The World Is Getting Better, Not Worse

The World Is Getting Better, Not Worse

Is the Human Race in Decline? I read a comment on another blog yesterday in which an individual argued that humanity has been “decaying” over the last three to four centuries because we’ve basically devolved from a supposedly “high level of spiritual knowledge and understanding of life to lower levels where the technical language is the norm.” The commenter went on to argue that people today are confused and incapable of comprehending anything complex. Unless something is delivered simplistically, his point was, most people “grow tired and bored.” The trend, therefore, is for everything to be reduced more and more into an overly simplified form to the point where, the commenter asserted, adults now act like children. In fact, he even went so far as to suggest that in the future most literature would be a form of children’s literature. Now, it’s not my intention to slam or ridicule the author of those comments in any manner. But his underlying hypothesis is intriguing and not totally uncommon,  and I feel it’s important enough to explore and address – has the human race been in intellectual, spiritual, and moral decline since peaking in some golden past, in this case somewhere between 1613-1713 (i.e. three to four centuries ago)?   Renaissance, Reason, and Enlightenment To me, the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was a natural extension of the European Renaissance that preceded it. And to be sure, it was a heady time as science and reason began to take firmer root in a world that had previously been dominated almost exclusively by organized religion. So I can certainly understand why someone would argue that the Age of Enlightenment was an historical high point and a phenomenal era of human achievement. After all, this was the era of Descartes and Hobbes and Pascal and Newton and Milton and Jefferson and Voltaire. They certainly don’t make them like that any more . . . Of course, it goes the other way, too. Because back then, they didn’t quite make them like Einstein and Stephen Hawking and Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. Now, from a historical perspective, the era doesn’t align cleanly with the 1613-1713 period...

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The World Is Your Personal Alexandria

The World Is Your Personal Alexandria

The city of Alexandria was an important trading hub and at one time was the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world, renowned for its comprehensive library, which was said to have had as many as 500,000 scrolls. Yeah, I know – sometimes it feels like I have that many scraps of paper floating around my cluttered desk, office, dining room table, various flat surfaces, and garage myself. But that’s not the point. It’s not about the quantity of the collection, but the quality. Or rather, the impetus we humans have to preserve what we consider important in the first place. That’s all a library is after all – an attempt to preserve the best of what we, as a civilization, have created in order to feed and inspire us in the here and now as well as a gift we bestow to the future. And that’s the essence of Renaissance, too.   And I’m Telling You This Because . . . So unless this is National Library Day, what exactly is the purpose of today’s little history lesson? The purpose is to underscore the point that it’s never been easier to build your own personal Library of Alexandria than it is right now – and to encourage you to appreciate that fact as well as urge you, if you haven’t already, to begin construction on such a library. And, no, I’m not talking about renting warehouse space and getting into hoarding mode. I’m talking about collecting the resources, the wisdom, and the art that you consider to be the “best” – the pieces that feed and inspire you, the pieces that you personally find important, the pieces that make you feel most alive. And the reason why I said it’s never been easier to do this than it is right now is because this can largely be a virtual construction. What an amazing and transformative technological revolution – the digitalization and democratization of information. Thanks to companies like Amazon and Apple and Netflix and Google (and many others), we can now easily – and for the most part pretty inexpensively – explore, organize, and assemble our own private collections from a nearly inexhaustible supply of books and...

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Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection Breakthrough

Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection Breakthrough

In the spring of 2012, at the age of 15, Jack Andraka won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his development of a test for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer kills upwards of 40,000 Americans each year, and the 5 year survival rate is something abysmal like 6%. A big reason for its deadliness is that conventional testing for pancreatic cancer is pretty ineffective. There just aren’t a lot of symptoms early on, and by the time there are and the cancer is diagnosed, it’s likely already in an advanced stage and has already spread.     Pancreatic Cancer – A Reason to Hope?   But things may be about to change – thanks to Jack Andraka’s groundbreaking approach for an early detection test which is accurate, inexpensive, and can be done with a simple blood test (read: non-invasive). Importantly, the approach might be effective for early detection of ovarian and lung cancers as well. Below is a video of Jack Andraka delivering a Ted Talk back in February 2013 in Long Beach, California where he discusses how he came up with the idea and all the effort than went into the process of developing the test. I love this video for two reasons. First – the breakthrough itself is remarkable – a simple blood test could end up saving tens of thousands of lives every year (although, as The Smithsonian Magazine reports, it could still take 10 years until this test is available to the public). Second – this is exactly the kind of spirit and mindset we should all strive to embrace in our own lives. The kind that doesn’t accept limitations and conventional wisdom and things as they’ve always been. Or . . . You have powers you never dreamed of. You can do things you never thought you could do. There are no limitations in what you can do except the limitations of your own mind. – Darwin Kingsley     Pretty exciting, huh? When you watch a video like this, it’s kind of hard to take all the frightened cynics seriously who seem to believe our best days are behind us. What do you think?...

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Hearing for the First Time Videos

Hearing for the First Time Videos

So last month, CNN and other news organizations ran the story of (former) deaf 3 year old Grayson Clamp’s successful experience with a cochlear brain stem implant, which allowed him to hear sound for the first time. His reaction was pretty priceless. The video reminded me of a previous news clip I’d seen involving an adult hearing for the first time after getting the implants. Her reaction was pretty priceless and moving, too. I’ve gone ahead and embedded a few related videos of people getting the implant and having their hearing restored, in some cases for the first time ever (Grayson Clamp’s story is the first video). The experience – or rather transformation – is obviously very overwhelming and just about everyone, upon having their hearing restored, immediately begins crying (along with their loved ones). Ha – and you probably will, too!   Cochlear Implant Videos                ...

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Get More Sleep!

Get More Sleep!

I think the most striking item that emerged from the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial against concert promoter AEG Live last week is the extent of Michael Jackson’s sleep deprivation in the weeks leading up to his death. It’s already well-known that Jackson had grown accustomed to frequent propofol infusions to combat his insomnia, and that he went into fatal cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009 as a result of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. I’m not exactly medically trained, and I also admit that I didn’t follow that closely the general news coverage of MJ’s death or that of the trial of his personal physician, Conrad Murray, so maybe this was also widely known – but I guess I just wasn’t aware that propofol, as the CNN story states “disrupts the normal sleep cycle and offers no REM sleep, yet it leaves a patient feeling refreshed as if they had experienced genuine sleep.” But what really caught my attention in the coverage of Week 8 of the trial was the testimony from Harvard Medical School sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler.   Sleep and Memory What was so striking was the clarity and conciseness with which Dr. Czeisler explained the relationship between REM sleep and memory, something that I’ve always felt was closely correlative (cool, I think that’s the first time I’ve been in a position to slip that word into a conversation). From the CNN article: An adult should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night to allow for enough sleep cycles, he said. You “prune out” unimportant neuron connections and consolidate important ones during your “slow-eyed sleep” each night, he said. Those connections — which is the information you have acquired during the day — are consolidated by the REM sleep cycle. Your eyes actually dart back and forth rapidly during REM sleep. “In REM, we are integrating the memories that we have stored during slow-eyed sleep, integrating memories with previous life experiences,” he said. “We are able to make sense of things that we may not have understood while awake.” Learning and memory happen when you are asleep, he said. A laboratory mouse rehearses a path through a maze to get to a piece of...

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