Tuesday, February 14, 2017

NATURAL LAW

What were the basic tenets of the island? Was there a governing system of fundamental rules or beliefs that no one could change?

We are aware that "laws" are created by governments in order to protect basic individual freedoms, like property and person, from harm. But the source of the power to create laws, and the corresponding "order," is not clear cut.

Natural law is among the oldest philosophical traditions. Some of history's greatest geniuses, from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson, devoted their most brilliant arguments to it, often differing about details but agreeing on the broad outlines. Natural law was the basis on which America's founders wrote the Constitution.

Among other things, it holds that politics isn't just a matter of agreement. Instead, principles of justice, or the idea that murder or theft are wrong, run deeper than government's mere say-so. Those things are actually wrong, aside from whether or not they are legal—and that means government itself can act unjustly and even impose rules that don't deserve the name "law."

That's a view many on both left and right share. The greatest spokesman for natural law in the twentieth century was probably Martin Luther King, who denounced segregation not because of its technical complexities, but because it betrayed the natural law principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Today, most American judges—including liberals and conservatives—reject natural law. They embrace a different view, "legal positivism," which holds that individual rights or concepts of justice are really manufactured government fiat. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was viewed as a strict constitutional constructionist,  rejected natural law arguments. "You protect minorities only because the majority determines that there are certain minority positions that deserve protection," he said, not because everyone has basic rights under natural law.

Still, even those who embrace natural law, including Justice Clarence Thomas, have their differences. For example, while Thomas and his allies see natural law as a basis for attacking legal protections for abortion and euthanasia—because they contradict the sanctity of life—others believe that natural law theory actually supports these rights, because it prioritizes individual autonomy.

That debate arises from a central natural-law question: What is the source of the good? Are things like life or freedom good because they relate to human purposes—such as the pursuit of a fulfilling life—or are they just intrinsically good, without any deeper reason? This debate matters because if life is just inherently good, then even someone suffering a terminal illness who wants to end his own life should be barred from doing so because life is good, period. On the other hand, if life is only good because it serves the goal of happiness, then someone whose life has become a burden of suffering should be free to end it if he chooses.

How we act between ourselves is a complex system. Where does one get their moral bearings? From their parents? From their friends? From their experiences? From their genes which may program one's personality traits? From successes or from failures?  Or is there something inherit in every person's mind that sorts "right" and "wrong" before we act?

If it is truly an individual decision, then the will of the community is irrelevant. The community can only assert its philosophy after the fact towards someone for their actions. There is individual free will but societal consequences.

But the LOST characters on the island rarely, if any time, had their personal wrongs vetted by a community judge or jury. The island was a moral soup of contradictions. Ben was a mass murderer, but he was allowed to live and eventually go to heaven (the sideways world) while petty diamond thieves Nikki and Paulo were buried to rot in island purgatory. If you try to reconcile these two outcomes, one could argue that Ben was luckier than the criminal couple. Or more popular with the writers and viewers. The latter would diminish the LOST mythology as the foundation of the stories, the character morals and actions are not subject to rules but whims. Did natural law influence the decisions and framework for any island visitor? Or was it merely a game of fiat by the supernatural beings that inhabited the island?

Friday, January 27, 2017

PRUNING THE MIND

Arstechnica reported new findings on memory and sleep.

REM sleep is known to help solidify memories, but the mechanism for making memories more permanent is not well-understood. A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience shows that, during REM sleep, some of the structures neurons use to make connections with each other are pruned, while others are maintained and strengthened. The findings indicate that sleep's role in solidifying memories comes through allowing the brain time to selectively eliminate or maintain newly formed neural connections.

Dendritic spines are small outgrowths on a neuron’s dendrite, which is the portion of the neuron that receives chemical signals from other neurons. These spines enhance the strength of connections between neurons so they can play an important role in strengthening new neural circuits and solidifying new memories. These spines aren't permanent structures; instead, nerve cells can create new ones or get rid of existing ones (a process called pruning) as the importance of different connections shifts.

The new memories in this case were formed in mice, which were trained to complete a treadmill-like motor task. Then, the mice were either deprived of REM sleep or allowed to experience this form of sleep. The mice that were allowed REM showed significantly higher pruning of new dendritic spines compared to the mice that were REM sleep deprived. This difference in pruning was only seen for new dendritic spines, and previously existing dendritic spines were pruned at the same rate.

The researchers looked at how REM sleep influenced dendritic spine pruning at various points throughout the mice’s lives. They found that this neural pruning occurred while the mice were in REM sleep during their development (during the equivalent of mouse adolescence) but could also occur when the mice experienced REM sleep later in life after motor learning tasks. REM sleep increased the size of the spines that were retained, both during development and after motor learning tasks—these unpruned new spines were strengthened, reinforcing the developing neural circuitry.
In other words, during REM sleep, the brain selects which portions of new neural circuitry it wants to eliminate and which portions it wants to strengthen and enhance for future use.

The researchers then looked at the role calcium channels, which let calcium ions across membranes, may play in these decisions, as changes in the levels of calcium in cells is a normal part of brain activity. They found that sudden changes in the amount of calcium seen during REM sleep were critical for selective pruning and strengthening. When these calcium channels were blocked, the previously seen changes in dendritic spines no longer occurred.

Too little REM sleep during development is known to have detrimental effects on brain maturation, and this recent study provides new insight regarding the mechanisms that may be at play here.

Without sufficient REM sleep during development, juvenile and adolescent brains may not be able to adjust the connections among their neurons to hold on to what they've learned. Similarly, REM sleep is known to help with learning during all stages of development, including adulthood. In both cases, lack of REM sleep prevents the brain from eliminating unneeded spines generated during learning and prevents the strengthening of critical new spines that make newly learned tasks stick.

The interesting caveat to this study as it relates to LOST is that the main characters had a hard time grasping and retaining island knowledge. Many fans were upset when a group would return from a mission, the other castaways would not ask them basic questions of what happened to them. Other times, a character would continue to get manipulated, such as Locke. 

So were the main characters unable to retain knowledge because of sleep deprivation? We did not see extended periods of time when the characters were asleep, except for Jack when he was captured at the Hydra station. At that point, Jack was asking Juliet many pointed questions, but did not get the responses he wanted (and recognized it).

If the island was a metaphor for some other place, such as a medical research facility, could the characters have been test subjects in sleep and REM research? And if it is true that lack of sleep can effectively strip your brain's ability to make or break connections to retain important memories, could that have been the real power that Widmore and Ben wanted to control?

Friday, January 13, 2017

RISK REWARD LUCK UNLUCKY

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, "The only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks."

There is a stigma against risk taking; it is an inherent defense mechanism in the brain which governors people trying to hurt themselves. No one wants the pain of being hurt, whether physical or emotional. Rejection is a burning knife in the gut. Going outside one's "comfort zone" is a high anxiety experience. 

You can stop the risk by becoming a hermit living in one's personal shell of personal barriers, excuses, bad lonely habits and paralysis.

LOST was a case study of different types of risk takers.

You have the messiah-complex high level risk takers who really did not weigh any moral issues when they made their decisions. Ironically, Jack and Ben were on a similar plane. Jack took surgical risks on patients because he believed he was a miracle worker. It was an unrealistic belief that he could save everyone. But even with those giant risks, he got very little reward from his hospital, his staff or his father. Ben took a different path to putting in play his "big play," the banishment of Widmore from the island and the purge of killing the Dharma collective, including his own father, so he would become the island king. He risked everything for the power to control the island. He got nothing in return because the Others did not respect him (they feared him), he had no friends and his own self-grandeur amounted to nothing in the end.

Hurley was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He did not want to take any risks. So he hid himself in a shy exterior. He would only come to life once he got to know you well. He only had one or two friends, but those relationships ended when he failed to share his secret that he won the lottery. He believed himself cursed by fate, so he did very little to try to expand his reach. He would have been a fast food lackey his entire life; no ambition, no girlfriend, no family, no life. Once he landed on the island, he could have made more of his "new start." He became the likeable guy, but not a major player or decision maker.

Of the "lucky" survivors, many of the main characters' lives did not end well in the series. If they risked the perils of the island to reach their personal dream or goal, they failed. Sayid longed for his one true love, Nadia.  But he risked his own life to get her back, but in the end he wound up with Shannon, the exact opposite. Locke longed for acceptance and adventure, the hero jock. But he wound up conned and crippled by his own family and his own shortcomings. Their personal sacrifices did not result in reaching their dreams.

There is a relationship between risk and reward. One cannot exist without the other. It is like a reflection in a mirror: you have to see who you are in order to change yourself. "Bad luck" is more often the lack of effort to reach an opportunity. But if one takes failure as "proof" that one's fate is a sad, lonely, unfilled life - - - they are missing the great life lesson that experience comes through failure. Experience is necessary in order to take calculated risks for reasonable rewards. It is those people who understand this dynamic push forward (against the odds) to succeed; they make their own luck.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

VISION

Carl Jung wrote, "Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart."

Today we live in a world of distraction. There is electronic noise all around us. We are immersed in the flashing glitter of technology. We are filled with escapist avenues to propel procrastination into an art form. But in the end, very few people are truly happy.

The disconnect may come from the fact that many people do not live their own lives. They are more concerned about what other people think of them then try to be the best person they want to be. It seems counter-intuitive to think not being the best person you want to be could hurt you in social and interpersonal relationships.

People can become trapped in their situation, whether it be work related, social, or emotional. Once a person falls into a pit of routine, it is very difficult to spend energy to get out of it. Humans find comfort in habits, even if they will lead to a self-destructive pattern. Suddenly, the years fly by. In an introspective moment, one could shake their head in disbelief. I thought one, two, three or four years ago, things would be different.

These lightning bolts of despair often occur on special days, such as a birthday. A birthday is the personal doomsday clock when people leave their 20s to face adulthood. Family, social, cultural and occupational headwinds will hit one hard in their early 30s which can result in the disconnect of a person's true feelings and their current situation.

Very few people have a vision of their future. Because it is clouded in the past. Mostly, past failures. People do not want to hurt themselves, physically or emotionally. They tend to isolate themselves from people or things that could potentially cause them pain, like a new relationship. But because there is comfort in isolation, there is no opportunity to find true happiness, such as a meaningful and loving new relationship. It is a Catch-22.

New year's resolutions normally command demands for self improvement. Usually, it is the physical traits such as diet, quit smoking, exercise more . . . . external things to make one appear better to the public. But rarely do people dig deeper into their own soul to map out a route to find their true happiness in life. So many people are stuck in a hamster wheel existence; around and around they go going nowhere.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

AFTER DEATH

An unusual study of drug addicts concludes that an addict's body continues to crave drugs even after the person dies. The persistent addictive cravings are caused by a protein from chemical dependency which continues to transmit signals to the brain.

The shortened protein, FosB,  in the reward center of the brain is altered in those suffering from a chemical dependency.  The protein is a transcription factor in the brain which, together with other molecules, is involved in so-called signal transduction (transmission of stimuli to the cells). It is said to convey genetic information between the cells and also determines whether certain genes are activated or not.

Following numerous autopsies, Austrian researchers found the modified protein in deceased heroin addicts - suggesting cravings for the stimulus continued after their death.
The evidence that the modified protein lingers after death was discovered by the Medical University of Vienna's Department of Forensic Medicine, which examined tissue samples from the nucleus accumbens (an area of the brain) of 15 deceased heroin addicts.

When someone abuses drugs, such as heroin, it turns into DeltaFosB, which is increasingly stimulated in cases of chronic use and even influences growth factors and structural changes (neuronal plasticity) in the brain.  Due to a constant supply of drugs, such as heroin, FosB turns into DeltaFosB, which is increasingly stimulated in cases of chronic use and even influences growth factors and structural changes (neuronal plasticity) in the brain - approximately in the region where memory is formed.

The team found the protein was still modified even after a heroin addict had died.

Researchers believe the period is much longer in the living who are trying to recover – and it can last for months.

FosB is part of the activating protein AP1, which is involved with regulating gene expression in response to a range of stimulus, including stress and bacterial infections.

If this protein still stimulates the brain's reward and memory centers, one could speculate that a person's memories can still be active even though the person had died. In other words, there may be a transitory state between life and death where the brain continues to function. Perhaps this is what happens to people who claim to have experienced "near death." They are clinically dead for a time, but their brain continues to function to create new memories.

There were numerous LOST theories about the show being merely a connected memory of a character or characters. But this science study sheds another potential basis for the show's unknown foundation element: if it was a memory, a dream or illusion of a person, was that person alive or dead?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

THE BASIS OF LOST

One of the grand mysteries to unify the LOST mythology is the scientific key to help explain everything and everyone.

If we turn to science and what could induce human behavior, we find one portion of the brain that many have deemed the gateway to the soul.

René Descartes once described the pineal gland as “the principal seat of the soul.” Though medical knowledge has vastly progressed since then, here are a few things you might not have known about this critical organ. It was recognized as an important organ since the time of the ancient Greeks (130-210 CE).

Descartes was fascinated with the pineal gland, considering it “the place in which all our thoughts are formed.” Scientists now credit that function to the neocortex.

Descartes thought that within the pineal gland, "tiny animal spirits" were like “a very fine wind, or rather a very lively and pure flame,” feeding life into the many small arteries that surround the gland. This was likely due to his abysmal understanding of anatomy and physiology.

The pineal gland was commonly dubbed the "third eye"  for many reasons, including its location deep in the center of the brain and its connection to light. Mystic and esoteric spiritual traditions suggest it serves as a metaphysical connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. 

It is a tiny gland, located very deep in the center of the brain. It gets its name from its pine cone-like shape, (French pinéal, or "like a pine cone"), itself from the Latin for pine cone (pinea). However, at about one-third of an inch long in adults, it's smaller than your average pine cone.

Though located in your brain, the pineal gland is actually a crucial part of your endocrine system   which regulates major bodily processes such as growth, metabolism, and sexual development through the release and control of hormones. The gland translates nerve signals from the sympathetic nervous system into hormone signals.

Because the pineal gland was the last of the endocrine structures to be discovered, scientists considered it a "mystery organ."  Today, we know that unlike much of the rest of the brain, the pineal gland is not isolated from the body by the blood-brain barrier system.

As scientists have learned more about the functions of the pineal gland, they’ve learned it synthesizes the hormone melatonin from the neurotransmitter serotonin. Melatonin production determines your sleep-wake cycles and is purely determined by the detection of light and dark. The retina sends these signals to a brain region known as the hypothalamus, which passes them on to the pineal gland. The more light your brain detects, the less melatonin it produces, and vice versa. Melatonin levels are highest at night to help us sleep.
 
Melatonin inhibits the release of pituitary reproductive hormones, known as gonadotropins, from the pituitary gland,  affecting male and female reproductive organs. In this way, melatonin—and therefore the pineal gland—regulates sexual development.

In the LOST mythology, many key plot points can be related back to the pineal gland: the gateway to the soul; the third eye (which connects to ancient Egyptian rituals); animal spirits (such as Hurley's bird or the smoke monster); and the hormonal relationship (sex) between male and female characters (including the fears, lack of growth or social development). There was also the cross-connection between the physical and metaphysical in regard to being in two places apparently at the same time (the island and the sideways world).  Since the pineal is a center for both growth and metabolism, it is a life and death organ. Any disruption of the gland function can cause serious health problems.

Depression, peptic ulcers, and sexual dysfunction may be exacerbated by a deficiency of melatonin. Stress and dietary habits may lead to deficiencies of both serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin inhibits the release of cortisol via the release of vasotocin. Abnormal circadian rhythms of cortisol may occur in states of decreased melatonin. A circannual rhythm of melatonin has troughs associated with peaks in the incidence of peptic ulcers and psychotic depression.

The pineal gland secretes a single hormone—melatonin (not to be confused with the pigment melanin). This simple hormone is special because its secretion is dictated by light. Researchers have determined that melatonin has two primary functions in humans—to help control your circadian (or biological) rhythm and regulate certain reproductive hormones.

A body's  circadian rhythm is a 24-hour biological cycle characterized by sleep-wake patterns. Daylight and darkness help dictate your circadian rhythm. Light exposure stops the release of melatonin, and in turn, this helps control your circadian rhythms.
 
Melatonin secretion is low during the daylight hours and high during dark periods, which has some influence over your reaction to photoperiod (the length of day versus night). Naturally, photo period affects sleep patterns, but melatonin’s degree of impact over sleep patterns is disputed.
 
But the theme of dark vs. light was apparent in the LOST world. The fact that a person cannot sleep can lead to fatigue, memory loss, confusion and mental problems. When one's sleep pattern is disrupted to the point that the person cannot tell between day time and night time, serious brain function can be inhibited including memory and reason.
 
Pineal tumors may manifest symptoms from the blockage of the flow of fluids to the gland which can cause some of the common presenting symptoms of these tumors, which including headaches, nausea, vomiting, seizures, memory disturbances and visual changes. These elements were present in LOST by the fact that many characters saw non-island visions (Jack's father, Kate's horse), headaches and bloody noses to seizures (the island effect that killed Charlotte) and the memory losses (or lack of learning the characters showed during the island time). 
 
In aging, the gland may begin to harden like calcium in the the development of teeth. Science studies indicate that this may cause memory loss or dementia.

If one was going to form a scientific theory to base the LOST premise, the pineal gland would be an good choice. The damage or disorder of the gland could explain many of the LOST elements. From that point, one could speculate that the main characters had pineal gland issues which caused memory disturbances and acute dementia. This could be the basis for any mental issue theory to explain the premise of LOST: the hidden mental states of group patients suffering from similar diseases, linked together by a trial study or protocol (the images of the Dharma institute probing them).

Friday, December 30, 2016

LOST BUTTERFLIES

In 1961, meteorologist Edward Lorenz entered a microscopically different value into his computer model -- .506 rather than .506127 -- and discovered that it had drastically altered the results of his weather prediction. His subsequent paper titled, "Does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?", officially coined the term "the butterfly effect." It is the theory that small events can have significant consequences.

What were the butterfly effects in LOST?  What little change(s) had dramatic effect(s) on the series.

1. The rework of the pilot episode. It was the most expensive pilot produced at the time. The network was going through management changes. It decided to fire the original writer to put the project in the hands of new Hollywood golden boy, J.J. Abrams, whose show runners made a few changes to the script and filmed the first show.

If the regular production company was in charge of the series, the emphasis would have changed from being a Jack leadership role back to Kate being the lead character. It would have been more a show about survival than a supernatural/mystery series.

2. The two-show story arc of Ben's character. Ben was only supposed to be a guest character for a two episode arc. It was to show how the island would change the 815 survivors into dark killers. It was thought that after Sayid went to find the balloon crash site, and learned that Ben was not Henry Gale, Ben would have died at the hands of the castaways. It would have been a commentary on the nature of normal human beings in pressure situations. But since Ben's evil character was so good, he was written into the rest of the series as the villain.

If Ben's character was killed off, the Others series arc would have less meaning and would have probably ceased in a short time. It probably would have truncated the Widmore involvement in the story as his main rival was Ben.

3. The use of flashbacks to tell the back stories. One complaint during the series was that the characters would not ask each other basic questions or want to learn information about missions, etc. If the production team let the characters converse with each other to pull out information, secrets, motivations, etc., the series would have had a different feel and story progression. It would have been more one to one dialog driven shows than the action adventure sequences.

Many believe the flashback technique was used as "filler" to keep the series main story line from collapsing or it was a means to save production costs by using more interior sets.  But when the reliance of flashbacks ran its course, the show runners did something significant to keep the format alive: invented "flash forwards" which led to the slippery slope of the illogical sideways universe story arc.

4. Locke being able to walk on the island. If Locke remained handicapped and in his wheel chair, his character would have never been able to be the fantasy outback survivalist. If Locke remained physically unable to run around the island on missions, his character would have quickly fallen to that of a beach extra.

But the action of giving Locke a "miracle" recovery on the island (as well as a cure for Rose's terminal cancer), it set off a series of theories about the special properties of the island. But it also led to the growing complaints that the writers were not explaining the miracles or supernatural elements. This led to fans breaking into their own story camps and heated arguments on the premise of the show (whether it was real; characters in purgatory; or just all a dream).