Are We Right to Experiment on Animals to Save Humans?

I believe that higher animals feel emotions and maybe even have souls, so we should try to treat them humanely. I am deeply conflicted on how far animal experiments are justified in the pursuit of curing human diseases. Whenever possible, animal experiments should have the potential to benefit the animals in the experiments, as well as the human experimenters.

(p. A15) The “title characters” of Brandy Schillace’s admirable biography “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul” were one and the same person: Robert J. White, a distinguished neurosurgeon, an accomplished neuroscientist and a man dedicated to searching for the means to transplant souls by transplanting the human brain. If this makes White sound macabre, Ms. Schillace’s account of his life, work and temperament is anything but. She deftly persuades the reader to take White seriously (he wasn’t even eccentric) and to ponder profound medical-scientific-philosophical issues. Best of all, the book is fascinating.

. . .

White felt it was his religious and medical duty to devise techniques for rescuing healthy brains from otherwise diseased and dying bodies. His solution was to transplant heads (containing their brains) onto cadavers that were brain dead but otherwise physiologically viable.

Before he could attempt such surgery on people, White experimented, mostly on monkeys, dozens of times, to ascertain and refine the necessary procedures. In March 1970 he succeeded in transplanting a monkey’s head onto another monkey’s body.

. . .

During the era in which White conducted his experiments, politicians, doctors, journalists and celebrities were becoming deeply and increasingly dismayed by scientific experiments on animals. White ran afoul of the animal-rights advocacy organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and was threatened by animal-rights extremists (he remained imperturbable). White prided himself on scrupulously avoiding harm to his animal subjects. But he didn’t believe that animals had souls: For him, Ms. Schillace writes, “the human was more than animal, and equating the two was not only wrong, it was dangerous.” One of White’s rejoinders to those who would halt animal experimentation was, to paraphrase: If you were a surgeon, how would you like to tell parents that their young child is going to die because the operation that might save him or her was impossible to perform, mainly because the necessary animal-dissection research that would have permitted it was forbidden by law or the medical canon of ethics? His foes never had a good answer.

For the full review, see:

Howard Schneider. “A Heart in the Right Place.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 22, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 21, 2021, and has the title “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher’ Review: A Heart in the Right Place.”)

The book under review is:

Schillace, Brandy. Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Cafe Hayek Quotes from Openness Book on Happiness

Posted by Arthur Diamond on Friday, April 2, 2021

Don Boudreaux quotes from my Openness to Creative Destruction book on Cafe Hayek, the blog he runs with Russ Roberts.

My book is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Humans Excel at Finding and Using Patterns

(p. 9) At the end of the 20th century, scholars of human evolution proposed a thrilling idea: Humans were special and distinct from all other animals because of a sudden transformational change that occurred around 35,000 years ago. For millions of years our ancestors had trudged through existence with the same simple tool kit, yet in that special moment, there was a flowering of symbolism, of art, of complicated tool use. This was when the modern human mind was born. You could see its traces in the archaeological record.

. . .

In “The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention,” Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist and the director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University, contributes a new version of this cognitive revolution. Baron-Cohen argues that humans split off from all other animals to become the “scientific and technological masters of our planet” because we evolved a unique piece of mental equipment that he calls the Systemizing Mechanism. It came into being between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago, and it led to the invention of pretty much everything, bows and arrows, pottery, agriculture, science, skateboards and so on.

. . .

Here’s how the mechanism works: Humans alone observe the world and ask questions that demand why, how and what. They answer their questions by looking for if-and-then patterns, such as, if I boil an egg for eight minutes, then the yolk will be hard, and if I boil an egg for four minutes, then the yolk will be soft. They use those patterns to build theories, which they then repeatedly test, looking always for systems to further employ and exploit.

Grand theories aside, Baron-Cohen is at his most striking when he writes about people with autism, like Jonah, who was slow to talk but who taught himself to read. When Jonah eventually learned to speak, he used language less as a tool for communication than as a system for categorizing the world around him. As a young child, he was endlessly fascinated by how things worked, and he spent hours experimenting, like flipping a light switch on and off to test and retest its effect. At school he showed great brilliance in his observations about the natural world, he was a “born pattern seeker,” but at the same time he was taunted by other children for being so different. In group reading time, which he hated, he would shut his eyes and put his fingers in his ears. Jonah’s weekend hobby as a young man was helping fishermen locate shoals by being able to read the signs from surface waves. Yet despite his incredible talents, Jonah was lonely and frustrated because he couldn’t find a job that would allow him to live an independent life. Baron-Cohen argues with feeling and conviction that society must do a better job of making room for people like Jonah, and that it will benefit enormously when it does.

For the full review, see:

Christine Kenneally. “Systematizers.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 20, 2020): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Dec. 9, 2020, and has the title “Does Autism Hold the Key to What Makes Humans Special?.”)

The book under review is:

Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Freireich on Chemo-Cocktail Cure for Childhood Leukemia: “I Thought About It and I Knew It Would Work”

(p. A20) Dr. Emil Freireich, a renowned cancer doctor and relentless researcher who helped devise treatments for childhood leukemia that transformed the lives of patients thought to have little hope of survival, died on Feb. 1 [2021] at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he had worked since 1965.

. . .

When Dr. Freireich (pronounced FRY-rike) started work at the N.C.I., in Bethesda, Md., in 1955, acute childhood leukemia was considered a death sentence. Entering the ward where the children were being treated, he recalled their hemorrhaging because their blood had virtually no platelets, the disc-shaped cells that clot blood.

. . .

Dr. Freireich, a hematologist and oncologist, tested his hypothesis that the lack of platelets was causing the hemorrhaging by mixing some of his own blood with some of the children’s.

“Would it behave normally?” he said in interview for an N.C.I. oral history project in 1997. “Sure enough, it did.”

Further testing, done to persuade his skeptics at the cancer institute, proved him right.

. . .

. . . Dr. Freireich’s most important and most enduring achievement was in using a combination of drugs to send leukemia into remission. He explored options in chemotherapy with several N.C.I. colleagues, including Dr. Emil Frei III, who was known as Tom.

They made an aggressive assault on childhood leukemia by devising a cocktail of four drugs that would be administered simultaneously — a technique similar to the three-drug regimen used to treat tuberculosis — so that each one would attack a different aspect of the physiology of the cancer cells.

“It was crazy,” Dr. Freireich told Mr. Gladwell. “But smart and correct. I thought about it and I knew it would work. It was like the platelets. It had to work!”

But not without peril and concern. Some of the children nearly died from the drugs. Critics called Dr. Freireich inhumane for experimenting with his young patients.

“Instead, 90 percent went into remission immediately,” he told USA Today in 2015. “It was magical.” But temporary. One round of the cocktail was not enough to eliminate all the cancer, so Dr. Freireich and his team treated them with the drugs monthly for more than a year.

. . .

Dr. Freireich compared his early fight to cure childhood leukemia to being in a battle in which he and the N.C.I. team had an alliance that was “forged under fire.”

To cure cancer, he added: “Motivate people and give them the opportunity. People are innately motivated. Nobody likes to be lazy and do nothing. Everybody wants to be significant.”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Emil Freireich, 93, Pioneering Researcher and Cancer Doctor, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 13, 2021): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “Emil Freireich, Groundbreaking Cancer Researcher, Dies at 93.”)

Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter to Freireich in Gladwell’s book:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Quiet, Modest Steinsberger Said Scientists Should “Be Interested in Learning About Nature,” Not in Seeking Prizes

(p. B12) Jack Steinberger, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics for expanding understanding of the ghostly neutrino, a staggeringly ubiquitous subatomic particle, died on Saturday [Dec. 12, 2020] at his home in Geneva.

. . .

In 1988, The Economist said Dr. Steinberger “enjoys a reputation as one of the finest experimental physicists in the world.” The magazine continued, “In a field full of flamboyance and a fair bit of arrogance, he is a quiet, modest man; something of a physicist’s physicist.”

As if to prove the point, Dr. Steinberger told a meeting of Nobel laureates in 2008 that scientists should “be interested in learning about nature,” not prizes.

“The pretension that some of us are better than others,” he said, “I don’t think is a very good thing.”

For the full obituary, see:

Douglas Martin. “Jack Steinberger, Physicist Awarded a Joint Nobel Prize, Is Dead at 99.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): B12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Jan. 20, 2021, and has the title “Jack Steinberger, Nobel Winner in Physics, Dies at 99.”)

Naps Aid Immunity, Energy, Alertness, Memory, and Mood

(p. D4) Sara E. Alger, a sleep scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., has been a public advocate for naps, particularly in the workplace, except in cases of insomnia. Along the way, she has had to fight anti-nap prejudice.

“Naps in general have a stigma attached to them as something you only do when you’re lazy or when you’re sick,” Dr. Alger said.

Wrapped inside nap phobia in the United States is often a message reminding us to be productive during what we now think of as normal working hours, although that concept is relatively new.

Modern attitudes about napping go back to the Industrial Revolution, according to Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and the author of “The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life.”

“For a long time, people had flexible sleep schedules,” Dr. Wolf-Meyer said. Farmers and tradespeople had some autonomy over their time. They could choose to rest in the hottest part of the day, and might take up simple tasks during a wakeful period in the middle of the night, between two distinct bouts of sleep.

As the 1800s went on, more and more Americans worked in factories on set shifts that were supervised by a foreman. “They work for a total stranger, and a nap becomes totally nonnegotiable,” he said.

Staying awake all day and getting one’s sleep in a single long stretch at night came to be seen as normal. With that came a strong societal expectation that we ought to use our daylight hours productively.

. . .

Although there are no hard data so far on whether naps have been on the rise during 2020, sleep scientists like Dr. Alger think it’s likely. The many people who now work remotely no longer need to worry about the disapproving eyes of their colleagues if they want a brief, discreet period of horizontality in the afternoons.

If most offices reopen next year, as now seems possible, perhaps greater tolerance toward the adult nap will be one of the things salvaged from the smoking wreckage of the working-from-home era. (In a tweet last week, Dr. Wolf-Meyer called the pandemic “the largest (accidental) experiment with human #sleep ever conducted.”) . . .

Experts say that people who get seven to nine hours of sleep a day are less prone to catching infectious diseases, and better at fighting off any they do catch. Afternoon sleep counts toward your daily total, according to Dr. Alger.

This immunity boost, she said, is in addition to other well-known dividends of a good nap, like added energy, increased alertness, improved mood and better emotional regulation.

Included under the last rubric is a skill that seems especially useful for dealing with families, even if you never get closer to your relatives this year than a “Hollywood Squares”-style video grid: “Napping helps you be more sensitive to receiving other people’s moods,” Dr. Alger said. “So you’re not perceiving other people as being more negative than they are.”

Napping also helps you remember facts you learned right before nodding off. Given the way things have been going lately, of course, you may not see this as a plus. You could look at it from the reverse angle, though: Every hour before Jan. 1 that you spend napping is another hour of 2020 you won’t remember.

For the full commentary, see:

Pete Wells. “This Thanksgiving, Nap Without Guilt.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 25, 2020): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 24, 2020, and has the title “This Thanksgiving, It’s Time to Stop Nap-Shaming.”)

The book by Wolf-Meyer, mentioned above, is:

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew J. The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

An Octopus “Is a Being With Multiple Selves”

(p. 11) What makes this book shimmer and shine is Godfrey-Smith’s exploration of marine life (drawing on his vast and extensive diving knowledge and field experience) to illuminate the ways in which the animal mind works — and the thoughts and experiences that give it shape.

. . .

Godfrey-Smith has an elegant and exacting way of urging along our curiosity by sharing his own questions about animal cognizance and the ability of some animals, like rats and cuttlefish, to “meander, drift off and dream.” But perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves. A breathtaking explanation follows, and it’s one that makes even a cephalopod fan like me swoon over the myriad possibilities for rethinking the mind as a sort of hidden realm for sentience.

Godfrey-Smith declares, “The world is fuller, more replete with experience than many people have countenanced,” . . .

For the full review, see:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 27, 2020 ): 11.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?”)

The book under review is:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

“Exhilaration and Loneliness of Pioneering Thought”

(p. A15) In “The Riddle of the Rosetta: How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz recount Thomas Young’s and Jean-François Champollion’s competing efforts toward decipherment.

. . .

The authors are chiefly concerned with Young’s and Champollion’s approaches to the hieroglyphic riddle. Rarely have I seen the false starts and blind alleys, firm beliefs and 180-degree recalibrations, exhilaration and loneliness of pioneering thought captured so well. On the other hand, not every reader will match Champollion’s stamina or persevere through the book’s densest thickets. Dramatic touches are few. Champollion probably didn’t, as commonly reported, faint at the moment of his triumph. And Young was no swashbuckler. Indiana Jones hates snakes. Young hated idioms.

If “The Riddle of the Rosetta” won’t be coming to screens anytime soon, its achievement is no less admirable. For nearly 500 pages we are invited to inhabit the minds of two of history’s finest linguists.

For the full review, see:

Maxwell Carter. “BOOKSHELF; Found In Translation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, September 18, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 17, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Riddle of the Rosetta’ Review: Found in Translation.”)

The book under review is:

Buchwald, Jed Z., and Diane Greco Josefowicz. The Riddle of the Rosetta: How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

In Primary Debates, Biden and Harris Led Democratic Presidential Candidates in Use of “Filler Phrases”

(p. A6) Here’s the deal: Presidential candidates issue plenty of pointed barbs in debates, but they use a lot of filler language, too.

Phrases such as “let’s be clear” and “the end of the day,” buy the speaker time to collect themselves, think ahead and formulate an answer. Among the Democratic contenders, the fact is, Vice President Joe Biden utters them most frequently (and “the fact is” has been his most-used phrase).

The Wall Street Journal identified 23 commonly used three-, four- and five-word phrases and their variations spoken by candidates during the four Democratic presidential debates and tracked the number of times they were said.

Mr. Biden used almost six filler phrases for every 1,000 words he spoke, the highest rate among the Democrats still running and far above their average of 2.6.

Asked about the findings, Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said, “The fact of the matter is that poll after poll has shown that Joe Biden is the candidate who will defeat” President Trump.

. . .

After Mr. Biden, who racked up 77 instances of the phrases in the debates, the next highest totals belonged to Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

For the full story, see:

Lindsay Huth and Lakshmi Ketineni. “The Fact Is, Candidates Use a lot of Filler Phrases.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, November 20, 2019): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Fact Is, Democratic Candidates Use a lot of Filler Phrases.”)

Venture Capitalists Can Be Easy to Fool

I admire much about Peter Thiel, but was stunned to read in his Zero to One (p. 160) that he only invests venture capital money in start-ups whose founding supplicant is wearing a t-shirt. The review quoted below confirms that other venture capitalists also use dubious criteria to evaluate entrepreneurs.

(p. C4) Neumann’s innovation with WeWork was to repurpose office space for freelancers worldwide — rebranding precarity into community.

. . .

. . . Neumann seemed to believe that the pesky demands of having to turn a profit didn’t quite apply to him, even as he was determined to live the ostentatious life of a bohemian tycoon.

. . .

WeWork pulled the classic new-economy maneuver of hiring idealistic young people, deploying them to the point of exhaustion and paying them peanuts while telling them that they were part of a revolution — what Neumann called “the ‘We’ decade.” Eventually, WeWork offered stock options, though Neumann would be the one to cash out hundreds of millions in stock in order to fund an escalating lifestyle that had grown to include five children, several houses, a penchant for $200 T-shirts and lots of pot.

. . .

“Billion Dollar Loser” would be absorbing enough were it just about one man’s grandiosity, but Wiedeman has a larger argument to make about what Neumann represents. Neumann finagled funding not only from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate led by the billionaire-entrepreneur Masayoshi Son, who liked to say that “feeling is more important than numbers,” but also from the venerable venture capital firm Benchmark. Neumann had passed himself off as a tech visionary, even though he rarely used a computer and WeWork’s IT department was once run by a high school student from Queens.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Big Dreams, and a Harsh Awakening.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 22, 2020): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Billion Dollar Loser’ Recounts WeWork’s Big Dreams and Its Harsh Wake-Up Call.”)

The book under review is:

Wiedeman, Reeves. Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2020.

“The Often-Unsung Adaptability of Organic Intelligence”

(p. A13) . . ., as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

. . .

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence.

. . .

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . .

Within this physically and culturally harsh environment, Construction Robotics had to invent and reinvent their business model on the fly. Should they license their innovations? Sell the robots? Rent them? Provide robots and technicians as a service? Create a full-service masonry shop? Pivot from bricks to cement blocks? Take money from venture capitalists, court Google or a Dubai investment fund? Mr. Peters follows the philosophy of the book “The Lean Startup” and aims for an MVP—minimum viable product—to gain exposure and experience, knowing the risks in the construction industry. Word of a robot that builds crummy walls will travel fast, and demolished reputations are hard to rebuild.

The business finally finds its footing in the epilogue, around 2018. Construction Robotics gets SAM to lay more than 3,000 bricks a day (versus 300 to 1,000 for a human mason), and they create another machine that helps workers lift and place concrete blocks, quickly selling dozens. The company now looks to be solvent, though it’s unclear how much the construction landscape is poised to change.

For the full review, see:

Hutson, Matthew. “BOOKSHELF; Building a Better Bricklayer.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 13, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer.”)

The book under review is:

Waldman, Jonathan. SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.