Dr Jeff Rediger,  Harvard Medical School (2020) Cured: The Remarkable Science and Stories of Spontaneous Healing and Recovery.

Printed on a postcard, My Wife and Mother-in-Law, and distributed as a novelty by an unknown French artist (1888). They are both in the picture; find them? (p254-5). An old woman with a hooked nose, and her chin tucked into her fur coat is in one picture. The elegant young woman in the other. Initially, I couldn’t see the old woman, just the young. I tried rotating it. Blocking out parts of the picture and concentrating on where her long chin was supposed to be, resting on the furs. Then I could see her. I could see both pictures. Switch-shifting attention from one to the other. Miracles are like that. Although Dr Jeff Rediger doesn’t call them that. He was looking at the outliers in conventional medicine. Things that weren’t reported in respected journals because there was no scientific way of explaining spontaneous healing and recovery. It was seen as akin to quackery, and more importantly trying to report it could destroy a research doctor’s career. That’s why underneath the author’s name, in smaller font, are the words: Harvard Medical School.

What Dr Jeff Rediger is saying is hey, I’m one of you, one of the establishment. But also signalling to us outside the establishment, hey, I’m also one of you. If covers of books could wink, that is what he was doing.  There is a checklist and a story attached that reads like a Greek saying: ‘Live each moment of your life as if it were your last’ (331).

So what’s the science and what’s the hoo-ha? I’m old enough to remember the cure for cancer was carrot juice and coffee enemas. And those that died were the unpure, the unbelievers that didn’t believe enough or purge enough. Only the virtuous survived.

Rediger begins with some self-help philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard: ‘There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true. The other is to refuse to believe what is true.’

Bad guys and good guys. Everything’s connected. The head rules the heart. The heart rules the head. Our stomach rules the heart, rules the head. Rediger is a medical doctor, but he also trained as a theologian. He visits healing centres in rural Brazil because he hears of miraculous cures of killer diseases.

Bad guys. Inflexibility. Not being willing to change. Takes you on the same old path of least resistance that’s killing you.

Good guys. ‘I accept your diagnosis, but not your prognosis.’

Scepticism is a cousin of inflexibility. It’s part of the medical condition. Don’t prove me right, but try and prove me wrong. If nothing can be done, nothing will be done.

In Oprah speak, ‘When we know better, we do better.’ (p343).

But certain ways of thinking can be addictive. Thought patterns, habits, ways of behaving.

Bad guys, a dismissal of spiritualism.

Good guys, an active seeking of meaning in your life. A strong will to live. Embracing your new vision of a new life.

Case study, Opening the lines of communication: How to talk to your immune system.

26-year-old Daniel, embryonic cell cancer or the testicles. Prognosis, ‘Weeks’ to live.

Therapist asked him what he wanted to do before he died?

‘I want to get ordained and married.’

You know what happened next. Documented case of spontaneous remission. He embraced his new vision of life.

‘We know that the nervous system and the immune system are, in fact, intricately interwoven… Neuroreceptors were believed to be limited to the brain and nervous system until Candice Pert, often called ‘the mother of psychoimmunology,’ discovered the presence of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in the walls of cells of both the immune system and the brain… they’re a way for the nervous system of communicating cell to cell… meaning whatever’s going on in your mind is being broadcast directly into your immune system… Our emotions talk to our immune system’ (p53).

‘Good’ bacteria. 100 trillion bacteria that live in your body, each with their own DNA.

80% of your immune system cells are in your gut.

Antibiotics wipe out ‘bad’ bacteria. Can impact your gut bacteria for up to a year. (pp55-56).

The secret to health, killing the germ? Destroy the microbe. From Silver Bullets to Superbugs.

Preparing the soil (yourself) for spontaneous healing.

Case Study, Clare Haster, pancreatic cancer, went home and began to prepare to die.

Changed her diet, gradually, from foods that left her fatigued, with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to more plant-based foods.

Something shifts that allows the immune system to do its work.

‘Everything we put in our bodies affects our terrain.

The strength of your team of natural killer cells and other disease-fighting cells within your immune system are linked not only to what you eat, how you exercise, and other lifestyle choices but also how you manage stress, relationships, old traumas, what you believe, and how you see and understand yourself’ (p65). 

Hippocrates (Do No Harm) but also ‘All disease begins in the gut’ (p75).

Eat to Heal (chapter 3)

The person who takes medicine most recover twice. Once from the disease and once from the medicine William Oder, M.D.

‘Every day we are bombarded with conflicting messages about what we should eat’ (p75).

Michael Pollan, In Defence of Food (2008): ‘Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants’(p76).

He meant the kind of food your grandmother would have recognised. That rots. Not processed foods that looks and tastes the same a decade later. No sugar. Very little salt.

What we eat is deeply ingrained. Like any other of our addictions.

Anti-cancer diet takes out processed and salty foods. Gravitates towards whole-foods.

Case study. Tom: ‘I ate more Burgher King than anybody alive’ (p81).

Type-2 diabetes. Insulin, saved millions of lives, but causes weight gain, which worsens insulin resistance. Spiral continues  (p82).

Dr Joel Fuhromon, The End of Diabetes.    Eat highly nutritional food, loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, but low in calories.

Notice how Tom uses the language of addiction, ‘I don’t feel the need…The cravings were gone’ (p87)  Burger King was gone.

‘Detox from years of accumulated toxins’ (p87).

‘Claire has made it a rule not to share the specific menu she followed after her diagnosis. Obviously, what worked for me didn’t work for [everybody]

I believe each of us responds to and needs different things…I don’t believe there is any silver bullet out there for everyone. We need to find out what works for us individually’ (p90).

‘A study with mice at Georgia State University established a disturbing correlation between emulsifiers and cancer. Emulsifiers are ubiquitously present in everything from mayonnaise to ice cream…added to extend shelf life and ‘improve the mouthfeed’ [taste]

FDA limits how much of an emulsifier can go in a product, but companies dodge this by using different kinds of emulsifiers.

The Georgia study suggests disrupted the microbiome and triggering chronic inflammation, emulsifiers may contribute to weight gain, inflammatory illnesses, autoimmune disorder and even cancer’ (p91).

T. Colin Campbell, The China Study (2005) link between diet and disease. Western diet, rich in meat and dairy, disease-creating diet (p94).

‘Individual nutrients matter less than the overall diet. Occasionally eating a bit of dairy didn’t seem to increase disease risk in the Chinese population, but they truly did eat only a very small amount. Mere ounces of pork to flavour soup…’(p95).

Case study, Pablo, Stage IV tumour, glioblastoma. Ketogenic diet. Most people find the keto diet difficult to adhere to because it’s extremely specific and limiting.

‘He started with a few days of fasting, a quick way to achieve ketosis—a metabolic state where the body deprived of glucose (which cancer cells feed on) begins to break down its own fats. Once he achieved ketosis, he switched to the standard ketogenic diet. He maintained ketosis for the next three years’ (p101).

Chapter 4, Shut down the disease superhighway.

Hippocrates: Before you heal someone, ask if he’s willing to give up those things that make him sick (p111).

‘In the short-term, there’s nothing wrong with treating symptoms.’

‘The so-called lifestyle illnesses—cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and diabetes—are the top causes of death and disability in the United States, and they account for 75 percent of all health-care spending’ (p116).

Death due to dementia more than doubled from 2000 to 2015. And there’s depression, announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017 as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. More than 300 million people worldwide are living with depression, according to WHO estimates, and that represents an increase of more than 18 percent between 2005 and 2015. People who are depressed have less robust immune systems and are vulnerable to more illness in general and poorer recoveries (p116).

Chronic inflammation comes from how we think, how we feel, how we live (p217).

Case study: Juniper Stein, ‘a picture of health’ (pp117-

Her back started bothering her.

Incurable, autoimmune disease.  Over a 100 autoimmune disorders. Characterised as ‘inflammatory disorders’ (p125).

When your immune system is your own worst enemy. (p124).

Link between chronic stress and inflammation. Study found alter genes of immune system, which help determine a cell’s function. (p126).

1) Get rid of processed foods and sugar which fuel the inflammatory response.

2) Look at personal stress triggers.

3) Larger life overhaul.

‘I accepted the diagnosis,’ she say, ‘but not the prognosis’ (p130).  

‘But there were a lot of wrong turns,’ (p135).

‘An anti-inflammatory lifestyle is ultimately based on changing your relationship with your body’ (p136).

Chapter 5, Activate Healing Mode.

‘We can either change the complexities of life—and unlikely event, for they are likely to increase—or to develop ways which enable us to cope more effectively.’ Herbert Benson, (p139).

  Fight or flight?

Benson suggested stress the invisible killer in heart disease (in all disease?)

Case study, Jan Shaw (p143-

The woman in the photograph was overweight and obviously ill.

Sick as a teenager…aged 25 ruptured a disc in her back.  Aged 28, diagnosed with dry nerve root.

Jaw implant…that didn’t work.

Misdiagnosed for decades. Nothing worked. Lupus progressed to her brain. Renal failure. Multiple organ failure.

‘Spiritual healing?’ A centre in Brazil.

‘I poo-pooed it,’ she says ‘It sounded crazy.’ (p147).

Within ten days she was off the drugs she’d been taking for decades (p149).

Mediation and relaxation breaking the fight/flight response

‘We now know that mediation can literally change the shape of the brain’ (p151).

The stress conundrum, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Autonomy and how you perceive stress. More autonomy of job/life/ relationships the less flooding of body with stress hormones, less inflammation and wear and tear, less heart disease.

Jan Shaw: ‘I’m a different person now.’ (p171).

Chapter 6, The Healing Heart.

‘The body is the instrument of the mind…the mind is the instrument of the heart’ Hazrat Inyat Khan (p173).

‘You can teach yourself how to shift into parasympathetic mode by managing stress, eliminating stress, or changing your lens on stress’ (p174).

Case study: Matt. Glioblastoma multiform, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

‘Matt first turned to diet as Pablo Kelly had. He read Beating Cancer with Nutrition and learned that one in five cancer patients don’t actually die from cancer—they die from malnutrition.’ (p177).  

‘It was love that healed me,’ he says with conviction. ‘To me that’s what God is, that’s what life is. That’s what getting better is, it’s love.’ (p182.).

‘Our narrow concept of love could be making us sick. In her book on the topic, Fredrickson makes the bold claim that our fixation on the ideas of love as something that can only be shared in long-term, intimate romantic relationships shows “a worldwide collapse of imagination”.’  (p186).

Survival of the fittest or the kindest? (p189).

Social connection, a more evolved strategy than fight or flight. (p193).


Something we talk about metaphorically; we don’t actually believe our heart can break like a dropped vase.

Case study: Joanie Simpson (p197).

Heart attack. Doctors expected to find blocked arteries that they would have to prop open with a stent, but they were crystal clear.

An intense flood of stress hormones, stun the heart. (p197).

(p.199) we know the vagus nerve is activated by compassion for others, compassion for the self…love.

Chapter 7. Faith Healing and Heating Faith.

‘It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in so doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.’ Albert Einstein. (p205).

Case Study: Dr Nemeh (faith healer).

‘Dr Nemeh has detractors, people who believe he is a false prophet, peddling a fantasy. But when you witness the sheer number that flock to be treated by him and listen to their stories of hope and recovery…There’s a down-to-earth practicality about him that, as a doctor myself I find refreshing; though he believes fervently in the power of prayer, he also advises those to come to him to continue seeking mainstream medical treatment.’ (p207).

‘Gallup polls, nine in ten Americans say they engage in prayer, and three out of four pray daily.’ (p208.)

Leanard DeBenedictus whose bones were literally dissolving after working for decades with toxic chemicals. Many of his co-workers had died.

“God wants you healed.”’  (p209-210).

(p214)’ Dr Nemeh’s patients believed their healing came from God and that Dr Nemeh was their conduit.’

‘Faith the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (p219).

Chapter 8. The Power of Placebo.

‘In the theory of relativity there is no unique absolute time, but instead each individual has own personal measure of time that depends on where he is and how he is moving.’  Stephen Hawkins. (p228).

Placebo>L> ‘I shall please’.

Case study. During World War II, Doctor Henry Beecher.

A field surgeon he ran out of morphine. He didn’t want to tell men in excruciating pain that he couldn’t help them. In a remote battlefield surgery tent, he rigged up an IV of saline solution, hooked it up for his suffering patients and told them it was morphine.’ (p230).

‘40 percent of the men reported a ‘significant’ decrease in pain.

Today, going into any kind of research study on the efficacy of a drug, the expectation is that a full 35 percent of participants will experience a strong placebo response. (p230).

And it’s important to remember that 35 is the average. The range is actually between 10 and 90 percent depending on the specific illness and the particular medical treatment being tested.’ (p230).

Case study. Knee arthroscopy in the United States makes up $4 billion of health-care spending.

But when researchers ran studies to compare the outcomes between an arthroscopy and a faux arthroscopy (in which the surgeon makes an incision during ‘surgery’ but repairs nothing so the patient only believes he’s had surgery) it was revealed that there was no difference between the actual surgery and the sham surgery [to reduce pain and increase the client’s range of knee movements] (p230-231).

Case study. Mr Wright (1957) The Wonder Drug that Wasn’t. (p237).

Cancer patient, end stage. He struggled to breathe.  He’d read about a new miracle drug and begged his doctor to try it.

As soon as his hospital received a shipment he got a first injection.

Three days later, his doctor returned to work on Monday morning to find him out of bed, breathing easily, walking around the ward, joking with the nurses.

A written report noted his tumours had ‘melted like snowballs on a hot stove.’ (p232).

He was sent home.

A couple of months later, some stories hit the news about Krebiozen not being an anticancer miracle drug…but a fake quack remedy.

When Wright read this he suffered an immediate relapse.

His doctor told him on his deathbed, the report was false and he’d received a new, retooled, ‘double-strength’ version of the serum.

After one injection the tumour melted away again. But this time, Wright’s doctor hadn’t even injected him with actual medication…it was water.

Mr Wright enjoyed two months of robust good health. He went back to his life. And then he read another report in the news. Krebiozen was debunked, definitely, as a cancer treatment.

He relapsed immediately. He died within days.’ (pp292-293).

Beyond Placebo (p237).

Case study: Stephen Dunne (2011)  multiple melanoma, multiple remission. (pp237-240).

The Quantum Physics of the Body. (p241).

Quantum physics is essentially the study of the building blocks of matter. (p242).

Some reserachers are asking if MRI technology can do more than imaging?


A placebo-controlled study found that people who were exposed to particular MRI experience marked improvements in mood (p243).

Dr Michael Rosen using MRI as a treatment for depression.

{but} more questions than answers. (p244).

The Observer Effect.

Richard Feynman’s observation. ‘If you think you understand quantum physics, then you don’t understand it.’ (p248).

Case study: the double-split experiment. (pp245-247).

Picture a tennis court. Enclosed with fences. Two open doorways equally apart.

You start throwing tennis balls at the wall in the middle, with the doorways in it. Some of them are going to miss the doors and bounce off the walls (or miss the walls and bounce off the doors).

Others will go through and hit the fence.

The double-slit experiment did the same thing, but with an electronic beam gun. It fired (single) electrons at a wall with two slits in it.

But the particles didn’t bounce off the wall like tennis balls at predictable angles (as the laws of physics and motion would suggest).

Instead, they took on properties of a wave between the slats. (no beginning, no middle, no bounce).

Physicists placed a ‘camera’ to film this response.

Particles stopped their wave-like behaviour and ‘bounced’ again and hit the fence in predictable ways.

‘It was like they knew they were being watched.’

‘The observer effect suggests, perhaps, that we are each the observer for our ongoing experiment… create the reality we see and touch’. (p247). 

When Belief Runs Deep. (p250).

A placebo works even when you don’t believe it will.

Paul Tilich: ‘Everyone has an ‘ultimate concern’ around which we organise our entire lives.’ (p251).

When we receive a pill that we know is a placebo and therefore chemically powerless to therefore help us—we nevertheless feel better when we take it. Why? Because we feel cared for…It might be everything from the doctor in the white coat dispensing the pill to the sensory experience of the being in the doctor’s office (p251).

Michael Polayni, the chemist turned philosopher called this ‘tacit knowledge’, very distinct from explicit or conscious knowledge. (p251).

When it comes to belief and its role in healing, the most important question may be: What do we believe about ourselves?   (p253)

[who are we? What are we?]

Chapter 9, Healing Your Identity.

‘Guilt results from unused life, from the unlived in us.’ Ernest Becker (p254).

Case study, Mirae, Too Busy to Be Sick. (p259)

Looking back, always sick, never healthy. Chronic Lyme disease from a tick bite.

Metastatic melanoma.  

(p264) primary site, where the mutation starts, somewhere cutaneous on the skin. You might notice an unusual skin lesion or mole.

‘the cancer that kills you be millimetres,’ (p265).

Before her diagnosis time had seemed infinite—like an ocean. You could scoop up a bucketful and there was always more (p268).

‘What hit me hardest,’ Mirae says, ‘was that I was out of time to rewrite things.’ (p268).

The Importance of Your Story.

The black box of spontaneous healing.

The black box I’m talking about isn’t just a metaphor. It’s real.

A more scientific name is your default mode network (DMN).

‘The DMN is basically a collection of loosely connected regions of the brain, both older structures deep in the brain and newer ones in the cerebral cortex, which are activated, or light up, when you engage in certain categories of thinking.. (p269-270

The DMN is more active when you’re not focussing on elements of the outside world but instead are turning on a more introspective mode. It yearns for narrative, helping us compose our story of who we are by linking the past with the present and what we consider possible or likely for the future.’

The idea of the DMN is relatively new in neuroscience.

Any definition should include the prefrontal cortex (locus of planning, decision-making and behaviour regulation.

The cingulate cortex (part of the limbic system, tasked with emotion and memory function).

Inferior parietal lobe  ( in charge of interpreting those formed emotions and processing language and sensory information).

Your person>reality< personality?

The me network.

It’s who you are (p270). 

How much did you weigh when you were sexually active? [Freudian slip of the tongue]

Professor Vincent Felitti, Preventative Medicine [what’s in your black box?] (p271…]

People were dropping out of the weight-loss clinic not because they were losing weight, but because of it.

‘Overweight is overlooked and that’s the way I want to be.’ (p272)

Felitti and Richard Anda, a leading epidemiologist, identified ten types of childhood stress.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE). > disrupted neurodevelopment> Disease causing behaviour (correlation does not equal causation).

Strong links between childhood traumas and present-day illnesses existed across multiple types of experiences and multiple categories of disease (p272).

Best treatment, early intervention (p275).

Getting Out of Your Default Network. (p277).

Healing is less about what happens on the outside. (p280).

Some people use meditation or yoga to get out of their default network [some people get pissed]

Chapter 10. You are Not Your Illness.

‘Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’  Albert Einstein.

The power of perception.

cf. McGurg effect. What you taste and hear. (p282).

Taking off the mask of illness. (p304)

A central paradox of the whole situation is you can’t force a ground shift to occur.

We can’t force these flashes of insight. (any more than we can force ourselves to see the hag or elegant young women in the same postcard).

Chapter 11 Healing death. (p309).

‘Physician heal thyself.’ Luke 4: 23.

Why was I still alive?

Facing death can be a pivotal moment in life. (p312).

The denial of death is programmed into us at every level.

Refusing to die on schedule.

Case study, Lula Wang’s grandmother, feisty matriarch. (p316

Three months, maybe less to live.

The family refused to tell her. Stage IV lung cancer.

The family expected her to decline quickly and pass away. But she just…didn’t.

A year after her ‘expiration date’. She refused to go for her medical. Another year, and when she went to the doctor the diagnosis was the same, three months to live. (p317). 

The years went by and nothing changed. Her body, it seemed, hadn’t got the message she was supposed to get sicker, so she didn’t.

There’s no real consensus that emerges from research on withholding diagnoses (blissful ignorance or defence of ignorance). (p318).

(p321) How running for death runs us down.

It might not come as a shock to find that hospice care can extend life.

The earlier you enter the hospice the more it can extend your life. (p323).

Every story has an ending. Spontaneous remission doesn’t mean cured forever. (p324).

Chapter 12. Burn Your Boat.

‘I had the feeling there would be no harm, no shame, no judgement if I wanted to be done. But also that if I wanted to, if I chose life, it would be hard work.’ Mirae Bunnell metastatic melanoma. (p332).

Cunnigham’s (2002) study. Those that survived longer.

1) willingness to radically change habits, routines and

2) even the larger scaffolding of their lives (p338).

‘get up and go’ might be related to survival or remission.

Conditions associated with poor survival outcomes.

1) Inflexibility associated with low self-esteem or fixed world view.

2) Scepticism about self-help techniques, or a limited ability to apply them.

3) Other activities seemed more immediately appealing.  

4) Meaning was habitually sought outside the individual from some external source.

5) Strong, contrary views about the validity of spiritual ideas.

Conditions associated with longer survival:

1) Strong will to live.

2) Actual changes in habit of thought and activity.

3) Relaxation practices, meditation, mental imaging, cognitive monitoring.

4) Becoming involved for a search for meaning in one’s life. (pp340-341).

They fill the hole in the soul

You can too be Cured. The Remarkable Science.

Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia, Channel 4, 10pm

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My mind went blank and I started to type Alzheimer’s into the search box of Channel 4’s programmes. In a way that’s instructive. You can just start again, wipe out what went before and retype. We are learning about Alzheimer’s. I can throw in phrases like amyloid plaque. Perhaps do a simple drawing of what it means in a cave of dendrites. But I don’t really know what it means, not yet, although my mum had it. In a way the truth about anorexia is a lie, because it assumes there is a simple truth based on subjective experience. The smoking gun is, as with Alzheimer’s the resources we allocate to the NHS and, in particular, the cinderella Mental Health services, which traditionally has been the poor man of the care sector, both in terms of the money spent on it and empirical outcomes.  Mark Austin uses the analogy (which I’ve frequently used myself) if you break a leg you phone an ambulance and get admitted to hospital. The analogy breaks down when the surgeon comes round and says something along the lines of things they (might) say in mental health services: ‘we think we’ve fixed your broken leg. You might need to hop a bit, and it might be sore, with one leg shorter than the other, but that’s the best we can do. Don’t call us back and expect miracles of mobility’. In other words, empirical outcomes in the mental health service are, at best, dodgy, but it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

We need somebody to tell us this is a very bad thing. Who better than his Royal Highness Prince William with his stiff upper lip, wobbling slightly. No common man need mention American socialite Wallis Simpson, of you can never be too thin, or rich, fame. And the truth about anorexia is there is no common man here, no one truth, but lots of fake news. Jeremy Hunt, who favours privatising the NHS, but is Secretary of State for Health, for example, tells us there’s ‘no quick fix’ but by 2020, 95% of young people with mental health issues will be able to see a professional (psychiatrist, presumably a British psychiatrist, and not one of those foreigners we’re trying to exclude) within four weeks and within a week if there case is urgent. I thought every case was urgent, but what do I know, I’m not a health-care specialist. We see here, as we see everywhere else, cases being flipped and weighed and found wanting and parents travelling hundreds of miles, where their daughter or son, finally finds a place in some private hospital in Edinburgh. I wish somebody would explain that truth to me. How it profits rich folk to take care of sick folk, but it still works out cheaper for us all.  Poorer folk with, in modern parlance, mental-health issues always find somewhere closer to visit. It’s called Her Majesty’s Prisons.  We’ve got Princess Diana the godmother of anorexia, looking pretty chic in culled archive images. The largest epidemic in every sense is, of course, the flip side of anorexia, obesity. The poor man’s disease. No need to mention Stephen Hawkin’s criticisms of Tory privateers and implicitly Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of our NHS.  Now we can start talking truthfully about black holes.

Ask yourself a simple question, if I stopped eating tomorrow, who would notice and who would care? Does it matter? Do I matter?

Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a better place to look for questions of toxic imagery and culture than this programme.

‘Every body has a story and a history’.

‘The story of my body is not a story of triumph. I don’t have any powerful insights into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is simply a true story.’

Upper, middle-class, ITV newsman, Mark Austen and his daughter Maddy go on a journey in which they seek to explore the boundaries of anorexia and the health service, postcode lottery, in the less than United Kingdom, but only take us to NHS Theresienstadt.



Aliens: The Big Think BBC 4 10pm and BBCiPlayer

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‘If ET is not out there, the earth is some sort of miracle.’ This isn’t a Uri Geller soundbite but a quote from  Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute and former Director of Center for SETI Research, Seth Shostak. Here we have Professor Martin Rees, former astronomer royal, looking at the evidence for alien life on other planets, but we don’t mean primordial slime, we mean intelligent life, but not as we know it captain, startreking across the universe. The numbers don’t add up.  Two Billions of stars in the galaxy similar to our sun (the number keeps growing as our apparatus becomes more sophisticated) but some of them two or three billion years older than our sun, the Fermi paradox suggests the high probability of circling planets with intelligent life, but with little or no hard evidence of it yet. Perhaps not only in the wrong places, but in the wrong way. Poets and physicists help you to see things anew.

To think about aliens is to think about our place in the universe. The Big Bang or the Bounce. The Goldilock zone (fresh air theory).  From single cell organisms, phagocytes and primitive life on our planet. The past walks with us. Every organic creature in our planet is made out of stardust. Out of this structure intelligent life was formed. Stephen Hawkins aphorism, ‘I believe intelligent life is quite common in the universe. Less so on earth…’ holds true.

With the moron’s moron leader of the most powerful and technocratic nation on earth a case in point. Communication with aliens and morons is the key. Everything is very very in the moron’s world multiplied by good or bad.  The stupidest thing the moron’s moron did, or did not do, was sign the Paris accord on global warming which will trigger very, very, very bad things, with tens of millions dying. What this programme shows quite clearly is that burning fossil fuels is to live in the past. The future is green and harnessing the power of the stars. That’s what physicists are looking at, fluctuations in energy, which may or may not show that something, possibly robotic, possibly an advanced civilisation may have been doing that. Certainly Dr Ander Sandsberg was able to show that spikes in planet KIC 8462852  radiation couldn’t be accounted for. One hypothesis was something massive and non-cylindrical had passed in front of it. Aliens?

Intelligent life on our planet will be artificial intelligence with non-organic parts. That’s the same kind of mixing and matching as Fermi. But it’s happening now. Sometimes we don’t see what’s in front of our eyes. Any good alien knows that. But it’s the bad aliens we’ve got to worry about. The cuckoos breeding in our nest.  I’m more worried about slime Trump ending intelligent life on this planet, but I’ve never claimed to be intelligent. Is there intelligent life out there. Yes, I think there is. Vast distances between planets makes communication difficult. And technology tends to destroy its creator. The rise and fall of a planet technologically in a few thousand years is infinitesimally small in terms of the universe. Compare this with the growth of our planets technology which has given us the capability to look at other planets with any detail in the last 20 or 30 years. Not only is life on earth a miracle. Our technology is a minnow. If other technologies find us they will have the capacity to swallow us up. Stephen Hawkins used the analogy of white men meeting native American Indians or perhaps aboriginals. But that’s just a guess. Nobody knows. Not even Stephen Hawkins. No evidence means very very very small results have very very very big implications, like global warming.



Martin Ford (2015) Rise of the Robots

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Robots are pattern-recognition machines who have grown arms, legs and visual awareness. Each time we take a step, for example, we are continually falling. Robots face the same problem, but they have not had tens of millions of years of evolution to solve it. Moore’s Law comes into effect here. Computing power which provides the software for computer hardware; robot’s arms and legs and eyes (these are anthropomorphic attributes) doubles every eighteen to twenty-four months. Software engineers are coming up fast against the physical limitation of the materials used to encode machines. With the development of quantum computing that problem seems –temporarily- to have been solved, but few people can explain the mechanics. Martin Ford’s analogy of driving speeds highlights where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Imagine you’re in a car he says, driving at five-miles-per hour (mph). Drive for a minute. 10mph. fifth minute, 80mph. Imagine you’re on the twenty-seventh minute. We’re approaching the speed of sound. Then the speed of light. That’s Moore’s law. That’s where we are.

Another way of looking at it is to think of the brain power at Los Alamos around 1944 when plans were being developed to develop the first atomic bomb. Most of the great Western minds of maths and physics were working on the probability of different scenarios and outcomes. Unless you were a future Nobel winner, you were probably working in the canteen. Now that kind of mathematical grunt work could be done by a ten-year old boy or girl with an iPad. What direction are we going in? Think in terms of a continuum.

Where we are now, I’d guess is similar to the place where the Crow Indians were in Jonathan Lear (2006) Radical Hope: Ethics in The Face of Cultural Devastation; a place and time before the white man came, before around sixty million migrating buffalo were indiscriminately killed,  and with the mass cull went their food source and way of life. Lear writes of the Crows, but he might as well be writing of the Greek, the Roman, the Holy Roman, our own sense of the possible and the impossible: ‘The inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture’.  Martin Ford suggests we are at endgame and the chess analogy is appropriate.

Graphic evidence comes from games. It was no great surprise when IBM’s software Deep Blue beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov over a six-game match. While the possibilities in chess are quantitatively enormous, we tend to think of it being on rails. Daniel Kahnerman (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow uses the example of a chess master looking at a chess board, and intuition will suggest the best move for him or her to make. That’s thinking fast, but it takes years of training. Software such as Deep Blue travels all the lines of the board at speeds faster than human thought. Speeds that we think of as simultaneous.  And if it makes a mistake it learns from it. Software does not forget. Given such enormous computing power it seemed inevitable that the machine would beat the man.

IBM’s success on Jeopardy! was a different level of success. Deep Blue had been taken off the rails. The brute force of computing power was competing in a general knowledge quiz with idiosyncratic questions and an idiosyncratic format. Computers don’t do spontaneity or intuitive thought over a wide range of subjects. Yet Watson, IBM’s software, triumphed in two televised matches over Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in February 2011.

At one end of the continuum humans become grey gloop. Nothing is wasted. Eric Drexler one of the leading proponents of this theory suggests the combined effect of nanotechnology and increasing computer power to develop their own heuristic, and innate ability to shape the world in their own image, human will be little more than feedstock. If this sounds a bit corny (pun intended) then the co-founder of SunMicrosystems, Bill Joy, article in 2000, ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’ runs through the existential dangers of cross fertilisation in the fields of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Nobel winner Stephen Hawkins has also signalled his belief that this is a real danger. And Nick Bostrom (2014) in his New York Times Bestseller, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, argues the future is already here. We’re nurturing artificial intelligence and like a cuckoo’s egg it will outgrow the nest, feed on the hominoid family, and colonise space in its search for perfection.  These Jeremiah voices seem more science fiction than science fact. But look around you. Self-driving cars, drones and rocket back packs. Not in the pages of comic books, but on our roads and buzzing in the air.

Ford identifies other trends that any moderately sophisticated pattern-recognition software would immediately identify. One of them is climate change. He talks about the declining price of solar panels, technological innovation and government innovation. Or what the British Prime Minister called ‘all that green crap’ while withdrawing funding in the areas we really need to invest in.

Money flows unevenly from the rich to the poor. The only place it sticks is with those with money or capital. That’s another trend or pattern. Ford suggests the evidence points to a longer-term trend in which  the five percent who claim ownership of the world’s wealth, and in particular the moneyed-class in the richer nation, those who have cannibalised the wealth of the other ninety-five percent, then the one percent will cannibalise the wealth of the other four percent. Winners take all. Losers take the fall.

“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
― Karl Marx

Marx was wrong of course. Let us look at the data.  Losers are not sold the rope, only leased it and have to pay economic rent for their funeral. The triumph of capitalism is it is the only game in town. Communist China and Russia, for example, mirror the inequalities of the West. Martin Ford offers sobering statistics. An Oxford University report published in 2013 suggests 50% of US jobs will be automated. And a parliamentary report in the House of Lords in 2015 estimate 35% job losses in the UK. The flight to higher education with the promissory note of a well-paid job at the end of it is the same sort of myth building as, from a different era, Tony Benn’s ‘white hot heat of technology’ changing and modernising society. Thirty percent of employees are currently overqualified for the job they are in and while wages have declined in the last thirty years, the cost of education has more than doubled from £22 billion 2007/8 to £46 billion 2012/13 and that trend looks to continue.  This is one form of credit poorer members of society have access to and they are signing up in record numbers, both in the UK and the US. But not only is their grade deflation, but those printing presses we call universities, some of which  are more equal than others, can demand a premium for their gilt-edged qualification, in a race which our leading universities largely exclude the poor from entering. It would be interesting, for example, to look at what Oxford University defines as those in need of such a leg up. But this is hardly surprising when social housing is defined as costing up to £450 000. And our public-school educated Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, boasts of conducting ‘the most sustained squeeze on public spending for one-hundred years’. Back in 1918 the upper classes contact with the working class was likely to be a master and servant relationship, and as an employer. Those that owned the land owned the people on the land.  But in a contemporary global market as Ford notes, if cognitive ability follows the usual bell-shaped distribution curve, and India and China’s top five percent of intelligentsias adds up to around 130 million, almost double the population of the UK. Technology, based on deep neural learning models makes the universal translator inevitable. See, for example, Megaphoneyaku digital megaphone developed by Panasonic in 2014, which translates whatever language is bellowed into it according to the setting required.   If the offshoring of university graduates and teaching programmes move online, as they are likely to do, then the current crop of graduates will find it even more difficult to find paid work commensurate with their education. Software such as Geekie, launched in Brazil in 2011 because of a shortage of teachers, delivers the whole high-school syllabus, monitors pupils and designs courses based on individual responses and aggregate scores. A movement into higher education and universities with their expensive living costs seems inevitable.  It also seems to me likely that health care assistants will be the add on element of general health care practices with all the heavy lifting done by machines designed like Geekie to have the knowledge element built in and modified and upgraded with each interaction.

A trumpet it a wind instrument. It has the highest register in the brass family, which brings us nicely to Donald Trump and Trumpetism. We’ve had the bit player and actor whom Betty Davis called little Ronnie Reagan getting to play the role of US President. Then we had George Bush senior and then junior getting on the same horse. Anything is possible in the good old US of A. It’s dressed up in frontier ideology and the analogy of a rising tide of wealth lifting all boats. But as Chrystia Freeland says in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich, ‘the super-rich don’t like to talk about rising income inequality’. The rising tide lifting super yachts that leave the rest stranded in their wake. They like to talk about the Kuznet’s inverted U-curve, how as societies become more complex and productive, high inequality peaks at the top of the U and falls. Wealth generated by a nation’s better-educated workforce is able to get a bigger slice of the national pie in terms of wages is proven to be a short-lived myth. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, using historical data going back to the eighteen century from twenty countries showed that the thirty years following the Second World War was a golden age in which wealth re-distribution did take place, but it took two catastrophic world wars for that to happen. Piketty and Ford both suggest the fallout from the golden age is toxic for all but the gilded few, and aligned with climate change and the rise of the robots it’s a good time to be rich. For the rest of us…man the lifeboats.

Sixth Lesson: Probability, Time and the Heat of Black Holes.

stephen hawkins

The problem of heat was one that perplexed mid-nineteenth century physicists. One way of understanding it was to think of it as a kind of fluid, ‘caloric’ fluid. I guess that’s where we get the term calorific value. Food equals a certain amount of energy. But in the mid-nineteenth century there was thought to be two kinds of heat: hot and cold. Wrong, of course, but not for the reason we think. James Maxwell and the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann showed that heat moves in a gradient from hot to cold because atoms when heated oscillate more rapidly and are therefore more likely to collide with each other and create and lose energy. A cold teaspoon placed in a hot cup is therefore more likely to become hot. In quantum physics this is not fixed, but more highly probable than the alternatives, which are also in flux.

Heat changes the past and the future, but where does time go if it cannot flow? The answer is it does not go anywhere. It remains a position, a function, a variable, a location, a quantity. It is coterminous with space, having the same boundaries as space. Space equals time. But it also deictic. Sharing common but not the same boundaries, in the same way that Scotland and England share boundaries. And although you can heat up space, how can you heat up time?

See you next Thursday is dependent on context. Speak so I can hear you. Think of the Big Bang. Time and Space simultaneously radiating in the now. But what is now? A collection of forces interacting and pushing against each other in the Big Bounce and creating the probability of the Big Bang. Reductio ad absurdum. Einstein suggested that the distinction between the past present and future is nothing but a persistent, stubborn illusion.

Contrast with the more familiar idea of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger with the emphasis on ‘dwelling in time’. Physics becomes for some of his more extreme follower a discipline that is incapable of describing reality.

Let us look back and forward to the idea that heat is god. There is only a detectable difference between the past and future and different states when there is a flow of heat. Probability is king. But some of his subjects are subject to revolt.

Quantum gravity is a blurred vision of physics. But Stephen Hawkins has demonstrated that black holes are always ‘hot’. Hot space creates time in flux. The quanta of space, the vibrating ‘molecules’ that heat the surface of the black hole and are heated by the black hole generate change. Time in flux. Flux in time.