I took a break from writing a blog for which I’d need to indulge in research. I started today off doing something I had zero desire in ever doing. Or, rather, it began last night. I was driving home, listening to an album. Every time I listen to this album, I feel it building a story. Maybe not the one the musicians are trying to tell, sure, but a story that won’t go untold. It refuses. For months, I’ve resisted. Never, ever, have I had the desire to write anything on the same plane as a work that could be called epic, nor have I had interest in world building. But, what do I know?
I see why Tolkien was so keen on using dead languages. Particularly Old English. It’s beautiful, it’s melodic (an educated guess, on account of it being a… well, a dead language), and it feels epic. So, as I sat down to outline the first few chapters for the first book in this tale, I realized I needed to brush off my Norse sagas, my Old English texts, and my Celtic mythology. I realized this mostly after I spent three hours coming up with a couple of character names and the name of the land the protagonist is from. I must have taken a severe linguistic inflection dump after college.
Sweet, Sweet Resolution
So, I rounded up my linguistics sources, settled on character and (one) place names, and jotted the outline of the first nine chapters for this first installment. It feels great. It feels daunting. It feels terrifying. And boy, I can’t wait until I really get to dig in. I’ve set a happy pace I can keep, because once the outline is done, there’s no stopping the creative juices.
While writing (and editing and touching base with fifty people a day) for a magazine as my day (read: paying) job and writing blogs eat up time, there is an hour per day somewhere in all that for which I can spare a moment of world building, one sentence in a hybrid dead/new language, one action scene or touching moment.
Science is similar to a good book. You latch on to a subject and study it and every time you blink, there’s something new—new research or studies, new medicines, new therapies, new technologies, new, new, new. It’s like opening Ulysses, reading the word “contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality,” and coming up with a new meaning every time. Don’t pretend that’s not your new favorite word.
Over the past decade and a half, there have been scientific breakthroughs in medicine and technology that seem like—or at one point were—science fiction. Isn’t that fantastic? Can the same be said if we move a bit over to the more fantastical side of sci-fi?
Well sure, because…
There is a New Method to Levitate Objects
When I learned this, my first thought was, “There are already levitation methods?” followed closely by, “Jean Grey, here I come.” Right. So, the two means of levitation that physicists were utilizing previously are magnetic levitation and optical levitation. As the names imply, these forms of levitation have their limits—magnetic to magnetized items and optical to objects that can be polarized by light.
Frankie Fung and Mykhaylo Usatyuk, third- and fourth-year UChicago undergrad physics student respectively, must have wanted more. The two led a team of researchers to figure out this new levitation technique, which utilizes a warm plate and cold plate in a vacuum chamber. The way the technique works is:
The bottom copper plate [is] kept at room temperature while a stainless-steel cylinder filled with liquid nitrogen serve[s] as the top plate. The upward flow of heat from the warm to the cold plate [keeps] the particles suspended indefinitely.
As Fung, the study’s lead author, describes it, “The large temperature gradient leads to a force that balances gravity and results in stable levitation. We managed to quantify the thermophoretic force and found reasonable agreement with what is predicted by theory. This will allow us to explore the possibilities of levitating different types of objects.”
The goal of this research, of course, is not to find the answer of how to mimic telekinetic ability, but to explore its usefulness to space applications and “for the study of particle dynamics and interactions in a pristine, isolated environment,” according to the research team’s paper. But, as with any progress in science, third parties can use the research and technique for different purposes.
In a 2008 article in Discover Magazine explaining the claim that parapsychological phenomena are inconsistent with the known laws of physics, Sean Carroll says that “there are only two long-range forces strong enough to influence macroscopic objects—electromagnetism and gravity.” Electromagnetism is limited and impractical, but gravity? That’s getting much closer, considering Fung and Usatyuk’s research.
And, that’s not the only thing giving us a potential look into X-Men remastered, because….
Scientists are Delving into the Mysteries of Time Perception
Time perception is tricky business that scientists currently just have no answers to. It’s a subject being pursued by both journalists and scientists. Maybe one of the most useful pieces of information is that the brain’s clock can be easily swayed by anything from emotion to illness. Take tachypsychia, for example: A perceptual slowing of time during high stress situations. This afflicts many military personnel, first responders, and pro-fighters.
Then there was a series of five experiments done at University College London by Nobuhiro Hagura. Hagura found that our ability to process visual information speeds up as we are preparing to move.
What if we knew what parts of the brain—all signs point to multiple locations—work toward time perception and learned to manipulate our ability to speed up visual information processing? Could we stop time within ourselves long enough to solve problems or figure out a reactionary plan to a bad situation? Could we manufacture a drug we could give to others that would induce in them a stopped-time scenario while we moved about with impunity for the duration the drug was active?
Maybe. The possibilities are endless.
I try to keep on top of trending topics. Short of that, I just shoot for interesting. I think this blog post hits both areas. Let’s get real: When is talking about health (read: diets) not a trending topic? Never? Correct! So, answer these questions:
- Would you change your lifestyle to benefit your brain, or to benefit your body?
- Can you do both?
If your answers were anything other than, “I don’t know, RJ. Tell me more!” then think again! I’m going to tell you more! You see, I’ve always heard, read, and been told by personal trainers that consuming food every three hours or so—whether it’s three meals and three snacks or six small meals, really however you want to break it down—will boost metabolism and is better for your body. From a fitness or weight loss aspect. And, for years, I understood this to be basically universally agreed upon. Then, I watched Neural Stem Cell Researcher Sandrine Thuret’s presentation in the TED Talks series.
So, for those of you that may not be interested in researching neurogenesis, I’ll give you the short of it. Dr. Ananya Mandal, M.D., breaks down neurogenesis in this way:
The term neurogenesis is made up of the words “neuro” meaning “relating to nerves” and “genesis” meaning the formation of something. The term therefore refers to the growth and development of neurons. This process is most active while a baby is developing in the womb and is responsible for the production of the brain’s neurons.
The development of new neurons continues during adulthood in two regions of the brain. Neurogenesis takes place in the subventricular zone (SVZ) that forms the lining of the lateral ventricles and the subgranular zone that forms part of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus area. The SVZ is the site where neuroblasts are formed, which migrate via the rostral migratory stream to the olfactory bulb. Many of these neuroblasts die shortly after they are generated. However, some go on to be functional in the tissue of the brain.
Evidence suggests that the process is key to functions such as learning and memory. Studies have shown that new neurons increase memory capacity, reduce the overlap between different memories, and also add information regarding time to memories. Other studies have shown that the learning process itself is also linked to the survival of neurons.
That was written back in 2014, before Thuret’s presentation. Now, we can be fairly confident that spacial recognition could be added to Dr. Mandal’s list of key functions aided by neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is good, is what I’m saying. And it’s something that you can control, to a degree, through diet, anaerobic exercise, learning, sex, sleep, etc.
So, where does the body vs brain question come into play, you ask? Well, neurogenesis and fitness have…
Conflicting Views About How and/or When to Restrict Calories
The one thing both neurogenesis and fitness (or weight loss) tips have in common is cutting calories. But, they differ in the how and when of it. As I’ve mentioned, fitness/weight loss tips—such as those from Livestrong and other fitness industry mouthpieces—glorify the grazing method. A method, I might add, that has little to no scientific basis, and thus is not the basically universally agreed upon theory I had thought. Don’t believe me? Ask the NY Times. Don’t believe them? Well, how about Nutrition.org?
It is generally the calorie cutting sometimes paired with grazing that is favorable. The same calorie cutting is desirable to aid in neurogenesis. In a blog published by Stanford University, the argument for dietary restriction (only eating about 70% of the total daily intake) is made. Here’s where we start getting our conflict:
[Dietary Restriction (DR)] is a drastic strategy: it takes tremendous willpower to limit calories to 70% of the normal diet. Furthermore, DR is difficult to implement properly; there is a risk of starvation if the diet is unbalanced, which can have wide-ranging consequences. Luckily, similar effects to DR have been found in mice by simply increasing the amount of time between meals.
Similar results by increasing time between meals, you say? Ok, cool. Let’s explore that further by looking at an article from the journal Neural Plasticity. This article explores the role of diet on neuroplasticity (also called brain plasticity). What we want, specifically, is the role of spacing out meals and how that affects neurogenesis. According to the article:
Many studies suggest that Intermittent Fasting (IF) results in enhancement of brain plasticity and at cellular and molecular level with concomitant improvements in behavior […] Furthermore, the effects of IF following excitotoxic challenge associated with lower levels of corticosterone, lead not only to decreased hippocampal cell death, but also to increased levels of hippocampal BDNF and pCREB and reversal of learning deficits.
“But RJ,” you might be saying. “What does neuroplasticity have to do with neurogenesis and where have my underpants gone?” Well friend, I can’t help you with that second part, but here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you a wee bit of explanation as to why I included the neuroplasticity bit. Neuroplasticity mainly concerns the strengthening of new or different pathways (or connections) in the brain. That’s an extremely unjust way to describe it, but it’s the simplest.
Neuroplasticity and neurogenesis go hand in hand. Phosphorylated cAMP response-binding element protein (that’s pCREB) promotes brain-derived neurotropic factor (that’s BDNF), “which induces neurogenesis, especially in the hippocampus,” according to Ethan Rosenbaum. “As a result, mice with decreased levels of pCREB or any other promoter of BDNF have decreased spatial navigation skills and decreased memory retention […] due to the neuronal death in the hippocampus.”
Spacial navigation? Memory retention? By God, those are products of neurogenesis! Are you following the cycle? I hope so, because I refuse to hold your sweaty hand. So, which would you change your lifestyle for? Brain, or body?
Well, I sure hope your answer was “both.” Because you can do it.
From what I’ve heard (mostly on the Free Beer and Hot Wings morning show), when you are newly married, the most common question is some variation of: “So, when are you going to start pumping out babies?!” I’m sure it wasn’t worded that way, but why get bogged down by something like manners or subtlety? Yes, I’ve seen women ranting and raving about being on the receiving end of this question. Yes, it also annoys me when I’m asked because, as I keep telling people, I already have kids.
For me, there is a different, far more exasperating question…
Are You Pregnant?
I know, I know, it’s in the same family as the newly-wed question. So, what’s the big difference? People have asked me this question since I was in my late teens. And for any reason. Any at all. Here’s an example:
I like to eat _______.
b. Ice cream
f. The heart of my enemies
g. Literally anything that is edible
By the way, you can fill that blank in with any of those answer choices. Except “f.” I’m not sure how that got in there. The point is: After a certain age, pregnancy is obviously the only way to explain desire for a type of food. Likewise, if I ever say that my head hurts, my back hurts, I’m nauseous, I’m having an allergy attack, I broke my ankle, the question here is also whether or not I’m pregnant.
Although I’ve gotten to the autopilot point of saying, “No, I’m not pregnant” and “A brain aneurism is not usually a symptom (gift?) of being pregnant,” I should really just…
Not because of all the fun jokes I could play on people, but because it would give me an excuse to overeat and act hormonal. Or is a female the slave to her hormones. I forget. Anyway, saying “yes” might curb the amount I’m asked that question. I mean, people know that you can’t get a pregnant woman more pregnant, right? Saying “yes” would also excuse me from having to follow up “I want ice cream” with “because it’s sweet and creamy and moist.” Seriously, who needs to give a reason to want to eat ice cream?
I’d like to say that men ask the pregnancy question more often, not because men aren’t hip to female strife, but because their lady-plumbing fell out and turned into a spitting, in-heat-seeking missile with stabilizer balls.
That may or may not have been the best anatomical description of how the human body works. I never claimed to be an anatomist. What I’m trying to say is that I expect opposing genders to be ignorant about one another in some aspects. And yet, more women than men ask. Granted, it is almost an even keel. I just find it a bit inconceivable when I’m hanging out with a friend, talking about [insert food here] and out of nowhere, “Are you pregnant?” Wtf do you mean am I pregnant? You just said you liked that food, too!
What I want to know is…
Why Are You Asking?
Is this a trick question? Are you asking because you hope I am, you sadistic bastard? Or maybe you hope I’m not. Surely pregnancy is not the only answer to all my ailments and appetites. Right? Right? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that at least half the time this question is asked to me, it’s in jest.
“Are you pregnant” is the 21st century equivalent of the “hysteria” diagnosis. Prevalent and of zero help.
From John Travolta to Gisele Bundchen, celebrities love to take to the sky, whether via plane or helicopter. There must be something freeing about being able to transport yourself above the land-bound hardships of the rich and famous. I know that’s my favorite thing to do when I can’t choose between the Bugatti Chiron and the Pagani Huayra BC.
And then there’s Harrison Ford. Go ahead and riddle off all the Star Wars zingers you can. I’ll wait. Done? Ok. So, this past Monday marks the fourth “incident” in Ford’s piloting career. The first was back in 1999, when his helicopter flipped due to a delay in adding power during a power-on recovery. The next was a year later, when he performed an emergency landing in Nebraska.
In 2015, Ford was forced to execute another emergency (read: crash) landing on a golf course in the Santa Monica area. He did not crash. It was a crash landing. Or, as Ford says, “I didn’t crash. The fucking plane crashed.” Ford describes the incident in a Men’s Journal article written by Peter Stevenson: “When the engine quit, my training had prepared me to deal with it in a way. I really didn’t get scared. I just got busy. I knew what I was going to do, and I knew how to do it.”
Ford’s landing on Monday, however, is a bit different that the previous incidents in that he simply landed on a taxiway… You know, where the planes hang out while waiting to take off.
“Was that Airliner Meant to be Underneath Me?
The above quote isn’t likely to become as infamous as Urkel’s whining, “Did I do that?” Still, it’ll probably be uttered around the office a few times, maybe worked into one of the next 15 Star Wars movies somehow, and it’ll absolutely be re-quoted in trending headlines.
Of course, I’m a fan of Harrison Ford. Who isn’t? People with no soul, that’s who. But, I’m an even bigger fan of grounding pilots unfit to fly. So, here’s the big question:
Is Harrison Ford getting too old to fly?
The answer, of course, is that in the annals of legends, Ford is never old! But, here in down-to-earth reality, the answer might very well be yes. While Ford has flown numerous search and rescue missions (because of course he has), there comes a time when taking to the sky becomes dangerous for everyone in the vicinity.
We know that air traffic control cleared Ford to land on a runway, that he then had a close encounter with an airliner while landing on a taxiway, and that he had a safe landing. This info points to three conclusions:
- He wasn’t paying attention (was distracted)
- He mistook the taxiway for the cleared-to-land runway
- He has zero fucks left to give
Don’t Ground me, Bro
Personally, I’d like to think that Ford is both a responsible pilot and in possession of an overloaded amount of fucks to give. Which means it’s more likely that age is playing a factor in judgment, whether he mistook the taxiway for the runway or whether he just plain couldn’t see it. David Lawler explains that “The incident has prompted an investigation from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), which could result in penalties ranging from a warning to the suspension of [Ford’s] pilot’s license. Landing on a taxiway is a violation of FAA rules.”
Once the FAA has had sufficient time to investigate, we might get to the bottom of this conundrum. Until then, please Harrison, for the love of all that’s holy, do not fly.
February 14 is a lot of things:
- My eldest dog-child’s birthday (she’s seven now)
- A day in Black History month
- The anniversary of Ellen Page coming out
Looking back in history, on this day, there were murders, mass shootings, economic recession in several countries, a collapsed water park in Russia, a shipwreck near Ireland, an asteroid-orbiting spacecraft, a ceasefire, the cinematic release of Silence of the Lambs.
I could go on, but we all know that the biggest thing about today is…
It’s Valentine’s Day
Some people love Valentine’s day, some people hate it (and some people buy birthday presents for their dog-children). I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about Valentine’s day, but I do feel a little aggravated at the people who get butt-hurt over this strictly-for-commercial-gain holiday. Their words.
And I don’t disagree. But, why is that so bad? Some people spit out the words “Valentine’s Day” with as much force as Dave drinking apple juice only to realize it’s a urine sample. Seriously, you gotta read the label, man. So, before you get a full hate hard-on for Valentine’s Day because you’re single or your cats don’t appreciate you…
Think About it from an Economic Standpoint
Back in 2016, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that Americans would spend about $19.7 billion for Valentine’s Day. “As the first major consumer holiday of 2016, Valentine’s Day could provide a positive boost in spending our economy needs,” NRF CEO, Matthew Shay, said in a statement accompanying the report.
In his 2016 article for U.S. News, Americans to Drop $20 Billion for Valentine’s Day, Andrew Soergel wrote, “These gains have been made possible in part by the growing number of Americans working in either full-time or part-time jobs; since the beginning of 2010, U.S. companies have created a net of more than 13.5 million new full-time and part-time positions.”
Wait… You mean spending money really does help make money? You get out of the economy what you put into it?!
I know, I know. I was once a young jaded girl who thought other people’s thoughts and regurgitated other people’s ideas. Then I realized it’s not ok to wear a bra on your head and runaround screaming, “Mayday, mayday, we’re going dooooowntown!” while making obscene gestures.
According to Laura Jerpi, “Consumer spending on Valentine’s Day gifts results in major retail sales that help many businesses meet their bottom line each year.” Meeting the bottom line one of those oft-regurgitated phrases that means nothing to a lot of people. I felt the same way. Suffice it to say that meeting the bottom line is imperative to keeping businesses up and running, and not ending up like K-Mart. In turn, that means job stability and employee pay raises, which means you can spend more, which means… I mean you get the cyclical nature of this, right? Of course you do.
So, next time you get completely, aneurysm-inducingly butt-hurt about this 100-percent-commercial-BS-holiday, just remember back to that low, low time in 2008-9, pull your up adult diapers (or pants, if that’s your thing), and try not to spoil this day for those people who really just want to give things to their loved ones.