Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Political Image of The Week: Syria

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Aging: Activation of Lethal Genes?

Genes provide instructions for developments in the body. As the body grows and ages (which is a consequence of gene activation which in turn leads to the production of growth hormone and hormone production) different genes become activated. This is called regulation of gene expression and concerns mostly genes related to protein instruction and production.

When we are fairly sexually youthful say below 30, our bodies are at their best. Our immune systems are at their strongest, our muscles and bones are at their peak and our fertility rate is at its highest. Many of our genes are expressed in our childhood, teenage and young adult years. These genes seem to be good, i.e. they seem to enhance our bodies. However this is not ingrained in mammals. It is not biologically a necessity  that our good genes should express themselves at the beginning of their lives.

Evolution has made it so, over time, it seems that any 'bad' genes which may have been expressed early on in our lives have been sieved out. As these genes are deemed 'bad' which means they are detrimental to an individuals life span, individuals with these genes would have trouble reproducing or not reproducing at all. (Mortality rates for cancer... e.g. prostate cancer carriers to death ratio ~ 106:28. Over time in youths, this would have a dramatic affect).

 These 'bad' genes could activate cancers or permutations in the body which could limit its survival. Those without these genes would live longer and reproduce more. Over time (a long time) this would result in people not having these bad genes, as they would fail to reproduce at a significant rate, obviously a few still have these genes expressed early on but it is rare.

Reproduction obviously occurs quite young, so genes which are activated after reproduction (in females) and  after a certain age in men could be bad. As those individuals carrying it would not be at a reproductive disadvantage, i.e., in their youth they would be healthy and reproduce the same amount as other individuals.

Genes are expressed due to chemical cues in the body, so the presence or lack of a hormone or chemical could activate a gene. Through time and after reproduction our bodies could stop producing the same amount of a hormone, say, progesterone (in females) which would be a cue for a 'bad' gene to start expressing itself.

So, it could be argued that the activation of these 'bad' genes (which could be mutations or copying errors too) could by themselves result in aging.

This is an extremely sly way for unwanted genes to persist through evolutionary time... they get passed on through reproduction because they haven't been activated yet. So reproduction has led our species into a happy enough youth but the age at which we reproduce(d) at has resulted in a bad old age, as we have not been able to sieve out the bad genes.

Obviously technology and medicine has helped kurb bad genes, however we can go further with this and find the heart of how these genes become expressed in those ages and maybe result in a longer and better quality old age.

(This is basically Peter Medawar's theory on aging using mutation accumulation)

See Also:

Friday, 24 August 2012

Myanmar: Racism at its best.

Myanmar(Also known as Burma); a relatively small country on the south-east of Asia has been known for its precious ruby mines, but mostly for its Military Junta that lasted for nearly fifty years. Being an isolated nation, Myanmar has established itself as a pariah state, with appalling humans’ rights records but has produced an inspirational patriot like Aung San Suu kyi who fought for her pro-democracy values for twenty one years and won a noble peace price in 1991 along with other respectable awards. Being in and out of house arrest for fifteen years, she finally assumed the office on the 2nd of May of this year for National League for Democracy.

As a country Myanmar is going through a great phase of change. Where freedom of speech is not guaranteed by law, the censorship of controlling and regulating certain informations on areas such as religious, politics, moral and ethnic issues is due to be abolished soon ( as in it will take good few years).

 As spectators, the general  impression of Myanmar is that of a quite Buddhist nation possibly with a Royal family like an another small Buddhist nation like Bhutan. But on the contrary, Myanmar is one of first Asian countries to end the monarchy in 1916 and like most Asian countries has a diverse ethnicity.  But the recent news of racial discriminative acts against the Rohingya Muslims has been outrageous and inhumane. 

The on-going violence in the northern state of Rakhine between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists has escalated. As many are left homeless due to villages being set on fire, children being killed, women are being raped and survivors desperately seeking refuge in the neighbouring countries such as Thailand where they are being pushed away on engine less boats to die in the sea or being rejected by border guards of Bangladesh. From the statistics given by the president of Burmese Rohingya organisation UK (on the 28/06/2012): 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing, and more than 80,000 have been displaced. Over Three hundred houses and a number of public buildings have also been destroyed and burned. All this because of one reason: The Rohingyas are dark brown skinned. 

 The Burmese belief on racial superiority is based on the appearance of pale skin and being a Buddhist. Those reasons alone seem to be the cause of refusal to admit Rohingya Muslims as citizens of the country.  Despite the existence of Rohingyas in Myanmar dating as far back as the 8th century, they have been targeted for their race and choice of religion, denying them basic human rights, land ownership and enlisted as stateless illegal immigrants in their own ancestral land.General Ye Mint Aung wrote to his fellow Diplomats in Hong Kong the following statement regarding this matter 
"You will see in the photos that their complexion is "dark brown" in contrast to the complexion of Myanmese which is fair and soft, good looking as well"
 In reality, the Rohingyas do speak Bengali and have the appearance similar to that of their Bengali neighbours. Myanmar's racial remarks and actions towards the Rohingyas are also offensive to it's western neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and world's power house like India. Due to The government censorship on such issues has led to few informative available for this matter. The access to aids for the Rohingyas has been limited and difficult to reach due to government restrictions. According to the Burmese authorities; 78 people have been killed, 87 injured and 52,000 have been displaced. But one thing that has come as a shock to me is that such action of extreme racism is being excused by the ASEAN countries.

Four billion years of evolutionary success and for what?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Survival machines: The Intelligence Problem Part 2

Humans are adapted to living in a variety of places on earth, which means our genes
are surely safe in the long run. Why then are we so intelligent? How does this arise from Evolution? 

Most organisms on earth have enough consciousness, neurons and complexity to live in their suited environments. This makes sense, and is slightly obvious, as these organisms have evolved over a very long period of time and contain genes which have not been sieved out by Darwin's biological game. 

There are many organisms which are very intelligent social creatures, take for example the whale and dolphin family, especially the killer whale and the bottle-nose dolphin. They are able to conjure up hunting plans in groups in situations they have never been in and they are able to play and socially interact at a level which does not explicitly show a biological gain.

However, on closer analysis dolphins and whales which are great (in groups mostly) at inventing hunting methods in new situations are able to increase their chance of eating a good meal. They are also increasing the variety of fish etc. they eat this means that they are able to survive long enough to mate and to bring up young-lings and prolong their genes. 

Take a look... >^

Their social 'time' which includes playing and interacting whilst migrating or hunting can be good for building teamwork and group cohesion which would make the group more confident and willing to perform well in group hunting sessions. Again, this brings more food. Also social 'time' allows for dolphins to find mates and reproduce... oops yes... back to that prolonging the species and survival of the genes jazz...

Elephants too a like this.. they are extremely social and intelligent animals who are very capable of surviving and living comfortably in their environment. 

However there is one species which is so intelligent it can not just persist in a certain physical space and adapt to it over time, it can adapt its own environment on huge scales to help itself. It would be like dolphins inventing a hydrogen plant underwater for them to heat up their underwater homes or to power underwater dolphin gyms to help them get in shape for hunting season.

That species is homo sapiens. Us. We are able to record our own language and store information from the present and pass it on (past our own lifetime) to the next generation. We are able to change our environment to suit us (agriculture, cities, transportation lines and energy plants) using science and technology. We are able to evolve an extremely complex society with many social levels and social standings. We are able to go the moon and land a rover on Mars. We are a clever bunch compared  to the other forms of life.

If we are merely surviving through time and are being used as pods by genes for them to prolong themselves. Then why do we need to write complex fictional stories or films... learn mathematics or create a large hadron collider? 

Firstly, we are smart due to our genes, somehow over millions of years the genes that make you and I 'smart' (some cannot be deemed 'smart' but I mean smart in a purely biological sense) have survived Darwin's evolutionary game, they are still playing. These genes either developed from original copies long ago and have somehow become victim to  mass mutation or just been selected by nature to be successful genes through many testing generations. 

So we are left with a few ways to solve this slight puzzle. We can go down the route and say that we are this intelligent because the genes that survived due to our environment have made us into a complex machine which can compute the way it does... it so happens that over time and development we could become smarter and make ourselves smarter. This view is the consequential view and basically means that we are smart because it is a consequence of our genes adapting us to be just smart for our environment. 

There is the view that our intelligence is due to mutations in our genome and that this mutation has survived somehow through time and is now in every human being. (Unlikely but still possible). 

Of course there is a mixed view which claims that our intelligence is a consequence of our systems evolving from our descendants and with our cousins (evolutionary family i.e.) just for our environment, but we so happened to become capable of further intellectual and social progress. With this some of our genes carried mutations which slipped in our genome and stayed there, these mutations could have given our intelligence a booster as it were. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012


By Alice Guile

When we hear the word ‘progress’ we will all conjure up slightly different images in our heads. Businessmen will think of progress in terms of profits and market share. Scientists will see it in terms of new discoveries. Writers and artists will see it as the continual pushing back of the boundaries of culture. But what is progress to a philosopher?

I recently watched a program that was recommended to me by my friend Luke Davies, called ‘Surviving Progress’. At the beginning of it various philosophers and intellectuals were asked the question ‘What is progress’, and it was a question that none of them could successfully answer. I will however make my own attempt to explore this intriguing question.  I think one very interesting way for a philosopher to look at the idea of progress is to look at in terms of a fairly new idea, called ‘the raising of consciousness’.  At first glance this can be mistaken for that phrase so commonly used by charities and non-profit organisations, ‘raising awareness’. But it is much more than that. The idea of the raising of consciousness was pioneered by women’s groups in the 1960’s, and formed part of the gay rights movement. The idea was to open people’s minds to the life of ‘the other’, to help people to see the bigger picture, be that that women and men have the right to be treated as equals, or that somebody should not be considered worth more or less according to their sexual orientation.

The idea of what the ‘raising of consciousness’ is a very difficult one, as most subjects in philosophy are. The best way to try and understand it is this. Imagine someone three hundred years ago; imagine talking to them about homophobia, gender and racial equality, or human right’s issues. The majority of people would find the average person living two hundred years… small minded. For example they might not be able to ‘see’ like we can that slavery is wrong. Why? Because they may fail to have the ability to imagine what it would be like to enslaved, to have a different colour skin, and because the people behind the abolition had not yet come along and raised peoples consciousness by bringing the plight of slaves to their attention. Raising consciousness is partly about education, but it is far more than that. It is not so much about knowing facts and figures as about being ‘open minded’ and being able to empathise with ‘the other’, about having the imagination to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is different to you.

And this is what philosophers should look at as progress. That doesn’t mean that we should reject the more traditional ideas of progress such as the industrialisation of a country, an increase in profits of GDP. On the contrary we should see all types of progress as being linked with the raising of consciousness. Because what might that slave owner lack that prevents him from feeling empathy with his slaves? Imagination. The imagination to see more than just the inside of his own head, the imagination to understand what it must feel like to be treated as an object. And what causes a company to create a new product, which increases their profits? Imagination.  The raising of consciousness and imagination are inexplicably linked, as are material progress such as China’s economic progress, and immaterial progress, such as the increased awareness of human rights.

If raising our consciousnesses is what has brought both ethical and economic progress in the past then it stands to reason that it is something that should be encouraged. In the past we have been raising our consciousnesses without realising we are doing it, but we are beginning to become more aware of this process. It is interesting for a philosopher to wonder about the ways in which our generation might be described as being small minded by someone born three hundred years in the future, in the same was as we would view the opinions of someone born in 1700. People say that 2012 marks the beginning of a new era, and perhaps that will be that rather than the process of the gradual raising of consciousness just happening, we will become aware that it is happening, and indeed facilitate it, so that the whole process is speeded up, who know. But one thing is for sure, and that is the we need to think seriously about the ways in which we would see that Georgian person as being prejudiced, then look at our own prejudices and try to change them. Thus, we open our minds a little wider. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Survival Machines: Worshiping the Gene. Part I

Why should anything survive at all?

Surviving is the process which a living organism takes part in to prolong its own bio-mechanical body through time. Predators such as the crocodile try to survive by hunting specific prey and eating it, digesting its flesh and ultimately absorbing its nutrients, vitamins and proteins. Prey such as the gazelle (hunted by the cheetah) try and survive by consuming vegetation and water, they also try and survive by avoiding predators. Most living organisms survive through consumption of other chemicals and through avoiding predators.

This begs the question; Why do living organisms survive? It is programmed within them to survive. It is innate. They are born to survive. Therefore we must look at the programming of living organisms to fully grasp this innate urge to survive. It so happens that all of the diverse life on earth have a similar program, all of these programs use the same code and the same information infrastructure to build organisms. This code is now called the genetic code. The information infrastructure is how these codes are 'read' out by certain (RNA transcription ect.) molecular processes to build proteins and cellular tissue. Each living cell (upon development) of a living organism needs instruction on how to build itself and how many, these instructions come from DNA which contains genetic information. In cells strands of DNA form into chromosones with four cistrons (legs of chromosone).

It so happens that these genes which are long lived units of chromosone, also seem to 'want' to survive. 'Want' is a word which connotes a conscious decision for something in particular, we must always remember that genes do not think, they are merely units of chromosone containing biological information. So, genes want to survive. Genes (assuming all other integrated genes remain the same- as genes work together) which promote longer legs in a Gazelle  may be favored in Gazelles, as longer legs could increase their stride length which could increase speed to avoid predators. Those Gazelles with longer legs may have a better chance of survival, which means they could reproduce more than those Gazelles which died due to shorter legs. This means that over time more Gazelles will appear with longer legs. The gene which promoted longer legs will eventually dominate the other alleles in the gene pool. It will have increased it's own chances of survival.

So organisms survive merely because their bodies have enabled them to persist in certain environments and they are programmed (by their genes) to want to persist through time. This is due to their genes wanting to survive.

However why should genes 'want' to survive. They are merely a complex accumulation of chemicals and molecules... why should they want to persist as they are? This question could be asked ad infinitum on smaller and smaller scales. Genes survive merely because they do. The physical nature of those chemicals and molecules dictates that they should, the laws of physics dictates that they should survive.

It becomes extremely confusing to many people who wonder 'why' we, life and genes survive. It is ultimately how the physical world over time has developed. It becomes confusing because there seems to be no conscious entity driving things forward... evolving them. The universe over time has enabled this to happen, by chance life exists and obeys a program which forces units of information to survive which in turn forces biological cells to survive and at last for us, living organisms to survive. 

Why should anything survive at all? It is how the universe has developed. It has led to complex life. Nothing needs to survive, it just happens that things do. It is a beautiful event.