Adonis Diaries

Archive for August 13th, 2016

Overvaluing confidence, we’ve forgotten the power of humility

Information is Not knowledge

Jacob Burak is the founder of Alaxon, a digital magazine about culture, art and popular science, where he writes regularly. His latest book is How to Find a Black Cat in a Dark Room (2013).

If I only had a little humility, I’d be perfect,’ the media mogul Ted Turner supposedly said sometime in the 1990s, in a moment of narcissistic exuberance.

While Turner has been much humbler since, today’s breed of tech entrepreneurs often display a similar arrogance.

Why be humble? After all, Aristotle said: ‘All men by nature desire to know.’

Intellectual humility is a particular instance of humility, since you can be down-to-earth about most things and still ignore your mental limitations.

Intellectual humility means recognising that we don’t know everything – and what we do know, we shouldn’t use to our advantage. Instead, we should acknowledge that we’re probably biased in our belief about just how much we understand, and seek out the sources of wisdom that we lack. (keep experimenting about any thing that people conform with?)

The internet and digital media have created the impression of limitless knowledge at our fingertips.

But, by making us lazy, they have opened up a space that ignorance can fill.

On the Edge website, the psychologist Tania Lombrozo of the University of California explained how technology enhances our illusions of wisdom.

She argues that the way we access information about an issue is critical to our understanding – and the more easily we can recall an image, word or statement, the more likely we’ll think we’ve successfully learned it, and so refrain from effortful cognitive processing.

Logical puzzles presented in an unfriendly font, for example, can encourage someone to make extra effort to solve them. Yet this approach runs counter to the sleek designs of the apps and sites that populate our screens, where our brain processes information in a deceptively ‘smooth’ way.

What about all the commenting and conversations that happen online?

your capacity to learn from them depends on your attitudes to other people. Intellectually humble people don’t repress, hide or ignore their vulnerabilities, like so many trolls.

In fact, they see their weaknesses as sources of personal development, and use arguments as an opportunity to refine their views.

People who are humble by nature tend to be more open-minded and quicker to resolve disputes, since they recognise that their own opinions might not be valid.

The psychologist Carol Dweck at Stanford University in California has shown that if you believe intelligence can be developed through experience and hard work, you’re likely to make more of an effort to solve difficult problems, compared with those who think intelligence is hereditary and unchangeable.

Intellectual humility relies on the ability to prefer truth over social status. ( How can we ever replace the term Truth with an alternative term that has Not this abstract connotation?)

It is marked primarily by a commitment to seeking answers, and a willingness to accept new ideas – even if they contradict our views.

In listening to others, we run the risk of discovering that they know more than we do. But humble people see personal growth as a goal in itself, rather than as a means of moving up the social ladder. We miss out on a lot of available information if we focus only on ourselves and on our place in the world.

At the other end of the scale lies intellectual arrogance – the evil twin of overconfidence.

Such arrogance almost always stems from the egocentric bias – the tendency to overestimate our own virtue or importance, ignoring the role of chance or the influence of other people’s actions on our lives.

This is what makes us attribute success to ourselves and failure to circumstance. The egocentric bias makes sense, since our own personal experience is what we understand best. It becomes a problem when that experience is too thin to form a serious opinion, yet we still make do with it.

Studies have shown that people find it difficult to notice their own blind spots, even when they can identify them easily in others.

From an evolutionary perspective, intellectual arrogance can be seen as a way of achieving dominance through imposing one’s view on others.

Meanwhile, intellectual humility invests mental resources in discussion and working towards group consensus.

The Thrive Center for Human Development in California, which seeks to help young people turn into successful adults, is funding a series of major studies about intellectual humility.

Their hypothesis is that humility, curiosity and openness are key to a fulfilling life.

One of their papers proposes a scale for measuring humility by examining questions such as whether people are consistently humble or whether it depends on circumstances. Acknowledging that our opinions (and those of others) vary by circumstance is, in itself, a significant step towards reducing our exaggerated confidence that we are right.

In the realm of science, if necessity is the mother of invention, then humility is its father.  (Survival of the mother’s necessities are more important than that of the father?)

Scientists must be willing to abandon their theories in favour of new, more accurate explanations in order to keep up with constant innovation.

Many scientists who made important findings early on in their careers find themselves blocked by ego from making fresh breakthroughs.

In his fascinating blog, the philosopher W Jay Wood argues that intellectually humble scientists are more likely to acquire knowledge and insight than those lacking this virtue. Intellectual humility, he says, ‘changes scientists themselves in ways that allow them to direct their abilities and practices in more effective ways’.

Albert Einstein knew as much when he reportedly said that ‘information is not knowledge’.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of people operations, agrees. In an interview with The New York Times, he said that humility is one of the top attributes he looks for in candidates, (except in negotiation skills?) but that it can be hard to find among successful people, because they rarely experience failure.

Without humility, you are unable to learn,’ he notes. A little ironic, perhaps, for a company that has done more than any other to make information seem instant, seamless, and snackable.

Perhaps humility’s the sort of thing you can have only when you’re not aware of it.


No More Pills? Tiny Nerve-Zapping Implants to Fight Disease

(When a pharmaceutical product to be manufactured in 2023, and is announced now, wouldn’t this piece be considered a propaganda item for the company and Not for the eventual product?)

Imagine a future where we can treat diabetes or autoimmune disorders with an electrical zap delivered by a device no larger than a speck of dust.

The device, implanted through microsurgery, sits silently on a single nerve bundle, monitoring electrical signals sent out by the brain to itself and various organs in the body.

When it detects a problem — a rogue misfire, or a shift in activity patterns — the device powers up, sending out counter-pulses to correct the signal.

In this way, it keeps your body running smoothly and disease at bay. No pills. No injections. No pain. (Assuming that we know better than our body what and when to adjust to disturbances)

According to Alphabet and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), that future is just 7 years away

Imagine a future where we can treat diabetes or autoimmune disorders with an electrical zap delivered by a device no larger than a speck

This week, Verily, Alphabet’s life science unit (formerly Google Life Sciences), teamed up with Britain’s biggest drug maker to announce their new $715 million venture Galvani Bioelectronics.

With research centers based in GSK’s biotech hub in the UK and around the Bay Area, the company hopes to develop miniaturized, implantable electronic systems — dubbed “electroceuticals” — to correct irregular nerve pulses that contribute to a multitude of chronic diseases.

Hopes are high. According to Reuters, Kristoffer Famm, head of bioelectronics research at GSK and president of Galvani, says that their first products might be submitted for marketing approval as early as 2023.

Electricity as drugs

Eletroceuticals may sound futuristic, but using electricity to treat disease is nothing new — think pacemakers for correcting wonky heartbeats, or deep brain stimulation for rewiring broken neural circuits in depression and Parkinson’s disease.

(When electricity was discovered in the 19th century, every ailment was considered to be cured using electric shocks)

It’s easy to see why electroceuticals are sparking interest. Unlike run-of-the-mill chemical drugs that act on a protein or other molecule, electrical pulses directly hack into the main language of our nervous system to change its operating instructions. (Changing operating instructions? I won’t trust this alternative for any long-term benefits)

That’s a big deal. “The nervous system is crisscrossing our viscera to control many aspects of our organ function,” explains Famm in an earlier interview with Nature.

Rather than using drugs, which are rarely specific for a single biological process, we could zap a major nerve and, with surgical precision, change the instructions that an organ receives and thereby alter its function.

Electricity can not only jump start a heart or jolt a brain into health, but under the right conditions, a well-placed zap may also coax resistant pancreatic cells to release insulin, persuade clenched arteries to relax, or berate hyperactive immune cells to stop attacking your own tissue.

Rather than developing a library of chemical drugs that targets individual diseases, a single electroceutical prototype could, in theory, be programmed to treat multiple diseases.

According to a spokesperson from GSK, Galvani plans to tackle “a wide range of chronic diseases that are inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, which includes Type 2 diabetes,” but adding that the company hasn’t yet developed specific product plans.

Galvanizing the field

Last year already saw big wins for electroceuticals. In May, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a device that contracts airway muscles to help people with severe sleep apnea breathe properly without using an oxygen mask. A month later, the agency also gave its nod to an implantable weight-loss device that stimulates a nerve near the stomach to make a person feel full.

To really tap into the potential of electroceuticals, the devices will have to get much smaller. Nerves are incredibly compact, and unrelated circuits often run in close proximity. Because of this, electrical devices that zap a whole chunk of tissue run the risk of significant side effects — it’s like jump starting your car, but also blowing out the fuses in your entire house.

(And that’s what will occur eventually: If an accident can occur, it will occur. Blowing most of the fuses in your nervous system is Not a small accident)

This is where Galvani comes in. By combining engineering, bioinformatics and neuroscience, the company hopes to shrink implanted devices to the size of a grain of rice. Although specific plans are still under wraps, back in 2013 GSK published a roadmap that will likely guide the fledgling company.

“Many of the stepping stones are already in place,” wrote Famm and his colleagues.

First, the scientists will need to trace neural circuits that control disease to identify easy access points for intervention. (Excellent endeavour: a complete mapping or Taxonomy of the nervous centers)

They’ll also need to understand the signals running through those circuits in order to build a ‘dictionary’ of patterns that represent healthy and diseased states. By decoding the neural language, researchers can then program future electroceuticals to understand nerve impulses and, in turn, generate corrective pulses of their own.

Then there’s the engineering side of things. Bioengineers will need to design wireless, biocompatible microchips that can reliably perform real-time computation with low power.

When implanted through keyhole surgeries, the hope is that these electroceuticals will last at least decades.

According to Famm, the first generation of marketable implants will be roughly the size of an average pill. However, eventually they’ll be smaller than a grain of rice.

That goal may not be far off, and Galvani’s got serious competition.

Ryan Neely/University of California at Berkeley

An implantable, wireless sensor like this could allow real-time monitoring of nerve or muscle activity anywhere in the body, using external ultrasound to power and read out voltages.

In this photo, the sensor mote is attached to a peripheral nerve fiber of a rat. Credit:Ryan Neely/University of California at Berkeley

This week, a team at the University of California, Berkeley published a new wireless, implantable sensor that’s only three millimeters (about a tenth of an inch) in length. Aptly named “neural dust,” the device contains a piezoelectric crystal that converts ultrasonic vibrations from outside the body into electricity. This energy is then used to power a tiny transistor that contacts both the crystal and a nerve fiber.

When an impulse jolts through the nerve, it tweaks the circuits in the transistor, which in turn change the vibration of the crystal. These tiny flutters are then picked up by an ultrasound receiver and subsequently decoded. In this way, the device lets researchers closely monitor each spike of activity in a nerve.

Although the device is currently “read-only,” the team — not associated with Galvani — says that they are developing neural dust that can also stimulate nerves in a self-sustaining, closed-loop system.

Famm seems to welcome a healthy dose of competition in the nascent but burgeoning field.

“Clearly, open innovation … will be important,” he wrote back in 2013 (who wrote it?).

Quoting the poet Cesare Pavese, Famm continued, “’If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.’ Together we can bring about the era of electroceuticals.”

Shelly Fan is a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, where she studies ways to make old brains young again.

In addition to research, she’s also an avid science writer with an insatiable obsession with biotech, AI and all things neuro.

She spends her spare time kayaking, bike camping and getting lost in the woods.

7 Cool Facts About The Perseid Meteor Shower from (Aug. 8 to 13)

And Delta Aquarids shower in Aug. 23.

Whether you’re an astrophile or not, you’ll probably end up on cloud nine at the sight of a shooting star!

Lucky for you, the Perseid meteor shower is at its peak between August 9 and August 13. #MySummerEdition along with the Live Love Family has got a nice surprise for you on August 12.

Until then, here are seven things you need to know about the Perseid meteor shower:

Bassam Jalgha, Romy Assouad and 9 others like

One: It’s actually happening now!

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a trail of meteoroids that are in a comet’s orbit (produced when the comet comes close to the sun). Different meteor showers occur every year at the same time.

The Perseid shower is the one happening in Mid-August.

Two: Comet Swift-Tuttle is colossal!

What’s Comet Swift-Tuttle? Comet Swift-Tuttle is the source of the meteors that make up the Perseid meteor shower.

It is one of the largest objects known to repeatedly cross paths with Earth. Just how large is this Comet? Comet Swift-Tuttle stretches more than 16 miles wide, roughly equal to the object that wiped out the dinosaurs! Lucky for us, it won’t be colliding with earth anytime soon. (But eventually?)

Three: Most, if not all of us, may never see Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Unless you’re well into your 30s, chances are you haven’t and won’t ever witness Comet Swift-Tuttle, last seen in 1992. (And I didn’t see it. As if nothing happened). Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun once every 130 years.

Prior to 1992, it had last been seen in 1862, August Lumière was born in the same year.

Four: Perseids are fast and furious.

When Earth passes through the trail of meteors left by Swift-Tuttle, Perseid meteors strike the atmosphere at 140,000 mph while compressing and heating up the air in front of it, which results in the meteor heating up and shattering in a blink of an eye.

Five: Meteor shower extravaganza!

The Perseid shower isn’t the only meteor shower around, the Delta Aquarids shower is also happening right now and will continue until around August 23.

Catching a glimpse of both showers overlapping will very much depend on your location. To make things even more awesome, the Perseid shower is expected to have an outburst that could yield as many as 50 meteors per hour!

Six: First quarter moon on August 10.

The moonlight’s brightness can be disruptive when watching meteor showers. Fortunately, the first quarter moon sets near the middle of the night. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have to get out of town because artificial lights are also disruptive.

Seven: You don’t need fancy equipment to watch the shower!

You won’t need binoculars, a telescope or any kind of equipment, just gather a group of friends and get out of town. Remember that stargazing is a waiting game, it takes about 30 minutes for the eyes to adjust to the dark and the longer the wait the better you’ll see.

Don’t forget to bring something comfortable to sit on, some snacks and lots of bug spray, the rest is about chillaxing and looking up for the celestial show.

Keep an eye out on #MySummerEdition, and gear up to August 12 at 140,000 mph!




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