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Radio Freethinker Episode 186 – Cellular Memory Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 23, 2012

This week:

– Bad-art thieves,
Good-bye Paul Kurtz,
– Results of the Earthquake trial, 
Cellular Memory
 – the skeptical bubble

Download the episode here!

Bad-art thieves

We discuss a recent art theft in Holland and the distinction between a bad art thief and thief of bad art.

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Good-bye Paul Kurtz

We spend some time to remember on of the founding members and tireless forces of the modern skeptical movement.

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Results of the Earthquake trial

With the conviction of 6 scientist for manslaughter because of their failure to predict an earthquake in 2009, we recap the facts of the story, the problem of a poorly scientific literate populous and the risk & opportunity for scientist.

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Cellular Memory – the skeptical bubble

Don relays a story about how we as skeptics can find ourselves in the “bubble’ of the skepetic community and completely fail to debunk pseudo-science to a ‘I-want-to-believe’ friend. We talk about the role not only of sciences to communicate well, but the responsibly of us skeptics to do so as well.

Oh yes, we had a laugh off while going through the Skeptic Dictionary entry on Cellular Memory.

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Skeptical Highlights:

Philosophers’ Café
     Does electoral politics promote imagination, thought, and engagement or has it become a tool to legitimize the rule by, and authority, of the few?

The Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court has arguably made the vote a commodity, and electoral politics as the market place for the exclusive trading of that commodity, instead of a forum where ideas, reflections, and imaginations are exchanged.

Monday, Oct 29, 2012, 7:30 pm
Free admission
Caffe Amici, Commercial Drive at Kitchener, Vancouver

The Psychology of Good and Evil

CFI Vancouver presents a talk by Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani. What does it take to become a perpetrator of genocide? Why would someone risk their own life to save that of a complete stranger? Are the murderer and the saint really that different from one another? Weaving together insights from contemporary psychological science, this talk will focus on some of the common pathways and psychological processes that underlie the behaviour of those who exhibit the worst as well as the best of human nature.

Friday the 26th, 2012,7pm
Admission suggested donation of 2 to $10
Room 182 of Irving K Berber learning centre, UBC, Vancouver


3 Responses to “Radio Freethinker Episode 186 – Cellular Memory Edition”

  1. I got this comment (posted on the wrong blog post (‘Remembering Paul Kurtz 1925-2012’ – opps?), but here it is followed by my response….

    I’m a bit behind on listening to the podcast, so I just listened to this one this morning. After the segment regarding cellular memory, I felt I had to speak up on one piece: is it really impossible for this phenomenon to exist? Personally, I don’t believe this to be a real occurrence, but as you point out on the show, one should keep an open mind and be willing to accept that everything you know and believe may be turned on its head at some point.

    To attempt to validate that thought, I have one theory. I am far from being an expert in any science, and I have no idea if there has been any study to confirm or refute it, but here it is.

    – Our intangible mind, consciousness, memories, what have you, are kept in our brain.
    – Our brain in made up of neurons, cells which transfer electrical and chemical impulses to enable our bodies to do everything our bodies do.
    – Neurons are also found in nerves, thus they are present throughout the body, not just in the brain.
    – If our memories are kept in neurons, then how do we know (do we even ‘know’) that memories only live in the brain?
    – I assert that it is possible for those memories to be stored elsewhere in the body, and it is possible (not necessarily probable) that those memories stored in a neuron attached to some other body part may survive a transplantation.

    Do I really think this is the case, not really (again, lack of facts one way or the other), but if some new study came out essentially proving this, I could easily believe it to be true.

    Do you guys have any thoughts on this?

    • First, I should point out that it is not the neuron that contains the mind but the interconnections between neurons. It is in these patterns and pathways that “I” can be found.

      So, the fact that we have neurons distributed within our bodies is like saying that silicone is distributed throughout my computer; therefore every (or even some) silicone ‘keeps’ a memory of my latest MP3. It is only storied in specific memory modules.

      So, simply because neurons exist outside the brain does not mean our memories exist outside the brain.

      You ask “how do we know that memories only live in the brain?”, well the simplest answer is ‘strokes’ and similar brain injuries.

      In fact, thanks to brain injury research, a lot of what we use to think of as ‘me’ turns out to be those pesky neuro-networks…damage the network and who we fundamentally are is changed (Most famously Phineas Gage but there are others).

      There are no other corollaries to damage to other parts of the body (that do not in some way also affect the brain) that exhibit a reverse memory effect as one would expect if memories were somehow ‘distributed’ via cellular memory. For example, the removal of a kidney or liver damage does not, in the way we are talking, alter a person’s memories or personalit.

      That said, there are some exceptions. As mentioned on the show, there are some ‘tendencies’ or ‘preference’ that are not so much choice but biological predisposition. For example, allergies may be ‘transplanted’ when we get bone marrow from someone else.

      It is conceivable, but never been shown, that if you get a liver or kidney transplant and the donor’s organ metabolized certain chemicals is such a way it could give us predisposed to favor one food or another.

      For example is the donor kidneys were very ‘efficient at metabolizing alcohol…it is conceivable (but again never proven) that the recipient may find alcohol more or less desirable than pre-transplant.

      That said, it is not our memories or ‘personality’ that is being transplanted. It is not that the liver remembers the original host liked whiskey but that donor and recipient share a common organ that reacts in a similar way.

      Just to drive the difference of organ effect and character trait; I have a slight allergy to cheese…I get a marked but slight reaction…a flushness to my face and a slight tingling. This is some metabolic quirk of my biology; it is possible if the ‘source’ of this allergy were transplanted to another, they would experience a similar sensation. However, they may react differently. I find it weirdly pleasant but a recipient may find it uncomfortable. I like cheese and they don’t because although the machinery of the body moved, the trait or memory did not and thus the resulting behavior is different.

      Another possible exception is local neuro-connections…we might think of this as reflex reactions. If someone gets a new arm, and that arm is connected perfectly (most limb transplants suffer from extreme impairment…better than no arm but not like a ‘normal’ arm) there may be wiring in the limb that facilitates particular movements over others. Hand eye coordination is not all in the mind.

      But again, like with allergies this is not memories or even traits, but artifacts of the ‘unthinking’ machinery.

      There may be some other minor exceptions but to return to the question at hand.

      Are our memories…or personality…stored in “A” neuron.

      Our minds are not the individual neurons but in the interconnections of those neurons…unless you have the equivalent of a cerebral cortex in the liver, heart, kidney, ext….there is no conceivable way for transplants to ‘transplant’ personality.

      I hope that clarifies things. I should also point out, whenever we “assert’ something without a) evidence, b) an mechanism of plausibility and c) a means of testing this ‘assertion’ we are no longer being good skeptics.

      Don’t get me wrong, there is no purity test…we all have beliefs that are ‘weak’; but be aware they are weak when reflecting on them.

      “Eye’s open – Minds on”

      PS: Some might argue with my statement of “mechanism of plausibility” as necessary for ‘good skepticism’ but I include it because until you have some hypothesis as to how something might happen, there is no way to really test the assertion. IF it is untestable, then it lays outside of science and what I would count as modern 3rd wave skepticism.

      • Gaffi said

        Thanks for your reply. I do remember Phineas Gage from Psych 101, but hadn’t considered that much of the argument.

        Only being the devil’s advocate here, and again speaking as one who is ignorant to the details, I’d argue that while we know that certain brain damage can irrefutably alter one’s personality, this does not preclude damage to other nerve cells from doing the same.

        I know, I know, there is no documented evidence that it does, but has anyone ever gone through the (unethical) systematic destruction of another human being to see if there is specifically a change in personality as a result, however insignificant (and somehow not affected by the psychological terror of being torn apart/otherwise injured)?

        Perhaps I used the wrong term by calling it ‘assertion’. I merely meant to point out that I am not convinced that the situation is entirely impossible. Nonetheless, I am overall agreement that this phenomena does not happen.

        Thank you again!

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