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Archive for November, 2010

Unity of Knowledge

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Edward O. Wilson on Oct. 16, 2007. (Photo by ragesoss via Flickr)

I recently finished reading Consilience by biologist Edward O. Wilson. This book took me to places I had never been to or thought of much before – from tropical rainforests to the taiga to 18th Century France. It explored the arts, economics, psychology and biology, among many other topics. Wilson used this array of places and subjects to argue in favor of the idea of consilience.

Consilience, as defined by Wilson, is the unification “of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.” In other words, the only way we can truly understand the world is to apply theories from multiple disciplines to it. For example, the creative arts can be explained through spirituality. Early humans recreated animals in their art and depicted the animals being killed in the hopes of being able to defeat the animals in real life.

Wilson suggests two ways to achieve consilience: one can go backward (reduction) or one can go forward (synthesis). Though, going backward from an endpoint, such as a species of frog, and following that endpoint to the laws of physics, for example, is much easier than going in the opposite direction. Reduction, Wilson argues, can even be applied to all branches of learning and organization. That is, you can take a frog and look at it in the broader picture from a number of different disciplinary theories.


Stem Cells and Transplants

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Desperate times lead people to desperate measures. For patients suffering from terminal illnesses, they often turn to unconventional treatments or ways to skirt the system. Sometimes those treatments work. Sometimes they don’t.

My reading this week introduced me to patients who just wanted hope, companies that wanted to take advantage of that, and a broken system that has failed many. These stories were all written by Alan Zarembo for the Los Angeles Times. Up until now, I must confess, I had never heard of Zarembo. But I’m definitely glad I have now. Find out why.

Stem Cells

Right off the bat, Zarembo hooked me. The opening sentence of “A desperate injection of stem cells and hope” made me want to read on. “Alone at his computer, drool sliding down his chin, Tom Hill searched the Internet for anything that could save him,” Zarembo wrote. I wanted to keep reading because the vivid imagery intrigued me. I wanted to know why Tom Hill was searching and drooling. In the next several paragraphs, Zarembo reveals that Tom has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease marked by the deterioration of the nervous system. It is incurable. At the point, we are introduced to Tom, he will do anything to find a cure, even shell out thousands of dollars for therapies that have no guarantees. He did just that.


Numbers and Censorship

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

(Photo by L. Marie via Flickr)

This week I read two articles on subjects I don’t like: math and censorship. One left me feeling somewhat cold the other made me red hot.


Laura Sanders’ article “Safety in Numbers” started off with an interesting though somewhat hokey start. I was willing to forgive the fact that she compared mathematicians to men in capes. After all, why couldn’t they save the world? It certainly seemed the article would show us that they were super and make me forget about the cheesy beginning.

But the article did not. Instead, I found myself somewhat confused and only moderately interested in the article. Don’t get me wrong, the topic itself is fascinating. I love the idea of using math to find terrorists and predict their locations.