The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Health / Nutrition ...

The other day, I came across this article in the NY Times regarding cancer. Actually, I’ve been reading articles about cancer every since 1975 or so. There have been all sorts of promising leads reported in the Times over the years regarding this terrible disease. But they never turn out to be the “magic bullet” that can stop cancer, or even make it a manageable (if unpleasant) chronic condition like diabetes. There’s still something about cancer that the doctors aren’t seeing.

Medicine has had it’s best success against conditions that have one clearly identifiable cause, like a specific germ or toxin that the body is exposed to. The doctors also do OK when one particular body part is broken and can be fixed with a knife (or laser, now) and some thread. Or when a pipe in the body gets clogged and needs to be cleaned out. Doctors are at their best in those instances. They have built their institutions and procedures around these kinds of situations. This is the way that doctors think; i.e., there’s one cause, and once I identify it, I will prescribe a treatment. Next case. Admittedly, doctors have saved a lot of lives and made a lot of peoples’ lives less miserable doing this.

Unfortunately, their “one main factor” approach seems to have its limits. One small but common example is backache. Fortunately, I don’t have back problems. But those who do tell me that it’s a lifetime thing, and that doctors seem kind-of lost in dealing with it (even though they bravely pretend that they know just what is happening and what should be done). Backache is a complex, systemic condition involving a lot of dynamic interactions between body, mind and environment. And doctors don’t understand complex dynamic system interactions all that well. They don’t like chaotic processes. They were taught that the body has plenty of complex things going on inside it, but that those things happen in a deterministic fashion. They weren’t prepared for chaos and complexity.

Fortunately, over the past 20 years, a variety of mathematicians, computer experts and other eclectic scientists have put much time into studying the nature of chaos and complexity itself. And they are now coming up with some really interesting insights on how complex, highly interdependent systems operate. These insights apply across a wide range of phenomenon – the stock market, the weather, the banking system, the highway network, ant colonies, galaxies – and yes, the human body. Most scientific and social service fields are now starting to welcome the insights that this new area of study can provide. I suspect that medicine is having a hard time with it, however.

But from the looks of this article, some medical types are [FINALLY] starting to think about cancer in a systemic fashion. They are finally starting to look at the body and what happens to it in a broader sense, including the germs it gets exposed to, the injuries and shocks it sustains, the food and liquids that it takes in, and even (maybe) the psychological stuff that it experiences. They are finally starting to think about the genesis and development of cancer in terms of the complex interactions between all of these things, along with the body’s plumbing and cells and chemistry.

This article does not mention chaos theory or complexity and emergence by name. But it’s right on the verge. It’s the next logical step. I’m thus a bit more hopeful that medical people will learn to start thinking outside of their very boxy mental boxes. Just getting a grasp on the immune system itself will take a lot of computer modeling and complex system oversight. And cancer isn’t going down if we don’t get a grasp on the immune system.

It’s still going to be a long journey, and I’m no longer hopeful that medicine will come to control cancer in my lifetime. BUT, perhaps they finally are getting on the right track, even though it requires a bit of humility within an institution that isn’t famous for that. Perhaps doctors and medical researchers are finally admitting that they need help, that they need a new way of looking at things like cancer.

If that turns out to be the case, then perhaps there is some reason for real hope as we once again turn the calendar and start another new year. Have a happy!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:31 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Photo ...

It was a nice day today and I wanted to do a little bit of hiking. I decided to try out a nature preserve along the Passaic River (the upper part, above Paterson and Passaic). I got lost trying to find the place, and when I finally did find it, it was too wet for any serious hiking. But I did get some pix of the low winter sun casting long shadows across the swamps. Kind-of interesting, a nice consolation prize.


◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:22 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Personal Reflections ...

My brother and I got together yesterday (Christmas Day) around noon and drove over to the local cemetery where my mother is buried. We thought it good to pay our respects. My mother would have liked that, maybe even would have expected it. (When she was able, she regularly visited the gravesite of her parents, and eventually her siblings and her husband.) She’s not around to expect it, or to be pleased by our compliance with the ancient rituals anymore. But something of her presence still remains in our memories, and by doing what would have made her happy, we keep her memory happy. Yes, I am saying that our memories of those who were close to us have a life of their own, a life that goes on after the remembered person is gone. I got this idea from Douglas Hofstader in I Am A Strange Loop (regarding his late wife Carol).

After bro and I finished satisfying the memory dynamics within our brains with the ancient graveyard rituals, we decided to stop for a beer. So we drove around looking for a bar that was open. Usually at 1pm in northern New Jersey, that’s not a hard problem. But just about every drinking hole that we could think of was locked tight. We finally found a liquor store that doubles as a bar, and grabbed a seat. There were a handful of other guys watching TV or quietly reading the paper; the situation was amiable enough. My Heineken went down easy.

At the bar, we talked about years past, when it was not so hard to find a bar open on Christmas morning. This would be in the 1980’s and 1990s. There seemed to be a lot more restaurants open then too by mid-day. Now, only a few places open on Christmas, and mostly in the evening. Hmmm, I wonder what has changed. It seems like a move towards public piety, towards a religious holiday that is more “precious” even on the secular front. When did we get so Puritanical? Sort of like Ramadan or Hajj in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Is America going “fundamentalist”? Have we in fact changed because of our unfortunate experiences with extremist Islam?

Admittedly, America is still an extremely secular state, and our culture is still far from being bound by religious fidelity. But I still thought the quiet on Christmas mid-day was kind of creepy (something like a cemetery!). I agree that most people should be with their families on Christmas, but there are still many people who could use a quick break from the family scene (which is not without its own pressures and burdens), or don’t have families to go to at all. Bars and taverns are an integral part of the social fabric of a community, offering a flexible, easily accessible opportunity for human interaction. They offer a relief valve of sorts from the negative pressures that can build up in society’s major social institutions, e.g. the workplace and the family household. Sure, there are some bars that are “dens of evil”, i.e. sales fronts for drugs and prostitution, or places where tragic DWI incidents start. But the great majority are just places to kill time with other people around, where everyone gets home safely. I don’t like it when public notions of religious obligation (or fear of those who would enforce such obligations) shut down that relief valve – even if just for a few hours.

P.S., in the afternoon, I met up with my cousin, and he found another place –- another “social relief valve” — that was open. This was a bar in the local American Legion post where he is a member. My cousin happens to be friends with my doctor, and it turned out that doc was in the neighborhood, as he had to visit the local hospital to check in on a patient. Before returning home to his own family, doc decided to stop by for some quick relief of his own from his workplace and his household. So we three sat together for about half an hour, and I asked the good doctor what he thought about the health care reform legislation now pending in Congress. He said there were some good things about it, but in general it was part of a trend that will cause the extinction of one-doctor private practices like his own. He said that a guy like him has a hard time keeping up with all the regulations and might not be able to make a buck as Medicare and the insurance companies kept on increasing their hurdles and decreasing their rates of compensation. Doc is considering joining a larger doctor’s consortium, where the paperwork and overhead can be shared.

I asked him where it was all headed. He said that medicine on the local level is clearly going the way of the big commercial clinic, of the “medical supermarket”. You will no longer have local doctors who stay in one spot for a lifetime. Doctors will change as quickly as produce managers or meat cutters at your local supermarket. You will be assigned to a doctor for a year or two, until she or he moves on to something else. You won’t have much time to get to know your MD. Their knowledge of you will be almost completely from the records. Medicine will largely be practiced “on paper”. It will be more efficient; but will it be better for the patient? My doctor doesn’t think so. He said that he will try to hang in there, but can’t help but consider retiring early, maybe in 5 years or so (when he would be in his early 60s). Medicine is changing, and he may not want to change with it.

My doctor is not the most personable guy in a white coat, but he isn’t so bad over a beer. He’s a smart guy, and that’s why I go to him. Regarding his diagnosis about the future of local health delivery, I can’t help but wonder if he’s right.

Yes, that’s the kind of conversation that can occur at a bar that just happens to be open on Christmas day.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:20 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Aspergers ... Personal Reflections ...

I was reading something the other day about the ancient kingdom of the Hittites in central Turkey. One of the early rulers of the Hittites was Hattusili, and his followers complied a book of legend about him, entitled “The Manly Deeds of Hattusili”. The Hittites were a war-mongering bunch; they liked to send their army out to plunder cities outside their realm, as to bring back slaves and gold and other booty. They weren’t out to colonize or control the Mediterranean, as the Romans later did. They were just in it for the plunder.

As you might guess, the “Manly Deeds” is quite full of bragging and bluster. The Hittites were indeed proud of their aggressiveness and warrior spirit. They obviously wrote down this treatise about their glorious conquests so as to impress future generations. One thing that they didn’t figure on is that changing languages and cultural notions can cause distortions, such that what they thought was so terribly fearsome and impressive can come across as rather comical. One of their most proud achievements was to conquer the kingdom of Hahha. They brag of how past monarchs failed to subjugate Hahha, but they filed many carts with booty and had the king of Hahha drag one of those carts back to the Hittite capitol.

Yea, fine, but . . . modern Americans will read this and say, is this a joke? Bragging about the conquest of “Hah Ha” ? Is this a stand-up comedy routine? Indeed, something gets lost in the translation.

INTERESTING FACTOID: I am interested in Aspergers Syndrome, since it rings a bell with many of my own life  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:38 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Aspergers ...

I’m a person with Aspergers Syndrome in my life. I’m not 100% sure that I would be diagnosed with Aspergers under the DSM IV guidelines (the diagnostic bible of the psychology profession). Sorry, but I don’t have the $$ to diddle around with shrinks regarding something that can’t be changed one way or the other, and which many shrinks themselves don’t understand too well. I’ve taken some of those web-site tests and the results generally put me in a twilight zone between Aspergers and “neuronormal” (aka “neurotypical”). E.g., on the “Aspie Quiz” site, my outcome is “You seem to have both Aspie and neurotypical traits”. Nonetheless, there’s a lot about Aspergers Syndrome that rings a bell with me and my life. So, I’m at least a “half-Asp”. Aspergers is a part of my life, one way or another.

There are a lot of books out now about Aspergers, mostly about what to do with kids who seem to be going the Aspie route. But there are more and more titles on the experiences of adult Aspergers too, and I think that’s a good thing. I have read some of these, and again, they do “ring a bell” with some of my own life experiences.

So, it looks like it’s too late for me to write “my life story as a sort-of Aspie”  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:03 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Science ...

When I was a kid back in the 1960s, I was already a science geek (and still am today, obviously). At the age of 10, I already knew what carbon dioxide was; i.e., a colorless gas in the atmosphere with a molecular structure containing two oxygen atoms and a single carbon atom. (Yes, I studied those “How and Why” science books well!).

The only time that CO2 seemed to play role in my life was on those rare but interesting occasions when I encountered “dry ice”, i.e. frozen carbon dioxide. Dry ice seemed like “super ice”, as it was much colder than regular ice and it visibly smoked as it melted. I.e., it turned right into gas, and not into a liquid as regular ice did. About the only time we would actually see dry ice was in school, during a science demonstration. You couldn’t play with it; the teachers wouldn’t let you touch it because it was so cold that it would damage your skin (a “cold burn”, if you will). But it was really neat when they put a chunk of it in a glass of warm water and it started bubbling and then freezing some of the water around it. Strange, but very neat stuff.

When I was around 12 I wanted to be a scientist.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:01 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Photo ...

My parents grew up in urban factory neighborhoods, but they took advantage of the growing economy of the 1950s and 1960s to raise their own kids in the suburbs. They figured that is was nicer, more backyard space, less crowding, a better place to raise kids.

I pretty much took the suburbs for granted as a kid. Never knew anything else. Interestingly enough, one day I used the cheap little camera that my parents gave me to take a picture that kind-of sums up the suburban experience. It’s a car driving past a typical suburban house (typical, back when I was a kid, anyway). This could be the scene just outside any major industrial city in the USA, circa 1962. A family car and a house.

I don’t know why I took this picture. I never thought much of it, after it was developed and printed. But now I do. It does in fact capture something of the essence of where I grew up.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:55 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, December 4, 2009
Public Policy ... Science ...

CLIMATEGATE – The Big Chill for Global Warming? The recent batch of hacked e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England present a real “head-scratcher” for the average person who is trying to decide whether to take global warming seriously. I have not reviewed all of this material; however, I did take a quick look at a random handful of these e-mails

It’s hard to find anything sinister in what I saw. There was a lot of talk about local university politics, along with assumptions and methods to be used in various models, discussions about computer simulations, the scheduling of meetings, attending conferences, submitting articles for publication, and whether a fellow professor agrees or disagrees with someone’s latest paper. It’s a lot of bureaucracy, ego, gossip and worrying about money, brewed together with on-going concern about scientific data, assumptions and reasoning. About what you’d expect from a research university.

However, some people have gone thru the whole collection  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
 
 
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