Monthly Archives: May 2018

Brain Ageing May Be Due To Genetic Problems. Study Shines Light On ‘Weakness’

As you grow older many things are certain. Things wear out. One issue is a loss of brain cells (neurons.)  Although the numbers lost through ageing aren’t as striking as they once were, we cannot ignore the fact that the nature of brain cells puts them at risk to damage by any means. And whats worse, losing them can have very significant effects on your life.  Previously, our complicated model of understanding explained the severity of brain disease based on a lack of cell replacement or ‘hardiness‘, amongst other factors such as increases in certain proteins. But new research may have found a fundamental problem with how our neuron’s use energy, and a genetic tendency toward self-destruction. It may be that the brain is programmed to burn itself out.

Old Brains and Old Genes

In a new study published in Cell Reports, researchers compared brain cells from both ‘young’ and ‘old’ donors. They compared the levels of genes ‘upregulated‘ (i.e more deliberately active,) in association with brain cell energy processes such as mitochondrial activity (a cell organelle involved in energy use. )’Upregulation’ of a gene means that the behaviour or process it codes for is more likely to happen, i.e up regulation of genes associated with growth means the organism grows more. They then looked at whether there was a difference in the brain cells susceptibility to damage dependent on the level of the genes expressed in each group. Simply put, they wanted to know if age effected the genetic activity governing brain energy use, and whether this was good or bad.

brain death neutron gene

Neurons, once lost, do not return. So why are they so delicate? Image courtesy of NICHD

They found that in older cells,  that 70% of  genes associated with energy use were expressed at lower levels. They also found that replicative processes associated with energy use, as well necessary protein creation, were also lower. Most strikingly, this was associated with defects in the very mitochondria affected. This means that since the brain relies on mitochondrial activity for energy, that damage to the brain may actually occur due to genetic issues rather than simply blood loss or other disease.  This will increase the risks associated with ageing, as well as potentially explain why the brain dies off as we grow older.

A New Model Of Brain Death

Although the research has provided a fundamental shift in how we may understand brain cell death, it must be placed in context. Rather than undermining current theories, such as neurons being especially susceptible to blood loss, it may both help to explain them and provide a better picture of how brain cells die overall. As maudlin as this may seem, it may provide new avenues for genetic therapy down the line. We are already seeing genetic therapies being developed that target ‘problematic processes.’ There is no immediate reason that these therapies could not be adapted after further research. So, in this case, knowledge is very much power.

So watch this space, because as we age the need for more intervention increases. And this may be another step toward protecting our brain, the centre of our being, for that much longer. And let us know what you think in the comments below.

What’s Next?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of flickr. The content matter of this article has been simplified greatly from the original journal publication. This has not been done to obscure or overly simplify  the findings of the research, but to make the findings communicable. And I don’t mean to just the lay person, I mean trained professionals who can’t make sense of ‘ We found that 70% of all mitochondrial genes were downregulated in old iNs compared to young iNs ( Interestingly, categorization of the mitochondrial genes into functional groups revealed that 93% of the genes that composed the mitochondrial ETC complexes I–V were downregulated in old iNs (example of source text. )But I am very aware that in the process of making the data and article more understandable that I risk making mistakes in my inferences. If that is indeed the case, please do let me know so I may retract and improve on the subject matter at hand. Ben.

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How Good Are You At Simple Maths? Maybe Not As Good As You Think.

Mathematics is not always as simple as two and two making four. Some particular problems are so counter-intuitive that they’ll make your head spin. And we aren’t talking about quantum physics or binomial equations, we are talking about simple fractions. Something you would have learned in Primary School. The most famous of these is the Monty Hall Problem, though there are plenty more. The mind does funny things when faced with problems of ‘chance’. and these brief thought experiments demonstrates how bizarre probability can be. So we will place a bet, if you get this wrong, give it a share.

A Good Problem

The Monty Hall problem refers to a US 1960’s game show called ‘Let’s Make A Deal‘ whose host was Monty Hall. The show involved three doors. In this case, a goat, another goat, and a roadster. When we talk about the statistics problem, we can imagine that we are contestants on ‘Let’s Make A Deal‘. There are three doors with three prizes, and we want to guess the best door for the best prize. We could win one of two goats or a roadster. We want the roadster, so we wish to maximise our chances of making the ‘right guess’.

Your chance here of picking the roadster, based on the knowledge you have, is 1/3. One door in three. Pretty simple. But let’s make it a little harder. The host, Monty Hall, shows us the prizes and shuffles them behind doors number 1, 2 and 3. After some thought, we decide to pick the second door. We’re about to open the door, when the host (who knows where everything is), opens the third door to reveal one of the goats. He then asks us “Do you want to change your mind?” (i.e do you want to stay with door number 2, or switch to door number 1.)

So what do you do? Do you stay or switch? It seems like a 50/50 chance of winning the roadster. But actually, it isn’t. There is a hidden factor. But, you can make a decision here which increases your chances of winning. Figured it out yet? This is the Monty Hall problem. Is it to our advantage to switch our selection? If you haven’t heard of the problem before, think about it while I explain the history to you. The puzzle was first posed in an American mathematical magazine, with the answer appearing later down the line. The answer, being not what you’d expect, caused a media furore against Marilyn Vos Savant, the woman who’d explained the solution.

Are you ready for the answer?

A Simple Paradox

Believe it or not, the best move is to switch doors. You know door 3 has a goat behind it, so door 1 and 2 are left. So you switch to door one, and it is opened to reveal the luxury red roadster. But why was it beneficial to change your mind here?

In the beginning, the roadster has a 1/3 chance of being behind each door.

1      2      3

1/3    1/3    1/3

You pick 2, which has equal probability of being any of the prizes that point, a third chance. The host, then reveals to you a goat.

1        2         3

1/2    1/3    Goat

At this point, your original choice remains one in three whereas the other door has half of chance of being the roadster. The answer lies with the assumptions of the problem. As the host is aware of where each prize is hidden, he cannot open a door to reveal a roadster (he would lose the show money! He has all of the information and by revealing the goat to you, he imparts some information which alters the balance of probability. As one mathematician points out: “Probabilities are expressions of our ignorance about the world, and new information can change the extent of our ignorance.” This is the simpler version of the proof, but requires a little more heavy work to explain it fully.

goat monty hall maths paradox

Do you want a Goat, or a Roadster? You can cuddle either, and ride both. But one bites. Image courtesy of Tamsin Cooper

So bear with us.

The Best Solution

They key to solving the problem is the following assumptions:

  1. At the start you have a 1/3 chance of getting the roadster and a 2/3 chance of getting a goat. So you picked a door (door 2 in this case.)
  2. The host opened a door (door 3 in this case,) which had a goat behind it.
  3. The host will not help you win, so his behaviour would directly effect your chances of winning the roadster.
  4. So at this point instead of the remaining doors having a 50:50 chance, you must now account for another factor, the probability that the host may force you to lose.
  5. By multiplying together the probabilities, you can get a clear answer of the ‘best’ door to pick.
  6. Remember,  you don’t know what is behind your door (2), or the other one (3.)

Take a moment to read that again. You aren’t dealing with just a 1/3 chance anymore, you are dealing with a multiplicity of uncertainty where you must account for a combination of the hosts effect on outcome (1/2) and your original choice of winning (1/3.) So let’s see what happens when you apply the math in each case. Each fraction is here is your chance of winning if you switch in each case;

1: You picked a goat (2/3 chance of doing so). The host reveals the remaining goat behind door (1/2 of doing so), he cannot reveal the car. (2/3 x 1/2 = 1/3) Your chance of winning is 1/3.

2: You picked a car (1/3 chance of doing so). The host reveals a goat behind door 3 (1/2 chance of doing so). (1/3 x 1/2 = 1/6) Your chance of winning is 1/6.

3: You picked a car (1/3 chance of doing so). The host reveals a goat behind door 2 (1/2 chance of doing so). (1/3 x 1/2 = 1/6) Your chance of winning is 1/6.

4: You picked a the other goat (2/3). The host reveals the remaining goat behind door 2 or 3 (1/2) again, he cannot reveal the car. (2/3 x 1/2 = 1/3.) Your chance of winning is 1/3.

So now we can add the probabilities together. If we talk options 1 and 4 (i.e you picked either goat,) your chance of winning by switching = 1/3 + 1/3 = 2/3.  If you picked a car, (options 2 and 3) then your chances of winning by switching are 1/6 +1/6 = 2/6 = 1/3.  So comparing the probabilities, if you pick a goat door, and the host doesn’t want you to win, then you best switch (2/3 chance of winning. If you picked the car door, and the host doesn’t want you to win, you best not switch (1 – 1/3 = 2/3.) Admittedly, and some of you may have spotted this already, if the host was not biased, or wanted you to win, the answer may be different. Let us know what you find in the comments below.

goat roadster monty hall problem paradox

Einstein may even have had trouble with this one.
Image courtesy of Tom Haex

If this still sounds strange to you, don’t worry; you’re not alone. After Vos Savant published her proof, many attacked her and claimed that she was wrong despite many simulations and proofs. Even the (arguably) greatest mathematician alive at that point Paul Erdős wasn’t convinced at first. This is an example of veredical paradox; that is, a situation or result which at first appears to be wrong but can be demonstrated to be true. How many of your friends do you feel would get it right first time?

What’s Next?

  • Getting your mind blown was just the beginning when you consider that we probably live in a simulation
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr George Aitch and Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of their affiliates. Images courtesy of flickr. Note from the Editor:  I had to write this out and work out the fractions myself before I was convinced (lights cigarette, stares blankly into the sea listening to soft circus music.)

 

Top 5 Incredible Discoveries In Space

pillars of creation top5 universe

The Universe is really, really big. And there is a lot out there. Whether you have an interest in astronomy or not, the very wonder of the Universe is, well, universal. From Interstellar’s black hole to the curious ‘Pillars Of Creation‘, there is no denying that space holds a certain beauty. And under that aesthetic, the very laws of physics not only explain the beauty, but add to it. So today, I am taking on you a whistle-stop tour through our Universe, showing you what I feel is the best of the best. So as Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says; ‘Come with me.’

Number 1: Cassiopeia A

top5 universe star supernova

Cassiopeia A. Image courtesy of Robert Sullivan

Cassiopeia A is what remains of a ‘supernova’ (an exploding star.) And its actually not that far away, at least in Universal terms. Situated about 11,000 lightyears away in our Milky Way. Not only is it an incredible sight, but also the strongest source of radio emissions beyond our solar system. These emissions are some of the many we receive every day, and others like them provide an  exciting avenue for detecting alien life.

Number 2: M101, The Pinwheel Galaxy

top5 galaxy supermassive black hole

The Pinwheel Galaxy. Image courtesy of Rob Sullivan.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is a spiral galaxy located in the Ursa Major constellation (the Big Bear.) At around 170,000 lightyears in diameter, it dwarfs our own Milky Way. And houses around 1 trillion stars. But unlike lots of galaxies, it seems to lack a central ‘supermassive black hole‘ at it’s centre. It’s mesmerising shape is a result of its rotation and gravity, as well as the influence of the gravity of other nearby Galaxies.

Number 3: The Pillars Of Creation

pillars of creation top5 universe

The Pillars of Creation. Image courtesy of Jack Jacowski

No list of Universal art would be complete without The Pillars of Creation. Found in the Eagle Nebula are part of a ”stellar nursery”, a huge expanse of material from which new stars are born. Our own sun was forged deep in the heart of a such a nursery. But the Pillars give us a glimpse back in time. The myriad colours represent elements present in space, such as red for sulphur  and green for hydrogen. But, like any nursery, they won’t be around forever. Eventually, cosmic winds will simply blow them apart.

Number 4: The V838 Monocerotis Halo

monocerotis halo event light

The Monocerotis Halo. Image courtesy of Maddox63.

This image captures the odd expansion and ‘echo’ of Monocerotis. The ‘halo’ itself is an artefact created by reflections of interstellar dust. The red focus is caused by the giant star itself.  During the event the star became 60,000 times more luminous than our sun. NASA followed by the phenomenon over January 2002, recording the expansion of the halo and sudden dimming of the star itself.

Number 5: Hercules A

space images top5

Hercules A. Image courtesy of Hubble Heritage

This interesting phenomenon shows two high energy plasma jets ejected by a supermassive black hole. These jets are usually a result of the high gravitational energy of a black hole, and the ring like structures outside the jets suggest that these are not the first. Hercules A is around 2.1 billion light years away. Not only do these jets provide a fascinating sight, but also tell us new things about radio waves emitted in deep space.

So thats it, a short jaunt through the Universe. But there is much more out there, so why not find your favourite and let us know? And as always, if you liked it, share it!

What’s Next?

  • Learn more about Depression and why early diagnosis is best.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr. Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates.If you liked this article and want to see more, check out Ben’s work with PORP.

 

 

 

 

Search Engine Data May Help Diagnose Depression Earlier

A new study published in JMIR Mental Health has revealed that searches relating to Depression and its treatment spike at different times of the day. The data shows that searches around depression peak between 11pm and 4am daily, showing a clear focus overnight. The reason for this isn’t immediately clear but may tell us more about the day to day lives of patients. With depression a growing problem, these insights may help us to recognize depression earlier. And, with that, to help people access treatment.

Depression and Diurnal Variation.

It is common knowledge that the symptoms of depression vary in severity over the day. The classical picture of waking up ‘sad’ and ‘feeling better’ later is one of just many. But little has been done to actually quantify this in real terms over a large population. The researchers reviewed search data of key terms around ‘depression’ to elucidate a pattern. They found four peaks between 11pm and 4am, and relative ‘troughs’ between 5am and 10pm. Essentially, people were trying to learn more about depression and take ‘online tests’ during the night.

depression data diurnal medicine

Depression is a common and difficult problem. Data may help earlier diagnosis and treatment. Flickr.

It’s hard to directly claim what this may mean without considering multiple factors. The first is the simple issue of time availability, with daily work commitments limiting free time to search. The second is that more people are likely to sit on computers overnight, increasing the likelihood of searching for anything.  However, the team’s statistical analysis shows a clear difference between searches at different times, suggesting something significant. What this may mean in actuality will require further study. But it could be very useful information indeed.

Why May People Search For Depression At Night?

Aside from the reasons discussed above, it may be that this pattern is well explained by what we already know. Depression is known to be associated with anxiety and sleep disturbance. We also know that with depression, in many cases people feel better later in the day. It is very possible, with a number of assumptions, that the combination of these two factors may explain the findings. If people feel more energized later in the day and overnight, and cannot sleep due to their symptoms, there would be peaks in activity. The data would seem to support this idea.

depression sleep diurnal data diagnosis

Depression is associated with sleep problems. Flickr.

However, further research is needed to compare these findings with the actual patients themselves. It would not be fair to assume without more supporting evidence. The data itself does not reveal whether those looking for ‘depression’ related information were actually suffering from depression, suspicious of being depressed, or simply interested in the condition. There is a lot of conjecture. But what the study does provide is strong evidence that people are more active in learning about depression at night.

Given what we know about depression, this may provide a new way of recognizing depression in the undiagnosed, and helping to monitor treatment success in patients.

A New Way Forward

Depression is a growing problem and early intervention is key in its treatment. This new data shines light on the daily lives of patients and the undiagnosed. It may be that recognizing the patterns tells us not only more about the nature of depression but could provide an early warning system for those at risk. But how this may work in practice is another question altogether. The first step may be interviews with those concerned, establishing the nature of their condition. Only then could a suggestion be made that ‘search engine’ data be instrumental in earlier diagnosis.

So what do you think? Could search engine data help doctors diagnose depression earlier? Are you concerned about privacy? Is there a happy medium between? Let us know in the comments.

What’s Next?

  • Learn more about Depression and why early diagnosis is best.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr. Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr. If you are concerned about your health please see your local healthcare provider. Sources available within main text via hyperlinks. If you find new information that contradicts this article, or feel that an error has been made, please do let me know via benjanaway@outlook.com. I will be happy to hear from you. 

 

 

Should We Message The Programmer? The Ethics Of A Simulated World

Having discussed how you should generally approach living in a simulated world in our last article, we can now enquire a little further into specific acts. And, don’t worry, we will cover a fair few. So lets talk about Genocide through knowledge. In fact, let’s ask the question a different way. If you ran the risk of destroying the entire simulation universe simply through sending a message to it’s creator, should you? Or would the potential benefits of talking to it’s ‘creator’ outweigh the risks? And how even may you contact them, let alone convince them either way? Today we will consider an automatic message, i.e ‘universe.exe’ realises that ‘entity x’ has become aware. Let’s take another trip into a simulated universe through a thought experiment.

‘Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?’ – Leonardo Da Vinci.

Messages and Knowledge

Firstly we must consider why, not how, we have come to be in a simulation. And the two main theories, based on why we ourselves would create one, would be either ‘for entertainment’ or ‘for experiment.’ Although both seem simple, each is full of a multitude of ethical concerns and open questions. So lets start by saying what we can, that is logical and valid, for both. Firstly, there is significant evidence that we are living in a simulation. Simulations are built on some sort of code, that is readable and checkable. Certain actions of the simulation may prompt review by its creator and user, much like an ‘Error’ on your PC. And that prompt can be automatically or manually dealt with. For example (in a manual response;)

Observation: Entity no. 3216732178 has become aware of ‘universe.exe’

Warning: Universe.exe ”experimental” parameters now biased. Terminate program Y/N?

science philosophy dream simulation

The Universe may be beautiful, but can we destroy it with knowledge?

We can be assured logically that since you are reading this, there is no automatic action to destroy the simulation if one person becomes suspicious of, or convinced that, they are living in it. You can also logically conclude that the realisation of ‘Entity no.3216732178’ has not been deemed enough concern to terminate the program manually. The creator is okay with it, at this level of penetrance at least. But imagine that the program running the simulation has an in-built threshold, by which the program offers a new prompt for manual decision making, or worse automatic. It may go something like this;

Observation: 51% of known ‘Human’ entities (and Parrot No. 321132892190) have become aware of ‘universe.exe’

Warning: Universe.exe ”experimental” parameters breached beyond tolerable levels. Terminate programme Y/N?

User: N

Warning: User override denied. ‘Universe.exe’ has breached operable parameters. Data corrupted. Terminating in 10 seconds.’

As scary as this thought may be, it makes a number of assumptions. The first is that there is a tolerable level by which the simulation could operate whilst entities were aware of it. For The Truman Show, that was 0. Day to day many of us labour under delusional beliefs, and yet the universe does not shut down. So it can be inferred that it is the specific belief that matters to a creator. They are happy to let millions believe in Thor as it doesn’t effect the purpose of the simulation in a negative way. So be it an experiment or entertainment, the simulation runs on. The eventuality that concerns us here is in which circumstances would a creator click ‘Yes’. (Note, this ignores an automatic deletion.)

‘Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, Good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.’ – Truman Burbank, The Truman Show.

Messages And Response

For the sake of argument let’s first consider that we live in a simulation designed for ‘entertainment.’ In our last article we discussed how this may be bad news for the world if we realised it. So much of our top TV shows rely on violence and shock to stay alive, it could be argued that we should do the same to ‘stay switched on.’ But lets consider what may happen ‘naturally’ if the simulation hypothesis was not just proven, but widely accepted. There are two extremes of outcome that are immediately apparent, each with a multitude of potential responses by the creator.

  1. We lose our minds. The Universe is a joke and there are no repercussions, as long as we stay on air we will stay alive. Prep the nukes.
  2. Okay, perhaps the watchers want peace, lets go with that.

We cannot predict exactly how the creator would respond to either (1) or (2), suffice to say that as long as its entertaining enough to stay watched, they will not terminate the simulation. But remember, reality TV either adapts, becomes a circus act, or dies.

simulation ethics science philosophy

A Circus Is Entertaining? But what of Humanity?

A second argument, that we are an experiment, offers both concerning and reassuring extremes. The first option is that a clear realisation that the test subject has become aware of the experiment and it’s potential hypothesis may have three obvious outcomes;

  1. The experiment is terminated as any new data is no longer reliable.
  2. The experiment is left running as ‘knowledge’ of the experiment is just another variable.
  3. The experiment will continue until x percent of test subjects become aware.

In (1) the creator relies on the ignorance of ‘us’, the ‘test subjects’, for the experiment to succeed. We cannot know that we may be in a simulation, and therefore cannot bias the test. But since I am sitting here typing this piece, the presence of my frontal lobes and ability to use information renders the ‘cannot know’ irrelevant. We clearly can. So we are left with option (2), which is that realisation in the experiment is not a contrary to its operational parameters. This could be for a number of reasons, including that the creator is interested in what may happen with this specific realisation, or is running a study of a populations response to chaos. And since we can consider this option, the experimenter has enabled us to do so.

So, since I am still here, option 2 or 3 can be argued as reasonable deductions.

‘A place where we all go can’t be bad, can it girl?’ – Chris Nielsen, What Dreams May Come

Should We Send A Message?

Well, we already have. The first time a scientist, or more likely an author, even briefly considered the ‘simulation’ then that data became available. The question here is when does that information become troublesome to the creator, at what level of penetrance? And do we risk a universal genocide? In the entertainment hypothesis, it depends what we do with the information, how we react and whether the watchers are entertained. If it is an experiment, the stakes are higher.

If option 2 is to be believed (The experiment is left running as ‘knowledge’ of the experiment is just another variable,) then we are probably fine. This is not a new idea, and has been atlas considered by thousands. But if its option 3 (The experiment will continue until x percent of test subjects become aware,) then we may approach a point of no return.

So, in that sense, this may not just be a ‘thought experiment’ after all.  And hypothetical creators up there, please retweet and comment.

‘I find myself exposed, tapping doors, but irritate, in search of destination.’ – Damien Rice, Eskimo (O)

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

Note: Once again, as per with the previous article, the subjects discussed are not done so exhaustively. There are many other intermediate conclusions that can be drawn between the extremes presented, but for the sake of discussion I have chosen polarising outcomes. You may also be able to fairly debate my inferences and deductions, and it would be useful to do so. Furthermore this entire article has been a rather meta experience. If we are iliving in a simulation, I have broken the fourth wall and rendered the Universe susceptible to the conclusions drawn. If not, then this may provide an entertaining discussion alone.  Awaits ‘Mad Scientist’ badge.

Media credits

  1. Lake and Trees, Flickr.
  2. Circus Performer, Flickr.

 

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