Are we unique

The difference is not only in our bodies but also in our brains, by being different we actually see the world in our own way. Of course we recognise things in a similar way but that is because our modelling of the external world demands a definition of what we are looking at and how we deal with it. Babies learn at an amazing rate, they might not seem to be focusing or aware of their surroundings but they have a lot to take in and mentally scan for new inputs. They build up their own version of the world and the important things in it. After around about two years old we lose a large chunk of our neurons. This might seem a problem but there is a point. Although neuron numbers might seem the ultimate point of a cognitive brain, the dendrite associations and density of neurons is the real gauge of intelligence. There is a cull of neurons that are not linking well with others, so that the best ones survive.

You might think you see a red flower but what you actually see is a shape that has a certain wavelength of light emanating from it. We label these properties by convention so that we have a common baseline for social communication. A classic case of difference is with Chromesthesia, where a person sees sounds as colour. Some people do not feel pain and some have no conscience or morals. There is an overlap between nature and nurture, where nature is supposed to have the largest share of control. We do not see nature in the raw but a construct that the brain constantly produces and updates. This is why there is no such thing as an illusion, it is only a convenient answer that may not fit the real world. We model because the chaotic equality of nature does not prioritise our wants and needs. There is no near and far, we compress and change the environment to allow us to estimate distances and shape of objects that are of interest to us. We see by photons striking our visual rods and cones, travelling at enormous speeds means photons are the same physically wherever they come from. Only their wavelength and speed (still very large) may change. Nature considers all matter and energy as equal, we do not.


Are we smarter now

It has been said that we have a stone age brain in a modern body. Most of our reactions and patterns still follow what we evolved when we came down from the trees to the plains. This makes us quite often out of step with our present levels of culture. Reality is chaotic and not suited to an organism's need to control itself and its environment. Life is the opposite of the physical world and needs stasis to perform the chemical and physical reactions that allows it to continue to live. Also we model our perception to allow us to survive and reproduce and the better we are at it, the better chance we have of passing on our genes. The universe is full of vibrations and energy/matter. There is no colour or smell or warmth, just different wave lengths of energy. Our brain labels and measures these signals and instigates a reaction to them. The eye is a poor visual device and the brain also picks up the slack on it. This design also gives us a very important ability, the art of prediction.

A stone age person would marvel at our technology, if it could even envisage what it was but be astounded that most of us could not survive in the wild, desert or snow. We have traded our innate survival skills for the use of technology and believe that this makes us superior. How many know how a lot of our tech actually works and even how to use it. The inventiveness of earlier people is a testament on how clever they were with the available tools they had at their disposal. We have become specialised and dependent on the world being benevolent. Are we three meals away from anarchy and are the technocrats the first to go?


AI will save the world

Well it will certainly change it. Like all emerging technologies it has a lot of hype and misinformation clouding an area that has provided some amazing and useful tools. The definition of AI is as varied as its components. Many of the properties attributed to it are also present in analysis and statistical methods that have been active for many years. The most often basic term that is often used is that AI can emulate results that we would be considered cognitive in humans. The ability to produce more output that is greater than its parts. Neural networks and machine learning are a bulwark of AI and can produce some startling information but is still limited to a narrow range of actions. A system may beat a Grand Master at Go but incapable of making him a cup of tea afterwards. This narrow “weak” technology is still very much a tool and is not capable of multiple different actions and real thought. A major setback with neural networks are the enormous resources required to do a task. This includes computing power, large data inputs and highly skilled people to do the job properly. Some companies make claims that are way above the capacity of their products and can even be shielded by customers that do not want to admit that they have made a bad choice.

The driving force of AI is the quality of the data consumed. This data stream has to be cleaned and weighted to produce a usable stream for the hungry machine. The choice of hardware and algorithms are dependent on the data and the outcome expected. Before this techie dream, more fundamental decisions have to be made. What are we trying to do here? Will it produce the financial/product that was expected. Do we have the expertise to run this programme and certainly do we have the funds. The desire to join the wonderful world of AI can often be fulfilled by other (cheaper) means and the end product may even be better.


Is Buddhism against genes

Although Buddhism has non-violence and peace as its main tenants, it is not alone in this approach to the vagaries of human destruction. This might sound exemplary and it is argued that on a personal level it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately great as it sounds, it rarely happens in real life and we still kill each other with as much enthusiasm as possible.

Why does peace run against the obvious benefits of less harm to us? Unfortunately life is a constant battle against adversity and competitors. Our very genetic structure is constantly challenged by viruses, bacteria and other sources. Our natural defences are complex and varied but the threat from modified adversaries that can breach these can occur in pandemics and localised illnesses. Our DNA has regular mutations, most of which are bad. This build up of bad genes can cause a serious threat to our children, especially in a limited gene pool. The only way we can pass on our genetic inheritance is through our offspring and this is where peace and medical science can be non-beneficial.

The main purpose of life is to pass on its genes and this is the driving basic force of all living organisms. An antelope might out run a lion but the lion adopts other measures to counterbalance this. Although the act of hunting is a learned one, the strength and vitality of the predator is a genetic one. In the raw real world, only the fittest survive. This Darwinian phrase of natural selection has produced a varied and better designed entity. This bleak attitude has been criticised by many as too simple and social and maternal instincts prove it wrong. Social gathering as proved to be a very practical and advantageous addition to the existence of groups and is especially beneficial in disadvantaged bands.


No oil, no coal

Oil not only produces fuel but also plastics, drugs and other industrial products. Coal is the backbone of China’s, Germany’s and many other economies. How does one square the circle of this economy versus environment and is a compromise possible? Gas is a better choice but still produces carbon dioxide and other undesirable problems.

Nuclear offers carbon free power but is very expensive and centralised. De-commissioning of plants is hideously expensive, dangerous and short term. The disposal of nuclear fuel in caves, by vitrification or as some have ventured, by deep sea dumping. It is not a solution but a fudge.

Solar panels, wind farms and other methods of producing energy, all rely on one necessity to be viable and that is storage. The massive use of Li-ion for cars and larger storage is not really sustainable in the long term as they are high cost and manufacturing heavy. Hydrogen power although having a very high energy density is also very energy hungry to produce. The thought of a highly pressured and highly explosive liquid in your vehicle might make many consumers wary. Of course the present system of having a very inflammable liquid exploding regularly in your engine is acceptable.

Storage on a grand scale does not have to be particularly efficient as long as there is lots of it. Flow batteries, pumping water up into reservoirs and other schemes have the advantage of being cheaper and more sustainable. The ideal solution would to have low cost and local supplies that do away with long distant transmission systems and of course a cheap design. If nuclear fusion ever becomes a reality (many doubt it), then it would be a game changer.

The use of plastics in everyday use is a real problem as many products are not transferable to wood, paper, crops and other equally ingenious sources. Even if we could do it, the massive amounts required would be impossible to produce or impact our environment and food sources in other ways. Insects have been quoted as a reliable and bounteous provider of food. Would you like pepper on your locusts madam?


Covid-19

Although a sister to the common cold, its novel appearance has caused chaos world wide. It is a member of the betacoronavirus family and is a strain of SARS-COV-2. It is a large, RNA based, protein coated virus. Like all viruses it lets the host do the heavy lifting and Trojan like, it infiltrates the cell nucleus by being similar to the body’s own structure. Viruses are considered to be as old as life itself and has degraded into a machine for duplicating itself solely. The bad effects of illness are due to the reaction of our body’s defences. A common reaction being the production of a cytokine storm that causes enough inflammation to kill us or weaken us enough for pneumonia and other bad agents to attack us.

The strengths of the virus are also its weakness. The rapid infection rate allows to build up enough data to produce tests and hopefully a vaccine. Its present non-mutation status means that at present a vaccine could confer immunity for quite awhile. There is a myth that viruses are clever little things that change to outwit our immune system. In fact they (especially the RNA ones) are sloppy producers of new copies and the immune system actually roots out the weak copies and allows the more ‘acceptable’ strains to survive. Often this means that the strain becomes more tolerated by the host and causes much less damage. The ideal virus is one that we may carry but does no harm to us.

Our DNA carries ancient virus DNA and sometimes is co-opted to do advantageous actions for the good of the host. In fact our DNA is shot full of copies of stuff that is only carried onto to our next generation but is ignored by the epigenetic mechanism that marks them as ‘Do not copy for use’.

There is a lot of research going on with Covid-19 for obvious reasons. Many items are not yet 100% provable but are leading to good insights in how it works. One well known fact is that it gains entry into the cell via the protein ACE2 which cuts up other proteins that are used by the body for such things as circulatory control. This may mean that the C19 virus attaches to theis protein and neutralises it, thus causing different blood allied problems. It has also been found that the original main Asian sub-strain has mutated its 'spike' method of infection for the American and European branches. The Asian type has a protein called D614G used in releasing its RNA into the cell. The new mutation has G614 which is more resilient to chemical break up. This means it is more infectious but thankfully not more deadly.

The most amazing thing is that thanks to our present level of medicine we have escaped relatively unscathed considering the massive pandemics of the past. Not comforting to the causalities but as species we have survived quite well. Most probably like flu and the cold, we will learn to live with it with yearly vaccine updates. This has signaled to us that in spite of our advances we are still at threat from unknown forces that upset our sometimes arrogance of controlling nature.


Ecology

The most pressing problem at this time is global warming which many consider to be the most important topic of our time. There is a balance in all things and we have tipped it towards trading the environment for human growth. It is part of nature that a species expands wherever possible and we have taken this to the extreme. Our control of physical mechanisms has taken the destruction of our planet far beyond the capabilities of other living organisms. The novel ability of extreme cognition has allowed us to eliminate animals far stronger and faster than us and our manipulation of chemistry as allowed us to control diseases and poisons. This is a novel approach that our planet has never seen before. Allowing us to expand through necessity and greed has caused events that paradoxically only we can remedy.

We have become addicted to a life style that our planet cannot support and we have become used to its bounty. There are many solutions being tried and imagined but there is only one real cure and that is to change our mindset. From the megalomania of billionaires and politicians to the survival of poor families, we all do not in our hearts wish to change. This is the hardest thing to do as we prefer to stick to what we know and see a different world as threatening. Environmental economics have been seen as countermeasure by valuing the present and loss of environment in hard cash. It aims to produce a fiscal case for keeping a good environment and the case for not doing it. Unfortunately the eco-economists know this may put a useful tool in the politicians hands but is easily ignored.

POLITICS is the only true answer and that is not going so well as Brazil is showing by cutting down the rainforests. There is ground swelling of the young and enlightened to change our course but the old guard, who have the power, are hanging on. If the only way is to wait for catastrophic global failure then we can only hope there is still a window left, where we can come to our senses.