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  1. This is of no specific relevance to the discussion of science, technology or related topics. However, I thought it might be of interest, nevertheless, given the growing number of scientific articles that are appearing on Wikipedia; some of which seek to deal with particularly advanced and difficult topics, and in light of the growing propensity for many people to quote, or reference, Wikipedia articles as part of their arguments. It's a good, easy listen presented by Clive Anderson, a well educated individual who is generally worth listening to and usually has something intelligent to say. The program is not, as far as I could tell, biased for or against Wikipedia, but seeks to examine it objectively, giving equal weight to all points of view and leaving the final conclusion up the listener. I found it informative and worthwhile. The program is available until Thursday 2nd August from the following link as either a podcast or streamed download. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/radio4choice.shtml
  2. I've just had a fascinating experience! First, some background. I have recently installed what is widely known as a whirlpool bath. Such baths have a variety of features more commonly found in saunas. This particular bath has water jets fed by a pump. The bath is filled and when activated, the water is drawn through an inlet and circulated to a number of water jets distributed around the circumference of the bath. The bath is a standard sized 1700mm by 700mm glass-fibre-reinforced acrylic bath. There is nothing special or unusual about it, it's installation or any of the materials used in or around it. Perhaps I should really characterise this experience as mysterious, as I doubt many of you are finding this at all fascinating so far! And so, the experience. I decided to have a bath. This is the first time I've tried a whirlpool bath. I drew the bath, mixing the water to a temperature that was easily tolerable without being too hot. The kind of hot water that you ease yourself into slowly and aclimatize to in a few seconds. If I'd known what would happen I would have taken more accurate measurements! I spent a few moments in the water, soaking, both sitting up and lying down and then turned on the jets. It wasn't a mind blowing experience, but it was quite pleasant, particularly on the lower back and soles of the feet. I increased the intensity of the jets, which wasn't really all that much more intense. I did notice that there was significant vibration through the water. I lay down again until the water covered my chest and was up to my chin, with my knees bent and feet on the floor of the bath. Perhaps not more than 30 seconds later I began to feel a strong tingling throughout my whole body that got very much worse very quickly. So bad, in fact, that my abdomen tightened to the point of causing severe discomfort. My chest felt like there was a jack hammer inside trying to get out, which, whilst I was able to breath normally and was not short of breath, certainly made me feel that if I didn't concentrate on breathing I would have problems. My throat tightened, which didn't help the breathing. The muscles and tendons of my wrists and hands contracted and tingled in a way I can only describe as ferocious. It actually caused my hands to twist into hooks, with the fingers straight and bent at the first joint, creating a right angle with the palm of the hand! I could resist this contortion if I tried and could clench and unclench my fists, but if I relaxed, they returned to this position. And all the time I felt this incredibly powerful vibrating/tingling sensation throughout my whole body! I concluded that it might be time to get out. I turned off the bath without any trouble (I had to reach around to a push button behind my shoulder) and levered myself out of it, at once point becoming afraid that I might pass out as I did so and topple, head first, onto the tiled floor. However, at no point did I actually feel that close to passing out. Given the situation and the way I felt, I considered it a possibility, remembering as I do the early warning signs of loss of consciousness from previous situations, such as illness. Out of the bath, I held onto the back of the closed bathroom door for a second, feeling overheated, and then decided I needed to elevate my legs. I was still tingling throughout all my muscles and felt very shaky. I once collapsed after a very hard and fast bicycle ride, but did not actually feel that bad on this occassion. Again, I was forestalling the worst by getting down on my back on the cold tiles and propping my feet up on the back of the door. And there I stayed for what must have been at least 5 minutes or more, breathing deeply and regularly and thinking about my breathing rhythm, as one does whilst running or recovering afterwards. I stayed in that position until my abdomen relaxed. It was like having a severe bout of stomach cramp throughout the whole experience. Then I stood up and, as I felt reasonably alright, decided to try again. I performed the same ritual as before, but this time started the bath whilst sitting up with my legs straight, the water coming halfway up my torso. No effects. Just a pleasing circulation of warm water. Then I lay down again. No effects. I stayed in there for several more minutes until I began to get too hot, as one does after a while, and bored. I got out and noticed I still felt a little wobbly, but this was like the normal sensations of having spent too long in a hot bath. I left the room in order to get out of the steamy environment and lay on the bed and air dried in the breeze from a fan. I took my pulse rate using the bed side clock and measured 102 beats per minute. My normal resting heart rate averages at about the mid 70s. Despite my athletic references earlier, I am not extremely fit and should be considered of average fitness. So, what on earth caused this physiological reaction? There is some further information that may be relevant. I had just completed 3 or 4 hours of physical labour, ripping up flooring and carting heavy loads back and forth. Home improvements, you see. The bath is only the latest completed project. So I was fatigued from those exertions. Whilst in the bath initially, relaxing, I was also thinking about my girlfriend, with the usual predictable results. So we must factor in the physiological effects of arousal. Believe me when I say that this subject didn't stay on my mind for long once the vibration started! Hard to feel amorous when you're afraid you may stop breathing. I am a 27 year old male, 189lbs, 6 feet tall... brown eyes, dark hair ;-) ... with no existing medical conditions, no vascular or respiratory illnesses, no history of serious illness beyond physical injury, no known neurological conditions. What else? Oh, I stubbed my toe a few days ago and I get hayfever, but not that bad ;-) So, the cause is a mystery. Even more so as I was unable to replicate it a very short time later! Other than that, I wouldn't necessarily recommend against getting a whirlpool bath. The second time around it was very pleasant. But perhaps they should print a warning for first timers!
  3. I was wondering about the effect on homeostatic regulation of imbibing hot fluids such as tea and coffee. In particular I was wondering about the effects of so doing during a period of hot weather and high humidity. I suppose one should really frame the question around the drinking of hot water, as the caffeine content of tea and coffee may introduce variables, but as most of us drink our hot water with caffeine in it, perhaps not! Do you think there is any truth to the notion that drinking hot fluids during hot weather is both refreshing and in some way keeps the drinker cool, and why? Cheers
  4. I begin to see how she managed as she did. The staff often commented that she seemed to live on the boiled sweets and cups of tea (certainly more than 4 a day). She was 76 when she died, but had not led an easy life from a health point of view, having suffered various ailments and been on the receiving end of some less than efficacious fashionable treatments many years ago, so one could probably argue that she was prematurely aged to begin with. Her general physical deterioration, that was not directly linked to illness, could probably be accounted for by the lack of vitamins in her diet, I suppose. Thanks, Danzman. That's very interesting.
  5. I'd like to make sure I've got the definitions of my terms straight. I understand genetic engineering to be the modification of an organisms germline with the goal of introducing that modification into all that organisms future offspring. It seems that this is mostly carried out on embryonic organisms, typically at the zygote stage or earlier. I understand gene therapy to be the introdution of a genetic modification to an individual using some from of vector that is introduced into a specific part of the body, with the aim of modifying gene expression within a specific organ or tissue. It seems that it would be very difficult and probably impossible to effect a change to the organism's entire genome using a vector method as every cell in every tissue and organ in the body would need to be successfully infected and every modification made would only exist for the lifetime of the infected cell. The gene therapy therefore needs to be repeated regularly if the effects are to be long lasting. This is not necessarily a problem if the gene therapy is some sort of drug targeting a contracted disease, but is a problem if the therapy is acting against a hereditary disease. So, assuming the know how and technology exists, in principle if you want to make the human species immune to the common cold, you need to engineer it into the germline. If you want to cure an individual of a particular instance of the common cold, you use genetic therapy. Do I have it straight? Thanks
  6. I discussed the idea of a brain computer interface with my 17 year old sister. At first, she seemed enamoured of the idea and could see many benefits. With further thought, she then became squeamish about the surgery that would be necessary for a true nervous system interface to function, and about the possibilities of a networked device attached to her body being hacked or otherwise having security liabilities. Then she decided that after all, it would be a very bad idea to have this kind of constant, easy access to something like the internet, or even the contents of her own hard drive, such as games and so on. She said that she herself had wasted many long hours in front of the monitor and had often been astonished at the way her sense of time was impaired whilst browsing or gaming. She had made the decision, especially in the light of her increased study load, to cut back on browsing for pleasure, but knows many of her contemporaries who have not. She can name many people who spend many more hours a day online or gaming than they spend sleeping, eating, defecating or studying. She particularly highlighted role playing games as a serious cause for concern as most are not turn based, leading to the gamers attempting to be in constant attendance of their "characters" in the game, often to the exclusion of other priorities. She also noted, in addition to her teenage friends, younger children of between 6 and 12 years old (often siblings of her friends) who had similar habits and were extremely unpleasant children to be around, especially if they couldn't get their daily "fix" of gaming and browsing. Does internet addiction really exist? Clearly some of these individuals have an unhealthy preoccupation with computing in one form or another, but would that be accurately defined as an addiction? This sort of behaviour; which one can witness among many differing individuals, not just teenagers, certainly results in a high degree of social exclusion if nothing else. Given these concerns, would we really want to pursue the development of brain computer interfaces designed specifically to enable widespread wireless access without the need for mechanically operated peripherals and data display devices? Are these concerns realistic?
  7. Following on from the thread on elective technological augmentation of humans (discussing the Singularity) and other conversations about the social acceptability of merging computers with the human body in the real world, it occured to me to try drawing up a list of the current "scientific bogeymen" that occupy, rightly or wrongly, the public consciousness. Here's what I've got so far: - Human Cloning - Designer Babies - GM food - Embryonic stem cell research - Artificially Intelligent machines at or beyond human equivalence - Nuclear power generation (waste products) Several of these are related, but in the media are generally segregated. I thought of including the controversy over the MMR vaccine and related incidences, but evidence seems to be emerging that this really was just a public relations scare with no data to back up the medical concerns. This was 30 seconds brain storming. I'm sure I've left out alot so would anyone else care to contribute and see what we can come up with?
  8. I'm finding the concept of BCI increasingly interesting. This would seem to fall more in the category of intelligence augmentation, but I see a flaw in that one is only intelligent to the degree that one understands how to draw useful conclusions from the knowledge one has available. For instance, if an individual had a direct mental link to a vast library of accurate information, that individual could still be ineffective because they'd be limited, first by the capabilities of their search tools and second, by their own ability to absorb and understand and otherwise make sense of any information that they retrieve. No good digging up some post-doctoral work in oceanography when you haven't downloaded and read and understood the oceanography undergraduate file yet. When you consider the definition of intelligence, that is the ability to acquire and apply new knowledge and skills*, it strikes me that the future might be populated by people who are very well educated but not intelligent because while they have an almost unlimited capacity to acquire information, they have no clue how to apply it. *Oxford English Dictionary
  9. Thank you all for your replies. Sorry if I was short tempered earlier. After reading Vinge's and Kurzweil's papers and other sources about the topic, it was useful to observe a discussion of the basic premise. My humble conclusion is relatively unchanged from my earlier one. Naivety and lack of realistic perspective. In other words, not enough knowledge of real world human behaviour, particularly in relation to judging which technologies people will "buy into" and thus permit to be developed; wildy optimistic predictions of technological progress based on very selective and exclusive criteria, ignoring obvious variables and confounding influences. However, its easy to see how a group of relatively closeted, specialist academics with a predilection for daydreaming (and publishing those daydreams in the science fiction press ;-) could come to such conclusions. I let the idea of engineering the future of the species buzz around in the back of my head for a few days and came up with a very similar conclusion to that of ParanoiA. The future is squishy and organic. Computer hardware prostheses and/or replacements, if they happen on a large scale and become at all socially acceptable, will be a transition at best - something to facilitate an expansion of capabilities, knowledge and technological applications to the point where we're able to achieve things with biomolecules that we use silicon and copper to do today. With that in mind, I decided that future humans would look extremely similar to us because they can if they want to and they will choose to for reasons of cultural continuity, racial memory and the fact that in order to be human you must retain the physical form of a human. I have a friend who used to watch Stargate and we discussed the arch nemesis of that show which parasitized human bodies. My contention was that these aliens, having existed in human bodies for long enough, would become humans on a psychological level, despite their origins. That, at least, would then excuse the various human behaviours these "aliens" apparently exhibited! The reverse would surely be true if we chose to engineer ourselves into something more convenient, perhaps with more appendages and more efficient and less obstrusive bodily functions. We'd become, physically and then psychologically, something else. Meanwhile, genetic engineering continues to grow and expand and touch our lives in ways never previously envisaged as our understanding of molecular biology increases. I think it would be a very rich man who chose to put money on some other branch of science to be the touchstone of future human development. Thanks, all.
  10. Thank you for your reply. It so happens that I disagree with the whole idea and have concluded that many of the proponents are suffering from an unbearable naivety and a lack of perspective... but all this is completely beside the question. Whether or not you think the Singularity is at all likely in any form, it remains a reasonably plausible suggestion that one day we will have the technology to achieve the scenario the question is framed within. My interest is in the answer to that question.
  11. I have been reading about the concept of the Technological Singularity, otherwise referred to as the Law of Accelerating Change or perhaps more simply, the Artificial Intelligence revolution. Proponents of this model of the future argue that we will in some way become merged with technology. There are two possible end results: either our own intelligence will be enhanced or augmented or we will simply become semi-autonomous components for greater group intelligences. I don't agree with the assumptions of many of the ideas within this theory, but in this post I would like to focus on one particular aspect as I am interested in peoples reactions to the idea. When you put the idea of merging with technology to people, most exhibit revulsion at the idea. This could simply be a problem of semantics. For instance, the technology in question could simply be a small implant running some sort of software, or it could be the wholesale replacement of parts of the nervous system with computer hardware. The point is that it is not necessarily the case that such individuals will resemble the Borg from Star Trek, which is what I think alot of people assume. There is no justification for this assumption. Many people today willingly have cosmetic surgery, and many of those have cosmetic implants. These implants are not connected to the internet, granted, but they are physically unnecessary additions to those peoples bodies. They do not improve the basic function. Yet these people are quite happy to have them. What if you were offered the option of becoming merged with technology if that meant that you would have a physically beautiful exterior appearance? Would you trade some of your viscera for mechanical parts and link your nervous system to something like the internet if it meant it would give you the power to alter your external appearance so as to enhance your athletic ability and improve your looks? No one would ever see you as a cyborg. You would appear as a well developed, sexually desirable human. Would that cast the idea of merging with technology in a different light? Thank you EDIT: I would like to emphasise that the question is not intended to include those who would accept artifical components in order to correct an injury or disability. The motivation in those instances is completely different and understandable. The question is intended to focus on whether the promise of physical beauty in a perfect body is sufficient to overcome the objection to installing machine components.
  12. I have been continuing my reading around the subject area of relativity and have come across the following: http://www.physorg.com/news10789.html The article describes how Dr. Franklin Felber has come up with a solution to the Gravitational Field Equation that accounts for the gravitational effects of masses moving at speeds close to that of light, which has been presented to the Space Technology and Applications International Forum in Albuquerque. This solution is touted as a likely basis for a spacecraft capable of extremely high speeds. I have been unable to locate a biography online. There is just this from the bottom of an article at http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/517997/ I was wondering whether anyone would care to comment on the idea presented, or whether anyone with current knowledge of goings on in physics circles generally could assess any reactions to this paper by academia which were not expressed through the media? And now to the heart of the matter: I am writing a science fiction short story for a collection I'm building up for possible publication. This is part of the reason I've been reading around various technical subjects, because I would prefer, where ever possible, to base the technical components of the plot on existing research or at the very least, the more promising and realistic looking of the currently available theories. I would like to think that the reader would understand that they might be getting something out of the experience other than just an addition to their toilet paper collection. For plot purposes I've decided I need a method of propelling a spacecraft that is capable of approaching light speed. I like the idea of a spacecraft which must accelerate to a predefined fraction of light speed which generates a focused region of antigravity as it is more interesting than the usual "hyperdrive" fudge beloved of lazy writers and offers dramatic possibilities. To this end, I have one or two further questions which I hope someone might help me with. According to the article linked above, the spacecraft overcomes the problem of increasing inertia by travelling down the antigravity beam in a state of freefall. However, if the spacecraft were to then activate another form of propulsion and accelerate down the beam, would the mass of the spacecraft increase as it would under "normal"* conditions; would it be able to more closely approach the speed of light; would it be able to exceed the speed of light? * where normal is the absence of an antigravity effect And while I'm here, another question that just occured to me: there is a great deal of reading material available that talks about what is expected to happen to any object or traveller who attains light speed, but what might happen should the traveller be capable of achieving a speed twice or more that of light? Would the expected effects be the same, worse or non-existent? I realise that I can't expect to understand the subject in sufficient detail to discuss it intelligently based on internet research and questions on forums. If anyone would like to offer any thoughts or comments, then thank you very much for your time.
  13. Before I continue, I should make it clear that I am a complete layman and have no formal physics education. Now that's out of the way... I have come across mention in the media of the theories of a certain Reg Cahill, Associate Professor of Physics, who says that Einstein is wrong, that there are many experiments performed over the past years which prove this and that the only reason it's not widely accepted is partly institutional inertia and partly because experimental data that does not conform to Einstein's theories are discarded as artefacts. What really got my attention was Cahill's comment to the effect that physics could have been going off on a tangent for the last hundred years. This idea intrigued me so, being in no position to analyse any of the technical information, I looked up some comments. These varied from "idiot" to "while I accept that someone will probably surpass Einstein someday, and that this is reasonable, I don't think it's happened yet." Another view was that good scientists let the data stand for itself while bad scientists with dodgy ideas run to the media because the media can't do the math. Obviously, there are two sides to every argument, but as I said, I'm not qualified to properly assess them. I would, therefore, be very interested in, and grateful for, any comments and assessments that any board members might find the time to express below. Thank you
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