Saturday, March 01, 2014

John Martinis, "Design of a Superconducting Quantum Computer"

This Google Tech Talk is way on the geeky side, but as much of it as I could follow was really interesting.

Tech Talk: John Martinis, "Design of a Superconducting Quantum Computer"

Published on Feb 28, 2014 

John Martinis visited Google LA to give a tech talk: "Design of a Superconducting Quantum Computer." This talk took place on October 15, 2013.


Superconducting quantum computing is now at an important crossroad, where "proof of concept" experiments involving small numbers of qubits can be transitioned to more challenging and systematic approaches that could actually lead to building a quantum computer. Our optimism is based on two recent developments: a new hardware architecture for error detection based on "surface codes" [1], and recent improvements in the coherence of superconducting qubits [2]. I will explain how the surface code is a major advance for quantum computing, as it allows one to use qubits with realistic fidelities, and has a connection architecture that is compatible with integrated circuit technology. Additionally, the surface code allows quantum error detection to be understood using simple principles. I will also discuss how the hardware characteristics of superconducting qubits map into this architecture, and review recent results that suggest gate errors can be reduced to below that needed for the error detection threshold.


[1] Austin G. Fowler, Matteo Mariantoni, John M. Martinis and Andrew N. Cleland, PRA 86, 032324 (2012).
[2] R. Barends, J. Kelly, A. Megrant, D. Sank, E. Jeffrey, Y. Chen, Y. Yin, B. Chiaro, J. Mutus, C. Neill, P. O'Malley, P. Roushan, J. Wenner, T. C. White, A. N. Cleland and John M. Martinis, arXiv:1304:2322.


John M. Martinis attended the University of California at Berkeley from 1976 to 1987, where he received two degrees in Physics: B.S. (1980) and Ph.D. (1987). His thesis research focused on macroscopic quantum tunneling in Josephson Junctions. After completing a post-doctoral position at the Commisiariat Energie Atomic in Saclay, France, he joined the Electromagnetic Technology division at NIST in Boulder. At NIST he was involved in understanding the basic physics of the Coulomb Blockade, and worked to use this phenomenon to make a new fundamental electrical standard based on counting electrons. While at NIST he also invented microcalorimeters based on superconducting sensors for x-ray microanalysis and astrophysics. In June of 2004 he moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara where he currently holds the Worster Chair. At UCSB, he has continued work on quantum computation. Along with Andrew Cleland, he was awarded in 2010 the AAAS science breakthrough of the year for work showing quantum behavior of a mechanical oscillator.

Co-Narcissism: How We Adapt to Narcissistic Parents - Alan Rappoport, Ph.D.

In an article original published in The Therapist (and now freely available at his site), Alan Rappoport, Ph.D. (2005) introduced a new concept that did not apparently catch on, but should have - co-narcissism.

Co-narcissists are the children of narcissistic parents and have grown up molding themselves into the expectations of their parents, meanwhile losing or never even developing a unique sense of self. This brief article (8 pages total) offers an overview of the co-narcissist that I find very useful.

I see clients with these features frequently in my office, but this is the clearest explanation I have seen for what has happened to these people as they grew up. Here are a couple of pages in which he defines the adaptations children make to survive with these parents.


Children of narcissists tend to feel overly responsible for other people. They tend to assume that others’ needs are similar to those of their parents, and feel compelled to meet those needs by responding in the required manner. They tend to be unaware of their own feelings, needs, and experience, and fade into the background in relationships.

Co-narcissistic people are typically insecure because they have not been valued for themselves, and have been valued by their parents only to the extent that they meet their parents’ needs. They develop their self-concepts based on their parents’ treatment of them and therefore often have highly inaccurate ideas about who they are. For example, they may fear that they are inherently insensitive, selfish, defective, fearful, unloving, overly demanding, hard to satisfy, inhibited, and/or worthless.

People who behave co-narcissistically share a number of the following traits: they tend to have low self-esteem, work hard to please others, defer to others’ opinions, focus on others’ world views and are unaware of their own orientations, are often depressed or anxious, find it hard to know how they think and feel about a subject, doubt the validity of their own views and opinions (especially when these conflict with others’ views), and take the blame for interpersonal problems.

Often, the same person displays both narcissistic and co-narcissistic behaviors, depending on circumstances. A person who was raised by a narcissistic or a co-narcissistic parent tends to assume that, in any interpersonal interaction, one person is narcissistic and the other co-narcissistic, and often can play either part. Commonly, one parent was primarily narcissistic and the other parent primarily co-narcissistic, and so both orientations have been modeled for the child. Both conditions are rooted in low self-esteem. Both are ways of defending oneself from fears resulting from internalized criticisms and of coping with people who evoke these criticisms. Those who are primarily co-narcissistic may behave narcissistically when their self-esteem is threatened, or when their partners take the co-narcissistic role; people who primarily behave narcissistically may act co-narcissistically when they fear being held responsible and punished for another’s experience.

Narcissistic people blame others for their own problems. They tend not to seek psychotherapy because they fear that the therapist will see them as deficient and therefore are highly defensive in relation to therapists. They do not feel free or safe enough to examine their own behavior, and typically avoid the psychotherapy situation. Co-narcissists, however, are ready to accept blame and responsibility for problems, and are much more likely than narcissists to seek help because they often consider themselves to be the ones who need fixing.

The image I often keep in mind, and share with my patients regarding narcissism, is that the narcissist needs to be in the spotlight, and the co-narcissist serves as the audience. The narcissist is on stage, performing, and needing attention, appreciation, support, praise, reassurance, and encouragement, and the co-narcissist’s role is to provide these things. Co-narcissists are approved of and rewarded when they perform well in their role, but, otherwise, they are corrected and punished.

One of the critical aspects of the interpersonal situation when one person is either narcissistic or co-narcissistic is that it is not, in an important sense, a relationship. I define a relationship as an interpersonal interaction in which each person is able to consider and act on his or her own needs, experience, and point of view, as well as being able to consider and respond to the experience of the other person. Both people are important to each person. In a narcissistic encounter, there is, psychologically, only one person present. The co-narcissist disappears for both people, and only the narcissistic person’s experience is important. Children raised by narcissistic parents come to believe that all other people are narcissistic to some extent. As a result, they orient themselves around the other person in their relationships, lose a clear sense of themselves, and cannot express themselves, and cannot express themselves easily nor participate fully in their lives.

All these adaptations are relatively unconscious, so most co-narcissistic people are not aware of the reasons for their behavior. They may think of themselves as inhibited and anxious by nature, lacking what it takes to be assertive in life. Their tendency to be unexpressive of their own thoughts and feelings and to support and encourage others’ needs creates something of an imbalance in their relationships, and other people may take more of the interpersonal space for themselves as a result, thereby giving the impression that they are, in fact, narcissists, as the co-narcissist fears they are.

Co-narcissistic people often fear they will be thought of as selfish if they act more assertively. Usually, they learned to think this way because one or both parents characterized them as selfish if they did not accommodate to the parent’s needs. I take patients’ concerns that they are selfish as an indication of narcissism in the parents, because the motivation of selfishness predominates in the minds of narcissistic people. It is a major component of their defensive style, and it is therefore a motivation they readily attribute to (or project onto) others.

There are three common types of responses by children to the interpersonal problems presented to them by their parents: identification, compliance, and rebellion (see Gootnick, 1997, for a more thorough discussion of these phenomena). Identification is the imitation of one or both parents, which may be required by parents in order for them to maintain a sense of connection with the child. In regard to narcissistic parents, the child must exhibit the same qualities, values, feelings, and behavior which the parent employs to defend his or her self-esteem. For example, a parent who is a bully may not only bully his child, but may require that the child become a bully as well. A parent whose self-esteem depends on his or her academic achievement may require that the child also be academically oriented, and value (or devalue) the child in relation to his or her accomplishments in this area. Identification is a response to the parent seeing the child as a representative of himself or herself, and is the price of connectedness with the parent. It results in the child becoming narcissistic herself.

Compliance refers to the co-narcissistic adaptation described earlier, wherein the child becomes the approving audience sought by the parent. The child is complying with the parent’s needs by being the counterpart the parent seeks. All three forms of adaptation (identification, compliance, and rebellion) can be seen as compliance in a larger sense, since, in every case, the child complies in some way with the needs of the parent, and is defined by the parent. What defines compliance in this sense is that the child becomes the counterpart the parent needs from moment to moment to help the parent manage threats to his or her self-esteem.

Rebellion refers to the state of fighting to not accept the dictates of the parent by behaving in opposition to them. An example of this behavior is that of an intelligent child who does poorly in school in response to his parent’s need that he be a high achiever. The critical issue here is that the child is unconsciously attempting to not submit to the parent’s definition of him despite his inner compulsion to comply with the parent’s needs. He therefore acts in a self-defeating manner in order to try to maintain a sense of independence. (If the pressure for compliance had not been internalized, the child would be free to be successful despite the parent’s tendency to co-opt his achievements.) [Pages 2-4]
About the Author
Alan Rappoport, Ph.D., has practiced psychotherapy in San Francisco and Menlo Park, Ca. for twenty-five years. He has written several articles on psychotherapy and has a strong interest in teaching. He teaches CE courses on psychotherapy and supervision and leads case conferences and teleconferences for therapists. Dr. Rappoport is affiliated with the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group ( and is a proponent of Control-Mastery theory. His writings, and more information, are available at He may also be reached at 1010 Doyle St., Ste. #13, Menlo Park, CA 94025. Phone: 650-323-7875.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Omnivore - What Neuroscience Is Learning

From Bookforum's Omnivore blog, this is cool collection of links related to mind and consciousness, including several pieces on free will.

One of the highlights of this collection is a review by John Jeffery and Todd K. Shackelford (from Evolutionary Psychology, 2013. 11(5): 1077-1083) of Daniel C. Dennett’s Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking and Nicholas Humphrey’s Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness. Here is part of the review:
Humphrey, like Dennett, dispels the more romantic notions of consciousness as the gift of a spirit, but he cleverly reappropriates the terminology of spirituality to align with a scientific vision of consciousness. Both he and Dennett employ tactical vocabularies, wishing to make their arguments more appetizing to a general audience and, in Dennett’s case for compatibilism, safe for consumption. Most importantly, Soul Dust and Intuition Pumps work to collapse the irresistible assumption that we live in a phenomenological reality outside of our biology, while simultaneously celebrating and elevating its significance.
Enjoy the other links, as well.

What neuroscience is learning

Feb 27 2014  

George Dvorsky - You Might Never Upload Your Brain Into a Computer

I think we need to drop the "might" from that headline and replace it with "will." Still, George Dvorsky gets a big AMEN from me on this piece from io9 (even if it is a year old).

For the record, however, I feel compelled to lodge my disagreement with point #5, that "mind-body dualism" is true. Nonsense. There is actually a logical fallacy at work here - if dualism were true, our minds would not be "located somewhere outside our bodies — like in a vat somewhere, or oddly enough, in a simulation (a la The Matrix)," they would reside in the body but separate from it. This is exactly the premise necessary to believe our minds can be uploaded into a computer.

Even if we believe that the mind is simply a by-product of brain activity, there is no way to transfer a wet biological system built from fat, proteins, neurotransmitters, and electrical current into a dry computer mainframe. I don't see this EVER being an option.

You Might Never Upload Your Brain Into a Computer

George Dvorsky
Debunkery | 4/17/13

Many futurists predict that one day we'll upload our minds into computers, where we'll romp around in virtual reality environments. That's possible — but there are still a number of thorny issues to consider. Here are eight reasons why your brain may never be digitized.

Indeed, this isn’t just idle speculation. Many important thinkers have expressed their support of the possibility, including the renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil (author of How to Create a Mind), roboticist Hans Moravec, cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, neuroscientist David Eagleman, and many others.

Skeptics, of course, relish the opportunity to debunk uploads. The claim that we’ll be able to transfer our conscious thoughts to a computer, after all, is a rather extraordinary one.

But many of the standard counter-arguments tend to fall short. Typical complaints cite insufficient processing power, inadequate storage space, or the fear that the supercomputers will be slow, unstable and prone to catastrophic failures — concerns that certainly don’t appear intractable given the onslaught of Moore’s Law and the potential for megascale computation. Another popular objection is that the mind cannot exist without a body. But an uploaded mind could be endowed with a simulated body and placed in a simulated world.

To be fair, however, there are a number of genuine scientific, philosophical, ethical, and even security concerns that could significantly limit or even prevent consciousness uploads from ever happening. Here are eight of the most serious.

1. Brain functions are not computable

Proponents of mind uploading tend to argue that the brain is a Turing Machine — the idea that organic minds are nothing more than classical information-processors. It’s an assumption derived from the strong physical Church-Turing thesis, and one that now drives much of cognitive science.

But not everyone believes the brain/computer analogy works. Speaking recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis said that, “The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it.” He referred to the idea of uploads as “bunk,” saying that it’ll never happen and that “[t]here are a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a computer.” Nicolelis argues that human consciousness can’t be replicated in silicon because most of its important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells.

“You can’t predict whether the stock market will go up or down because you can’t compute it,” he said. “You could have all the computer chips ever in the world and you won’t create a consciousness.” Image credit: Jeff Cameron Collingwood/Shutterstock.

2. We’ll never solve the hard problem of consciousness

The computability of the brain aside, we may never be able to explain how and why we have qualia, or what’s called phenomenal experience.

According to David Chalmers — the philosopher of mind who came up with the term “hard problem” — we’ll likely solve the easy problems of human cognition, like how we focus our attention, recall a memory, discriminate, and process information. But explaining how incoming sensations get translated into subjective feelings — like the experience of color, taste, or the pleasurable sound of music — is proving to be much more difficult. Moreover, we’re still not entirely sure why we even have consciousness, and why we’re not just “philosophical zombies” — hypothetical beings who act and respond as if they’re conscious, but have no internal mental states.

In his paper, “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness,” Chalmers writes:
How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.
If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, argues Chalmers, it is this one. Image:

3. We’ll never solve the binding problem

And even if we do figure out how the brain generates subjective experience, classical digital computers may never be able to support unitary phenomenal minds. This is what’s referred to as the binding problem — our inability to understand how a mind is able to segregate elements and combine problems as seamlessly as it does. Needless to say, we don’t even know if a Turing Machine can even support these functions.

More specifically, we still need to figure out how our brains segregate elements in complex patterns, a process that allows us to distinguish them as discrete objects. The binding problem also describes the issue of how objects, like those in the background or in our peripheral experience — or even something as abstract as emotions — can still be combined into a unitary and coherent experience. As the cognitive neuroscientist Antti Revonsuo has said, “Binding is thus seen as a problem of finding the mechanisms which map the ‘objective’ physical entities in the external world into corresponding internal neural entities in the brain.”

He continues:
Once the idea of consciousness-related binding is formulated, it becomes immediately clear that it is closely associated with two central problems in consciousness research. The first concerns the unity of phenomenal consciousness. The contents of phenomenal consciousness are unified into one coherent whole, containing a unified ‘‘me’’ in the center of one unified perceptual world, full of coherent objects. How should we describe and explain such experiential unity? The second problem of relevance here concerns the neural correlates of consciousness. If we are looking for an explanation to the unity of consciousness by postulating underlying neural mechanisms, these neural mechanisms surely qualify for being direct neural correlates of unified phenomenal states.
No one knows how our organic brains perform this trick — at least not yet — or if digital computers will ever be capable of phenomenal binding. Image credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock.

4. Panpsychism is true

Though still controversial, there’s also the potential for panpsychism to be in effect. This is the notion that consciousness is a fundamental and irreducible feature of the cosmos. It might sound a bit New Agey, but it’s an idea that’s steadily gaining currency (especially in consideration of our inability to solve the Hard Problem).

Panpsychists speculate that all parts of matter involve mind. Neuroscientist Stuart Hameroff has suggested that consciousness is related to a fundamental component of physical reality — components that are akin to phenomenon like mass, spin or charge. According to this view, the basis of consciousness can be found in an additional fundamental force of nature not unlike gravity or electromagnetism. This would be something like an elementary sentience or awareness. As Hameroff notes, "these components just are." Likewise, David Chalmers has proposed a double-aspect theory in which information has both physical and experiential aspects. Panpsychism has also attracted the attention of quantum physicists (who speculate about potential quantum aspects of consciousness given our presence in an Everett Universe), and physicalists like Galen Strawson (who argues that mental/experiential is physical).

Why this presents a problem to mind uploading is that consciousness may not substrate neutral — a central tenant of the Church-Turing Hypothesis — but is in fact dependent on specific physical/material configurations. It’s quite possible that there’s no digital or algorithmic equivalent to consciousness. Having consciousness arise in a classical Von Neumann architecture, therefore, may be as impossible as splitting an atom in a virtual environment by using ones and zeros. Image credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock.

5. Mind-body dualism is true

Perhaps even more controversial is the suggestion that consciousness lies somewhere outside the brain, perhaps as some ethereal soul or spirit. It’s an idea that’s primarily associated with Rene Descartes, the 17th century philosopher who speculated that the mind is a nonphysical substance (as opposed to physicalist interpretations of mind and consciousness). Consequently, some proponents of dualism (or even vitalism) suggest that consciousness lies outside knowable science.

Needless to say, if our minds are located somewhere outside our bodies — like in a vat somewhere, or oddly enough, in a simulation (a la The Matrix) — our chances of uploading ourselves are slim to none.

6. It would be unethical to develop

Philosophical and scientific concerns aside, there may also be some moral reasons to forego the project. If we’re going to develop upload technologies, we’re going to have to conduct some rather invasive experiments, both on animals and humans. The potential for abuse is significant.

Uploading schemas typically describe the scanning and mapping of an individual’s brain, or serial sectioning. While a test subject, like a mouse or monkey, could be placed under a general anesthetic, it will eventually have to be re-animated in digital substrate. Once this happens, we’ll likely have no conception of its internal, subjective experience. It’s brain could be completely mangled, resulting terrible psychological or physical anguish. It’s reasonable to assume that our early uploading efforts will be far from perfect, and potentially cruel.

And when it comes time for the first human to be uploaded, there could be serious ethical and legal issues to consider — especially considering that we’re talking about the re-location of a living, rights-bearing human being. Image credit: K. Zhuang.

7. We can never be sure it works

Which leads to the next point, that of post-upload skepticism. A person can never really be sure they created a sentient copy of themselves. This is the continuity of consciousness problem — the uncertainty we’ll have that, instead of moving our minds, we simply copied ourselves instead.

Because we can’t measure for consciousness — either qualitatively or quantitatively — uploading will require a tremendous leap of faith — a leap that could lead to complete oblivion (e.g. a philosophical zombie), or something completely unexpected. And relying on the advice from uploaded beings won’t help either (“Come on in, the water’s fine...”).

In an email to me, philosopher David Pearce put it this way:
Think of it like a game of chess. If I tell you the moves, you can faithfully replicate the gameplay. But you know nothing whatsoever of the textures of the pieces, or indeed, whether they have any textures at all (perhaps I played online). Likewise, I think, the same can be said with the textures of consciousness. The possibility of substrate-independent minds needs to be distinguished from the possibility of substrate-independent qualia.
In other words, the quality of conscious experience in digital substrate could be far removed from that experienced by an analog consciousness. Image: Rikomatic.

8. Uploaded minds would be vulnerable to hacking and abuse

Once our minds are uploaded, they’ll be physically and inextricably connected to the larger computational superstructure. By consequence, uploaded brains will be perpetually vulnerable to malicious attacks and other unwanted intrusions.

To avoid this, each uploaded person will have to set-up a personal firewall to prevent themselves from being re-programmed, spied upon, damaged, exploited, deleted, or copied against their will. These threats could come from other uploads, rogue AI, malicious scripts, or even the authorities in power (e.g. as a means to instill order and control).

Indeed, as we know all too well today, even the tightest security measures can't prevent the most sophisticated attacks; an uploaded mind can never be sure it’s safe.
  • Special thanks to David Pearce for helping with this article.
  • Top image: Jurgen Ziewe/Shutterstock.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Family Problems Experienced in Childhood and Adolescence Affect Brain Development


Family problems are now recognized as a contributing factor for mental illness - and there is brain imaging research to support what many therapists have known for decades.

Using brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19, the researchers in this study found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had a smaller cerebellum, which is an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation, and sensory-motor control. The researchers suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life, as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.

So when you hear that parents divorced for the kids (rather than staying together for the kids), there is evidence that they did the correct thing. Other more specific research has identified parental discord as a risk factor for children developing behavioral and mental health issues. And this is only one of many possible forms of "family problems."

Family problems experienced in childhood and adolescence affect brain development

Date: February 19, 2014
Source: University of East Anglia

New research has revealed that exposure to common family problems during childhood and early adolescence affects brain development, which could lead to mental health issues in later life. The study used brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19. It found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation and sensory-motor control. The researchers also suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life, as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.

Areas in blue are brain regions shown to be smaller as a result of childhood adversities occurring aged 0-11, and regions in orange are shown to be larger as a result of exposure to negative life events aged 14.  Credit: Image courtesy of University of East Anglia

New research has revealed that exposure to common family problems during childhood and early adolescence affects brain development, which could lead to mental health issues in later life.

The study led by Dr Nicholas Walsh, lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of East Anglia (UEA), used brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19. It found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation and sensory-motor control. The researchers also suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life, as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.

Previous studies have focused on the effects of severe neglect, abuse and maltreatment in childhood on brain development. However the aim of this research was to determine the impact, in currently healthy teenagers, of exposure to more common but relatively chronic forms of 'family-focused' problems. These could include significant arguments or tension between parents, physical or emotional abuse, lack of affection or communication between family members, and events which had a practical impact on daily family life and might have resulted in health, housing or school problems.

Dr Walsh, from UEA's School of Psychology, said: "These findings are important because exposure to adversities in childhood and adolescence is the biggest risk factor for later psychiatric disease. Also, psychiatric illnesses are a huge public health problem and the biggest cause of disability in the world.

"We show that exposure in childhood and early adolescence to even mild to moderate family difficulties, not just severe forms of abuse, neglect and maltreatment, may affect the developing adolescent brain. We also argue that a smaller cerebellum may be an indicator of mental health issues later on. Reducing exposure to adverse social environments during early life may enhance typical brain development and reduce subsequent mental health risks in adult life."

The study, which was conducted with the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, is published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

The 58 teenagers who took part in the brain scanning were drawn from a larger study of 1200 young people, whose parents were asked to recall any negative life events their children had experienced between birth and 11 years of age. The interviews took place when the children were aged 14 and of the 58, 27 were classified as having been exposed to childhood adversities. At ages 14 and 17 the teenagers themselves also reported any negative events and difficulties they, their family or closest friends had experienced during the previous 12 months.

A "significant and unexpected" finding was that the participants who reported stressful experiences when aged 14 were subsequently found to have increased volume in more regions of the brain when they were scanned aged 17-19. Dr Walsh said this could mean that mild stress occurring later in development may 'inoculate' teenagers, enabling them to cope better with exposure to difficulties in later life, and that it is the severity and timing of the experiences that may be important.

"This study helps us understand the mechanisms in the brain by which exposure to problems in early-life leads to later psychiatric issues," said Dr Walsh. "It not only advances our understanding of how the general psychosocial environment affects brain development, but also suggests links between specific regions of the brain and individual psychosocial factors. We know that psychiatric risk factors do not occur in isolation but rather cluster together, and using a new technique we show how the general clustering of adversities affects brain development."

The researchers also found at that those who had experienced family problems were more likely to have had a diagnosed psychiatric illness, have a parent with a mental health disorder and have negative perceptions of their how their family functioned.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by University of East Anglia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
Nicholas D. Walsh, Tim Dalgleish, Michael V. Lombardo, Valerie J. Dunn, Anne-Laura Van Harmelen, Maria Ban, Ian M. Goodyer. General and specific effects of early-life psychosocial adversities on adolescent grey matter volume. NeuroImage: Clinical, 2014; 4: 308 DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2014.01.001

The Wright Show - Robert Wright Speaks with Leda Cosmides (University of California-Santa Barbara)

Last week's episode of The Wright Show featured Robert Wright in conversation with Leda Cosmides, an American psychologist, who, together with anthropologist husband John Tooby, helped develop the field of evolutionary psychology. Good discussion.

The Wright Show

Robert Wright (, The Evolution of God, Nonzero) and Leda Cosmides (University of California-Santa Barbara)

The Wright Show | Feb 22, 2014 | Robert Wright & Leda Cosmides

Does a man’s physique shape his ideology? 5:36
The modular view of the mind 12:17
What is this thing you call “you,” anyway? 14:39
Conscious and unconscious modules 15:29
Addiction and the ancestral environment 4:57
Can evolutionary psychology save the world? 8:55

Play entire video

FOLLOW: Robert Wright  (Twitter)

Recorded: Feb 2 Posted: Feb 22, 2014
Download: wmv | mp4 | mp3 | fast mp3

Links Mentioned

Astra Taylor - The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

Astra Taylor is the author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, which is due out in April, 2014. Unlike Nicholas G. Carr and Jaron Lanier, Taylor sees the internet as a platform for transformation, and maybe even taking back power from the elites. This is an interesting read from Full Stop.

TL;DR: Astra Taylor

by The Editors  |  Full Stop

For years, conversation about the changing ways we take in information has been characterized by polemics and a general sense of doom: Is Google making us stupid? Is Facebook making us narcissists? We keep trying to pinpoint what, exactly, is changing, because something surely is. But rather than strategize about how to wage war on distraction, or rebuild dissolved attention spans, Full Stop has decided to jump out of our poorly constructed lifeboat and wallow in the vast and undulating sea of information. With this questionnaire, we would like to explore, yes, how the internet is changing the ways in which we create, curate, and consume information (be it in the form of fiction, non-fiction, or criticism) but with an eye open for the pockets of potential in such changes.

Astra Taylor is a writer, political organizer, and documentary filmmaker whose works include Zizek! and Examined Life. Her book The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age will be published in April.

Where does the most interesting (innovative in form and content) writing find its home right now?

I’m tempted to say books, if only to be a bit contrarian. If we are talking about writing for a wide public, not for small groups of friends or comrades, then I think books are it. There’s a lot of interesting ephemeral writing online, but much of it is intended for specific recipients (like the weird SnapChats I send my little sister from the road) and not broad audiences. The notes I used to pass to my classmates were innovative in a similar sense. I’m standing by books because they offer writers the space to dig in, to see if formal innovations and experiments can hold up, and provide the space for authors to take ideas to their limits. (I know space is unlimited online, but paradoxically the consensus is that stuff must be short and punchy to thrive; meanwhile, the constraints of the printed book actually focus reader attention and offer boundaries for writers to push against and subvert.)

There are other examples I could point to, but one genre that exists online, and which I don’t think really had a print counterpart, and that I gravitate toward and am excited about, is the type of informal academic commentary you see on scholars’ personal websites. This type of writing has probably come to life partly because the Internet frees the people who produce it from the rigmarole of academic publishing (impossibly slow scheduling, editing by committee, paywalls/obscurity, limited audiences). So you can read Corey Robin or Zeynep Tufekci or Tressie McMillan Cottom or Aaron Bady’s blogs. Related but different, there are articles like “Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child” in The New Inquiry, which is a fascinating example of a direction a similar kind of work can go. It was a sassy, entertaining, and ultimately extremely smart and spot on critique of Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl. I remember liking the magazine Lingua Franca for the brief flash I was aware of it before it folded, and there’s stuff that approximately fills that space but is more direct and edgier, and I’d like to see even more of it.

Today, we’re flooded with stories via the internet — on personal Tumblrs, Facebook and Twitter statuses, the abundance of magazines and newspapers that make their content free online. With so many narratives all around us, why do we still read (and pay for) novels?

I might be the wrong person to pose this question to, given the fact I don’t read many novels, at least compared to how much non-fiction I read. That said, I have read a few this last couple of months, but I’ve been making a concerted effort to do so. Instinctively I prefer non-fiction when it comes to both books and cinema, and I don’t understand those who hold up fiction as somehow a higher art form — though there are many novels I love deeply. In my opinion, non-fiction can do everything fiction can do formally and aesthetically (given a writer with the impulse and ability), while to me the fact non-fiction remains somehow bound and beholden to reality only makes it more powerful and potentially profound.

That said, I can at least share why I have been making a concerted effort to read more fiction. It had more to do with a kind of mental rigidity I felt coming on and that I wanted to shake off. Almost three years of intense critical writing working on my book and intensive political organizing (through the Occupy offshoot Strike Debt) had created some habits of mind and judgment. With the hope of opening up other avenues of experience and expression I’ve been trying to read more fiction, and I’ve been doing other things like playing music with friends. I’ve enjoyed these excursions, but my heart remains with non-fiction nevertheless.

What do you think is good about the way we interact with information today? How has your internet consumption changed your brain, and writing, for the better?

First the good: There’s a lot that’s positive and worth celebrating compared to the olden days of the nineties, when I had to go to the library to find stuff and I was too young and broke and ignorant to subscribe to any decent magazines (I remember this line cook at a vegetarian restaurant I worked at in Athens, GA reading a copy of The Nation and it being a revelation that such things existed, but it still didn’t occur to me to check out their website or subscribe so I didn’t see another issue for a few years). But this is the story we all know so well: Thanks to the Internet it’s never been easier to glean preliminary information about a given topic, whether through a simple search or following Wikipedia links, or finding experts or obsessives or articles on whatever subject has caught your fancy. The challenge is going deeper, beyond the first few pages of Google results and other obvious discoveries. That said, going deeper and having the discipline to do real research always required conscientious labor, so what’s new? You have to put in the time and be extra vigilant about resisting the bandwagon effect.

As a documentarian and sometimes journalist, I’m biased towards reportage and investigating things for myself, towards moving from information to first hand experience, and sometimes I feel it’s too easy to read a few op-eds or breeze through some links and feel like I have a subject covered. I’m still regularly surprised by topics I think I know a lot about when I go out and ask some questions. It usually turns out I don’t know nearly as much as I believed I did.

On how my brain has been changed, I’d say Internet consumption has had an effect, but how can one really know for sure? My attempts to seriously engage with information and to try my hand at writing coincided with the Internet becoming an ever stronger and more constant presence in my life, so it’s impossible to really separate the two. Over that time I’ve also grown up and become more knowledgeable and confidant in my work and my writing — my brain has become more capable in lots of ways, but as I mentioned earlier I fear a kind of sedimentation or rigidity that can come with age and figuring out one’s general perspective on things. I know what I think about something before I even know what the thing is I’m thinking about, if that makes sense. On that front, I’m not sure my information gathering habits do much to expand my conceptual horizons, and perhaps that’s a problem that has to do with the structure of our networked communications system — that’s a topic of lively debate. And like a lot of others, I wrestle with distraction and the feeling that it’s easier to ingest info-pellets than commit to sustained, deep reading and reflection. But I don’t blame the Internet for that problem, I blame myself — and the fact that so many of the platforms we use are engineered to be irresistible because that’s the path to profitability.

How does writing online become significant?

It depends on what you mean by significant. If you mean worthy of attention and admiration or that something is particularly relevant or insightful, then a lot of timeless advice applies. Advice about writing on difficult subjects, writing about things that matter even if they are unpopular, writing without dumbing things down or cutting corners, and just doing the work and putting in the time. This kind of significance applies to writing whether it is online or offline or both or whatever. But if you mean significant in the sense of having garnered attention, as in “that piece was really significant because it was read by tons of people” — which is what the “become” in “become significant” implies — then my answer is more ambivalent. There are lots of tricks to making things more shareable and infectious online (and, to be clear, many of them are tricks carried over from less than venerable print publications, so we can’t blame “the Internet” for inventing them). Of course those tricks have evolved, egged on by those in the virality business. There are click-baity traffic-ginning techniques, and there are the ways individuals fish for attention online (like picking fights — or starting “argumercials,” to use Caleb Crain’s apt neologism — or writing about already trending topics). What that means is that there’s plenty of good writing that is at a disadvantage in the current media ecosystem.

The more interesting and less cynical answer to your question would ponder how to make things that are significant in the first sense significant according to the second one. How do you help good writing reach the people? This can happen in various ways, but the first step is finding ways to support people to write serious or “significant” work to begin with — not easy to do given the realities of the marketplace, but necessary — and then, alongside that, to build communities that can help amplify worthwhile work, which is what many of the interesting small magazines (The Baffler, n+1, The New Inquiry, Jacobin) are doing, by engaging readers through all available means, whether by social media or by convening people away from their keyboards through events and conferences, et cetera. Building institutions and community are both key.

Information online is both supremely malleable and under unprecedented scrutiny. How has the Internet changed non-fiction writing?

It’s hard to generalize, and there are lots of contradictions. One can write about anything under the sun, but there always seems to be some scandal or outrage that everyone is piling on. One can toss something off in the blink of an eye, but it will remain posted forever, or at least the foreseeable future. On the one hand texts online are easily updatable and correctable compared to print, but there seems to be an endless stream of errors and falsehoods. What these examples point to is a pressure to be of the moment and relevant, to be “now” — certainly that pressure has always been felt by writers but it seems to have intensified.

How is quality writing on the internet facilitated? How is the role of an online editor different than that of an editor for print?

Quality takes many forms and can be found all over the place, from a long review in the LRB or the LARB to those hit-the-nail-on-the-head pithy Tweets that some people (not me) regularly come up with. Nonetheless, I still think a certain kind of quality writing, especially the kind that requires deep reportage, needs to be facilitated by institutions that can support writers (and editors too), by paying them to go out and report, supporting them financially and also legally so they can take risks and challenge powerful entities (all the cliches of what journalism can and must do, which I still believe in, at least in theory).

As a writer I just want an editor who edits smart and hard, whether they are editing for a website or for print. Look at something like TomDispatch, edited by the estimable Tom Englehardt. Everything he posts is fantastic and meticulously edited; he’s someone who honed his skills as an editor of books. He understands the logic of Internet publishing but doesn’t pander to it, or rather he caters to its better tendencies. As a result, the articles he releases have a surprisingly wide reach, especially given their challenging themes and how lengthy and dense they can be.

The internet makes possible new forms of collaboration and discussion. How has this changed the concept of authorship online?

It’s interesting how people often assert that digital technologies have challenged the notion of the author and authorship. There may be some truth to this claim, but it also seems to me the idea of authorship has metastasized in some ways. Now curators are authors of a sort, which I understand and am sympathetic to, but people also get credit (hat tips or vias or whatever) for unearthing or just posting links. I admit to finding it a bit strange when someone credits me for posting an article that is sitting on the Guardian’s homepage, and to having been surprised when I’ve seen folks upset at others for sharing “their content” without acknowledging them. I guess the answer is, I don’t know. Authorship is a fraught concept that emerged against the background of industrialization, and it’s evolving and mutating as digital capitalism comes into its own. Seeing ourselves as authors — even if it’s just in our curating of our personal news streams — seems to me crucial to the expansion of the whole social media bubble.

Anyway, there’s a lot of hype around writing collaboratively these days, and often it comes from individuals steeped in Silicon Valley rhetoric, so my skeptical instincts kick in. Still, on another level, I see the appeal of this idea, particularly when there is a clear political imperative. One project I played a small role in through Strike Debt is The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, which we self-published in late 2012, giving away over ten thousand printed copies and many more free PDFs. A new edition is coming out next month through Common Notions press. We are advocating for a collective solution to the current debt crisis, which is typically very isolating and demoralizing to people being crushed by housing, medical, or student debt; it made sense to try to write collectively given our ambition of inspiring a resistance movement. In my limited experience it is actually harder to write well collaboratively than it is to write alone (alone with the help of a talented editor, ideally). Not just in terms of sense making, but also putting your ego aside and allowing yourself to be edited or erased. It can be a healthy exercise and worth it creatively, should circumstances call for such an approach.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

David Wallis - Is it Normal to Hoard?

Randy Frost's Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2010) is one of the best books on hoarding I have read. It's not a treatment guide so much as an explanation for how hoarding develops and how it impacts the lives of those afflicted with it. This article from Nautilus mentions Frost's work and offers a nice overview of the hoarding phenomenon and our culture's fascination with it (there are two different reality shows about hoarders).

Is It Normal to Hoard?

Hoarding shows us at our best, and worst.

By David Wallis Illustration by Yuko Shimizu February 20, 2014

ANIMALS like to hoard. Christopher E. Overtree, director of the Psychological Services Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a specialist in treating hoarding, says that “the mechanisms triggering this kind of biological reflex are present in all of us.” A friend of his in Minnesota had an eagle’s nest on his property fall from a tree. This led to a surprising discovery: 23 dog and cat collars. “The eagle ate the animals but saved the collars,” says Overtree. His own cat, Gus, wasn’t much better. Overtree recently tailed his cat sneaking off with his wife’s costume jewelry, dragging the trinkets into the attic and stashing them in a hole in the floor. “I realized he must be saving it,” says Overtree. “I think it is interesting to see a behavior that has no practical value in an animal.”

Hoarding, some scientists suggest, is a sensible action to take in an uncertain world. “We have been shaped by evolutionary pressures in the past to deal with resource scarcity, and hoarding is one of those possible strategies,” says John L. Koprowski, professor of wildlife conservation and management at the University of Arizona and an authority on squirrels. He refutes the conventional wisdom that squirrels only gather what they need to survive winters. Studies of eastern gray squirrels, for instance, suggest that up to 74 percent of buried acorns are never recovered. They could be lost—or simply stored, just in case.

While saving up in this manner seems both sensible and prevalent among animals, it is a bona fide disease among humans. This year, for the first time, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM—the bible of psychiatrists and insurers—listed it as a distinct disorder. It is also one with serious consequences, with the potential to ruin relationships, result in evictions, and fuel lethal fires. And according to the American Psychiatric Association, 2 to 5 percent of the United States population suffers from it.

After all, we are being pushed to consume. “Contemporary U.S. households have more possessions per household than any society in global history,” explains Jeanne E. Arnold, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 2012, Arnold and a team of sociologists and anthropologists published a book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, based on a four-year study of 32 middle class, dual-income families in Los Angeles. The authors found that 75 percent of families banished their cars from garages “to make way for rejected furniture and cascading bins and boxes of mostly forgotten household goods.” Superstores like Costco, they argued, have increased our tendency to stockpile food and cleaning supplies—and the result at home is stress. Women who described their homes as cluttered had higher cortisol levels—a sign of stress—than those who didn’t.

The line between hoarding, the mental disorder, and hoarding, the bad habit (or natural tendency), is worth considering. Does saving your children’s finger paintings from 1982 mean you have a de-acquisitioning problem? What about those boxes of clothes sized 30 pounds ago in your closet instead of at Goodwill? The popularity of hit reality shows like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive is surely due in part to the fact that we see ourselves in even the most extreme cases. The boundaries of this debate reveal something about who we are as people.

ON A TIDY street in a resurgent New England mill town, where the trimmed bushes look like green thimbles mounted in mulch, Melvin’s large Victorian house sticks out. Two bicycles, one missing the front wheel, lean against threadbare front steps; stacks of two-by-fours, rakes, and bicycle tires piled up on a desk surround the front door. Melvin, an erudite lawyer in his late 60s who requested a pseudonym, wears khakis and a pressed blue-and-white shirt with neatly rolled up cuffs, looking a bit like the late Canadian actor Conrad Bain. He speaks fluent French and can get by in Russian. He nimbly chats about Robert Pinsky one minute and Oriana Fallaci the next. The divorced father of two is quick with a joke or a boast about his children. He loves to bake, particularly Linzer tortes.

Melvin hasn’t invited anyone into his home in more than a year; he reveals this while leading me, single file, through piles of possessions on narrow paths, known in hoarder parlance as “goat trails.” Cans, dishes, and mugs blanket kitchen countertops. He hands me a laser pointer so I can ask about his many inaccessible items as we stroll through the house. We encounter roughly 200 musical instruments in various states of repair, scores of VHS tapes, racks of dress shirts, vintage radios, several skis, a dozen or so motorcycle helmets, and countless books—some in barrister bookcases, others in boxes. He owns a valuable watercolor by Whistler as well as a worthless stuffed blue parrot that looks like a carnival prize.

Melvin says he can remember a time before the clutter crept up on him and the house was “light and airy.” He bought his place about 20 years ago after a bitter divorce and soon found a housemate he enjoyed socializing with. He hosted home-cooked dinners and raucous dance parties, but after his housemate moved out, stuff moved in. “Slowly it got filled up floor to ceiling,” he says. Melvin, however, insists that he is not a hoarder. “I don’t think of it as hoarding at all,” he says. “That implies greed, one of the medieval sins. It’s really an accumulation of stuff, and it happens because I have an eye for everything under history.” But, I ask, wouldn’t he admit his collecting has gotten out of hand? He thinks about it and responds, gently, “I have a problem de-acquisitioning things.”

Is Melvin’s self-diagnosis right? Is he really a quirky, but normal, collecting enthusiast with a particularly strong attachment to what he judges as treasures? Probably not. In fact, it is this very human feeling of attachment which is the first step in a hoarding disorder. Randy O. Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College, and coauthor of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, saw this extreme attachment form in real time, in a set of psychology experiments involving a rather unexciting collectible: Key chains. He distributed key chains to both hoarders and non-hoarders, asking each group to rate their attachment to the trinket during the course of a week. He expected the connection to grow gradually. “That didn’t happen,” he recounts. “[Hoarders] had it immediately. It told me something about the way in which attachment occurs, that it happens immediately on ownership.”

Attachment becomes strengthened by forgetting that the object is just an object. Carolyn Rodriguez, who directs the Hoarding Disorder Research Program at Columbia University, says some of her clients assign human qualities to objects. “For many patients, the main relationship in their lives is not with another person,” she observes. “Instead, it’s a relationship they have with their stuff—and their stuff is what they turn to for companionship and comfort.” The objects can serve as a stand-in for a person. “People will pull a calendar from 2002 out of a box and cry at how deeply that calendar connects them to the things they did in 2002, or the people they loved in 2002,” says Overtree, the Amherst psychologist. Discarding something stops being a simple or rational act.

Those with hoarding disorders, then, have an amplified sense of something that all of us cherish: Our deepest feelings for our families and close friends, and our artistic sensibilities. On the second floor of Melvin’s house, he has half-a-dozen pairs of cowboy boots in boxes, but he owns many more. “This isn’t my Western boot room,” he jokes. He has a thing for the Luccese brand—“the best American cowboy boots” in his opinion—so he buys them at yard sales, flea markets, and thrift shops. “I’ll pick them up for any friends I have that might be that size,” he says. Melvin’s daughter says that her father is one of the most generous people she knows, but he obviously amasses more gifts than he has potential recipients.

While Melvin’s house is overstuffed, many of his books, vintage radios, and musical instruments mean the world to him. “I appreciate the craftsmanship and the beauty that goes into them,” he says. “Everybody else has an iPhone and walks around being governed by an iPhone. For me it’s objects, and I love them.”

Overtree says people who can’t part with their possessions often see an inherent beauty in them. And that’s a quality he doesn’t want to tarnish. “I have been trying to figure out where is the sweet spot between curing somebody and helping them live a happy and productive life,” he says. Beauty is a dangerous thing, another psychologist told me. How do we hold onto the things that we love and cherish without being overwhelmed by them? How do we learn to let go?

THERE IS, however, a second component to hoarding disorders that has less to do with an amplification of what makes us human, and more to do with a diminishment. Psychiatrist Sanjaya Saxena of the University of California, San Diego, found that patients with compulsive hoarding syndrome showed “diminished activity in several parts of the cingulate cortex,” the part of the brain that governs motivation, executive control, and response to conflict. Phil Wolfson, a psychiatrist based in San Francisco, told me patients with hoarding problems “are often depressed, they are often isolated socially or socially phobic, or they are obsessive-compulsive people; they have all kinds of other habits, difficulties, and anxieties.”

But some of the same brain areas that are underactive under normal circumstances become hyperactive when hoarders are confronted with their possessions. David F. Tolin of the Yale University School of Medicine asked participants in a study to decide whether their old papers can be shredded, while monitoring their brain activity. He found that hoarders’ brains zoomed into overdrive like a seismograph measuring an earthquake—compared to healthy controls. (That didn’t happen when they watched someone else’s papers being ditched.) “The parts of the brain involved in helping you gauge that something is important are kicked into such overdrive that they are maxed out, so everything seems important,” Tolin explains.

Monika Eckfield, a professor of physiological nursing at California State University, San Francisco, concurs that many hoarding patients struggle with processing information. To avoid the anxiety of throwing something away, they simply put off the decision to do so. “This is common to all of us,” Eckfield says. Like the neuroscientists, she believes hoarding becomes abnormal as a result of “mis-wiring” in the brain’s executive functions. Chronic hoarders “have a much harder time following through,” she says. “They get distracted. They get disorganized. They end up adding to the pile, and the idea of sorting through those piles is very overwhelming.”

MODERN science has clearly revealed why hoarding deserves the designation of “disorder”: It is reflected in physical differences in how the brain is wired. At the same time, it is something that reflects to us some of the qualities and decisions with which we all struggle: Consumerism, attachment, decision-making, time management—and, at some level, survival. I’m left wondering if it is any coincidence that it was in 2013, when society demands so much from us in each of these capacities, that hoarding has taken on full-fledged disorder status in the DSM-V handbook.

~ David Wallis has contributed to The New Yorker, Wired, Esquire, The New York Times, and other publications. He is also the editor of Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot To Print, and Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression.

Ayahuasca and Cancer Treatment

Yeah, you read that headline correctly. While ayahuasca is known primarily as a vision-producing entheogen (DMT is the primary active ingredient, when combined with harmaline), it has already shown remarkable power in helping people break deadly addictions (see here, here, and here for starters).

One of the people at the forefront of research into the medicinal uses of ayahuasca as has been Dr. Gabor Mate - in this 2013 article he talks about his work with these plants. Among the diseases he has been researching is cancer - and now there is additional and independent support for the evidence that ayahuasca can be a powerful cancer treatment.

Here is the abstract - the whole article is freely available online.

Ayahuasca and cancer treatment

Eduardo E Schenberg [1, 2]
1. Departamento de Psiquiatria, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
2. Instituto Plantando Consciencia, São Paulo, Brazil


Objectives: Comprehensively review the evidence regarding the use of ayahuasca, an Amerindian medicine traditionally used to treat many different illnesses and diseases, to treat some types of cancer.

Methods: An in-depth review of the literature was conducted using PubMed, books, institutional magazines, conferences and online texts in nonprofessional sources regarding the biomedical knowledge about ayahuasca in general with a specific focus in its possible relations to the treatment of cancer.

Results: At least nine case reports regarding the use of ayahuasca in the treatment of prostate, brain, ovarian, uterine, stomach, breast, and colon cancers were found. Several of these were considered improvements, one case was considered worse, and one case was rated as difficult to evaluate. A theoretical model is presented which explains these effects at the cellular, molecular, and psychosocial levels. Particular attention is given to ayahuasca’s pharmacological effects through the activity of N,N-dimethyltryptamine at intracellular sigma-1 receptors. The effects of other components of ayahuasca, such as harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline, are also considered.

Conclusion: The proposed model, based on the molecular and cellular biology of ayahuasca’s known active components and the available clinical reports, suggests that these accounts may have consistent biological underpinnings. Further study of ayahuasca’s possible antitumor effects is important because cancer patients continue to seek out this traditional medicine. Consequently, based on the social and anthropological observations of the use of this brew, suggestions are provided for further research into the safety and efficacy of ayahuasca as a possible medicinal aid in the treatment of cancer.
You can read the whole research article linked to above, or you can be satisfied with this summary written by at Psy Post.

Psychedelic drug ayahuasca could help in battle against cancer, researcher says

By Eric W. Dolan on January 26, 2014

A powerful psychedelic brew consumed by shamans deep in the Amazon could help in the fight against cancer and should be researched, according to a Brazilian scientist.

Ayahuasca — meaning the “vine of the souls” – is traditionally prepared using the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis leaves, though other combinations of plants are sometimes used. Psychotria viridis contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the leaves, while Banisteriopsis caapi contains beta-carbolines such as harmine and harmaline.

For centuries, the psychedelic brew has been used in shamanistic healing rituals. A Natural Geographic reporter who participated in an ayahuasca ritual described the experience as “terrifying—but enlightening.”

Eduardo E. Schenberg of the Federal University of Sao Paulo thinks some of the healing powers attributed to ayahuasca deserve scientific attention, particularly when it comes to cancer.

“There is enough available evidence that ayahuasca’s active principles, especially DMT and harmine, have positive effects in some cell cultures used to study cancer, and in biochemical processes important in cancer treatment, both in vitro and in vivo,” he wrote in an article published in SAGE Open Medicine. ”Therefore, the few available reports of people benefiting from ayahuasca in their cancer treatment experiences should be taken seriously, and the hypothesis presented here, fully testable by rigorous scientific experimentation, helps to understand the available cases and pave the way for new experiments.”

Rumors of ayahuasca helping people with cancer are common, according to Schenberg, and there are at least nine case reports of cancer patients using ayahuasca during their treatment. Of these nine reports, three showed improvements after consuming the psychedelic brew.

Rumors and less than a dozen case reports are hardly substantial evidence. But the physiological effects of the drug suggests there might be some truth behind them, Schenberg said.

DMT produces a powerful psychedelic experience by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. More importantly, for Schenberg, the drug also binds to the sigma 1 receptor, which is found throughout the body and is involved in many cellular functions. The sigma 1 receptor appears to be implicated in the death signalling of cancer cells.

In addition, harmine has been shown to induce the death of some cancer cells and inhibit the proliferation of human carcinoma cells.

Other physiological factors suggest the combination of DMT and harmine could have medically-important antitumor effects, though more research is need.

“In summary, it is hypothesized that the combined actions of β-carbolines and DMT present in ayahuasca may diminish tumor blood supply, activate apoptotic pathways, diminish cell proliferation, and change the energetic metabolic imbalance of cancer cells, which is known as the Warburg effect,” Schenberg wrote. ”Therefore, ayahuasca may act on cancer hallmarks such as angiogenesis, apoptosis, and cell metabolism. ”

DMT is currently prohibited as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and the international Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The drug is relatively unknown compared to other illicit substances like cannabis, but researchers have found that DMT appears to be increasing in popularity.

“If ayahuasca is scientifically proven to have the healing potentials long recorded by anthropologists, explorers, and ethnobotanists, outlawing ayahuasca or its medical use and denying people adequate access to its curative effects could be perceived as an infringement on human rights, a serious issue that demands careful and thorough discussion,” Schenberg wrote.

– –

Photo credit: Periodismo Itinerante (Creative Commons-licensed)

Authors@Google: George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones)

This appearance at Google was from 2011, but I just discovered it. When it first aired, Game of Thrones had probably just started on HBO, but certainly did not have the following it has now.

I should probably offer a spoiler alert, but hell, we're all adults here. Take care of your own needs.

Authors@Google: George R.R. Martin

Uploaded on Aug 6, 2011

George R. R. Martin, the acclaimed author of the Game of Thrones novels -- also a recent hit HBO series -- came to Google for a live-streamed interview where he answered your questions submitted online. The interview, part of the Authors@Google series as well as Martin's book tour promoting his latest novel A Dance with Dragons, took place on July 28th at 12pm PDT.

Martin is a bestselling author most famous for his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series of novels that has been adapted to the popular HBO drama Game of Thrones. Time magazine has dubbed him an "American Tolkien". In his series, Martin creates a rich world populated by a large cast of intriguing characters and interwoven storylines.

It should come as no surprise that in addition to technology, Googlers love things like dragons and fantasy worlds, and we also love meeting talented writers like Martin.