Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

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Staying locked up inside our homes during this dreaded pandemic has made us realized that we definitely need to spend more time in our outside world. Not only to socialize but to get in touch with our natural environment. But unfortunately, even when we are deciding to play in the dirt or choosing to have our ears filled with bird songs, we are mostly unaware of what it does to us. Yet, we are just beginning to understand that nature can do way more for us than the other way around. As soon as we allow ourselves the satisfaction to immerse in any natural environment, we can observe physical and psychological benefits. It only begs us to wonder why outdoor activities are not persistently on our minds. And although we have been aware of our profound relationship with nature for a while now, there were still no words to describe it. More specifically, the term biophilia was, until recently, to some degree foreign to us. Just in case you still don’t know what biophilia might mean, it is a word used to describe our innate instinct to connect with nature.

Nobody ignores the positive effects present in our bodies when we spend time in nature. That’s why many people opt for outdoor destinations for their planned vacations. And one might believe that the relief we feel after those vacays can be the result of the time taken off work and it could in part be true. However, we should not underestimate the impact of natural input on the body and mind. Even short exposure to any of these inputs can produce a wide range of positive influences. Actually, a mere 30-min exposure can be sufficient to produce sensations like lowered anxiety, improved focus, increased productivity, heightened creativity, greater happiness, and more. Personally speaking, the addition of biophilic elements in my writing routine has definitely been a tremendous help. Especially the addition of nature soundtracks for my audio input has proven itself the most significant improvement. It certainly was the best tool to keep my focus on the task at hand, improved my creativity and reduced the anxiety that I was facing.

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Most people believe that our personal health is essentially synonymous with physical health. And even if this is not thoroughly wrong, it is a gross overestimation. Health researchers are busting their backs trying to popularize the notion that we need to do drastically more to preserve our health. Gone are the times when exercising and eating well were the fundamental guidelines. We most promptly need to consider our mental health as well. That begins with making sure to take advantage of all the tools at our disposal. Most of you might already be fervent adherents of meditation, and that is absolutely great. Meditation is very challenging, and if you can find success in the practice, I am most definitely impressed. However, caring for our mental well-being doesn’t have to be a demanding activity. The simple act of deciding to add a plant to your desk office can already help. Also, they, fortunately, don’t even need to be alive. The implementation of artificial elements reminding us of nature also produces some significant impact. Albeit, the results are more modest than when genuine natural components are involved. 

Interestingly, adding biophilic elements to your meditation might be a great way to enrich your experience. We don’t even need to go overboard with it. Adding a simple nature soundtrack as our background music might be entirely sufficient. The music may allow us to relax and relieve the underlying anxiety that is keeping our minds hostage. To some extent, we may even include more senses into our practice. We could involve our sight by imagining a forest, a beach, a mountain, or any other landscape for that matter. This approach is already so rampant in visualization exercises to promote relaxation and mental stability. Touch might also be a very remarkable way to stimulate our senses. Holding a sea shell or touching grass is a great way to connect with nature. The smell can also be a powerful ally. Adding some nature-inspired essential oil can be a very affordable and easily accessible way to remind ourselves of our natural world. At last, we could also include some tasting elements, such as fruits, veggies, nuts or any raw food. 

To this day, nobody has come to any solid conclusion to explain why biophilia has such a critical impact on our lives. Nevertheless, the strongest argument relies on evolutionary pressures. We feel more relaxed just by hearing a waterfall because access to water is essential. Through generations, we have integrated the sound of water as comforting and restoring music. The sight of trees can remind us of the possible access to food sources, either from hunting, fishing or gathering. Touching grass or a plant’s leaf might remind us of our proximity to nature. And I think that smelling and tasting natural elements doesn’t need any comment about their positive impact on our mood. What drove evolution was our need to survive, and being in proximity to nature provided us with the safest way to succeed. And even though, technically, an arid desert is still natural, it doesn’t seem to provide as much relief to us. We have probably learnt through our ancestors that nothing can abundantly grow there.  We have learnt through generations and generations not to feel at ease in those environments because staying there could result in death. 

Another possible explanation for the reason we seem so particularly drawn towards living elements might reside in how these things are anything but static. We don’t quite like how things change so abruptly; it is anxiogenic. And yet, we still strive for change, a slow sluggish change, to be exact. And that is doubtlessly provided by most living biophilic components. A plant will always look like the same plant, more or less, but its leaves will change. Some will die and fall, and then some new may appear. Some new branches may emerge. The plant might also grow taller if its pot is big enough and has enough water and nutrients. All this to say that living things provide us with a slow but steady change that kindly reminds us of time and guides us into making the best of it. 

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Domestic animals are also fantastic biophilic elements, which might partly explain why zootherapy is so effective. Having pets does not only engage one sense, our sight, but all of them. We most certainly can see them zooming around, we can smell their breath, we can pat their fur, we may haphazardly taste their saliva, and we most definitely can hear them barking, meowing, chirping and more. And strangely enough, the benefits from being around animals are very similar to the ones observed from us being in nature. Amongst many benefits, we can notice lowered blood pressure, lightened breathing, increased mood and release of oxytocin which can promote calm and encourage attachment. Nevertheless, assuming that all the perceived positive effects relied on their biophilic aspect would be unfair. Being in the company of animals has also shown great help to maintain physical health by promoting physical activities and motivating their owners to get going. 

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Considering the importance of biophilia, we can now understand the need to incorporate some elements into our daily lives. And some changes don’t need to be extreme. As for me, I have decided to change the background for my desktop for a natural landscape which supplemented the nature soundtracks very nicely. I would like to include more biophilic elements in the future for my home, such as plants and maybe a pet someday, but they can be expensive. Right now, I prefer spending some valuable and wholesome quality time in the great outdoors. I honestly love the occasional hike, or sudden walks, or even spending time on our porch. The more important part is the do it consciously and mindfully. Whenever I’m outdoor, I seek anything that might remind me of nature. I particularly like hearing the birdsongs, seeing the occasional spiders, smell the decaying leaves on the ground or the freshly mowed lawn and holding rocks in my hands. 

Whatever you might choose to include, I approve of your change. These changes might not mean much to most people, but they mean a great deal to me, and I hope for you too. So, if you decide to make this move, please let me know about your journey. I would absolutely be delighted to hear about it. 

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 Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

There are not many things we need to do to survive, but there is one action, in particular, that is critical for life. Luckily for us, most of us do it unconsciously, and that is breathing. When I say breathing, I am not only talking about lungs, bronchi, alveoli and passive gas diffusion. Even though those structures and actions are essential and play a large part in respiration, they are responsible for ventilation only. However, with ventilation alone, we cannot sustain our body in its entirety. To keep each and every one of our limbs intact, we need to bring all of this oxygen we inhale further from the lungs and closer to our limbs. And that’s where the blood comes into play, and that part is called perfusion. Yet, blood does not only serve to feed the rest of our bodies with oxygen; it has way more responsibilities. It’s basically our life essence. 

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So, our blood is actually way more than a reddish gooey liquid that leaks out of our skin when we injure ourselves. It’s indeed packed with many elements that are, of course, accountable for respiration but also protection, nourishment and waste removal. First of all, when we talk about blood, it’s practically impossible not to talk about our red blood cells; since those cells give human blood its most observable characteristic, or more precisely, its famous crimson colouration. Interestingly, not all animals have red blood. In some lizards, blood can be lime green; in some octopuses, blue; and in some fishes, virtually colourless. The reason why our blood shows that colouration is thanks to some protein called hemoglobin. It is precisely this protein that gives colour to our red blood cells, and since red blood cells outnumber all other elements, our blood consequently takes that crimson hue. Here, one might think that hemoglobin only serves as a blood pigment, but it does not. 

Hemoglobin is actually the protein in charge of carrying oxygen to our entire body. Its name comes from the presence of four heme groups, forming a tetramer. Each heme group contains one iron atom that can bind one oxygen molecule. So all hemoglobins can carry throughout the body four oxygen molecules each. Still, the heme groups are not only in charge of ferrying oxygen throughout our body, but it is also responsible for clearing part of the carbon dioxide by transporting it to the lungs. The binding of carbon dioxide to hemoglobin produces carbaminohemoglobin responsible for almost a quarter of carbon dioxide elimination. Yet, hemoglobin is not the only protein capable of carrying oxygen. There is also hemocyanin which can be found in some invertebrates instead of hemoglobin. 

The particularity of this molecule is that it contains copper instead of iron, giving this protein a blue colour. And this is the reason why some octopuses have blue blood. As for green blood, it is not caused by the absence of hemoglobin; nor the presence of another (green-pigmented) oxygen-binding protein. It is merely the result of red blood cells decay. When the hemoglobin-rich red blood cells break down, they leave behind a protein called biliverdin, which -you may get from its name- possess a green pigmentation. Even humans produce biliverdin, but it is highly toxic and assuredly deadly to us. So, we remove it like crazy, leaving our blood with mainly red pigments. However, some lizards can tolerate incredible amounts of this protein that can even supplant red blood cells concentration. The more abundant presence of biliverdin leaves the blood with a lime green colour. 

As for some fishes, most specifically cold water fishes, their blood does not bear any colour and is usually completely transparent. In this case, the culprits for the colourlessness are the red blood cells, or more precisely, its lack. Under cold temperatures, hemoglobin-rich blood can get so thick that it can jeopardize respiration entirely and can actually be more of an impediment than an advantage. The use of cold ocean water directly as an oxygen source is definitely a smart choice since it contains more oxygen than regular sourced water. So rich, in fact, that using red blood cells to carry it is overkill. Water merely gets incorporated directly into the blood that carries its oxygen throughout the body.

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As I said previously, there are way more components in the blood than only the red blood cells, precisely three more: platelets, white blood cells and plasma. Platelets are in charge of forming blood clots whenever an injury occurs. In such circumstances, it is of the utmost importance that the blood coagulates to stop any internal or external hemorrhages from forming. Uncontrolled hemorrhages can lead to organ failures, seizures, coma, and eventually death. And as for white blood cells, they are also vital players. Without them, our immune systems would be compromised. They are our first line of defence against potential pathogens and chemicals. They can recognize a vast array of pathogens and chemicals and signal their presence to the body. It is the first step that leads down to an enormous chain reaction. And if you think that white blood cells are marvellous, wait for plasma. 

As soon as I turned 18, I started donating blood during each blood drive organized by my school. I felt that it was a particularly satisfying and easy way to give back to my community. However, once I had my first tattoo done, it got particularly more complicated to donate blood. So after six donations, I entered a period when I didn’t give out blood and that lasted for about six years. Three years ago, I got a call from a plasma center; they were recruiting. Plasma seemed like a compelling option, and it was also more convenient as this center was permanently based. Yet, even though I knew what plasma was, I realized that I didn’t entirely understand what it was. Thanks to my firsthand encounter with plasma, I can now enjoy its importance more closely than ever. Plasma is what holds all the blood proteins and their other components in suspension. In plasma, we can find some more proteins like globulin, albumin and fibrinogen. Globulin helps fighting infection, liver function and forming blood clots. Albumin is there to keep water from leaking out of our blood and transport things like hormones, enzymes and vitamins in our body. Fibrinogen is a clotting factor. Plasma can also carry hormones, glucose, electrolytes, carbon dioxide and oxygen.  

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Plasma is indispensable for immunocompromised patients as it helps them get some precious antibodies. For these patients especially, blood transfer can be harmful as it may contain certain viruses, like cytomegalovirus, that can be harmless in healthy patients but, for them, can cause severe disease. Plasma can also be needed by patients with severe burns or blood disorders. Fortunately, plasma donations are even more convenient to make than blood donations, which take two weeks in between each of them instead of eight. This rapidity is made possible by its extraction method. Whereas each blood donation requires us to form back every component of blood: platelets, white blood cells, red blood cells and plasma, plasma donation only requires us to form back plasma. Even though during plasma donation, we also extract blood from our veins, only plasma is collected. The rest is immediately returned to the body. Plasma can be separated from other blood constituents easily using a centrifuge. Once separated, everything that is not plasma is brought back into a solution and returned to the donor. 

However, whenever the situation arises where a dearest one might need blood, we may feel compelled to give them ours, but it’s probably a bad idea. If blood types do not match, we may cause them to develop some deadly clotting. Blood types are actually a result of two things: antigens and rhesus factor, and together can create up to 8 different blood groups. There are two possible antigens, A and B, and we indicate O in the absence of both antigens. The rhesus factor is a protein that can be present on the surface of our red blood cells. When the protein is present, we say that our blood is positive and negative when the protein is absent. In my case, I am B-positive which is the same as my fiancée. It is pretty weird as the Canadian prevalence of this blood type is only 7.6%. It would have been much more likely if our blood type were A-positive (36%) or 0-positive (39%). Yet, the rarest blood type remains AB-negative with only 0.5% of the population. It means that statistically speaking, only one person out of a group of 200 people may be AB-negative. Also, O-negative individuals are considered universal donors as they may give their blood to anyone and AB-positive universal receiver as they can obtain the blood of virtually anyone. Now, what blood type are you?

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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 Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

There is something rightly empowering with modifying our own appearance. It could be a way to have our body match our assumed identity or to make ourselves more attractive. It could be a form of communication, or it could be used as a mask to hide your true identity. Whatever the reasons are for our physiological modifications, most of us will succumb to its appeal at one point or another. However, not all changes are permanent; some may even be very much short-lived. From all of the possible alterations we can do to our bodies – makeups, hair dyes, cosmetic surgeries, and tattoos are the most common. 

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Whereas makeup typically doesn’t last for more than 24 hours, hair dyes have a more long-lasting effect. However, those effects never outlast the permanence of cosmetic surgeries and tattoos, which last practically forever. So, we may conclude that some physical changes are better than others, but that may entirely depend on what you are looking to accomplish. The more ephemeral a modification is, the more you need to maintain it. For instance, makeup needs to be reapplied every day for the change to persist; for tattoos, once completed, you can pretty much forget about them entirely. Yet, if you’re about to get your body permanently altered, you may want to care more about the final result. Spending fewer bucks on cheap cosmetic surgeries and tattoos might be a sure way to regret your sudden leap of faith. I would say that for tattoos and cosmetic surgeries, it is for sure true that quality comes at a cost. 

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Once you decide to get your tattoo done and the final result isn’t to your satisfaction, you may have to live with the consequences for a very long period. Yet, until you save enough money to cover the expenses for the cover-up. You should probably also consider that the total cost for both, the initial tattoo and the cover-up, may even exceed the price tag associated with the better quality tattoo. So, rushing into an everlasting transformation is not recommended. The tattoos should be well-thought, well-designed, sufficiently funded, and made by an expert tattoo artist. Additionally, one thing to consider is that a good and experienced tattoo artist may be better able to advise you on the best positioning of your art. Depending on our pain tolerance and the size of the art piece, your artist may choose to displace the tattoo to a less sensitive spot or reduce the size of the tattoo. They will also account for the stretching of the skin that occurs due to ageing. Some parts may be more affected than others, and it may be worth considering avoiding those spots for more detail-oriented tattoos, like portraits. 

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Expert tattoo artists may also be better at informing you about your tattoo after-care and its healing process. They also may be more knowledgeable in a wider range of needle techniques and, as such, should be better at producing different styles, such as watercolour and impressionism. Since they have been exposed to more work, they can often help you capture your vision in greater detail. That being said, you may have to look further than your neighbourhood to find the perfect artist for you. They all master their own style that differs from one individual to the next. So, the most important factors here are your budget and your artist. The way you define and choose both will greatly impact the art that you’ll be wearing for the rest of your days. 

Choosing what to include in your tattoo is no easy task. It took me about three years to think about how I would like my first tattoo to be. I absolutely don’t regret having waited for that long. The final product captured the entirety of my vision. However, there is one thing I would have done differently, choosing my tattoo artist. Sadly, the one I chose at the moment was a novice with barely any work under his belt. The design was quite simple, and as such, I didn’t think I would need someone with much more experience to ink me. Unfortunately, I was proven quite wrong. The drawing had a yin yang symbol, and it turns out that small circles are pretty challenging to draw correctly, according to this experience. The small circle located in the white part is not a circle but an imperfect oval. An attempt to correct this issue only made the circle look more like a small cloud than anything else.  

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Even though the tattoo didn’t exactly turn out the way I was expecting, I do not regret it. The symbolism I wanted is integrated despite its unperfect look, and it is still pretty satisfying. Yet, while I was having my first tattoo done, I was wondering how they were made and how the ink got to stay in the skin. What also surprised me, later on, was the rate at which the ink was bleaching. There are already a few things we know. For instance, we know that ink is injected into the skin via needles. Something we may probably ignore, however, is how deeply the needles need to penetrate to create a lasting tattoo. If the ink is inserted into the more superficial skin layer, the epidermis, the ink will be shed away along with the dead skin. Thus, to create a permanent tattoo, artists need to inject the ink in the dermis, located under the epidermis. 

Interestingly, ink is not composed of pigments having all the same size. Some will actually be microscopic. Hence, they can be absorbed by phagocytes which are in charge of cleaning foreign particles. In this instance, the ink is a foreign particle as it is not present in your body before its injection. Only the ink fragments that are big enough will stay undigested as the phagocytes cannot swallow them. From this statement, we can now understand why tattoos appear to become much lighter after their first couple of days. Yet, you must be warned that exposure to sun rays may help break down the ink into smaller fragments and facilitate their elimination. Thus, exposing your tattoos directly under the sunlight will, over time, cause them to fade. A solution may be to apply sunscreen regularly, especially if you’re about to go outdoors for extended periods with your inks uncovered. Despite that, there exist some people who struggle remembering to put on sunscreen. I, for sure, am one of them. Nonetheless, I have recently decided to apply more willpower in my quest to use sunscreen more often. I know that skin protection is not only essential to preserve your body art, it is also necessary to protect your skin from developing cancers. 

In all cases, your inks are no longer as permanent as they once were thought to be. Ink removal techniques are becoming much less invasive and much more affordable. The most effective technique for tattoo removal is surgery which is the most invasive method. It involves cutting out the tattoo entirely and stitching the skin back together. Another technique – that is gaining ground – is laser tattoo removal treatments which replicate the same processes as the sunlight. The laser breaks down the ink fragments into smaller ones and then lets the phagocytes do the rest. This technique requires many sessions to erase most of the tattoo, but often the thickest line remains visible, at least in relief ‒because of the scarring. 

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Thus, regardless of the increased accessibility surrounding removal techniques, we shouldn’t be careless when choosing our next body art. It doesn’t matter if you decide to ink yourself for an aesthetical reason or symbolic reason; we should all be attentive to the whole process it involves. It is critical to know that the cost related to tattoo removal is a lot more expensive than the cost of the original tattoo. In the end, it is better to pay more for something you’ll keep enjoying than doing something impulsively and correcting it later. 

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

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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 Cryptography—How to Hide your Messages

It is pretty safe to say that we nowadays live in an era where gaining access to information is frighteningly easy. Sharing details of our life on unsecured channels can be a sure way to have our identity stolen, or potentially worse. And even on a secure channel, sharing personal information is a risky business as some people well-educated in cryptography can potentially hack into your account and decrypt all of this sensitive information. Of course, not all security protocols were created the same way, some might be much harder to decrypt, and some might be utterly simple. Thus knowing about the different cryptosystems out there is imperative. 

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I first learnt about cryptosystems in one of my undergrad courses, cleverly called (you guessed it) cryptography. The course was designed to ease us into the main concepts by first establishing the context. We must understand that a cryptosystem involves at least two agents (a sender and a receiver). The sender is, by convention, named Alice and the receiver, Bob. The system could also be infiltrated by a third agent, an eavesdropper, adeptly called Eve. So imagine you are suspecting your husband of cheating, you decide to grab his phone and attempt retrieving the messages sent between Alice (his mistress) and Bob (your husband). However, the phone is locked, and all you need is the key. You, portraying Eve in this situation, will attempt to retrieve the key to access the messages. Depending on the strength of the password, maybe you could break in, or perhaps you could not. That only depends on his carefulness and your wits. 

Yet, Alice did not always send the encrypted message to Bob to hide information. In Egypt, about 1900 BCE, encryption was possibly intended as a game, like a puzzle or an enigma to solve. Only a sprinkling of people was actually able to read or write, which made the need to mask the written content futile. These few educated people were part of what we called the elite. Since they were so few, these people produced these word puzzles to decode for entertainment only. However, now that most of us know how to read and write, one must know how to hide critical information. Encryptions require a cryptosystem, where its most important part is the key. Therefore, for a cryptosystem to be successful, finding the key must be hard. The more difficult it is to retrieve the key, the better kept is the information. That is why information technology experts recommend using different passwords for each one of our accounts.

One of the easiest ways to encode text is to convert our traditional alphabet into a numerical one, for example, A=0 and Z=25. Thus, now you could say hello using this string of numbers 7 4 11 11 14. Now, a more secure way to hide this hello, which remains easy, would be to add a unique number to every single numerical letter. In this case, if we add 5, the string would become 12 9 16 16 19. This numerical series would then translate to ‘MJQQT,’ which evidently makes no sense. We would immediately know that the message results from encryption. In this case, decrypting the message may then be tempting. Luckily for us, there would be ways for us to find out the key. We would only need to exploit the existing flaws within the system. If we pay close attention to the series, we could notice the repeating letters. Then, without too much issue, we may be able to infer the initial message. With all this information, we could easily find out the key and decrypt all future messages. All you would need to do is look for words in the dictionary with repeating letters at the third and fourth positions. The chances are that you would find hello, and thus you could also find that the key is five, rendering this key useless for future discussion between Alice and Bob.

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To fix this flaw, we could decide to use a set of different numbers as our key. For instance, if the key is composed of 5 entries, then every string of five letters in the text could be encrypted using the key. Additionally, if our initial message remains HELLO (7 4 11 11 14) and our key is LWAJF (11 22 0 9 5), then the final encrypted text would be SALUT (18 0 11 20 19). We did it. There is no longer any repeating number, the flaw is now corrected, and we made the codes that much harder to crack. This type of cryptosystem has been used by the Germans – between the First World War and the Second World War – for most of their international communications. For the best part of this period, the only hints into the codes emerged from the work of the brilliant and very competent codebreakers at Bletchley Park in England. 

Luckily, by the beginning of the Second World War, a genius mathematician succeeded in developing a code-breaking machine able to decrypt the Enigma Code provided by the Enigma machine. The Enigma machine was a manufactured cypher machine, an awfully mighty encrypting machine. Its successes were related to the automatization of the encryption, which involved using three or four independent rotors. Each rotor could alter the initial letters by adding the corresponding number associated with the key. More importantly, this key was changed daily, rendering the output messages that much harder to decrypt. That was until the day that Alan Turing, the genius behind the Bombe machine, came into the picture. This new instrument was strong enough to decode any of the Enigma Codes. His work in cryptanalysis was crucial, and it helped gain grounds against the Nazis. Eventually, the collapse of the communication bridge between the Nazis everywhere helped turn the tide, leading the Englishmen and their allies to victory.

By all means, the advances in cryptography didn’t stop after the Second World War. Even though encrypting messages for communication was rendered somewhat obsolete, the progress in computer science has made the need for storing data and protecting sensitive information fundamental. So, the key got evermore complex, and instead of being different permutations, the keys became invertible matrices. And despite all these breakthroughs in encryption, a similar effort in decryption impelled the mathematicians to produce more advanced cryptosystems. To replace the invertible matrices, the encryption finally involved huge prime numbers as its key; the bigger, the better. The number 53 won’t suffice anymore, I’m afraid. 

Even so, this was a pretty appealing solution when first adopted. Now, it has become ever more complex to find new prime numbers to use. The need to consistently come up with new prime numbers arose from computers becoming more and more powerful. Tools needed to discover increasingly huge prime numbers were then also more accessible. Soon, we were required to push the limit and reach for yet undiscovered prime numbers. 

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This quest for more secure encryption is not over, and only time will tell which new approach will take over. Still, encryption for storing data has made incredible leaps in the last few years. Recent advances made our most popular 8 GB flash drives pale in comparison to our new 2 TB flash drives. Still, 2 TB of data storage doesn’t provide enough storage power when dealing with enormous amounts of information. Some scientists may have found a way to resolve this issue by finding a new medium to hold the encrypted data. It turns out that synthetic molecules could be the key for storing megatons of data in very tiny spaces. This approach proves particularly promising as the system used would involve a hexadecimal code (16) instead of the binary system (2) used in all current storing devices.

Other scientists have even tried to code messages in bacterial DNA and were even successful in retrieving the initial information. From all these innovations, we can observe that our need for storing data is constantly increasing. Evidently, we live in a world where information is becoming overly abundant. Anything can get encrypted; what we write, how we speak, how we behave and potentially how we look. The grandeur of this scheme can only raise the question of how we deal with all this sensitive information put out there. One could suggest shunning the use of all electronic devices entirely. Alternatively, some others might opt to encourage, maybe even force, companies to be more transparent about their information acquisition and storage. Anyhow, we all must be careful about the potential risk associated with our online presence. At the very least, we must remember to stay alert against any possible phishing attempts, we should regularly change our passwords, and we must never share these passwords with anyone, no matter what. 

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 Fireworks—How Do We Make Colours Explode

Living in Canada, I can say that Fireworks are directly associated with Summer. Now that we are in the heart of August, we are left with one last month to enjoy the rest of the season. Yet, in these earlier summer months, we have been fortunate enough to enjoy many fireworks displays and that despite our current COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. More precisely, in Quebec, Canada, we have been able to enjoy firework shows on St John the Baptist Day (24 June, provincial holiday), on Canada Day (1 July, national holiday) and in many festivals taking place around the province. For instance, there is one festival in my hometown, called ‘le Festival du Lac des Nations,’ which has been held every year except for, understandably, 2020. This year’s edition of the festival was held simultaneously in theatres with a prefixed number of people possible to accommodate, and virtually. Though, for the pyrotechnic display, only the date was known; its location remained secret. Yet, the organizers made sure to publicize a list of relevant sites to ensure that everyone could enjoy the spectacle. It was an excellent formula to avoid gathering, but something was missing….its associated music. 

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Typically five Canadian provinces compete throughout this festival with fireworks that must match a preset soundtrack. Each competitor also gets evaluated based on the complexity, diversity and placements of pyrotechnic explosions. Unfortunately, uncontrollable and yet understandable circumstances have led to the calling-off of the competition this year.  Luckily, we still had an opportunity to witness fireworks as the festival had planned for one spectacular pyrotechnic event. Conveniently, the show followed the conventional approach and the fireworks followed the rhythms of a preset soundtrack. We could listen to the playlist on popular radio channels that broadcasted the event. Even though this plan seems very well organized -giving people the chance to tune in to the music, or not- meant that we had to keep in mind the wishes of everyone nearby. Having chosen a particularly well-sought site, I had to comply with my surroundings and turn off the volume. Still, I should have thought more carefully about this whole thing and brought headphones. It simply didn’t occur to me to take them since I was with friends. Anyway, I’ll know better next time. Without the soundtrack, the fireworks display was still remarkable. It for sure lived up to its name of being the biggest in Sherbrooke yet. 

During the show, we saw smiley faces, hearts, planets, and many other intricate shapes. This demonstration made me gasp at the increased complexity and diversity that pyrotechnic companies had been able to create in such a short window of time. Not only did the shapes contribute to their complexity, but also did the colours of each firework. They were able to reflect the whole visible light spectrum from red to violet and sometimes gold and even white. One can only wonder about how this is even possible. We could even consider this whole technology as magic. If only I didn’t know any better, I sure could believe it.

Anyhow, I first learnt about the formation of the different colours in elementary school. Before jumping into the nitty-gritty of the mystery, my teacher told us about the nature of fireworks. Like any fire, you first need fuel and an oxidizer. For example, in a bonfire, the wood acts as fuel and the ambient air as the oxidizer.  In the fireworks’ case, you need a much more powerful oxidizer than air which can release more oxygen to interact with the fuel. Good choices of oxidizers are chlorate and perchlorates. Fuel will typically be charcoal or sulphur. In this case, wood would not be a good fuel source since they need much more power to propel in the air and explode. However, these two alone do not explain from where the colours originate. They are, in fact, resulting from the addition of colouring salts. If you never tried burning table salts, you should. It will produce a rich yellow-orange light. This colour is a result of the combustion of sodium. Yet, even with these three elements, one thing remains. A crucial binder is required to keep all those elements glued together in the form of a pellet. Usually, the binder is a type of starch known as dextrin. 

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So, many salts (or metals) are each responsible for producing different colours of fireworks, starting with sodium that makes yellow-orange light. Still, we are missing the information about what metal is responsible for the other colours, so here is a list. Strontium produces the dark red light; lithium, lighter red; calcium, orange; sodium, (you guessed it) yellow; barium, green; copper, blue; cesium, indigo; potassium, violet; and finally, rubidium, reddish-violet. Gold and white light, though, can be created by a wide range of metals. For gold, we may use charcoal, iron and lampblack, and for white, we may decide to burn titanium, aluminum, beryllium or magnesium. Actually, you may be surprised to know that aluminum is the metal used on the sparklers to produce silver and white flames. As for the sparklers that create gold flames, we use iron. Titanium can also serve to make pure white; and ferrotitanium, bright yellow.

Colour is only one facet of the intricacy of fireworks. As mentioned previously, shapes can also play an important role. It helps bring richness to the show and wonder to the spectacle. The pattern created comes from how our fireworks are assembled together. So, creating a smiley shape is as easy as arranging the small combustible pellets to form our dearly beloved emoji. Yet, there can be instances when the science goes wrong, and the firework doesn’t display the shape intended to present. These uncertainties are the reason why we fire several copies of the same fireworks. In this case, if one doesn’t show correctly, then at least one of the others can create the desired shape.

However, even if fireworks are impressive and merit every single one of their applause, we shouldn’t try to reproduce a show in our very own backyard. Fireworks can be pretty hazardous and, if carelessly handled, can produce serious harm; sometimes, even death. We all need to remember that these pyrotechnic tools include flammable and explosive materials, and as such, can release tremendous amounts of energy, like heat. For instance, you should never ignite fireworks during a heatwave as it may trigger a forest fire. Moreover, handling fireworks might not be the only hazard that these carry. 

We should be aware that the sounds produced from the explosion are loud enough to frighten and stress both humans and animals nearby. A typical animal behavioural response to stress is to hide or flee. These behaviours could lead new parents to abandon their offspring in exchange for safety. Chemical pollution also shouldn’t be ignored. Upon explosion, the heavy metals used to produce the colours of the fireworks can escape into the environment. The release may have detrimental effects and possibly neurological impacts on both us and our surrounding fauna. For instance, some fishermen have previously observed that some fishes were distraught following fireworks, particularly antimony sulphide-based fireworks. It is wise to understand that all parts of the firework composition may involve the presence of toxic chemicals. Thus, airing on the side of caution, we should resist the temptation to fire them. Yet, this does not mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the fleeting moments when fireworks happen in our vicinity. 

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I can’t resist feeling both respect and admiration for this technology. The former comes from the power it holds that is enough to cause harm, and in consequence, we should all keep a reasonable distance from it. The latter because of the technological advances scientists helped create. Pyrotechnic shows do not only require chemists and scientists, but they also need artists. They need art to produce a marriage of shape and colours that can’t help but produce awe in anyone watching. And now, even knowing about its underlying conception, I can’t repel the idea that fireworks are just entirely magical.

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 Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…

Bring Up Working Out—How It Can Benefit Our Entire Body

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Well, it will probably come to you as no surprise, but we always need to keep moving. Let me be clear; I am not suggesting here to become fidgety, but to avoid remaining stationary for extended periods. The benefits of an active lifestyle have been promoted for many years now. I actually cannot remember a time when the benefits were unmentioned by the media. Nowadays, instead of the mention of being active, we hear another word, workouts. However, even if the principle stays the same, people can seem a little confused when we ask them to differentiate both. The first, staying active, essentially refers to remaining engaged with movement as much as possible; the second, workouts, often mean the accomplishments of strenuous activity, exercise, or work.  Where one somewhat suggests a life commitment, the other one mostly hints at something more intense and sporadic.  Now, one question still remains: from which one can we genuinely reap the most benefits?

There are no easy ways to answer this question. The most beneficial might, in truth, be a mix of both. I am decidedly already putting all of my eggs in that basket. I would say that I started adopting this approach very gradually. I must say that, at first, adhering to any physical activity was difficult. Then, suddenly, scheduling a walk during my day became much easier, and working out began to grow on me. Unfortunately, considerable change is sometimes our worst enemy when trying to establish a new habit. In my case, moving from Montreal to Sherbrooke (both in Québec, Ca) was enough to put a wrench in my newly set lifestyle. Even though the Eastern Townships is positively heavenly for its scenery and many trails, finding time to walk seemed once again challenging. Working out in our now reduced-size apartment was becoming somewhat challenging. Now a month and a half later, I am nearly finding myself having to start again from scratch, but I keep wondering if this whole thing is worth pursuing if I keep on ‘failing.’ And my verdict remains yes. The pursuit should never stop if we want to be healthy. 

It is probably more difficult to find a spot for both types of activities in your schedule, but it is worth considering. Whereas working out can be very profitable for your overall health, maintaining physical activity, aka staying active, might be the only way to retain the procured perks. If we listen carefully, that is indeed what our body is trying to communicate. Our body not only desires to work hard, but it also needs consistency. Our body will adjust with the life we give it. If we stay static -like remaining inside, on our computer all day, and eating junk food- it is only natural that our metabolism begins slowing down and that we start storing our unburnt fat and glucose. If, by contrast, we change our lifestyle to reflect a more active baseline, our body will naturally increase its metabolism to meet our increased demand for energy. However, this change won’t occur overnight. Changes require a whole logistical switch in the body, and our system doesn’t like to switch things around. As we often say, our body is pretty stubborn. If the body can survive on the current arrangement, then it won’t change. 

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In other words, if we plan for a more healthy way of life, then sticking to a 30-day physical challenge won’t do the trick. Yes! You will most definitely lose weight, but your metabolism will most certainly remain the way it always was. For the whole month, you might notice some decent changes to your health. Unfortunately, none of them may persist if you don’t pursue a similar level of activity. So, my advice is to work hard; still, you must remember to keep it light enough to retain the desire to do it over and over again.

Apart from weight loss being an apparent and very well-supported argument to encourage working out, there are many other advantages. So much so that some pharmaceutical companies are currently looking into ways to develop a pill that could recreate the effect of working out while staying largely inactive. This strategy is regarded as potentially misleading since the outcomes of workouts are complicated and multifaceted.  Working out indeed triggers a broad cascade of effects that affect more than one physiological system, all of which can interact with one another. Thus, believing that one medication could activate all pathways and produce all the same effects at once is probably fickle. Another approach would be to create a drug that could promote exercise. One difficulty that most people face when commencing a new workout plan is a lingering struggle. This persistent effort, which is very laborious, is often enough to discourage people from pursuing any activity. Now, imagine that a pill could resolve this obstacle. As a new workout beginner, you would already have a decent amount of stamina that could alleviate some of the struggles we typically feel. Then, you certainly could see yourself persisting with the new plan sketched up for you, no? And that is absolutely what a team of scientists is trying to accomplish.

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Finding ways to create a more active population is not a goal to merely keep in mind. It is imperative. Working out has been shown to challenge nearly all organs in our body; subsequently, stimulating growth and repair. The challenge faced by our body during a workout session is changing more in our bodies than we may easily list. It is not often clear if all benefits stem directly from working out or if one of them might be responsible for the many. It would be pretty reasonable to suppose that losing weight might be the change that leads to the reduced risk of developing many illnesses. However, some studies showed that the impact of workouts on our overall health stems from more than weight loss. The benefits seemed to come from the activity itself first.

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We can observe some benefits earlier than others. As often mentioned now, weight loss is one of the most apparent changes we can notice and results from an energy/calorie deficit. As a general rule of thumb, the more energy we spend and the less food we consume, the greater this deficit becomes. Whenever our bodies detect that we are spending more energy than can be produced by our food consumption, the more our bodies will rely on the content of our fat cells to supply the additional fuel needed to meet our increased demand. 

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A reduced body fat percentage means a decreased risk for our body to deposit fat -visceral fat- around our heart and other vital organs. This effect immediately represents a lower risk of heart diseases, an improved functioning of the pancreas, and preservation of our mental acuity as we age. However, weight loss alone cannot explain the entire picture. Workouts also have their own arsenal responsible for cardioprotection, pancreas protection and neuroprotection. By increasing our blood pressure, we create acute stress on the body that has proven itself beneficial for protecting the organs it supplies. Also, strenuous activities provide our body with acute mechanical stress that can strengthen our muscles and our bones and reduce the risk of falls later on in our lives. 

Working out also improves your mood by releasing some good ol’ endorphins. It also helps regulate stress hormones levels, which ensures that you keep a healthy mental state. Along with relaxing your mind, exhausting our bodies before going to bed is also a foolproof way to gather a good night’s sleep. The list of benefits here is not exhaustive. Some studies are even suggesting that constant physical activities, along with working out, significantly reduce your risk of developing some cancers, including colon, breast, uterine and lung cancer. And if you’re looking to maintain a healthy sex life throughout your life, you may regard your demanding physical activities as your holy grail. For men, regular physical activity would come with a lowered risk of developing erectile dysfunction, and for women, it might be a sexual mood booster. 

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Many other advantageous changes are happening in our bodies when we decide to adopt a more active lifestyle, along with workouts, probably more than what I have just mentioned. And if you are looking into a way to cheat death for longer, you might consider implementing these few changes to your life habits.  Personally, I know that I want to prolong my life for as long as possible while remaining healthy.  For this reason, I will keep on trying to push away my laziness and motivate myself to always do more. If you think that workouts are too far of a stretch for you, then you might be pleased to realize that working out does not necessarily involve weightlifting. It could be sprinting, playing a sport, rock climbing or any other moderately challenging activities. Just remember to find one that aligns with your own interest, and you will be setting yourselves up for success. 

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 Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

Not all appearance alterations are created equal; some may be more short-lived and others more permanent. If you think of tattoos, they mostly belong to the second category. So thinking carefully about certain aspects of the tattoo becomes imperative. Things like the symbolism or the artistry behind your new piece shouldn’t be random. Choosing a…

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

For people who want to pursue studies after completing high school, university studies may look very attractive. So, undergraduate studies may lead to graduate studies. However, undergraduate studies are not the same as graduate studies. The latter is not only more complicated, but it is also very different. First of all, contrary to your undergrad,…

Bring Up Coffee—What Is In Besides Caffeine

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Coffee is such a morning staple that I cannot remember a morning without it. For instance, my parents always consumed a cup of coffee as soon as they were up. However, they never grab their daily cup from a coffee maker nor an espresso machine. They instead preferred using instant coffee powder. My parents were not too keen on us drinking coffee too young as they have heard that it can disrupt our growth. So, as I reached my 16th birthday, I was then allowed to drink coffee. At first, I found the taste of coffee to be too bitter for my taste. I would typically add an equal amount of coffee powder and sugar to my mug. My parents interpreted this particularity as an undeniable reflection of my disdain for coffee. Believing that I dreaded coffee, they often tried to dissuade me from drinking it. However, I knew something that seemed to escape their understanding. I had come to realize that once my coffee got spiked with abundant amounts of sugars, the taste became fantastic. Yet, it still took me years to grasp the difference between the taste of instant and filtered coffee. And oh boy, it’s weird how distinct it can be.

Once I started dating my fiancé and moved in together, we had to acquire a coffee maker. Manuel was used to the taste of filtered coffee, and even though he constantly assured me that instant coffee was fine, I wanted to please him. It turns out that filtered coffee became my preferred sort of coffee. I was now able to reduce the amount of sugar I had to put in. Now, I don’t even need any. Sometimes when I feel like spicing things up, I add a little something along with my freshly ground coffee beans, like cinnamon. It supplements the taste by inserting an extra layer, or a new dimension, to it. I have also read that some also like adding cardamom to their coffee, and I have tried. Although I like it very much, my fiancé isn’t exactly interested in its taste.

Despite my clear preference for filtered coffee, I find myself now routinely rejecting it. My sudden bouts of insomnia have recently justified my self-restraint toward its consumption. To reduce the gravity of this drastic and sudden change, I decided to replace my cup of filtered coffee with a cup of instant decaffeinated coffee. It is not quite the same, but it does the trick. Although, when you look back at the making of instant coffee, it doesn’t explain the noticeable taste difference between both coffee preparations. Its manufacturing process starts by brewing the coffee beans and then pouring the liquid through a filter to produce filtered coffee. So both instant and filtered coffee are brewed first. If there would be no other steps, then instant coffee and filtered coffee would be synonyms of each other, but this sadly is not the case. Contrary to instant coffee, we can serve filtered coffee immediately after brewing. As for instant coffee, it will need further processing of the brewed mixture to produce the soluble solid that is so characteristic of its instant nature.

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To produce instant coffee, we need to collect the brewed coffee and then desiccate (aka dry) it. We can do this dehydration step using two very different techniques: freeze-drying or spray drying. Freeze-drying or cryodesiccation is very expensive but is the best method to preserve the molecules’ structure and integrity. In other words, it is better at conserving the flavours and aromas of the coffee. This technique involves bringing the temperature of the brewed coffee below the water’s triple point. The triple point corresponds to the lowest temperature at which gas, liquid, and solid can coexist. For water, this triple point is near 0℃. After we reach the ideal temperature, we reduce the internal pressure of the container. The pressure drop allows the frozen water (solid form) to sublimate (straight to gas, bypassing its liquid form). We subsequently remove the water (gas form) to leave the final product devoid of water. 

Compared to freeze-drying, spray drying is much cheaper. The resulting savings can explain why a lot of food manufacturers will opt for this drying method. However, by choosing spray drying, they also sacrifice some of the flavours we can find in our dearly beloved filtered coffee. Instead of making use of cold temperature, spray drying involves the presence of heating. For spray drying, we atomize brewed coffee into a drying chamber which creates tiny droplets. Some heated gas is also projected into this chamber to evaporate any water present in the droplets. Since the droplets are not very large, the water inside them vaporizes almost instantaneously.

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The dried particles form what we know as instant coffee. After the particles are thoroughly devoid of any water, the final product is collected and packaged. Generally speaking, spray drying will produce more fine and round particles than freeze-drying, which typically makes larger fragments. The larger coffee flakes tend to be preferred since it is easier to use. Even though both these methods have their distinctions, they both have the same objectives. Instant coffee prolongs shelf life, doesn’t require any additional tools, and it’s super quick to make. Although these characteristics are certainly enough to justify their popularity, there have been recent claims that could motivate us further to switch products. Indeed, eco-friendly groups are insisting that instant coffee has a lower carbon footprint. This implication resides in the notion that instant coffee uses less space and is significantly lighter than its counterpart, the coffee beans. These characteristics would also indicate that shipping would require less gasoline consumption which means less carbon dioxide emission. Furthermore, not needing a processing machine to make our daily cup of coffee would also reduce our carbon footprint by reducing our waste. 

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Now that we know more about instant coffee, we can maybe investigate the secrets behind decaffeinated coffee. Essentially, we all know that coffee beans contain caffeine. Yet, before the beans get roasted, we can expose them to many processes which remove their caffeine content. Some methods require exposing the beans many times to an organic solvent like dichloromethane to extract the caffeine, and others will use water. In some cases, manufacturers will even utilize carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressure to remove caffeine. Carbon dioxide is a fascinating gas as it allows for caffeine to dissolve in it, yet it won’t allow the same for the compound responsible for flavours and aromas. This gas is thus an efficient solvent that can surprisingly conserve both of these desirable attributes. Yet, even though all these methods adequately remove most of the caffeine content, the result is still imperfect. Most decaffeinated coffee brands can accept the presence of up to 3% caffeine, depending on the country’s legal standards. Here in Canada, we tolerate no more than 0.3% of caffeine left in the final decaffeinated product.

So even though the concentration is so minute that you may even consider it null, it’s still not a great idea to consume it late at night. This statement is especially true if you suspect yourself of being highly sensitive to caffeine. During the past weeks, I found myself experiencing some sleep disturbances. These events seemed to correlate with my coffee consumption. And even though my coffees were decaffeinated, I decided to purge myself of it entirely. Surprisingly, I seem to experience fewer of these events than in the past months. Yet, I don’t really know if it is a coincidence or if there truly is a link. A way to find out would be to resume drinking coffee for a couple of days and then stop. Maybe my insomnia would have resolved itself on its own; we don’t know. 

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Drinking coffee is undoubtedly something that I miss and would unquestionably like to reintegrate into my routine. Not only did the taste feel incredible, but just a sip of it seemed sufficient to keep going. Being an entrepreneur in charge of writing, reading, and researching makes me desperately crave my daily cup of coffee. Nonetheless, until I can unquestionably revoke all my suspicion towards it, I must resist the temptation to succumb to its striking appeal.

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 Cryptography—How to Hide your Messages

To ensure our privacy, we must be careful about what we share and how we share it. Most often, your personal information, like your passwords, we’ll be hiding from everyone. But that only happens if we transmit the data through a secured channel. Unfortunately, you can be as careful as possible, some people can still…

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Bring Up Working Out—How It Can Benefit Our Entire Body

Staying active is hard, and we may very well feel tempted to give it up entirely. However, there are some good reasons why health professionals advocate adopting a more active lifestyle. Beyond the most apparent argument, weight loss, there are other advantages to moving out of your couch and grabbing those neglected sneakers for a…