BOOK REVIEW: Biocentrism by Robert Lanza

Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the UniverseBiocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This book argues for an understanding of the universe in which consciousness is key – the sine qua non of reality, i.e. without which there’s nothing. While Lanza emphasizes biocentrism is a scientifically-based conception, his argument will likely find more immediate traction with people of faith than with the scientific community. Skepticism is likely to arise among the scientific community because the history of science from the Copernican Revolution onward has indicated that we are a bi-product of the universe in action, and not the reason for its existence. Humanity, with our brilliant brains that are the most complex systems we know of in the universe, is neither the geographic center of the universe nor are we its center of meaning or purpose either. Looking at it another way, our annihilation wouldn’t even register as a blip to the universe. Lanza (along with his co-author Bob Berman), fairly uniquely among men of science, argues otherwise.

Lanza and Berman present seven principles of biocentrism over the course of the book. I won’t list these, but they essentially say that in the absence of an observer the world exists only as an unresolved probability function, and that time and space are meaningless in the absence of consciousness. Not to oversimplify the authors’ case, but the heart of their biocentric argument is that it’s consistent with, and could arguably solve, two of the biggest mysteries in science.

The first mystery is the nature of quantum weirdness that has been shown true repeatedly through experiments such as the double slit experiment (which the authors discuss in some detail, but I will not.) I will mention a thought experiment designed make this subatomic strangeness clear in the world at our scale. It’s called Schrödinger’s cat. The idea is that a cat is in a box with a vile of poison that is released by a radioactive trigger. One can’t know when the radioactive decay will release the poison. (This is a bit of subatomic strangeness that can only be reconciled in the face of an observer.) It’s said that the cat would have to be thought of as being in a superposition, simultaneously both alive and dead, until the observer enters the picture. The reader also may have heard of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, which states one can’t know both of a pair of measurements (e.g. position and momentum) with perfect accuracy. All of this says that at the infinitesimally tiny scale of the quantum, particle behavior seems erratic, baffling, and is influenced by observation. While it’s hard to relate to through the lens of our macroscopic experience of the world, it’s a notion that is completely accepted by physicists because it’s been validated by countless experimental observations.

The second truth that science struggles to make sense of that biocentrism presumes to eradicate is the conundrum of the “Goldilock’s universe.” Taken from the fable of finding the porridge that was “just right.” We live in a universe whose actions comply with a series of equations and constants that – were they slightly different – would make life in all the forms we can fathom completely impossible. Starting from the fact that our universe is so mathematically consistent (a feature that it’s commonly argued needn’t be) to the fact that turning the dials a little would make intelligent life impossible, it’s easy to start wondering whether the creationists aren’t on to something. Religion doesn’t have a problem with the Goldilock’s Universe because it presumes the universe was made this way purposefully. Biocentrism doesn’t have a problem because the universe can only exist where there are conscious beings. Of course, science hypothesizes its own solutions to the conundrum. These varied solutions generally revolve around the anthropic principle (we exist in a universe capable of supporting life because if we didn’t we couldn’t) and a multiverse of parallel universes (because the anthropic principle applied to a single universe isn’t intuitively superior to assuming a god, goddess, or gods magically “poofed” us into existence.) Under this idea, which appeals to the Copernican Revolutionary mindset, there will be many more universes where life doesn’t exist, and perhaps even ephemeral bubble universes that can’t even exist as a universe – let alone as a life supporting universe.

There’s a major challenge to biocentrism that results from the fact that we are fairly certain that the universe is 13+ billion years old and our planet didn’t come into existence until about 9 billion years after that (i.e. Earth is about 4.5 billion-years-old.) Even if one assumes the conscious life grew up elsewhere before us, it’s hard to imagine it having happened instantaneously with the beginning of the universe. Lanza’s end run around this can be found in his sixth and seventh principles of biocentrism which state that time and space are illusory in the absence of an observer. Of course, this raises questions of how this could be so and why we might believe it is so — because “it’s essential to my case” isn’t a good reason to believe anything. To be fair, there are all sorts of theories out there – many more mainstream than Lanza’s – that propose time and space aren’t what they seem – starting with Einstein’s well-proven idea that time and space are relative.

This book is oddly composed. It describes the principles of biocentrism largely in the first half to two-thirds of the book, with a few random digressions, and then it really goes off the rails. Most of the digressions are little biographical stories about Robert Lanza, many of which are interesting but completely irrelevant to the book’s proposed topic. I’m unsure which of three competing explanations account for these erratic digressions: a.) the publisher said, “this manuscript must be 200 pages or we aren’t publishing it.” b.) the author is getting up there in age, realizes there is no market for his memoirs, and thinks he can sneak the highlights into this book which is sure to have a following if a controversial one. c.) the author was concerned about being taken for a kook and wanted to establish his bona fides (note: many of the biographical digressions consist of name-dropping.) I should point out that these digressions are the main reason for my mediocre rating of this book, and not disenchantment with the case for biocentrism. (I think we know too little about consciousness and about it’s odd interactions at the quantum level to draw any firm conclusions in that regard.)

I found this book to be fascinating – even some of the digressions were interesting, though not helpful to discussion of the topic at hand. It’s a thought-provoking work. I have no idea whether it will prove to have merit as a description of how the world works. I’ll leave it to readers to determine whether they think it is a sound interpretation of observed reality or a physics-envy based attack on the stronghold of physics as the heart of science or an attempt to reduce the fear of death in a way consistent with science (i.e. time as we perceive it being an illusion makes us all immortal.) If you are interested in the big questions of why the universe exists and what is the nature of reality, you may want to give this book a read – not that it’ll answer all your questions, but it will provide an alternative to mainstream views that you may find useful.

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BOOK REVIEW: Superhuman by Rowan Hooper

Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our CapacitySuperhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity by Rowan Hooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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There are mounds of books out on the science of maximum human performance, be they on mind-hacking, sports & exercise science, or some combination thereof as applied to a particular pursuit. Hooper creates his niche by way of a broad and varied selection of topics, including: language learning, singing, running, achieving longevity, and sleeping. For the reader who is interested in the topic of how top performers in a given domain achieve that supernormal performance, it makes for an interesting read. However, it may leave some readers scratching their heads as to who the book is aimed at. It should be noted that several of the topics addressed are of much more broad-ranging appeal than those I mentioned (e.g. focus / attentiveness, bravery / courage, and resilience.)

The book is divided into three parts on “thinking,” “doing,” and “being,” respectively. The four chapters in the first part investigate the heights of intelligence, memory, language, and focus. The chapter on language deals with how some people are masterful polyglots, speaking many languages, as opposed to the harder to investigate question of how someone becomes William Shakespeare. Throughout the book, there is a mix of stories and interview insights from those who are peak performers as well as discussion of what scientific studies have found. The former makes up the lion’s share of the discussion, and the central question with of science is how much of peak performance is genetic and how much is built.

Part II, on doing, has three chapters, exploring the topics of bravery, singing, and running. This is where one really sees the book’s diversity. Books like Amanda Ripley’s “Unthinkable” address the question, among related questions, of why some act heroically, and there are a huge number of books on how to be the best runner or singer one can be, but not a lot of books take on all three questions in one section. The book on singing focuses on opera singers who belt out their tunes largely sans technology – i.e. there’s no Milli-Vanilli-ing L’Orfeo. The chapter on running gives particular scrutiny to endurance running.

Part III investigates why some people live longer, are more resilient, sleep better (or do well with less sleep,) or are happier. Since Buettner’s “National Geographic” article on “blue zones” (i.e. places where a disproportionate percentage of the population live well beyond the average human lifespan,) there’s been a renewal of interest in what science has to say about longevity. As mentioned, the chapter on sleep covers the topic from multiple vantage points. Everyone needs sleep, but some perform best with ten or more hours of sleep while others are extremely productive on four hours a day, and some can cat-nap periodically through the day while others need a single extended and uninterrupted period of sleeps. Wisely, Hooper doesn’t simply take on the question of why some people are happier than others in the book’s last chapter, but rather he asks the more interesting question of why some people who have every reason to be morose (e.g. paralyzed individuals) manage to be ecstatically happy.

The book has a references section, but there isn’t a lot of ancillary matter (i.e. graphics, appendices, etc.) It’s a text-centric book that relies heavily on stories about Formula-1 racers, opera stars, ultra-marathoners, and other extraordinary individuals while investigating the subject matter.

I enjoyed this book. I am intensely interested in optimal human performance across a range of skills and characteristics. So, I guess when people inevitably ask who the book is directed at, it’s directed at me and others with this strange fascination. If you have that interest, it’s for you as well.

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5 Essential [and Sometimes Hilarious] TED Talks About the Human Body

5.) 3 Clues to Understanding your Brain by VS Ramachandran: Ramachandran discusses three afflictions that offer insight into the working of the brain. Capgras Syndrome occurs when individuals think loved ones have been replaced by impostors. Phantom limbs occur when there is an amputated limb which the brain continues to feel the presence of. Synesthesia is a muddling of sensory inputs /experiences.





4.) Charming Bowels by Giulia Enders: How we poop. How our gut nervous system influences our central nervous system. Why there is such a thing as “too clean for your own good.”





3.) Can We Create New Senses for Humans by David Eagleman: Our senses are narrowly attuned to taking in that information that offered evolutionary advantage to our ancestors. How might technology help us transcend those bounds?





2.) 10 Things You Don’t Know about Orgasm by Mary Roach: Eyebrow orgasm, thought-induced orgasm, orgasm among the deceased, and how orgasm may cure your hiccups.





1.) The Biology of Our Best and Worst Selves by Robert Sapolsky: Sapolsky explains that one can’t look at one biological system to understand violence or cooperation. Instead, genetics, environment, our nervous system, our endocrine system, and even the digestive system come into play. He also considers how we change.

POEM: Endless Fields of Green Zombies

img_2383

Trees talk.

Share sugar.

Stretch skyward.

Grow,

Compete,

Breath,

&

Eat.

Memorize weather.

Flock together.

Host birds of a feather.

Participate in pacts.

Never overreact.

House strangers.

Call out dangers.

Take things slow.

Never over grow.

But there are fields–

endless fields–

of green zombies.

Who cannot talk.

Who do not share.

Whose competitors

&

allies

are executed.

So they can fulfill a purpose

not their own.

BOOK REVIEW: How to Read Darwin by Mark Ridley

How to Read DarwinHow to Read Darwin by Mark Ridley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Few scientific ideas have succeeded so brilliantly and elegantly as Darwin’s theory of what he called “descent with modification” but which we know as evolution—least of all not in the wet and squishy sciences. Darwin realized that if a biologic system had three characteristics, one would end up seeing a wide variety of species, but with common characteristics such that one could discern how a species evolved from common ancestors. (BTW: this is invariably what we see in the world.) The three characteristics are: 1.) variation within the population (i.e. members aren’t carbon copies but have varying characteristics); 2.) inheritance (characteristics are passed from parent to child); and 3.) some individuals produce more offspring than others. Under such conditions, those with variations that allowed them to survive better in their particular environment would produce more children (i.e. natural selection.)

Ridley’s book offers readers an outline of the work of Charles Darwin that’s more extensive than Cliffs Notes but less daunting than the original works written in mid-19th century prose. (Darwin is generally credited as being quite readable for a scientist of that era, but it’s still a large lump of work.) Of course, the book is presented not as an alternative to reading the three major works of Darwin addressed herein (i.e. “On the Origin of Species…,” “The Descent of Man…,” and “The Expression of Emotion…,”) but rather as a preparatory guide.

The question arises as to why one should bother reading such a book if one intends to read Darwin anyway. One reason is to help put Darwin’s discoveries in the context of his time. For example, while Darwin knew of heredity, he didn’t have an understanding of genes and genetics. In other words, a neophyte looking back may not know where to put Darwin’s discoveries amid the important scientific ideas that came before and after. Another reason is to see how the critical claims that have arisen since Darwin’s time are dealt with. Darwin’s theory immediately came under attack (and has continued to) because it is inconsistent with the literal interpretations of most major religions’ creation myths, and, adding fuel to the fire, everything we learn has supported evolution to the detriment of creation myths.

The book consists of ten chapters. The bulk of these chapters (Ch. 1 through 6) lay out the argument made in Darwin’s most influential work, “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.” These chapters explore what Darwin described as “one long argument” for natural selection, but in doing so address vital concepts like hybridism, biodiversity, and geological succession. These chapters also discuss the case for Evolution, and the charges that have been leveled against it.

Chapters 7, 8, and 9 describe the ideas of Darwin’s “Descent of Man,” which examines both human evolution and sexual selection. The last chapter introduces the reader to the topic that Darwin took up in his 1872 book on “The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals.” This is an early look at what has continued to be an intriguing field of study, namely what is the evolutionary advantage of conveying emotion and why are we so good at reading other people—or, at least, capable of being good at it.

This book is one in a series of brief summaries of the ideas of important scientists, philosophers, and influential (sometimes infamous) thinkers. Other volumes cover the works of Freud, Hitler, Nietzsche, the Marquis de Sade, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Heidegger, Jung, Marx, Derrida, Machiavelli, and Shakespeare.

The book has no graphics and not much by way of ancillary matter. It does present a timeline of Darwin’s life and achievements, and has a “for further reading” section. Each of these features is just a couple of pages.

I found this book to be concise and readable. It’s only about 100 pages, and doesn’t get into supporting detail (that’s what reading the original work is for.) It does pull key paragraph length excerpts from the source material to discuss ideas in the modern context. I’d recommend this book for someone who intends to read Darwin, who has read Darwin but was left with a lack of clarity, or—even—someone who wants to understand the gist of the argument but doesn’t have time for hundreds of pages of 19th century prose.

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BOOK REVIEW: Astrobiology by David C. Catling

Astrobiology: A Very Short IntroductionAstrobiology: A Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This book explains how life came about on Earth and what that might mean for life elsewhere in the universe. It may seem odd that life’s origins on Earth is relevant to this otherwise extraterrestrial sub-discipline, but that bit of biology offers insight into what is necessary for life—at least life as we know it. There is also the question of whether life originated entirely within Earth’s primordial soup, or whether there was an extraterrestrial ingredient necessary.” [Note: we aren’t talking about an advanced civilization placing creatures here so much as raw materials frozen in space dust or a meteorite. This is the idea of panspermia that once had a substantial following.]

If you’re interested in whether there might be life beyond our planet, this little introduction will give you the basic insights into where it might be found and what it might be like. Though the book deals with a highly technical subject, it’s written with the non-expert in mind.

The book consists of eight chapters. The first chapter defines the subject of “astrobiology,” which is important as it’s not exactly a household term—and is arguably an ill-chosen term to boot. However, chapter one also defines life and outlines what are the necessities for the development of life. The second chapter explores what type of celestial body life might reside upon–or in. We tend to think narrowly of other planets like ours, but what about moons or meteorites, or even space dust? More broadly, this chapter gives the reader a primer on cosmology and astronomy as is relevant to the development of life. Chapter three evaluates the conditions which proved conducive to spawning life on Earth. This is followed by a chapter that looks at how the Earth provided an environment in which life could flourish, even allowing for the evolution of intelligent lifeforms. Chapter five explains how genes and the chemistry of life contribute to the perpetuation of life.

Chapters six and seven both answer the question of where we might expect to find extraterrestrial life. The former discusses promising locales for life within our solar system and the latter is about the space beyond. Needless to say, chapter six is a great deal more specific; it actually proposes nine celestial bodies in the solar system that could theoretically harbor life, and expounds upon which are most and least promising and why. Chapter seven is more about what kinds of places we might expect to find life, and where we might direct our investigations. While scientists are finding new planets all the time, it is a relatively new capability and these distant bodies are only discovered through indirect evidence. The last chapter is a brief one that discusses “controversies and prospects.” With respect to controversies the primary contender is the Rare Earth hypothesis that suggests that life may not be so common as we expect by virtue of the massive number of solar systems out there. As for prospects, that is just a couple of pages on the most likely contenders at the time the book was written.

The book has about a dozen illustrations, mostly explanatory diagrams and all in black-and-white. It also has a two-page further reading section. However, that’s it as far as ancillary matter is concerned.

I found this book to be interesting and a good way to get up to speed on the basic concepts necessary to understand the search for extraterrestrial life. I’d recommend it for others who’d like to do the same.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Brain: A Very Short Introduction by Michael O’Shea

The Brain: A Very Short IntroductionThe Brain: A Very Short Introduction by Michael O’Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The human brain in 120-ish pages, it’s an ambitious goal considering that the brain is widely considered to be the most complex object in the known universe. Still, this is one of Oxford University Press’s “A Very Short Introduction” (AVSI) series, so the only promise is to give one a concise overview of the subject for beginners. In that task, the book succeeds. In fact, the book takes on some subjects that one might think beyond its scope, such as the historical progression of our understanding of the brain and how technology might be used to repair damaged brains.

The book consists of seven chapters and an epilogue. The first chapter introduces the brain, and it makes this monumental subject manageable by considering reading—a skill that we take for granted but for which the brain conducts miraculous feats from rapid accurate eye movement to turning abstract symbols into meaning. The second chapter takes the reader on a tour of the changing understanding of the brain leading up to the discovery of the neuron—the brain’s basic unit. Chapter three explores how those neurons transmit signals, the fundamental action of the brain. Chapter four examines the evolution of the human brain, both from the perspective of how it could become so complex, and of why it needed to become so. Chapter five is about how the brain receives information and uses this information to conduct activities. A majority of this chapter is devoted to how patterns of light are recognized and turned into the meaningful basis upon which to make decisions or perform actions. Chapter six offers a basic understanding of memory, one of the roles we most closely associate with the brain. Chapter seven considers whether we’ll be able to fix damaged brains, and, if so, using what technologies. A brief epilogue tells us where the future of brain research will go–having gained much understanding since the invention of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), neuroscience must find new approaches to take itself into the future.

The book uses line drawings to depict concepts that are hard to convey via text. While the graphics are simple black-and-white drawings, they are immensely beneficial. Like other AVSI books, there are no citations or notes, just a couple of pages of “further readings.” That’s not a criticism; it’s perfectly acceptable for this type of book.

I found “The Brain: AVSI” to be informative and interesting. The author uses some illuminating examples and cases to cover a lot of ground in a small package. I’d recommend the book for anyone who wants a neophyte’s introduction into the human brain.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and DiseaseThe Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel E. Lieberman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The story that this book tells is of a human body adapted and optimized for hunting and gathering that has been thrust by agricultural and industrial revolutions into conditions for which it is ill-suited. The central idea is that of the “mismatch disease.” The mismatch in question is a mismatch between the lives humans were evolved to lead and the ones that we have developed through cultural and technological progress. The human body is governed by what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “anti-fragility” or what biologists call “phenotypic plasticity.” Both terms say that our bodies get stronger when exposed to physical stressors and weaker in the absence of such stressors. We’ve now used culture and technology to reduce exposure to such stressors, while—at the same time—food is more available than ever and is in calorically dense / nutritionally sparse forms. This mismatch accounts for many problems. Of course, technology has also allowed us to reduce our exposure to dirt and germs, and this, after being once a boon, has begun to swing us into dangerous territory.

The 13 chapters (including the introduction) are divided into three parts in a logical manner to address the book’s objective. After an introduction that lays groundwork for understanding human evolution in a broad sense, the first part describes human evolution up to the point where culture became dominant force for our species. It clarifies how we became bipedal, how our diets developed, how we got smart, and the ways in which the aforementioned characteristics are interconnected. The second part shifts from Darwinian evolution to cultural evolution, and—in particular—elucidates the effects that the agricultural and industrial revolutions had on the human body. These cultural forces act much faster than evolution. While some argue that humans aren’t really subject to evolutionary forces anymore, owing to cultural and technological advances, Lieberman points out that Darwinian evolution does still effect humanity, but its effect is muted by comparison to fast-acting cultural developments. The final part looks at humanity in the present and projects out into the future. It considers what effect an over-abundance of energy and a declining need for physical activity have had on our species, and what can be done about it.

This book is thought-provoking, well-organized, and uses narrative evidence and humor to enhance readability. (A discussion of the absurdity of products in the Skymall catalog—e.g. luxury items for pet—is a case in point.) It certainly gives on a good education about human evolution. Furthermore, while there are many books out there that deal with mismatch as a cause of diseases like obesity and diabetes, Lieberman also addresses under-explored issues like postural problems from chairs, the influence of shoes on running gait, and the development of nearsightedness because of our close-focusing ways.

I’d say the book’s greatest flaw comes in its discussions of solutions at the end. The author puts all his eggs in the basket of wholesale solutions aimed to make society as a whole improve, while he could do more to share the details of what individuals can do to solve their own problems. Lieberman considers why natural selection won’t solve problems of mismatch and dysevolution. Then he considers how research and development and educational campaigns can only provide partial solutions. His ultimate solution is suggesting regulatory paternalism—e.g. what economists call Pigovian taxes–taxes designed to change behavior by making bad behavior (in this case sedentary lifestyles and over-eating / malnutrition) more expensive. Perhaps such solutions (which will remain political untenable for the foreseeable future in the US, at least) may be necessary, but one shouldn’t conclude that readers with better information and ways of approaching the problem can’t make a difference. I say this based upon the fact that a substantial (if minority) portion of the population is already doing the right thing—eating right, exercising, and not succumbing to modernity’s creature comforts. I, furthermore, say it as a one trained as an economist who has seen easier attempts at paternalism fail over and over again.

I’d recommend this book. I think it gives the reader insight into the problems caused by being evolved to be one thing while being groomed by culture to be another.

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BOOK REVIEW: Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, MD

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern PlaguesMissing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin J. Blaser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is one of several popular human biology books of recent years to take note of the fact that your body’s cells are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bacteria that live in and on you—mostly in your digestive tract—and that our penchant for killing microbes has begun to show signs of harm as well as good. Since the germ theory took hold, we’ve been slaughtering all the little buggers we could, but increasingly we’ve learned that this isn’t without costs. In essence, we’ve been throwing out the baby with the bath water when it comes to our bacteria, while at the same time creating super-bugs.

As a first-worlder who’s been living in the developing world (India), I sometimes get ask if I get sick here a lot or at all. My stock response is to ask the asker whether they have Crohn’s Disease, IBS, Type II diabetes*, or any of the other diseases of affluence seen mostly in the first world. (*Type II diabetes is becoming much more prevalent in the developing world, notably in India where they like their deserts about 9000 times sweeter than, say, a fudge brownie. Furthermore, the disease has disproportionate effects in such countries because of limited treatment availability and late diagnosis.) In many cases, these developed world diseases are being tied to the killing off of our good gut bacteria.

Doctor Blaser’s book focuses on how overuse of antibiotics creates problems. For those who say, “I don’t get no stinkin’ antibiotics when I’m sick. I just suffer it out. Ergo, I don’t need to read this book,” there remain facts of which you should be aware. One such fact is that some of the antibiotics injected into the animals that become our food can act against our own personal microbiome. Yet another is that antibacterial soaps and gels are ubiquitous. Furthermore, the increased popularity of C-sections has starved infants of a source of good bacteria, and made them more prone to certain childhood illnesses.

“Missing Microbes” is organized into 16 chapters. The first discusses many of the “modern plagues” that have come about through the wholesale war on bacteria. The next couple chapters look at the role of microbes on the planet and in our bodies. There is a discussion of increasingly successful pathogens as well as the drugs that came along to take care of them. There is a discussion of over-prescription of antibiotics by dentists and doctors, their use in agriculture, and the transfer of good bacteria from mother to child and how rampant use of C-section negates this transfer. There are a couple of chapters on H. pylori and the lessons learned from trying to eliminate it after it became tied to ulcers. (In one of the most famous stories in modern medicine, a researcher swallowed a beaker of H. pylori to prove his theory to a skeptical audience of physicians.) Asthma is discussed as an example of an illness one might not expect to come about from destroying gut bacteria. One of the effects covered over two chapters is getting bigger (re: fatter as well as taller.) Staving off disease under crowded conditions isn’t the only reason modern agriculture uses antibiotics, it also makes for big, meaty animals—which when eaten by people may make big, meaty (actually, fatty) humans. Blaser then talks about how bad the situation might get (using the term “antibiotic winter,”) before discussing solutions. It’s, of course, true that humanity has gained a lot from antibiotics, and so putting the genie back in the bottle is not a solution. A nuanced approach is called for, and that’s what the author discusses.

I found this book to be informative, and would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the risks presented by overuse of antibiotics.

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You’re So Evolved: Love Poem to a Hominid

Baby, I dig your bipedal ways
You could chase down wounded game for days
And walking around on just two feet
You can forage in the mid-day heat
When it’s too hot for those big ole cats
Who bully their way through our habitat

 

My dearest, it simply makes me drool
When I see you working with a tool
Thumbs opposable, and shoulders free
I’m awed when you throw stones at me
Just imagine how I shed a tear
When I see you chuck a pointy spear

 

And that prefrontal cortex, oh my lord
You could plan the move of a nomadic horde
One day you’ll be able to add, and subtract
You’ll think–and paint–in the abstract
You just need vocal cords of greater dexterity
To express yourself with heightened clarity
[not in grunts and stone throwing]

 

True, you’re not the strongest of the apes
And while tigers race you barely traipse
Monkeys climb, swinging tree to tree
You lack arm strength and dexterity
Still, there’s something about you that I just can’t deny
Though you share sixty percent DNA with a fruit fly
You’re so evolved