The Reis Release #13

While on a walk…

Well in this case, not on a walk but on a run. Have you tried “plogging” which is a new fitness craze sweeping Sweden and the world? While running, carry a bag, and pick up trash along the way. While this may be commonplace for some trail runners, I would love if Patagonia designed a running backpack specifically for plogging. Perhaps local businesses could partner with their community to provide discounts for beautifying their streets. Who wants to go plogging?

So I invite you to my birthday celebration

When: 10:30AM until 12:30PM
Where: Central Park (meeting location 69th and 5th ave). Then our apartment.
What: Experiencing nature in the city followed by a light brunch at our home.
* A walk to some of my favorite spots in Central Park, including the Ramble’s (one of the three woodlands in Central Park) hidden cave, waterfalls, and a few of my favorite vistas.
* Along the way we will be plogging (we can walk though), recycling trash found along the way to clean up Central Park. This part is optional but highly encouraged and the “winner” will receive a gift.
* Then a short walk back to my apartment for a light homemade brunch.

Weather: Dress warmish as Dark Sky says it will be mid-40s (figure an hour of walking).

Who: Significant others, friends, pets, and children welcome (as long as they can keep up!)

Please let me know if you plan to come!

While on the subway…

Adam Gazzaley | The Medical Potential of Video Games  (After On Podcast)

Adam is the head of a lab at UCSF that leverages technology to improve brain function. He is a neurologist and embarked on this journey by realizing that drugs were too blunt. They target neurotransmitters (only one part of the network) and not the neural network (the web of neurons). Thus we require high levels of dosage, causing many side effects. He then began exploring more personalized treatments.

Experiences activate the brain, which is the basis for any kind of therapy, including education. His premise is to create an experience that changes the brain for the better, kind of the opposite of how soldiers experience PTSD. How is he doing this? With video games! Video games allow for personalization, are adaptive, and fun too! Imagine playing a fancy version of Mario Kart instead of taking Adderall.

He started with a game to solve distraction and help attention. During the game they record brain activity. They also employ electrical stimulation while playing the game, which makes it more likely neurons fire. The game is now in final approval with the FDA and is the first non-drug treatment for children with ADHD. The results so far have been promising and the effects were similar to stimulants.

Another game he is working on is, Body Brain Trainer, incorporates physical and cognitive fitness at the same time. He believes this can lead to more cognitive benefits because physical fitness has benefits on brain health. Their special sauce is the adaptive nature of the games. As you focus better and are faster/more accurate, the cognitive challenges increase each moment (getting harder as you getting better). One example, they monitor your heart rate/Vo2 max and the game knows your limits, ensuring you reach that. This allows you to push your cognitive and physical fitness to the edge at the same time, which is rare to do unless you are a world-class athlete.

This got me thinking, we (or machines) may be able to create humans on a new level with physical and cognitive programs designed specifically for each of us. Here’s an analogy, perhaps the best college baseball team today could beat the Yankees in the 1920s. These legacy Yankees didn’t have the same training, equipment, nutrition, and physical abilities. Our education and training today is still quite inefficient and lacks personalization. In 20 years, our intelligence may look like the 1920s Yankees, compared to a young adult who was able to leverage these advanced video games.

His points on consciousness got my mind racing. We interact with the world in two ways: top down (how you perceive the world driven by our goals) and bottom up (how we interact with the environment independent of our goals, or said another way automatic responses). His theory of consciousness is that it happens in between top down and bottom up. Animals/organisms only responding to the environment (bottom up) don’t have consciousness. I’m taking that a step further, what if we also don’t control our top down. What if the likes of Facebook, Google, or some futuristic video game guides (controls) each decision in our life based on our data and “preferences”? Not only will we be zombies without a conscious, but we’ll have no freewill.

While in bed…

The Planet Has Seen Sudden Warming Before. It Wiped Out Almost Everything  (NYTimes)

I was hooked from the first sentence, albeit I’m very interested in climate change. “Some 252 million years ago, Earth almost died.” I’ve long known the earth has a magical healing power and ability to balance itself in mysterious ways. As I recently mentioned, from the NatGeo show One Strange Rock, “It’s still a mystery that Earth’s balance of oxygen has remained constant at 20.9% for thousands of years despite population growth, industrialization, deforestation, and pollution.” The article states that, “In some ways, the planet’s worst mass extinction — 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period — may parallel climate change today.” Scientists for the first time have now been able to simulate how this happened and what the ramifications were.

The articles concludes 96% of ocean life disappeared during that episode. If that happens again, life will return but I’d imagine all sorts of new species as different dynamics in the environment will cause life to evolve in alternative ways. However, can the miracle of humans separating from chimpanzees occur again?

We still don’t know how we split in the first place and perhaps therein lies the answer. As Yuval Harari writes in Sapiens, “Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.” He later continues, “The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution. What caused it? We’re not sure. The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language. We might call it the Tree of Knowledge mutation.”

It is promising, that life would likely return (in some form) and perhaps more promising, that we now have the means to deeply study this prior episode to improve our current situation. However, it is sad, that as the lead scientist notes, “Left unchecked, climate warming is putting our future on the same scale as some of the worst events in geological history.” What are you doing to stop this (besides coming plogging on Sunday)? I heard Naval Ravikant say something that always resonated with me, “how can any parent not be an environmentalist?”

While drinking tea…

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” — John Muir. This is true in so many ways. From the diatoms which are micro algae that are the salt of life, to all of our mitochondria tying back to a single woman, to A journey to thank all the people responsible for your morning coffee, to the wolves of Yosemite changing the rivers.

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