Human

The Telling: An Unusual and Profound 1967 Manifesto for Truth

The Telling: An Unusual and Profound 1967 Manifesto for Truth

“Teller and listener, each fulfills the other’s expectations,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her beautiful meditation on the magic of real human communication. “The living tongue that tells the word, the living ear that hears it, bind and bond us in the communion we long for in the silence of our inner solitude.” But what exactly is this act of telling that transfigures our isolation into communion — how, why, and what do we actually tell, and to whom do we tell it?

That’s what the poet Laura Riding (January 16, 1901–September 2, 1991) set out to explore half a century ago.

Eleven years after she composed her extraordinary letters of life-advice to an eight-year-old girl, Riding renounced her vocation, feeling that she had “reached poetry’s limit” as a means of probing human truth and that there existed “something better in our linguistic way of life than we have.” She fell in love with TIME magazine poetry critic Schuyler B. Jackson and became Laura (Riding) Jackson. The Jacksons went on to live a humble yet intensely intellectual life in Florida, working as citrus farmers to fund their work on an ambitious, unorthodox dictionary that distilled each word into a single definition.

But Jackson, animated by her intense love of language, remained restless about the problem of truth’s articulation. It took her a quarter century to formulate just why she had abandoned poetry and what greater frontiers of truth-telling there may be. Her formulation first appeared in the New York magazine Chelsea in 1967 and later became the small, immensely profound book The Telling (public library) — an unusual manifesto for the existential necessity of living for truth.

Laura (Riding) Jackson

Jackson frames the promise of the book in a prefatory note:

Life of the human kind has been lived preponderantly so far according to the needs of the self as felt to be the possession of itself. This self-claiming self is a human-faced creature, existing in the multiple form of a loose number reckonable only as “the human aggregate.” The needs of this self issue from a diffuse greed, which is imparted from one to the other in garrulous sociality.

There is an alternative self, a human-faced soul-being, a self conscious of ourselves who bear in manifold individualness, each singly, the burden of the single sense of the manifold totality. This self is implicated in the totality as a speaking self of it, owing it words that will put the seal of the Whole upon it. On what we each may thus say depends the happiness of the Whole, and our own (every happiness of other making being destined to disappear into the shades of the predetermined nothingness of the self-claiming self, which encircle it.)

The book is structured like Pascal’s Pensées and Descartes’s The Passions of the Soul — as a series of short meditations each presented in a numbered paragraph. In the first, Jackson considers our primal hunger for the telling of core human truths yet untold:

There is something to be told about us for the telling of which we all wait. In our unwilling ignorance we hurry to listen to stories of old human life, new human life, fancied human life, avid of something to while away the time of unanswered curiosity. Many of the lesser things concerning us have been told, but the greater things have not been told; and nothing can fill their place. Whatever we learn of what is not ourselves, but ours to know, being of our universal world, will likewise leave the emptiness an emptiness. Until the missing story of ourselves is told, nothing besides told can suffice us: we shall go on quietly craving it.

Art by Sydney Pink from Overcoming Creative Block

In the fourth fragment, she suggests that at the heart of the pervasive sense that our stories are unheard lies the fact that they are first and foremost untold:

Everywhere can be…

Friedrich Nietzsche on Mental Models

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) explored many subjects, perhaps the most important was himself.

A member of our learning community directed me to the passage below, written by Richard Schacht in the introduction to Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits.

​If we are to make something worthwhile of ourselves, we have to take a good hard look at ourselves. And this, for Nietzsche, means many things. It means looking at ourselves in the light of everything we can learn about the world and ourselves from the natural sciences — most emphatically including evolutionary biology, physiology and even medical science. It also means looking at ourselves in the light of everything we can learn about human life from history, from the social sciences, from the study of arts, religions, literatures, mores and other features of various cultures. It further means…

‘Monkeytalk’ invites readers into the complex social world of monkeys

Barbary macaques
MONKEY-BACK RIDE In a new book, a primatologist discusses what’s known about intelligence and social behavior in several monkey species, including Barbary macaques (shown).

The social lives of macaques and baboons play out in what primatologist Julia Fischer calls “a magnificent opera.” When young Barbary macaques reach about 6 months, they fight nightly with their mothers. Young ones want the “maternal embrace” as they snooze; mothers want precious alone time. Getting pushed away and bitten by dear old mom doesn’t deter young macaques. But they’re on their own when a new brother or sister comes along.

In Monkeytalk, Fischer describes how the monkey species she studies have evolved their own forms of intelligence and communication. Connections exist between monkey and human minds, but Fischer regards differences among primate species as particularly compelling. She connects lab studies of monkeys and apes to her observations of wild monkeys while mixing in offbeat personal anecdotes of life in the field.

Fischer catapulted into a career chasing down monkeys in 1993. While still in college, she monitored captive Barbary macaques. That led to fieldwork among wild macaques in Morocco….

Winning against a computer isn’t in the cards for poker pros

human player versus poker bot
Computers can now defeat professional poker players at heads-up no-limit Texas Hold’em. Pro Jason Les (right) plays poker bot Libratus as computer scientist Tuomas Sandholm, one of the bot’s creators, looks on.

NO BLUFF

In the battle of wits between humans and machines, computers have just upped the ante.

Two new poker-playing programs can best professionals at heads-up no-limit Texas Hold’em, a two-player version of poker without restrictions on the size of bets. It’s another in a growing list of complex games, including chess, checkers (SN: 7/21/07, p. 36) and Go (SN: 12/24/16, p. 28), in which computers reign supreme.

Computer scientists from the University of Alberta in Canada report that their program, known as DeepStack, roundly defeated professional poker players, playing 3,000 hands against each. The program didn’t win every hand — sometimes the luck of the draw was against it. But after the results were tallied, DeepStack beat 10 out of 11 card sharks, the scientists report online March 2 in Science. (DeepStack also beat the 11th competitor, but that victory was not statistically significant.)

“This work is very impressive,” says computer scientist Murray Campbell, one of the creators of Deep Blue, the computer that bested chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997. DeepStack “had a huge margin of victory,” says Campbell, of IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Likewise, computer scientists led by Tuomas Sandholm of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh recently trounced four elite heads-up no-limit Texas Hold’em players with a program called Libratus. Each contestant played 30,000 hands against the program during a tournament held in January in Pittsburgh. Libratus was “much tougher than any human I’ve ever played,” says poker pro Jason Les.

Human genes often best Neandertal ones in brain, testes

Neandertal brain
BRAIN ACTIVITY Human versions of some genes are more active in certain parts of the brain than Neandertal versions. Side and back views of a brain show that activity levels of the Neandertal version of a gene called NTRK2 are lower in the cerebellum (blue area in lower back) than in other regions.

Humans and Neandertals are still in an evolutionary contest, a new study suggests.

Geneticist Joshua Akey of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues examined gene activity of more than 700 genes in which at least one person carried a human and a Neandertal version of the gene. Human versions of some genes are more active than Neandertal versions, especially in the…

How to make a ‘three-parent’ baby

Zhang baby
Zhang baby

Fertility doctor John Zhang holds a baby boy (whose face has been blurred for privacy). The boy is the world’s first child created by spindle transfer — a technique to replace faulty mitochondria. Such children have been dubbed “three-parent” babies.

A baby born in April 2016 may have opened the door to a new world of reproductive medicine. This boy became one of the first intentional “three-parent” babies. The vast majority of this boy’s DNA came from his mother and his father. A small bit of extra DNA came from an unrelated woman. This child got some of his genetic inheritance from each of these adults.

Because of that bonus DNA from the unrelated woman, some people say babies like this boy have three parents.

Scientists didn’t go to all of the effort to mix the DNA from these three people as an experiment. In fact, they did it to overcome a problem in the boy’s mother. That woman had a problem with her mitochondria (MY-toh-KON-dree-uh). These are important little structures — or organelles — present in her cells.

Many cells, including those that make up humans, contain special components that function like little organs. That gives rise to their name, organelles, which actually means little organs. Organelles perform special tasks for their parent cells. And one of the more notable of these organelles is the mitochondrion. Its main job is to help power its cell. To do this, the mitochondria harvest energy contained in the bonds linking atoms in the cell’s fuel (such as glucose). Mitochondria then use that energy to create another molecule, known as ATP (for adenosine triphosphate). That ATP actually serves as the energy source for cells.

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animal cell diagram
Mitochondria, one of several types of organelles found within the cytoplasm of a cell, contain a small amount of DNA. A mutation in that DNA can cause disease.

But some of the mitochondria in the boy’s mother have a mutation. That genetic alteration causes Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder. Most of her mitochondria work properly. That’s why the mom does not have the killer disease. But she can pass on DNA from the faulty mitochondria to her children. And this can put them at risk of Leigh syndrome. Two of her children had already died from the disease. She also had suffered four miscarriages.

It was in hopes of giving this couple a healthy baby that doctors worked to find healthy mitochondria to substitute for her unhealthy ones. Normally, a woman passes on her mitochondria to her offspring through her egg (dad’s sperm don’t contribute any). These organelles also contain a small amount of DNA — just 37 genes. (Most of the roughly 20,000 protein-producing genes needed to make a human are stored in a compartment called the nucleus.) Mutations in some mitochondrial genes most often pose a risk to organs that need lots of energy, such as the brain and muscles. There is no cure or effective treatment for many of these mitochondrial diseases.

The technique used to create the baby boy is new and controversial. His birth, though, caps nearly three decades of work to to produce healthy human eggs by manipulating the organelle. The new baby appears to have been saved from a deadly genetic disease. Still, there are ethical and safety concerns about his three-parent heritage.

And a three-parent baby girl born in January raises even more concerns — in part, just because she is a girl.

Producing healthy babies

Researchers first began swapping mitochondria between egg cells to treat infertility problems almost 20 years ago. Jacques Cohen was one of those researchers.

He’s a scientist who studies human embryos. In the late 1990s, he and colleagues at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., were looking for a way to help women who were unable to have children by in vitro fertilization. Also known as IVF, this process involves taking egg cells from a woman and sperm cells from a man, then incubating them in a dish. Some of those eggs and sperm will combine to form embryos — the first stages of creating a new individual.

human embryo
With in vitro fertilization, or IVF, an embryo that developed in a laboratory dish is transferred into a woman’s womb where it may develop into a baby.

Doctors then transfer some of those embryos into the woman’s womb. With luck, one or more will develop into a baby. But some couples’ embryos never developed normally. No one knows why. Cohen’s group thought a dose of cytoplasm — the jellylike “guts” of a cell — from a donor egg might give the implanted embryos a better shot at success.

“Cytoplasm is the most complicated fluid in the universe,” says Cohen. It contains mitochondria, other organelles, proteins and other molecules that do the work of the cell. The mother’s egg normally supplies all the goodies an embryo needs to live for the first few steps of development. But Cohen thought that some of his patient’s eggs might need extra help.

So he extracted 10 to 15 percent of the cytoplasm from an egg donated by another woman. He injected this along with a single sperm cell into a recipient egg. From 1996 to 2001, he performed the procedure 37 times. And this technique proved quite successful. It produced 17 babies for 13 couples!

Cohen later tested eight of the children born this way. Two carried some mitochondria that had come from the donor. That was in addition to some that came from the child’s actual mother. Some…

Seagrasses boost ecosystem health by fighting bad bacteria

seagrass
NATURAL CLEANERS Seagrasses, flowering plants that grow in shallow seas, can decrease bacterial contamination in the surrounding water.

BOSTON — For a lawn that helps the environment — and doesn’t need to be mowed — look to the ocean. Meadows of underwater seagrass plants might lower levels of harmful bacteria in nearby ocean waters, researchers reported February 16 during a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That could make the whole ecosystem — from corals to fish to humans — healthier.

Not truly a grass, seagrasses are flowering plants with long, narrow leaves. They grow in shallow ocean water, spreading into vast underwater lawns. Seagrasses are “a marine powerhouse, almost equal to the rainforest. They’re one of the largest stores of carbon in the ocean,” says study coauthor Joleah Lamb, an ecologist at Cornell University. “But they don’t get a lot of attention.”

It’s no secret that seagrasses improve water quality, says James Fourqurean, a biologist at Florida International University in Miami who wasn’t involved in the research, which appears in the Feb. 17 Science. The plants are great at removing excess nitrogen and phosphorus from coastal waters. But now, it seems, they might take away harmful bacteria, too.

A few years ago, Lamb’s colleagues became ill with amoebic dysentery while studying coral reefs in Indonesia, an archipelagic nation that straddles the Indian and Pacific oceans. When a city or village on one of the country’s thousands of islands dumps raw sewage…

Human gene editing therapies are OK in certain cases, panel advises

bubble boy
EDITING OUT DISEASE Gene therapy can cure a genetic disease called severe combined immunodeficiency, or “bubble boy,” disease. Using new gene editing techniques like CRISPR/Cas9 to treat genetic diseases is fine under certain conditions, but it should not be used to enhance people, a panel of experts says.

Human gene editing to prevent genetic diseases from being passed to future generations may be permissible under certain conditions, a panel of experts says.

Altering DNA in germline cells — embryos, eggs, and sperm, or cells that give rise to them — may be used to cure genetic diseases for future generations, provided it is done only to correct disease or disability, not to enhance people’s health or abilities, a report issued February 14 by the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine recommends. The decision contradicts earlier recommendations by organizers of a global summit on human gene editing, who concluded that gene editing with molecular scissors such as CRISPR/Cas9 should not be used to produce babies (SN: 12/26/15, p. 12).

Heritable gene editing is not yet ready to be done in people, says Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin‒Madison Law School who cochaired the panel. “We are not trying to greenlight heritable germline editing. We’re trying to find that limited set of circumstances where its use is justified by a compelling need and its application is limited to that compelling need,” says Charo. “We’re giving it a yellow light.”

National Academies reports carry no legislative weight, but do often influence policy decisions in the United States and abroad. It will be up to Congress, regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and state and local governments to implement the recommendations.

Supporters of new genetic engineering technologies hailed the decision.

“It looks like the possibility of eliminating some genetic diseases is now more than a theoretical option,” says Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Washington, D.C. “That’s what this sets up.” Diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s, which are caused by mutations in single genes, could someday be corrected by gene editing. More complex diseases or disorders caused by changes in multiple genes, such as autism or schizophrenia, probably would not be the focus of genome editing.

Others worry that…

7 Real Life Organisms That Seem to be Born From Nightmares

The world is a scary place, but sometimes the things we are scared of during the day are hardly the most terrifying things out there. These real life creatures remind us that there are far scarier things out there than sharks, spiders and bears.

1. Asian Giant Hornet

“Giant” and “hornet” are two words very few people want to see next to one another -and with good reason. The Asian giant hornet is exactly what you would expect from the name -a giant hornet that lives in Asia. Don’t console yourself by thinking that maybe their size is a tradeoff that makes them less dangerous either. These giant hornets are just as aggressive as the regular ones we’ve all seen and their venom is even more potent. In fact, 30 to 40 people die each year in Japan due to stings from these wasps.

You may be thinking, “well at least they’re in Asia so I’m safe here in my North American or Western European home,” but while that might be true for the time being, the insects have been spotted in the US, France and England already and their numbers are likely to go up, not down in these countries.

2. Human Botfly

Warning: This video is not for the squeamish -in fact, it’s not for 90% of people, it’s just nightmarish.

Visually the botfly is just another fly and gross, but not all that terrible. But when you consider that the human botlfy larvae feeds on human flesh, it’s easy to see why this insect is absolutely a thing of nightmares. The bug will lay its eggs on mosquitoes and ticks that then deposit the eggs on human skin when the blood-sucker goes in for a bite to eat. The eggs then manage to get under the skin of humans through the hole left behind by the parasite they were attached to and then the larvae will live there for six to eight weeks before bursting through the skin as a full-grown adult. It’s enough to make you want to bathe in bug repellant.

3. Colossal Squid

Image via Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Even if you don’t find squids creepy, which many people do, it’s absolutely horrifying that something this big could be hiding under the ocean and still remain such a mystery to us surface dwellers. Despite the fact that Colossal squids can grow to 46 feet long and 1650 pounds, a full-sized specimen was never recovered until 1981. Up until that point, the only proof that colossal squids existed was through the collection of random parts of the squid such as tentacles and beaks found washed up on shore or in the belly of sperm whales.

Image via Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Colossal squids aren’t even the longest squid out there, though they are the heaviest. That honor goes to the giant squid, which have been long talked about in myths and fishermen’s tales, but also remain largely unseen and are still largely a mystery to scientists. The colossal squid are creepier than their giant cousins though…

We Can Print Human Skin Now

This may be technology at its coolest. Or grossest. Or both. We’d say both. Scientists in Madrid have figured out a way to produce functional sheets of human skin using a 3D printer. They published their results in the journal Biofabrication.

Scientists have really seized 3D printing as a solution to all kinds of problems. In the last few years, they’ve developed techniques for printing cardiac stents, artificial rat models to spare real rats from dissection—even human jawbones and ears. Other researchers have been hard at work growing human skin in the laboratory.

The team in Madrid decided to put the two concepts together. As you can imagine, this was not a simple matter of loading up the ink and hitting a button. The team built a brand-new type of bioprinter…