Starting tomorrow (2/23/2018) you can enter for a chance to win a free, signed copy of Rise and Run. The giveaway will run through March 2, so there’s a limited amount of time—and a limited amount of product.
Just click this here link to head over to Goodreads to enter the Giveaway. While you’re there, go ahead and give me a follow!
For whatever reason, I keep wanting to start this post with, “What up, bitches?” But I will not.
So, you’re here! And I’m here! And Dave is … Well, I don’t know where Dave is, but since you made it here today for the extras, I won’t let you down! Today I have for you a chapter that, although I thoroughly enjoy, was omitted from Rise and Run for pacing reasons. It was originally the second chapter in the book, so you might have questions to which I’ll simply say, “Hey, just go buy the book tomorrow and all your questions will be answered.”
Oh, and, this wouldn’t be a proper part III to the cover reveal without the whole … missing piece of the cover. So, you’ll find that below. For now, read and enjoy!
November 4, 2012, Bar Harbor, Maine
Rian Connell had called in every favor owed to him to get Effie released after she was apprehended on the suspicion of murdering a government agent. And when Mýrún couldn’t be found, Anthony Kenna’s murder was pinned on Effie as well. Not a stretch, considering that both men had died the same way.
The DoD’s reluctance to admit that the stolen boy existed—not even a word was breathed as to his purpose—worked in Rian’s favor. Effie’s case never went to trial, so thoroughly did all parties work to bury the classified project. The only reason Effie wasn’t buried herself was Rian’s high profile and the extensive media coverage it entailed him. Effie was released after three months with full-throated apologies, and no small amount of whispered threats.
But no one went against Rian. No one dared. If there was a problem that his imports and exports business couldn’t pay for, it was dealt with by the less legal aspects of his empire—and the extent of classified information he shouldn’t have was extra leverage.
Rian stood outside the Women’s Center of the Maine Correctional Center, his sandy hair slicked back. His gray and white pinstripe suit jacket was open to show off a matching waistcoat and a deep red tie. He held his arms open just in time to catch Effie as she sailed into him, knocking his glasses askew as she settled into as fierce a hug as she could manage with her pregnant belly between them.
“We have to find him,” Effie said. She looked up at him, searching his eyes for a sign of acquiescence.
Rian’s eyes went heavenward as he searched for the proper response. “I’ve looked for him, Effie. The boy is nowhere to be found,” Rian said, his Irish accent softened by his years in the States. “And Mýrún … she’s vanished just as soundly.”
“She couldn’t stay,” Effie said for what must have been the hundredth time over the past three months.
Rian waved off the chauffeur and opened the limo door for Effie himself. She scooted across the bench seat and Rian took his place beside her before instructing the driver to take them home. He closed the partition.
“I’ve widened the surveillance range. My sources have all confirmed that the DoD hasn’t located the boy yet. At least that’s something.”
“You don’t think …” she whispered, unable to finish the thought.
“No,” he lied. “I don’t think he’s dead.”
“Take me there,” Effie said. “Take me to the pickup location. I need to see.”
“And I need you to be home,” he said “Besides, taking the limo would draw unwanted attention.”
“Then why’d you take it?” she asked. Rian kissed her forehead in answer, then pulled her into him.
“If your mind is set on this we’ll go, but not now.”
She nodded. He was right, of course. He generally was. But knowing that didn’t stop the impatient tapping of her foot or the way she nervously picked at her fingernails. She had to find the boy; she had to.
December 11, 2012, Lewiston, Maine
It was nearing midnight when Rian arrived at the project building where James Moran’s witness reported seeing the boy. Moran, Bar Harbor’s police chief and Rian’s closest friend, drove up with a few of his men following behind. Unofficially. As Moran got out of his car and Rian walked over to meet him, three undercover Chargers pulled up around them.
Moran handed Rian an earpiece and neck loop mic. “Just in case you want to turn me off,” he said as he handed Rian a wireless remote control. The earpiece was small and comfortable, a nanotech prototype that Rian had paid a fortune to get into Moran’s possession. He pulled the mic over his head, then tucked it under his shirt before attaching the remote to his belt.
Rian looked around at the growing unofficial police presence that had spilled from the Chargers. They looked ready.
“Two on you, two on me,” Moran said. “One at the front entrance and one at the back.”
Rian nodded and returned his attention to the building. Its windows were boarded up and the front door hung loosely from its broken hinges. This was Russian territory. Encroaching on it could cause Rian problems down the road, but he’d promised Effie that he’d get the boy.
Rian always kept his promises.
“I’ll take the ground floor,” Moran said. Rian nodded, freeing his pistol from its holster, and followed Moran to the building’s entrance, all but two officers in tow.
Rian and Moran stopped, one on either side of the listing front door. The smell of urine escaped through the opening. Rian peered down the empty hallway, a cancerous throat with torn and molding carpet and wounded walls. He nodded to the two men lined up behind him, trusting them to cover him as he made his way to the stairwell.
He stayed low against the wall, palms cupping his pistol grip, the barrel facing the floor for now. His right index finger rested against the trigger guard. He took shallow breaths through his nose, not particularly wanting to smell the building, but wanting to taste it even less. One foot crossed over in front of the other and his back lightly scraped the wall. The stairwell was just around the corner to the right. Behind him, Moran shifted, ready to go in. Rian turned the corner, pistol up.
Rian took the stairs slowly, half out of choice and half necessity. The wooden stairs were in disrepair, not creaking as much as weeping when Rian or one of the officers put weight on certain slats. As he reached the landing, he took a moment to adjust his eyesight. It was darker up here, the smell louder.
“Move,” Rian whispered.
“Moving,” Moran answered, his voice coming crisply through the earpiece.
All the doors on either side of the hall had been removed, showing only dark sores along the blue-gray stretch of hallway. Rian and his party cleared the rooms one at a time. Inside the apartments, Rian saw signs of abandoned lives. Barbies and Hot Wheels, Legos, Play-Doh, gaming systems with game cases sprawling like an overturned Jenga tower. Mold spreading from desiccated food on dirty dishes in one kitchen. Overturned chairs, broken tables, empty spaces where television sets might have been, shattered lamps.
The whole second floor had been turned over.
The last apartment was fairly intact. Rian swept through, room to room. He swept his gun through the doorway to a bedroom. Lined up against the far wall were three bare mattresses with barely enough space to walk in between. Chains hung on the wall, about halfway between floor and ceiling, over all three mattresses. The next bedroom had the same setup.
“Ground floor is clear. Going to three,” Moran said.
Rian and his two officers reconvened in the hallway.
“All clear, sir,” the taller one said. The other shook his head. He’d found nothing.
“Two is clear,” Rian said into his mic as he walked back to the stairwell. “Going to four.”
The carpet on the fourth floor had been peeled back. Long, wide strips had been cut out in places. There were holes in the walls where the sheetrock had been broken, exposing the framework. It looked like someone had been pilfering copper wire.
The three men entered the first apartment, sweeping the rooms. “Sir,” the taller officer’s voice came simultaneously over the earpiece and through the wall. Rian walked over to the officer, now standing in a doorway. He stepped aside to let Rian look in.
Chains on the wall, naked mattresses, and five bodies.
“Human trafficking,” Rian muttered. “Looks like the Russians are tying up loose ends.”
The bodies were starting to turn, the smell sticking to the back of Rian’s throat. He patted the officer on the shoulder and turned to leave. As he stepped through the apartment’s front door, he picked up movement coming from the opposite end of the building and ducked back inside.
“Third floor is clear,” Moran said over the comm.
“We’ve got movement on four,” Rian said.
He chanced a peek from around the frame. He watched as three men and four women—some crying, their distress barely audible—were herded into the hallway. A fourth man followed behind them with a gun in hand.
The man looked out of place, plucked from a department store catalog in his cheap suit. The group was about twenty feet away, heading toward the opposite stairwell, when Rian heard a cry from the apartment they had vacated. It was a small sound. A loud thump followed on the heels of the cry.
Rian waited until the hall was deserted.
“Eight coming your way. One armed, the rest …” Rian searched for the right word. He hated using the word victim. He settled for, “Captives.”
Over the comm, Rian heard Moran directing his men to new locations.
“Keep clearing the floor,” Rian said over his shoulder. He crept down the hallway to the last apartment on the left, from where the cry had come.
A quick look inside revealed a man in dark clothes standing over a boy who couldn’t have been more than four or five. Rian couldn’t tell if this was the right boy; the age seemed off. He took a breath, then moved to fill the apartment’s doorframe.
He didn’t say anything, simply lined up his target and fired.
The bullet hit near the man’s kidney, the lack of spray out suggesting there would be no exit wound. The boy made no sound as the body fell forward, collapsing on top of him. Rian hurried into the room to pull the man aside. Unconscious, but not dead yet. He squatted down in front of the boy, who there was no mistaking now.
The boy’s left arm was set at an odd angle and his face and neck were bruised. A bleeding cut trailed from the corner of a bloodshot eye. Rian turned at the sound of the officers clearing the rooms next door. When he looked back to the boy, the cut was nearly closed.
Rian blinked a few times, then shook his head.
“It’s all right now, boyo,” he finally said, trying to sound neutral.
Rian heard a shout, gunshots, and more shouting, this time with additional voices thrown into the mix. A woman wailed.
“Building is secure,” Moran said.
“Perimeter is secure,” a second voice responded.
“The boy is secure,” Rian announced. To the boy, he said, “Just sit tight, huh? You’re safe now.”
Rian stood up as he heard the first set of boots on the stairs. He checked the man he’d shot. Still not quite dead. He met Moran at the door, still keeping an eye on the kid and the soon-to-be corpse.
“We caught ourselves a bad guy,” Moran said.
“One of Kuznetsov’s men,” Rian said.
Moran whistled. “Shit. Well, I’m sure he’ll have an accident in prison.”
“A better alternative would be for him to have an accident before he leaves this building. I’d prefer that Kuznetsov doesn’t find out about this. Or at least not anytime soon.”
Moran nodded. “And the boy?”
“A bit beat up, but alive. His arm looks broken.”
“Who’s that with him?” Moran asked, eying the man on the floor.
“Another of Kuznetsov’s men. Post-accident. Give it a few minutes and all you’ll have to do is hide the body.”
Moran shook his head. “Funny. I’ve got EMTs on the way for the civilians. I’ll send a team up to check out the boy.”
Moran headed back down to his men. Rian returned to the boy, who hadn’t moved. He hugged his knees with his right arm. Rian sat beside him, leaning against the wall.
“Let me see,” Rian said, indicating the boy’s left arm. The boy held out his arm, made no noise as Rian inspected it. Bright bruising mottled the skin. Not broken after all. Fractured, maybe.
“Can you tell me your name, boyo?” Rian asked.
For a long while, the boy didn’t answer. Finally, he whispered, “LS061514.”
“And how old are you?”
“I’m Effie’s husband. Do you remember Effie?”
The boy nodded.
Rian couldn’t think of anything else to say. Kids weren’t his area of expertise—just one of the reasons why Effie’s pregnancy terrified him.
“How’d you manage to get all the way over here?” Rian finally asked.
The boy squirmed a bit. “I got hungry,” he said as though that explained everything.
Rian gazed ahead at nothing. He’d ask again, when the boy was out of this squalor. A week from now, a month from now, he’d ask again.
The paramedics arrived about ten minutes later. Rian moved aside to let them work. When the lead EMT asked which hospital to take the boy to, Rian slipped her a roll of bills and gave the address of a private clinic that one of his shell companies owned.
“We need to evacuate so the cleanup crew can get to work. You almost ready?” Moran asked as he walked back into the apartment.
“Just about. I need to arrange to have papers worked up for the boy,” Rian said.
“Why don’t I start on that while you get him settled? I know a guy who knows a guy.”
Rian smiled a little at that. “Conor Quinn seems like a good name, don’t you think?”
“Sure,” Moran said. “Listen, Rian, the ambulances are going to draw attention to this place. Not to mention our cars and the cleaners. Kuznetsov will know something happened.”
“I’ve got a guy at the Sun Journal. He’ll make sure the right story gets out,”
“Better work fast,” Moran said. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”
Rian followed the paramedics out of the building and climbed into the ambulance. “No lights, no sirens,” he said to the driver as the rear doors shut.
March 13, 2012, Kennebunk, Maine
The doctor and a flock of nurses bustled about while machines beeped anxiously. The screaming alarms were endless. Rian heard it all at a distance, his ears as resistant to decode the sound as his eyes were to the sight.
Conor gripped two of Rian’s fingers. The hands of both the man and the boy were clammy. A nurse cleared his throat, but when he saw Rian’s face, he thought better of speaking to him at all, much less trying to persuade him to leave.
She looks so small, Rian thought as he looked at Effie. So small. Somehow everything had gone wrong. The baby was stillborn and complications during the labor led to the subsequent surgical removal of the thing. The thing that would have been Michael.
Rian looked down at the boy holding his fingers in a painfully tight grip, but the boy only had eyes for Effie. One of the machines sang out a long flat line, kicking the noise and rushed movement into a higher gear.
Then everything stilled.
The doctor covered Effie with a sheet as the rest of the team shuffled out in varying states of emotion.
“I’m sorry,” was all the doctor said before leaving Rian and Conor alone with the body.
Conor let go of Rian’s fingers and walked over to the side of the bed where Effie’s arm hung out from under the sheet. He placed her hand on top of his head, like she might wake up and ruffle his hair. He held her wrist in both of his small hands and closed his eyes.
Rian looked around the room, trying to find something that wasn’t there. As he turned toward one of the observation windows, he caught sight of an older woman. Her thin white hair hung in a plait over one shoulder. She was handsome, even in old age, and her bright blue eyes shined with unshed tears.
Rian looked back, saw Conor staring at Mýrún, still holding Effie’s hand on his head. Rian turned and ran out of the room, but she was already gone.
He walked back in and rested his hand on Conor’s shoulder. The boy laid his head on the hospital bed, oblivious to the bloodstain creeping outward. Rian squatted and gently took Conor by both shoulders, turning the boy to face him.
He wanted to say something, but had no words. Instead he hugged Conor fiercely, then picked the boy up and carried him out.
Well, that was fucking depressing! But I hope you enjoyed it all the same. As promised, here’s the final piece of the puzzle! Keep and eye out tomorrow for the Cover Reveal finale (that’s when you get to see the whole damn thing in order). Also keep and eye on this here page for the Amazon purchase links!
Mount Triglav gives an earth-rumbling heave before the world falls silent. There is no light here. There is no life. It is Walpurgisnacht—a night the pagans once celebrated with bonfires and dancing.
Thunder breaks the silence and in the following stillness there begins a gentle shutter through the earth, the air, a shimmering of heat waves. The heat waves bend and fold in special displacement as one by one the demons come. The shapes and sizes are infinite, this one with a cleft pallet, that one with a leather hide, another with a featureless face, clawed, beaked, razor-toothed, scarred, smooth, beautiful, wretched, they come in all forms. And they are all weak.
Deep inside Mount Triglav, an energy comes alive—noises pour forth, screams of rage and frustrated keening. The demons take a collective breath. The mountain peak wavers and broadens. It bends forward. The keening crescendos, then stops. A bloated silence consumes the world. The demons stretch necks against the air, scratch feet against the ground, curl themselves small, and hold themselves tight and not a sound breaks that heavy silent barrier. The world is deaf.
Panic creeps up spines, grips hearts, and whispers deep, deep in the mind.
A wing splits from the mountain peak. Another. A body rises up, undulating snake-like to free itself. Chernabog is free. His body shutters, then stills.
A tide is rising in him, the force so swollen it must be released. His mouth is barely open before the sound begins spilling out—a sound that ruptures eardrums for miles. Blood begins to seep from the demons’ ears. The demons nearest the mountain are crushed under the weight of that enraged sound. Chernabog raises his arms, beckons with long, claw-tipped fingers and the demons come. Up the mountain they stumble, crawl, maimed by deafness and bone-shattering pressure and moved by Chernabog’s will.
This is Walpurgisnacht now. None danced willingly.
Chernabog calls the fire imps. They slither and crackle in his palm. They dance naked before his dispassionate gaze. He forces them into new shapes—pig and wolf and goat—and a hint of something like satisfaction crosses his face. He moves his free hand above and over the misshapen imps and they bend and writhe unnaturally, unable to do anything else. The great demon turns his hand this way and that, watching the imps scramble along his hand, clawing for purchase at his fingers. The humiliation doesn’t last long. With a hard flick of the wrist, Chernabog dislodges the imps into the core of Mount Triglav.
Chernabog looks down on his minions, watches them cower. His lip curls back, sneering, disgusted. He sweeps a hand forward, beckoning. His harpies descend. He looks on as the harpies grab at the little demons and then soar back into the air, higher and higher. They let go. Little demons producing little, distorted screams.
Chernabog sits back, wings hitching close to his body as his shoulders sag. He waves a hand and the demons fight amongst themselves. He stares blindly at the little fighting demons. He senses his brother. Chernabog clenches his fists as the muscles in his neck and shoulders tighten. One fist relaxes enough for the claw of his forefinger to scratch at the pad of his thumb. Little circles full of angry, nervous energy. Chernabog closes his eyes and waits.
Even through the relative safety of his closed lids, Chernabog can see the brightness as his brother approaches. Belobog. As bright as shiny as a goddamn beacon. The little demons cower from the light. Chernabog grunts.
“Brother,” Belobog says, his voice surrounding Chernabog as completely as the light.
“You came early,” Chernabog says, his voice rubbing like stones, an almost petulant quality to the words.
“I’m always angry,” Chernabog tries to snap, but his tone is anguished, the words drawn out in a painful moan.
“Perhaps change is in order,” Belobog says gently.
Chernabog’s surprise almost has his eyes snapping open, but he squeezes the lids harder, white spots dancing behind his eyes with the effort.
“What does that mean, brother?”
When Belobog is hesitant to answer, Chernabog stiffens, face contorting between a scowl and frown. Chernabog can feel the light fading, drawing in around its source.
“Open your eyes,” Belobog says. His voice is coaxing. Chernabog obeys, warily parting his lids until he is squinting at his brother. That he has obeyed Belobog angers him, as everything in this world angers him. A strangled sob passes Chernabog’s throat. Belobog pulls his light in tighter, mistaking the source of his brother’s pain.
“What do you want?” Chernabog growls.
“To offer you peace.”
Chernabog laughs, the sound a rolling thunder causing rocks to slide down the mountain. But there is fear in that laugh. The only peace is in death.
“You’ve come to kill me,” Chernabog says.
“No, brother. I’ve come to free you.”
Hey. Hi. Yeah… it’s me. Look, I know it’s been a while, but that’s why my bio doesn’t include “responsible adult” in it anywhere. But I’m back now. Oh, and Dave is here, too. Say hi, Dave. Dave? Hmm, must be his nap time. Well, that’s all right. I’m here. And today, I’d like to talk to you about villains.
Villains can be some of the most fun characters to read and write about. A proper villain is as compelling—and occasionally more so—as the protagonist. When writing, often so much focus is put on the protagonist that the villain can fall by the wayside. A villain just can’t be a villain if he (or she) is underdeveloped. A good way to fully render a villain to completion it to loosely base the character on someone real. Want an example? I’ve got the perfect one.
The Personification of Hate and Rage
On September 5, 1930, Carl Panzram was hanged by the neck until dead at U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas. To say the very least, Panzram was not a good man.
In my life I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all of these things I am not the least bit sorry […] I hate the whole damned human race including myself.
That excerpt is penned by none other than the man himself and published in Panzram: A Journal of Murder. All quotes included in this entry are credited to that book. I highly recommend you read it. However, if you want an alternative, look no further than Last Podcast on the Left’s three-part series on Panzram.
So, what makes Panzram so appealing in terms of creating a villain? Everything. But I’m going to try to keep this short…ish. Panzram is simultaneously like and unlike the average serial killer. Well, maybe average isn’t the right word, but you catch my meaning. Of the unholy serial killer trifecta—bed wetting, animal cruelty, and arson—Panzram is known to have at least dabbled in two: arson and animal cruelty. However, Panzram regretted his cruelty toward animals. A bit unusual for a serial killer. Furthermore, he specifically used arson as a form of punishment. Arson wasn’t about pleasure or destruction, rather it was about revenge against someone who’d done him harm.
The Blissful Formative Years
Looking at Panzram’s childhood and encounters with authority—he was in and out of lock-up since age 11—it’s not hard to understand how his mentality could be so dark. So fucking angry. At 11, Panzram was sent to a reform school for stealing apples, a piece of cake, and a pistol from a neighbor. At this school, they would use punishment in the form torture:
They used to have a large wooden block which we were bent over and tied face downward after first being stripped naked. Then a large towel was soaked in salt water and spread on our backs from the shoulders to the knees. Then the man who was doing the whipping took a large strap about ¼ of an inch thick by 4 inches and about two feet long. This strap had a lot of little round holes punched through it. Every time that whip came down on the body the skin would come up through these little holes in the strap and after 25 or 30 times of this, little blisters would form and then burst, and right there and then, hell began. The salt water would do the rest.
That was happening to 11-year-olds by reformers trying to beat religion into them. But it gets worse. After his release, around age 13-14, Panzram was gangraped by hobos on a train. He says:
I told them no. But my wishes didn’t make any difference to them. What they couldn’t get by moral persuasion the proceeded to get by force. I cried, begged and pleaded for mercy, pity and sympathy, but nothing I could say or do could sway them from their purpose. I left that box car a sadder, sicker but wiser boy than I was when I entered it.
And that shit happened again not too long after! Panzram’s only education was in the form of the strong physical brutalizing the weak. Through his encounters with everyone from hobos to law enforcement, he learned that “might makes right.” From his early encounters with men, Panzram learned that sodomy was a display of strength. It wasn’t about pleasure, it was about power.
During one particularly lengthy prison stay—he was constantly breaking out early—Panzram had to carry the 50-lb iron ball shackled to him three miles to the rock quarry, work eight and a half hours busting rocks, then carry the ball the three miles back to prison. This lasted for six months. You better believe that motha’ fucker was jacked after that.
So began Panzram’s reign of terror.
Writing a Villain
By looking at Panzram’s own account of his life, we get to see a great deal of his thinking, his beliefs, his motivations, and so on. Combine that with others’ view of the man—many of whom stated that his very presence was larger than life—and we start to get a complete picture. This man, whose motto was “rob them all, rape them all, and kill them all” is definitely not one-dimensional. And neither should fictional villains be.
When creating a villain, start from the beginning. Look at the formative years of some of the world’s most prolific serial killers and use that psychology to help you form a background for your character. Think of how you want your villain to be seen by other characters, and by readers. I picked Panzram as an example because he’s both charismatic and terrifying, manipulative and driven by unadulterated hate, uneducated and intelligent. He’s the basis from which you could create the sociopathic villain that everyone likes and trusts until it’s too late or the seeming monster who seeks power and revenge. Either of those choices could build a striking, engaging villain that captivates readers.
Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be posting a four-part fiction series focusing on a villain. This particular series came about in a creative writing class from years ago, and sees a Disney villain going on a blind date. My villain is Chernabog. I’ve revisited the original series to incorporate elements of Panzram. I look forward to sharing it with you.
This “one-a-week” posting makes me feel as though I’m neglecting you. But, needs must when you have bills to pay. Today, we’re going to talk about fitness and well being. This isn’t a “tips,” “tricks,” or “diet” post. Perish the thought. This is sharing what works for me and how I found it. Think of this post as motivation to find what will work for you. I hate to tell you this, but not everyone is the same. Yes, Dave, people do think that.
Pause for slow blink or over-dramatic eye roll. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Done? Okay, cool. Let’s get to it!
The Struggle is Real
When I was trying to lose weight years ago, my mom would always tell me, “Don’t go on a diet. Change your diet.” I didn’t really take that to heart at the time, because I was a young, fat girl and that is a sin in this society and I had to lose weight now, no, not now, right now! I was 262 lbs. at my heaviest. By the way, I’m 6’ and built like a linebacker and yes, when I was young, some people thought I was a boy. I had short hair at the time. Don’t judge me.
Anyway, I did the whole Jenny Craig thing. That worked pretty well—I got down to about 220 lbs. Then I joined an MMA-gym for five months and got down to about 190 lbs. Then I became super poor for several months and subsisted on discontinued M&M’s I bought from work for $.11/pack. That got me down to 175 lbs. I don’t recommend that. I also ate cheap Ramen noodles for a week and I was pretty sure my veins were turning to cardboard. Definitely don’t recommend that. Finally, my finances smoothed out—and I often shopped at the grocery store that is “mom and dad’s fridge”—and I could eat normal people food. I maintained 180 lbs. for about a year and a half. For me, that’s a good weight.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I blew the fuck up! I got back up to about 215 lbs. I couldn’t go to the gym. I was at the doctor—a lot of doctors—a lot of the time for a back injury. It was a rough time. I went to physical therapy for a third time and hit the jackpot with the all-star team at Eskridge and White. I got better. A lot better. Two months ago, I got back into the gym. And God, is it good.
So, this little intro might not help everyone, but I wanted to include it because “fitness” does not come easily for many people.
Putting in the Work
When I started back at the gym during my physical therapy, I was pretty limited. I started easy with PT-approved exercises and spent time on the rowing machine and stationary bike. I started to jog, then got bursitis in my left knee and had to take two weeks off. When I got back to the gym after those two weeks, I had new PT exercises to incorporate for knee strength. About three weeks ago, I finally got to the point where I could mix in non-PT exercises. So, I started hitting the weights hard and doing a mix of full-body and isolation moves. It was two weeks ago that I found my favorite thing to do at the gym: supersets with supersets in between, working from top to bottom throughout the week. That sounds kind of weird, so I’ll break it down:
- Monday: Three shoulder/chest supersets with three core supersets between
- Tuesday: Three bicep/tricep supersets with three core supersets between
- Wednesday: Three back supersets with three core supersets between
- Thursday: Three hip/glute supersets with three core supersets between
- Friday: Three leg supersets with three core supersets between
I never do the same core work twice in a week, and all the core work I do incorporates elements of the muscle group/s I’m working that day. The reason I combine two different types of supersets is because it works for me. There is little to no rest time, which keeps my heart rate up. When I’m dripping sweat less than half way through the workout, I know I’m on the right track. Once I started this specific workout regimen, sleep came so much easier. I’m the kind of person who has to take sleep aids—NuQuil—so this is a big step up for me. I’m getting more, and better quality, sleep. I’m also less tired during the day and in a much better mood.
So, here’s the thing: Before I found this regimen, I had a lot of misses. I tried a bunch of different workouts I’d found online and nothing stuck. Nothing felt right. It was only when I mashed a bunch of things together that I started seeing and feeling results. And, a lot of what I mashed together stemmed from PT exercises. My advice? Try as many things as you can until you can build a routine that works for you. Mix it up, mash it together, and if something doesn’t work, toss it.
Back to that diet thing, huh? Yes, Dave, back to the diet thing. Around the time I was figuring out my fitness regimen, I was changing my diet. That includes when to eat as much as what. The “what” to eat part wasn’t hard. Having an Aldi near my house makes it even easier—because it’s affordable. This change was more accidental than anything else. One week, I only had about $10 to spend on groceries to last me the week. So, I bought a bag of white rice, a cucumber, guacamole, and a dozen eggs. Mix all that together and chill it, and that was my lunch and dinner for the week. I’ll get to the lack of breakfast—the “when” to eat— thing in a moment.
I built my dietary change around those four staples. From there, I added smoked salmon and imitation crab—because I started making a lot of poke—as well as onions, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, strawberries, blueberries, and yogurt. That doesn’t sound like much of a variety, but I can tell you that when you get creative, you can make many dishes out of those few ingredients.
I stuck with this ingredient combination because it met my taste bud needs as well as my cravings. Yes, I will totally have a bag of Sour Cream & Onion chips and Jack Link’s beef jerky on cheat days—which happen once per week and only last for one meal. By cravings, I don’t mean “Man, I really want some ice cream.” By cravings, I mean when you’ve gone without a fruit or vegetable for “x” about of time and your body goes into need mode. I don’t know if that happens to everyone. If I go without broccoli for a certain amount of time, it’s like going without heroin—come on, man, mama needs her broccoli, just one stalk is all, come on.
Here we go. I’m going to give you my advice again. Find your staples. Find your main carb source, main fat source, main protein source, and main vegetable (or fruit) and build from there. No, Dave, pasta, butter, beef, and mashed potatoes are not the right path. Think healthy thoughts.
This will probably be my favorite talking point, as it calls back to another article/blog I wrote, which you can find here or here. The article talks about caloric restriction (CR), which is all kinds of good for your brain. You love your brain, right? It’s no secret that CR is a good tool in weight loss, but in terms of brain health, it’s the spacing out of meals that’s the kicker. There’s an eating schedule that capitalizes on the brain and body benefits of CR—intermittent fasting (IF). There are multiple variations of IF, one of the most common of which is 16/8. The 16/8 eating schedule—sometimes called Leangains—has you fasting for 16 hours and eating during the other eight.
I’ve tried doing the 16/8 before, eating from 7:00a to 3:00p, but it didn’t last. Part of this is because breakfast is a hassle and I’m a night eater. I have always eaten more toward the last half of the day. This schedule was never going to work for me. I picked this eight-hour eating window because I work out in the mornings, and everything you read talks about making sure to get in a post-workout meal (unless you’ve eaten pre-workout). Damn you, Google! I thought I could trust you!
Here’s the thing. For me, IF is not only not impossible, it’s easy. It even comes naturally. I just had the wrong eating window. For the past two weeks, I’ve been back on IF with my eating window from noon to 8:00p. That means exercising fasted, then continuing to fast for another five hours. In the hard-core fitness world, this is frowned upon for all kinds of reasons: you’ll lose muscle mass, you won’t see any gains, you’ll be sore longer, blah blah blah. Is that true for some people? Well, sure, but not for me.
Since combining my me-designed exercise regimen with my me-designed change of diet and IF schedule, things have happened:
- Better, longer sleep
- Better mood
- Slimming and toning
- Increase in strength
My scale says the same thing it said two weeks ago. My clothes fit a bit looser as my thighs, waist, back, and arms have slimmed. My arms and thighs feel much more solid—not that I go around occasionally poking them or anything. I’m lifting 10-15 lbs. heavier depending on the workout. I don’t get as sore or for as long, even after I’ve worked to failure and can barely get my coffee mug close enough to my mouth to drink—or lift my arms high enough to wash my hair. When these things combine—don’t make a Captain Planet joke, don’t make a Captain Planet joke—they tell me that the post-workout meal isn’t necessary. At least, currently, not for me.
Find What Works for You
You probably hear/read this a lot. It’s great advice. I’ve gotten more results from the past two weeks of doing what’s right for me than I did during two months of personal training and one-on-one Pilates. I’m not saying either of those things are bad. I loved my Pilates trainer and would happily go back. Many people can—and do—benefit from personal training. That combination, at that time, didn’t work for me. What does work is physical therapy-based workouts, a dietary change revolving around frugality, and an eating schedule that is convenient. That creates a sustainable lifestyle change.
So, wash your hands—and eyes—of all the absolutes you find in fitness articles and only focus on the bit that says, “Find what’s right for you.”
Hello there! I’ve been meaning to bring you some fun new something or other, but my time and attention have been elsewhere. Also, I couldn’t really decide what I wanted to bring to your attention. Then, I came across Body Labs. According to its website, the Manhattan-based company was founded in 2013 with the goal of digitizing and organizing “data and information related to human body shape, pose, and motion.” The company’s mission is to “transform the human body into a digital platform upon and around which goods and services can be designed, produced, bought, and sold.”
Body Labs has gotten quite a bit of press in recent years, the most abundant of which falls into specific categories, such as…
Body Labs is hitting the right commercial buttons using all the right trending tech. Take online clothing purchases, for instance. Unless you’re pretty intimate with the brand, ordering clothes online is a gamble. It’s hard to find the right size when you can’t try something on. It’s also hard to know if it’ll look as good on you as it does on the person modeling it. According to Judy Frankel, “Of the $1.2 trillion in worldwide footwear and apparel sales, $62.4 billion were returned for improper fit in 2015.”
But, the avatars made by Body Labs could potentially cut that number way down. Creating an avatar takes your height, weight, and detailed measurements into account utilizing full body profile, frontal, and backside images. Just using the images gets the avatar pretty damn close to right, but if the measurements are off a bit, you can easily go in and tweak them.
While that’s all well and good—and it really is—even better is the future potential of this tech in this same consumerism capacity. Think about going into a clothing store and using these avatars (with a store-linked system) to eliminate the necessity of trying anything on. Bliss. Or, going a step further, using these avatars to get bespoke clothing, made in-store, just for you via 3D printer. Double bliss. Manufacturing something like clothing would be more economical this way as well, seeing as there wouldn’t be a surplus of unsold merchandise or unused materials.
Most of the current press on Body Labs in the “medical” section pertains to body weight. Specifically, creating a better way to consider an individual’s health spectrum than using BMI numbers. While BMI takes weight and height into account, the measurement doesn’t consider musculature, body structure, or where excess fat is located. That means healthy, fit individuals (like pro athletes) can slip into the obese category of BMI. Not taking into consideration the location of excess fat—around the thighs and upper arms versus around the torso—means that a healthy, average size person can fall into the same category as an individual with increased heart health risks. Body Labs’ body modeling can help individualize the body mass spectrum, taking you out of the wrong category and more precisely determining health risks.
Body Labs’ body modeling is also good for helping to properly fit a prosthetic to an individual. In his article, “The Future of 3D-printed Prosthetics,” Jonathan Schwartz discusses how some companies are making the manufacture and availability of personalized prosthetics easier and cheaper. I can definitely see 3D-printed prosthetics as the way of the future. And, with Body Labs’ body modeling, this process can boast a natural fitting prosthetic.
There’s also the chance that body modeling could help in recovery. Think about this scenario: You have an avatar with full movement tracking. It’s all the rage, so of course you do. It’s the new Instatwitterbook—VR style! One day, you have a car accident after which your mobility is limited. Let’s say your back was hurt. A new, full movement body model is made of you after the accident and is played beside the pre-accident model. The pre-accident model is now the standard—it’s the level of mobility to which you want to get back. So, over the course of physical therapy new body models are made to compare progress. That’s cool, but how does it help? By comparing progressing body models to the standard, you can better target exact problems areas to make recovery faster, more effective, and longer lasting.
Don’t be afraid of the future
It’s true that body modeling isn’t only for the good of fashion and niche medical industries. Not only can immersive VR improve, but the ability to predict movements without using body markers opens up the door for expansive VR game play. Want to play D&D at the park without having to build your own costume so people won’t stare or try to beat you up, not that that’s happened to me or anyone I know, shut up don’t ask questions!
Sorry, got a bit sidetracked. The point is, this type of tech has the potential to improve commercial markets, niche medical industries, and—and—entertainment!
Hello there, guys and dolls! We’re about to get into a topic I really didn’t want to get into. Or, maybe it’s a topic I thought I’d never have to get into. Either way, here we are, about to discuss vaccines. And anti-vaxxers, of course. And how the anti-vaccination movement is contributing to an upswing in preventable infectious diseases. This is a topic I’m pretty passionate about—as in, it tends to make me angry when I think about it.
Here’s the thing: A parent’s job is to protect their children. That includes taking necessary steps to protect them from infectious diseases when possible. Likewise, it is each individual’s job—or at least it should be their motivation—to protect others from infectious diseases. Not even Dave would breath in your face if he had Mono. Anyway, those “protect” instincts are essentially the reasons behind having vaccines in the first place—not just because scientists like people to do science on. See here:
- Infectious disease “A” is devastating to human health.
- Infectious disease “A” is preventable.
- Therefore, let’s do what we can to prevent infectious disease “A.”
When this formula happens, we get the results we saw with Polio which, in case you were unaware, was wiped out in the US. We’ve seen similar results with other infection diseases, as well. We’ll look at those later when I throw a bunch of statistics at you like a dodgeball champ.
The Spark that Caused a Movement
The problem is less of a problem and more of a shit-storm of problems—pardon my dirty mouth—starting with a theory. At a press conference in 1998, Andrew Wakefield voiced concerns that the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism via gastrointestinal issues. Susan Dominus explains:
[Wakefield’s] belief, based on a paper he wrote about 12 children, is that the three vaccines, given together, can alter a child’s immune system, allowing the measles virus in the vaccine to infiltrate the intestines; certain proteins, escaping from the intestines, could then reach and harm neurons in the brain.
Subsequent peer reviews found Wakefield’s theory unable to hold up to scrutiny. The theory was debunked. According to Dominus, the General Medical Council in Britain, “after a lengthy hearing, citing numerous ethical violations that tainted his work,” revoked Wakefield’s medical license. His funding was unethical and his research was fraudulent. Still, the damage had been done and Wakefield’s theory became the clinging dingleberry that sparked the anti-vaccination movement.
Fanning the Flames
Oh, my sweet, sweet internet. It’s just the best, right? It gives us kittens, Cracked.com, porn, recipes, and innumerable other awesome things. Yes, Dave, I included porn. Can’t you read? But, the internet is also the number one tool used to exacerbate fear, hate, misinformation, stupidity, porn. I mean, there’s the news of course, but really… is it even a contest?
By now I think I can confidently say that we are all familiar with the phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The internet is a powerful tool and, as with any tool, the wielder decides how it’s used. That’s unfortunate when it comes to things like research, where you really have to work to weed out the mostly true from the moderately true and the moderately true from the questionable and the questionable from the modern day equivalent of “signs your neighbor is a witch.”
The internet is a plethora of misinformation and the platform on which anti-vaxxers can “learn” and spread the word—spread the fear—of the dangers of vaccines. Lena H. Sun explains, “One part of the anti-vaccine movement’s message is that vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t dangerous if people get modern medical care. But that’s a myth, and the failure to vaccinate can be catastrophic.”
And did I mention that anti-vaxxers are not only endangering their own children, they’re endangering the children of others? The wee humans too young for their first round of vaccinations are no longer protected by the vaccinated population around them. Now, they are subject to getting infectious diseases from non-vaccinated children. And it’s costing them their lives.
Texas health data shows a steady uptick in diseases such as pertussis and mumps in recent years. A recent mumps outbreak in Johnson County, southwest of Dallas, sickened at least 167 people, mostly students. In 2013, Texas experienced the largest outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, since 1959: nearly 4,000 cases. Five newborns who were too young to be vaccinated died.
What’s the World Coming to?
The uptick in preventable infectious diseases since the anti-vaccination movement kicked into high gear is ridiculous. Minnesota is going through its worst measles outbreak in three decades. The 2014-15 measles outbreak in California led to the state passing one of the US’s strictest requirement laws, according to Sun. Lianna Matt with Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) explains:
Measles was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000 but has recently resurged, with 667 cases in 2014 and 189 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pertussis dropped to fewer than 2,000 US cases for several years in the 1970s and ’80s before roaring back to more than 48,000 cases in 2012, a 60-year high, according to the CDC.
Outbreaks are not exclusively linked to anti-vaxxer population pockets. I’ll put that admission out there right now. Densely populated areas are higher risks for outbreaks, for example. Also a potential factor is waning vaccine immunity, which tends to happen when an individual waits too long between vaccination rounds. The CDC backs this information as well.
And yet… Highly vaccinated communities are more easily able to be rid of an outbreak. That’s a huge deal not just for individuals, but also for the economy. Outbreak intervention is extremely expensive in both dollars and man-hours. So, the elephant in the room has been addressed. The spike in preventable infectious diseases is not only due to the anti-vaccination movement. That doesn’t negate anything you read earlier. Non-vaccinated children—and yes, also adults—risk higher rates of contracting a preventable infectious disease, they risk more severe damage caused by the disease, and they risk having the disease longer. That last part is a detriment to those around them.
The longer you have an infectious disease, the farther you can spread it. And it will keep spreading until it has no more hosts or until it meets enough vaccinated individuals that it burns out. Along the way, there may be casualties.
Look at us! All together again, chatting about things and stuff. Well, one-way chatting. Which is actually less chatting than—What? Oh, ok. Dave says I’m rambling.
Today, we’re going to talk about Star Trek—sort of. We’re going to talk about a piece of tech on Star Trek called the Tricorder.
You do remember the Tricorder, right?
If you don’t know, Star Trek was created in the 1960s by a fella named Gene Roddenberry. According to his son, Rod (actual name Eugene), Gene was highly influenced by “the next big thing” in science to develop the tech for the show. Rod explained that his father would reach out to the scientific community, find out what the newest thing was, and ask, “What’s next?” It’s likely for this reason that many of the show’s gadgets are believable and, now, are replicable. You know, like the Tricorder, by way of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition.
The competition was comprised of teams from all over the world, including finalists Basil Leaf Technologies (US), Dynamical Biomarkers Group (Taiwan), Cloud DX (Canada), Aezon (US), Danvantri (India), DMI (US)—DMX was busy in rehab—and Intelesens Responsive Healthcare (UK). The competition officially launched in 2012. The teams were tasked with creating something consumers could use at home to accurately monitor health:
The devices are expected to accurately diagnose 13 health conditions (12 diseases and the absence of conditions)—10 required core conditions and a choice of three elective conditions—in addition to capturing five real-time health vital signs, independent of a health care worker or facility, and in a way that provides a compelling consumer experience.
- Required Core Health Conditions (10): Anemia, Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Diabetes, Leukocytosis, Pneumonia, Otitis Media, Sleep Apnea, Urinary Tract Infection, Absence of condition
- Elective Health Conditions (Choice of 3): Cholesterol Screen, Food-borne Illness, HIV Screen, Hypertension, Hypothyroidism/Hyperthyroidism, Melanoma, Mononucleosis, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Shingles, Strep Throat
- Required Health Vital Signs (5): Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, Oxygen Saturation, Respiratory Rate, Temperature
The Tricorder had no strict aesthetic parameters, but could not be over five lbs. Hand-held and all that. Earlier this year, the winners were awarded. Final Frontier Medical Devices—the Basil Leaf Technologies team—took home first prize, with Dynamical Biomarkers Group coming in second. And, while the competition is over, the work doesn’t stop there.
Tricorder: Coming to a Store Near You
Qualcomm Foundation, which sponsored the competition, developed a post-prize fund in order to continue product development, consumer testing, industry adoption, retail commercialization, and more. According to XPRIZE, “Along with several strategic partners including the Roddenberry Foundation, XPRIZE and the Qualcomm Foundation will implement a series of initiatives to assist and support the teams in the further realization of their innovations.”
The initiative to bring the Tricorder to life—and to your fingertips—stems from the need to improve personal health in the US. The Tricorder will be able to help monitor existing/recurring health problems, as well as diagnose new illnesses. While the scope of diagnosis might seem relatively small, what the Tricorder—is scans the right word? ‘Cause I’m going to use it—scans for are the more prolific ailments in the US today. That means saving money on co-pays. It means saving money on extensive tests—some of which you don’t need. It means saving yourself the misery and frustration of going to the doctor in the first place.
Sponsors continuing support of the Tricorder are looking to educate citizens on the future of mobile health in the consumer industry. They are working on business plans for commercialization. They’re even working toward getting the Tricorder in stores, including Lowes—in the aisle between first-aid kits and soldering tools. In the years to come, and with a far less than perfect healthcare system, having the Tricorder commercially available will be a benefit we can’t afford not to have.
I know, I know. It’s been days. But, you can relax now. I’m here. Oh, and Dave, of course. Dave is always here. Today we (but mostly I) are going to discuss the fun, exciting, and controversial topic of genetic manipulation! I’ll hold for applause. Specifically, we’re talking about genome editing. The first quarter of this year (that’s 2017, in case you’re reading this in the future or are a time traveler) has seen exciting news coming from the genetics field and with the help of CRISPR (that’s clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene editing, advancements are being made pretty swiftly.
So, CRISPR jumped on the scene as a more affordable, more precise, and quicker way to manipulate genes. CRISPR is made up of an enzyme (that’s the Cas9 part, which is often dropped from the acronym) and a bit of guide RNA. I’m going to share with you my favorite description of the CRISPR process, which was written by Sarah Zhang in this article:
Cas9 is an enzyme that snips DNA, and CRISPR is a collection of DNA sequences that tells Cas9 exactly where to snip. All biologists have to do is feed Cas9 the right sequence, called a guide RNA, and boom, you can cut and paste bits of DNA sequence into the genome wherever you want. [… ] Cas9 can recognize a sequence about 20 bases long, so it can be better tailored to a specific gene. All you have to do is design a target sequence using an online tool and order the guide RNA to match. It takes no longer than few days for the guide sequence to arrive by mail.
The benefits of using CRISPR gene editing extend from the agricultural side of things to health and wellness in humans, our pets, and potentially our future children. According to this article in New Science, “David Ishee, a dog breeder from Mississippi, told the US Food and Drug Administration that he planned to use CRISPR gene editing to fix a mutation that makes Dalmatians prone to kidney disease.” Want more? In a Wired article by Amy Maxmen, we can see a bigger run down of the goings on with CRISPR:
Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used CRISPR to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals.
A lot of good could come from the ongoing study and use of CRISPR, but I know the one thing you’re all wondering…
The Question of Designer Babies
Will this breakthrough lead to the ability to produce designer babies? This is the $64,000 question, right? And, also… Is it ethical? When will it be possible? What are the consequences? Let’s start with the ethics aspect.
Previous studies utilizing CRISPR gene editing in human embryos have been done using only abnormal embryos—as in, embryos that couldn’t actually become children. But, this route was ineffective. The embryos’ genetic abnormalities don’t give an accurate look at what might be achievable in healthy embryos. So, when all else fails, there must be a compromise.
At the Third Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, a team has switched from abnormal embryos to “normal embryos derived from immature eggs donated by people undergoing IVF,” according to Michael Le Page. “Immature eggs like these are usually discarded by IVF clinics, as the success rate is much lower than with mature eggs. However, children have been born from such immature eggs.”
Toeing the ethics line? Maybe. But, as is the case with a deceased organ donor’s organs, if one person isn’t using it, someone else can.
While utilizing CRISPR gene editing could lead to designer baby manufacturing, we’re a long way from that. Which means we’re a ways off from discussing the consequences. For the most part, current embryonic studies are focused on isolating and editing genetic disorders. The aforementioned team at Third Affiliated Hospital, for instance, is focused on the genetic disorders causing favism and betathalassemia, both of which affect the blood.
At the current stage, these types of studies are running into their own problems—primarily mosaicism. Mosaicism is when, during cell division, both repaired and unrepaired DNA is present.
While progress is being made in the genome editing arena, there is still quite a road that needs to be traveled. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook) science in traveling that road on a high-speed rail instead of a horse-drawn carriage.
Welcome back! Good to see ya, nice to meet’cha, let’s dive right in! Today’s topic is solely focused on suspicion and how it can affect your social life and mental processes. Of course, it’s only reasonable that I explain how this topic popped into my head.
You see, kiddies, I get extremely suspicious when certain people ask me questions. Whether it’s a stranger or an acquaintance, there are just some people I feel should not be asking me things—no matter how innocent the question. Take this conversation, for instance:
I’m in the kitchen area at work, heating up my lunch in a microwave.
Co-worker: Heating up your lunch?
Co-worker: What are you having?
Co-worker: What kind of soup?
Me: Homemade soup.
Co-worker: Well, what’s in it?
Me: ::shrugs:: Vegetables and broth.
Yes, I knew what she wanted when asking what kind of soup. And, yes, I knew exactly what was in it. Yes, Dave, seriously. I can put edible things together in a bowl and pour broth over it. Anyway, the problem was this: I didn’t want to answer. Similarly, I don’t want to answer when asked about my prior weekend or my plans for the upcoming weekend. I don’t know why. My only reasoning is: It’s none of this person’s business. The next minute, I’ll turn around and tell the withheld information to a different co-worker. And, I’m not the only one who does this.
For the most part, we all encounter people who rub us the wrong way, people we instantly don’t like without even a word exchanged. I believe the type of guarded suspicion some of us have when asked questions by certain people is a symptom of this. So, why are some people suspicious in this way, and why do certain people seem to rub us the wrong way?
Looking at the Science Behind Suspicion
Understanding suspicion through science is a good where to start with our conundrum. In order to figure out how people assess the credibility of others, scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTC) investigated the parts of the brain that function in suspicion: the amygdala and the parahippocampal gyrus. The amygdala “plays a central role in processing fear and emotional memories and the parahippocampal gyrus […] is associated with declarative memory and the recognition of scenes,” according to an article featured on VTC’s website. The study went like this:
76 pairs of players, each with a buyer and a seller, competed in 60 rounds of a simple bargaining game while having their brains scanned [using an fMRI]. At the beginning of each round, the buyer would learn the value of a hypothetical widget and suggest a price to the seller. The seller would then set the price. If the seller’s price fell below the widget’s given value, the trade would go through, with the seller receiving the selling price and the buyer receiving any difference between the selling price and the actual value. If the seller’s price exceeded the value, though, the trade would not execute, and neither party would receive cash.
The outcome? According to Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at VTC, and the leader of the study, “The more uncertain a seller was about a buyer’s credibility […] the more active his or her parahippocampal gyrus became.”
Knowing what parts of the brain are most active during a state of suspicion is the first step in understanding the emotion, as well as where the suspicion is based. Heightened activity in the amygdala would, theoretically, signify fear-based suspicion, while heightened activity in the parahippocampal gyrus would signify suspicion based on mistrust. Montague suggest the parahypocampal gyrus acts “like an inborn lie detector.”
“So, what?” you demand. “How is this actionable information and why should I care?” Good question! It just so happens that…
Suspicion can Cost You Profit… and Worse
First of all, not everything is about you, my precious snowflakes. So, let’s look at the bigger picture. Like most things, suspicion in moderation can be quite good. There is a line, though. Being overly suspicious—either from fear or mistrust—can have negative consequences on financial success. According to Meghana Bhatt, one of the study’s authors:
People [taking part in the study] with a high baseline suspicion were often interacting with fairly trustworthy buyers, so in ignoring the information those buyers provided, they were giving up potential profits. The ability to recognize credible information in a competitive environment can be just as important as detecting untrustworthy behavior.
Not only can individuals with high baseline suspicion have a harder time achieving financial success, they can have a harder time achieving success in their careers. This can lead to a host of new problems, including an increase in stress and anxiety, as well as depression.
Speaking of the mental aspects, studies in suspicion can have implications for psychiatric disorders. “The fact that increased amygdala activation corresponds with an inability to detect trustworthy behavior may provide insight into the social interactions of people with anxiety disorders, who often have increased activity in this area of the brain,” explains Montague.
In short, studies such as these can help pinpoint sources of certain psychiatric disorders, which can better help scientists nail down proper treatments. But, these types of studies could also help to create a treatment or healthy way in which to promote balance for those with high baseline suspicion. Perhaps a better question is: When my internal lie detector goes off, who should I trust?