Fun Papers This Week

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Fri Mar 17 2000 - 08:26:11 MST

* An environmental spike
* A cocaine vaccine
* Enriched environments makes rats learn quicker and better
* Neural growth factors makes rats learn quicker and better
* Glucose and stimulant makes rats learn quicker and better
* Polyunsaturated fatty acids makes human infants learn quicker and better

The End in Sight? Some Speculations on Environmental Trends in the
Twenty-First Century
Peter Harper, Futures 32 (2000) 361-384

The quarrel between the "The Ecocalypse is Nigh" school of pessimistic
environmentalist and the "Don't worry" school of optimistic (mainly)
economists have raged for quite some time. Both sides have gathered
evidence for their positions, and even discounting different
perceptual paradigms (you only see what you want to see) it is a bit
strange that neutral outsiders cannot get a consensus pricture from
this evidence. This paper suggests a fairly simple (simplistic?)
explanation, namely that both sides have been looking at parts of the
world but not the whole (as they claim). In the "North" there is a lot
of evidence for environmental optimism, we have low population growth,
industries getting cleaner per capita all the time, even a trend
towards people settling at a comfortable living standard. In the
"South" there is a lot of stuff going on that looks like the
ecocalypse narrative.

Harper plays around with a very simple model about what might happen
during this century, and comes to the conclusion that the big problem
isn't the North - it might be rich, but the environmental impact will
be much less than the impact of the South. He argues that we see a
kind of transition complex not unlike the demographic transition,
where emerging economies go through a high pollution/resource
depletion phase - it is likely the South will go through a this phase
in the early part of this century, and then go down towards a less
polluting, high affluence level. It is useless to try to stop this
from happening, but we can try to help the South make it as quickly
and cleanly as possible. Harper suggests that this unique 'spike'
should be embraced and managed rather than avoided or delayed.

[ I'm not well read on environmental economics, so I cannot judge if
this is a good paper or not. I liked it, it had a lot of good
references and explained things clearly and persuasively, but I would
certainly like if some more knowledgeable readers commented. ]

Evaluation of anti-cocaine antibodies and a cocaine vaccine in a rat
self-administration model

Kathleen M. Kantak, Stephanie L. Collins, Elizabeth G. Lipman, Julian
Bond, Kate Giovanoni and Barbara S. Fox Psychopharmacology (2000)

It is possible to create monoclonal antibodies against nearly
anything, so can antibodies be used to treat drug misuse? This paper
tested the effects on rats, first in a passive task where the amount
of cocaine and antibodies were varied, second in an active task where
rats were immunized before being given the chance to return to cocaine
self-administration. The results suggest that the antibodies can
inhibit the reinforcing effects of cocaine and reduce cocaine-seeking
behavior and drug intake in rats as long as the concentration is above
0.05 mg/ml in the serum.

[ This approach is interesting. It has obvious applications for
treating addiction, and some worrying possibilities for calls of
mass-vaccinations. But it also has the implication that we may develop
means of making overcoming addiction less of a problem, and that might
be real dynamite in the drug debate. ]

Effects on Environmental Enrichment on Rate of Contextual Processing
and Discriminative Ability in Adult Rats

Elizabeth A. Woodcock and Rick Richardson

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 73, 1-10 (2000)

That it is good to grow up in an enriched environment is well
established, but in what ways does it promote cognition? This study
compared rats that had grown up in an enriched, interesting
environment with rats from a boring environment. The rats were placed
in a new environment, and after a while they got an electric shock. A
while later they were placed in the same environment, and the amount
of freezing they exhibited (a measure of how much they remembered the
danger) was compared. It turned out that enriched rats learned faster,
and when placed in a similar but different environment they had an
easier time recognizing the difference. Apparently they processed
context more rapidly and also could handle more complex situations.

[ Yet another reason to bring up the children in an exciting environment. ]

Enhanced Visuospatial Memory Following Intracerebroventricular
Administration of Nerve Growth Factor

Catherine Brandner, Guido Vantini and Francoise Schenk

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 73, 49--67 (2000)

Rats were given injections of NGF when 12-13 days old. This
considerably improved their memory abilities when tested 10-19 days
and 6 months afterwards. The young rats actually did as well as adult
rats in the first test.

The authors speculate that this may have something to do with a better
developed cholinergic system in the treated rat brains; this remains
to be seen but I wouldn't be surprised. The nice thing for transhuman
applications is that this treatment doesn't have to be done in
association with learning as in the case of most other memory
enhancing drugs, instead it improves the built in memory control
systems. Also worth noting given the above two articles is that
enriched environments have been shown to lead to higher levels of NGF
in the brains of rats, possibly the reason they are so good.

Shuttle-Box Avoidance Learning in Mice: Improvement by Glucose
Combined With Stimulant Drugs

Mario Sansone, Mario Battaglia and Flaminia Pavone

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 73, 94-100 (2000)

Glucose and stimulants improve memory in general, but how do they
interact? This paper tested combinations of glucose, nicotine and
amphetamine on rats in a shuttle-box task. It turned out that by
combining glucose with a stimulant memory could be enhanced even if
the individual doses were alone too small to improve it. This is
likely due to having two different systems for memory modulation,
which multiply together.

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Early Dietary Supply of Long-chain
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Mental Development in Term Infants

Eileen E. Birch, Sharon Garfield, Dennis R. Hoffman, Ricardo Uauy,
David G. Birch

Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology (2000) 42:174-181

The brain needs a lot of nutrients to develop, especially fatty acids
to be incorporated into cell membranes etc. This study studied the
effects of supplying docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid
(AA) to healthy children from day 5 to week 17 of age. When they were
18 months old they were tested using infant development scales. The
combination DHA+AA led to an increase in the mental development index
(7 points of the MDI of the BSID-II) and both the DHA and DHA+AA
groups had cognitive and motor advantages compared to the control
children who had not got any supplements.

[ More hints for transhumanist child rearing? "Lt Cmdr. Spock's
Handbook of Logical Child Rearing" :-) ]

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:05:33 MDT