The next time you have a holiday, try travelling alone somewhere new. It may sound lonely, but travelling on your own can have several benefits that you may never have considered.
Firstly, you can be selfish for once and plan the trip to wholly fit your needs. If you want to spend a whole day in a museum or focus on the best eateries of the city, you can do that without worrying about your travelling companions’ preferences. Some of the worst moments while travelling are conflicts within the travel group due to different travel styles. Travelling alone eliminates that issue as you are only in the company of yourself.
Secondly, you will meet new people much more frequently and readily. You may have to ask a stranger for a photo using broken Japanese. You may go out drinking with a group of Australians on a night out in Edinburgh. You may strike up a conversation with a Dutch girl next to a piano within an antique bookshop in Paris. When travelling alone, you have to rely more on the kindness of strangers and it is easier for others to approach you when you aren’t surrounded by a group.
Lastly, remember that travelling frees you up from commitments and your “real” life. Instead of worrying about bills, assignments and the future, you can focus on the present. This lets you make better use of your time, such as noticing little details like how blue the sky is or taking photos of happy people on the streets. Most importantly, when you’re alone, you can become lost in your thoughts and gain more insight into your inner psyche. This is when you can learn more about what you enjoy, what you want out of life and being mindful of how you are really doing in life.
But of course, travelling with others has its own appeal. The happiness you gain from sharing wonderful experiences such as beautiful sunsets and delicious local foods, paired with deepening the connection and bond you have with your friend or partner becomes the best part of travelling.
“If you want to find out who you truly love, travel far away on your own. The person you wish was beside you at that moment is the one you truly love.”
~ from Calmi Cuori Appassionati
(NB: I have written MANY ARK posts about the brain and all the delightful ways it screws up. Some of them are probably the most interesting posts on my blog. Please click the hyperlinks to check out the various related articles! 😀 Alternatively, here’s a convenient list: https://jineralknowledge.com/tag/brain/?order=asc)
Among the many organs of the human body, no organ comes close to the magnificent complexity that is the brain. The brain acts as the command centre of the body. It receives massive amounts of information through the various senses, processes it and sends out electrical signals to control how the body operates. Not only does it control “basic” functions such as movement of muscles, controlling organ functions and regulating homeostasis, it is also responsible for the so-called “higher functions” such as consciousness, emotions and cognition. It is the true seat of the mind and soul.
The brain is the only major visceral organ not located in the trunk (body). It is enclosed in the cranium of the skull, which acts as a protective casing. Because it is a closed box, even a small increase in volume (such as due to a bleed or a tumour) can cause extreme pressures to build, causing severe problems. The entire brain and spinal cord are bathed in a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), all enclosed by a sheath made of three layers (dura, arachnoid and pia maters). The brain sends out nerves to the rest of the body, which act as electrical wiring transmitting signals. These include the cranial nerves and the spinal cord, which leaves the bottom of the skull down the spine. The spinal cord branches off into many nerves that supply every nook and cranny of the body. The brain itself is made up of two large hemispheres, which are connected by a bridge called the corpus callosum. Despite popular belief, the actions of the two hemispheres are much more complicated than “analytical vs. creative”. The brain also encompasses the cerebellum (the small stripey structure at the back), which controls coordination and speech articulation, and the brainstem, which is involved in autonomic control of life-sustaining functions such as breathing, and also the source of the cranial nerves.
In the last century, scientists have learned that specific parts of the brain play a specific role. This thought started with the field of phrenology, where small areas of the brain were mapped to a certain mental faculty, such as love, wit or destructiveness. Although this turned out to be complete hokum, the idea stayed and we now know the actual functions of each part of the brain. The brain is broadly divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. The frontal lobe is the domain of thought, personality, motor function and other higher functions. The parietal lobe is related to spatial awareness and sensory functions (such as touch). The temporal lobe is linked to hearing, comprehension of language and storing new memories. The occipital lobe is primarily associated with vision. The brain can then be subdivided into more focussed areas, such as Broca’s area that governs speech and Wernicke’s area that governs listening. It should be noted that the four lobes only describe areas on the surface of the brain (cerebral cortex) where the higher functions belong. The inside of the brain is just as complicated and has many different parts, such as the hypothalamus that is involved in homeostasis, and the hippocampus that converts short-term memories into long-term memories.
How does a lump of cells weighing around 1.5kg produce such wondrous abilities such as philosophical thought, deduction, emotions and calculation? The truth is that we still do not know how the brain functions exactly. However, we know that the brain is composed of a large number of neurons (nerve cells) – about 100 billion of them. These neurons connect to one another via a synapse, which is a gap between two nerve cells where neurotransmitters travel to and fro (allowing electrical impulses to jump from one neuron to another). Using these connections, neurons form an unbelievably intricate and complex network of electrical activity. Because one neuron can connect to many more others, the number of synapses is estimated to be around 100~1000 trillion – significantly more powerful compared to any computer in the world. The number of synapses directly correlates to intelligence and it seems intellectual activities such as reading a book increases the number of synapses in the brain. We have yet to understand exactly how the brain uses this incredible computational power to produce cognition and self-awareness.
(Video of neuronal activities in a zebrafish brain)
Because the brain uses electrical impulses for most of its functions, a common abnormality that is seen with the brain is when the electrical activity becomes disorganised and out of control – a seizure. This abnormal electrical activity may be due to a focal problem such as a tumour, or a generalised misfiring of neurons or altered regulation of electrical activity. When a seizure happens, the disorganised activity results in the brain not being able to function normally. For example, the most common consequence is a fit (tonic-clonic seizure) where every muscle spasms out of control, because the muscles are overloaded with chaotic signals. Focal seizures can cause fascinating symptoms depending on the location, such as temporal lobe seizures causing religious visions (hallucination). This also disrupts consciousness, which is why most epilepsy patients do not remember the event.
Ask yourself the following questions using a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is “not at all” and 10 is “to a large extent”:
Are you outgoing, energetic, flexible and open to change?
Do you have a positive outlook, bounce back quickly from setbacks and feel that you are in control of your life?
Are your basic life needs met, in relation to personal health, finance, safety, freedom of choice and sense of community?
Can you call on the support of people close to you, immerse yourself in what you are doing, meet your expectations and engage in activities that give you a sense of purpose?
Add the scores for 1 and 2. This is P for personal characteristics. The score for 3 is E for existence (health, financial stability and friendships). The score for 4 is H for higher order and covers self-esteem, confidence, ambitions and sense of humor. Now input each score into the following equation:
Happiness = P + (5 x E) + (3 x H)
This gives a score out of 100. The greater your score, the happier you are (over 80 is considered a “happy life”). This formula was devised based on a psychology study of 1000 people. It takes into account the various aspects of life that contribute to your overall happiness and emotional well-being. The study showed statistics such as 40% of men reporting that sex made them happy, while 25% of women reported that losing weight made them happy. Men found more happiness in romance, hobbies and a pay rise compared to women.
Although everyone has a different definition of happiness, there is no doubt that there are common “happiness” factors to all of us and this equation tries to objectively quantify how happy you are in life.
Frequently on the media, the word “superbug” is used as if it were the new Black Death or the coming apocalypse. What is a superbug and why is it so feared? Superbug is the colloquial nickname for drug-resistant bacteria. For example, one of the most famous superbugs is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). This strain S. aureus, a common bacteria found on skin and inside the nose, is resistant to a powerful antibiotic called methicillin and thus very hard to treat. Unfortunately, MRSA is most commonly contracted in hospital settings as patients are vulnerable to infections (e.g. after surgery) and hospitals are perfect breeding grounds for superbugs.
The cause of a “normal” bacteria turning into a superbug is due to the incorrect use of antibiotics. When antibiotics are used, they wipe out a significant portion of the bacterial population but fail to kill all of them in the first attack. The surviving bacteria are the more adapted ones that are able to withstand the harsh environment for a little longer. If the patient stops taking the antibiotics and the bacteria remains, these “drug-resistant” bacteria multiply to create a second infection that is resistant to the drug that was used previously. In fact, this is a classic example of natural selection in motion, except that the environmental change is man-made.
This is the reason why doctors are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics for diseases such as the common cold or viral diseases, as the risk of developing superbugs is greater than the benefit (which is zero in viral diseases as they do nothing) of the treatment. It is also why a course of antibiotics must be finished even if the patient is feeling well, so that even the surviving bacteria are eventually killed.
To show the potential risk of superbugs, the case of VRSA can be taken into consideration. When MRSA was first discovered, doctors found it very difficult to treat but luckily they had a secret weapon – vancomycin, one of the most powerful antibiotics known to mankind. However, they soon found that S. aureus and natural selection easily overcame this through a new strain called VRSA – vancomycin-resistant S. aureus. Here was a bacteria that could overcome the greatest weapon man had against bacteria, all because people were taking more antibiotics than needed and not taking the full course prescribed.
Thus, one of the growing problems of modern medicine is the development of new drugs so that we can make a comeback in the arms race against bacteria.
Helen of Troy is infamous for her pivotal role in the Trojan War after she left Sparta for her new lover, Paris of Troy. She was deemed the “most beautiful woman” in the world by Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who made her fall in love with Paris in return for him choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess.
Helen is said to have been so beautiful that she had “the face that launched a thousand ships” (in reference to the Trojan War and the massive navy of Greece). Using this statement, clever authors such as Isaac Asimov and W.A.H. Rushton invented the “Helen (H)” unit – an international, standardised measurement of beauty. As Helen launched a thousand ships, a milliHelen (mH) of beauty equates to the amount of beauty required to launch a single ship. For example, according to The Iliad, the total number of ships that joined the expedition to Troy was 1186. This means that Helen had a beauty rating of 1.186 Helens – ergo, capable of launching more than one thousand ships.
The unit also goes both ways as negative Helen units are possible. For example, -1 mH would mean “beauty” (read: ugliness) that drives a single ship away. The units can be subdivided further, such as a picoHelen (10^-12) being the amount of beauty that “tosses an inflatable tube into the pool”. Another interpretation of the Helen is the number of women that said woman is more beautiful than. For example, during Helen of Troy’s time (1100 BC), about 50 million women existed on Earth. Therefore, 1 Helen is amount of beauty sufficient to be greater than the beauty of 50 million women.
Finally, beauty is considered to be on a logarithmic scale of base 2. Simply put, for beauty to increase by 1H, the woman must be the most beautiful of double the number of women. In practical terms, the most beautiful woman who ever lived (using the cumulative female population of the world) has a beauty rating of 1.34H. The most beautiful of a dozen women would be 0.14H.
One of the hardest things about being a new parent is how to quell the cries of a newborn. Since crying is their only way of communicating needs, babies cry constantly and this can be extremely distressing for the parents. Of course the best way is to deal with what the baby needs, such as food or changing their diaper, but the cause is not always clear. Most parents use the traditional method of picking the baby up and slowly patting or rubbing the baby’s back. By patting at a similar beat to the mother’s heartbeat, the baby feels at ease as it reminds it of the relaxing state within the womb.
There are some other less conventional methods that have been shown to work. For example, turning the vacuum cleaner on or any other white noise (such as the washing machine, rustling a plastic bag or even gargling water in your mouth) has an instant effect of stopping the baby’s cries (NB: usually only works on infants below 3 months of age). The reason being, these noises are at a similar frequency to the noises the baby hears in the womb, such as the mother’s guts moving, blood flowing through the vessels and sounds from the outsides being transmitted through the mother. As the brain remembers such relaxing states for the fist few months, these stimuli induce a relaxing response and calm the baby. Similarly, turning on rock & roll music (not too loudly) calms the baby in the first few months as they are unable to recognise the words but can still feel the vibration from the rhythm, which again reminds the baby of the womb.
The same principle can be used to simulate other features of womb life. Rocking the baby slowly simulates the sensation when the mother is walking, wrapping the baby in a blanket simulates the warmth and cosy nature of the womb and giving the baby something to suck on like a pacifier induces the powerful sucking reflex which calms the baby. As a last resort, touching the inside of the ear canal with your little finger causes the baby to become confused about the strange sensation, distracting the baby. Although this method is effective up to 24 months, it is not recommended as it can lead to an ear infection.
On a similar note, when a baby or young child is stubbornly holding on to something, the best method to get it back is for the mother to pretend that they are crying. The child, empathising with the mother and not wanting her to be sad, yields the object in their hand to make her happy. But this method may not work after a while when the child realises you are tricking them.
Dokdo is a small island in the East Sea off the coast of Korea, lying at 131°52´East longitude and about 37°14´North latitude. It literally means “solitary island” in Korean due to its rocky, isolated nature. The island is actually in two parts: West Island and East Island, which are connected by an underground rock formation.
The island has been Korean territory for two millennia, with records going back as far as the 4th century showing that fishers from Ulleungdo (a much larger island also in the East Sea) documented the existence of the island and fished around the area. The island is also visible from Ulleungdo on a clear day so it would have been easily spotted and recorded.
Despite the incontestable evidence, in the last few decades Japan has been arguing that Dokdo is Japanese territory. The Japanese government denies the current evidence and claims that all evidence is faked. However, the claims made by Japan are extremely obtuse and bearing on childish. There are many reasons they seek control over Dokdo, such as the rich fishing area around it, the abundant hydrocarbon reserve underneath it and also rearing the ugly head of colonialism.
Almost all historical records and maps up to the 19th century clearly indicate the island as “Korean territory”. For example, in Map of Three Adjoining countries by Hayashi Shihei, a Japanese scholar and cartographer, shows the land in the Far east divided in to colours: yellow for Joseon (Korea) and green for Japan. It is one of the earliest complete maps of Japan. Here, the islands east of Korea, including a large island clearly marked “Ulleungdo” and many surrounding small islands, are all marked yellow and labelled “Korean territories”. There are also records of the Shogunate querying the Tottori clan (who controlled the Shimane prefecture at the time) whether Dokdo and Ulleungdo were Japanese islands, to which the Tottori reply “No, those islands have never been under Japanese rule”. Finally, legal documents by the Japanese National Land Registry in 1877 state that Ulleungdo and Dokdo are not under Japanese rule.
Things became complicated in the early 20th century with the Japanese invasion of Korea. Starting from this period, Japanese maps began marking Dokdo (and Korea and Taiwan and all other colonies) as “Japanese territory” after invading each land. But after their defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to return all land that they stole in the war as ordered by the Treaty of San Francisco. This treaty outlined what the new definition for “Japan” would be by drawing their border again. This treaty states that “Japan is defined to include the four main islands of Japan and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including the Tsushima Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands north of 30° North Latitude (excluding Kuchinoshima Island); and excluding (a) Utsuryo (Ulleung) Island, Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) and Kuelpart (Jeju) Island…”.
After the Korean War, the UN set a zone called the Korean Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) to mark the areas to be protected by the air force. The KADIZ also includes Dokdo in its boundaries.
There are hundreds of pieces of evidence that support the rightful ownership of Dokdo as Korean land, yet Japan continues to argue in an attempt to bring back its old habits of colonialism. It is sad to think that after the Colonialism times and the Pacific War, where so many innocent people were sacrificed to fill the greed of a corrupt country, Japan has not learnt a single lesson.
In short, the controversy around Dokdo is essentially the same as someone claiming that your finger belongs to them and arguing that you should go to court to prove that you own it.
Pizza is a food that has a diverse range from cheesy, party-purpose takeaway pizzas to classy, traditional woodfire pizzas. Although it is considered an Italian food, the modern pizza could not have been born without America.
The Mediterranean countries have a long history of making flat breads such as focaccia and coca. But one of the most important ingredients in pizza, tomato, was introduced to Europe only in the 16th century from the Americas. However, Europeans thought for some time that the fruit was poisonous and did not use it for cooking purposes. But by the 18th century, the poorer population in Naples, Italy began creating a dish consisting of flat bread with tomato paste, giving birth to the pizza. Pizza was not a luxury food to start with, but rather a poor man’s food as it was simple and cheap to make. There is even a story of how King Ferdinand 1 disguised himself as a commoner to sneak into Naples to indulge in some pizzas – a food banned from the royal court.
Nowadays, it is common to see at least 5 or more toppings on pizza for a rich taste, but the traditional pizza never has more than three toppings (this is still true in Italy). For example, the two main types of pizza considered as the “true pizzas” by Neapolitans, are: the marinara pizza (tomato, garlic, oregano and sometimes basil) and the Margherita pizza (tomato, mozzarella, basil). The story behind the Margherita pizza is that it was served to the Queen Margherita of Savoy (Queen of Italy at the time), thus the name. The pizza represented the Italian flag by using three ingredients: red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. As the Kingdom of Italy had only been formed a couple decades before this, the pizza was highly symbolic (Italy was very passionate about its flag to promote the unification of the various regions after the Kingdom formed). Today the two pizzas are the most popular pizzas in Italy and are officially protected products as “traditional Italian foods”.
The current record for the largest pizza was a pizza made in Johannesburg, South Africa, that had a diameter of 37.4 metres and made of 500kg of flour, 800kg of cheese and 900kg of tomato puree.