Posted by: thoughtflashes | May 19, 2010

New Posts on Thought Flashes

For various reasons, future new posts on the Thought Flashes Original Thinking site will be made at the following website address:  http://thoughtflashes.com/

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Posted by: thoughtflashes | May 17, 2010

Eric Kandel and the Molecular Basis of Memory

One reason that I am currently writing down my thoughts is that I do not hang onto them as long as I used to. Therefore, I need a mechanism to record what I have thought about in case I need to refer to them later on. I used to hang onto my thoughts and repeat them over and over again in my head, thinking of variations of my thoughts. If you are not continually exposed to the same information over and over, it usually does not get stored into your long-term memory. An exception to repeated exposure being required for long-term memory is perhaps during a highly emotionally-charged event.

The molecular basis for this long-term memory was made by the great neuroscientist Eric Kandel, one of my scientific heroes. You can also watch Eric Kandel’s Nobel Lecture, which is fun to watch, extremely clear, easy to understand, and interesting. I was also fortunate enough to watch him give a lecture in person at the American Society for Cell Biology 2003 Meeting in San Francisco. What is so amazing about his thought processes and his experimentation procedure is that his process is extremely rational. Once he undertakes one experiment, he then can rationally decide which next step to take, instead of just randomly guessing which is the next experiment that he performs. It is completely logical, and thus saves a lot of time. This contrasts with a lot of guesswork science that I saw as a scientist in my surrounding environment. He has also recently published an interesting autobiography, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.

Kandel found that short-term memory generally does not require new protein synthesis. However, repeated exposure results in long-term memory since the repeated exposure causes new protein synthesis. This is an important finding that helps to clarify in molecular terms one of the fundamental aspects of being human.

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Posted by: thoughtflashes | May 17, 2010

YouTube Turns 5!

Wow, I didn’t realize that YouTube turns 5 this month! I’ve been a regular YouTube user for probably about 4 years or so. YouTube is one of those amazing disruptive technologies that completely changes the way that our planet functions. Now, it is so easy for people to watch many interesting excerpts and videos of some of the best videos ever produced. Video is one of the best mediums through which to learn or to be entertained. In the past, the amount of time to find useful or interesting material through video took much longer, and it was also difficult to find what you wanted sometimes. Now, the convenience and variety of videos that we can watch online through YouTube is just amazing. YouTube has completely revolutionized our global culture, launching it into the 21st century with vigor!

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Posted by: thoughtflashes | May 17, 2010

What Did Dinosaurs Sound Like?

In the 19th century, it was proposed that birds were derived from certain dinosaurs. Throughout most of the 20th century, however, this idea that birds had evolved from certain dinosaurs was not supported. There has more recently been validation in the last 30-40 years of the earlier theory that that some dinosaurs were probably the ancestors of birds.

Since some dinosaurs were probably a combination of reptiles and birds, I’m wondering if dinosaurs actually sounded like birds singing. I’m wondering if dinosaurs perhaps sounded like chirping warblers, or maybe crows cawing, or ducks quacking, instead of like the roaring beasts that we see on Hollywood movies. It’s also possible that they could have sounded more like reasonably silent reptiles such as turtles or crocodiles, or like hissing lizards. It’s hard to say for sure, probably.

This reminds me of a relatively new field in archaeology, called “archaeoacoustics,” where they study sounds of past monuments or artifacts. I can’t remember where I read it, but from the studies of these sounds, they found that our ancient ancestors were actually a lot more sophisticated that we thought that they were, as many ancient monuments were constructed with the purpose that incorporated the use of sounds or music for rituals or ceremonies, for example.

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Posted by: thoughtflashes | May 17, 2010

We Are At One With the Universe

This is also one of the basic tenets of Buddhism.  I believe that in high school or so, I had understood this concept that we are at one with the universe and with nature.  I understood that when we die, for example, we will be returned to the earth, from where we had come.  Recently, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos DVDs have further elaborated on my understanding of this, as he famously stated that we are all “made of star stuff.”  By that, he meant that all the atoms and elements comprising our body came from the birth, maintenance, or death of stars.

I was thinking about this because a few months ago, I saw a moth.  Time almost seemed to freeze, and the moth seemed to look back at me, saying that we’re really of the same substance and soul.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been watching too many wildlife documentaries during the past few years that I had that feeling.  I just tried to let the moth go free versus in the past, I would have probably squashed it, so I’m glad that I’m gaining more compassion for life.

The other day, I also saw some adorable ducks in some small pond, created by the rain:

duck couple in small pond

I enjoy looking at the behavior of wildlife, such as ducks, and I have enjoyed feeding ducks bread, although I haven’t done that since I was a kid.  I was also thinking that it seems quite savage to eat these creatures, although I do enjoy eating BBQ duck.  Hence, I think that sometimes, in life, there is some conflict between some of our desires that are difficult to reconcile.  Perhaps, one day, I will become more enlightened.

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I have spent a lot of my free time studying successful people and history, thinking about and trying to understand how and why people excel.  One of the cornerstone concepts that I have come across from my reading, watching, hypothesizing, analyzing, and thinking is that people who do well tend to assimilate information from a wide variety of sources.  People who succeed are generally those who are open to learning from almost everything, everyone, all cultures, everywhere, and all the time, even if busy.  This is the breadth part of the equation, where learning can come from a wide variety of sources.  By practicing being humble and having the mindset of a learner, it helps to develop this characteristic.

One problem with just working on the breadth approach is that you don’t keep fine-tuning yourself to excellence and head in a particular direction of excellence.  Depth, or specialization, in a subject is also highly important for success.   Sometimes, it’s important to focus on one area and get better and better at it, as well as aim in the general direction of excellence.  Most highly successful individuals underwent prolonged apprenticeship in their art or science with an accomplished master.  Apprentice to Genius: The Making of a Scientific Dynasty by Robert Kanigel delineates well this relationship between master and apprentice.  Many examples of this exist in science or art.  A famous quote from Isaac Newton is that he felt that he “stood on the shoulders of giants.”

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The rate of new knowledge generated since I was a kid three decades ago has been phenomenal and probably unmatched in any previous period in history to date.  Both in new scientific knowledge and in technological advances, the human race has made much progress.

The last 30-year-period traversing the turn of the 21st century has witnessed the rise of the computer, and birth and growth of the internet for the masses.  This transition into the digital age marks a monumental milestone in human history.   These and other technological tools will likely cause new knowledge generation to further increase exponentially in the next few centuries.

I’m thinking that an extended period of peace in most of the world may have been one important factor that has contributed to such prosperity, as it has been 65 years since the last world war.  The widespread use and availability of electricity from inventors such as Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla (who incidentally did work for and thus learn from Edison – more on this in the post Achieving Your Full Potential: Breadth and Depth for Variety and Specialization in Life) since the 19th century is also a key catalyst enabling humans to literally aim for the stars and reach the moon.  Another important factor may be the high world population recently compared to previous times in world history, as more people means that there is generally more being accomplished.

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Posted by: thoughtflashes | April 5, 2010

Using the Bamboo Fun Wacom Tablet for Clicking with the Left Hand

Being left-handed, I’ve felt quite weird using a right-handed mouse for so long.  There is an option to set the mouse to become a left-handed mouse, but I don’t really want to set it to a left-hand mouse because if I were to use public computers, I would not be used to using a right-handed mouse.  I can use my right hand when playing some sports like tennis, but I prefer to use my left hand with most other tasks like writing or eating.  In addition, ever since I’ve started using a mouse on a MacIntosh in 1993 (and eventually switching to Windows later on), I’ve always felt that the mouse is not the optimal clicking device.

More recently, the touch-screens that have become popular are good, but it certainly took them way too long to commercialize them.  At the same time, using an external pointer does have its advantages in that you can be much more accurate than with pointing with your fingers.

Last year, I came up with a solution to balance my hand use with a right-handed mouse PLUS a Bamboo Fun Wacom Tablet for my left hand. So, for navigational links close to the left side of the screen, I sometimes now use my Wacom tablet pen to click on them by tapping on the Bamboo fun pen on my Wacom tablet.  It certainly takes a bit of time to get used to, but it’s worth the practice.  I find that that helps make me feel like a more balanced person.

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Posted by: thoughtflashes | April 2, 2010

How We Think | How People Think | How Humans Think

I was reading an interesting autobiography of Nicola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors / electrical engineers in history at the following web page: http://robinchew.com/library/96jul/teslaautobio.html

In his autobiography, Tesla noted that we think or act according to the senses that we perceive from the external world.  For example, he found that if he just saw something, he would later actually think about what he had just saw.  Therefore, he found that it seems that human action and thinking are to some extent, if not largely, influenced or controlled by external stimuli.

More recently, Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm, came to similar conclusions on how the neocortex, the new brain that differentiates mammals from lower organisms such as reptiles, works.  Hawkins realized that the neocortex first must learn and take in a large amount of information before it could function well and make predictions about how the world works.   The following is the first part of his lecture on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oozFn2d45tg

Hawkins has also formed a company, Numenta, to apply his discoveries on how the brain works to create a platform for various computing applications: http://www.numenta.com/ . The platform is currently free to download and develop.

One other important aspect of how we think through the neocortex is the integration between the left side of our brain, or the rational thinking part, with the right side of our brain, or the creativity part.  These two parts of our brain help humans innovate, create original ideas, and analyze the world in which we live.  Finally, our emotions as part of our subconscious mind feed us emotions so that we have feelings.

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