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Comment Re:But you can take intelligence away (Score 1) 249

However, it's also possible that the ability to continue thinking clearly in the fact of disastrous expense is what enables people to build and preserve wealth. In fact, I think resilience of that sort is clearly a big factor in wealth.

The researchers should try scaling the size of the disastrous expense relative to the subjects' wealth.

That's an interesting idea, and I'd love to know the outcome of an experiment like that. I can say anecdotally that facing large and uncertain legal bills over the course of a couple of years definitely made me temporarily stupider. There may well be an upper percentile of people who deal with disastrous expenses better than most of us, and that explains how they got massively wealthy. (I immediately think of Warren Buffett's talk of staying cool in the face of a 50% drop in a stock's price just after buying.)

However, the theory which explains most of the results in the field - and which probably applies to most of us in the middle - isn't about emotional state, but rather about cognitive load vs. cognitive bandwidth. If you have to remember to put chlorine pills in your water every single day so that you don't get sick, it adds a cognitive load to your life that people with treated public water simply don't have to think about. A few dozen of those little things that poor people have to think about and rich people don't, and you've suddenly sucked up most of the average person's cognitive bandwidth. If Einstein had to struggle every day to find childcare for last-minute algorithmically-scheduled 24/7 shift work changes at the patent office, he probably wouldn't have come up with relativity.

You can see the effect of this in adoption studies; being adopted from a working class into a middle-class family, where the daily cognitive load is lower - a lot less "how the hell would I deal with my car breaking down" to think about - leads to a 12 to 18-point increase in IQ. Again, this might not apply to the outliers like Warren Buffet, but it applies to most of us.

Comment Re:Modern Technology (Score 2) 189

That's a great point. The evolution of life has worked the same way. There are some proteins which are interacted with and depended on by so many other proteins that changing them would be catastrophic; I happened to be reading about tubulin and actin today:

The likely explanation is that the structure of the entire surface of an actin filament or microtubule is constrained because so many other proteins must be able to interact with these two ubiquitous and abundant cell components. A mutation in actin that could result in a desirable change in its interaction with one other protein might cause undesirable changes in its interactions with a number of other proteins that bind at or near the same site. Genetic and biochemical studies in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae have demonstrated that actin interacts directly with dozens of other proteins, and indirectly with even more (Figure 16-15). Over time, evolving organisms have found it more profitable to leave actin and tubulin alone, and alter their binding partners instead.

The more complex a system becomes, the more it gets life-like constraints like this.

Comment Olfactory genes may be a canary-in-coalmine (Score 2) 139

Olfactory genes have a higher rate of mutation than most other genes because the DNA they are in gets packed more tightly and gets replicated later than other genes. As a result, they often show up as false positive in cancer gene searches. Read more here:


This might mean that they're a canary-in-the-coal-mine: If someone's DNA replication is starting to suffer in general, olfactory genes might be where the breakdown shows up first and most dramatically.

Comment Synbiota ScienceHack 2014 (Score 1) 68

I'm doing a biohacking-ish workshop next week, as it happens. The Synbiota people are taking care of all the bureaucracy so that I can play with DNA. It's part of a bigger experiment, so it's not like I'm going full-mad-scientist, but it's a fun way for an IT guy with an interest in biology like me to do some experiments.

Comment Cool research, strange conclusion (Score 5, Interesting) 185

It's too bad that this very interesting research - cancer in hydra! - is being overshadowed by sweeping statements about cancer. There are a number of species which experience little to no cancer, from naked mole rats to some whale species. There are a number of different ways that different species reduce or prevent cancer, from additional cell-death signalling via hyaluronan in naked mole rats to additional cell-death signalling via p53 pathways in blind mole rats to replicative senescence in many large mammals, to who-knows-what in eastern grey squirrels and elephants and whales.

The cancer-fighting idea in each case is something that should be near and dear to systems administrators: Redundancy. The more cell-death pathways there are, the harder it is for a series of mutations to result in immortal cancer cells. Redundant Arrays of Immortality Suppression, if you will.

This doesn't mean that we'll ever get rid of cancer in humans, mind you, because evolving a new cancer-prevention signalling pathway takes a couple of million years. But the fact that hydra get cancer doesn't have anything to do with whether we'll ever get rid of cancer in humans, either.

Comment Renderman old news, Presto new news (Score 5, Informative) 147

It might be that Pixar considers rendering old news, considering what they've come up with for animators:


If you're not familiar with computer animation, that might not seem like much. To the animators where I work, though, it induced a weird combination of frenzy (as they lusted after it) and depression (once they re-opened the scenes they were working on in Maya). The rest of the industry has to spend hours rendering (in Renderman, or Vray, or whatever) to get a result that Pixar is now creating in-house in real time.

Comment Re:Small bits die quickly (Score 1) 329

The only energy that has "gone into preserving them" is the energy wasted when they mutate and result in a lifeform that doesn't survive long enough to reproduce.

Incorrect. Every day, your body corrects fifty quadrillion or more DNA mutations that happen as the result of random bumping around inside the cell. See, for example DNA Repair. 5000 purine bases lost every day from every cell in the human body that have to be repaired, and that's only one type of mutation which has to be constantly corrected.

Comment Small bits die quickly (Score 1) 329

I have a half-baked theory that, to a rough approximation, the physical size of a bit and the amount of energy put into creating it is roughly correlated to the length of time it will last. Stone inscriptions, or baked clay cuneiform? Big bits, high energy, long life. CDs, or 148 Gb/in^2 tape media? Small bits, low energy, short life. There are ways to create big bits that are short-lived (e.g. drawing figures in the sand on a beach), but in general, a small bit cannot be made to last longer than a big bit given the same process and energy inputs.

You might say, "but look at highly-conserved DNA sequences!", to which I would answer, think about how much energy has gone into preserving them over hundreds of millions of years.

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