Archive for December, 2006

Psychological Neoteny: Bruce Charlton’s View

December 30, 2006

The problems of the neotenous society, and psychological neoteny, have received extensive coverage on another Al Fin blog. But it seems that I am not the only one to ride this particular hobbyhorse. Bruce Charlton is an Evolutionary Psychiatrist at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Charlton is the author of a fascinating online ebook–The Modernization Imperative–and was featured in a Discovery Channel news article earlier this year.

…it seems a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth.

As a consequence, many older people simply never achieve mental adulthood, according to a leading expert on evolutionary psychiatry.

…Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

“The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product — the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity,” he explained.

“But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility.”

“When formal education continues into the early twenties,” he continued, “it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.”

Charlton pointed out that past cultures often marked the advent of adulthood with initiation ceremonies.

While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individual’s lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a person’s late teens or early twenties, he said.

“By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people,” he said.

People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”Source.

Isolating children and young adults inside classrooms, away from the productive world and meaningful responsibility, will probably result in large numbers of “failure-to-mature” adults, as we see in modern western societies. Immature adults are unprepared to face the momentous challenges that western civilisation faces today. There are many “micro-pockets” of maturity within these societies–small arenas where teens and young adults are faced with meaningful responsibility, and acquire useful competencies.

These micro-pockets of reality necessarily exist outside of school curricula.


Lung Cells from Human Umbilical Cord Blood–A First!

December 30, 2006

Cord Blood Stem Cells

I have cut dozens of umbilical cords, and drawn blood samples from many more. I never dreamed cord blood would eventually be recognized as a major new source for multipotent stem cells! Stem cells can be differentiated into all three germ layers now–ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm. It was recently reported that scientists at the University of Minnesota created respiratory epithelial cells from umbilical cord blood [UCB].

To obtain the MLPC [multi-lineage progenitor cell] from cord blood, we used a stem cell isolation technology — PrepaCyte-MLPC — from BioE. We successfully isolated the rare MLPC from four UCB units obtained from the American Red Cross.

…We then put the UCB stem cells into culture and allowed them to expand using mesenchymal stromal cell growth medium (MSCGM) prior to adding small airway growth medium (SAGM), both mediums from Cambrex BioScience (East Rutherford, N.J., USA). Following several days in culture, we demonstrated differentiation of MLPCs into type II alveolar cells, which was confirmed by the presence of a definitive type II alveolar cell marker — surfactant protein C (SPC). Source.

The process of sequentially using growth factors and media to differentiate stem cells into mature cell types continues to fascinate me. No one truly understands the potential of stem cells from cord blood, menstrual blood, the testicle, the breast, the brain–or any of the growing number of stem cell sources. Although Australia has legalized the production of human embryos specifically for the purpose of producing stem cells, few other countries have followed the Aussie’s lead. That means that other countries will either learn to work with what is legally available, or will fall badly behind the researchers in Oz.

There is growing expertise in producing increasing varieties of cell types from readily available sources of stem cells. Resourceful scientists with ingenuity can do amazing things with the materials on hand.