Left brain, right brain

Human and gorilla skeleton

Interesting piece in Prospect by Matthew Taylor about how neuroscientific advances should inform political theory and help take us, as the cliche goes, “beyond left and right.” It makes sense when you think about it, as political debates usually come down to competing notions about human nature.

“Altruism makes us happy. Supportive communities create better people. Inequality and stigma rob us of potential. Good guidance helps us make wise decisions for the long term. All these seem commonsense conclusions, all are now based on evidence. They break the oppressive grip of Homo economicus on the right and the alluring but dangerous myth of human perfectibility on the left. Instead, we are left with the mission of progressive humanism; to develop practical utopias based on the good enough people we really are.”

Traumatic head injury: prescribe vodka?

“You could probably figure out the topic despite the medicalese in the title: “Positive Serum Ethanol Level and Mortality in Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.” The study is a retrospective one, based on identifying a set of patients in trauma centers who had been diagnosed with severe brain injuries. Not surprisingly, a number of them had been drinking. The surprise was that the folks with alcohol in the bloodstream had a better survival rate than those who hadn't had a drink, even after correcting for some potential confounding factors. As always, further studies are suggested before we start dispensing vodka shots in the ER.” (Ars Technica)

Cryptozoo Museum Opens In Downtown Portland

Loren Coleman: “It’s taken six years, but as of November 1, 2009, the International Cryptozoology Museum will publicly open in a permanent space in downtown Portland, Maine. The three year lease is signed, the fund-raising can begin in earnest, …and the doors are happily being flung open to a new dawn for the world’s only fully public cryptozoology museum…

After first being established in August 2003 via my modest home-based cabinet-of-curiosities in the Libbytown section of the Pine Tree State’s largest city, the International Cryptozoology Museum will have its grand public opening right after Halloween 2009, in downtown Portland, Maine.The museum has found a public home at 661 Congress Street, in the Arts District, just down the street from the world-famous Portland Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum, and the State Theater, next to a local landmark, Joe’s Smoke Shop. Also, it will sit right across from The Fun Box Monster Emporium. What a wonderful neighborhood for a cryptozoology museum!” (Cryptomundo)

Max Planck Institute Researcher Proposes Schrodinger’s Cat Experiment

“One of the classical problems in quantum mechanics concerns a man and his feline companion. The man has placed his cat in an opaque tank and is slowing pumping it full of poison. Now until the man opens the tank and looks inside, he cannot be sure whether the cat is dead or alive. That is to say, the cat is both dead and alive at the same time. Impossible but such is the nature of the problem that faced this man. The man’s name is Erwin Schrodinger and the problem is that of his Uncertainty Principle.

For nearly a century, his problem has remained a quixotic quest for physicists. Particle physics has always held that matter can only exist at one state in one time. That is why particles are classified as moving with an up or down spin but nothing in between. In recent years that rule has been bent with the superposition of atoms and other nonliving things. Superposition is the term for an object that is not being observed that exists as both possibilities: up and down, dead and alive. This allows physicists to observe the matter in two different states at the same time. However, thus far it has only been done with non-living things. A life-form has never been superimposed. Now, one physicist says he may have an answer.

Oriol Romero-Isart is at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Physics in Garching in Germany. Along with his team he is proposing a “Schrodinger’s virus” experiment that would follow the same general principles of Schrodinger’s Cat. Using an electromagnetic field created by a laser, the virus would be trapped in a vacuum. Then, using another laser, the virus will be slowed down until it lies motionless in its lowest possible energy state.

Now that the virus is fixed, a single photon is used to put the virus into a superposition of two states, moving and non-moving. Up until the point is measured it is in both states. Only after a measurement is it found to be in one state and one alone. The team has suggested that the tobacco mosaic virus be used. The virus is rod-shaped and measures 50 nanometers wide and approximately 1 micrometer long. There is debate however, whether the virus can truly be classified as “alive.” However the scientists are confident that the treatment could be extended to tiny micro-organisms such as tardigrades who can survive in vacuum for days, making them suitable for the “Schrodinger treatment.”

However, physicists are doubtful about the experiment’s results. Martin Plenio of Imperial College in London says that there is little reason that a virus would behave any differently than a similarly-sized inanimate object. However, there are possibilities in testing large objects such as viruses and molecules. This is because quantum mechanics says that macroscopic objects can enter superposition however, it has never happened. Through these studies, Plenio believes that we will finally be able to bridge the divide between the quantum world and our own macroscopic world.”

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The McFarthest Place

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  A McDonald's resta...

“There are over 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the US, or about 1 for every 23,000 Americans. But even market penetration this advanced doesn’t mean that McDonald’s is everywhere. Somewhere in South Dakota is the McFarthest Spot, the place in the US geographically most removed from the nearest McD’s (*). If you started out from this location, a few miles north of State Highway 20 (which runs latitudinally between Highways 73 in the west and 65 in the east), you’d have to drive 145 miles to get your Big Mac…” (Strange Maps)

I would like to see an overlay of several maps of this sort, one for each of the major fast food places, one for Walmarts, etc. The cumulative effect, I suspect, would correlate quite well with the quality of life to be expected in various locales.