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Archive for September, 2014

For most of my life, I have identified with the conservative side of the political spectrum. I flirted with libertarianism for a while in my 20’s, but I had a pretty consistent voting pattern – in Canada, I always voted conservative whether it was in federal or provincial elections. I may have even voted for the Reform party once (a regional based in Canada that was right-wing) although I don’t remember.

Since that time I have mellowed out. I’m not sure who I would have voted for if I were an American citizen in 2008, but if I were a US citizen in 2012 I would have voted for Obama and not Romney, nor Gary Johnson (Libertarian party candidate).

That’s not a big deal, plenty of voters cross party lines. In the US, they are called “Independents” (you’re not an Independent if you vote the same way each time).

But what unnerves me is that I now shop at Whole Foods. For you see, Whole Foods serves a lot of organic foods and things that are good for the environment; they have a reputation as being the go-to store for rich urban hippies and limousine liberals (you know, people who drive around in limos and have a very highly consumptive lifestyle while simultaneously preaching that people are destroying the environment and politicians should redistribute other rich people’s money).

That’s my impression of Whole Foods – a certain type of people shop there. And my impression of liberals used to be that they are well meaning but out of touch and perhaps a bit (lot) hypocritical.

But I now shop there! It’s a decent store, they have good tuna (because our cat loves it) and I get fake meat there, too. Sometimes I get a few other things there.

But I go there over and over.

Does that make me a liberal hippie?

Combined with the fact that I no longer identify as politically conservative and I shop at Whole Foods and I reduced my consumption of meat because of ethical concerns about animal treatment… I’m not sure where that identifies me.

Quite frankly, if I were living in Canada, I’m not sure who I’d vote for in the next election.

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Last Friday, I woke up with a sore throat. This is a common occurrence for me, it marks the third time something like that has happened. It got worse the next two days before recovering and eventually lasted only six days.

Whenever I get a sore throat, I know that a few days later I will get a cough and sinus congestion, but not necessarily in that order. This was not a good time for me to get sick because I was presenting at a conference this week. I need my voice! I need to not have a stuffed nose!

Well, on Wednesday, I came down with a stuffed nose. It got pretty bad in the evening. Thursday was better but even then I was coughing and all stuffed up… the day of my presentation. Awesome.

Luckily, when I present I get a boost of natural adrenalin and I feel pretty good. But later that evening I got stuffed up again. Usually during a cold, I get stuffed up really badly for 1-2 days (the last few times have been two days) before the peak of the cold hits and I start to feel better. Today I feel a lot better.

But it’s frustrating to have been sick three times this year (not counting my bizarre collapse after returning from Taiwan). In 2013 I didn’t get sick at all, so I guess now I am making up for lost time.

I used to never take medication while I was sick; I would just suffer through it. This past time I took plenty of cough syrup and decongestants because I had to be sharp at the conference. They helped a little bit, I think I felt better than I would have otherwise.

I hope I don’t get sick for the remainder of 2014.

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot about genetics and its influence on personality. When I was in university, I took a class on Sociology. The basis of the class was that personality was heavily influenced by culture. Furthermore, one of the major paradigms of humanity is “the blank slate” – the idea that humans are (nearly) infinitely malleable. This was a reaction to the eugenics movement of the first half of the 20th century that stated that some people just had superior genes.

However, “the blank slate” is wrong. While culture and environment shape us, we are not infinitely malleable. We are are not even greatly malleable. It turns out that our genetics, just as it shapes our physical bodies, also shapes our personalities. We can do things to affect it and choose to behave in certain ways, but our brain structures and genes dictate greatly how we react internally, and then we choose to override it.

One of those personality traits is introversion. I’ve been introverted as far back as I can remember, with the possible exception of when I was less than 5 years old. But it turns out that introversion is probably genetic. Dr. Jerome Kagan has been studying the introversion/extroversion phenomenon and has tons of data.

I found this one excerpt:

For example, he believes, based on his data, that high reactivity is associated with physical traits such as blue eyes, allergies, and hay fever, and that high-reactive (introverted) men are more likely than others to have a thin body with a narrow face.

Um:

  • I have blue eyes
  • I have hay fever (although no other allergies – although I do get nosebleeds easily in dry weather)
  • I have a thin body
  • My face is narrow

In other words, the description 100% describes me!

I thought that was eerie. I used to think that I was in control of my own personality and that I could change it with enough work. That’s not really true; I can change it to some extent but I have much less free will than I thought.

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A couple of weeks ago I decided to stop drinking coffee. I did this because I am having hip surgery in December and I will not be able to eat or drink that day. That means that I will probably be feeling lousy that day because of headaches from caffeine withdrawal and I don’t want to go into it feeling bad.

That means I need to detox from coffee.

But I don’t know how it takes me to detox. However long it takes me to stop feeling symptoms of no coffee, that’s how many days before my surgery I need to give up coffee. Thus, if I discover it takes me 7 days to stop feeling bad, then 7 days before hip surgery I need to give up coffee.

All I do is drink 1 cup per day in the morning.

So how long did it take before I was symptom free?

7 days. Sheesh, that’s a long time. The first few days, I got headaches. At first it was around 10 am, then it got pushed back to 3 pm, then 5 pm. I had to take some Ibuprofen to get rid of the discomfort in order to function at work.

I began to wonder “How long is this going to take?” Well, it took a week.

And all of this on a single cup in the morning. I don’t know how anymore who drinks 4-5 cups per day like one of my co-workers could ever give it up (he was fasting during Ramadan).

That must have been rough.

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Myths about how the brain works

I thought I’d do a blog post about some common myths about how the brain works.

  1. People only use 5-10% of their brains

    This is a common myth I hear all the time, that people don’t use all of their brains. This implies that we have a lot of untapped potential and if we could unlock it, we would be super-geniuses!

    But it’s not true.

    The brain consumes 20-25% of our total calorie intake, that’s far too much energy to waste on an organ that is running at 1/10 of its potential capacity. The truth is that we use 100% of our brains, we just don’t use all parts of it at the same time. Various parts of the brain are dedicated to doing different functions, and we aren’t using those functions all the time at the same time.

  2. The left brain/right brain model

    One thing we frequently hear is the right brain/left brain model – left-brained people are more analytical and right-brained people are more creative.

    This isn’t true. Or rather, it’s hopelessly oversimplified.

    While it is true that different hemispheres of our brains control different parts of our bodies, the truth is that we all have parts of our brains that talk to other parts. The reason that some of us are more analytical than others, while some people are more creative than others, has more to do with genetics and environment.

    One hemisphere dominating and leading to a particular trait doesn’t adequately explain how our brains work with all of its parts to form a whole. While the term “right brain/left brain” is useful to describe what type a person is, it is not accurate about how it actually works biologically.

  3. The brain is a single unit, like a computer

    One of the ways we think of the brain is that it is like a computer – it has a central processing unit that takes in all the inputs, we make a decision, and then act on it. The brain weighs the evidence and then issues its verdict. All the possible inputs go to a central processing unit.

    But that’s not how it works.

    Instead, the brain is more like the Internet. There are a bunch of nodes that have highly specialized functions. Some of these nodes talk to each other, but others do not. When we receive information (sound, sight, touch or ideas), the various units process it but there’s not a central unit in charge. Some units are unaware of others, and this is very strategic.

    We don’t process information that efficiently.

Those are brain myths I thought I’d briefly correct.

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