Arc Weld

“Language is a virus from outer space”
—William S. Borroughs

 

bsfoty3

.

Chest-thump to start off the year: Last year’s “ZeroS”, appearing in Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity Wars, made it into a couple of (late-breaking update: into three!) Year’s Best collections: Neil Clarke’s Best Science Fiction of the Year (Vol. 3), and another couple I hesitate to name because they don’t seem to have been announced yet. So that’s cool.

*

But this is way cooler:

There’s this gene, Arc, active in our neurons. It’s essential for cognition and longterm memory in mammals; knockout mice who lack it can’t remember from one day to the next where they left the cheese. It looks and acts an awful lot like something called a gag— a “group-specific antigen”, something which codes for the core structural proteins of retroviruses. Like a gag, Arc codes for a protein that assembles into  capsids (basically, shuttles containing messenger RNA). These accumulate in the dendrites, cross the synaptic junction in little vesicles: a payload from one neuron to another.

Pastuzyn et al, of the University of Utah, have just shown that Arc is literally an infection: a tamed, repurposed virus that infected us a few hundred million years ago. Apparently it looks an awful lot like HIV. Pastuzyn et al speculate that Arc “may mediate intercellular signaling to control synaptic function”.

Memory is a virus. Or at least, memory depends on one.

Thoughtcrime.

Thoughtcrime.

Of course, everyone’s all over this. U of Utah trumpeted the accomplishment with a press release notable for, among other things, describing the most-junior contributor to this 13-author paper as the “senior” author. Newsweek picked up both the torch and the mistake, leading me to wonder if Kastalio Medrano is simply at the sloppy end of the scale or if it’s normal for “Science Writers” in popular magazines to not bother reading the paper they’re reporting on. (I mean, seriously, guys; the author list is right there under the title.) As far as I know I’m the first to quote Burroughs in this context (or to mention that Greg Bear played around a very similar premise in Darwin’s Radio), but when your work gets noticed by The Atlantic you know you’ve arrived.

Me, though, I can’t stop thinking about the fact that something which was once an infection is now such an integral part of our cognitive architecture. I can’t stop wondering what would happen if someone decided to reweaponise it.

The parts are still there, after all.  Arc builds its own capsid, loads it up with genetic material, hops from one cell to another. The genes being transported don’t even have to come from Arc:

“If viral RNA is not present, Gag encapsulates host RNA, and any single-stranded nucleic acid longer than 20-­30 nt can support capsid assembly … indicating a general propensity to bind abundant RNA.”

The delivery platform’s intact; indeed, the delivery platform is just as essential to its good role as it once was to its evil one. So what happens if you add a payload to that platform that, I dunno, fries intraneuronal machinery somehow?

I’ll tell you. You get a disease that spreads through the very act of thinking. The more you think, the more memories you lay down, the more the disease ravages you. The only way to slow its spread is to think as little as possible; the only way to save your intelligence is not to use it. Your only chance is to become willfully stupid.

Call it Ignorance is Bliss. Call it Donald’s Syndrome. Even call it a metaphor of some kind.

Me, I’m calling it a promising premise. The only real question is whether I’ll squander it now on a short story, or save it up for a few years and stick it into Omniscience.

 

(Thanks to Bahumat, btw, for showing me the link.)
This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday February 01 2018at 10:02 am , filed under biology, neuro . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

48 Responses to “Arc Weld”

  1. Fascinating and disturbing beyond words. It looseley reminded me of two novels (that I haven’t read): Tony Burgess’ “Pontypool”(1995) in which (wikipedia): “somehow a virus has found its way into the English language, infecting certain words, and only certain words infect certain people. Once these infected words are said and understood, the virus takes hold of the host, who finds another person to kill themselves with.”, and Ben Marcus’ “The Flame Alphabet” (2012) (from the back cover text): “A terrible epidemic has struck the country and the sound of children’s speech has become lethal…”. Paraphrasing Lynn Margulis’ “Microcosm”: This revolution in the study of the microcosm brings before us a breathtaking view. It is not preposterous to postulate that the very consciousness that enables us to probe the workings of our cells may have been born of the concerted capacities of millions of microbes that evolved symbiotically to become the human brain. Now, this very same ‘microbial consciousness’ has enabled us to explore itself. Full circle.

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  2. Cool. Although, does thinking directly correlate to more memory formation? I mean, obviously to some degree, a person who is comatose without dreams doesn’t produce memories like someone who’s up and about, but does, say, an erudite author produce more memories than someone a dumb person who, whether due to the dumbness or incidental to it, say, spends their life getting into memorable misadventures?

    I think I also remember a story somewhere where memories themselves could sometimes be spread virally, but apparently that memory could just as easily be a really weird cold.

    Also congrats on the ‘best of’ collections. As another distinguished honor, The Freeze-Frame Revolution has become the first book I’ve officially pre-ordered more than a couple weeks in advance. … Okay, that’s not that distinguished, but it is true!

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  3. Did they make a correction to both the Press Release and Newsweek article? Both are quoting Shepherd as the Senior Author, which he is. Senior and Corresponding going by the author’s list

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  4. Re the second part, I believe I ought to link you to this: https://archiveofourown.org/works/6178036/

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  5. That’s pretty crazy. If fully confirmed, knocks a lot of our theories about how Consciousness and intelligence happened into a cocked hat.

    Also reminds me of mitochondria and how *they* came to be. At this rate we might find out that our entire physical being is literally made of a hundred hundred different species of microbes coming together to form a colony organism.

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  6. The relation to HIV makes me wonder if this is closer to the etiology of primary HIV dementia, which I never learned the etiology of in medical school (I don’t think anyone’s come up with a conclusive explanation since).

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  7. “Is that a good evolutionary strategy for a bacterium? Well, it survived, so it probably is.” Quote from one of Molecular Microbiology lecturers.

    This myth of “junk DNA” needs to be eliminated ASAP, there’s no such thing as junk if it could have a purpose! You never know if that seemingly defunct intron carried over from our yeasty pre-multicellular past could be repurposed into some obscure regulatory element megabases away. Genetics is such a dynamic field, especially in rapidly evolving organisms like RNA viruses, that giving more transient genes permanent titles seems a little useless in the long run.

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  8. Here’s a thought: maybe the harmful form of ARC already exists and Alzheimer’s is the brain’s reaction to it (a pseudo-immune defense). The beta-amyloid tangles neutralize bad-ARC and the memory loss is a defense mechanism to the “weaponized thinking” (like a mental version of a fever!). Psych illnesses may also be a form of defense.

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  9. Placenta cellular fusion (syncitium) is also formed by retroviral derived genes; env instead of gag in this case, also membrane associated.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/evolution/endogenous-retroviruses/

    Went to a presentation by a guy working on embryonic development a while ago he showed a huge uptick in transcribed ERVs (endogenous retroviruses) day 2 of embryonic development, looks like it’s regulatory. Also in cancers, interestingly. Someone said that “isn’t it just viruses piggybacking on our development” he said something like, given that there’s more ERV and ERV fossils in the genome than there is functional genes, who is piggybacking on who?

    ERVs also can create retrotransposed copies of processed mRNA; processed pseudogenes usually but they can also functional and an important evolutionary force.

    Truly it’s a rich and thoroughly fucked up tapestry.

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  10. Just watched the latest planet of the apes.. introducing the virus that makes humans dumb and forget how to speak..

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  11. In my last annual October horror binge, one of the books I read was The Deep by Nick Cutter, which struck me as what I’ll charitably describe as a Wattsian homage, albeit without any of the rigorous scientific grounding. In that book, humanity is being ravaged by a plague that causes people to lose their memory in increasing chunks, eventually lethally impairing their ability to function. Their last hope is a research project at the bottom of the ocean where fucked up shit ensues.

    I dismissed it with umbrage on your behalf at the time, but maybe he was onto something there. A pity the concept was burned without the rich scientific speculation that could have been possible.

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  12. Junk DNA is still plenty real. That there are regions of the genome of unknown function isn’t something junk DNA ever argued against. That elements of viral genomes can be hijacked isn’t something it argued against either. And the encode papers purporting the majority of the human genome to be functional both defined function so loosely as to be meaningless and used some methods and thresholds that were incredibly loose.

    The onion genome is much bigger than the human genome, they aren’t more complex.

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  13. Glad it sparked your interest, Peter!

    I’m definitely loving the idea of weaponized memory-viruses. Scramble memories, or better yet, implant memories. Advertisement. Political screeds. Religion.

    We’re obviously a very long way from decoding the contents of these capsids and how the brain uses them, but nevertheless, superbly exciting premises lurk here.

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  14. Blind insight?

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  15. Blindinsight?

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  16. The human genome is a salad of endogenous retroviruses and retrotransposons.

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  17. Another story that tackles the idea of a disease that becomes worse through thinking: http://archiveofourown.org/works/6178036/chapters/14154868

    Although it’s on a fanfic site, it’s actually an original work and does a really good job of exploring the concept with lots of bleak humour.

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  18. Godfor Saken: It looseley reminded me of two novels (that I haven’t read): Tony Burgess’ “Pontypool”(1995)

    I haven’t read it either. But I keep hearing about it…

    Peter D: Cool. Although, does thinking directly correlate to more memory formation?

    They’re not really sure how this thing works. All they know is, if you don’t have it, your long-term memory is shot. A number of the headlines, which presumably have some basis in paper-related interviews, talk about “cognition and memory”. I’ll keep my eye on further developments, but for now I’m gonna say this qualifies for the SF treatment.

    Peter D: Also congrats on the ‘best of’ collections. As another distinguished honor, The Freeze-Frame Revolution has become the first book I’ve officially pre-ordered more than a couple weeks in advance.

    Full disclosure, FFR is not a novel. It’s a novella: 41,000 words. Tachyon has been calling it a novel because they draw the line at 40,000, which has got them in some trouble with my agent (and with me, once I understood some contractual and publishing ramifications that hadn’t previously occurred to me— not that I was ever in favor of calling it a novel, but I went along with it because I thought it met some technical definition.)

    Anyhow: main point is that this is a novella. Tachyon has promised to stop selling it as a novel, although they were still using the word last I saw. I’m guessing it just takes a while for edits to percolate through the system.

    Daniel Gaston:
    Did they make a correction to both the Press Release and Newsweek article? Both are quoting Shepherd as the Senior Author, which he is. Senior and Corresponding going by the author’s list

    No, check it out— Shepherd is not listed as senior author, Elissa D. Pastuzyn is (link above was broken on first posting; sorry about that, everyone). Shepherd’s the last author of 13. All those popsci articles seem to have it wrong; I’m guessing they just assumed he was senior author because he hogged correspondence privileges.

    It’s a bit of a personal peeve of mine: some grad student or postdoc works their ass off writing a good paper, only to have their supervisor come in and hog all the glory. I don’t know if that’s the story in this case, but it’s a very common scenario and the available data fit it to a tee.

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  19. For me, the scariest attack-on-intelligence idea is from Neal Asher – the Jain nodes, and the Gabbleduck race that chooses devolution over extinction

    I mean, the scariest until Peter’s book, of course…

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  20. You might enjoy this story, entitled Cordyceps: too clever for their own good
    https://archiveofourown.org/works/6178036/chapters/14154868

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  21. anonymous:
    Re the second part, I believe I ought to link you to this: https://archiveofourown.org/works/6178036/

    Huh-ho, nice try. Read to the bottom because the scroll bar was fat and that meant the document wasn’t long and besides, Hey, Cordiceps is always fun. And I admit it starts off really cool. Nicely written, nice narrative drive.

    And then at the bottom a link to the next chapter. And then a chapter after that. I clicked through 6 times and never ran out of next-chapters.

    Yeah. Maybe on the weekend, when I have more free time on my hands…

    razorsmile: Also reminds me of mitochondria and how *they* came to be.

    Yeah, I was thinking that too. Even had a mention in the first draft, but I cut it for concision. Just as well, since Godfor Saken invoked her anyway.

    Hubert: This myth of “junk DNA” needs to be eliminated ASAP, there’s no such thing as junk if it could have a purpose! You never know if that seemingly defunct intron carried over from our yeasty pre-multicellular past could be repurposed into some obscure regulatory element megabases away.

    Ehh, I think I’m gonna have to go with some of the folks downstream and disagree with you on that. The fact that an intron might, at some future point, get used to some functional end doesn’t mean it’s not junk in the here-and-now, and it certainly doesn’t imply that the system is keeping it around as a hedge against future contingency. Natural selection has zero foresight. Sure, we keep finding functions for sequences we didn’t think had any, but that doesn’t mean junk isn;t real; it just means we over-estimated the proportions.

    A. Hajra:
    Here’s a thought: maybe the harmful form of ARC already exists and Alzheimer’s is the brain’s reaction to it (a pseudo-immune defense). The beta-amyloid tangles neutralize bad-ARC and the memory loss is a defense mechanism to the “weaponized thinking” (like a mental version of a fever!). Psych illnesses may also be a form of defense.

    Huh.

    I gotta say, Hajra, I like the way you think.

    gawp: Truly it’s a rich and thoroughly fucked up tapestry.

    Placentas from viruses. Wow.

    This goes way deeper than I thought. Sometimes I regret leaving academia.

    Gord Wait:
    Just watched the latest planet of the apes.. introducing the virus that makes humans dumb and forget how to speak..

    Yeah. Those were damn good movies even without this little added bit of bioverisimilitude…

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  22. Drethelin:
    You might enjoy this story, entitled Cordyceps: too clever for their own good
    https://archiveofourown.org/works/6178036/chapters/14154868

    Okay, fine. You all win. I give up.

    When three of you recommend the same damn story in a single comment thread, I guess it’s worth a closer look.

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  23. Peter Watts: Tachyon has been calling it a novel because they draw the line at 40,000, which has got them in some trouble with my agent (and with me, once I understood some contractual and publishing ramifications that hadn’t previously occurred to me— not that I was ever in favor of calling it a novel, but I went along with it because I thought it met some technical definition.)

    Can you describe what those ramifications are, if you’re able to do so without causing yourself any trouble? I don’t know much about the publishing industry and I’m curious about how which term they sell it under affects you.

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  24. So memory uses a virus, cool. But what if through the miracle of modern medicine, we accidentally cure Arc? Surely being able to turn people into forgetful idiots is as good a weapon as something that kills them. Why destroy your enemy when you can turn them into passive slaves.

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  25. Jim: Can you describe what those ramifications are, if you’re able to do so without causing yourself any trouble?

    For one thing, my last contract with Tor gave them first-look rights at my next novel; as long as FFR wasn’t being described as such this wasn’t an issue— and, in fact, the Tachyon contract specified a “novella”— but when it was, well, it could be. Also, publishers tend to base their advances partly on the sales figures from your last title in the same category, and novellas generally pull way smaller numbers than full-fledged novels do. Again, not a problem when the previous novel was Echopraxia; but FFR, being so short, is bound to sell novella-numbers no matter what they call it. So if they call it a novel, when it comes to negotiating my next novel any publisher will be able to say Ehhh, I dunno, that Freeze-Frame novel didn’t exactly set the world on fire… And I’m fucked.

    Tachyon used the 40K cutoff because that’s apparently the maximum length various awards committees consider when they’re handing out baubles for “best novella”. By calling FFR a “novella”, it gets excluded from award consideration; it won’t fit under “best novel” because it’s listed as a novella, and it gets no love for Best Novella because it’s too long for the category. Tachyon was just trying to ensure the story got a shot at some kind of recognition. But apparently there is no formal definition of “novella” (go to dictionary.com and you’ll see a whole lot of overlap between “novel”, “novella”, and “novelette”)— and given the exceedingly remote odds that any given story will end up on the awards ballot in a given year, it does in hindsight make sense to not piss off whatever readership I do have by getting them to buy a title, only to discover it’s half the length of what they thought they were getting.

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  26. So, how long before we see politicians etc arguing for “innoculations” against “impure” thoughts?

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  27. anonymous,

    Excellent story BTW. Thanks for recommending.

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  28. digi_owl,

    A real conundrum for anti-vaxxers. So sad.

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  29. Michael Swanwick wrote a ahort-short on a similar them, about a retrovirus that selectively targets certain higher mental functions, and kills most science fiction authors. It’s called “After Science Fiction Died.” He explains that he was immune because his switch to fantasy had turned his brain to mush.

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  30. No, check it out— Shepherd is not listed as senior author, Elissa D. Pastuzyn is (link above was broken on first posting; sorry about that, everyone).Shepherd’s the last author of 13. All those popsci articles seem to have it wrong; I’m guessing they just assumed he was senior author because he hogged correspondence privileges.

    It’s a bit of a personal peeve of mine: some grad student or postdoc works their ass off writing a good paper, only to have their supervisor come in and hog all the glory. I don’t know if that’s the story in this case, but it’s a very common scenario and the available data fit it to a tee.

    I know that there are some areas of biology and biomedical research where the second-most important author is traditionally last in the author list — usually this is the PI of the grant/project. I think maybe that’s what “senior author” is supposed to indicate. Note that the press release does, later, refer to Pastuzyn as “lead author”, so they’re not really confused about the ordering in the author list.

    Here’s a post on an ecology blog about changing practices in that field (“When I started grad school in 2000, the norm in ecology was still that the last author on a paper was the person who did the least work. But, more recently, it has seemed to me that the norm is that the last author on a paper is the “senior” author (usually the PI).”)

    https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/last-and-corresponding-authorship-practices-in-ecology-part-1/

    Somewhat apropos of this, I really like this post from the same blog: a collection of notes on alternate methods of determining author order: results of a croquet match, rock-paper-scissors, brownie bake-off…

    https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2016/09/21/fun-ways-of-deciding-authorship-order/

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  31. I think Swanwick’s “Radiant Doors” is the best piece of Wattsian SF not written by Watts.

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  32. “I’ll tell you. You get a disease that spreads through the very act of thinking. The more you think, the more memories you lay down, the more the disease ravages you. The only way to slow its spread is to think as little as possible; the only way to save your intelligence is not to use it. Your only chance is to become willfully stupid.”

    Hey, didn’t they have an alien disease with more or less those very symptoms in War on Cthorr (is that series still… alive?)?

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  33. Peter Erwin,

    “When I started grad school in 2000, the norm in ecology was still that the last author on a paper was the person who did the least work. But, more recently, it has seemed to me that the norm is that the last author on a paper is the “senior” author (usually the PI).”

    I fail to see how things have changed.

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  34. Bahumat: I’m definitely loving the idea of weaponized memory-viruses. Scramble memories, or better yet, implant memories. Advertisement. Political screeds. Religion.

    I was thinking along these same lines in terms of (literal) viral political propaganda. The problem is the old tried and true methods of political propaganda are so effective, it seems like over-engineering a solution to something that’s already been solved. I mean, when a politician can release an essentially meaningless sheet of paper that effectively exonerates them of any wrongdoing in the eyes of their political base for no other reason than they say it does, why bother with a virus? As we demonstrate time and again, we dont alter our opinions to accommodate new information, we filter new information to accommodate our particular mindset.

    I suppose the trick then is a virus that manages to flip your tribal affiliation entirely, letting vanilla human wiring do the rest of the work. That seems more complicated than tweaking a few memories, but not out of line with something like a viral religion which you also suggest. (My god, can you imagine some poor population ravaged by competing religious payloads? “Have you taken your anti-virals? You dont want to come down with a case of Scientology on top of that Protestantism you’re getting over. It’s going around.

    ***

    As an aside from that, I always wonder why SF that toys with the concepts of metal editing never goes all the way. In Total Recall the vacation broker suggests that the commonality of any vacation you ever take is you , yet proceeds to send that same a * you* on a vacation where only the circumstance is shuffled.

    If I ever take a real vacation, I want it to be as a Southern U.S. political conservative (at least in the US’s batshit idea of what conservative, as opposed to reactionary, means). Can you imagine? Not having to wake up in the morning with that black ball of anxiety, guilt, and despair in the pit of your stomach? Not having to feel guilty about *anything*? Knowing with utter conviction that the things you’ve achieved are the result of your own personal excellence, rather than a dizzyingly unquantifiable smoothie of genetic and societal circumstance, and anyone saying otherwise is just inferior stock, trying to keep you down with their endless jealousy? Or at least trying to keep the people who have succeeded down, while you buy into their promise and spend the rest of your life trying to catch up.

    That is some primo shit. I imagine it’s almost as good as being Canadian.

    In all the ham-fisted Haves vs the Have Nots screeds that Hollywood is capable of reducing even the brightest of SF to (apologies to Richard Morgan, who I know occasionally reads this blog, whose Altered Carbon novel I respect and cherish, yet has received the most recent treatment in this regard–an adaptation that offends not by being notably bad, but by being disappoiningly broad and so close to good that you can feel the lost potential as a physical blow), Gattaca in particular comes to mind. I recall a scene that implies a parent has to (wants to?) determine how large their child’s penis should be. Insofar as a choice like that would determine any number of intangible happiness factors in your child’s life, by the same token wouldn’t you want them to be politically conservative (again in the US sense)? It just seems like a mental process with a greater potential for happiness.

    ***

    Back on topic, I will give Dr Watts a freebie. I renounce all rights to this idea from here until the end of time. It is this–a political assassination virus that results in everyone around you waking up with the memory that you sexually assaulted and murdered a fictional sibling. At times you would have to run, Invasion of the Body Snatchers style, from the mob.

    Here’s the hook—they call it a Kimble virus, a la The Fugitive.

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  35. Lars:
    Peter Erwin,

    “When I started grad school in 2000, the norm in ecology was still that the last author on a paper was the person who did the least work. But, more recently, it has seemed to me that the norm is that the last author on a paper is the “senior” author (usually the PI).”

    I fail to see how things have changed.

    I’m not sure why you’re confused, but let me see if I can make it more explicit.

    In a typical (though hardly universal) scenario, there is a senior scientist who set up a project and got the funding (thus being the Principal Investigator or PI). Let’s call them Professor X. They’re supervising one or more grad students and/or postdocs, who are focused on individual sub-projects; let’s call them A, B, and C. There are maybe also some collaborators not part this group who contribute their own expertise and analysis for parts of this project; let’s call them P and Q.

    Now suppose student A has finished their work and written up the paper, with supervision by Professor X and various lesser inputs from B, C, P, and Q. What does the author list look like?

    In some fields — like ecology circa 2000, and astronomy (my field) today — the list would be something like “A, X, C, P, Q, and B”. People reading the author list would analyze it as “A is the first/lead author, X is probably their supervisor/PI; the person who contributed least was B”. Or the list might even be “A, C, X, B, P, and Q” (if C contributed more than X and X isn’t obsessed with getting their name as close to the front of the list as possible). In any case, being last in the author list just means you had the least input.

    In many parts of biology — including ecology in 2017, apparently — the author list would instead be “A, C, P, Q, B, and X”, and people would interpret it as “A is the first/lead author, X is probably their supervisor/PI, and the person who actually contributed the least was B”. In other words, being last in the author list is a place of special prestige and importance.

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  36. So if Arc came from retrotransposons containing gag genes, are/were these retrotransposons primeval transposons or were they retrotransposons turned retroviruses turned retrotransposons? Regardless, it’s quite fascinating. Blew my mind the first time I heard that almost 50% of the human genome is made of transposons.
    Another example of transposons being utilized for a practical purpose by an organism is in Drosophila. Their telomeres are lengthened by retrotransposons copying themselves.

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  37. Peter Erwin,

    I read Lars’ comment as cynically humorous – senior researchers still get maximum credit for minimal work.

    At least, I think I read it that way, but I’ve forgotten what we were talking about.

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  38. Peter Erwin,

    Phil’s reading is the correct one.

    I’ve been publishing peer-reviewed papers since the mid-80s and am quite familiar with positional conventions.

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  39. DA:I mean, when a politician can release an essentially meaningless sheet of paper that effectively exonerates them of any wrongdoing in the eyes of their political base for no other reason than they say it does, why bother with a virus?

    Or maybe the virus has already been released, and what we’re seeing is the infection at work?

    DA:whose Altered Carbon novel I respect and cherish, yet has received the most recent treatment in this regard

    I’m surprised Netflix went for Altered Carbon (of all the other Morgan works). I will watch it but just can’t see the idea translating well to the screen. At least two other Morgan novels would have made a more reasonable choice for screen adaptation. However:

    DA:disappoiningly broad andso close to goodthat you can feel the lost potential as a physical blow

    This was how I felt about the novel (minus the “disappointingly” part), so I’ll go in with lowered expectations.

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  40. Fatman: Or maybe the virus has already been released, and what we’re seeing is the infection at work?

    If tribalism is a virus, then like Arc it has already been assimilated into the human condition.

    Fatman: I’m surprised Netflix went for Altered Carbon (of all the other Morgan works). I will watch it but just can’t see the idea translating well to the screen. At least two other Morgan novels would have made a more reasonable choice for screen adaptation.

    I don’t know. At its core it’s just a good mystery, and what could be more TV friendly than a police procedural? I think it could have been fine as a straight up movie or miniseries. Unfortunately Netflix wanted an ongoing series so there’s the inevitable inflation.

    Worse, it looks great, so like any big budget feature they need to get a lot of mileage out of it in international markets. The dialogue and concepts have to be broad and easily translatable though language barriers, which is pretty much the kiss of death for SF with any nuance. They borrowed more than than the visual design from Blade Runner–listening to Kinnaman hammer repeatedly on the show’s obvious themes in a Harrison Ford Theatrical cut style monologue every few minutes gets old real fast.

    Like I said, it doesn’t suck so much as disappoint. It’s decent product by televised genre fiction standards. It unfortunately just settles on another Snowpiercery “Rich people Suck” theme, rather than exploring all the more interesting opportunities in the material. I never really agreed with the book’s assertion of how easy it would be to separate mind from meat–to some extent you actually *are* your body–but there are more interesting things in the book that even this inflated adaptation won’t touch. For a hyper-violent show that’s about 30 percent softcore porn, it’s remarkably timid.

    Apologies for the threadjacking. I’ll get to work immediately on a virus that alters everyone’s memory to the effect that I stayed on topic and didn’t try to crowbar in a review of my weekend’s bingewatching activities.

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  41. Peter Erwin: (“When I started grad school in 2000, the norm in ecology was still that the last author on a paper was the person who did the least work. But, more recently, it has seemed to me that the norm is that the last author on a paper is the “senior” author (usually the PI).”)

    Goddamnit. Why can’t academia stay just the way I left it twenty years ago?

    DA: In Total Recall the vacation broker suggests that the commonality of any vacation you ever take is you , yet proceeds to send that same a * you* on a vacation where only the circumstance is shuffled.

    Yeah, but if you’re not “you” in some subjective sense, then you’ve just killed yourself. All that cool shit is happening to someone else. I think there has to be a continuity of identity for the thing to work.

    DA: a political assassination virus that results in everyone around you waking up with the memory that you sexually assaulted and murdered a fictional sibling.

    We could call it #MeTooTwo. “Believe the Virus!”

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  42. Peter Watts: Yeah, but if you’re not “you” in some subjective sense, then you’ve just killed yourself. All that cool shit is happening to someone else. I think there has to be a continuity of identity for the thing to work.

    Thats a great point. I believe I was thinking along the lines of being drunk, where your point of view *feels* like the same unbroken stream of consciousnesses, but you can reach radically different conclusions and make decisions that feel right, and wonder why you don’t think like this more often.

    “Man, I’m awesome when Im drinking. Why don’t I do this all the time? I’m going to strip naked, lather myself in whip cream, and hand that young lady a spoon. This will be both hilarious and appreciated by everyone.”

    Just as some people get to be taller, better looking, more physically able, it seems so unfair that some people are so apparently unencumbered by potentially lethal conditions like shame, guilt or remorse. I’d love to try it out. Just enough shame to keep from getting arrested, but otherwise well inoculated. I want the whole schmear–American exceptionalism, Objectivism, jingoistic nationalism–the ability to instantly dismiss the suggestion that I suffer any negative emotion other than the righteous anger of being persecuted for my perfectly reasonable beliefs. It’s exhausting being so crippled all the time.

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  43. “Language’s mercurial and terrible power make it a threat. In order to replicate, viruses attach themselves to living DNA. Viruses are a program, activating themselves even as the host organism’s DNA loses the ability to tell what is “self’ and what is “other.” Like a virus, language is a nonliving pattern of information, a configuration of meaning that attaches itself to consciousness, a program waiting to be executed, changing both the consciousness it infects and morphing its very own structure as it replicates itself. There is no defense against the virus of language except perhaps death. Predating us, the virus of language will be infecting other consciousnesses long after we are dust. Language is a menace – it is a void that when you look into it, it looks back into you, it changes you, changes your world – it is the unliving worm that flies. Language is a virus.”
    -Keith Aoki, “Language Is a Virus”
    https://repository.law.miami.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1642&context=umlr

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  44. DA,

    Insofar as a choice like that would determine any number of intangible happiness factors in your child’s life, by the same token wouldn’t you want them to be politically conservative (again in the US sense)? It just seems like a mental process with a greater potential for happiness.

    You might think so, but no: these people live in a constant stew of fear and hatred, working themselves (or more precisely, being worked) into a constant frenzy over whatever Made-Up Shit they’ve been fed by the right-wing media (of which Fox News lies on the moderate end of the spectrum). Have you ever watched the audience at one of Trump’s rallies? These aren’t happy people: they are seething with rage over their imagined slights and grievances, and love Trump because he gives them permission to scream their hate.

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  45. PhilRM: You might think so, but no: these people live in a constant stew of fear and hatred, working themselves (or more precisely, being worked) into a constant frenzy over whatever Made-Up Shit they’ve been fed by the right-wing media (of which Fox News lies on the moderate end of the spectrum).

    I considered that, but ultimately decided it was a push. Fear and anger (just fear really–anger is always a byproduct of fear) are pretty fundamental, and it’s just basic politics to keep your base in a state of constant agitation. If you don’t think the political left hasn’t been whipping their base, you haven’t been paying attention.

    So as long as fear, rational or otherwise, is a given it seems to me the differentiating factor is the whole suite of self-recriminatory emotions. The ones that certain useless people like myself seem to wallow in and others, either through the mental flexibility to construct elaborate rationalizations to avoid them, or a blessed biological immunity to them, don’t seem to suffer from. Just seems like a raw deal to me.

    I mean, who *wouldn’t* want to live in the greatest country in the world? I know I would, and I’m a U.S. citizen. But no, every time I see an unarmed man get gunned down by police hundreds of miles away from me I somehow feel personally responsible, or at least guilty by association. That’s not even rational, but emotions are involuntary.

    I don’t respect someone who can listen to Trump propose a military parade, and not feel a crippling sense of shame and embarrassment, but I envy them. It seems like a distinct advantage, and I’d like to be able to try it out sometime–you know, at least until I sober up and wonder when the hell I got a tattoo of Lee Greenwood on my ass.

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  46. As for a disease spread by thinking, there is already excitotoxicity and the glutaminergic cascade in strokes. Actually, AFAIR one idea why standard Alzheimers targets your personal memories was those are activated quite often, the neurons comprising the engrams getting a little bit too much of that glutamate and getting too excited. No idea if that’s still an idea, but it might be testable, namely people with a family history of AD being “better” with some aspects of memory, e.g. LTP ormemory stability.

    As for arc being necessary for memories, err, any idea of nearby genes? Mammals repurpising a virus for memory function is sexy, but who’s to say it’s not just a piece of DNA harbouring a promoter…

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  47. “Just take my word that though we haven’t performed any surgery, we know that this alien signal caused a mental degeneration involving physical damage to the brain. All this through concept alone. We know the hard way: there are certain thoughts an intelligent mind must not think.”
    -Piers Anthony, “Macroscope” (1969)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macroscope_(novel)

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