June 27, 2009

From David Warren-Smith:

Re: Brain lives at “edge of chaos” (March 18): The authors you describe have used brain imaging techniques to measure dynamic changes in the brain. This is a bit like saying lets use imaging techniques to observe the dynamic behaviour of electrical activity in a Pentium CPU chip between different programs running on a computer, in order to explain the behaviour of the Pentium chip. This seems very far fetched to me.

Trying to disguise a lack of understanding of the behaviour of the brain with a fancy expression like self-organized criticality is unconvincing and in this case not particularly conducive to a proper understanding of the problem. If you want a better starting point for research on brain activity you need to read my essay entitled “Intelligence-What it is and how it works”.

My essay is not about measuring intelligence but about the mechanism that produces it. Intelligence is the mechanism that enables animals, such as us humans, to function as independent creatures. I have been considering the question of intelligence produced by a biological brain and the significance of the peculiarities of the mechanism that produces it for some time. I see a well defined process involved, that describes the basics of the mechanism and draws relevant conclusions. Of course the authors of the concept that you describe might have a deeper concept that is not apparent from the brief description you give, which could put me out of order. Perhaps the authors you describe are developing their technique as a diagnostic tool and are not interested in mechanism.

In my view a degree of randomness is quite possible in the mechanism of the biological brain, but I see no need for calling on chaos as part of the description. A significant aspect of the function of the brain is to produce intelligence. The mechanism of intelligence is not a chaotic process. Another necessary aspect of the function of the brain is to produce perception. This is also not a chaotic process but part of physical consciousness. A physical description of biological intelligence is no weirder than the concept of self-organized criticality.

My essay is a cut down version of earlier work that I have arranged to reduce the technical content and make it easier to read. You would need to read the whole essay in order to criticise it. I intend to publish my essay if I can find someone prepared to publish it. I am prepared to send you a copy of my essay in PDF format if you specifically request it.

David Warren-Smith, MSc., CPEng.
Elizabeth Downs, near Adelaide South Australia

From Edward N. Haas:

Re: “Guilty look” in dogs mostly owners’ fantasy, study finds (June 15): 50 years ago, when I was a teenager, I had a pet hamster which I kept in a cage in the basement of my family’s house. One day, I went down to feed the hamster and discovered it was not in its cage. Immediately, I went searching around the basement for it. As I did so, I called it by name. Finding no trace of the hamster for quite some time, I decided to end the search. As I was about to climb the steps leading up from the basement, the family dog came to me and laid the dead hamster at my feet. He then backed up a bit and, with his tail between his legs and a slightly crouching position in his legs, he looked up at me. From the position of his tail and legs and the look in his eye, I had no doubt he was acknowledging his guilt and begging forgiveness for what he had done to the hamster. It was an experience which, to this day, leaves no doubt in my mind that at least some dogs are indeed capable of feeling guilt and remorse.

Let me tell you another story only vaguely connected with the above, but which illustrates clearly that animals have emotions. I live in the middle of several acres of land, and that entails the need to spend much time on the back of a large farm tractor bushhogging. At one time, I ran goats on my property, because, they do so good a job keeping the underbrush down, it left me with little need to spend time bushhogging. As you would expect, the goats reproduced. The mortality rate among the baby goats was abominable. Then, too, the mother goats would sometimes abandon their babies. From time to time, that meant I would have to bottle feed a goat or two for several weeks. There was one I called “Hoppy”. I fed him until I thought he could survive on his own on plants and then ceased bottle feeding him. A day or two later, I found him lying on the ground and, in his hair, I found a huge quantity of insects which numbered 3 or 4 per square inch of the goats pelt. I thought to myself: “Maybe this is an emotional reaction to my refusal to bottle feed him any further. In his animal mind, his mother has rejected him, and that has so depressed him, he’s decided to lie down and die.” So, I brought him a bottle of “milk”, and he immediately grabbed it and sucked it dry, got up, and, the next day, was free of insects. I continued to feed him for another week or two and, after that, he remained healthy until some dogs got him perhaps a year later. My experience with Hoppy was and is one which leaves me with no doubt that animals are very capable of some emotions we all too frequently imagine are limited to ourselves.

From Charles Douglas Wehner:

Re: Brain energy use proposed as key to understanding consciousness (June 17): In a study of data compression, I discovered a bedrock principle. Data clumping joins information together, delivering at the very least the nouns of the Chomsky Universal Grammar:


Because this concept is so fundamental (it is a tiny, tiny concept that is so small that one might miss it unless one delves into a study of it and discovers its remarkable properties), it has to be a fundamental law of nature.

Even such things as the “Theta Storm” of the roused brain are there. It is as fundamental to awareness as binary is fundamental to computers.

However, the study shows that there is so much data that needs to be processed in real time, that “Brain Energy” is needed in large amounts. Indeed, for the silicon implementation, string-matching supercomputers are suggested.

Consciousness goes beyond awareness, however. The “awareness” of my new Calculus of Sets is just the awareness that something is different (a “differal”). Such differals can then be connected to one another by fibrous tissue in the brain, producing a “relational database” of Chomsky nouns.

Only after the relationship between the Chomsky nouns has been evaluated does true consciousness arrive.

I agree with the study “Brain energy use proposed as key to understanding consciousness” from Yale University.

From Ralph Frost:

Re: Brain energy use proposed as key to understanding consciousness (June 17): The article you announced dovetails nicely with an alternate trial theory of consciousness that I have been developing.

Thank you.

Best regards,
Ralph Frost

Link to your article posted at http://structuredduality.blogspot.com.

From Sylvia Valls:

Re: “Warrior gene” reported rife among young thugs (June 5): Have CEO’s currently operating throughout the world been tested for this gene? :--)
If not, will such a control group be used...

I bet you the incidence of this gene, if it exists, may be even higher among Bildebergers than among adolescents attempting to establish their territoriality. Let me know if you take me up on this test...

Dr. Valls (Sylvia Ma.)
Ph.D. Translations

From nic kle1 23@m sn.com:

Re: Dark matter doubters not silenced yet (Aug. 2, 2007): What kind of an experiment would need to be done to test for MOND in the lab? Could it be detected within a vacuum bell setup or would the earths gravity, solar system, galaxy etc. still have an effect on the assumed results. Is any testing possible here [earth] or is deep space the only realistic environment for proof?

From Jerry Wyatt:

Re: “Sounds” of individual molecules captured (Feb. 6, 2008): Sounds of individual molecules captured interests me. An analogy of deal people who are able to determine sound through vibrations such as the wood on a stringed instrument will give on different vibrations for different sound pitches. By the feel as well as putting it to the ear will enhance the vibrations to the mind.

I am not deaf nor has it been a study for me. This is merely my ideas about the subject. Would be honored to hear from you as to whether it holds water or not.

Thank you for the interesting posting.

From Frederick Colbourne:

Re: When evolution isn’t so slow and gradual (June 2): Swanne Pamela Gordon’s study indicated that adaptive changes might have been picked up by guppies in new environments. Clearly, the changes were transmitted to the descendants of the guppies that were observed at the beginning of the 8-year experiment. But has the DNA changed structurally (genetics) or has only the expression of the characteristics (epigenetics) changed?

Does this experiment tell us anything about the rate of Mendelian genetic inheritance or does it only contribute to epigenetics? Other experiments have suggested that epigenetic changes revert once conditions change. If this experiment has observed only epigenenetic changes, it does not inform theories of Darwinian evolution of descent by natural selection but instead confirms previous epigenetic research in other species.

From Brian Lee:

Re: When evolution isn’t so slow and gradual (June 2): the examples cited are not evolution. They are merely natural selection by which existing genetic information is merely re-shuffled to reflect different external traits that were already present in the genetic pool.

True evolution (if it exists) would be the appearance of entirely new, unique genetic information that arose through natural processes. These guppies cited in the article neither prove nor disprove anything about the kind of evolution Darwin claims created entirely new forms or functions from new genetic information. In this example, we start with guppies, and we end with guppies. No new forms or functions were created, and the observed “changes” were merely the outward expression of previously existing genetic traits.

“Evolution” as understood by common usage (and Darwin himself) is the supposed development of new life forms or functions by the addition of new genetic material that was not previously in existence. In other words, a fish gradually acquiring new genetic information over a period of time and eventually emerging as an amphibian. I strongly believe that this has never happened, nor will ever happen, because of a severe lack of hard evidence.

I know you will disagree, as all your articles espouse an evolutionary viewpoint, but at least please be consistent when showing examples of “evolution” which are clearly in reality only natural selection. This is merely a bait-and-switch tactic used to give credence to the idea of Darwinian evolution by equating a natural process occurring in the present with something that supposedly happened millions of years ago (another fallacy) as “proof”.

Brian Lee

From Barry Dennis:

Re: “Warrior gene” reported rife among young thugs (June 5): It wouldn’t surprise me to find the same gene in Policemen, Firemen, and professional solders (those who stay in beyond Guard or regular enlistment), lawyers, and others in high-risk or challenging occupations.
The same survival and pack behavior that society has tried to “devolve” is apparent is these groups as well.

This opens up a new discovery horizon; maybe an “organizational” gene in Accountants?

Profiling based on genetic sequences is in it’s infancy; there is much to come. Oh, and it may become possible to identify disparate sequences located in different places along the gene strand that are in fact inter-dependent, one supporting the other, even dependent on mutual reinforcement for “activation.”

Barry Dennis
Woodstock, Maryland

From Michael Elson:

Re: “Language gene” alters mouse squeaks (May 28): I see that in your article on ‘Language Gene alters Mouse Squeaks’, references are made to ‘our own history’, ‘our split from chimpanzees’, etc. still to this very day believing that we are closely ‘related’ to the apes. Basic evolutionary theories state that evolution from one stage to the next replaces the initial stage by a more advanced stage, etc. ad infinitum. If that theory holds water (it is actually filled with holes... ) then how is it that apes still abound on the planet? They should have disappeared altogether. Please respond to this, since I have posed this question so many times in other letters I have written - not necessarily to World Science.

Again I have to point out that merely because we are different in our so-called ‘intelligence’, we appear (to us at least) to be so very superior to other animal life. I think this is insolent and lacking in the proper recognition for those other forms of life. We are the single most solitary form of life on this planet with every natural physical faculty that is far inferior to any other form of life from insects to sperm whales. We can only exist by making all the junk we have to drag about with us in order to survive. Watches, phones, clothes, pen and paper, GPS, knives, guns etc. etc. and we have to make our transportation means from the basic bicycle to fancy cars, aeroplanes and ships.

What a true marvel it is that every other form of life has easily survived without any of that artificial junk encumbering them. One has only to study the cockroach, the ant, the bees, the termites, the beetles and all other animals to see the ease and facility with which they can move about their environment hunting, tracking, climbing, navigating, carrying monumentally heavy items, running, flying, jumping, swimming, building homes and castles, fighting, and many of them are fearfully well armed and armoured - but carry nothing with them. Hundreds - probably thousands of insects have ‘built-in’ radar, night vision, barometric sensors, vibration detectors, range finders, UV sensors and maybe even infrared sensors - and - they are for the most part far, far stronger than even our strongest men. You name it - they’ve got it. They don’t need microscopes to examine the detail of whatever is being peered at; everything they examine is done with what they are equipped with in their heads and bodies. Their antennae, tongues and feet are highly sensitive and are capable of discovering much vital information as to what is inside seed pods for example, and anything else that piques their curiosity.

If we were to drag all that around with us, we’d bogged down with such weight that we’d be very hard pressed to even walk - and not very far at that. Yet we are so infatuated with ourselves that other life forms pale into insignificance. That is a serious indictment.

The 1899 Italian Fiat isn’t ‘related’ to the German 2009 Mercedes Benz. They both still have similar basic components and perform the same basic requirements. Both have humble beginnings. Apes have practically identical basic components to us human beings, but just as the Mercedes has far superior performance to the Fiat, there’s no way that their respective ‘DNA’ can be remotely compared. I’ve seen it stated that chimpanzee’s DNA has 98% similarity to ours. I don’t know how that is evaluated. When I look at a chimpanzee and watch his movements and listen to his unintelligible noises, I’m damned if I can see a 2% difference between him and me. In fact I evaluate 98% for me and 2% for the chimpanzee...

If ever there was even the remotest possibility of a link between us and the apes, it should surely by now have been discovered considering that apes are tree dwellers which limits the geographical parameters to equatorial latitudes. The fact that ‘cave men’ remains and fossils have been discovered certainly does not relate them to apes either, as science is so keen to theorize - in their desperate wish to be proven ape-related. I’d opt for extraterrestrial genetic engineering any day.

From Jon Loux:

Re: Warriors don’t always get the girl (May 12 ): Dear Sir, I am responding to your article on ‘Warriors Don’t Always Get the Girl. ’ I am of the opinion that the human race has been self domesticating over the past several tens of thousands of years and that this process has been unconscious, much like the initial domestication of plants and animals. It was not intentional, but was a natural part of forces in conflict. Your article seems to shed some light on this. I believe that social evolution has governors and that evolutionary traits, evolved randomly, are pared away if they are too strong or two weak. If too much altruism evolves in a community, it self destructs due to an excess of ‘free riders. ’ Alternately, if a society becomes too mistrustful, vengeful and violent, it can no longer support a threshold level of cooperation required to sustain a community and also self destructs. Athens was too nice, Sparta was too brutal.

Self domestication can also explain the huge societal friction between self sufficiency and dedication to the group as seen in literature, folklore, religion and myth. The Garden of Eden’s ‘fall’ from free range hunter-gatherers to sedentary herder-farmers, for instance. Today, we talk about ‘Sheeple’ as a bad thing, but do we really want feral humans? Herman Melville described angels (and us) as ‘well behaved sharks. ’ And of course there is the story of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. All these explore this dichotomy between wild human and civilized human. We are only half domesticated.

My master’s dissertation may be of interest to you. In it I created a computer simulation of the Prisoners’ Dilemma as a group phenomenon to explore some aspects of this idea.

You can find this here.

I have a regular (rarely updated) blog at:


Thank you for your time.

From John Schreiber:

Re: Acupuncture found to beat “usual” care for back pain (May 11): The headline “Acupuncture found to beat “usual” care for back pain” does not appear to be supported by the research as you describe it. More accurate would be; “Any attention found to beat ‘usual’ care for back pain”.

The description did not say that “real” acupuncture performed better than “sham” acupuncture. And, I would be willing to bet that it did not really compare “usual” care with acupuncture, it compared “usual” care with acupuncture or acupuncture like extra attention and “usual” care. It would have been unethical and impractical for the researchers to prohibit the test groups from also receiving “usual” care, so we can assume that they did not. Therefore, the three test groups received “usual” and acupuncture, the other received only “usual” care.

Because there is no testable theoretical basis for one part of the test treatment - acupuncture, but there is an established and tested theoretical basis the other - placebo effects, especially on subjective measures like lower back pain, I feel that saying that acupuncture has been show to “beat” another is mistaken.

From Kevin McCready:

Re: Acupuncture found to beat “usual” care for back pain (May 11): It’s the placebo, stupid.

From Archie C. Swindell:

Re: Acupuncture found to beat “usual” care for back pain (May 11, 2009): At least two key questions are not addressed in your review, or perhaps in the article itself.

(1) What statistically significant differences exist among treatment groups, at various post-treatment times and by repeated measures analysis?

(2) Why were the obvious controls not run? -- either needle insertion or toothpick manipulation at sites selected randomly, or selected by a therapist to have NO effect on back pain? When this kind of control has been run in other studies, acupuncture at incorrect sites had the same effect as at “correct” sites.
This whole article is further definitive support for a mechanism widely know to therapy researchers: “placebo effect”.

Archie C. Swindell, PhD.

From Barry Dennis:

Re: A seat of wisdom in the brain? (April 24): First, I’m not a neuroscientist.
It occurs to me that the method of knowledge acquisition and the “conditioning” associated with that knowledge-the reflexive action that occurs when that knowledge is retrieved-has much to do with it’s repository.

It is one thing to sit in a classroom, read that the action in response to an attack is reflex certain; it is another, and I suspect more limbic, to experience that same attack in person, and deal with a later re-occurrence, retrieving that knowledge. It may be one reason why flight-combat simulators are a shade slower in response than what pilots experienced in actual combat have reported.

In any case, I suspect that survival knowledge, when experienced in the course of survival, is differently stored and accessed than say page-turning knowledge.

I also think that survival knowledge “goes deeper” and offers greater “reach” in it’s retrieval because of more synaptic reinforcement. It just makes sense.

I would bet that the pathways and retrieval of survival knowledge is more accessible and more rapidly retrieved, having something, in part, to do with their actual location in the brain.

I also suspect that the training techniques of visualization and repetition, perhaps enacted in different scenarios, can raise the “value” thence the accessibility if certain knowledge. Maybe boxers could be tested?
Then there is always the “age” thing.
If the brain and it’s various functions are indeed like a muscle, how do we continue to exercise survival functioning as we age, and what value does that contribute to overall health?

Barry Dennis
Woodstock, Maryland

From Herbert Gintis:

Re: A seat of wisdom in the brain? (April 24): This report is an example of neuroscientific gullibility. The authors offer a highly speculative idea of the regions of the brain associated with “wisdom.” This is far froms plausible. The authors locate brain areas the function when wisdom-related tasks are performed. This is like saying that chemists revealed the nature of “beauty” by showing that great painters use three main “colors” and they participate in different degrees in making a “beautiful” painting.

Herbert Gintis
Santa Fe Institute and Central European University

From Gilbert Schultz:

Re: A seat of wisdom in the brain? (April 24): Does a sperm have wisdom, knowing how to swim to meet the ovum? Does the ovum have wisdom, knowing how to attach itself to the uterus? Embryology reveals that there is a marvelous intelligence at play, far beyond the grinding mechanics of the intellect.

There is an intelligence that obviously suffuses all the activities of the universe.

In our struggle to understand, we miss the obvious fact that this intelligence even advises the conceptualizations about the brain, and a thought about it being somehow more important than anything else. Much how mankind believes it is more important than other creatures. Some of those creatures are obviously far more intelligent than us in many ways. Does not the body heal itself, in many cases, quite well if it is left to do its job? As soon as a finger is cut, the bodies intelligence IMMEDIATELY begins to repair the damage, on a microscopic level. ‘We’ can aid this healing in some way but it is not the ‘person’ that does the healing.

Tissues begin to organize themselves and pull the wound back together. Antibodies are animated. An amazing activity goes on below our normal observation. A doctor merely organizes conditions for the body to do its healing in a better way. We imagine the existence of an ‘entity in here’ somewhere who can do all kinds of things. That self-centered activity is often destructive. Look at the world situation and the fear and destruction of mankind.
Do you tell the lungs to breath? Do you tell the heart to beat? No. Start running and the breathing and the heat beat adjust themselves naturally. The natural functions go on without ‘your’ intervention. Postulations about the nature of consciousness are simply the intellect struggling to explain itself. If you simply take a moment to be conscious of consciousness, the intellect is quietened and in that clear space of knowing, everything is clear and obvious, without postulations and theories. Wisdom is pure understanding and true understanding is silent and wordless.

It is the activity of knowing, not the known or the knower, which are simply concepts that merely appear and disappear.

The only thing you are absolutely certain of is the fact of your own being - this immediate presence of being aware.
THAT is not a thought. The axis of being is a concept of being an ‘I’. Cognitive researchers have spent over 30 years attempting to find this ‘I’ or what it is. It is an appearance.
There are no distinct ‘entities’ anywhere. The universe stands before your eyes. as long as you take yourself to be separate from its wholeness, then the mind will simply turn upon a habit of belief.

It may seem confronting to look at these ‘things’ but isn’t it better align oneself with what is obviously true, than to go off on a tangent with theories and postulations?
These thoughts appear naturally, and I don’t claim them as ‘mine’. They have a natural intelligence - it is not common sense.common sense has been infiltrated by a thousand erroneous beliefs.