Is time nothing but a human-made illusion?

Is time nothing but a human-made illusion?

Our perception of time may be completely flawed.

Have you ever sensed that time felt weird in 2020 or that it speeds up as we get older?

We, human beings, are actually considered to have a naive perception of the flow of time. The way we think about time and its one-way direction flow, in fact, doesn’t correspond to physical reality. We believe that time is irreversible and the past can never be experienced again. We can feel its flow when the season changes, when the sun sets, and thereafter rises again, when we get older and when we are reminded of our memories. The past is a part of history. The present is the moment we live in. The future is the present that is yet to come, and will soon become a part of the past. However, the question that should be asked is whether these assumptions are actual realities of the physical world or created by the human mind. In fact, several studies show that our perception of time is unstable and prone to illusions.

Time Perception

Sometimes, we feel like years pass in a blink of an eye, or some memories from ten years ago seem very real to us that it makes it hard to believe that such a long period of time has actually passed. Other times, a minute can last forever while we are waiting for a light to turn green. In fact, Humans are likely to rely on their memory rather than their knowledge to recall the events occurring within their lifetime. However, one must consider that the memory distorts the perception of time, and affects the sense of when an event has actually taken place. 

 There is a theory, known as the “proportional theory”, which suggests that our perception of time is proportional to the length of our lifespan. This hypothesis states that as we age, our sense of present starts to feel relatively short in comparison to our entire lifespan. 

It is also determined that how long a duration feels depends on how many events in it can be recalled. Therefore, when only a few special events happen in our personal life during a year, that year will relatively seem shorter to us compared to a year full of important events.

The Idea of Timeless Reality

According to the operational meaning, time is simply what a clock displays. Nevertheless, the scientific definition of time completely differs from what we have in mind. Physicist Victor J. Stenger, in the book “Timeless reality”, declares that, based on established principles of simplicity and symmetry, reality is literally timeless at its deepest level. Furthermore, he explains that time is actually reversible. In opposition to our basic sense of time, the fundamental reality of the phenomena occurring around us might be with no beginning, no end and no arrow of time. 

In fact, the one-direction flow of time is not found in any of the laws of physics . All the basic physical phenomena are entirely or mostly time-symmetric and can occur in either direction of time. Therefore, if you watch a video of a physical process, you would not be able to tell if it is being played forwards or backwards, as both would be equally feasible. Specifically, when it comes to quantum phenomena and events on an atomic and subatomic level, no trace of time direction can be found.

Neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar, in his book “Love, God & Neurons”, argues that time is basically an illusion created by the mind to aid in our sense of temporal presence in the space. Furthermore, he mentions that there is no actual existence of the past and the future and all that there is, is the present. All we sense is the virtual perception of the past and the future which is created by our neurons, based on all our experiences.

Einstein’s Theory of relativity

Albert Einstein also showed that time is an illusion. According to his theory of relativity, not only there is no significance to the present moment but also all the other moments of life are equally real. Moreover, he suggests that simultaneity is relative. This argues that spatially separated events occurring at the same time is not an absolute fact. Distant simultaneity, in fact, depends on the observer’s reference frame. 

Gravity and speed are two key factors of the observer’s reference frame in the concept of Relativity of simultaneity. As claimed by Einstein, the faster one moves through space, the slower they move through time. Also, the closer one is to a gravitational field of an object, such as the earth, the slower the time goes for them. For instance, time goes faster at the top of mount Everest due to lower gravity and higher rotational velocity compared to the sea level. If you were standing on the top of Mount Everest, it may feel as though the new year begins a few minutes earlier for you compared to people standing at the sea level.

Conclusion

All in all, although many things may seem real to us, they may be only the constructs of the human imagination and don’t correspond to the actual truth. Reality might completely differ from how we see and feel it. We might have been given wrong information all along our lives. So it’s good to doubt our knowledge once a while and ask yourselves questions. Why do we believe certain things? How do we feel a certain way about something? What is the science and logic behind the phenomena we are surrounded by? Even though definite answers might not be found for some questions, at least we will be one step closer to reality.

 

Sources

Matthews, William J., Meck, Warren H, “Time perception: the bad news and the good”, (2014) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142010/)

Eagleman, David M., “Human time perception and its illusions”, (2010) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866156/)

Stenger, Victor J., “Timeless Reality : Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes”, (2000) 

Irish, Muireann, O’Callaghan,Claire ,“How did it get so late so soon? Why time flies as we get older”, (2015) (https://theconversation.com/how-did-it-get-so-late-so-soon-why-time-flies-as-we-get-older-44296)

Howell, Elizabeth, “Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity”, (2017) (https://www.space.com/36273-theory-special-relativity.html)

Redd, Nola T., “Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity”, (2017) (https://www.space.com/17661-theory-general-relativity.html)

Callender, Craig, “Is Time an ILLUSION?”, (2010) (https://www.jstor.org/stable/26002066?seq=1)

Davies, Paul, “That Mysterious Flow”, (2006) (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/that-mysterious-flow-2006-02/)

 

Gift of Life:  My Bone Marrow Donation Experience

Gift of Life: My Bone Marrow Donation Experience

As I write this article, I’m on a small plane, throttling over the clouds somewhere between Florida1 and Montreal. Someone behind me is snoring, and I’m tapping away quietly on my laptop, trying not to wake them up. I’ve just returned from one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I’d like to share the story.

In the summer of 2018, I went on an organized trip to Israel, called Birthright, or Taglit in Hebrew. The trip is sponsored by the Israeli government and is made free for young Jews, in an effort to encourage a connection and immigration to Israel. We spent ten days hauling around the beautiful country on a bus, visiting various sites and attractions. One evening, a man from an organization called Gift of Life came to speak to our group. He explained that GoL is a registry with a mission to cure blood cancer through cellular therapy,2 and we could get involved. The organization runs drives on campuses and elsewhere, and that to join the registry of potential donors, we had to swab our cheeks. If anyone of us were found to be a match for someone with leukemia, we would have the opportunity to donate bone marrow. I completed the kit and joined the registry without much thought.

A few months ago, I got an email from GoL that I was a potential match for a man suffering from leukemia. At that point, I was told, I had a 25% chance of being a match. That was much better than the 1 in 430 chance most donors had, but I still didn’t think much of it. I was asked to do another cheek swab test, which was sent to me through expedited delivery from GoL’s lab in Florida. Blood tests followed, all hurriedly done in clinics that had been transformed into Covid-19 testing sites. Montreal was under lockdown and travel was restricted, so it was a nerve-wracking time. 

After the tests, things picked up pace. I still remember the phone call I received, telling me that I was a match. The plan was to fly me Florida to go through a procedure where my stem cells could be extracted and transplanted into the leukemia patient, saving his life. 

In late October, GoL flew my sister and I to Florida, all expenses paid. We were there for a week, since for 4 days prior to the procedure I had to be injected each morning with a medication to increase the stem cell count in my blood. We were put up in a hotel by the beach, and each day after my morning injection my sister and I got to explore the area. We visited museums, the wetlands, Trader Joe’s and the beach. As this was the height of the election, we witnessed multiple Trump rallies, a mask burning ceremony, and we were told who to vote for by cashiers, Uber drivers, and an anti-vax protester (too bad neither me nor my sister are American).  

At the end of the week, a sleek car service drove us to the donation center. It didn’t seem clinical at all- we were greeted warmly, and offered snacks, a blanket, and other comforts. I was shown into a cubicle where the nurses administered some tests and gave me my final shot of medication. Then, I had a needle inserted into each of my arms. During a process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation, blood was taken out of one arm and run through a machine called a blood cell separator. The machine took PBSC, some platelets, and some white blood cells, and then returned plasma and red blood cells into my other arm.3

After about six hours, the machine was still chugging away beside me. Two women in lab coats, with clipboards and somber expressions, came into the cubicle. 

Photo: “Pinning my location on the map of donors… I had to estimate my city’s location since the map only included the United States” by Ita Sonnenschein

“We have bad news,” they said.

At that point, I was tired, calcium deficient and cranky, and I feared the worst. Maybe my stem cells weren’t good enough. Maybe the patient’s condition had deteriorated. My worries proved to be unfounded when they said was that my stem cells were slow and I would need to stay in Florida for an extra day to finish the process. Our flight was changed and our hotel stay was extended.

Day two of the extraction process was rough. Both my arms were sore so I couldn’t move much. My fingers and nose were tingling and I was light-headed. After a total of eleven hours, they had collected all the stem cells and plasma that they needed. (For comparison, the guy in the next cubicle took three hours to donate.) 

I’ll have to wrap up this article because the plane is landing, and I should probably stow my laptop. I feel really blessed to have been afforded this opportunity. Not many people get the chance to save a life, and in sunny Florida, no less. This experience restored my faith in humanity just a tiny bit. First, it’s thanks to modern medicine and technology that I could fly to another country, have some of my insides removed, and have that flown across the world to save someone’s life. Second, the existence of Gift of Life facilitated this entire process, thanks to all the financial donors, employees, and everyone who’s gotten their cheeks swabbed and joined the registry. I’m enormously grateful to have been a part of it all. 

To find out how you can join the registry and potentially save a life, visit www.giftoflife.org.

Breaking the Silence: Destigmatizing Medical Conditions

Breaking the Silence: Destigmatizing Medical Conditions

About this new series:

Living with a chronic or life threatening illness brings a whole host of challenges. Oftentimes, these challenges can be invisible. This makes it harder for others to be compassionate and helpful. People who experience medical issues can feel like their life is out of their control, which can make it really difficult for them to reach out for help. 

The goal of this series is to raise awareness about medical conditions through storytelling and through information. Knowledge is power. Hearing and understanding people’s experiences can help you be better equipped to respond the next time you encounter someone with a medical condition. 

It will hopefully make you more aware and sensitive towards others struggling. This can even be in the simplest form of avoiding the generalization and misuse of medical conditions. Doing so diminishes, undermines and devalues what individuals with those conditions experience. For example, using expressions like you’re retarded, I’m depressed, I’m so OCD can be hurtful to those who have medical retardation, depression or OCD. 

I have chosen to start the series covering an individual who struggles with anxiety and depression because of its rising relevancy due to the pandemic. According to a study from the Univerity of Toronto, unemployment in combination with the isolation may cause a spike in suicide deaths.

CANADIAN SUICIDE AND PREVENTION SUPPORT:

WEBSITE: https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/looking-for-local-resources-support/

CALL: 1.833.456.4566 

TEXT:  45645

Depression & Anxiety 

Baby I was born this way

As a child, I  was always very quiet and shy. I am, by nature, a thinker and an observer. I process the things going on around me differently than other people. People would always ask me why aren’t you smiling? and why are you so serious?  As a young child, you don’t necessarily have worries in your life. Everything is simplistic. You become more knowledgeable and aware of the world around you as you reach adolescence. I always knew I was different and it was hard for me to understand that in my naive mind. Looking back, there were definitely signs of depression. It was always a part of me which makes it a big struggle. It didn’t appear, it was always there.

The Diagnosis 

Around 12, it became more prominent in my life. I don’t know what triggered the flare-up but I felt a sudden emotional awareness. I didn’t know how to react to it or deal with it. I began to see what I liked and disliked in my life. I was under a lot of emotional stress in school. People were not nice to me and bullied me. They treated me differently. My mother is more towards the aggressive side and would constantly take it out on me. It sort of brought out these emotions that I was feeling inside that I didn’t know how to, or want to, identify. It was really painful. Emotional pain is not logical and there are no words to describe or explain it. It’s something I had to work on and fight with.

As time progressed and the situation got worse, I started taking it out on myself. I was around 14 when I started cutting. It was only a matter of time that someone would found out and told my parents. When they found out they took me to a therapist and a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with anxiety and depression. My official diagnosis wasn’t a shock to me because I was expecting it. But at this point in my life, I didn’t want to accept the help that was given to me. 

My parents didn’t take my diagnosis well. They are also more close-minded. After a while they seem to have come to terms with it or they are just quiet. They sometimes make remarks that make me realize they don’t see the connection between mental illness and my actions. It’s hard to see sometimes. They wonder why I am in a bad mood but I am feeling depressed that day.

People around my age are more comfortable with it. I am not embarrassed of it. I think it’s something that is difficult and hard but it makes you a better person. My friends never really cared because this is just a part of me, it’s who I am. The environment around us has improved to become more accepting and aware of mental health issues.

Winds of Change

My first therapist was terrible. She would yell at me and she would hold religion over my head. I didn’t feel comfortable opening up to my next therapist. I never clicked with them. I wasn’t ready or comfortable enough to share. If you don’t feel comfortable changing there’s nothing to do. It took a good few years until I found someone who I felt comfortable with. It was such a relief for me. I didn’t want to be this way. I wanted to better myself and change. I needed help to feel comfortable enough to help myself. 
Those few years of finally making change were the most difficult but necessary years of my life. I wouldn’t be able to be a functioning human being without going through that process. I’d be depressed and sleeping the whole day. It would make me not want to do anything and have no energy. I was a person  I didn’t want to be. I experienced it and hated it. It made me feel bad about myself and it was such a low part of my life. Working on myself, no matter how difficult it was, was necessary. It made me the person I am today. Sometimes I have low points but because I did all that work, so I know how to bring myself out of it. I know how to not stay locked down. It’s okay to be sad and down for a few days as long as you know how to get yourself out of it. Some days you just don’t feel like doing anything. That’s okay but you, ultimately, need to get back up again.

Perfectly Imperfect

The number one thing I want people to know that there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s not a bad thing. You shouldn’t be afraid of it. It’s just something you have and learn to live with. It has no reflection on who you are. You need to realize it isn’t a problem with you and that it is just something that you have. If you think there’s something wrong with you, you take it out on yourself. Coming to realize that makes it easier to deal with. It’s like being born with a birthmark on your hand or an allergy, it’s just a part of you.
Another important thing to realize is that sometimes you just need to reach out. I wanted to do everything myself. When I realized that it was ok to be vulnerable and ask for help, it made my healing process much smoother. 

The name and all identifying details have been withheld for privacy.

If you’d like to share your story, email tjdc@tav.ca with ‘breaking the silence’ as the subject line.

The following information concerning depression, anxiety and self harm have been taken from the CDC, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centre for Suicide Prevention for the Canadian Mental Health Association.



Covid Conspiracies: Avoiding them like a plague

Covid Conspiracies: Avoiding them like a plague

Fake news. Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Now combine the two of them and BAM! There you have it. Some juicy news bits to repost or to wisely impart to your friends and family. 

The thing about conspiracies, fake news and misinformation is that it spreads faster and has a broader reach than the facts and the truth. And don’t blame it on the bots or the algorithms. A study done by three MIT scholars showed that humans propel falsehood at an alarmingly fast rate, six times faster, to be precise.  

And then you become overly confident in the little bit of knowledge that you think is the truth. You mull over it and get into heated discussions over what the actual truth of the matter is. And congratulations! You’ve just earned yourself the Dunning-Krugger effect medal.

SPAMDEMIC

Pandemic, quarantine, isolation, masks, PPE, sanitization, these are words we’ve heard and experienced ad nauseam. It can be really hard to keep your head on straight when there are differences of opinions even amongst doctors. So much information is going around and it is causing unnecessary panic and fear. This is what Sandra Hyde, an associate professor at McGill University calls an infodemic.

Masks

At the beginning of the virus, there was a lot of talk about masks being ineffective, that people didn’t know how to wear them properly or dispose of them properly. There was also concern that there weren’t enough masks for essential workers. Then, suddenly, masks became recommended and then, soon after, became mandatory in enclosed public spaces. 

One study, funded by the WHO, demonstrated the effectiveness of masks. It did not conclude whether or not the effectiveness was due to a. the barrier or the implications of wearing the mask, such as touching one’s face less, or b. the visual reminder to social distance. Holger Schünemann, one of the researchers, noted that observational studies pose more of a problem and can create more limitations than randomized trials. 

One of the first randomized clinical trials written for the BMJ Open concluded that 97% of particles penetrate cloth masks in contrast to the 44% that penetrate medical masks. Additionally, there was a higher rate of respiratory infections amongst healthcare workers who wore cloth masks. This may be attributed to their moisture retention, the number of times they are reused, and their poor filtration.

The current CDC guidelines recommend reserving surgical masks for those in the medical field. They recommend that everyone above the age of two years old wears a mask when with others who are not a part of their household and in public settings where social distancing becomes difficult.

Given the fact that cloth masks may not be as effective as they are portrayed to be, and that surgical masks should be reserved for the medical staff, there is still little room for any alternatives as we live in an area where masks are mandatory in enclosed public spaces. Working with the current status and situation, one should wash their hands frequently, especially when handling their masks. Make sure to wash your masks effectively and often to avoid contracting other respiratory infections. Lastly, make sure that your mask is actually secure and fitted tightly to your face.

According to the Institute for Work and Health: 

OBSERVATIONAL STUDIESRANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIALS
Researchers observe people with the case and compare it to people without the problem. Because of the nature of the study, the results are up for discussion and can be heavily influenced by biases.Researchers randomly place people into different groups. For instance, one will get the real drug and one group will get a placebo version. They then compare the results. RCT’s are produce reliable information because little is left to chance. They are harder, time-consuming and more costly to perform.

Lockdowns

At some point in mid-October, there was a trending news bit that the World Health Organization (WHO) had changed its stance on lockdowns. This news bit started circulating when one of their doctors, Dr. David Nabarro said the following in an interview with Andrew Neil: “we, in the world health organization, do not advocate lockdowns as a primary means of control of this virus. The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa tried to reason why there was such a widespread misunderstanding of Nabarro’s words. Deonandan believes it’s all a matter of semantics. The term lockdown means that everything is shut down as we experienced back in March. Restrictions, on the other hand, are what we are now experiencing. Restrictions are more sustainable than lockdowns. 

REST YOUR CASE

Whether you think there is a political agenda at hand, that the virus was made in a lab, that people need to be more careful or that restrictions should be loosened, respect should be your priority. I’ve come across a lot of borderline aggressiveness on social media. Rest your case, you won’t change anyone’s minds. 

By now, we’re more than half a year in, in addition to retiring the expression “avoid it like a plague,” may I suggest we stop calling these times unprecedented? 

I rest my case.

Thank you. Next.

Dopamine Made Me Do It

Dopamine Made Me Do It

The Science of Motivation

Dopamine. You’ve likely heard of this celebrity neurotransmitter in the news, or in the context of drugs or mental health. Dopamine is often touted as the source of pure pleasure: a survey of books on the subject show titles like Habits of a Happy Brain or Meet your Happy Chemicals. While that’s true, there’s more to the story. In reality, dopamine is implicated in many brain processes, like movement, learning, memory, sleep regulation, and even lactation. Once we look at how dopamine got its reputation and how it works, we’ll focus on one of dopamine’s important roles: motivation. 

The chemical with a backstory

If we look back at the 1980s, we can start to understand how dopamine got crowned as the pleasure maker. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, an American research institute, began doing studies to find out how addiction works. By monitoring the brains of people using drugs such as amphetamines, they found the strong presence of you-know-who: dopamine. Thus, the link was made between dopamine and pleasure. You take a drug or engage in a pleasurable activity, and bam, your brain lights up like crazy, signals are sent back and forth, and you’re on a high.

This framework persisted for a few decades, and in fact persists in popular culture, but by the early 2010’s more and more studies had piled up that led to a new way of thinking. Dopamine is still in the picture when you eat a rich piece of cheesecake or receive a good hug, but like so many things, it’s complicated. Let’s take a look at how dopamine actually works.

What is it, and how can I get some 

Your body contains over one hundred billion neurons, cells that receive information about the world and talk to other neurons about what to do with that information, like act or think. One of the ways that these nerve cells talk to each other is through neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that can shoot across the space between neurons. Dopamine, like some of its well-known cousins serotonin and oxytocin, is a neurotransmitter.

As mentioned earlier, one of dopamine’s important roles is motivation. A now-famous study done in 2003 showed that when rats were able to push levers to receive cocaine, their brains were flooded with dopamine before they received the drug. What happened is called a positive prediction error- the rats’ brains told them that pushing the lever would deliver something great, and once they received a surprisingly good reward, they remembered the sequence of events so they know what do for next time. Similarly, when researchers at the University of Tsukuba showed monkeys different pictures, each associated with a different reward, they found that dopamine flooded the monkeys’ brains while deciding which option to choose, and again when they made their choice.

Clearly, dopamine is needed to make decisions and to supply the motivation needed to achieve certain goals. “Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself,”  says John Salamone, professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut. It’s not all positive, because dopamine can be present when people are experiencing stress or pain. Researchers at the University of Miami found that dopamine was released in the brains of soldiers with PTSD when they heard the sound of gunfire. In that case, dopamine’s role is aversive, training and motivating the brain to stay away from situations that are stressful or traumatic.

Practical applications

New understandings of the neurotransmitter have helped researchers understand illnesses like depression and ADHD, cases where a person will have very low levels of dopamine, and therefore lowered motivation to get things done. In the case of addiction to drugs like cocaine, the brain’s reward pathway gets hijacked, making the addicted person highly motivated to keep using the drug at the expense of anything else.

A practical understanding of how dopamine plays into memory and learning can also aid the average student. “Dopamine leads to maintain the level of activity to achieve what is intended. This in principle is positive, however, it will always depend on the stimuli that are sought: whether the goal is to be a good student or to abuse drugs,” says Mercè Correa, a researcher at Universitat Jaume I of Castellón. In other words, it’s helpful to have dopamine firing in your brain, within reason.

So here’s a few things you can do: first, break down your goals into small, manageable amounts. Your brain enjoys the feeling of achievement, so bring able to check things off your to-do list will give you a rush of dopamine. You can also eat food rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that is used to make dopamine. This includes protein-rich foods like eggs, legumes, turkey, and beef. Hopefully, armed with this new knowledge you’ll be motivated to go do some homework.

Happy studying!

Sources

Buckley, C. (2012, November 30). UConn Researcher: Dopamine Not About Pleasure (Anymore) . Retrieved from today.uconn.edu:UConn Researcher: Dopamine Not About Pleasure (Anymore)

Phillips, P., Stuber, G., Heien, M. etal. Subsecond dopamine release promotes cocaine seeking. Nature 422, 614–618 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01476

“Dopamine neurons mull over your options.” NewsRx Health & Science, 26 July 2020, p. 195. Gale Academic OneFile, https://dc153.dawsoncollege.qc.ca:2267/apps/doc/A629892937/AONE?u=west74079&sid=AONE&xid=7e7f7973. Accessed 22 Sept. 2020

Schultz W. Dopamine reward prediction error coding. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2016;18(1):23-32.

Sherin JE, Nemeroff CB. Post-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011;13(3):263-278

NIDA. 2020, June 17. The Brain & the Actions of Cocaine, Opioids, and Marijuana. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-addiction-science/brain-actions-cocaine-opioids-marijuana on 2020, September 28

Julson, E. (2018, May 10). 10 Best Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally. Retrieved from healthline.com: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-increase-dopamine

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