Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Climate Change, Ecological Novelty, This is not the Age of Aquarius

Generally I prefer to stay away from debates about climate change. I try to perceive the issue in an ecological setting rather than some argument what is going to happen in 50 years if we don't or do do A or B. I have little confidence in our ability to predict the future but I often get the impression that arguments from sceptics and advocates appear predicated on the idea we can make reasonable predictions about future outcomes with sufficient degrees of confidence so as to justify actions A or B. Logically speaking we can't have such confidence, practically speaking if we try we learn something. We might even learn something useful but that's a long shot.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can Diet Reverse Alzheimers?

Hope springs eternal, except when you're dead. (With no Arrow of Time is one eternally dead or eternally alive? Or am I in a box and if God happens to look inside will my fate then be decided? God, don't look!) On the internet there is a cure and conspiracy for everything. Such is the nature of human cognition, a ramshackle attack on reality that through brute force manages to get enough things right amidst the a multitude of errors and disasters. I read Camus in another life and I really must try to start forgetting him.
If the only significant history of human thought were to be written, it would have to be the history of its successive regrets and its impotences.
The Myth of Sisyphus, page 24
I seriously doubt there can ever be a cure of Alzheimers. (At the end of this post though I do suggest one idea that is worthy of serious consideration.) By the time diagnosis is made the damage tends to be extensive. Take Parkinsons Disease as an example, the individual can lose up to 60% of the neurons in the substantia nigra before symptoms arise. In dementias generally, by time of diagnosis a vicious physiological cycle of destruction has become established and at present there is no obvious solution to that problem. There is an increasingly detailed understanding of these processes and in time it will be possible for individuals to institute strategies that can seriously arrest the progression of even advanced dementia; though at that stage of dementia I'd rather take a bullet than pills. Such treatment expectations however are for another generation.

In our time, studies like this point to strategies that *may* help us. All things considered, it will not be a matter of single strategies or golden elixirs, but rather a lifestyle that incorporates a variety of strategies to minimise the risk of dementia.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Can we all Possess Savant Like Skills?

My friend in New York sent me a link addressing the work of Alan Snyder who for many years has been arguing that within all of us reside hidden talents that can be unmasked through inhibiting certain regions of the brain. He goes so far as to state that this ability can constitute genius, more on that latter.  While I have a number of problems with the various assumptions embedded in the ideas of Snyder and his team I also acknowledge that most laypeople operate from the same assumptions and as do many professionals. Nonetheless the perspective of Snyder may have utility and so in the spirit of "News ideas are like seedlings, easily trampled", let's play the game and see what we can learn ...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Peter Carey You Pretentious Dumbass

Who are these dinosaurs who think they can determine the true measure of intelligence? At the Sydney Writers' Festival one of Australia's most prominent "literary novelists", Peter Carey, whines about how we are turning into a nation of idiots. As regards to the purported dumbing down of our culture I addressed that in this post. Peter Carey might want to learn something about the vagaries of statistical analyses the douchebag. He might also wish to remember that the earliest recorded instance of someone complaining about the younger generation goes back to the Assyrians.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Targets for Anti-Depressants?

This post is very long (3850 words) and very difficult. It is a preliminary investigation of the idea that depression arises from chronic sustained arousal leading to amine depletion and various other physiological changes.

This news release from Science Daily highlights a new pharmacological approach to treating depression. The nutshell is this: there is a class of proteins in our brains called RGS proteins which inhibit the signalling of various neurotransmitters. By manipulating the RGS protein that inhibits serotonin signalling we can treat depression. Most current anti-depressant drugs attempt to increase the levels of serotonin or norepinephrine. Unfortunately there are now some studies emerging which indicate these current anti-depressants can increase the risk to develop a range of disorders, from kidney problems to cataracts. Generally the risk profiles are low but given the very widespread use of anti-depressants it could constitute a considerable public health cost. Which raises an interesting question: if we place our faith in these statistical analyses then is the government entitled to extract an "pharmaceutical externality tax" to address the health risks and subsequent costs associated with drug side effectss? Yeah, like that'll ever happen. We'll develop a new class of anti-depressants, and wait 30 years before we know about the associated risks ... .

My unalloyed cynicism aside, what caught my interest about this research is the reference to RGS proteins. It reminded me I read in 1999:

Upregulation of RGS7 may contribute to tumor necrosis factor-induced changes in central nervous function