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On My Own Imperfections

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This is the very perfection of a man (or woman), to find out his own imperfections.

Life With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the phantom perception of sound. This means that a person with tinnitus hears a sound (usually a ringing or a whistling sound) that cannot be heard by others. In a very small percentage of cases, a sound actually exists (usually a vascular anomaly, like an aneurysm, that causes blood to make a swishing or squirting sound) - this subgroup of people with tinnitus does not represent the majority of people with tinnitus.

In most cases there is no source for the sound that is perceived by the patient. The truth is that we don't know, exactly, what causes tinnitus.

What we do know, however, is that tinnitus can be caused by injury to the cochlea (the organ in the inner ear that houses the hair cells that detect vibrations in fluid that are transduced by your eardrum). Tinnitus can also be caused by injury to the auditory nerve, and by injuries (strokes, for example) to the brainstem, midbrain, and cortex.

We also know that tinnitus can be caused by exposure to noise and by certain drugs that damage the hair cells in the cochlea. We also know that even when tinnitus is caused by injury to the cochlea (such as by trauma or by drugs that kill hair cells), you can remove the cochlea or cut the auditory nerve (that connects the cochlea to the brain) and the perception of tinnitus (in most people) still remains.

This fact tells us that, in most people with tinnitus, the generator(s) of tinnitus lie somewhere in the brain - even when the initial injury to the auditory system occurred in the inner ear (i.e. to hair cells in the cochlea).

Most people who study tinnitus believe that neural plasticity is involved in tinnitus. Neural plasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire itself in response to environmental stimuli and to injury.

This ability is very useful - it enables, for example, the brain to recover some or all of its function after stoke.

We think that some neurological disorders are caused when injury or environmental stimuli (like noise exposure) result in the activation of neural plasticity, resulting in one or more circuits in the auditory system to become altered - and this altered function results in the perception of sound when no sound exists.

For example, we have shown that chronic exposure to noise results in a change in the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in certain parts of the auditory cortex and midbrain. This change in the balance of inhibition and excitation results in a net increase in excitation - with both theoretical and experimental evidence that this change can result in the phantom perception of sound.

The cause(s) of tinnitus in most patients is unknown, but strong experimental and clinical evidence points to neural plasticity in the brain being the reason for the phantom perception of sound.

Backstory? I have had tinnitus for close to 15 years.

Oh Come On How Many Baby Showers Can You Have

Where I grew up it was normal to gift the actual kid things after it was born, like season appropriate clothes/teddies/little blankets/extra soft towels/stuff the parents might need for the next developmental stage: teething things, for example.

These would often be dropped by/picked up when relatives met the kid or the parents were settled back at home. But a party for the specific purpose of baby gifts especially before it's even born - nope.

My aunts, were mid-west girls, had they been presented with the idea of this silly baby shower, the one that "showers mommy with love" would have been met with hysterical laughter. The thought that you need to give the mom some gifts for her "hard work" is laughable. Just like when she got married, you weren't giving her gifts that are supposed to be fun, they are supposed to be useful.

When I learned that I was going to be an aunt again I had to chuckle. Not one of my nieces has fewer than two children. Only one of them has two girls the others are girl/boy or boy/girl. The niece that has two girls had them close to twenty years ago, so yeah, they are about due for their own kids.

No the niece that will be having the most recent baby shower is calling it a sprinkle. I had no idea what type of non-sense this was so I had to look it up. Apparently they weren't the ones that came up with the baby sprinkle so at least they don't have to live with the stigmatization of coming up with the name.

She has three little children. And they are pretty close in age. So why host another baby shower? Sorry. Baby sprinkle? They have everything that they need. And both she and her husband work. This coupled with the fact that his parents shower them already enough with gifts, vacations, and clothes for the kids doesn't - to me - make much sense.

I am thinking about taking some advice from The Washington Post and RSVP them that I will not be coming.

It isn't that I don't like them, but I do find this whole thing a little pretentious. It is a matter of wanting too much. Too quickly. I have been to their last a little over a year ago. Baby showers? Well, if you really need to have one, you can't afford the child otherwise, then you can put one together. But when you have everything that you will possibly need for the duration of your child's first year, minus the perishables of course. Then for me, it is better to just skip it.

For me the desire to stay child free was the best decision I ever made.

The fact that I don't have to worry about taking care of a child isn't one that I ever had. But there is so much non-sense that goes along with it that I am just better off.

Just for clarification, kids are great. Just not when they are supposed to be a factor for a day at the spa and tons of gifts.

Quantum Entanglement

Speaking very generally, there are two ways to understand that entanglement experiment. One is that nothing changed when you measured and the states always had the value you measured, you just didn't know about it. This is known as hidden variables.

The second is that not only don't we know the state of the particles, they don't fundamentally have a determined state until you measure them.

The example with red and green balls given in this thread is clearly of the first type. In fact a very primitive type of hidden variables that could easily be proven wrong. The balls are not actually quantum (it's an analogy so that's fair). Now, this is obviously the most intuitive, so why don't everyone agree on this? The problem is at the very heart of all quantum weirdness. Take the double slit experiment. If the particle really had a determined choice of slit prior to going through the slit, why are we seeing an interference pattern?

Now, you can come up with creative explanations that still have hidden variables, but then you run into something called Bell's Theorem which states that if you have hidden variables, the universe must be able communicate faster than light(non-local). In the end, there are some people who believe hidden variables is the correct way of looking at it. Since the math is exactly the same as the variables are completely hidden for us, we have no way of determining who's right. At least for the time being.

Bell's theorem says we have to give up one of three things:

  • Hidden variables
  • Locality: Local action cannot influence a system far away faster than the speed of light
  • Free will: It makes sense to talk about what would have happened if you had chosen to do something else.

It's not correct to say that hidden variables have been proven false. It's almost correct so say that local hidden variables have been proven false as we don't usually discuss free will. To further look at this let's say I have a bag of hexagons. The top three sides are all black, and the bottom are all white.

  1. If I measure any random side. I will get white half the time and black half the time.
  2. If I measure two opposite sides, I will get two opposite colors.
  3. If I measure two sides next to eachother. I will get opposite colors one out of three times.

But, For a quantum hexagon:

  1. If I measure any random side. I will get white half the time and black half the time.
  2. If I measure opposite sides, I will always get opposite colors.
  3. If I measure two sides next to eachother. I will not get opposite colors one out of three times. It will be slightly less.

Suppose you have a system of two arrows, which have to point in opposite directions, and you're guaranteed to measure one of them pointing up.

Now, let's say you disturb the system a little bit. You put in some "paint", which will paint an upwards pointing arrow red and a downwards pointing arrow blue. If the states are predetermined, one arrow will get all the red and one arrow will get all the blue. If they aren't, both arrows will get some of both colors.

In quantum systems, for certain kinds of arrows and "paint", the second result happens.

That means that some of the sides don't have a color until you actually measure it, but opposite colors always have the same color.

Is It A Vase or Two Faces

Some studies that helped me with my reasoning: A study has shown that people who are imagining visual stimuli (as opposed to actually seeing it) still show activation in their visual cortex.

A different study that looked at the vase-face illusion found that people's brain activity differed depending on which part of the illusion they were perceiving - if they reported perceiving faces, their fusiform gyrus (the brain's face area) was stimulated, but if they were perceiving a vase, the same area was not lit up. There didn't seem to ever be a time where brain activation showed both patterns indicating perception of both the vase and the faces simultaneously, which suggests that your brain can only perceive one thing or the other.

So my guess at what is happening, in the visual aspect at least, is that your visual cortex would be stimulated, but the stimulation in your visual cortex when you're "seeing" your thought would be different from the pattern of stimulation when you're consciously perceiving what is in front of you.

So for example: you're sitting in front of a striped black and white wall, but you're imaging or "seeing" a solid red colored wall. When you're focusing on (i.e. consciously perceiving) the striped wall, the visual neurons that respond to contrast would be stimulated, but the neurons responsible for color perception would not. When you switch your focus so that you are consciously perceiving the imagined red wall, your color neurons would be stimulated, but your contrast neurons would not.

The prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain responsible for stuff like reasoning, cognition, and other executive functions - probably also plays a role in the thoughts that you "see", because it's implicated to be heavily involved in consciousness.

As for people who can't "see" things in their minds, you're not alone.

There's a condition called aphantasia where people don't see pictures in their head. If I asked the average person how many windows they had in their home, they would probably do a mental walkthrough of their home and count the windows. For somebody with aphantasia, they'll know, but they might not know how they know.

Activation in the visual cortex for the "seeing" part, and likely activation in the prefrontal cortex for the "thought" part.

In the end, not being able to "see" things in your mind is actually a thing - aphantasia.

Planck's Constant

What is Planck's Constant and why is it significant?

Well, this is quite a difficult question. I'll try to give an answer that is not too mathematical (which I tend to do usually).

First of all (sort of historically), Planck's constant is the proportionality between light of a specific wavelength (i.e. light of a specific color) and the energy a single light particle (a photon) has. This is already quite a profound statement. Energy is usually measured in Joule, while the frequency is measured in Hertz (= 1 / seconds). That means this proportionality constant has a unit of Joule * second. This unit is what physicists call the unit of an action. For someone who does not care about the mathematics of physics, an action is quite an abstract concept. You could say it is a measure for how much dynamics a system exhibits over a time interval (precisely: It's the integral of the difference between kinetic and potential energies in a system over a time interval). An interesting fact is that your physical reality around is the one that has the minimal action that is possible.

What we can understand from that really, is that Planck's constant can be seen as being related to dynamics of a system. However, it only arises in the case of quantum mechanics. I.e. it is what separates classical physics from quantum mechanics. Planck's constant sort of restricts this action in a sense. While in classical physics the action of a system can take any value whatsoever, in quantum mechanics you are always restricted to multiples of Planck's constant. In this way physicists say that classical physics can sometimes be recovered from quantum mechanics, if we assume Planck's constant to be zero (this is really only a thought experiment, we cannot change Planck's constant of course).

Planck's constant being related to dynamics of a system, it has a say in what kind of positions and momenta (that is velocities) particles in quantum mechanics can be.

Planck theorized that there is a minimum "resolution" to frequencies and energy. Through both experimentation and theory, he realized that all the frequencies and energies radiated were multiples of a single number, which came to be called Planck's constant. To simplify, you could emit at say, 10000 Planck's constants, and at 10001, but not at 10000.5.

In fact, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle says that position and momentum of a particle are related such that one cannot measure both at the same time better than Planck's constant, i.e. the product of the momentum uncertainty and position uncertainty needs to be larger than Planck's constant. This in effect means that if you measure one of the two very well, the other needs becomes more uncertain (as in actually will take values of a larger range). It kind of means if you try to trap a particle in a very small volume, it's uncertainty in velocity and direction will become huge and vice versa, because the product of the two needs to be larger than Planck's constant.

So, in a way one can argue that Planck's constant really is a fundamental unit of our Universe; our Universe is not continuous, but rather grid like on extremely small scales (heck, Planck's constant has a value of 6.63 * 10-34 Js, which is so ridiculously small I don't even know how to give a proper example). And the size of these blocks is directly proportional to Planck's constant.

Well, I hope this was somehow understandable or even answers what you want to know. This really is at the core of most of physics, so a proper explanation is always going to be lacking in some respects. Here's a video by PBS Space Time. If you have more specific questions, just ask. :)