Bring Up Artificial Intelligence—What can it do for us, or more precisely what it can’t

From the moment the first computer was commercialized, people started asking themselves what computers could do for us. It was notably evident how powerful those machines were at helping us find information, provided an accessible platform for arcade gaming and facilitated typewriting. Then one day, during Summer 1956, scientists gathered for a workshop held on the Dartmouth College campus. The main intention of the workshop was to advance the computers’ capability. During this event, some even predicted that computers would be able to reason humanlike within the span of one generation only. It turns out that this could not have been more wrong. Now, after two whole generations, we are still waiting for such a technology to surface. 

The slow rate of development is not only due to the computing power often not being strong enough to support the most complex algorithms, but it is also because of the recurrent fading in popularity. Every time expectations are proven too hard to overcome, this field of research notices a substantial drop in fundings. These financial pitfalls have caused the progress to slow down and have deterred newcomers to get their hands in the game. In this decade, however, we can notice that we are back to a peak of interest. The arrival of deep learning and machine learning has reignited the flame that once existed of producing a machine that would legitimately be humanlike. Yet, I don’t believe this is at all reasonable to expect such things. My training in neuroscience has shown me on many occasions how complex the human mind and behaviours are.

So, before hoping for an Ex-Machina to be produced or a Jarvis (Iron Man) to be made, we must understand what the bases of artificial intelligence are. Let’s start by defining artificial intelligence (AI). Well, the first part is by far the easiest to explain. We could effortlessly replace artificial with the synonymous word ‘man-made’; the second part, however, is much more complex. For a better and more complete representation of intelligence, I suggest you read my post from last week (Bring Up Intelligence). In sum, I define intelligence as being multimodal with as much as ten possible intelligence. Anyhow, what most people mean when they talk about intelligence in AI is either one, or a combination, of the four approaches. 

Alex Knight|

The first is acting humanly, where one AI reacts similarly given the same situation and environment. The second is thinking humanly, where the AI would produce the same sort of thinking we humans do, with all its flaws and biases. The third is acting rationally, where the AI behaves following rules and seeks to find solutions, even though the results could be proved useless given certain conditions. The fourth, and last, is thinking rationally, where the AI forms preset notions and guidelines on how to respond given different circumstances. Regardless of which combination you choose, the result won’t be anything like the AI pictured in most Sci-Fi movies. The news channels do not make it easier either. News anchors may tell us that the best chess players were all beaten by AI. Some others may report that the longest winning-streak player of Jeopardy! was defeated by AI. Yet nobody knows if they genuinely qualify as AI. Some scientists are indeed entirely dismissing them as AI on the basis that they do not think and thus cannot understand the games. They only react based on their learnt knowledge and the strategies they developed. 

So, it becomes hard to say when AI will realistically be intelligent. Moreover, if you consider the multimodal view of intelligence, then it becomes almost unfeasible. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence suggests that there are officially up to nine types of intelligence. Trying to recreate them artificially has met many successes but a lot more failures. For example, reproducing logical-mathematical intelligence has been highly successful. But every attempt at recreating creative intelligence has shown very miserable results. If we bring them all up in consideration of their reproducibility potential, we have: logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, linguistic, intrapersonal, creative, musical and spiritual. Let’s note that most, if not all, of those successes, failed to introduce more than one intelligence type. So, trying to bring them all up in one machine to create a proper AI has still a long way to go. 

One way to avoid dealing with all these different intelligence types would be to omit them entirely and instead opt for a criteria-based description of true intelligence. However, coming up with all the various criteria can form a notion that can sometimes feel incomplete. So trying to encompass all the elements forming intelligence is a serious exercise. The most recent attempt at determining these criteria brought up elements like reasoning, understanding, determining or detecting lies, finding relationships between items, considering meanings, and separating facts from beliefs. And all these components make sense. Getting to analyze a situation and coming up with explanations requires both reasoning and understanding, but these skills alone don’t make you particularly smart. Being able to pick your knowledge carefully is also critical. But let’s be honest, some information may need some special treatment as it may also hold very different meanings giving varying context. As a final touch, being able to assemble all of our knowledge together is definitely an advantage. 

Pavel Danilyuk|

However, even with this new definition, we can’t realistically produce something that will include all of these components. Right now, all attempts at building AI have been separated into two groups: strong AI and weak AI. Strong AIs are unspecialized and thus can theoretically do many things, but they produce very weak results. For better outcomes, weak AIs are actually the way to go, even though they are highly specialized and thus, really know how to do one thing only. One downside to consider for weak AI is that they will never be independent. They will always need an external actor to compensate for their lack. 

Nataliya Vaitkevich|

AI development made lots of progress in the last few decades, regardless of the difficulty we have faced defining what does or doesn’t classify as AI. The quest began with a handful of expert systems that were basically merely following set operators. These expert systems are computer programs following rules based on different algorithms. For instance, the grammar check found in Microsoft Word is an expert system where most grammatical rules are integrated into the programs through a series of algorithms. Yet, expert systems established those rules based on common sentence structures that are usually kept very short. Thus, when the expert system meets, for example, nested sentences, it has a hard time suggesting a proper correction. One way around this issue has involved the help of machine learning, where the algorithms go through an iteration process to learn based on a very large data set. Even though this may sound like a dreamy alternative, machine learning can introduce a lot of flaws into the program. We have to be careful to vet our data set adequately beforehand. 

Coming up with new AI has definitely revolutionized how we do things. Now, most bank security measures include AIs for their fraud detection. This implementation has allowed the banks to identify more frauding attempts and has accelerated their detection rate. Hospitals and clinics use AIs to help them with resource scheduling. For instance, when they need to plan work schedules, budgets or material resource allocation. Engineers will use it to perform complex analyses in signal processing and control theory. Manufacturers prefer using AI for automation, whereas retailers will favour the use of AI to perform customer services. Other fields will employ AI to optimize safety systems or machine efficiency, but whatever is the reason behind their use, we can all agree on one thing; the presence of AI will become ever more widespread.

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Bring Up Intelligence—How IQ tests do not measure how smart we really are

Anna Tarazevich|

I can’t even begin counting the number of times people called me “smart” for studying science at a university level. And even though I am partly flattered, another more substantial part of me is outright annoyed. To be clear, I am understandably not a proponent of the maxim “You don’t need a rocket scientist to do this.” This idea that rocket scientists are at the top of the intelligence pyramid is downright arrogant. Yes, they are indeed brilliant, but there are also plenty of people in other fields that are equally smart. Be careful here; even non-scientist can be as intelligent as rocket scientists. So next time you feel compelled to tell your scientist friends how smart they are, remember to tell your local farmers how smart they are as well. We need to stop considering how intelligent people are by the amount of mathematical knowledge they master or how much academic content they can stuff into their brains. We may have understood now that intelligence is complex. Yet, we are still way behind when it comes to redefining how we view it in our modern society. 

Since the early 20th century, intelligence has been defined by how much you score on an Intelligence Quotient test (IQ test). Considering the average on the test to be 100, anyone who would score under 90 would classify as dull and the ones with scores under 70, mentally defective. On the contrary, individuals that score above 115 would be considered gifted. However, even though we created this test with the intention to measure intelligence, it only succeeded at evaluating the general factor, “g” (i.e. cognitive abilities). Indeed the questions asked often revolve around aspects like general knowledge, arithmetics, vocabulary, language comprehension, picture completion, block design, object assembly, coding, picture arrangement and similarities. This tool seemed so formidable and has been so successfully marketed as a universal intelligent test that most people today would readily believe them to measure intelligence. But beware that this test does not capture the whole picture of intelligence, and rating your job candidates on only this measure would be a complete travesty. 

There are, however, people out there that are genuine supporters of the IQ tests as a future performance predictor. Although these individuals are not entirely misguided -IQ tests do indeed show moderate correlation with future successes-, other measures have proven themselves even more reliable. For instance, emotional intelligence has proven itself a good predictor, along with self-control, faith over one’s future and interpersonal strategies. More impressively, in all those predictors, self-control actually was better at estimating one’s chance of success, even compared to IQ tests. And this brings me to wonder about the consequences of such an intelligence test. For me, it seems like a premature way to etiquette people into categories dictating if they should succeed or not. If we decide to attend university or apply for jobs, we can’t escape the ‘oh!’ so prevalent IQ tests, which may determine if we will get the job or not. And it seems that the more prestigious the place you are applying to, the more probable you will have to face one of these tests. So the test is no longer used merely as an indicator but as an obstacle too. We can only wonder from such observation if the success is truthfully linked to IQ scores or are the IQ scores deciding who should succeed or not? For me, this whole IQ thing really sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy.


So if intelligence is not what IQ tests are calculating, then what is intelligence? Many psychologists and psychometrists attempted to describe it. Yet, nobody came up with a theory upon which everyone could agree. This disagreement over the definition arises from the different understanding that people have of intelligence. A mathematician, for example, may believe that intelligence is your ability to reason and compute complex problems; a physicist may think that it is the ability of one’s mind to picture abstract objects; an artist may perceive it to be the ability to create. And it is that flexibility in the concept that makes it hard to measure. I would even say that it is a vain pursuit to try measuring it. Intelligence is too complex and evidently a subjective notion. Yet, some theories seem better at summarizing the idea. 

In an attempt to correct how we saw intelligence, Robert Sternberg proposed the triarchic theory of intelligence. He started describing the classical view of intelligence as analytic intelligence. This one best describes how well we will do in an academic setting. It involves reasoning, computing, problem-solving, and more. As a second theory, he introduced creative intelligence. It best defines how someone can be innovative, inventive and a generator of new ideas. As the third and last, he brought up practical intelligence, which describes best the people that are particularly ‘street smart.’ Those individuals are known as people who can have a good idea of how things might turn out and avoid trouble. They typically know the best route, the best restaurant, the best contacts, etc. They also might have a better intuition about someone’s intention soon after meeting them for the first time. 

Julia M Cameron|

Although this approach is much better than what IQ tests offered us, I find it still lacks complexity. It doesn’t yet capture the whole image of intelligence. And someone else, an American psychologist, came to a similar conclusion and proposed that we view intelligence as multimodal and not as one single unit, which agrees with what Sternberg previously offered. However, Gardner’s theory was slightly more ambitious as it officially encompasses nine types of intelligence, and unofficially, 10. Yet, given the lack of empirical evidence to support this idea, this theory is still being critiqued. Gardner’s approach was uniquely based on subjective judgement and observation. And since the whole concept is an abstract notion, to begin with, such as love and sadness -which we can’t measure either-, I find it quite suitable.  

We could probably group the first three under Sternberg’s view of analytic intelligence. And yet, I find this segmenting to be fairer. They are visual-spatial intelligence, linguistic-verbal intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence. They are all probably very self-explanatory, but I can, at the very least, describe them a little. Visual-spatial intelligence refers to people who are good at locating themselves and finding directions. Basically, people who score high on this intelligence may be capable of mentally visualizing the whole itinerary when they travel somewhere. Individuals that score high in linguistic-verbal are often the ones we would describe as eloquent. They have a way with words, and they also have an easier time learning new languages. Well, logical-mathematical inclined people have an easier time following rules and creating new ones. They also excel at reasoning and critical thinking. 

As mentioned, there are at least six more to introduce, so I’ll be quick. These six types are bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. Bodily-kinesthetic people are better at orchestrating and fine-tuning their movement. It is why this type is most often called physical intelligence. Musical people have increased ease in determining the tone, sounds and rhythms of music. Interpersonal individuals are more skilled at networking and creating good long-lasting relationships. Intrapersonal refers to people that are finely tuned to their inner thought workings and are very good at introspection. Naturalistic intelligence characterizes people that can effortlessly draw links with nature. And existential intelligence was created as an alternative to spiritual intelligence, where people perceive that their lives have a higher purpose. At last, there is one remaining unofficial intelligence, which is digital intelligence. Its need arose from the accessibility to digital content. 


To wrap up everything, let’s say that I particularly like Einstein’s quote: “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.“ It is truly an amazing analogy to describe how everyone can be intelligent in their own way. But if you test them all using the same standardized tools, you might miss what’s right under your nose. So, as a take-home message, I would like you to realize that some scientists are smart (on some modalities), but so can be dropout students (on different modalities). And most importantly, that you are intelligent too and never forget it. I’ll end this article with another clever quote from Einstein: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change [or to adapt],” and I find that it englobes well the notion of intelligence. As humans, we are born with the ability to adapt, and as such, we are all intelligent. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education


Being a curious individual, I always want to learn. I frankly can’t imagine a time when I’ll have to stop seeking clues about the inner workings of the world. The best way I found to satisfy my deep desire to learn was going to school. Luckily for me, going to school was mandatory for anyone under the age of 18. Yet, as soon as I entered high school, the only thing I could focus on was the impending end of time in school. There was only one solution. … I had to attend university. But first, I needed to get a Cegep degree. For those unfamiliar with the term Cegep, it is an academic institution that offers both general training and technical training. Both kinds of training lead to the obtention of a degree after 2 or 3 years, respectively. The general training aims to be pre-university training, whereas the technical training should lead you directly to the job market. 

Honestly, I particularly disliked Cegep. From my perspective, the teachers were unpassionate about their courses, and they were also exhaustingly hard to reach in between classes. I must mention that some teachers defied those expectations and were excellent teachers. However, I found that those were the minority. My observations were, however, not shared amongst most of my acquaintances that went to Cegep. Possibly, this difference could be credited to my degree being different, or it could be that they got their degree from another Cegep altogether. Alternatively, It could also have resulted from my mental state at the moment. Indeed, my head was not in the game then. I was living a distressing time at home and was incredibly worried about my perceived worth. Unconsciously, I didn’t mind failing my courses. It would just have been another proof of my worthlessness. 

Somehow after four years of on and off school, I decided to apply to university despite my lack of a Cegep degree. Why did I wait so long to apply to university if this whole thing was unnecessary? Well, I sincerely didn’t know that it was even possible. Everyone in the academic system has led me to believe in this one-size-fits-all path, either by ignorance or for simplicity’s sake. They teach you that the one path for university is first high school, then Cegep and finally, University. We, thus, remain oblivious that it is actually possible to skip Cegep altogether. It turns out that you only need to be 18 years old and possess a high school degree to be admissible for most university applications. They call these applicants mature students. There are also programs offered, like the one at Université de Montréal (Accès aux Études Universitaires), that grants you access to most if not all their undergraduate programs and also they offer you the opportunity to apply to other schools.

Armin Rimoldi|

That was a path that was better suited for my needs. I did the program at Université de Montréal, and then I applied to Bishop’s University. You may realize that one is a French-taught university and the second, an English-taught university. Given that French is my native language going to Bishop’s University has proven itself pretty challenging. Although, I must admit that I loved stepping up to the challenge and prove myself capable. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, I had come to realize that university studies suited me. I didn’t fail any classes; I even performed very well in most. My life made sense again, and I was satisfied, both from the work I’d accomplished and the learning I’d made. At that moment, I really wanted to teach, specifically at the university level. I needed to obtain a doctorate degree. So, I went to pursue a Master of Science at Université de Sherbrooke. I chose to do a research-based degree, and at first, I must admit that I absolutely loved it. 


My research project was, at first, brand new to me, and I needed to learn a bunch before getting to design my own experiments. I adored that part, the learning part. Unfortunately, this is not a good resume of my whole experience in the lab. The lab atmosphere was terrible. From the start, my labmates attempted to convince each other that I did not deserve my place in this lab. Then, when my supervisor was made aware of their attitude, he addressed it. However, them trying to ridicule me was not their only ammunition at hand. They were also enjoying making the lab assistant’s life miserable. However, I liked the lab assistant very much. Contrary to the others in the lab, she was sweet, and she was always ready and willing to give me a hand. Little did I know that just tagging along with this marvellous person would get me shunned from the labmates. 

Marley Clovelly|

Eventually, all I have ever done in the lab was being scrutinized and then mocked. My attitude in the lab started being somewhat unstable, and I began to develop a tendency towards overreaction. After two years of being part of this lab, this last change in my behaviour was the last straw to motivate my supervisors to ban me from the lab at the request of the majority of my labmates. Fortunately, I was able to complete my degree after all, despite my unfinished project. Instead of writing my thesis at the lab, I was able to write it remotely. I was happy to be away from the drama that accompanied my presence in the lab, but I was distraught by the unfamiliarity of writing a Master’s thesis. I had no assistance from my supervisor, nor did I get much help from the department. I had to figure it out all on my own. Sometimes the immensity of the task was proving itself too scary, and I often preferred avoiding completing it altogether. With the kind help and motivation from my fiancé, I finally accepted that doing my best, although it would eventually need redefining, was all I could do. And as such, so I did; after three reviews, the review board approved my thesis for submission, and I obtained my diploma. 

I heard that my recent experience was not a typical one. However, it is not an isolated case. My multiple discussions with other Master’s students and Doctorate students revealed something interesting. I began realizing that the quality of our experience directly correlates to how the supervisor manages the lab. If he keeps repeating that he is overwhelmingly busy and thus he expects his students to be ultra self-sufficient, it’s a potential red flag. It could mean that he is not available to guide the students, nor can he be there to address any possible cases of abuse. If the supervisor willingly claims that the lab has some recurring conflicts and that he had problems with students in the past, it’s a red flag. It could mean that he can’t adequately manage his lab and his students and that he may tolerate misbehaviours. At last, if the supervisor only talks about himself and his lab, red flag. Possibly, the supervisor doesn’t care about your personal preferences nor your mental state. It is a poor attribute for your supervisor to have given that these elements may potentially damage the quality of your work. Also, if the supervisor is indifferent to you, he is probably with everyone else as well. In sum, make sure to vet your potential supervisor carefully. It may be tempting to accept any supervisor that supports your candidacy first, but it may not be to your own benefit. Take your time and ask yourself if that supervisor is a good fit for you. 

Stanley Morales|

Two years after completing my Master’s degree, I have finally grasped that my negative experience in that lab was not entirely because of me. A lot had to do with being in the wrong lab, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people. Some day, I may find my way back to studying or working in a lab, but not now, nor anytime soon. Right now, I am fully satisfied writing from the comfort of my home, or in this case, a charming pub in North Hatley, QC, CA. Although my future is uncertain, I now understand that I am in charge of my destiny and happiness. Maybe this future will bring me to complete another undergraduate degree, or perhaps it won’t. The one thing I am sure of is that wherever life carries me, I will make damn sure that I’m happy, no more compromises. 

College or university degrees should not be sought with the only motivation to enter the job market but to further knowledge and understanding. University studies are challenging, and deliberate decisions to gain wisdom about a particular field are needed to succeed. Unfortunately, too many people enter university programs with the only hope and desire to get a specific job. Way too often, those people don’t get the desired position, either because they only crammed the knowledge without properly absorbing anything, or they may find out that they don’t want that job in the end. As for me, I decided to forge my own path. Science communication is one of the most integral parts of my life. I often do it without even realizing it. So, even though my training typically leads to an academic career, I decided to break away from the mould and become a self-employed entrepreneur. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Sleep – How can I increase my overall well-being

Elias Ficavontade|

Today sitting in front of my laptop writing to you, I can think of only one thing, sleep. It’s been on my mind for the mere reason that over the last few weeks I’ve had bouts of insomnia. When people say things like “We don’t truly appreciate what we have until it’s gone”, for insomnia, you can really take a moment to acknowledge how accurate this is. Every day we sleep, as we should. If this does not apply to you, I’m compelling you to reconsider your life habits. Since sleeping happens on a regular basis, we tend to disregard giving it the particular attention it deserves. For as far as I can remember, I’ve always loved sleeping, and thus I’ve continuously pursued a good night’s sleep of at least  8 hours. However, generally, I need well over 8 hours of sleep to be completely refreshed. Personal factors are at play and it’s important to consider individual differences. We have to be open to listen and adapt to what our bodies are trying to tell us.

What happens during sleep is a question that many scientists have dedicated most of their lives trying to answer. For the longest time, research was fruitless. Scientists had barely any clues as to its function, but everyone had at least a hypothesis as to its purpose. Researchers, despite their visible lack of results on the nature of sleep, knew that it was at the very least essential for our survival. We didn’t have to stretch our thinking to its limit to accept this. Simply looking at data, people who tended to neglect their sleep, aged faster than those who pursued a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Also, you may already be aware that being completely sleep deprived for more than a couple of days may lead to the development of psychological disturbances like paranoia and hallucinations. In comparison, good sleepers may seem to benefit from more resilient metabolisms which provides a lower risk for obesity, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, depression and much more.

Knowing about its importance is still not sufficient to have everyone adjusting their sleeping habits. Many of us have reasons supporting our systematic neglect against fulfilling the required amount of shut-eye hours. Those reasons could range anywhere from having young children to the affliction of sleeping disorders. As such, at different moments in our lives, we may notice our sleeping habits beginning to change. In fact, the changes that we undergo are not always conscious. As a baby, for example, we have to sleep for a hefty total of 18 hours. Luckily for us, it doesn’t remain as such for too long, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get anything done. Gradually as we age, the sleeping requirements decrease and come to a plateau at 18, to an acceptable 7-9 hours of sleep. It only seems to slightly fall again after 65 years old at a requirement of 7-8hours. 


Even though we robustly half the amount of sleep needed by the time we reach adulthood, many people won’t follow the guidelines and will find themselves sleep-deprived. One issue could be that we typically find that sleep is a waste of time and that it is solely meant to make us feel rested. However, researchers have been able to come up with theories supporting other importance of sleep. Amongst many theories, four of them seem to stand out: inactivity theory, energy conservation theory, restorative theories and brain plasticity theory. For the moment, none of them are proven to be the unique explanation for the role of sleep. Moreover, researchers are currently agreeing that the answer is more likely to involve many of these theories and not only one. 


Considering sleep as a survival mechanism, we can easily do a parallel with other survival mechanisms. Anxiety is there as a warning sign to alert us and enable the use of flight or fight when danger is detected. In most situations, we tend to use flight, in other words, we prefer avoidance. If we are able to fight, then the situation is of no corporeal danger. This reasoning supports the implication that anxiety serves to avoid danger. The same reasoning can also be transposed to pain; pain serves to avoid physical harm. Hunger, another survival mechanism, serves to avoid the lack of nutrients. Similarly, all survival mechanisms can be reduced to such basic instruction: to avoid. This is exactly what the theory of inactivity used to justify the need for sleep. The theory states that through many generations, we developed sleep to keep us out of harm’s-way during our most vulnerable time, at least that’s the essence behind this theory. However, some might say that being totally unconscious would render us more vulnerable, not less. 

Tatiana Syrikova|

Despite having objections to this theory, there still exists some advantages to being almost completely still. By limiting movement, thinking, and perception, you are significantly reducing your individual energy demand and expenditure. In fact, compared to our awakened state, we consume 10% less energy than when asleep. This has led to the energy conservation theory, which some consider a branch of the inactivity theory, and in some cases, the same. However, the explanation is different. Energy conservation means that we need fewer nutrients to survive, which is an essential advantage when living in a world where access to food is limited. It did not only prolong our supply but allowed us to share the supply with more people. However, nowadays we live in a world where food supplies seem endless, and simultaneously people are sleeping less. Meanwhile, researchers are coming to terms with accepting that sleep deprivation, as well as overeating, are both factors contributing to the development of obesity.

Major and noticeable consequences of sleep deprivation are diminished mental acuity, memory and learning capacity. These consequences lead us to ponder over the significance of such findings. One interpretation supports the idea that sleep has restorative functions, conveniently called restorative theories. Interestingly, while looking closely at different restorative mechanisms such as muscle growth, protein synthesis, growth hormone release and tissue repair, we can observe that these seem to happen mostly, and sometimes uniquely, at night. Like adenosine, which accumulates progressively in the body directly following awakening, which seems to promote sleep after a certain concentration has been reached. Every night, an adenosine clean-up is known to take place, restoring the initial level observed in the morning. 

At last, in the last few years, a new theory has been emerging: the brain plasticity theory. This theory seems to hit the nail on the head when trying to explain the influence of sleep on human cognition. Brain plasticity is known to be responsible for brain structural and organizational changes. Intriguingly, brain plasticity seems to be halted, or at least slowed, when sleep duration becomes insufficient. Lower brain plasticity is linked to reduced memory and learning. 

Anna Shvets|

Sleep is such an important tool that we must come to respect in order to remain healthy, and for a longer period. In sum, it helps us fight off our daily stress, supports our immune system, promotes better cognition and stabilizes our mood. To significantly ameliorate your sleep, we don’t need to sacrifice anything more than a round or two of your favourite game.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Fibromyalgia – When pain becomes an everyday occurence

Andrea Piacquadio|

 I woke up this morning feeling normal. My brain was working properly, my body didn’t ache, and I did not feel one bit tired. But why am I fricking telling you this? Isn’t it normal? As in everyone should be feeling like this, right? I would be very happy to tell you that it’s truly routine, but I unfortunately don’t have this pleasure. What usually happens goes a bit more like the following: I wake up tired, most likely caused by my insomnia, my brain is foggy, and I start feeling some painful impulses in my body. All of this is triggered by a chronic muscular pain syndrome (CMPS) which could one day become fibromyalgia. The explanation behind the uncertainty resides in how I fulfill the diagnosis, or more accurately how I do not.


Two years ago, I decided to schedule an appointment with my family physician to discuss some issues that concerned me. The main one was the almost sudden emergence of pain in parts of my body. It was always very localized, never widespread like a headache or a cramp. It felt like a burst of sharp electrical firing in places such as the side of my foot, my hip, the palm of my hand, the inside of my elbow, etc. I would describe the feeling to never spread more than one centimetre wide. The absence of reasonable explanation for the pain was making me worry.

After examination, my family physician concluded that it didn’t meet all the criteria necessary for a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Although she explained that the situation could develop further and worsen. If that is the case, there would be a strong chance that my condition would fulfill the last required criteria for fibromyalgia. She encouraged me to include physical stretching in my daily routine and to do some research (knowing that I am a trained physiologist) on CMPS and fibromyalgia. From her suggestion, I did some research. It was not only to familiarize myself with those disorders, but also to find more ways to help reduce the pain caused by CMPS. As for stretching, I am not proud to say that I didn’t follow her recommendation very strictly. I do stretch, but I am sadly not doing it every day. Most often it’s because I forget, or I don’t feel like it. However, the main reason is that it annoys me. I find it so boring that I feel it’s such an effortful job. I know, I know! I need it, but let’s just say that at this point I became really good at finding excuses for myself in order to avoid it.|

Turns out that the idea of stretching is not that far-fetched. All the research papers examined were praising its benefit in treating fibromyalgia cases. So, I am probably really doing myself some important disfavour by not enforcing the practice. The reasoning behind its efficiency is however unclear. We actually have no clue what might cause the symptoms seen in fibromyalgia. There are only theories. Some people support that it’s triggered by an overexcitation of the glutamatergic neuronal pathways, others support that it’s caused by communication issues between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Even if we don’t know what is at the root of the disorder, researchers are all agreeing on one thing. Fibromyalgia is a centralized disorder, which means that the central nervous system is at fault. By central nervous system I mean everything ranging from the spinal cord to the brain. This central nervous system is being oversensitive, and we yet do not understand why.

I know! You get it! Both fibromyalgia and CMPS are causing pain (read Bring Up Pain, for more information). Here’s a twist, though, it’s doing way more than messing up with your body, it’s also messing up with your head. The constant sleep disturbances and memory dysfunctions are probably my biggest troubles. As I mentioned at the very beginning, I do experience insomnia which has become more and more regular in the last few years. Usually, as soon as I would feel insomnia settling in, I would grab some melatonin which would consistently improve my sleeping capabilities. However, starting two months ago, I began experiencing insomnia every night and this lasted for a bit more than three consecutive weeks. From that moment on, melatonin would not seem to be working anymore. In the best course of action, I could fall asleep by midnight (I usually go to sleep around 9:30 p.m.-10 p.m.) and at worst, by 4 a.m. That means I got on average a good 6–7 hours of sleep every night, which doesn’t sound that bad. That’s if we’re not considering that a good night’s sleep, in my case, usually lasts 9–10 hours. This means that, by the third week, I was in a clear sleep deficit state.

Daria Shevtsova|
Gleb Vasylynka|

Being sleep deprived does nothing good on the brain. It also seemed to worsen the memory dysfunction and the fatigue aspects of CMPS. Useless to say that trying to finish up my Master of Science in Physiology was challenging. For example, it took me two attempts to pass the mandatory course exams. The memory deficits were affecting me worse probably because I had learnt to strongly rely on it through many years spent in school. This has led me to develop severe performance anxiety that was best displayed in public speaking scenes. This was gut-wrenching since I loved public speaking, and still do actually despite the trouble. I would have taken twice, or even thrice, as much pain if it had meant retrieving my memory function and avoiding performance anxiety altogether. Now, I can’t even talk without stumbling on my words. It makes it seem as if I have no mastery of what I am introducing, and this genuinely pains me.

Oh well! I didn’t mean to be a drag. As far as I know, there is so much more you can learn about chronic pain syndromes and fibromyalgia. It is gaining awareness, but still, many ignore its impacts. This was my story and is by no means a complete overview of the chronic pain disorders. This was, however, a fair representation about my own experience with the disorder. I realize that my case is very mild, but some of you might not be as fortunate and thus my compassion goes to you. It is not easy for anyone to have to deal with such an awful situation, but luckily, we can find solace in knowing that we are not going through this alone. 


Let’s also be conscious that there are quite a handful of promising treatments right now. There is much to be happy about. Additionally, if you really take care of yourself, you can seriously have some control over how worse it can get. That be yoga, meditation, stretching, antidepressants, marijuana (yes, that is correct!), acupuncture, diet change or others, it’s all yours to explore. I personally prefer yoga, meditation and diet change, or more specifically intermittent fasting (See Bring Up Intermittent Fasting). Despite not having had the pleasure to try acupuncture yet, I would definitely like to give it a shot someday.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

Bring Up Pain – Where all of this hurt comes from

Oleg Magni|

I hurt myself constantly and I am certain you do too. I am so clumsy, though I am not sure why. Maybe I try to hurry up a bit too much, I hate wasting time by lingering on any task for too long. So, for example, I often end up hitting my big toe on one of the corners of the bed base trying to get out of bed in a hurry or cutting myself on a razor haphazardly left in the bathroom drawer when trying to find my eye cream. Other than hurtful to my ego, those experiences hurtful to my body, which leads to pain. Pain is always taken for granted. You are hardly waking up every morning dreading the idea that you’ll eventually experience it, but when it does finally happen you are neither surprise. Pain is experienced by most of us, but despite its universality, very few understand how it works. Actually, can someone please tell me what the heck is pain and how can I fricking get rid of it?

It took me many years of undergraduate studies and then graduate studies to finally understand its main mechanisms, which I will now share with you. I hope that by the end of this article, you not only come to understand pain, but to appreciate it for its complexity and its vital necessity. 

When you think about pain, probably you are thinking about it the same way I did before starting my post-secondary studies. I thought pain was the result of injury. You break your skin; it hurts. You hit your foot; it hurts. You fall; it hurts. You get my point. But that doesn’t explain the headache you got last week, nor does it explain the heartburn you got last time you ate greasy food. It’s easy to point fingers at possible culprits for our pain, but it’s not really clear why it causes the pain in the first place. Why does not drinking enough water causes me headaches?

So, let’s break everything into small steps. The very first thing your body does is feeling things, this is called perception. But when the body perceives something that may be hurtful to you, it becomes known as nociception. The body can sense things that are called stimuli (plural of stimulus) which is a fancy word for sensations. Those stimuli can be of thermal (heat or cold), mechanical (pressure or tension), or chemical (inflammation or toxins) nature. Then considering our example giving earlier, hitting my big toe, and cutting myself led to nociception of a stimulus of mechanical nature. As for the headache and the heartburn, it was from chemical nature. For the headache, there was probably not enough oxygen and for the heartburn, too much acid. 

Polina Zimmerman|

Now let’s look at this nociception closer. The changes are perceived by some detectors that we call pain receptors, or more specifically nociceptors. Those nociceptors can differ greatly from each other. They can have different endings which make them able to detect specific types of stimulus or they can also vary in size. The latter will influence how fast the nerve will carry the signal to the brain. It’s this difference in size that makes you sense two pain waves. For example, when you hit your toe. You first grab your toe, but it really was a few seconds after you grabbed it that the intense and sharp sensation started kicking in. This is because the large nerves carried the information related to location and nature of the pain faster than the smaller nerves. It’s those smaller nerves that were responsible to carry the information related to the intensity and emotional nature of the pain and is delayed. This whole process that we just went through is called transduction. 

After transduction there is conduction, which is for us step 2. This step explains how the signal is actually sent to the brain. It will probably not be any news to you, the signal is carried by nerves, or neurons. All these neurons are organized into something that resembles a family tree. In your family tree there are your siblings, your cousins and obviously yourself. All of them serve as an analogy for the first-order neuron or most commonly called primary afferents. As suspected, they stem from wherever you can feel (skin, ears, organs, etc.), and they end at the spinal cord. In your family tree, there are also your parents, your aunts, and your uncles. Those are like the second-order neurons, there are generally fewer than the previous group. They are located in your spinal cord. Then, you have your grandparents. Those are like the third-order neurons and are present from the end of your spinal cord to your brain. Simple, isn’t it? 

Askar Abayev|

After the signal has reached through all the three levels of neurons and finally the brain, then there is transmission. Transmission refers to the mechanism to which all different information will be sent to their appropriate processing section. Then an output signal will be produced and will be modulated depending on its intensity and its relevance. If the intensity is too much and is not relevant, the signal may be tuned down, or reciprocally up if the situation is reversed. So that makes up two steps: Transmission and Modulation.

The very last step is Perception, and it relates not to the initial perception we introduced when we talked about transduction, but to the final products that leads to a reaction. It is at that moment you grab your toe

So, if I try to summarize everything, first you feel; secondly, the signal goes through three levels of neuron up to the brain; thirdly, the signal is interpreted by the brain; fourthly, the signal is tuned by the brain and lastly it is sent back to the appropriate location to create a reaction. Normally, it takes all those steps to induce pain, but there are some cases where the pain seems to appear out of thin air. That pain is often said to be neuropathic. Where signals are generated in the absence of stimulus detection which is common in chronic muscular diseases. 

Reversely, there is another disease that leads to the inability to generate pain. Doesn’t that sound wonderful, right? People affected by congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA) would disagree. Pain is a protective mechanism that forces you to have a reaction when faced to a potentially harmful stimulus. Without pain, most people with CIPA will die before the age of 25. They usually end up burning themselves seriously, biting off their tongues or scratching to the bone, which could eventually lead to infection, which can also lead to death. These are only examples of things that may happen to you without the ability to generate pain. Pain is so important since it is there to avoid putting yourself under unnecessary harm. 

Ferdinand Studio|

Pain can also be split into two categories: acute and chronic. We talk about acute pain when dealing with a situation that is sudden and ephemeral (that doesn’t last in time). In contrast, we talk about chronic pain when it’s persistent in time, usually more than three months. So all previously mentioned pain examples were actually all acute, apart from chronic muscular disease. It’s neuropathic nature which tends to be difficult to treat, renders it a chronic disorder. Fibromyalgia is a good example for this, to learn more read Bring Up Fibromyalgia.|

Now to avoid pain you have different strategies. You can simply take some analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), and if the pain is really intense, morphine. There is also the placebo effect that is really strong in helping face pain. Grabbing your foot when you hit it also greatly helps since it creates some natural inhibition of the pain through a process called the gate control theory. Mindfulness has also been shown to be helpful by redirecting our attention to external stimuli. Obsessing over our pain is detrimental. At best, it blocks the downregulation of the pain and at worst it promotes its upregulation.

Now that you know where pain comes from, my advice to you is to accept it, to cherish it, to listen to it and to respond to it with kindness. Pain is a necessary evil that is an intricate part of life. Whenever you feel pain, remember that you are living, and most important, that you are living science. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.