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ALPHA-FETOPROTEIN SCREENING: A routine maternal serum screening test used for pregnant women to detect pregnancies at high risk for chromosomal disorders or neural tube defects. (See also PRENATAL DIAGNOSIS, TRIPLE TEST). (DM)

AL-RAZI (RHAZES); 865-925, Muslim scholar, physician and chemist. He was born at Ray, Iran. Author of works on medicine, pharmacology and philosophy. His contribution to medicine was so significant that it can be compared to that of Ibn Sina, his share, greatly influenced the development of science in general and medicine in particular. In his method, he took patient's history and clinical observation in medical practice.

He wrote around 50 books only in medicine and some of his famous books on medicine are: Al-Hawi, which contained various medical subjects and all important information that was available from Greek and Arab sources including his own remarks based on his experiences and views; "Al-Judrai Wal Hassba" was the first book to draw clear comparisons between smallpox and chicken-pox. He also prepared alcohol by fermenting sweet products. (AB)

ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS: An abnormal state of mind. Space and time may appear to be suspended, and the psyche (mind/soul) may seem detached from the body (soma). Such a condition may be the result of meditation, mystical prayer, ritualistic ceremonies, orgiastic dancing, sleep deprivation, starvation, shock, hypnosis, mental illness, mind-altering drugs and of course dreaming. (See DEPERSONALIZATION, DISSOCIATION, DREAM, DRUG DEPENDENCY, HYPNOSIS, MANIA, MEDITATION) (IP & MP)


ALTERNATIVE PARADIGM: An up-and-coming alternative social framework or world-view. The new environmental paradigm places intrinsic value in the preservation of nature, is eco-centric, based on soft power and soft technology, treats economics only as a means to an end, recognizes limits to growth, condones collaborative, leisurely and sufficiency lifestyles, believes in grassroots organization, decentralization, people power and nonviolent direct action, is non-consumeristic and non-nuclear, promotes sustainable development and ethical value systems, and encourages compassion and tolerance towards other species, human groups, and future generations. (See ACTIVISM, ANTI-GLOBALIZATION MOVEMENT, DEVELOPMENT, DOMINANT PARADIGM, GREEN MOVEMENT, HIPPIES, NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION, PARADIGM SHIFT, PEACE MOVEMENT, PROGRESS, SOFT POWER, SOFT TECHNOLOGY, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, UTOPIA) (MP)

ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES: Unorthodox or unconventional or complementary therapeutic systems and therapies. What is unconventional in some parts of the world may be very conventional in others. For example Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine are unconventional in the West, but quite conventional in the East. Although Western physicians have had a very negative attitude in the past, to what is regarded as unconventional, there are now increasingly many attempts at scientific clinical trials of alternative medicine. The idea of "integrative medicine", seeking to integrate the best from various methods, may replace old ideas of what is conventional and what isn't.

Concepts in some alternative therapies, like the energy which is called ki in Japanese, and chi in Chinese, are a challenge to philosophies of science which, since Newton and Hume, have been trying to rid science of mysterious concepts of energy. (DM)(FL)

The dilutions in Homeopathy, moreover, are a challenge to orthodox chemistry. Sometimes, when new developments seem to contradict science, we reject the new developments. Sometimes, we revise orthodox science. The astronomical observations made after the invention of the telescope were difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with Ptolemaic astronomy. Rather than rejecting the new observations, Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo rejected Ptolemaic astronomy. It will be interesting to see whether the future will bring a reaffirmation of orthodox science, and a rejection of unorthodox medicine, or the exact opposite. Or perhaps there will be a new synthesis that we have not yet thought of. (DM, FL)


ALTRUISM: Social interaction, a behavior of doing good to another at the expense of its own welfare. Disinterested altruism is a disadvantage from an evolutionary viewpoint. A gene can be altruistic if promotes the welfare of another entity. Opp. Selfish = opposite sense. There are however interested forms of altruism, which may favour survival of the individual or the species, by being cooperative. (JA, DM)

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: Also called senile dementia-Alzheimer type after Alois Alzheimer, neurologist, 1864-1915. It is characterized by progressive and irreversible mental deterioration, confusion, memory failure, disorientation, restlessness, speech and movement disturbances and hallucinosis (See DEMENTIA, PSYCHOSIS). (IP+DR)

AMBIGUITY: Vague or uncertain meaning; the possibility of multiple distinct interpretations of a single expression. Ambiguity and circumlocution are tools used by politicians to avoid sensitive lines of questioning. Ambiguity can be beneficial to the spread of some memes, for example the term "sustainable development" has broad appeal to both environmentalists and developers precisely because of its ambiguity. The ambiguities of language may provide the subtleties of literature, but language precision is centrally important to bioethical policy and scientific discourse where ambiguity can obscure important assumptions or methodological details. (See DEFINITION, EUPHEMISM) (MP)

AMERINDIAN: Definition adopted by anthropologists to call the inhabitants of the Americas belonging to one of the three main linguistic families defined by Joseph Greenberg, the Amerind speaking peoples. In modern biological anthropology and genetics, this term has been adopted to designate a group of present-day native American peoples from North-, Central- and South America in all the studies of the biological variation that attempt to characterize the DNA polymorphisms of different loci in these and other human groups. Although the linguistic classification of the Native American languages remains controversial, the term is now coined for the peoples inhabiting this part of the planet. (GK)

AMINO ACID: Any of a group of 20 molecules that combine to form proteins in living things. Chemically they contain an amino group, -NH2, and a carboxyl group, -COOH. The sequence of amino acids in a protein is determined by the genetic code. There are actually 21 in number, with the 21st, selenocysteine, being seldom used. They are the building blocks to form proteins, e.g. Glycine. (DM+JA)

AMNESIA: (Greek: mnasthai "to forget") Memory loss caused by brain damage or severe emotional trauma. Usually only certain sections of the memory are affected, for example anterograde amnesia is the inability to form new memories since the onset of amnesia, whilst still allowing the retention of language and other basic skills. (See MEMORY IMPAIRMENT) (MP)

AMNIOCENTESIS: Diagnostic sampling of the amniotic fluid during pregnancy, usually performed by insertion of a needle into the amniotic cavity which surrounds the foetus during pregnancy. Performed for prenatal screening. (see PRENATAL DIAGNOSIS) (IP, DM). Amniocentesis is followed by either a karyotype (see KARYOTYPE ANALYSIS) to explore the possibility of a chromosomal abnormality in the foetus, or by a molecular genetic test for a particular genetic disease. Usually, amniocentesis is accompanied by genetic counselling; in the case the test results indicate a genetic abnormality in the foetus, parents are given the choice of either interrupting or pursuing the pregnancy. Amniocentesis for Down Syndrome detection is mandatory in many countries for women over 35 years, due to the increased risk from this age on, but in many countries, amniocentesis, and thus, prenatal diagnosis, is not even permitted, on grounds of the illegality of abortion. Nevertheless, bioethicists and lawyers have pointed that the right to know has to be respected above any other consideration. In the case of a positive result for Down syndrome or any other genetic condition, it may help parents and other family members in preparing themselves psychologically to accept the baby, whereas, in the case of a negative result, throwing out the presence of such a problem, the parents are relieved of an unnecessary anxiety during pregnancy (GK).

AMNIOTIC FLUID: The fluid in which the fetus floats. (JA)

AMOTIVATIONAL SYNDROME: The loss of interest, drive and progress in certain normal aspects of life. These may include social life, for example non-maintenance of friendships, lost interest in outdoor recreation or reduced sex drive; or more commonly in working life, for example a decline in productivity or performance, dropping out of student courses or regular non-attendance at work. Amotivational Syndrome may be an indication of depression, anxiety, persistent drug use or other conditions with symptoms of dullness and lethargy. (See MOTIVATION). (IP+MP)

AMPHETAMINES: Central nervous system stimulants, commonly amphetamine sulfate which has the trade name Benzedrine. Developed in the 1920s, amphetamines and their relatives have been used to treat depression, obesity, narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Amphetamines are subject to abuse because of their stimulant properties, which include wakefulness, excitement and increased energy levels, but they are also attractive because of their ability to generate an addictive euphoria when they are ingested, injected or snorted. Abuse can lead to compulsive behavior, dependence, hostility, paranoia, hallucinations, physical deterioration - particularly cardio-vascular - and suicidal tendencies. Regular use may also lead to serious amphetamine-induced psychosis. Amphetamines have many street names such as "speed", "black beauties", "lid poppers", "pep pills" but also "base" which is much stronger, and "crystal meth" or "ice" which is a smokable crystalline derivative of methylamphetamine. As for most toxic addictive drugs, it takes strong motivation to quit, however, users should at all times take care to prevent conception since amphetamine abuse adversely affects sperm quality and in utero fetal development risking postnatal wellbeing. (See INTRAUTERINE GROWTH RETARDATION, RECREATIONAL DRUGS). (IP)


AMYGDALA: (Greek: "almond") Part of the brain’s limbic system, specialising in the emotions. The removal or damage of the amygdala in animals or humans has had the effects of reducing or removing anger, fear, sorrow and/or personal meaning from their lives. (See EMOTION, EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE) (MP)

ANABOLIC STEROIDS: Synthetic compounds with a molecular structure similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. The anabolic component promotes muscle growth and the androgenic component acts upon masculine traits in the body. They have an important function in general medical applications as; for example, in replacement therapy for men with low testosterone levels, but are also commonly illegally used as performance-enhancing drugs in dosage regimes 10 to 100 times the accepted therapeutic range. Performance enhancement is suitable for weight lifting, body building, power lifting and field events where they permit athletes to train longer and harder with improved competitiveness due to heightened aggression. Uncontrolled steroid use is damaging to health and can cause liver dysfunction and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Unscrupulous scientists, malpractising doctors or misguided administrators can create a rationale that international success, especially in the Olympic Games, implies the use of performance-enhancing drugs where disputes surrounding the legality of some winning performances (catching "Fool's gold"). Traces can last for years (see ERYTHROPOIETIN or EPO). (IP).

ANAEROBE: (Greek: an + aer "without air" + bios "life") any microorganism which lives and grows in the absence, or almost absence, of oxygen. They are widely distributed in nature with just a few being infectious occurring, typically, in deep puncture wounds that exclude air or in tissue that has diminished oxygen-reducing potential. Common examples of anaerobic infections are gangrene, tetanus and botulism - the last a source of poisoning from improperly cooked or canned foods (see BOTULISM, ENDOTOXIN). (IP)

ANAEROBIC: Any species which generally lives in the absence of oxygen (Greek: an + aer "without air" + bios "life"). (IP)

ANAEROBIC EXERCISE: Muscular exertion sufficient to result in metabolic acidosis resulting from accumulation of lactic acid - a product of muscle metabolism. This form of strenuous exercise should be avoided at all costs during pregnancy because strenuous physical activity results in many physiological changes that can affect the wellbeing of the fetus. Some of these changes are obvious; for example, severe exercise stimulates increased production of noradrenaline causing immediate contractions of the uterus, which may negatively affect the uteroplacental circulation and the fetus. The most serious argument against endurance sport and also prolonged immersion in saunas during pregnancy concerns the consequences of maternal hyperthermia or overheating. Animal studies have shown a consistent relationship between birth defects and exposure to high temperatures, although the data on human pregnancy and elevated temperature are not as consistent. Hyperthermia has at least four deleterious effects a) teratogenic effects of core temperatures of greater than 40 degrees C in early pregnancy have been conclusively demonstrated in animal studies b) effects of elevated temperature on oxygen hemoglobin-binding curves makes oxygen uptake by the fetal blood more difficult c) effects of increased maternal oxygen consumption due to temperature-induced elevated metabolic rate reduces oxygen availability for fetal consumption d) increased maternal blood flow to the skin for thermoregulation decreases uterine irrigation affecting placental transport of oxygen and nutrients. (See AEROBIC EXERCISE; ANAEROBIC; HYPERTHERMIA). (IP)

ANALOG: (Greek analogos 'proportionate'). 1. Likeness in appearance or function but not in evolutionary origin; for example, the insect eye and the mammalian eye - hence analogous. 2. Numerical information (as in analog computer) that is represented in the form of a quantity (usually a voltage) that varies in equal manner as the data but is convenient to manipulate mathematically. (See COMPUTER, DIGITAL). (IP)


ANALOGY: (Greek analogia 'proportion'). In mathematics the identification of a general agreement or similarity between two problems or methods. For instance, analogy is used to indicate the results of one problem from the known results of the other. In biology the identification of a resemblance of form or function between organs essentially different; that is, not of common evolutionary origin. For instance, the wings of birds are analogous to the wings of insects. (See METAPHOR). (IP)

ANALYSIS: (Greek ana + lyein 'to loosen'). The branch of mathematics that uses the concept of limits - resolution to simple elements. In chemistry/biology the separation of substances into their constituent parts and the determination of their nature; for example, qualitative analysis determines what elements are present while quantitative analysis determines the quantity of each element. (See ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE, SCIENTIFIC METHOD, STATISTICS). (IP)

ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE: Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) is a series of statistical procedures for determining whether differences among groups of data are attributable to chance alone. A significance test, it determines whether there is a significant difference between the means of a number of treatment groups. As a common technique for comparison of two or more populations, care should be taken to coordinate experimental design with its requirements. Design considerations and elements of ANOVA include one-way ANOVA, two-way ANOVA, multi-factorial comparisons, randomized block designs, orthogonal designs, nested or hierarchical analyses, transformations of data, degrees of freedom, significance level and probability of Type I and Type II Errors. Tests for homogeneity of variance include Cochran’s Test for balanced data, and Bartlett’s Test for unbalanced data. Analysis of Covariance combines regression techniques with analysis of variance. (See ANALYSIS, CHI-SQUARE TEST, SCIENTIFIC METHOD, SIGNIFICANCE LEVEL, STATISTICS, TYPE I ERROR, VARIANCE) (MP & IP)

ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY: A movement begun at the beginning of the twentieth century by Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead and G.E. Moore in England, by Ludwig Wittgenstein in Austria and England and by Gottlob Frege in Germany. Originally it was an extremely demanding discipline of analysing scientific and mathematical language in terms of mathematical logic. It was thought that all knowledge consists of sense experience expressed in logical form, except for mathematics which is entirely formal. Mathematics, therefore, was thought of as a branch of logic, and all mathematical truths were to be proved from axioms of logic. (Axioms of logic are obviously true contentless statements like: "Either it is or it isn't".) In 1931, however, this was shown to be a hopeless dream when Kurt Godel published a paper proving that in any logical system which is strong enough to formulate simple arithmetic, there will be true statements which cannot be proven from the axioms of the system.

While analytic philosophy was highly mathematical at Cambridge, Oxford philosophers developed the "ordinary language" school of philosophy, analysing concepts by observation of how we use words in ordinary speech. Gilbert Ryle believed, for example, that neurobiology is irrelevant to the study of the mind: we only need analyse our uses of mental words, like "think", "feel", "imagine", etc, in ordinary language. Ethics became no longer an enquiry into what is right and what is wrong but an enquiry into how we use words like "right and wrong". An offspring of this approach is today's "descriptive bioethics". But while Oxford ordinary language philosophy was highly parochial, restricting one's investigation to how English-speaking people use words, descriptive bioethics uses international surveys to try to bridge cultural relativism. (FL)

ANARCHISM: The term is often used pejoratively, with associations of violent lawlessness. But it also has positive meanings having to do with the attempt to live without government, coercion or any uniformity of practice imposed from above. In politics, the doctrine is difficult to carry out in practice when defense requires some form of governmental organization. In individual life, however, it can be more practical and some have succeeded in living quite well while ignoring government and other coercive institutions.

A bioethical attitude inspired by anarchism is one's taking care of one's own health -- carefully observing the effects of foods and lifestyles on one's health, for example -- rather than living and eating thoughtlessly and then running to physicians to get one out of trouble. In clinical ethics, an attitude inspired by anarchism would be the rejection of national or international -- or even hospital-wide -- laws or guidelines for DNR, abortion, candidacy for IVF, etc, leaving the decisions up to ward staff meetings, including doctors, nurses and social workers, together of course with patient and family. (FL)

ANCIENT WISDOM Some people think that humans are getting wiser and more ethical in every generation. Others think that we are getting less wise and less ethical. Many cultures have traditions of ancient wisdom, which is thought of as better than what we have today. Much of these traditions are based on the idea that prophesy belonged only to the ancients, because God, or the gods, only spoke to people in the old days. But there is no emphasis that this is true. It is just as likely that there be prophesy in every generation, or perhaps prophetic periods of history, followed by empty ones, which are followed by new prophesy. (FL)

ANDROID: (Greek: andros "man" + eidos "form") Pre-dating the word "robot", the term "android" was used in reference to any machine designed in the human image or constructed to imitate human actions. In contemporary popular culture, an android is a robot difficult to distinguish from human flesh and form, perhaps a cybernetic combination of biochemical and electromechanical components. (See ROBOT). (MP)

ANENCEPHALIC: Literally the condition of having no encephalon or brain (normally applied to fetuses or infants with no cerebrum). Anencephaly is the congenital absence of all or a major part of the brain. (DM)

ANESTHESIA: The partial or complete loss of sensation with or without consciousness as the result of injury, disease, or administration of an anesthetic. (DM)

ANEUPLOIDY: Refers to an abnormal number of chromosomes observed in a karyotype. The number can be either higher (presence of a trisomy), or lower (presence of a monosomy). (JA+GK)

ANGEL: A spiritual being, perhaps endowed with personality. They were extensively analysed in Jewish philosophy of Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon) and in the Christian philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas. Although Judaism, Islam and Christianity are sometimes thought of as "monotheistic" religions, recognizing only one God, as opposed to "polytheistic" religions which have many, it is hard to find any ontological difference between the angels of the Hebrew Bible and the gods of Hinduism and Shinto. And the Bible describes the prophets as having had many interactions with angels. Indeed there are traditions both in Shinto and in Hinduism, which interpret the many gods just like Judaism interprets angels, as many different appearances of one infinite god. (The ancient Greeks and Romans, in contrast, do not seem to have had any concept of this unity.) So the distinction between monotheistic and polytheistic religions seems to disappear, making possible more toleration of diverse religions and cults as representing many different ways of approaching one infinite God (an attitude once argued for by Sri Aurobindo).

Many scientific people today doubt that angels exist. But many scientists believe in infinitely many non-physical entities, like "sets" and "numbers", whose existence has never been proved. Unlike sets and numbers, however, angels are thought of as active. But sub-atomic particles are also very active. And sub-atomic particles do not seem to be physical objects. Because if Heisenberg was right about indeterminacy then it follows that sub-atomic particles are not physical objects. For sub-atomic particles, according to Heisenberg, have no determinate (but only statistical) simultaneous location and motion. But it is part of being physical that an object, at any given time, is at a specific place with a specific (possibly zero) motion. So we have an example of scientifically recognized non-physical objects.

Socrates thought that a daemon was guiding his conscience. The 17th Century French mathematician, physicist and philosopher, Descartes, contemplated the possibility that an evil angel was confusing his thoughts, and at about the same time Milton, in England, was writing "Paradise Lost" about "fallen angels" confusing people's ethics. The idea of angels influencing our ethics may have been a way of expressing the feeling that some of our life decisions (bioethics) are neither the result of education nor of rational investigation, but are things we are driven to do by causes which we do not understand. (FL)

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