More on "Quad Nets" (new brain/mind theory)

In September, 2006, I described my “new brain/mind theory” here and received some challenging criticism from Eric Thomson and Mike S. (see below). To meet these challenges, I prepared a reduced model discussed in a web page linked to a paper in .pdf form. Since my approach is based on little-known thermodynamics, I have also written about mechanical metaphors that may be helpful in explaining my ideas.

Continue reading

Neuroengineering and the MIT TR35 innovators

Today MIT’s Technology Review magazine released its annual list of innovators under the age of 35 who were nominated for recognition. Interestingly, almost a full quarter are doing work relating to or impacting the field of neuroengineering — including ways to tag synapses with quantum dots, activate neurons remotely, improve machine vision, classify whole-brain states for prosthetic purposes, and make nanowire arrays.

A ubiquitous human parasite that shapes human culture?

In the provocative-hypothesis-of-the-week department:

Kevin Lafferty, a parasitologist, has put forth the idea that a fairly ubiquitous parasite (infecting O(10%) of Americans, and up to 2/3 of people in places like Brazil) is responsible for some of the diversity of human culures (1). The parasite uses common housecats to increase its transmission to the next host in the life cycle, and has a subtle effect on human personality, with some studies claiming that it even causes neuroticism, and even schizophrenia. (One clinical report (2) claims that “subjects with latent toxoplasmosis had higher intelligence [and] lower guilt proneness.” Hmm!)

Anyway, Lafferty noted that toxoplasmosis varies in prevalence from world region to world region, and then tries to draw correlates between these prevalences and local cultures:

“Drivers of the geographical variation in the prevalence of this parasite include the effects of climate on the persistence of infectious stages in soil, the cultural practices of food preparation and cats as pets. Some variation in culture, therefore, may ultimately be related to how climate affects the distribution of T. gondii, though the results only explain a fraction of the variation in two of the four cultural dimensions, suggesting that if T. gondii does influence human culture, it is only one among many factors.”

I wonder how one could test this hypothesis? Look for recent immigrants from one culture to another, who have lower Toxoplasmosis incidence? (Preferably finding populations that go in opposite directions, as a control.) Track culture change vs. migration vs. climate change?

Unlikely, perhaps. But nice that people are still thinking big 🙂


(1) Lafferty, K
Can the common brain parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, influence human culture?
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Picked up by the popular press here

(2) Flegr J, Havlicek J.
Changes in the personality profile of young women with latent toxoplasmosis.
Folia Parasitol (Praha). 1999;46(1):22-8.

Machines vs. humans, A machine candidate to enter in the club of the most intelligent

Soon machines will obtain higher IQ’s than humans in intelligence tests.
Traditionally the intelligence quotient has been considered the best indicator for scientifically evaluating natural intelligence.
Is this indeed the best way to measure this human capacity? Could a machine emulate a human being solving traditional intelligence tests? If so, could we affirm that a machine possesses an intelligence equivalent to that of a human?
KITBIT explores some of these possibilities.
The ability of KITBIT in symbolic logic problems, in those which verbal intelligence does not come into play, is comparable to that of humans.
On our web-page,, we challenge our visitors to put KITBIT to the test in solving numerical and logical problems which have the exact same format as traditional intelligence tests used by psychologists.
The KITBIT project develops research in diverse areas of artificial intelligence such as image recognition, creation of models, predictions and data mining.
KITBIT has been designed by a small team of engineers, mathematicians and programmers. Currently we hope to substantially enlarge this team to carry out our ongoing projects.

[This sounds interesting… although it is fine to promote your personal projects here, we’d at least like to know a little bit about how your project is achieving its goal or how your specific algorithms make this different from similar AI endeavors. And please, please always put your name at the bottom of the post! -Neville]

Robert Trivers: The kindness of strangers

The Guardian has posted a very well written and entertaining profile of Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist who proposed controversial but influential ideas concerning the emergence of concepts such as altruism and justice as a natural consequence of Darwinian evolution. As with all evolutionary {biology, psychology, computation}, you may readily disagree with the strength of the theories, but it is fun to consider their logical structure. Not to mention Trivers is a guy with an amusing biography and quotes.

Vesicle release in bacteria

Bacterial speech bubbles : Nature

Bacteria secrete signals to other bacteria of the same species through vesicle packets.

Mashburn and Whiteley describe the unexpected convergence of two seemingly unrelated areas of microbiological research: how bacteria talk to their friends, and how they attack their enemies. The authors studied the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which releases a hydrophobic molecule called the ‘pseudomonas quinolone signal’ (PQS) to send messages to other bacteria of the same species. The surprise is that, rather than being secreted as single molecules, PQS is released in bubble-like ‘vesicles’ that also contain antibacterial agents and probably toxins aimed at host tissue cells as well.

I wonder if this is evolutionarily connected to synaptic vesicles or if this is a case of something like convergent evolution…