Why things happen? [OR: The vanity of the mechanistic view]


When it comes to maintaining sanity, forgetting is at least as important as remembering. Without it, the constant stream of stimuli – faces on the street, words read, items glanced at – would quickly overwhelm the mind. But the neural basis underlying the act of forgetting isn’t well understood. A new study found that in roundworms, a protein called musashi is actively involved in forgetting.

In the study, published in the journal Cell, scientists found that roundworms that were genetically modified to lack the musashi protein did much better on a smell-based learning task, actively retaining memories 24 hours later that unmodified mice did not. This is one of the first studies to show that forgetting can be an active (as opposed to passive) process, the authors wrote.

Further analysis found that the protein impedes the production of molecules that stabilize synapses, which are connections between neurons involved in forming and holding onto memories. The study also showed that another protein called adducin stimulates the growth of synapses, helping to retain memory. The balance between these competing processes determines which memories are held onto. (1)

Antibiotic resistance.

A popular antibiotic called rifampicin, used to treat tuberculosis, leprosy, and Legionnaire’s disease, is becoming less effective as the bacteria that cause the diseases develop more resistance. One of the mechanisms leading to rifampicin’s resistance is the action of the enzyme Rifampicin monooxygenase.

Pablo Sobrado, a professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and his team used a special technique called X-ray crystallography to describe the structure of this enzyme. They also reported the biochemical studies that allow them to determine the mechanisms by which the enzyme deactivates this important antibiotic. The results were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and PLOS One, respectively. (2)

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We like to analyze why things happen by analyzing the process behind the events unfolding before our eyes. We see the result and all we care about is the process that made that thing “happen”. We like to think our selves and the cosmos as a giant machine or a computer, which simply does things based on the behavior of its components.

A point of view deeply theistic (based on the premise that everything has a reason and that everything has a cause) and yet deeply atheistic at the same time (the components are soulless and their behavior cannot be considered “behavior” in any way).

We like to analyze things happening from an objective mechanistic point of view. And yet there are “ghosts” making the world go around…

No, it is not the protein.

No, it is not the enzyme.

All these things happen in a world that is alive. Every cell, every atom, every molecule, they all obey rules and they all participate in events simply because the forest is not empty.

Stop paying attention to the protein and the world will become… you.

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