What do you think? Are big Pharmaceuticals going to let this little neuromodulatory device break into their market – the human body and mind? Would you be more likely to use a device that senses problems and then sends out tailored electrical impulses to populations of nerves that help the body heal itself using your own bodily systems rather than drugs?
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Vitamin A has long been recognized as a major contributing factor to healthy skin and staving off infectious diseases – but can it cure type 2 diabetes? Can bio-engineered super bananas save lives?
Professor James Dale is leading a project at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) that has received $10 million dollars in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The idea – called a fortification project – uses genetic engineering to increase the nutritional value of select banana crops. After hundreds of permutations and testing in field trials in Brisbane as well as plans for concurrent trials in Uganda while the first U.S. human trial begins, Professor Dale states the most high-performing genes have been taken to Uganda and used for the crops slated for the U.S. Super Banana trials.
Why Uganda? The East Africa cooking banana is commonly prepared by being chopped and steamed. However its frequency as a staple meal in East Africa combined with its low levels of micronutrients, particularly iron and vitamin A, contribute to the worldwide vitamin A deficiency, taking the lives of 650,000 to 700,000 children annually.
While Professor Dale’s study reveals good evidence that a vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness, impaired immune system and poor brain health, Daniel-Constantin Manolescu and researches at the University of Montreal are finding that a vitamin A derivative may also be the key to treating type 2 diabetes by preventing certain cardiovascular complications.
Well, here’s the thing. Just last week the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released data implicating an alarming trend in the increasing number of American’s suffering from diabetes. At the rate we’re going now, 1 in 5 will have type 2 diabetes in 2025, 1 in 3 by 2050.
When I stopped smoking cigarettes so that my husband and I could start a family, I vowed that one day, many years into my future, if I received a terminal diagnosis, I would light up again and die, Richard Pryor style, with a cigarette on my death bed.
Granted, that seemed like a great idea before I brought people onto this planet, and now that is likely not my plan, but I still face threats of impending doom with much the same attitude. “2025? 2050? Who cares? I’ll be old by then, probably have lots of problems – its inevitable.”
But you know who won’t be old then? My kids. I have two. If the CDC is predicting that 1 in 3 people will have type 2 diabetes by 2050, and I have made 2 people – odds are one of my children will be affected by type 2 diabetes in this statistic. And that pisses me off.
All the time I hear law students and people at work huddled around the proverbial water cooler to disparage genetically modified foods (GMO’s). They aren’t safe, they’re being made for profit not for health reasons, they’re unnatural. You know what’s natural? Death. You know what’s human nature? The desire to survive, to thrive whenever we can. To save the lives of others and contribute to the world with compassion.
Scientists like Professor Dale, and Daniel-Constantin Manolescu devote their lives to studying ways in which vitamins effect our health and how we can use that information to prolong healthy lives. The combat against the CDC’s statistics has got to start somewhere, and I think these scientists are doing their part to contribute to a future where my kids might stand a better chance at living a diabetes-free life.
It is not my intention to say that I blindly condone GMO’s. But I do encourage our readers to take stock of what the CDC’s statistics on type 2 diabetes really mean for the future of your families, and what the global impact of biofortification could mean to children in third world countries.
There is no irony wasted on me that this Vitamin A research feeds those that are dying of malnutrition, and treats those that are dying from over-consuming. Whether you address this issue by adjusting your personal diet, conducting your own research, or lighting up a smoke and conceding that diabetes and the fate of third world children are the least threatening consequence of your lifestyle choices – tune in.
Keep an ear out for the Super Bananas of Uganda, and the trials going on in the U.S. this year.
And the next time you are at your doctor’s office – ask about your blood sugar – ensure you are not in the 25% of people who do not even realize they have diabetes.
It’s not every day you see a piece about dance that includes the phrases:
* ” ‘We have Wonder Woman in this room, I’m telling you!’ gushed Bruno Tonioli, one of the show’s judges.”
* “Bio-mechanical engineers will tell you transcendence is here already. Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster, says Herr: Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into biomechanics.’ ”
* “Bodies are temporary; dreams don’t have to be. It’s not science fiction: As Purdy and Hough and other resilient innovators show us, transcendence is within reach of all of us.”
Amy Purdy is a double amputee. A competition snow boarder, she lost her legs and nearly her life to meningitis at age 19. Yet on May 21st, she came in second on “Dancing With the Stars” with her bionic legs and indomitable artistry. She was clearly the crowd favorite to win it all.
How should we feel about this cyborg in our midst?
The core issue is not whether or not she is augmented. The question is whether the technology she’s embraced has made her more or less human. Yes, she proudly calls herself a “fembot.” But, as Kaufman writes, “She has more honest expression in her body than the other contestants have with their full complement of fleshy parts…. The poignancy, emotion and beauty of her dancing can leave you breathless.”
“I am not my legs,” says Purdy.
“We are such stuffs as dreams are made on,” wrote Shakespeare.
See her dance to “I Am Only Human” and see if you don’t find yourself reach for the Kleenex:
Eat Your Carrots: How DARPA and the U.S. Military are Prevailing on Behalf of Soldiers’ Mental Health Care
I’ve got to tell you – when I hear “DARPA” and “US Military” in the same sentence, I tend to think two things: 1) Well, this is going to involve millions of dollars, and 2) I bet my husband would read this article and have fun things to tell me about it tonight over a whiskey.
You may be wondering what kind of show we’re running here at the Prevail Project when we choose to come out of almost 2 years of dead air with a woman calling DARPA boring and admitting that she has her husband do her “heavy reading” for her.
Consider me the Prevail Project den mother. Consider me a realist. I’m in my last year of law school. I am a writer, and I often take issue with authority. I have 2 grade school age children and a very bright husband who sometimes does me the honor of acting as my operating system – providing a stable consistent way for me to deal with certain subjects without having to know all the details. When I saw what Joel Garreau was trying to do with the Prevail Project it was like the first sight of a living breathing thing stepping into my dormant legal education. I committed myself to the project immediately.
In my refusal to pay for University parking, my time with you may be dictated by factors beyond my control; such as my children’s bedtime or whether the schizophrenic mathematician is having an internal or external debate with herself at my neighborhood Starbucks where I drink Americanos and broadcast my brainwaves over the WI-fI to your curious little eyeballs. This is OK though, a former therapist assured me that the more demands one has upon their time the more efficient one becomes – less time for self-doubt and verbosity.
Verbosity… this brings me back to my point about DARPA and the Military. I simply do not have the time and or attention span to read about everything that pertains to my future or the pursuit of my happiness. Neither do most of you.
Too many authors are verbose, identifying themselves through their interpretation of current events – under the guise of objectivity – alienating too great of an audience with high word counts and the use of terms that must be Googled to be understood.
Of course, authors do not intend to separate themselves from their readership. On the contrary, the goal is to unite, to form and feed the connection between author and reader, and then foster that connection among readers who will ultimately discuss the work with others. The fatal flaw in the work of many writers (I am no exception) is that after spending an obsessive amount of time researching her subject du jour, with the noble intention of bringing the information to the masses, the author finds herself setting a table for a seven course meal when the reader is just trying to grab something to go.
I acknowledge how valuable your time is, and I thank you for visiting the Prevail Project. If you are here, you are interested in saving the human race and your contribution will not be measure by your time commitment.
If you want to spend hours reading and researching ways in which we can face forward – technology in tow – and address our future with a commanding presence instead of a suspenseful wince, GREAT! We’ve been looking for you! You should be a writer for the Prevail Project! Send me a message and we’ll get you established.
HOWEVER, if you only have 3 minutes to read something because you’re on the toilet, or in the middle of class –GREAT! Let me take this moment to validate you (Good Job!). This is a perfectly valuable way to take in information, and this is how we want to communicate with out readership so that we can remain connected, accessible and – dare I say – enjoyable.
I read Joel Garreau’s book “Radical Evolution,” while my husband is reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow.” We may have an exchange at the dinner table highlighting something we found interesting, but kids interrupt, dogs beg, 9 p.m. rolls around sooner than expected and no one has made it to the gym.
Yet, every once in a while, the kids get to bed on time, I get to the gym, and at 9 p.m. I am having a cocktail with my husband and we are discussing how Csikszentmihalyi’s theory on controlling one’s ability to have a genuinely satisfying experience and total involvement with life pertains to Garreau’s belief in humankind’s ability to shape technology’s impact on human nature and society in largely unpredictable ways. This conversation can happen anywhere – it can last 3 minutes or 3 hours – Here at the Prevail Project, we just want to be part of that conversation.
As for DARPA and the US Military, my husband told me they are using the same deep brain stimulation used in Parkinson’s treatment to help soldiers with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. I read some more and found that they are not treating PTSD just yet, rather implanting a tiny device within the skull that is capable of recording patterns of interaction among brain regions known to be involved in mental illness. The hope is that electrodes would record neurological data, and then the device could be programmed to deliver tailored therapy to the brain.
Joel Garreau would say that this is nothing new for DARPA, whose project managers tend to seek out challenges verging on impossible. Clearly, slipping electrodes into the human brain is a pretty significant endeavor – and it’s not that far out in the future. What are the cultural implications of this information, today? I see one of the nation’s boldest research institutions and the US Military acknowledging mental illness on an engaging and proactive level not typical of how this country deals with mental illness.
Whenever I put vegetables on my 5 year-old’s plate he freezes up and refuses to eat anything until I remove the offensive vegetable. Now I tell him, “Don’t think about the carrots right now, eat the parts of your dinner you like, and we’ll get to the carrots later.” As a result he has been able to redirect his focus, finish his dinner and sometimes he eats a carrot.
That little bit about researchers slipping a tiny chip into human brains, those are the carrots on your plate. Look past that for now. You will see how great it is that our nation is beginning to acknowledge mental illness in a meaningful way. Celebrities such as Glen Close and Ron Howard participate in an origination called “Bring Change 2 Mind” which works to being an end to discrimination and the stigmatization of mental illness.
I can hear Joel’s voice in my head now, “And how does this relate to the Prevail Project?”
Well, I recently re-watched Donny Darko the other day, an amazing film about time travel and mental illness which addresses the relevance of the workings of brains we have labeled “mentally ill” when we open ourselves up to consider realities outside of this dimension.
Stephen Hawking said, “Evolution has ensured that our brains just aren’t equipped to visualize 11 dimensions directly. However, from a purely mathematical point of view it’s just as easy to think in 11 dimensions, as it is to think in three or four.”
I’m not suggesting we consider any particular dimension, but I do think it’s valuable to note that in the past, society has been quick to diagnose and segregate that which is considered mental illness, when today we could potentially explore and learn from it – with technology.
By allowing ourselves to consider alternative dimensions, by focusing on the benefits to our society that will come from taking a more conspicuous interest in the workings of mental illness, we as a culture can recognize the ways in which parts of the future we have long awaited are, in fact, happening right now.
Technology is not happening to us, mad scientists are not conspiring to put chips into the brains of soldiers to one day control their minds (are they?) – Rather our society is using technology to bring mental illness to the forefront.
This needs to be happening now.
Mental illness has been linked to mass shootings and bombings in our country over the past few years alone, a serious cultural concern. The back burner of any forward thinking engineer’s project is almost always bubbling over with, “What if this technology gets into the hands of some mad man?”
With all of the effort scientists and engineers are putting into technological developments that could wield unprecedented dangers if they fall into the wrong hands, is it such a strange idea that we as a society start taking some interest in mental health?
DARPA and the US Military are doing just that – using technology to better understand the mental functioning of damaged brains in the hopes of make observations previously unknown to man. Now that sounds fun. Eat your carrots.
There are at least two clearly distinct ways of interpreting the word “end” in William Faulkner’s statement “I decline to accept the end of man.”
“End” could mean something like the downfall, obsolescence, or ruin of man. This would certainly be something worth rejecting.
Alternatively, “end” could be interpreted as a teleological projection of the developmental trajectory of mankind. In this far more interesting frame, Faulkner could be declining to accept the limitations of our cultural imagination.
It is this second sense of “the end of man” that I find so fascinating. Today one can find immensely variegated projections of mankind’s proper role on the planet.
Environmental indicators have produced a growing awareness that the modernist view of man’s end being conquest of nature and cessation of strife took precedence over the ethical aspiration to be good stewards of nature, leading western civilization to ignore the ecological impacts of its machinations.
Many civil society groups and religious organizations are beginning to speak out about the dangers of emerging technologies such as synthetic biology, arguing in effect that care must be taken to counteract mankind’s tendency to irreversibly alter the natural order through forms of ethical transgression. Often these groups would like to confine scientific experimentation to the laboratory. However, the logistical needs of an increasing human population combined with economic incentives provide an impetus to bring successful experiments beyond the laboratory, into the marketplace, into earth’s ecosystems.
Varieties of transhumanists, Singularitarians, posthumanists and others are beginning to gain attention with arguments that the end of man lay in some form of technology-enabled transcendence of the limitations of evolutionary biology. Developments in the GRIN technologies — genetics, robotics, information technology, nanotechnology — contribute a sense of urgency to such questions.
I could go on, discussing the competing values and visions of mankind’s “end” at work in thousands of unique cultural milieus, from the Horn of Africa to Taiwan and Teleuse.
It is the Prevail Project’s desire to build capacity for hosting the global conversation about the end of man. There are many reasons for declining to accept the end of man. If mankind is to thrive, overcome, and indeed continue, whither culture? Whither the body? What can be expected of man?
In developing a clear view of our ambition to become a digital clearinghouse for this capacity building, The Prevail Project has been forced to face its own contemporary limitations, from resource scarcity to the practical difficulties of developing a solid network of visionary content contributors. We are working to address these limitations in hopes of returning anew in the near future.
The Prevail Project lives.
Science policy scholars huddled in brownstone buildings, occasionally on the verge of hyperventilation, frequently express disbelief that firemen are more admired and respected than professional scientists, especially in the United States. This lament is frequently accompanied by discussions of policy gridlock related to climate science. These scholars seem to disregard the following characteristics of firefighting when they poo-poo the public’s ignorance and lack of respect for evidence, facticity, and advice.
1) Firefighters are in some sense professional scientists, of the “applied” variety. How would firemen save houses and victims from an inferno without understanding through a collective act of research and investigation what is the likely trajectory of the winds, the impact of chemical suppressants and water, etc.? When fire crews announce the inferno 80% contained, this is considered credible partly because onlookers can see less pointy red flames and smoke when they drive by on the freeway.
2) Firefighters respond regardless of what caused the fire. This is universally respected because everyone knows fire is hot. Fire is hot and dangerous. When you see a cigarette butt burning on a pile of loose mulch, you stomp on it out of civic duty. There is a civil allegiance the public can feel for firefighters. Do other professional scientists deserve more empathy, more sympathy?
3) The fires are not predicted in the future. They happen in the present, and often they happened in the past and have grown beyond control. In the words of a famous science policy writer, this is a form of “tornado politics” where everyone with eyes can agree something must be done, regardless of its likely or rumored causes. Firemen are tornado politicians, uncomplicated in their aspect. We appreciate their matter-of-fact agenda for its clarity.
4) If a fire is small but dangerous, capable of growing to a raging beast, there are procedures for containment. Firefighters take care of this with scientific precision, despite the common knowledge that wind conditions and precipitation patterns can shift on a dime, chaotically and without notice. There are further procedures for responding to forces of nature that extend beyond the powers of firefighters. There are strategies for fire mitigation that presuppose nature’s eventual cooperation. This produces a quality of perseverence that people find appealing. Firemen have this quality of perseverence in the face of chaos and heroic obstacles.
5) Firemen do not rant about their lack of perceived honor. When they take the podium they possess an unmistakable gait, beyond any capacity for fabrication or embellishment. Their credentials and evidence are written in the lines of their face. There is ax-handled passion fighting alongside intellect and tribal allegiance when fires are doused and outsmarted. Honor, respect, and admiration are communicated through narratives of fires fought.
6) No professional scientist operating without bias would withhold admiration and respect for firefighters.
As a result of these considerations — and there are more besides these — science policy scholars must needs face up to the realities of both human culture and contemporary science policy. Despite the tremendous difficulties these professional scientists face when communicating to the public and acting on chaotic ecosystems, whiners will typically score lower on the respect and admiration index than the smoke-streaked faces of male and female firefighters.
The contrast couldn’t be clearer. The firefighter vs. the de-territorialized polar bear. The domestic inferno vs. the wilderness imperilled.
This is the no-spin zone. You decide.
Independence Day celebrates the discord of jangling souls with dissonant convictions airing a racket of reasons in the tumultuous din of democratic fora. It isn’t discord per se that is noteworthy; it is the resilience afforded by the interplay of discord and institutions that animates this republic.
There will always be those free riders, however, for whom simple contentment and tranquility are the only governments worth enduring.
Washington Irving’s famous literary creation Rip Van Winkle, one of those free riders, awakes after 20 years of liquor-induced slumber to find the Revolutionary War over and gone. General Washington’s sword occupyies the place of King George’s scepter on town placards. Analyzing this story for his book Common as Air, Lewis Hyde isolates the reign of discordant views in an emergent public sphere as a startling cultural shift in Rip’s world.
Hyde does not, however, highlight the literary value of Rip Van Winkle’s habitual idleness; and it is the habitual idleness afforded by independence that I, for one, always celebrate on the Fourth of July. It is Rip’s capacity to enjoy life outside the din of voices for days on end that makes him a narrative anchor for a tale of discordant temporal frames.
“The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor,” writes Washington Irving. “His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody.”
He was, however, “universally popular” with the village-folk on account of his willingness to distribute the burdens of physical toil among neighbors.
Van Winkle’s favorite thing to do, once Dame Van Winkle had driven him from the house with her fiery lectures, was to convene with local sages, philosophers, and gossip historians at the local inn, where they would have a dapper gentleman read the latest newspaper. After a while, Dame Van Winkle would accuse even these men at the inn of encouraging her “hen-pecked husband’s” idleness. There was nothing for old Rip to do: he set out for the mountaintops with his dog and his rifle, away from that woman!
“The terrors of Dame Van Winkle” send Rip into the Catskills, where he meets a “short square-built old fellow” carrying a keg full of liquor up the mountainside. Together, these two proceed to a hollow in a ravine, shaped like an amphitheater, where Rip encounters a committee of bearded strangers, like “figures in an old Flemish painting,” amusing themselves with a game of nine-pin.
“He was naturally a thirsty soul,” and so drank himself unconscious at this bizarre gathering.
So far, a very beautiful American story — worthy of a cinematic treatment, I should think, in the near future.
Upon waking, Rip Van Winkle descends the mountain to witness the future he slept through. Strange names adorned the new houses — “every thing was strange.” When he happened upon his favorite village inn, Rip is crowded round by villagers curious whether his party affiliation is “Federal or Democrat.”
“Alas! gentlemen,” cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, “I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!”
You can imagine the uproar that caused.
Suddenly thereafter, Rip is pointed to the location of his son, Rip Van Winkle the Second (as it were) — “apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged” as his old man.
The situation gets sorted, and Rip resumes “his old walks and habits.” He is happiest to be free of the tyranny of his wife, Dame Van Winkle — “the changes of states and empires made but little impression on him.”
To authenticate the whole affair, the narrator claims the following: “I have seen a certificate on the subject taken before a country justice and signed with a cross, in the justice’s own handwriting. The story, therefore, is beyond the possibility of doubt.”
But what does this story teach us?
Two important themes emerge: civic republicanism and personal joy. Civic republicanism refers to the capacity to assist others in the performance of productive labor, whether this be carrying a wheelbarrow for your neighbor or contributing an invention or artistic product for the enjoyment of the public. Author Lewis Hyde places the story of Rip Van Winkle within a crucial sweep of time when the very form of the public sphere was taking shape. Men like Benjamin Franklin were publishing technical details of profitable inventions anonymously in newspapers, without asking for a penny in return. Others were building bridges in their hometowns out of a sense of civic duty. For Hyde, it is this lost history of civic republicanism that might offer today’s globalized nation-states and international economy alternative visions of independence to celebrate.
Rip Van Winkle himself was a man of the town, a public person. If he invented a lightning rod or a cooking stove, he would no doubt share the invention with the townsfolk, regardless of the personal profits to be made. Dame Van Winkle would throw a fit, and perhaps for good reason! After all, the house was falling apart.
This is the enduring question of the commons. It is a realm reliant upon tranquil personalities who consider personal identity a pluralistic and public construction, whose existence pre-dates and grounds the emergence of the private estate. The Founding Fathers were steeped in civic republicanism and the pluralistic interpretation of personal identity: Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, &c.
Beyond that, the enduring feature of Washington Irving’s tale is Rip Van Winkle’s enduring sense of personal joy. Despite waking up 20 years in the future, Rip manages to befriend the new villagers and become once again “universally popular” for his willingness to assist his neighbors. His idleness, once ridiculed, now is accepted as a natural feature of his advanced age. The fool has persisted in his folly and found wisdom, it seems.
Indeed, “it is a common wish of all hen-pecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon.”
And my!, the enormity of what can happen in 20 years’ time. Governments can fall, names can change, and clothing and tools and houses!
Kevin Kelly over at The Technium got an interesting request from a reader: what questions about technology would you ask a Chinese peasant?
The 15 questions.
Would your grandparents be happy or worried about today’s technology?
Is it possible to have too much technology?
Can you tell me what the internet is? What is your description?
What kinds of problems today do you expect technology will solve in 5 years?
Is there a technology you think we should un-invent?
If you could implant your phone into your head, would you?
What does China need to become the world’s center of technological innovation?
Are there any downsides to having lots of cheap technology?
What’s one invention you wish scientists would invent today?
What’s more important to your town or village: to have a hospital or to have cell phone coverage?
What are computers good for?
Should China save the old traditional ways of doing things, or just use the modern ways?
Are children getting smarter or dumber?
If you could have a car but it made the air hard to breath, would you get one?
What invention invented during your lifetime surprised you (did not expect) the most?
These are all good questions, and if I might add a few of my own.
16) Where does technological change come from?
17) Do you trust the people and corporations responsible for your technology?
18) Can you imagine going through a day without using 20th century technology?
19) Do you think you are keeping up with the pace of technology?
20) Is technological change making the world a better place?