Today in Frightening Science

Got a troika of science stories to share with you today, and as is my usual compulsion, I will share them with you in ascending order of scariness.

That way, I get to build suspense!

First up, the many uses of…. mollusk blood!

The mollusk in question is the giant keyhole limpet, and the factor in the blood that has everyone in the cutting edge biochemical world excited about it is called keyhole limpet cyanin (KLH) (which has a much larger Wiki entry than the critter itself, poor thing) and amongst its many possibilities is a little one called maybe curing cancer.

How? Simple. Sorta. Basically, your body really doesn’t like KLH. It provokes a very strong immune response. Big deal, a lot of things do that, right?

The difference with KLH is that if before you put it in someone, you attack the chemical markers of something you really want the body to attack, like, for instance, motherfucking cancer, you then get a massive immune response against the cancer.

Now getting the body to stop treating cancer like it is a normal healthy part of the body and start treating it like the nasty and unwanted badness that it is has been a very big goal of oncological research for decades upon decades. It would make an ideal solution.

The big problem with fighting cancer is always “how do we attack cancer cells without hurting healthy cells”. Well, your immune system is very good at that.

Of particular interest to me in that article is the idea that KLH might also be used to fight drug tolerance. I have known for a long time that the real problem with drug addiction is not the drugs but the tolerance. If people did not build up a tolerance to their recreational pharmaceutical of choice, they would not require increasingly large doses to get the same effect and they would therefore never be anywhere near the road to taking toxic levels and eventually overdosing.

So a cure for tolerance could solve much of the problem of drug in one glorious Gordian Knot cutting maneuver. An addict would just get their KLH treatment regularly, and hence retain the low tolerance of a first time user. No overdoses, drug demand would plummet driving down the price so way less crime to pay for drugs… score!

OK, so that wasn’t really very scary. Well, how about a camera that takes a trillion pictures per second?

That is one trillion frames per second, more formally known as 1,000,000,000,000 FPS. (I would do it in scientific notation but I am too lazy to look up how to do superscript.) Now you might think “what the hell do you so with a thing like that, take pictures of light itself?”

And you would be right! This is a camera so fast, it takes pictures of individual photons. How crazy is that?

Here are some people with highly scientifically persuasive accents to tell you all about it.

My favorite part of that video, besides the accents : the phrase “titanium sapphire laser”. Is that a James Bond supervillain phrase, or what?

“A man of the world like yourself, Mister Bond, will no doubt recognize the unique hue and brilliance of my titanium sapphire laser. ”

And it’s a totally real thing, that’s the best part. We really live in the future.

I think the presenters are a little confused about dimensions versus axes, however. One dimension is not a line, it’s a dot. A single axis is a line. That’s just a quibble, however.

I am not entirely convinced that the technology has the uses the Indian gentleman says it does, but I am in the school of thought that says taking pictures of individual photons at a speed that actually lets you see individual pulses of lights is something worth doing in an of itself.

And surely such imaging advances the cause of pure science, and that is also good in an of itself. You never know what knowledge will turn out to be useful. Therefore, all knowledge is power.

Okay, okay, that was scary fast, but not really scary scary.

Well then, how does scientists being able to download knowledge directly into your brain strike you?

Yes, just like in The Matrix! Well, OK, not JUST like in The Matrix, but the first steps towards something like that, anyhow. We are taking the first steps towards being able to decode the realtime brain activity we get via fMRI, and what is more, we are beginning to get an idea of how to take that information and feed it back into the brain.

And if that doesn’t scare you, you seriously need to read more science fiction. Especially the mind control paranoia stuff from the sixties!

Like a lot of modern brain science, I find this all both amazingly exciting and terribly frightening. The positive and the negative possibilities of gaining the ability to hack the human mind, to violate that last sanctum of human privacy and throw open the doors for the mind to decide to change itself.. or indeed, to have that decision made for it… are so vast that I get dizzy even contemplating it.

Imagine being able to learn new things simply by downloading it from the Internet.

Now imagine that knowledge had a destructive virus in it that erases all of your memories and leaves you a drooling vegetable for life.

Imagine being able to get instant psychotherapy via a program that eliminates bad cognitive patterns and replaces them with healthy ones.

Now imagine that it also eliminates thoughts, opinions, memories, and ideas that the government thinks you really have no right to be having.

Imagine the cops being able to stop a crime before it happens because they find a way to detect violent thoughts and can therefore predict when a crime is about to occur and show up to stop it.

Now imagine the wrong thoughts themselves become illegal.

All pretty scary stuff…. isn’t that right, kids?

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