Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Can happiness be bio-engineered?

Coming to MTSU, Fall 2013-
PHIL 3160 –
Philosophy of Happiness
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:40-4:05 pm, James Union Building 202. Examining the concept of human happiness and its application in everyday living as discussed since antiquity by philosophers, psychologists, writers, spiritual leaders, and contributors to pop culture.
 “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Aristotle

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” - Marcus Aurelius

 “Rules for Happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”   Immanuel Kant

“Happiness consists in frequent repetition of pleasure”

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

“If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.”  Edith Wharton

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”   Albert Camus

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”  Ernest Hemingway

“That's the difference between me and the rest of the world! Happiness isn't good enough for me! I demand euphoria!” Bill Watterson

“This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy… I'd far rather be happy than right any day.” ― Douglas Adams

Join the conversation! For more info contact Dr. Phil Oliver, Phil.Oliver@mtsu.edu

Friday, March 29, 2013

Monsanto Protection Act Signed and Stamped

Betsy Here.
In light of my mid-term topic I felt it was relevant to post this. Obama just signed this act into law a few days ago. It basically takes the power to regulate genetically engineered crops and seeds away from the USDA (where it had been regulated up until now), and takes away federal power to step in and stop sale of crops if they are deemed harmful.
Most of the articles on the topic are VERY bias and I did not read the actual bill, however here is the least bias article I could find if you're interested in reading more.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Objective Critique

The Objective Critique
By Wilhelm Schwarzwald

What is Bioethics? Is it science or philosophy? Is it neither?
The critic says it is ethics, but isn't ethics the philosophical inquiry of morality.

Is it science? Well what is science? Is science something that follows the scientific method to achieve its answers?

If so, then no ethical issue is a scientific issue.
Perhaps that is a bold claim?
Perhaps I should say that ethical issues don't necessarily use or not use the scientific method in order to reach a product.

However what does that say? Nothing.
It is a sketch of an answer, but not an answer at all.

The former claim is a definite answer, something in which other conditions can be built or dismissed.
Whether it is wrong or not should not hinge on circumstantial cases or isolated incidents, but in a disapproval of the universal notion that an ethical issue is inherently different from a scientific issue due to the ways we process and solve each respective subject’s problems.

So now we are back to the separation of ethics and science.
So obviously ethics must be philosophy then?
Bravo! And the crowd goes wild!
But isn't our modern idea of science and the scientific method the bastard child of Aristotle's idea of Empiricism?

Perhaps you do not buy into the western birth of Empiricism.
Of course not, ethnocentrism is a comforting blanket in which we hide from the cold of actually discussing issues.

But where do you say it originated?

The only other place had to be the Muslims!
No! The Egyptians!
Yes; quite, now we may all rejoice!
But what is the difference?

Are we to actually conclude that within these theocracies the pervading religious philosophy was not entwined into their idea of Empiricism? Also, isn't a theocracy a governmental system based on a philosophy of an absolute?

Only a fool would think such a thing, and I have faith this article will not reach the eyes of those.

So science is indeed a peg leg of philosophy!
Why so?

Is science an act concerned with knowing?
Of course!

Is philosophy an act concerned with knowing?
Hopefully! For philosophy without implementation is no better than science without experiments. Individuals who chatter but put forth no systems are critics, not philosophers.

What do you say?
That is not the nature of philosophy?

What isn't?

If philosophy is about knowing, the primary objective should not be to simply come across an issue and think about it. If it is an unknown object, we learn about its characteristics, if it is a problem we solve it, if it is a hole in a system then we correct the system, or suggest a better one.
You can not profit from a lottery ticket you do not cash.

While one could surely suggest other examples, could anyone suggest none?
Can anyone suggest that this is absolutely not the case?
Anyone who did would fully realize my condemnation as a critic.
Or perhaps you like the term skeptic?
Its connotation is not nearly as nasty, but its phenotype is just the same.

Philosophy and Science are both about knowing.

Do we agree that they both apply a methodical approach based on logic to come to a conclusion?

It is inherent in the definition of both these subjects that all proceedings must be coated in the vomit of logic.

Do we agree that due to the fact that the human brain engages in hierarchical thinking to garner ideas, that all logic is methodical?
Skepticism is allowed for such a bold claim. Especially by those in the business of not making any claims, but instead sifting through them like a Rolodex.

Do science and philosophy both engage in experimentation?
Perhaps. Not all science can be tested, similarly not all philosophies can undergo such a procedure. Easy examples of experimentation in both include everything from gravity to the communist revolution. Similarly, examples of things that cannot be tested include certain Quantum Mechanical theories and a few Frenchmen babbling about not existing.

So the purpose and process of scientific and philosophical inquiry are the same?
They are indeed!

Then the elephant in the room is…Why are the results so different?
Why do scientist generally deal with X and philosophers with Y?
Is it down to personal preference?
Is it because society says they should?
Is this an argument against semantics?

Early philosophers, such as Aristotle, made no differentiation between using logic to conclude details about X, and using reason to conclude details about Y.

This means at some point society decided to break the two apart, but for what reason?
Well because one is valued over the other.
Science is put on a pedestal, while philosophy is regulated to the same plane as tabloid articles.
Why is this?

Why is actually easy!
Because science delivers results, and philosophy tends not to.
Because science does not require one to think qualitatively, but only quantitatively.
Because science is in that respect easy, as although logic and critical thinking are at hand, definite numerical results can be acquired, and no one ACTUALLY has to make a decision!

How great that we have come up with a system that runs itself!
Does it even need us at all asks the critic?
If we are in the business of simply saying that red is red, then why are we constantly congratulating ourselves?
Is it because you have a long winded speech about why red is red?
Is it because you now can make yellow red, and red yellow, and brown purple?
Who cares?

What the lady in the pink skirt wants to know is does her red purse match her pink dress.

You couldn't answer though, you were too busy being a scientist.
Similarly, the philosopher wasn't even there to see her; he was too busy writing a critique on how color is just an illusion anyway!


A conclusion is both qualitative and quantitative!
We create governmental systems based on qualitative philosophies, such as capitalism, with the hope that competition is what is RIGHT.
Unfortunately, we then betray our original intention and create fake financial bubbles based on quantitative information so we can pass fake legislation in order to sustain something that is WRONG.

And does anyone ask what effect this will have on the people, planet, or our souls?


The philosopher and the scientist do!
But the philosopher is too busy seeing all 7 sides of the square.
Similarly, the scientist could not possibly solve the problem, for it is a "social" problem, and not a scientific one.

And society does not contain scientists whatsoever, so social problems do not affect them!


But let us remember that science is society's answer!
It is the objective truth; despite only telling one side of the story!
Not philosophy however!
Philosophy is subjective, which is a trait only acquired by women.
Philosophy requires too much thinking, and complexity is directly correlated with failure.

But not science!
Science, with its objectivity, is entirely too manly to fall to such depths!

Because men don't have feelings, mind you, and anyone who does is foolish.

But did we not conclude that philosophy and science are the same?
Were they not only torn apart by society for contestable causes?

Does not a painting look better through two eyes than one?
Not only that, but is not a painting made to be looked at by two eyes?

When your optometrist asks you to cover one eye, is it not to designate a handicap?
I would be opposed to the view that he is simply trying to see if you NEED the other one!

So, why do we value one eye over the other?

Just because society says so?
If we are in agreement and we are all logical human beings, then what we decide is universally logical.
Do the masses not dictate reality?
Do the masses not dictate society?

If so, let us rejoice!
A time of clarity is two eyes away.

Never enough?

I referenced Bill McKibben's Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age yesterday, in connection with Alexander's & Radiance's engaging dialogue about the moral standing of sentient AIs. I agree: if machines someday learn to feel as well as compute, humans (or post-humans) will be morally obliged to acknowledge their claim to moral recognition and respect.

But I also agree with the tenor of Betsy's question: should we want to create sentient, sophisticated synthetic life? Must we? Is it "inevitable" that we'll try, or can we still have a significant conversation about whether to apply the brakes?

Not sure I agree with McKibben, but I think we owe  it to ourselves to think about what he says:
Faced with a challenge larger than any we've ever faced — the possibility that 
technology may replace humanity — we need to rally our innate ability to say no. 
We will be sorely tempted to engineer our kids, but it's a temptation that we need 
to resist as individuals, and to help each other resist as a society...
Once we start down the path of turning ourselves into machines, of writing ineradicable programs for our proteins, there will be no way, and no reason, to turn back. We'll do what our programming indicates, never knowing how much choice we really have...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hey Bro, You Really Shouldn't Eat That Strawberry: Pesticides and Human Health

Betsy Milford Midterm Report
While walking through the grocery store with my cart full of leafy and colorful produce, I used to secretly scoff at all the people with carts piled high with pizza rolls and bottles of concentrated sugar water in various forms. Over the past few weeks though my perception has been altering rapidly. I may not be getting loads of empty calories, but what I am getting might be harming me in ways that Science doesn’t even understand yet. Pesticides are creating an unsustainable ecosystem, through their toxicity, inefficiency, and upheaval of our natural agricultural system.
Read More

Docs don't bat 1.000

Well, we were going to get back to cases in Bioethics today. Radiance's & Alexander's conversational report on the moral standing of hypothetically-sentient AIs captured all our time instead. And it was time well spent, in my opinion.

So we'll just roll cases 33-40 over to Monday, where they'll compete with a new batch for our attention. Everybody, read through case 48. Come Monday we all need to reclaim the habit of posting regular comments and questions after & before each class.

Hope you'll also check out my brief dawn post this morning, and Brian Goldman's very affecting TEDx talk on the fallibility of physicians and our need to create a culture in which they will feel free to admit they're human too. That's how medical mistakes can be minimized.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Better drugs now

Good morning from cold and cloudy Memphis, where Older Daughter and I have traveled to further explore her collegiate future. So, we get another break in Bioethics. But read the next batch of cases, folks, and if you have time for him here's Francis Collins. What do you think?

See you Wednesday.
Also of note:

Tennessee Race for Medicaid: Dial Fast and Try, Try Again-

 The state opens a health care hot line for a few hours each year for patients who do not qualify for Medicaid. Thousands try, but not many qualify for the limited funds.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Sequel

After its contributions to science, the HeLa cells may help create laws to protect the privacy of the family of Henrietta Lacks — and yours.

Report Card on Health Care Reform

Political attacks ignore the considerable benefits delivered to millions of people since the law’s enactment three years ago.

Pity Earth’s Creatures

Humanity’s advances are intertwined with cancerous excess.

Sheril Kirshenbaum, author (Unscientific America), blogger (Culture of Science), biodiversity advocate... keynote speaker at MTSU, Thursday 4:30 pm, Student Center (2d floor ballroom)

Salesmen in the Surgical Suite

A lawsuit raises questions about the marketing of robotic surgical equipment.

A Push for HPV Vaccinations

Health professionals hope to make the shots more accessible, and to make the vaccine sound less scary to parents and daughters.

Looking for Evidence That Therapy Works

Studies suggest surprisingly few patients receive evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, which have been shown to be effective.

Re-Engineering Health Care

Room for Debate asks: Would consolidating and rationing medical practices be a good thing for patients and the industry?

No one knows how many people with severe mental illness live what appear to be normal, successful lives, because such people are not in the habit of announcing themselves. They are too busy juggling responsibilities, paying the bills, studying, raising families — all while weathering gusts of dark emotions or delusions that would quickly overwhelm almost anyone else.
Now, an increasing number of them are risking exposure of their secret, saying that the time is right. The nation’s mental health system is a shambles, they say, criminalizing many patients and warehousing some of the most severe in nursing and group homes where they receive care from workers with minimal qualifications...

  1. Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Pa
  2. The origin & future of life in a bowl of cheerios via
  3. Act’ awaits approval by Tenn. House of Representatives

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nano Tech Final Post

I wanted to get one more post in while we are finishing projects and I think nano tech's effect on the energy industry is a good topic to end with.


The above link outlines a few ways that nano technology is being applied to improve how we use energy. The opening topic of this article is hydrogen powered fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells contain membranes that allow hydrogen ions to pass through, but not other particle like oxygen. The main catalyst in this process is Platinum. The reason why these cells are not more effective is because Platinum is very expensive.
This is where nano tech comes in. By using nano particles of Platinum or other catalysts scientists are able to create more effective membranes for this process. This will result in longer lasting and higher charged fuel cells.

Another application is creating batteries that won't need to be charged, but instead refilled with methanol. I am not sure how I feel about this, because I am not sure how often you will have to do this or how much new methanol packs will cost, but having a new option is very exciting.


Another fantastic application of nano tech has come out of Louisiana Tech University in the field of bio fuels. Many groups of people have been working on new fuel options in order to combat CO2 emissions and a lack of readily available fossil fuels. This has lead to experiments with corn ethanol and other bio products. The problem with this is that CO2 emissions are only around 19 percent lower and as you can imagine corn ethanol is made from corn, meaning the fuel product competes with food production.

The solution that LTU has come up with is cellulosic ethanol. This consists of wood, grass, or plant stocks. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the fuel has been improved using nano particles which immobilize enzymes that are needed for the process. This has made the CO2 emissions 86 percent less.

I find that this is an important development since fossil fuels are now widely believed to be unnecessary and outdated. All that is left is for us to do is perfect the new technology and switch to bio fuels or a better option that may be discovered in the future.
Hey guys.  I want to start by apologizing for not being in class Monday to present, I had several wisdom teeth that suddenly abscessed and had to be removed.  I want to touch on a few more ideas for my presentation today and maybe help remind us what I'll be discussing.

I want to touch on issues with mental illness in our society. This can be a difficult subject and i certainly I do not have definite answers; I hope that after presenting we could have more of a discussion rather than a Q and A.

I want to start by citing the CDC. Depression affects 1/10 adults in America.  CDC also states that those that are most likely to be depressed are:
  • persons 45-64 years of age
  • women
  • blacks, Hispanics, non-Hispanic persons of other races or multiple races
  • persons with less than a high school education
  • those previously married
  • individuals unable to work or unemployed
  • persons without health insurance coverage
What I don't really care for from this portion of CDC's research is that in some of these groups, tue diagnosis seems almost pigeonholed. It also does not discuss a major contributing factor that I believe is a important when making the desicion of using medications, the physiology of th disease. 

We all understand that there are chemical messengers that regulate action in our bodies. Illnesses like depression occur when we see a lack of certain messengers in the brain. This website has a good image of a PET scan from a patient suffering from depression and one who is not.  When discussing mental illness from the physiological point of view rather than a circumstance of one's environment than we must consider genetic passing, generations of mental illness. Another issue I will discuss is the issue surrounding diagnosing and the medicinal treatment of children with mental illness (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antidepressants/MH00059)

These are just some thoughts I wanted to present upfront.


Medicalizing life

...the human condition itself, with its normal range of emotional states reflecting the up-and-down circumstances of living, has been medicalized. But unless you’re afflicted by congenital and incurable illness, or you’re Schopenhauer or Eeyore, your life is not cataloged is the DSM. Your every experience is not a symptom. William James called this attitude “medical materialism,” and he was right to call it too simple-minded. 
Cassie also reported last time, on the human right to life itself and on the abortion issue. She took a hard line and bit the bullet, declaring a pregnant woman’s right to life no more urgent or compelling or established than that of the unborn life within her, no matter the circumstances of conception or  the predictable prospects for life of her progeny. She was unimpressed by Judith Jarvis Thomson‘s notorious violinist thought-experiment, which Alexander posed for us...
Continues:  Medical materialism and the infamous violinist | Up@dawn

Monday, March 18, 2013

Are we an overmedicated society?

Hey guys I hope all of you had a great spring break! Today in class I hope to present and expound on some of the ideas in this TedMed video. Check it out if you have time and we can talk about it in class.


-Austin O'Connor

We're back

Break’s over and Bioethics is back today, with more midterm reports. We’re all tanned, rested, & ready, right? (Check "Next" for the report roster.)

Here’s a follow-up of sorts to Andrew’s pre-break report on anthropomorphic speciesism, and a bioethical challenge: if innovations in biotechnology allow us to undo some of the damage of anthropogenic species extinction, should we proceed? Eco-pragmatist Stewart Brand‘s response...

Continues at Up@dawn | reflections caught at daybreak
Also of interest:

The Gender Gap in Pain

There is a gender gap in the diagnosis and treatment of painful disorders.

Healing the Hospital Hierarchy

When doctors and nurses don’t get along, it’s the patient who suffers.

How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry

Making people overweight is profitable. If we want change, we have to require it.

After a soldier died, his parents took aim at a dietary supplement — and the retail chain GNC, where he bought it.

Learning the Hard Way About a Banned Ingredient

The stimulant DMAA is banned by numerous sports groups, but is still found in supplements sold at stores including GNC, as a tennis player discovered too late.

How Creative Is Your Doctor?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The debate on menstruation cycles- Rebekah Schott

The debate on menstruation cycles

CAUTION: Boys, this blog does contain information about the menstruation cycle and may contain disturbing discussions. Be prepared I guess.

My aim is to inform you of various facts and studies pertaining to the menstrual cycle. I will offer both sides of the debate and add my own comments on how it affects me and the other girls that surround me.

So, what exactly is menstruation? 

I would describe it as that horrible thing that happens to me once, maybe twice a month, makes me terribly rude, makes my boyfriend steer clear of me for an entire week, makes me crave food, have terrible migraines, eat large amounts of candy/chocolate, gain lots of weight, feel bloated and uncomfortable, and completely controls my life.  

However, Dr. Phillip Owen, obstetrician and gynecologist, says “Menstruation - having periods - is part of the female reproductive cycle that starts when girls become sexually mature at the time of puberty. During a menstrual period, a woman bleeds from her uterus (womb) via the vagina. This lasts anything from three to seven days. Each period commences approximately every 28 days if the woman does not become pregnant during a given cycle. “

An objective view.

Why do women menstruate?

Dr. Phillip Owen says,
“Menstruation is a natural process that occurs if an egg is not fertilized. If the egg is fertilized and the woman becomes pregnant, it will fasten itself onto the endometrium, build up of blood. If the egg is not fertilized, however, resultant hormonal changes cause the endometrium to slip away and menstruation begins. Menstrual discharge is composed of the endometrium itself, together with a little fresh blood caused by the breaking of very fine blood vessels within the endometrium as it detaches itself from the inside of the uterus."

"The amount of blood lost due to the normal monthly period is usually less than 80ml. “

80ml is approximately 1/3 a cup. Haha. Who are you kidding? This seems a very low estimate. Many woman I know take iron replacements because they lose so much blood.

So, what are you getting at?

A birth control pill released in 2007, Lybrel, suppresses women’s monthly menstrual cycle for a year.  Some women welcome the pill with open arms, while others feel for various reasons that it should not be taken. A lot of critics think that the menstrual cycle is natural and should not be eliminated. 

“My concern is that the menstrual cycle is an outward sign of something that’s going on hormonally in the body,” said Christine L. Hitchcock, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. Ms. Hitchcock said she worries about “the idea that you can turn your body on and off like a tap.” 

Some women and doctors share this concern; however, there are no studies that suggest this. Doctors say they know of no medical reasons why women taking birth control pills should have a period. studies have found no extra health risks associated with pills that stop menstruation, although some doctors caution that little research has been conducted on long-term effects.
Something a lot of advocates don’t know, is that the bleeding you experience on birth control pills is not a real period. When birth control pills first hit the market in the 1960s, women generally took three weeks of active contraceptive pills followed by one week of placebos or no pills. The thinking was that women would find this more acceptable, that they would feel like they were having their normal menses," says Susan Ernst, M.D., chief of gynecology services for the University Health Service at the University of Michigan and clinical instructor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the U-M Health System. And now many gynecologists are saying the “withdraw bleeding” that following the three weeks of pills and mimics a normal menstrual cycle is no longer necessary. 

In fact, the practice of suppressing a menstrual period has been going on a long time. Some women never take the placebo pill the fourth week of the month where their withdraw bleeding should occur, and just continue a new packet of birth control pills.
Various methods are described in the table below.

Combined oral contraceptives (including dedicated product Seasonale® and LybrelTM)
Extended or continuous cycles suppress menstruation
Contraceptive vaginal ring (NuvaRing®)
Studies not published, but regimens similar to COCs suppress menstruation
Transdermal contraceptive patch (Ortho Evra®)
Studies not published about safety or efficacy, but regimens similar to COCs suppress menstruation
Depot-medroxyprogesterone actetate injections (Depo-Provera®)
Amenorrhea common with long-term use—50% after 1 year, 90% after 2 years
Levonorgestrel intrauterine system (Mirena®)
Significant (80%–90%) decrease in blood loss; approximately 20% of users amenorrheic by 1 year

The topic has inspired a documentary by Giovanna Chesler, “Period: The End of Menstruation?,” currently screening on college campuses and among feminist groups. Below is a link for a trailer of the documentary.

Pill That Eliminates the Period Gets Mixed Reviews