Science

Resurrecting Brains: Philosophical Questions and New Ethical Territory (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/05/2018 - 1:11am in

A team of scientists led by Nenad Sestan (Yale) have “restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs and kept the reanimated organs alive for as long as 36 hours,” reports MIT Technology Review. The method used to keep pigs’ brains alive outside the body will work on other animals, including primates, Sestan said. The following is a guest post* by Carolyn Dicey Jennings, assistant professor of philosophy and cognitive science at UC Merced, in which she discusses some of the philosophical issues arising from this research.

Resurrecting Brains: Philosophical Questions and New Ethical Territory
by Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you have a decapitated pig and you are wondering whether you should bring its brain back to life. What ethical issues might concern you? Some brain researchers have been thinking about this and they have a request: “The researchers say that ways of measuring consciousness need to be developed and strict limits set for them to be able to continue their work with the public’s support.” Here are some ideas, but I would like to hear from other philosophers in the comments:

1. Self

If you are going to bring a pig’s brain back to life for scientific experimentation, you probably want to know whether you have also brought back a self. This will be especially problematic when the research is extended to human brains and selves, which is already on the horizon. Of course, some would argue that there are no such things as selves, but I disagree.

Do pigs have selves? They have not yet passed the mirror self-recognition test, which is used by many as a marker of the self. This test requires that an animal recognize its reflection in a mirror as its own. Passing the test is, in normal cases, impressive—a sign of high intelligence, at the very least. Does failing to pass the test indicate an absence of self? No. That bar is too high. Toddlers often don’t pass the test, but ask those who have spent time with toddlers if they have a self. (Hint: yes.)

What these toddlers and many other animals lack is self-consciousness—-an understanding of themselves as selves. Without self-consciousness how could you know that something has a self? Perhaps having a distinctive personality is one sign of self, which pigs certainly display. But disembodied pig brains probably don’t have easily measurable personalities. So what can we do to rule out the presence of a self in a disembodied brain?

One possibility is to rule out the presence of hierarchical frequency coupling. The brain has measurable wave patterns that are cheap and relatively easy to detect through the use of EEG. As I argue in a book under contract with Cambridge University Press, the self is active when low-frequency waves modulate high-frequency waves. So one suggestion is that researchers look for this signature of the self before proceeding with further experimentation.

2. Consciousness

Separate from the issue of the self is that of consciousness—are disembodied pig brains capable of consciousness? This is a hard question. I am teaching a course on consciousness right now and my students have commented on how difficult it is to determine consciousness in nonhuman cases, such as animals and machines, but few think consciousness is absent in animals. One issue is that of language: nonhuman animals have limited to no language, whereas machines have only superficial language abilities (think Chinese Room, or its modern equivalent). It is difficult to discover if something or someone is conscious if you cannot ask them.

Luckily, a number of promising neural markers of consciousness that do not rely on language have been put forward. One is that of feedback from the frontal cortex, likewise measured using EEG. Unlike many animals, pigs do have a frontal cortex, and thus frontal feedback—signals from the frontal cortex to other parts of the brain. (It is called “feedback” because brain processing is normally considered to go from other areas of the brain “forward” to the frontal cortex, and then back again.) If the disembodied brains of pigs display frontal feedback then I think consciousness is a very real possibility.

Another option is to look at the brain’s response to direct stimulation; brains of conscious humans tend to have widespread activation after direct stimulation, whereas brains of unconscious humans do not. This would be a fairly easy test that would help us to look for consciousness in parts of brains or in animals that do not have a frontal cortex.

An advantage of this latter method is that it might capture low-level consciousness, whereas frontal feedback captures only high-level consciousness. Consider this — the difference between standard and so-called “lucid” dreaming is that lucid dreamers report being aware of the fact that they were dreaming. This ability has been found to correspond with greater frontal cortex activity. But surely one need not be a lucid dreamer to be conscious while dreaming (pace Dennett). So frontal feedback may add the awareness that we are conscious, but the absence of frontal feedback would not necessarily mean an absence of consciousness.

3. Pain

A major topic in research ethics is that of pain; causing unnecessary pain and suffering is to be avoided, and this informs current practice. Can we feel pain without a body? One reason to think otherwise is that pain is attributed to parts of the body that signal damage to the brain through the spinal cord. With neither a body nor spinal cord what pain is there to feel? Is whole-body phantom pain possible?

We don’t yet know what happens to a brain without a body. Scientists and philosophers have argued that many forms of consciousness are either partly or wholly dependent on a body. It would be difficult to test for the presence of pain in a disembodied brain because its neural correlates also register non-painful stimuli.

I don’t have a good suggestion for this issue. (I am hoping others do!) The best idea I have had is to start by looking more closely at dreams during NREM sleep. This is the type of sleep we have without even activity in the eyes, when the whole body is at rest. Those woken up during NREM sleep sometimes report dreams. Further exploration here may give us insight into what experience without a body might look like, and whether it could include pain and suffering.

4. New Ethical Territory

I do think that this research is new ethical territory for us. We already allow scientific experimentation on animals that are likely to have consciousness, selves, and sometimes pain. The difference in this case is that these animals (well, brains) are being brought back to life having already experienced death. This may sound absurd, but if the dying brain hypothesis is correct, many of the sacrificed pigs will likely have had near death experiences (i.e. walking in a tunnel toward the light, euphoria, etc.). What will happen when they are brought back? We don’t know. We don’t know if it will cause needless suffering, and thus we don’t know if this work warrants special protections and guidelines. Creating brains in the lab (which is also on the research agenda, and has its own issues) seems importantly distinct from ending, restarting, and re-ending the lives of conscious beings with histories. This is especially true when the beings in question are disembodied brains, which cannot easily communicate the stress or suffering they might be enduring.

art: Wim Delvoye, Pigs

The post Resurrecting Brains: Philosophical Questions and New Ethical Territory (guest post) appeared first on Daily Nous.

https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2018/04/26/cool-videos-an-architect...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/05/2018 - 4:03am in

https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2018/04/26/cool-videos-an-architectural-guide-to-the-nuclear-pore-complex/

(…)

These channels, called nuclear pore complexes (NPCs), are essential for life, tightly controlling which large macromolecules get in or out of the nucleus. Such activities include allowing vital proteins to enter the nucleus, blocking out harmful viruses, and shuttling messenger RNAs from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, where they are translated into proteins.

This computer simulation starts with an overhead view of the fully formed NPC structure. From this angle, the pore membrane (gray) appears to be at the base and is embroidered in four rings that are the channel’s main architectural support beams. There’s the cytoplasmic outer ring (yellow), the inner rings (purple, blue), the membrane ring (brown), and the nucleoplasmic outer ring (yellow). Each color represents different protein complexes, not rings per se, and the hole in the middle is the central channel through which molecules are transported. Filling the hole is a selective gating mechanism made of disordered protein (anchored to green) that helps to get the right molecules in and out….

Rout and Chait have spent more than 20 years trying to solve the structure of NPCs….

Police Investigate Garden Hose Thefts at Parliament House

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/04/2018 - 8:09am in

Tags 

Science, greens

hose parliament

The lawns at Parliament House in Canberra are at risk of dying off as gardeners have found themselves unable to water the grassy hills. Staff have complained that hoses used to water the iconic hills have been cut and stolen.

In unrelated incidents, an increase in discarded plastic bottles in the nation’s capital has environmental organisations concerned.

“This… um… yeah it’s not right… theft and plastic bottles and shit”, stated Greens Senator Richard Di Natale at a press conference. “Why can’t we all just get along… and sleep… like Garfield?”

Police remain baffled as to who would steal such a large amount of hosing, expressing concern this crime would continue. A police spokesperson did not mince words when talking of the issue: “We’re obviously dealing with criminal masterminds, hell bent on couch-carnage!”

The news comes only days after Richard Di Natale introduced a bill to the Senate labelled “The Cheetohs Bill”, aiming to set a price cap on cheese flavoured snacks.

GK Kidd

@GKTweetsHard

You can check out our new show Decennium Horribilius at this year’s Sydney Comedy Festival. Hosted by The (un)Australian, the quiz show features teams of some of Sydney’s best comics trying to answer questions about the decade of the 1990s — with prizes for the audience.

Saturday May 5, 5.30pm. The Factory Theatre. Book tickets here.

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook.

The Psychology of Collective Memory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/04/2018 - 2:30pm in

by Jalees Rehman

MemoriesDo you still remember the first day of school when you started first grade? If you were fortunate enough (or in some cases, unfortunate enough) to run into your classmates from way back when, you might sit down and exchange stories about that first day in school. There is a good chance that you and your former classmates may differ in the narratives especially regarding some details but you are bound to also find many common memories. This phenomenon is an example of "collective memory", a term used to describe the shared memories of a group which can be as small as a family or a class of students and as large as a nation. The collective memory of your first day in school refers to a time that you personally experienced but the collective memory of a group can also include vicarious memories consisting of narratives that present-day group members may not have lived through. For example, the collective memory of a family could contain harrowing details of suffering experienced by ancestors who were persecuted and had to abandon their homes. These stories are then passed down from generation to generation and become part of a family's defining shared narrative. This especially holds true for larger groups such as nations. In Germany, the collective memory of the horrors of the holocaust and the Third Reich have a profound impact on how Germans perceive themselves and their identity even if they were born after 1945.

The German scholar Aleida Assmann is an expert on how collective and cultural memory influences society and recently wrote about the importance of collective memory in her essay "Transformation of the Modern Time Regime" (PDF):

All cultures depend upon an ability to bring their past into the present through acts of remembering and remembrancing in order to recover not only acquired experience and valuable knowledge, exemplary models and unsurpassable achievements, but also negative events and a sense of accountability. Without the past there can be no identity, no responsibility, no orientation. In its multiple applications cultural memory greatly enlarges the stock of the creative imagination of a society.

Assmann uses the German word Erinnerungskultur (culture of remembrance) to describe how the collective memory of a society is kept alive and what impact the act of remembrance has on our lives. The Erinnerungskultur widely differs among nations and even in a given nation or society, it may vary over time. It is quite possible that the memories of the British Empire may evoke nostalgia and romanticized images of a benevolent empire in older British citizens whereas younger Brits may be more likely to focus on the atrocities committed by British troops against colonial subjects or the devastating famines in India under British rule.

Much of the research on collective memory has been rooted in the humanities. Historians and sociologists have studied how historical events enter into the collective memory and how the Erinnerungskultur then preserves and publicly interacts with it. However, more recently, cognitive scientists and psychologists have begun exploring the cognitive mechanisms that govern the formation of collective memory. The cognitive sciences have made substantial advances in researching individual memory – such as how we remember, mis-remember or forget events – but much less is known how these processes apply to collective memory. The cognitive scientists William Hirst, Jeremey Yamashiro and Alin Coman recently reviewed the present psychological approaches to study how collective memories are formed and retained, and they divided up the research approaches into two broad categories: Top-down research and bottom-up research.

Top-down research identifies historical or cultural memories that persist in a society and tries to understand the underlying principles. Why do some historical events become part of the collective memory whereas others do not? Why do some societies update their collective memories based on new data whereas others do not? Hirst and his colleagues cite a study which researched how people updated their beliefs following retractions and corrections issued by the media following the 2003 Iraq war. The claims that the Iraqi forces executed coalition prisoners of war after they surrendered or the initial reports about the discovery of weapons of mass destruction were both retracted but Americans were less likely to remember the retraction whereas Germans were more likely to remember the retraction and the corrected version of the information.

Bottom-up research of collective memory, on the other hand, focuses on how individuals perceive events and then communicate these to their peers so that they become part of a shared memory canon. Researchers using this approach focus on the transmission of memory from local individuals to a larger group network and how the transmission or communication between individuals is affected by the environment. In a fascinating study of autobiographical memory, researchers studied how individuals from various nations dated autobiographical events. Turks who had experienced the 1999 earthquake frequently referenced it, similar to Bosnians who used the civil war to date personal events. However, Americans rarely referenced the September 11, 2001 attacks to date personal events. This research suggested that even though some events such as the September 11, 2001 attacks had great historical and political significance, they may not have had as profound a personal impact on the individual lives of Americans as did the civil war in Bosnia.

Hirst and his colleagues point out that cognitive research of collective memory is still in its infancy but the questions raised at the interface of psychology, neuroscience, history and sociology are so fascinating that this area will likely blossom in the decades to come. The many research questions that will emerge in the near future will not only integrate cutting-edge cognitive research but will likely also address the important phenomenon of the increased flow of information – both by migration of individuals as well as by digital connectedness. This research could have a profound impact on how we define ourselves and what we learn from our past to shape our future.

Reference

Hirst W et al. (2018). "Collective Memory from a Psychological PerspectiveTrends in Cognitive Science, 22 (5): 438-451


Secrets of the Old One

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/04/2018 - 2:35pm in

Tags 

Books, Science

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

5150TuDnPPL._SX327_BO1 204 203 200_In 1968, James Watson published “The Double Helix”, a personal account of the history of the race to discover the structure of DNA. The book was controversial and bracingly honest, a glimpse into the working style and personalities of great scientists like Francis Crick, Lawrence Bragg, Rosalind Franklin and Linus Pauling, warts and all. The vividness of Watson’s recollections and the sometimes almost minute-by-minute account make his memoirs a unique chronicle in the history of scientific autobiography.

After Watson’s book had been published, the physicist Freeman Dyson once asked him how he could possibly remember so many details about events that had transpired more than a decade ago. Easy, said Watson: he used to write to his family in America from Cambridge and had kept all those letters. Dyson who had been writing letters to his parents from the opposite direction, from America to Cambridge, asked his mother to keep all his letters from 1941 onwards.

The result is “Maker of Patterns”, a roadside view of the remarkable odyssey of one of the finest scientific and literary minds of the twentieth century. Letters are a unique form of communication, preserving the urgency and freshness of the moment without the benefit and bias of hindsight. They recall history as present rather than past. One wonders if the incessant barrage of email will preserve the selective highlights of life that letters once preserved. Dyson’s letter collection was initially titled “The Old One”. The allusion was to a famous letter from Einstein to Max Born in which Einstein noted his dissatisfaction with quantum theory: Quantum mechanics demands serious attention. But an inner voice tells me that this is not the true Jacob. The theory accomplishes a lot, but it does not bring us closer to the secrets of the Old One. In any case, I am convinced that He does not play dice”.

Publishers sometimes change titles to suit their whim. Perhaps the publisher changed the title here because they thought it was presumptuous to compare Freeman Dyson to God. I would concede that Dyson is not God, but it’s the metaphor that counts; as these letters indicate, he is certainly full of observations and secrets of the universe. The letters contain relatively little science but lots of astute observations on people and places. Where the science does get explained one senses a keen mind taking everything in and reveling in the beauty of ideas.

Dyson’s letters begin in 1941 when he was a seventeen-year-old student in Cambridge and his parents were in London. They talk about mathematics, mountaineering and the state of the Second Word War. Freeman’s father was a renowned composer and conductor and his mother was a successful lawyer and promoter of women’s suffrage. It seemed to everyone that it was a miserable time to be alive. Hitler had just attacked England the year before and the entire country was suffering from bombing. Cambridge was hollowed out and only a few professors and students were left. The advantage of this situation was that you could learn at the feet of the masters, or in Dyson’s case, around the billiard table. The billiard table belonged to Abram Besicovitch, a brilliant and voluble Russian mathematician who was a formative influence on young Dyson; Dyson used to go on long walks with him on which Besicovitch insisted that the young student speak only in Russian. This solidified a lifelong love of the Russian language in Dyson. He used to usually find Besicovitch and Hardy at the billiard table. In the letters he discusses everything with them, from mathematics to politics. He enjoys attending all their lectures: “Dirac is very slow and easy to follow; Pars and Besicovitch a bit quicker, but still comfortable; Hardy goes like an avalanche and it is all I can do to keep up with him. One learns about three times as much from Hardy in an hour as from anyone else; it is a testing business keeping the thread of his arguments.…”. What Dyson does not mention but what he evocatively described in another volume was the image of Hardy huddled up in his rooms with six students sitting around the table and Dyson feeling that he should just go and hug the old man. At one point he’s appointed “staircase marshal, which means I have to look after my staircase, put out bombs and carry out corpses”. Fortunately all he had to do was operate a fire pump.

During the war, Dyson spent his time first studying at Cambridge and then working for Bomber Command on the bombing campaign over Germany. This was a rather dismal experience, a classic case of muddle-headed bureaucracy winning over saving lives. No letters were written during this time since Dyson used to visit his parents once a week, but he has documented this experience well in his wonderful memoir “Disturbing the Universe”. But there was still mathematics to do. There is mention of getting a manuscript of Kurt Gödel’s and of listening to John Maynard Keynes on uncovering Newton’s astonishing secret work on alchemy and religion which cast him in the light of a magician rather than a rational scientist. On Gödel’s manuscript on the continuum hypothesis, “I have been reading the immortal work (it is only sixty pages long) with [Thomas Mann’s] “The Magic Mountain” and find it hard to say which is the better.” After the war ended, Dyson made his way to Münster, Germany, to a meeting between German and British students to rekindle old relationships. He captures the drama of destruction and the resilience of the citizens in this old city; people even organize makeshift classical music performances among the ruins. There is a brief platonic romantic meeting with a girl who quotes Yeats and warns Dyson to “tread softly, for you tread on my dreams”.

Dyson’s journey toward scientific greatness started when he came to America at the recommendation of Geoffrey Taylor, a well-known hydrodynamics expert who had worked on the bomb at Los Alamos. When Dyson asked him what place he should consider for his PhD studies, Taylor unhesitatingly recommended Cornell University, adding that that’s where all the bright people had gone after the war. This statement was not an exaggeration. Cornell boasted a star-studded constellation of physicists including Hans Bethe, Richard Feynman, Robert Wilson and Philip Morrison. Dyson was assigned to Bethe as a PhD advisor. His first impression of Bethe was characteristic: “Bethe is an odd figure, large and clumsy with an exceptionally muddy old pair of shoes. He gives the impression of being clever and friendly but rather a caricature of a professor; he was second in command at Los Alamos, so he must be a first-rate organiser as well.” And indeed he was. Bethe who was one of the greatest scientific minds of the century had a great ability to pitch problems to every student based on their capabilities; Dyson was undoubtedly the best student he had.

Bethe does figure in Dyson’s accounts, but the real attraction is the young Richard Feynman. Feynman had come from Los Alamos, leaving behind memories of the untimely death of a beloved wife. He was trying to put his life and physics back together and had visions of a new physics of particles and fields that he was constructing from scratch. Dyson was taken by this very American scientist from the very beginning. “Feynman is a man for whom I am developing a considerable admiration; he is the brightest of the young theoreticians here and is the first example I have met of that rare species, the native American scientist…His most valuable contribution to physics is as a sustainer of morale; when he bursts into the room with his latest brain wave and proceeds to expound it with lavish sound effects and waving about of the arms, life at least is not dull.” He later understood Feynman’s tempering through tragedy; both because of his wife’s early death and his experience with the bomb, he had matured beyond his years. Another one of Dyson’s heroes was Philip Morrison who not only had large stores of knowledge about virtually any topic under the sun, but also equally large stores of integrity that allowed him to withstand the onslaught of McCarthyism and refuse to rat out his friends.

Dyson quickly impressed the American community of physicist by his facility with advanced mathematics. Bethe thought so highly of him that he recommended him for a fellowship at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies which sported a roster of theoretical physicists and mathematicians that was unequalled anywhere. Robert Oppenheimer had been appointed director and Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel and John von Neumann were permanent members. Paul Dirac, Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli were frequent visitors. When Dyson arrived at the Institute, it was already populated by a group of brilliant students from America and Europe. One of them stood out – Cecile Morette who was one of the very few female theoretical physicists around. She and Dyson struck up a close friendship that lasted until her death a few years ago. Life at the institute was a curious mixture of idyllic and intense. Dyson found Americans’ commitment to a full workday curious and took advantage of the picturesque countryside: “In the afternoons I have managed to explore the country around here. It is excellent walking country, and I have met numbers of strange new birds, insects, and plants. The weather could not be better, and I hope to continue this form of exercise indefinitely. My young colleagues are unwilling to join me, as they are obsessed with the American idea that you have to work from nine to five even when the work is theoretical physics. To avoid appearing superior, I have to say that it is because of bad eyes that I do not work in the afternoons.”

There was tea in the British tradition, and parties where Oppenheimer charmed everyone with his dazzling range of scientific, literary and culinary knowledge. A memorable occasion was when Morette convinced a shy T. S. Eliot who was visiting to join the group of young scholars. Another memorable episode was when a drunk Adele, Kurt Gödel’s wife, grabbed Dyson and made him dance with her while an awkward Gödel stood around looking miserable. Gödel was a brilliant, strange man who had discovered the incompleteness theorem, one of the most startling and important results in the history of mathematics and logic. He was loath to engage in casual conversation; only Einstein who adored him and who walked home with every day was his friend. And yet Dyson seems to have visited the Gödels several times and found Kurt friendly.

Dyson’s profile of Oppenheimer is the most penetrating of anyone’s in the volume. He saw Oppenheimer’s self-destructiveness and self-loathing which translated into casual cruelty. Dyson had just finished a marathon road trip with Feynman across the American South and Midwest during which he had come up with his most famous contribution to science: a bridging together and reinvention of two competing theories of quantum electrodynamics, the theory of light and matter, by Feynman and Julian Schwinger. The epiphany had come to him during a bus ride from Albuquerque to Chicago, right after he had been out west and painted some evocative pictures of America; the Ozarks with their beautiful mountains and crushing poverty, the slums of Philadelphia, flash floods in Oklahoma, Melvin Calvin doing Nobel Prize-winning experiments on the path of carbon in photosynthesis in Berkeley.

After he came back his job was to convince Oppenheimer. This turned out to be a nasty little uphill battle. The chain-smoking Oppenheimer used to constantly interrupt speakers with derisive remarks, and Dyson captured his defects well: “I have been observing rather carefully his behaviour during seminars. If one is saying, for the benefit of the rest of the audience, things that he knows already, he cannot resist hurrying one on to something else; then when one says things that he doesn’t know or immediately agree with, he breaks in before the point is fully explained with acute and sometimes devastating criticisms, to which it is impossible to reply adequately even when he is wrong. If one watches him, one can see that he is moving around nervously all the time, never stops smoking, and I believe that his impatience is largely beyond his control.” After Dyson had tried several times to explain his synthesis of Feynman and Schwinger’s theories to Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe came down from Cornell and intervened. As Dyson recounts, he told Oppenheimer and the others that they needed to use Dyson and Feynman’s methods if they wanted to avoid talking nonsense. Bethe’s authority combined with Dyson’s accomplishment finally swayed minds. The next day Dyson found a note from Oppenheimer in his mailbox inscribed with a single phrase – “Nolo contendere”, or “I plead no contest”.

From then on Dyson’s star was on the rise. At important meetings his work was praised by Feynman, Oppenheimer and others. Colleagues and even reporters thronged him, and job offers came flying from left and right. Dyson spent two years in Birmingham to complete the requirements of the fellowship that had brought him to America. Then Feynman left Cornell for Caltech and Bethe recommended him for a position at Cornell. Before he was thirty, Dyson had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society and had become a full professor at Cornell. He did important research in particle physics, but – partly encouraged by a devastating critique of his work by Enrico Fermi in Chicago - he also wisely realized that his interests were not in pursuing one line of research for a long time and teaching students. Oppenheimer had already indicated that he would welcome him for a permanent position at Princeton. In the meantime, Dyson had fallen in love. Verena Huber was an accomplished mathematician who Dyson had met at the Institute earlier: “I will not make this a long letter, because in these last days my mind has been completely occupied with problems even more incommunicable than those of mathematical physics. In short, I am in love.” He was as taken by her two-year-old daughter Katrin as by Verena. Dyson’s relationship with Katrin marked the beginning of a delightful lifelong affinity for children; he has had six children and sixteen grandchildren. By the time he made his way to Cornell, two of his children on the way – George and Esther. When Oppenheimer invited him to Princeton, the allure of intellectual freedom and job security for himself and his growing family beckoned, and Dyson accepted.

The next few years saw Dyson ranging far and wide over mathematics, physics and engineering, a trait which has made him one of the most unique and wide-ranging thinkers of his time. He worked in Berkeley on solid-state physics and in La Jolla on a nuclear powered spaceship and a safe reactor. The nuclear powered spaceship was a lifelong dream, and one which briefly possessed Dyson like a spell: “You might as well ask Columbus why he wasted his time discovering America when he could have been improving the methods of Spanish sheep farming.” The project was housed on a bluff with spectacular views of the Pacific in La Jolla, and Dyson vividly recounts excursions to a glider club on the cliff. He made a trip to the Soviet Union which after the death of Stalin wanted to establish better relations with the United States. In Berkeley he first met Edward Teller and worked with him closely on the safe nuclear reactor, and unlike many other physicists Dyson and Teller retained a long friendship. Dyson saw Teller’s very human qualities, but also recognized his fundamental flaws: “It is exciting and infuriating to work with Teller. I had often heard about scientists behaving like prima donnas, and now I know what it means. We had yesterday a long meeting at which I disagreed with him, and he was in a filthy temper. Finally he won the argument by threatening to leave the place if we would not do things his way. I did not know whether to laugh or cry, but it was clear that the best thing was to laugh and go along with him. I do not have to take this seriously. But I understand now what a misery he must have been for Oppenheimer at Los Alamos. Oppenheimer could not let him run the whole show his own way. I am glad I am not likely ever to be Teller’s boss.”

The next part of the collection is the most poignant and personal. Dyson’s wife Verena Huber left him for a man, a mathematician named George Kreisel who ironically Dyson had been instrumental in getting invited as a visiting scientist at the institute. At the age of thirty-five, Dyson had been left to care for two small children. He implored his parents not to pity him and was astonishingly generous toward Verena: “Please do not offer me your sympathy or your pity. I have been happy in this marriage, and I have no regrets now it is over. It has enriched my life in many ways, and this enrichment is permanent. Second, about Verena. You can blame her for what she has done. But I do not. I consider that she has fulfilled her obligation to me, by bearing me two fine children, by caring for all of us through the difficult years when the babies were small and money was short, and by loving me faithfully for seven years. She leaves me now just when our family life is getting to be easy and comfortable, the children soon to be all at school, the finances ample, and a beautiful house to live in. What she has done may be crazy, but it is not irresponsible. I believe that she has earned her freedom, that she is doing the right thing in following her own star wherever it leads.

He succeeded admirably in taking care of his children and in bearing the blow of a divorce, partly because he got along with children so well and partly because of Imme Jung, a young caretaker and daughter of a country doctor from rural Germany who had come to look after the children even before Verena left Freeman. This was a very fortuitous development; both the children and Freeman became so attached to Imme that Freeman and Imme got married. Gradually she became fondly integrated into Dyson’s community of friends and colleagues and formed a great partnership with Freeman. They remain happily married sixty years later.

The children were meanwhile turning out to be delightful, engaging in the kind of wise and funny conversation that only children’s unfiltered minds can conceive. Dyson doted on them and often recounted these conversations in his letters. “The children go on with their lives as gaily as ever. Breakfast table conversation. George: “I know that first there were only ladies in the world, and then afterwards the men came.” Esther: “But that is all nonsense. Don’t you know that at the beginning there were just two people, Eve and that other guy, what was his name?” Another conversation, showing the difference between the scientific and the practical approach. George: “I can understand how a boat moves along when you push on the oars. You push the water away and so it makes room for the boat to move along.” Esther: “But I can make the boat move along even without understanding it.”

But George turned out to have an independent streak that was perhaps too independent for his own good. As a teenager he started hanging out with the wrong gang, doing drugs and turning into a hippie. Freeman was not willing to toe the boundaries here, and once when George was arrested for illegal possession Freeman refused to bail him out so that he would learn a lesson. After this George became sullen and withdrawn while Esther went off to Harvard as a confident feminist. George finally decided to stake it out on his own, hiking through the Midwestern wilderness and finally making his home in the sublime coastal country of British Columbia, living in a tree for three years, building canoes in his spare time and making friends with the rustic natives who have made that part of the country their home.

The sixties saw an important evolution of Dyson’s life as he moved from pure physics to applied problems, especially problems of war and peace. He had gotten into the fray during the negotiations that led to the limited test ban treaty banning nuclear tests anywhere but underground. He was elected to the chairmanship of the Federation of American Scientists that was involved in important issues related to national policy. He became a member of JASON, a crack team of scientists advising the US government on defense problems. And he also joined the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, an organization that was formed under President Kennedy’s authority to study disarmament. Dyson found himself working in Washington DC during the early part of the decade.

It was as if fate had placed him here for a historic event. It just so happened that he was giving a testimony to a Senate committee on August 28, 1963. When he came out of the Capitol he saw a large crowd of people marching to the Washington Mall. Martin Luther King was about to give one of the greatest speeches in history. Dyson stood only a few feet away from him and witnessed history in the making: “I would like to write to you about today’s events while they are fresh in my mind… The finest of [the speakers] was Martin Luther King, who talks like an Old Testament prophet. He held the whole 250,000 spellbound with his biblical oratory. I felt I would be ready to go to jail for him anytime. I think this whole affair has been enormously successful. All these 250,000 people behaved with perfect good temper and discipline all day long. And they have made it unmistakeably clear that if their demands are not promptly met, they will return one day in a very different temper. Seeing all this, I found it hard to keep the tears from running out of my eyes.” A few weeks after King’s speech, the nuclear test ban treaty was ratified by the Senate. Peace at least on one front, even as it escapes on others as JFK is assassinated. While acknowledging the great tragedy, Dyson’s take on the event is characteristically unexpected and astute: “It is a great pity that Kennedy is dead. But to me the moral shock of his killing was much less than that of the killing of Medgar Evers, the negro who was killed in exactly the same way in Mississippi last summer. Evers was an even braver man than Kennedy and is probably harder to replace.”

The next few letters contain items various and sundry; meetings with various scientists like Yuval Neeman and Abdus Salam, accounts of Dyson’s interactions with friends including Leo Szilard and his wife Gertrude Weiss and with Einstein’s formidable secretary Helen Dukas, the death of Dyson’s father – there is a short but touching letter acknowledging his friendship with so many people and not just his stature as a musician – and organizing a sixtieth birthday event and then, in 1967, a funeral for Oppenheimer. It is clear from the letters that Oppenheimer’s influence on Dyson was considerable, and Dyson clearly understood both his deep flaws but also his fundamental greatness. He poignantly talks about how, just before Oppenheimer’s death, his wife Kitty desperately asked Dyson if he could work with Oppenheimer on a piece of physics to lift his spirits. But Dyson realized that the best thing he could do at that point was to hold Robert’s hand.

Life ebbs and flows. After news from his mother of a suspected colon cancer: “In these days I think of the years when I was close to you and spending many days walking and talking with you, the years we lived in London until I went to America, from 1937 to 1947. I was lucky to have you then to see me through the years of Sturm und Drang, to broaden my mind and share with me your rich knowledge of people. I remember reading aloud with you Sons and Lovers by Lawrence, knowing that you and I were a little like Lawrence and his mother, and that this perfect intellectual companionship which we had together could not last forever.” Fortunately the cancer turned out to be curable and Dyson’s mother lived for seven more years. And whenever the news turned grim, mathematics always provided succor: “Today I discovered a little theorem which gave me some intense moments of pleasure. It is beautiful and fell into my hand like a jewel from the sky.”

In February 1970, Dyson had his first impressions of a brilliant young physicist from Cambridge who had been struck with an incurable malady. He recognized Stephen Hawking’s greatness even then: “I was taking care of Stephen Hawking, a young English astrophysicist who came here for a six-day visit. I had never got to know him till this week. Stephen is a brilliant young man who is now dying in the advanced stages of a paralytic nerve disease. He got the disease when he was twenty-one and he is now twenty-eight, so his whole professional life has been lived under sentence of death. In the last few years he has produced a succession of brilliant papers on general relativity… These days while Stephen was here, I was in a state of acute depression thinking about him, except for the hours when I was actually with him. As soon as you are with him, you cannot feel miserable, he radiates such a feeling of strength and good humour.”

The early 70s saw Dyson as a veteran scientist, advisor and thinker, sagely advising younger members of the institute in Princeton. He saw himself as a ‘psychiatric nurse’, taking care of young minds who were facing anxiety or depression because of the immense pressure to perform and produce groundbreaking science in their twenties. He recounts two stories, one of which is strange and the other harrowing. The strange story is about a historian of physics named Jagdish Mehra who was accused of stealing and then returning a letter from Einstein without the permission of Einstein’s ferociously loyal secretary Helen Dukas. Mehra later became a distinguished biographer of Feynman, Schwinger and other famous physicists. The harrowing incident was about a Japanese visiting student who committed suicide. Dyson who felt a measure of guilt in not perhaps being attuned to the signs decided to accompany his distraught wife back to Japan, and things got a bit difficult in the air when she loudly started accusing Dyson of murdering her husband and wishing death on his family. These accounts of Dyson’s experience as a psychiatric nurse attests to the enormous pressures that young scientists face at elite institutions.

The late 70s conclude the letter collection. They mark a transition period in Dyson’s life, marked by two events. The first was the death of his mother at age ninety-four. Dyson wrote a moving letter to his sister Alice, imagining how his mother’s sharply observant spirit would be watching over all of them and making sure they stayed on the right track. The second event was a trip to British Columbia to mend the rift with his son George. In Vancouver the Dysons were joined by Ken Brower, a writer who would later write an evocative book called “The Starship and the Canoe” about the father-son relationship. Interspersed with these experiences are meetings with Carl Sagan and Edward Wilson and a citizens’ meeting in Princeton debating a potential ban on recombinant DNA research at Princeton University. The meeting showed how important it is to involve ordinary townsfolk in decisions affecting public policy, and how intelligent ordinary townsfolk are in enabling such decisions.

On the Vancouver coast Freeman encounters whale worshippers whose “love for the animals has the passionate purity of a religious experience”. He feels the primitive harmony of whale song in the infinite silence of the night, observes George building kayaks and sails with him and meets George’s friends who are all perfectly tuned to the rhythms of nature. About two friends who taught George canoe building, one of them crippled, who walk into the rain holding a baby in their arms, “It was pitch dark when Jim and Allison left. I watched them walk slowly down the beach to the boat, in the dark and pouring rain, Jim on his crutches, Allison carrying the baby in her arms. It was like the last act of King Lear, when the crazy old king and his faithful daughter Cordelia are led away to their doom.” Fortunately, Dyson’s view of Jim turned out to be wrong. He patched up his injuries and still spends his time patching up boats. There is a metaphor for the future here somewhere.

Even though the letter collection concludes in 1978, Dyson continued to be immensely valued as a scientist, writer and thinker from the 80s all the way up to the present. As of 2018, at age ninety-four, the Old One continues to speak and write on a variety of topics and continues to be nurtured by Imme, his six children and sixteen grandchildren. George and Esther are leading thinkers, writers and activists themselves, and all the other children lead productive lives as citizens, spouses and parents. Since the nineties, when email replaced letters as the chief mode of communication, Dyson has carried out an extended correspondence with hundreds of friends all around the world. For eight years, both virtually and in person, I have been honored to be one of them.

Along with this volume, two other books by or about Dyson deserve to be read. One of these is his autobiography, “Disturbing the Universe”, which remains the most eloquent, literary and passionate testament by a scientist concerned with human problems that I have read. “Disturbing the Universe” was written in 1979, and it marked Dyson’s transition from being mainly a scientist to being mainly a writer. The memories in that volume complement or overlap the ones in this, and it also contains interesting thoughts on fascinating topics that Dyson didn’t really discuss with his parents; nuclear power, genetic engineering, extraterrestrial life. The second volume is “Dear Prof. Dyson” which recounts more than twenty years of correspondence that Dyson has carried out – first through letters and then through email – with undergraduate students at Southern Nazarene University. Those letters also range over a bigger variety of topics and cover important matters like the ethics of defense and the relationship between science and religion.

Freeman Dyson has lived an extraordinary life through momentous times, populated with extraordinary characters and remarkable ideas. The letters in this collection tell us how, and Dyson’s life as described in them is perhaps best captured by something he said a long time ago: “We are human beings first and scientists second, because knowledge implies responsibility.


RT: International Chemical Weapons Export Says Small Amount of Novichok Would have Killed Skripal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/04/2018 - 3:31am in

I found this little video from RT on YouTube. It’s just under a minute long, and is a snippet from their interview with Olivier Lepick of the Foundation for Strategic Research. Lepick states that Novichok is immensely poisonous – 5-8 times more so than the next most poisonous chemical. A small amount of it would have killed Sergei Skripal ‘for sure’. But, he continues, until we know how it was delivered, we cannot be sure what amount poisoned him and his daughter, Yulia.

The story that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok by the Russians looks increasingly dodgy with each passing day. As Mike’s pointed out, this is a chemical that is so toxic, a small amount will kill tens, if not hundreds. And yet the only people poisoned were the Skripals and the policeman, who found them. And they’re recovering.

The Tory accusation that it’s been positively identified as coming from Russia has been denied by Porton Down, who are suffering a catastrophic loss of morale thanks to government pressure to make them issue statements that aren’t true. Just as Blair put pressure on MI6 to fake the ‘dodgy dossier’ so he had a pretext for the Iraq invasion.

But the Tories and the rest of the EU leaders are still banging away, accusing Russia. Despite the fact that his accusation no longer holds water, Boris Johnson has refused to meet the Russian ambassador. As people have pointed out, it’s probably because he can’t bring himself to say ‘sorry’.

I honestly don’t know what’s going on with the Skripals. But it looks to me very much like it’s being used as a pretext to force a confrontation with Putin. And that’s purely for the benefit of the western multinationals, who want to get their claws into the Russian economy, not for any reason of national security.

Philosophical Implications of New Thought-Imaging Technology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/04/2018 - 11:14pm in

The CBC reports on recent work on thought-imaging technology, the use and development of which would raise various questions in ethics, and which would possibly be relevant to work in philosophy of mind, philosophy of perception, philosophy of science, philosophy of action, and other areas of philosophy.

Dan Nemrodov, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of psychology professor Adrian Nestor at the University of Toronto-Scarborough, is working on a way to use electroencephalography (EEG) and machine learning to digitally reconstruct the images that subjects are seeing. In other words, he is developing a kind of mind reading technology.


A subject in a study by Professor Dan Nemrodov (Toronto) has his brain activity read by an EEG machine.

From the CBC:

[Nemrodov] straps a hat with electrodes on someone’s head and then shows them pictures of faces. By reading brain activity with an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, he’s then able to reconstruct faces with almost perfect accuracy. Student participants wearing the cap look at a collection of faces for two hours. At the same time, the EEG software recognizes patterns relating to certain facial features found in the photos. Machine-learning algorithms are then used to recreate the images based on the EEG data, in some cases within 98-per-cent accuracy.

The image below shows, on the left side, the faces a subject was shown, and on the right side, the machine-learning’s digital construction of the image based on the subject’s EEG data. (The percentage figures refer to the degree of accuracy of the reconstruction.)

There’s more information about Nemrodov’s work here and here.

This isn’t the only recent attempt at developing mind-reading technology. Other teams have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to try to reconstruct what subjects are thinking.

Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, is pairing fMRI data and machine learning to identify the “correspondence between thoughts and brain activation patterns” and see “what the thoughts are built of.” By looking at blood flow patterns in the brain, the technology is able to identify thoughts like “The witness shouted during the trial” or “I like to eat bananas in evening with my friends.” There’s more about this kind of work here, here, and here.

These technologies are still in their infancy, but it is not hard to imagine them developing in increasingly sophisticated ways, and it is interesting to speculate both about the uses to which it would be put—communications for the impaired or ill, evidence for criminal investigations, opportunities for commercial data mining, new forms of art creation, etc.—and its relevance to various philosophical positions regarding the mind, perception, action, etc., elaboration on which I’ll leave to philosophers working in those areas.

The post Philosophical Implications of New Thought-Imaging Technology appeared first on Daily Nous.

Radio 4 Programme on 50th Anniversary of Kubrick’s 2001

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/04/2018 - 8:20pm in

Radio 4 on Saturday, 7th April, at 8.00 pm are putting on an edition of Archive on 4 marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s SF masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. The programme’s entitled ‘Archive on 4: The Ultimate Trip: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey’. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Fifty years after the US release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, cultural historian and writer Christopher Frayling travels back in time to explore the making of the co-written by British author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke and directed by Stanley Kubrick. He learns how organisations like Nasa and IBM were enlisted to help Kubrick craft his vision and speaks to scientists, critics and film=makers to examine the film’s legacy. (p. 119).

there’s also a two-page feature about the movie on pages 114-5.

Pat Mills – Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part Three

Although the comic has been revived and managed very successfully by Rebellion and its new editor for the past 15 or so years, some of the joy has gone. The close collaboration between writers and artists has disappeared, and the editor himself avoids close contact with the other creators. This is partly because of budget and time constraints. The attitude throughout the industry now seems to be one of diligent, quiet efficiency, rather than some of the fun-filled, boisterous meetings Mills and the others had, acting out what they wanted the characters to do in an atmosphere of playful fun. Not that it was always the case. Mills also worked hard, and as an editor he was often called up to deal with artists experiencing some form of crisis, including trying to stop one fellow from committing suicide. But the underlying cause of the decline in British comics remains unaddressed. This is the lack of ownership by the creators for their work. He states that this is the real reasons comics are declining, not computer games. They have those in France, but kids are still reading comics. He also talks about the immense fun he had over there with his Requiem: Vamnpire Knight strip, also available in English translation on the Net.

Mills also talks about some of the other strips he has worked on, which have influenced 2000AD, such as Battle, the notorious Action, Crisis and Toxic. Battle was a war comic, which Mills subverted with Charlie’s War, a First World War strip which had an anti-war message. Mills has come across a number of men, who joined the army through reading such comics. He’s very proud that Charlie’s War had the opposite effect, and after reading it one young lad decided he really didn’t want to after all. Mills is very political, and criticises British literature for its lack of working class heroes. He sees this as partly deliberate, as so many of the great adventure writers were connected to the Intelligence Services and the secret state. Names like John Buchan, Dennis Wheatly – who would have been gauleiter of London, had Hitler conquered Britain – and Ian Fleming. He describes how the script editor of Dr. who in the ’80s turned down a story he’d written, as it included a spaceship captain who was working class. The story has since been made into a CD adventure by Big Finish, and there have been absolutely no complaints.

Action was initially suspended, and then banned outright for its violence. It was also controversial as the first strip to feature a sympathetic, non-Nazi German hero in Hellman of Hammer Force. The comic was so hated by respectable society, that one of the presenters of Nationwide, a 70s current affairs magazine show pretty much like today’s One Show, tore a copy up on camera in front of one of the writers. After it returned, the violence because even more over the top to the point where it shocked Mills, leading to its eventual ban.

Mills is unhappy with SF as a vehicle for social comment, as he feels it is ducking the issue. And so he created Crisis and its Third World War strip, which was all about the exploitation of the Developing World and the politics of food. He’s particularly proud of one story about the scandal of Nestle’s baby milk. But this was completely beyond management’s ability to understand why he included this issue in a boy’s comic.

And Mills and his co-creators were also accused of anti-Semitism by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They did a story about Palestinian, in which a militarised cop, or a member of the IDF, beats a protester so badly, that they break all his limbs, and he falls to the ground. The Board complained that the man’s broken body resembled a swastika, which shows they were reading things into it which weren’t there. The three other creators of the story were Jews, and Mills thought that the Board couldn’t accuse them all of being self-hating. The strip was published by Robert Maxwell, who told them where they could stuff their idea. He was a crook, who robbed the Mirror’s pension fund, but here he did the right thing. You can beat the Israel lobby if you stand up to them.

Mills is clearly a hard-working, passionate enthusiast for comics, and a determined supporter of his fellow writers and artist. He wishes the industry to go back and try to appeal again to young children, although he makes the point they’re ruder than the adult fans, with whom you can have interesting conversations at conventions. He admits that its much harder now to get published in 2000AD, but not impossible, and gives valuable, careful advice to aspiring writers and artists.

As well as a fascinating account of the rise and career of 2000AD, it was for me also quite a nostalgic read. I remember some of the strips Mills wrote for and created, including the comics Whizzer and Chips, Battle and Action. I have mixed feelings about Action. I enjoyed strips like One-Eyed Jack and Death Game 1999, based on the film Rollerball. I wasn’t so keen on Dredger, which did have some horrifying stories. One of these was a Russian dissident punished by having his brain gradually removed by surgery until he was vegetable, and another tale in which a foreign politician is murdered. Sulphuric acid is poured into his shower so that he literally goes down the drain. But the strip I really didn’t like was ‘Kids Rule UK’, set in a future where all adults had died, and Britain was run by violent kid’s gangs. I was bullied at school, and this was for me an all-too frightening concept. I also stopped reading 2000AD for a time, because the stories there were a bit too sadistic. Which was a pity, as I later found out, because I missed some great strips.

2000AD will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in a decade’s time, thanks to the inspiration of Pat Mills and his fellow creators. And I hope that afterwards the comic will go on to enjoy another fifty years under new, equally enthusiastic, committed and inspiring creators.

Splundig vur Thrigg, as the Mighty Tharg used to say.

Pat Mills: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part One

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 31/03/2018 - 12:41am in

Pat Mills is the creator and founding editor of 2000AD, and this is history of the comic as he remembers it, although he recognises that others’ memories may be different and contradict his. It takes its title from the watchwords of his most popular villain: Torquemada, the ultimate Fascist Grand Master of Termight, in a feudal age of space travel, violence and magic far in the future. The book is divided into three sections, each named after one of Torquemada’s three commands. The slogan even turned up on the Berlin wall, which figures. The East Germans had been living under a dictatorship not too different from Torquemada’s. It was anti-racist and anti-Fascist, but still very much a police state, where the country was watched and dissent ruthlessly crushed. A friend of mine also told me that the slogan was used by Adolf Hitler in a speech he gave to the Bund Deutscher Madel, or German Maids’ League, the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth. Which also figures. Torquemada wanted to exterminate every intelligent alien race in the Galaxy, and was constantly making speeches exhorting humans not to ‘have truck with deviant, dally with the succubus’ and so on. In other words, no racial mixing. Which was definitely what the Nazis were trying to indoctrinate these girls with.

The book tells how Mills and John Wagner got sick of grinding out stories in a garden shed, lit by paraffin lamps, and moved to London to revolutionise British comics with creation of Battle, Action and 2000AD – the Galaxy’s greatest comic. At this stage of their career, Mills and Wagner were so poor that they couldn’t afford new typing paper after they ran out, and so at one point ended typing them up on tracing paper. The economics of writing stories was such that to make ends meet, you had to write several stories very quickly in a matter of days.

It is this attitude, and the British industry’s contemptible treatment of comics creators, that Mills returns to criticise throughout this book, making a very strong and convincing case that it is these attitudes that have caused the decline in comics in Britain in contrast to France, where they are flourishing. In Britain, comics creators do not own the rights to creations. They can be given to other writers and artists, and their creators are not paid royalties for them. In France, the reverse is true, and so comics creators spend years, decades, writing and drawing some of the greatest strips in the world. Think of such comic greats as Moebius, Caza, and Enki Bilal, and the rest of them, who came out of Metal Hurlant and les Humanoides Associes.

He also had to cope with the lack of interest in any reform from the old guard, who were quite simply just content to go on as they always had, until the industry finally collapsed and they were made unemployed or drew their pensions. They were shocked when Mills bought several books on science, because he was writing and editing a science fiction comic. This was too much for company management, who found the idea of doing research for a children’s comic ridiculous. And then there’s the issue of the studied contempt the management treated artists’ work. They used them on dartboards, or to plug drains. Several artists told Mills flatly that they weren’t going to work him as IPC was the company that closed down Frank Bellamy’s studio. Bellamy, along with Frank Hampson, was the awesome artist who worked on the classic Dan Dare. And his artwork was treated in the same contemptible fashion. As a result, much of it has been lost, although its still a massive favourite at fan conventions and when it comes on the market, rightly fetches high sums.

Mills tells the story of how he came to create favourite 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and Finn. He champions the work of artists, who he feels have been unfairly neglected, or even vilified. They include Belardinelli for his contribution to the Slaine strip, which he is proud to have had put back into Titan’s reprints of the strip, as well as SMS, David Bircham, and Fay Dalton. SMS is a superb artist, whose work has appeared on the cover of Interzone, amongst others. He drew the ABC Warriors strip when they were trying to save Termight and the universe from destruction from an artificial black hole, created by Terra’s engineers to give them quick access to space and the Galaxy. One of the results was a whole city like the dimension-twisting drawings of the zarjaz Max Escher. Fay Dalton won a £1,000 prize in a competition to get more women into comics. She draws and paints in a retro style, looking back to the glamour of the 50s. She didn’t last long. It was too sexy for the puritanical Thargs. Then there was the sheer abuse some fans meted out to John Hicklenton, another awesome artist best known for his work on Nemesis the Warlock. Hicklenton was stricken with MS, and sadly ended his life in a Dignitas Clinic. His career and struggle with the condition was the subject of Channel 4 documentary a few years ago. His escape from this ‘medieval, terrorist disease’ was his art, and so it was particularly cruel that he should have subjected to often very coarse abuse.

Mills is also unhappy, and understandably so, about the way his then wife, and co-creator of Slaine, Angela Kincaid, was treated by the other writers and artists. She was the artist on the very first Slaine strip. This topped the reader’s polls that week, but she was very much excluded from the boy’s club of the other creators. No-one rang her up to congratulate her and she was ignored by them. This wouldn’t have occurred if she was a bloke.

Mills takes the time to correct a few myths. He was determined that it wouldn’t be a comic dominated by a main strip, which carried the others, like Captain Hurricane in Valiant. Instead, it was to be a comic of all main strips, including the revived Dan Dare, Mach 1, a superpowered secret agent based on The Six Million Dollar Man, and Shako. This was about a polar bear, who was being chased by the American army because it had swallowed a top secret, radioactive satellite that had crashed to Earth. He also talks about the creation of such fave strips as Ro-Busters, which became the ABC Warriors, and, of course, Nemesis the Warlock and the inspiration for Torquemada.

The evil Grand Master and Judge Dredd were based on two, viciously sadistic monks teaching at his old Roman Catholic school, and, he strongly hints, were paedophiles. One of them was yanked from teaching and sent to monastery in the Channel Islands to sort out his sexual appetites. He was later sacked, and returned briefly as a lay teacher, before being kicked again. The schoolboys made jokes about how the other monks on the island must be similarly depraved, and imagined what shipwrecked sailors would do. Coming up the beach to find the Brothers running towards them, they’d turn and head as quickly as possible back to the sea. But neither of the two were prosecuted. Other old boys have found literary outlets to express their pain and trauma at the hands of these monsters. Mills simply states that his is humiliating Torquemada.

Continued in Part Two.

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