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When the California two-spot octopus isn’t attempting to bring more eight-legged cephalopods into this world, it prefers to be alone. Known to scientists as Octopus bimaculoides, the alien-like invertebrate spends most of its time hiding or searching for food, asocial males avoiding asocial females until their biological clocks say it’s time to partner up. That is, until they are on MDMA. In a groundbreaking study released Thursday, researchers describe how octopuses on the drug act similarly to a socially anxious human on MDMA: They open up.
Gül Dölen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and the co-author of the new Current Biologypaper. She tells Inverse that when octopuses are on MDMA, it’s like watching “an eight-armed hug.”
“They were very loose,” Dölen says. “They just embraced with multiple arms.”
While MDMA is known to trigger prosocial behavior in mice and humans, it has never been witnessed in invertebrates, animals that have no backbone. Vertebrates and invertebrates have wildly divergent bodies and brain structures, and for a long time scientists didn’t think the latter had the capacity to be social. They only recently realized invertebrates deserved a second look.
Because of improvements in molecular genetic analysis, Dölen explains, we’re beginning to understand the ways in which both groups evolved from a common ancestor. The findings of the new study add evidence to the idea that social behaviors have a long evolutionary history — going back much farther than we ever believed. The electrifying results could significantly impact what we know about the evolution of brains and why MDMA-assisted therapy seems to be such a useful tool in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
“After the MDMA, it was like an eight-armed hug.”
An octopus differs from a human in ways far beyond the obvious. A heap of no bones and 33,000 genes, octopuses are belieeved to be Earth’s first intelligent beings. They are utterly different from all other animals, with a central brain that surrounds the esophagus and two-thirds of their neurons in their arms. They’re separated from humans by more than 500 million years of evolution. But despite the differences between octopuses and humans, Dölen and her colleague Eric Edsinger, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory, choose to focus on a single crucial similarity. The brain of the California two-spot octopus contains a serotonin transporter that enables the binding of MDMA — much like human brains.
This means that serotonin — believed to help regulate mood, social behavior, sleep, and sexual desire — is an ancient neurotransmitter that’s shared across vertebrate and invertebrate species. Dölen and Edsinger hypothesized this before the octopuses were ever bathed in MDMA.
“We needed to check the genome to make sure that the genes that encode the serotonin transporter, which is the protein that MDMA binds to, was still a binding site in octopuses even despite the fact that so much evolutionary time had passed,” Dölen explains.
“We performed phylogenetic tree mapping and found that, even though their whole serotonin transporter gene is only 50 to 60 percent similar to humans, the gene was still conserved. That told us that MDMA would have a place to go in the octopus brain and suggested it could encode sociality as it does in a human brain.”
That’s a revolutionary suggestion because scientists only very recently began to accept that invertebrates are even capable of being social. After all, without MDMA, California two-spot octopuses prefer to be loners. In a 2017 study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers from Queen Mary University of of London wrote the possibility that invertebrates could have emotions has “traditionally been dismissed by many as emotions are frequently defined with reference to human subjective experience, and invertebrates are often not considered to have the neural requirements for such sophisticated abilities.”
But recent studies, illustrating a shift in thinking, have shown that invertebrates like sea slugs, bees, and crabs all display various cognitive, behavioral, and phsyiological phenomena that suggest internal states reminiscent of emotions.
This is why the fact that octopuses can bind serotonin is so important. Serotonin is a key mitigator of the emotional aspects of human behavior and sociality. That octopuses, one of the most advanced invertebrates, have a similar pathway geared toward social behavior despite the fact that their brains are organized very differently suggests that sociality is spread across the animal kingdom.
“There have been studies showing that serotonin is important for social behaviors for both invertebrates and vertebrates, and this really confirms to me that it’s true that serotonin is conserved across hundreds of millions of years of evolution,” says Dölen.
This became clear when she observed how octopuses acted after they were bathed in MDMA. Individual octopuses were put into the middle zone of a glass aquarium that was divided into three. From the middle zone, the subject octopus had the option to move into the zone on either side of it. On one side, there was another octopus in a cage, and on the other, there was a “novel toy object” (a Stormtrooper figurine). Sociality was measured by the number of seconds the subject octopus spent on the side with the caged octopus compared to the Stormtrooper side. Five octopuses were used in the control experiment, and four were used during the MDMA trial.
The study design.
Watching the individual control octopuses — those that hadn’t been bathed in MDMA — during 30-minute test sessions, the researchers found that all of the octopuses spent more time with the Stormtrooper when the social chamber contained a male. When the social chamber contained a female, both male and female octopuses tentatively explored that area.
They would “push against the wall and sort of delicately touch the container that had the octopus in it,” says Dölen.
But when these octopuses were on MDMA, they were not delicate with their movements toward the caged individuals. After being placed in a bath with MDMA for 10 minutes, and then washed with saline for 20 minutes,, and they re-entered the three-zone aquarium. This time around, they spent significantly more time with the other octopus, whether it was male or female, and the eight-armed hugging commenced.
“This paper is welcomed, as the behavioral neuroscience of cephalopods is very understudied,” Dalhousie University invertebrate behavioral physiologist Shelley Adamo, Ph.D., who was not involved with the current paper, tells Inverse. Adamo also studies the interactions between behavior and physiology in invertebrate model systems. “We know little about how their brains work. This paper breaks new ground by examining the underlying molecular basis of at least one neurotransmitter system.”
But she also cautions that it’s too early to jump to conclusions because the paper’s evidence that “the octopus were engaging in ‘social’ behaviors is not especially strong.” There could be alternative explanations for all that friendliness. Maybe the drug altered their foraging behavior and the target octopus “smelled” like food (cephalopods are occasionally cannibalistic). Maybe the MDMA changed their typical hunting behavior, and being hungry could explain why both male and female octopuses were interested in the target.
“As with most interesting papers, it raises a number of questions: What would two octopus do if they were both on MDMA and they could contact one another?” Adamo asks. “The small sample size — a necessary evil for most studies on cephalopods — means that the data is not as robust as it could be.”
Dölen has two hypotheses to explain what happened. Qualitatively, it looks like octopuses on MDMA, much like humans, could just like touching in general,, and the octopus in the cage “is the most interesting object that an octopus would want to touch.” Or it could be that the drug really does make them social. The latter, she believes, is the most robust hypothesis: MDMA affects human interest in social touch as well, and that seems to be preserved in octopuses as well.
“What this says to me is that in the brain of an octopus, the neural circuits and transmitters that are required for social behavior must exist,, and they are just suppressed most of the time,” says Dölen. “Octopuses appear to suspend their asociality during important mating periods through a suppression mechanism in their brain.”
The MDMA used in the study was provided by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the nonprofit organization that funds the FDA-approved Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in patients with severe PTSD. This research, Dölen says, has intrigued MAPS founder Rick Doblin, and with good reason. It suggests that perhaps the best way to gain insight into MDMA’s mechanisms and therapeutic importance isn’t by taking an fMRI picture of the brain and examining the regions it activates, which has been standard practice in MDMA research. From Dölen’s point of view, the fact that octopuses don’t have the the same brain regions as humans but still carry the genes that enable MDMA binding means that molecular and cellular information is going to be more useful than anatomical data.
“Octopuses don’t have the same parts of the brain that we think are important for social behavior, a region called the nucleus accumbens,” says Dölen.
“What we’re arguing is that the brain regions don’t matter. What matters is that they have the molecules, the neurotransmitters, and some configuration of neurons. They have the serotonin transporter,, and that’s enough.”
The Philippines Genocide is the genocidehistory forgot, you will find in history books the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902 but they fail to mention the genocide carried out by the United States of America on the people of the Philippines.
I first came across references to the Philippines Genocide in 2009 and since then have spent a lot of time researching it. I have discussed it with many people, it seems people in the Philippines are not taught about the genocide and very few have even heard of the Philippines genocide.
The fact that it is not taught and so few know about it did make me question if it really happened. So I dug much deeper and have come to the conclusion it did happen, but as the victors write the history books they tried to cover it up because it was so horrific.
Figures do not add up
What brought me to the conclusion that the Philippines genocide did happen is the figures in the history books which simply do not add up. The History books that were written by the victors claim somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 died in that period, which is still a large number considering the population of the Philippines at the time was no more than 9 million.
200,000 to 300,000 dead just can not be correct. A People’s History of the United States (1980) cites 300,000 Filipinos killed in Batangas alone, that alone proves the figures wrong, William Pomeroy’s American Neocolonialism (1970) cites 600,000 Filipinos dead in Luzon alone by 1902. This is backed up by General Bell himself, who said “we estimated that we killed one-sixth of the population of the main island of Luzon—some 600,000 people.”
E. Ahmed’s wrote “The Theory and Fallacies of Counter-Insurgency,” The Nation, August 2, 1971.“the bloodiest colonial war (in proportion to population) ever fought by a white power in Asia; it cost the lives of 3,000,000 Filipinos.”
Filipina historian the late Luzviminda Francisco carried out a thorough investigation of the Philippines Genocide and documented it, she arrived at the figure of 1.4 million Filipinos dead. The End of An Illusion (London, 1973). However, this only covered the period from 1899 to 1905 it does not cover the first 2 decades of U.S. colonial rule a time when the killing might have slowed but was still happening to keep the people in order, it also does not include the thousands of Filipino Muslims (Moros) that were brutally killed.
Census figures and the Philippines Genocide
People will often ask why do Census figures not show a drop in population for that period?
There could be a few reasons for this, firstly I doubt even today population figures for the Philippines are correct as so many people live of the radar, imagine how difficult it would have been to calculate the population in the late 1890s and the early 1900s.
The methodologies used by the Spanish and the Americans were also very different. The Spaniards generally left Igorots, Aetas, Lumads, and Moro peoples alone, so it is unlikely they were included in the census.
You also have to ask if the U.S census figures showed a drop of 1.4 million or more would they publish this for the world to see?
I suspect however the U.S figures were no more than a guess based on the Spanish figures, as it was at a time of war and would have been almost impossible to collect the numbers. Or maybe the U.S did give the task of collecting the numbers but rather than going out into hostile communities that would put them in danger they made them up using the Spanish census as a guide.
In an article published in The Philadelphia Ledger November 1901 their Manila correspondent wrote “The present war is no bloodless, opera bouffe engagement; our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people from lads of ten up, the idea prevailing that the Filipino as such was little better than a dog…
“Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to make them talk, and have taken prisoners people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show that they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down, as examples to those who found their bullet-loaded corpses.”
Major Littletown Waller a U.S. Marine that was accused of shooting 11 unarmed Filipinos on Samar. Another Marine officer described his testimony.
“The major said that General Smith instructed him to kill and burn, and said that the more he killed and burned the better pleased he would be; that it was no time to take prisoners, and that he was to make Samar a howling wilderness. Major Waller asked General Smith to define the age limit for killing, and he replied “everyone over ten.”
Filipino did not stand a chance against the superior and overwhelming firepower of the American troops. In the first battle Admiral Dewey was firing 500 pound shells as he steamed along the River Pasig. The bodies of dead Filipinos was so high U.S. troops used them for a defensive wall.
Writer Mark Twain best known for his book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” wrote
“…I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the philippines. we have gone to conquer, not to redeem… and so i am an anti-imperialist. i am opposed to having the [american] eagle put its talons on any other land.”
On 15th of October 1900 Twain wrote the New York Times.
“We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors; furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket; we have acquired property in the three hundred concubines and other slaves of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu, and hoisted our protecting flag over that swag. And so, by these providences of god — and the phrase is the government’s, not mine — we are a World Power.” — Mark Twain
Mark Twain also spoke of the almost universal racism of the white American troops and politicians he called them shameless. He was deeply disturbed by the sadistic war crimes that were committed by the American troops. He suggested that the Stars and stripes on the American flag should be replaced by a skull and cross bone.
Was it American policy to kill as many Filipinos as possible? Brigadier General J. Franklin Bell wrote “With a very few exceptions, practically the entire population has been hostile to us at heart,” so there is no doubt the Americans saw every Filipino as the enemy.
The USA carried out a scorched earth campaign in burning and destroying villages, they also tuned villages into concentration camps where they burnt the land around them and built watch towers that looked over the free-fire zones, anyone trying to leave the village was shot. They called these concentration camps reconcentrados.
The reconcentrados (concentration camps) were full of disease which caused a very high death rate the death rate in some camps was as high as 20%. One camp was 2 miles long by 1 mile wide and was the prison for 8,000 filipinos. Men were often rounded up to be questioned using torture if they gave the Americans the information they wanted or not did not matter as they were still shot.
A soldier from New York wrote
“The town of Titatia was surrendered to us a few days ago, and two companies occupy the same. Last night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight; which was done to a finish. About 1,000 men, women and children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger”
Corporal Sam Gillis wrote “We make everyone get into his house by seven p.m., and we only tell a man once. If he refuses we shoot him. We killed over 300 natives the first night. They tried to set the town on fire. If they fire a shot from the house we burn the house down and every house near it, and shoot the natives, so they are pretty quiet in town now.”
“This is not war; it is simply massacre and murderous butchery.”
Why the Philippines Genocide happened
It all happened because of a prayer to god.
President McKinley was in the Whitehouse praying when he claimed it came to him that he could not give the Philippines back to Spain as that would look cowardly.
McKinley said he did not want the Philippines. But then one night in the White House, when he was down on his knees praying to God, it came to him:
That we could not give them back to Spain – that would be cowardly.
He could not let France and Germany have the Philippines as that would be bad for business.
He could not let the Filipinos rule themselves as he considered them incapable.
So he decided America should take the whole Philippines rather than just Manila which is all they had at the time, educate the people and Christianise them, something the Spanish had already done to many of the people.
So in 1899 the U.S.A. declared war on the Philippines as a way to educate, Christianise and civilise the people and the Philippines Genocide began.
While we can not be sure of the figure of 3 million that some historians claim We can be pretty sure from research that the figure of 1.4 million killed in the Philippines Genocide between 1899 to 1905 is correct, it is unlikely the killings just suddenly stopped, the reports from the time show how racist towards the Filipinos many of the American troops had become, they also show that many of the troops had come to enjoy the killing. Could you get men that had become brutal killers to suddenly stop killing? It is very unlikely, you only have to look at wars today that are nowhere near as brutal and in an age where people are more educated to realise how war affects some people. We also know the fighting with the Moros carried on.
So did the numbers killed reach 3 million? We will never know but it probably did between 1899 to 1942 when the Japanese arrived.