The immortal jellyfish, David Wilcox, and glow-in-the-dark cats

Source: BBC Nature

So there’s this jellyfish.  It’s tiny.  It’s global.  And it’s immortal.

You scoff but it’s true!  There’s this miniscule jellyfish that has supped from the fountain of youth and mocks us with its knowledge with its beady little.. um.. tentacles.  This jellyfish – or Turritopsis nutricula in elite circles – essentially grows to adulthood, decides it’s time for a change, and then converts all its cells to become a little jellyfish baby again – or a “blob-like cyst”.  Discovering it doesn’t like being a blob, it grows back to an adult again, and, evidently not liking the responsibilities of that, shrinks back to a polyp, and so on and so forth (I’m sure the whole time humming along to this sweet tune).

For this species, the process of converting cells, or transdifferentiation, means that the cells can be converted from specialized muscle cells (for example) back to nerve cells or even to inaugural sperm and eggs.  Essentially the jellyfish can convert its mature cells back into a younger state and vice-versa.  In theory this cycle can loop forever, which means that biological immortality does in fact exist here on Earth… as well as perpetual biological indecision.

And I thought I had trouble growing up.  🙂

P.S. On a tangential note, recently scientists have inserted jellyfish genes into cats as part of research into Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (and ultimately, HIV).  As these genes make fluorescent proteins, this has the effect of actually making the cats glow in the dark and the result is visible with the naked eye.

While the aims of the related research are incredibly promising, there’s something really strange about making green cats, don’t you think?

More God particle fun…

For more Higgs boson musings, visit: “The mostly harmless Higgs boson (aka So long, and thanks for all the fonts!”  🙂

Ernie and the Conquest of Happiness

A long time ago in a galaxy very very near, there lived a small rotund creature named Ernie.

As you can see, Ernie was a saccharine mix of innocent, playful, and roundly cute. Ernie loved to frolic in the woods with all the birds and the bees (not in that way) and in general his days were full of joy and slightly annoying laughter.

One dark day though, Ernie came across a puzzling creature in the forest: “Bernie”.

Ernie was at a bit of a loss at this odd treatment but chose to interpret it as one would the darker passages of Wagner’s Ring Cycle (which on his planet was known as the Rinse Cycle).  Being a creature of perpetual sweetness and light, Ernie decided to overlook this omen and engage Bernie in friendship.

Despite Bernie’s strange social skills and beanie, Ernie was intrigued by his new friend and sought to cultivate the relationship.

He offered strolls…

He tried shows…

Even the building blocks of life were met with derision.

Anyway, this went on for a while.  As he continued to spend time with Bernie, Ernie noticed something strange was happening.  He started to find himself a little less full of sweetness and light.

In fact, Ernie was also becoming noticeably less rotund, while Bernie, conversely, seemed overly inflated..

He couldn’t quite put his paw on it, but Ernie knew that something was amiss.

One memorable day though, Ernie had a lot of coffee and wine at the same time and experienced an epiphany!

At this very moment, Ernie realized that he had let Bernie become the authoritative downer on how his time should be experienced.  With that realization, Ernie’s joie de vivre instantly expanded to its former rotund proportions – he was free of the tyranny!

Years later, when Ernie was asked about this dark period in his life, he was fond of paraphrasing Bertrand Russell. With a knowing air, Ernie would straighten up and proudly pronounce:

“The person who says he has many dislikes and is disinterested in so many things has given themselves less opportunity to enjoy life.  Conversely, those with many interests have given themselves just that many more opportunities for joy”.

And he lived happily ever after.

For more Ernie stories click here!

The mostly harmless Higgs boson (or so long, and thanks for all the fonts)

“Ah I love this time of day, when the particles and waves hit me just right…”

It’s been an electrifying week for particle physics, what with the seeming discovery of the Higgs boson, otherwise known as the “God particle”.  The existence of this unassuming little sub-atomic particle was first conceived of in the 1970s, but only very recently have physicists found tangible evidence that it exists through the use of the gigantic CERN Large Hadron Collider.

Now, there’s lots of information out there clarifying what the Higgs boson is all about, and why it matters, but suffice it to say (for this light-hearted post) that H-B and its mechanisms is believed responsible for conferring mass to all matter, which equates to all the mass in the universe.  At 1052 to 1053 kg, that’s heavy stuff for a little boson!

Also trending though, is the fact that the physicists announced the discovery of the God particle using Comic Sans font in their Powerpoint presentation, to the chagrin and ridicule of aesthetes the world over and causing a cosmic firestorm on Twitter (i.e. “few people know that the original set of tablets were smashed not because of the golden calf, but because they were in Comic Sans” @spiritofMoses).

It’s a pretty quarky – yet funny – world when one of the biggest scientific discoveries in the last fifty years is vying with font type for attention.  Sigh… if only Douglas Adams were still around, he would have had a field day with this one!

P.S. Why is Higgs boson called the God particle you ask?  This title was apparently popularized by a book on particle physics: The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?.  The author indicated he chose the name because “the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing”.

Part II: Flow, meaning, and a state of grace

Woah!! Whaddaya mean you’re not clear on the plot line?

Earlier this month, this blog posted on the idea of optimal experience in life, a state of mind that some have referred to as flow. The concept refers to those times when one is completely absorbed in the moment, whether that occurs when scaling a mountain, drawing a picture, or figuring out an Excel formula (=SUM(no_way!)).

Now, probably the most comprehensive and shared flow experiences occur during childhood, as during play we are completely immersed in the moment and that moment becomes our whole reality.  I mean, what kid is thinking about past or future homework when being chased by a rabid sibling channeling Cujo?

The researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has taken quite an interest in this subject, and his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is a fine read for those wanting to know more.  This post however, concerns itself less with the entirety of the book as opposed to the ending sections, where Csíkszentmihályi touches on the intriguing thought of having an overall architecture or purpose that extends over one’s lifetime.  He argues that the potential for quality moments expand when we identify a consistent purpose to our time here, whatever that purpose may be.

To give a tangible example, in 2005 a documentary was released called “The Real Dirt on Farmer John“.  The great thing about this doc was that the filmmaker (at first by accident and increasingly on purpose) had captured nearly thirty years of footage on his friend John Peterson, an eccentric individual with a single-minded conviction to be a successful farmer.  The film – shot in formats ranging from home video to Super 8 – thus affords a rare vantage point of seeing a story arc unfold over the course of one lifetime.  And because this particular person had a particular purpose he kept coming back to, we could see in technicolour hindsight the multitude of actions, good and bad, light and dark, that contributed to his overall life’s meaning (whether he realized it at the time or not).  And thus, through the highs and lows and the wins and the losses, Farmer John’s life was rich in quality and he lived in a greater state of flow.

In the longer term, defining purpose, whether it’s for part of one’s life or the whole of it, in essence allows us to bootstrap many of our supposed incidental moments.  And these moments, given enough time and knit into a coherent whole, can thereby make up much more than the sum of their parts… much like the coloured bits of glass that, stepping back, make up the stained glass window of our lives.

P.S.  Another take on this phenomena was recently covered by Colby Cosh in his sophisticated piece Artisan chocolate and social revolution, where he muses on the future of work in the context of hipster chocolate and strangely long beards.  Although Cosh’s piece is primarily focused on the revival of artisan goods and craftsmanship as a counter to mass mechanization, i.e. “You had better be prepared to be a distinct individual, to treat your particular line of work as a craft rather than a job, to seek out the style or the method or the niche that no one else is in; nobody’s going to need you to knock out pyramid-style copy on deadline or take trite photos from accident scenes…“, one could argue a byproduct of mastering a craft is actually increased opportunities for a flow state.  Why?  Because mastery of anything fulfills several preconditions for flow (i.e. energized focus, deep involvement, clear goals, etc.).  Given that craftsmanship can take a lifetime to master, this sets up a solid framework for a richly fulfilling occupation… gathering Paradise, so to speak.