Month: August 2014

The Good Life

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“Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.” -Boethius

Any deliberation on the good life will be rife with triteness. This piece is no exception. The most important maxims bear repeating since they are rarely followed, even by those who never tire of propounding them, perhaps, especially by those who never tire of propounding them. An issue with one’s character has a way of oozing out in the form of empty rhetoric. It is horribly elitist to think the average person has never once considered their current engagements pointless in comparison to those of others or in comparison to the scope of the cosmos. Much of the suffering in the world can be attributed to active or repressed existential dread, to the sadness of knowing one can only hope to have an unnoticed niche amidst meaning and excitement. Presenting someone with an image of the life they should want is a devilishly effective advertising technique. It helps if it is already want, but whether it recreates or merely reinforces the blueprints of happiness embedded within their id, ego and superego is not relevant since the result is the same. Yet in their pursuit of the perfect partner (because it all comes back to love and sex, right?) or the perfect life (domestic, adventuresome, or increasingly, some unworkable combination of the two), usually ends in disappointment.  Comparison, as Theodore Roosevelt said, is the thief of joy. The key to happiness is avoiding emotional vampires or, better yet, learning how to shield yourself from them.  How do you spot a loser? Someone who complains about trivial fads without realizing they are as superficial as the people perpetuating them. Giving something your attention shows, on some level, that it matters to you. Learn how to distinguish between the important and the unimportant. You’ll find much more belongs in the latter category than the former.

The internet is a second samsara. Its value lies in the fact that it shows us how people behave when they do not fear repercussions. It is the modern ring of Gorgias. Of course all evil is not motivated by malice. Most evil stems from ignorance. This is a fundamental flaw with Plato’s view on morality. The evil man can be perfectly happy since he cannot see what is wrong with what he is doing. Here one can find the collective mind: hateful, envious, materialistic, hypocritical and prone to speak about topics with which it has only a passing familiarity. In other words, this is society. Its faults are not specific nor are they mutable or “cultural.”  I don’t think contentment should be the goal. Contentment eventually turns into regret. There is satisfaction in knowing we have pushed harder today than we did yesterday, knowing we are steadily securing mastery in what we’ve chosen to practice. This entails dedicating ourselves to something meaningful, something that cannot be summarized with an internet meme. To make sure this happens we must ask ourselves, before becoming emotionally invested in anyone or anything, “does this matter?” You must be content with your own achievements as there will only be so many people who can appreciate them or are willing to admit they envy you. As a rule arguments go nowhere. A discussion happens when neither side has anything to prove, when neither side has an egotistical need to show they are right.  This means it is much wiser to read a book than about a topic than to lob insults at someone you may or may not know. This is a piece of advice I’ve finally taken to heart. Talk gives us immediate gratification. Talk gives us the illusion of accomplishment. It is sometimes tempting to simply babble because more often than not it is given the same ephemeral appreciation as action. Talk has its place and so does the imagination. They are the wellsprings of motion, the forces requisite to overcoming. We’d be better of daydreaming in a conscious and directed manner, simulating scenarios and visualizing what is bound to happen. If we derive a good portion of our enjoyment from the unreal, and if most of our recollections are embellished or otherwise less than perfect replicas of the events themselves, then why should we try to make this distinction? The Sanskrit term lila translates to play. Our world is lila and lila is the play of the divine. Whether you wish to interpret the term divine in a literal or figurative sense is entirely up to you. My most memorable dream featured a single faceless baritone. In the darkness it said to me, “remember, it’s just a game.” Life is a game. Plan, think and revel in its open endedness. Maybe we find its lack of predetermined goals unsettling, which, along with more obvious reasons, is why we cling so desperately to ingrained notions of success and constantly evaluate our present state with what is deemed desirable.

On an instinctive level most every animal is averse to pain and death.  Humans, oddly enough, are an exception. Although this observation still, by and large, applies to h. sapiens. Whether survival imperative presents itself as persistent nervousness or not is another matter, but there is no doubt that survival is near and dear to all things that breathe, walk, crawl, fly and swim. Much has and should be said for gratitude as anyone who has a roof over their head, three meals a day and enough free time to tend to their hobbies is in a kingly station. Experience is not a substitute for empathy. There are some who would reverse the object and subject in the preceding sentence, but I would not. You read it correctly; empathy is vastly superior to experience because what we have seen, heard and done is interpreted from one perspective and one set of emotions. In other words, it is painfully finite. All things are finite, but you need not be painfully so. Subjecting yourself to suffering for the sake of gaining an imaginary moral superiority to others is childish. Debate has degenerated into little more than an oppression Olympics: a competition between the self-diagnosed downtrodden explaining why they or their group are desperately in need of pity, sympathy and admiration. What sort of society encourages these sorts of activities? Since when did self-pity become an avocation (or, for some, a vocation)? I’m sure many people are not afraid of death; I am sure there are a great many who would welcome death with open arms out of hatred for themselves and a disdain for the effort needed to maintain themselves. As Plotinus and Jerry Seinfeld have noted, it takes a lot of effort to maintain our bodies. It takes even more to maintain our relationships with other people. Life is filled with work and sacrifice. If someone manages to avoid work and sacrifice they can at least count on change. No, change is not a equally distributed (as anyone who has travelled through Mississippi can attest), but it is always there. Some will experience more personal upheaval than others. Some will be more aware of the changes taking place around them. The most sheltered person cannot help but notice the way the seasons change, the way friends and family members age, the way triumphs and tragedies alike can sprout up or evaporate in the blink of an eye. Even an isolated life is bound to know both the blessings and curses of chance.

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Latin Proverbs: A



Abusus non tollit usum
(Sed quod usum habet?)
Abuse does not nullify proper use.
(But does it have a use?)

A potential for abuse should not negate an idea or object’s useful properties. It should not move a legislative body to ban it. In many instances it should not even negate it. It would be absurd to put restrictions on all of the common and necessary items that can be used destructively: knives, household cleaners, baseball bats, automobiles, model glue, pens, pencils and, of course, handguns. A civilian does not need a working bazooka or a petri dish of ebola viruses.

Abyssus abyssum invocat: 
Hell calls upon Hell. To quote the Doobie Brothers: “what were once vices are now habits.”

One poor decision leads to another. When we put ourselves in unfavorable circumstances we find our situation frequently worsens exponentially. It takes only one wrong turn before we are hopelessly lost. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “first you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes you.” External factors are not always to blame. Our actions and the way we justify them are often the sole cause of this slippery slope. We do not walk down the alley and trip by accident. The plummet to the bottom is littered with chances to climb back up. By eating one donut you have broken your vow. You may as well eat them all. Your pancreas and arteries would beg to differ, but all or nothing thinking is common in individuals and groups. We need no reason to indulge ourselves. There is always an excuse.

Age quod agisea
Do what you’re doing.

Focus on what needs to be done. This seems impossible in an age in which we’ve all convinced ourselves we are terribly busy (so we busy we must spend a portion of our time telling people we are busy (this has some benefits no doubt, as it is always better to be perceived as dilligent than lazy, but we are veering off topic and I am running out of parentheses)). Do not delude yourself into thinking you are getting more done by splitting your attention. In a broader sense the quote reminds us we must decide on how to spend our days, months and years. Ultimately we must do what we are meant to do or spend our lives in idle indecisiveness brought on not by sloth or a dearth of thought, but an excess of it directed into to many divergent streams. Polymaths are rare and even they must concentrate fully on a difficult task.

 
Asinus asinum fricat
One jackass scratches another.

Most groups are neatly summarized by this proverb. Propaganda need not be manufactured by a central agency; it appears to be an emergent property of human interaction. Years ago an ordinary person could not easily amplify his voice by the credibility the written word lends to an idea. Now any moron can post picture with words on it. True literacy is not required. Welcome to the internet. Far from being a place where new ideas are introduced to receptive minds, the enclaves of the internet, like organizations in the physical world, serve to reinforce old ideas. This is comforting because the conversations on online communities are predictable and repetitive. The so-called “free thinkers” of the internet post the same hacknyed memes exposing the same obvious flaws with organized religion.
I recognized problems with Christian theology when I was 8. This is not a point of pride; it is  factual statement. Ergo, I’m not impressed when a 40 year old man discovers inconsistencies in the Bible or  he smugly smiles in anticipation of applause from his comrades. The internet is a massive circle jerk. Google Circles was honest enough to put the word in its title. This boldness is at the root of its failure as a social network. Now we need not ever read blogs or newspapers that disagree with our core beliefs. We need only to log into Facebook or Twitter. Armed with thousands of bite sized factoids hastily crafted by a zealot who likely lives in a basement, we can go to sleep knowing our cause is just and we are “right” about everything.

A verbis ad verbera
From words to blows.

A verbis semper ad verbera seems just as truthful, perhaps even more approriate if we are talking about America. Arguments escalate. Rarely are they resolved without some snarkiness and several ad hominems. Yet, as tempting as it may be to attack one’s opponent verbally or physically, it is best to keep one’s mind on the topic itself. Age quod agis. These words hard to live by, but they are should become a mantra to those disenchanted with a society that seems to exalt inattentiveness. Until we meet again….

Aniracetam as Nootropic, Anti-Dementia Drug and Anxiolytic

 

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Aniracetam is a fat soluble cousin of piracetam. It is non-toxic and non-addictive. It is a quantitatively and qualitatively more powerful nootropic than piracetam. Lab mice given standard doses of either drug perform better than control groups, but aniracetam-fed mice, including the dimwitted D2 variety, perform better on a wider range of cognitive tests, suggesting aniracetam  has greater therapeutic potential than piracetam. In a study conducted on 100 elderly patients showing signs of  Alzheimers or dementia ” the aniracetam group differed significantly from the placebo group by the end of the study and also showed a statistically significant improvement versus baseline in the psychobehavioural parameters, while in the placebo group a steady deterioration was observed. Tolerability to aniracetam was excellent.”

From the (translated) manufacturer’s label:

“This is an original pharmaceutical product by Roche, which acts on the central nervous system (CNS), stimulating the learning process and the memory. Pharmacological studies have shown that Aniracetam stimulates the functions of certain neuronal receptors by means of glutamic acid, bringing about memorization processes (AMPA receptors) and protection of nerve cells (metabotrophic receptors). Clinical studies have shown specific therapeutic activity in elderly patients affected by alterations of the cognitive functions. Both long and short term memory improvement have seen in addition to learning, attention span, alertness, concentration, reasoning and absent mindedness.”

As or more interesting are aniracetam’s anxiolytic properties and its potential as a pro-social drug. Drug makers have been searching for the holy grail of anxiety suppressants for some time. Benzodiazpenes, which come with a slue of nasty side effects including memory impairment and dependence, seem unattractive compared to this orphaned pharmaceutical. For although research continues to be done, the medical community still seems largely uninterested and unaware. Outside of the arcane realm of psychoneuropharmacology, aniracetam has attracted the attention of a growing group of people fascinating by the possibilities intelligence amplification holds for homo sapiens.

“In a social interaction test in which all classes (serotonergic, cholinergic and dopaminergic) of compounds were effective, aniracetam (10-100 mg/kg) increased total social interaction scores (time and frequency), and the increase in the total social interaction time mainly reflected an increase in trunk sniffing and following…Aniracetam also showed anti-anxiety effects in two other anxiety models (elevated plus-maze and conditioned fear stress tests), whereas diazepam as a positive control was anxiolytic only in the elevated plus-maze and social interaction tests.”

There has yet to be a clinical trial to test its usefulness as an anxiety medication for humans, however there is a substantial body of anecdotal evidence already and it seems likely in this instance its effects on mice can are the same for other mammals. A user on Longecity reports:

“Aniracetam, especially in high doses, produces the strongest effects I’ve experienced from nootropics as of yet. A single two-four gram dose (common for me) of aniracetam starts to affect my mind in about 45-60min after oral ingestion. It then peaks after about 90min, and goes down some 2-4hours after ingestion. My mind gradually seems to accept all my stressful and anxious thoughts of the day, and I feel truly at peace with my environment, internal and external. Often this involves me sitting down, barely moving because of my extreme satisfaction, and watching my mind and body heal.”

This is not an uncommon experience. It is unfortunate pharmaceutical grade aniracetam is not widely available; it more unfortunate that the companies currently supplying it are not regulated by the FDA (although some are kind enough to offer independent laboratory analyses of their products). Its time will come.

New Effective Nootropics

For a Brighter Future

 

Bartolini, L., F. Casamenti, and G. Pepeu. “Aniracetam restores object recognition impaired by age, scopolamine, and nucleus basalis lesions.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 53.2 (1996): 277-283.
Greenblatt, David J., and Richard I. Shader. “Dependence, tolerance, and addiction to benzodiazepines: clinical and pharmacokinetic considerations.” Drug metabolism reviews 8.1 (1978): 13-28.
Martin, J. R., and W. E. Haefely. “Pharmacology of Aniracetam.” Drug Investigation 5.1 (1993): 4-49.
Roth, T., et al. “Benzodiazepines and memory.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 18.S1 (1984): 45S-49S.
 Senin, Umberto, et al. “Aniracetam (Ro 13-5057) in the treatment of senile dementia of Alzheimer type (SDAT): results of a placebo controlled multicentre clinical study.” European Neuropsychopharmacology 1.4 (1991): 511-517.
Smith, Amy M., and Jeanne M. Wehner. “Aniracetam improves contextual fear conditioning and increases hippocampal γ‐PKC activation in DBA/2J mice.” Hippocampus 12.1 (2002): 76-85.
Vincent, George, Anthony Verderese, and Elkan Gamzu. “The effects of aniracetam (Ro 13–5057) on the enhancement and protection of memory.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 444.1 (1985): 489-491.

 

The Robust Australopithecines

 

 

 

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This is an article I wrote in 2010 for a now defunct bioanthropology website.

The robust Australopithecus coexisted with other hominids for over a million years. Members of this family include Paranthropus Boisei, Paranthropus Robustus and Paranthropus Aethiopicus.  P. Aethiopicus is the most ancient of the three. Age estimates of the “Black Skull” range from 2.4 to 2.7 million years and although  P. Aethiopicus had a small cranial capacity (410 cc), the specimen exhibits traits that set the robust Australopithecus apart from their gracile relatives.

Traits such as a zygomatic arch and saggital crest (the zygomatic arch appears as two bony protrusions above the cheek, the saggital crest is the protrusion on the top of the head; in other words, like modern gorillas, robust australopithecines appear to have been adapted to heavy chewing and/or hard-feeding).

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P. Aethiopicus may not be the immediate ancestor of Robustus or Boisei, but the evidence is still too scant to say either way.  P. Aethiopicus, or one of its undiscovered offshoots, is likely the common ancestor of both P. Boisei and P. Robustus.

The robust australopithecines displayed sexually dimorphism. There is a well-established relationship between dimorphism and polygamy in primates. It has been suggested they made use of tools, but no evidence has yet been found.

Chimpanzees, proud stick-wielders, have cranial capacities similar to early hominids, so it is not at all ridiculous to suppose australopithecines, both gracile and robust, used tools.

para

P. Boisei’s brain is small compared to our own, but 510ccs is more than respectable for a primate of its size (Homo habilis, our immediate ancestor and a contemporary of P. Boisei, had an average cranial capacity of 750cc, which is about half that of modern human’s brain).The trend of encephalization observed in both homo and paranthropus is a tantalizing example of parallel evolution.

Since H. Sapien’s antecessors and cousin species are all extinct, it is easy to forget hominids are no exemption from the evolutionary phenomenon of branching. This conclusion is wrong. It becomes increasingly wrong as more and more dead-end hominid species are uncovered. It is now clear many types of nearly sentient apes competed with one another.

Mary Leakey’s discovery of the Zinj Skull was a momentous occasion for anthropologists and biologists because it forces us to remember we are part of the natural world. Branching is as much a part of the natural history of homo sapiens as it is of lizards or birds or protista, and, up until quite recently, humans coexisted with creatures much like themselves.

blacksk