Month: November 2014

Latin Proverbs: B

Bene legere saecla vincere
One who reads well masters the ages.

The word saecla should look familiar to anyone who has looked at a dollar bill. Novus Ordo Seclorum translates to “A New Order of the Ages” (not “A New World Order” as some conspiracy theorists claim. Do not fret, fact checking is beyond them). Someone who reads many books on many topics in more than one language can view problems through dozens of lenses and from dozens of angles. A steady reader’s thoughts are more precise because his thinking has become broader and more subtle. There is room for more variety in every direction. Empathy and perspective are gained through works of fiction and nonfiction alike. A well read person is more rich, varied, competent and generally ethical than an illiterate.

Belua multorum es capitum:
[The people] are a many-headed beast 

There is nothing to add here nor would its writer want anything to be added. This is Horace at his best.

Bellum se ipsum alet:
War feeds itself, Der Krieg ernährt den Krieg.

Use the spoils of war to wage war, a philosophy that may serve the United States well if it adopted it. Applied successfully by the Romans during the conquest of the Iberian peninsula and later by von Wallenstein and the Count of Tilly in the 30 Years War, this practice must be too fiscally responsible for modern strategists. It isn’t always an effective way to go about things. The Germans learned this through their botched bid for lebensraum in Russia.

Brutum fulmen:
A harmless thunderbolt.

“[Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”
-Andrew Jackson on Worcester v. Georgia

Many titles, rulings and laws are purely or partially symbolic. However, this has not slaked the thirst of the people who continue to demand stern but ultimately empty condemnations of various social ills.

Science and Salvador Dali

Something I wrote 2 years ago for a humanities course.


As well known for his otherworldly virtuosity as he was for his unconventional subject matter, the Catalan surrealist Salvador Dali once called himself a fish swimming between the “the cold water of art and the warm water of science.” He was not, as many artists have been before and after him, a scientific dilettante. He devoured hundreds of books on physics, higher mathematics, optics, geometry, biology and psychology. He even subscribed to academic journals to stay current.

After becoming acquainted with Freudian psychology, Dali began to experiment with dream interpretation and free association. His familiarity with these techniques and theories eventually led him to develop the paranoic-critical method, which he used extensively for the rest of his career.

Although Dali claimed his soft watches were inspired by camembert cheese melting in the sun, the deeper symbolism is made apparent by the work’s title. The Persistence of Memory is obviously a product of his study of psychoanalysis. A number of critics have suggested the painting was influenced by the Theory of Special Relativity, but by 1932 Dali had not developed a serious interest in theoretical physics. The clocks represent the relationship of consciousness to time: time passes, memory persists. Retrospectively he may have looked at the piece as a representation of temporal relativism, however, Einstein played no role in its conception or gestation.

Averse to all psychoactive substances except champagne on occasion, hypanogic sensations—images and sounds experienced briefly before falling asleep and shortly after awakening—were Dali’s preferred means of accessing his unconscious mind.  He was surely not the first artist to draw material from his dreams, but it can be safely argued that no Western artist besides Bosch has as brilliantly rendered their dreams and nightmares. It is hard to imagine anyone before Dali creating a figure as grotesque as the bather of The Bather.

Dividing his output into distinct phases is misleading, though the same can  be said for many authors and painters. The Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening was painted in 1944, four years into what scholars call his “nuclear mystic” period. The fundamental difference between his Surreal and Nuclear periods was his return to the Catholic Church in the early 1940’s. Yet his reclaimed faith did not stop him from painting such masterworks as the Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity. He loved ideas, but remained always Dali. His ultimate goal was to merge art, autobiography, science and religion into a coherent whole. Catholicism couldn’t guilt him out of his fondness for big round asses. The guy had good taste. What can I say?

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory illustrated the artist’s symbolic break from Freud and Einstein, for while quantum mechanics did not invalidate Einstein’s contributions, the philosophical implications of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle were very different than those of Special and General Relativity. They seemed to Dali, a long-time admirer of Kant, to vindicate the metaphysics of the little man from Königsberg. Einstein’s universe seems counterintuitive compared to Newton’s, but it is still essentially rational. The subatomic strangeness unlocked by Planck, Heisenberg and Schrodinger, on the other hand, seemed to dismantle the mechanistic foundation of modern science.


Through careful experimentation and mathematical rigor physicists proved beyond a doubt that particles behave like particles and waves, that their movement is probabilistic, and that it is impossible to know both the position and momentum of a particle at any given time. All three of these observations were very troubling to  some classical physicists. There are, of course, numerous interpretations of quantum theory and many critiques of each interpretation. As one can imagine, Dali was attracted to the most radical versions of the Copenhagen Interpretation. The relationship between the observer and observed has led some adherents, frequently laymen with a religious agenda, of the Copenhagen School to imply or assert that consciousness plays an active role in shaping physical reality. This is not a mainstream opinion, but it is one that appeals to many people with mystical or artistic pretensions/inclinations.


    Galatea of the Spheres epitomizes nuclear mysticism. Objects are composed of countless nucleuses surrounded by comparatively vast territories of empty space. Matter, at its most fundamental level, is composed of the same set of building blocks. Essentialism, the outlook on matter that dates back in Western thought at least to Plato, was wrong. All elements are composed of the same subatomic particles. Lead and gold do not have different mystical essences. In this way the universe seems much more simple and elegant than it did when Plato’s views prevailed.  Of course, the mainstream acceptance of atomic theory began well before Dali was born, but nuclear weapons and the metaphysical speculations that arose in the wake of quantum theory brought the formerly obscure atom into the limelight. Atomic theory was at once the most beautiful and most destructive theory known to man. Dali perceived and depicted both aspects with his usual acuity and adroitness.



Molecular biology reduced the mysterious process of inheritance to a single and beautiful molecule with which Dali became instantly enamored. Always fond of helices, the elucidation of DNA’s structure seemed to confirm Dali’s cherished belief that reality on some level is a helix. The Catalan biochemist Joan Oro commissioned a number of biology-inspired paintings from Dali.  The three dimensional structures of proteins also inspired his more daring experiments with form and texture. However, it is not as though he hadn’t been playing with topology since his Surrealist period. Dali‘s development as an artist is one of aggregation, not transformation.

Dali closely studied mathematics in imitation of the Renaissance masters he so admired. His obsession with the rhinoceros horns did not stem from a fondness for the animal, but from the way the horn follows a perfect logarithmic spiral. He experimented with fractals in The Visage of War, the golden ratio in The Sacrament of the Last Supper, four dimensional geometry in Corpus Hypercubus, and Catastrophe Theory in The Swallow’s Tail.


Corpus Hypercubus

An unfolded square is a line, an unfolded cube is a series of squares and an unfolded hypercube is a series of cubes that resembles a cross. In Corpus Hypercubicus Dali attempts to insinuate that religion is part of the 4th dimension, part of what human beings cannot perceive with their senses.  Again, as he did when he was infatuated with physics, Dali uses science to further a mystical agenda. For him art, science and religion are inseparable.

Catastrophe Theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with sudden and dramatic changes in the behaviors of systems, sometimes due to a single variable. For instance, if one were to measure the number of bubbles formed in a pan of water at various temperatures, there would be a sudden and dramatic increase around the boiling point. The simple S-shaped catastrophe, the cusp, as well as a more complex one called the swallow’s tail, appear in The Swallow’s Tail.


The topological representations of catastrophes are lovely in and of themselves, but everyone’s favorite surrealist also found Thom’s exploration of chaotic systems to be conceptually stimulating as well. The adjustment of a single variable in can yield radical changes in a very complex system. Thom’s equations seemed at the time to be applicable to fields as diverse as biology, economics and meteorology, and although from time to time they are used it is used for practical ends, Catastrophe Theory is no longer a popular topic in mathematics.


Applied Catastrophe Theory

A Feast of Language: Love’s Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare

Arrival of the Princess of France by Thomas Stothard

Arrival of the Princess of France by Thomas Stothard

Love’s Labor’s Lost is Shakespeare at his strangest. Instead of crafting a clever and inimitable plot as he did in so many of his other works, he decided to concentrate instead on the words themselves, prompting Harold Bloom to famously dub it a “feast of language.” The story may seem bland or ridiculous, but the characters are as engaging as any in Shakespeare’s immortal gallery of lovers, philosophers, tyrants, jesters and madmen. In its lightness and theme Love’s Labor’s Lost is like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but is also vaguely reminiscent of The Winter’s Tale in the way of meanders (though not nearly as much or as violently). It is a play about scholars written for scholars and those with scholarly pretensions. Its title at first seems like little more than an excuse for alliteration, but it  properly and beautifully summarizes its contents. At the very beginning King Ferdinand proudly proclaims:

“Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,

Live register’d upon our brazen tombs

And then grace us in the disgrace of death;

When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,

The endeavor of this present breath may buy

That honour which shall bate his scythe’s keen edge

And make us heirs of all eternity.”

The king and his courtiers have decided to abstain from sex and other earthly delights in order to pursue knowledge exclusively for three years. They find asceticism unbearable. As one would expect from warmblooded males with the cynical but jovial genius the bard is inclined to bestow upon his favorite characters (Mercutio, Falstaff, Berowne (Biron in some editions)), they break their vow. One can only speculate about which of his creations was dearest to his heart, but the eloquence of their speech and the loftiness of their thoughts may be taken as a sign of his favor. The king’s proclamation extends to the entire court. From the start there are problems. Don Armado, a pompous Spainard sometimes compared to Don Quixote, catches the clown Costard and a “country wench” named Jaquenta.  Costard’s punishment is not terribly severe. He must fast with “water and bran.” However, he is also is forced to accompany Don Armado, who in many ways is like Zapp Brannigan of Futurama fame (not to be confused with his cousin Kenneth Branagh). Armado soon falls for  Jaquenta in the way Quixote falls for Aldonza Lorenzo. Biron seems skeptical of the entire undertaking from the start and any support he shows is likely feigned for the benefit of his benefactor.


Why, all delights are vain; but that most vain,

Which with pain purchased doth inherit pain:

As, painfully to pore upon a book

To seek the light of truth; while truth the while

Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look:

Light seeking light doth light of light beguile:

So, ere you find where light in darkness lies…

To which King Ferdinand replies, “how well he’s read, to reason against reading!” A favorite quote of mine. Perhaps you don’t care for it. The real trouble begins, however, when the Princess of France arrives. Biron, Longaville and Dumaine are all smitten with the ladies the Princess has brought along. From this point on the play evolves (devolves?) into a standard comedy of errors. Costard mixes up Biron’s letter intended for Rosaline with Don Armado’s letter to Jaquenta. Hazlitt’s contention becomes more pertinent as the story unfolds: the characters are the ones who make this piece. It can be thrown away, but they cannot. Biron and Rosaline are the dueling wits, much like Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. The attraction is instant and mutual. His brilliance draws her like a moth to a flame.


Biron they call him; but a merrier man,

Within the limit of becoming mirth,

I never spent an hour’s talk withal:

His eye begets occasion for his wit;

For every object that the one doth catch

The other turns to a mirth-moving jest,

Which his fair tongue, conceit’s expositor,

Delivers in such apt and gracious words

That aged ears play truant at his tales

And younger hearings are quite ravished;

So sweet and voluble is his discourse.”


Your wit’s too hot, it speeds too fast, ’twill tire.


Not till it leave the rider in the mire.

Rosaline’s need to dominate and rule over Biron may say something about Shakespeare’s sexuality. There seems to be a distinct submissive streak in him. She views herself as the ruler and Biron views himself as the one to be ruled, yet he seems to have no anxieties about this relationship. Maybe the bard’s lack of misogyny, almost utter absence by the standards of the period, stem partially from a desire to be dominated. Predictably the grand scheme continues to unravel after Biron hears the King announcing his love for the princess and the others discover each other’s breech of the oath. Holofernes and Sir Nathanial are both fairly one dimensional pastiches of contemporary scholars with whom Shakespeare was likely to have known. Maybe he was mocking his friend Ben Jonson? Poor Jonson. We are also treated to some exquisite deadpanning:

LONGAVILLE Pray you, sir, whose daughter?

BOYET Her mother’s, I have heard.

The situation becomes more ridiculous when they decide to go into the female camp disguised as Russians. Maybe Shakespeare is mocking the entire premise of mistaken identity here. Maybe he is trying to say men so versed in poetry and plays would be inclined to a harebraned scheme like this one because they could not divorce plots from Terence and Plautus from reality.  In any case, the Muscovite scene will make one groan or chuckle depending on one’s mood and temperament.


Sweet lords, sweet lovers,O, let us embrace!

As true we are as flesh and blood can be:

The sea will ebb and flow, heaven show his face;

Young blood doth not obey an old decree:

We cannot cross the cause why we were born;

Therefore of all hands must we be forsworn.

Furthermore, he calls the oath:


Flat treason ‘gainst the kingly state of youth.

Say, can you fast? your stomachs are too young;

And abstinence engenders maladies.

And where that you have vow’d to study, lords,

In that each of you have forsworn his book,

Can you still dream and pore and thereon look?

For when would you, my lord, or you, or you,

Have found the ground of study’s excellence

Without the beauty of a woman’s face?

From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive;

They are the ground, the books, the academes

From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire…

Love’s Labor’s Lost concludes with the Princess and the ladies leaving. They will be back next year. An odd ending to an odd premise played out oddly in the oddest way. Yet viewed with the right lens Love’s Labor’s Lost may not be an oddity at all.  It poses a serious question with which any professional has had to grapple, and it answers it in a splendidly irreplicable manner. There is balance and, if one does not overindulge, the pleasures of life can serve as wellsprings of inspiration, assistants rather than distractions from one’s higher purpose.

IDRA-21: A Nootropic


An old commissioned article.

IDRA 21 (7-chloro-3-methyl-3,4-dihydro-2H-1,2,4-benzothiadiazine S,S-dioxide) is an ampakine drug and a benzothiadiazine derivative with nootropic properties. It is “very likely IDRA 21 exerts its behavioral effects by antagonizing AMPA receptor desensitization.” Ampakines stimulate glutamatergic AMPA receptors. This enhances concentration and attention span, making this class of drugs interesting candidates for the treatment of learning disabilities as well as general enhancement. Too much glutamate can result in anxiety or nervousness, too little in inertia and apathy. As a chiral molecule only one enantiomer is pharmacologically active. A single dose enhances cognition for up to 3 days. This is quite interesting as racetams, though they display cumulative effects, are not nearly as potent when taken only once.

At this time no human studies have been conducted and exact dosages are not established, although users commonly start with 5 or 10 mg.  However, as Impagnatiello observed, “since doses of IDRA-21 that enhance cognitive processes in rats and monkeys are several orders of magnitude lower than those required to elicit marginal neurotoxicity in cultured neurons, it can be surmised that IDRA-21 is a potent cognition-enhancing drug virtually devoid of neurotoxic liability because it acts as a partial negative allosteric modulator of AMPA receptor desensitization.” Cyclothiazide, which is also benzothiadiazide, is an anti-hypertensive and diuretic. It is not known whether IDRA-21 shares these properties or not. Cyclothiazide can also act as a convulsant in rats. For this reason people with a history of seizures should avoid benzothiadiazides.  Macaques given huperzine A, a comparatively popular nootropic which reversibly inhibits acetylcholinesterase and has shown some promise as an Alzheimer’s drug, did not improve performance on visual recognition tasks. IDRA-21, however, helped significantly with “performance on long delays of the task with high mnemonic demand.” Users who expect a general and noticeable improvement in cognition may be disappointed unless they are doing particularly demanding work. However, human beings, who are faced daily with many more difficult puzzles than their fellow primates (and are able to present themselves with problems if environment offers none) are likely to reap these rewards. The research group concluded this supports its usefulness as a therapeutic agent. One can also extrapolate possible recreational uses from the results. In his paper Kevin Yamada speculates that because “AMPA modulators facilitate long-term potentiation, which may be important for memory storage, and facilitate memory encoding in behavioral experiments, [they] “might ameliorate memory deficits that occur in dementia.”

IDRA-12 has proven effective at reducing memory loss induced by scopolamine and alprazolam, in fact, “it can be estimated that IDRA 21 is approximately 10-fold more potent than aniracetam in antagonizing alprazolam-induced learning deficit. ” It is also between 10 and 30 times more potent than aniracetam in reversing the negative effects of these drugs. This alone would suggest potential clinical and recreational uses for IDRA-21 in treating various types of amnesia and long term memory loss. Alarmed by a study suggesting IDRA-21 worsens hippocampal damage initially incurred from ischemia from excitotoxicity (which is not unexpected from a molecule that exerts such a dramatic effect on the glutamergic system), even bold neuronauts have been reluctant to try this promising new compound. Some users have reported increased aggression and emotional swings while under its influence, even with doses as low as 10 mg. As stated above, excessive glutamate can indeed cause behavioral changes. As it is with restaurants, those who have had negative experiences are more likely to report than those with neutral or moderately positive ones. The sample size, which amounts to less than a handful, is far too small to extrapolate anything from. There are only two reports on Reddit and two on Longecity. Given the number of factors involved in the outcome any individual case, including the purity of the powder itself, one should take these accounts with a grain of salt.

One group studied its impact on synaptic transmission and long term potentiation. They found it “significantly increased the amplitude and half width of field ESPS [excitatory postsynaptic potential]” in rodent hippocampal slices. This temporary depolarization of the postsynaptic membrane causes positively charged ions to flow into the cell. More interesting is its inducement of long term potentiation, which involves the signal transmission between two neurons. It is thought to be partially responsible for the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. LTP is also involved in learning and memory. Initially discovered in a rabbit’s hippocampus, it is now known to also occur in the cerebral cortex, amygdala and cerebellum. LTP in the hippocampus is needed for the acquisition of new skills and something that stimulates it above average levels for a prolonged period of time could, in theory, accelerate the learning process. The hippocampus, a seahorse structure, is among the first structures to suffer damage at the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and is primarily responsible for the formation and retention of episodic and autobiographical memories. Although much more needs to be learned about IDRA-21, at the moment it shows promise as a means of illuminating unexplored crevices of neuroscience and in treating debilitating disorders of the aging brain.

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