Wednesday, September 29, 2004

On Aging, or Lack Thereof: Anecdotal Evidence

Jack Lalanne as a young man

Jack Lalanne as a young man

I spent a nice (birthday) weekend with my wife Kathleen in Santa Barbara. Our motel was a half-block from the beach, and another block along the beach to the pier.

Sunday afternoon we spent at the Santa Barbara Zoo, my first time to see this zoo. I especially enjoyed the lion cub with mom, the large male silverback gorilla, and the zebras, one with a crooked neck.

In Monday morning's complimentary newspaper (USA Today) was a feature on the legendary Jack LaLanne. Jack reminds me of my Uncle Dan Bulkley. Dan was a coach at Southern Oregon University, Ashland, Oregon. After retirement, he became a competitor in Senior Olympic type competitions and remained in fantastic shape.

Jack LaLanne and his wife Elaine live in my home town of Morro Bay, CA on a 3.5 acre spread back of town. He is a local legend.

Jack and Elaine

Jack and Elaine

Jack's birthday is Sept. 26 (mine is Sept. 25) and he was in New York City to celebrate.

Jack is one data point on how to be fit at ninety years of age.

Miscellaneous Jack comments on how to do it:

"Exercise is King; diet is Queen"

"If man made it, avoid it": Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish. No white flour, white sugar. Avoid processed foods. No snacking."

"You don't get old from calendar years. You get old from inactivity. That's the killer"

Jack gets up at 5 AM each morning, seven days a week, and works out in his home gym for one hour, and then another hour in his home pool (equipped with a variable water flow to swim against).

Jack says: "I hate to work out. I'd rather take a beating. To leave a hot bed and a hot woman to go into a cold gym at five in the morning - that takes discipline. But I like the results. "

"You get to be 90 and everyone goes, 'Well how'd the old poop do it? What's his secret?' I tell them: 'Clean thoughts and dirty girls' "

“It's never too late. Test after test shows that even people in their 90s who begin a weight training program can double their strength and endurance in 6-8 weeks. You don't inherit this stuff. You've got to do it.”

“I don't want seniors working out 2-3 hours a day,” he said. “That's ridiculous. If you walk from 12-17 minutes three times a week, that's all you need for cardiovascular fitness.”

Jack and Elaine

Simple Chair Exercises


Still vigorous at 89, Jack LaLanne offers these tips for longevity:

•Exercise 30 minutes a day, three to four times a week. Change your routine every two to three weeks.
•Set short-term fitness goals and follow through.
•Slowly change a few bad habits by starting good habits.
•Eat foods in their natural states and in as many varieties as you can.
•Pass on caffeine, sugar and cigarettes.
•Drink plenty of water.
While I was on the physics faculty at Cal State Long Beach, I recall a colloquium by a young biologist from U.C. Irvine about aging and its prevention.

He was interested in how long human life could be prolonged in principle, given the gradual and natural deterioration of the human body. His research implied a maximum of about 120 years.

Just think of how the crisis in Social Security and Medicare would change for the worse if a typical person survived that long. Of course retirement ages would probably increase in proportion.

Jack and Elaine

You're Never To Young To Start PushUps!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Wise Words from Carl Sagan

Quote of the day:

"Perhaps the most wrenching by-product of the scientific revolution has been to render untenable many of our most cherished and most comforting beliefs. The tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors has been replaced by a cold, immense, indifferent Universe in which humans are relegated to obscurity."

" But I see the emergence in our consciousness of a Universe of a magnificence, and an intricate, elegant order far beyond anything our ancestors imagined. And if much about the Universe can be understood in terms of a few simple laws of Nature, those wishing to believe in God can certainly ascribe those beautiful laws to a Reason underpinning all of Nature."

"My own view is that it is far better to understand the Universe as it really is than to pretend to a Universe as we might wish it to be."

"Whether we will acquire the understanding and wisdom necessary to come to grips with the scientific revelations of the twentieth century will be the most profound challenge of the twenty-first."

(Last two paragraphs of ch. 18: The Twentieth Century, in "Billions & Billions", by Carl Sagan)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Good Science vs Fundamentalism

Thanks to Sean Carroll for the heads up to the Guardian article by Umberto Eco on the "scientific method".

Eco uses the recent news item from Dublin concerning Stephen Hawking's change of mind about the supposed destruction of information as a black hole gobbles up its surroundings to talk about common misconceptions of science.

Eco writes:

"...Science is frequently criticised by the mass media, which hold it responsible for the devilish pride that is leading humanity towards possible destruction. But in doing so they are evidently confusing science with technology."

"...Modern science does not hold that what is new is always right. On the contrary, it is based on the principle of "fallibilism" (enunciated by the American philosopher Charles Peirce, elaborated upon by Popper and many other theorists, and put into practice by scientists themselves) according to which science progresses by continually correcting itself, falsifying its hypotheses by trial and error, admitting its own mistakes - and by considering that an experiment that doesn't work out is not a failure but is worth as much as a successful one because it proves that a certain line of research was mistaken and it is necessary either to change direction or even to start over from scratch."

"...This way of thinking is opposed, as I said before, to all forms of fundamentalism, to all literal interpretations of holy writ - which are also open to continuous reinterpretation - and to all dogmatic certainty in one's own ideas. This is that good "philosophy," in the everyday and Socratic sense of the term, which ought to be taught in schools."

Sean Carroll's comments on this article are well worth reading.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Anthropic Principle: Good Physics or Not??

In a recent post, we talked about L. Susskind's ideas about the huge number of vacuum states (environments for physics and possible universes) implied by our current understanding of string theory.

According to these ideas, we exist in a "pocket universe" with a tiny (but non-zero) effective cosmological constant. Without the cosmological constant having a value in a small range around a tiny number, our variety of intelligent observers could not have evolved to a state like the present. The tiny non-zero value of the effective cosmological constant is hard to understand using traditional particle physics arguments.

Was this an act of "God" or a natural and possible outcome of the "laws of nature". According to Susskind's ideas, our universe is the way it is because a) it is one of a huge number of possible string theory vacua , and b) "we live where we can". This is called an "anthropic explanation".

Physics would then "give up" the job of trying to explain why our universe is the unique prediction of the "laws of nature", by finding some ultimate theory which has within it logically the prediction that our universe could not be other than it is.

Andre Linde, in his book Inflation and Quantum Cosmology (p. 152) remarks: "One should note, that until very recently, the general attitude of physicists to the Anthropic Principle was rather skeptical, to say the least. It was believed that the weak, strong, and electromagnetic interactions are the same in all parts of our universe, that the fundamental constants of Nature are universal and it is meaningless to discuss the possibilty of life in a universe of a different type."

"... if many exponentially large domains with the low-energy physics of our type do exist in the universe described by a given theory, then it is quite natural that we live in one of such domains rather than in a domain where life of our type is impossible".

L. Smolin
L. Susskind

All this is preamble to calling your attention to a good back and forth argument about the nature of good physics and the possible place for the "anthropic principle" type of argument. The Edge has posted a multipart exchange of views between Lee Smolin (anti anthropic prin.) and Leonard Susskind (pro anthropic prin.).

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Mercury Rising Thanks to Bush : A Sleeper Issue?

This morning CSPAN2's Washington Journal carried a 30 minute interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The subject was his new book Crimes Against Nature: How George Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy (Harper-Collins).

The Bush administration, in its Orwellian named "Clean Air Act", seeks to gut any serious improvement in the mercury emissions of old power plants.

According to Kennedy, one-sixth of all American women at present have levels of mercury in their womb which are high enough to cause autism, mental retardation, cognitive impairment, liver disease, etc in their newborn children.

630,000 children are born per year in U.S. with damage due to levels of mercury contamination in the air (which is then absorbed by water and fish and...).

The cost of removing this mercury contamination would amount to 1% of a typical power plant's revenue. Yet the Bush team is gutting provisions for any cleanup. The 110 million dollars contributed to the Bush campaign returns several billion dollars in regulatory relief for polluting industries, a cost that is borne by the American taxpayer in dirtier water, air, fish, and increased medical problems in newborn children.

Former lobbyists of the worst polluters are now in charge of major environmental regulatory agencies and making the decisions about scaling back 30 years of environmental progress.

Why aren't the women of America up in arms about such a vital and personal issue??

Where is the media attention to this issue. Has the major media outlets, controlled by about six major corporate groups, lost their credibility?? I think the answer has to be yes.

More information is on the National Resources Defense Council web sites.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A Gene for Belief in God??

From the reviews for The God Gene : How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes by DEAN H. HAMER , on

"The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God, expressing a conviction that has existed since the beginning of recorded time and is shared by billions around the world. In The God Gene, Dr. Dean Hamer reveals that this inclination toward religious faith is no accident; it is in good measure due to our genes. In fact, he argues, spiritual belief may offer an evolutionary advantage by providing humans with a sense of purpose and the courage and will to overcome hardship and loss. And, as a growing body of evidence suggests, belief also increases our chances of reproductive survival by helping to reduce stress, prevent disease, and extend life."

"...Popular science at its best, The God Gene is an in-depth, fully accessible inquiry into the cutting-edge research that is changing the way we think about ourselves, our world, and our culture. Written with balance and integrity, without seeking to confirm or deny the existence of God, The God Gene brilliantly illuminates the mechanism by which belief itself is biologically fostered."

"DR. DEAN HAMER is a preeminent geneticist and author of The Science of Desire, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and Living with Our Genes. Together with his scientific collaborators at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, he has authored more than one hundred articles for popular and academic science journals. His television appearances include Good Morning America, Dateline, Oprah, the national news shows, and documentaries for HBO, PBS, and the Discovery Channel. Dr. Hamer received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Ariens Kappers Award for Neurobiology."

Those who, like myself, are not persuaded to "believe" are evidently condemned to live with more stress, more disease, and a shorter life. And evidently (almost) all cosmologists are likewise condemned. See Sean Carroll's straightforward arguments on "Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists."

Monday, September 13, 2004

Save Human Dna on the Moon?? has a quirky news item today:

"Noah's Cosmic Ark: Preserving DNA on the Moon
By Michael Schirber
Staff Writer
posted: 13 September, 2004
7:00 a.m. ET

The complexity of life took billions of years to push and stretch and reshape the biological niche that is Earth. It would seem prudent – if one had the means – to save some portion of the blueprints of this majesty, so that the process would not have to start over from scratch in the event of a global cataclysm.

Morbid, for sure, yet still prudent. But where to put this valuable backup so that it is both safe and handy? And what form should it take? .................see link for more........................"

This suggestion raises all kinds of ethical problems.

I am reminded of the message advanced by Sir Martin Rees (Royal Society Professor at Cambridge University, a Fellow of King's College, and England's Astronomer Royal) in his recent book: "Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How terror, error, and environmental disaster threaten humankind's future in this century - on earth and beyond" ( Basic Books, N.Y., 2003).

His final paragraph:

"The theme of this book is that humanity is more at risk than at any earlier phase in its history. The wider cosmos has a potential future that could even be infinite. But will these vast expanses of time be filled with life, or as empty as the Earth's first sterile seas? The choice may depend on us, this century."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Resist Not Evil???

Our bookclub (The Litwits, San Luis Obispo) met last night and we chewed at a tough assignment: Leo Tolstoy's "The Kingdom of God Is Within You".

Coming to this book as a practicing agnostic (I could never get elected president!!) I had a lot of trouble with the focus on the "true" message of Jesus/Christ.

Tolstoy fixated on the Sermon on the Mount and especially on "Resist Not the Evil that Men Do", and spent the last thirty years of his life trying to turn this message of extreme pacifism into a practical daily agenda.

A tough book to read, but this is where Ghandi got his basic inspiration for non-violent resistance which threw the British empire out of India.