EVOLVING PANDEMICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mysteries of the Microscopic World

By: Bruce E. Fleury (Great Courses)

Lecturer-Professor Bruce E. Fleury

Bruce E. Fleury (Professor of Practice in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University)

“Mysteries of the Microscopic World” is a reflection on the “The Invisible Realm”, the world of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. 

It is somewhat dated because of today’s history of Covid19.  However, Fleury offers a modern understanding of pandemics and the role germs play in human life.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

Fleury explores a world unseen until the 17th century.  Antony van Leeuwenhoek is identified as the first to see the “…Microscopic World” in 1683. 

However, the microscopic world was not considered important until the 19th century when puerperal fever was found to be caused by germs.  A germ theory of disease originated with Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician in the 1840s. Many babies were dying from puerperal fever because doctors were going straight from deceased patients’ autopsies to delivery operating rooms. 

An interesting side note by Fleury is Semmelweis’s germ theory required careful hand washing before delivering babies.  Washing hands is still not carefully followed, even by the medical profession.  Fleury suggests only 50% of doctors and nurses properly wash their hands.

In the late 1850s Louis Pasteur suggested the spread of microorganisms (germs) could explain infectious disease.  Pasteur, and later Robert Koch, began to isolate bacteria of diseases like anthrax, TB, and cholera.  The race for understanding the microscopic world’s relationship to disease is launched.

Fleury explains this microscopic world is not only a disease producer.  It also aids human existence by offering microorganisms that get rid of wastes and remove toxic chemicals from the body.  Fleury notes some humans die from microorganisms, but they cannot live without them.

Fleury explains how the microscopic world follows the same Darwinian evolutionary path as the macroscopic world.  The microscopic world, like the animal world, evolves with random adaptation that sustains all life.

The two edges of this microscopic world can cure or kill.  Fleury explains how this unseen world evolves in the same way the animal kingdom evolves.    Today’s Covid19 virus changes to preserve itself.  Covid19 evolves like any life force to become resistant to current drug treatment. Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are tasked with modification of their drug formulas to defeat viral and bacterial evolution.

In Fleury’s history of pandemics, listeners/readers will find interesting facts that parallel today’s Covid19’ experience.  A striking parallel is the 1918 Flu pandemic. It killed an estimated 50-100 million people. 

Today the world has lost over 2.5 million people from Covid19, but it pales against the 1918 pandemic’ loss of an estimated 50 to 100 million people.

The 1918 world population is estimated at 1.8 billion.   The world’s population today is at 7.674 billion, over a six-fold increase.  Today’s 2.5 million people lost from Covid19 could become several times greater based on today’s population.

This reminds one of the Texas and Mississippi governors’ choice to return to business as usual with no mask mandates and reopened businesses.

It may be that medical science and vaccination is so much better today than in 1918, but these governors are gambling with American lives.  Covid19 may kill many more.

Fleury reminds reader/listeners of the history of wars and how the microscopic world of poisons, and disease-producing germs were used to defeat combatants.  He notes how small armies were able to defeat large armies.  Fleury tells stories of smaller military forces throwing bags filled with poisonous snakes into enemy camps to create chaos and death, lethal gas use in explosive devices that are thrown into enemy foxholes, and deadly smallpox impregnated blankets given to native Americans by American settlers.  He notes how small expeditionary invasions decimated empires by introducing germs that came from their home countries.  Explorers and soldiers were carriers of germs that had never been seen in the new world.  Millions have died from this newly weaponized unseen world.  Fleury notes that biological research and warfare are ongoing threats to the human race.

In the Sunday NYT’s on 3/7/21, an article criticizes the use of public funds to stockpile an Anthrax vaccine when so many problems have arisen in the fight against Covid19. The complaint largely revolves around one company’s high profitability and government influence in preparing an anthrax antidote stockpile to protect against biological attack by terrorists.

Fleury notes that anthrax bacterium is “…a perennial favorite in every nation’s biological arsenal.” Anthrax causes a rapid and painful death within 12-24 hours and the bacterium can last for 40-80 years in soil.

One has to wonder why can’t government “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Stockpiling an Anthrax antidote and being prepared for a Covid19 type of pandemic could be done at the same time. After all, America is the richest nation in the world.

Many presume Aids has been cured because it is not in the press like it used to be.  Something not widely known is that Aids has no known cure.  It remains a killer.  Only palliative treatment has been found to extend life and Fleury notes the treatment is quite expensive.  Aids is caused by a germ that attacks the immune system.  It is introduced through sexual contact or re-use of hypodermic needles. 

Aids eventually kills nearly all Aids carriers, either from cancer or some other disease that takes advantage of a carrier’s compromised immune system.  Fleury notes an exception is a small minority of carriers with a genetic variation that allows them to live a long life.

Fleury explains there is a race between microbes and humans.  As antibiotic treatment improves, microbes mutate into strains that resist treatment.  What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.  Fleury implies there is a natural balance among all living things.  Humans may be destined for extinction, but Fleury reminds us of the myth of Pandora.  She left hope in the bottom of the box when all the evils were unloosed on the world.

MINDING YOUR BRAIN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Disordered Mind (What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves)

By: Eric R. Kandel

Narrated by David Stifel

Eric Kandel (Author, Austrian-American MD, Neuroscientist. recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology)

In “The Disordered Mind”, Dr. Kandel offers an explanation of what is known about the physiology of the human brain.  What is thinking?  How does the brain work?  What is consciousness?  What causes brain dysfunction?  What is mental illness? How can mental illness be diagnosed and treated?

Most know there are two distinct halves of the human brain.  What is less well known is that the left and right brain hemispheres conflict with each other.

Kandel explains that right brain activity generates much of human creativity while the left brain is tasked with logic.  It is not that the two halves of the brain never cooperate with each other.  However, regions of the brain frequently interfere with each hemisphere’s understanding of what humans see, feel, hear, and think. With those senses, human thought and action is affected.

MAPPING THE BRAIN

Damage or disease of either side of the brain is a proximate cause of psychiatric disorder but the interconnection of the two sides makes diagnosis and cure a hit and miss proposition.  The physiology of the brain is complex and difficult for today’s practitioners. To diagnose or cure symptoms of brain injury or disease requires precise information about location and physiological characteristics of brain function.  Kandel notes that brain imaging has been a boon to understanding how the brain functions and where thought and action originates and initiates, but interconnectedness thwarts precise understanding.

Kandel informs us of symptoms of various brain injuries and diseases and how science searches, stumbles, and recovers to find ways to ameliorate physical and mental disorders caused by brain dysfunction.  He explains how too much or too little of naturally produced chemicals like dopamine and melatonin affect brain function.  Kandel notes how normal behavior becomes unbalanced with excess or diminishment of brain chemistry.

The origin of artist creativity is explored by Kandel.  Kandel implies the dada movement reflects bizarre subconscious images that titillate the public because they resonate with one’s own subconscious.   

Artists are exhibiting right brain evocations.  This reminds one of Edmund Munches’ Scream and his note hidden in the painting that says, “Could Only Have Been Painted by a Madman”. Kandel dismisses that characterization of artists.  Kandel suggests they are simply magnifying right brain neural activity.

Kandel notes the progress that has been made in abating, if not curing, psychiatric disorder.  It is surprising to find how many treatments have been discovered accidently.  This is not meant to diminish leaps of science in mapping the brain, or creating medicinal treatments for psychosis and neuropathy but it discloses much of the luck that leads to palliative, if not curative, care. 

Kandel notes a fundamental cause of certain psychiatric disorders have been found to be misfolded proteins that negatively affect biological activity and, in some cases, increase neuronal toxicity. This misfolding is considered to be a cause of antitrypsin-associated emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and other maladies.

A somewhat surprising disclosure by Kandel is that physical change of the brain is shown from use of psychotherapy as well as physical or chemical intervention.  Kandel suggests psychotherapy is an important part of treatment for patients being treated with drugs or surgical intervention.  Kandel infers physiological change in the brain can be as consequential with psychotherapy as with drug or surgical treatment.  However, he suggests both forms of treatment offer more lasting success.

There is a lot to unpack in Kandel’s book about “The Disordered Mind”.  Many who read/listen to this book will conclude that treatment of drug addiction and other psychological imbalances need more scientific research and better diagnosis and treatment.

GRAVATATIONAL WAVES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

By: Janna Levin

Narrated by Janna Levin

Janna J. Levin (Author, American theoretical cosmologist and professor of physics.)

Janna Levin writes a brief history of the invention of the Laser, Interferometer, Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO for short.

Janna Levin is a professor of physics and a theoretical cosmologist.  Obviously, a well-educated and intelligent person but not an accomplished writer.  Levin’s history fails to capture a coherent picture of what LIGO is or who the scientists were that pursued understanding of gravitational waves.  The many scientists involved are a confused jumble of characters who are never clearly described except as scientists in pursuit of an elusive discovery. Levin does offer character quirks of many of these scientists but fails to bring them to life. The significance of gravitational waves in Levin’s story seems less stellar because it is given little context in the world of science.

The best one can say about Levin’s story is that it sparks interest in a layman’s understanding of Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves. 

Levin offers some understanding of the subject but misses a succinct description without a listener having to turn to other sources for clarification. Gravitational waves are air particles–that vibrate like a guitar string when it is strummed, or a drum is beat. That is as close as Levin gets to a definition.  Einstein predicted cosmic’ gravitational waves are created when phenomenon like black holes, or “Big Bangs” occur.

One reason Levin’s story holds interest to this critic is that two LIGO’ observatories had to be created to confirm Einstein’s theory.  One was in eastern Washington, the Hanford nuclear reservation, and the other was in Louisiana.  I lived in the Hanford area in the seventies, not as a scientist but as a project manager for a local developer. 

It has always been something of a mystery that eastern Washington continued to develop after WWII when Hanford played a big role in the science of nuclear fission that led to Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s bombing.  One thought Hanford’s nuclear program would wind down with mitigation of nuclear contamination in the area, but the area continues to grow.  LIGO is one of the reasons Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco (known locally as the Tri-Cities where Hanford is located) continues to grow.

One must acknowledge Levin’s story offers some personal insight to the nature of scientific discovery.  She shows how a community of scientists is plagued by the same insecurities and ambitions of any human organization.  There are always organization struggles over who is in charge, how internal conflict is resolved, and how money, power, and prestige affect productivity.

Levin implies conflict may be more intense in scientific pursuit because personal motivation is different.  She seems to imply scientists are more motivated by power and prestige than money.  One doubts that is true because humans within any organization have degrees of desire based on all three motives.

The beginning of Levin’s story is with Rainer Weiss, a professor of physics at MIT.  Weiss’s interest in gravitational waves began with his interest in radio waves and refinement of phonographic reproduction. 

As a child, Weiss experimented with speaker systems and refined reproduction through tinkering with how records reproduce music.  Levin suggest Weiss’s personality is deeply affected by his families experience with authority in Germany during the Nazi’s rise to power. 

Weiss pursues his interest in gravitational waves with Soviet scientists, and two Scots named Ronald Drever and James Hough.  Levin imprecisely explains their collaboration and how each conflict with the other over control of the science of gravitational waves.  Drever is a brilliant tinkerer who designs a rudimentary gravitational wave detector.  In 1980, the National Science Foundation funds a large interferometer study at MIT.

Ronald Drever (1931-2017, Scottish pioneer on laser measurment and gravitational wave observation.)

After fits and starts, Rochus Vogt is appointed as director of the development at the LIGO project.  Levin, also a family victim of Nazism, notes that Vogt is an important first director because of his ability to organize scientific research.  However, Vogt is noted as an authoritarian that often conflicts with other scientists (like Drever) who worked on LIGO.

Levin explains Vogt was a manager who resented authority of any kind but had a high degree of organizational skill. Levin suggests Vogt’s family experience with Nazism fed his dislike of supervision or direction from others.

Levin notes that Vogt had a great deal to do with successfully raising funds for LIGO’s early development. However, he was eventually fired for his authoritarian way of dismissing other team members ideas and his objection to superiors’ oversight.

Levin notes the massive size and cost of the project which finally locates in two states, Washington, and Louisiana.  Funding is key to its development and is delayed for various reasons.  The politics of science research is touched on by Levin but not clearly defined.  One surmises from Levin’s book that location of expensive projects are as much a political as science-based decision.

There are many pessimists and a few optimists on the value of this research. The time it took to confirm or deny the theory of cosmic gravitational waves is long, expensive, and seemingly serendipitous.  Attempts to prove Einstein’s 1916 theory began in the 1960s, but it takes over 50 years to even begin to prove the existence of gravitational waves.  In the end, Levin recounts the success of these scientists’ efforts on February 22, 2016. 

A gravitational wave is recorded on September 14, 2015 when two black holes collide light years away.  In the following year, the gravitational wave’s finding is fully recognized. The record of the wave confirms Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves.

Without Levin’s final chapter, “Black Hole Blues…” would be a literary failure.  However, with this chapter Levin redeems her story.  Without science, the world would remain in the dark ages; burdened by myth and superstition that distorts the true value of being human.

SELF EDUCATED SAVANT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Leonardo da Vinci

By: Walter Isaacson

Narrated by Alfred Molina

Walter Isaacson (Author, Biographer, Former Chair of Broadcasting Board of Governors)

This is the storied life of a self-educated savant.  Walter Isaacson scrupulously details a genius’s life and notes how curiosity and focus inform his intellect. Leonardo da Vinci is an illegitimate child raised by an extended family that includes his educated wayward father and unlettered mother.  Born in Florence, da Vinci grows to manhood and follows a path festooned with powerful Italian and French rulers.

Self portraits of Leonardo belie Isaacson’s characterization of him as handsome. However, Isaacson’s supposition is drawn from other people’s perception of him rather than Leonardo’s perception of himself.

Leonardo da Vinci self portrait as an old man

Parenthetically, Isaacson notes that Leonardo is gay and finds the idea of heterosexual acts as volitionally repugnant.

Isaacson suggests every person can reach higher levels of understanding by being acutely observant and curious.  He suggests these two characteristics have a yin and yang, a good and bad consequence. 

The good comes from a restless desire to understand what one sees.  The bad comes from distraction that causes a brilliant mind to wander and fail to complete an idea or finish a project.

Isaacson infers Leonardo’s innate intelligence magnifies his ability to pattern what he observes into insights that are hundreds of years ahead of future discoveries.  From observations of nature, the human body, and expressed human emotion da Vinci refines the art of painting. 

However, Isaacson notes Leonardo is so much more than an artist.  Leonardo is a polymath.  Leonardo acquires understanding of cosmic phenomena, the dynamics of water and air movement, the physical expression of human emotion, and the general science of earth’s structure, and substance. 

At the same time, Isaacson notes that Leonardo often fails to publish, or diseminate his findings.  Leonardo becomes distracted by new observations that lead to incomplete works of art, science, and engineering.  Isaacson explains that some of the incompleteness is a consequence of finding a new discovery that causes Leonardo to rethink how a painting or project is to be completed.

Isaacson notes many paintings were carried with him to his death.  Some were never finished.  Leonardo continually refines his paintings with new understanding of light and shadow, muscle and bone. 

In some cases, painting’ modifications were made years after their initiation because of a muscle, tendon, or ligament discovery from Leonardo’s many human dissections.

Leonardo revised “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness” years after he started it because of research on neck muscles from his numerous dissections of the human body.

Leonardo lived in a time of powerful Italian and French leaders.  He serves men of power like Cesare Borgia, Francis I, and Pope Leo X (the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici). 

Leonardo serves Cesare Borgia for 8 years as an engineer and artist. He creates the model for a massive horse (a larger mold than had ever been created would be required). It is to be a tribute to Cesare Borgia but it is never cast because of the circumstance of war.

By historical account, Cesare Borgia is ambitious and arrogant.  Cesare is alleged to have murdered his brother to assume control of a Papal State.  He is alleged to have been responsible for several political assassinations.  Leonardo seems to have had no compunction for serving Borgia and appears to have been a confident of the brutal dictator.

Two interesting reveals by Isaacson is Leonardo’s willingness to serve whoever would sponsor his work regardless of their good or bad actions, and his role as a scene creator for theatrical productions.  Isaacson’s explanation of Leonardo’s scene creations for plays is revelatory because of the many mechanical inventions drawn by this master of innovation. 

One can imagine how thrilled an audience would be at a theatre production that showed Leonardo’s skill as an animator of mechanical wonders.  It seems a perfect venue for Leonardo’s inventive mind.

Leonardo becomes friends with luminaries like Niccolo Machiavelli and Luca Pacioli (an Italian mathematician).

Niccolo Machiavelli, 1469-1527, died at age 58. Cesare Borgia is said to have been the model for “The Prince”.

Most, but not all, of Leonardo’s patrons and customers were men or women of great power and wealth. Some, like Borgia had little or no moral conscience.  Some with great wealth who requested commissions were ignored by Leonardo.

A younger contemporary of Leonardo is Michelangelo Buonarroti. 

Michelangelo is a competitor for Art commissions who disdains Leonardo.

 Detail of Michelanglo’s “Doubting Thomas”.

Isaacson notes that Leonardo is no less disdainful of Michelangelo but much less confrontational when asked for opinions about his competitor’s work.

Isaacson wrote a biography of Stephen Jobs and often refers to Jobs’ driven personality. 

His biography of Leonardo shows a commonality between these two geniuses.  They both looked for perfection in their work.

From a painting of the Last Supper, to the image of Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, to the Mona Lisa, Isaacson shows Leonardo to be among the most creative artist of all time.  Leonardo’s understanding of light and shadow, human vision, physiology, and facial expression contribute to art what E=MC squared contributed to physics. 

(Sadly, Isaacson notes much of “The Last Supper” shows little of Leonardo’s original work because of cleanings and restorations over the centuries.)

Isaacson shows Leonardo is much more than an artist.  From the idea of creating power from water movement to the planning of cities for Kings, Leonardo da Vinci is shown to be an insightful civil engineer. In sum, Isaacson implies Leonardo’s insights rival all the savants of history.  Leonardo da Vinci is an artist and scientist ahead of his time.

HEALTH CRISES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Body, A Guide to Occupants

By: Bill Bryson

Narrated by Bill Bryson

BILL BRYSON (American-English Author)

Bill Bryson’s skill as a researcher and writer pleases the mind but as John Milton noted, “the mind…can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven”. 

Bryson published “The Body” in 2019, months before Covid19 became known to the world.  Bryson’s greatest fear, gleaned from his research, is the potential of a world-wide infection from a flu-like virus.  Bryson’s comment about the body’s greatest 21st century risk is prescient.  Bryson suggests the United States, and most nations, have not prepared well for national medical crises. This is a particularly poignant observation when one looks into the 1918 flu pandemic. America has lost over 500,000 people to Covid19.

National and international medical crises reach back to antiquity.  Among many of Bill Bryson’s insights in “The Body” is his history of medical crises in the world.

The 1918 flu killed more than 600,000 Americans. The difference is that there were only 103 million American citizens in 1918. Today, there are an estimated 331 million.

Governors Abbott and Reeves of Texas and Mississippi.

Today is not 1918 but how foolish it is for the Governors of Texas and Mississippi to remove mask restrictions in the face of a pandemic that could kill over a 1,000,000 Americans.

Bryson recalls the Bubonic plague, smallpox, typhus, yellow fever, influenza, Polio, and Ebola and other outbreaks as examples of national unpreparedness.  With failure to prepare, nation-state’ responses have ranged from careful, reasonable, and effective, to careless, illogical, and ineffective. 

America’s response to Covid19 shows America’s lack of preparation.  America’s national response speaks for itself.

This is only a small part of Bryson’s enlightening research on “The Body”.  He recounts many incredible medical discoveries made by science.  As with all disciplines, some discoveries are made by chance; some by the exigency of illness or medical emergency, others by curiosity, and yes, some by diligent scientific research and experiment.

Alexander Fleming (1881-1955, credited for discovering penicillin.)

A green mold forms on a mistakenly, un-discarded petri dish used to study bacteria.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by chance while growing bacteria for research. One of many petri dishes had been accidently contaminated. When Fleming returns to his lab, a mold appears to be killing the bacteria on the dish.  Bryson explains the serendipity of the discovery while reflecting on lesser known information about Fleming’s life.

Bryson gives a similar description of the discovery of blood transfusion by Dr. James Blundell in 1818. The first transfusion is a success. However, the success is as much from luck as misfortune because the importance of blood typing was unknown in 1818. The first transfusion was luckily from a donor (Dr. Blundell himself) and patient with type 0 blood.

Karl Lansteiner (1968-1943, Austrian biologist, physician, and immunologist, discovers and names blood types in 1900.

Bryson recounts Samuel Pepys diary and his harrowing experience in having a gall stone removed from his bladder in 1658.  With no anesthetic, a gall stone the size of a tennis ball was removed.  Pepys keeps the gall stone in a glass jar to show others while telling his story.  He describes the hellish pain as the scalpel pierces his abdomen.

Not until 1882 does Carl Langenbuch remove the first gall bladder. Langenbuch studied 17th century records of dogs that exhibited gall bladder problems. Langnbush’s experiment on a human body comes from that research. His medical judgment leads to a pragmatically successful surgical treatment.

Mukherjee offers a grim history on the evolution of cancer treatments.  Mukherjee details, and Bryson confirms, many errors made by physicians who presume more surgery, more chemotherapy, or more radiation will cure, rather than kill, the patient.  Experience shows that presumption incorrect. 

William Lane (1856-1943, British surgeon and physician killed many patients with what was called colonic innertia by removing large sections of intestine in the early 1900s.)

With improved knowledge, intestine removal became limited with better recovery statistics for patients.

Bryson notes many medical experiments offered no cure and killed patients in the process.  Physicians sometimes ignored their failures and skewed results to reinforce their poor medical decisions.  Some patients who did not die, were irreparably harmed by medical practitioners who believed they were right.  Practitioners ignored failures and continued to treat patients with medications and treatments that offered no cure but death or disfigurement.

One of many insights Bryson notes is that approximately 50 percent of the cause for premature death in humans is self-inflicted.  Poor diet, tobacco use, and lack of exercise are principle causes. 

Other chapters cover longevity, predictions of life span, medical symptoms of old age, and the story of telomeres’ role in cell death. Bryson notes some scientists believe scientific research will lead to extended life well beyond current life spans.

One of the most disconcerting observations made by Bryson is that Americans, who pay most in the world for medical service, fall (at best) into the middle of industrialized countries for general public health. 

Who should America turn to in the 2020 election?

Bryson infers sociological difference between the United States and other industrialized countries affect the health and longevity of America’s population.  The specifics of sociological differences are left unwritten.  Having a national health system in those countries with better health care statistics is undoubtedly one of the sociological reasons.

Bryson’s book is an enlightening journey into the mysteries of “The Body”.  Bryson gives a good account of the methodologies and myths of the body’s history and its discoveries.  There are many discoveries yet to be made that will tell us more about physical existence and our body’s possible future.

God and Science

Audio-book Review 
By Chet Yarbrough 

(Blog:awalkingdelight) 
Website: chetyarbrough.blog 

The Big Picture 

BySean Carroll 

Narrated by Sean Carroll 

Sean Carroll (Author, theoretical physicist in quantum mechanics, gravity, and cosmology.)

Being a fan, Sean Carroll is usually a good source for understanding science but “The Big Picture” is not his best work. Traveling through centuries of discovery and science’ revisions is too broad a picture for a layman’s understanding.  Many attempts at clear communication about current physics fail to enlighten “The Big Picture”. 

Carroll does clarify the difference between “is” and “ought” that explains why science is important.  God may be the origin of life on earth but proof relying on faith is an “ought” without an “is”.  Science reduces knowledge to facts based on repeatable experiments and predictable results.  If experiments are conducted by different experimenters with the same results, what “is” becomes predictable and more likely correct. Carroll explains science deals with the world as it “is”; not how the world “ought” to be.   

Preachers preach a gospel based on what is not experimentally proven and only anecdotally predictable.  Anecdotes are not necessarily true or reliable because they are based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.  Numerous studies have shown that human cognition relies on brain patterning which influences, matches, or melds information stored in the brain. 

The consequence of patterning distorts reality.  Eye-witness accounts of events are notoriously misleading because of human patterning.   

“The Big Picture” recounts the history of physics and how human understanding has evolved over the centuries.  Carroll explains how past discoveries based on science have evolved.  Newton lived in the same world as Einstein.  Both discovered fundamental truths about “The Big Picture”. 

Newton’s laws apply to earth’s realm.  Einstein’s laws apply to the universe.  Both are correct within their spheres.  Carroll notes neither Newton nor Einstein contradict the laws of physics, but their laws are confined by the earth or universe in which they are proven. 

Carroll believes all essential particles of the atom have been discovered.  This reminds one of the scientists in the late 19th century who said, “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes”. 

It is difficult not to enjoy Carroll’s way with words but with the unexplained essence of gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, it seems premature to suggest no new particle discoveries will change our view of the world and their impact on reality. 

CARROLL AND FEYNMAN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Something Deeply Hidden (Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime

By: Sean Carroll

Narrated by Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist.  He explains the science of physics to the general public with unusual clarity for non-scientists.  “Something Deeply Hidden” explains a theory that has the potential for explaining everything about everything.

Carroll touches on the theoretical history of Quantum Mechanics.  He notes the fundamental objection to Quantum Mechanics raised by Einstein and his followers.

Einstein insists that Quantum Mechanics is an incomplete theory of space, time, and motion.  Einstein’s famous quote is “God does not play dice with the universe.”  Carroll agrees. 

Neither Einstein or Carroll are talking about belief in God but belief that there is a deeply hidden secret in Quantum Mechanics that may explain everything about everything.

Carroll recalls the history of the 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference where quantum theory was discussed by the world’s most notable physicists. 

The confrontation between Niels Bohr and Einstein results in agreement on the truth of Quantum Mechanics as a construct for calculation of space, time, and motion in the sub-atomic world.  The disagreement comes with Bohr’s opinions about Quantum Mechanics.  Einstein suggests Quantum Mechanics is an incomplete description of subatomic unpredictability. 

Carroll explains that Quantum Mechanics has been reinforced as true by every experiment tried since its discovery.  It fulfills Karl Popper’s dictum that a theory of anything must be falsifiable to be called science. 

The many experiments on Quantum Mechanics have proven its validity as a theory of time, space, and motion in the sub-atomic world. 

However, Quantum Mechanics remain a subject that Richard Feynman said no one can clearly explain or understand. 

Carroll accepts Feynman’s and Einstein’s views.  The theory of Quantum Mechanics is not explainable and (as Einstein suggested) it may simply be an incomplete theory.

Carroll suggests Quantum Mechanics remains unexplainable because of human inability to observe its truth from what is called a superposition.  We cannot look at Quantum Mechanics outside the realm of personal cognition.

His answer is to acknowledge its truth by adhering to the Schrodinger equation which insists that a cat in a box is both dead and alive.  Carroll argues that scientists waste their time challenging Schrodinger’s equation.  Carroll suggests the cat in the box is both dead (actually Carroll prefers asleep) and alive.

Carroll argues that probability is an essential ingredient of Quantum Mechanics but he explains it is not the “probability” often understood by the public.  Carroll’s view of probability is in knowing our human limitation of not being able to look at nature outside of what we understand as nature.

Humans cannot be in a superposition to see the effect of Quantum Mechanics because humans are trapped in their own sense of space, time, and motion.  Probability, rather than certainty, is a function of a personal observation trap.

What Carroll suggests is other worlds are created because of the nature of Quantum Fields that are the essence of everything that exists in the universe.

Carroll explains particle physics were once considered the holy grail of understanding nature.  Now, there is wide recognition that fields; not particles, are the building blocks of nature.  Every particle vibrates like a string and emits a wave that permeates all space; including a vacuum where no particles exist. 

Empty space is simply a low state of energy with no extant particles within its emptiness (aka a vacuum).  It is not to suggest particles are not important.  They are the source of the waves that permeate space. 

Finding the Higgs-bosun is confirmation of the importance of particles in showing that it is undiscovered glue that holds atoms together.

Carroll’s books are excellent physics primers for non-scientists because they reduce science complexity to understandable examples; at least most of the time.  (Space-time remains a mystery to me; even with Carroll’s valiant effort to explain it.) He may not be right about everything he explains, and a listener/readers’ interpretation of his writing may be wrong, but Carroll’s explanations are fascinating. 

Feynman is said to have had the ability to explain the complexity of physics to the non-scientist. Carroll is today’s Feynman.  

CHEMISTRY OF LIFE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Great Courses Lecture Series

Chemistry and Our Universe

Presented by Ron B. Davis Jr., Ph.D. Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry Georgetown University

Ron B. Davis Jr. ( Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry Georgetown University)

Professor Davis’s lectures successfully interest a layman in the field of chemistry.  However, this is not a simple introduction to chemistry.

Davis’s lectures are well done.  Davis provides a lot of information with a summary of what has been said at the end of each lecture.  His lectures offer interesting facts about chemistry, the world’s origin; its survival, and hopeful continuation.  Where it loses some of its utility for a non-chemist is in calculations for chemical reaction, equilibration, and energy expenditure.  Not that these calculations are not important, but they become too detailed for the merely curious.

At best, Davis’s lectures will spark a dilettante’s interest; at worst, they will lead a non-chemist to look elsewhere for easier understanding of the subject.

In his first 6 lectures, Davis breaks the science of chemistry into its most elementary particles. 

The role of atoms in chemistry is explained at the sub-atomic level of neutrons, protons, and energy producing electrons.

On the 7th lecture, Davis notes the fascinating history and utility of the periodic table.  As of 2002, the known elements on the periodic table come to 118. Over 90 of those elements are naturally occurring.  They are organized in the periodic table by number of protons (atomic number) in each nucleus with hydrogen being first (no. 1) and oganesson (a synthetic chemical) being the last (no. 118).

Davis explains the importance of the periodic table by their grouping.  The groups are vertically and horizontally organized with each family of atoms beginning in a line from left to right and in columns from top to bottom.

The horizontal line reflects one of seven periods. Each atom in these periods has the same number of electron shells (aka orbitals) constituting the same energy level.  To a degree, the horizontal rows share the same chemical characteristics. 

The vertical rows begin with hydrogen and are generally classified as groups.  The first group is classified as Alkali metals.  The far right which is row 18 are called noble gasses; beginning with hydrogen. 

Elements in the same family (the vertical row) have the same electron configuration in their outer shell.  A shell is what is called a valence shell, an orbiting electron around a nucleus.  Elements in the same family tend to have a shared chemistry. 

Davis notes that the vertical orientation of the periodic table indicates electrons get farther from the nucleus as you go down the table.  The effect is to lower ionization energy as you go down the group; making electrons more easily released to other atoms.  However, Davis notes this is not an iron clad rule; i.e. there are exceptions. 

The next several lectures deal with chemical reactions, formations, and randomness and how they can be calculated.  You enter the realm of chemistry mathematics.  This is where listening for some of us meets ignorance, and understanding escapes.

Energy generation reawakens a listener’s interest.  Davis explores the history of nuclear fission and fusion. 

He explains the great promise and threat of Einstein’s insight to the equivalence of energy and mass.  Fission leads to the destructive force of atomic bombs during WWII. 

Nagasaki and Hiroshima show what uncontrolled fission can do in time of war.

Fukushima shows what uncontrolled fission can do in time of peace.

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were uncontrolled fission events that destroyed buildings and contaminated the environment. To date, fission has been found to be a viable source of energy but admittedly dangerous, and in disasters, highly polluting.

The principle of nuclear fusion may be the solution for a non-polluting, less dangerous, supply of energy.

However, fusion has not been achieved because of the high energy demand (heat) required to compel atoms to fuse.  Only the heat of the sun has successfully produced fusion. The hope is that a method of cold fusion will be discovered.  The fundamental point made by Davis is that the production of nuclear energy is all chemistry.

In the next lectures, Davis addresses polymers, medicinal chemistry, poisons, chemical weapons, fuels, and explosives. 

Davis explains why trees grow to be over a hundred feet tall while not being overturned by weather.  It is largely due to cellulose which is one of the longest polymers in nature.

Davis notes DNA is one of the most complex of the natural polymers in chemistry. DNA contains all of the characteristics of carbon-based life forms.

He also notes chemistry is used to directly attack or fool human cancers that invade human DNA.  These compounds have the potential for curing cancer.

Poisons are next.  Davis notes that poisons have been around since the beginning of recorded history.  He explains there are three classifications for this category of chemicals; e.g. poisons, toxins, and venoms.

Poisons are substances that cause death, injury, or harm at a molecular level.  The key to their effect is dosage.  Toxins are substances produced within living cells that are contracted by touching or ingesting plants, or by contact with animals carrying microorganisms that cause disease. Davis explains venoms are secretions produced by animal’ or insect’ predators for defense or predation.

Fuels are lightly touched on by Davis with an examination of the discovery of fire; beginning with wood and progressing through other carbon-based materials. 

Davis notes the evolution of coal, oil, and plant-based derivatives that produce fuel for industry and automobiles.  He delves into the consequence of pollution in using these fuels, and their threat to humanity.  He touches on global warming and its ecological consequence.

War is noted as impetus for the weaponization of chemicals, and explosives.  A listener is introduced to Fritz Haber, a Jewish German genius that introduced chlorine gas (phosgene) to WWI.  Haber became known as the father of chemical warfare. 

Chemical warfare in Syria

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist invented and patented dynamite. However, Davis notes high explosives were first discovered by Christian Schonbein in 1846. Schonbein’s discovery, like many chemical discoveries noted by Davis, is accidentally found when Schonbein spills hydrochloric acid in his lab and wipes it up with cloth apron.  He puts the apron next to a stove to dry it out and it bursts into flame.

Alfred Nobel (Swedish chemist who invented dynamite and plastic explosives.)

Gunpowder cotton is discovered with Schonbein’s accident.  The problem is that gunpowder cotton was too volatile.  It is left to Nobel to come up with a stabilizing compound for gunpowder cotton to create sticks of dynamite.  Nobel invents an igniter fuse to start the explosive potential of dynamite. Further discovery by Nobel leads to nitroglycerin and plastic explosives in the late 19th century.

Davis ends his lectures with the chemistry of earth.  He notes how life may have begun with chemical building blocks introduced to earth from fragments of meteorites.  Meteorites are created from exploding stars.    Where water exists, he argues organic life is possible. Davis concludes–human exploration of the Universe holds hope for the future.

Davis speculates that there could very well be a habitable planet that has the same characteristics as early earth.  He suggests, with the building blocks of life coming from meteorites, only water needs to be added to create and sustain life.

Earth’s Rock and Roll

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

How the Earth Works

By: Professor Michael E. Wysession

Narrated by Professor Wysession

Michael Wysession (Lecturer, Professor of Earth and Plaentary Science at Washington University in St. Louis).

Professor Michael Wysession believes the origin of earth began with the “The Big Bang”.  He explains how earth is in constant motion. Wysession implies “The Big Bang” reverberates today as evidence of its truth.

Most know some of the story of earth’s creation, destruction, and re-creation, but few know everything Wysession reveals.  Yes, the world was once one large land mass amid a body of water that covered the earth.  This land mass broke apart to become seven continents.  What is surprising to some is that this singular land mass called Pangaea is only one of several land masses in earth’s history.

A precursor to Pangaea is Rodinia which is believed to have formed 1.3 to 1.23 billion years ago. Another singular land mass is Pannotia assembled 600 million years ago.

Rodinia (A super-continent long before Pangaea).

There were several super-continents before Pangaea.  Each iteration of a singular land mass evolved over millions of years based on moving plate combinations and re-combinations. Wysession goes on to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics.   

Contrary to the myth of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” there is no space at earth’s center.  The center of earth is solid iron; surrounded by a molten nickel-iron alloy.  Though the center of the earth is solid, it has movement but not like that experienced in the lithosphere. 

Despite the great heat at earth’s center, its center is iron that is not liquefied.  The geometric pressure of Earth’s interior overcomes lead’s liquefaction at its core 

Wysession explains that geologists have found several (more than seven and less than twenty-four) plates that float within a layer of earth called the lithosphere.  The lithosphere consists of the crust and upper mantle of earth.  This crust and upper mantle cover a solid core made of iron that is super-heated by radioactivity. 

Wysession notes the core of earth moves with pressures exerted by changes in the lithosphere.  Plate Tectonics affect earth’s molten nickel-iron alloy and its solid core.  Earth is always in a state of motion; often imperceptible to the eye but always moving.

Wysession explains how everything on earth moves but at different speeds.  Even the hardest and largest rocks move over time.

Wind can be a tornado or a breeze.  Water can be a gentle rain or a tsunami.  Rocks erode over centuries of wind and rain, but instantly break in avalanches.  Humans may think they are standing still, but the earth constantly moves in a circle and hurdles deeper into the universe as a small part of a galaxy.  Nothing on earth is at rest.

Wysession notes how apocryphal stories in the bible may be founded on the truth of earth’s history.  The threat of subduction in a tectonic plate could explain the legend of Atlantis or the parting of the “Red Sea” in the time of Moses. 

Wysession notes there are three types of faults that cause earthquakes.  There is a divergent fault, a convergent fault, and a transform fault.  The first is one that has two plates the move away from each other with molten rock plugging the gap.  The second is when two plates collide but one rushes beneath another, or if equal in size, create a mountain at the collision point.  The third is like the San Adreas Fault in California where tectonic plates rub against each other.

Wysession notes any plate movement can be disastrous and kill many people, but a transform fault shakes the earth while a convergent fault makes land disappear (subduct) or rise like a mountain.

A frightening observation by Wysession is the difference between the tectonic faults in the La-San Francisco corridor and Seattle, Washington. 

Both are at risk of earthquakes, but Seattle’s plate tectonics are convergent faults while San Franciso/LA’s are transform faults. 

Wysession’s observation on the difference in these faults suggests the geological change in Seattle from an earthquake will be much greater than in the LA-San Francisco area. Deaths will be equally catastrophic but the change in topography will be geometrically greater in Seattle.

Wysession continues with a detailed lecture on volcanic eruptions.

Anyone who lived in Washington when Mt. St. Helens erupted will confirm Wysession’s explanation of volcanic events.  Living in eastern Washington when that eruption occurred makes one fully appreciate Wysession’s lecture. Over 200 miles from the eruption, a beautiful summer day turns into night. (It was like a biblical event.)

You cannot see a hand in front of your face in a few hours after St. Helen’s eruption.  Cars are covered in fine flakes of ash.  Everyone with any sense stays indoors because unfiltered air is unbreathable.

There seems a surprise in every Wysession’ lecture. Things we did not know or fully appreciate are pointed out. There is the incredible power in earth’s weakest force, better known as gravity, that creates and destroys the universe.

We see the deterioration of monuments of granite from centuries of weathering and the force of gravity. Rocks fall down, the face of the earth changes, deserts are formed, and jungles evolve. But, we fail to comprehend the eternal change of our world because of geological time frames, and our short lived lives.

Today we worry about destruction of forests in Brazil because of the loss of carbon dioxide eating trees. We fail to realize the largest desert in the world is Antarctica, and jungles of the rain forest do not have enough organic material in their soil to grow food to sustain life. We underestimate the critical impact of a dwindling potable water supply.

The last chapters of Wysession’s lectures deal with climate change and the impact of geological change on the history of humankind.

Like many science specialists, Wysession’s claim that a principle cause of revolutions and other world events is closely related to geological events. It is a somewhat plausible argument but it fails to recognize the political will of those who are discontented with the status quo

Wysession assesses the worlds use of energy and concludes alternative energy sources will replace carbon based pollutants. He suggests harnessing the geological sources of natural energy like the sun, wind, and ocean currents. They offer plausible replacements for the earth’s dwindling supplies of coal, oil, and gas. However, Wysession thinks in geological time and believes humans have the capacity to innovate their way out of a sixth extinction. One hopes Wysession is right, but what if he is not?

One tends to be skeptical when leaders can arbitrarily change the momentum of environmental change.

There is a great deal more in this 24 hour and 31-minute lecture series.  On the one hand it is revelatory; on the other, it reinforces a belief that human life’s continuation is a chance as much as a choice.

MAD SCIENCE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Island of Dr. Moreau

By H.G.Wells

Narrated by: Simon Prebble

H. G. Wells (English Author, 1866-1946)

The Island of Dr. Moreau is an apocryphal story; i.e. it raises many human’ issues—like morality, ethics, meaning of life, and the boundaries of civilization. 

The original story is mired in 1896’ science but the story remains relevant for 21st century cloning and genetic manipulation.  Wells envisions a brilliant physiologist who finds a way to meld the physiological characteristics of man with beast.  This extraordinary feat is not technically revealed which diminishes the sense of suspended belief but the idea opens a Pandora’s Box of evil that is only mitigated by hope.

Dr. Moreau’s demented intent is to civilize the animal kingdom by creating “humanimals” that offer opportunity for animals to talk and resist thoughtless instinctive actions.  The idea is crazy on many levels–not the least of which is the evil that lurks in human’ minds that compel equally animalistic instinctive actions; but, Wells tells an apocryphal and believable story about science run amok.

In the 21st century, science advances to the point of cloning and creating an identical living animal.  “Dolly”, the sheep is cloned in 1996.  Science is on the edge of creating new life forms, if not human copies.  The only obstacle appears to be politics; political resistance to the idea of creating life in a test tube. 

Dolly (Born in 1996, dies in 2003 from lung disease and severe arthritis. Her 6 year life span compares unfavorably with the 10 to 12 years of most sheep.)

Political resistance to cloning is weakening as evidenced by the first clone of a man’s leg cell and a cow egg in 1998.  The embryo is destroyed after 12 days but a level of viability is proven.  (Coincidentally, Wells includes a bovine human in The Island of Dr. Moreau.)

In 2008, a biotechnology company created five mature human embryos from the nucleus of skin cells planted into a human egg.  The embryos are allowed to mature to a viable inner cell mass called a blastocyst which is an early structure of mammals.  They were destroyed at that stage but the experiment shows viability at a later stage of human cloning than in 1998.  In 2013, scientists successfully cloned adult human cells.

It is possible to create duplicates of living animals, and human’ cells; add to that the potential of modifying genetic material–a feat achieved, but politically reviled by most scientists and the general public.  For science, “humanimals” seem a viable and potential human creation.

“Humanimals” is a mad-scientist idea.  The seductive interest in this science is that cloning and genetic modification offer opportunities for regeneration of damaged nerve cells, medical cures, organ and limb replacements; etc.  Fear accompanies this avenue of research because the “thrill of discovery” seduces scientists’ into pursuit of knowledge without philosophical, moral, or ethical consideration of consequence. 

Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, uses CRSPR to modify the human genome in 2018. On December 30, 2019 He is sentenced to 3 years in prison for “illegal medical practice”.

A host of moral and philosophical conflicts are raised as science advances toward the creation of life.  When does life become life and what right does a living human being have to end or create life?  One might answer–society already has laws which allow life to end life; so why not create laws that allow creation of life.  There lays the restraining influence of politics; i.e. not all agree with life taking life, right to choose life, right to choose death; so on and so on. 

Politics mitigate the consequence of mad science. However, money, power, and prestige motivate the good and bad of humankind.

Growth of skin cells save a 7 year-old’s life by replacing 60 percent of skin loss from disease in 2015.

Doctor De Luca cultures skin cells from a portion of the boy’s body that is not diseased.

Ray Kurzweil suggests the future of human beings will involve a merger of human’ DNA and micro-technology.   The Island of Dr. Moreau may be re-titled “The Island of Dr. Anonymous” with island earth populated by “humanimals” and “humotics”. 

Like Well’s hero, Edward Prendick, surviving humans may have to leave island earth if they want to remain “only” human.  The fable of Pandora explains that “hope” is the politics of the possible. It may be all that is left at the bottom of the box.