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The Science of Binge Watching

The Instant Gratification of Binge Watching Television:
You watch an episode of your favorite TV series, it’s a cliffhanger!  You see the credits, and feel the pangs of sadness because you will have to wait another week to find out what happens next.  Ten years ago, this was the normal way to watch a television series.  Today, technology allows you to push a button (or just sit back and wait) and your next episode can be viewed right away.  Its a beautiful advancement in these modern times.

Binge-watching, also called binge-viewing, is the practice of watching television for longer time spans than usual, usually of a single television show. In a survey conducted by Netflix in February 2014, 73% of people define binge-watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.”  Binge-watching as an observed cultural phenomenon has become popular with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime where the viewer can watch television shows and movies on-demand.

The idea of assembling several consecutive episodes of a television series in order and watching them in rapid succession originated with the marathon, networks themselves programmed several hours’ worth of reruns of a single series. This practice began in the 1980s and is still popular among subscription television outlets in the 2010s.

Your Body and Mind on a TV Binge:
Here are a few ways the science of binge watching affects your mind, body and soul.

1. The Non-Walking Dead
The effects of sitting for long periods of time have been well documented, and it is generally understood that being sedentary for most of the time is harmful to your health.   Since you’re sitting with your spine in a C shape, it can cause cramped muscles, spinal pressure, and bad posture.  This is a sedentary behavior and if not moderated can lead to weight gain – You are simply not burning many calories if you are not moving your body around.

2. Friday Night Lights
The effects of fluorescent light on the brain have been studied and long term TV watching can have the same effect – too much exposure has been linked to headaches, eye strain, seasonal affective disorder, problems sleeping, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, and anxiety among other symptoms.  Getting out into the sunshine more during the morning and daytime has been shown to combat the negative effects of too much fluorescent light exposure.

3. TV is the new Ice Cream: Depression and Loneliness
Some recent findings on binge-watching associated people who binge on television with depression, loneliness and an inability to control their behavior.  This however, was only a correlational study, and not concluded to be a direct cause and effect relationship.  As mentioned above, this can also be a symptom of too much flourescent light exposure, so its possible these issues are connected in some way.

4. Breaks are for Quitters: Persistence and Resiliency
There are positive effects of binge watching as well.  Based on a survey commissioned by Netflix in December, Three-quarters of 1,500 online respondents reported having positive feelings in binge watching and that binging was a welcome refuge from their busy lives. Nearly eight in ten people said binge-watching a TV show made it more enjoyable than watching single episodes. It would seem that people are craving the long narratives that today’s good television can provide. In today’s world of shortened attention spans, binge watchers have shown an ability to be resilient and focus on a task for long periods of time.

5. This Show is Like My Life Story: Cognitive Empathy
We may become glued to complex, emotionally-charged stories, and want to consume a lot of them, because of our ability to recognize the feelings of others.  In addition to identifying others’ discomfort or elation, this branch of “cognitive empathy” examines how humans can also adopt others’ psychological perspectives, including those of fictional characters. Research has pointed to this occurrence more often with reading fictional texts as opposed to watching a fictional film or television series, in that a more profound emotional reaction occurs while reading as opposed to watching.  But perhaps Binge watching creates more of an emotional bond to characters and scenarios than a shorter time duration.

What it Means to “Binge”:
“Binge” is defined as a short period of time in which you do too much of something.  Inherent in the definition, is a judgement that the behavior is excessive, or somehow suggests the binger is “out of control.”  For some activities like eating, or drinking alcohol, there are real, immediate threats to your well being and these are considered harmful activities.  Perhaps “binge” watching television is not the proper term.  Many people prefer to watch television series this way, and are otherwise responsible, balanced individuals who can moderate their entertainment consumption.  So “binge-watching,” although a very appropriate buzzword to describe the activity, creates too negative a connotation. A few hours is not as excessive as all day marathons.  Getting to watch something you desire is a pleasurable activity, and so if a viewer takes some breaks from sitting for long periods of time, or stretches often enough, the pros and cons can balance out.  Moderation, with all things in life, is the key here.

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The Science of Binge Watching

The Instant Gratification of Binge Watching Television:
You watch an episode of your favorite TV series, it’s a cliffhanger!  You see the credits, and feel the pangs of sadness because you will have to wait another week to find out what happens next.  Ten years ago, this was the normal way to watch a television series.  Today, technology allows you to push a button (or just sit back and wait) and your next episode can be viewed right away.  Its a beautiful advancement in these modern times.

Binge-watching, also called binge-viewing, is the practice of watching television for longer time spans than usual, usually of a single television show. In a survey conducted by Netflix in February 2014, 73% of people define binge-watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.”  Binge-watching as an observed cultural phenomenon has become popular with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime where the viewer can watch television shows and movies on-demand.

The idea of assembling several consecutive episodes of a television series in order and watching them in rapid succession originated with the marathon, networks themselves programmed several hours’ worth of reruns of a single series. This practice began in the 1980s and is still popular among subscription television outlets in the 2010s.

Your Body and Mind on a TV Binge:
Here are a few ways the science of binge watching affects your mind, body and soul.

1. The Non-Walking Dead
The effects of sitting for long periods of time have been well documented, and it is generally understood that being sedentary for most of the time is harmful to your health.   Since you’re sitting with your spine in a C shape, it can cause cramped muscles, spinal pressure, and bad posture.  This is a sedentary behavior and if not moderated can lead to weight gain – You are simply not burning many calories if you are not moving your body around.

2. Friday Night Lights
The effects of fluorescent light on the brain have been studied and long term TV watching can have the same effect – too much exposure has been linked to headaches, eye strain, seasonal affective disorder, problems sleeping, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, and anxiety among other symptoms.  Getting out into the sunshine more during the morning and daytime has been shown to combat the negative effects of too much fluorescent light exposure.

3. TV is the new Ice Cream: Depression and Loneliness
Some recent findings on binge-watching associated people who binge on television with depression, loneliness and an inability to control their behavior.  This however, was only a correlational study, and not concluded to be a direct cause and effect relationship.  As mentioned above, this can also be a symptom of too much flourescent light exposure, so its possible these issues are connected in some way.

4. Breaks are for Quitters: Persistence and Resiliency
There are positive effects of binge watching as well.  Based on a survey commissioned by Netflix in December, Three-quarters of 1,500 online respondents reported having positive feelings in binge watching and that binging was a welcome refuge from their busy lives. Nearly eight in ten people said binge-watching a TV show made it more enjoyable than watching single episodes. It would seem that people are craving the long narratives that today’s good television can provide. In today’s world of shortened attention spans, binge watchers have shown an ability to be resilient and focus on a task for long periods of time.

5. This Show is Like My Life Story: Cognitive Empathy
We may become glued to complex, emotionally-charged stories, and want to consume a lot of them, because of our ability to recognize the feelings of others.  In addition to identifying others’ discomfort or elation, this branch of “cognitive empathy” examines how humans can also adopt others’ psychological perspectives, including those of fictional characters. Research has pointed to this occurrence more often with reading fictional texts as opposed to watching a fictional film or television series, in that a more profound emotional reaction occurs while reading as opposed to watching.  But perhaps Binge watching creates more of an emotional bond to characters and scenarios than a shorter time duration.

What it Means to “Binge”:
“Binge” is defined as a short period of time in which you do too much of something.  Inherent in the definition, is a judgement that the behavior is excessive, or somehow suggests the binger is “out of control.”  For some activities like eating, or drinking alcohol, there are real, immediate threats to your well being and these are considered harmful activities.  Perhaps “binge” watching television is not the proper term.  Many people prefer to watch television series this way, and are otherwise responsible, balanced individuals who can moderate their entertainment consumption.  So “binge-watching,” although a very appropriate buzzword to describe the activity, creates too negative a connotation. A few hours is not as excessive as all day marathons.  Getting to watch something you desire is a pleasurable activity, and so if a viewer takes some breaks from sitting for long periods of time, or stretches often enough, the pros and cons can balance out.  Moderation, with all things in life, is the key here.

daredevil

The Science of Daredevil: 5 Scientific Explanations for Daredevil’s Abilities

While he can no longer see, the radioactive exposure heightens his remaining senses beyond normal human ability and gives him a type of radar or sonar which acts as his vision. There is another theory that the toxic waste didn’t enhance his senses at all, and his abilities are just a natural response to the loss of one of his 5 key senses.  

The Man Without Fear:

Daredevil is a comic book superhero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett for Marvel comics.  He first appeared in 1964.  Living in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, Matt Murdock is blinded by a radioactive substance that falls from an oncoming vehicle. While he can no longer see, the radioactive exposure heightens his remaining senses beyond normal human ability and gives him a type of radar or sonar which acts as his vision. There is another theory that the toxic waste didn’t enhance his senses at all, and his abilities are just a natural response to the loss of one of his 5 key senses.  He fights crime in the streets, seemingly fearless in the face of his visual limits. He’s a master martial artist, trained from his youth, and is a genius lawyer to boot. Here are 5 very real scientific explanations for Daredevil’s not so super-human powers.

1. Blindness Hacks your Visual Cortex:

Daredevil’s powers and abilities include a radar sense, similar to echolocation and sonar, and sensitive touch, hearing, and balance. You are born with a Visual Cortex – the part of your brain that processes all of the visual information you take in.  If you are born blind, or become blind, your brain’s visual cortex will actually rewire itself to make use of the visual processing center in different ways – otherwise known as cross-modal neuroplasticity.  This means that the brain uses the other senses more efficiently, increasing their performance. This rewiring can also lead to acquiring synesthesia – where input from one sense triggers another sense automatically – like hearing a color, or tasting a sound.

2. Radar Sense:  

Daredevil’s “radar” has been very inconsistent over the years within the comic, with many different renditions and qualities being noted. Sometimes he sees extreme details and other times he sees basic outlines and shapes. Sometimes its linked to his sense of hearing like a form of echolocation.  In Daredevil #167 it is described like that of a bat.  It says “he emits probing, high frequency waves.” Waves which break against any solid object and breaking send back signals only audible to Daredevil.  From these signals, his brain forms silhouette images of everything around him.  In this manner he “sees” in every direction.

3. Human Echolocation is Real:

Human echolocation has been known and formally studied since at least the 1950s.  It is the ability of humans to detect objects in their environment by sensing echoes from those objects. By actively creating sounds – for example, by tapping their canes, lightly stomping their foot, snapping their fingers, or making clicking noises with their mouths – people trained to orient by echolocation can interpret the sound waves reflected by nearby objects, accurately identifying their location and size. This ability is used by some blind people for acoustic wayfinding, or navigating within their environment using auditory rather than visual cues. It is similar in principle to active sonar and to animal echolocation, which is employed by bats, dolphins and toothed whales to find prey.

4. Our Perception of Reality:

We might assume how we perceive the world through our eyes and ears and other senses is the only objective reality, but that’s not really true.  Your senses actually limit your perception of reality.  Our eyes can detect only a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Our ears have a very finite set of frequencies it can pick up, and our sense of smell is extremely limited compared to other animals, like dogs, for example.  So perhaps by removing one sense, the other senses get center stage in our brains, enabling them to acquire more input, and ultimately sense reality differently than others.

5. Realities of Radioactive Substances:

Matt Murdock lost his vision because of an accident involving a radioactive substance.  A radioactive substance is unstable and produces dangerous kinds of radiation. It is unstable because the strong nuclear force that holds the nucleus of the atom together is not balanced with the electric force that wants to push it apart.  Radioactive substances actual effect on humans are much more dire than that proposed in the Marvel Universe.  The degree of damage to the human body depends on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body, the type of radiation, the route of exposure and the length of time a person is exposed.  Exposure to very large doses of radiation may cause death within a few days or months. Exposure to lower doses of radiation may lead to an increased risk of cancer, cataracts or decreased fertility.  Regardless of the effects of radiation and the magical effects of radioactive substances in fictional stories, the brain is a master at adapting to sensory changes.  Being blind doesn’t mean you are truly unable to “see” your surroundings.

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Brain Science of The Paranormal: We Attempt to Explain the Unexplained

 

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever experienced anything you would call supernatural? Many factors come into play to create the conditions for ghostly experiences, and some of it can be explained by science and how our brain reacts to our environment.  We’ll let you be the judge when you experience anything strange yourself. Was it real? Was it because you had just watched a scary movie? Or is it your brain playing tricks on you?

 

Magnetic fields

In some haunted locations, researchers have measured magnetic fields that are stronger than normal or which exhibit unusual fluctuations. These may be localized phenomena that stem from electronic equipment or geological formations, or they may be part of the Earth’s magnetic field. Some paranormal investigators think the presence of strange magnetic fields as proof of a supernatural presence — the ghosts create the field. Others suggest that these fields can interact with the human brain, causing hallucinations, dizziness or other neurological symptoms.

Studies have shown that when scientists direct non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), our ability to evaluate the intentions of others, including moral judgements, is impaired. Other experiments have shown speech can be impaired by directed magnetism on the brain. This illustrates that with enough magnetic stimulation, changes in the brain’s functions do occur.

 

Infrasound

Several experiments have demonstrated that low-frequency sound waves, known as infrasound, can cause phenomena that people typically associate with ghosts. This includes feelings of nervousness and discomfort as well as a sense of a presence in the room. The sound waves may also vibrate the human eye, causing people to see things that are not there. How many times have you been scared by the flickering scenes in the Paranormal Activity series? Imagine if that happened to you in real life?

Usually, these waves have frequencies of less than 20 Hz, so they are too low-pitched for people to actually perceive. Rather than noticing the sound itself, people notice its effects. Our senses are affected by these low frequency waves, and our brain receives the signal to react. Sensory information may engage wide and diverse areas of the brain: via direct connections with the limbic system, for example, an odor can trigger intense emotions and then circuits that store memories give meaning to what we see and hear.

 

Ghost Stories

A large portion of hauntings are explained as demons inhabiting a home or a person. Such is the case in the Paranormal Activity films. Demonic possession is hypothesized as when your entire being is overtaken by an evil spirit.  Not all spirits are evil, though, as is the case with many of the spirits inhabiting the halls of Hogwarts.

In the Ghostbusters films, the team uses scientific tools to identify, attack, and contain spiritual entities including poltergeist activities, flying spirits and orbs.  Ancient gods who have descended upon New York City are usually the cause of these paranormal activities in these films.  Here’s hoping the ladies of the new Ghostbusters reboot will have more advanced Ghost zapping technology to wield.

In The Shining, the main character Jack Torrance is influenced by supernatural forces in the Overlook Hotel, asking him to commit violent crimes.  This story is perhaps the most haunting, because there are no hints of demonic possession, or of gods or demigods being present as a cause for Jack’s descent into madness. This movie has been ranked as one of the scariest of all time, increasing the audience’s pulse rate by a whopping 28.21%. In the story, he is a recovering alcoholic who encounters spirits of people who met very unfortunate ends in the Overlook Hotel. Is it Jack’s mental state creating this inner turmoil, or the suggestion of ghosts? His son Jack actually has a fictional psychic ability to detect ghosts, so this latent ability may come from Jack’s genetics.

 

Demonic Possession or Schizophrenia?

While demonic possession is a fictional condition, it was considered a real threat before modern medicine. Now, we see that the symptoms of schizophrenia largely resemble those described as being “possessed” – hallucinations, hearing voices, disorganized or catatonic behavior, odd emotional responsis.  We have seen the way the brain behaves in schizophrenic patients, and it is largely the fault of poor signaling of an important neurotransmitter called glutamate. The entire brain is affected.

Some people feel a presence around them often enough that it is something they must learn to live with. The feeling is particularly common in patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric disorders, who report a presence they can feel but can’t see, just like a ghost or a guardian angel.

 

Robot Phantom Hand is Coming for You

In an attempt to understand why some people have ongoing paranormal experiences, scientists in Switzerland developed an illusion to make healthy people feel a ghostly presence. The results of the simulation were astonishing, revealing that the experience is due to mismatched sensory and motor information that confuses the brain. (Science Alert)

The team from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne designed a set-up involving two robots – one that sits in front of the participant, and one that sits behind them. Each participant was asked to place their hand inside a device and then move their hand around.

Their hand movements were transmitted to the robot sitting behind them, which prompted it to put its hand on the participant’s back, mimicking their movements in real-time. This made the participant feel like they were touching their own back, but because the robot was so in-sync with their movements, their brain was able to adapt to the feeling.

Next, the team added a short delay between the participant’s hand movements and the robot’s touch – and this is where things got interesting. After three minutes of delayed touching, several participants felt that there was someone behind them, and others counted up to four ‘ghosts’ in the room. Even though the robot was standing behind them, the volunteers were aware of its presence, and still reported the distinct feeling.

“For some, the feeling was even so strong that they asked to stop the experiment,” said Giulio Rognini, robotic scientist and one of the team, in a press release.  The results suggest that when the robot’s touch was out-of-sync with the participant’s hands movements, the brain couldn’t identify the signals as belonging to the participant’s body, but rather as someone else.

The signals of the sensations of touch are a part of the somatosensory system. Processing primarily occurs in the primary somatosensory area in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex: information is sent from the receptors via sensory nerves, through tracts in the spinal cord and finally into the brain.

Scientists are taking these findings to help those who experience hallucinations and schizophrenia, but it doesn’t exactly explain people’s experiences when they have a brain without any disorders. Where does that leave people who have a paranormal experience, but yet can’t explain it with science? I guess we’re on our own with that one.  Alone, all by ourselves, perhaps in an old abandoned house, perhaps around 3:00 AM, wrestling with our own fears of the unknown.

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We Need to Discuss Designer Babies: Is this the next step in human evolution?

 

designer-baby


 

Designed by Science

Given the opportunity, would you choose the qualities of your unborn baby? Their gender? What if you knew your family had a history of a certain illness or cancer, what if you could choose a child that did not carry traits for that illness, and you could basically guarantee they would lead a long healthy life? That doesn’t sound too bad. However, what if that choice were given to only affluent or privileged families, leading to genetically perfect people who have another advantage over the poor or those without access to this technology? Lets dive into the possible future of genetic selectivity and perfection. It’s happening already.

54ca9797be313_-_designerbaby_500x375_1209-lg


In Vitro Fertilization

In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, helps women with fertility problems conceive a child. It mainly consists of an egg from a female and sperm from a male fertilizing outside of a human body in a lab setting. Once fertilization takes place, the embryo is then implanted back into the female’s uterus in order to grow into a baby.

IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.


The Modern Rich and Famous Pregnancy

John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen underwent In Vitro Fertilization to be able to have a child. Controversially, Teigen and Legend took this technology a step further and were able to determine the gender of the embryo, among other choices, and to select a female for their future child.

Preimplantation Genetic Screening made this possible. It is a process by which one or more cells from an in vitro fertilization embryo are removed, and tested for chromosomal normalcy, and a genetic diagnosis includes testing for a specific genetic condition.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 5.03.45 PM


How A She Becomes a He

It has been known for many years that the gender of a pregnancy is determined by the sex chromosome carried by the sperm. Sperm bearing an “X” chromosome, when united with the “X” from the female (females only produce “X”) will result in an “XX” pregnancy that produces a female. If a sperm bearing a “Y” chromosome (men have both “X” and “Y” bearing sperm) unites with the “X” chromosome from the female, an “XY” pregnancy will result that gives rise to a male offspring. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46.


Sticker Shock

It may seem completely fine, or even exciting to think of the options available to us in a controlled environment where choices aren’t left up to fate. Especially when illnesses and genetic diseases can put financial strain and heartache on someone’s life from the start. However, those choices are not an option for those who do not have the funds for the very costly IVF. The average cost of IVF is anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000, not including medication, and that only provides one round. Typical successful cases require three rounds. Plenty of women undergoing IVF are simply hoping for a healthy pregnancy, not to determine the characteristics of their unborn child. For those who wish to choose a gender or diagnose other features, the costs are even more staggering. Therefore, this kind of genetic selection is something that many families cannot afford.


Dare to Dream

Taking this technology to a mainstream level, what if more and more people will be able to afford this procedure, say in 20, 30 years. What would a world be like where many of those who live among us are considered genetically “perfect”?

There is a film that has already explored this plausible world, Gattaca. This film was made in 1997, and it features exactly this scenario. The haves and the have nots are split between those who are genetically perfect, compared to regularly conceived humans. Perfect humans are given privileges, get better jobs, lead better lives. You can imagine the moral implications of a world like that. We may get to experience it first hand in a few decades.


Public Health Benefits

There are benefits of this future though. The less people who have genetic disorders, the less medical costs those people would incur. There may be whole economic shifts because of a large population of effortlessly healthy people. Public Health issues are also important to consider. Where is the line between the highly personal nature of individual genetic data, and the wide ranging benefits of that data as it pertains to public health?

While some people argue that the uniquely personal nature of genetic information requires an individual rights approach that limits public health use, others view genetic data as just another type of population data that can be collected, aggregated, and used along with other surveillance and environmental data to produce social utility. Still others focus on the significant power of genetic advancements to improve individual lives and, from a distributive justice perspective, emphasize public health’s responsibility to not only ensure access to genetic information throughout the population but more importantly to provide genetic services for the disadvantaged. Public health must address these and other competing ethical claims when developing public health genetics policies.

So where do you stand? Is this the future of human evolution or are we at the brink of greater divide between the have and the have nots?

designer-baby thumbnail

We Need to Discuss Designer Babies: Is this the next step in human evolution?

 

designer-baby


Designed by Science

Given the opportunity, would you choose the qualities of your unborn baby? Their gender? What if you knew your family had a history of a certain illness or cancer, what if you could choose a child that did not carry traits for that illness, and you could basically guarantee they would lead a long healthy life? That doesn’t sound too bad. However, what if that choice were given to only affluent or privileged families, leading to genetically perfect people who have another advantage over the poor or those without access to this technology? Lets dive into the possible future of genetic selectivity and perfection. It’s happening already.

54ca9797be313_-_designerbaby_500x375_1209-lg


In Vitro Fertilization

In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, helps women with fertility problems conceive a child. It mainly consists of an egg from a female and sperm from a male fertilizing outside of a human body in a lab setting. Once fertilization takes place, the embryo is then implanted back into the female’s uterus in order to grow into a baby.

IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.


The Modern Rich and Famous Pregnancy

John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen underwent In Vitro Fertilization to be able to have a child. Controversially, Teigen and Legend took this technology a step further and were able to determine the gender of the embryo, among other choices, and to select a female for their future child.

Preimplantation Genetic Screening made this possible. It is a process by which one or more cells from an in vitro fertilization embryo are removed, and tested for chromosomal normalcy, and a genetic diagnosis includes testing for a specific genetic condition.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 5.03.45 PM


How A She Becomes a He

It has been known for many years that the gender of a pregnancy is determined by the sex chromosome carried by the sperm. Sperm bearing an “X” chromosome, when united with the “X” from the female (females only produce “X”) will result in an “XX” pregnancy that produces a female. If a sperm bearing a “Y” chromosome (men have both “X” and “Y” bearing sperm) unites with the “X” chromosome from the female, an “XY” pregnancy will result that gives rise to a male offspring. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46.


Sticker Shock

It may seem completely fine, or even exciting to think of the options available to us in a controlled environment where choices aren’t left up to fate. Especially when illnesses and genetic diseases can put financial strain and heartache on someone’s life from the start. However, those choices are not an option for those who do not have the funds for the very costly IVF. The average cost of IVF is anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000, not including medication, and that only provides one round. Typical successful cases require three rounds. Plenty of women undergoing IVF are simply hoping for a healthy pregnancy, not to determine the characteristics of their unborn child. For those who wish to choose a gender or diagnose other features, the costs are even more staggering. Therefore, this kind of genetic selection is something that many families cannot afford.


Dare to Dream

Taking this technology to a mainstream level, what if more and more people will be able to afford this procedure, say in 20, 30 years. What would a world be like where many of those who live among us are considered genetically “perfect”?

There is a film that has already explored this plausible world, Gattaca. This film was made in 1997, and it features exactly this scenario. The haves and the have nots are split between those who are genetically perfect, compared to regularly conceived humans. Perfect humans are given privileges, get better jobs, lead better lives. You can imagine the moral implications of a world like that. We may get to experience it first hand in a few decades.


Public Health Benefits

There are benefits of this future though. The less people who have genetic disorders, the less medical costs those people would incur. There may be whole economic shifts because of a large population of effortlessly healthy people. Public Health issues are also important to consider. Where is the line between the highly personal nature of individual genetic data, and the wide ranging benefits of that data as it pertains to public health?

While some people argue that the uniquely personal nature of genetic information requires an individual rights approach that limits public health use, others view genetic data as just another type of population data that can be collected, aggregated, and used along with other surveillance and environmental data to produce social utility. Still others focus on the significant power of genetic advancements to improve individual lives and, from a distributive justice perspective, emphasize public health’s responsibility to not only ensure access to genetic information throughout the population but more importantly to provide genetic services for the disadvantaged. Public health must address these and other competing ethical claims when developing public health genetics policies.

So where do you stand? Is this the future of human evolution or are we at the brink of greater divide between the have and the have nots?

designer-baby thumbnail

We Need to Discuss Designer Babies: Is this the next step in human evolution?

 

designer-baby


Designed by Science

Given the opportunity, would you choose the qualities of your unborn baby? Their gender? What if you knew your family had a history of a certain illness or cancer, what if you could choose a child that did not carry traits for that illness, and you could basically guarantee they would lead a long healthy life? That doesn’t sound too bad. However, what if that choice were given to only affluent or privileged families, leading to genetically perfect people who have another advantage over the poor or those without access to this technology? Lets dive into the possible future of genetic selectivity and perfection. It’s happening already.

54ca9797be313_-_designerbaby_500x375_1209-lg


In Vitro Fertilization

In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, helps women with fertility problems conceive a child. It mainly consists of an egg from a female and sperm from a male fertilizing outside of a human body in a lab setting. Once fertilization takes place, the embryo is then implanted back into the female’s uterus in order to grow into a baby.

IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.


The Modern Rich and Famous Pregnancy

John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen underwent In Vitro Fertilization to be able to have a child. Controversially, Teigen and Legend took this technology a step further and were able to determine the gender of the embryo, among other choices, and to select a female for their future child.

Preimplantation Genetic Screening made this possible. It is a process by which one or more cells from an in vitro fertilization embryo are removed, and tested for chromosomal normalcy, and a genetic diagnosis includes testing for a specific genetic condition.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 5.03.45 PM


How A She Becomes a He

It has been known for many years that the gender of a pregnancy is determined by the sex chromosome carried by the sperm. Sperm bearing an “X” chromosome, when united with the “X” from the female (females only produce “X”) will result in an “XX” pregnancy that produces a female. If a sperm bearing a “Y” chromosome (men have both “X” and “Y” bearing sperm) unites with the “X” chromosome from the female, an “XY” pregnancy will result that gives rise to a male offspring. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46.


Sticker Shock

It may seem completely fine, or even exciting to think of the options available to us in a controlled environment where choices aren’t left up to fate. Especially when illnesses and genetic diseases can put financial strain and heartache on someone’s life from the start. However, those choices are not an option for those who do not have the funds for the very costly IVF. The average cost of IVF is anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000, not including medication, and that only provides one round. Typical successful cases require three rounds. Plenty of women undergoing IVF are simply hoping for a healthy pregnancy, not to determine the characteristics of their unborn child. For those who wish to choose a gender or diagnose other features, the costs are even more staggering. Therefore, this kind of genetic selection is something that many families cannot afford.


Dare to Dream

Taking this technology to a mainstream level, what if more and more people will be able to afford this procedure, say in 20, 30 years. What would a world be like where many of those who live among us are considered genetically “perfect”?

There is a film that has already explored this plausible world, Gattaca. This film was made in 1997, and it features exactly this scenario. The haves and the have nots are split between those who are genetically perfect, compared to regularly conceived humans. Perfect humans are given privileges, get better jobs, lead better lives. You can imagine the moral implications of a world like that. We may get to experience it first hand in a few decades.


Public Health Benefits

There are benefits of this future though. The less people who have genetic disorders, the less medical costs those people would incur. There may be whole economic shifts because of a large population of effortlessly healthy people. Public Health issues are also important to consider. Where is the line between the highly personal nature of individual genetic data, and the wide ranging benefits of that data as it pertains to public health?

While some people argue that the uniquely personal nature of genetic information requires an individual rights approach that limits public health use, others view genetic data as just another type of population data that can be collected, aggregated, and used along with other surveillance and environmental data to produce social utility. Still others focus on the significant power of genetic advancements to improve individual lives and, from a distributive justice perspective, emphasize public health’s responsibility to not only ensure access to genetic information throughout the population but more importantly to provide genetic services for the disadvantaged. Public health must address these and other competing ethical claims when developing public health genetics policies.

So where do you stand? Is this the future of human evolution or are we at the brink of greater divide between the have and the have nots?

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The Science of Food and Music

 

 

A Chef is Born, Then a Rap Star – Action Bronson

Arian Asllani, better known by the stage name Action Bronson, is an American rapper and former chef.  He was born in Flushing, Queens, New York, the son of an Albanian immigrant father and a Jewish New Yorker mother.  Before embarking on a career as a rapper, which was originally just a hobby, Bronson was a respected gourmet chef in New York City. He hosted his own online cooking show titled Action in the Kitchen.

After breaking his leg in the kitchen, Bronson concentrated solely on his music career.  But he made a return to his love of food with the latest web series F*** That’s Delicious, which chronicles his life on tour, performing and eating at the finest restaurants.  In this series, he speaks with renown chefs and exposes his viewers to the gourmet side of the rapper’s life.
 

 

Rap and Food

Rap and food converged even before Biggie Smalls was craving  “a T-bone steak, cheese eggs and Welch’s grape”; the two have since become cultural touchstones. Action Bronson is positioned right where they meet.

From the beginning, the delights of food have figured prominently in his music. His first album included tracks titled “Jerk Chicken,” “Shiraz” and “Brunch.” His lyrics have plenty of rap’s trademark swagger, and his inspiration is often culinary. Instead of the traditionally desirable qualities you might find in a successful rap star, the women don’t love him for his Benz, but because they “saw me plate some melon and prosciutt’.” Instead of dripping with gold and diamonds, he brags about his “seasonal vegetables lookin’ exceptional.”  This puts food in the listeners minds, and eating delicious food is a joyful experience.  Rappers like to write about the good life, and eating gourmet food is definitely one of those qualities.

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A Unique Combination
 
Bronson’s show, F*** That’s Delicious has a unique dynamic as it combines elements often not seen combined, the food scene and the music scene.  One episode highlights three locations rarely listed together in a sentence: Amsterdam, London and East New York, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is not known for its food. In another, he visits three of his favorite places to eat in Queens, plays handball and signs a fan’s pizza crust.

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The cameras, along with Action Bronson’s larger than life presence, attract onlookers, who regularly join the show. One episode begins with a young boy rapping Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” while Action Bronson acts as hype man. In another, a customer at a Pakistani restaurant in Long Island City pulls out a recorder (the woodwind instrument) and ends up providing the soundtrack.

“It’s freestyle,” Action Bronson said. “We talk about where we’re going to go, but then whatever ensues, ensues.” (NYTimes).

 

The Science of Food and Music

Thinking about how our brain reacts to food and the senses is not new, and recently, the focus on sounds and cuisine has been featured as having more importance than we might think. In one study it was found that participants preferred piano music to be paired with peppermint flavors, while citric acid, orange flower, and especially caffeine were better paired with brass instruments.

 

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Barbara Werner, founder of Musical Pairing, which uses a patented technique to match music with food via a formula, has conducted 30 musical-pairing dinners from San Francisco to New York over the past year. The formula sets a pairing number, based on the main protein, sauce, cooking method, and spice level, and matches it to music, based on genre, tempo, instrument, and dynamics. A chocolate lava cake matches up nicely with Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” (Barrons)

An Oxford University study, further explored in this article’s lesson. The study details the unique findings of listening to both downbeat and upbeat music on the taste of our food, mainly that food tastes sweeter when we hear happier music.  Spence sees brands and takeout services developing sensory apps to deliver “sonic seasoning” in the future. Krug Champagne, for instance, has an app that provides musical accompaniment for its bubbly.

I’m curious to see where this focus on food and music, whether it’s through lyrics or through the sonic experience itself, goes in the future.

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X-Men: Are Mutants Already Among Us?

 

Evolution: The World Is Always Changing

The world is always changing, and all of us with it, some of the latest and greatest scientific discovery has been in the field of genetics and evolution. Since Charles Darwin’s first postulations of evolution through his studies of the adaptations of finches and other animals of the Galapagos Islands to the scientific ‘miracles’ happening in labs today like growing human ears on mice, the field has been met with hesitation and hostility. The study of evolution is truly groundbreaking and revolutionary in our own understanding of life itself.
Collection-Of-25-Inspiring-Quotes-From-Charles-Darwin1

 

Evolution in The X-Men Series

Evolutionary insights have also inspired astonishing stories like X-Men. The X-Men are children of the atom developed in comics during the 1960s. First titled as “The Mutants” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were advised to rename the comic, as at the time most people didn’t know what a mutant was. The stories of the X-Men showcase the more fantastical possibilities of mutations and delve into the social issues they would face as a new class of life. Inspired by Darwin’s legacy, the X-Men even have a character named after him, whose mutant ability helps him adapt to survive!

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Which Superheroes are Mutants?

But what is a mutant? Look no further than the immortal words of Lady Gaga, “Mutants are born that way.” Mutation is part of evolution, the process by which all the creatures in the world today became what they are. Mutations are fundamental changes to a person’s genetic code. The basis in the evolutionary truth of mutation sets X-Men apart as a long standing comic stories. The Avengers aren’t mutants, Tony Stark is a genius but impossibly so and not as a result of a genetic mutation as far as we know. Captain America and the Hulk are not mutants, although their powers do come from the effects of serums and radiation they were born as average (or below average) people. Hawkeye and Black Widow are just regular people and Thor isn’t even human to begin with.

 

What About Quicksilver?

Quicksilver on the other hand is an interesting case. He has appeared in both The Avengers and X-Men films. Just as he is in comics, in the X-Men films he is a mutant, he was born with the mutant gene which he inherited from his father Magneto. But in Avengers: Age of Ultron, his superspeed like his sister Scarlet Witch’s powers are the result of alien technology and radiation. Because 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the X-Men and the mutants, in the Marvel CInematic Universe they are known as “miracles” not mutants and Magneto doesn’t even exist. They are technically the same character with the same abilities just with completely different backstories and personalities, and only one of them is a mutant.

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Born Not Made

In the X-Men films, all of the mutants are born that way, with their abilities manifesting at birth or near adulthood. The only other way mutations have been shown to occur is through the transference of other mutants, like Rogue, Viper, or Apocalypse. Though many believe her to be mutant, we probably will never know for sure, but either way Lady Gaga is right, mutants are born not made. In this lesson we will look at genetic mutations both fictional and real and try to answer the question – Are there mutants already among us?

xmenapocalypseimax-1-2

X-Men: Are Mutants Already Among Us?

 

Evolution: The World Is Always Changing

The world is always changing, and all of us with it, some of the latest and greatest scientific discovery has been in the field of genetics and evolution. Since Charles Darwin’s first postulations of evolution through his studies of the adaptations of finches and other animals of the Galapagos Islands to the scientific ‘miracles’ happening in labs today like growing human ears on mice, the field has been met with hesitation and hostility. The study of evolution is truly groundbreaking and revolutionary in our own understanding of life itself.
Collection-Of-25-Inspiring-Quotes-From-Charles-Darwin1

 

Evolution in The X-Men Series

Evolutionary insights have also inspired astonishing stories like X-Men. The X-Men are children of the atom developed in comics during the 1960s. First titled as “The Mutants” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were advised to rename the comic, as at the time most people didn’t know what a mutant was. The stories of the X-Men showcase the more fantastical possibilities of mutations and delve into the social issues they would face as a new class of life. Inspired by Darwin’s legacy, the X-Men even have a character named after him, whose mutant ability helps him adapt to survive!

tumblr_ma4im2vlvz1rvq7rx

 

Which Superheroes are Mutants?

But what is a mutant? Look no further than the immortal words of Lady Gaga, “Mutants are born that way.” Mutation is part of evolution, the process by which all the creatures in the world today became what they are. Mutations are fundamental changes to a person’s genetic code. The basis in the evolutionary truth of mutation sets X-Men apart as a long standing comic stories. The Avengers aren’t mutants, Tony Stark is a genius but impossibly so and not as a result of a genetic mutation as far as we know. Captain America and the Hulk are not mutants, although their powers do come from the effects of serums and radiation they were born as average (or below average) people. Hawkeye and Black Widow are just regular people and Thor isn’t even human to begin with.

 

What About Quicksilver?

Quicksilver on the other hand is an interesting case. He has appeared in both The Avengers and X-Men films. Just as he is in comics, in the X-Men films he is a mutant, he was born with the mutant gene which he inherited from his father Magneto. But in Avengers: Age of Ultron, his superspeed like his sister Scarlet Witch’s powers are the result of alien technology and radiation. Because 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the X-Men and the mutants, in the Marvel CInematic Universe they are known as “miracles” not mutants and Magneto doesn’t even exist. They are technically the same character with the same abilities just with completely different backstories and personalities, and only one of them is a mutant.

avengers-x-men-quicksilver-marvel-fox

 

Born Not Made

In the X-Men films, all of the mutants are born that way, with their abilities manifesting at birth or near adulthood. The only other way mutations have been shown to occur is through the transference of other mutants, like Rogue, Viper, or Apocalypse. Though many believe her to be mutant, we probably will never know for sure, but either way Lady Gaga is right, mutants are born not made. In this lesson we will look at genetic mutations both fictional and real and try to answer the question – Are there mutants already among us?