Tag Archives: Science

In Defense of Carbon

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Carbon is the basic building block of life.  It is an element, indestructible.  We have the same amount of carbon on earth now as always.  It goes through a cycle.  Because it is so versatile, it can join with numerous other atoms to create complex structures.

I’m a climate change agnostic.  I know the climate changes every day and every season.  Whether human beings are changing the climate in a significant way is the subject of heated debate.  I do know humans are poisoning the environment, but the most dangerous chemicals involved are not carbon dioxide or methane.  These two are naturally occurring substances that are intimately involved in the cycles of life and death.

Organic chemistry is based on whether the compounds under study contain carbon.  Photosynthesis is the means by which plants use energy from light to convert water and carbon dioxide to food for the plant.  In this process, water is hydrolyzed (meaning broken down into its constituent atoms) with the hydrogen joining with carbon to form sugars, such as glucose and sucrose.  The sugars contain energy that fuels plant growth, maintenance and manufactures the substance of the plant itself, like cellulose.

That plants can make their own food from light, carbon dioxide and water is a marvel of solar technology, because all food ultimately comes from plants.  The mechanism of photosynthesis, according to my botany text (Botany:  An Introduction to Plant Biology, 6th edition, T., Elliot Weier, et al., 1982) took almost 200 years to be understood, and it still contains undiscovered secrets.  Researchers are now working on harnessing the 100% efficiency of plants to make electricity.  In contrast, solar panels are only between 15-20% efficient.

According to Botany, a series of discoveries beginning in 1700 led to the eventual understanding of how photosynthesis works.  In 1700, a Flemish physician and chemist Jan van Helmont grew a willow branch in measured soil and water.  It grew from five to 169 pounds in five years, but used only two ounces of soil.  In 1772, Joseph Fleming noted a sprig of mint could restore confined air that had been made impure by burning a candle, but in 1779 Jan Ingen-House noticed air was only revitalized when the green portion of the plant was exposed to light.  In 1782, Jean Sonebier discovered carbon dioxide was necessary in the “fixed air” supply of the green plant, and in 1796 Ingen-House determined the carbon went into the nutrition and structure of the plant.  In 1804, Nicholas Th. de Saussure observed water was also involved in the photosynthetic process, and in 1800 chemists discovered that carbohydrates were formed.  Experiments using “heavy oxygen” (oxygen with atomic weight of 18 rather than the usual 16) proved the oxygen liberated in photosynthesis came from water rather than CO2.

The basic chemical reaction for converting carbon dioxide and water to glucose is:

6CO2 + 6H20 +686 kcal –> C6 H12 O6 + 6O2

The oxygen is released into the atmosphere.  Plants also release water vapor through evaporation, and this induces liquids and nutrients to move upward through the xylem (the plant’s substance, including transportation “vessels”).

The glucose produced is used directly, or stored as insoluble starch.  It’s used to make cellulose and other structural components, or is combined with nitrogen, sulfur or phosphorus to make proteins.

When a plant or any life form dies, the stored carbon is either consumed by another life form or it is released as CO2 and methane (CH4), among other substances.

Igniting the hydrocarbon molecules reverses the photosynthetic process in a one-to-one ratio.  CO2 and water are re-created, and the energy bound up in the molecule is released as heat or used to do work.

The chemical reaction when the simplest hydrocarbon, methane (natural gas), is burned is:

CH4 + 2O2 –>  CO2 + 2H2O

Natural gas, oil, coal, ethanol, and plastic, to name a few, have the same carbon and hydrogen building blocks, in different combinations.  All have high energy contents and produce CO2 and water when burned.

Ethanol—which is now a federally mandated gasoline additive—has a lower energy content than gasoline so lowers gasoline efficiency. Ethanol, also called “ethyl alcohol,” is old-fashioned grain alcohol, the same substance distilled by farmers in Revolutionary War days, and the stuff that led to the Whiskey Rebellion when the whiskey tax was passed in 1791.

Plastic has a high energy content and burns hot.  Plastic waste is accumulating around the planet, in huge ocean “gyres,” as well as other bodies of water, sewage and drainage systems.  Its breakdown products are associated with endocrine (hormonal) changes in people and animals.

The main weakness of the climate change initiative is that the focus on “greenhouse gases” diverts attention from more immediate and ongoing threats to the planet.  The use of single-use packaging, for instance, uses valuable natural resources, such as paper, and environmentally harmful industrial products, such as plastic, that end up in landfill or in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The ethanol mandate, passed in 2007, is a particularly toxic piece of legislation.  Under this scenario, farmland is used to produce corn, soy, or other carbon-containing plant matter, to be distilled into alcohol for burning in cars.  Not only does this deplete soil that might otherwise be used to grow food, but it requires massive amounts of water, time and money, so is a pox on the planet and on the engines that use it. It is particularly harmful in small engines, like lawnmowers, so conscientious users must use ethanol-free gas to protect their engines.  That Archer Daniels Midland, the main corporate beneficiary of the ethanol mandate, is set up to distill ethanol for cars as well as ethanol for drinking, should provide clues as to how regressive this mandate is.

In summary, I contend that, “climate change” includes changing the political climate to recognize that growing trees is better for the planet than giving corporations “carbon credits” not to cut them down.

Political Climate Change

I’ve followed the “global warming,” then the “climate change” controversy for a number of years and have a number of reservations about the terms being used, the focus on “greenhouse gases,” and the almost religious fervor “climate scientists” adopt when pushing their agenda.

I’m an amateur scientist, at best, a “life scientist,” who still believes observation is the best science there is.  I can’t deny the environment is changing, becoming de-vitalized, and I also believe mankind plays a significant role.  That and other transgressions against fellow man and nature have made me ashamed to be human. I look to my pets and nature to restore my belief that nature will survive, even if humans poison or nuke themselves out of existence.  It may take awhile, and the earth may generate a variety of mutant life forms, but nature will win in the end. Best to make a friend of her.

While I am no scientist, I’ve taken more undergraduate and post graduate science courses than most Americans have.  I’ve taken biology, botany, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, and a variety of medical science courses. I’ve done published research, too.  The last showed me the limitations of the “scientific method,” which assumes cause and effect and must control for variables. The primary rule in Western scientific research is that you can have no more than one variable.  You begin with a hypothesis that you want to prove or disprove.  You “control” for variables, meaning you have a treatment group and a “control group.” In other words, you create artificial circumstances to suit your study design and outcome you want or expect.

Contrast this with the Oriental pattern-based approach, which embraces variables and looks for patterns among them.  The presumption is nature is composed of interactive processes that enhance or mitigate each other.  Everything is connected in a large, multi-dimensional web.

When it comes to the environment, it’s impossible to limit research to one variable and determine cause and effect.  We know what came before, and we use computer models to predict what will come next.  We want to attribute causes to “climate change,” and have focused on CO2 and other “greenhouse gases,” specifically methane/natural gas (CH4).

I contend this is too simplistic.  First we are technically at the end of an ice age, so planetary warming is at least partly natural.  Carbon is the basic building block of life, an element, that can combine with many other atoms to create a variety of molecules.  The difference between inorganic and organic chemistry is based on whether the substance under study has carbon.  Methane/natural gas is the simplest hydro-carbon there is.  It is part of the life-cycle, and every decaying life form produces it.  Cow farts (which have been blamed for adding to greenhouse gases) and human farts all contain methane, as do other life form farts.  It rises from the marsh and from landfill.

Carbon dioxide, CO2, the demonized poster child of the “climate science” religion, is the chief nutrient of plant photosynthesis, the process that combines carbon from the air with light to create food for the plant, and thus for every creature that eats plants.  Carbon dioxide comprises significantly less than one percent of the atmosphere.  By comparison, oxygen makes up 21 percent.  If carbon dioxide is the primary culprit in climate change, then overpopulation, with more people exhaling CO2 and farting methane, is a significant factor in the production of greenhouse gases CO2 and methane.

No one of the scientists has addressed the fact that burning one molecule of methane/natural gas (CH4) produces two molecules of water for every one of CO2. Apparently none of the computer models programmed to track carbon emissions and predict climate change factors in the enormous amount of water added to the environment with the burning of fossil fuels.  Water vapor is another “greenhouse gas” in fact, as anyone who has ever visited a greenhouse knows.  What is the effect of cloud cover on the earth below?  What is the effect of all the mass of buildings, highways, and parking lots?  These have replaced forests and fields, which played a role in keeping the earth cool and absorbing rainwater before it flooded.  Has anyone accounted for the thermals (vortexes of hot air rising from cities) creating fronts that change weather patterns all around?

The Industrial Revolution begun with the cheap abundance of coal and is intricately intertwined with its advance.  This closely followed major other changes in paradigms, specifically Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity, and the subsequent mechanistic view of the universe.  The mechanistic paradigm brought “determinism,” which separated life (and god) from science.  The idea that the universe functions like a machine, with everything governed by knowable physical laws, contradicted the Biblical presumption of free will.

We have made a quantum leap from Newtonian physics with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.  At the atomic and subatomic level, there is enormous variation and spontaneity within a larger order.  All of a sudden, free will becomes scientifically valid again, the experimenter does influence the experiment by expectation or desire, and cause-and-effect paradigms begin to lose relevance.

I’m more concerned about the effects of environmental toxins than the buildup of greenhouse gases.  The industrial revolution has led to unsustainable levels of toxic waste in air, water, and land, and we continue to dump poisons way worse than carbon dioxide into the world environment.  We are poisoning ourselves along with the insects, but insects reproduce faster and develop immunity quicker than human beings do.  Plastic, also containing hydrocarbon chains, release toxic chemicals, especially when heated, that Americans blithely drink in their bottled water.  We’re increasingly afraid of tap water because of contaminants in pipes and groundwater that we’re only beginning to recognize.

Yes, we are devitalizing and perhaps even killing the earth, but we need to broaden our scope to look at multi-factorial contributors.  It’s not a government problem to solve.  We should look to ourselves as individuals, a nation of excess and waste. Don’t depend too much on salaried scientists, whose primary obligation is to their government, university, and corporate employers.  They agree with each other in finding simple targets and ignoring the greater industrial pollution that continues as fast as it can generate profits on Wall Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Life

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May 28, 2017—The following thoughts give an overview of my reasons for skepticism about Western, allopathic medicine and the paradigm it represents.  I claim the overriding belief in external agents for healing or symptomatic relief ignores the basic dignity of the individuals in question and the “vitality” that keeps us going.

The body is a marvelous homeostatic instrument, for which health is the natural state.  This understanding pervades Oriental medicine, which is based on the concept of “qi” (“chi”) or life force.

I’m an amateur student of Oriental medicine so can only describe it in general, simplified terms.  Essentially, it holds that there is a continuum between spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical levels.  Problems begin as spiritual.  If not resolved at that level, the problems become increasingly “dense” until they show up in the physical body.

In Chinese medicine, the idea of qi underlies and informs the entire system.  This sets Oriental medicine at odds with the Western, mechanistic viewpoint we Occidentals take for granted.  With the advent of the industrial age, the “scientific method,” and the requirement for “objectively verifiable” evidence, we’ve come to rely on instrumentation and a cause-and-effect sequence for assessment and treatment of any given condition.  The body is treated as though it’s a machine, with the resident human being largely a passive recipient of the diagnoses and treatments decided by the technician/physicians who administer them.

While the official stance of “science” receives almost religious devotion and some legitimate respect, it is exceedingly limited in what it can do.  “Science,” which relies on measurable “proof” has yet to prove that life exists.  Nor has it located the “mind,” although most believe the “mind” is in the brain.  The scientific method relies on studies that theorize causes, then set up conditions that limit variables to one, to determine whether there’s a significant correlation between cause and effect.

My unorthodox approach to life, health, and medicine stems from a fundamental belief in the power of the life force.  I call it “vitality,” but others may refer to “qi,” “quality of life” or use any number of terms to describe this battery that keeps us going.

Whether individuals survive physical death, and if so, in what capacity, is a question no one can answer, although religions and philosophers of all persuasions have tried.  What is life, anyway?  Is it a candle flame that can be extinguished?  Is it an essence, like “qi” that joins the “qi” of the cosmos, to be re-born in another place and time?

I won’t try to answer these questions but raise them simply to note that a belief in life beyond death strongly influences how I live mine.  Certainly others wrestle with the question, especially as they get older and wonder what lies ahead.

I became a psychiatrist partly to help make philosophy practical, but the profession—and Western medicine as a whole–is going in the opposite direction.

“How so?” a reasonable person may ask.  The most obvious answer is that it devalues the most basic principles that keep us healthy or make us sick.  Western medicine systematically undermines the individual’s faith in his or her own body’s self-correcting mechanisms.  It pits mind against body, which is deemed untrustworthy, a thing to be feared, unreliable.

The intangibles that formerly distinguished psychiatry from other medical specialties, the “quality of life” issues—now take a back seat to “evidence-based medicine” and the vain attempt of psychiatrists to align with the more “scientific” practitioners.

The antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) was introduced in 1989, two years before I graduated from medical school.  This began the separation of psychotherapy and other “talk therapy” from “medical management” of emotional problems.  While other antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety agents, and mood stabilizers had been on the market for decades, Prozac began the trend toward a raft of new, patented, drugs that could treat symptoms while ignoring the larger life pattern that led to the problems.  “Talk therapy” was shifted to psychologists and social workers, with the move heavily supported by government and insurance reimbursement criteria.

Since that time, the avalanche of patented drugs, technologies, diagnostic tests, and other interventions has made the “health care industry” one of the most profitable sectors in the United States.  Costs for the individual have skyrocketed, such that few can afford medical help without insurance.  Now, the government has made insurance mandatory.  No one seems to recognize that insurance does not equal health care.  In fact, insurance impedes, rations, and delays health care, and it raises the price for everyone.

Medical care costs twice as much in the US as anywhere else.  Medications are significantly more expensive.  A continuing medical education article I read says medical error is now the third leading cause of death in the US, after cardiovascular events and cancer.

That medicine and psychiatry seem obsessed with finding or creating problems already puts patients at a disadvantage, in a defensive position.  Psychiatrists don’t get reimbursed for “no diagnosis.” They must find or invent a diagnosis, a label, to justify the time they spend.

No wonder Oriental medicine has such appeal for me.  Here, diagnosis is based on patterns of disharmony within the body and mind.  The hands-on approach is individualized and personal.  The patients and the practitioners are partners, with the belief in the treatment’s effectiveness–“the placebo effect” in Western terms—a desirable component.  In short, it respects the dignity of the vital forces that medicine presumes to reinforce.

I hear people say that “health care is a right.”  We also have a right to refuse health care, especially when it’s forced on us by hostile, predatory forces.  We have the right to eat nutritious foods, life a balanced life, and keep stress levels low.  We have the right to maintain our vitality and health they best way we know and to choose who and what to trust for help when we need it.

 

What is Intelligence?

From my journal, seven years ago this month.  Some things don’t change (much).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010—I ran into M and his wife, K, at B&N yesterday, and we got to talking.  M talked a lot about intelligence, and I realized he is insecure about his, because he doesn’t (or didn’t) have a college degree.  He married his first wife because she did and quickly found degrees don’t assure intelligence or curiosity.

We speculated together, and I continued later to wonder what constitutes intelligence.  Others place too much emphasis on standardized tests, I believe, yet these represent the conventional guidelines.  College or advanced degrees constitute another measure.  If you go to a brand name school, all the better.

These don’t guarantee intelligence, though, as M. learned.  By others’ standards, I am intelligent, well educated, and do well enough on standardized tests, but I was not smart enough to reach people like my father.

M said engineers are linear thinkers.  His brother is an engineer and a perfect example.  Another term is “narrow-minded.”  Some people have claimed vocabulary determines intelligence.

Seth, in The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events, claims fundamentalism has arisen in reaction to Darwinism, which presumes a random, chaotic, uncaring universe without rules.  But science, as we understand it, binds itself with the most rigid rules and produces people like my father, who deny the existence of anything outside the framework.

I believe intelligence is an attitude rather than a concrete quality.  Intelligence and curiosity may be synonymous, because curiosity gives flexibility, open-mindedness, inventiveness, and common sense.

We don’t measure common sense on IQ tests, but this may determine basic intelligence more than any other parameter.  Common sense finds food when hungry, shelter when cold or wet, safety when threatened.  This is survival of the fittest in action, and this is why the relatively hairless beast called man can survive in freezing weather.  It has little to do with beating other hairless beasts over the head with a club to steal their women and food.

In fact, the fittest and most likely to survive are those who can cooperate in groups, as the pack animals can join together to bring down their prey.

Intelligence is a relative term.   M claims marriage compatibility is based on intelligence, and that he and K are closely matched.

My parents were closely matched in intelligence, I believe, but no one appreciated my mother’s smarts because she didn’t have the degrees to prove it.  Yet she had an active mind, lots of common sense, and managed to keep my father’s interest all their married life.

My father, who made gods of science and intelligence, was one of the most narrow-minded people around.  He couldn’t converse on any topic other than those that interested him, or where he excelled, and these were few indeed.  He had little interest or curiosity about anything outside that box.

If you presume others are stupid, you will miss evidence that conflicts with your belief.  The “scientific method,” the presumption of cause and effect, must exclude more than it includes to have any validity at all, and then you are only proving the limitations of your experiment.  The germ theory of disease, for instance.

 

A Quark’s Life

Seven years ago this month, I wrote the following in my journal.  Journalling is my therapy, and I advise everyone to try it.  A blank page doesn’t argue, criticize, judge, talk back, interrupt, gossip, or try to control.  Also, it’s virtually free.  I prefer writing by hand, partly because I sometimes draw or scribble in the margins, but also because it frees me to pause and stare into space, without the constant whiny noise of studiously patient electronics.

My only rule is to be as honest as possible with myself.

Octtober 30, 2009–If even every quark* has consciousness and is immortal, as my disincarnate friend Seth (of the Jane Roberts’ “Seth Series” fame) says, each carries memories of having  been part of Queen Elizabeth I’s body, or of the beggar on the street or of  the tuna in the great blue sea.  These were re-incarnational lives, so to speak.  Each individual quark has joined others in multiple arrangements to form matter of different substances.  The quark is so versatile that it is welcome in any neighborhood, presumably, unlike something like the silver atom, which has fewer opportunities for exploration.  A quark can be part of a silver atom, but a silver atom cannot be part of a quark.

And so it goes.  A quark sees the silver atom from a higher perspective, in a way, because it also knows what it’s like to be part of a gold atom.  Carrying that memory into the silver atom also enhances that atom’s understanding of worlds outside itself.  Each of the silver atom’s quarks, while joining with its fellow quarks in the grand structure of the atom, joins the consciousness of the group to a higher purpose.  Individual quarks are free to come and go from the atom, because they are replaced effortlessly by other quarks looking for silver atom experience.

It may go to a quark bar and tell stories of its lives as part of larger gestalts.

“Did you like being part of a toad?”

“Not as much as being part of a neutron star.  Being part of a magnolia blossom was nice, too, if you like that sort of thing.

“Don’t go near human beings, though, if you can help it.  They are atomic bombs in the cosmic symphony.”

“So why are so many quarks making humans?”

“I figure it’s because there are so many quarks making television sets and computers.”

“I did that.  When I was part of a silver atom, I was part of a computer circuit.  It was hot.  I got out of there real quick-like.  Now I just want to float in space and be part of the great cosmic cell.

“Can’t blame you a bit, bud.  If you’re only a quark, you don’t have to work very hard, because you are so replaceable.”

 

*Quarks are sub-atomic particles.

I Smell a Rat

September 8, 2016

by Dr. Kathorkian
an alter ego of katharineotto.wordpress.com

rat090616I am a murderer.  In defiance of my lifelong aversion to killing–war, capital punishment, abortion for me or by me (others have their own choices to make), physician-assisted suicide–I starved a rat this week by trapping him in the pantry.  I had already protected my edibles in a large metal trash can, because of the rat/mouse infestation that has plagued me for more than a year.

I’m the type of person who apologizes to blood-sucking mosquitoes before swatting them, but I’m absolutely opposed to the government spraying the marsh with malathion to kill mosquitoes at large, or the farming industry spreading pesticides willy-nilly over farmland.

I eat so little meat that I might as well be a vegetarian.  I like bacon but couldn’t kill a hog, even if I knew how, so that makes me a hypocrite. I have been known  to kill shrimp.  Blue crabs, too, but they are too much work to eat. Fish?  I’d rather not and don’t know how to fish.  Since I got chickens eight years ago, I have not eaten chicken.  I wonder these days how many people have even seen a live chicken, and if they had, could they kill and eat them?

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S. Squire Rooster, Attorney, for the Law of the Land

As methods of murder go, poison exists in the same category as bombs, because they are generally non-specific.  I actually bought poison to control the rodents but took it back.  My intention was to feed the river with rat remains, thereby alleviating my guilt, but poison would have made that rat’s body dangerous for the wildlife I like.  Traps are messy, unreliable and non-specific, too. I have a cat and rooster to protect.  The main reason I have rats is because my rooster, Squire, lives in the house and the cat lives outside.  Rats really like chicken food, I discovered, especially sunflower seeds, and they leave husks, shreds of clothing, mouse turds, and urine wherever they go.

In the past couple of years, rats have eaten through refrigerator wiring, a washing machine drain hose, sofa bedding, clothes, walls, packages of food, drapes, and even through a hard plastic cat food container.  They have taken up residence behind the stove and eaten through and urinated on the insulation at the bottom.  Like the human rats in government, I’ve learned that if there is something you have that they want, they will find a way to get it or destroy it, and leave the stink behind.

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Socksie by the marsh

Rat stink was making me sick, I decided, and cleaning up after them was pushing me to re-evaluate my excessively high moral standards.  I had visions of getting hemorrhagic fever from rat urine, bubonic plague from rat fleas, death by asphyxiation.  I bribed and threatened my cat, who watched the rats while they ate her food, then moved outdoors and refused to come back in.

I looked into getting a rat snake.  I discovered the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has outlawed selling native snakes. (The DNR is another blog, another day.) The local reptile dealer says he could be fined $20,000 and shut down if he sold one.

I prayed for a rat snake, and about two months ago, a black kingsnake dropped from heaven (actually out of the attic when I let the stairs down). He may be a cotton mouth moccasin, but he disappeared behind book shelves before I could fully identify him.   He didn’t reappear until my birthday in August, then showed briefly on the bathroom floor that night.  I almost stepped on him, but as before, he began to charge at me then disappeared again behind a cabinet, not to be seen again.  I saw traces of rat-blood on the floor and was grateful for the surprise birthday present.

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The last straw

It took that rat about six days to starve to death while I deliberated about what to do.  The pantry became death row when I discovered a new three-inch hole, made by one of his friends, in a favorite antique wool rug. This sealed his fate, a scapegoat for my pent-up rage. I checked in on the prisoner every day or so, and usually didn’t see him.  The day before he died, or maybe the day he died, he was sniffing around the bottom of the door and seemed weak.  When I opened the door Tuesday and smelled dead animal, I knew he was gone.  I searched and found him inside an open box of plastic garbage bags, looking as though he were sleeping peacefully.  That was comforting, in a macabre way.  I took him outside and showed him to Socksie the cat.  She took a couple of whiffs and walked away.  I deposited him by river’s edge, and Wednesday morning he was gone.  I figure a racoon got him, thereby concluding the latest of my many scientific experiments on human and animal behavior.

 

 

 

 

Packaging

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Has anyone considered the carbon footprint (and excessive waste) of all this single use packaging?  Whatever that fluorescent light bulb saves in end-of-line energy use is used up front in excessive packaging.  Why has Congress outlawed incandescent light bulbs?  Because if people had a choice, they would buy them.  Deprived of choice, people are forced to buy the patented technology or go back to using candles.

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