is that the concept could be used in many quick diagnostic tests based on specific proteins and antibodies.  And, in his case, any final paper should be "free" to the public, given the issue.  (I have to chuckle at the title of the publication: Remember "The Thirsty Scholar' in the movie "The Social Network"?)

Nick Bryant throws some cold water on Jack's work in an Australian paper March 29, 2015 here (Andraka visited Australia in August before starting at Stanford).
Jack is on tour around the country now, visiting schools. How does someone keep up with schoolwork while traveling?  He even got an "it's free" goldfish to feed in a hotel room (in Houston, I think).

Update: April 21, 2015

NBC News reports on a liquid biopsy test to detect return of cancer after chemotherapy, for certain tumors, link here.   I don't know if it is similar in principle to Jack's test.

There is also a story from the University of Kansas (medical school is in Kansas City) on detecting tumor-associated molecules, perhaps related, here.  That's where I went to graduate school myself in the 1960s (MA in Mathematics).

Update: Nov. 12, 2015

I found a story "Mesothelin: An early detection biomarker for cancer", in Pharmaceutical Intelligence, authored by Tilda Barluiya, April 21, 2013 here. At my own physical today, my own physician said that the test would have to be approved by the FDA and licensed before trials on early treatment of pancreatic cancer based on positive tests would commence.  The test may be useful for a limited list of other cancers.  But the concept to test for other marker proteins for other tumors is likely to attract other researchers and companies.  I believe Stanford is helping Jack continue the experiments as he enters there as a freshman.

Update: Dec 18, 2016

My own physician said on my physical this year that he was surprised the test wasn't available yet.  But I think it takes several years for a test like this to get into regular use, even if the patent is approved.  I know of an eye surgeon who has gotten FDA approval for his laser surgery to remove floaters (here in VA) but his machine isn't in general use yet. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Brian Greene's "The Hidden Reality": do parallel universes exist?

Author: Brian Greene

Title: “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
Publication: Vintage, 2011, ISBN 978-0-307-27812-8, 444 pages, paper, indexed, 11 chapters
Amazon link:   Also available in Kindle
I’ve covered Brian Greene’s work before, on the TV log, with his “The Fabric of the Cosmos” (Nov. 2, 2011) on PBS NOVA.
It’s difficult to summarize everything.  But the gist of his vision is that the cosmos comprises “branes” which are mathematical manifolds in as many as eleven dimensions.  A two-dimensional brane might be an infinite sheet of paper.  When branes “collide”, more or less randomly given placement among extra dimensions, new universes get formed.  Hence we have a multiverse. 

This idea would have consequences for the whole science and religion debate.  Our universe, with all the physical constants exactly right for life, exists because it is one of infinitely many mathematically possible universes (is that infinity countable, like the set of rational numbers?)  That is circular, I exist because I must (anthropic thinking).  I don’t need to hide inside a clam shell.  My own consciousness of self exists because it is one of an infinity of beings, although why it occurred at this time in history is a riddle – but my own life is filled with ironies and riddles that only “I” could have experienced.
Along these lines is the idea that the cosmos is digital, based on “information”, which can aggregate into forming self-aware beings.  This gets into the definition of entropy (link).   Yet entropy is commonly thought of as associated with randomly increasing “disorder”.  Life – consciousness and purpose – counteracts entropy.  So life must reproduce.  But isn’t the formation of stars something like reproduction?
So then you can get into the debates about God, which don’t need to be pressed here.  The Hadron experiments about the Higgs Boson – the “God” particle – were inconclusive, but could have resulted in the idea that we were, or were not, created.  (Movies blog, March 21, 2014). 
But for me the most important chapter was Chapter 9, “Black holes and holograms, the Holographic Universe”.  This gets into the idea that TMI, too much information, can lead to a black hole.  Or, that the total information content related to a black hole is contained on its spherical surface area.  Mini black holes might exist (like inside the Collider) because the extra dimensions (of String Theory) give gravity much more opportunity to become effective (in the normal 3-dimensional sense it is much weaker than the other forces, and related differently to particles and waves).  But mini black holes are probably temporary because quantum effects, leading to Hawking Radiation, leads them to “evaporate” (like snow in the sun when the air temperature is below freezing).  But this whole idea leads to an intriguing idea: the information of someone’s consciousness, after his passing, could be transferred somewhere else on the surface of a mini black hole.  Maybe this could lead to evidence of reincarnation, or of how the Afterlife really works – something the Monroe Institute (near Charlottesville VA) says a lot about. Can “consciousness”, once in existences, really be destroyed, if is just information?  It could be scrambled but still could be recovered mathematically.
But optimism about what Black Holes could do for "the departed" may be softened by the so called "No Hair Theorems", which maintain that black holes, like drag queens, really are "thnooth".

The idea that any reality exists because it is mathematically possible could be dangerous;  "free will" comes with the price that the consequences of actions can be irreversible. 
Here’s a related article from Scientific American in 2012, “Is Space Digitial?” by Michael Moyer, link .You need a subscription to read the entire article (behind the paywall).

Monday, March 02, 2015

NatGeo offers "The War on Science"

Maybe NatGeo magazines aren’t “books”, but they usually cover important stuff.  Last week, at Harris Teeter, I picked up the March 2015 National Geographic issue called “The War on Science”, with mention of supposed doubters of Climate Change, Evolution (“Inherit the Wind” based on the Scopes trial), the Moon Landing (“Capricorn One”), Vaccinations, and genetically modified food.  (Ok, those organic eggs from Westover Market are really pretty good, thank you.)
The main story is by Joel Achenbach, with photos by Richard Barnes.  He opens his article by mentioning a scene from Stanley Kubrick's “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (which I finally saw in the West Village with a friend in 1978) where Jack D. Ripper says he drinks only distilled water or pure grain alcohol (pure wood alcohol would blind him). There’s a reproduction of an 1893 map of the “Square and Stationary Earth”.
I still encounter belligerent Facebook comments to the effect that God (or Allah) is all you need, and that even thinking about evolution is somehow sinful and transgressing the Creator.  (In “Inherit the Wind” – “that old time religion is good enough for me.”)

The article notes that climate change deniers tends to think in “individualistic” or “hierarchal” terms and tend to fear that government regulation will tread on their self-definition.  I fit that pattern, but I do accept the evidence that climate change is real, and we aren’t close to a solution yet.  And people of my generation will pass away without being held personally accountable for our own excessive consumption – that’s part of the sustainability moral view – but sustainability isn’t everything either.  The article notes that other people may be “egalitarian” and “communitarian” and accept that climate change is “dangerous” and calls for government regulation.  Hurricane Sandy from 2012 gets discussed.

Science doesn’t give us much that is reliable about the afterlife – that’s still a matter of faith – but that could change some day.  Likewise for extraterrestrial life.  I think that what the Monroe Institute puts out is interesting – it can’t be validated by “normal” science, but the CIA actually takes it (especially the “remote viewing”) seriously.  (On older site, I had reviewed Courtney Brown’s “Cosmic Voyage: A Scientific Discovery of Extraterrestrials Visiting Earth”, from 1996, mentioning Monroe.)  But one point is that we could be held responsible for what we consumed after all, if it compromises future generations.  That could become the next big ethical battle.

I don’t think there is a real contradiction between science and faith, just with literal scriptures.  It seems to make sense that cosmological constants for the Universe could be designed by a creator (“intelligent design”), although there is a multiverse argument that says that Universes hospitable for life appear randomly. Something exists because it does – the anthropic principle.  Absolute creationism seems to contradict free will.  Physics says that life, culminating in free choice (and a lot of exposure to pain), is nature’s answer to entropy.  But that means no creator can determine what beings will chose to do.

The article also discusses herd immunity and vaccine refusal, as part of the “free rider” problem (my main blog (Feb. 11, 2015).
I used the German word "Wissenschaft" for Science in my first book, and people asked what it was!
Another critical story in the Part 4 installment of “Out of Eden Walk” vy Paul Salopek, photos by John Stanmeyer, about the Syrian refugee crisis, as tens of thousands sill into Turkey.  There are pictures of life in the tents in the camps, some in the Anatolia area of the film “Winter Sleep”.  
Though crowded with large families, some refugees have some modern amenities like TV and wireless. In some towns, families have been encouraged to take them in, as part of a  “radical hospitality” idea. How would that play out in the US and western counties with the political asylum issue?

There is also an interesting piece on bioluminescence by Olivia Judson.