Category Archives: Biology

Psychiatry: A New Understanding

Having been interested in psychiatry for a long while, I have now embarked on several months training in the discipline. And although mental health is never far from the public eye, it seems to be that a general understanding of mental health and disease is vastly lacking. But in my fledgeling understanding, I have begun to know things just that little bit more.

Psychiatry and the Mind

To begin with, the concept of normality, whether it is physical or mental health, is debatable. When it comes to physical health problems, like chest pain, we are quick to recognise what is ‘abnormal’ and would require action, how much action and the mode of action. It is not a necessarily binary situation, but we know enough about the natural history of a disease, biology and treatments to make a workable approach.

Psychiatry, however, is less clear-cut. Although science has, for a long while now, explained mental health problems in terms of physicality, biology and chemicals, the understanding of the human aspect of the disease still warrants expert judgement. Phenomenology, that is the study of words, has attempted to categorise mental health complaints within recognisable schema; what one may describe signposting depression should be generalisable.

My sadness and your sadness should be understood in a similar way, and their approach into depression more so.

This has had some success, and within the streams of both biological and psychoanalytic models of mental health, has allowed us to recognise disease in a functional way. By understanding the language of disease, as expressed by our patients and selves, we can learn to spot patterns in the same way we may read an ECG. To an extent. However, a psychiatric disease is not as simple as an ECG*.

The issue with psychiatry, which has been long debated, is the suggestion that, including psychotic beliefs (those not grounded in reality or truly understandable by doctors,) we do not classify disease purely on biology, but on their proximity to social norms. This is quite foolhardy philosophically since all of our norms are prescriptive and based on a shared belief, which when applied to metaphysical understands of the world is rendered mute.

Put simply, we have created the goal posts by which we measure psychiatric abnormality, and unlike physical problems (if treated as separate,) there is a great discordance between people on what disease actually means.  To some, their core beliefs may seem entirely rational and healthy, but to others, a clear indication of being unwell. And how do we make these judgements?

Apart from CT scans, biochemical markers and agreed diagnostic categories, we fray on the fringe of relative value.

And when you review popular media, for example blaming massacres on the mentally unwell, regardless of whether this is the truth (which it rarely is,) you can see how a moral value has been ascribed to behaviour, and how it can be used to suggest a diagnosis. You need to look no further than the ‘luny left’ and ‘liberalism is a mental disease’ to recognise this shortcoming of human understanding.

So when I meet my patients, I cannot fully assess them without realising that my diagnosis is shining a thin light on a large area, where the boundaries of normality are hazily defined. Does this mean that all psychiatry is value assessed, not necessarily, there is clear science and patterns, but we must be aware of where the evidence ends.

Evolutionary antecedents and Art.

We have known for a long time that the human brain is vastly imperfect. We also know that morality, that is our measure of the ‘goodness’ of things, is a relative concept. In fact, some philosophers such as Freidrich Nietzsche have gone as far as to claim there is no such thing as good and evil, and others have renounced all understanding and attributed such judgements to God alone.

What we do know is that behaviour is not unpredictable. We know those common traits are common because they are either useful to survival, non-affective or tied to something useful. For example, we know that running fast is useful alone, won’t tend to get you killed directly (unless you run off a cliff,) and works best with good hearing and reactions (for more on this, see co-adaptive genetics.)

Herego, mental health problems do not escape the scrutiny of evolutionary explanation, and this is where the science of anatomy, genetics, sociology, psychology, behaviour, chemistry and anthropology meet the human disciplines of art, literature, history, speech, song and expression. The human mind is a result of its best compromise and survival, and with it, mental health problems have shared a journey.

So when we interview our patients, we see the humanity of disease, etched through eons of evolutionary history, expressed in the contemporary terms of our sociocultural understandings. A psychotic belief is amoebic, and will likely include tenets of that person’s popular culture, as opposed to one of the ancient Egyptians. This cannot be avoided but can give us clues to an underlying constant process.

Psychiatric disease is likely part of our survival, for better or for worse.

The history of psychiatry and philosophy is intertwined, and before such things as brain imaging, it was the brain and its wake light pondering that allowed us to conclude the nature of things. Logic, experiment and results were used across a vast arena of disciplines, from which arose different schools of thought such as Freudian Analysis.

The later schools of medical models have all but usurped the philosophical and analytic, but the latter still play a vital role in our understanding. It is likely that with further science we may be able to pin psychiatric disease, or at least its base aetiology (ie cause,) on something purely biologic and explained through measurable variables, but until then, we rely on our interpretation of behaviour to guide us to the scan.

Diagnosis and Detention

So with the somewhat hazy and complex architecture of the interplay between evolutionary explanations of psychiatric disease, medical explanations, sociocultural norms, variable and diverse human expression and the legal system, the idea of diagnosis and treatment becomes one of great importance. And one that can cause great contention.

We can mostly all agree that someone at risk of suicide due to severe depression may need to be sectioned. We can also all agree that it is in their best interests to do so. This is because we value life, but also claim knowledge that psychiatric disease renders one incapable of deciding what’s best for themselves. At the extremes, we tend to agree, but in the middle ground, there is less commonality. We agree on death, but sadness is a different issue.

And when it comes to issues that have a socially contentious element, such as gender and health, we must listen very carefully.

I work in an acute psychiatric unit, which means the patients that I see are on the more severe end of the spectrum, that is that they very rarely occupy the middle ground of disease severity. I see patients who believe they are being monitored by government agencies (which arguably, we all are) or can see ancient ghosts wandering the halls.

My view of psychiatry is within the deep end of the human mind, the echoes of our ancient brains pushed to their limits. And as a growing student of the evolutionary explanations for psychiatric phenomena, it is becoming abundantly clear to me that a full understanding of the subjective nature of the disease is probably beyond pure science, it will be found in expression.

So how does this translate to sectioning a patient, or indeed, deciding if and when someone should or will be treated? To give a general answer to this is difficult, but I will give it a try, based on when the patients own subjective view of the quality of their life is jeopardised by their disease.

But for those actively psychotic, i.e who have left reality behind, such subjectivity is lost, and we must use our own sociocultural norms and understanding of reality to make sense of their experience. And we do our best. Sometimes that means bringing people in against their will, and believe me, that is rarely an easy decision.

Treatment and Life

So having trawled, on a surface level, some of the complex themes that goo into diagnosing and deciding to treat a psychiatric illness, what of treatment? From my experience, the variety of methods out there provides hope. Whether it be medication (which addresses biological and chemical causes of disease,) ECT (which, as far as we know, derives its role in chemical and anatomical methods,) and therapy, which helps us to understand and correct aberrant thinking, we do see changes.

Sometimes these changes are drastic. I note one man who came in severely depressed, paranoid, almost catatonic, who after a few weeks of ECT is now back to shopping with his wife. His subjective view of the world and his disease has changed drastically as if some great mist has disappeared. Others are less pronounced, where a persistent delusional belief is still present, but less concerning.

In each case, our measure of success is built through understanding the subjective view of our patients, either phenomenologically through an interview, or objectively through an analysis of behaviour and biochemical changes. This is a far cry from the newspaper headlines and personal accounts that litter the blogosphere, but good is being done. Psychiatry, a discipline of the old and new, saves lives.

Placed in context, however, we must always remember that our view of success is based, at least in part, on prescriptive sociocultural norms, derived through evolutionary behaviours and limited by our own bias and cultural beliefs. The solution to the malady of psychiatric disease is one that may never be fully answered, but until then I find myself in a world where I can make a difference.

So far this has been an enlightening journey. But to be a good psychiatrist means truly understanding your patients, their views, expectations and dreams based upon their understanding of a world that we may not agree on. We must be prepared to listen more than talk, read more than present, understand that we know little.  Crucially, we must know ourselves to know our patients.

It means understanding history, evolution, biology, neuroscience, art, writing, speech, religion, social causes and much more. It is by no means simple. I hope to be starting to get to grips, but I can always improve.

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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 coutersy of Flickr.

*Note, the interpretation of an ECG is far from simple. However, in relative scales, the number of clear diagnostic changes available comparing ECG to phenomenology is vastly disproportionate. This is an academic and rather histrionic comparision, so apologies to the Cardio Reg.

 

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On Dying. A Message From Scientific Thinking.

Having spent several years of my life dealing on the frontline of death, it is no shock that the very nature of the end is one that I have often considered. As an atheist, the very idea carries perhaps more weight than for those lucky enough to hold beliefs in a second and eternal life.

But regardless of introspective journies, or indeed the hard moments where I have lost patients and family, there is some universality to the finale.

Beyond the Curtain

To consider the nature of death, one may begin with what we consider life. And although neurobiology may teach us many lessons about the beginnings of what we consider ‘consciousness’, it is clear that there is a difference between the passive actions of molecular machinery and the purposeful meanderings of creatures such as we.



DNA, the very building blocks of species innumerable and immemorable, has no memory beyond its structure, which within itself is only transient and ‘dies’ at the impromptu whim of little force. You would not call it alive in any real sense, any more than the bark of a tree or the ebb of a river. Motion does not mean life, only motion.

The next step up, the interaction between chains of organic molecules guided by chemical gates and gradients, is just as robotic and carries with it no semblance of intelligence. It is us that have defined agency in the evolutionarily derived actions of physics and chemistry. Once again you would not ask a melting lump of sugar how it feels.

So to jump to a creature that we consider alive we must allow for something different, the ability for an organism to not only respond to something outside of itself, (like simple molecules will,) but to manage its response over time.

It is within the structure of a third order neuron system that we begin to see feedback loops that form the basis of sentience, that is the binary form of what, as humans, we owe our special experience to. It is the macrocosmic version of these loops, interacting at incredible speeds, that give us the illusion of what we call ‘mind’

And regardless of our supposed consciousness, which until recently many believed signified some transcendental soul, we can reduce not just our minds, but our entire existence, free will included, to the non-sentient interactions of molecules carved into man-shape.

Considering this, the idea of death becomes one of both greater significance, and lesser all at once.

Before the Gates

So assuming that Science can provide explanations of how we have come to be, think and live, it is fair to demand that it provide an explanation for death. The biological model of death is quite simple; the cessation of an organism in all forms of modality except physical, which itself eventually passes with the sands of entropy. There is no room for a soul, which ceases as the machinery of the body grinds to a halt.

Whatever consciousness, thoughts or soul that once was disappears, a temporary illusion of apparent sentience maintained by the limited capacities of our brains, tempered and reminded of its presence by our nervous systems, intrinsically tied to the physical form in which it carries out it’s life. Simply put, the ‘soul’ is nothing more than a function of the soulless.

But as thinking creatures, who have achieved so much as to fly jets and write poetry, the very concept of death, beyond a question mark or ancient book, eludes us.

To ask what lies beyond, how it may ‘feel’ and what it ‘means’ is a question that Science itself has not answered beyond the retrospective analysis of those who have experienced near-death experiences. And even then, the ‘white light’ and ‘feelings of warmth’ so often attributed to a deity can be explained the death secretions of the brain in the form of DMT and other chemicals. Once again, we have applied agency and purpose to the banal.

To consider the true feeling of ‘non-being’ is simply beyond us. It is like asking what life felt like before you were born. I have no memory of the 13 or so billion years prior to my birth and will have no experience of the trillions after my death.

The experience, unless I am dramatically wrong in my atheism, will be very much the same; beyond comprehension, as there is no mechanism by which we may comprehend it. We are asking a rock to know itself.

As for purpose of life and death, there is likely none beyond which we choose. And if free will is an illusion, which many believe it to be, then the choice itself is mute. The purpose of life is simply existence but without agency or overriding design.

Freidrich Nietzsche may have come the closest in his estimations, in that purpose cannot be known as the universe itself is unknowable, and although science has taught us much about the universe, it has only shown us what and how, not ‘why.’

After the Fall.

To some, the idea of death is one of immense tribulation. I would agree myself, and no wager as simple as Pascal’s, or approach as defensive as agnosticism, changes that. The realisation of the mechanical nature of the human body and the illusory spirit is one that could, if we so let it, steal our significance in both the personal and cosmic sense. Such intellectual discussion means little to the lady dying of cancer, or the old man of kidney failure.

Such arbitrary ruminations are the gift of a far-off death, the distance of time or reality, the time to muse. But upon approaching it, either in hours, days or weeks, the intellectual arguments may provide no solace. In this sense, I very much understand why so much of the world holds on to the safety of heaven, because the reality of randomness and pointless may make life seem unfair.

Why live without purpose, why die at all?

However, even the most logical deductions about the nature of death and it’s purpose can reveal something truly astounding. And that is that if the universe is without agency or purpose, and we are nothing but illusory consciousness formed of asentient molecules, then our lives are incredibly worthwhile.

In the vast cosmos, we have sprung to life, and death is not some great messenger or test of faith, but simply the end of that cycle.

Death is neither bad nor good beyond human morality, but a cessation. The molecules in our bodies will not feel the end, or eulogise the passing of a ribosome. But those we leave behind will greave the loss of kin, another one so unlikely to have experienced life.

For me, as cynical as I am, there is a great beauty around the end of things. It teaches us, perhaps not all at once, that the true value of life is in its living.

We don’t require purpose, just the ability to define it. We don’t need free will, just the illusion of agency. We don’t need an eternal life, just the moments that make us forget about the inanity of it all.

And being a doctor and an atheist, death has taught me this; the end is common, constant and beyond knowledge, but a good life is not. So enjoy every moment, keep writing poems, keep flying jets, keep asking questions and, for as long as you can, breathe.

 

Image courtesy of Flickr.

 

 

 

Could phages be the Answer to the Antibiotic Apocalypse? New study raises hopes.

A  recent study, awaiting publication, may have raised hopes for a way to combat the Antibiotic Apocalypse.  And as bacteria become more resistant to our current medications, there is a real risk that soon we not be able to treat infections.  Worryingly, this means that we could see death rates soar.

But by using ‘phages’, it seems we could attack bacteria in a new way.

phage coli infection antibiotic

Bacteria can cause severe health problems. But our ways of fighting back are failing. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Phages Study Reveals New Attack

Whilst many bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, the use of phages is promising. These tiny organisms are viruses that attack, kill and reproduce inside bacteria. But can we train them to attack what we like? This new study conducted by Dr Taylor Wallace claims so. He says (as reported);

“(Phages) are a wonderful alternative to antibiotics…These are selective, you don’t have any problem with bacterial resistance … and they are safe.”

In a landmark investigation, 16/32 patients with bowel symptoms were given a cocktail of phages designed to attack e.coli (a common but often nasty bacteria.) The remaining 16 were given a placebo. The patients then swapped regimens two weeks through the four week study.

Surprisingly,  the patients showed lower levels of uncomfortable symptoms, a reduction in an inflammation related protein and most importantly, a decrease in the levels of targeted bacterial species. And this was all without any side effects noted.

Still More To Be Done

However, the study still requires further review.  It remains to be clear whether the patients’ symptoms were due to e.coli or not,  if their drop in e.coli was due to a uncharacteristically high base level, or whether the effects seen would persist beyond four weeks.

However, with further study the promising findings of this experiment may provide a clearer motive for phage-based treatments.  And with antibiotics facing a short future, it may be that phages are just what the doctor ordered.

So what do you think? Are we doing enough to fight back against bacteria? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, if you found this interesting then please help us out by sharing.

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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.

 

Ten Incredible Pearls of Wisdom From Great Minds

ten wisdom dawkins

The world can be a confusing place, but academics, authors, artists, poets and philosophers are just some of the many who have tried to explain things. In my wanderings through scientific texts, popular non-fiction and and documentaries, there have been a few stand out comments.

Whether it be Malcolm Gladwell’s keen insight into human nature, or Carl Sagan’s prophetic view of the world, all have resonated in some way beyond comprehension. They seem intrinsically correct, and universally true.

So here are ten incredible pearls of wisdom from the great minds.

1. On The Origins And Nature Of Human Behaviour

‘Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs.’ – Richard Dawkins, ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular-science writer.

As the current face of evolutionary theory, Dawkins’ is no stranger to controversy. And although his work has revolutionised our understanding of the natural world, his opinions about how we must overcome our nature have caused the most conversation.

ten wisdom dawkins

The nature of life is conservative, selfish and driven by unconscious forces. Dawkins’ understands that to ‘be good’ you must understand our basic urges. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Dawkins’ is very aware how our evolutionary history, and how the selective pressures of the environment and each other, have shaped our behaviour. And in his book ‘The Selfish Gene‘, gives us to pause to consider the true morality of nature.

What is ‘natural’ isn’t inherently ‘moral’, and what we consider ‘moral’ is not inherently survival.  So Dawkins’ asks us to understand our primal natures if we are to best them.

2. On The Power Of Words

‘To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy. ‘ – Bertrand Russell, Philosopher, Logician and Nobel Prize winner.

Although Russell is best known as a philosopher, his life of work reached deeper into the shared mind of society than we realise. By studying and writing on the academic disciplines of logic, mathematics and epistemology (the study of knowledge,) he became a strong advocate for peaceful societal reform.

A man’s words may make beautiful the macabre. Russell relied on logic to unify humanity toward a common good. Image courtesy of Flickr.

And most noteworthy are his observations of how people can be manipulated by words. The use of eloquent language, a flowery vocabulary or poetic arrangement can make the terrible seem empowering.  You need only read the words of Nazi spokesperson Joseph Goebbels to see how language can betray human decency.

We must understand a man’s motivation, and place it in the context of the sociopolitical climate, to truly understand what may be hiding behind the words.

3. On The Risks Of Virtue

‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.’ – Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosopher, Author and culture commentator.

As the central reference to ‘Nihilism‘, Nietzsche examined the purpose of life without purpose. His infamous quote ‘God is dead‘ instilled the idea that the concept and role of any God is limited, and that through pain and suffering we may choose a virtuous path.

wisdom nietzsche

Nietzsche warned us not to become monsters in the pursuit of greatness. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Whilst an avid skeptic of religion in general, his infamous parable ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra‘ presented, in humbling terms, the true insanity of zealotry. He warns us not to lose ourselves in purpose, and to recognise how a belief in achieving ‘the good’ can lead to evil.

And in a world where popular influencers claim a moral authority, his words could not carry greater weight.

4. On The Importance Of Responsibility

‘Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.’ – Jean Paul Satre, Philosopher.

Regarded by many as the father of ‘Existentialism‘, Satre believed that existence precedes essence, and that we must find our own way in a meaningless universe. But in accepting this freedom in action, we cannot ignore our role in what comes next.

wisdom star ten star

Satre  believed that with action comes responsibility, and with freedom comes the same. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Many existentialists reject the concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour being an inherent natural motivation, and instead suggest that we make our decisions based on complex (although often incorrect,) contextual interpretations.

Not only does this mean we must be aware of our own limits, but take responsibility when they are exposed.

5. On The Stoicism Of Knowledge

The older I get, the more I understand that the only way to say valuable things is to lose your fear of being correct. – Malcolm Gladwell, Author and Journalist.

Famed author of ‘David And Goliath’, ‘Outliers‘ and ‘The Tipping Point‘, Gladwell explores the interconnectedness of humanity with the world around it. In his poignant prose he unravels what may seem miraculous, often challenging widely held beliefs.

wisdom pearls gladwell quote

Gladwell has exposed and explained the hidden reasons behind cultural success and individual power. To question convention is as useful as it is risky. Image courtesy of Flickr.

His work tells us not only to dig deeper to explain the world, but that explanations may exist beyond the obvious. He also extols the value of expressing new ideas, fearlessly with no regard for your own ego.

We must challenge convention to find the truth, even if it risks our reputations.

6. On The Insights Given By Friendship

‘You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps.’ – Sam Harris, Philosopher and Neuroscientist.

Although more likely to be a figure of repute for his views on religion, Harris is a distinguished author and surveyor of the interface between neuroscience, morality and the world at large.

A fierce critic of authoritarian dogma, Harris asks us to take responsibility for building our knowledge toward creating a better world.

wisdom harris quote ten

Sam Harris is a vocal critic of authoritarian regimes and their numerous abuses. Image courtesy of Flickr.

He also asserts that morality itself exists independently of religious doctrine, and empowers a human approach toward a coalescence of society. And as a neuroscientist, he is all to aware of how our behaviour may make us, or betray our intentions.

So if  you want the measure of a man, consider who they value as friends.

7. On The Illusion Of Simplicity.

‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.’ – Ben Goldacre, Physician and Author.

The namesake of his popular book tells us a lot about Ben Goldacre. An academic and scourge of pseudoscience and ‘folk wisdom’, Ben uses evidence to expose the lies many are sold by the few to the many. He also tells that what is made simple, or appears so, may not be.

wisdom goldacre bad science

Ben Goldcare makes it his mission to challenge misleading beliefs, expose bad science and explain the misunderstood. Image courtesy of Flickr.

What is claimed to simple may be complex, and what lies between may be inaccurate, underhanded and deliberate.

And with that, we should try to understand the motives behind simplification, and why it is so easy for us to be sold a lie. Amongst his many targets is Homeopathy and the risks involved in being misled.

8. On the Arrogance Of The Human Mind.

‘See that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.’ – Richard Feynman, Theoretical Physicist, Nobel Prize winner and  Science Communicator.

Whilst it may seem odd that a theoretical physicist is so humble about uncertainty, Feynman shows us just how wonderful the universe is.

Although a pioneer in our understanding of the nature of our reality, he recognises that there is simply more we don’t know.

feynman physics quote wisdom

Feynman studied and revealed some of the most hidden secrets of our universe, but in doing so realised that was is unknown is our greatest teacher. Image courtesy of Flickr.

The intricacies of our reality, currently hazy between the infinitesimally small and unimaginably large, appear to us through rigorous questioning and often teach us that our presuppositions are not just wrong,  revealing a drastic flaw in human understanding.

We claim to be intelligent, and yet this intelligence often blinds us to our own folly. We must revel in the wonder of whats left to wonder about, and not be afraid to look stupid doing so.

9. On The Value Of Choice And Humility

‘I was never born to write. I was taught to write. And I am still being taught to write.’ – Atul Gawande, Surgeon, Research and Author.

If you are a doctor, you no doubt are aware of Gawande. Whilst a strong advocate of evidence and comprehensive approaches, Gawande has also ventured into a philosophical musing of the human condition.

gawande life wisdom

As a surgeon, Gawande not only saves lives, but has taken it upon himself to understand what the true value of life is. Image courtesy of Flickr.

In his best-selling book, ‘Being Mortal’, Gawande examines the true value of human life, and what we lose and gain as we age. And true to his nature, he treats himself with a level of skepticism coherent with his humble world view.

We are born with a choice in a difficult world, expertise is only a measure of dedication tempered by self criticism, and arrogance undermines greatness.

10. On The Size Of Our Influence

‘The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.’ – Carl Sagan,  Astronomer, Astrophycist and Pulitzer Prize winner.

To reduce the works of Sagan to one sentence would vastly sell him short. Not only did he lead the way in popularising science, but housed a mind so in tune with the human condition that his loss is truly universal.

Having inspired legions of scientists, including protege Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sagan’s holistic approach to science and its delicate implications toward society rings as true today as it did years ago.

sagan quote wisdom science

Carl Sagan was not just a pioneer of knowledge, but arguably one of humanity’s greatest teachers. Image courtesy of Flickr.

He was exceptionally kind, humble and patient, expressing the very tenets he postulated as a universal ideal.

Sagan reminds us that the true beauty of the universe is not just in its nature, or its creation, but in our pursuit of explanation and the inherent ability to use this knowledge to better ourselves and future generations.

And that perspective matters, for the universe is much greater than such complex molecular machines as we. We are so very small, but in that there is much to be learned, gained and valued.

So Much Left To Learn

Ten quotes simply isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of the grand insights accumulated in the wealth of human knowledge, or beyond it. And with each quote, you may have taken your own interpretation of meaning and purpose.

Perhaps you disagree with some, or worry that they are incongruent with each other. But I am willing to contend the opposite, that each shares a unity in placing the pursuit of knowledge through humility, truth and beneficence as a true virtue.

So what are your favourite quotes? What and who has changed your life? Let us know in the comments. And if you believe, like I do, that knowledge is best shared, then help us by sharing this article with your friends and family.

What’s Next?

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 from the Author: Upon writing this article I became very aware of just how much I don’t know, and how much I can learn. I feel it only right to follow up on this article with more information about the works and lessons of the persons featured. There are many greats not featured on this list, but don’t worry, I will find ways to include them. I do not value my opinion of what is great  above any others, I only wish to signpost what is already there.

‘Did Mars Once Hold Life?’ Discovery Of Organic Molecules May Hold Vital Clues.

An exciting discovery by NASA’s Curiosity rover has strengthened the idea that Mars may have once been suitable for life. The chance finding of organic material in an ancient lake bed suggests Mars once held the foodstuffs necessary for life.

Although not conclusive, these findings add to the growing evidence for previous life on Mars, with seasonal methane and liquid water providing cause for excitement.  Mars is inhospitable for now, but may not have always been.

And with that, the tantalising hope that life may exist beyond earth.

mars life organic rover

Mars is considered a cold, dead world. But did life once flourish? Image courtesy of Flickr.

Curiosity’s Discovery Of Organic Molecules

The discovery of these ‘organic molecules’ asks many questions. We cannot tell exactly where they came from, perhaps remnants of long dead organisms, something crash landed from space or indeed simply ancient foodstuffs.

But what we can say is that these molecules, formed of carbon, oxygen and other elements fundamental to life as we know it, could very much  suggest something significant.  Whilst it is important to note that these structures can be created without life, life can’t exist without them.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life. ” – Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Science Directorate.

life organic simple mars

Life is a complex array of molecules and processes. But at its core, the foundational elements may coalesce with relative ease. Image courtesy of Flickr.

 

Food For Thought

Although direct evidence of life on Mar’s is yet to be discovered, if at all, these new findings tell us that the environment may have supported it. Biological creatures like we subsist  on organic compounds for energy, and this is consistent down the food chain.

There is little reason to thing extra-terrestrial life would be that different. In fact, many believe that the ingredients for simple life are abundant enough that finding alien organisms is almost a certainty. And the chances are that, on a fundamental level at least, we will all be built of the same stuff.

And with that, makes a strong case for a similar ecological energy source. Jennifer Eigenbrode, NASA biogeochemist says of the finding;

“It is not telling us that life was there, but it is saying that everything organisms really needed to live in that kind of environment, all of that was there.”

earth life mars organic

All life as we know it evolved from the same ingredients. And these ingredients grow universally. Image courtesy of Flickr.

A New Direction In Ancient Footsteps

Although direct evidence of extra-terrestrial life eludes us, the chances are good. Although the paucity of interstellar craft and signals presents some concerning questions, it may be that life is abundant between the stars.

And you have  to look no further than your own back yard to find out why. It is likely made of common stuff.

Whilst we imagine aliens as, well, very alien, very basic life may be a natural inevitability. Current theories of the origins of life on earth centre around the unconscious replication of favourable molecules, building more complex structures over time.

Eventually, these would become us and everything else that breathes, grows and dies. And the more we learn, the more beautiful and interconnected it all becomes.

life organic mars

The size of our universe is beyond comprehension. But can we really say that it is ours? Image courtesy of Flickr.

Given the vast numbers at hand, i.e trillions of stars, innumerable planets and billions of years, chances are that Curiosity’s discovery may be just the first of a truly cosmic collection.

So what do you think, is there life out there? What does it mean for us? Let us know 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. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

 

 

 

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