Monday, January 21, 2013

Microbial Hermeneutics - 3

Microbes are talking with human cells.
One of the hypotheticals of Toxins of Power, the subject of this blog, is that there is a metamorphosis which takes place in most of those who are exposed to social power (About Toxins Of Power).

While trying to search the Earth and the Universe for the source of the toxins of power that may, in whole or in part, cause that metamorphosis, the Toxins of Power Blog came upon prions, phages, machines, and microbes that are "doing their thing" within the human species.

Upon encountering them, we stumbled upon their ability and practice of communication between and among themselves, as well as their ability and practice of communicating with human cells.

In this series, Microbial Hermeneutics, we have been discussing not only the communication between and among microbes, but we have also been discussing their usage of something we humans also use: hermeneutics.

For a discussion of human hermeneutics see "Hermeneutics For The Blogosphere" and "His Or Hermeneutics?," two Dredd Blog posts that deal with several types of human hermeneutics.

Since hermeneutics is a science concerning the interpretation of communicated messages, and since (like us) cells of all types within our bodies communicate through signals, it became at once obvious to me that a viable hermeneutics that focuses on the inner microbial world of communication is important:
An alternative view is that cells use simpler ‘‘rules’’ to determine
appropriate gene expression levels in response to conflicting signals. But what do these ‘‘rules’’ look like, how complex are they, and to what extent can they be used to predict the response of cells to novel signal combinations?
These issues are increasingly critical throughout biomedical science. Single-cell organisms such as bacteria can live in extraordinarily diverse environments, in and out of hosts, and surrounded by other microbial species and the antibiotics that many of them produce. In this milieu, signal integration abilities are critical to survival. Similarly, in metazoan development, individual signaling pathways rarely work in isolation; rather, cellular responses depend on combinations of inputs from multiple pathways ...
(Microbial Hermeneutics). Signal integration is a vast subject, however, it basically boils down to making sense out of multiple signals.

Which is also the basic task of human hermeneutics (human words, whether spoken, sung, or written are basically signals which need to be interpreted).

Let's also consider that the opposite of signal integration or hermeneutics is miscommunication caused by signal disruption.

However, before we delve a bit into signal disruption or impaired hermeneutics, let's seriously note that the value of microbial and other cellular heremeneutics should not be underestimated:
Normal, healthy cells only reproduce when there is enough space for them to fit. The body can regulate the production of cells by sending signals when to stop. With leukemia, these cells do not respond to the signals to stop and reproduce, regardless of space available.
(Pediatric Leukemia, emphasis added). In the context of microbial cell to cell communication, not responding to signals is a function of either not having received a message in the first place, or of not properly interpreting that signal (note: not responding is only bad when a response to that signal is required).

By taking into consideration childhood leukemia such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia [ALL], we see the results of an absence of adequate cellular or microbial signaling, cellular hermeneutics, or both.

The ultimate nature of signaling fundamentally requires: a signal, a signal sender, a signal receiver, a medium within which the signal can be sent, and an understanding of the particular signal by both sender and receiver.

Thus, we see that the glue which holds communication together is a signaling language that is understood by both the signal sender and the signal receiver.

To thwart communication, a signal disruptor can attack the signal itself during signal transport, or can attack either the sender, the receiver, or both, so that there is a defective signal or a defective hermeneutic episode as to that signal.

A disruption anywhere in that signal chain can result in a misunderstanding, a failure to successfully communicate.

In this sense, we can define some diseases as a failure to successfully communicate, as with the form of leukemia they call "ALL", mentioned above.

The Dredd Blog post, Childhood Leukemia Linked To Government Carelessness, discusses a scenario where, according to the perspectives of this blog, the toxins of power have corrupted those in seats of political power who have then corrupted the signalling abilities of the type this post is concerned with.

That is, the toxins of power have caused those officials in positions of power to unleash signal disruptors, in the form of deadly nuclear radiation, on the populace (There is no safe level of Radiation).

Those disruptors are known to then cause leukemia and other maladies in both adults and children.

In future posts of this series I want to take a look at, yes, focus on that disruption, that is, I want to take a look at, or to pose questions about, which specific areas in that specific signal / communication chain are disrupted or damaged by nuclear power plant radiation.

In theory, that disruption could involve damage to the machines within cells, whether human or microbial cells, damage to their signal sending capacity, damage to their signal receiving capacity, damage to the medium outside those cells -- through-which signals must travel -- or even damage to the hermeneutical abilities of the receiver cell.

The previous post in this series is here.

More signals are coming in future posts, but in the mean time you might enjoy hearing from some of the scientific teams that are able to talk to microbes -- (they know the language of microbes):

Monday, January 7, 2013

On The Origin of Assholes

"Did you say Chanel No. 5?"
In the tireless quest and search for the origin and evolution of The Toxins of Power, this series will deal with yet another difficult subject.

One is likely to hear giggles when the growing scholarship about assholes arises in a normal conversation.

Nevertheless, two books have been published this year which deal with this extremely difficult subject, and in these two books there is helpful academic scholarship, if for no other reason because they concern serious scientific work in the sometimes nebulous subject of "social evolution."

Therefore, in today's post we will refer to those two books in an attempt to tie them into the search for the origin of the toxins of power, where Lord Acton once labored so hard for so long.

Regular readers know that Lord Acton is the person that is probably most famous for the notion that power corrupts, which among other things, means that "something" turns people into assholes, especially when they are exposed to power and are unaware of its morphing tendencies.

That "something" is what we here at Toxins of Power Blog call "the toxins of power."

Okay, so let's get into the aforesaid scholarship about assholes:
He started sketching a theory of assholes, refining his thinking at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, where he spent a year as a fellow in 2009.
He consulted Rousseau ... Hobbes ... Kant ... and more-recent scholarship on psychopaths. He spoke with psychologists, lawyers, and anthropologists, all of whom suggested asshole reading lists. "There are a lot of similar characters studied in other disciplines, like the free rider or the amoralist or the cheater," James says, calling his time at Stanford an "interdisciplinary education in asshole theory."

James argues for a three-part definition of assholes that boils down to this: Assholes act out of a deep-rooted sense of entitlement, a habitual and persistent belief that they deserve special treatment. (Nunberg points out that use of the phrase "sense of entitlement" tracks the spread of "asshole"—both have spiked since the 1970s.) How to distinguish an asshole
from a scumbag, a jerk, a prick, or a schmuck? Assholes are systematic. We all do assholeish things, but only an asshole feels fully justified in always acting like an asshole. As James puts it, "If one is special on one's birthday, the asshole's birthday comes every day."

To put meat on the bones of his theory, James names names. He was loath to do it. "I don't see my job in life being the asshole police," he says. But after a few pages of throat clearing—"We happily admit that any examples are properly controversial ... we stand ready to update and revise"—he walks us through the "teeming asshole ecosystem."
(A Social Offender for Our Times). That should suffice as an introduction, however, it should be said that The Toxins of Power Blog will not stop at the "teeming asshole ecosystem" here on Earth.

No, because traditionally we have framed our searches to consider even the heavens for the source of the toxins of power (see e.g. A Religious Doctrine For Toxins of Power and Is Toxic Power A Cosmic Phenomenon?).

Thus, in this series we will follow the scholars as they examine one asshole after another, especially when they name names:
To put meat on the bones of his theory, James names names ... Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore ... Richard Dawkins, Larry Summers, and Bernard-Henri Lévy ... Dick Cheney ... Ralph Nader ... [Ann Coulter, Karl Rove] There are many species in the asshole kingdom.
(ibid, see also Assholes: a theory). Stay tuned like a piano dear readers, because this new ongoing hypothesis will likely be morphed into a hypothesis of phases.

That is, this hypothesis may show that the first phase of the activation of the toxins of power is related to the advent of asshole characteristics (see Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism).

Yes, the experiment may indeed turn out to be an exercise of noticing the phenomenon that a particular individual in one of the many seats of power is becoming an asshole.

That would be the time to check for the toxins of power in that asshole.

An ode to assholes:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Interlude - 2

In the post Interlude there was an emphasis on the issue of not blaming microbes of every sort for the behavior of a few pathogens that also tend to be parasitic.

There is a world of history that counsels us in this direction, mainly involving the discovery that even microbes with bad behavior at times also have good behavior that helps us.

The exercise, then, is to find out what happened to the good microbes that caused them to become involved in some pathogenic behavior.

There are examples in the history of medicine and science where our culture has caused not only microbes to become pathogens, but culture has sometimes even caused people to become destructive to life.

The example to be used in support of today's post is the microbe Helicobacter pylori:
Helicobacter pylori may be the most successful pathogen in human history. While not as deadly as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, cholera, and the plague, it infects more people than all the others combined. H. pylori, which migrated out of Africa along with our ancestors, has been intertwined with our species for at least two hundred thousand years. Although the bacterium occupies half the stomachs on earth, its role in our lives was never clear. Then, in 1982, to the astonishment of the medical world, two scientists, Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren, discovered that H. pylori is the principal cause of gastritis and peptic ulcers; it has since been associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer as well.
(Germs Are Us, New Yorker). The author of that piece, Michael Specter, goes on to point out that we went overboard once that factoid was discovered:
The consensus was clear; as one prominent gastroenterologist wrote in 1997, “The only good Helicobacter pylori is a dead Helicobacter pylori.” Eradication proved complicated and expensive, however, and the effort never gained momentum. Yet few scientists questioned the goal. “Helicobacter was a cause of cancer and of ulcers,’’ Martin J. Blaser, the chairman of the Department of Medicine and a professor of microbiology at the New York University School of Medicine, told me recently. “It was bad for us. So the idea was to get it out of our bodies, as fast as we can. I don’t know of anyone who said, Gee, we better think about the consequences.”
(ibid, emphasis added). Eradication without understanding is risky business, as we have seen over and over in the history of human interaction with the environment.

Predators are sometimes overkilled, then we suffer the consequences because we then have lost the moderating role that predators play.

The same dynamic applies to the relatively few microbe species that become pathogenic for some reason or another, and it even applies to the microbe Helicobacter pylori:
No one was more eager to rout the organism from the human gut than Blaser, who has devoted most of his working life to the study of H. pylori. His laboratory at N.Y.U. developed the first standard blood tests to identify the microbe, and most of them are commonly in use today. But Blaser, a restless intellect who, in addition to his medical duties, helped start the Bellevue Literary Review, wondered how an organism as old as humans could survive if it caused nothing but harm. “That isn’t how evolution works,” he said. “H. pylori is an ancestral component of humanity.” By the nineteen-nineties, Blaser had begun to look more closely at the bacterium’s molecular behavior, and in 1998 he published a paper in the British Medical Journal suggesting, contrary to prevailing views, that it might not be so dangerous after all. The following year, he started the Foundation for Bacteriology, to help focus attention on the critical, and usually positive, role that these organisms play in human evolution.
(ibid, emphasis added). Blaser goes on to tie research into the new understanding:
In the past decade, however, aided by the rapidly escalating power of computer processing and by the same revolution in DNA-sequencing technology that made it possible to map our genome, another truth has emerged: while our health is certainly influenced by genes, it may be affected even more powerfully by bacteria.

We inherit every one of our genes, but we leave the womb without a single microbe. As we pass through our mother’s birth canal, we begin to attract entire colonies of bacteria. By the time a child can crawl, he has been blanketed by an enormous, unseen cloud of microorganisms—a hundred trillion or more. They are bacteria, mostly, but also viruses and fungi (including a variety of yeasts), and they come at us from all directions: other people, food, furniture, clothing, cars, buildings, trees, pets, even the air we breathe. They congregate in our digestive systems and our mouths, fill the space between our teeth, cover our skin, and line our throats. We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species; these [microbe] cells outnumber those which we consider our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds—the same as our brain. Together, they are referred to as our microbiome—and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists like Blaser have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.

“I love genetics,” Blaser said. “But the model that places our genes at the root of all human development is wrong ..."
(ibid, emphasis added). Regular readers know that this blog and its co-blogs have been aware of the revolution that has taken place in microbiology and genetics, and has been informing readers of those developments (see e.g. Microbial Hermeneutics, The "It's In Your Genes" Myth, Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power, and On The New Meaning of "Human").

In conclusion of this post, when we study the affects of power on those in the seats of power, we use the same approach that should be used in the study of microbes.

That is, one does not condemn all people in power because of the corruption that the few succumb to, rather, one focuses on the bulls-eye to find the cause, then apply a remedy to that situation, to that person in power, and more specifically, to the microbial, viral, or other source of the toxins of power that infect them.

Likewise, we want to find out how the toxins of power originate so as to treat only the area of the problem, not to massively destroy good microbes along with the malfunctioning microbes:
The passengers in our microbiome contain at least four million genes, and they work constantly on our behalf: they manufacture vitamins and patrol our guts to prevent infections; they help to form and bolster our immune systems, and digest food. Recent research suggests that bacteria may even alter our brain chemistry, thus affecting our moods and behavior.
(ibid). In fact, the goal should ultimately be to learn how to repair any malfunctioning microbes so that they become stronger to the point of being immune from future malfunction that may once again attempt to produce toxins of power.

The previous post in this series is here.