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I Say “No” to Fat Acceptance

What’s so Wrong with Fat Shaming? 

“For some reason we generally as a society think it permissible for fat people to be the target of jokes, judgement, and health interventions. It is not OK,” says Jenna Brady.

 

There’s something wrong with shaming, in general. I’m going to make the assumption that everyone is in agreement that intentionally embarrassing another person because of certain characteristics, may it be because of their weight, illness, lack of intelligence, timidity, virginity or poverty, is unethical. There are genetic predispositions that determine what weight we’ll end up with. However, not all people who are fat have “no choice” in the matter. For example, me.

I’m fat. According to my BMI, I’m Obese Class I. I’m fat because I eat too much, I drink a lot of beer and I don’t exercise. My favorite food is Crispy Pata. I eat lamb steak at least once a week and whenever I rice-all-I-can at Mang Inasal or Chick-Boy, I devour no less than 4 cups of chicken-oil-drenched rice.

Maybe I’m fat because I’m genetically predisposed to be chubby. But I also eat too much. And If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I know that I should improve my eating habits and include more physical activities as part of my lifestyle. I know that there are things I can do and steps I can take to reduce my fatness. I just don’t want to do them. Mostly because I’m lazy. Sometimes, my friends would be working out in our living room and I’ll be sitting on the couch, watching them, while eating vanilla pudding.

However, even though I’m doing nothing to improve my weight, it is not right to shame me for being fat.

What is “Fat Acceptance”? 

Fat Acceptance

“The fat acceptance movement champions a new kind of beauty that is not defined by the size of your waist. Supporters of the fat acceptance movement work to fight size discrimination,” says Frances White.

 

Fat Acceptance introduces the idea that being heavy does not necessarily mean that one is unhealthy. The stigma and bias against fat people are propagated by shaming culture. Fat Acceptance is a movement that seeks to dissociate being fat from the usual misconceptions: unhealthy, lazy, eats too much. It’s also a “body positivity” movement that encourages people to feel good about their bodies, whatever their bodies look like. It wants society to have a more positive attitude towards high-calorie diets and consider it a defensible lifestyle. It also wants to expand the popular aesthetic to include fat as beautiful.

According to the Fat Acceptance movement, I have a right to be fat. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. Just because I’m slightly overweight, doesn’t mean that I’m unhealthy. Also, some people who have“skinny-genes” eat more than I do, but never gain weight. That’s the case for a lot of fat people; their weight is a direct result of their genetics.

However, I’m about to make a personal statement that does not reflect the views and opinions of this organization: I don’t agree with Fat Acceptance. Just because I shouldn’t be fat-shamed, doesn’t mean that there is nothing wrong with me being fat.

I understand that I’m using a very subjective term here: “fat.” The scientific term for people who are technically, scientifically, medically overweight is “obese.” But when people use the term “fat” they could be referring to someone “chubby” or someone “morbidly obese.”

Fat Acceptance is a dangerous umbrella term that could delude unhealthy, obese people that they’re fine. That’s my first problem with Fat Acceptance. It never differentiated between “healthy fat” and “life-threatening fat.” I can’t support a movement that does not discriminate between a person who is “genetically predisposed to chubbiness” and a person who is “eating himself to death.”

But My Fat is in the Genes!

Is your fat caused by your genes? Not entirely. Weight is not entirely genetic. Although there are genetic factors that influence weight, genetics does not determine everything. In fact, if you are a fat person like me, you can check this chart made at Harvard Health Publications to examine how much of your weight depends on your genes.

According to the chart:

How much of your weight depends on your genes
 

By the way, intelligence is also a consequence of genetics. But if my intelligence genes were inferior, I think I should be encouraged to study harder, not fed excuses why it’s okay for me to be stupid. Dumb-shaming is also wrong, but if there was a Dumb Acceptance movement, I probably would not support it either.

If my body looks fat, because of my neglect, because I chose not to eat properly and not to exercise, I should not feel positive about it. However, the Fat Acceptance movement promotes an idea that one can be “healthy at any size.” That’s simply not true. You can’t be healthy at any size.

Fat Acceptance Distributes False Information

The main source for the notion that one can be healthy at any size is a study done by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) epidemiologist Katharine Flegal. It is one of the most quoted studies by Fat Acceptance advocates. It claims that, “slightly overweight people have lower all-cause mortality than normal weight and underweight people.” However, it’s found to be erroneous.

There are serious methodological flaws in the research she conducted. The errors of Flegal’s methodology were pointed out in the article, “Weight and Mortality” by Jake Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health. Jake Miller writes, “The panelists evaluated Flegal’s findings and pointed out a number of methodological errors in the study that they said resulted in the artificial appearance of a protective benefit in being overweight or mildly obese.”

In other words, the result of the research is the product of a mistake. It turns out the methodology of the prior study included skinny people who were already dying of cancer, AIDS, and old age in the calculations.

Miller writes, “These people weren’t dying because they were slim; they were slim because they were dying.”

Now, even if the correction above wasn’t made, saying that “one could be healthy at any size,” would still be irresponsible. Here is what the actual graph of Flegal’s study would look like: 

The image shows that people with a BMI of 18 are outlived by “slightly overweight” people with a BMI of around 24. However, past a BMI of 30, the risk of death increases drastically.

 

There are exemptions that should be mentioned with regard to BMI-based data. There are always exemptions. Athletes and body builders often fall into the category of overweight because of their muscle mass. But these cases are not part of the overwhelming majority.

On average, it is still clear that the more obese a person becomes, the higher his risk of death is.

Fat Acceptance Advocates Extending the Definition of Fat-Shamers to Doctors Who Encourage them to Lose Weight

If a doctor tells an obese person to diet, exercise and lose weight because they “are” obese, it is not fat-shaming. He’s doing his job. He’s not making a judgment based on your looks. He’s making an honest evaluation of your health status. Some Fat Acceptance advocates push the notion of fat-shaming too far.

In the article, “Your Doctor is Probably Not Fat-Shaming You,” Hamilton Nolan writes about a blogger who threatened to replace her doctor for encouraging her to lose weight. 

Although people are free to be “offended” by whatever they want, but it’s not your doctor’s job to “not offend you.” It’s your doctor’s job to tell you the bad news. It’s his job to tell you that you have an erectile dysfunction, that you are dying, or that you are fat.

Nolan writes, “If you meet someone at a party, it is not appropriate to remark upon their weight. If you meet someone at the gym, it is not appropriate to remark upon their weight. As a matter of fact, the inside of a doctor’s office is one of the only places in the entire world where it is appropriate to remark upon someone’s weight. We go to our doctors for the hard medical truth.”

People Become Fat Because of Food

the calorie equation
 

Okay. I’m fat because I overeat. Some people who are fat don’t overeat. But some people who are fat, are fat because they overeat, and it’s hard for them to stop, because food is addicting. Cocaine, one article suggests, is actually less addicting than fatty food. But I don’t need a scientist to explain to me why I’m fat.

I’m fat because the Shakey’s delivery service is my second mosy dialed number on the landline, second only to the laundry service. People become fat because of food.

However,“eating less” is not as simple as it sounds, especially for fat people. Food addiction is a legitimate medical disorder. I don’t consider myself a food addict, but when I’m at a Japanese buffet, I keep eating until I hate myself. If I’m offered leftover Shakey’s pizza when I get home from that buffet dinner, I will eat that too.

An article called, “Is Obesity an Addiction?” was written in Scientific American. In this article, it was discussed how overeating can short-circuit the brain. Paul Kenny writes, “An inability to suppress a behavior, despite the negative consequences, is common in addiction. Scientists are finding similar compulsiveness in certain people. Almost all obese individuals say they want to consume less, yet they continue to overeat even though they know that doing so can have shockingly negative health or social consequences.”

Overeating overstimulates our brain’s reward system and it impedes a person’s ability to stop eating. Similar to alcoholics and drug addicts, the more food an over-eater eats to feel sated, the more food he or she will require to get the same “high.” As another article from the same site suggests, “Overeating May Alter the Brain as Much as Hard Drugs.”

This is another reason why I’m not a fan of Fat Acceptance. It overlooks the fact that some people are fat because they have an addiction that is very hard to recover from. Instead of pointing out the fact that fat people may be addicted to food, they are given permission, by being told that a high-fat, high-calorie diet that is ruining your body in many ways is “a defensible lifestyle” and that society is wrong for thinking that there is something wrong with it.

Do Not Shame Fat People

Now, if there’s one person who should be fat shamed, it’s me. I eat too much, drink too much, and don’t exercise at all. However, fat shaming serves absolutely no purpose. For some, the intention behind shaming is to encourage reform. But the only thing shaming will accomplish is make me feel ugly and make me hate myself. In fact, just thinking about it makes me want to eat a Happy Meal out of spite.

I’m fat and it’s my fault, and I should do something about it. Most fat people who can do something about their weight already know that, and shaming them isn’t really going to help them. In the same way that calling someone stupid won’t motivate a person to learn, calling someone fat won’t magically motivate a person to lose weight. As much as I don’t want fat people to be shamed, I don’t think the Fat Acceptance Movement helps anyone.

It’s Easier to Rationalize Obesity than to Prevent It

The Fat Acceptance movement is wrong because it encourages people to keep their unhealthy lifestyles. The Fat Acceptance movement does not distinguish between people like me, people who can do something about their weight, and those who are completely helpless about their situation.

I think fat shaming is wrong, I think fat discrimination is wrong, I think people who are fat should not be made to feel any worse than they already do, but I also think that people should not be encouraged to be fat, especially if there is something these people can do to achieve a healthier weight.

Obesity is a real problem.

According to this article, “Obesity Now Outweighs Hunger Worldwide.” In other words, the entire world is fat. Telling people that it’s okay to be fat is not a rational response to a fat world.

I would like to end this article with one of my favorite music videos by Fat Boy Slim: “Right Here, Right Now.” It’s awesome, it’s relevant to the topic and it has evolution. If you’ve never seen it, go watch it!

 

Sources:

Gayle, D. (2013, March). “Thank your parents if you’re smart: Up to 40% of a child’s intelligence is inherited, researchers claim.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2293861/Thank-parents-youre-smart-Up-40-childs-intelligence-inherited-researchers-claim.html

Harmon, K. (2010, March). “Addicted to Fat: Overeating May Alter the Brain as Much as Hard Drugs.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/addicted-to-fat-eating/

Harvard Health Publications. “Why People Become Overweight.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Why-people-become-overweight.htm

Kenny, P. (2013, August). “Is Obesity an Addiction?” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-obesity-an-addiction/

Miller, J. (2013, February). “Weight and mortality.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/02/weight-and-mortality/

Mirsky, S. (2007, August). “The World Is Fat: Obesity Now Outweighs Hunger WorldWide.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/8dff8662-e7f2-99df-38e67664abff1d05/

Nolan, H. (2013, March). “Your Doctor Is Probably Not Fat-Shaming You.” .” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://gawker.com/your-doctor-is-probably-not-fat-shaming-you-1535358667″

Shriver, L. (2009, December). “Lionel Shriver: My brother is eating himself to death.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/dec/01/lionel-shriver-my-obese-brother

 

Image Sources:

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Posted in Advocacy, Personal, Politics, Pop Culture, Science, Secularism, Uncategorized3 Comments

A Rational Approach to Jealousy

I’m going to start out with some bad news. Dear reader, you’re not as rational as you think (that, or I’m projecting a personal issue). In fact, we, as moderately intelligent people who consider ourselves rational, have a tendency to overestimate our own ability to be rational (or maybe that’s just me). My opinion comes from a very simple observation. Just because you know what the rational decision is, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to make it.

One could go on and on about how vulnerable the human brain is to addiction (depending on how healthy a person’s dopamine receptors are), or how short-term benefits cause people to overlook long-term consequences, or how our childhood experiences often influence our adult choices (regardless of how much knowledge we acquire), and even how our dominant hand can have a heavy influence on what we perceive to be good and bad.

But today I’m in the mood to talk about one particular primal impulse that has the potential to distort the decision-making of even the most rational people: jealousy.

 

I. Why Do People Become Jealous?

 

Before we answer this question, I have to point out the fact that there are differences to how men and women become jealous and, according to scientists, what human beings are jealous about may be due to evolutionary pressures.

Daniel and Jason Freeman posted the article, “Jealousy: It’s in Your Genes” in The Guardian. According to them, the most common anxieties that develop into jealousy are emotional and sexual betrayal. Research suggests that men are more bothered by sexual infidelity as opposed to emotional infidelity. Women, however, respond to both scenarios with equal levels of jealousy.

The theory believed by most scientists is that this difference is cause by a simple observable fact: Women are always certain that they are the biological parent of their child, men are not.

Freeman writes, “For both men and women, reproduction is key. But men, unlike women, cannot be certain that they are the biological parent of their child, and so they are naturally more perturbed at the thought of sexual infidelity than they are about emotional infidelity – because it jeopardises the successful transmission of their genes.”

However, it must be added that genes alone do not determine a person’s propensity for jealousy. The Swedish results of the experiment conducted prove that there are many factors involved that play a bigger role in jealousy including one’s own personal experiences & environment.

II. Why is Jealousy Dangerous?

jealousy
 

Jealousy has a tendency to distort our perspectives. It affects our ability to be rational, because reason is a response to perception. If we perceive a situation to be dangerous, the rational response is to either protect oneself or to avoid the situation altogether. I do not think a jealous person is not being completely irrational in his or her behavior. It’s not entirely a problem of reason, but also of perception. The distorted perception of a jealous person could further escalate into a vicious cycle. Jealous behavior (accusations, suspicion, etc.) fuels jealous thoughts, and jealous thoughts fuel jealous behavior.

Furthermore, there is often an element of the jealousy equation that is rarely pointed out: the response of the accused. Within the relationship, its not just the jealous person’s ability for rationality that is compromised. The accused is also vulnerable to irrational behavior.

An accusation represents an ego-threat and when a person’s ego is threatened, there is a possibility of self-regulation failure, especially when the accused has high self-esteem.

A person with high self-esteem who believes himself to be loyal, loving and faithful is vulnerable to irrational behavior when his self-concept is threatened by accusations of infidelity. The stronger a person’s belief is, in having these values, the more aggressive his response would be when these values are threatened, because there is an overwhelming dissonance between how he expects to be treated due to his behavior (rewarded with trust) and how he is being treated by his partner (looked upon with suspicion). Some of the most destructive self-regulation failures the accused party may resort to is counter-productive persistence, self-sabotage, and even aggression.

However, these defensive behaviors from the accused are sometimes perceived by the jealous party as “proof of guilt,” continuing the destructive cycle of jealousy, defensiveness, hostility and aggression. It is, in fact, less destructive to accuse a person who is actually unfaithful.

Needless to say, jealousy is dangerous because it destroys relationships. As the article mentions, “Much of the time, though, jealousy is pointlessly corrosive, making both partners miserable for no good reason.”

III. Retroactive and Retrospective Jealousy

 

Another complication with jealousy is that it doesn’t just come in the standard form. Aaron Ben-Zeev wrote the article, “Can Jealousy Be Retroactive?” In this article, he explains the differences among three types of jealousy.

1. In standard jealousy you are afraid that you will lose your partner  to someone else. It is an imaginary threat, but you feel that the threat is real. However, the fear is directed at the future, an unseen future event.

2. In retrospective jealousy, your awareness of your partner’s past behavior causes you to dislike your partner in the present. For example, you leave your wife of 50 years after learning that she had a one-night stand with a stranger in the first year of your relationship. She may no longer be the same person who commited the act, but your knowledge of what she did 49 years ago creates a disproportionate, pathological response (leaving her). Retrospective jealousy does not introduce present elements (who she is “now”) into the equation. It is devoid of context. This pathological response comes with the rationalization, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” But again, it’s either a fear directed at the future (“She cheated once, in the future she will cheat again”) or a feeling of sadness that the person you are with is not as “pure” as you thought she was.

3. In retroactive jealousy, your awareness of your partner’s past, causes you to question present elements in your relationship. You pathologically use your partner’s past relatioships as a benchmark of how much he values his relationship with you. If he made a mistake in the past for the sake of a lover, you would expect him to make the same mistake with you (or a bigger one, perhaps), otherwise you would assume that he doesn’t love you as much. The theoretical example in the article is about Jim and Carol. Carol confesses that she had a spontaneous affair with Joey; someone she met in the past, before she met Jim. She was intimate with this person the same night they met. However, Jim recalls that he and Carol were not intimate until they were together for 5 months. Because of this, Jim assumes that Carol was more attracted to Joey or loved Joey more, because Carol slept with Joey sooner than she slept with Jim. The difference between retroactive and retrospective jealousy is that retroactive jealousy introduces present elements into the equation.

Jealousy, in al its forms, is destructive. As Ben-Zeev writes, “Retrospective jealousy is destructive as constant rumination about the past is harmful and may block the possibility of the current relationship flourishing. Retroactive jealousy is even more destructive. In a sense it assumes eternal ownership over the mate, even before the agent and the mate knew each other.”

IV. Are jealous people at fault for the breakdown of a relationship?

 

I’m not a qualified couples therapist. But in my opinion, the problem of jealousy in a relationship should be a shared responsibility. Jealousy comes in many forms, and not all of them can be blamed on a jealous person’s “irrationality” or “distorted perception.” In some forms of jealousy, the jealous person knows that he or she is being irrational, that his or her perspective is distorted, but can’t do anything about it.

There are psychologists who consider compulsive jealousy in a relationship as a legitimate disorder.

Michelle Castillo of CBS News wrote an article called, “Overly jealous or insecure about your relationship? You may have ROCD.”

According to the article, a relationship-specific form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) exists. It’s called relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD). This disorder manifests through pathological jealousy and self-doubt.

ROCD symptoms include stalking the partner, checking their online history, and wanting to know who they’re with. They may constantly need reassurance that their partner is attracted to them. Another form of ROCD manifests itself in relationship insecurities. In this variation, patients constantly test their partner for compatibility. They are often tempted to end the relationship when it doesn’t live up to their ideal, but hesitate to do so.

Castillo writes, “In both of these forms of ROCD, patients may often compare themselves to their partner’s exes and play ‘mental gymnastics’ over what love really means, Brodsky emphasized. In both forms, the patients are extremely anxious when they think about breaking up.”

Dr. Stephen Brodsky, a psychologist who specializes in OCD treatment, observes how he often sees couples where one person has ROCD breaking up and getting back together multiple times a week.

All forms of jealousy, whether standard, retroactive, or retrospective, are destructive to the relationship. However, in my opinion, the burden of jealousy should not fall solely on the shoulders of those who are jealous. A common assumption made by partners of jealous people is, “It’s your fault you’re feeling that way, because you are being irrational.” This argument is also irrational.

Brodsky mentions that, “The hallmark of OCD is that they (patients) know this is irrational or has no basis, but they can’t stop themselves.” In other words, this particular type of jealousy is not due to “irrationality” or a failure of “reason.”

The responsibility for dealing with jealousy in a relationship should be shared by the people involved. In many cases, jealous people know that they shouldn’t be jealous and that they shouldn’t make unfounded accusations. These people know that they are being irrational, they just can’t help it.

The accused must also do his part in reducing the destructive potential of jealousy. In his article “Retroactive Jealousy: Learn the Causes, Find a Cure, and Save Your Relationship,” C. Paris adivises, “Try to lift them up, rather than tear them down for their feelings, no matter how unfounded, confusing, or frustrating they might be.”

When it comes to complex human relationships, there are elements more important than knowledge and reason – empathy.

 

Sources:

Baumeister, R. (1993). “When Ego Threats Lead to Self-Regulation Failure.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~thlab/pubs/93_Baumeister_etal_JPSP_64.pdf

Ben-Zeev, Aaron. (2013, December). “Can Jealousy Be Retroactive.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201312/can-jealousy-be-retroactive

Castillo, MIchelle. (2013, February). “Overly jealous or insecure about your relationship? You may have ROCD.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/overly-jealous-or-insecure-about-your-relationship-you-may-have-rocd/

Freeman, D. Freeman, J. (2013, November). “Jealousy: It’s in Your Genes.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/nov/01/jealousy-genes

Paris, C. (2014, March). “Retroactive Jealousy: Learn the Causes, Find a Cure, and Save Your Relationship.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From:https://www.udemy.com/blog/retroactive-jealousy/

 

Images:

Image 1, http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRqQmMGpN7f4NDuFh8QG0ujUVLA7QAAahsEMQUXr6T4qWY-z8ZY

Image 2, http://deeptruths.com/daily-bread/images/jealousy.jpg

Image 3, https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQTLaKMyqJAsBmZDSm1EFAQZIo9XWWIMjW-d6HoSVeqT_zNd9v6

Image 4, http://s1.hubimg.com/u/8232028_f520.jpg

Posted in Personal, Science, Society0 Comments

Your Memory is Fake

“Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind” is my favorite movie. I think it’s perfect. I’ve seen it almost a dozen times. What kept me watching was the premise of being able to erase selected parts of your own memory to get rid of traumatic events and people one would prefer to forget. I was also fascinated by the tragicomic notion of people, again, falling in love with the same people they paid the memory service to delete.

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind
 

However, the premise of the movie relies on the notion that our memories of events are fixed. The movie portrayed memory as visual episodes that deconstruct as the process of memory deletion proceeds; meaning, there was something (a unit of memory, perhaps) to delete to begin with.

Recent experiments done prove otherwise. You don’t have to delete your memories, because they are not real to begin with.

Let’s have a quick thought experiment:

1) Try to recall a moment in your life when you were at the beach with friends.

2) Try to imagine being at the beach with friends.

Images that you imagine and images that you remember look and feel exactly the same. That’s because they are. Memory is malleable.

Trust Your Memory?

Jaque Wilson, from CNN, wrote the article, “Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn’t.” This article was about experiments done by Elizabeth Loftus in her attempt to demonstrate how “fictional” our memory is.

The first experiment had to do with car crashes. She showed videos of different car accidents and asked people about what they remembered about them. She noticed how their recollection of the incident was influenced by what questions she asked.

When she asked “How fast were the cars moving when they smashed into each other?” instead of “How fast were the cars moving when they hit each other?,” people believed the cars to be moving at a much faster speed. When she asked “Did you see the broken headlight?” instead of “Did you see a broken headlight?” people were more likely to remember a broken headlight, even if there wasn’t one to begin with.

Needless to say, the information people gather after an event, greatly influences how they remember the event. When we try to remember an incident, we are not merely trying to “recollect or recapture old information,” we are, in fact, “fabricating or creating memories based on new information.”

In her Ted Talk (It’s a mind-fuck. Go watch it!), “The Fiction of Memory,” Elizabeth Loftus says, “Many people believe that memory works like a recording device; you just record the information, then you call it up and play it back when you want to answer questions or identify images, but decades of work in psychology has shown that this just isn’t true. Our memories are constructive, they’re reconstructive. Memory works more like a Wikipedia page. You can change it, but so can other people.”

To further prove how memories are fabricated, she wrote a research report on another experiment entitled, “The Formation of False Memories.” In this experiment, close family members of 24 students were asked to give them 3 real childhood memories of the student and 1 false one. The students were told that all 4 childhood memories were real. Some of them were even asked to provide details about the fake memories. 29% of the participants were able to recall, with detail, events that did not happen.

memory1
 

Two Kinds of Memory

So, how does this happen? You might be thinking, “Dustin, are you telling us that if someone told you that your name was Brad Pitt, and not Dustin, you would believe him?” No, I would not, but I would be very flattered. Also, that’s not how memory works, especially as it relates to what we know about ourselves and who we think we are.

There are two kinds of memory:

1) Semantic Memory – a record of facts, meanings, concepts and knowledge.

2) Episodic Memory – memory of experiences and specific events in time in a serial form.

Our idea of who we are, our identity, is based on both types of memory. However, since memory is malleable, so is our identity. Initially, it was believed that our semantic notions or knowledge of the self (“I am an asshole”) is based on episodic memories (images we can reconstruct that show us being “assholes”; e.g. bullying service personnel).

However, the experiments of Loftus reveal that it could also work the other way around. When we encounter new information (someone calls us an “asshole”), our brain cherry picks or constructs images that verify the information.

In other words, other people can change what you remember, and who you think you are. As Loftus says, “Memory works like a Wikipage.” And just like a Wikipage, it can be changed or updated today or tomorrow, and by anyone.

I’m usually skeptical about self-help products or advice. However, in my opinion, this information does imply that “optimism” and being around “optimistic people” will make you a happier person simply by compelling you to remember your life as mostly a positive experience.

Present stimuli influence memories of the past. How you remember things, people, places and events, is a reflection of your current attitude towards them.

I think Marcel Proust, in his literary masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time,” demonstrated the inherent complications of attempts at recollection. Remembering, in this work, is portrayed as elusive, artificial, and creative. There is a lot of emotion involved as well. One can never recall with complete objectivity, especially incidents that are emotionally charged. The very act of recollection is a creative endeavor.

We re-create our own memories very similarly to how a director would interpret a scene from a script. However, we don’t really stick to one interpretation. We constantly change the script and the style of interpreting depending on a variety of factors which include: our mood, new information about the incident, other people’s opinions, etc.

I would like to end this article with a YouTube video called “1 Scene, 9 Directors.” It’s a humorous take on how one simple scene could be imagined in very different ways. I think how our memory works isn’t too far off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNywbNljhoM

 

Sources:

Garcia, B. (2012, February). “1 Scene, 9 Directors.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNywbNljhoM

Loftus, E. (2013, September). “The Fiction of Memory.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB2OegI6wvI

Loftus, E. (1995, December). “The Formation of False Memories.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: https://webfiles.uci.edu/eloftus/Loftus_Pickrell_PA_95.pdf

The Human Memory (2010). “Episodic & Semantic Memory.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: http://www.human-memory.net/types_episodic.html

Wilson, J. (2013, May). “Trust Your Memory? Maybe You Shouldn’t.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/18/health/lifeswork-loftus-memory-malleability/

 

Images Borrowed From:

http://krissacurran.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind.jpg

http://stringcan.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/memory1.jpg

Posted in Philosophy, Science, Society0 Comments

The ADD Apocalypse is Among Us!

The first issue concerning the supposed Attention Deficit Disorder epidemic is the skepticism surrounding it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children diagnosed with the disorder has skyrocketed from 5% to 15%. In raw numbers, 3.5 million children are taking medication for the disorder; a massive increase from the 600,000 that took medication for it in 1990.

In an article written by the editorial board of The New York Times entitled, “An Epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder,” pointed out how so many medical professionals benefit from the overprescribing ADD/ADHD medication, so much so, that it is becoming progressively difficult to find objective information regarding the nature of the disorder.

Mentioned in the article, “Prominent doctors get paid by drug companies to deliver upbeat messages to their colleagues at forums where they typically exaggerate the effectiveness of the drugs and downplay their side effects. Organizations that advocate on behalf of patients often do so with money supplied by drug companies, including the makers of A.D.H.D. stimulants. Medical researchers paid by drug companies have published studies on the benefits of the drugs, and medical journals in a position to question their findings profit greatly from advertising of A.D.H.D. drugs.”

Also from the The New York Times, Alan Schwartz wrote an article that makes a similar observation called, “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” The article talked about Keith Conners, a doctor who’s been fighting to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for more than 50 years, and his current attitude about the rise in ADD/ADHD diagnoses.

In the article, Dr. Conners was quoted to have said, “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

To make matters worse, ADD/ADHD medication is marketed as harmless, comparing its side-effects to that of aspirin. But there are potential dangers that are overlooked. In “An Epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder,” it was mentioned that, “in rare cases, psychosis, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations, as well as anxiety, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite.”

The Food and Drug Administration also warned that ADHD medications may, in rare cases, cause priapism – a prolonged and painful erection – in in males of all ages.

Add 3
 

A. Dopamine and Attention Span

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and neurotransmitters are chemical substances in the brain that are utilized to stimulate our behavioral and emotional functions. ADD/ADHD is a neurological dysfunction. It is associated with the brain’s chemical system rather than the social and emotional influences around us.

Research suggests that the impulse and behavior problems in ADD/ADHD could be caused by low levels of Dopamine in the brain.

In the article, “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)” by Dr. Joseph M. Carver, it was mentioned that, “The impulse and behavior problems found in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) appear related to low levels of Dopamine in the brain. When dopamine levels are normal, we can repress the urge to do or say something in public, grab something interesting on a desk, blurt out our opinion, or touch/poke someone who has just walked within our physical range. Low levels of dopamine in the brain make control of impulsive behavior almost impossible in the ADHD Child/Adult.”

Needless to say, if a person with ADHD is sitting in a classroom with a teacher holding a lecture and there is a fly on the wall, the fly on the wall is as equally important to him as the lecture. The impulse to notice it, or to touch it, or to playfully wonder if the fly understands the lecture, will be quite difficult for him to ignore because of low dopamine levels in his brain.

Naturally, the usual medication prescribed for people with ADHD are medicines that will boost Dopamine levels in the brain (e.g. Ritalin), to increase attention and to decrease impulsivity.

 

B. Other Causes of Dopamine Disorders

But to what cause can we attribute the sudden rise in ADD cases? In our introduction, it was suggested that medical professionals are eager to prescribe ADD medication. However, it can’t be the sole factor responsible for increased diagnoses. For one, people who were diagnosed probably went to get treatment, or had their children treated, for attention deficit. The fact is that more and more people are finding it difficult to focus. However, lack of focus and dopamine disorders are not exclusive symptoms of ADD and ADHD. There are several reasons why such disorders may occur in both adults and children.

For one, dopamine disorders are not limited to the brain’s inability to produce it. It can also be caused by damage to the D2 receptor due to sustained exposure to high levels of dopamine. When D2 receptors malfunction, a person’s reward system malfunctions as well.

To a person with less sensitive D2 receptors, the fly on the wall is as equally important as the lecture, because neither experience provides a rewarding feeling. As a result, this person actively seeks out other, more novel, experiences to achieve a feeling of reward.

To simplify, anything that can produce sustained high levels of dopamine can damage the D2 receptor. The problem is that anything from sleep deprivation, to junk food consumption, drug use, pornography (debatable), Facebook, and Internet use can cause D2 receptor sensitivity to fluctuate. Needless to say, extended exposure to these stimuli may create symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD.

Just to clarify, there is no evidence that lack of sleep, junk food, porn or Facebook will give a person ADD or ADHD. However, there is evidence that these stimuli can cause a decline in D2 receptors and produce ADD-like symptoms such as restlessness and an inability to focus.

This particular hypothesis has been orbiting the issue of ADD/ADHD for a long time. In fact, there are doctors who doubt the very existence of ADD/ADHD as an actual disorder, claiming that ADD/ADHD should be considered symptoms of a disorder rather than being considered disorders themselves. An article was published in time.com entitled, “Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist.” The writer of the article was Dr. Richard Saul, writer of the book, “ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Saul writes, “In my view, there are two types of people who are diagnosed with ADHD: those who exhibit a normal level of distraction and impulsiveness, and those who have another condition or disorder that requires individual treatment.”

Add 2
 

C. Conclusions

If you find it difficult to focus, it’s probably not because you have ADD or ADHD. There’s a 95% chance that you’re just not sleeping well, or you’re eating too much fat, or you’re watching too much porn, or you’re spending too much time on Facebook.

Prolonged attention deficit, lack of motivation, and inability to focus can be the results of a vicious dopamine fluctuation cycle. People stay up late because of several online distractions. They’re sleep deprived and to keep them awake, the body compensates by dumping dopamine into their system. The dopamine dump damages the receptors and the person’s reward system, causing him to prioritize immediate rewards (such as Facebook “likes”) over long-term rewards.

The person wants immediate rewards because he’s not getting feelings of fulfillment and reward because his dopamine receptors are desensitized. So, he stays up late for online validation. Because he’s sleep deprived, his body craves for fat and he goes on binges. Fat damages receptors too. So, his receptors are further damaged.

There are theories that suggest that pornography has a similar effect on a person’s dopamine receptors. Exposure to intense stimuli spikes dopamine production in the brain. The receptors protect themselves by being less sensitive. So, the next time a person seeks a similar high, he’s going to require a higher dosage. Damaged receptors require higher forms of stimuli to produce feelings of pleasure, reward and fulfillment.

It sounds science-y, but it’s rather simple. If someone has a habit of screaming in your ear, you will develop a tendency to cover your ears whenever that person is around, in order to protect yourself. The next time that person wants to have the same effect on you, he has to scream louder.

So, sleep well and don’t damage those receptors!

 

Sources:

Callaghan, T. (2010, March). “Understanding junk food “addiction” in lab rats.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://healthland.time.com/2010/03/29/understanding-junk-food-addiction-in-lab-rats/

Carver, J. “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.drjoecarver.com/clients/49355/File/Attention-Deficit%20Hyperactivity%20Disorder%20%28ADHD%29.html

“Desensitization: A Numbed Pleasure Response.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/book/export/html/702

Macrae, F. (2010, September). “Facebook and internet ‘can re-wire your brain and shorten attention span’” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1312119/Facebook-internet-wire-brain-shorten-attention-span.html

Schwartz, A. (2013, December). “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/health/the-selling-of-attention-deficit-disorder.html?_r=0

Saul, R. (2014, March). “Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://time.com/25370/doctor-adhd-does-not-exist/

ScienceDaily. (2014, February). “Eat spinach or eggs for faster reflexes: Tyrosine helps you stop faster.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140211083859.htm

The New York Times Editorial Board. (2013, December). “An Epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/19/opinion/an-epidemic-of-attention-deficit-disorder.html?_r=2&

Volkow, N. (2012). “Evidence That Sleep Deprivation Downregulates Dopamine D2R in Ventral Striatum in the Human Brain.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/19/6711.full

WebMD. (2009). “Tyrosine.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1037-TYROSINE.aspx?activeIngredientId=1037&activeIngredientName=TYROSINE

Wintour, P. (2009, February). “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/feb/24/social-networking-site-changing-childrens-brains

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People with High Self-Esteem are More Likely to be Assholes

There is a general opinion that people with high self-esteem live happier lives and are
less susceptible to depression should they face obstacles, or even encounter failure. The
wellness industry is filled with advice on how to acquire and improve self-esteem.
Furthermore, the general advice is, more often than not, different variations on how to
learn to increase one’s self-esteem.

Although there are loose correlations between happiness or success and self-esteem, there
is no proof of causality. With regard to happiness and success (factors often attributed to
self-esteem), even scientists are not sure whether self-esteem is the cause or the
consequence. In fact, it was even suggested that both self-esteem and happiness could be
the product of a genetic predisposition, in the same way that depression is.

One of the most overlooked issues with regard to this subject is the fact that there are
two kinds of self-esteem:

1. Explicit Self-Esteem

2. Implicit Self-Esteem

In a research report entitled, “Unconscious Unease and Self-Handicapping: Behavioral
Consequences of Individual Differences in Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem” written by
Leah R. Spalding and Curtis D. Hardin, the researchers explained the distinction between
explicit and implicit self-esteem.

The explicit version is primarily a collection of positive opinions we consciously
recognize in ourselves. Implicit self-esteem is the automatic positive responses we have
when we encounter symbols and stimuli that we associate with ourselves.

The bigger distinction is probably in the formation of both forms of self-esteem. Explicit
self-esteem is the product of rational and conscious processing. When good looking guys
like us look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “Damn, I’m sexy,” we’re exhibiting a form of
explicit self-esteem. In other words, it’s our perception of our own actual self.

Implicit self-esteem is more intuitive. It comes from our earliest unconscious processing
of experiences that affect us. It’s similar to the Oedipus Complex. How our primary
caregiver has treated us in our youth can affect us deeply until we are old. Researchers
say that this type of self-esteem reflects our intuition about how we should be treated, or
is a reflection of the ideal self.

self-esteem 1
 

A. High Implicit Self-esteem

The first point I found really interesting was the devastating emotional damage
discrepancies between a person’s explicit and implicit self-esteem can bring.

A study was done by Daan H. M. Creemers and company called, “Damaged self-esteem is
associated with internalizing problems.” In this study it was revealed that the discrepancy
between a person’s implicit and explicit self-esteem is associated with depressive
symptoms, suicidal thoughts, and general loneliness.

Initially, the assumption I made was that these negative emotional symptoms came from
having high explicit self-esteem (bragging) and having low implicit self-esteem (being
insecure). I’ve always thought that bragging about something untrue or demonstrating a
value that isn’t there (e.g. fake confidence) can be bad for a person’s psyche.

However, research suggests otherwise. It’s actually worse to have a high implicit
(subconscious) self-esteem and a low explicit (conscious) self-esteem.

Researchers write, “Damaged self-esteem (high implicit self-esteem and low explicit self-
esteem) was related to increased levels of depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and
loneliness, while defensive or fragile self-esteem (low implicit self-esteem and high
explicit self-esteem) was not.”

As it was explained in the article, this has to do with how each variant of self-esteem is
developed. Here are two simple scenarios that would further clarify the situation:

Scenario 1 – a person with low implicit self-esteem and a high explicit self-esteem:

A girl with a predisposition towards chubbiness is bullied throughout her formative years.
She’s called “fatty” from preschool to college. After college, she loses her baby fat. One
day, she looks at the mirror and realizes, “Whoa! I’m hot now” (high explicit self-esteem).
She may appreciate her looks, the actual self she has now. She may receive compliments here
and there. However, her years of being chubby (low implicit self-esteem) will not make her
feel entitled to such compliments, and if ever she doesn’t receive one, she’s not going to
feel bad.

Scenario 2 – a person with high implicit self-esteem and a low explicit self-esteem:

An attractive quarterback is worshipped throughout his formative years. After college, he
gains weight and loses his popularity, but he still feels entitled to female worship (high
implicit self-esteem). However, when he tries to approach women, he consciously recognizes
the he gets rejected 9 times out of 10 (low explicit self-esteem). His actual self, and his
reality, does not live up to the ideal self that is ingrained in his subconscious.

People with high implicit self-esteem have an ingrained sense of entitlement. When reality
does not represent their expectations of what they deserve, the problems become
internalized in the form of depressive symptoms.

Given the negative consequences of high implicit self-esteem, one might think that it’s
safer to focus on a high explicit self-esteem instead. However, doing so has its own set of
problems.

 

B. High Explicit Self-Esteem

There’s an article from The Atlas Society called, “Is High Self-Esteem Bad for You?” by
Robert Campbell. In that article, Campbell discussed the research of Jennifer Crocker, a
professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. According to her study, self-esteem
has a tendency to fluctuate. And these fluctuations maybe unhealthy, especially when a
person derives his self-esteem from external factors such as good looks, academic
performance, income, etc.

Campbell writes, “Deriving one’s self-esteem from certain “external” contingencies, such as
appearance, is associated with potentially destructive behavior, including alcohol and drug
use, and eating disorders.”

The research suggests that when good looking guys like us look in the mirror and tell
ourselves, “Damn, I’m sexy,” we’re deriving esteem from an external contingent (our good
looks), which could lead to potentially destructive behavior, especially, if the contingent
is threatened.

This idea is further emphasized in a report written by Roy F. Baumeister called, “When Ego
Threats lead to Self-Regulation Failure.”

 

C. Self-regulation Failure

There are three hypotheses that are crucial in Baumeister’s research:

1. High self-esteem causes people to overestimate what they can accomplish and therefore
select goals that may be too difficult for them.

2. The hypothesized advantage of people with high self-esteem depends on superior and
extensive self-knowledge.

3. Their hypothesized disadvantage depends on the intrusion of egotism into the decision
process as to inflate their predictions and distort their judgment.

To simplify, people with high self-esteem often overestimate their abilities. If they have
extensive self-knowledge, if they know their limitations, they will have many advantages.
However, people with high self-esteem sometimes have an inflated ego, and the presence of
this ego causes these people to make irrational decisions.

Three basic observations were made by the researchers to exhibit different types of self-
regulation failure after an ego threat:

1. When people with high self-esteem fail, they respond by being more persistent, even when
it’s counter-productive.

2. When people with high self-esteem are criticized, they try to “repair” their public
image by insisting on rating themselves even more favorably than they did before.

3. When their high opinion of themselves is challenged, they have a tendency for self-
sabotage. Sometimes they handicap themselves or under-prepare so they can take more credit
if they succeed.

When the high self-esteem person’s view of himself is threatened by another person or
circumstance, an ego threat, they behave irrationally.

Upon further investigation on the type of irrational behavior high self-esteem people get
involved with, it was discovered that there are direct correlations between high self-
esteem and violence, especially when an ego threat is present.

Erica Goode, in her article, “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills” discusses how
self-esteem’s role has been inflated and how low self-esteem has been demonized by society.

In this article, Erica Goode talked about a study done by Dr. Nicholas Emler. The study
mentioned how “no link was found between low self-esteem and delinquency, violence against
others, teenage smoking, drug use or racism.” High self-esteem, however, “was positively
correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors.”

This tendency towards violence is something Baumeister has previously implied in the study,
Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-
esteem.”

According to that study, low self-esteem does not cause aggression, crime, or violence.
Instead, violence and aggression are often a result of threatened egotism. A person who has
an inflated, unstable, or tentative belief in his own superiority may be most prone to
causing violence. People like these have a tendency to express hostility when they are
confronted with an inferior version of their self-concept.

 

D. Conclusions

There are many problems on the issue of high self-esteem. Another problem with regard to
high self-esteem is the general assumption that it’s a good indicator of ability. However,
as Dr. Baumeister says, “You can think well of yourself because you accurately appreciate
what you’re good at. You can also think well of yourself just ’cause you’re a conceited
snob. And the self-esteem is the same in either case.”

Dr. Baumeister seems to be the main antagonist of self-esteem promotion. He challenges the
idea that high self-esteem is worth developing. For years, he’s been trying to point out
that the self-help industry, with its blind promotion of self-confidence, is moving in the
wrong direction.

I would have to agree with Dr. Baumeister here. I think high self-esteem is overrated. For
one, it’s not an indicator of a person’s ability. Any asshole can have high self-esteem. In
fact, most assholes do. People who have high self-esteem are prone to arrogance, they take
pointless risks, and they have a tendency to resort to violence when their self-concept,
however distorted, is threatened by another person or a difficult situation.

I think it’s time people take a closer look on the actual science behind the common
misconception that improving a person’s self-esteem is a reliable umbrella solution to
solving personal issues.

 

Sources:

Baumeister, R. Boden, J. Smart, L. (1996). “Relation of threatened egotism to violence and
aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem” Retrieved on April 23, 2014. From: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/papers/baumeistersmartboden1996%5B1%5D.pdf

Baumeister, R. (1993). “When Ego Threats lead to Self-Regulation Failure” Retrieved on
April 23, 2014. From: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~thlab/pubs/93_Baumeister_etal_JPSP_64.pdf

Campbell, R. (2003, July). “Is High Self-Esteem Bad for You?” Retrieved on April 23, 2014.
From: www.atlassociety.org/high-self-esteem-bad-you

Creemers, H. M. Daan. (2013, April). “Damaged self-esteem is associated with internalizing
problems.” Retrieved on April 15, 2014. From: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00152/full

Goode, E. (2002, October). “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills.” Retrieved on
April 23, 2014. From: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/01/health/deflating-self-esteem-s-
role-in-society-s-ills.html

Hardin, C. & Spalding, L. Psychological Science (1999). “Unconscious Unease and Self-
Handicapping: Behavioral Consequences of Individual Differences in Implicit and Explicit
Self-Esteem” Retrieved on April 23, 2014. From: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/userhome/psych/chardin/Spalding_Hardin_1999.pdf

Harvard Health Publications. (2007, June) “Importance of high self-esteem: Implicit vs.
explicit self-esteem.” Retrieved on April 23, 2014. From: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance-of-self-esteem

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Science, Society, Uncategorized0 Comments

The Scientific Method and the Thrill of the Hunt

*Reflections from CERN Philippines School

Two years ago, the world was rocked by the news of a certain ‘God particle’ or the Higgs Boson being discovered. It was nicknamed the ‘God particle’ for it is a giver of mass. The story behind the nickname is actually more complicated than we thought. It used to be called the toilet particle and then the “god damned” particle because it was very hard to find. They just dropped the damned for god was more attractive. Any particle that interacts with the Higgs field will feel some kind of resistance (Here’s a video). You can think of a spoon that you can easily move around air or vacuum but you’ll feel that resistance when you try to stir a pot of honey. That honey is like the Higgs field and the spoon is the particle that gains mass.

Higgsboson

The Higgs now looks like a simple concept for some people, so what was the hullabaloo all about? Fifty years ago a number of theoretical physicists wrote about what we now call the Higgs field and mechanism. Peter Higgs, 2013 Nobel laureate for physics (with Francois Englert), was the first to note that there was a massive particle associated with the symmetry breaking. The field and the particle were just like figments of their imagination. They used math and the known laws of physics to predict their existence. Lo and behold, they have found the particle after a long time in a 27-km circular collider in CERN.

A story like this in science is not new. Albert Einstein made testable predictions in his General Theory of Relativity (GR). Arthur Eddington’s team first confirmed his theory by observing the 1919 solar eclipse. Other expeditions made further confirmation and until now experiments, huge observations show GR is correct even in regions up to 3.5 million light years away from us. There is also the story of silent man Paul Dirac, developing an equation that predicted the existence of antiparticles that correspond to most kind of particles. It has the same mass and opposite charge of a particle. Then there’s also the recent BICEP2 detection of primordial gravitational waves which, if confirmed by another independent research groups like the European Space Agency’s Planck, may just have provided direct evidence of cosmic inflation.

The examples above show us a process in science. You make a guess, you test if it is correct and if it does not try something else. In school, we call it the scientific method (although it’s not as clean as we think it is). Richard Feynman beautifully describes this method in his 1964 lecture in Cornell University.

“In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.”

What now for particle physics?

With the Higgs found and the Standard Model looking like it all its puzzle pieces have been put in place, is there anything else to search for? It turns out that the Higgs may just be a Higgs and that the particle physicists all over the world are looking for its cousins or brothers and sisters through more precise and accurate measurements in particle collisions. The Large Hadron Collider has just begun warming up for its reopening in 2015 at an energy scale of 13-14TeV, about twice as large that of the energy used when the Higgs was found. With that higher energy, researchers can now scour the rubble from the collisions at an even higher resolution. Keeping in mind the famous equation E = mc2, this also means that heavier particles may be produced. The production rate of known particles will be enhanced and that will allow for more precision measurements.

With the Standard Model accounting for merely 4% of what constitutes the universe, we certainly are far from having a complete understanding of nature. More physics, new ways of thinking and new technologies are necessary. But with the upgrade in the LHC, two paramount searches are underway – the search for supersymmetric particles and what dark matter is. Supersymmetry is not only beautiful mathematically, but it also gives out testable predictions. Dark matter on the other hand, accounts for some discrepancies between what have been observed in galaxies and what have been predicted by current models in cosmology. All observations point to the existence of dark matter. We just have to figure out what constitutes dark matter and if there are really any supersymmetric particles.

The search for the smallest of things is massive. It requires the collaboration of thousands of researchers from over 100 countries in the world. Not to mention, it costs billions of dollars. Is it worth it? Well, for most scientists, satisfying one’s “holy” curiosity is enough. Even if we already know that this search spurs the development of new technologies that are economically beneficial, personally, experiencing the thrill of the hunt alone is worth more than whatever practical benefit it can give. Particle smashing, scouring the rubble, building machines that replicates the big bang – sounds like fun to me.

Posted in Personal, Science, Uncategorized3 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 36 - Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, RH Bill, Science, Secularism, Society0 Comments

Cosmos Returns

Rebooting any beloved piece of popular culture always courts cynicism and dread. (Not to say that previous experiences have been successful at silencing the pessimists.) In popular science, there are very few touchstones as revered as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. So, its revival under the helm of Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane raised not a few eyebrows—regardless of his creative caliber.

Sagan’s A Personal Voyage delivered to the general public the story of the universe in a manner that captured its romance without sacrificing the integrity of science. Carl Sagan, after all, was the most famous science communicator at the time. His impact on the world still ripples to this day.

Over thirty years have passed since the original Cosmos. As a product of the 80’s, it carries the tropes of its time—the grainy chroma keying, the sharp synths, and the cheesy 3D graphics. Viewing it today, these hallmarks seem to only emphasize the depth of Sagan’s message and that it retains its value even through eyes spoiled by modern special effects. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, A Personal Voyage was more than a cavalcade of science factoids. It cemented in popular consciousness the importance of science in culture and philosophy.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts this generation’s Cosmos—subtitled, A Spacetime Odyssey. After Sagan’s death, Tyson has become the perennial science communicator and his taking over for Carl is not only appropriate, but almost necessary for the new show.

Sagan’s co-writers, Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, reprise their roles. In the first episode, A Spacetime Odyssey revisits, but not retreads, much of the original. They retain key metaphors that have stood the test of time, such as the Cosmic Calendar, which reframes the universe’s 13.8 billion year history into twelve months of an Earth year. And yet, they pay homage to rather than dwell on the writing of A Personal Voyage. Druyan and Soter could have rested on the now-classic turns of phrase they used decades ago, but their poetry here is as impactful and refreshing as ever.

What will be missed, however, are A Personal Voyage’s live acted dramatization of historical events. A Spacetime Odyssey instead uses cartoons. The animation is not as fluid or appealing as I would have liked, but the matter they presented more than made up for any lack in its technical prowess.

The first episode relates the story of a man not as popular among the heroes of science, Giordano Bruno. He is portrayed as a man who refused to follow tradition and faith when evidence clearly pointed away from them. In his studies of Copernicus and Lucretius, he was convinced that not only was the Earth not at the center of the universe, our Sun was just another star in an ocean of other suns, surrounded by their own earths. For this, he was burned alive.

The show presents all these without apology and without sentimentality. This is how the world treated people who thought differently and were not shackled by dogma. In showing Giordano Bruno’s story, A Spacetime Odyssey dares to go further and more bluntly than the original in challenging conventional unscientific thinking. As anti-science movements get more and more virulent with the power of modern media and indoctrination, shows like these provide a vital prophylactic.

Much of the science that reaches the masses has been neutered by the subtle bigotry of the expectation of propriety from the religious majority—the unspoken rule that science shouldn’t ruffle feathers lest it turn away more people. But science works by questioning everything and refusing to be satisfied by what others merely insist upon without evidence—values that A Spacetime Odyssey repeats throughout the first episode.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is that MacFarlane brought this show to America through Fox, a big network television channel accessible to anyone there. Here in the Philippines, it is carried by National Geographic, on cable TV. One can only hope that one of our own over-the-air networks will carry it someday as RPN-9 did for the original.

Standing Up in the Milky Way, the first episode of the new series ends on a fitting tribute to Carl Sagan but, avoiding the risk of becoming indulgent and saccharine, does not linger on it. Instead, it uses the tribute to invite the viewer to continue on the voyage that Carl introduced to millions a generation ago. Science improves and develops over time, giving us more things to love about the things we thought we knew. And that’s exactly what Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has done in its debut.

Image Credit: National Geographic Channel Asia

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FF Podcast 32: Flesh-Eating Disease in the Philippines?

FF Podcast 32: Flesh-Eating Disease in the Philippines?

This week, we talk about the story propagated by ABS-CBN’s Bandila program regarding a supposed mysterious flesh-eating disease engulfing Pangasinan.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast (Audio): James Randi (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): James Randi (Conversations for a Cause)

James Randi

Conversations for a Cause returns with an interview with The Amazing Randi. We ask him about The Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and his experiences in testing fantastic claims by people who call themselves psychic.

You may also download the podcast file here.




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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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A Conversation with DJ Grothe of JREF

A Conversation with DJ Grothe of JREF

This week, we talk with DJ Grothe, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation. We discuss freethought, scientific skepticism, and social justice activism.

You may also download the video file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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A Conversation with Russell Blackford, philosopher and author

A Conversation with Russell Blackford, philosopher and author

This week, for Conversations for a Cause, we talk with Russell Blackford, philosopher and co-author of 50 Great Myths About Atheism. We talk with him about misconceptions about atheism. Then, we discuss his views on theology and the ethics of human enhancement.

You may also download the episode file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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A Conversation with Guy P. Harrison

A Conversation with Guy P. Harrison

This week, for Conversations for a Cause, we talk with Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God. We discuss skepticism, critical thinking, and his latest book, Think: Why You Should Question Everything.

You may also download the episode file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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The World Through A Glass Darkly

[This piece is the first installation in a series on scientific reasoning and skepticism.]

Look at the picture below. Which part of the block looks darker, the one on top or the one on the bottom?

Shading optical illusion

Actually, they’re exactly the same color. You can see this if you cover the middle portion of the grey object using your index finger. Now study the next picture below and examine the tiles labeled A and B. What is the color of tile A? How about tile B?

1079537_10203254647312773_1286954857_n

What if I tell you that tiles A and B have the same color? If you don’t believe me (and it’s right that you don’t, because wtf they’re not the same color), save this picture and examine it using appropriate software. You can also print the picture on paper, cut out the tiles in question, and compare their colors side by side.

It is often said that we see the world through a glass darkly. What this means is our perception of the world is not perfect but rather goes through a flawed filter, the proverbial darkened glass. In reality, our perception of the world is not merely distorted by physical obstructions like dark glasses; our very minds are riddled with cognitive biases that are at the very core of how we perceive the universe. The dark glass we see the world through is part of who we are. It is us.

Why do we see tiles A and B above as having different colors? Before we answer that question, take a look at the picture below.

Shaded circles 1

Because of the shading, the circles appear three-dimensional. The fact that we perceive depth just because of shading is already interesting. Even more interesting is the fact that to nearly everyone, the same group of circles appear to bulge out (they are “eggs”) and the same group appear to cave in (they are “cavities”). Which of the circles look like eggs and which look like cavities? Assuming all of you who read this are humans, most of you will see the circles on the left as the eggs and the circles on the right as the cavities. The left portion of the picture looks like a flat surface with several bumps while the right portion reminds us of a golf ball’s surface.

It’s also interesting to note that it’s difficult to see it the other way around. Go ahead, try it. Imagine the circles on the left as cavities and those on the right as eggs. (Personally, I find the former more difficult to do than the latter.)

Scientists think our tendency to see the circles on the left as the convex eggs is due to our mind’s innate assumption that light always comes from above. For the left circles to be cavities, light would have to come from underneath. Our brains seem to find this latter scenario unlikely. In fact, our mind’s assumption that light always comes from above is so strong that the convex eggs pop out from among the cavities in the picture below.

Shaded circles 2

If you invert the picture above, the circles would exchange roles; the ones that used to be cavities will become the eggs and vice versa. I encourage you to give it a try. You can view the page with your head upside down or, if you’re reading this on a laptop or a tablet, try flipping your device and see the eggs become cavities.

Once you or your gadget is upright again, look at the picture below.

Shaded circles 3

Like last time, you will see eggs and cavities, but this time it’s easy to imagine either group as the eggs. Unlike last time, you can easily shift from the point of view that the upper circles are eggs to the view that the lower circles are the eggs. Our minds can easily imagine a scenario where light comes from the left to the scenario where light comes from the right.

Since our brains are products of our evolutionary history, so are our minds. We are descendants of creatures who had minds that allowed them to survive their world long enough to pass on their genes, and in their world light usually came from the Sun. In the sky, the Sun can be found to one’s right, one’s left, or above, but never below. Our minds have therefore evolved to use shortcuts that disregard the scenario of light coming from underneath.

The visual data our brain receives from our eyes are not enough to create an exact simulation of the world. From the last picture above, we see that the shading of the circles can be interpreted in at least two ways. In fact, the shading can be interpreted in many other ways; our brains just picked two among them. Another way to interpret the last image is as set of flat circles with uneven shading, but our brains disregarded that option, too. Evolution produced human minds that usually assume evenly shaded surfaces.

The mind’s problem of coming up with an accurate picture of the world given the visual data from the eyes is what engineers would call an ill-posed problem; there are more unknowns than there are given, and so no one correct solution can be derived from the given. In order for our ancestors to survive, that is, in order for them to find predators lurking nearby before they become said predator’s lunch, their minds had to evolve shortcuts that assume certain things about the world. Those assumptions may not always be true, but they are true often enough to be useful. An example of such assumption is the one that light always comes from above and never from underneath. We carry that innate assumption, that cognitive bias, with us. Today it may allow us to see eggs and cavities in a picture on a screen, but a million years ago it allowed our ancestors to avoid that lion waiting behind that stand of grass.

Let’s go back to the question of why tiles A and B in the second picture appear to have different colors even though they’re exactly the same. Because of the context, our minds are made to think that tile B is in the shadows. This, in turn, makes our visual processing system compensate for the shadow, “subtracting” the shade from the raw data to produce a final simulation that is erroneous, one in which tiles of the same color appear to have different hues. Because of a similar cognitive process, we see tiles A and B in the picture below as tiles with different shades, even though they’re exactly the same shade of grey.

checkershadow_illusion4med

Intuitively, we feel as if our brains simply interpret raw information coming from our senses. But as mentioned, the data from our sense organs are not enough to tell us everything we need to know about our surroundings. Because of this, our minds process the information from our senses, adding countless assumptions that may be false and disregarding many scenarios that are possible before creating a final simulation of the world. Our perceptions are heavily processed, extremely edited, assumption-laden finished products and not the raw information we usually think they are. Such is the dark glass through which we see the world.

How then, you ask, do we know what’s behind the dark glass? How can we see the world from outside our tinted windows? In other words, how do we know what’s really real? The answer: we turn to science.

In the next installation in this series, we will explore several more cognitive biases and then explain how the methods of science allow us to use our senses to transcend the limitations of those very senses we use, giving us glimpses of the reality that throbs and thrives on the other side of the dark glass.

Posted in Philosophy, Science0 Comments

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