Author Archives: Matthew J Overmoyer

Choosing the Best Word (Processor)

With the onslaught of last minute essays I’ve been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of procrastinating. During this procrastination I decided to consider whether or not my word processor, Microsoft Word, is the most efficient word processor I could be using. Should I use Google Docs, Pages, or some other word processor instead. Because, as it turns out, word processors are very different.

Anyone that has used Google Docs on a group project probably knows how difficult it can be to copy paste from Microsoft Word (because it is far easier to copy paste than settle for their lackluster interface.) As convenient and helpful as Google Docs, or indeed any online word processor, can be it is far easier to use Microsoft Word. To me it is comfortable and effective because I know all the short cuts and can easily navigate the interface. I can also do any formatting necessary for college essays and save anything directly on my computer. But, putting this comfort aside, I began to wonder if there was a more effective word processor out there. Is there an application that, once I fully understand the interface, will help me more easily construct an A+ essay.

The internet is host to a wide variety of word processors. In my search I found Jarte, Abiword, and of course Open Office. All of which seemed fine. Each of them has a simple interface not dissimilar from Word. The only one I have any real experience with is Open Office which ran fine when I had to use it to write an essay in High School, but none of them are likely to become my go to word processor because none of them have all the features of Word in a simple and non-buggy interface. My search seemed to yield no fruitful results. Then I found out about LaTeX a high powered word processor used largely by academics.

According to their official website, LaTeX is not a word processor. It instead insists you forgo such niceties and instead focus on writing- format be damned. After the document is written, the professionals behind LaTeX will then dress your document in a professional format and have you on your way. But, how could I compare this seemingly complicated software to Microsoft Word? Thankfully there was a helpful study conducted by academics to answer this very question.

Titled “An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development” the study compares Microsoft Word to LaTeX in the professional setting to determine which is the most efficient means of creating and formatting an acceptable document. The null hypothesis was that neither system would be more effective than the other. The alternative hypothesis was that one system would be better than the other. The null hypothesis was rejected when the study found that users of Microsoft Word performed far better, having fewer errors and completing their papers faster, than those who used LaTeX. This study was conducted with the help of volunteers.

These 40 volunteers were researchers from 6 different universities in Germany who were recruited from blogs and news groups and other sources to participate in the study. Each participant used their own computer and was informed of the purpose of the study. They were then divided into one of four groups, each with ten participants, that were based on their knowledge of the document preparation systems. The four groups were made up of novices in either Word or LaTeX and experts in either Word or LaTeX. These groups were then each asked to write three probe texts- these were essentially sample texts they had to write- focusing on text alone, text with tables, and lastly math text including equations. These texts were selected to best show what type of information the software usually presents. After these sample texts were composed by each group the performance of the individuals was measured.


Table 1

To measure how well they composed these articles they counted, in three distinct categories, the number of errors which can be seen in Table 1. In Table 1 you can also see how many words were typed in thirty minutes using each program. Overall, when looking at this data the difference does not seem that great at first. The number of mistakes does not appear to be that much higher in LaTeX than in Word, but then I considered for a moment the number of mistakes I usually make with Microsoft Word. It’s not a lot. The software easily catches most typos and grammatical errors so the mistakes I make are few and in between. While it may stumble over some new words and some grammar, Word largely keeps me in line. Having never used LaTeX I can only assume that its largely hands off approach leads to the higher rate of errors. This approach must also contribute to the lower word count. Not only did LaTeX users write slower, they messed up more.

All of this in mind, the study feels accurate and fair. It had academics write academic articles using the various types of data often found in academic articles and fairly concluded that Word was better. In the end, what matters is the resulting document that the program helps you create and Word created the document with fewer errors at a faster rate.

The academics in the study were also taken from various universities and places, given the same task, and the study accounted for differences in experience with the program. Which lastly, is another important part to consider. When typing any essay using a word processor or similar program it is important not to waste too much time learning how to use the new program and, as the study concludes, it took longer to learn how to use LaTeX than learn how to use Microsoft Word. So overall, the assessment that Microsoft Word is better than LaTeX seems completely valid. I believe the study avoided confounding variables by taking experience into consideration, and fairly compared these programs.

My search overall for a better word processor than Microsoft Word has proven fruitless. Given its straightforward nature, large set of tools, and the fact that it is free for Penn State students I would recommend using Microsoft Word to every student at Penn State.


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Are naps helpful?

I take naps every day. I usually feel very tired around noon to one o’clock, so I let myself does off for a couple hours before finishing my day. This usually makes me feel refreshed. It also makes my contacts dry. I wanted to know if napping had any benefits, or any negative effects. I found a lot of studies.


Elderly British man for reference.

A lot of the studies I found concerned the elderly. It seems science has many questions about how napping will cause people around 65 years of age- specifically people from the United Kingdom- to develop unhealthy conditions. The first study I found examines a group of men aged 60-79, from 24 different British towns, using a population study, and self-reporting methods to determine if the amount of nighttime and daytime sleep had an association with heart failure. The results found that men who nap for an hour or longer during the day were likely to have pre-existing conditions like depression, poor health, and were physically inactive. They were also at greater risk for heart failure.

In looking closely at this study, it’s obvious that, in most cases, sleeping during the day is a symptom of poor health, not a cause. The older men in this study slept for longer during the day because they were unhealthy, it did not cause them to become healthy. All the conditions listed, lack of exercise, depression, would all likely cause any man or woman to sleep during the day. There were no similar studies among a younger demographic, but it appears that napping itself is not a cause of any of these problems. However, this does raise a question of why people who nap during the day, nap during the day? Is it because of conditions listed above, or because they are tired and need a few extra minutes of shut eye?


The average medical resident.

I found another study not involving elderly Brits. This study looked at medical residents to determine the effects of a mid-day nap on their performance. This study was a controlled intervention study in which residents were split into a nap groups and a non-napping group. Each group was hooked up to an ambulatory sleep monitor which researchers used to monitor their awareness and alertness during their shift. Those in the napping group were allowed to recline on a chair and nap for 20-minutes, those in control were sat in the same chair but were talked to to prevent them from napping. The study found that those in the control group had no improvement in cognitive functioning, nor did they suffer less attention failures. The experimental group did improve. The study concluded that a short nap, the mean nap of nappers was 8.4 minutes, will improve cognitive function in these medical residents.

Now looking at both studies, I believe napping may have positive effects. In the first study, elderly men napped because they were ill, depressed, and not physically active. They also napped for over an hour each day. The fact that they napped because of these symptoms is something I find interesting. The human body, when sick, wants to get better, so by napping during the day the body is trying to help itself and keep it functional. Really, I’d like to see a study wherein half these elderly men do not get to sleep to determine if it makes them even worse because I believe the napping is helping. To further this idea, I turn to the second study on medical residents. Here a brief nap was shown to improve cognitive function for the busy residents. A simple 8 minutes made the difference, so clearly some brief shut eye could do us some good. Overall, I think there is something to be said here for sleep in general. Both groups likely lacked adequate sleep and made up for it, in part, by napping. I think it is likely that napping is an acceptable substitute for missed late night sleep. I therefore conclude that napping is helpful.


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Men are from Twitter, Women are from Facebook?

Sex Symbols

As a society, we like to look at the differences between men and women. How do we act differently? Are our brains different? We are obsessed with what separates ladies and gentleman. Often we focus on biological or social differences. So, I wondered, do men and women act differently online? The answer may surprise you.


Truly a great way to collect data.

I looked at two separate studies. The first, comes from Coastal Carolina University where researchers first used a focus group to come up with questions to ask in a paper pencil survey of college students. They then administered the survey to 268 students taking introductory health in a convenience sample. The results of the survey concluded that women were more than their male counterparts to spend more time on Facebook than they wanted, feel closer to their Facebook friends than people they see daily, feel addicted to Facebook, and feel that Facebook causes them stress. After examining the lengthy results, the study contains many graphs, charts, and other visual aids, I was not satisfied. My biggest complaint is the method of research, a convenience sample is no substitute for a randomized sample. A convenience sample is asking people who are easy to find and talk to and leads to biases. I was also dissatisfied with the questions asked. It’s quite possible that women, being more social, are more stressed out, feel addicted, and become dissatisfied with their body image after being on Facebook, but what can that tell us about their behavior? There were some positive results of the study, women feel closer to people they talk to on Facebook, and are more confident in their social lives. Despite being dissatisfied with the questions and the study as a whole, I am now convinced women and men may act differently online.


A visual representation of a common dating app.

In the second study I looked at, researchers looked at how men and women acted differently on Tinder. Now, the study acknowledged that, to begin with, men and women act differently when dating in general. Online was no different. The study measured users on Tinder by creating profiles and monitoring user’s actions and responses to them. These curated profiles were placed in London and New York, large hubs of activity, and saw differences in how users of Tinder use features like matching and messaging differently. They also examined how users of different genders presented themselves and managed their profiles. The results found that women are far more selective of who they like. While men match with many woman in order to increase the chances of finding a match, women take the opposite approach and swipe selectively secure in the knowledge that they will likely match with whomever they like. They also found that women spend more time on their profiles, while men are usually content with a brief description and a few photos. Interestingly, if men take similar time and effort into their profiles, specifically adding more pictures and a better description, they are likely to see greater results because women respond to this. A questionnaire was also used to collect data from Tinder users.

In looking at both studies, it is obvious, especially from the Tinder study that women and men may go into social media, and online in general, with different expectations. Women and men clearly behave differently online. In looking at results from the studies and their surveys, both looking at different sites and using different data collection methods, I feel that it is safe to assume that, on gender lines, people behave differently online. I would like to see more randomized studies and more studies using fake accounts to monitor others, to come to a fair conclusion. I would also be curious to see, in looking at sites like Tinder, if differing behavior online is merely reflective of differing behavior in the outside world, or if being online causes some of the differences.


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Is laughter good for your health?

Just a hilarious guy.

I was watching a horror movie the other night, and naturally I started laughing. I laugh a lot, sometimes when it’s appropriate, often when it’s not. It often feels therapeutic to laugh. Laughter relieves stress and allows us to cope with life’s horrors. So, I wondered, from a medical standpoint, if laughter was actually beneficial. Does laughter actually make you healthier by helping your body fight disease and cope with illness? I decided to take a look at a few studies to find out.


The conductor of the single blind study.

The first study was small. It focused on 37 patients suffering from breast cancer who were being treated with radiotherapy. In this single-blind control study, 19 patients were placed in a control group, while the remaining 18 were treated with laughter therapy in addition to radiotherapy. The hypothesis being tested was that laughter therapy would reduce the radiation dermatitis that plagued those suffering from breast cancer. The results rejected the null, accepting that laughter therapy reduced the incidence of grades 3 and 2 radiation dermatitis, but not 1 and 0. It also concluded that while more people in the experimental group experienced less severe pain, the results were not statistically significant. The researchers insisted that more research needed to be done to confirm their results that laughter therapy was effective.


A visual representation of Data.

I agreed with this conclusion. The study is small. It’s not enough data to decisively conclude anything meaningful, but it does point in the right direction. Laughter, in one form or another, may be a valid form of treatment for something as terrible as breast cancer, at least in a way. I’m also not shocked that laughter would need to work in tangent with “real” medicine to yield results. I’d be surprised if any study found laughter alone could cure cancer, or any other disease, alone. As this study pointed out I’d need more data to come to a satisfying answer.

To find my satisfying answer, I turned to a meta-analysis. Using narrative synthesis, researchers searched Medline (which contains papers published since 1946) and Embase (which contains papers published since 1974) for papers regarding the effects of laughter in humans. They divided the results into two categories: positive and negative effects. They found laughter relieved stress, reduced depression and anxiety, improved lung function, and reduced risk of myocardial infarction. It also caused some serious problems like cardiac ruptures, abdominal hernias, asthma attacks, headaches, jaw dislocation, and interlobular emphysema. The study also found that laughter can be caused by conditions like epilepsy, strokes, and multiple sclerosis. In all I found this analysis to be very informative.


Laughter: not always good.

A lot the results are common sense. Laughter, on a basic level, is quickly forcing air out of your mouth and nose. Improvements in lung function, increases in asthma attacks, and jaw dislocation all make logical sense given what laughter is. I was satisfied with the research done by this studied and found it to be informative. When I set out to learn more about the effects of laughter, I hadn’t considered the possible negative consequences. All I had considered is laughter would simply not help us get better. Based on the results of the first study, I’d say that helping us get better is well within the realm of possibility, but in looking at the results of this analysis, I must conclude that laughter can be as helpful as it is harmful. Like a drug, laughter can be dangerous. For small gains in lung function and reduced anxiety, there are cardiac ruptures and jaw dislocation. Indeed, I have concluded that laughter is a medicine with many positive side effects, but also many negative ones. It is a medicine, but laughter is far from the best medicine.


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Do cellphones cause cancer?

At this point cellphones are basically part of human anatomy. Like the hand, they are vital in how we interact with our world. We use them to talk to each other, browse the internet, pay our taxes, pay our bills, send emails, pay for our groceries, they are an important tool in our daily lives. Most of us would feel naked without them, but could they be hurting us? I’m assuming probably not, but I decided to investigate.


This phone won’t just give you cancer.

There are actually numerous studies on the topic of cellphones causing cancer or other bodily harm. Of course, recently cellphones have become a threat of the explosive variety. In fact that particular phone may be banned on airplanes due to its harmful defect. But, the average everyday cellphone could also be a threat. For how, we turn to the American Cancer Society.

On the American Cancer Society’s website there is a brief explanation of how cellphones work and how they may be potentially harmful. Essentially, cellphones send and receive signals from cell towers using radiofrequency waves. These RF waves fall on the electromagnetic spectrum (as do microwaves, x-rays, and visible light) somewhere around radio waves and microwaves.  A far cry from gamma radiation, they are not harmful enough to damage our DNA, nor do they generate enough heat to burn our tissues (which would work similarly to microwaves). None of this is cause for alarm. However, this is not was has people worried.

Most studies focus not on the potential for RF waves to harm our DNA, but rather the potential that RF could cause or aid in the growth of cancerous tumors. For example, a 2013

File Photo of a man who was exposed to near lethal amounts of gamma radiation.

study tested the hypothesis that cellphone usage contributes to the development of brain cancer. This was tested with a population study of Taiwan where cellphone usage rates are higher than any other country. Researchers took data from the National Communications Commission to determine the number of cellphone users, and data from the National Cancer Registry to determine the incidence and fatality rate of malignant neoplasm (tumors) in the brain. They looked at a ten year period (2000-2009) and concluded that the high user rate had no statistically significant effect on the mortality rate and therefore accepted the null hypothesis.

A similar 2016 study looked at data from the Swedish Cancer Registry, focusing on the incidence of thyroid cancer from 1970-2013, and concluded that there was an increase in the percentage of thyroid cancer and that said increase cannot solely be accounted for by better diagnostic technology. The study itself does not allow for conclusions regarding causality, but it does postulate that exposure to ionizing radiation should be further studied.

Both of these studies mention the World Health Organization’s recent 2011 decision that radiofrequency radiation, like that found in cellphones, is possibly carcinogenic to humans. All of this information is interesting because, as we discussed in class, we are not yet sure if cellphones, or more specifically their RF waves, can cause cancer, tumors, or ill health. Cellphone exposure, like cigarettes, have not been studied, or simply existed long enough, for us to be completely sure of their long term effects on our health. The studies I found have similar parameters. They analyze similar data, one from Taiwan, one from Sweden, and come to different conclusions. Overall I found the results interesting for several reasons.


For those of you (like me) who don’t know what carcinogens are.

First, neither study, nor any study I could find, focus on the effects of being near microwaves. Perhaps, since they became a commonly accepted household appliance, which exposes us to similar levels of electromagnetic waves, we may have been effected in some way. Obviously, we use cellphones more often, and we don’t put our bodies up against the microwaves, but it’s still an interesting question. Second, following that train of thought, we do not spend that much time with our phones up to our heads. My phone spends most of its time in my pocket or in my hands. Why then has their not been a study done to determine if cellphones cause an increase in cervical or testicular cancer? I feel the results of these studies are inconclusive because, as the second study says, they need to do more research into the effect of this type of radiation.

My last thoughts are that I personally do not believe we currently have enough evidence to suggest that cellphone use, or any small exposure to similar wavelengths, will cause us colossal harm. Putting away your cellphone from time to time is still probably going to be beneficial regardless. Lastly, on the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light is closer to known harmful wavelengths, so why is that not possibly harmful?


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Does using Facebook make you smarter?

I spend more time then I’d like on Facebook. In the morning, while trying to get up out of bed, I’ll check Facebook. While waiting in any line, I’ll check Facebook. While I’m at home writing a blog post, I’ll check Facebook. I check Facebook a lot. I’d honestly like to use it less. I think it’s a waste of time. In the interest of science, I decided to check if it was actually a waste of time. As it turns out, it is actually beneficial.

The original face book.

I found a study from Elsevier titled “Social networking sites and cognitive abilities: Do they make you smarter?” At first with that title I assumed I’d find a study confirming our parent’s negative attitude towards millennials- that we are wasting our time on Facebook and should be doing our homework. But, the abstract confirmed that the opposite was true.

As it turns out, social networks not only increase levels of social connectedness (duh), but people who use them they tested higher in working memory, verbal ability, and spelling, but not math. At first I was surprised by these results. How could mindlessly scrolling through wedding pictures, vacation pictures, angry posts about Donald Trump, kindhearted statuses about people’s days, you get the idea… how could that seemingly useless task I use to pass the time, be helpful? I decided to look at the study through a fine toothed comb.

First, the researchers found a UK high school they felt was nationally representative- essentially they looked at test scores, to determine general intelligence, and free school meals- to control for socio-economic status. They selected 104 of these high school students (I assume in a random sample because it doesn’t say) between the ages of 12 and 18, and tested them. They were tested using various attainment tests (essentially like every test you took in high school) and an IQ test (which the study concluded was unaffected by Facebook use). The attainment tests tested verbal ability, working memory, learning outcomes, and a social connectedness scale. Afterwards, they were surveyed on their tech use, specifically on how long they used social media and YouTube.


The average UK high school.

This data was then used to answer three questions about social media use as it relates to cognitive ability and social connectedness. They compared the results of those who had been using Facebook longer and found they did better than those who had been using it for less than a year. They also compared frequency of specific Facebook activities to related scores on the various tests and found that no specific Facebook actions, like posting or chatting, had significant effect on test scores. It was using Facebook as a whole that contributed to the higher scores.

This study was full of data. At first, I was concerned by the number of people in the study. 104 is not a lot. I was also confused by the results because they seemed contrary to what made sense. But I thought about it. Some schools are not that big. The school they found may have been small, but nonetheless a good random and unbiased sample of UK school kids. I also considered the results. The results indicated there was no difference in IQ or math scores. Which makes sense. There is no math on Facebook and doing any simple activity is not going to affect your IQ. All that did increase were skills directly related to what you do on Facebook.

A typical user hard at work.

The paper itself admitted that a working memory activity was very similar to using Facebook. In a working memory activity, a participant has to process and manipulate information and use it to guide their next action. The same is true of Facebook. A user sifts through a lot of information and processes and manipulates it to decide whether to comment, continue reading, or move past it. Based on this, the fact that YouTube (which they essentially used as a control) had no real effect on anything, and the knowledge that overuse of Facebook eventually has a negative effect on GPA, I was satisfied with the study.

I am now happy to know that Facebook, while seemingly mindless, has a positive effect on those that use it. So, it is not a complete waste of time and in a way it does make people smarter. Moving forward, I wonder what the results of a larger study would be. Would Facebook still be seen as helpful? Furthermore, how would Facebook use compare to websites like Reddit or Tumblr? All I know is, it seems probable that every waste of time may have some benefit after all.


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Can we defeat the Superbugs?

Not this kind of superbug.

According to the Center for Disease Control, antibiotic resistance is when bacteria mutate and become less effected by drugs and chemicals us humans use to fight infections. It is a major public health problem. After years of exposure to antibiotics, due to their prominence in everything from hand soap to cow food, antibiotic resistance is on the rise leading the media to call attention to the threat of superbugs.

Now this is all obviously extremely terrifying. Antibiotics are our biggest line of defense against a wide variety of bacterial infections. With a growing number of strains of bacteria slowly becoming resistant to antibiotics, once easily treated diseases can become far more difficult to deal with.

This is what E coli looks like. Lovely.

For example, as recently as this year the Washington Post reports that an antibiotic resistant strain of E coli has entered the United States. A 49 year old woman in Pennsylvania was found to have a strain of E coli that the Department of Defense determined was resistant to colistin- an antibiotic of last resort. Essentially, colistin is one of the most powerful antibiotics we have left and if an infection becomes immune to it, we have nothing left to fight it. This is a problem.

Antibiotics, obviously.

What is the solution? The CDC’s website lays out several guidelines to prevent further antibiotic resistance. Among them, use your antibiotics for the prescribed time instead of quitting as soon as you feel better, ask your healthcare professional if antibiotics are necessary for fighting your infection and providing symptom relief, and never save antibiotics for when you get sick again. Medical professionals are also encouraged to use antibiotics more sparingly, farmers are encouraged to remove them from their feed as it is unnecessary and overkill, and finally the FDA recently decided that some antibacterial agents have to be removed from hand soap. All in all, it is not a disaster yet, but in the next few years it’ll be interesting to see if we can develop other weapons and become less reliant on antibiotics- the fossil fuels of healthcare.

Is Faster-Than-Light Travel Possible?

According to NASA’s official website, faster than light travel is not yet possible. While they credit many theories in science fiction as credible, they cannot yet test their viability. As we discussed in class, even with infinite money, which NASA certainly does not have, and infinite resources, certain experiments are not possible. This holds true for interstellar travel because the advanced level of technology needed to achieve it- and that’s assuming it is possible- simply has not been developed yet. That being said, scientists do no the challenges we face currently, and why it is currently impossible, and why it eventually may become possible.

Concept Art for a potential Faster-Than-Light ship based on a prototype designed by a NASA scientist.

First, back in 1904, a man named Albert Einstein developed the theories of relativity. According to an article from the Guardian, Einstein’s special theory of relativity was based on two postulates. One, the speed of light is a constant variable. Two, the laws of physics apply everywhere and are not merely applicable to Earth. The first can be difficult to wrap your head around.

How can light be constant? What does that mean? In physics class in 10th Grade, my Prof. Mr. Cherry (the guy who read the book I talked about in my first post) explained this concept in a way I could understand, and in a way not dissimilar from that of the Guardian’s article. Imagine you are standing in a field watching a car go by on a dirt road. Relative to you the car is travelling 60 miles an hour, so the car speeds by you, appearing to travel quite quickly. Now imagine the same field, only you are on a train traveling 60 miles an hour, going the same direction as the car. Relative to you, the car is not moving because it is also going 60 mph. Now, some of that might be wrong I’m obviously not a science major. The point is, speed is relative. The Earth is rotating quickly to have 24 hour days, but we don’t notice it. Anyways, when you do the same concept, but replace the car with light. Whether you are travelling 60 miles an hour or standing still, light travels at the same speed.

The speed of light is measurable. A quick Google search tells us that the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s. Because of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, we know that energy is mass times acceleration squared. In simple terms, this means that in the process of increasing the speed of an object, we also increase its mass. So, when we increase the speed of a spaceship, we also make it heavier. Objects that are heavier, in turn need more thrust to push them forward. This problem multiplies upon itself and is why lightspeed is so difficult, and currently impossible to reach. All credit for this explanation is again thanks to the same Guardian article.

Concept Art for the new Star Trek Discovery TV series.

In conclusion, the main issue is the obscenely large amount of energy needed to achieve lightspeed. Warp Drive, the reason ships in Star Trek can travel faster than light, is in theory a possible means of achieving lightspeed in real life. Several articles, including this one from Tech Times, discuss NASA’s mock-up of a spaceship that can bend space time around it, by using a loophole in the Theory of Relativity, and is thus capable of traveling faster than light. No tests or experiments of any kind have confirmed this theory and so the concept is just that- a concept. NASA is encouraging people with bright minds and bright ideas to pursue their dreams and attempt to answer this question once and for all. So, while we may not know now if faster than light travel is possible, we will know eventually. The true question is, when will we find out?

Would You Cut Off Your Arm?

Now there’s a stupid question.

He doesn’t look happy.

Why would you cut off your arm? People have been involuntarily losing their limbs since… well forever, or at least as long as human have been around. Naturally, the people who do lose their limbs are not too happy. In very ancient times, this was due to them being dead. In less ancient times this was due to them not having an arm. While this was not a common problem some cultures started to develop a solution.

Prosthetics. According to an article from the ANZ Journal of Surgery, Ancient Egyptians were the first to develop prosthetics. The Egyptians feared amputation more than death. They thought that losing a limb harmed the soul. In an effort to repair that damage, they developed prosthetics to allow the former owner of an arm or leg to feel a sense of spiritual wholeness. Also, it helped them walk. After Egypt, there is evidence of prosthetics in Persia, Germany, and France. Each of these cultures developed crude constructs in an attempt to replace the function of a lost appendage. Sometimes these appendages were mere pegs to replace legs or a metal arm purely for aesthetic purposes. Other times hooks replaced hands, secret hiding places were built in, and other fun and exciting functions were added.

Prosthetic toe from an Egyptian Mummy.

Of course, none of these substitutes could replace the many useful features of the human hand. The human hand is extremely useful. Consider how many times you use your hand before you leave your room in the morning. A hook, however clever and useful, is not good at holding a pencil. Nothing anyone came up with in the past has been a fair replacement for the human hand, or as functional as the human leg, or eye, or ear, or anything really. Every prosthetic in history has been an attempt to regain the function.

Modern technology has advanced to the point that we may finally match the abilities of the human body. According to an article from The Surgeon, published in 2011, bionic limbs have come a long way. We are capable of replicating the various functions of the human hand thanks to advances in technology. And, if this article is any indication, we may soon surpass its functionality. The bionic man may soon be possible. This advancement in technology brings with it many questions.

In the past, any time we have replaced a hand with a hook, a leg with a peg, or attached a video camera to someone’s brain, it was to replace something that was lost. It was to help the blind to see, the legless to walk, you get the idea. We have reached a point where many intelligent people are considering supplementing the human body with technology.

In a recent interview, Elon Musk discussed the fact that we are already cyborgs with the verge. We use smartphones every day, we have online accounts and with them a virtual version of ourselves. In his mind this makes us cyborgs. To further the process, and allow us to bond better with technology, Mr. Musk wants to create a “neural lace” that will link our brain directly with technology. This idea is very closely linked with the idea of transhumanism.

Transhumanism is essentially the topic of this blog post. It is the belief that humans, through technology, can further evolve. Honestly it scares me. Humanity obviously has a long history of altering our bodies with prosthetic limbs, but transhumanism takes it a step further. It brings with it many challenges of ethics, practicality, and will create and cause many problems in the future.

This class is about critical thinking. In my mind that means considering the possible consequences of replacing our body parts with upgraded appendages. On one hand, being Robocop would be extremely cool and exciting, but on the other doing that to yourself, cutting away your hands and legs, or even simply adding an interface with computers to your brain- like the Matrix, sounds extremely frightening. Science has paved the way to the future and I am curious about what will come next.

Science is Hard

My name is Matt Overmoyer and I am a Sophmore studying Labor and Employment Relations here at Penn State. I took physics in high school. I really liked my instructor. Mr. Cherry was a kind, reasonable man who knew a lot about physics. Every day he read from a small book titled “Native Wisdom for White Minds.” It was an enjoyable class. From the onset, I convinced myself it would be about exploring concepts about the world. What are its rules? How does it work? I thought it would be fun, insightful, and fairly easy. I got a 76%. While I enjoyed the instructor, my classmates, and the course, I did terribly despite the fact that I tried my best.

I took Science in Our World because it promised to be everything I wanted that physics class to be. After the first few days it looks like we will be learning about the world, how it works, and answering difficult questions. It looks like fun. Hopefully this will be an interesting class that reinvigorates my interest in science. After classes like physics, chemistry, and bio, I became convinced that science was memorizing formulas, numbers, atomic numbers, and complicated mathematical equations. Science is memorizing formulas, numbers, etc. but it is also fun and invigorated. I hope. I didn’t choose a science major because I became disinterested in all the complicated math involved, also its hard. I choose my LER major because it builds on skills I have while challenging me in other areas.

Anyways, in the interest of science here is a link to the song Blinded Me With Science.