Goals for 2011

Dear All,

Wishing you a very happy New Year and good fortune for 2011. Today I want to ask a question:

What goals should we have for 2011?

As it is with this blog, being about philosophy and science, I want you to think about the ‘should’ part of the question. Not goals that we already thought about we want to achieve, but goals we should have for 2011.

Many will probably already be thinking – ‘should’ – relative to what? I do not define this, but leave it up to you! So please reply and share your thoughts.

Happy 2011!

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Possibilities for a Theory of Everything

The theory of everything is often thought to be carried out in the field of physics. This makes good sense so far as physics indeed investigates the fundamental principles of how the world works. But why should a theory of everything be made up of formulas and physical principles?

I am suggesting that theories of everything could be carried out in multiple levels of scientific research. It is often discussed which branch of science is the most fundamental. Is it physics? Is it philosophy? Or maybe it is the neuropsychologists that are on the right track? There are so many places to start an investigation of the world.

The human condition is that we necessarily take in the world through our senses, and we are therefor (some would say) confined to these experiences. We have a fairly good idea of how to use our senses, but if someone were to state that our mind holds knowledge, that can be reached without the use of our normally defined five senses (the yoga traditions actually does this when teaching us about the ‘cit-acash’ (mind-space (with a dozen other possible translations!)) which holds all information in the universe and can be reached though meditation), then all we can say against it is that our current evidence does not point in that direction. There is not a bulletproof way to dismiss it though (just think of Karl Popper, and how in is older days, he realized the problems of the falsification principle after having scorned the verificationists!).

My point is that we have many ways to come to an understanding of the world we live in, and it seems to me that a descriptions in different fields will make up a series of stories that together can show us what the world is like. To then try and integrate all of these would be the ideal way to make a theory, but is this possible? The differentiation happened throughout history. The people in ancient Greece were philosophizing and exploring the world in various fashions.

Now – what kind of science is needed to weave together all of these threads again? Either we go back to philosophy or we create a new modern philosophy, that can cope with the enormous amounts of information, that has been gathered since humans started wondering about life. But what exactly will that be like?

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Golden SDU-Denmark Team

November 8th was a rather windy and rainy day in Boston, Massachusets, but at MIT the SDU-Denmark team were in the sunshine of the stage lights. The team was awarded Gold at the iGEM 2010 Competition for their project in Synthetic Biology, having created tiny bacteria usable for creating flow in small scale tubes – and got a special prize, for their work in the field of safety in synthetic biology.

Winning the special Safety Commendations Prize

iGEM HQ and Justin Knight

 

The safety work done by the team suggested watermarking bacteria, to make it easier to back-track synthetic organisms found in the wild. Many inventions in synthetic biology are made for use in an open environment, and that carries along the risk of having synthetically engineered organisms interfering with naturally occurring organisms – possibly creating environmental threats. For this reason it will be very useful to have all synthetic bacteria marked. This way we will have much more control with the organisms that were released in nature.

See their Team Wiki HERE

Check out the Teams blog HERE

See the official iGEM 2010 webpage HERE
and iGEM.org HERE
Read the article on videnskab.dk HERE (in Danish)
Watch the TV news HERE (in Danish)
News site at SDU HERE

iGEM from above 2010 (all the ~140 teams):

iGEM from above 2010

iGEM HQ and Justin Knight

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Quantum DNA?

My all times favorite news site The Daily Galaxy had a fascinating article last Friday: a team of scientists from National University of Singapore have come up with a theoretical model suggesting a quantum-phenomenal description to explain how the DNA double helix is held together.

Picture from: http://www.vandrøring.dk/images/spiral/dna_500.jpg

 

DNA is made up of nucleotides, which again are composed by electrons moving in circles around a positively charged nucleus. This movement of the electrons can altogether be describes as a harmonic oscillation. The nucleotides join together in base pairs, and the oscillations of the electrons now have to go in opposite directions, to keep the structure from falling apart. Stack the base pairs in a double helix and the oscillations should vibrate in a way that would tear the helix apart again. But we do have DNA-helixes so how can it hold?

The quantum model from Singapore tell of oscillations occurring as a superposition of states. This means that the oscillations are entangled (the quantum way – not just like your hair in the morning!) and therefore occur all at the same time, and hereby the structure is kept together.

Read the article from The Daily Galaxy HERE
Entaglement in Quantum Theory: read more HERE
Superposition in Quantum Theory: read more HERE
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Neuropsychology Conference

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This years theme is
The Social Brain: Development and Dysfunction
and here is what the official web site writes about it:

“The new field of social cognitive neuroscience is increasingly relevant and  important for neuropsychology.

Perception of emotional expressions and feelings, understanding of  intentions, actions, thoughts and emotions in both self and others, perception of social signals, the link between emotion and reason, empathy, morality, emotional and social skills, and the relations between social cognition and executive functions of the brain are some of the topics to be  highlighted.

Methods and concepts initially used in autism and neuroimaging research are now being adapted to and used in patient studies. We want to focus on this exciting development in neuropsychology, and we have invited prominent  speakers on both basic research in social cognition and neuroscience and their applications to clinical patient groups.

Among the topics are: Development of the social brain. The social brain and emotions, music and belief. Social cognition in specific disorders such as ADHD, autism, frontal lobe lesions, frontotemporal dementia, psychopathy, schizofrenia. Rehabilitation. Neuroimaging of the developing brain.

We welcome contributions (posters and free oral presentations) from participants in all fields of child and adult neuropsychology, and we particularly invite proposals for symposia on aspects of the social brain.”

(http://www.neuropsychology2010.com)

Key speakers include:

Check back for more on this theme when the dates approach!

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Competition in Synthetic Biology

 

Students worldwide are modifying bacteria for the iGEM2010 competition at MIT (Boston) in November

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international Genetically Engineered Machine or iGEM is a competition in synthetic biology held every year since 2003. Students worldwide spend their summer working on a project of their own choice, where they are to genetically modify bacteria in accord with their project goal. The competition ends with a jamboree held at the MIT where all the students meet and present their projects.

The SDU-Denmark team is competing this year with the Bacterial Micro Flow project. We want to be able to control the little bacterial threads or propellors called flagella and then glue the bacteria to the wall of a tube where extra flow can be created. This relates to the original idea of wanting to make mechanical work with bacteria. There are different subgroups of the team, f.ex. biobricks creators (labgroups), model makers (the physicians) and safety, security and ethical issues assessment (philosophers).

Check out the project wiki and our team’s blog for more information.

Learn more about iGEM at the official 2010 page here.

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Artificial Life Conference – this year at SDU

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On august 19th to 23rd there will be a conference held at SDU, Odense, Denmark about artificial life arranged by the FLinT Centre or Centre for Fundamental Living Technology. This years theme is Critical Properties of Living Systems. This is what the official web site writes about the theme:

“The conference will be organized around the theme of identifying and synthesizing the critical properties of living and life-like systems (e.g., self-replication, self-assembly, self-organization, metabolism, adaptation, evolution). The meeting will reflect all of the main areas of artificial life research, including “wet” systems based on carbon chemistry, “soft” systems realized in software, and “hard” systems consisting of autonomous robotic agents, integration of the above areas, as well as a variety of social and technical systems that embody the critical properties of living systems. The conference will have broad interdisciplinary interest, because “living” processes are found virtually everywhere.”

(http://www.alife12.org/)

Since I will be attending this conference please check back for more around the 19th of august!

Posted in Artificial Life, Life Sciences | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment