You Don't Even Play Piano  
Site Meter... Zac The Knife... Zacharchy....... "Quote, quote.....quotes, there you go, more quotes." -Kieran.......... Deane: Anywhere that serves alcohol and food is acceptable for my admittedly low standards......... Kieran: predictably terrible......... Marie: you talk like a psyco guy on TV........ Carly: Masturbation is NOT an ice cream flavour!........ SoulMan81284: You're actually halfway intelligent... zdurisko: i certainly try to be............ firefirefire314: I need to read this manual on how to kill mockingbirds........... scorin8: no i am amazed by you, you're a walking cool ass dictionary of fun shit............ z0331: you're being worse than most girls.......... asunny2: reflect away, but don't ever think you are a bad person.......... liblibprez: you are way too adorable sometimes.......... SoulMan81284: I love how people think you're sane and I'm crazy.......... z0331: GET IN THE KITCHEN AND MAKE THE DAMN GAME zdurisko: :-( z0331: yeah...u would be all...frowny emoticon at that.......... celia5555555555: sorry I was making myself a burito........... fizixdaddyo: a free man.......... Hiro Yagyu: military strategy rocks.......... scorin8: I find that sometimes I think something is a joke, yet I have no idea cause I don't get it.......... estralitaria: we, thankfully, have gotten over that and are secure in our pretentions.......... SoulMan81284: Even your heathen heart would have been warmed.......... zdurisko: where would i be without you, jill? ohyahno: i dont know zac :-)........... Hiro Yagyu: france, hahahhaha Hiro Yagyu: suckeres.......... celia5555555555: you're a cute little puppy :-)........... XMetalHead715X: even tittier (if thats a word)........... estralitaria: well i guess not zdurisko: not a deal? estralitaria:no, i mean yes..........

Good Karma since 1985.

drole17: i think you're bob marley

"'The Downward Spiral of my Life' By Zac." -Connor.

Active since December 2002.

Celebrating "Japanese Real Estate Day" since the beginning.

Make Way for Duck!
Just the Other Zac. (political)
Greg the Canadian.
Kyle (occasional updates)
Bahhhhston. Mostly Political.

My Green Manifesto.
Bob Marley.
Ann Coulter.
9.11 Redux.
Ralph. Counting down.

McGill University.




Last night truly revived in me a sort-of lust for life that I've been lacking in these long months. I can't thank you enough for such a wonderful gift-- a book-- a piece of writing, concrete and poetic, that represents love and life and evokes in me such magnificent awe and wonder at our world and the dimension of time. I often ask myself if life is worth living, and the answer from this novel, resoundingly, even in such pitiable life-is-waiting scenarios, is YES. Connections with people are worth it! Despite the inevitable parting we must experience, through life, or more definitely, death, it truly is better to have loved. We're not just doing things for the sake of doing them, but rather, our actions have a lasting impact on the entire universe--each other.

This book reminded me, or perhaps enlightened me, or maybe awakened in me, an innate understanding of love. It makes me wonder if I've ever given my life over to another person or even idea with such determination and finality, or if I ever will. I've spent my entire life hiding from the future, journaling, reading about the past, afraid to forget and live in the present. I have had this undeniable fear that when the past dies, parts of us die, and have spent my whole life looking backward. This story has taught me the power of now. If such free will exists, and if I have the ability to completely give myself over to something, I think I should-- while I'm young. This was exactly what I needed.

Thanks again for enriching my life.

Your Zachary.

But that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 11/27/2006 02:07:00 PM

Monday, November 27, 2006  


So I guess I'll tell you a little bit about arm infections-- so long as we're on the subject.

They stink.

The IV juice burns when it floods into your veins. Part of the pain is psychological, just from picturing the different fluids mixing with your blood, pushing those red blood cells into the artery walls. That leads to the rest of the pain: The pressure inside those veins from the added fluid, stretching and filling-- ripping them at the seams.

The skin bruises around the hole, making the area more sensitive than it needs to be. Any touch-- any hint of feeling or pressure, and the brain recoils in horror, afraid that the needle inside might break off and float its way deeper into your body. What if that needle shoots, forced with the new pressure, until it drives itself into your heart? That little needle keeps me awake all night.

They sent me away from the hospital because they didn't have any beds. The triage nurse said that I should have been admitted, but I'm young, I live close enough, and therefore, I can make my way back to the E.R. every 8 hours. I can wait for triage and re-register and wait again for an opening-- to see a nurse, or heaven forbid a doctor. I can sit and wait for an hour before they give me more antibiotics. Every 8 hours. For 56 hours. I can go home and sleep for 5 hours, try to wash my face and brush my teeth and then go back to the hospital. I can be in agony every time I put on my coat and it brushes my IV hand or my infected elbow. I'm young. I live close. They're out of beds—my pain doesn’t count.

But I can't complain because it's free. I don't pay and I don't die, so I can't complain.

Every couple of 8 hour visits, a doctor looks into my elbow--into the hole that they made, that they dug from the infected tissue. Twice they cut off more dead--necrotizing-- flesh. It makes me cry and gasp in pain while Marit squeezes my hand tighter and tighter. My knuckles turn white as I grip the edge of the bed.

We’re not squeamish, but it makes me dizzy when Marit describes how deep the wound goes—past these pink layers of… me. I shiver as she relates it to a cut of beef. My swollen hand keeps leaking pus all the way down through the elbow, leaving my pink hole with a yellow colour. The skin around the hole looks tired and sore—just wanting to be left alone. I refuse to look.

The forceps are cold and it sends shooting pain through my infected arm. I'm turned on my side so that I can't see the gruesome display, but Marit is facing me and her face turns white as her eyes grow wider and wider. She gasps when I gasp and her hand gets tighter around mine.

At first I don’t know what’s going on—I can’t see what she sees, but eventually I mouth the words: “She’s cutting the flesh!” and a tear streams down Marit’s face. She nods.

The lights are bright and the pillow is hard and I'm focusing on everything I can other than that pain. That stabbing, burning, hateful pain. I just want it to be over.

"Keep taking deep breaths."

I choke one half pretend-deep breath in before coughing and gasping it out. Marit's hand gets tighter still, to the point where it makes my fingers hurt as they press into each other. It's a welcome sensation--something else to focus on.

Then more IVs. More fevers and chills. More rotten flesh.

Marit and I joke about how much life sucks and how much god hates us. The walks to and from the hospital are nice-- a reprieve from forceps and rot. Fresh bandages make me smile because they're so clean. It doesn't take long for them to soak through in blood and pus, but every eight hours I’m back and they get changed again.

On the first night they gave me drugs so that I wouldn't remember the operation. Apparently I was awake and screaming and crying in pain, but I have no memory. I woke up in pain, with a giant bandage on my arm and Marit holding my hand, crying. She keeps letting out broken sentences between gasps and pants: "You... it looked... I just wanted to... and you wouldn't stop..." The only way to calm her down is to reassure her that it wasn’t me—that I don’t remember the pain.

The second time, I didn't get those drugs. The second time, I had a grip on the bed frame and white knuckles, grit teeth and a few tears. Marit had my hand and my eyes. The second time, I didn't scream.

900 mg clindamycin, antibiotics-- the dose is so high that it makes me dizzy and nauseated. My world begins to spin and get dark while my whole body shakes with chills and fever. Somewhere, I can hear my teeth chatter. I can hear Marit asking the nurse if she can turn the IV down.

"Does it need to FLOOD his VEINS so fast? It's making him sick."

They don't like her attitude, but she doesn't like that they disrespect us so. We've been waiting for hours for this IV, number four of seven, and the nurses don't seem to understand our frustration. Each time they write us a slip so that we don't have to wait the next time we come in, eight hours later. And every time when we show up, they take our slip and tell us to wait until they call our number... then to wait until they call our names.

Some nurses, mostly the younger ones, are amazing. They're gentle and happy and fun. The older ones are jaded and rude to us. They don't ask us to wait patiently in room 8, they order us to sit. They treat us as just another task that they have to tend to-- another pain in the ass in their long day. Occasionally, the old nurse takes so long to get to my IV that Marit finds a younger one and asks her pleasantly to help us. I suspect that's what the older nurse wanted in the first place.

For them, this is just another day. Blood and pus and sweat and tears-- there are stains on their scrubs daily, if not mine then someone else's. It makes no difference to them. Yet, sometimes if you thank them just right and really let them know that you appreciate them, they'll smile as they pack your wound with warm, gentle hands.

So they slow the drip on my IV and some of the dizziness subsides. The fire on the back of my hand dulls a bit as the veins are allowed to shrink a little to their former size.

When they pack the wound, the nice nurses always apologize for the pain they’re causing me. I tell them not to worry—that I’ve had worse, and that they’re providing for me a necessary service. I need them. One young French nurse smiles as she agrees that she dislikes having to pack my wound more than I dislike having it packed. When I wince, she gasps and returns doubly gentle. I fall immediately in love with her.

The antibiotic pills follow the IVs—still 900 mg three times per day. I’m convinced its enough antibiotic to kill a small dog. No nurses laugh at that joke because they know that I’m right. It’s an incredibly high dose and the pharmacist questions the prescription.

“Yes,” I tell him, “the bacteria are antibiotic resistant.” He frowns as he puts the little pill bottle into a plastic bag. As he’s listing off the side effects, my mind wanders.

Antibiotics kill bacteria. But bacteria are living organisms that live in populations and reproduce. The Darwinian laws of natural selection apply. Every bottle of penicillin thrown aside or bar of antibacterial soap adds to the selection pressure. All of the weak bacteria are killed and only the strong—the resistant—are left to breed. They multiply. We increase the dosage. They become immune. We increase the dosage.

Doctors have been over prescribing antibiotics for a generation and these are the consequences. The once cure-all is fast becoming obsolete as bacteria advance the arms race around our defenses. They have to, or else face extinction. It’s natural and beautiful—but terrifying. We’re the cause of our own disease. We’re sowing the seeds of our own plague. We’re creating the bacteria that are causing infections we can’t cure.

A week later when another nurse is changing the dressing on my wound, I joke that I’m the beginning of an epidemic. It’s not funny because it’s true.

But that's just my opinion. Zac.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 9/22/2006 11:23:00 PM

Friday, September 22, 2006  


Pope Stops Short of Apology to Muslims - "Pope Benedict XVI 'sincerely regrets' offending Muslims with his reference to an obscure medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as 'evil and inhuman,' the Vatican said Saturday.

But the statement stopped short of the apology demanded by Islamic leaders around the globe, and anger among Muslims remained intense. Palestinians attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza over the pope's remarks Tuesday in a speech to university professors in his native Germany. "

Does anyone else find it ironic that to protest the Pope's calling them "evil and inhuman" they burned and shot up churches?

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 9/16/2006 05:03:00 PM

Saturday, September 16, 2006  


"Restate my assumptions:

1. Mathematics is the language of nature.

2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.

3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge.

Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature."

-Pi, the movie

But that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 8/08/2006 06:51:00 AM

Tuesday, August 08, 2006  


There's a hole in my gums that peers down to the bone. Ice water makes me squeal when it kisses that nerve. There's a soapy green goo that I'm supposed to inject with an intimidating plastic syringe whenever I eat. It's a dull wet throb, deep within the jaw that you could even attribute to the normal background pains of life if only you could stop poking at it with your tongue. But you can't. The novel absence makes your mouth feel like someone else's, and like some twisted and horrible Halloween make-out session, you keep probing those bloody holes in many new and interesting ways that all make you shudder. My tongue's contortionist acts bring on new aches and cramps that add to the throbbing. Everything makes everything worse.

"Stop picking at it."

"Let it heal."

This would be great advice except that I can multi-task. I can pick at it while I do any number of my myriad daily actions. Reading, writing, typing, dishes, working, crying and masturbating-- They're all just things I do while I'm secretly thinking about my wisdom teeth. Walking down the street doesn't even seem fair: it's such a pale comparison to tongue-fucking my gum holes. It's becoming a seriously unhealthy obsession.

There's something so obviously sexual about poking these soft, bloody holes with a stiff muscle. I'm even afraid of being caught doing it in public or having someone accidentally walk in on me while I'm bleeding-again-deep in gum-pulp. It's a new and exciting way to gratify myself. The extra pain just means that it's working. And having to be sneaky about it makes it more exhilarating.

Jesus fuck, am I having sexual fantasies about tooth surgery? I need a cold shower. And some ice water. And some more of that sterile goo. And maybe a few more codeine pills.

I just grossed myself out too much and have to stop writing. But. I. Can't. Stop. Picking. At. This. Thing. With. My. Tongue.

The writing can wait. I gotta play with this before it heals!

But that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 8/01/2006 06:19:00 AM

Tuesday, August 01, 2006  


When I was five or six, I used to have nightmares about murderers with chainsaws. And lying in bed, I could see them approaching, starting their saws and leaning over me.

Imaginations are powerful. Psychology is powerful, and being five years old I didn't have the experience to convince myself of the truth--that nobody was there. In the darkness, I'd see little spots of light that float around the room: nothing more than relics of the retina and nerve signals--neurotransmitter being sent around my brain.

But those little spots, glowing and flashing, they'd move and coalesce into a silhouette, and I'd see this shadowy figure enter my room. Then I'd panic, fingers clutched around the top of my blanket, pulled up to my chin, shaking. The figure would move closer, acting exactly as I would imagine my worst fear--as I was imagining-- and proceed to cut me in half with an invisible ghost chainsaw.

But somewhere in my little head, I knew that this midnight assassin only existed in the dark. If I could make it to the light, past him, around him, through his legs, and flick the switch-- I'd win. So I'd wait, until he got closer. He'd pause, trying to start his silent shadow-saw, pulling an invisible ignition cord. At the last second, I'd roll out of the way, to the other side of the bed and scramble, rolling and diving, to that light switch. I remember hitting it one night and screaming: "I GOT YOU!" into an empty room.

The next morning my sister asked me what I was yelling at in the room next to hers: why she had been woken up to me yelling at some imaginary demon and then doing a happy-dance to gloat about my victory. When I told her, she made fun of me for days.

But that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 7/19/2006 02:46:00 AM

Wednesday, July 19, 2006  


Today I was peeing and a fly landed on the back of my calf, then I swat it with my other foot, without missing a drop. It's pretty much my proudest moment in the history of life.

In other news, my bike was stolen, women are crazy, sleep is under-rated and gambling is more addictive than cocaine.

But that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 7/12/2006 03:18:00 PM

Wednesday, July 12, 2006  



"Science may have alleviated the miseries of disease and drudgery and provided an array of gadgetry for our entertainment and convenience, but it has left us in a world without wonder. Our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies. The complexities of the universe have been shredded into mathematical equations. Even our self-worth as human beings has been destroyed. Science proclaims that Planet Earth and its inhabitants are a meaningless speck in the grand scheme. A cosmic accident... Even the technology that promises to unite us, divides us. Each of us is now electronically connected to the globe, and yet we feel utterly alone. We are bombarded with violence, division, fracture and betrayal. Skepticism has become a virtue. Cynicism and demand for proof has become enlightened thought. Is it any wonder that humans now feel more depressed and defeated than they have at any point in human history? Does science hold anything sacred? Science looks for answers by probing our unborn fetuses. Science even presumes to rearrange our own DNA. It shatters God's world into smaller and smaller pieces in the quest of meaning... and all it finds is more questions...

"The ancient war between science and religion is over... You have won. But you have not won fairly. You have not won by providing answers. You have won by so radically reorienting our society that the truths we once saw as signposts now seem inapplicable. Religion cannot keep up. Scientific growth is exponential. It feeds on itself like a virus. Every new breakthrough opens doors for new breakthroughs. Mankind took thousands of years to progress from the wheel to the car. Yet only decades from the car into space. Now we measure scientific progress in weeks. We are spinning out of control. The rift between us grows deeper and deeper, and as religion is left behind, people find themselves in a spiritual void. We cry out for meaning And believe me, we do cry out. We see UFOs, engage in channeling, spirit contact, out-of-body experiences, mindquests--all these eccentric ideas have a scientific veneer, but they are unashamedly irrational. They are the desperate cry of the modern soul, lonely and tormented, crippled by its own enlightenment and its inability to accept the meaning in anything removed from technology...

"Science, you say, will save us. Science, I say, has destroyed us. Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but always with benevolent intention. Even so, the temptations are too great for man to resist. I warn you, look around yourselves. The promises of science have not been kept. Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos. We are a fractured and frantic species... moving down a path of destruction...

"To science, I say this. The church is tired. We are exhausted from trying to be your signposts. Our resources are drying up from our campaign to be the voice of balance as you plow blindly on in your quest for smaller chips and larger profits. We ask not why you will not govern yourselves, but how can you? Your world moves so fast that if you stop even for an instant to consider the implications of your actions, someone more efficient will whip past you in a blur. So you move on. You proliferate weapons of mass destruction, but it is the Pope who travels the world beseeching leaders to use restraint. You clone living creatures, but it is the church reminding us to consider the moral implications of our actions. You encourage people to interact on phones, video screens, and computers, but it is the church who opens its doors and reminds us to commune in person as we were meant to do. You even murder unborn babies in the name of research that will save lives. Again, it is the church who points out the fallacy of this reasoning.

And all the while, you proclaim the church is ignorant. But who is more ignorant? The man who cannot define lightning, or the man who does not respect its awesome power? This church is reaching out to you. Reaching out to everyone. And the more we reach, the more you push us away. Show me proof there is a God, you say. I say use your telescopes to look to the heavens, and tell me how there could not be a God! ... You ask what does God look like? I say where did that question come from? The answers are one and the same. Do you not see God in your science? How can you miss Him! You proclaim that even the slightest change in the force of gravity or the weight of an atom would have rendered our universe a lifeless mist rather than our magnificent sea of heavenly bodies, and yet you fail to see God's hand in this? Is it really so much easier to believe that we simply chose the right card from a deck of billions? Have we become so spiritually bankrupt that we would rather believe in mathematical impossibility than in a power greater than us?

Whether or not you believe in God ... you must believe this. When we as a species abandon our trust in the power greater than us, we abandon our sense of accountability. Faith... all faiths... are admonitions that there is something we cannot understand, something to which we are accountable... With faith we are accountable to each other, to ourselves, and to a higher truth. Religion is flawed, but only because man is flawed. If the outside world could see this church as I do... looking beyond the ritual of these walls... they would see a modern miracle... a brotherhood of imperfect, simple souls wanting only to be a voice of compassion in a world spinning out of control..." Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca in Angels & Demons by Dan Brown.

It has become so popular in the scientific community to proclaim your atheism with facts like: there's no life after death or the soul doesn't exist biologically. I say, what do those things have to do with the existence of a power greater than us that we can't understand? Science has disproven many of the basic and childish theories of God, fairy tales and Bible stories--mythology, but that still doesn't prove that there's no greater power. Science is the search for patterns in our world. These patterns derive from constants that are woven into the very fabric of the universe. Some forces exist that science cannot explain-- yet, can measure with ever increasing precision. Is that not an unexplainable force, greater than ourselves that just EXISTS?

A great example is gravity. Gravity just exists. Everything piece fo matter with a mass takes up relative space in the universe and attracts everything else. We don't know why or how, but we can calculate exactly how strong the attractive force will be for a given mass and distance. This force exists in a pattern that we can express in a mathematical formula... but why? It's just how the universe works. There is my proof of God.

God isn't a cosmic babysitter, but in my opinion, s/he/it exists in the unexplainable forces of our universe.

But... that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 7/03/2006 12:12:00 AM

Monday, July 03, 2006  


Sitting at work and doing nothing gives me lots of time to think. And read.

Tonight I started to tackle behavioural genetics.

The logic seems simple. Our brains control our behaviour and our brains are built and maintained by our genomes. We KNOW that there are certain genes that produce proteins essential for the perfect construction of our nervous systems. A developing pile of neurons is formed into perceptive input lines and cognitive output lines by the guidance of specific proteins in specific quantities. Millions of years of evolution has made this process relatively flawless.

But the big question is: what about our behaviours? What about our thoughts, emotions, instincts and consequential (if you're inclined to a reductionist philosophy) actions? If the neurons are controlling all of these, and proteins are controlling the neurons, and genes are behind the proteins-- isn't it obvious that genes are behind behaviours?

This works out easily in theory. Sometimes its deceivingly simple-- Prairie voles can be made to be more monogamous (a clear and measurable behaviour) by increasing dopamine levels (or, presumably, by regulating [read: selecting or mutating] the genes that control dopamine).

But in the past, biology has had a terrible time trying to find actual BEHAVIOUR genes. First, the scope was too narrow. In retrospect, it's obvious that there aren't simple behaviour controlling genes, as the genomes interact with a complex system that's interacting with a complex environment. There's no one sequence of DNA alone that's going to make a person invent a faster toaster or be good at baseball.

These scientific oversights, although somewhat humorous in retrospect (jokes about the simple geneticists of the 1950s and before are similar to laughing at the Dark Age idea of heliocentrism or mythological Apollo and his sun-chariot), they had tragic complications. Many primitive geneticists sought the forced sterilization of those with "weak" genes. Although Hitler jumps to mind first, many scientists held similar (if less extreme) ideas in England and the North America. Thousands of mentally handicapped or otherwise undesirable people (ex. low IQ) were sterilized by state programs that got AHEAD of good science.

In many places of the world (including, say, the South) these ignorances are still held as a form of "popular" science shorthand. How many times have you heard something along the lines of: 'He's got the genes to be a good pianist because his father was..."?

Modern science, everywhere except Kansas, has moved on.

The next step for behavioural genetics was understanding how complicated the state of affairs really was. If there aren't simple behaviour controlling genes, then what are there? Enter the idea of a "genetic predisposition". Once biologists had a chance to actually study these behaviour genes, they realized that for the most part, they merely added to one's chances of having a certain trait. There are no INTELLIGENCE genes, but there are some genes that when coupled with a supportive, educational, stimulating environment can lead one to probably be an "intelligent" person.

This leads immediately to the problem of classifying traits. How do you test whether someone is intelligent, aggressive, depressed? For psychiatric disorders, a scale of "Does the person have 5 of the following 10 symptoms?" is often applied. This works for clinicians, but for a behavioural geneticist, one has to assume that those symptoms could likely be different genes or gene-gene interactions or gene-environment interactions. The messy web of "could" becomes almost impossible to untangle-- and certainly not in any statistically significant or HELPFUL way.

Some thought it might be easier to start with actual observable complications. Certain types of mental retardation results also in misshapen body types that might be classifiable in terms of genetics. In this case, although the phenotypes might be easier classified, there are still environmental interactions.

Simply put, everyone is different. Two people sharing the same genomic sequence (even if it likely results in a classifiable phenotype) still have unique psychological development (biologically and, say, perceptively. They have unique protein production as well as different perceptions of the world.)

Twin studies, lead by those revolutionaries such as the University of Minnesota, have been looking at how much control genes have relative to the environment in producing a behavioural phenotype. For example, if Jim and John are identical twins, but were raised in completely different environments-- how are they similar and how are they different? Often, its astounding to see that one growing up in a poverty-stricken D.C. ghetto is equally neurotic, obsessive, aggressive and intelligent as the one that grows up in a wealthy Jewish community in Connecticut. These comparisons can give a statistical likelihood of how strong "genetic predispositions" might be. Often their compiled results are worded like "Intelligence is found to be 62% heritable. Schizophrenia is found to be 35% heritable."

Another interesting personality psychology idea is that these predispositions for a trait are themselves predispositions for actions. Even when a person is classified as neurotic or aggressive or obsessive or intelligent-- clearly, they're not acting that way ALL of the time. A gene might give a person a 20% increase in the odds that they're going to be neurotic, which, as a classification simply means that in a given situation the chance is reasonable that they are going to act neurotically (or rather, act in a way that would pass the test for neuroticism).

This lack of concrete ideas is a daunting spectre to the field, obviously. If our classifications are based on "probably" and our discoveries of the roots of these classifications are also based on "probably" how likely are our results going to be in reality? We're compounding our error. It feels rather like we're trying to build a major scientific advancement on a soupy, muddy riverbank. I'd say its "probably" going to sink unless we can find more concrete intellectual footing--more actual, firm, concrete scientific ideas.

And there's the rub. We know that genes are involved with behaviour. They control neuron development and maintenance and produce the proteins that actually interact with the brain to cause thoughts, feelings and actions. But we can't even classify the behaviours, let alone explain how genes are involved in their expression. We can prove likelihoods and statistical probabilities all that we want, but behavioural genetics is far removed from actually saying, "Neuroticism is THIS and I'm neurotic because of gene A and B interacting with my environmental factors C and D and E which also interact with genes C and D-- D, which was enhanced by environmental factor F and gene X." We don't know what neuroticism really IS, so how can we try to find genes and complex interactions that lead to it.

immediately and obviously the complications seem too overwhelming for good science.

Even if we thought that we had identified a genomic sequence (gene allele) that caused a certain phenotype-- how are we going to test that? Setting aside all ethical concerns-- which, obviously, we could never do, we'd have 2 choices: we can block the gene from acting and see what happens or we can enhance it-- stimulate it-- and see what happens. But WHEN we do these two things developmentally might make a big difference. A person's behaviours occur on a time-scale. For example, if a gene is supposed only to turn on at puberty and we stimulate it at some embryo stage, it might interact with other genes and proteins prematurely and not give us a clear picture of what the gene is actually doing in normal development. OR, let's say that the gene makes a protein that functions in one way at some concentration, but by altering the gene's function we change that concentration and so change the function of the protein. Far from being contingencies, these scenarios and others are plausible and sometimes probable in developmental Biology.

Hopefully, there might be a homolog of our new gene in a related species. Humans and mice are relatively closely related (we're both mammals-- which is a unique evolutionary branch of animals). For example, hemoglobin genes in mice are extremely similar to hemoglobin genes in humans-- parts of them are actually interchangeable. (incidentally, this is often how the evolutionary relationship of different organisms is determined-- by genomic comparisons: more similar genome sequences indicate a closer common ancestor in evolutionary history--for example, chimps and humans have 99% similar genomes). If the mouse has a gene that is similar to our gene of interest, that doesn't mean that it acts the same way or that we could classify the phenotype in the mouse to begin with. How do you tell if a mouse is neurotic? How do you tell if a mouse is intelligent? Often the comparisons are impossible: mice don't use language or have as complex social interactions as we have.

Given all of these daunting hurdles in the way of the science its amazing that we don't give up and study something easier. But, as I said before, the connection seems to tantalizingly obvious: Genes control neurons and neurons control behaviour. It's so simple!

For now, it seems we shall just have to be content to refute eugenics and accept behavioural genetics' small place in the world (exemplified by the tiny space afforded to it by wikipedia).

But that's just my opinion.

Ps. Speaking of refuting eugenics: Eugenicists are always striving for "purity" or "cleanliness" in the gene pool, but biology has proven, again and again, that large population sizes with great genetic diversity are the healthiest in terms of evolution. If we were all the same, one environmental change or genetic disorder could wipe us off out of existence.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 6/28/2006 12:23:00 AM

Wednesday, June 28, 2006  


So it's summer now.

And to celebrate my finishing of class for the next few months, I won a little at poker and went out with Dave to get drunk. Every once in a while it's necessary to remind yourself what it feels like to get really drunk. And then sick. And then... hungover.

I was telling Chase earlier about how today was one of those days that St. Peter is going to refer to when I'm standing at the Pearly Gates.

Me: Wow, so this is heaven!

St. Peter: Don't get attached. I've got somethings I want to go over with you... some sins.

Me: Ok, certainly. I tried to lead my life the best I could...

StP: Ok, first: You gratified yourself sexually eleven billion times. Second, you never apologized for that time that Chase got blamed for farting and it was actually you. And finally, all of those nights that you spent drinking and smoking-- we can forgive those-- but that added sloth on the following day. Like... May 31, 2006, for example. When you skipped dinner with Marit and biking with Chase just to sleep on the couch! Do you have anything to say for yourself?

Me: I'm sorry? I mean, Dave got me wasted at Bifteck. I was just so happy to be FREE-- and enjoying summer. I was trying to make up for an entire stressful, awful, miserable month in ONE night. Actually, in one last-call round of whisky.
I know it wasn't a good idea, but then I got to pay for it by being sick all day.

StP: Well... that makes your purgatory total through to the next million years. Good luck. And god bless.

Me: But wasn't I fated to act that way? How can you hold it against me when it was God's choice and will?

StP: God gives you freewill.

Me: But he's omniscient. He knew that I was going to choose wrong and left me to this? That doesn't seem fair. He creates me with the fate that I'm going to fail and then punishes me for it. That's crap. Let me speak to God.

StP: I'm sorry he's in a very important meeting.

Me: Then I say... I say, GOD IS DEAD!

StP: Fine, Hell it is then. Enjoy.

So thanks, Dave. For getting me sent to hell.

But that's just my opinion.

  posted by Zac "Ille Falx" @ 6/01/2006 02:42:00 AM

Thursday, June 01, 2006  
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