What I'm Reading (Apr. 27)

Related articles

The mind-body problem is fake science
Zombie pathogens have taken over my brain
There is more to figs than the Newton
Superstition, Enthusiasm, and Politics

“This study has its roots in decades of research pointing to the contribution of a person’s psychological state to their heart health1 In a well-known condition known as ‘broken-heart syndrome,’ an extremely stressful event can generate the symptoms of a heart attack — and can, in rare cases, be fatal. Conversely, studies have suggested that a positive mindset can lead to better outcomes in those with cardiovascular disease. But the mechanisms behind these links remain elusive.

…On the basis of their experiments so far, which have not yet been published, activation of this brain reward centre — called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) — seems to trigger immune changes that contribute to the reduction of scar tissue.”

The body and mind are one. A report from Nature details how our immune system and brain interact. Your brain could be controlling how sick you get — and how you recover


“…the concept of a pathogen that can manipulate its host’s behavior — against their will and often to their detriment — is not purely the work of fiction. In these zombie-like cases, the pathogen (whether it’s a virus, bacteria or fungus, or something else) acts specifically to change the behavior of its host.

While we know a decent amount about these pathogens — including the very real Ophiocordyceps fungus, which does turn insects into unwitting agents of societal collapse — there’s still much to learn.”

The zombie apocalypse always plays well, creating its own cinematic genre. Of course, there is some truth in other organisms taking over our minds, as discussed in Quanta Magazines, Can Our Brains Be Taken Over?


I love Fig Newtons; there is just something about that fig filling. So I was a sucker when I saw this.

“Theophrastus, an ancient Greek philosopher who studied plants (circa 300 B.C.), is credited as the founder of botany, and the first person to describe fig species. He focused on Ficus carica, an important edible fig, and was unaware that hundreds of others existed, each with its own life story. He did learn about one particularly important banyan (Ficus benghalensis) from the stories of one of his contemporaries, the conqueror Alexander the Great, who claimed that 10,000 soldiers sheltered under one fig, with all its pillar roots forming an enormous leafy umbrella. Much later, in the early 20th century, the English botanist E.J.H. Corner specialized in Ficus, and described hundreds of them. One of Corner’s unique legacies was training four monkeys to fetch fig fruits in the canopy, so he could describe new species without climbing himself. He affectionately called them his “botanical monkeys.” Within six months, they collected the fruits of 350 species, far more than a human climber could.”

While using animals to harvest crops is no longer in vogue, the fig remains a favorite. From Nautil.us, The Incredible Fig


“Take, for instance, Hume’s contention, in a famous essay, that the two primary “corruptions of true religion” are superstition and enthusiasm. … “The true sources of superstition,” he argues, are “weakness, fear, melancholy, together with ignorance.” The true sources of enthusiasm, by contrast, are “hope, pride, presumption, a warm imagination, together with ignorance.” You will note that the only item common to both sides is ignorance.”

Despite feeling so urgently contemporary, our politics have been unchanged for centuries – politics is a human endeavor, and the human in us has not shifted much since our much earlier days. From the Hedgehog Review, David Hume’s Guide to Todays Politics