Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Think of the Kittens!

Catholic Angels

To the tune of Robbie Williams' (not Charlie's) "Angels":

and through it all she offers me protection
for sex with contraception
which the Pope says is wrong
so its eternal flames
forever they may roast her
I know the Lord will toast her
when God comes to call
she will forsake Him
She's reading Engels in bed.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Top 10 Inventions: Because Sliced Bread Ain't All That

When people are particularly impressed with a particular invention, they often say "wow, that's the best thing since sliced bread".

I've never understood this, as sliced bread really isn't that amazing when you think about it.

We've had bread for millennia , and knives too. We can easily slice the old-fashioned non-sliced bread should we so wish - it doesn't require lengthy training or unusually advanced manual dexterity.

In short, we've had the capability to achieve a slice of bread for thousands of years (although for cultural reasons people generally didn't bother until recently - they often used bread as a kind of edible plate - no washing up to do, genius! I suppose we have the Earl of Sandwich* to blame for the fact we now have to eat our bread off flat discs of baked clay).

The only advantage humanity has gained from the invention of (pre) sliced bread is that we can now make sandwiches slightly faster.

Hardly earth-shattering I think you'll agree, unless you're a caterer or a parent who has to make sandwiches for a dozen kids each day (in which case you might want to learn more about the invention of contraception, see below).

Since sliced-bread is a distinctly disappointing invention, I will present 10 of the greatest inventions of all time, so as not to leave you with a cynical attitude to inventions in general.

1 - Sanitation - Specifically soft toilet paper , clean running water and flushable toilets. A world without these is just too unbearable to think about. Shudder. Bears may do it in the woods, but thankfully we can do it in the privacy of a locked room, with a scent of our choice in the air and maybe a newspaper too.

And we can clean up afterwards without having to first find a suitable bunch of leaves and then evict any lurking insects from them. Truly one of humanity's finest inventions!

2 - World of Warcraft - because male teen-aged loners need people skills too! Members of this demographic are statistically unlikely to venture out into the world until their twenties, however much you try and coerce them to.

But when they do finally get dragged kicking and screaming into the World Out There, they'll need people skills. How can they get these when they spend their formative years with minimal contact with people outside their immediate family?

World of Warcraft, that's how! It may only be a virtual world, but the players are real people, and they can talk to each other. Hell, they might even encounter members of the opposite sex..truly a broadening of their life-experience!

There may be a few downsides when these WoW-raised chaps are released into the wild world, such as getting into trouble when they ask a new female colleague at the office if she wants to join up for a "5-man" later, but such minor problems are insignificant when compared to the social and organisational skills that can stealthily be ingrained in them through WoW.

3 - Effective contraception - because love is important, and like all important things, it needs to be made right.

A badly made car won't get you where you want to go. The same applies to badly made love.

Contraception (especially barrier methods which also protect from STDs) allows us to practice, without worrying too much about unwanted consequences. Practice makes perfect, and perfectly made love is groovy baby yeah!

As an added bonus in our over-crowded world, its good that we only bring new people in when we're ready and willing to make a good job of raising them.

4 - The Internet - because its good to share ideas. Even silly ones. Silly ones can then be shown to be silly, and we can keep the good ones (until a better one comes along of course!).

Also, it helps people communicate with others outside their normal groups, and might one day help us overcome our local and national prejudices and actually stand together for a better world. Super!

5 - Comfy chairs - in the days before we invented chairs (and stools, sofas etc) you had to either remain standing all the time, or sit on the ground, which in most places is bumpy, muddy or otherwise quite unpleasant.
You'll notice that in the popular picture of the ascent (actually the descent) of man, all our ape ancestors were standing and walking along.Now we can stop all that nonsense and have a nice sit down in a comfy chair!

And maybe a cup of tea as well. We can now do all of this whilst wearing clothes too!
That's what I call progress!

6 - Cups of tea - although the full power of tea to resolve any crisis and remove all stress seems to work only on the English (who can't function more than about 3 hours without a cup of this delightful infusion), tea is one of those things that is both healthy AND tasty.

Mmm, feel those anti-oxidants surging through your system!
When an Englishman comes back from a hard day at the office, he can relax in the knowledge that a nice cup of tea and a sit down will make it all better. Listen to this song about tea to learn how lovely a cuppa is. If there's a biscuit with it, so much the better!

7 - Cooking - this covers all kinds of food (and drink) preparation, from heating to mixing, blending and maybe even adding just a touch of lime.

Imagine if we could only eat truly natural food - that would give us raw meat, raw vegetables and raw fruit if you were lucky. All washed down with a nice sip of river water.

Unless you are a hard-core salad or sushi fanatic, this would be distinctly unpleasant!

Luckily for us, we have access to the wonders of cooking - biscuits, cakes, soups, pasta, roasted meat,cooked potatoes and all kinds of other good things. Yummy!

8 - Electricity - because its the closest we can get to magic. It makes almost everything in our modern world possible. If we want light, heat, music or interactive computer games, hey presto - flick a switch and there you have it, no effort (and only a modest fee) required. Its not magic, but it's not far off!

9 - The Discovery Channel - because there's just so much to learn about sharks and Nazis!

10 - Top 10s / Top 100s - these are a fantastic invention. For those who compile them, its a quick n easy way to make content, be it a tv show, a music chart or even an article on the Internet (cough).

For the viewers / listeners / readers, its a nice light piece of entertainment to while away a few minutes or hours. Winners all round! At least until they become recursive....eek!

Right, that's my Top 10 Inventions...now I've gotta grab a quick sarnie and run to catch a bus... thank goodness for sliced bread!

P.S. for those of you (the hard of understanding) who've been complaining that these things aren't really the most important inventions**, and crying because important things like the wheel, medicine, transport etc have been missed off...it seems that, alas, I must point out that this top 10 isn't entirely serious.

Those who complain that the whole thing appears to have been knocked together in 15 minutes are of course entirely correct, and the inherent laziness in producing "Top 10" articles is laid bare in item number 10 of this very Top 10 ;-)

* Actually the Earl of Sandwich didn't invent the sandwich, but our name for it did come from his title.

** indeed, they aren't technically all inventions at all, at least one is a discovery.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Comedy Short

Jeff used to get bullied at school. He was a bit different to the other kids, his hair wasn't cool and he didn't have the trendy trainers everyone else had. The name-calling he could cope with... it was when they just laughed at him that it really hurt.

But when he grew up, he got his own back by becoming a comedian... they don't laugh at Jeff any more!

Friday, 18 April 2008

Your Horoscope for today!



The All True horoscope includes several advances over the old-fashioned conventional type you can see in many magazines and papers.

Using amazing techniques developed through centuries of patient study by men and women all over the globe, we have been able to not only increase the accuracy to almost 100%, but we have also been able to compress the unwieldy twelve categories of the conventional horoscope into just one!

But perhaps the most incredible advance over conventional horoscopes is that the All True horoscope can be re-used every day YET WILL STILL RETAIN ITS ACCURACY!

Sounds impossible I hear you say....but I invite you to see for yourself:

(Jan 1 - Dec 31)

Events will happen today, and may be good or bad.
Your ability to communicate, if possessed, may help in any interactions with other members of your species, should there be any.

Mars, the red planet, will likely continue orbiting the sun entirely oblivious of your existence, but then Mars, in as much as it can be said to have a personality at all (not much, as it doesn't), is a master of obliviousness.

Venus, the goddess of feminine razor blades, is a fictional entity, but that won't stop the identically named planet continuing to possess a corrosive atmosphere and unpleasant surface temperature!

Stars across the heavens will spectacularly fail to notice you today, as they did yesterday too but don't let them get you down - interactions of physical objects a little closer to home will likely be more significant factors in how today pans out for you!

The galaxies will continue their cosmic dance today without taking time-out to offer you vague financial advice or hint that you will meet a tall dark stranger (which, with Saturn ascendant may or - with mighty Jupiter in the House of Fraser - may not, happen today).

To find out more about what will happen today, please experience it.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

I predict...troubled times for 'psychics'

Some good news this week, unless you're pimping your 'psychic powers' for cash...in which case it's bad news I'm afraid.

As reported here by the BBC, the Fraudulent Mediums Act is being repealed and replaced with stricter EU consumer protection regulations.

At present, it's up to the individual who paid for the psychic's services to prove that the medium or healer had intended to be fraudulent.

Of course, this will almost always be very difficult to do, as however fraudulent the medium may be, if they insist they really believe that the advice they gave came from "the other world" (or whatever supernatural source they dream up), it is very hard to show otherwise - how can you prove that they don't believe what they say they believe,unless they do something silly like writing down in their diary that "all this spirit stuff is nonsense, I can't believe I'm getting paid to make it up, muahahahaha"?

But, fortunately, this is going to change from the 26th May (don't forget International Starwars Day is coming up in May too.... May The Fourth Be With You !).

From then on, it becomes the medium's responsibility to prove they did not mislead or coerce vulnerable consumers.

A lof of mediums and psychics are up in arms about this change, as it may make them more vulnerable to prosecution. What amuses me is that they are only up in arms about it now....did they not see it coming? ;-)

According to the BBC report, the Spiritual Works Association states that making mediums subject to these consumer protection regulations is a failure to recognise spiritualism is a religion (which in the distinctly commercial sense they practice is, it isn't).

The BBC quotes the founder of the Spiritual Works Association, Carole McEntee-Taylor, as saying "the problem is that it's turning spiritualism the religion into a consumer product, which it is not".

Surely she can't be blind to the absurdity of this statement?
It is not subjecting mediums to consumer protection laws that "turns spiritualism into a consumer product"...the reason it is being subjected to consumer protection laws in the first place is that it is being sold as a product to consumers.

It is the mediums themselves, by selling access to their supposed powers to consumers, that have turned spiritualism into a consumer product.

At present, anyone can set themselves up as a medium and charge money for their predictions, without having a shred of evidence that their abilities are genuine. Even after the forthcoming change in the law, they will still be able to do this, but they'll be much more accountable, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Susie Collings, of the College of Psychic Studies (not to be confused with Hogwarts - the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), welcomed the changes as they would help root out "less than ethical" practioners, but also said "there is always the possibility that mediums will be targeted by people intent on making money by suing what they see as easy targets and that is a big concern for the individual."

There's a very good reason why people might see them as easy targets of course, that reason being that there's no evidence to support the notion of spirits existing.

If a psychic or medium genuinely does have powers, then they will have nothing to fear - their predictions will be accurate, and they will be able to confidently demonstrate their ability to communicate with spirits to obtain information they could not otherwise know.

If all psychics and mediums had to have their performance measured...if they had to make a number of specific predictions (or obtain specific factual knowledge they could not have obtained by non-supernatural means) for test purposes and have their accuracy listed in their adverts, I suspect most of them would go out of business.

If their powers are genuine, they can help themselves to as much fame or fortune as they wish, and probably an armful of Nobel Prizes and other awards to boot. All they have to do is demonstrate that they can genuinely do things considered impossible within science's current understanding of reality.

There's still $1,000,000 dollars up for grabs from the James Randi Educational Foundation - now that is a genuine fortune, and the fact it has remained unclaimed makes it a very telling fortune for fortune telling and other supernatural claims.

Any psychics out there care to predict the precise date on which they will personally collect this million?


Popular Posts - the Best of All True

Although many say that even the best of this blog is rubbish (and they may very well be right), a few brave souls have wanted to seek out certain posts but had trouble finding them.

So for you, here's the compilation of the century:

All True: Greatest Hits
(Now That's What I Call Nonsense!)

General observations / silliness:

All True Horoscope - a revolution in horoscope technology

International Star Wars Day - May the Fourth be with you!

Top 10 Inventions: Because sliced bread ain't all that - 10 things that make modern life worth living

Top x whatevers - on the future of tv and the danger of compilation programs (yes, I know this post is a compilation too...I've become what I hate..argh!)

That's gonna really bug me - you know those moments when some piece of trivia is on the tip of your tongue but you can't quite remember it?

Coward praised for bravery - a tale of a hero, and reasons why you can't trust news graphics

One for the Lovers - a Valentine's poem that is more sticky than sensual

The Chav's Lord's Prayer - a special prayer for the UK's favourite Burberry-capped ne'er-do-wells, the Chavs

The Joy of Socks - a conspiracy unmasked!

Cake or Death - choose now!

Science, pseudoscience & religion (may contain rants!) :

Life energy isn't real! - why alternative medicine should be careful with its terminology

In the Beginning - a rough guide to explain the universe from the beginning right up to us

Got a brain Jim? Then you don't need Brain Gym - why taxes shouldn't be spent on pseudoscience in our schools

Transplants: Heart & Soul - why, if you just think for a minute, its obvious our personalities and memories aren't stored in our hearts

Silly pictures

Lol Lord - putting the Judge back into Judgement Day!

Silly Picture Special - random pictures, united only by their silliness

Products They Never Made - you can probably guess why

If men had periods... - they'd use this

Think of the Kittens - natural selection happens, whether you like it or not!

Altered Lyrics

Gordon Brown - dancing around

Atheist In New York - inspired by the way "atheist" is a dirty word in some parts of America

Catholic Angels - a Catholicised version of Angels

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Joy of Socks

Just a quick post today....I've just put on a new pair of socks.

Wow, stop right there...that's enough excitement for one day I hear you say.
Perhaps you're right, but whilst I was putting on the socks I realised something.

When a sock is the "right way" out, the rough sticky-out bits where the stitching is are on the INSIDE. Where you foot goes. Those little seam lines are in there waiting to get under or between your toes and make you suffer....sometimes its ok, they don't manage to get into the critical position.

But sometimes, when they know you can't stop to adjust them, they slip into place and every step hurts...it feels like there's a tiny pebble in your shoe, stabbing your foot with every stride.

This problem can easily be avoided by wearing the socks in the way that convention dictates is "inside out". Then your toes get the smooth, soft parts of the sock against them, and the nasty rough seam lines are on the outside, bothering your shoe instead of your foot. Mmm...comfy!

Presumably, the sock wearing convention is the way it is because we humans tend to like tidiness, and perhaps the sight of a sock with the seams sticking out annoys us on a primal, subconscious level.

But socks are almost always worn underneath shoes, so they can't be seen anyway. Usually, we only expose our socks in the privacy of our own homes, and there aesthetics are invariably left aside as we slob around in old track suit trousers and t-shirts stained with the memories of long-lost take-aways.

There's only one reasonable answer to this mystery.

The sock-wearing convention is a conspiracy designed to weaken the human spirit, to weaken our joy and sense of freedom, leaving us vulnerable to the pending attack by Galactic Overlord Xenu. You heard it here first folks!

Make a stand...make a comfy stand....wear your socks "inside out" today!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Heart & Soul: Additional comments

My post Heart & Soul triggered some interesting discussions in various places, which I've compiled here in case anyone has anything to add!

Over on Searchwarp I got the following response:
i think this was a well written, and interesting article, however, i have
listend to transplant patients on oprah, or larry king, whatever, and they seem
to have the same likes and desires and favorites as those who their transplants came from. things they didn't like or crave before.i don't think that needs to be explained, just simply accepted.we don't know why, but until we do, i don't think we can rule something out that we don't know whether or not it exists. thanks for sharing with us

Here's my response:

I'm glad you liked the article.

However, I'd have to disagree with the notion that we should just accept such things without explanation or questioning... the truth is worth searching for.

As to the people you've heard on Oprah and Larry King, the cynic in me would insist I point out that those people were on tv as a result of their claims...so perhaps self-interest is a factor in what they were saying... people do like to get their 5 minutes of fame!

Although I agree we shouldn't rule something out when we don't know whether or not it exists (when we are ignorant we cannot make a decision one way or the other), when we have no strong evidence for it and strong evidence that it is incompatible with our best understanding of reality its reasonable to say we DO know, beyond reasonable doubt based on available evidence, that it doesn't exist.

Of course, should new evidence come to light, that position would have to be reconsidered, but until that time the only reasonable conclusion is that it doesn't exist (or more accurately that it is so improbable that we can safely ignore it).But enough of my additional rambling...thanks for reading!

What worried me most about the comment was the notion that some things should just be accepted, not explained. This is potentially a very dangerous way of thinking - accepting things based on authority rather than evidence (explanation) is the root of today's global problem with clashing religious (and political) ideologies.

Another response to my original post directed me to an article on Fractal Memory. It was an interesting read, but to me seemed to be lacking in any scientific insight and indulging in the unsupported speculation and vague, imprecise mis-use of scientific terms that pseudoscientific articles are so found of, as well as conflating two very different types of memory.

Here's my response to it:

In response to your interesting discussion of fractal memory: It is a fact that genes contain information that determines behavioural traits, these traits being selected by natural selection just like other, more obvious, gene effects (like size, length of claws etc).

Genes that cause certain types of behaviour that turns out to be advantageous to the organism are likely to be passed into the next generation (as the organism is more likely to survive and reproduce due to its superior behavioural "programming").

The analogy of evolution being just a software update is false, as evolution has shaped the hardware and software together, with changes in both being genetically controlled and heritable.

However, the fact that large quantities of digital information is stored in genes has nothing to do with the storage of memories as commonly understood - the memories we lay down during our lives are stored in the brain and since they are not stored in our genetic code, these memories are not heritable - they are not passed on.

Thus using the term memory for both the "things we remember" and the heritable behavioural programming of our genes can lead to misunderstandings.

As our memories (in the common sense of the term) are not stored in our genes, they are not passed on to our children, and are not present in the rest of our bodies beyond the brain.

Genetic "memory" has no relevance to "past life memories" or "transplant memories", as it is a fundamentally different type of memory - genetic memory relates to instinctive behaviours, not to "learned" memories such as we lay down in our brains during our lives.

their counter-response was if anything even more full of unsupported speculation and nonsensical pseudoscience than the original article:

I think it is possible that 'relevant to survival' memories are stored and passed genetically via reproduction, hence adaptation, which I don't believe is all down to natural selection.

It is just the case that this type of memory is one we cannot access consciously, so yes in that regard it is a very different type of memory I am describing.

With regard to people who have had limb transplants taking on the original owners personality traits. If those traits are ones that would be passed through the genes via reproduction (we know we often inherit
character traits from our family regardless of what science says in that regard look at identical twins seperated at birth and some of their similarities) so if those traits are heritable then they are stored some where some how as memory and as the brain is not formed at conception, the only palce the memory can be transferred and stored is in the genes.

There were so many unsupported assertions and misunderstandings of biology and evolution in that short piece... I tried to clear some of them up in my response:

There is no evidence that memories laid down in life are somehow added to (stored in) our genetic code.

If it was true that our genetic code was altered during our lives to store memories gained during our life then this would be observable in studies. Studies of our genetic code have been done and have shown that there is no such change in our genetic code.

I'm not sure why you say that we often inherit character traits from our family "regardless of what science says in that regard" - science agrees completely on that!

Some character traits are passed down genetically, and some are passed down through upbringing. Behavioural tendencies and character traits (which are not the same thing as memories laid down during your lifetime) can be stored in genes just like other qualities (physical size, eye colour etc), but the vitally important point to note is that information is not added to an individual's genome during their lifetime and then passed on to the next generation.

Your genome when you die will be the same as it was when you were born.

Additionally, for what you are saying to be correct, even if our genetic code was constantly updated as we laid down new memories during our lives, if an organ was transferred to someone else that person's genome would have to change and incorporate some of the genetic information from the transplanted organ.

This does not happen - a person's genome doesn't change after an organ transplant.

There's more discussion of this subject over on RichardDawkins.net here.

I find the subject of non-brain"organ memory" fascinating, but the evidence doesn't add up and those who believe that organ transplants also transfer memories and personality traits within the transplanted organ strike me as not having considered the other implications (such as memory loss after appendectomies for example) that would logically follow if memories and personality traits really were stored in all our organs.

But with pseudoscientific articles like Dr Danny Penman's 'Can we transplant a human soul?' being published in major newspapers, it isn't surprising that people have such ill-considered beliefs and such poor understanding of basic science.

For some interesting reading on genuine science relating to memory, take a look at these links:

Anaesthetic drug numbs memory

Deep Stimulation boosts memory (yes folks, the 'deep stimulation' refers to stimulation of the brain ;-) )

Scientists reverse memory loss

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Heart & Soul

More pseudoscience in the papers today, alas. Will this tide of ignorance ever end?

The title of the article is a question...a question that has a very obvious answer, but they ask it anyway:

Can we really transplant a human soul?

No, of course we can't.

One key reason being that there is no such thing as a human soul, and even if there was, we have no surgical tools designed for transplanting non-physical human pieces, and no surgical training on how it should be done.

The article, by Dr Danny Penman in the Daily Mail relates to a recent heart transplant, and can be read here.

Essentially, the gist of the story is that the person who received the donated heart took his own life shortly afterwards, in the same manner as the original owner of the heart, and the suggestion is that the heart transplant somehow transferred something of the original owner's memories and personality over to the recipient.

I thought we'd discovered thousands of years ago that the heart isn't the seat of memory and emotion as once thought, but it seems the news still hasn't got round to everyone yet. It's a pump people!
The suggestion, highlighted again this week, that donor patients could not only be acquiring the organs but also the memories - or even the soul - of the donor is surely one such story.
This bizarre possibility was raised by the inexplicable case of Sonny Graham - a seemingly happily married 69-year-old man living in the U.S. state of Georgia. He shot himself without warning, having shown no previous signs of unhappiness, let alone depression.

Inexplicable my arse! There's a few perfectly sensible possible explanations...and certainly no need to postulate a mysterious 'soul transfer'. On closer reading of the story, we learn that it wasn't just the heart of the donor that Sonny took for his own:

The case might have remained just an isolated tragedy were it not for the fact that Sonny had received a transplanted heart from a man who had also shot
himself - in identical circumstances.
To make things even more intriguing, shortly after receiving the heart transplant, Sonny tracked down the wife of the donor - and fell instantly in love with her.

He married her soon after they met. Yes that's right - as well as receiving the donor's heart, he also married his widow! So now the heart is no longer the only linking factor between the two suicides. Both men were married to the same woman!

Immediately we have a whole raft of possible rational explanations for the apparently co-incidental deaths, so we don't need to imagine that perhaps the heart transplant carried across part of a dead man's soul.

While the article suggests the recipient and the doner's widow met and fell in love in a romantic way, and implies some mysterious "connection" between them due to the heart transplant, the cynic in me has to wonder if one of both of them didn't have ulterior motives - the recipient was 69 and the widow, at 33, less than half his age.

Perhaps he was taking advantage of her grief at losing her original husband to get himself a trophy wife, perhaps she was hoping to get a share of his wealth. Whilst both of these may be utterly wrong - perhaps they genuinely did fall in love - at least these possibilities are plausible and don't require anything mysterious like a soul transfer.

It is suggested that the recipient's suicide was a shock, that it came out of the blue and that he had no history of unhappiness or depression. This may very well be the case, but again this is no reason to suspect some mysterious soul or personality transfer took place.

The guy has just had a major surgery; that experience, on top of the heart pains and worry he must have experienced prior to the transplant, would surely be enough to have a significant influence on someone's happiness and behaviour.

In any case, as mentioned earlier, the heart is not the only common factor linking the two suicides. The other factor is the wife...perhaps she drove her husbands to suicide...who knows. Probably she didn't, but this suggesting such a possibility is surely more reasonable than suggesting a mysterious transfer of the soul?

Perhaps it was the notion of "soul transfer" itself that drove the recipient of the heart to suicide...perhaps having had it mentioned to him he started to believe another man's soul was taking him over. That would be quite a terrifying thought if you genuinely believed it!

Both my speculations and those about soul transfer in the original article are just that... speculation. The difference is, mine don't involve postulating the existence of something that all the evidence suggests does not exist - the soul. The possible explanations I put forward fit easily into our understanding of the world and of people. The possible explanations depending on soul transfer do not, they fit into an understanding of the world that was long ago discovered to be false.

Suggestions have been put forward that perhaps memories and personality traits are stored in organs other than the brain. No plausible mechanism for this has been put forward however, and it seems to be based on little more than wishful thinking.

Towards the end of the article, the writer says:

modern biology has a guilty little secret: it has, as yet, no viable theory to
explain how we store memories and how we produce consciousness.
In fact, scientists haven't even managed to define what exactly consciousness is, let alone managed to pin down where it comes from and where it is to be found within the body.

This is bending the truth close to breaking point...or perhaps further. In science, not having a finalised and complete model of how something happens is not a "guilty secret", it's the reason why scientists are driven to keep on working to learn more!

While the specifics are still being worked on, scientists have an understanding of how memories are stored and crude though it is, this understanding is sufficient to show that memories are stored in the brain:

Recent experiments involving electronic stimulation to deep parts of the brain have shown amazing results in increasing ability to recall memories.

Surgery on brains and damage to parts of brains has caused loss or corruption of memories. For many years the notion that a bump on the head can effect your memory has been commonplace...unlike some commonly held beliefs there's some truth behind this one.

The presence of certain chemicals in the brain are known to impair a person's ability to lay down new memories. Alcohol being a well known example of this.

Consciousness has never been shown to exist separately from brains. Alterations to the brain have major effects on consciousness, alterations to other parts of the body do not.

To suggest that science has no idea"where it [consciousness] is to be found within the body" is at best ignorant, and at worst intellectually dishonest.

Science may not have a single clear definition of consciousness, and it may not know exactly how it is generated, but it does know that it is a property that emerges from, and so far only from, brains.

To those who believe that memories laid down throughout the body, and that consciousness comes from throughout the body, I ask the following questions:

1. When people have internal organs or limbs removed, they don't generally lose memories. Why is this? And why is it that when people suffer damage to certain specific parts of the brain, memories and abilities are consistently lost?

2. When people have internal organs or limbs removed, they don't usually change their personality or consciousness, yet if people have extensive brain surgery they often do show significant personality changes...why is this?

Don't become a victim of the wave of mysticism and pseudoscience sweeping the world.... when choosing between possibilities, think it through rationally. Think it through with your brain.

Note: This article has triggered some discussions, which I've summarised in a follow-up post - you can read it here

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Men Are Useless

..or at least may soon become redundant when it comes to procreation. Scary stuff if you're not sans testicles... but can sexual reproduction (of sorts) work without males?

It appears the answer may be yes.

This article explains why..here's some of the key snippets:

Artificial human sperm could come to the aid of infertile men, according to
a team of German scientists who have used lab-grown sperm to inseminate

Artificial sperm could also make males totally redundant, permitting women to give birth without a biological male mate.

Dr Wolfgang Engel, director of Human Genetics at the medical

"If it works in the mouse, I'm sure it will also work in the human."

Dr Engel says if sperm can be grown in the lab, it would be possible to
take early germ cells from one woman, turn them into sperm cells, and use those to fertilise the egg of another woman.

But Dr Engel said his team will stop short of tests on humans in compliance with federal law in Germany which bans all genetic research using human stem cells.He said one member of his team has gone to Newcastle, England, to conduct research on artificial human sperm.DPA

So, are the days of us males numbered? Is science about to take us out of the gene pool?

You might think it looks bleak, with a women-only world just around the corner. But fear not....I think us blokes will be around for a few generations yet.

Despite this breakthrough, I think us men are safe.. at least until science produces a vibrator that can hug ;-)

Monday, 7 April 2008

Got a brain, Jim? Then you don't need Brain Gym!

I was reading Charlie Brooker's excellent column in The Guardian and was disappointed to learn that our educational system, underfunded though it is, seems to have bought into the wave of pseudo-scientific nonsense that is washing over us and is paying good money for something called "Brain Gym".

You can view the official "Brain Gym" website here. Even from the first page, it starts looking more than a little suspicious. Look at this quote for example, which surely won't fill you with confidence that the tax money being put into Brain Gym is well spent:

"the UK Educational Kinesiology Trust, makes no claims to understand the neuroscience of Brain Gym®"

...we don't understand it, but lets make it part of our childrens' education anyway shall we? What's the worst that can happen?

Well, one of the many downsides will be that it will make it harder for the next generation to tell genuine science from pseudo-science...it will leave them vulnerable to all kinds of evidence-free claptrap from homeopathy through crystal healing to Young Earth Creationism.

The basic principle behind Brain Gym is that movement can aid learning. Which may well be true to some extent. Afterall, if we don't move, we will end up looking like Jabba the Hutt, and our withered arms will be too weak to lift books over our bloated bellies. What Brain Gym sells is a very specific set of movements which, supposedly, have specific positive effects on our learning abilities.

The Guardian's Ben Goldacre has published several articles highlighting the lack of genuine scientific evidence behind Brain Gym in the Bad Science column. Here's one of them.

The official Brain Gym page links to several pages of somewhat dubious looking research results, including this one.

Not only does the web designer deserve an eternity of having to stare at a constant slideshow of the most garish websites from the mid nineties (you know the ones, they had textured backgrounds, flashing scrolling text and usually a badly made animated GIF of a postbox for the "email me" link). but the research itself looks like a GCSE students first Science Report.

Ben Goldacre did some research through genuine research databases, and unsurprisingly found nothing to support Brain Gym's claims.

The Brain Gym material includes lots of those terms that pseudoscience loves to bandy around, energy flowbeing a particular favourite (a variation on the "life energy" theme I've ranted on before) - one of the excercises supposedly increases the flow of "electromagnetic energy", as if that's a good thing in itself....which it isn't.

For example. vigorously sand-papering your face will also increase the "flow" of electromagnetic energy, as all those nerve endings send their electro-chemical pain reports on to your brain. There's no holistic, mysterious New Age energy flow that needs "balancing".

One of the excercises incorporated into the Brain Gym "workout" consists of massaging the muscles in your own jaw...they call this the "energy yawn". Yet another misleadingly "New Age" reference to energy methinks!

One of the claims made in the Brain Gym material is not only bizarre, but obviously false:
"processed foods do not contain water"
.....what?! Lots of processed foods certainly DO contain water...but in any case what does this have to do with doing funny movements to improve your learning?

All this talk of funny movements and pseudo-scientific language might not be enough to convey the full madness of Brain Gym, so I'll end this post with a link to a video where you can see it for yourself...remember kids...Just Say No!


The only movement Brain Gym has got me doing is repeatedly smacking my forehead with my knuckles...I'm sure it has increased the flow of blood to my brain though.

But that doesn't mean I can learn faster now, it's just part of the bruising process.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Products they never made

You can probably guess why none of these made it to the supermarket shelves:

although there was a snack product available called "Cheesey Feet" so perhaps there's a chance for these!

..mmm, flicked beans, gotta love 'em!

..Stewie Griffin's iPOD commercial remains the best though.


It's yellow and you can drink it.

Silly Picture Special

I was tidying through my old web space and found a load of silly pictures I made a few years ago.
Oh the joys of Photoshop! ;-)

Watch out Cylons, Commander Abadger is coming for you!

Fear the punnage...it's OBE Wan Kenobi!

More punnage...can you guess what it is yet?
...Jack Straw!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Yes, it's April Fools Day, so keep your eyes peeled for deception.

So far, I've only spotted five website April Fools (although this may just mean I've fallen for the others I've looked at).

World of Warcraft's website has announced a new character class that fights enemies using the power of ROCK. Get your gullibility guitars strapped on and check it out HERE. This April Fools gag goes to eleven!

But it doesn't stop there...those generous folks at Blizzard Software have provided a second April Fools hoax as well - Molten Core, Spectrum style.

The BBC have also done an April Fools Day piece - witness the fabled Flying Penguins who migrate to tropical climes:

Two more April Fools include RyanAir's saucy offering - http://www.ryanbare.com and WestJet, who announced they were going to turn the overhead baggage storage into sleeping spaces for business customers:

And this one from Virgle, an unholy union between Virgin and Google that offers you the chance to start a new colony on a distant world!

If you've spotted any other April Fools gags on the Interweb, let me know!

Atheist in New York

Whilst reading a topic over on the Richard Dawkins forum, about Richard's description of himself as a "cultural Christian", and having recently read several articles about the power of Christian fundamentalism in the US, I got the line "I'm a Christian, I'm a cultural Christian" (sung to the tune of "I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien" from Sting's "Englishman in New York") stuck in my head, temporarily knocking out the chorus from Mel & Kim's "Respectable" that has been lodged there since 1987.

After a few days of that, I decided the only way to get it out would be to write the whole song, so I did, and here it is:

I don't drink nonsense I take facts my dear
I like my brain to remain unfried
And you can hear it in my logic when I talk
I'm an Atheist in New York

See me walking down Fifth Avenue
A God Delusion here at my side
I take it everywhere I walk
I'm an Atheist in New York

I'm an alien I'm a rational alien
I'm an Atheist in New York
I'm an atheist but I'm a cultural Christian
I'm an Atheist in New York

Now I've got Mel and Kim back in my head again... I ain't ever gonna be respectable! (Respectable)