Young blood

A researcher has discovered that the blood of the young may have regenerative powers for the elderly.

Her son’s research has found that blood from young mice can improve the learning and memory of old ones, and she’s certainly not the only one to wonder what this could mean for humans. In his lab at UCSF and his postdoc lab at Stanford, Villeda and colleagues injected old mice with blood plasma from young mice, and vice versa. They found that the senescent rodents learned quicker and grew more neurons after infusions from young blood, while the juvenile mice got correspondingly worse at learning new tricks.

Perhaps this is what turns us to vampirism. Or not. As the article mentions later, any treatment developed based on such studies would depend on synthetic proteins, not blood from live humans.

At best, it provides a new metaphoric through line for the vampire genre which has become so prevalent it has grown stale. 

As Gosselink points out, old age was so rare in less-developed societies that people who achieved it were granted a certain amount of status and even a mystical cachet. Later, the elderly might have been mocked or isolated, but age was still not seen as an illness. It’s only in recent centuries, as old age has become more and more commonplace, that we have started to venerate youth; ageing is now associated not with fortunate longevity but with decrepitude and disease. And accordingly, our magical thinking has expanded to find mystical cures for loss of vitality. That’s why a strange light appears in people’s eyes when they hear about the mouse blood experiment. We are culturally primed to look to sympathetic magic as a means for curing what ails us, and old age is now regarded as a disease to be fought.


A supercut of Joe Biden's greatest hits at the Senate swearing-in ceremonies yesterday. There's a fine line between charm and harassment, and damn if Biden doesn't dance it like a pro (hat tip to @kenwuesq)


I finally read the Adam Green article about pickpocket master Apollo Robbins in this week's New Yorker. It is fantastic. This video of one of Robbins' pickpocket routines, one mentioned in the article, is low-res but gives you an idea of his technique of manipulating the audience's attention. Related, if you have time and Hulu Plus, watch Bresson's Pickpocket. Also great.


Did MIchael Jackson's Thriller sell 100 million copies? After Thriller, what is the number two selling album of all time? Can any album hope to match any of these giants again? Surprising answers here.


This is an old article, but until recently I hadn't renewed my NYTimes subscription in months. Humans have long quested after eternal life, but one creature has already solved it: the immortal jellyfish. It ages, then like Benjamin Button, it grows young again, until it is back where it started. And then it reverses course yet again, in an endless cycle.

Turritopsis has now been observed not only in the Mediterranean but also off the coasts of Panama, Spain, Florida and Japan. The jellyfish seems able to survive, and proliferate, in every ocean in the world. It is possible to imagine a distant future in which most other species of life are extinct but the ocean will consist overwhelmingly of immortal jellyfish, a great gelatin consciousness everlasting.

"A great gelatin consciousness everlasting" is a beautiful image, like something from a Miyazaki film.

Less an article about how close we are to harnessing the immortal jellyfish's secrets for human needs than a study of the peculiar Japanese scientist who has made that organism his life's work.


Also from that issue of the NYTimes Magazine was an article about a man who was inspired by his autistic son to start a company employing autistic adults. Of particular interest:

The autistic worker, Cowen wrote, has an unusually wide variation in his or her skills, with higher highs and lower lows. Yet today, he argued, it is increasingly a worker’s greatest skill, not his average skill level, that matters. As capitalism has grown more adept at disaggregating tasks, workers can focus on what they do best, and managers are challenged to make room for brilliant, if difficult, outliers. This march toward greater specialization, combined with the pressing need for expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so-called STEM workers, suggests that the prospects for autistic workers will be on the rise in the coming decades. If the market can forgive people’s weaknesses, then they will rise to the level of their natural gifts.

Many, including Cowen, have theorized that Sherlock Holmes was a high-functioning autistic, modeled on another man who may have had functional autism, his creator Arthur Conan Doyle. What was TV's House but an updated version of Holmes and arguably also a doctor who, thanks to a group of people who tolerated his eccentricities, was able to leverage his peak skill to great effect?

When tech companies talk about whether to hire brilliant assholes, they're trying to evaluate whether they can leverage that person's peak skill while shielding the rest of the organization from the collateral damage. Often that person must be put in a silo, quarantined from coworkers, like Hannibal Lecter in a glass cage, working in isolation.