18 May

Mindmap: McKnight Score Card: A Tool for Resilient First Two Years

Whenever I come up with a new business idea, I use McKnight’s Score Card to tweak it. It is an amazing tool to identify potential pitfalls and bottle necks right at the gate, and morph the original idea into something much more water tight. It gives me an amazingly resilient first two years, which make a huge difference.

Read More

28 Oct

Detoxing Pathways to be Prepared before Starting Weight Loss

toxic chemicals

Weight loss releases the toxins locked in your body. Before starting a weight loss program, it is important to open up your detoxing channels.

Body stores harmful chemicals and heavy metals in the space between cells (extra cellular matrix) and inside the cells, including fat cells. Losing weight releases the toxic muck from the fat cells and the extra-cellular matrix. Your liver must break these toxins down, convert them into harmless forms and send them out of the body through intestine, kidneys and skin.

This flow chart shows the weight-loss related detoxing process:

Detoxing Pathways

Your Personal Toxic Load

The more toxins you expect to handle during weight loss, the more mindful you should be about opening your detoxing channels “before” you start the weight loss program:

  • The faster you lose weight (e.g. bariatric surgery, fasting, VLCD), the more toxins your body will have to handle.
  • The older you are, more will be the accumulated toxins.
  • Also, if you live in a large city, eat processed food, exposed to toxins at work (which could be as benign as the carpet and furniture in your office), your toxic load is likely to be higher.

When the amount of toxins released by the body during weight loss is more than what the detoxing channels can handle, the toxins will get reabsorbed in to the body (lesser evil) or damage the organs involved in detox. The damages remain undetectable for years, if not decades. So, hardly anyone is even aware of this.

Opening up the Detoxing Pathways

Use the flowchart (above) as a guideline. Start with the components at the bottom of the flowchart and work upward.

Opening up the Skin

Anything the encourages perspiration is going to open up your skin. Here are two options available to you:

  • Sauna. If you can access a far infrared sauna, it is better.
  • Exercise

Of course, you should also drink plenty of water.

Supporting the Urinary Pathway

Take the following supplements to ensure the health of your kidneys while detoxifying:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Lipoic Acid
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

And don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Evacuating the Large Intestines

Liver breaks down the toxins released into the blood stream, push them into the intestine through bile ducts. The toxins reach the intestine, mixed with the bile. At the intestine, you will have to ensure the toxins move out of the body as quickly as possible.

Supplement with Binding Agents

Supplement yourself with food grade

  • Bentonite clay
  • Charcoal and

These are known to bind the toxins using different mechanism and move them through the gut. With bentonite clay, if you over do the dosage, you will end up with constipation.

Improve Gut Lumen and Reduce Gut Poroticy

Supplementing with the following improve the quality of your intestinal wall

  • Prebiotic foods (fiber, fermented food, etc.)
  • Probiotics (prescription strength)
  • Glutathione
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B5

Administer Daily Enema

Daily colon cleanse with plain water enema vacates the contents of the colon, with metabolized toxins in it, faster. If you are new to self-administering enema, get help from someone in the know. Also:

  • Make sure that you use pure water (boiled and cooled, at room temperature). Your body doesn’t have any protection against pathogens that may be present in enema fluid.
  • Anything that goes into colon gets absorbed into the body. So, be careful to avoid stuff in the enema fluid that will add to your toxic load.

Don’t Eat these

While you are under detox program, take care not to eat the following:

  • Don’t eat celentra as it makes you reabsorb mercury into your body

Supporting the Liver

When the toxins from your tissues get demobilized, they reach the liver. In the liver, the toxins are broken down and flushed out. This happens in a 2 step process. You will have to support both the detox phases.

Supporting the Phase-2 Liver Detox

Phase-1 detox process breaks down the toxins to highly reactive chemicals. Phase-2 takes them and converts (conjugates) into less harmful molecules and gets them ready to be flushed out. So, before the Phase-1 activity starts, it is important to ensure that your Phase-2 detox is ship shape.

Supporting the Phase-2 detaox is super-important. Consider this: Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy should detox the drugs in their liver. Cancer studies show that many chemo patients who do not receive sufficient Phase-2 support end up developing more secondary cancer!

You will need the following to support your Phase-2 detoxification:

  • Minerals
    • Zinc
    • Selenium
    • Magnesium
  • Amino acid replacement, especially sulfur-containing amino acids
  • Flavonoids
    • Ellagic acid
    • Green tea catechins
  • Glucosinolates
    • Cruciferous vegetables
    • Onions
    • Garlic
  • Monoterpenes
    • Citrus peel
    • Cherries
  • Silymarin (milk thistle)
  • ALA
  • NAC
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
  • Glycine
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Malic acid
  • Calcium D-glucarate

It is a big list and you don’t need everything in it. Regarding what to take and how much to take, seek help from an expert/physician who is in the know.

Supporting the Phase-1 Liver Detox

This is where the entire detoxing starts. To support the Phase-1 detoxification, you will need the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin Bs
    • Riboflavin (B-2)
    • Pyridoxine (B-6)
    • Methyl B-12
    • Niacin (B-3)
    • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
  • Branched chain amino acids
  • Glutathione
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
  • Carotenoids
    • Beta-carotene
    • Lycopene
    • Lutein
  •  Bioflavonoids
    • Beets
    • Berries
    • Grapes (anthocyanadins)
    • Pomegranate
    • Strawberries
    • Raspberries
  • Walnuts (ellagic acid)
  • Omega 3 fish oils
  • Green tea catechins (polyphenols)
  • Fruit and vegetable skin (quercetin)

Again, this is  a big list. You don’t have to eat everything. Take help from an expert who is in the know.

Overall Health Status

Phase-1 and Phase-2 detoxing are metabolically expensive processes. So, before they start, it is important to ensure that the patient is healthy enough to handle them.

Detoxing Other Tissues

While losing weight, large amount of toxins from extra cellular matrix and fat cells move out. Since you are preparing your detox pathways to handle the toxins, why not use this opportunity to mobilize rest of the toxins out of the body too?

Detoxing the Lymphatic System

Lymph nodes act as a reservoir of biological toxins. To make the lymph nodes to release the storage of its toxins, you will have to do one of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Lymphatic massage
  • Ayurvedic massage
  • Dry-brush massage
  • Far Infrared Sauna

None of them is guaranteed to produce complete results. So, you will have to stack them up.

Chealation: Mobilizing Remaining Toxins out of Tissue

Chealation is as process wherein the heavy metal toxins are bounded with chealating agents (like EDTA) and flushed out of the body. This can be used to remove toxins from non-fat tissues. The most popular method of chealation is to administer the chealating agent intravenously.

Chealation also flushes out useful minerals from the body. So, anyone who goes on chealation must adequately supplement with helpful minerals.

Related Links

Proper detoxing is also important for patient with chronic diseases including

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardio Vascular Diseases
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s
  • Autoimmune diseases and more.

Of course, the specifics of detoxing protocol is tweaked based on the disease being handled.

Feedback?

Do you have a feedback or need additional information? Please leave a comment.

26 Oct

Best Cancer Prevention Science can Offer (2017)

Preventing cancer from growing

Breakthrough understandings of cancer that have come about over the last few years have substantially improved the survival of cancer patients. Many people are already out-living their cancer. Using these latest understandings, here are a few things you can do to escape cancer.

TLDR: It is harmless when it is tiny. And you can keep it that way.

Tim Ferris, the author of 4 NYT best sellers (starting with 4 Hour Work Week), by the time we are 40, we have a 40% chance of having a micro cancer growth in our body. By the time we are 70, that probability increases to 100% (here). If you are insulin resistant (most over-weight/obese, all pre-diabetic/diabetic), that probability increases.

Fortunately, all adult cancers take anywhere between 5 to 40 years to grow and break out. While cancer is dormant, you can do several things to stop the cells from multiplying and growing. As long as you are able to keep the cancer cells from growing and breaking out, even if you already have microscopic cancers in your body, you don’t have to worry about it at all.

Other than stunting their growth, you can also do a few things to stop the cancer cells from forming or kill some of the cancer cells that have already formed.

Cancer and Anti-Cancer

Each cell in our body has thousands of tiny objects floating inside them called mitochondria. Mitochondria does the respiration in the cells. Meaning, they taken in oxygen, use it to burn the energy molecules from the food we eat and produce energy. This energy is used by the cells to sustain themselves (this post).

Mitochondria also seem to have a say on the integrity of our genes. When the mitochondria are damaged, the DNA material in our genes gets wrongly coded. To make things worse, damaged mitochondria also prevent the DNA damaged cells from programmed cell death. When the mitochondria is damaged, cells with damaged DNA flourish. One or more of these cells turn into cancer.

So, protect the mitochondria from getting damaged is important.

Environmental pollution can damage your mitochondria

» Eat organic/grass-fed, no GMO (until proven otherwise), keep off food additives and pollutants

Heavy metals and toxins can damage your mitochondria

» No hair die (cadmium), no tuna (mercury), no mercury amalgam, avoid plastics (innumerable toxins) as much as possible...

Poor blood circulation can damage your mitochondria by reducing the supply of oxygen

» Exercise, stay lean. Get hyperbaric oxygen administration once in a while

Cell are stuffed with too much of energy packets (glucose/fat)

» Ensure insulin sensitivity (HOMA-IR = 1); keeping body fat percentage to around 16% will get you there

Free radicals, which are byproducts of regular metabolic activities, can damage the mitochondria

» Use good quality anti-oxidants, eat non-starchy, multi-colored, fresh vegetables, drink black coffee

Nutritional inadequacy can damage the mitochondria/DNA

» Ensure optimal nutritional profile (needs medical supervision). Particularly
- Argenine
- Coenzyme Q10
- Curcumin
- Fiber
- Glutathione/NAC
- Indol 3 carbinol
- Melatonin
- Omega 3
- Quercetin
- Resveratrol
- Selenium
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E
- Zinc

Chronic infections can damage your DNA

» Identify and treat chronic infections (needs medical supervision)

Cells with damaged mitochondria cannot energize themselves through oxygenation (i.e. aerobic route). These cells resort to using an ancient pathway to produce energy by fermenting glucose (mostly) and glutamine (an amino acid). Excess sugar in the blood feeds the cancer cells.

» Keep fasting blood sugar between 83mg/dL and 87mg/dL. That way, you won't have too much of blood sugar to feed your cancer cells, if any.

Keeping the blood sugar absolutely low for a few days kills many cancer cells.

» Once an year, for a week, go on water fast or calorie restricted ketogenic diet. Keeping the blood sugar between 50mg/dL and 65mg/dL for a week will kills most cancer cells (needs medical supervision)

If you do something else during this period to further weaken the cancer, it has added effects.

» High dose intravenous Vitamin C and high dose oral pancreatic enzymes both are known to destroy cancer cells (needs medical supervision)

Cancer hijacks body’s wound healing mechanism to grow and spread. For a healthy person, this is not a problem. However, for someone who is suffering from chronic inflammation (due to, for example, autoimmune diseases), this is a major issue.

» Keep the inflammation status of the body low by getting rid of autoimmune diseases and infections (needs medical supervision)

Most autoimmune diseases start in the gut, mainly due to poor balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut.

» Maintain gut microbiome balance (start here)

Cancer cells grows rapidly, though they are inefficient users of nutrition. So, cancer needs lots of blood supply to support their growth. Cancer does this by making new blood capillary to grow in its vicinity. This process is called angiogenisis. Without angiogenisis, cancer chokes and dies.

» To stop angiogenisis, drink three cups of green tea every day (soak the tea leaves for 8-10 minutes in hot water; drink within an hour).

When some of the hormones (particularly, the sex hormones) are not in the youthful levels, they can promote cancer growth.

» Balance your hormones. Ratio between the hormones is more important than the absolute numbers (needs medical supervision).

Many food items, including some vegetables and certain ways of food preparation are known carcinogens.

» Avoid carcinogenic food items. Eat cancer preventive foods.

Many food items are known to be cancer preventive. They contain anti-cancer nutrients, rich in antioxidants, etc.

» Eat anti-cancer foods wherever possible
- virgin cold-pressed olive oil without over-heating it
- turmeric with black pepper
- ginger
- garlic
- onion
- calciferous vegetables
- broccoli sprouts (excellent)
- colored non-starchy vegetables
- tomatoes (cooked in olive oil)
- soy
- mushrooms
- cooking herbs and spices
- berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries)
- stone fruits (plums, peaches)
- citrus fruits (oranges, lemon)
- pomegranate
- dark chocolate
- beetroot

Lastly, we have no clear evidence about mobile phones causing cancer. Though, many tentative evidences have been emerging from all over the world.

» But just to be safe, keep your mobile phone at about 3ft from your body (use a Bluetooth hands free device (v 4.1 or later) to speak into), particularly when you are in fast moving  vehicle or when the signal strength is poor.

Be wise. Wherever I suggested that you need medical supervision, get one. Diet, nutrition and hormones be managed within an optimal window. And the optimum varies from person to person. If you DIY these things, they may blow up and make things worse. What is “worser” is that when things go wrong, it may be so subtle that you may not even realize it.

Related Posts

Questions, suggestions? Leave a comment below.

 

24 Oct

Beginning of the End of Cancer

living after cancer

In the last post, I wrote about the beginning of the end of type-2 diabetes. Here is something even more sensational:

Science is beginning to understand cancer and…it is turning out to be a pussy!

Let me explain.

TLDR: calorie restricted ketogenic diet is a powerful anti-cancer tool

 

Cancer is not a genetic disease

First, some cell physiology. Let me use a hen’s egg as analogy to explain structure of the cells in your body:

  • Each cell has a membrane holding its contents (like an egg’s shell).
  • Everything inside the cell membrane is called the cytoplasm (like the white of the egg).
  • The liquid component of cytoplasm is cytosol.
  • Many pieces of cellular machinery float around in the cytosol.
  • The largest of the flotilla is called the nucleus of the cell (like the yellow of the egg).
  • The nucleus of the cell contains our genetic material (DNA, etc.).
Note: Cells come in many shapes, not just in an egg or a box shapes.

Here is a simplified block diagram of a cell.

Animal cell (block diagram)

You were told that cancer starts when our genes undergo damages (mutations), right? Well, that turns out to be wrong.

Take two cells, one normal and another cancerous, and interchange their nucliei:

normal and cancer cells

If cancer were a result of gene mutations, the cell that ends up with damaged nucleus should become cancerous, right? Surprise, surprise, the opposite happens!

cancer cell with normal nucleus

When you put the nucleus of a cancerous cell into a normal cytoplasm, the cell behaves normally. Whereas, when you put an undamaged nucleus into the cytoplasm of a cancer cell, it becomes cancerous. So…

something cytoplasm causes cancer; not the damages to the DNA!

For decades, the cancer treatment strategies were designed to go after the gene mutations. Looks like the culprit is sitting in the cytoplasm all along. No wonder cancer remained untreatable!

 

Cancer is a metabolic disease

Remember we mentioned earlier that many cellular machinery float in the cytosol? Among them are tiny structures (or organelles (ogranum = tool, organelle = tiny tool (no, not that))) called mitochondria (singular: mitochondrium).

mitochondria

Mitochondria are the power plants of the cells. Each cell has thousands of mitochondria. In a process called aerobic (using air, or oxygen) energy production, mitochondria generate energy for the cells to use.

Trivia: You get all your mitochondria from your mother. Sperms carry mitochondria in their tail. When a sperm enters an egg, the tail with mitochondria is left behind.

Billions of years ago, mitochondria were free roaming “animals” like bacteria. Then, the eukaryotic cells (which, we are made up of) captured the mitochondria and made bonded labors out of them. Eukaryotic cells feed and house mitochondria. In return, mitochondria produce fast and ample energy for the eukaryote using oxygen.

Before enslaving the mitochondria, eukaryotic cells used to produce energy through the slower process of fermenting glucose. This energy pathway doesn’t use oxygen. It is called an anaerobic (i.e. without air) pathway or glycolytic pathway.

Note: Cells can also anaerobically extract energy by fermenting an amino acid called glutamine. But we can ignore it for the time being.

When the mitochondria in a cell become damaged, they cannot produce energy using the aerobic pathway anymore. So, the cell start to fully depend on the ancient and slower fermentation route. Unfortunately, many of the gene mutations that are responsible for up regulating the fermentation pathways also play a part in:

  1. Mutation of cell DNA
  2. Evading programmed cell death (all our cells are programmed to commit suicide under certain circumstances), so damaged/mutated cells continues to live
  3. Encourage growth of new blood vessels (without sprouting new blood vessels, cancer cells cannot grow into a tumor larger than 0.2mm to 2mm)

So, DNA mutates, evade self-destruct program, encourages new blood vessels to bring it extra energy, resulting in a runaway cell multiplication. The cluster of such cells become a cancerous tumor.

Note: I have over simplified the mechanism of cancer here. But it works for our purpose.

 

Sensible Cancer Treatment Strategy

When our genes start mutating without oversight (since mitochondrial damage destroys many control systems in the cell), the mutations happen in thousands of ways. Attacking the genetic mutation in a cancer cell is like fighting the Hydra of Lerna. New mutations keep popping up faster than you can kill the old ones.

Fortunately, once you understand that cancer is a metabolic disease, a simpler and more elegant solution becomes available. We know that cancers seem to start with poor aerobic energy production, and that cancer cells rely on glucose as the primary source of energy! So…

if you keep the blood glucose levels in the range of 50-65mg/dL, cancer cells start dying out of hunger.

When the blood glucose goes this low, normal cells with functioning mitochondria can live on by producing energy through alternative means.

To keep the blood sugar levels continuously low, one must eat a lot of healthy fats (about 80% by calorie intake) and very little of proteins (15%) and carbs (5%). This type of diet is called a ketogenic diet.

 

Wait, there is more

Including the mitochondrial dysfunction, there are a total of 14 vulnerabilities in cancer’s armor:

  1. Help improve the gene reproductive integrity
  2. Fix the expression of the damaged DNA
  3. Inhibit abnormal signal transduction
  4. Inhibit abnormal transcription activity
  5. Normalize cell membrane potential
  6. Normalize mitochondrial function
  7. Encourage normal cell to cell communication
  8. Inhibit abnormal blood supply to cancer cells
  9. Inhibit spreading of cancer cells to distant parts of the body
  10. Support the immune system
  11. Maintain cellular detox mechanism
  12. Normalize cell suicide mechanisms
  13. Maintain gut function
  14. Normalize the cancer cells

We have seen how to exploit one of these 14 vulnerabilities, namely mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondrial dysfunction is perhaps the worst vulnerability the cancer cells suffer. But to beat cancer, you will have to attack every one of the 14 vulnerabilities.

Funny and incredible as it may sound, despite the billions we have been spending on drug discovery, we have no drugs to fight against any one of these 14 vulnerabilities. Nothing. Nada.

Fortunately there are robust, evidence based (yes, evidence based) diet and nutrition regimen that you can implement to support us with each of these 14 battles. If you go to war with cancer on all these 14 fronts, then…

cancer becomes just another chronic disease to be managed over long term. Like, say, diabetes!

Also, because these interventions are made up of diet and nutrition, they are non-toxic. Nutritional interventions even revitalize a cancer patient and make them stronger.

With nutritional management…

even the patients with the most aggressive form of cancer can live 2 to 5 more years than predicted.

If you buy few more years with nutritional therapy, new medical breakthrough may come along, adding more years. Also…

if you attack an easy-cancer using diet and nutrition, many patients may end up outliving their cancer!

 

How can I help?

Implementing a comprehensive anti-cancer protocol is super-cumbersome. If someone you know needs help with managing their disease, please get in touch with me either by leaving a comment (or sending me a message form the contact page, if you are concerned about privacy).

I will connect you with my friends who specialize in this area of medicine.

 

24 Jul

Beginning of the End of Type-2 Diabetes

The current protocol for treating Type-2 Diabetes is out dated on so many counts, it must be outlawed. Today, we have sufficient scientific understanding to reliably reverse diabetes.

Consider these:

  1. Onset of Type-2 diabetes can be predicted many years in advance. Some of these predictive methods are inexpensive.
  2. If you have Type-2 diabetes, insulin resistance in your body causes blood sugar levels to spike. Conventional treatment protocol tries to reduce the blood sugar spike (symptom). Very little is done about treating the insulin resistance (cause).
  3. A drug called Metformin is commonly used to reduce insulin resistance (but only by a small margin). It is toxic to your mitochondria. If you are diabetic, your mitochondria are already damaged.
  4. Most diabetic drugs whip up your already weak pancreas to produce more insulin. In the process, they destroy whatever insulin production capacity you have left behind.
  5. Insulin injections top up the insulin level in the blood, making the body even more insulin resistant.
  6. The 40 minute brisk walk that doctor ordered you is not good enough. Your diabetes needs something much more rigorous.
  7. Tracking Body Mass Index (BMI) is useless, particularly if you are a thin Type-2 diabetic. Instead, track percentage body fat (PBF).
  8. Diabetes seem to originate in your gut. But no one works on your gut to fix your diabetes.
  9. Many thin diabetics probably have Diabetes Type 1.5. Not Diabetes Type 2.
  10. Many micronutrients help in reducing your insulin resistance. Standard diabetes protocols rarely include a microneutrient treatment.
  11. Of all the conventional Type-2 diabetes protocol, this is the deadliest: Feeding you with high-carb-low-fat diet for a disease that was caused by consumption of carbohydrate.
  12. There is a surgery that can reliably reverse diabetes in many of you. For reasons that continue to baffle me, almost no one outside the medical community is aware of it.
  13. If you have diabetes, the earlier you get control of it the better. If you are going to be waiting for your doctor to tell you these things, you will run out of time.
  14. There are thing you can do to reverse at least some of the damages caused by diabetes to your body.

In a series of articles to follow, I am going to discuss these points in detail, and support my presentation with references.

As of 2017, we don’t fully understand insulin resistance. We don’t even know what causes it. But there is a torrent of new knowledge that can help us get control of it. Once you do that, you can keep your blood sugar levels at near normal levels and stop diabetes from killing you slowly. If you put a break on diabetes for a few years, new science will come along and help you reverse it for good.

19 Apr

Acid-Blockers Overkill

Acid-Reflux

The current treatment protocol for chronic acid-reflux is a crime. To understand why, you will have to first understand how this disease works.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Digestion 101

digestive-tractThe food you swallow travels through a vertical tube called esophagus. Esophagus takes the food into your stomach, where the stomach adds some acid and grinds the food. The acid helps to break down the food and extract nutrients.

After sufficient churning and grinding, the stomach pushes the food into small intestine. As the food travels down the small intestine, more digestion happens. After the food travels some distance in the small intestine, it is mixed with bile which comes from liver (and gall bladder). Bile emulsifies the fat we eat, like soap emulsifies oil, and helps us digest it. Since the bile is alkaline, it neutralizes the acid from the stomach.

In the small intestine, the food is also mixed with various digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas and nutrition extraction happens. After the small intestine is finished digesting the food, the food is moved into our large intestine.

Up until recently, we used to believe that large intestine is largely a waste-bin, holding the digested food till it is excreted. Now we know better. Bacteria living in the large intestine breaks down and eats up our left overs like the fiber that we eat. After the bacteria has done their job, even more energy energy is released (about 30% more) for us to extract from the food.

After the energy extraction, the remaining stuff, with whole lots of stomach bacteria, are stored to be excreted out of the body.

Diaphragm 101

Between our chest and the abdomen, there is a horizontal plane of muscle called the diaphragm. Lungs, heart and esophagus (food pipe) sit above the diaphragm. Stomach, intestines, gall bladder, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidney, urinary tract, etc., sit below the diaphragm.

Diaphragm makes our breathing possible. When we we breath in, the diaphragm moves downward, increasing the volume of our chest cavity. This increases the volume of the lungs, creating a negative pressure inside. Air flows into the lungs to fill it up, creating our in-breathing. When we breath out, the diaphragm moves up, squeezing the lungs and pushing the air out.

Acid Reflux 101

We just saw that the esophagus passes through the diaphragm to reach the stomach. Some of the diaphragm muscle fibers wrap around the esophagus and act like a pinch cock. When you swallow food, the pinch cock opens and allows the food to go down in to the stomach. During other times, it remains closed so that the acidic contents of the stomach don’t escape into the esophagus.

LES-valveThis pinch cock is called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter valve (or LES valve). When it doesn’t work well, acidic content of the stomach flows back into the esophagus. We call this an acid reflux.

Since the esophagus doesn’t have the protective inner lining like stomach, if the acidic stomach contents flow back into the esophagus, the inner surface of the esophagus gets hurt. If the hurt continues for a long time, we are talking years, it might turn into esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing cancer in many parts of the world, including India.

So, there is a sort of compulsion to reduce the damages of long standing acid reflux.

Acid Reflux 201

At times, there is surplus of pressure in/on the stomach which pries open even a normal-strength LES valve and pushes the food back into the esophagus. This is another mechanism through which you might end up getting an acid reflux disease.

Here is the list of all the things that can make the contents of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus:

  1. Weakness in the diaphragmatic muscle fibers make it difficult to keep the LES valve shut
  2. There is a hole in the diaphragm (a hiatus hernia), which makes the LES valve weak
  3. There is too much of food or/and water in the stomach that some of it escapes back into the esophagus
  4. A faulty digestive system and it produces too much of gas and the pressure from the gas pushes open the LES valve
  5. Too much of fat in the stomach (called the visceral fat) leaves too little space for the stomach, squeezing its contents out
  6. Tight clothes like corset put a squeeze on the stomach
  7. Certain food, like fat and caffeine, dilate the LES valve, making it easy for the acidic contents of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus

Let’s see what we can do fix each possible causes of acid reflux.

  1. Weak diaphragmatic muscles: You can strengthen them with breathing exercises. Talk to an yoga teacher.
  2. Hole in the diaphragm (hiatus hernia): Get a surgeon to fix it
  3. Full stomach: Don’t lie down.
  4. Gas in digestive system: This may be caused by the drugs you are taking to reduce your acid reflux symptoms. More about it later.
  5. Too much visceral fat: Lose weight
  6. Tight clothes: Don’t
  7. Some foods dilate the LES valve: Avoid them

Other than these, all backward stretching yoga postures stretch the esophagus. It is believed that with the increased length of esophagus, the lateral pressure on the esophagus increases, shutting it more effectively.

Did you notice that none of the above fixes involve reducing the stomach acid?

Stomach Acid 101

Stomach acid is there for two good reasons:

  • Stomach acid breaks down the food in the stomach, helping us extract protein and other important nutrients. Without sufficient stomach acid, we tend to become malnutritioned.
  • Stomach acid kills most of the pathogens that invade us through the food we eat. Without sufficient stomach acid, we become more susceptible to infections.

Stomach acid is actually a good thing.

SIBO 101

Stomach acid keeps the bacterial content of the stomach acid in check. With weakened stomach acid, there is an over-growth of bacteria in the small intestine. We call this a Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO.

Note: SIBO has many causes. Reduced stomach acid is just one of them.

SIBO has many nasty effects. They include:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Asthma
  • Depression

SIBO is also very difficult to treat with antibiotics, with very high rate of recurrence. When a recurrence happens, the symptoms are worse.

Let’s look into on only one ill effect of SIBO: Bloating. The bloating occurs because of improper digestion, particularly food fermentation in the small intestine. The gas generated in the process, which causes the bloating, also causes belching.

When the gas from the small intestine travels to the mouth (assuming that the olfactory senses don’t object to it), it opens up a valve positioned between the small intestine and the stomach (called the pyloric valve) and our friend, the LES valve.

Opening the LES valve, we already saw, causes acid reflux. So, when the stomach acid remains sufficiently low for a long time, we are talking months, SIBO to set in. Once SIBO comes to play, it contributes to acid reflux.

If you already have acid reflux, SIBO makes it worse.

Bile Reflux 101

When the contents of the small intestine open up the pyloric valve and travel into the stomach, some times they carries bile from the small intestine into the stomach.

Again, there are other reasons for a bile reflux. SIBO is just one of them.

When the bile, which is alkaline, enters the stomach, it neutralizes some of the stomach acid, making the problem worse.

Acid Reflux Protocol 101

Now that you have your fundamentals, let me take you to the meat of this post: If you have acid reflux and go to a doctor, what do they do? They give you acid-blockers! So that when the stomach contents flow back, your esophagus isn’t burnt the way it used to be. Let me paraphrase that:

Acid-blockers don’t stop the reflux. It simply stops the acid.

Acid blockers, when taken for a long period of time, give you malnutrition, start SIBO and make the acid reflux symptoms worse. Acid blockers turn evil when the treatment runs into months and years.

Pepsin 101

Here is something that no one probably told you about:

If you have acid reflux, the real damage to the esophagus is done by the pepsin that comes from the stomach!

Pepsin is a molecule that is used by the stomach to digest the protein we eat. But pepsin becomes active only in the presence of acid. When you have a reflux, along with the rest of the food contents and acid, even pepsin rises into the esophagus. When the reflux subsides, some of the pepsin hangs around on the walls of the stomach and lies dormant.

Since you now already have pepsin on the esophageal walls, if you happen to eat acidic food or drink acidic drinks, the acid in your food wakes up the pepsin and it starts to digesting your esophagus. Acid reflux is more about pepsin eating into your esophagus and less about the acid burn.

Let me repeat it:

Acid reflux is more about pepsin eating into your esophagus and less about the acid burn.

To reduce the reactivation of pepsin, you have to be careful not to eat or drink acidic foot.

pH 101

When it comes eating less acidic food, how much is too much?

The acidity of substance is measured on a pH scale. pH “0” is very acidic (battery acid). pH 14 is very alkaline (drain cleaner). Lastly, pH is a log scale. “pH 0” is…

  • 10 times more acidic than pH 1
  • 100 times more acidic than pH 2
  • 1,000 times more acidic than pH 3
  • 10,000 times more acidic than pH 4
  • 100,000 times more acidic than pH 5
  • 1,000,000 times more acidic than pH 6

Now that you understand the pH scale, here is something you are never going to forget:

  • Water is pH 7.0 (neutral)
  • Milk is about pH 6.8 (coconut and soy milk are round about similar value), almost as good as water
  • Coffee is about 5.5, a share more acidic than water
  • Coke and Pepsi are pH 2.5
  • The stomach acid is pH 2

Coke and Pepsi are almost as acidic as the stomach acid. So are many packaged drinks that we use every day.

If you drink acidic drinks or eat acidic food after you have had a reflux, the residual pepsin lingering in your esophagus will get reactivated and start gnawing into the esophageal tissue.

High pH Diet 101

If you are suffering from acid reflux, high the pH of the food you eat lesser you activate the pepsin clinging on to your esophagus.

If you have acid reflux, start eating food that has higher pH value than 5. Do this for two weeks and then stick to pH 4+ food for rest of you life.

With this, about 1/3rd of the people with acid reflux can wean themselves off acid-blocking medication. What more, to keep the pH as high as possible, you will end up eating large quantities of high fiber vegetables, which are excellent for your gut microbiome. So, when you are on high pH diet, you can effectively rule out SIBO.

About 1/3rd of the people with acid reflux can manage with high pH diet and medical intervention. However, the rest 1/3rd typically need surgical correction of their LES valve.

Plug: Food Clinic   has been advising patients on high pH Indian cuisine for controlling their acid reflux.

Criminology 101

I started this post with the sensational claim that current standard protocol for “treating” acid reflux disease is a crime. Now that you have the complete picture, are in a better position to understand why:

  • About 1/3rd  of acid reflux patients can manage their disease with high pH diet. But with the exception of just one organization (Food Clinic) in this country, no one else is even talking about it.
  • About 1/3rd  of acid reflux patients cannot be cured without a surgery. But most of the chronic acid reflux patients don’t even know that there is permanent fix for their problem in the form of a quick surgery.
  • Many patients are not educated about the damage they are doing to themselves by taking acid blocking drugs on the long run.
  • Very few acid reflux patients  have even heard of SIBO, that it has probably been started by their acid blocking drug, that it is going to be difficult to get rid of it using conventional treatment (i.e. antibiotics) and that it is making their acid reflux worse.

Whoever perpetuates this broken system, in my humble opinion, is committing a crime.

Dysbiosis 101

We already saw that prolonged usage of acid blocking drugs damages the gut bacteria balance, resulting in Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Often, these patients are put on antibiotics to get rid of their SIBO. If these things mess up the microbiome so the person starts have symptoms of autoimmune diseases like IBS, allergies, etc., they are also put on steroids to lower the immune response.

This is a deadly cocktail designed for disastrous dysbiosis.

Unless someone wakes up to this and starts to work on re-balancing the gut microbiome, this patient will never become healthy again. Ever.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

18 Apr

Antibiotic Overkill

Medicinal Overkill

If you haven’t learned about the antibiotic-over-medication disaster we are in the middle of, it is about time you did.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Somewhere from the 1950s, incidents of several autoimmune diseases in the US started growing steadily. That is also when an uptick in obesity and autism was first observed. After much of research, the most probable suspect seem to be this:

In 1944, the world started using antibiotics.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs that are used to kill disease causing bacteria. Often, they end up killing the friendly bacteria that live in us too.

Before antibiotics came alone, the micro-organisms, including bacteria, were felling populations like fleas. Here is some statistics that will freeze your blood:

  • 30% of the population killed by Antonine Plauge (AD 165-180)
  • 40% of the population killed by Plague of Justinian (AD 541-542)
  • 60% of the population killed by Black Death (AD 1346-1350)
  • 80% of the population killed by Cocoliztli (AD 1545-1548)
  • 50% of the population killed by Cololiztli (AD 1576)
  • 90% of the population killed byUnknown disease outbreak (AD 1616-1619)
  • 75 million people killed by worldwide flu epidemic (AD 1918)

Note: See this Wikipedia page for more details

Compare that with the worldwide flue outbreak in 2009, which was worst we have had in the 21st century so far. It killed 14,286 people, according to Wikipedia (or 18,500 people according to this CNN page). Media, and us, couldn’t stop talking about it when it happened.

Antibiotics was a blessing to the entire human race. Without antibiotics we would have lost many more Srinivasa Ramanujans to the lowly bacteria  (we watched helplessly as Ramanujan’s body and brain was being eaten away by tuberculosis bacteria). And the humankind would have never made the kind of progress that we made in the last 75 years.

Antibiotic Overkill

But there is a dark side to antibiotics that we are beginning to understand only now: Prolonged exposure to antibiotics, or even relatively brief exposure during the childhood, permanently damages the diversity of the bacteria living in our gut.

When we lose diversity of the gut bacteria, chances are that the population of pathogenic bacteria increases.

Whenever the body senses the presence of harmful bacteria in the gut, the gut walls open, rush water into the intestine and flush its content out. We call this diarrhea. Diarrhea is the body’s attempt to flush out the toxic contents of the intestine.

When the toxins or harmful bacteria in the gut are present in large quantities, full blown diarrhea occurs. When these insults are present in smaller quantities, the gut opens up just a tiny bit. Through these slivers, the harmful content of the intestine (pathogens, toxic chemicals, food particles) escape into the bloodstream. Our immune system picks up on the intruders in the bloodstream and starts attacking them.

When these minor insults are caused by what we eat on a regular basis, or how we live, or what kind of bacteria we harbor in our stomach, the insults never end. With the intruders being present all the time, the immune system gets into overdrive.

When the overactive immune system attacks our own body tissue, we call it an autoimmune disease. Depending upon where or how the immune system attacks our body, the symptoms vary from asthma to allergy to irritable bowl syndrome to whole lots of other things.

Many of these autoimmune diseases reverse when the gut microbiome is re-balanced.

Unfortunately, in some cases like with Type-1 diabetes or autism, autoimmune disease causes irreversible damage.

What Should You Do

Here are some things you can/must do to protect yourselves from antibiotic overkill:

  • Take antibiotics only when your life depends on it.
  • This is more for kids:
    • Their microbiome is under developed. So, they are more susciptible for damage.
    • If you damage the microbiome of infants and toddlers, there is not much you can do to restore it
    • Damaged microbiome in infants and toddlers can result in irreversible disaster situations like Type-1 diabetes or autism.
  • If you must take antibiotics
    • Ensure that you combine it with a “good” probiotics. Stagger the probiotics and antibiotic. Otherwise, the antibiotic will kill all the good bacteria in the probiotics.
    • Ask your doctor to prescribe you narrow-spectrum antibiotic that acts on your particular villain, rather than the broad spectrum antibiotic that nukes every bacteria at sight.
  • At the earliest you can, start eating a diet that is friendly to the beneficial microbiome. If the damage to your gut flora is extensive, I suggest you take help from someone like Food Clinic to tweak your diet right.
  • Understand that some diseases for which doctors prescribe antibiotics are made worse by, well, taking antibiotics! Examples are
    • Clostrodium Difficile infection
    • Presistant Acne
  • Be dirty, but in a healthy way (whatever that is)

What Else Should You be Watchful Of

Antibiotic usage becomes particularly destructive on your gut bacteria if you are already doing something that makes your microbiome fragile and vulnerable. Some of them are:

  • You have been on acid blocking drugs for a long time
  • You have been on some steroid medication for a long time
  • You have not been feeding the good bacteria in your stomach
  • You were being too much of a hygiene Nazi

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

13 Apr

Microbiome: Antibiotic for the 21st Century Diseases

Gut-Microbes

If you haven’t heard the word “microbiome”, this post is going to be the most important thing you read in a long time.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

I am working on creating an enterprise (Food Clinic) that will specialize on reversing/managing chronic diseases using food as the 1st medicine. Of all the knowledge we are going to use in our practice, the most fascinating and the strangest thing is the knowledge of the friendly micro-organisms that live within, and on, us. These little guys are collectively called our microbiome.

First, the fascinating bits:

  • The number of micro-organism cells we food and shelter is 10 times more than our own cells.
  • These microbes take active part in running our bodies. They even train our immune system and switch on and off our genes.
  • After our stomach and small intestine extract energy and nutrition from the food we eat, the microbes digest the leftovers in the large intestine, producing even more energy and nutrients for us.
  • The large intestine is not just a waste-bin like we were told in our schools.

What’s in it for you?

  • If you eat the food that is eaten by the good microbes in your gut, all good things happen to you. When you avoid feeding the good microbes, they die out and the gut gets crowded by the bad microbes. Then the hell breaks loose.
  • More precisely, the gut lining breaks loose and lets undesirable things from inside of the gut (e.g. toxic chemicals, food fragments, pathogens) to escape into the blood stream.
  • When that happens,
    • The toxins in the blood cause inflammation all over the body
    • The immune system over-reacts to the inflammation
  • When the immune system overacts, you get auto-immune diseases like
    • Allergies
    • Arthritis
    • Asthma
    • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
    • Eczema and psoriasis
    • Lupus
    • Irritable Bowl Syndrome
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Insulin Resistance
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Obesity
    • And more
  • Till date, there are no reliable cures for any of these diseases.
  • But now, it is beginning to look like all these autoimmune diseases can be reversed by re-balancing the gut microbiome!
  • How come? If you remember, there is mounting evidence that most auto-immune diseases start with imbalance in the microbiome.
  • There are exceptions. Certain type of autoimmune diseases damage the body irreversibly. They don’t get better by re-balaning gut microbiome. Examples are Type-1 diabetes and autism.

How do you re-balance the microbiome?

There are five simple things you can do:

  1. Eat right: Eat stuff that the your good bacteria likes (fiber, sulfur, fermented food, etc.). These are also called prebiotics. Also, avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates, red meat and high fat diet (personally, I am not convinced about avoiding high-fat).
  2. Probiotics: Only if it is industrial strength and only if you take it for several months or years. Which, to the best of my knowledge, are not available in India.
  3. Medicines on the negative list: Unless your life depends on it, avoid antibiotics, long exposure to acid reducing medication, steroidal medication and toxin filled cosmetics. When you use these medication on kids, the effect is even more pronounced.
  4. Stay dirty: Be less clean. Play in the dirt. Don’t use anti-bacterial wipes. Bath less often (ahem). Don’t use mouth wash (ahem, ahem). Don’t use alcohol based perfumes (ahemn)
  5. Fecal Material Transplant (FMT): This is a stylish way of saying that the excretion of a healthy human being is pushed into the rectum of someone with poor gut microbiome. The material is held within the abdomen of the patient for an hour or so, and then pushed out. The process transfers microbiome of the healthy individuals to the unhealthy one.

Does it work?

Yes! BIG YES!!

Anecdotes from clinics around the world have it that patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome are getting better, even  going into complete remission, after a few sessions of FMT!

There is research evidence, though with a small sample size, that FMT from lean individuals to individuals with insulin resistance makes the later become insulin sensitive! Let me translate it for you:

  • FMT can reverse diabetes
  • Diabetes is probably a disease of the gut

Reversing insulin resistance is a big deal because IR often leads to heart disease and several cancers.

For other diseases like C. Diff. (Clostridium Defficile) bacterial infection, IBD, Crohn’s, etc., balancing the gut flora, with or without FMT, is the only known possibility of a cure. 85% of C. Diff. infection gets cured within hours after an FMT. 95% cases are cured after just to FMT sessions. Other autoimmune disseases don’t have such fantastic success rate. But still, they are impressive.

Autoimmune epidemic

Incidence of every one of the autoimmune diseases I listed above started to climb around 1950. One number that has been etched in my mind is this: During 1940’s, 1 out of 10,000 American kids was diagnosed to be autistic (we are beginning to suspect that autism is an autoimmune disease). In 2010, the number was 1:68.

Many autoimmune diseases started skyrocketing starting 1950s to 1980s.

Several things happened around in the period between 1950 to 1980. They include introduction of certain pesticides to beginning of the usage of high fructose corn syrup.

One thing that seem to play a role in all  autoimmune diseases is this:  Antibiotics were introduced in 1944 and their usage exploded from the 50’s. This also includes usage of antibiotics on farm animals. Farmers discovered that when low dose antibiotic was administered to animals every day, they gained significantly more weight. With that, antibiotics were everywhere.

When humans use antibiotics for a long period of time, or if they are exposed to antibiotic while they were still infants/toddlers, their microbiome gets substantially damaged. If they are also on some other medication that can disturb the microbiome (e.g. acid blockers, steroidal medications), things get worse. If this person is a  picky eater who hates their veggies, or lives in a super-sterile environment that is an antithesis to microbiome diversity, God save them!

Looking in the wrong places

Whatever I’ve told you till now is summarized in the pyramid below:

 

Many of your chronic diseases start with bad microbiome (the technical term for this is “dysbiosis”). Unfortunately, instead of paying attention to the bottom of the pyramid and working on the root cause, we are busy treating the bio-markers (for example, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers). In medical field, it is called “treating the numbers”.

No wonder we have no medication to permanently fix any of the chronic/life-style diseases!

Take Home

When germ theory was understood, it demystified all the infectious diseases. Germ theory eventually brought us antibiotics, which put an end to infectious diseases. Till then, infectious diseases were periodically wiping out a substantial chunk of of human populations.

Take Home 1: Autoimmune diseases, lifestyle diseases and many mental disorders that plague us today are loosely called the 21st century diseases. We are beginning to understand that many of them are just one disease: Dysbiosis. With more understanding, treating the 21st century diseases is going to become surprisingly simple and elegant.

Take Home 2: Enriching your gut microbiome is a simple, but life-time, endeavor. If you put a little efforts to understand it, you can start enriching your microbiome today!

Some interesting books on microbiome

  • 10% Human (this is an intense book; but it’ll give you a nice foundation)
  • The Microbiome Solution (for the practical person, with oodles of how-to instructions)
  • Eat Dirt (five types of leaky gut and treatment for each one of them)
  • Brain Maker (effect of gut microbiome on the brain)

Localizing all this knowledge

These books constantly tell you to eat local. There are three reason for this:

  1. Local food is fresh. Processed food is nutrition depleted, sterile and destroys gut microbiome diversity. Though we don’t eat much of processed food in India, if we can eat food within few hours of farming, it brings us additional nutrition.
  2. Locally grown food, provided you live close to a place where your ancestors  evolved, must have evolved along with you. So, it must be more friendly to your guts.
  3. For a similar reason, local microbes are thought to be better than microbes that are shipped from far away land.

So, if you want to tend to the balance of your microbiome, localizing the best practices of the West is extremely important. This includes charting one’s gut microbiome. At Food Clinic, we have started to nibble at this problem from the edges. Send us a mail if you want to be posted about the exciting developments that are going to come.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

09 Apr

The Neuroscience Pyramid

Deconstructing Neuroscience

For a few years ago, I read nothing but books on brain science. I have an unique brain that works nothing like normal brains. The key to getting control of my life depended on my understanding my own brain. With time, I graduated to reading neuroscience books written for medical professionals. From there, reading medical books on other organs was just a hop.

When I got an opportunity to work on healthcare a couple of years ago, I took it up with great gusto. It as an opportunity to bring to practice several elegant solutions that I know are available, but for some mysterious reason, hardly anyone practices. But it is easy to underestimate the inertia of medical industry.

Things got a interesting a couple of months ago: I co-founded an organization called Chennai Neuroscience Foundation, which works exclusively on neuroscience. Though I would loved to have started with biohacking and cognitive enhancement, the business compulsions have it that we start from the exact opposite end.

 

Neuroscience Pyramid

When building the business model for CNS, I realized that the entire neuroscience industry falls into a four layered pyramid

 

4-layers-of-neuroscience-pyramid

Bottom-most Layer: Neurosurgeons and Neurologists work on anything that goes wrong with the tissue of the central nervous system and its blood supply.

Second Layer from Bottom: Cells of the central nervous system communicate by exchanging electrical signals and chemicals. When the brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) go out of balance, behavior issues like ADHD, OCD, Schizophrenia, Depression, etc., come popping up. A psychiatrist works on the brain chemicals. They try to balance the neurotransmitters as a means of curing us of mental diseases.

Though the electrical signal exchange is crucial for the function of the brain, we don’t understand it well. No medical specialty works on brain electrics. You might just find few doctors and non-doctors dabbling with brain electrics. The days of neuro-electric field is firmly in the future.

Second Layer from Top: Host of other professionals like psychologists, trainers, teachers, coaches, etc., work on the information content of the central nervous system. The information content include memory, fears, addiction, behavior, habit forming, creativity, logical reasoning, muscle memory, etc. Despite 100 years of psychoanalysis, there is much garbage to be thrown out. Novel techniques (like NLP and psychotropics aided psychoanalysis) are taking the pants off from archaic work horses like CBT. This layer of neuroscience is in for a major reboot.

Top-most Layer: The top layer of neuroscience pyramid, the wellness space, is where the charlatans and pseudoscientists roam. This is the least understood part of neuroscience, though it is going to create super-humans out us. Today, there is enough evidence based science out there to make some feeble attempts at neuro-protection and cognitive enhancement. Though it is not much, anything is better than nothing that we had  until now.

 

Education and Training

The deeper you go down the layers of the pyramid, the more education and training the professionals need.

  • A Neurosurgeon, for example, needs 20 to 25 years of formal education, if not more. After this, they undergo 5 to 10 years of in-field training before they reach a decent level of proficiency.
  • A Neurologist, the doctors who work on tissues using pharmacology, goes through similar amount of formal training. Bu their in-field training is shorter.
  • The formal training required for a psychiatrist is very similar to the training required by a Neurologist. However, their in-field training is even less demanding.
  • A psychologist goes through shorter formal education, with a less demanding curriculum.
  • Trainers, Coaches and the like are often made up of people who jump into the field as an after thought. I am yet to come across a kid who dreams of becoming a trainer or a coach when they grew up.
  • All that a neuro-wellness professional needs is a self-certification. As of today, the neuro-wellness field is full of amatuers and snake oil salesmen.

 

Sickness vs Wellness

As you go deeper down the neuroscience pyramid, the sicker the patients must be. And their sickness is more tangible.

Whereas, the customers on the wellness layer shouldn’t even be called a patient. They are already in their pink of health and they are looking for making themselves healthier.

 

Potential of Each Layer

All the life threatening conditions are addressed by the professional operating at the bottom most layer of the neuroscience pyramid.

The challenge faced by professionals operating higher up the neuroscience pyramid is with recovering the potential lost to mental health issues.

But the highest layers of neuroscience pyramid have the capacity to release immense human potential like we have never seen. At least, that is what we technology-optimists believe.

Today, economic activities in neuroscience industry are limited to the lower layers.

In the future, the neuro-wellness industry will grow to be worth several billions of dollars. By then, all the most exciting things on earth will happen in neuro-wellness industry. I am hoping that the business I’ve started in neuroscience industry, CNS Foundation, will eventually take me there.

A guy can hope, can’t he!

13 Jun

Darwin’s Triplets

Identical Triplets

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series

In the earlier post titled Evolution 101, we saw how evolution works in the wild. It discussed about how a particular biological trait is selected in a population. Darwin called this “Natural Selection“. Eventually it turned out that Natural Selection is an umbrella term for three different types of selection forces:

  • Self Selection
  • Sexual Selection
  • Group Selection

The interplay of these forces makes us who we are. Like the inter-play of three primary colors make all the hues that we can see in the nature. It is as of we live a life in a color wheel.

Self Selection

Me-Selection

Some genetic traits help an animal to live longer. These are called “Self Selection” traits. Self Selection traits may not care about finding a mate, making babies or altruism. Have you heard of rats eating their pup when they are hungry? It is the rat’s self-selection trait in action.

Sexual Selection

Sexual-Selection

Some biological traits help an animal to secure better quality/quantity mates. These are called Sexual Selection traits. These traits may or may not care if an animal lives longer or if its community flourishes.

A good example of Sexual Selection trait is peacock’s tail feathers. Luxurious tail feathers in a peacock advertises that the animal is physically/genetically fit. Tail feathers don’t increase the survival of the peacock. If anything, the long tail only makes it difficult for the peacock to catch its prey or run/fly away from the predators. Tail feathers are also metabolically expensive to maintain. A lesser peacock can’t fake a nice, long and iridescent tail. So, peacock’s tail feather is what we call a honest signal.

If the peahen selects a mate  for its luxurious tail feather, the peahen can be sure that it selected a genetically superior male. The genetic trait in a peacock to grow a beautiful tail feather is a sexual selection trait. The genetic trait in a peahen to find such a tail feather beautiful is also a sexual selection trait. These traits do not help the animal to catch a prey or save the life of an amigo. Their only purpose is to help the animal to make more healthy babies.

Study of Sexual Selection forces is full of politically unacceptable conclusions. This area is not as well studied as it must be. Even the researchers who study Sexual Selection publish their findings with caution. Even very little published insights are not adequately communicated to the public.

Group Selection

Group-Selection

Group Selection traits are hotly disputed by some scientists. But we will never understand who we really are without understanding the effect of Group Selection traits. They help the community (in which an animal lives) to flourish and sustain. They may not care about how long an animal lives or how many babies it has.

Our willingness to go to war for our country is a good example of a group selection trait. When someone goes to war, they risk their life. They are working against self-selection interest. Someone who goes to war and dies can’t have any more children. They also risk the future of the children they already have. There by, they work against the sexual selection interests as well.

Consider two prehistoric societies, Y and N. Society-Y was made up of ‘brave’ people, who were ever ready to go to war on behalf of their society/country. Whereas members of Society-N were ‘cowards’, who were quite unwilling to risk their life by going to a war. When Society-Y went to war with Society-N, Y probably decimated N. With time, genetic traits of Society-N was wiped off from the planet of earth. The ones left behind, Society-Y, are all willing to die for their society.

Group Selection makes an individual to subjugate its own self-interest to the interest of the group. When the interest of an individual clashes with the interest of the group, the group often doesn’t hesitate to get ride of the individual! When we think about group selection, we must remember one thing:

A part of 'the group that we live in' lives inside each one of us.

At one level, each one of us is the group. We act in a way that subjugates the interest of other people to the common good of the group. We willingly sacrifice some of our own self interest in the alter of the common good. How much of self interest we sacrifice, or how much of similar sacrifice we demand from others, changes based on the situation we are in. Our sense of group identity and altruism are elastic.

Feeling the Selection Forces

In an individual, selection forces express themselves as emotions/feelings.

  • Self Selection may express itself as hunger, fear, cold, warmth, satiety, anger, etc.
  • Sexual Selection may express itself as pride, libido, competitiveness, creativity, etc.
  • But the way we feel the Group Selection is interesting. The sense of oneness we feel when you stand in front of God is how the Group Selection feels. When we feel the forces of Group Selection, we have a strong urge to merge and lose the sense of one’s self into the identify of the group.

Emotions of Group Selection are just as seductive, if not more, as the emotions of Me Selection or Sexual Selection. Though, we don’t readily recognize it. The interplay of the three selection forces determines who we are and how our societies are made.

Some of our traits are fostered by two or three different selection forces. For example, having a broad shoulder and good shoulder muscles in a man helps him to be a good hunter (Self Selection). It also helps him to find more/better mates (Sexual Selection). Being a good hunter, while it caters to Self Selection forces, sharing the spoils with the group also caters to the Group Selection forces.

When a particular trait is exclusive to a single selection force, expression of that trait might be opposed by other forces. For example, human equivalent of peacock’s tail feather (sexual selection) is often considered as vanity and looked down upon by the society (group selection).

Our natural desires and urges are endless and shifting inter-play of the three selection forces that played a part in molding us. At any given point in time, your natural feelings are just a pixel on the color wheel. At times, you play near the edges. At times, you play right at the center.

Life becomes gets uncomplicated when you understand the color wheel of selection forces and then design your life around that understanding. Life in a color wheel might be the simplest answer to so many of your life’s dilemmas. In the future posts, let’s take a closer look at the inter-play of these hues.

I promise you, it will be nothing less than liberating.

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series
11 Jun

Evolution 101

Evidence-of-Evolution

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series

We can’t understand human nature without understanding the forces of evolution that made us who we are. We are the happiest if we design our lives/societies around the human nature, like a well fitting glove is designed around a hand. Failed philosophies like Marxism and Objectivism are results of failing to design our societies around what evolution has made us to be.

In a series of future posts, we will dissect the impact that evolution has on our nature. In this post, let us make sure that we have a clear understanding of how evolution works.

Mutations-happen

Let’s start with an animal called ‘Grey Circle’. Due to genetic mutation, the some of the babies of Grey Circle are slightly different from the original. Of the three babies, the baby named ‘White Circle’ has mutation gives it a survival/propagation disadvantage (e.g. being born without limbs). The genes of the baby named ‘Black Circle’ were mutated in such a way that it has some special advantages over others (e.g. ability to run faster). And the baby Grey Circle has no advantage or disadvantage over its parent.

Second-Generation-After-Mutation

Over the subsequent generations, White Circle doesn’t get to make babies because it dies early. Whereas the Black Circles ends up having more babies as they are very good at out running their predator.

Advantageous-Mutation-Over-Generations

With every passing generation, there are more Black Circles in the population.

Inter-Breeding-of-Mutants

Of course, Grey Circles and Black Circles may end up inter-breeding. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore the effect of inter-breeding now.

Domination-by-a-Mutant

Eventually, the Black Circles dominate the entire population as they successfully out-compete the Grey Circles. Thus, a new population is born with a new trait.

In another isolated part of the world, where the Grey Circles haven’t mutated into Black Circles, the Grey Circle population continues to thrive.

Mutations-keep-popping-up

Mutation is a messy business. It is never just Black or Grey. Mutations keep happening all the time, in million different forms. Some of the mutations/traits end up dominating the entire population (e.g. intelligence in humans) . Some of the mutations/traits persist in the population, but they never fully dominates the population (e.g. skin color, super-intelligence, schizophrenia). Some mutations/traits get wiped off from the population immediately (e.g. anencephaly) or eventually.

Evolution carries forward that traits that eventually dominate the population. Period. Evolution doesn’t care for good, bad, virtuous, evil, etc. When we hear the phrase “survival of the fittest”, we tend to confuse it with “survival of the superior”. Evolution is blind to anything other than population explosion.

In the next post, we’ll look into three sub-types of evolutionary forces.

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series
28 May

Sam Harris on Lying

Sam-Harris

Sam Harris is one of the sharpest thinkers I had come across. Here are some excerpts from one of his thinnest books, Lying. Though the book is not as well thought out as some of his other works, I culled out these gems from the book. I put a Heart next to the ones that hit a chord somewhere. Though, you might want to put your heat next to something else:

  • We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret , guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos. Heart
  • Endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth.
  • The boundary between lying and deception is often vague. It is even possible to deceive with the truth.
  • People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs— that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or of other people’s opinions— the more consequential the lie.
  • To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. Heart
  • To speak truthfully is to accurately represent one’s beliefs.
  • If one is not sure whether or not something is true, representing one’s degree of uncertainty is a form of honesty.
  • The intent to communicate honestly is the measure of truthfulness. Heart
  • Even liars rate their deceptive interactions as less pleasant than truthful ones.
  • Deception and suspicion are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that all forms of lying— including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others— are associated with less satisfying relationships.
  • Honest people are a refuge. Heart
  • You know [the honest people] will tell you when they think you have failed— and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.
  • Honesty is a gift we can give to others. Heart
  • [If we are honest,] we can simply be ourselves in every moment.
  • In committing to being honest with everyone, we commit to avoiding a wide range of long-term problems, but at the cost of occasional short-term discomfort.
  • To [be honest] is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life—because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. Heart
  • Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface.
  • Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.
  • Ethical transgressions are generally divided into two categories: the bad things we do (acts of commission) and the good things we fail to do (acts of omission).
  • Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding— these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we deliberately misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are ever discovered.
  • Responding honestly to the subtext would not be lying.
  • Unless one commits to telling the truth in situations like this , however, one finds that the edges creep inward, and exceptions to the principle of honesty begin to multiply.
  • False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
  • [Lucy] lied so effortlessly and persuasively that Jessica was left wondering if she had ever been deceived by Lucy in the past.
  • Failures of personal integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten.
  • A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private .
  • Psychopaths can assume the burden of mental accounting [of lying] without any obvious distress.
  • Lies beget other lies.
  • When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.
  • Tell enough lies, and the effort needed to keep your audience in the dark eventually becomes unsustainable. While you might be spared a direct accusation of dishonesty, many people will conclude, for reasons they might be unable to pinpoint, that they cannot trust you. You will begin to seem like someone who is always dancing around the facts.
  • No one ever quite confronts [the liars], but everyone begins to treat them like creatures of fiction. Such people are often quietly shunned, for reasons they probably never understand.
  • Liars trust those they deceive less than they otherwise might— and the more damaging their lies, the less they trust, or even like, their victims.
  • To lie is to recoil from relationship. Heart
  • Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste

Sam Harris makes me realize that my biggest personal achievement is that I have trained myself to lie very little, if at all.

I ‘think’ that I never lie on things that are consequential (though I do succumb to the temptations of occasional white lies). I make it a point to indicate the probability of my uncertainty when it matters. I never pretend that an intentional act of omission with the intent to deceive doesn’t amount to lying. Neither do I intentionally mislead someone when a truthful communication is warranted!

Note: Of course, I don't confuse protecting my privacy with lying.

Stopping the habit of lying some twenty years ago was a great character builder. Being married to someone whose take on honesty is very similar to my own has been the single biggest blessing in my relationship. If there is one trait that I would love for my son to pick up from me, it would be my soft corner for honesty. Luckily, I see no reason why that won’t happen.

26 May

Dragons of Idea Age

Dragaons of Idea Age

In the last five posts, I argued that we have just entered the idea age, another renaissance, and what can we do to prepare for it. This post is about the unique risks that idea age is bringing to your business/career.

Exponential Growth

Exponential growth is a double edged cutting sword. If you not on an exponential growth, or if you are on a slower exponential curve, someone else will set up so much of lead over you in a short time that you might as well go home and hand your boots!

Different-exponential-curves

The graph above shows two exponential curves, one growing at just twice the rate of another. But the difference is startling even after a short growth run. WhatsApp, which is a company designed for the exponential era, has half the market capitalization as Tata Enterprise. WhatsApp employs just 55 people and is 5 years old. Whereas, Tata enterprise employs a small country and it is more than a 100 years old.

Because a competitor growing at faster exponential rate can set a very large lead over others, the slower growing company will soon be marginalized and fail to be of any significance to anyone.

Agility over Accuracy

Early-exponential-start

Because exponential curves grow quite quickly, a delayed start is worse than slow start! In the exponential era, agility in terms of quick start and quick execution is more important than getting things right. Time and again, companies and countries have proven that being faster (Thailand) is better than being right (India). Among the exponential companies, everyone is expected to be reasonably accuracy. But that is just the entry ticket. The real differentiation is the speed at which they execute their business.

Software is Eating the World

marc-andreesen-software-is-eating-the-world

Marc Andreeson (of Netscape fame) famously told that ‘software is eating the world’. Everything is getting digitized. Healthcare is the next industry that is dangerously close to getting disrupted by digitization.

Giants like IBM, Google, Qualcom, Apple, etc. are working on solutions that will record better health data, analyze it better, do better diagnosis, do cheaper diagnosis, etc. They are all in the verge of producing a working commercial solution over the next few years. When they are rolled out, the current healthcare model will be stood on its head.

Other disruptions that are already under way are Uber and Airbnb. Uber is disrupting taxi services all over the world. They own no taxi cabs (only thing they own is an app), but there are talks in the rumor mill that Uber is going to be the next $ 100b company. By the way, when self-driven cars become common place over the next few years, services like Uber will kill automobile manufacturers too.

Airbnb is disrupting hotel services all over the world and it is already valued around $10b. Airbnb too doesn’t own a single hotel room. Only thing they own is an app!

If software companies can disrupt taxi services ‘and’ automobile manufacturers, what do you think they will do to your business! It is a question that is worth pondering over hard and fast.

Network Externality

Network-externality

Imagine you invented fax machine. Just after you made the first fax machine, when there is only one fax machine in the whole world, the utility of the machine would have been zero. After all, who would you have sent a fax to!

But then, when you made the second fax machine and put it in someone else’s office, your own machine will become valuable. Thus, with the addition of every fax machine in the world, the value of your own machine goes up. Not only that, when a new fax machine is added to the network, the utility of everyone’s fax machine goes up too!

The value of fax machines around the world keep going up when more people start using it. Eventually, the utility of fax machine becomes so high that no one can afford not to have a fax machine. In other words, the network effect becomes so strong that it traps you inside it. The cost of breaking away from the network is too high that the network becomes self-perpetuating.

That is network effect or network-externality.

Software companies are much more dangerous when it comes to exploiting network externalities. Because the cost of servicing an incremental user is next to nothing, software companies can quickly grow the network of their users. That’s why in software, the leaders like Windows and Oracle have always had upward of 90% market share!

What we must take note is that all software-enabled services, like FaceBook, Google Maps, Airbnb, Uber, etc. are also enjoying the advantage brought to them by network externality.

So, if and when your business is going to be digitized, you can be sure that it will be yanked so fast and so definitely that you will have no option but to walk away. What is really bad about it is that the software company that is going to eat your meal doesn’t even have to have an office in your country!

What now?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • If Google (or Airbnb or Uber) wanted to get into your business today, how will they do it?
  • Can I do what they would have done?
  • Do I have the capability in me to manage an exponentially growing business?
  • If my answer to one or both the questions above, what can I do to acquire the missing capability? Or, what would be my Plan-B when someone starts digitizing my business?
Click Idea Age for all posts related to this project
24 May

Idea Age is here. How can you get yourself ready?

Idea Age It is not a secret that we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation. This 5 post series argues that in response, we are inventing a new idea age.

  • Exponential Threats talks about the seriousness and inevitability of growing threats humanity is facing.
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we see where human ingenuity comes from.
  • In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In this last post, we address how you can prepare for the idea age

 It’s all about Networks

To understand creativity, we need to understand networks. Network

  • Creativity is the process of combining two or more existing ideas (shown as a ‘node’ in the image above) in a new and useful way.
  • Every idea is a network of two or more ideas. So, each node is a network in itself.

We can use the image above to represent a single brain by taking each “node” as an idea (or knowledge or information) inside that brain. Or we can use the same image to represent creativity at the level of a society. Then each node is taken to represent an individual brain. A network becomes ‘stronger’ when the number of nodes or the interconnection between the nodes increase. Now, let’s see how we can prepare ourselves for the idea age.

Idea Age is also Exponential Era

We live in an exponential era where changes happen in ever increasing pace. One bad thing about the exponential era is that the difference between the winners and the ‘also-ran’ is huge. Exponential Era We are presently in an important point in history. People who ride the exponential tide now will have a very different future from the people who remain in the 20th century. Of course, we are not arguing that the life in the bleeding edge of exponential era must necessarily be better than the slow and steady pace of the past. But some like it hot. And fast. Here are few simple things you can do to hitch your super-exciting exponential ride.

Get out of Paucity Mentality

Openness will be a substantially important hallmark of the idea age. People who operate with paucity mind-set are usually too afraid to open up. In the Idea Age, operating in isolation are too slow. Also, team consisting of different skill sets is usually much more effective than a genius operating in isolation. The difference will be more striking with passage of time.

What are the things that you are too afraid to share? What is the worst thing that will happen if you start sharing them? How do you know you are right about it? Don't forget to apply this question to your personal life too!

Become an Idea Altruist

In Idea Age, everyone has an idea that they don’t have enough time to implement. So, you are less likely to have your idea stolen today. Start sharing your ideas. You can start by sharing ideas that are not critical to your livelihood. And then move on to sharing life-or-death secrets. When you start sharing ideas, you become visible to others with similar interest. They might incorporate your ideas in their scheme of things, or lend their ideas for you to use, there by making both of you better off.

List three ideas that you think others will benefit from. And how can you share them with others? Blog, FaceBook, talks, forums, interest groups, white papers, stories...?

Education and Experience

Education is a journey. Not a destiny. Never stop educating yourself. We have cart load of online educations resources available these days. Some of them are listed below:

Most online education resources are free. There are interest groups, discussion forums, group efforts… In Idea Age, education is a life long process. Every time you learn something new, you increase the number of idea-nodes inside your brain.

If self-education is not your cup of tea, try by learning something that you love. It does't have to have practical value.

Once in a while, learn something that is completely unrelated and irrelevant to you. In an area where you already have proven expertise, any new learning will bring only incremental advantage. When you deal with a completely unrelated subject, anything you learn will increase your knowledge graph by a huge margin.

Of course, we shouldn't forget that 'doing' is a form of learning too! So, go and do something that you haven't done before.

More importantly, block time out for solitude. Most people require some quite time once in a while to digest and assimilate what they have learnt.

Future favors the Networked

Idea Age is all about networking of ideas. Learning increases the number of idea-nodes inside your head. To increase the number of nodes outside your head, connect with other heads. Identify at least one person from each of the following category and connect with them:

  • People who have common interest
  • People who have no common interest
  • Idea altruists
  • Super-networkers
  • Life-long learners
  • Opinion makers

Have habits built into your life that provide ample networking opportunities. For example

  • Participate in networking events
  • Write/talk about your ideas
  • Participate in online forums
  • If needed, block out time every week (or every day) specifically for expanding your network

Of course, when you are expanding your network, you must take care to ensure that the quality of your network is maintained at all times. Or else, you can easily end up being inundated.

Network. Look for quality, similarity and variety.

Healthy Body and Brain

Of course, if you can’t maintain a healthy body and a physically fit brain, none of the above really matter. Here are some basic guidelines for maintaining healthy body and brain. These are rudimentary, but non-negotiable:

  • Maintain healthy weight
  • If you have cardiac or glycemic issues, eat low GL, zero oil, no dairy, vegan
  • Moderate alcohol, no smoking
  • Supplement with multivits, antioxidants, Omega 3, etc. Anti-ageing?
  • Exercise
  • Sleep prepares the brain for creativity

Here are three best kept secrets that will help you live much longer and have a healthier life:

  • You are the designer of your body – at least, from this point on
  • Your brain starts dying when you stop learning
  • Your body starts dying when you stop having sex – except when you go on calorie restriction, in which case you extend your lifespan, but shut down your sex drive

A New Chapter?

In all probabilities, Idea Age is mark of a new chapter in human history. By the time this renaissance is through, our lives would have become more different than any of us have dreamed of. When you prepare yourself to enter the Idea Age, I want you to keep one thought in your mind: You are very likely to live past 100. If that is true, how do you plan to spend the additional time?

This post has four prequels and they are listed below in their order
- Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats that are going to hit is so fast we won't have a choice but to change our present way of living
- In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
- In Origin of Ideas, we ask where human ingenuity comes from.
- In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
23 May

Age of Creativity

Age Of Creativity

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In this post, Age of Creativity, we will see why we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we address how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

There are a bunch of reason for us to believe that we have entered a new age of creativity. Another renaissance. But in its scope, this one will be like no other. By the time it has run its course, humankind would have, I speculate, made a clean break with the past.

New Knowledge

Creativity is a process of combining existing ideas/knowledge in a new and useful way. The process of creativity can be thought of as forming new connections in a network of ideas. In a network, addition of a new node encourages sprouting new connections (image below).

Network with newNode

If we are considering idea generation at social level, then we can treat each human being as a node in our network. As we have seen in an earlier post, bigger human population creates more new nodes.

But if we ignore the physical containers of idea/knowledge/information, every new discovery or idea becomes another node in the fabric. When a new node is added to a network, it makes new pathways possible (image below).

New Node New Pathways

Birth of an node (idea) increases the number of existing connection (ideas), which in turn increase the possibilities of several more connections (ideas) germinating.

Note: If you have already noticed the fractal nature of ideas, you will find intuitively understand the recursive nature of the paragraph above.

Thus, the new ideas increase exponentially in quantity! Today, we are seeing important new ideas coming in every day, with each new idea begetting even more ideas. We are getting inundated with creative opportunities. Understand the idea-inundation is key to preparing for the age of creativity.

New ideas have another interesting effect. When we come across novelty, it increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Among other things, dopamine inside our brain increases the alertness and focus.

 

Note: Dopamine is also responsible for feel-good and libido. It also plays a major role in romance. Effect of dopamine is designed to wear off with repeated exposure. Translation: Less novelty, less dopamine.

Brains are built in such a way that we love to work with novel stuff. Novelty tickles our brain cells into working with them. With so many new things popping up all around us, we are all gradually becoming idea generating machines (the only way to work with a new information is to integrate it with the rest of our knowledge base, which is same as forming new connections to the novel idea).

New Tools

Vast majority of younger generation is familiar with tools for data analysis, visualization and (product) design. These tools are helping us to combine ideas much more easily, and with far less resources and time.

We also have massive interest-groups online, who come together to create, fine tune, implement and exploit new ideas. Idea generators get almost instantaneous quality feedback. Instantaneous feedback is the corner stone building expertise in any domain.

Global Size Melting Pot

Large Melting Pot

Today, we not only have more than 7 billion brains in the network, these brains are also inter-connected in a way that was unheard of even 25 years ago! While internet is the pipeline through which the connectivity happens, we have several internet-dependent devices that improve the quality and pay-off of the connections.

Social media is one such device that helps us extract more juice out of global connectivity. The world has now become a huge monkey-see-monkey-do society, with each of us learning from everyone else. Because we all show our best face in the social media, we are learning positive habits/attitude from each other in unprecedented speed. And by helping us to learn to express ourselves in small steps, social media is helping us all to become creative.

Other devices that help us make the world one huge melting pot are online communities, special interest groups (already discussed above), cheap access to markets, free online education, etc.

Attitude Shift

Honey Bees

We are not strangers to the win-win nature of idea sharing. However, we have had tremendous reservations in sharing ideas that brought power and money. But that has changed now.

Today, we have more opportunities than any one of us can handle alone. Besides, the speed of change is so rapid that there is not enough time for a single person to build sufficient expertise to exploit a domain. Consequently, we are beginning to more freely share all sorts of ideas. In a world where a product has a typical life cycle of 3 to 5 years, one lone individual trying to build an edifice out of a single idea over 20 years is often a recipe for disaster.

We are also going through another important attitude shift: We are rediscovering the pleasure of belonging to a community.

We are social animals. We seem to be biologically pre-disposed to deriving pleasure from sharing. We are taking the pleasure community to new levels by becoming pioneers of sharing. We already share things from cars to clothes to house. Sharing, or Collaboration Economy, is becoming the next big thing and a manna for the folks keen on sustainability.

Role of Current Economy

american-financial-crisis-comparison

With the global recession, the people in the West now have more time than they have money. The resource crunch is incentivising them to become more creative and democratizing the process of idea generation.

In the same time, masses of people in the developing countries across Asia and Africa are leaving poverty behind. These people now have some surplus time and money. They are beginning to explore things beyond basic survival. There is a good chance that this population, which has leapfrogged into knowledge world, will be more adapt in working with ideas than the earlier generations that came off the boat.

Threat to Survival

The last factor that democratizes the idea generation process is the pressure from the serious survival threats that our civilization is facing presently. Because of their exponential nature, the threats will hit us so fast that our existing creative infrastructure won’t be able to handle them. We will end up recruiting all creative faculties, every human brain that is ready to contribute.

In the next article in this series, we will see what we can do to prepare for the idea age.

22 May

Origin of Ideas

Origin of Ideas

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In this post Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

Before discussing how human creativity is likely to save the day, we must first understand the origin of ideas, either inside a human head, or across a society. After all, there are striking similarities between both types of idea generation.

Human Mutation and Population

First, a small detour. Faster Human Mutation A paper was published in 2007, showing how the rate of human mutation was picking up speed with time. The reason was discovered to be the rising human population! More humans meant more mutations. More mutations, of course, meant more variety and better chances of human race continuing to eke a living. According to Matt Ridley, as he argued in this TED talk, there is one other thing that becomes more common with increase in population: Ideas. Ridley argues that since people make ideas, where there are more people, we have more ideas generated. But ideas funny creatures. With ideas, 1+1 = 11. Value of an idea goes up multi fold when it is in the midst of other ideas. For example, take the idea of petroleum mining. When this idea is not combined with any other idea, it has zero value (imagine a guy digging out tarry goo, with no idea what to do with it). But when it is combined with other ideas like IC engines, automobiles, jet planes, plastics, war, pollution, etc., the idea of petroleum mining becomes a formidable! Idea Having Sex Each idea makes several others come alive. To better understand how ideas work, you can think of ideas having sex (an analogy introduced by Ridley in his TED talk). But since ideas combine in every which way possible, we should think of them as polyamorous, egalitarian, libidinous and indiscreet! Ideas Are Indiscreet But the value of an ideas is derived from its ability to combine with other ideas. Not from its ability to stand alone. According to Ridley, an environment that fosters mixing of ideas is much more productive and valuable than sheer IQ. For example, industrial towns like Tiruppur and Sivakasi pop up out of nowhere to become an island of superior performance only because these towns end up having a bunch of people thinking, eating and breathing closely related ideas. Interestingly, a reasonably large population is needed to sustain idea generation and specialization. And when it comes to playing the idea catalyst, no population is large enough. There is evidence from the past that China stopped advancing its science and technology when it cut itself out from rest of the world. Similarly, it is my personal belief that India fell short of exploiting its potential to innovate when it decided to cut itself off from the West (the chief idea generators at this point in the history) after obtaining its political independence from the British.

Creativity Inside your Head

Interestingly, creativity inside your head works in a very similar fashion: Generating a new idea inside your head is just a matter of combining two or more existing ideas in a novel way. To foster your own creativity, you will need rich knowledge base. The more ‘idea raw materials’ you work with, more appropriate will be the ideas generated by you.

Ideas

You get to work with more ‘idea raw materials’ when (a) you are knowledgeable and (b) you get to retain more of what you learn. Retention is partly genetic, partly due to repetition and partly due to physical health of the brain. Of course, we will have better understanding of memory as more research throws light on the subject.

Next  to memory, your ability to communicate between different models of your brain is important to combine ideas in a novel way. The physical health of your brain like blood circulation, health of the myelin sheaths insulating the axons, etc., determine how well you can combine ideas inside your brain and create new ones. If the circulation is poor (supplies of less energy) or the myelin sheaths are damaged (increased noise level during communication), all energy hungry neural operations like creation of new ideas get down regulated.

Sustained attention is a faculty that is known to play an important role in creation of new ideas. As if, the longer you hold an idea in the center stage of your head, the more opportunities you give it to finding a suitable  partners to hook up with.

Living and interacting with people who have a knack for creating new ideas certainly helps your own creativity. They teach you that it is alright to come up with new ideas and supply you with building blocks for generating new idea.

Most importantly, learning to suspend one’s critical factor is an important ingredient of personal creativity. People have a tendency of snuff out new ideas, even before the idea was given a decent chance.

Of course, intention/motivation is another huge factor in fostering personal creativity.

The last factor in personal creativity are external. Some people respond to external pressures (e.g. impending deadline) by becoming creative. In these people, pressure activates their norepinephrine, increases their mental alertness and actually makes them more creative. Another brain chemical that increases the mental alertness is dopamine. Dopamine levels in the brain increase when you are faced with a novel situation, when you are suitably rewarded or when in love (among other things). Typically, when you are in any of these situations, the level of your personal creativity go up.

Interestingly, we have entered an era that supplies ample quantity of several factors that we saw above. In the next installment of this series, we will see as to how creativity across the globe is in the process of reaching unprecedented levels.

REFERENCES:

- This post is a sequel to Part-1, Exponential Threats and Part 2, Exponential Technology
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here
15 May

Exponential Technology

Exponential Technology

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • This post, Exponential Technology, argues that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

Exponential Technology

One ray of hope against this exponential threat is one proven exponentially growing tool available with us: Our technology, at least the Information Technology. A group of people are such staunch believers in the power of exponential technology that they even predict that human beings would demat (de-materialize, become digital) by 2045! Technology and Transhumans In a world where human beings are demated (i.e. our minds are ported into machine), we don’t need agriculture, we don’t need cooking, we don’t need transportation (we will travel on electrons), we don’t need to die, we don’t need to have children, we all can have zillion clones, each one of them living inside a $1000 computer! The world inhabited by demat human beings will use less resources than anyone in 20th century could have imagined. This merger of man with machine was named the Technological Singularity (or, simply, Singularity) by the man who predicted it. It is, of course, so loony and so outlandish an idea no on in their right mind would even dare mentioning it in a civil conversation. Only problem is that this idea has been put forward by a no-nonsense person, backed by solid data with mind boggling predictive power.

Exponential Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil, the proponent of Technological Singularity, took 15 different prominent lists, containing major intelligence events in the history of planet earth and plotted it on a log-log graph sheet. Here is what he got: Major Intelligence Events Kurzweil showed (see his book Singularity is Near) that the exponential growht of information technology during later past of 20th century, attributed to Moore’s Law, is merely a part of a larger trend that has been unfolding from the formation of Milkey Way Galaxy! The trend is so reliable and predictable that Kurzweil proposed that it could be safely extrapolated into the future. Kurzweil's Prediction By extrapolating the trend, he showed that by 2013, our super computers would have enough processing power to enable human brain’s functional simulation

PS: Incidentally, in 2013, Kurzweil took up a job with Google and he now heads a project to build the human brain in a machine. In this 2014 TED talk, he discusses as to how intelligent machines that are capable of reading the entire internet will be here in less than 10 years.

He also showed that by 2025, the super-computers will have enough processing power to enable neural simulation of human brain! He went on to predict that by 2045, $1,000 would buy enough processing power to equate all the 10 billion human brains alive that year. By 2045, Kurzweil speculates, we will have the capabilities to port human brain into intelligent machines! However, there is a leap of faith that Kurzweil fails to address adequately. For example, by 2014, $1,000 can already buy more processing power than what is in a mouse brain.

But then, were are the cyborg mice?

While Kurzweil had provided wonderful argument to establish the predictable growth of computing power, he failed to show convincingly as to how the increase in processing power would result in augmentation of intelligence. Though, he provided some indirect evidences to his argument. Kurzweil showed that even stuff that doesn’t seem to be directly related to information technology explosion seem to follow the exponential curve.

Example 1: Exponential increase of private manufacturing in USA

Private Manufacturing   Example 2: Per-capita GDP of USA US PerCapita GDP In other words, Ray Kurzweil showed that technology grows exponentially, that intelligence grows exponentially and that wealth creation happens exponentially. He failed to adequately explain the anomaly between the humongous processing power we have today and primitive state of current intelligent machines.

Idea Explosion

A thinker, author, journalist, politician and ex-banker called Matt Ridley came up with a plausible explanation for the puzzle that Kurzweil left unanswered. Unlike the data driven argument put across by Kurweil, Ridley’s explanation was just another leap of faith. Though, he made an elaborate anecdotal evidences and couched his argument in it. As we will see in the sequel to this post, Ridley argued that human ingenuity would rise to the occasion and save the day.

REFERENCES:
- This post is sequel to Idea Age is Here: Part 1, Exponential Threat 
- Next post in this series is Origin of Ideas
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here 
- In this TED video recorded in 2005, Ray Kurzweil explains the 'impending' Technological Singularity
15 May

Exponential Threats

Exponential Threats

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • This post, Exponential Threats, identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

We (humans) are facing an imminent danger to the present way of life. Something must change. The popular belief is that change will drastically reverse the decades of advances that we have made in obtaining ourselves substantially better quality of living. Whereas, the popular hope is that we will come out on the other side much stronger than we are today.

Given that I am an ever-hopeful, I fall into the second camp and strongly ‘hope’ that some incredible breakthrough will come along (after all, what is the point in living, if one belongs to the ‘hopeless’ camp). The obvious candidate for the ‘breakthrough is coming’ camp is the exponential technology. That may not be the case.

All available evidences go to argue that over the coming decades, idea generation will be democratized, quality of average idea generated (or quality of idea generated by average Joe) will improve and give us new solutions that we didn’t even know were possible. This coming Idea Age will be very similar to various renaissance periods from the history, but much more potent. It is my hope that by the time we are finished with the idea age, we would have changed the human race both biologically and culturally.

More importantly, when idea generation is going to be democratized, a significant portion of human creative energy is going to be spent on improving human happiness. After all, in the centralized idea generation era that we currently live in, there is too much focus on economic value of the ideas.

Read on to understand more about the coming cultural and destiny shift, to learn what it would mean to you, and how you can prepare for it.

Growth vs Resources

We are stuck in an economy which is required to grow year on year, endlessly (image below).

Growth is Exponential

For example, no one (at least, no value investor) will ever buy shares in a company that doesn’t promise year on year continuous growth. You wouldn’t want to take up a job that can’t give you continuous increase in revenue. For reasons that I am not getting into here, we can’t wish away the exponential growth cycle without substantial hardship.

The trouble with exponential growth is that our consumption of raw materials doubles once in a few years (image below).

Exponential Growth

If, for example, take Oil. The global consumption of oil grows at 7% per annum year on year. At that rate, the global consumption of oil doubles every 10 years (1.07^10 = 1.97). Every time when consumption doubles, the amount of oil consumed during the new 10 year period equals the amount of oil consumed during the entire period coming before that! That kind of consumption growth can’t be sustained indefinitely.

Way back in 1972, a bunch of European scientists have modeled the global population growth and resource utilization and put their results into a book titled The Limits of Growth and updated it in 2004. The book predicted that our civilization would face a collapse during the mid to later half of current century.

In 2012, New Scientist published a paper wherein the predictions of 1972, as laid out in the book, were compared with the actual date obtained till the first decade of 21st century, and using much better modelling techniques. The result was a chilling conformation that the reality is not much different from the predictions of doom made in 1972 (image below)!

Boom and Bust

 

While the original 1972 predictions have been hotly contested and called deficient, surprisingly very little criticism has been heard about the 2012 New Scientist paper.

In the meanwhile, NASA recently announced that it has come up with climate model that matches with climate changes remarkably well. Based on this highly reliable model, NASA predicts that if we continued ‘business as usual’, by end of the current century, the global temperature would raise by as much as 14°C in the arctics and by lesser degree in other parts of the world.

Global Warming

 

Of course, NASA also pointed out that if we respond to impending climate change aggressively, we might just be able to get away with minimal damages. But the political will and preparedness seem to be widely lacking.

Given the looming resource crunch and consequent economic collapse, aggravated by global warming that is at least partly irreversible, we will have no way but to significantly change our present way of living.

Exponential Technology

While we are facing exponential problems, we have one exponential solution at hand: Technology. In the sequel to this post, we will understand exponential technology and how can it help us to deal with our exponential problem.

REFERENCES:
- This post is based on the presentation titled Idea Age is Here
- You can find the next parts of this series at Idea Age is Here: Part-2, Exponential Technology and at Origin of Ideas
10 Sep

Barbie, Conan, Body Image and Intellectuals

Living Barbie

There is a 28 years old Ukranian woman named Valeria Lukyanova, who believes that she is from Venus and decided to change her look to suit her inner body image.  She chose herself the look of a Japanese anemi character and achieved it using intelligent makeup and some cosmetic surgery (her age, heavy makeup and surgical assistance are all contested).  People started calling her a living doll, and then a living Barbie.  That’s flattering the Barbie doll because she is so much prettier.  Lukyanova is a singer, sort of, and wanted to use her new look to spread her spiritual message of peace from Venus (and, perhaps, to sell some music).

But something quite unexpected happened.  More and more young women are wanting to follow Lukyanova and are going in for living doll looks.  Being a living doll is not for the faint at heart.  It calls for a radical lifestyle modifications, and dollops of money to pay for the mandatory cosmetic surgeries!  Unlike our friendly neighborhood intellectuals would like us to believe, these women are not being brain washed by the Galactic Association of Cosmetic Surgeons or evil multi-national corporations trying to sell them trillions of dollars worth of eye liners to these unsuspecting young women.  They are not even doing this to get themselves more boys.  They do it so that their outer look matches with their inner body image.

Funny and misguided girls you say?  Well, not so fast.

Body Building

Take our male body builders and high octane actions stars.  We have all noticed how they ripping muscles augmented by multiple steroid cycles and Synthol (of course, they hotly contest the usage of steroids or Synthol).  Isn’t it strange that these guys have more heterosexual male fans than women fans?  None of these famous muscle heads have ever been called a sex symbol. On the other hand, the most popular sex symbol today, George Cloony, doesn’t even take his shirt off in most movies.  If you have tried googling “George Cloony Shirtless”, you will know why!

George Clooney Shirtless

If this body is found sexy by most women, then why are the body builders spending huge amount of efforts and money on ripping muscles?  The muscle size doesn’t even add to one’s longevity, mental acuity or money earned.  Like the living dolls, the body builders are catering to the self-image that is typical of their own sexes!

Barbie doll’s body proportions appeal to the girls.  Most guys, on the other hand, salivate for the curvy and strong body of Xena the Warrior Princess!

Warrior Princess

Cosmopolitan is the leading lifestyle magazine for young women and Maxim caters to young men.  Make a quick comparison between the models you find in them and you will find the women in Cosmo are more stick-like.  Whereas the women in Maxim must have curves.  Anorexia, or something close to it, seem to be the inner body-image template and most women try to gravitate to this.  They spend a lifetime trying to go as close to this self image as possible.

Take a look at any men’s fitness magazine and you will find ripping muscles, advertisements for muscle building supplements and black market steroids.  On the other hand, women oriented fitness magazines seldom post pictures of Mr. Universe.  Page after page, the post lean and athletic looking male bodies with broad, well formed shoulders and V shaped torso.  Like Ken.  Men who are looking for ripping are doing it to cater to their own inner urge.

Is it wrong to desire a body that appeals to one’s own inner image?  Of course, not!  If their body-desires doesn’t hurt anyone else, or it doesn’t conflict with their other priorities, what they do with their own body is none of anyone else’s business.

Is it wrong to blame the corporations, capitalists, multi-nationals, patriarchy, media and the buffalo for this phenomenon?  Of course, yes!

Most of our so-called intellectuals are fraudsters who are too incompetent to do their homework before they air out an opinion.  Liberating ourselves from the twisted world views they provide us is an important part of building ourselves happy lives.

That is the central tenet of this blog!

06 Sep

Google Car will be Life Changing

Google Car

Technology progresses in geometric speed.  With every passing day, technological breakthroughs keep arriving faster.  What more, each change has a much bigger impact than the previous change.  Ray Kurzweil predicts that at this rate, technology would’ve progressed sufficiently for man to merge with machines.  He has named this incident the “technological singularity“.  Because our brains are not equipped to perceive exponential curve, we find it extremely difficult to wrap it around the accelerating power of technology (TED video).

Google Car is a strong reminder to the skeptics that rate and magnitude of technological changes do accelerate.  Though Google Car per se is of only peripheral interest to this blog, let us take a closer look at it to help us comprehend the speeding up of technological changes.

Born out of a 2005 DARPA challenge tackled jointly by Stanford and Google, Google’s driverless car (video) pet project has taken a life of its own: The cars have driven more than 500,000km  accident and driver free, three states of US have permitted plying these cars on their roads and many more states and countries are to follow suit.  What looks like a pet project of a billionaire pair and a bunch of geeks is anything but a toy.  This innovation is about to make big changes to the way we live, and the change is going to happen much more quickly than we can imagine.

90% less accidents

The most emotionally appealing advantage from an self-driving car technology is this: 90% of the traffic accidents are caused by human error!  In the US alone, Google expects that its driverless technology will save 30,000 lives an year, avoid additional 2 million injuries and reduce accident related expenses by at least $400 billion.

Save commute time

Because driverless cars will be networked and exchange traffic information, drive with a much lesser physical clearance from each other, avoid collisions more effectively, etc., driverless cars can run faster, more cars can be accommodated in the given road space and they effortlessly select most optimal routes.  Hence, driverless cars will substantially reduce traffic jam and reduce commute time, to 90% by some rough estimates.  A 2012 study estimates that traffic congestion cost about $100b in US alone!

Less Cars on the Road

A car is one of the largest personal expenditure met today, still a car sits underutilized for most of the day.  This is with driverless cars.  In the era of driverless vehicles, most of us will seek to reduce under-utilization of assets by using common resources.  These resources will be operated by businesses that appear like cab companies.  The will have cars parked all over the city, in designated locations.  People hail them electronically, hop in and hop off.  Because the human driver is eliminated, driverless taxi service will be available at just a fraction of the cost we pay our cabs now (which in itself is much smaller than what we usually pay to self-owned car).  If the trend catches up, car pooling will automatically evolve out of this and the cost of using a car will sharply plummet.  Along with this, the number of cars will come down too.  By an optimistic estimate, driverless cars may reduce the total number of cars on the road by as much as 90%!

With 90% of the cars, traffic jams, commute time and traffic accidents all will further reduce!

What changes will happen

Driverless cars will make professional drivers obsolete.  US is already talking about truck drivers being eliminated over the next few years.  The trend will continue and accelerate.  Along with drivers, driving schools will eventually become redundant too.

With the cars being controlled and guided by pre-programmed rules, traffic violations will vanish.  With that traffic policing will shrink and take new roles.

Substantially reduced accidents will eventually put emergency medical services out of business.  Along with that, revenue of car insurance companies, and the companies that offer road accident covers, will shrink.

With the utilization of the cars increasing from the present levels, need for parking space and facilities will reduce.  With substantial reduction in the number of cars, and traffic snarls, construction of new roads will slow down and consumption of fuel plummet (on the other hand, if we discover cheaper sources of energy, car traffic on the highways will increase).  With better utilization of resources, cost of using a car per mile will plummet.

With number of cars reducing (after an initial hike owing to people converting to driverless), many car companies will go out of business.

Cab companies will flourish, but only if they rediscover themselves ground up.  With no driver inside a car, in-car entertainment will take new dimensions.  We will see the birth of a new vertical called ‘car-apps’ and the app makers coming up with several innovative solutions that we haven’t even felt the need for today.  Google, of course, is expected to share the driverless OS (like it shared the Android OS of the mobile phones) and build another mammoth revenue stream out of it.

So much for a pet project.  The funniest thing is, the technological innovations that gave us driverless cars is trivial comparing with, say, coming up with an intelligent search engine like Google (we easily forget that what a fine piece of peerless technology the Google search is).

How soon

In 2008, self driving cars could drive two blocks of closed loop at 40kmph.  By 2012, driverless cars have already driven 500,000km  in real life traffic.  With that kind of driving experience, Google must have pretty much figured out the driving algorithm.

A driverless car must have four additional feature

  • Machine operated controls (trivial challenge)
  • Central silicon brain (trivial challenge)
  • Driverless OS (Google already has it and it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who sets out to build it.  Given that it is just a piece software with few million of dollars of investment, the bar is not high at all)
  • Sensors, consisting of RADAR, gyro, GPS, etc. (existing technology)

As of today, the cost of the sensors runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars and they need to go through further miniaturization.  This is the only piece of technology that is keeping the driverless car from becoming a mass market product.  There is nothing fundamentally revolutionary about any of the technologies that make driverless cars possible.

If we take a closer look at the sensors, we will realize that

  • Microwave generator in kitchen oven costs just a few dollars; other than this, everything else is just solid state signal processing
  • Gyroscope (usually, a fiber optic gyro), again, is largely software
  • GPS has already become dirt cheap
  • The cost of putting them all together, as of today, is high.  But that is because only few small companies with limited resources have been developing these technologies for the tiny industry of land mapping.  When mass market players jump in, cost of these sensors will plummet.

With time, these sensors will cost just a little more than a microwave oven.  We shouldn’t be surprised if inexpensive driverless cars become available even before all the countries in the world have permissions in place for plying a driverless car!  In less than three years, driverless cars will become common scene in select places on the planet.  In about 10 years, driverless cars will be a common thing anywhere in the world.  That should convince the skeptics that the Singularity is Near (book)!

Note 1: Funny, the Google Chrome browser I am using to write this article keeps reminding me that “driverless” is not a valid word

Note 2: This post is largely based on the book Driverless Cars: Trillions are up for Grabs

04 Sep

Laura Carstensen: Age brings happiness

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen of Stanford had spent her life researching the state of mind of the elderly.  She and other researchers working in the field have come up with some eye-opening insights, which run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

Psychological Stability

Contrary to the popular image of “grumpy old man/woman”, older people seem to be psychologically more stable!  Human brain seem to become more stable with age.  If an elder person is depressed, they are most probably suffering from what started when they were young.

 

Older Brains are Stable

Also, people who are neurotic seldom learn to become happier with age.  They often start from such a low baseline that any improvement in the inner happiness simply doesn’t muster enough force.

By the way, women of all age seem to be reporting more psychological distress than men.  It is not clear if this is due to self-denial that most men are known for.

Experience more Positive Emotions

Older people experience more positive emotions.  There are lesser threats in their lives and lesser uncertainties.  With age, sources of anxieties start decreasing, either because they have been resolved or because people learn to live with them.  Contrary to the popular wisdom, youth, it seems, is the most miserable period in one’s life!

More Positive Emotions

After about mid sixties, the number of positive emotions being experienced by a person seem to come down with age.  Part of it has to do with age associated impairment of health.  If so, with modern anti-ageing techniques, the dip will be postponed by a decade or two. Does it mean that the increase (in positive incidences) will continue for another decade or two is a different question. If the answer is yes, then age-extension programs will yield some of the happiest human societies we have seen till today!

Ignore Negativity

Older people emotionally disassociate themselves from negativity!

There is a module in the brain called amygdala, which lights up (becomes active) when people encounter emotionally charged stimulus.  When researchers put younger and older subjects in a brain scanner and showed them emotionally positive and negative pictures, something very interesting came out.  The amygdala of younger subjects was activated when they encountered both positive and negative stimulus.  Older people had much bigger spike for positive stimulus than younger people, and they ignored the negative stimuli!

Emotionally Ignore Negativity

Older people have learnt to ignore the negativity.  At the same time, they have learnt to appreciate positive emotions better.  No wonder they are happier!  This has become more obvious through another experiments conducted by the researchers.  They showed younger and older subjects pictures of positive and negative faces and measured the amount of attention they paid.

Positive Bias

 

Older ones paid poorer attention to negative faces and paid better (than younger people) attention to positive faces.  It is as if the elders have become really good at ignoring negativity!  It may not always be a good thing (what good can it be if one ignores all atrocities in the news paper).  At least, it, makes them happier!

Emotionally dense Social Network

With time, emotional life of people becomes richer and more complex.  As people get older, they tend to retain the emotionally close and meaningful relationships and the casual relationships fall off.

Social Network of Older People has much more meaningful realtionships

With age, people become more selective about who they socialize with.  The riff-raff, not-so-close, meaningless relationships dwindle in numbers.

In Laura Carstensen’s words, as people grow older, they tend to

  • Live in the moment
  • Know what’s important
  • Invest in sure things
  • Deepen relationship and
  • Savor life

From the teachers of positive psychology and the science of happiness, we know that these are sure recipe for lifetime of happiness.  Add to this a more stable brain, no wonder that people are much happier as they grow older (of course, we are only talking about healthy individuals, who are also financially self-reliant).

Even anecdotally speaking, when I look around, I see that everyone I know, including myself, is much happier now in the middle ages than we were in our twenties or thirties.  Carstensen must be on to something here!

To learn more about Laura Carstensen’s work, you can watch this Youtube video or read her book A Long Bright Future.

26 Aug

Naked self-portrait: Simplest life extension tool

Naked Self-portrait

Most of us have a huge inertia when it comes to working out and eating right.  Even though we have heard millions of times that eating right, sleeping well and shaping up will add one or two decades to your life, and more life to every year, we never got around to doing them.  There is a simple one minute exercise that will break down your inertia: Get yourself a naked self-portrait!

Are you not convinced that you have body image issues?  Here is a bunch of questionnaires (not-free) that will help you get a scientific self-calibration (but let me assure you, getting a naked self-portrait is lot cheaper, and easier, than dealing with these questionnaires).  If you think you weigh too much or too little, you are likely to have a poor body image.  If you are a perfectionist, guaranteed that your self assessment will be worse than how others assess you.  If you were out of shape during your formative years, you are likely to be carrying the cross throughout your life.

Feeling bad about your body is not some fancy thing for the pansies.  It sits in the core of your self-image and dictates everything you do, it is part of our personality.  For a starter, it dictates what you wear, who you hang out with, the places you go to and the things you do.  It transforms your life.  Body image is a much stronger force than we give it credit for.  Unfortunately, in most of us, it is too subtle a force that it remains under the radar.  Hence, we go through the life without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

Even more unfortunately, in some of us, the body image misalignment is too strong an urge to ignore.  These people go great lengths to correct the misalignment.

  • Chelsea Manning, Kristin Beck went through great pains to transform oneself from being a man to a woman (Beck has a book in Amazon on his/her transformation)
  • Cindy Jackson has the world record for maximum number of plastic surgeries conducted on a person (Cindy has self-published a book on “How to: Cosmetic Surgeries”)
  • Valeriea Lukyanova calls herself the living Barbie and uses her looks to give you a ‘message from the space’ (don’t miss the slide-show; and the video will give you an insight into a mind that is very, how shall I put it, unusual).

Whereas we sympathize these people, or call them desperadoes, they consider themselves brave.  They are right.  They knew what they wanted, they worked hard for several years to get to it.  And they wear their designer persona proudly, even though it might open themselves to ridicule, sometime severe ones.  But this post is not for these brave souls, from Venus or not.

This blog post is for the rest of us, who have lived throughout our lives with this nagging feeling of not having a body that we deserve, a body that we are too shy to reveal, a body that must be covered with clothes in order not make us feel bad, get depressed or wanna fling it over the bridge.  Muster yourself enough courage just for one minute: Get yourself pictured naked!  And force yourself to look at it, really look at it.

For most of us, this one minute, no-money, exercise will make you start genuinely looking for ways to fix your body.  If your inner nag is like that of vast majority of the people (i.e you don’t have issues like sexual self-identify, anorexia, etc.), chances are that you will start to eat right and exercise.  Or at least, consider it seriously.

That will add 10 to 20 years to your life!  Not a bad for mustering whee bit of guts isn’t it?

21 Aug

Fuck-you Money

Fuck You Money

Buckminster Fuller (of buckyballs) said “controlled time is our true wealth”.  To him, wealth is the time span for which we can maintain our desired lifestyle without having to spend time making money. During the dot-com bubble, Silicon Valley came up with Fuck-you Money.  For them, it is the amount of money you need in your hand before you can stop working for your living.

Sadly, the amount of wealth many of us have accumulated can’t even last a month if we stopped working. For some smart people among us, it can last a few years. It’s only the case of a small fraction of people that the wealth can last their entire life time.

Million Paupers to Billion Kings

Historically, masses never had opportunity to acquire decent amount of money without taking huge risks.  Comparing with today’s terms, human productivity was abysmally low [chart below shows the population and per capita GDP of UK (By the way, did you notice how there is a tight correlation between the population and per capita income?  If you want to understand this phenomena, you should watch this TED video)].

UK GDP across centuries

 

Our culture carries the burden of thousands of years of legacy.  We still live by religious and moral teachings that were conceived 2,000 years ago, if not earlier.  They come from an era where anyone who didn’t take work seriously perished, or became a criminal.  Even the nature of work was such that it placed huge premium on toil, rather than creativity.  You can see from the graph that this was beginning to change somewhere around 1850 and the change picked up pace around 1920.

Take a look at the next graph.  It shows the price of lighting (in today British Pounds, for million lumen hours) in UK over the last two centuries.

Price Of Lighting

When you put the two graphs together, you can see that before 1850, not only people were making far less money, they were spending through all their orifices.  Unlike most of us like to believe, today we live in a world that is cheaper than the past.  And, today, we live in a world where everyone makes enough money to live like how a Duke used to live, if not a King.

We now have an opportunity to make enough money, without taking unreasonable risk, in a few short years to fund our living for the rest of our lives.  Unfortunately, no one tells us that because we are stuck in a culture that is founded on values and customs that were appropriate thousands of years ago.

Note: The above two graphs were taken from this paper.

Education for Foot Soldiers

The education system that we have today was founded in Prussia, during the late 19th century.  The purpose of the Prussian education system was to produce more people who were capable of reading bible and working in the army.  Eventually, when industrial revolution came along, the same education system was used for mass producing workers for the factories.

Back then, it was a huge deal.  10 years of education guaranteed a lifetime of earning opportunity.  And as an added bonus, there was even an assurance of some support cash when a person can’t work anymore.  Life has never been this good and every responsible parent rushed to ensure that their children had this thing called formal, mass produced, education.

Unfortunately, mass education prepares us to be a worker throughout our life.  It doesn’t teaches us the skill required for retiring early in life.  Even after getting a 20 year education, we

  • Can’t even set up a personal financial accounting system (unless we are specifically trained as a financial accounting professional)
  • We have no concept of creating wealth.  We are only geared towards earning money.
  • We learn nothing about risk taking or risk management
  • Training on ethics and morals are relegated to the margins of elementary classes, when we can’t appreciate much of nuances involved.  To make the matter worse, the ideas taught in the name of ethics are often toxic.
  • No one tells us that happiness is the ultimate purpose of life.  Whereas, mass education constantly keeps reminding us that we must be good workers, good citizens, etc.

The list goes on.  But the point is this: Not only does our education fails to equip us with skills needed for creating enough wealth, education and the society actually orients us towards life time of toil. No wonder most of us have no concept of ‘wanting’ to become wealthy for life!

Work subsumes everything else

During our working years, so much of our lives revolve around work. We simply have no time left for anything else substantial.  We allow the work to spill everywhere and ‘life’ to be relegated to the cracks and crevices.  Whatever non-work time that we permit ourselves is mostly used up for recovering from work.  Worse still, very often we spend our leisure time to augment our success at our work.

In a life that is filled with thoughts of work from the time we enter the kindergarten, to the time we are 60 (when physical fitness deteriorates), it is no surprise that we don’t even stop to contemplate the possibility of making a pile and getting out of the game.  We don’t know how to make the pile, or how much, or what to do when we make it.

We are so inseparable from our work that with the exception of perhaps the Batman, all of us define our identies by the work we do!  For anyone in their right mind, it should sound ridiculous.

Non-work is an Unfamiliar Territory

Most of us don’t know what to do with our time if we stop working today.

Many exciting moments of our life happen in our work place.  Until recently, before the online social networks popped up, work is the only place where we could meet people of comparable caliber and taste.  Work also brings us to a larger number of more colorful people.  Work brings us self-esteem.  Work gives us easy targets.  Work removes many ambiguities from our lives.  Work also gives us a clear sense of getting ahead.

Not working has one crucial disadvantage: Too many options and zero training to handle such abundance of opportunities!

Since all of us live such a work-centric life, there is a sheer paucity of sufficiently exciting, and sufficiently engaging, non-work activities in our culture.  The impoverishment of options further reduces the choice of things one could do after one stops working.

We have over-designed our systems to give us economic security. We failed to design them for happiness.  That was OK till the last century, when becoming rich was synonymous to raising above the poverty line, which is the pre-requisite to happiness.  However, with large portion of the world leaving the poverty behind, the idea that wealth is only a pre-requisite to happiness is just sinking in.  We are just beginning to realize that once a certain amount of wealth is accumulated, and our future is secured, we are better off spending our time on pursing happiness more directly.

So, how much is too much?

If you are setting out to make your own pile of fuck-you money, the first thing you need to do is this: Have a number!

Unless you know what will set you free, you will either under shoot and end up working throughout your life, busy making the ends meet. Or overshoot and end up working throughout your life acquiring meaninglessly huge abundance.

Here are some clues that will help you put a number on your personal requirement:

  • The amount of money should enable you (and your dependents) to maintain the desired standard of living for the rest of your life.
  • The amount of money should be sufficient to give your kids the acceptable (to you) quality of start in their life.
  • The amount of money should be sufficient to cover your health care demands for the rest for your life.  And remember, unlike your parents, you are very likely end up living up to a hundred.
  • Around 2020, if not earlier, you will be able to pay money and acquire biological enhancements.  You better have some money for this one!
  • Last, but not the least, you should have sufficient money to chase your passions

If you are looking for living a comfortable middle class life for the rest of your life

  • You live in the West, or BRICS or one of the other fast growing countries
  • You are living in a large city
  • You are in your forties or fifties

if you have acquired approximately US$ 2 million to US$ 5 million (including the money you have to spend in your primary residence), that is your fuck-you money.  If you are looking for living as the upper middle class, then you are looking at 5 to 10 times the number above.

Unless you are planning to use money as a tool to buy you power, influence or recognition, you will seldom need a larger sum to set you free.  Also, if you decide to live a simple life in a small town or a village, you will need much smaller amount.

What is your passion?

Most of the people don’t know what they are passionate about.  Don’t worry about it.  Your passion is likely to change over time anyway.  There is nothing wrong about it.  People whose passion multiple passions live a richer life with much varied experiences.  Even people who stick to same domain throughout their life usually keep shifting their interest areas inside their chosen domain.

There is only one way to find out the things you are passionate about: Try various things!  The more different they are from each other, the better.  The most probable reason you haven’t found your passion is probably because you haven’t been experimenting enough.

Finding your passion outside your work can be a strong incentive to quit working. Or, at least, allocate a decent amount of time for your life besides work.

How to make that kind of money?

Most people don’t know how to accumulate so much of money in a reasonably short period of time.  After all, none of us get an education about making money!  But if you are serious about taking charge of your life soon, you must find an answer to this question sooner than later.

Making money is just a matter of skill. Usually, it is a cluster of skills. The skills are not very difficult and they are very learnable. The problem is you will need to perform all of them consistently with reasonable level of success.

If you don’t set out to find the answer to the last question, you will be dragging yourself through the life, living from day to day, spending 10 to 12 hours on making money, and do it for several decades. There is so much you are going to miss out in life!  That will be sad!!

07 Aug

Talking eyes

Sclera

Have you ever met someone with his or her eyeball tattooed?  And if you have, have you ever tried to hold a conversation with them?  I am guessing you probably haven’t.  But you sure have held a conversation with someone wearing sunglasses.  If that conversation was with a person you don’t trust or you don’t know that person yet, do you remember the uncomfortable feeling you had?  The uncomfortable feeling comes because you can’t see that person’s sclera.

Sclera is the white of an eye.  Sclera of most animals have black or brown in color.  Also, in most animals, the iris is large and it occupies most of the eye socket.

With humans, our eyelids are horizontally elongated, increasing the opportunity for the eyeballs to become more visible.  Human eyeballs have lost all pigmentation so that they are clearly contrasted against the human skin.  The human iris comes in dark colors, clearly contrasting against the eyeball.  Our iris is smaller than the that of other animals, further increasing the visibility of the white of the eye.  All of this make it easy for humans to track each other’s eyes.  Even dogs have learnt to track human eyes (though, they can’t track the eyes of other dogs).

We have talking eyes.  Our sclera and iris are designed to talk and to be listened to.  Even infants can track eye movements.  They can track a care giver’s eye movement even before they can track their head movements!

Eye movement is very much a part of our body language repertoire.  For any body language to work, all of us must be using the body gestures the same way.  So, most of the body language gestures are common across our species.  In fact, many body languages are common across the species too.  That’s why we can clearly tell when a lion is angry.

Since the eye movement is part of our body language, we have a pre-defined vocabulary for our eye-talk.  Unfortunately, not much of it is well understood or documented.  Except for a bit of detective work done by NLP (watch this video).

Eye Accessing Cues

NLP has discovered when you try to recall a picture, your eyes move to ‘your’ left-top.  Or when you try to build a new image in your mind, your eyes move to your right-top.  Similarly, when you try to recall some sound you’ve heard, your eyes move to your left and when you are build up a sound, your eyes move to your right.  And when you are having an internal dialog, your eyes tend to move to your left-bottom.  When you get in touch with some tactile experience, your eyes tend to go to your right-bottom (more in this article).  So, when someone is describing about a fun conversation they had last night, and their eyes keep going to their right (and not left), then you know that the person is probably lying!

Our talking eyes are one more evidence that we have been mutually-cooperating social animals for millions of years.  If we had lived in a free-for-all, me-first, devious society, advertising your intent with talking eyes would be a bad thing to do.  If you can’t believe that next guy will do the right thing, you won’t advertise that your are looking at something interesting, like food or a potential mate.

Advertising your intent openly to everyone means (a) you believe that you will not be exploited and (b) your intent (to share the food, for example) will be returned when the time comes.  These two are social traits are deeply embedded in our genetic code and white sclara is just one such places where it shows.

It is in our nature to be social (see the previous post about our fundamentally social nature).  To say that humans need to be forced to cooperate, or that we should be bound by rules to act fair, or that we are selfish in nature, are all total hogwash.  Such claims are testament to lack of understanding of how we work down deep inside.

Down deep inside, we are cooperative social animals with a selfish me-first streak (more about this later).  We are neither this, nor that.  We are a fine balance between honey bees and leopards.  If that is not complicated enough, the point of equilibrium keeps shifting from time to time!