My ability to use computer programs is incredibly limited. I can often make them do roughly what I want (and always what I tell them) but the most infuriating part for me was when I’d (thought I’d) copied a piece of code perfectly from a different program, but it wasn’t working in its new context. I think this is no doubt a universal feeling, failed imitation leads to frustration. Now for the brain. Everyone knows that the brain can be described as a computer, running algorithms and producing thoughts. But this a purely external view, it doesn’t take into account what the brain is actually like. The other main model of the brain is the neural network. This matches the physical structure of the brain, a series many units which work together in a highly dynamic pattern. But no neural network we’ve ever been able to model has been able to produce any higher level cognitive function.
The image on the left represents what is known as Von Neumann architecture, a layout for the various main component blocks of a computer. There is an input to receive a value; a central processing unit for calculations; a memory unit to store data and instructions; and finally an output so that we can receive the meaningful result of the input. This is one of the most common architectures for a computer to take (with a bit of streamlining and improvement, there was always the risk of data being run as code which is luckily prevented now). As computers have developed we have begun reaching a plateau of power and performance which we may not be able to overcome while still using Von Neumann architecture.
I’m sure the explanation of vaccines has been given to the reader many times. The whole process of vaccine administration is an artificial manipulation of the human adaptive immune system. This part of our immune system can react and develop an immunological memory to counteract specific microbes. The other part of our immune system is the innate immune system. The innate immune system is found in some form across all animals and plants. Skin can be seen as the first level of defence but other non physical protection also counts. Inflammation that increases blood flow and brings other cells which trigger the adaptive immune system is another example. But the aspect which is important for today’s post is that antimicrobial peptides.
An amyloid is a protein, or multiple of them, that become folded and twisted into such a shape where other proteins can aggregate to it and also end up folded. It’s quite clear these structures can keep on growing until eventually being classed as a fibril with a diameter of at least 10 nanometres and possibly 100 nanometres. Of course love their shape, it’s their defining characteristic and you can bet their chemistry starts failing as soon as they start clumping together. It’s a double jeopardy really, when it begins happening the human begins losing some protein functionality in a body region as well as the fibrils building up providing plaques that disrupt the local tissue physiology. Amyloids have been connected to over twenty diseases and many neurological conditions. Prions, which I trust the reader has some knowledge of, are a specific subset of amyloids which count as infectious.
I think it is a fair statement that the scientists really should stick to what their good at. I know at least one chemist who got considerably annoyed having to explain basic chemistry to some physicists and biologists who thought they knew it. Unless your a biochemist (then you have to be pretty good at all three) trying to really gain a good understanding of what occurs slightly outside your field can seem like a completely different discipline. For instance the energy profiles for chemical reactions:
are based on the molecular mechanics which includes potential energies based on electrostatics and bond bending and Van der Walls forces. All of which come down to using basic physics to try and describe energy potentials in a situation in which your results really don’t reflect the actual quantum effects that have been described as “really happening.”
Interesting fact: It is very likely that your mobile phone contains a battery which could explode quite vigorously if heated too much. In order to prevent this occurrence, as it would surely be quite a downer on sales, every phone is designed with a temperature control component. I think this is quite a good analogy for a single chip. Much like phones there is constant pressure to put more and more components on each single chip, each of which must produce a certain amount of heat. To make sure that electronic chips can continue on this trend of being ever more compact it is essential to be able to monitor and control the temperature of individual chips.
Swarm intelligence is a concept first named in computer and robotic science but appears very noticeably in the world around us. It is the idea that many individuals of simple nature can communicate locally, and partially randomly, which results in a seemingly intelligent and planned behaviour overall which is beyond the scope of any individual component. This can be seen very clearly in ants where the armies can communicate using pheromones to pass along information. Often the paths ants take from their colonies to a found food source can be predicted as the mathematically optimal path which minimises time and effort costs. It is incredible that ants are able to clearly obey concepts like Fermat’s principle of least time and due to their dynamic behaviour when finding an optimal foraging path they can be seen as a very good example of active matter, self organising matter made of individual components which can do work independently but still exist as a group.