Sunday, March 25, 2012

Principia Posthuman: an assertion-free posthuman philosophy

Although a definition of philosophy is hard to come by, and practitioners may be either loth to define it (sacrilegious to the field’s pervasive intentional obscurantism) or fill tomes with its consideration (Deleuze’s What is Philosophy? is one of the more recent examples), one purpose of philosophy would certainly seem to be serving as a tool for structuring thinking about almost any topic. In particular, the future is a welcome venue for more standardized tools for structuring thinking. Just because the future has not yet occurred, and linear and probabilistic forecasting is limited, does not mean that there could not be rigorous means of thinking about it.

In fact, whilst thinking about the future from a philosophical view, points arise which suggest that the current nature of philosophy may be limited and inapplicable to many future conditions, and will need to be extended and re-thought. For example, much of philosophy is built upon concepts like language, the self, and subject-object differences while it is not at all radical to envision a post-lingual, post-self, and post-subject object future. There are already starting to be more profound communication structures such as body language readers and holographic thought maps that could supplement and replace language as the only (and hopelessly narrowband and mediated) communication mechanism. The self can be seen as merely the current meatsphere holding tank for an individual brain in a future which might include a variety of biological and electronic copies, with different portions permissioned out to groupmind projects. Subject-object differences fade too with the controlled manipulations of nanotechnology and perspective-extending sensors.

Humbly proposed by a pseudonymous Mary Posthumanis then, is the need for a Principia Posthuman, a new thought paradigm that realizes just as ancient philosophy and theology were not enough and gave way to existentialism, that modern, post-modern, post-post-modern, neo-post-structuralism, post-subjectivity, etc. thinking is currently insufficient as a guidepost to the different possible flavors of posthuman future, and that a radical Posthuman Principia will be needed which apprehends post-Marxist economics, post-existential metaphysics, and a model-free, assertion-free, wholistic, noSQL philosophy.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The human-readable face of big data: real-time ambiency

A new group of tools are putting a human readable face on big data, providing an on-demand real-time graphical frontend to querying and visualizing high-volume multi-dimension datasets. An obvious next step could be the continuous streaming of ambient information pushed automatically per inferred interest profiles to wall-based HDMI smartscreens...

Some interesting Websites and Tools:

  • Next-gen infovis:, FlowingData, Many Eyes, and Mondrian are some examples, more are listed at WikiViz for exploring and creating next-generation datavis infographics
  • Social network mapping and analysis: Gephi (slideshare presentation)
  • Interactive simulation: A tool for converting data into interactive visualizations is D3 - adaptable code swatches that can be inserted into html webpages to render real-time visualizations; a javascript library that supports SVG. Example: choropleth maps (e.g.; red/blue election results shading by county)
  • Graphing: Neo4 j, a graph database for big data (NOSQL) that accommodates RDF triple stores and sparkle (advanced subject, predicate, object graphing)
  • Mapping: Kartograph, TileMill, Polymaps, Cost of Living for multi-layer annotated data over street-mapping or other geographical data

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Genetic and environmental rejuvenation of aging stem cells

The Buck Institute for Research on Aging held a symposium on Stem Cell Research and Aging March 1-2, 2012 in Novato, California. A range of levels of talks were given by scientists in the field to an audience of approximately 100 people. Three of the overall themes included a focus on the commonality of systemic cellular processes in development, aging, and rejuvenation, the importance of intervention in middle age when pre-clinical conditions are already in effect (for example, synapse loss, and over/under-expressed transcriptional profiles), and some of the challenges encountered thus-far in human stem cell clinical trials. The stage of the research is still more focused on characterization in a variety of model organisms rather than translational intervention for humans. Two of the most interesting areas of presentation were epigenetics and neurodegenerative disease.

Since a good definition distinguishing young and old cells is not yet available, it was suggested that a cell’s epigenetic state and transcriptional network could be used to determine cell age and measure the impact of rejuvenation interventions. The stem cell environment is a critical factor to stem cell health and operation, and it has been found that aging can be reversed by altering the stem cell environment. One technique uses heterochronic parabiosis (pairing older and younger cells together), where each cell takes on the expression profiles of other. Genes that are downregulated in aging are reexpressed when exposed to younger cells, and stem cells put in an old environment take cues and act old (e.g.; have different expression profiles and lose lineage fidelity). Other rejuvenation techniques involve manipulating the transcriptional network, the networks of small RNAs that regulate the stability of the stem cell niche, and function appropriately in younger cells but not in older cells. However, in addition to heterochronic parabiosis, muscle stem cells may be rejuvenated through transcriptional interventions such as overexpressing the protein upd, activating the notch gene, inhibiting the Wnt gene or the TGF-beta gene, and stimulating proteins secreted by embryonic stem cells. The good news is that given the right genetic and environmental clues, aging cell states may be reversed.

Neurodegenerative disease
Regarding neurodegenerative disease, there is a new understanding of human cortical neurogenesis; that it occurs in the outer sub-ventricular zone (OSVZ) as opposed to the ventricular region, which also may explain how so many cortical columns are generated. The results of a four-year NINDS-sponsored clinical trial injecting fetal brain stem cells into aged patients with Parkinson’s disease were discussed; that the outcome and side effects were discouraging. This type of trial might fare better in patients who did not already have the movement disorder dyskinesia and with an improved understanding of the biological mechanisms of the disease, and better cellular delivery methods. Also regarding Parkinson’s disease, synapse loss is already beginning in middle age; for example there may be a 60% synapse loss before the disease is detected. Pacemaker neurons degenerate synapses and then synapse loss degenerates soma (the cell body of neurons).

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The uncanny guest of post-nihilism

Nietzsche delivers the message that ‘god is dead’ with a parable where a madman goes into a 19th century European marketplace with a lantern at high noon asking ‘where has god gone?’ to the atheist-filled marketplace (in The Gay Science). Whereas previously the church had provided meaning to life and an endpoint to the story (e.g.; salvation), god was now dead and the marketplace was taking the church’s place in providing value and meaning to life, and there was no endpoint to the story, just nihilism (nothingness, e.g.; life is meaningless). Nietzsche presciently predicted the arrival of nihilism as ‘Europe’s uncanny guest.’ (from remarks by Robert Harrison at the Roundtable on the topic of "Nihilism" on February 29, 2011)

One could then ask, in the figurative marketplace for the new faith, what next uncanny guest might be lurking as the successor to nihilism? Post-nihilism could be the turning back to ‘something’ from ‘nothing,’ perhaps as many subjective virtual somethings as there are and will be ‘individual’ intelligences. The inward-turning path to individual liberty, choice, and subjectivism continues to prevail as opposed to a regression toward normative objective truths. Degreed objective truth (akin to degreed belief) is merely a transport layer for convenience and social lubrication but not a content layer. Early clues of the move towards greater subjectivism can be seen in the modern economy 2.0. The marketplace continues as a literal and figurative metaphor with an important mechanism for commuting meaning being the increasing value of the new currencies: reputation, status, attention, intention, etc. supplementing and perhaps eventually superceding money and labor. The need for stories and endpoints has as much relevance as ever.