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Showing posts from June, 2005

Split Brain Soup

Despite the title this isn't a recipe. My apologies to any incipient cannibals out there--that might include my ex-wife. I hope I'm not insulting cannibals by saying that. :-)

This is actually just a few random thoughts about schizophrenia. The title is derived from the latin root of schizo (meaning split or divide) and phrenos (mind). These days the term split mind brings up thoughts of multiple personality disorder like in that movie Sybil with Sally Field or the more recent movies Primal Fear (one of those cases of the movie being better than the book) and Fight Club and both of these starred Ed Norton, with Brad Pitt and Richard Gere adding interest for female viewers. Anyway...

Schizophrenia has long been controversial. Currently some people--including me--believe that it's not a single disease but a number of disorders that have similar symptoms but very different causes. Some schizophrenics seem to derive from a genetic predisposition, others from environment…

Watchmaker (continued)

Okay. The woman is now functionally blind but there's nothing wrong with her eyes. Her problem is that a part of her brain has been selectively killed off. This is important since at the same time a young neurophysiology MD was doing a study at that hospital that was focused on strokes. While this woman didn't have a stroke, her injury did match the description in the MDs grant so he had to interview and access her though he knew her injury was unsuitable for his purposes and would definitely skew his data. Unfortunately that's the way it is in science. You have to setup a study with a research hypothesis (and alternate hypothesis) and then let the chips fall as they may. Back to the story...

The MD asked her permission to interview her for his study--no doubt hoping she'd say no--and then ran a series of questions and tests by her. Since few if any of the questions had any relevance he ran the study by her quickly and probably a mite brusquely. At one point, t…

Watchmaker (beginning)

The Watchmaker I refer to is the famous argument for creation by design by a supreme being by William Paley in 1802. This type of argument is called a teleological argument. I'm just mentioning this since it makes it seem like there was some actual purpose to all those philosophy classes I took back in college and grad school.

Moving on...

A read a book quite a while back, late 80s I think, that described a medical condition that stuck with me. The description, I mean. Fortunately I don't have the condition! It seems that a young couple was living in a flat somewhere in England. The guy took a shower, used up most of the hot water and left for work. His wife then went in the shower and the hot water heater came on. Unbeknownst to the couple, the pilot had gone out and natural gas was released when the hot water heater--located in the bathroom with the showering woman--came on. The woman for some reason didn't smell the gas and was soon overcome and slumped to the sh…

Current Reading

I've been doing a lot of reading recently and not all of it is dusty old biology journals. The last book was Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" which was very enjoyable. His summaries of physics and astronomy really helped me catch up on those subjects that I enjoyed a lot as an undergrad--but hadn't paid much attention to for nearly 20 years. He seemed to have a good grasp of his subjects which is impressive for someone that isn't a science writer. I did notice some mistakes in the biological parts of the book so it could be that I just don't know enough about physics to have noticed some mistakes in those parts of the book. Regardless, Bryson's voice makes for very enjoyable reading and for anyone that wants a quick (approx 500 pages) summary of science this might be the best book out there for that purpose.

The book I'm currently reading is "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova. It was just published last week an…

Forbes

I have a subscription to Forbes and enjoy it more than any of the other financial magazines. That said, I do find a lot of the editorial content annoying. Particularly Steve Forbes--can you imagine if he'd won that presidential election back in 1996?--and Caspar Weinberger. But a new name entered my dislike list with the June 20, 2005 issue. British historian Paul Johnson wrote an editorial titled "Thoughts on the Existence of God" in which he railed against what he viewed as Darwinism. Not that his definition of this made any sense. Johnson describes Darwinists as a fundamentalist group that rules college campuses and preaches a militant brand of atheism. It's an odd argument since there's plenty of lively disagreement on the theory of evolution within the scientific community. There's certainly no monolithic belief in Darwinism (more accurately called 'natural selection') within the research community--evolution is accepted nearly universally…

Cancer Stem Cells

Nearly 150 years ago it was suggested that cancer might arise from embryonic stem cells. This was mainly due to some common behavioral characteristics between developing tissue in an embryo and the way that cancer develops. Recent research has renewed an interest in that abandoned theory. While not all researchers agree, there's a growing body of evidence that not all cancer cells can give rise to new tumors. Furthermore that it's only a small percentage of tumor cells that can do so, only 1 in a 100 according to Michael Clarke, MD of U of Michigan, in his recent PNAS article.

This opens up the possibility of specifically targeting these few but dangerous stem cells that give rise to new tumors. To do that you need to separate cell populations from the tumor and characterize them. This is done with specific antibodies and flow cytometry to separate the phenotypically heterogenous cancer cells in a tumor into different populations using their cell surface protein marker…

Elementary, my dear

Textbooks can be very deceiving. I had a talk today that I've had to do many times in the past. It was about nuclear density, how it relates to radioactivity and weak and strong nuclear forces. One of the reasons I suspect this is so often not understood is that chemistry textbooks insist on making atoms look like planet/moons systems. The scale is way, way off since the electron shell is over a trillion times larger than the nucleus. There's just not enough emphasis on how huge the essentially mass-less part of the atom is versus the nucleus. Anyway, this led into a talk on how dense the nucleus is and that objects never actually touch each other--we just bounce off the electron shells of other objects. I suspect the kid still doesn't believe what I told her but I blame textbooks! And don't get me started on the particle versus wave thing. Textbooks seem to emphasize particles because they're easier to illustrate and explain. At least that's my perce…

Procrastination

An end to my procrastinating about my ancient computer has finally occured. It's 5 years old and has had many hard drive crashes and I was thinking of buying a new one. Instead, on Monday I installed a new 120GB HD so that I could transfer enough files to I could defrag the old drive. It's been so full that I haven't been able to defragment it for nearly 2 years! I hope this will stop the crashes, if not then I'll reinstall the OS. Progress!

Speaking of progress, I installed on Wednesday a wireless network for my computer and digital video recorders. It works though I wasn't able to use the wizard due to the inability of the software to include my DVRs in the automated setup. Since the main reason for the network was to allow downloading of menus and programing to the DVRs I manually installed the network. It does work but I suspect I did a few things wrong. Oops. I am quite amazed at how easy it was to create the network--I know it used to be a complex ni…

Wiring

I read a line in a book the other day that went something like: the snake stared unblinkingly, cold and emotionless. Well it got me thinking. Snakes are reptiles and the reptilian brain doesn't have a cerebrum like we humans (and other mammals) have. Their most advanced part is the limbic system where our emotions arise. So snakes are animals of pure emotion and no logic. My apologies to the snake from the Garden of Eden--presumably he was a special case being, no doubt, Beelzebub in a fleshy disguise.

This leads me to another idea. People commonly assume that our cerebrum, where our conscious resides, is the dominant part of our brain. I find that conclusion odd though easily understood. Afterall, every conscious thought we have originates and is toyed with in our cerebrum. It's no surprise that we humans would have a strong affinity for the cerebrum. Yet it's the cerebellum where most of our actions originate and many of the everyday activities that we do are ca…

Field of Dreams

The movie Field of Dreams (FoD) was playing tonight on ESPN. I enjoy baseball despite the slow play and a lot of the reason is the history and mythology of the game. FoD works both those angles yet I don't like the film. Part of the reason is that the writing is often of sit-com level like in an early scene when Costner hears whispers in his corn field but nobody is there. He calls out to his wife 100 yards away to see if she'd heard it. She's so far away he has to shout loudly and he asks her several times if she's heard a slight whisper that he barely can hear? It's silly things like that which help pull down the mythic qualities of the film but it's the illogical parts that hurt the most. For example the 1 acre of corn that he plows under on a farm that must have multiple 100s of acres is going to bankrupt him? And all in a few months? And at the end of the movie when apparently thousands of people are coerced by some supernatural agency to attend t…