Empathy over Pity

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The most impacting part of the film for me was the portrayal of the progression of Jason’s Multiple Sclerosis. The same way that we can’t imagine our grandparents as anything but old, it’s hard to look at someone in a wheelchair or with a debilitating illness and see ourselves, just a few steps earlier. Being disabled seems so far removed from the picture of health I am now, but it doesn’t have to be. Things completely out of one’s control- one car crash, one genetic mutation, one inherited allele- can bring disability upon a completely healthy person. That’s scary, but it relates the importance of not distancing ourselves too much from people with disabilities, having empathy win over sympathy or pity. Jason was a completely healthy filmmaker who acquired Multiple Sclerosis; it could have been any of us.

My next door neighbor also recently developed multiple sclerosis and when I saw her at events and neighborhood gatherings, I didn’t know what to say. So I just didn’t say anything. MS seemed like such a vague disease, and I had no idea what she was going through because she had the outward appearance of normalcy, for the most part. She and her husband recently had to move to a one-story house, the reasons for which I can now understand so much better after seeing the documentary and Jason’s struggle with stairs/ overall movement.

Octane

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Today I ventured to Octane in Grant Park, a cute little bakery and coffee shop combo I had never been to before. As I entered the first of two double doors, a sharply-dressed woman welcomed me in by holding it open for me. Upon reaching the next door, I had an awkward encounter with a man as each of us attempted to be more chivalrous. Eventually, I entered the shop. The full floor to ceiling glass windows, in combination with the sunny day, made the café seem welcoming, light, and airy. Several people, bored of their work, looked up to see who had entered, but they neither welcomed nor unwelcomed me with their glances. Jars filled with cookies were featured on one side of the counter, but I didn’t know what the label, “sablé”, meant, as I don’t speak French. When I looked it up with google translate, I found that it means “a shortbread biscuit”. This language barrier was inherently unwelcoming, although the jars were clear so it was easy for me to infer. When I ordered one of these aforementioned “sablés” for $0.75 (a price that welcomed my current financial position), the barista smiled at me and inquired warmly about my day (although I think that mostly that was due to the fact that he had just turned the tip screen in my direction). The chill, indie music (Mac DeMarco, Beach House, Jack Johnson) was loud enough to drown out the talking of other people while not conflicting with my studying. Most of the café was filled with hip, fashionably-dressed 20-somethings studying solitarily and I stood out in my Marlow’s uniform: a black shirt with lettering and jeans. The furniture was very modern and minimalist in that sharp, uncomfortable kind of way and my butt soon grew sore of sitting in a metal chair. After a couple hours of studying, I left. A woman in a car inquired if I was leaving in order to obtain my parking spot, and thanked me profusely when I said yes, as if I had left for her. Overall, it was a good experience and it was somewhere I would return to study again, although maybe with a seat cushion.

Coffee shrinks breasts!

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A 2008 study in the journal “Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention” analyzed the link between a breast cancer gene, coffee consumption, and breast size. It proceeded to incite a ridiculous hysteria in the media with headlines like, “Drinking three cups of coffee a day shrinks women’s breasts” and my punny personal favorite, “Women Face Drink & Shrink Dilemma: Coffee Poses a Booby Trap.” However, as is common with science portrayals in the media, many headlines/articles mistake correlation for causation. In addition, many articles completely leave out the genetic, breast cancer aspect of the study, as “CYP1A2 gene” doesn’t exactly scream “headline material”. But the gene is an important thing to note when analyzing the study, because although there was a slight negative correlation of breast size and coffee consumption for people with the gene, people without the gene had a slight positive correlation. In addition, the word “shrink” implies a change over time but the study was cross-sectional, not longitudinal. It only took data from a single point in time. There is no mention of “shrinkage” in the paper or change in breast size (unless related to breast cancer, an entirely different can of worms). Finally, they measure breast size using the formula for pyramids, base area x height, divided by 3, rather unrealistic, in my personal experience.

The most annoying aspect to me is that the article attempts to be scientific, with statements like, “Some substances in coffee can change a woman’s metabolism so she acquires a better configuration of various estrogens, therefore lowering the potential risk.” But if you want to be actually scientific, maybe read the original journal article in the first place.

What makes us human?

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As an anthropology major, the study of humans, my approach to answering the question of “what makes us human?” will mostly employ the principles of anthropology, especially those of my “Evolution of Social Behavior” class, which I am taking concurrently with this one.

The first uniquely human trait is the capacity for cumulative cultural transmission of information. This is the ability of techniques and information to not have to be relearned every generation, but rather built upon to reach new discoveries that would not be possible within the lifetime of an individual were s/he to start from scratch. In my opinion, this single trait is what has allowed humans to advance further than any other species in terms of technology.

In order for cumulative cultural transmission to work efficiently, there has to be a shared code that information can use to be transmitted. This brings me to the second uniquely human trait, language. Although other species may use certain sounds, signals, or songs to indicate important things, humans are the only known species that have a widely complex system of grammatically-correct noises that can express even non-essential things. Further, this system varies by ethnic group.

Finally, humans use cooperation more than any other species to form multi-scale, multi-tiered alliances, helping each other extensively even when there doesn’t appear to be a selfish reason. This is because humans have the cognition and memory to be altruistic, rather than just using direct reciprocity like most other species. In addition, the alliances can be much larger than those of any other species, in the form of large-scale groups like nations and religions.

Get Jack Back on Track

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From the given description of Jack, it seems as if he is a mostly normal 9-year old boy with some behavioral problems. Risk factors for aggressive behavior that appear are the substance abuse problem of his mother, the fact that his mother is a single mom and has four other children to take care of, and the low socioeconomic status of the family (considering that the mom must rely on the grandmother for financial support). Protective factors are the clean toxicology screening at birth, the presence of the grandmother as a second caregiver, the normal IQ, and Jack’s general academic success.

In a biopsychosocial framework, the biology of his aggression seems relatively okay, as his mother claims she didn’t use drugs or drink during her pregnancy, although possible aggressive behavior of the father may have genetically predisposed Jack to be more aggressive. From a psychological perspective, he may feel that he doesn’t get that much attention as there are 4 other children in the home, leading him to act out. Finally, from a social perspective, there are many sociological risk factors stemming from low socioeconomic status that may lead to aggressive behavior because of chronic stress in the home.

Given that Jack is an otherwise normal boy who seems to act out to get attention, an appropriate behavior management technique would be parental management therapy, where the mom/grandmother would ignore aggressive/disruptive behaviors and reward good behaviors with attention, praise, and material or privilege reinforcers.

PTSD and The Biopsychosocial Framework

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I work in a research lab that is investigating MDMA as a treatment for PTSD, so choosing to examine the biopsychosocial framework of PTSD is a natural choice for me. In the lab, the main work we do is in investigating the neurobiological causes of PTSD- the role of the serotonin receptors, the oxytocin neurons, and the amygdala- and the difference MDMA makes in each of those categories. But when doing this research, it is important not to lose sight of the environmental and psychological framework as well, as those can make a big difference in the severity and occurrence of PTSD. PTSD is directly linked to the social framework because it is caused by environmental and social factors- a traumatic experience that permanently disrupts the proper functioning of the brain. This traumatic experience can be from war, from a sexual assault, from a horrific childhood experience, anything that is capable of leaving a permanent emotional scar. In some environments and social contexts, these traumatic experiences are more likely to occur. However, on a psychological level, some people are better equipped to handle this emotional stress. They also have different experiences of their memory and exhibit different psychological symptoms.

When doing research within a field, it is easy to forget the big picture. When doing neuroscience research, it can be hard to move away from the biochemical mechanism. When doing a psychological assessment, it can be hard to look deeper into the underlying social causes and predispositions to the disorder. And sociologists who look at disorders on a large scale can easily blend together the individual cases and the individual neurons that make up those cases. Looking at the biopsychosocial framework holistically is a much better approach.

#gomeditate

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In this picture, the Buddha, a traditional symbol of peace, mindfulness, and meditation, is shown in a very serene setting. The lighting is subtle and mellow, the background is uncluttered, and the pedestal serves to provide a sort of grand, noble seat for the Buddha. The combination of these arrangements parallels the idea of meditation and having an uncluttered mind. Although this picture focuses on a singular example, the whole “Asian” room, featuring symbols of Hinduism and Buddhism, possesses this same minimalist, peaceful aura, and I found it to be generally less inhabited than the other, larger rooms.

In regards to the role of social media in the museum, I would like to draw attention to the Snapchat geotag I added to the picture. Geotags are location-specific graphics that you can choose to add to your pictures on Snapchat, and I think they reflect a society that is obsessed with not just doing cool things, but making sure the world knows you’re doing cool things. Even a supposedly modest, academic place like the Carlos Museum has a geotag, demonstrating the widespread relevancy of social media.

Psychopath

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To me, psychopathy is most popularized by characters in the media, like The Joker of “Batman”, Jack in “The Shining”, and the murderers in In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I am not sure how in line this stereotype is with the actual clinical definition of psychopathy, but I know that psychopathy is generally characterized by the inability to understand the emotions of others and the overall lack of feeling when committing awful acts like murder or torture.

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Satire can be a powerful tool in making us second-guess our beliefs and assumptions in an indirect way. When I first watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, it didn’t even occur to me that it wasn’t real. The amateur shaky camera movements, the seeming danger of it all, the real-life characters– I never doubted it for a minute. However, in retrospect and after hearing the opinions of others in the class, I feel foolish for my failure to integrate the film’s context with its message. The fact that the subject of the film was Banksy gave it authenticity in my mind (the question of why is a conversation in and of itself), when it should have given me the opposite, knowing that Banksy is known for trickery and satire.

However, regardless of whether the film is real or fake, does it make the message any less legitimate? Either way, we are tricked. If we think that the film is real and it is staged, we are tricked but on the other hand, if the plot is real, all of the art world is tricked into paying big money for commercialized mediocre street art developed by a goony Frenchman overnight, just because he learned how to play “the game”.

 

How to Be Healthy

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Eat the food off the ground– it will build your microbiome. Exercise everyday- no excuse. “But I’m skinny”. “It’s not about being skinny”. Never ask your doctor for antibiotics for a viral infection- don’t be stupid. Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. Fruit juice is deceiving. Only buy the energy bars where you can pronounce all the ingredients. Eat breakfast with protein. Take your Vitamin C; it keeps you healthy. Everything in moderation. Alcohol has calories too; they count. Drink milk for growing pains and prune juice for constipation. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you don’t have to put on sunscreen. Organic, cage-free, GMO-less, whole-wheat. “Can’t I just have oreos like the other kids?” “You’ll thank me later”. Thank you.