This week's finds

Anders Sandberg (
01 Mar 1999 16:55:27 +0100

Sorry for the delay, but I have been doing a lot of stuff as usual. One thing worth mentioning was the Aleph "Power / MindDesign" weekend where we held seminars and discussed and mental techniques , very stimulating and practical transhumanism. The basis for my main talk was Mind Tools excellent website, I really recommend it for all transhumanists:

This time, there is a bit of nanotech, some hormones, and a big chunk of the neuropsychological effects of food and drink.

Sign language for wearables
Nanotechnology and the environment
Bucky-shuttle memories
ACTH and beta-endorphin in Transcendental Meditation Testosterone is affected by winning or losing in sports fans Mood and vigilance effects of exercise and food composition. Long-term vitamin supplementation improves mood and cognition - in women Thiamine supplementation, mood and cognitive functioning Blood Glucose Influences Memory and Attention in Young Adults Effects of alcohol on creative scientific thought

Thumbcode: A Device-Independent Digital Sign Language Vaughan R. Pratt

An interesting idea for a wearable typing method. Since the only thing that is truly device independent in typing is the hand, Pratt suggests using a code mapped on the hand to enter characters. The thumb is used to touch the phalanges (12 possibilities), and by shifting by holding together fingers enough possibilities (96) become possible to use as a general purpose keyboard. The mapping is somewhat arbitrary, but Pratt suggests a system partially based on frequency and various mnemonics to map characters to the hand ('t' would be touching the tip of the ring finger with the thumb, 'M' toughing the middle section of the index finger while holding it together with the middle finger, and so on). Seems quite possible to implement in hardware, whether it is useful and ergonomic is another question.

Nanotechnology, resources and pollution control Stephen L. Gillett
Nanotechnology 7 177-182 (1996)

A paper about the implications of nanotechnology on the environment. Just the thing to put in the hands of the environmentalists. Gillet points out that the thermal paradigm used today in element separation is extremely wasteful, expensive and dirty and that the ’cut-off grade’ of ore where extraction becomes uneconomical is a technological rather than physical limitation. He also shows that there are no increasing thermodynamic costs due to low grades; it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of energy to extract or recycle something from a very dilute mixture. He then goes on to discuss pollution control, molecular sieves and solute extraction
(such as desalination) in the perspective of nanotechnology.

"Bucky Shuttle" Memory Device: Synthetic Approach and Molecular Dynamics Simulations
Young-Kyun Kwon, David Tomanek and Sumio Ijima Physical Review Letters, 82:7 1470--1473, 15 February 1999

When finely dispersed diamond powder (4-6 nm) is treated with thermal annealing under certain conditions (heated in graphite crucible in argon to 1800 degrees C for 1 hour) oblong multiwall carbon structures appear. In some cases they can move around inside each other, like having a C60 trapped in a C480. It turns out that there are two potential energy minima corresponding to lying at the ends, and if the buckyball would be given a charge (e.g. by trapping an ion in it) then it can be shuttled by an applied electric field. The article studies the possibility of using this for memory storage. They simulate what happens when writing a bit, and it turns out that the buckyball neatly shuttles to the right end, and gently bounces to rest (the energy is dissipated as 10 Kelvin thermal vibrations in the C480, far too little energy to disrupt the molecule); it takes around 10 ps. They suggest a high density memory board with aligned buckyshuttles in a hexagonal lattice and addressing wires above and below, not unlike a ferrite core memory. The memory is likely nonvolatile at room temperature (and can be made more stable by using La instead of K). Switching and access can at least be 10 Gbyte/s, and ideally 0.1 THz. Mass production can be based on self-assembly.


ACTH and beta-endorphin in Transcendental Meditation Jose Rafael Infante, Fernando Peran, Margarita Martinez, Ana Roldan, Rafael Poyantos, Concha Ruiz, Francisco Samaniego and Federico Garrido Physiology & Behavior 64:3 311-315 1998

Meditation has physiological effects, there is nothing strange with that. The question is what effects are there, how large are they and can they be useful? One of the most obvious and practical application is stress reduction and relaxation. Earlier studies have shown that TM has some effects on the levels of various hormones. This study compared the amount of stress-related hormones during the day among a group of non-meditators and meditators (who had at least been meditating twice daily for 12 months, on average they had been doing it for 7.5 years). It turned out that the normal variation of endorphin and ACTH during the day is changed in the TM subjects: instead of showing a higher level in the morning than in the evening, the meditators had roughly constant levels. The morning levels of hormones were significantly lower among the meditators. Cortisol, another stress-related hormone, did not differ between the groups. Interestingly, both groups had similar anxiety levels; in this case meditation seems to have changed the body more than the mind. The authors speculate that the change is due to some modifications of the hypothalamic regulation of the pituitary hormone system.

Testosterone Changes During Vicarious Experiences of Winning and Losing Among Fans at Sporting Events
Paul C. Bernhardt, James M. Dabbs Jr., Julie A. Fielden and Candice D. Lutter Physiology & Behavior 65:1 59—62 1998

Testosterone plays an important role in social status interactions at least among primate males, especially dominance. It has been shown that testosterone levels increase in winners and decrease in losers
(both rhesus monkies and humans engaged in competitive activities such
as wrestling, martial arts, tennis, chess and coin flips (!)), and this might help dominant individuals to keep their dominance since testosterone levels partially predict the outcome of contests. Since fans react strongly to the results of their teams and overall behave almost as if it was *they* who won or lost, it seems likely that they too change testosterone. This paper has studied the testosterone levels in saliva from male sports fans before and after a match (the first, smaller experiment was college basketball, the second the world cup soccer match). It turned out, as expected, that winning significantly increased the testosterone levels, while losing decreased them. There is likely a complex biosocial web here, where hormone levels interact with self-esteem, mood, dominance and social hierarchies, fun stuff for psychologists of all kinds and also suggesting that we really ought to take a look at what effects our sex hormones have in our behavior, and what stimuli affect them.

Food and Drink

Influence of the Composition of a Meal Taken after Physical Exercise on Mood, Vigilance, Performance
P. Verger, D. Lagarde, D. Batejat and J. F. Maitre Physiology & Behavior 64:3 317-322

How does exercise and the composition of food affect our mood? One obvious effect is that we become tired after exercise, but it is slightly uncertain what the effects of meals with protein, carbohydrates and fats have on our mood and thinking; glucose improves memory, but carbohydrate intake can also produce a release of insulin making us less vigilant, and proteins can change the amino acid levels which in turn affect neurotransmittors. Obviously, the interactions are complex. This experiment consisted of having young men perform two hours of nonstop athletic activity or not, and afterwards they ate one of two different kinds of meals, one high in proteins and one low in proteins (but high in carbohydrates). They were tested for vigilance, memory and mood before the exercise, after the exercise, directly after lunch and 2 hours after lunch. There was no significant difference in how much they ate. Exercise of course made them tired, and they were drowsy at the beginning and directly after the meal – the men who ate between 125 and 150 g glucide were less drowsy than the men who ate more or less. The men who ate the protein meal reported being happier both immediately after the meal and 2 hour later. However, the glucose group apparently felt a bit peppier after exercise and lunch. People in the glucose group felt less depressed and anxious when they are 125-175 g than when they ate more or less. There was no difference in memory abilities between the groups. Vigilance was increased by the exercise (since it is arousing), but eating less than 100g or more than 150g or carbohydrates decreases this effect. The conclusion seems to be that eating the right amount of food is important, neither too much or too little. Carbohydrates reduces anxiety and depression (possibly by increasing serotonin release) while protein rich meals increase happiness.

The impact of long-term vitamin supplementation on cognitive function David Benton, Joyce Fordy and Jurg Haller Psychopharmacology 117 298-305 (1995)

Vitamin Supplementation for 1 Year Improves Mood David Benton, Jürg Haller, Joyce Fordy
Neuropsychobiology 32 98-105 1995

Two papers based on the same study. Benton has earlier argued that micro-nutrient deficiencies cause sub- clinical psychological symptoms in the population, so it would be interesting to see what happens if they are supplemented for a while. There is actually rather little known about the psychological effects of vitamins, but since at least some are relevant for brain chemistry it is not far-fetched. They gave volunteers placebo or vitamin supplements (10 times the US recommended daily amount, except for vitamin A), and followed them for one year. Already after 3 months the vitamin levels in the treated participants were significantly raised. In women, but not in men, mental health (as measured by a psychological questionaire; asocciated with B2 and B6), feelings of composure (associated with B2 and B6). Both men and women who had taken vitamins for 12 months felt more agreeable (associated with B1, B2 and B6). In women reaction time and attention improved. It looks like especially B6 (thiamine) improves mood in women, but not in men. Overall, it seems like supplementation should be allowed to take its time, the mood and cognitive effects only appear after around a year despite the fact that the levels of vitamins stabilize already after three. Some restructuring might be going on in the brain during this time.

Thiamine supplementation mood and cognitive functioning D. Benton, R. Griffiths and J. Haller
Psychopharmacology (Berl), 129:1 66--71 Jan 1997

A follow-up inspired by the above study. The authors tested the effects of 50mg thiamine (B6) or placebo taken daily for two months on 120 females, and studied the effect on mood, memory and reaction times. They felt significantly more clear-headed (and composed and elated just missed statistical significance); overall mood seemed to have improved. There was no effect on memory (recall of famous faces or word lists). Reaction times became faster for the thiamine group
(statistically significant, but the difference was only 5% faster

Blood Glucose Influences Memory and Attention in Young Adults David Benton, Deborah S. Owens and Pearl Y. Parker Neuropsychologia 32:5 595-607 1994

By now most of my readers likely know that glucose can enhance memory. One reason might be that it increases the production or release of acetylcholine, ACh. However, since Ach is also involved in attention it is interesting to see if glucose improves attention too. The authors tested 70 female undergraduates at a rapid information processing task (detecting certain number series) and a memory task, after being given a drink with or without glucose. A high level of glucose correlated with forgetting less and having faster reactions. Rising and falling levels of blood glucose influenced the Stroop attention test, where people with glucose levels rising before the test scored higher. One interesting thing they discuss is that the ability to handle glucose load might be an important cognitive factor; the people who can get more glucose into the brain at the right time have an advantage. This is why it is not just the baseline levels of glucose that are interesting, but also how quickly the brain can suck it from the blood. Lots of potential here for enhancement.

Effects of Alcohol on Scientific Thought During the Incubation Phase of the Creative Process
Torsten Norlander, Roland Gustafson
The Journal of Creative Behavior
1996, 30:4 231--248

Creativity is a process; Wallas suggested the now familiar four stage model of preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. How does alcohol (and other drugs) affect this process? Alcohol at low doses decreases inhibitions, so it might be expected to influence creativity. The authors divided 60 students (male and female) into a control, a placebo and an alcohol group. The control group got two bottles of tonic water, the placebo group tonic water with vodka essence and the alcohol group tonic water mixed with vodka (total alcohol content was 1.0 ml of 100% alcohol per kg body weight). The participants were given a scientific problem (to design an experiment to test nature vs. nurture) to discuss, a notebook and one week to think about it. On wednesday and thrusday night they were to drink their bottles before going to bed. At the end they wrote a report about their solution, which was scored by three panels: one to identify stages of creative thought in the original discussion, notebook and report, one panel to judge the reports depending on scientific value and creativity and the third judging reports based on originality. There was no difference in scientific value or scientific creativity between the groups, but the alcohol group showed overall more originality and more incubation of the plan. The paper suggests that the alcohol might affect creativity using some kind of rebound effect: the alcohol group had more incubations the mornings after drinking than the other mornings - it might be the combination alcohol + sleep that is the real cause. In earlier studies the authors have apparently found that alcohol consumption during the illumination phase reduced the number of creative solutions, as well as decreased the effort and deductive thinking in the preparation phase. So a moderate amount of alcohol may help the just the incubation part.

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