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Thoughts and feels

The top 10 questions everyone should ask themselves: Part 1

There are far too many of us who fly through life, without really asking ourselves some of life’s most important questions. These are the questions which define you, your purpose, and how you perceive the world. I admit that the list is far from complete, but I really hope it will get you thinking. These questions could allow you to not only discover more about who you really are, but also set you on the path to become who you can be.

  1. What are my values?

I really cannot stress this one enough. One who doesn’t have a thoroughly examined set of values, will have a tremendously more challenging time taking action when life places you into difficult positions, which it undoubtedly will. Whether it is a question of ethics, career, or love, you must have a clear mind about what it is that you value, and stay true to yourself.

  1. Do you appreciate that which you already have?

I’ve always thought that this was one of the keys to true happiness. Each and every one of us is unimaginably wealthy, and all it takes to see this… is the correct perspective. Ask yourself, how much would you sell your eyes for? Your legs? Your ears? I would hope that you quickly realize that some things are just worth infinitely more to you than any sum of money can ever make up for. And this is a perspective that applies towards much more than that which is innately part of you! Your family, your home, and your friends are such a routine part of everyday life that we begin to lose touch with just how valuable and important they are. Always take one moment out of your day to ask yourself: “what do I appreciate in my life right now?” and you will be surprised at just how much brighter even the darkest of days may seem.

  1. I want you to close your eyes now, and envision every single material thing you hope to one day own. A gorgeous estate by the beach, that sleek red Ferrari, a wardrobe with every beautiful garment and jewel you’ve ever laid your eyes upon. Now once this extraordinary picture is complete, ask yourself: Now what? Is your life complete? Once you’ve bought everything that can be bought, you should hopefully begin to see that achieving material possessions is immensely rewarding, but it is not the essence of happiness, nor your life. Try to fill your life not with that which you hope to buy, but with that which you wish to do, and with whom you wish to be alongside.

Be completely honest with yourself as you answer these, and you will be amazed  at just how much clearer and brighter  your life may become! More food for thought coming soon!

All the very best!

Science-Related!

Telepathic Times

Once thought to exist solely within the realm of fantasy (or secretly within the lives of twins), telepathy may have taken its first steps into the real world. Albeit an unpolished process, the results within a recently completed experiment may pave the way towards an entirely new form of communication that might very well revolutionize the world we live in.

The fascinating experiment completed by Carles Grau and his team of researchers has shown that we can already send information through our thoughts and mind. Spectacularly, this transmission was completed between two subjects who were separated over 8000km apart! The subjects were able to successfully send simple thoughts such as: “hola” and “ciao” without ever communicating through speech, written messages, or visual cues.  The results also indicated that although there were errors in the trials performed, these were relatively miniscule as there was over a 90% average accuracy rate.

Many of you (my fellow students) are likely now smiling great big smiles, leaning back in your comfortable chairs, in the process of throwing those heavy textbooks out the window, and fantasizing about the glorious applications of this method to your future exams. I ought to dispel these dreamy notions now before continuing into the brilliant science of the method itself. Besides the obvious ethical reasons (there are quite a few we lazily cast aside when entertaining such ideas), the technology simply could not be applied in so stealthily a manner as to get away with it. The reason will become quite obvious if you read on.

The method through which this telepathic communication was achieved, was actually in no way telepathic in the traditional/fabled sense of the word. It capitalized on modern science, and the spectacular power of the internet. Using a device that was directly connected to the scalp, subjects would receive impulses from the sender that were decoded and then transferred to the user on the other end via the internet. Signals were actually picked up via EEG (Electroencephalography), and TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation).  The device that was worn by the recipient would stimulate phosphenes (which appear as flashes of light when there is no actual source of light entering the eye) in a specific pattern. This pattern would then be decoded by the recipient who wore a blindfold so as to remove external visual stimuli (Aww, there go those hopes and aspirations of using this method in exams). So in short, the actual telepathy was performed by the internet, and the transfer process (to the brain) was accomplished via device and stimuli to the mind.  One point worth mentioning, is that the researchers have also proposed that accuracy could be increased by actual implantation into the device (where precedent for similar implantations already exists), however this idea was not further pursued as of yet.

So as to not bore many of you with the juicy specifics which I personally find so captivating, I have placed a link to the study at the end of this article for those who wish to expand their understanding of the actual science behind this feat. But I would like to go on a slight tangent and delve into something I believe every good article should induce within the reader-critical reflection. Namely, what I hope you as the reader will do- which is to surpass the superficial appreciation/awe of this technology, and begin to question yourself on its applications and consequences. I will lay down a few ground questions in the hope that they will lead you further down the rabbit hole of criticality.

  • Do we actually want to have this further increased level of connectivity openly available to the public? One has to take but a look around themselves to witness the effect that the internet and cell phones have had on our culture, our minds, and our society. Understand that with new technology, comes both its pros and cons.
  • The feasibility of implanting this device raises alarming questions about our mental security (a barrier that has yet to be challenged) and our possible health.
  • How far can this technology go in terms of affecting the mind?

Thank you for your attention! As with all my articles, I hope to hear your feedback and thoughts!

Cheers,

Gabi SImchovich

The article: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0105225

Science-Related!

Two scientists walk into a bar…

…The first says “I’ll have an H2O”. Quickly following his fellow, the second says I’ll have an H2O too!”. The second scientist dies.

All corny (and preposterously dreadful) jokes aside, magic truly does happen when scientists happen to enter the worlds most renowned setting for alcohol indulgence. More specifically, scientists have decided it was about time that a non-Darwinian evolution of beer ought to have taken place. And with this goal in mind, the first hang-over free beer was wrought into existence.

Hang-over free beer.

Let that thought brew in your head. Think of all the cases when beer ailed your body and mind resulting in the dreaded hangover we can all barley endure.

It’s horrific is it not? The puns, the nausea, the skull splitting headaches that follow a night of having a few drinks too many. These memories may happen to be just that however, a thing of the past.

Recently, a group of Australian nutrition researchers invented this wonder beer at Griffith University. Undoubtedly to soon find a steady increase in undergraduates and research grants alike, one can only marvel at the benefits scientific inquiry can bring about.

The solution to the age-old problem that was the hangover is the addition of electrolytes. A fascinating compound which in recent years has been studied intensively in the realm of sports and dehydration related/inducing conditions. Essentially, electrolytes function to preserve the amount of water in the body, whilst maintain our pH levels, muscle function, blood pressure, and much much more.

The hypothesis was that by adding electrolytes to the beer, they would effectively combat the fluid loss accompanying its consumption.  Paired with the assumption that hangovers were caused by dehydration, the experiment was carried out.

Sadly, positive effects were only found to be visible in light beers-those with low alcohol content (see extra points below for more wrong with this experiment!). Many are like to howl with disapproval at this revelation; some may even sink into a moment of somber depression after having endured this expertly written article for so long. But I would like to propose a more optimistic outlook…

Let us raise a glass (hypothetical or real) to science instead. Its curiosity and impact change the world on a daily basis. Our lives are nourished by its discoveries, immersed by its inventions, and educated by its discipline. After all, who knows when the next experiment involving a more encompassing hangover free beer will require volunteers?  Drinking for science could soon be a thing.

The actual study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23690556

Extra Points

  • The experiment didn’t actually test whether subjects got a hangover! The purpose of the experiment was actually to see if the addition of electrolytes in beer (a popular beverage following intensive activity) could combat the ensuing fluid loss. As mentioned earlier, under the assumption that fluid loss led to hangovers, the second point was simply deduced rather than tested.
    The reality is that headaches are theorized to be due (in part) to acetate build up- which is a product of alcohol metabolism
  • A study from 2008 titled “The Alcohol Hangover- A puzzling Phenomenon” actually proposed that there is no theoretical model that effectively explains why/how we get hangovers! So the cure, should there be one, may not be as close as we have hoped for.
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Science-Related!

Zombie apocalypse now?!

For what seems to be the greater part of the last century, zombies have been coming to life at an ever accelerating pace. Our fascination with the undead extends over nearly all facets of pop-culture: movies (Shaun of the dead, Dawn of the dead, Zombie land), shows (The walking dead), games (resident evil), and literature (World War Z).  We fantasize over how we may attempt to survive a zombie apocalypse, how it may occur, and the new world that would be left in its wake. But our imaginations may actually have blinded us from observing what is already here…

Zombies have actually existed for a very long time, have been well documented, and now have become a topic of serious research. Although the examples that are to follow are without a doubt terrifying, you can rest assured that your anti-zombie survival kits will not need to be put to use today. This is for no human cases have ever been observed… yet.

The actual process of coming back to life as an essentially degenerate brain demanding fiend after having passed away thankfully seems to be medically impossible. Nature however, decided to settle with what is a close second to the zombies we know and love- via mind manipulation. It is a very real phenomenon in which parasites invade and then hijack the hosts’ nervous system, thus controlling their actions from hence forth.

There is actually a startling amount of diversity in regards to how this is accomplished and the different parasites that can actually accomplish the feat. I will describe a few of my favourites briefly, and leave the decision to delve deeper into the science behind these zombifications (Oxford  ought to add that as an official word by now) for yourselves.

Fungi of the Ophiocordyceps genus:
This fungus enjoys terrorizing resident ants into doing its every whim. Once infected, the fungus manipulates its host into abandoning its home and seeking out a leaf ideally suited for the fungus to grow upon. Once this quest is accomplished, the ant is made to bite down into the leaf in what has been termed a “death grip”- effectively locking the ant in place for the remainder of its existence.
The next part of the fungi’s life cycle is particularly grotesque, and fascinating.  The fungus begins to grow hyphae within the ant (hyphae are long, branching, tubular fungal structures).  Eventually, these will tear through the head of the host, forming a spore-releasing crown to decorate its no-longer functioning cranium.  The spores (a one-celled reproductive cell utilized by fungi) then cover the area below the leaf, waiting to infect a new host, and begin the cycle anew.

The horsehair worm (Paragordius tricuspidatus):

These endoparasites (parasites that live inside of their host) are long arthropods with a most sinister life cycle. As larvae, the creatures adopt bodies of water as their homes. Should they wish to survive however, they must (quite ironically) be eaten by a mosquito! The delicious meal then resides within the mosquito, which happens to be a natural gourmet dish for crickets. Thus, should a cricket happen to feast upon an infected mosquito, it will unknowingly allow the parasite to invade its gut and begin to zombify its new host.

The worm can then grow up to a foot in length within the cricket that typically only reaches a few inches. But the horsehair worm hopes to do much more than merely check-in into the cozy hotel that is the cricket. Now, in hopes of returning to water in order to complete its life cycle, it begins to drive the cricket towards suicide via drowning. Literally.

Uninfected crickets stay clear of water due to the fact that they are poor swimmers, and presumably wish to avoid an untimely death. But infected hosts, not given enough time to train this particular sport- are also poor swimmers, and have been observed to actively seek out the watery grave into which they dive.  With the suicide complete, the worm escapes the dead carcass of its host in hope of celebrating its momentous achievement by finding a mate and reproducing.

The actual process by which the worm induces this uniquely specific suicidal act within its host is still unknown. Researchers have been able to observe large quantities of neurotransmitters released by the worm (into its host), and a resulting increase in neurotransmitter production by the host itself. That being said, there is yet much to learn.

For the sake of keeping this entry (relatively) short, I will not delve into other examples. Leave a comment about your favourite zombie parasite or what you would like to see me write about next!

Link to video showing the parasite in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df_iGe_JSzI
Link to study about the science behind this parasite: http://gemi.mpl.ird.fr/PDF/Thomas2003b.pdf
Link to a study about the fascinating fungus: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3204140/