April 18, 2008

From Arnold Broese:

Re: Brain found to prepare decisions in advance (April 15): If these scientists are correct, and we have no free will, then (by their reasoning) their conclusions are not open to choice. They cannot choose to accept that what they think, is correct. That “choice” has already been determined for them according to pre-determined factors.

Validation of any theory requires that one is free to choose what evidence supports, or doesn’t support conclusions. Without free will, ‘truth’ ceases to exist, since one must be free to choose between the false and the truth.

All this aside, just as it is obvious that you don’t have to prove you are alive, since proof requires one to be alive, so it is with free will. To prove it, requires it.

Finally; one only has to introspect, and one can observe oneself making choices. That is all the evidence one requires.

From Edward N. Haas:

Re: Brain found to prepare decisions in advance (April 15): At the heart of virtually every argument regarding free will, there is a curious assumption of which few parties take note. It goes like this: Free will means a choice consciously made after consciously deliberating several alternatives no one of which is any more attractive than the others; and so, free will exists only where choices are unpredictable. Though few if any perceive it, such a definition of free will means the will is free only if it is not free to choose a different kind of free will. To put it another way: The will is free only if it is not free to have a kind of free will other than what logic says is free will. To put it still a third way: The will is free only if it is not free to be free the way will itself arbitrarily chooses to be free rather than be free the way the intellect’s critical thinking demands it be free. To put it yet a fourth way: The will is free only if it is not free to cease being the slave of the intellect. On the face of it, all who place such a limit on free will engage is self-contradictory gibberish. The “logic” which demands all free choices must be free in the same, one way is no more logic than a square circle is. In short true logic instantly and totally rejects such pseudo-logic, and, thus, a truly intellectual intellect automatically and instantly excludes itself from the free will scenario until after the will, by some wholly arbitrary and willy-nilly act, gives the lead to the intellect.

Here, then, is the kind of free will which I choose: I am an absolutely and outstandingly unique individual made such by the fact that An Infinitely Informed Being -- one always perfectly aware of every individual who ever was, is, or shall be -- guarantees that I am a “will story” outstandingly unique in comparison to all other individuals who ever have been, are, or shall be. No matter how similar my “will story” may be to some others, there’s still enough difference to make me and every one of us outstandingly different from every one of our fellows. To be more specific, say this: From the standpoint of The Infinitely Informed able to observe the sum total of all the choices I or anyone else ever has made, is making, or ever shall make, each of us is a cluster of choices different enough from all the rest to guarantee that each of us is outstandingly unique, and so much so, that everyone able to enter infinity and, like The Infinitely Informed, able to observe the sum total of any individual’s choices, shall, like The Infinitely Informed, explode with infinite rapture at the sight of the beauty of it all. I, therefore, in a kind of backward glance at a choice I made instinctively at conception, fully second and most enthusiastically welcome that long-ago, instinctive choice which determined that all my subsequent choices should be determined before hand by what The Infinitely Informed says I must choose in order to maintain my absolutely and outstandingly unique individuality.

Doesn’t that mean God alone is responsible and to blame for those of my choices which involve evil, injustice, and undeserved injury to others? By no means! For, just as the man, who knowingly and willingly gets drunk, is responsible and to blame for what evil he does while drunk, so also am I -- I who knowingly and willingly choose to let God make sure I always make whatever choice preserves my absolutely and outstandingly unique individuality -- responsible and to blame for whatever choices I subsequently make. Furthermore, if, in the view of The Infinitely Informed, I -- at the innermost depths of my instinctive self -- really, really, REALLY choose to be responsible and to blame for what evil I choose, then a Truly Loving Infinitely Informed will invariably honor my choice. After all, that choice, too, is an absolutely indispensable part of what makes me an absolutely and outstandingly unique individual. Oh, and nothing do I -- whether instinctively or deliberately -- choose more forcefully than I choose to be an absolutely and outstandingly unique individual!

In sum, then, dear editor: Free will is an issue far, far more subtle and complex than what your article suggests.

Incidentally, these words of mine will spur many to say something like this: “If that’s what you want, fine. But, don’t read your choice into me.” Many of those same individuals will also say that nothing is certain. If so, how do they manage to be certain that there is nowhere in their innermost, utterly instinctive depths a really, really real choice to have the same kind of free will I choose? Are we ever aware of what we really, really, r e a l l y want, or do we merely observe what we speculate we want? I repeat: If there is no certitude, how is it anything more than pure speculation to say your choice is not the same as mine?

From Russell Eisenman:

Re: Brain found to prepare decisions in advance (April 15): I see two problems in the study that is said to suggest that we do not have free will.

(1) The task was trivial. Perhaps the brain decides such things before we do and makes us choose. But what about important, real-life decisions, about whether to marry, what job to choose, what graduate school to apply to, etc. ? It could well be that we make these decisions, i.e.that we have free will, at least to some degree.

(2) The fact that the brain registers our decision before we know it does not mean, necessarily, that we did not make the decision. It could be that we make a tentative decision and, before we have fully decided, parts of the brain go to work and that is what the researchers found. For example, if I choose to pick up my watch, the brain may show that before I could tell you, but I, nevertheless, was the one who chose to pick up the watch. My brain did not make me pick up the watch.

I have long thought about the free will vs. determinism issue. Certainly many things seem determined, in that previous factors lead to our choices in many instances. But, are we not the ones who chose? If the result is not as we like, can we not choose differently next time? If so, is this not free will? You can call it determinism if you want, but that misses the fact that it is the person who is making the choice.

My conclusion is that we have a combination of free will and determinism in our life.

Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, TX

From Felix Tymcik:

Re: Brain found to prepare decisions in advance (April 15): It sounds a bit premature to me to conclude about the lack of our free will. Tell jet fighter pilotes about it. I don’t know the test methods, but when you make complex decisions you can feel the decision slowly “bubbling up”.

There is a process of calculation going on which ultimately should lead to an emotion of certainty. Where do they put the moment of the conscious decision here? The moment the button is pushed? In conflict situations more than one result are considered and the body is prepared for both (or all) of them, so ultimately the strongest signal triggers, which takes time to push through. Training eliminates or weakens doubts by simplifying the path to decision, speeding thus up the outer result. Even when we are not aware of the real moment of the decision, does it render us to puppets? Who thinks then? Don’t tell me my brain is certain before I am ;)

From Kilroy (ki lro y_50 @ne tzero .co m)

Re: Brain found to prepare decisions in advance (April 15): The question may not be, “is there free will” but rather “is there such ability as precognition?”

From Larry Trowbridge:

Re: Drug may limit radiation damage (April 10): As a Star Trek fan, this article was very interesting. On Star Trek TNG and Voyager, they refer to a drug that I think is called Hyronalin or something like that that protects against radiation damage. It’s interesting to see the amount of things that we have today that were featured on the different ST versions.

April 04, 2008

From Rik Rösken:

Re: Scientist: “superbugs” resist all drugs, portend pandemic (March 31): While I agree that the increase of resistance is something important to consider, it is also noted in the article, that the new superbugs are especially hazardous to patients with impaired health. Superresistance of bacteria often come with an price that these bateria are less virulent. Therefore, while it may become epidemic at some hospital wards, it might be questioned if it also becomes a true pandemic.

Much more important would also be to adress the cause of the increasing antibiotics restiance. There is a clear correlation that the severity of antibiotic resistance is the strongest in countries where antibiotics is given liberally, or can be bought without prescription. Greece is an example with one of the highest precentages of resistant bacteria in Europe and where antibiotics are quite liberal prescribed.

Some of the other countries in Europe, for example The Netherlands, have greatly restricted the use of antibiotics, with a very low resitance level as an consequence. By using strict hygiëne standards and only use antibiotics if it is userful on prescription, resistance can be held limited and treatable.

Therefore it might be intresting to compare antibiotic regiments in for example Greece and The Netherlands, and write about what readers might do to help to decrease the use of antibiotics and thus resitance among bacteria.

Rik Rösken
The Netherlands

April 02, 2008

From Phillip Gottschalk:

Re: Paranoia rife among us, researchers say (March 31): I think the above article has it wrong. They should not be measuring how many people are paranoid but should be analyzing why this phenomenon is occurring. Get out of your labs and see how the business community, social networks, development of out children etc. is acting and you will realize that being paranoid may be a realistic response to society.

From Julian Lieb:

Re: Paranoia rife among us, researchers say (March 31): In 1921 Emil Kraepelin published, “Manic Depressive Insanity and Paranoia.” Paranoia is today recognized as a symptom of both depression and mania. The high prevalence of paranoia is an important finding, but to dissociate it from mania and depression is not helpful. And to claim that paranoia responds to cognitive behavior therapy is downright irresponsible. Imagine trying to treat Hitler and Stalin, both paranoid manic depressives, with cognitive therapy. Propaganda and rhetoric, not science.

Julian Lieb, M.D.

From Julian Lieb:

Re: Scientist: “superbugs” resist all drugs, portend pandemic (March 31): Lieb, J. ”The immunostimulating and antimicrobial properties of lithium and antidepressants.” J Infection (2004) 49(2) 88-93. The one and only approach to dangerous or resistant infections is by stimulating immune function. I have published 9 articles on this subject. I am keeping track of the vested interests I have notified.

Julian Lieb, M.D.

From John D'hondt:

Re: Hunting was just final straw for mammoth, study finds (March 31): Until 4-5 years ago I would have been inclined to believe this article. But at about that time I stumbled over a site on the internet by the title: ”The End of Eden” - “Pleistocene extinctions” in which Elin Whitney-Smith Ph.D. explained how a complete ecosystem collapse can be brought about by hunting just a few percentage points of the apex predators.

The woolly mammoth did not become extinct because humans hunted it to dead but because humans hunted slow reproducing cave lion and sabertooth tigers. To me the article was a revelation and obviously the truth. Beautiful computer models included.

Not only the woolly mammoth went extinct at the same time but a great number of species did and many of these were never hunted by mankind. The only reason that makes sense is second degree overkill.

From Tim Kelly:

Re: Paranoia rife among us, researchers say (March 31): I have to say I agree with most of your article, especially how many people are suspected of having ‘Paranoia’, however I don’t agree with the generalised term of ‘Paranoia’.

I do not disregard the word and the problems that it causes. I have a belief that this word ought to be looked at more carefully in terms of learned anxiety or learned fear and not be discounted by using the word paranoia. The word is used too glibly and is therefor dismissed to easily. The word has evolved into such statements as “you’re just being paranoid” leaving the person involved feeling dismissed and negated.

My experience of “irrational or imaginary fears” are that the majority of these fears are not ‘irrational or imaginary’. They are, in fact, very real. At least to the person suffering them.

And these fears usually come from past trauma or past negative experiences, and when looked at closely are very appropriate. After all, noone who gets bitten by a dog would be called ‘paranoid’ if they were to avoid dogs on future occasions.

People feeling that are being laughed at when they hear ‘innocent laughter’ may have very real reasons for thinking that it is they themselves that are being laughed at, especially if one goes back to school days and any form of bullying or intimidation.

Perhaps it would be better to choose another word, and let that evolve into more appropriate labelling of genuine occurrences where once ‘paranoia’ was used.

Obviously the word can be used in severe cases where a person is imagining things to the point where it is having extreme effects on themselves and others. This must not be confused with other forms of “fear” or “anxiety” that unfortunately fall under the same umbrella at present.

Tim Kelly

From Jim McClarin:

Re: Scientist: “superbugs” resist all drugs, portend pandemic (March 31): I keep hearing about the bacteriocidal nature of silver, specifically colloidal silver. I was thinking about this as I counted by silver coins today. I wonder what role this precious metal might play in combating resistant strains.

From Brian Gregory:

Re: After jeers, recognition for “reverse evolution” theorist (March 3): I wondered, if this is evolution in action, where is the selective advantage to the people displaying the syndrome? Is their population size increasing? Can those with the syndrome out compete us upright-walkers for reproductive success? If not, is it really evolution or an unfortunate genetic medical condition?

From John Osmundsen:

Re: Uniqueness in human brain’s language zone (March 24): Any research on brain and language development is of great to me since I have an autistic daughter, who only speaks a small handful of words but comprehends most all language spoken to her. A characteristic trait of autism is the inability to articulate because of some, as yet unkown, impairment to the language area of the brain.

Oddly, some children develop normal language skills as a toddler, but as autism takes over the ability to articulate language diminishes to nil. My daughter, who is also profoundly retarded, communicates her needs using sign language, maybe a little over a hundred signs.

I encourage your staff to present more on the relationship of autism and the brain’s language capabilities.

The last sentence of the article: “The study is pub­lished on­line in the re­search jour­nal Na­ture Neu­ro­sci­ence.” Was it somehow impossible to post the direct link to the study? I’ll try to find it.

John Osmundsen
Little Rock, Arkansas

From Marcie Hascall Clark:

Re: Scientist: “superbugs” resist all drugs, portend pandemic (March 31): Thank you for helping to bring attention to this dangerous problem.

I have been following Acinetobacter baumannii from the military evacuation system since my husband came home from Iraq via the field hospital, Landstuhl, and Walter Reed in July of 2003.

Some Acinetobacter baumannii strains in the US have been completely drug resistant since at least 2005. Every week I receive calls from hospital workers and family members telling me that patients have been sent to nursing homes to die because there is nothing more they can do for them.

The five or so Acinetobacter baumannii strains from the US Military were fast tracked to drug resistance. These could have been contained if they had put as much effort into dealing with them as they did into covering them up.

I truly do not doubt that a pandemic is on it’s way and it makes me so furious.

For more check out my site here and especially the story by Steve Silberman of Wired Magazine, The Invisible Enemy, which is linked there.

Marcie Hascall Clark

From Bill Schemmel :

Re: A function for “gay genes” after all? (Feb. 8): I read with interest the article on genetic study of homosexuality. As a gay man, there is no doubt in my mind a genetic origin or predisposition for homosexuality exists. Those individuals who claim it is a choice are generally motivated by a variety of religious/cultural beliefs that prompt and validate such thinking. It is a difficult task to grow up and thrive as a gay person in the majority of cultures around the world due to the homophobia, prejudice and outright hate that exists. Subsequently, it is not surprising the one Western study focused on determining whether or not gay uncles were more inclined to aide their nieces and nephews found negative results. The majority of gays have been alienated from their domestic cultures and are often not a welcome addition to many of their families, as well!

The Samoan experience appears to be a rarity in today’s world. There is evidence that some Native American cultures welcomed gay members of their tribes. They were often thought to have female and male spirits and were often healers in their communities.

It is my hope that genetic studies will eventually show that homosexuality is just another version we humans assume. There is virtually nothing about we humans that is either this or that. Every aspect of what makes up a human is on a continuum. Why would sex or sexual expression be any different? My fear, however, is once a genetic determination is found, homophobia will prevail and people will abort gay babies! And if that is the case, we will see if society hates abortion or gays more.

Bill Schemmel
Department of psychiatry
MetroHealth Medical Center
Cleveland, Ohio

From John Palencia:

Re: Blast called furthest object visible to naked eye (March 20): i was outside my home in the city and looking west south west, at about 40 degrees i think i saw this.

it was about 15 minutes after midnight on wed. 3/19/8 i noticed a bright unuasual light with bright colors, red, blue and glimmering white. i do not think i saw the actual burst, but i saw the bright colors for the following nights. i have a basic telescope and i tell my wife “it only makes the white dots look like more dots”. (not so good telescope), but that night i was in amazement in what i saw.

i googled “night sky” that night but have not found anything till i heard on the news over the weekend that there was an exploding star visible that night wed. i sat outside at midnight on thurs and friday watching this object. it was a wonderfull. as i tried to focus on the object, i would turn the nob all the way one way and all the way back the other way, i do not know if it was my eyes or the actual object, but what i saw was, well, when you unfocus it makes the object you see blurry then it as it gets close to focus the light object forms a shape, , well the shape at one certain place formed a circle, round and as i continued to to turn the focus knob i saw the round object somewhat glow and darken at the same time and i saw swirls of liquid type “plasma” moving around, it reminded me of a movie, maybe star trek or some thing with a “plasma” ball. do you know what i am trying to describe? a swirling liquid type ball like a 60’s oil light show.

make any sense? i cont. to turn the knob back and forth and found the telescope did the same thing. it just did not happend once.

after messing with the focus, i focused on it and, the colors were so “shimmery” blue like a blow torch, red like fancy christmas wrapping and white like light reflecting off ice.

well, i have always been amazed by the night sky and am looking forward to hearing from you.

i live in san antonio texas, where i saw this at home at zip code 78213.

From David Bazley:

Re: Blast called furthest object visible to naked eye (March 20): Further to this most interesting article: I have always wondered what risk the earth is under from supernovas and Googled the subject - below is only part of one page.

How close would the average supnova have to be in order to be a threat or even to extinguish all life please? Are we talking 10 light years or 100 light years?

From David Bazley:

Re: Blast called furthest object visible to naked eye (March 20): Further to this most interesting article: I have always wondered what risk the earth is under from supernovas and Googled the subject - below is only part of one page.

How close would the average supnova have to be in order to be a threat or even to extinguish all life please? Are we talking 10 light years or 100 light years?

From James Morris:

Re: The evolution of drug abuse (March 21): As a former medical professional and a “child of the 60’s” I believe I have an commonly ignored perspective on this subject, rejected because it contradicts what the drug war proponents tell us is the truth.

This article skirts around one possible interpretation of the data: higher life forms have evolved to gain a degree of life enhancement and mental stimulation from the ingestion of psychoactive plants. As you know, scores of mammals and some birds seek out and consume such alkaloids, hence exhibiting normative behavior - yet human use of drugs is called ‘abuse’, not the more accurate word ‘use’.

While I felt encouraged by what this new research indicates, I felt the tone of the article was colored by politics, the author consciously or unconsciously using some of the jargon of those who have come to see science as an obstacle, not an answer.

I have countless friends and acquaintances who occasionally use illegal drugs and have only known one whose use evolved into abuse: a man much younger than my usual friends, leading me to question his knowledge and motivation considering he hadn’t been exposed to a generation that saw foolish excess and chemical ignorance as offensive, to be discouraged.

Interestingly, in my attempts to help this fellow I found that what he was abusing wasn’t even authentic; testing showed no illegal substances, only well disguised and unknown fax similes, substances which caused him to become irrational and paranoid and not pleasant in any way. Yet he persisted in spending his money and convincing himself that all was well, his behavior and judgement ‘normal’. But where could he ever have turned to find the unbiased truth when the meaning of words and medical realities have been replaced by an alarmist media and fabricated facts?

I am waiting for the scientist with the courage to tell the uncolored story behind this very human behavior. To point out the difference between ‘addictive’ and ‘habit forming’, between what we used to call ‘mind drugs’ and ‘body drugs’. An airing of factual explanations of the effects, motivations and consequences of drug use.

One such unbiased, scientific publication does currently exist: in a book written by the Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports. It was written shortly before the cigarette and alcohol industries joined with the religious conservatives of the early 1980’s, before the inception of the ONDCP and decades of drug war propaganda.

In 2008 who knows that dying from a heroin overdose is rare, occurring only with an additional CNS depressant, such as alcohol? In 2008 who knows that the list of what is actually addictive is extremely short, composed almost exclusively of legal substances and opiates?

If science writers continue to agree to change the meaning of words and to ignore what is unpopular yet scientifically accurate, the very meaning of scientist may one day be redefined in the furtherance of some groups’ political or economic agenda.

From Ivan Alexandrov:

Re: The evolution of drug abuse (March 21): One of these “other possibilities” would be that getting pleasure eating poisonous staff in some “wayward” members of population diversifies eating habits in such a way that in times of extreme when “mainstream” diet is absent these marginal individuals would survive (or help population survive) and thus rescue the genes. In a way getting addicted to mainstream food in the times of mainstream is a danger counteracted by marginals with wayward habits. This of course has broad implications for modern civilization which could be understood as an attempt to stabilize environment to such an extent that mainstream extends perhaps a bit unnaturaly at the expense of marginals.

Ivan Alexandrov, PhD
Mental Health Research Ctr
Moscow, Russia

From Brett Selph:

Re: Drive to complexity seen in animal evolution (March 17): Why increasing complexity?

This principle is very familiar to programmers: Computer code tends to become more complex, and when a subroutine or module becomes useless, you usually just stop pointing to it, much like “junk DNA” gets set aside. Logic tests that were formerly meaningful may remain present in the code itself (perhaps a multi-way test of input values and responses to those input values), even after certain of those input values become logically impossible to encounter. Typically, the programmer is not quite sure that any given test has become impossible to “satisfy” (trigger) under all possible conditions, and he doesn’t have the time to prove his suspicion correct. So he leaves it in. If he’s a “neatnik”, he may promise himself and his boss that he’ll get around to removing any and all “dead code” some day, but other emergencies come along, and “later” turns into “never”.

The evolution of genetic code shows similar patterns: the impetus to evolve new code is very strong, but the benefit of getting rid of (as opposed to merely “silencing”) unneeded code, is far weaker. The presence of “dead” code in the genome is thus not surprising. In fact, getting rid of it is often quite difficult, much as old computer code can become entangled with new code and a subroutine or a function originally “evolved” for one purpose, becomes useful to a second or third purpose. If the original purpose disappears, the code can’t be deleted until and unless the secondary and tertiary purposes disappear as well.

Human programmers DO have an aesthetic sense, so sometimes we DO get around to clearing out the deadwood. But we have to make a special effort. And even while he is removing dead code, remember that programmers aren’t fired if they make a change that doesn’t work (a “dead” program!) They just have to keep trying, and then succeed in a reasonable amount of time. Living organisms don’t have such a grace period. No mulligans, no “gimmes”, no do-overs. All of your ancestors MUST survive long enough to reproduce! As ugly as computer code sometimes gets, it’s not nearly as ugly (or as wonderful) as Mother Nature’s. Mother Nature never saw a nasty kludge She didn’t like... if it arrives on the scene before the “pretty” fix can evolve.

More importantly, old code and new code get entangled. We get “partial” silencing of code -but the original code is still there, because later things built upon it are still needed. The homeobox genes and the transitional structures that gave gills to fishes are still “used”, after a fashion, in mammalian embryos to make organs and structures ultimately needed by adult mammals. Ernst Haeckel famously proclaimed “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. This was an observation about appearances, and a suggestion that there were deeper connections, but it was NOT a narrow and incorrect statement (as some imputed to him) that embryos are little “film clips” replaying their own evolution. And the “deeper connection” is that more advanced (or evolutionarily more recent) structures are built upon their more ancient antecedents, the formation of adult structures remains forever dependent on at least a partial “replay” of evolution. The embryo is a “little computer” that must necessarily execute a certain amount of phylogenetically shared and very, very ancient “common code”.

Stephen Jay Gould, a man with a silver tongue but few ideas of his own, is one of a number of wannabe great men who put words into the long-dead mouths of his betters, explaining that what they meant was “X”, but the facts are “Y”. (The dead guy is never around to refute it). Gould did this so that he could “correct” the great man and take his own jealous place among the scientific pantheon by providing a “new” idea. Haeckle didn’t actually say what Gould and some others said he said, so Gould’s “correction” is wrong. Likewise, Darwin didn’t say that the rate of evolution was smooth, only that it takes a long time relative to human lifespans. In fact Darwin anticipated “punctuated equilibrium” on page 551 of his Origin of Species (5th edition): “the periods during which species have undergone modification, though long as measured in years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which they retain the same form.” Gould made almost a whole career out of an idea Darwin tossed off on one page.

As for increasing complexity, “But some have dis­put­ed that such an over­all trend exists. The late Har­vard bi­olo­g­ist Ste­phen Jay Gould ar­gued that the as­sump­tion of ever-in­creas­ing com­plex­ity is an il­lu­sion, aris­ing from the fact that life started with the sim­plest form­s—as it al­most had to. Life could only get more com­plex from there. But this does­n’t rule out that more elab­o­rate forms can ran­domly fluc­tu­ate up­ward and down­ward in com­plex­ity.” If this excerpt gives a fair representation of Gould’s position on trends in complexity, then Gould is wrong once and possibly TWICE in one statement! Firstly, it isn’t an “illusion” that life gets more complex because it can’t get any simpler than its (simple) origins. This would be a logical necessity (and thus a fact), not an “illusion”. Secondly, (and I’m not quite sure if I’m putting words into Gould’s mouth here, because he had a habit of dancing around the point). While it is true that the “more elaborate forms will fluctuate upward and downward in complexity”, there are two major problems to resolve: Firstly, apparent loss of complexity in (“de-evolution” in the phenotype) does not imply corresponding loss of complexity in the genotype. And at the genetic level, even if there is an actual “reversal” genetically identical to a ancestral state, it wouldn’t be accurate to call the likelihood of such fluctuation “random” except at the “first iteration” of base-pair changes. Random has a special meaning and it cannot apply wherever random is actively selected against. It’s possible the flip “heads” ten times in a row, unless we always throw out the third “heads”. I wouldn’t do that, but a hungry tiger might. Assuming a trillion base-pairs in an organism, then, from a purely “random” and mathematically naive standpoint, there might be a one-in-a-trillion chance that the NEXT random base-pair change will exactly reverse the previous one, but not a chain of such reversals. The equivalence disappears when chains of successive mutations are considered. Natural selection simply doesn’t allow it, because a series of creatures must SURVIVE for a series of base-pair changes to reverse themselves. ALL of the reversals must be allowed, not just some of them or most of them. There are tigers out there that eat the slow and the stupid. So “de-evolution”, if we may call it that, is strongly selected against under most circumstances. We don’t see much of it.

On top of this, earlier genetic code changes get “trapped” by subsequent code changes that depend on them. Even if any given SINGLE point-change were equally likely to be reversed, “de-evolving” is considerably more difficult than the reverse because of the code entanglement so familiar to computer programmers.

For example, the vertebrate eye has some unfortunate design elements, such as blood vessels and nerves in front of the light receptors. How shall we evolve “properly configured” vertebrate eyes, without going through some very blind (and non-reproducing) intermediate stages? The “backwardness” of the foundational structures are “trapped” by the substantial (but imperfect) utility of the end product. And likewise trapped is most of the genetic code that programs for it. Even if some rather miraculous improvements to the vertebrate eye were contemplated, and a sound evolutionary “path” to achieving it were devised, it would NOT amount to a simplification of the genetic code for making eyes... even if the final structure were phenotypically simpler and more straightforward in design. For example, we might suppose that by FIRST adding a new light-sensitive layer of cells ABOVE the nerves and blood vessels, it might be possible to evolve a better eye without going through blind intermediate forms (because, in the interim, we’d keep the “old” layer). After the genetic code for this “new” layer was fully in place and well “tuned”, we could then get rid of the now superfluous “old” light-sensitive layer behind the blood vessels. The final, adult structure might bear no overt evidence of the “old” layer, but you can be sure that embryological development would betray the evolutionary history of this improvement... and that the “backwards-retina” genes so necessary for the embryological development of the eye, would still be present in the “new, improved” genome for as long as (indeed, longer than) the descendants of this creature need eyes and vision to survive.

This dynamic applies even when the changes aren’t improvements (better eyes), but simply the loss of phenotypic complexity that is no longer needed. Even while not impossible, truly shedding complexity (as opposed to masking it) is just plain difficult to achieve, and requires strong evolutionary pressure to accomplish.

To paraphrase theorist Isidor I. Rabi (““Who ordered THAT?” speaking of the muon, an “unnecessary” elaboration of the electron)... well who ordered all of that genetic junk? Who ordered increasing complexity in the genome rather than a continuum of increasing and decreasing “ideal” complexity? Well, Mother Nature did, because She is as much a lazy programmer as I am. And we see it in the way programs are born, just as we see it in embryos. Just ask Ernst Haeckel, or if you prefer talking to the living, somebody working at Microsoft.

Pascal once apologized “I made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter”. Equivalent statements have been variously attributed to Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Winston Churchill, Marcel Proust, Rudyard Kipling, and Pliny the Younger. It applies to all who string symbols together into meaningful patterns. So, to that list of luminaries, I’d like to add the original author, Mother Nature. Nor will I apologize for the length of the present letter... because perfect editing is insanely more difficult to achieve than is “good enough”. I suppose you could say, Redundancy Multiplies -and Code Entropy Rules!

Brett Selph
Winnetka, CA

From Kathy Silk:

Re: The evolution of drug abuse (March 21): I read with intrest the artical about evolution and the need for chemical injestion. Fasinating! I just wanted to add that in Kenya some of the more primitive tribes still do just that with no western interference... they found a plant that was used traditionaly ofr medical purposes by their shamen and is now regularly used by the elders of the tribe purly for the gratifying feelings it gives.

Also in africa the tree whoes fermented fruit make the animals that eat it drunk... they fall arround often getting seriously hurt in the process but they battle for the fruit none the less and have doneso for generations. The local tribesmen also injest the fermenting fruit for the same reason.

The neem tree was used traditionaly in Kenya for many medicinal purposes and now is making a wow in the weswtern world.

In Qld I have often observed a weaklooking and possibly ill Wallaby looking for and injesting the berries of the Lantana which are toxic and I think they do so for medicinal reasons. A natural drug. I do wild life care here and often will try many different types of foliage when dealing with the sick animals as I beleive they know which are medically good for them and you would be amazed and the things they will choose to eat including aloevera.

From Frank Smith:

Re: The evolution of drug abuse (March 21): I worked in the field of education, treatment, prevention of drug abuse for many years, and did research on the subject.

Your article asks, “Why do people abuse drugs?” It’s a question that I’ve heard for four decades, at least, posed by the parents of teens, by civic and community activists, by officials, etc.

Applying Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is the one that few seem to consider: People do it mostly because it feels great! (At first, anyway. )

There are other reasons. Social reasons, for instance.

People don’t do it because they live in the ghetto (though that’s why they are most likely to get prosecuted for it), because there’s a dearth of healthy activities, because no sports are available, because they’re unhappy in their lives, etc., etc.

Of course there are drawbacks to using. Some substances make some people nuts. Some seriously disturb the natural rhythm of the body. Some deplete vitamins. In our society, perhaps the worst is that many of these drugs are illegal and the consequences to one’s life are therefore staggering.

In Kansas the State Senate recently passed a bill to make selling loco weed illegal. Now why anyone in their right mind would buy this garbage is astonishing. It’s terribly hard on the nervous system, potentially fatal, and you can get it for free on the side of the road. But now commerce in this crap has been incorporated in the drug war. Woo, woo.

Save us from the savers.

I haven’t used an illegal drug since 1962, long before most current users were born. I haven’t smoked, drank alcohol or coffee, etc. , in many decades. But society needs to take a deep breath and think about the corner in which we’ve collectively painted ourselves in response to hyperbole and hysteria.

A good question to be put to researchers is to ask why almost all mentally ill person smoke. Actually, they are obviously self medicating with a terribly addictive substance. But what exactly does tobacco do, that so many homeless persons, for instance, are willing to spend much of their time picking up aluminum cans by the side of the road so they can buy cigarettes? Is there some component that reaches some part of the brain that eases their anguish? Can that chemical be replicated in a form that doesn’t produce cancer, COPD, heart disease, etc. ?

It’s a lot harder question than, “Why do people abuse drugs.”

Frank Smith
Bluff City, KS

From John Black:

Re: What is consciousness? Study aims to settle debate (May 20): First of all, thank you for an excellent web site. I am a regular visitor.

About 6 months ago I died. There was just nothing just a gap. There was no white light in a tunnel. Of course people who finally die cannot send you an email.

Yet 2 people one, a young girl of 16, and the other, an old man like me of 62, did report this white light in a tunnel when they died. Both had operations. The girl on her brain. The man on his heart. The girl told me that she saw her mother trying to persuade her not to go down the tunnel. She did not. Both are now alive as I am. The man saw no-one. There was no Jesus Christ, Angel Gabriel, Mohamed or any of these people.

I was hit by a motor cycle and regained consciousness after artificial heart massage by a policeman on the road in Cambodia. I had no heartbeat for 30 minutes. I know nothing about this; only what other people have since told me.

What is interesting is that what comes back is not quite the same as what was before. Perception is different and has to be learned again.

I am still the same person but the consciousness feels different. I still have the same good and bad points.

From Duane V. Kniebes:

Re: Butterflies may keep memories of caterpillar youth (March 6): Fine article on memory retention in larva to butterflies. It confirms other studies that show memory is retained in other body parts, not just in the brain. It’s a difficult field to work in but there is much more to be learned about memory, where it is stored, and how to extract it.

From Frank & Esther Schierenberg:

Re: Estimates for peopling of Americas getting earlier (March 13): Regarding your article about how humans came to North America and when, it doesn’t discuss racial, nor language root similarities. Esquimos may have come via the Bering land bridge, but not most other natives, many of whom look like the Malays of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. These are known to have produced some remarkable out-rigger sailing ships and seafarers known to have roamed the Pacific, settling most Pacific Islands in successive waves, including the West coast of America.

From Michael (Mo on ta nma n@ao l. com)

Re: That habitable planet might not be so far (March 10): Why is only Alpha Centauri B considered likely to have an Earth like planet? Why not both Alpha Centauri A and B? Lots of possibilities come to mind. Both could have one or more Earth like planets. They should have the same building materials so they could have similar planets or they could have close in Jupiter’s like many other stars and have several inhabitable moons. I’m surprised that these closest stars haven’t already been studied extensively.

From Tariq:

Re: After jeers, recognition for “reverse evolution” theorist (March 3): I would like to inform you that such phenomenon we have also here in Hilla-Iraq. We very frequantley are seeing them the two walking on four and people donate them some food or maney.

Backward Evolution Hoax

Re: After jeers, recognition for “reverse evolution” theorist (March 3): Uner Tan is obviously desperate to make a name for himself.

When this hoax was first published, a woman was shown dashing very quickly on all fours. That is because the epiphyses under the patellae of the knees had set in the normal position for upright walking. The party trick at the village fair was therefore very painful. After she had run for a few seconds, she sat down, and hugged her knees to ease the pain.

It was also stated that she and her siblings spoke a prehistoric language, which only they could fully understand.

The patients had a rather primitive language... they spoke to each other using their own language, using only a few hundred words” which the parents could partly understand, Tan wrote.

This is like saying that Uner Tan had found some Italians who had backward evolved until they spoke Latin. But language is LEARNT from the environment. Language is not genetic. Therefore it is a hoax.

He also named the condition after himself: Unertan syndrome.

This time he is playing the geneticist, and makes no mention of the prehistoric language:

But he pointed out in his defense that new studies have mapped the defect to a region of the genome called 17p, where some of the greatest differences between humans and chimps lie. Researchers suspect such areas may be important in human evolution.

There are many bogus ‘researchers’ out there, and they will back him up in his bizarre claims. Real scientists will disagree with him.

Charles Douglas Wehner

From Jedidiah Diherhen Palosaari:

Re: Butterflies may keep memories of caterpillar youth (March 6): The butterfly’s brain? Since when did a small collection of ganglia become a brain? Sure, this study indicates that they’ve got memory, but that’s a far cry from redefining the definition of brain and suggestin that suddenly a non cephalopod invertebrate has one!

From Delores S. Lawson:

Re: Estimates for peopling of Americas getting earlier (March 13): Hello, I recently read a book about Alaska and the facts seem to be the same as the report from your site. . It was a great book and I learned a lot about Alaska. It was written by James A Michener. After reading fiction for many years, I now have a profound interest in truth and non-fiction. It may be due to the fact that I am retired and have time to read and investigate life from the beginning. Thanks for putting the truth in print as I’m sure a lot of people, like myself are interested.

From John de Boer:

Re: Dark energy, or just dust? Findings raise questions (March 1, 2008): The madness of it all... Would it not be both rational and ethical to provide a clear definition for concepts such as “dark energy” before pretending that it is a verified theory or actual substance. It is of course true that new words in a language will become established and end up in the dictionary if they have been used and are found in written material for a certain length of time, but for physics the procedure of the introduction of contrived theories or substances in this manner is improper. However, it is a rampant practice and occurs with ever increasing frequency. This deceptive procedure has produced a great deal of misinformation and has brought about much confusion. A very good example of the introduction of make-believe theories/particles is the graviton. The mythical graviton came into being, not because it was ever observed or located, but because the Law of Universal Gravitation made it essential. There are many of these manmade inventions such as:

Dark Matter, clearly is in the same league as Dark Energy. No one has ever actually seen nor verified the existence of dark matter, however, according the physicists it just has to be there because that is the only way they can account for regions of extraordinary gravitational strength in space while the source of the phenomenon is invisible. This source would have to be the existence of a great deal of matter, because it is believed that the gravitational force is proportional to the mass of a body. Unfortunately, it has not been considered that, ‘forces in proportion to masses’, is a constant which was invented to accommodate the mathematical science and is in fact challenged by Newton himself.

The Expanding Universe: This hypothesis is based upon the fact that light, reaching us from far away in the universe, tends to shift towards the red spectrum. This would appear to indicate that its source is receding to account for this phenomenon. There are at least two problems with this concept. In the first place, the nature of light is not clearly understood, or in the least it is ambiguous, being both a wave motion in a medium as well as being a kind of matter or quanta. Then the ‘nature’ of space needs to be examined, because Einstein introduces the idea of the physical fields of space, which, according to him, is the same as the ‘ether’. (More about that). What is being disregarded is that there is verified evidence that light is influenced by the gravitational phenomenon, which in fact could account for light slowing down as a result of the gravitational influence created by the very source from which it originated.

Physical Space: Here Einstein lays the foundations for his theories, because he needs two concepts upon which to build his mathematical structure. The first one is the gravitation constant without which his theories are groundless, while the next is his need for physical space.

In his book: The World As I See It, the chapter is: The problem of Space, Ether, and the Field in Physics, Einstein writes: “... the ether is firmly fixed in space - that is to say unable to move at all... - Physical space and the ether are only different terms for the same thing; fields are physical conditions of space”.

The constant of gravitation as well as the concept of the ether/physical space, are the foundations required by Einstein upon which he can constructs his mathematical theories. One wonders if indeed the universe is expanding, if Einstein’s physical space already exists in these ‘new regions’ or if this physical space is being created as the universe expands into the virgin areas.

The Fusion Debacle: Here is yet an other theory which has remained just that, a theory. The actual theory is of course based upon the premise that the sun releases its energy in all forms as a result of the fusion of Hydrogen into Helium. The surplus mass is released as energy when two Hydrogen atoms become one Helium atom. After much and very costly experimentation in the US, it is now the turn of the EU to tackle this dilemma. There is of course little doubt that our energy problems would be solved if this would come to fruition. Now as far as the origin of the theory of fusion is concerned, it finds its rationalisation in mathematics. Simply put, it just has to be this way, because there are no other options. These conclusions come from those who are at a loss to explain the origin of the forces of matter and their interrelationships, who lack a concrete explanation regarding the structure of atoms, while the nature of light is still a mystery to them...

Universal Gravitation: This is the constant upon which the science of physics is based. As mentioned, the mathematical sciences require certain constants upon which to build. That is the very reason why this questionable Law has been maintained, because without that Law, physics has nothing to stand upon. The truth is that if the Law of Universal Gravitation were tested with the Scientific Method, including requisite control experiments, it would prove to be an absurdity. Solutions: If we would begin anew and accept that there are no gravitons, dark matter, expanding universe etc. , or even hot nor cold fusion taking place within the sun, there would be an opening for an all encompassing concept. We can have all of the energy ever required by utilizing the actual process which takes place within the sun and all stars. A propulsion system operating on the very principle which makes the stone fall, is well within our reach. Chances that this route will ever be taken are very slim however, not because we are unable to comprehend the nature of matter and its forces, the obstacle lies within the nature of humans.

From Graham Reinders:

Re: Study: media misconstrues blues as “chemical imbalance” (March 4, 2008): I have been a Manic Depressive for over 40 years. The first generation of MAO’s and Tricyclics, Lithium etc, did not much to help me.

“The SSRI, “Prozac” generation was a miracle to me. (but destroys sex life) The latest Dopamine blockers “Welbutryn” was even better and it is as close to normal for me as I can imagine. (helps sex life) I have a son who is also equally as assisted as I am. I cannot argue the cause, but it sure helped me.

From Michael van der Horn:

Re: Heavy cell phone use linked to cancer (Feb. 15): I have used this and many other studies to write a series of articles on the disadvantages of mobile phones. The first installment can be found here.

From Terry Silverman:

Re: Study: media misconstrues blues as “chemical imbalance” (March 4): How do these authors explain the fact that tricyclic anti­depress­ants work well for most? I have noted that the SSRI’s do not work in most people, but I doubt the author’s reasoning.

T. Silverman
Collie & Ibizan Rescue of Central New Jersey

From Don L. Jewett:

Re: Dark energy, or just dust? Findings raise questions (March 1): In 1988, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe reported that metallic whiskers formed in a vacuum up to only a certain length, and then the random accumulation onto the whisker equaled the random loss, so an equilibrium length was achieved. This was based upon laboratory data. They were able to calculate the amount of such whiskers in interstellar space, based upon how they would escape from galaxies. The paper was reprinted: Astrophys. Space Sci. 268:77-88, 1999. The consequence for Cosmology was that the length of the whisker was just right to absorb starlight and re-radiate it at the wavelength of the “Cosmic Background Radiation”! Not only that, but the integrated energy of starlight predicts the CBR temperature to 3 significant figures-- better than any other theory.

So there are many “cracks” in the Big Bang Theory of Cosmology. It is certainly time to consider other paradigms. You might want to ask Prof. Wickramasinghe to give you a comment to publish in your newsletter.

He also has done significant work that could be the subject of another article on interstellar dust.

Dr. Don L. Jewett
Research Director
Abratech Corp.
Emeritus Prof.
Univ. of CA, San Francisco

From Charles F. Barth:

Re: Dark energy, or just dust? Findings raise questions (March 1, 2008): Intriguing discovery! Measurements of the red shift of distant galaxies may be influenced by these carbon fibers, possibly giving erroneous readings of recession speeds and distances. Dark Matter/Energy had been postulated as providing the force driving this apparent accelerating expansion. The current model of recession velocities being directly related to distance may require substantial revision. Our universe may not be expanding at increasing velocities and may not be as large as previously believed. Should this discovery be further substantiated, the dark matter “crutch” developed to explain anomalous gravitational effects within and between galaxies may be unnecessary, much in the same manner as was Einstein’s cosmological constant.

Dr. Charles F. Barth

From David (dav id@davi dbuck ley.net)

Re: Robot arms race seen beginning (Feb. 26): It doesn’t really matter what Sharkey thinks or says, the technology is already out there on the web for creating land vehicles or stable aerial platforms, with GPS navigation and object recognition for arms deployment. If the rank and file terrorists weren’t so stupid and gullable and their puppet masters so stuck in the middle ages they would already be using the technology. I doubt that the likes of Sharkey are really upto date with what is available, if they were, we might be impressed by the products of their laboratories.

From Carlos Tellez:

Re: Why is yawning contagious? (March 21, 2008): I am originally from Colombia, South America. Yawning in Colombia is usually associated with being tired or with being hungry. Could it be that yawning could unconsciously be associated with different feelings? Perhaps yawning is not only caused by a lack of oxygen but could it also be caused by a culturally learned response?

From Norman Wells:

Re: Robot arms race seen beginning (Feb. 26): Unless there is a dramatic change in Human nature the desire to make weapons of war will remain. Particularly if the World continues to exist as a collection of independent nation states. Robot Weapons are just the next logical step in a program which will ultimately destroy all life on our planet, if unchecked. Development of Robot weapons may foster the view that warfare may be pursued without killing people. but what Humans are going to accept a defeat resulting from a contest between Robots?

From Allen Leigh:

Re: Expert: obesity, global warming could be fought together (Feb. 26): Concerning cities, I think that Tony Ca­pon is out of touch with reality. Yes, we could redesign our cities to reduce the need for automobiles for those who work in the cities. But, how about those who work away from the cities? On the average, people change jobs every few years. Now, I might be working in the city and could walk or ride a bike. In a few years I might be working away from the city and might be able to take a train. Or, I might be working away from the city in a place that is not served by trains or buses, and I would have to use my car. Mass transit may work in places of high population density, but it won’t work in places of low population density.

Another factor is that of force. If government redesigns our cities to decrease the need of some of the population, it may have to “force” people to live in those cities. At least in the US, people have the freedom to live where ever they desire, and I think government attempts to force those people into cities would have strong public opposition.

I lived in Massachusetts, USA for 17 years and worked as a software engineer. I lived in a small town, and I worked in five different towns during the 17 years. There were no train or bus connections between my town and the other towns. I did car pool and van pool as much as possible. Redesigned cities would have had no value to me.

From Stephen Mikesell:

Re: Robot arms race seen beginning (Feb. 26): Regarding the fear that Robotic weapons may fall into the hands of terrorists seems disingenous to me, considering that it is the weapons of terror that determine that people are terrorists.

From Stephen Mikesell:

Re: “Noah’s Ark” seed vault opens (Feb. 26): As an anthropologist studying agricultural systems, I think the Noah’s ark seed vault comes out of reductionist thinking that sees life as genes without context. In my mind it will be as effective in salvaging biodiversity as museums are in saving indigenous societies. All higher life evolves in communities of organisms and under specific and dynamic natural conditions too complex for humans to reconstruct.

Domesticated plants, furthermore, are cultural and historical products associated with bundles of knowledge, skills and experience. We can see that modern agriculture’s attempt to spread its modified seeds and mechanical-chemical growing systems universally outside of their original context requires more fossil energy than the solar energy collected by the plants -- at least seven times as much. Modern agriculture only seems viable because the only accounting used is monetary, even as we drain away at a shocking rate the stores of petroleum and natural gas providing the energy to sustain it.

Trying to revive life with stored seeds will be no different than trying to revive the Etruscans with their forgotten alphabet. It is letters and words with no context. Even if enough humans survived in a situation able to undertake this project, which in my mind is unlikely, the amount of energy and effort to restart those complex ecosystems is far beyond the capability of this civilization at its energy zenith, to say nothing of a troubled, ruined and energy-hungry future civilization.

No doubt it is a valient effort, but a terribly desperate one as well, taken on by farsighted people able to see how desperate the human situation has become, which it really has little chance of success beyond the symbolic effect it might have on living people.

From Jill Banfield:

Re: Mars salt might have thwarted life (Feb. 15): Certain microbial communities are adapted to life in water saturated with salt and thrive in battery acid-like solutions (pH <1). For this reason, researchers working within the NASA Astrobiology Institute are investigating hypersaline lake sites, which may have some characteristics analogous to those that would have prevailed at the surface of Mars as its oceans disappeared. So while “not all water is fit to drink”, most water is inhabitable by microbes. Contrary to the opinion stated in this article, these findings do not ‘tighten the noose on the possibility of life’, rather they focus the search.

From Mark McWilliams:

Re: Moon systems, not planets, may be place to find aliens (Feb. 19): Higher life as we know it requires liquid water so any intelligent life to develope on one of these moons would require a moon about the size of Earth.

I enjoyed your article on the search for life on moons except I believed it was a little deceptive in that it implyed that intelegent life might be able to move from one small moon to another.

I did a study / display in a multidisciplinary class in college and in my research a planet as small as Mars is not likley to have much/any liquid water on it. Mars is about half the diameter of Earth (actually a tiny bit more). Based several calculations to figure volume, mass, atmospheric pressure and such it is my belief that Mars has NEVER had much liquid water on it if it ever had any.

This idea was first based on the idea that on Earth as you gain altitude water boils at a lower temperature due to the lower air pressure. I don’t remember how I figured that water would boil at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (actually a bit less) but it had to due to the atmospheric pressure on Mars which is a small fraction (about 1%) that of Earths. I don’t remember how I got that number at this time But I know I either confirmed it or had the calculations checked by a teacher who would have promply pointed out any errors. Based on this, water on Mars can only exist in a liquid form on the surface at temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenhiet and it would escape the planet at a about 100 degrees Fahrenhiet. Higher life as we know it requires liquid water so any intelligent life to develope on one of these moons would require a moon about the size of Earth.

The whole display I made ended up being on the uniqueness of the Planet Earth. How small it is and the space between planets & how no other planet in our solar system comes close to supporting life. The model could only display the inner solar system with the Sun being 60 inches in Diameter and Earth being 1/2 an inch and the moon 1/8th inch & 1 foot away & Earth about 450 feet from the sun. The idea that the moon plays a very important part in life on Earth by keeping the Earths core molten (due to gravitaional forces) which helps create the magnetosphere keeping harmfull radiation from us.

The search/discovery of extrasolar planets is based on the idea of gravitational pull on the star by the planet(s). THis idea may mave some yet unforseen flaws in it and I would like those with the tools and ability to study our own star to see if they can confirm Jupiter which should be large enough at 1/10 the diameter &. 001% the mass of the Sun.

I hope this wasn’t long/boring/whatever & I hope to see an article about the search for life on Europa some time in the near future. I believe that you do not need to drill through the ice but examine the ices on the surface to see if there is evidence of life under the ice.

From Chris Bury:

Re: Mars salt might have thwarted life (Feb. 15): I am not a scientist but an avid reader of anything extra terrestrial. This argument in the article:

“Not all wa­ter is fit to drink,” said An­drew Knoll, a Har­vard Uni­ver­s­ity bi­olo­g­ist who is on the sci­ence team for the NASA Mars rov­er Op­por­tun­ity. High con­centra­t­ions of dis­solved min­er­als as well as ac­ids may have thwar­t­ed mi­crobes from de­vel­op­ing on the red plan­et, he added.

is not actually valid as we all know microbes have been found live in very high concentrations of acids, alkalis and salts. And the salinity of the water which was there thousands or millions of years ago been observed and analysed by a remote body today is far fetched, and unbelievable.

From Ken Gorman:

Re: What is consciousness? Study aims to settle debate (May 20): Dear Sir/Madam, On the subject of consciousness, i.e.being aware of one’s own existence, of course everyone is aware of their own existence as being unique (although I have met people who claim not to be aware of their own existence!). However, I can only describe my own consciousness as being uniquely unique. If anyone is interested in trying to understand what I mean, please get in touch.