Over the past years I have seen my grandmother’s motility decline – what once began as a slight pain a couple of years ago has now progressed into persistent swelling and inflammation of the knees and ankles, distortion of her feet bones, and a considerable reduction in the ease, agility and speed of her walking abilities. Rheumatoid Arthritis has made my grandmother who once would never be seen sitting around the house – but instead would be out and about in the garden, or in the marketplace or at the local school where she taught- prefer staying indoors. Even though her attitude and outlook have been maintained with the same positive fervor and bubbly charisma, the impediment to her motility has certainly reduced her feeling of independence and freedom of movement and scope of access to areas. When we saw the movie in class on Thursday, I sort of came to terms with my worst fears – I felt like I saw a pre-reflection of what to expect in the future. Even though the severity and prognosis for my grandmother is not as bleak as Jason’s is, I nevertheless felt a little unsettled by imagining what the future held for my grandma.


The mottled blue of the carpeted floor marks its presence in the entirety of this room. The carpet looks old – some spots are bald due to excessive wear and tear, others look faded and some look moldy. There is absolutely nothing inside the rood: it is empty and bare- the only defining feature of the room being the blue carpet and the black accent that lines the beige walls. The air smells salty: the damp, moist smell of time and the plastic scent of heated metal mingle with each other. Halfway up the beige walls, there is a black line that runs horizontally along the perimeter of the room: it is continuous in most places, but in the far left corner there is an indentation on one of the walls which has made the black line chip off and expose the powdery beige underneath it. The windows are open: There is something about the soft breeze that flows in along with the natural light that permeates the emptiness of the room that made me want to enter it in the first place. There is definitely a conflict of interest – one part of me likes the room because its sunny and airy expanse beckons me into the room and occupy the vast sunny expanse of this room, while on the other hand the salty damp smell turns me away. The blue of the carpet makes the room look old, cold and unwelcoming but at the same time the breezy wind and the happy sunshine in the room makes it seem warm, cozy and welcoming. I stood by the door of this room, which was previously a weights room in my local gym now gutted for renovation, as I contemplated whether to go in or not. I was attracted to the place in the first place because of the sunlight that seemed to preferentially shined here; but I am pretty turned off by the peculiar smell that emanates from it.

There seems to be no impediment or inaccessible region of the room for my ability profile. I can access very nook and cranny: it is longer than it is wide. Since it is arranged like this, there are doors on either side of the room – one can exit or enter from either, making the space more accessible.


Science or Fiction?

When I stumbled upon this buzz feed article about Zika virus, the Biologist in me really didn’t want to click on it to read the misrepresented science on the other side of the link: but to my surprise, the Buzzfeed writer did a pretty good job in capitulating the essence of the journal article and presenting it to a different audience in an approachable manner.

Here is an article I found on Buzzfeed.com: http://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/zika-microcephaly-risk

Title: If A Pregnant Woman Gets Zika In Her First Trimester, Microcephaly Odds Are 1 In 100, Study Finds

Accompanying subtitle: “I would take this as a low end estimate of the risk,” one scientist said.

The Buzzfeed article had the study linked in its 2nd line (great!), so the original article was fairly easy to find : http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00651-6/abstract

Title: Association between Zika virus and microcephaly in French Polynesia, 2013–15: a retrospective study

A quick skim over both the articles, the main points in both seemed to coincide with each other: the main premise of the study was captured well by the Buzzfeed article

The Lancet: “the risk of microcephaly associated with Zika virus infection was 95 cases (34–191) per 10 000 women infected in the first trimester.”

Buzzfeed: “A Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy triggers microcephaly in about 1 in 100 births, suggests a study of the 2013 Zika outbreak in French Polynesia published on Tuesday.”

In fact, I thought that the Buzzfeed writer really helped me understand the actual risk : 1 in 100 paints a more accurate representation than 100 in 10000. Furthermore, by stripping down the facts to the bare essentials, the significance of the study really seemed to be highlighted: it was less distracting because one did not have to weed through distracting details.

Is there anything that makes us human?

When I zoom out and look at the human species as a whole on the timeline of evolution of life, I cannot fail to notice that  humans are just like any other contemporaneous species or one that existed before us : we are just an irrelevant, accidental, unintentional by-products of the forces of evolution and time. Our mere existence and the collectively shared psyche of “being human” is probably nothing but a freak accident. Thus, when I am asked to write this blog post about what makes humans human, I want to cynically propose the following: what makes us human is what makes a cheetah a cheetah and an elephant an elephant – what makes us human is irrelevant in the big picture of evolution and time, and only matters to us because we are fueled by an  incessant self- obsession.

Nevertheless, here are some things that I have come accross that have been labelled as being “uniquely human”:

  1. The ability to maintain myriads of social connections: human seem to live and interact with a far greater number of people than most other species. However, I wonder if this has to do more with the ridiculously high population size and density of humans and thus, it might not reflect the need to communicate or form social groups.
  2. Juveniles’ prolonged dependence on parents: Humans seem to foster their children for longer periods of time than most other species. I wonder if this overly protective behavior is a mechanism that has evolved to shield the child from social development handicaps rather then biological ones (like the inability to hunt or fly).
  3. The ability to be introspective: we can think about ourselves and articulate what we think, feel and conceive in our minds. We can confirm that we are introspective because we have access to the key of the semiotic linguistic system that is used to express this introspection: since we do not understand animal language, how can we say that they are not introspective?!

Jack needs help!

Risk Factors:

  • Low SES family background
  • Mother’s substance abuse: may have exposed Jack to toxic effect pre-natally or peri-natally
  • Single parent household: father is out of the picture
  • Lack of male authority for discipline etc.
  • Lot of siblings: divided attention and resources

Protective Factors:

  • IQ is average: Jack is not cognitively impoverished
  • Grandmother’s support might mitigate effects of parent’s effect
  • Academically sound
  • Family recognizes and acknowledges Jack’s problems: proactive in seeking treatment/ rectify problems

Jack’s erratic behavioral problems may have stemmed from disturbances in all three factors: biological, social and psychological. The substance abuse by his mother might have altered her epigenetic code, which was vertically transmitted to him when he was born. Since he inherited the same epigenetic modification that occurred in his mother, they might be priming him towards the same risk taking behaviors that his mother undertakes. Furthermore, he might have also been prone to substance abuse side-effects upon his birth. Psychological and social factors such as self-esteem deflation due to lack of (male) role models and fighting for attention and resources among siblings could affect him negatively too.

We can apply the – ignore and put the kid back to bed method- to combat his bedtime problems, and also reinforce good behavior by appreciating him when he does things “right”.


Using the biopsychosocial framework to identify and predict mental disorders and their severity and prognosis is nothing short of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the model allows us to diversify the scope of the so called “causes” for the disorders, while on the other hand, it makes the “causes” harder to resolve and pinpoint since there are so many potential options – the biological, psychological and social factors- that confound the conclusions that can be made from observing a possible subject. The biospsychosocial model also brings to the table the ancestral debate about Nature vs. Nurture. But instead of forcing us to choose a side and stick with it, the BPS model allows us to blur the boundaries between these historically separated factions and allows a more representative model that combines the 3 spheres of potential factors that influence mental disorders. The BPS also allows for more freedom in identifying potential subjects since they are not restricted by constraints of having to fall into one of “preset” categories.

I found this picture on this blog: https://amlevinblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/biopsychosocial-framework-miley-cyrus/ (its not written by a psychologist or anything, but I just thought that it was an interesting read!) 


#Beauty In Subtlety

As I turned the corner into the exhibit room showcasing jewelry of the Africas, I expected to see the “same old, same old”: exquisite works in multicolored precious stone and amber gold. But what caught my eye in the room full of splendor was a piece of purple rock which seemed to have given up even trying to fit into the likes of its neighbours: It was jagged and rough, unpolished and speckled. It wasn’t until I bent down to see its description label that I realized the true extent of the beauty of this seemingly unassuming piece. As I squatted down, I peered through the magnifying lens placed on the face of the rock, the once insignificant piece of purple rock, transformed magically into a beautiful engraving of a fish. The amthesyth fish amulet was striking: its scales and fins were delicately delineated; the light placed behind it made its purple more purple, and its shine more shinier. The Egyptians sure know how to showcase beauty in its most appreciative form: subtly.


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Check out this short video here of how I viewed it: IMG_8893


Pyschopath in “Person of Interest”

The first person who comes to my mind when I think of a psychopath is the character Martine, from the crime-thriller TV show “Person of Interest”. Martine is a hired assassin and operative of the anarchist artificial intelligence Samaritan, and throughout the show she is showcased as taking pleasure and pride in “hunting” down her prey and brutally murdering them. Her eyes seem to light up with a satisfaction, almost to the extent to bliss, when she eliminates her targets. She is obsessed with hunting down the “good guys” in the show: even though the “saviors” also partake in their share of killing and torturing people, Martine stands out because she seems to kill without any rime or reason, and slaps on a smirk of satisfaction and sadist pleasure once she is finished with them. The “saviors” target only those who are the “bad guys” and seem to be more conscientious and “purposeful” in their choice of targets, unlike Martine.

Art as an appeal to authority: Art as a fallacy

Would a highly skilled, photorealistic imitation of the human body painted by me sell at a higher price than the rendition of “blobs of paint randomly distributed on a coffee-stained  canvas as I was watching the television ” by Rothko? Obviously not: not even in a parallel universe!!! This glaring truth raises the question: Should a body of art be appraised solely on its intrinsic, aesthetic value or does one need to take into account the image, the gravitas, the “artistic magnificence” of creator of the artwork? What is the basis of this decision? Who makes this decision?

Exit Through the Gift Shop was really eye-opening: not only was I introduced to the world of street art, and the moral grey area that it resides in; but I was also made privy to the politics that govern what makes “good art” and “big bucks”. It was also for the first time that I saw art being appreciated for the sake of “good art” rather than a “good artist”. Secrecy and legal frivolity seems to empower the artists: the appeal of the art piece magnifies and intensifies since art is viewed in its purest form- as it is.

At some level, the movie itself is a reflexive piece; it itself is a piece of street art.  I appreciate the fact that even though it was directed by Banksy, who is a social miscreant, bonafide vandal and a legal tip-toer, the documentary has been valued and lauded for its artistic brilliance rather than being outcast for being associated with its anti-social director.