Daily Archives: October 7, 2016

Language Barrier

Learning different languages has always fascinated me. I think the ability to communicate across cultures is extremely valuable and amazing when successful. When you can speak to someone you don’t know if their own language, they become far more comfortable and are able to express themselves freely. When I was in Spain this past summer, I lived with my cousin and his family for two months, helping to take care of his children and learn Spanish. I kept running into roadblocks where I couldn’t understand people or they could not understand me. My cousin who was born and raised in the United States moved to Spain nine years ago. In college, he got a minor in spanish language, but that was the extent of his knowledge. But, while I was with my family there, everyone thought he was a native speaker because he was almost perfect at the language. When asking his about this, he said he always has had a natural act for languages and that they came easily to him. Other members in my family have claimed this and my grandmother speaks seven languages. Extremely jealous, I wonder why I didn’t get “the language gene” that everyone but me seemed to possess. The left part of your brain controls most of tmentehe communication works, so it is possible that genetic structure determine what part of your brain may “fire” more. Therefore, I hypothesize the possibility of a gene existing that gives people an ability to learn languages better. Here, the null hypothesis is that no gene exists and the alternative hypothesis is that yes, a gene does exist that affects your ability to learn languages.

From National Geographic News, they remark that no gene has yet to be discovered. However, your genetic coding can actually aid you in learning one language category rather than another. Conducting a study from the University of Edinburgh, researchers combined a list of data that compared peoples genes to their language they speak from various locations around the entire world. Genes can be tonal or non tonal and depending on where you are located, these genes can look different. This method was not experimental but rather observational. The differences between tonal and non-tonal languages is huge. In english, we use tones to indicate questions or exclamations or to give feeling to a sentence. On the contrary, in my other languages, words can be spelled the same but the depending on the tone, will mean extremely different things. 

“If your ancestors were from Southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, where the native languages are nearly all tonal, you probably have the older versions of both genes. If your ancestors were all from Europe, where people mostly speak nontonal languages, you probably have the new version of Microcephalin and have a 50-50 chance of carrying the new ASPM gene”

Taking this information from page two of the Genes May Influence Language Learning, Study Suggests from National Geographic, it shows that certain genes are very concentrated in certain areas. It is crazy to think that a new gene, ASPM, evolved over people in Europe. Looking into this gene, I found from the website Genetic Home Reference that the scientists are unsure about the genes actual function, but it is suggested that this gene influences the development of the brain.

Looking for more results, I found a study from Neroscience News that was extremely specific to my frustration with not being able to learn a new language as an adult. In a randomized controlled experiment, researchers first test 204 adults ability to pick up on foreign sounds. After testing them, they took swabs from there cheeks in order to gather their genetic makeup. It was then discovered that those who picked up faster on language sounds because of their FOXP2 coding. Because learning languages involves what the article refers to as “general cognitive strategies”, this is dependent on the FOXP2 gene and the existence or absence of this gene helps to determine language learning ability.  Therefore, it’s not that certain people can’t learn languages, it is that other people ard43264e47ac1b9773610a09894b5955e-1e just really good at learning them in comparison. Overall I do not think we can completely accept the alternative hypothesis because more information needs to be gathered. For now, the null hypothesis may stand even though an observational and experimental test insued. We need repeated experiments and more data.

Does Cracking Your Knuckles Cause Arthritis?

 

 

For many years now, there has been a claim that cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis in the future. Although this is a common belief, I still question if it is actually true. I’ve cracked my knuckles for years, despite my mom constantly telling me not to. My mom even went as far as to tell my doctor to tell me to not crack my knuckles. To my surprise though, my doctor said that cracking your knuckles has no correlation with arthritis. Although that made me happy to know, it made me question why such a common idea that arthritis can be caused by knuckle cracking was so easily rebuked by my doctor.

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First of all, let me explain why people crack their knuckles and what they are actually doing when they crack them. Amanda Montell, author of the article The Real Reason You’re Addicted to Cracking your Knuckles explains that cracking your knuckles is basically a way to relieve pressure. After sitting in a position for a while, you want to stretch, and this is just a way some people do it. It’s similar to stretching your entire body, but instead it’s your joints. It gives the person a nice feeling, making it habitual and sometimes addictive (Montell 2016).  That nice feeling is felt when the person stretches their bones apart, popping the bubble of fluid that builds up between the bones according to Harvard Health Publications’ article called Does knuckle cracking cause arthritis?

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If cracking your knuckles is a pressure reliever than why do people associate it with such a bad thing like arthritis? That made me wonder whether if the correlation with arthritis is actually causal or not. There are four possibilities:

  1. Cracking knuckles directly causes arthritis.
  2. Arthritis causes one to crack their knuckles (reverse causation).
  3. There is a third variable that causes both arthritis and the cracking of the knuckles. For example, having a family history of arthritis might cause your arthritis and also stress you out, causing you to crack your knuckles.)
  4. The correlation between knuckle cracking and arthritis is due to chance alone.

 

According to Steve Mirsky, author of Crack Research: Good news about knuckle crackingDonald Unger published a study in 1998 to see if knuckle cracking really causes arthritis. He cracked his left knuckles in his hand twice a day for fifty years. He used the right hand as the control. After all those years, he found that both of his hands were fine, despite the difference in knuckle cracking. This study that he conducted earned him an Ig Nobel Prize (Mirsky 2009.) This study ruled out the direct and reverse correlation between knuckle cracking and arthritis. He established that there is no correlation between the two. Here, Unger failed to reject the null hypothesis, that nothing was going on. Similar to smoking, a person might not smoke but still get lung cancer. Having it only being tested on one person can make the results ultimately due to chance alone. Still though, it is possible that a third variable could cause arthritis and knuckle cracking in another person. Although Unger’s study was long, it was only experimented on one person, himself. If he had conducted it on more than one person, he may have had different results. That being said, although this was experimental, it wasn’t large enough to 100% conclude anything.

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Donald Unger

That being said, after researching more into this topic, I found a study conducted in 1990 by Jorge Castellanos and David Axelrod. In the study, they gathered 300 people 45 years old or older. They took into consideration third variables like evidence of possible muscular diseases, making sure no participants had them. Of the 300 tested, 226 did not crack their knuckles habitually and the other 74 were knuckle crackers. They took into consideration sex, smoking history, strength and other factors. After taking in all the factors, they concluded that there wasn’t a greater chance of arthritis in the habitual knuckle crackers over the non-knuckle crackers. They did do a further study that found habitual knuckle crackers had greater hand swelling, less strength, did more laborious things, were more likely to be smokers and drink alcohol. They did find that more non-knuckle crackers bite their nails (Castellanos, Azelrod 1990). The fact that non-knuckle crackers were found to bite their nails more may indicate that biting their nails is a way to relieve stress in imposition to relieving stress by cracking their knuckles. This study was observational because they didn’t ask certain people to crack their knuckles, but instead they just observed the effects.

Since the studies above are either observational or experimental but lacking enough evidence, I would want to conduct my own study. The study would be experimental, allowing me to manipulate the x variable. In the experiment, I would randomly select 1,000 students from Penn State. Each of the students would be asked the question, “Do you habitually crack your knuckles?” Based on that question, I would allocate the students into two groups. I would record the students age, history of arthritis, gender and muscular strength. I would then have them crack their knuckles every day for the next seven months. After the seven months, I would record the students hand strength again and also see if there are any possible signs of arthritis. I have to take into consideration though that not all the students may follow the instructions completely. Also I must keep in mind that signs of arthritis will probably not show up, that’s why I will make sure to look for decreasing muscular strength and any swelling that may appear in addition. Although this study is not perfect, you must keep in mind that the correlation between knuckle cracking and arthritis is like cancer and smoking. You won’t see any of the effects right away. That being said, it’s extremely hard to conduct an experiment over many years with many participants. You can’t trust that all the participants will follow the experiment’s rules or even stay in the experimental study for its entirety.

From these studies, I can conclude that knuckle cracking does not directly cause arthritis. Although reverse causation is unlikely, it is still a possibility. There isn’t enough information conducted to conclude that reverse causation is not possible. Both arthritis and knuckle cracking also may be both caused by a third variable like family history that indicates arthritis. Although this has been concluded, I still think that if one can, stopping or decreasing knuckle cracking is a good idea. Although knuckle cracking does not cause arthritis directly, it does cause other things. In an article by Mr. Mercola called Is Cracking Your Knuckles Harmful? he mentions the 1990 study mentioned above. He further explains that knuckle cracking can lead to swelling in the hands and essentially a decrease in grip strength (Mercola 2014). If possible, I think it’s best that one chances their habits to avoid hand issues in the future.

Sources:

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Source 5 (make sure to click the PDF on the right side to view)

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Affects of Adderall On The Human Body

For those of you that do not know, Adderall is a popular drug among college and high school students that allows them to focus for a long duration of time. The drug requires a prescription from a doctor and is not an over the counter medicine. A bulk of its users are teenagers with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The drug is not easy to get because one would have to be prescribed in order to buy. With that being said, the drug is so popular that it makes its way around high school and college campuses, and is being taken by people who are not even diagnosed with ADD or ADHD which raises concerns on its health benefits. In this blog I will discuss how the drug affects the human body.

First off, Adderall serves as a central nervous system stimulant which helps one study, control behavior, and pay attention which is why the drug is so widely used by students. An article posted by www.livescience.com summarizes how the drug stimulates the nervous system which can cause dilation of the pupils (In your eye), increased heart rate and blood pressure, and lastly increased sweating. Now what does all of this mean?

Due to how the drug stimulates the nervous system, Adderall can cause a wide range of affects, some more serious than others. www.Livescience.com reported  that Adderall affects can lead to; nervousness, restlessness, headaches, vomiting, loss of appetite and loss of weight. The more serious affects include; shortness of breath, slowed speech, faintness, seizures, hallucination, aggression, rash and hives.

Snorting Adderall also negatively impacts your respiratory system. This can lead to the ruination of your nasal and lung tissues, can cause your heart to have an irregular heartbeat, causes problems with circulation, and can lead to increased aggression and toxic shock. Snorting Adderall has been proven to be less affective and can cause long term damage to your brain. Next time you think about taking Adderall be cautious for you know now the damage it can do to your body.

30mg tablets of Shire Plc's Adderall XR are arranged in a Cambridge, Massachusetts pharmacy on Tuesday, August 15, 2006. Shire Plc shares rose after the company settled a patent lawsuit with Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., protecting Shire's best-selling Adderall XR hyperactivity drug from cheaper rival copies until 2009.  Photographer: JB Reed/Bloomberg News. ORG XMIT: BUDGET 8/15/06

 

Links:

http://www.livescience.com/41013-adderall.html

 

 

 

              Discussing the power of prayer in class made me wonder what other studies had been done attempting to measure things regarding faith and religion. As it would turn out, there’s no shortage of scientific interest on it. One topic where many studies had been done was on whether religiousness had any correlation with the happiness of a person.

              Several studies confirmed that, yes, on the face of it, religious people were in fact happier than their secular counterparts. However, these studies also looked at the mechanism of this happiness and many concluded the mechanism involved was not having faith in and of itself. The first study that I stumbled across tracked nearly ten thousand European adults ages fifty and older. It controlled for a litany of confounding variables and it found that participation in a religious organization did in fact decrease depression. This positive jesuseffect of participation in a religious institution was shown to be even greater than other forms of social participation, such as volunteer work, political participation, and even playing sports. In an analysis of that study, psychologist, Jennifer Harstein, noted that the fact religion is a form of social participation that is year-round, and therefore may be able to provide more sustained happiness than seasonal sports or volunteer opportunities that aren’t permanent.

              Another study mentioned in Psychology Today backed up Harstein’s comments. Traditionally many areas in the world and even in the United States have mandated that businesses close on the Sabbath of the religion most prominent in that area. As time has gone on, many areas have taken those laws off the books. Researchers in this study looked at how the repeal of these laws affected happiness in those areas. They concluded that despite the level of faith in the population remaining the same, church attendance and level of happiness decreased significantly, especially among women. Whatever it was that these women were doing on Sundays outside of church clearly was not as fulfilling as attending morning mass.

              The largest of all the studies that I found was a Pew survey of over 150 countries that looked at correlation between religiousness and happiness. It showed the same that in general those who were religious were happier than nonreligious people. This was especially true in countries where religion is extremely prominent and where poverty is a severe problem. Again the mechanism was said to be due to the social support that is so easy to come by for one who is active in a church, synagogue, or a mosque. However, an interesting note in the study showed that richer and less religious countries were outliers, and religion did not provide more happiness and was sometimes actually correlated with more internal despair than nonreligious people in those secular countries. One possible mechanism for this observation is that in church-choir-300x199countries without proliferation of religion, people are able to gain the same kind of social fulfillment from other activities as those involved in religion would in other places. Another contributor to that could be the fact individuals in these rich and secular countries don’t need the social network of a church, mosque, or synagogue to survive the way many in poor countries do; they can afford all their needs on their own so their money is literally buying them happiness. Princeton researchers did find that up to a yearly income of $75,000, money has a direct correlational relationship with level of happiness, likely because that is a level at which one can easily provide for all his or her needs and have disposable income left over.

              So, should you go out and join the Sunday choir if you’re ever feeling down? According to science, it is unlikely to hurt. But it won’t be the faith in and of itself that’s making you happy, it will be the relationships you cultivate with others that buoys your spirits.  

Picture Sources:

Easter Music – Contemporary and Classical

The Church is a Fellowship or Communion of Saints.

Sources:

http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/182/2/168.short

http://www.today.com/kindness/study-religion-faith-can-help-provide-sustained-happiness-t39036

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110808170052.htm

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/more-mortal/201212/are-religious-people-happier-non-religious-people

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

The Science of Passion

Age old phrases like “Do what you love, and love what you do” or “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” can be frustrating. Obviously, it’s easier said than done to find your passion. As college students, we face decisions everyday that challenge us to find our passions. Soon, we may even approach a decision as to whether we want to turn these passions into a career. We want to commit to something that excites us, inspires us, and motivates us – something that we love to do now and hopefully will love long term. Scientists are intrigued by the curiosity of where passion comes from, and how someone uncovers their destined passion. While countless theories exist and definitely no perfect process has been discovered, exploring a variety of hypotheses may allow us college students to find some direction as we explore the options of our future.

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So, where does passion come from? According to this Fulfillment Daily article, passion is genetically rooted. This is mostly due to the fact that we usually are more inclined to love what we’re good at, and our innate skills are a product of our genes. The article discusses a study done at University of California that found between 22 and 36 percent of the variance in creative successes are potentially due to our variance in genetic skills. In simplest terms, it is scientifically established that being good at something can be partially attributed genetics. For instance, if someone is naturally athletic, they’re more inclined to enjoy playing sports. This scientific journal states that natural athleticism has proven to be associated with two specific genes, ACE I/D and ACTN3 R577X. This discovery was shaped by a meta analysis of 23 studies that statistically investigate the association between the ACTN3 gene and sport performance, which ended up being a positive association. Thus, an example where genes clearly contribute to the talent that would catalyze passion. In addition to genetics, the article brings forth the counter idea that environmental influences could be a somewhat confounding variable. Scott Barry Kaufman, the author of the Fulfillment Daily article discussed above, shares that he is passionate about music. While he attributes this passion to his natural musical talents, he also mentions that he grew up in a musical house. Along the same lines, people usually follow in the direction of parental influence in terms of their career choices. While this data is somewhat anecdotal, there has been countless studies of the “nurture vs nature” argument that would determine the true source of one’s passions. In my opinion, passions stem from a complicated combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

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In addition, motivation also plays an integral role in what generates passion. We have all heard the age old question “what motivates you?” Apparently, the scientific answer is dopamine. When we partake in an activity we enjoy, our brains release dopamine to stimulate our motivation towards that activity. This Forbes article discusses an experiment done with rats that found rats with higher levels of dopamine were more likely to tackle the obstacle of climbing a fence to reach an edible award than rats with lower levels of dopamine. Therefore, if we’re naturally motivated to do something, we are most likely passionate about it too. This concept ties back to our genetically gifted stills as well, think about it in terms of the naturally athletic person example… if someone is naturally athletic, they’re probably highly motivated to practice and play.  

Here’s the catch: We obviously can’t see our genes, and we have a somewhat subjective view of how our environment has truly shaped us. We generally know what motivates us, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint. Thus, how does one find their passion? In terms of career passions specifically, this blog claims that an answer to this question could be the Self Determination Theory. This well acclaimed and popularly verified hypothesis states that passion is built on autonomy, competence, and relatedness. One will be passionate about something if they have autonomy, or the ability to control their involvement in the activity. Next, the competence relates to the ability to do something well (which ties back to our inborn abilities and environmental experiences). Finally, the presence of relatedness, or the ability to collaborate and connect with your co-workers and community. An activity or career that meets these three criterias sufficiently is a good sign that this could be a passion worth investing in.  

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I believe these three principles that make up the Self-Determination theory are valuable and valid tools in finding one’s passion. They encourage self-reflection, which is necessary in finding something that fits you best. However, I am skeptical of the fact that there can only be ONE passion that someone can commit to for a career. For instance, someone can be passionate about money, which could lead to many careers. However, they could be passionate about teaching, which only would lead to one. This variance in the implication of a passion makes a single commitment challenging, which is I agree with implementing the theory presented in this Psychology Today article into one’s journey to their passion. The article presents a multi passionate approach, encouraging people to see every aspect of their life with “positive passion energy.” This is the act of creatively building the connection between yourself and a given activity to create passion, almost a manual release of the dopamine that would motivate you to enjoy something. Obviously, I recognize it is unrealistic to love everything you do, but I feel like having this sort of attitude will highlight your primary passions while making everything underneath them a little more enjoyable.
In your search for your own passion, remember that science has found that passions can stem from a variety of origins, such as your genes, environment, and motivations. In order to discover these passions, self reflection is vital. In addition, it is important to pay attention to how much freedom you feel while partaking in something, and how rewarded you feel afterwards. Most importantly, whether you’re set on a passion or you’re still searching, it is proven to be beneficial to see the world like you’re capable of being passionate about anything. An open-minded and positive outlook will illuminate the things you truly love to do.

Breaking the Language Barrier

According to biblical legend, humans in a time before our time at one point attempted to build a tower so tall and magnanimous as to reach the heavens. Hundreds of thousands of men worked on the tower, known as the Tower of Babel; but God, despising humanity’s ambition to reach his abode, laid a curse upon the people so it would all come crumbling down: He cut the entire project by its roots by destroying its very foundation, the organisation of the workers. God made the men speak different languages from each other, creating chaos and confusion, ultimately bringing down mankind’s dreams of reaching heaven forever. This, according to Abrahamic mythology, is the origin of the many languages spoken today, and why some people can’t understand each other even though they may look alike and live in the same land.

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This myth was inspired by the thousands of years old perception that languages, while useful to communicate with those who understand you, can create problems with those who don’t. Language is the mother of culture, and different cultures have been fighting for dominance over those they see as foreign or inferior for ages – the word “barbarian” itself has its origin in the ancient Greeks, who said the languages of the non-Greek savages were no more than grunts and sounded like “bar-bar-bar-bar”. Language barrier is so potentially divisive that whole empires have fallen because of it, and even today, in a deeply interconnected world, it causes misunderstandings and factionalism. Recently, however, the always ambitious Google has announced a tool that may be the first generation of what could one day end the language barrier altogether: the GNMT System.

The GNMT, an acronym for “Google Neural Machine Translation”, is a new technology that uses Artificial Neural Networks (something Google has been using for quite some time now) to learn the connection between an input phrase (a sentence spoken in language A) and its related output (a sentence heard in language B). While older tools such as online translators break up sentences into individual words and rearrange them into a roughly equivalent sentence in the desired language, – very often creating nonsensical constructions – the Neural Machine considers the entire phrase as an unit of translation to output something that would make sense in the target language. This behaviour mimics how humans perceive language; while machines tend to process everything in units (in this case, words), the human brain processes context and ideas to create meaning.

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It also aims to solve a big problem in modern translation: namely, the infamously mismatched pair that is English to Mandarin Chinese and vice-versa. As of the public announcement of the new technology, Google has been using the GMNT System in their translator, raising the quality of the roughly 18 million translations made everyday in the two languages.

It is not, however, perfect. The GMNT still suffers from many issues that plague digital translation, such as disregarding context in paragraphs and focusing on the phrases themselves and mistranslating uncommon terms or proper names, but it is a massive step in the direction of universal translation. By applying a loose interpretation of Moore’s law, it’s safe to say that the next generations of Neural Translation software will become incrementally more refined and sophisticated, possibly even generating flawless translations by the end of the century. While the new system still isn’t even accurate and fast enough to be used for every language in Google Translate, only time will tell what its equivalent will look like a mere twenty years from now.

I See Dead People

I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. Timgreshe infamous line in The Sixth Sense where the little boy says “I see dead people” will be in the books forever as cinematic history. Growing up, my mom used to tell me I had strong intuition. I never really knew what they meant but the concept has always fascinated me. Humans have always and will continue to have a fascination with all things spooky. We all want to believe that something greater could possibly exist. Similar to the classroom question of does prayer actually heal, we have turned to scientific evidence to try to prove this phenomenon. The null hypothesis is that the sixth sense does not exist. What many scientists and researchers are questioning is the alternative hypothesis, being if there is a possibility of the sixth sense.

Looking into various scientific tests, the number one problem facing sound evidence on the matter is that the tests have difficulty being replicated. Because of this, many believe these trials to be insignificant. Joe Kirschvink, who is based out of the California institute of Technology, believes he has discovered a form of sixth sense in the way humans are able to detect the Earth’s magnmagnetic_field_earthetic field. This field is something we can not see with the naked eye, but, many living things can sense. It was believed that humans were unable to detect this, but Kirschvink thinks otherwise. He was testing if humans could receive magnet wavelengths.  Using an extremely controlled experiment, he took participants into a pitch dark black room where he used a Faraday Cage to cancel out the third variable of other electro noise. In the room, the participants are subjected to the x variable of a controlled magnetic field. He then manipulated the form of the wavelength and used advanced technology (EEG monitors and heart rate detectors) to observe the body and brains changes. During the changing of the magnetic field to counterclockwise, Kirschvink observed the participants sinking Alpha waves. What Science Magazine calls “the EEG World”, this action of alpha wave activity shows that the brain is reacting to the changing magnetic field. More importantly, the brain’s response was delayed and this shows brain exertion. Since no other variable was present, this shows that the subjects brain was picking up on the changing electric waves in the room. Because many believe this to be impossible, this phenomenon may be the  ‘sixth sense’ in action. If only a handful of people can sense it, this very normal occurrence for other animals may be the answer to question. Although this discovery was very exciting, it is important to note that Kirschkvink tested under 30 people, and new trails are being replicated in New Zealand and Japan. Therefore, it could be possible that the human reaction or awareness of these wavelengths be the key to our perceived sixth sense.  

In denial of the “sixth sense”, Live Science explores the idea that this sixth sense phenomenon may simply be using underlying vision detection to justify these changes.  At the University of Melbourne, Piers Howe conducted an experiment to test people’s ability to detect or specify changes in substantial differences between photographs. Using just our normal visual processing, Howe tested 48 randomized students in their ability to acknowledge obvious changes. Showing the original photo for 1.5 seconds followed by the altered photo with a 1 second pause in between, the students were asked to verbalize the changes. Even given a list of possible changes, the study showed that people could recognize that a change occurred, but, were unable to give specifics about this. I think Howe really sums up his point by saying this: 

It’s simply a matter of detecting a change we are unable to verbalize.”

It is noted that the scientists changed something as obvious as a large sombrero, and the participants still could not articulate this. So yes you may “sense” a change, but that is because you are taking in visual cues that are physically there, you are unable to actually verbalize them and that is why you think you have a “sense” of knowing. 

Therefore, I believe that we must maintain with the null hypothesis that a “sixth sense” does not actually exist. Until more tests are able to be peer reviewed, repeated, and tested in larger numbers, the alternative hypothesis can not become the new norm. For more of an explanation from Howe himself, here is a video link. Sadly we can’t all be like Karen.

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