Today we lost the drug war - an essay inspired by Quinn Norton's blog on drug production using synthetic biology.
I suggest that we can use what we have (expensively) learned from the drug war and the growth of Internet to figure out what to do with synthetic biology.
A steamy calamari: trans-species eroticism and disgust (Practical Ethics) - I wrestle with the question of what (if anything) is wrong with dead squid porn. I mainly conclude that we shouldn't trust immediate disgust reactions. In fact, dead squid porn is better than live squid porn because the animal is not suffering.
Ah, the wonderful power of squick! While working on the blog post I noticed that I was somewhat concerned by the impact of it. A feeling I never got when I wrote about the ethics of my enhancer use, Catholic church gaydar, the acceptability of file sharing, abortion and sex-selection or criticising the government - far more controversial, important and far-ranging issues than what goes on in a few bedrooms. But squicky subjects suck in attention - they are near, they evoke direct feelings of disgust and interest rather than abstract principles. People become far more upset about them than the far-mode big things... although it is those that often matter more in the long run.
Reality just is.
Right now cherry trees flower outside my window.
A hangnail hurts.
A dust cloud might mess up my flight to America, or it might not.
People are suffering and enjoying.
The ideal gas law follows from Stirling's approximation applied to a simple calculation of phase space volume.
Lets make this world more beautiful and interesting.
On Practical Ethics in the News I argue that life extension is worth it.
It is quite surprising how many people are taken in with grand pronouncements that pursuing life extension will lead to bad consequences X, Y and Z that have the stringency of a wet salad. We have some pretty strong reasons to think it would be good (given that being alive, healthy and doing things is something we tend to value highly). There will obviously be plenty of good and bad consequences but past experiences with longer lives on a society-wide basis have been fairly good. Most suggested bad consequences can be handled socially or are things we might discover are much less bad than what we avoid.
If the price of longevity is having to get fewer children, it might be worth taking for some people but not others. Fertility in humans seems to be amazingly flexible and influencable by social and economic factors. Rather than doing something as crude as banning immortals from having children (or people who have had children from taking life extension treatments), one could for example have a tax that makes it unfavourable to both extend life and having children.
NIST Digital Library of Mathematical Functions is a newly online published companion to the NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions. Wow! This got everything from obscure special functions to Laplace transforms of matrices to very useful numerical methods. A great resource!
I just finished reading For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner. A very enjoyable book about how insects defend themselves chemically (or otherwise), from the explosive compounds of bombardier beetles over prey management strategies among spiders to the chains of chemical donations among certain moths. Highly recommended.
The book really made me realize just how much chemical interactions are going on in the natural environment. We humans tend to think of nature as "clean" with a few noxious exceptions, but it is more likely that we just don't notice the everyday warfare between plants, animals and fungi due to our size.