Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Last night I just saw an early premiere of the new Man of Tomorrow movie. For those of you who know me you all know that I have been anticipating this movie since as far as I can remember. Superman and Batman are endearing embelms of American culture and values to me. I found a connection with both of these iconic characters and their corpus of mythology. Superman represents all that is good and amazing about ourselves. A god amidst mortals who deeply desires to be one of the mortals but cannot. Who desires to be normal but isnt and who does good just to do good. Not out of some sense of duty, not to right a previous wrong, not to balance the scales or take revenge. He simply does it because he is good. He will always make the right choice and help others. Hence he is called a boy scout and many people find him boring because of that. I don't. I think I have imbibed in many of his values into my life. He represents integrity and time honored values of honesty, truth and compassion. Things I think that are sometimes thrown to the wayside by many of us in pursuit of our own joy and happiness.

The new movie attempts to bring Superman into the new age of gray that we live in. Without giving away plot details, Singer manages to capture a lingering feeling from the first two superman movies and present an entirely unique and evolved Superman. The first two Superman movies highlighted Superman's duality between Clark Kent and Superman. This movie is more about Superman than Clark. It is Superman's return and his place as the savior of the world. Superman protects people from physical harm and inspires them to look up to the skies. The special effects are astounding in this movie but I think for me they took a back seat to seeing the Man of Steel grace the screen and continue the story which had me wearing tights and capes all through my childhood, jumping off the stairs and standing in front of a fan so that the cape will flutter behind me like i've seen so many times. The Superman theme song still gives me goosebumps. Singer gives us a more divine Superman, a Superman who bears the burden of being super and knows it but nonetheless accepts it because this is who he is.

Superman has been made into something larger than life by Christopher Reeve who in the last decade of his life became Superman in more than just name. He used his fame and influence to try and fight for research to combat paralysis. This movie was made in memory of Christopher Reeve and his wife Diana Reeve. It is a fitting tribute.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Stem Cells and Motor Function

A recent study conducted by Douglas Kerr presents more evidence with the growing mountain of data as to why stem cell research is vital and necessary. (link: Neurons from Stem Cells) The article basically reports that Kerr and his team developed stem cells until they became neural precursors. Before I go any further, I just want to explain what a stem cell is and why there is so much fervor over it. I'm not a scientist but I have a basic background in science and read a few books on it, so if I make any mistakes just correct me. Stem cells are cells that are essentially undivided and undifferentiated, meaning that they haven't "decided" what type of cell they will end up becoming. Usually stem cells are taken from either the placenta or umbilical cord after birth or they are taken from an recently fertilized embroyo with around 50 to 150 cells already divided. These cells can then be therapeutically cloned so as to produce more stem cells and thereby have a chain of cells which are a genetic match of the donor organism. In short this process of cloning involves removing the nucleus of an egg and then replacing that nucleus with DNA from another organism. The egg will then be cultivated with the new DNA and begin to divide as if fertilized. After a week or so the cells are now now as totipotent stem cells as they can become ANY type of cell. As they divide and begin to become more differentiated they can be used for limited purposes. That is a very rudimentary overview of stem cells and at this stage it is about as much as I know, hopefully I'll read some more on it and gain a larger body of knowledge.

So in this study, Kerr took the eggs of a rat and cultivated them using the above method until they developed into neural precursors, which basically means cells that haven't developed into specific nerve cells or neurons. Kerr developed about 60,000 of these cells and injected them into the spinal column of paralyzed rats. These precursors developed into motor neurons and develop more based on the types of chemicals that they interact with. Essentially what occurred is that these cells, reformed the a few nerve connections in the spinal cord. These reformed connections even though only 1% gave the paralyzed rats partial recovery and movement. Consider the impact, now there is a possibility that paralyzed people might be able to move and regain control over their bodies. To put it into perspective, this was only done on rats cells and haven't been attempted on human cells yet. Next time, I'll discuss the controversy revolving around the stem cell debate.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Logic and Rationality, Part 1

Its been a while since I've last posted and a lot has happened which has been food for thought. So let me start with this topic. I've been reading a lot of political polemics and debates. These people love to use the term logical or rational in almost every argument. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that many of the people engaging in polemics are lawyers and as such they love to use the term logic or rational to buttress their arguments. The sad part is that they don't know what logic really means. Usually, the term logic or rational as used in these types of argument refers to simple inferences. So the question arises what is logic and rational?

Logic is simply a method of reasoning but there are three types of logic: deduction, induction and abduction. Deduction is deriving the conclusions from the premises. Here is an example:

Premise A: All men are evil
Premise B: Plato is a man
Conclusion: Plato is evil

Its a simple syllogism of three steps. The conclusion is necessary from the premises, in other words, there is no new knowledge gained in the process. The statement itself can be perfectally valid, meaning if you don't assume the existence of anything outside of the statement. The problem occurs at the empirical level, the statement might not be true when applied to the real world. Like above, not all men are evil so the conclusion is not necessary because Plato might or might not be evil. In other words, deductive logic doesn't fully work in the real world but makes for a powerful tool in philosophical discussion and speculation.

Induction is deriving the conclusion from the most probable facts. For example:

Premise A: Where there is smoke there is fire
Example: Like in the kitchen
Counter Example: Unlike in the water
Observation: There is smoke on the hill
Conclusion: There is fire

Induction is a system of reasoning based on what is observed and what will most probably be the conclusion. The five step syllogism above comes to the conclusion based on observable and knowable situations. If there are situations where there is smoke but no fire the conclusion will not be absolute but might still be valid. In otherwords, the validity of the conclusion is not entirely based on the internal validity of the statement but with external validity found in the real world. While in deductive logic the premises must lead to the conclusion, in inductive logic the premises coupled with our intuition will most probably lead the conclusion. Inductive logic is the logic of probabilities. It is used by scientists to show the most probable conclusion.

The final system of logic is Abduction. Abduction begins with an hypothesis then works backward to find the if the hypothesis is correct. It is the method of reasoning used by scientists and researchers. For example:

Facts: If i throw something up it will come down
Hypothesis: There is an force which pulls objects towards each other


Facts: Human beings possess 98% genetic similarity to chimps
Hypothesis: Human beings over a period of time evolved away from chimps

Basically both those hypothesis are not more or less valid, from a strictly logical necessity prespective, from an idea that God does all the gravity or created us to be related to chimps. Essentially, Abduction is an attempt to develop a rationale for the facts, in fact Abduction does not possess any real logical validity. Induction is probabilities and deduction is internal structural necessity.

So what is rational? Rational has less to do with deductive logic and more to do with common sense based on the wealth of knowledge availible to us. For example, 3000 years ago it was rational to believe that lightning and thunder was rained down by Zeus or the rumbling volcano are the mighty Titans of myth trying to break out of the chains that have them bound in Tartarus. This is not the case if we apply the same explanations nowadays, we would consider such thoughts or ideas from individuals in our time and from big cities to be irrational based on ignorance. Such thoughts can be logical on the otherhand as long we set up the syllogism appropriately such as:
1. All thunder and lightning is caused by Zeus
2. there is thunder and lightning in Florida
con: The lightning and thunder in florida is caused by Zeus

The statement is logical but utterly irrational. Just something to think about next time we try and use logic and rationality in our arguments.