Stay or Go?

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Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer.
Humphry Davy

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My youth soccer head coach obviously didn’t want me to leave our U-17 team or the south Dallas league in which I had played the last eight seasons accumulating notoriety, awards, and trophies both for myself, him, and the team. But the fact remained:  in 1980 the OCSA paled compared to the NDCCCL of north Dallas-Plano. In south Dallas I was only a semi big fish in a small pond. I knew too well that if I were to have a chance to play at the highest levels possible, I had to travel over 20-miles there and back, 2-3 times a week and every weekend where the top flight players, teams, and coaches were competing; it had to be done.

If my parents and I had listened to many of the naysayers, I wouldn’t have achieved a sizable college soccer scholarship, been mentored and coached by two world-class former pro goalkeepers, started all four collegiate years, awarded MVP and All-Tournament Team in the 1982-83 NAIA National Championship tournament, awarded one NAIA Honorable Mention All-American (sophomore year), one NAIA second-team All-American (junior year), and two first-team All-American awards by the NSCAA and NAIA my final year, then I likely could not have gone on to a rewarding pro and semi-pro career the next 11-years on three foreign continents then back to the U.S., retiring in 1996.

I can gratefully and humbly say through firsthand experience that sometimes (many times?) the rewards are so worth the risks.

In the course of human endeavors of progress, better understanding, advancement, and evolving and promoting our species, we have reached another crossroads:  interplanetary exploration and colonization. Mars. Should we do it? Should we stay put or should we go?

Because of the upcoming 6-part National Geographic Channel  series Mars premiering Nov. 14, 2016, I stumbled into an intriguing discussion with a good friend of mine about colonizing the nearby distant planet. Though he is a big Star Trek fan and all for space exploration, my friend had some valid points. Here’s how the banter went:

Friend:
A crappy Earth with problems would be better than Mars, Moon Colonies, etc. The only viable solution is a nearby habitable planet very similar to Earth. If we had the technology to colonize & terraform, we certainly would be advanced enough to heal our own planet. There are too many things we are interdependent on to leave Earth behind just yet. Besides distance, even an Earth-like twin planet would have many hidden obstacles to colonization.

mars-by-the-numbersProfessor T:
Similar warnings were also given to Magellan, Dias, Drake, Vespucci, Pizarro, Erik-the-Red, Ulfsson, Herjólfsson, Zheng He, and several others. Why did they not listen? (wink)

Friend:
LOL! That’s nowhere close to being equitable. Not apples and oranges! Apples and iPhones! It’s not a warning, it’s simply thinking ahead. I am by no means well versed but I know enough that Space is even less hospitable than Mother Nature here on Earth. If you saw The Martian, read the book, then listen to the author as he explains in interviews what he had to extrapolate technology wise and fudge(!) just to make that story work.

Professor T:
Not really arguing your very valid points. But like the Serengeti wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, buffalos, etc, that annually cross the Grumeti River which they all know is FULL of hungry happy crocodiles and almost certain DEATH… yet they cross it, and many/most of those migrating animals cross multiple times in their lifetimes! Now explain to me why it is human nature and animal nature to constantly take risks, including paramount life-threatening risks!? (wink)

Friend:
You are definitely from the Berenstain Bears timeline.

Professor T:
Bwahaha! Are you implying that I enjoy children’s storybooks and such pleasure might reflect a similar intellectual capacity!!!!? Then if so, you’d be correct Sir. (wink)

Friend:
Ha, ha! No, it’s a “thing”. Google Berenstain/Berenstein Bears, Mandela phenomenon, etc. I’m just joking though.

Professor T:
By the way, as you know, I loved The Martian! Haven’t read the book yet, but the film was excellent!

Friend:
If you lived closer, I’d let you borrow my copy.

atmosphere-mars-facts

from NASA’s website http://mars.nasa.gov/

The history of human exploration is indeed littered with many failed expeditions, fatalities and disasters. Perhaps the more notable ones just on Earth were The Narváez Expedition (1527), Hudson-NW Passage Expedition (1610), The Reed-Donner Party (1846), The Franklin Expedition (1845), and the 1996 Mount Everest Party to name just five. Moving out from Earth we have the doomed space disasters of several Russian Soyuz flights, NASA’s Apollo 1 (1967) and near disasters of Apollo 13 (1970) and Gemini 8 (1966), the 2003 Colombia Space Shuttle, and of course the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle. Why haven’t we learned that stepping outside of our cozy, known (safe?) comfort zones could turn into a debacle or fatal tragedy? What is our malfunction? (laughing)

Is there really a need for further space exploration and interplanetary colonization at the risk of more deaths? Why or why not?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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DRD4-7R

orchid

Orchid?

No, it is not a new type of iPhone, or video recorder, or measurement, or even the launch code for your nearby missile silo.  Give up trying to guess what DRD4-7R is because it is so small, so tiny, that you will never touch it.  It could be inferred that cats have it, but that assumption would fall short when they returned home, every time.  No, it is not explicitly manifested in any animal on Earth and it cannot be found in any plant or stone.  But it is indeed part of our human wiring.

Many times throughout my adult life I have asked myself Why am I so intrigued with new things, new places, new feelings, and new people?  Why do I start to get restless over a long period of time seeking new adventures?  I accepted long ago that I have this Marco Polo type personality; I love to inquire.  I love to explore!  Why?  If you understand the purpose and nuances of goalkeepers in sports, like hockey or my lifetime sport soccer, then you’ll understand this one:  why did I choose to, no persisted in playing the position of goalkeeper?  What sane person wants objects hurled or kicked at them hard?  Then the other day I read a fascinating article in the January 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine ironically asking and answering my same questions!  This totally explains my addiction to everything National Geographic!  More please!  I read further.  Ah, dopamine.  It’s the dopamine!  Hmm, duh.

Or dandelion?

Or dandelion?

For those of you with a slight variant of dopamine than perhaps I and others may have, dopamine “is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.  Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson’s Disease, and people with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction.  The presence of a certain kind of dopamine receptor is also associated with sensation-seeking” according to Psychology Today.  Not so coincidentally, though I am not an “addict,” several of my extended family members are addicts…as well as my sister.  I guess I selfishly stole most of it from mother’s womb before my sister could snatch any.  I know she’ll argue this, but I was always quicker than her!  And not surprisingly, several laboratory studies in Europe, Israel, and the U.S. have found that a lack of the 7R variant is linked to depression or lower motivation.  I found this result very interesting.

As I continued to read, in my mind all the dots — from the broad picture down to the microscopic — were connecting and making perfect sense; perfect harmony like a homecoming.  But not permanent!  A homecoming and going!  And my fascination with bird cages — naturally with an open door or no door — now made sense too.

Orchids versus Dandelions

Am I an orchid thriving in stimulating environments, or am I a dandelion that manages to adapt and survive in harsh environments?

Perhaps the better question would be could there be hybrids of the two?  David Dobbs has written several articles on this gene and the genetic-cultural roots of human temperament, and is the writer of this National Geographic article that has captivated me.  He explains:

“If an urge to explore rises in us innately, perhaps its foundation lies within our genome.  In fact, there is a mutation that pops up frequently in such discussions:  a variant of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward.  Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness.  Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships [guilty in the 1st degree there!], drugs, or sexual opportunities [should I say it again?]; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.  Studies in animals simulating 7R’s actions suggest it increases their taste for both movement and novelty.  (Not incidentally, it is also closely associated with ADHD.)”

"Take one 10mg tablet once daily; for severe cases take with liquor in a Hazmet suit."

“Take one 10mg tablet once daily; for severe cases take with liquor in a Hazmat suit.”

In another March 2012 article on Wired.com, Dobbs further explains:

“This revisionist hypothesis is known variously as the sensitivity hypothesis, the differential susceptibility hypothesis, or the orchid-dandelion hypothesis — a term that Thomas Boyce and Bruce Ellis coined based on the vernacular Swedish term “dandelion children,” who seem to grow up okay in almost any environment; to that they added “orchid children,” who thrive under good care but wilt under bad. It is a young hypothesis, hatched 15 years ago and obscure for most of that time. But in the last two or three years it has gained enormous traction, spreading through behavioral genetics, child development, and anthropology.”

At this point in my reading and research I feel as if I’m reading parts of my biography or journal called This Is Who I Am and Why.  It helps me at least process further and understand so many how’s and why’s, like Why have I been single unmarried most of my life?  Have I not been hanging around long enough in the right flower or weed gardens!?  Does this explain my need for Zyrtec at certain times and circumstances of the year! Geeezzzz.  It does make sense:  like a love-hate thing for the beauty of new outdoor places, but then you discover all the annoying bugs, insects, reptiles, and yes, inevitably Medusa!  No, I’m kidding…..about nature’s creatures.  Hah!

On a serious note however, geneticist are also associating the 7R variant, and another:  the 2R, back to our ancient ancestors in Africa 70,000 – 50,000 years ago.  For a quick tutorial read my post Our Family Reunion.

Anthropologists suggest that this minority of humans are the reason mankind migrated out of Africa; to find new sources of food and a different way of life.  Scientist do know that astronauts or cosmonauts, or whatever title the sponsoring group bestows on their explorers/adventurers, 7R is definitely found in their genetic code.  They are the risk-reward breed and today they are found in many walks of life.  On a spectrum left to right 1 through 5, left being pure orchids (1)….right being pure dandelions (5), I am firmly a two if not one-and-a-half.  I most definitely get restless after long periods of routine.  I am not saying I am ADHD and can’t focus — on the contrary I am very task-oriented — but I am most certainly not a permanent settler!  This is probably why I have some, umm, excuse me….(ahhh-CHOU!) dandelion in me:  I am happy to adapt….to what I want to adapt to….and as long as a few other Bohemians are around, then I will be first in line!  Let’s go!

Are you an orchid or a dandelion?  Or perhaps something in between?  And why?

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FootnoteFor the full Dobbs National Geographic magazine article, go to this link:  Restless Genes

Live Laugh Love

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