(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘biochemistry

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present”*…

Iwan Rhys Morus suggests that we’re enthralled to a Victorian paradigm that haunts us still: the idea that inventors and entrepreneurs hold the keys to the utopian future…

Tech titans like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos present themselves as men who could single-handedly shape the future. For their supporters, their ruthless drive toward success is their key virtue. And their showmanship — Musk sending a Tesla Roadster into space on a Falcon Heavy rocket, or Bezos sending Captain Kirk into orbit with Blue Origin — is a way of demonstrating that virtue and asserting they are in control.

We owe to the Victorians the idea that there is a firm link between virtue and technological agency. They established a powerful paradigm that continues to haunt us: that the future is (or can be) a utopia, and inventors and entrepreneurs are the ones who know how to get there.

While our notions of virtue have shifted today, we still assume that future-making is the prerogative of very specific sorts of innovators — even as their imagined identities have fractured and transformed. The assumption that innovation is the property of charismatic individuals still underlies the way we think about technology.

The seductive power of Victorian thinking about the relationship between character, technology, and the future remains pervasive, even if views about just what the proper character of the inventor should be have shifted….

With its focus on individual virtue, the Victorian vision of the future is an exclusive one. When we subscribe to this paradigm about how — and by whom — the future is made, we’re also relinquishing control over that future. We’re acknowledging that tomorrow belongs to them, not to us.

Back To The Victorian Future,” by @irmorus1 in @NoemaMag. Eminently worth reading in full.

* Albert Camus


As we ponder power and its purpose, we might send inclusive birthday greetings to Jacques Lucien Monod; he was born on this date in 1910. A biochemist, he shared (with with François Jacob and André Lwoff) the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965, “for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.”

But Monod, who became the director of the Pasteur Institute, also made significant contributions to the philosophy of science– in particular via his 1971 book (based on a series of his lectures) Chance and Necessity, in which he examined the philosophical implications of modern biology. The importance of Monod’s work as a bridge between the chance and necessity of evolution and biochemistry on the one hand, and the human realm of choice and ethics on the other, can be seen in his influence on philosophers, biologists, and computer scientists including Daniel Dennett, Douglas Hofstadter, Marvin Minsky, and Richard Dawkins.


“Oxygen / Everything needs it”*…

An aerial view of forest fire of the Amazon taken with a drone is seen from an Indigenous territory in the state of Mato Grosso


As tongues of flame lapped the planet’s largest tract of rain forest over the past few weeks, it has rightfully inspired the world’s horror. The entire Amazon could be nearing the edge of a desiccating feedback loop, one that could end in catastrophic collapse. This collapse would threaten millions of species, from every branch of the tree of life, each of them—its idiosyncratic splendor, its subjective animal perception of the world—irretrievable once it’s gone. This arson has been tacitly encouraged by a Brazilian administration that is determined to develop the rain forest, over the objections of its indigenous inhabitants and the world at large. Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible. World leaders need to marshal all their political and diplomatic might to save it.

The Amazon is a vast, ineffable, vital, living wonder. It does not, however, supply the planet with 20 percent of its oxygen.

As the biochemist Nick Lane wrote in his 2003 book Oxygen, “Even the most foolhardy destruction of world forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply, though in other respects such short-sighted idiocy is an unspeakable tragedy.”…

There are very many very good reasons not to burn down the Amazon rain forest.  Still, humans could burn every living thing on the planet and still not dent its oxygen supply: “The Amazon Is Not Earth’s Lungs.”

(Again– burning down the rainforest is bad, very very bad.  But as long-time environmental reporter Michael Shellenberger argues, if we ground our concerns in the actual details of what’s happening, we’re much likelier to find effective responses.)

* Mary Oliver (from her collection Twist)


As we take a deep breath, we might recall that it was on this date in 1666 that the Great Fire of London broke out.  The conflagration raged for four days, mostly in the City of London, within the old Roman walls; it did not spread to the aristocratic district of Westminster, to Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall, nor to most of the suburban slums.  It destroyed 13,200 houses, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 87 parish churches.  Miraculously, fewer than 20 people lost their lives.

Great Fire of London.jpg source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

“You give me fever”*…


People drew maps of body locations where they feel basic emotions (top row) and more complex ones (bottom row). Hot colors show regions that people say are stimulated during the emotion. Cool colors indicate deactivated areas

When a team of scientists in Finland asked people to map out where they felt different emotions on their bodies, they found that the results were surprisingly consistent, even across cultures.

People reported that happiness and love sparked activity across nearly the entire body, while depression had the opposite effect: It dampened feelings in the arms, legs and head. Danger and fear triggered strong sensations in the chest area, the volunteers said. And anger was one of the few emotions that activated the arms…

Read the whole story at “Mapping Emotions On The Body: Love Makes Us Warm All Over,” and peruse the research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

* from “Fever,” written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, who used the pseudonym “John Davenport.”  It was originally recorded by Little Willie John in 1956, then covered by various artists, notably Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Usha Uthup, Ray Charles, Nancy Sinatra, The McCoys, The Blues Band, Boney M., Amanda Lear, La Lupe, Madonna, Fishtank Ensemble, The Jam, The Cramps, Wanda Jackson, Bette Midler, Michael Bublé, and Suzi Quatro


As we as we try to recall whether it’s “mind over body” or “body over mind,” we might send emotional birthday greetings to Karl Sune Detlof Bergström; he was born on this date in 1916.  An accomplished biochemist, Bergström shared the 1982 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Bengt I. Samuelsson and John R. Vane for the isolation, identification, and analysis of prostaglandins and related biologically active substances.  As these biochemical compounds influence such physiological phenomena in mammals as blood pressure and body temperature, they are surely active in the reactions mapped by the Finns, above.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 10, 2014 at 1:01 am



In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.

– Richard Feynman

Paul Dirac is famous for suggesting, “predicting,” in 1929, that there must be a positively-charge electron– or “positron.”  But until 1932, and Carl Anderson’s confirming cloud chamber experiments at Cal Tech, antimatter was just that– a suggestion, a prediction, a theory.  Anderson’s elegant experimental work showed anti-matter for the first time; it confirmed Dirac’s theory.

Similarly, Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and Arthur Eddington’s confirmation…  or Murray Gell-Mann’s theoretical quarks, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator team (Henry Kendall, Jerome Friedman and Richard Taylor) who actually found them…

Why do theorists become famous, while experimentalists don’t?  Ashutosh Jogalekar looks at “Theorists, experimentalists and the bias in popular physics.”


As we note that it’s all about the story, we might send nourishing birthday wishes to Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins; he was born on this date in 1861.  A chemist by training, Hopkins was fascinated from an early age by physiology.  He succeeded in marrying the two passions– and helping to create the field of Biochemistry (of which he was the first professor at Cambridge).

Hopkins discovered the amino acid tryptophan and the anti-oxydent glutathione.  But he is surely best remembered for his discovery of the “nutrient factors,” now known as “vitamins,” essential in animal diets to maintain health– work for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1929.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 20, 2013 at 1:01 am

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