Category Archives: Enigma of Science

From something you don’t know to something we recently know

The extremum theory: Understanding the placebo effect

You must unlearn what you have learned- Yoda, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Good day to you ladies and gentleman. Today I would like to share with you my understanding of a new concept on placebo effects that I’ve just learned recently. Mind you that this is just a theory and not a discovery, as there’s no one out there to carry out an experiment based on my theory. I don’t force you to accept my theory, it’s up to you whether if you wanted to believe it or not. This is just a sudden enlightenment that I have that I hope could furthermore improve our understanding of the human mind.

First and foremost, what does placebo means? From freedictionary.com, ” The beneficial effect in a patient following a particular treatment that arises from the patient’s expectations concerning the treatment rather than from the treatment itself”. Huh, what does that even mean? Now let’s think about it from a different point of view. Imagine that you’re a child; a few minutes ago you’ve just scraped your knee after you hit the edge of the table. You can’t stop crying because of the pain; your mom came to you and started blowing on your wounds, adding some kind of special chants while doing so. Apparently, it worked. You no longer felt any pain, and the next time you ever scraped your knee again, your mom would’ve just repeat the same thing over again. Simple isn’t it?

Some of you might say something like, “Well, it did worked when I was 7; I’m 21 now and if I ever have cut or bruises, those magic chants won’t do anything”. Well, that’s why I wrote about this particular topic in the first place. Ever had one of those moments when you have a severe migraine and you started saying to yourself, “a bottle of aspirin would do the trick”. After taking a bottle, the migraine stopped. When you told your dad that aspirin can be good for relieving migraines; he quipped out “how I wish it could do the same to me. I usually just drink some pickle juice, works like a charm to me”. So, does that means pickle juice may have analgesic effects? Enlightened by your discovery, the next time you suffered from migraine; you started drinking some pickle juice, only to be disappointed that it didn’t worked. So now we started asking, “does it only works with an old man or something?”.

The answer is, yes, but only to a certain groups of people. Wait, does that mean that pickle juice chemicals only worked for a certain person in relieving pain? Maybe, but there’s a better explanation to that, which is the placebo effect. After understanding the analogies given above, let’s move on with the topic. Again, imagine yourself in high school (or equivalent). Today you’re learning algebra. After doing a few exercises on algebra, you easily answered every question that you came across. Over the next few years, whenever you came across it, you solve them within a few minutes. When you graduated from high school, you met an old friend. He’s currently studying literature in college. Whenever you met him, he always tell you how much he despised algebra; he also posted on facebook, saying things like, “it’s not like we’re using it in our daily life”. It’s never been a problem to you, so you started asking about his problem with algebra. It turns out that he was never good at algebra since high school. Fast forward 20 years into the future, you met up with him again. But you’re surprised that he is now a professor who teach calculus in MIT. He told you that he become obsessed with mathematics when helping his niece with some algebra homework a few years ago, and was surprised on how easy it was compared when he was studying it in high school.

I hope you understand a bit of my point in the previous analogies. So here’s my explanation:

A. Sometimes, when doing something new; you succeeded with the task given, and the next time you ever done the same thing again, you succeeded easily or even better at the task.

B. Sometimes, when doing something new; you failed miserably, and the next time you ever done it, you always failed at doing the task.

C. Same as B, but after a long time; you have already forgotten about it, but the next time you did the same task, you find that it is easier compared to your past attempts doing the same task.

You might say that A have a natural talent or that C might be thinking in a different kind of way; compared to when he was younger. There might be some truth in that. You see, when we succeeded at a task for the first time, our mindset changes and we felt that the task was easy and you could perform even better the next time. But, if you failed at the task firsthand, no matter how many times we did the task, we would only failed miserably. This is true until you forget about it at some part in your life, and the moment you did the same task again; your brain thinks that we never did the task before, and you perform better than when you did the task before. So my advice to you, if you’re bad at something, stop saying to yourself “if first you didn’t succeed, try and try again” or the equivalent. Stop focusing on that task and concentrate on doing something else.

Now I would like to explain about the extremum effect. Chances are, you’ve already heard of stories on how a man survived after falling from the 30th floor of an apartment, survived a devastating earthquake unscathed, etc? How about a neighbor which suddenly kills a man in a fight even though that he was known as a man who would never do such a thing? Here’s when the extremum effect applies. During a certain event, say, a life or death situation, or maybe an extremely stressful situation; our brain shuts off the limiting mindset that we have, for example, you always think that you could never survive a jump from the 30th floor, only to woke up a few hours later with only minor injuries. Extremum means the point located farthest from the middle of something or, the most extreme possible amount or value. Looking back at the last paragraph, it turns out that time may also have a connection with the extremum effect. As of how our mindset affect our body in a way that you could survive the impact from falling from extreme heights, or how you’re getting better at doing something after a few years is still a mystery.

In the end, I apologized if you didn’t understand any of my writings, and I hope that I could present it to you in the simplest form as possible. If you have any question or would like to criticize me; please do so in the comments section below in a polite way. Last but not least, let’s imagine what we could achieve by manipulating our mindset at will. See you in the next article. Peace be upon you.

Discussion: The Placebo Effect

Hello there netizens, I decided that from this moment onwards that I should loosen up a bit of the formality when writing about something to debate. Yeah, I know, following the scientific writing guidelines is a necessity when discussing about certain topics, but hey, if it exist for our own good that means we can ignore it once in a while right? So I won’t give reference or any credits to other people who I got my information from. So all of you plagiarism police can shot me down any moment, but I just need you to know that I wrote this without copy pasting some people works. Yeah, I wrote this out of my own opinion so all you skeptics out there can do whatever you want in the comments section. Just don’t send me spam for god sake, they’re more annoying than grammer nazi’s out there (but you’re welcome to post so that I could improve my writings in the future though). And no, I won’t insert any stock images in this post to protect your brain from overloading or cure the boredom which is caused by you reading my post….last but not least, I won’t give you a potato for the long post, go get it yourself! It’s only a few cents, unless you’re living in you know…where a single potato cost a fortune…

Okay, where to start….just a few hours ago I was watching Game Theory (re-watching for the umpteenth time actually) and I came to the part where Matthew Patrick the maker (director, editor, priest) of the video was talking about how the placebo effect affecting our body. Oh come on, you probably have read about it a few times across the internet, where some random guy stopped a car heading his way with just his bare fist, or the guy who survived an accident unscathed. No, I don’t believe in miracles and magic despite being religious. For me, each and everything in this world had it’s own explanation, regardless of how unacceptably insane it is. I have my own share of how the placebo effect happens to me. When I was a kid I was prone to deadly situations all the time due to my own foolishness (hey, kids just being kids) at one time I was at my school when I was in primary four (4th graders to those living outside countries using british systems) for a function, arriving early with two of my friends, we were watching the cloudy skies at 7:00 in the morning, and out of the sudden, a lightning strikes just above our heads, in mere seconds my friends already jumped for cover, leaving me behind for a head shot literally (although lightning strikes are actually an optical illusion, read on it, I’m too lazy too explain it to you). Just as the lightning merely touching my hair, I jumped a few steps behind. Talk about lucky, or did our body have a special mechanism to protect us from any harm?

Fast-forward two years ahead, when I saw my friend from afar, I decided to run to him, forgetting that I was on top of a steep hill with wet grasses, I fell a few meters lunging toward a sewage hole, uncovered, with no water, made out of concrete with a few metal shaft pointing upwards….I thought I was a goner. And suddenly, I seem to fell perfectly on top of my friend as he catches me, his feet fell into the drainage, but somehow he only suffers a tiny bruise, and I escaped death, unharmed. The moments between the events are only a mere seconds but somehow we managed to calculate our ways to solve the problem…as I fell, my body somehow figured out how to land on top of my friend, even though I didn’t know if he would save me anyway, and my friend, lunging towards me and calculating at which angle should he breaks my fall while minimizing the damage that he may suffer from falling into the drain. Till this day the event still baffles me when I couldn’t sleep at night.

So you ask me, what the hell does all of this have to do with placebo effect? Well, I was just explaining before how our body in a short moment of time, making quick decisions to minimalize or escape the dangers beforehand. How about those crazy people who pull out stunts such as eating a sword, stab themselves using sword, juggling swords, cutting a sword in two….okay enough of that. But they conduct these amazing feats with no harm to their body. I know, they practiced thousands of hours just to improve their skills, but they certainly didn’t take any drugs or anything to enhance their performances right? We usually see how this people perform meditations, eating some weird cure-all or something, practicing tedious rituals to help them with their performances….looking at it again, it all started with how our brain actually works, and this is just the warm ups for our discussion.

In several studies (no reference would be included, check them yourself, or else this post would be as thick as Reece et.al  Biology 9th edition textbook) subjects are given a pill which the doctor told that it would alleviate their pain. And there’s another patient given another pill and was told that it could increase their pain. The thing is, both of the pills only contains sugar, yeah, they’re a placebo. But do you know what happened? Both patients experienced an alleviated pain and also an increase in pain. Moreover, when the subjects were told about the truth about those pills, the same effects still applies to them anyway. Meaning that, even when we know that the acai berry or whatever crap the people from any multi-level marketing tries to sell to you, the fake benefits still works on you. But I guess that would mean that it’s cheaper to invest in something less pricey. I mean, how about making your brain thinks that eating M&M’s could cure your diarrhea? Heck, I drink gatorade when I have migraine and it still works like a charm even though I’m skeptical about it.

Then again, there was always an opposite to something. Ever take a real working analgesic such as Ibuprofen and how it didn’t even work to stop the pain you get from straining all the muscles in your body? (It works for me actually, and I almost become an addict before someone introduced me to pepsi….and I still believe that there’s pepsin inside it, so I take it everyday for digestive aid…heck, it got less sugar then your favorite coca-cola and taste better anyway) This is what scientist called anti-placebo effect. Yeah, even when the medicine you’re taking is scientifically proven, it still won’t work on you due to your brain being a douchebag, suddenly become skeptic about a working medicine. I guess that’s why some people with weight problem still can’t bring fit into their old pants even after a rigorous, exercise to your death routine daily. Damn, how does our brain works anyway in the first place?

Oh yeah, I claim my rights to the term “auto-placebo induced effect”. Yeah…I’m pathetic and miserable….and lazy too….

Let’s discuss something: SAS

Good day to you, fellow netizens. Today I would like to discuss about something which have been bothering my mind for the past few months. It’s something that I like to call the “spirited-away syndrome”. Now I would like to ask you some question, have you ever encountered any person, which is physically healthy, and still have control over themselves for necessary activities such as eating and sleeping, but on the other hand lost control of their own life? Still confused? What I meant is that, they lost they lost their interests in doing something that they like, their hobbies, and also their passion, goals, etc. Why do I ask? Because I have encountered many of this type of people. Some are destined to be rich and successful but in the end, walk aimlessly, an empty vessel, which might respond to any stimulus but have no control of what they would like to do. They have free wills, but is empty on the inside. Wandering silently as people passes by.

As a Malaysian, I do at most times encountered some unexplainable phenomenon, where the even with the insight of modern science, no single answers could be obtained. I’m not skeptic, but I have a hard time on believing that this type of people become what they were due to the works of black magics and such. For the past few days, I have read an article on cracked and found out that the more intelligent you are, the easier for you to give up and crack under pressure. What if this supposedly spirited-away guys are just having a severe depression? What if they can be cured by the means of medical treatments?

At first let us review on the common symptoms of depression:

From helpguide.org

Depression varies from person to person, but there are some common signs and symptoms. It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be part of life’s normal lows. But the more symptoms you have, the stronger they are, and the longer they’ve lasted—the more likely it is that you’re dealing with depression. When these symptoms are overwhelming and disabling, that’s when it’s time to seek help.

Common signs and symptoms of depression

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

I read on listverse before that scientists have proven that emotional pain is also physically painful. But what I don’t understand is that, how did someone who is on their way to success, living a happy and healthy life suddenly succumbs to depression, without any events which may psychologically affects their state of mind? Today they’re behaving normally, and the next day they suddenly become distanced and hollow. Any ideas on what happened to them or any treatment for such problems?

Recent Biotechnology Breakthrough

I’m posting late today due to Unisel’s WiFi servers under maintenance for 24 hours since yesterday. Less talk more writing, here we go.

 

Oil-eating bacteria

As we all know oil spillage causes great harm to the environment and contributes to water pollution, killing massive amounts of marine life every year. Luckily for us, scientists never rest unless they’re in their final place of course. Back in 1989 in attempt to clean up 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.  Close but no cigar. Although we do get something important from those times. A blueprint for the oil-eating bacteria, Alcanivorax borkumensis having the ability to consume hundreds of million of oil in the waters each year.

Immune cells that attack cancer

Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have created a large, well-armed troop of tumor-seeking immune system cells to locate and attack dangerous melanomas. Dr. Antoni Ribas, the senior author of the study says: “We’re trying to genetically engineer the immune system to become a cancer killer and then image how the immune system operates at the same time.

Haven run various test on mice….they said that about one billion of it needed to fight the cancerous cell. If it goes well, it may be available in a few years….or so they say….

Stem cell culturing without using animal substance

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, one of Europe’s largest medical universities, have managed to produce human stem cells without the use of other cells or substances from animals, in a completely chemically-defined environment. Embryonic stem cells have, up to this point, been cultured with the help of proteins from animals, ruling out the possibility of using them for treatment on humans. Now, they are cultured on a matrix of a single human protein: laminin-511, a part of our connective tissue that acts as a matrix that our cells can attach to. The possibilities are tremendous thanks to this scientific breakthrough that will give scientists the ability to develop different types of cells, which can be tested for the treatment of various human diseases. Meh…sounds good really but I wonder if there’s going to be problems with the ethical issues as we all know….pretty common these days….

 

Genome sequencing technology

Personalized healthcare is increasingly being applied to develop more effective treatments for disease and prevent a wider variety of conditions. Genome sequencing is one the most critical tools for personalized medicine, as it provides the individual genetic information necessary for the effective diagnosis and targeted treatment of particular diseases. Last month, a new collaborative agreement between Roche, a leader in biotechnology and research-focused healthcare, and IBM, one of the world’s largest technology companies, has them joining forces to develop a nanopore-based sequencer that will directly read and decode human DNA quickly, efficiently and affordably.

For the price…..ha ha ha….yeah, affordable really in these times of economic crisis…really….I think you should buy a Lamborghini instead…..

 

Biofuel

Finally putting tobacco plants to good use, researchers from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have identified a way to increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, with the aim of using it as biofuel. This is a promising prospect, one, because it offers an alternative to exploiting plants that are used in food production, and two, because tobacco plants generate biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops.

The challenge researchers faced was that this precious oil is mostly found in tobacco seeds, and tobacco plants only produce about 600 kg of seeds per acre. However, they have now found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. According to one of the project’s researchers, Dr. Andrianov, they have been able to modify plants to produce 20-fold more oil in the leaves. Andrianov says “”Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising ‘energy plant’ platform, and could also serve as a model for the utilization of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production.”

Nicely done I say….at least if people stop smoking for good, we can still have tobacco for our cars. But wouldn’t our car smells like smoke….or maybe they’re gonna add chemicals to remove the odour…causing more harm than it already does….

 

D.F.J….watching Fourze 08……if it finishes tonight…I’m outta here…

 

Genetics Pt. 2

The deviation from mendelian genetics

Sometimes during the crosses the ratio obtained does not obey mendelian’s law. The first one is co-dominance. In human we have 4 type of main blood group which is A, B, AB and O. In co-dominance, more than one allele expresses the characteristics. In AB, A and B both express it’s characteristics. We can say that a multiple alleles control the same characteristic.

In snapdragon flower, the phenotypic ratio and genotypic ratio for F2 generation is the same which is 1:2:1. This is due to incomplete dominance where recombinant progeny is produced. A red flower and white flower cross would produce 1 red flower, 2 pink flower and 1 white flower. This is due to the intensity of the pigment cannot express itself in heterozygous state and produce a combination of the pigment red and white which is pink.

Then we’ve come to another case which is maternal effect. In this case we take the example of shell shape in gastropod. There are two main type of shape which is dexteral and sinistral (clockwise and anti-clockwise). For the maternal effect the progeny inherited the same trait as the maternal. Here’s an example:

D: Dexteral                                                                DD(M) x dd(F)

d: Sinistral                                                                 F1: All Dd (All sinistral)

Even though that D is dominant over d but due to maternal effect the maternal characteristic express itself in the progeny. Let’s take a look at another example:

DD(M,sinistral) x dd(F, dexteral)

All Dd (dexteral)

In genetics part 3 we would discuss on epistasis, extranuclear inheritance and linked genes.

White Biotechnology: An insight

What’s up with the title, had biotechnology gone racist?? (sarcasm)….No it’s not. For those who don’t know the terms in biotechnology, here is some insight on it….whether you’re interested in science or not…….wait….I thought no one reads this blog. Anyway, here’s the fact.

Biotechnology is a field of applied biology which involves the use of living organisms and bioprocess in engineering, technology, medicine and other fields which requires the use of bioproducts. There’s currently 3 mainstream biotechnology field which is the Italian flag. Sorry, what I meant is the green, white and red biotechnology. Green is agricultural whereas red is pharmaceutical and last but not least the white or the industrial biotechnology. Each of this field may overlap one another. Industrial biotech would likely involve genetically modified crops as well as the large-scale bioprocessing and fermentation as used in some pharmaceutical productions for the development of large-scale bioenergy refineries. You see the link between those three flagships right…..simple word to explain white biotech….they use cells or components of cell such as enzymes to produce industrial products….and you guessed it….biofuel. Want more information? Read wikipedia or some biology related books…if you’re interested anyway. Heck, if you’re still studying I would like to recommend this course for you. It’s entry fees is lower than eviromental science courses and the payload…well….we’re kinda short of fossil fuel these days. You might be the one who could save the world….yeah…if the world powers will give you a chance to sell it. Yet again, it might win some points with the environmentalist…but not the…umm…..well….you know biotech. got some probs with the…umm…you know….(need I tell you on that? Then you’re never read a book did you?)

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