This week in comments: January 14th—January 21st, 2018

Another week, another wild round of comments from our Facebook audience. Some made us laugh. Some made us cry. Here's the best of the week. 


Slavoj Žižek: Political Correctness Is a More Dangerous Form of Totalitarianism

Jay YipIn the first world context, most human decisions that used to be driven by biology are already driven by non-biological frameworks - logic, economic confidence, etc. To tether humans to "a nature" is to deny our essence - being driven by the automated (not automatic) human impulse to transcend our biology. 

Vinicus Mueller: Zizek is very intelligent, but I have to challenge his idea that the digital era has opened up new freedoms while also creating new methods for curtailing that freedom. This is a contradictory statement that he makes. If a new medium of interaction creates the opportunity for control, any "freedom" therein must be an illusion. Indeed, Zizek needs to think more deeply about what is freedom. Freedom is not being able to think and choose from endless options to no avail. That is the illusion of freedom, like a knock-off Nike. Freedom is the ability to do what you ought to do in any given moment without having to choose to think about your options at all. If you have to think about it, if you have to choose - even if what you choose is "freedom" - you are already not free.

Getting More Sleep Curbs Sugar Cravings, Study Finds

Laura Dees: When you are asleep, you can’t eat cookies.

Brian Engh: Sleeping an extra 60-90 minutes per day will give you 60-90 fewer minutes for craving sugar.

How to Predict a Company Crisis: Uber, Lego, Marvel Comics

Chris Geo: Frank Zappa was talking about the state of the recording industry in the seventies and said much of the same but he also made a point of companies hiring people who "know what the people want". His point was that in the fifties and early sixties a bunch of old guys with not much of a clue were running the industry. However these old guys had one thing going for them. They knew that they were out of touch and when a band or composer came to them with new, experimental or just different music they would say "well i dont know if its good, i dont even know what it is but go make a few singles and we'll see what happens. So they did and it sold and the old guys then said well this is great but we still dont understand it, get a hippy in here. So they bring in a hippy and dont really give them any real responsibility except to get coffee and give an opinion on what the "kids like" the hippy gets all the coffee orders correct and eventually they give them a real job as an A&R man, producer and eventually they get to be the people in charge but instead of saying well i dont know what this is but lets try it they said no this wont sell because "i know what people want" that is why i got this job. So fast forward to the eighties and today and we have music that is over produced mass marketed garbage that draws on the failed notion that if a little something is good a lot of it is better. 

Trade, Diplomacy, Culture: How America Can Lead the World without Its Military

Pat CavanaughReinstate media coverage like we had in Vietnam, the blood and gore, the coffins... yes, Anericans have forgotten, and that is by design.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

For most of history, humans got smarter. That's now reversing.

We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?

The Flynn effect appears to be in retrograde. (Credit: Shutterstock/Big Think)

There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.

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Lama Rod Owens – the price of the ticket to freedom

An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
  • "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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