Monday, July 30, 2012

Turning 21 wasn't as big as turning 18

We typically see the age of 21 as the cusp of adulthood. But a recent study has found that the 30th birthday is regarded by most young people as their ‘changeover’ year.
The Life Chances Study, by Melbourne's Brotherhood of St Laurence, also shows a dramatic divide between rich and poor, and great anxiety over what it means to be an adult.

The study shows only 38% of 21-year-olds feel like adults, 13% definitely don't feel like adults, and half are not sure. Half of the group are now studying at university, 27% are in paid work, and 72% are living at home.

Poorer children are growing up faster, with half of those from low-income families feeling like adults, compared to one quarter of those from rich backgrounds. According to the researchers, “lower-income children had adulthood thrust upon them”.

It appears that the age marker no longer has some of the relevance it did.  On the other hand, turning 18 is important for young people - that is when you can drink or get a driver's license. Some of the young people indicated turning 21 wasn't as big as turning 18.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Advanced Behaviour Support course

Sometime ago I was interviewed by The Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC) as part of the development of an advanced Behaviour Support course.

Some may be aware the CS&HISC provides advice about skills at a National (Australia) level and develops the qualifications and competency standards for the community services and health industries.

CS& HISC takes the lead role in establishing the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system of work-based skills for the two major industries of community services and health.

I’d like to thank the committee for considering and using parts of my work and incorporating my thoughts in the following products.

Click below

This unit describes the knowledge and skills required by disability services workers to understand the influence and purpose of behaviour, assess problem behaviour, develop multi-element support and response plans and utilise appropriate strategies to reduce inappropriate behaviour. 
And click below

This learner guide is developed in line with the national competency standard in the Community Services Training Package CHC08 for the unit of competency.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Apollo 13 and the human brain

Apollo 13 and the human brain.
I guess it’s no surprise that we know more about the workings of the human brain now then at any other time in history. A myriad of technologies help in this quest – consider for example computer axial tomography, structural magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, and that’s to name a few. Then we have the knowledge gained through pharmacological function, neuropsychology, neurosurgery - you get the point.

So how does the story of Apollo 13 figure in our understanding of the brain? How are these connected? On April 13, 1970, two days after launch, an explosion caused by a fault in an oxygen tank disabled the Apollo spacecraft. Some of you know the story of Apollo 13 through the 1995 American film directed by Ron Howard and staring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon.

I watched a part of the movie again today, more to rest my head but in reality got me thinking, thus this blog. In a nutshell an explosion damages the service module, resulting in a loss of oxygen and electrical power. The crew use the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” in space. The command module remains fully functional on its internal batteries, but they were needed for re-entry and landing so it was shut down shortly after the accident.

The fix came in the form of an ingenious combination of suit hoses, cardboard, socks, and plastic stowage bags - all held together with a liberal application of gray duct tape. As was usual whenever the Apollo team had to improvise, engineers and astronauts on the ground got busy devising ways around the problem and then checked out the new procedures.

Let’s know for a minute think about what sense an Archaeology team would make if they discovered Apollo 13 in a did some hundreds or thousands of years from now. You see, finding hoses, cardboard, plastic stowage bags, duct tape intermixed with other legitimate rocket components will be difficult to explain. There is no adaptive history, no context, no explanation for bric-a-brac.

Understanding the human brain, making sense of how it evolved, making meaning of the orbitofrontal cortex, for example, in sensory integration, in representing the affective value of re-enforcers, and in decision-making and expectation is extremely difficult. It’s difficult, in much the same ways, those archaeologists would find explaining Apollo 13 without the adaptive history. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

The illusion of reality

The solidity of the world seems totally indisputable. As a fixed thing that you can see and touch, your body is also reassuring the solid.  But beginning with Einstein, modern physics have assured us that this solidity is a mirage. Quantum physics tells us that reality is far beyond human perception and intuition. In other words, our rational mind and common sense are just not capable of understanding the true nature of reality. And, therefore why particles can experience the full weirdness of quantum mechanics, whereas we evidently cannot. "In short, how does the well-behaved, everyday classical world emerge from the schizophrenic quantum realm.

The great Richard Feynman once said that all of Quantm physics can be understood through the double-slit experiment. For the last few weeks I have watched and re-watched the 1979 Douglas Robb Memorial Lectures with Feynman discussing photons – Corpuscles of light. 

Trying to make sense of single-photon behaviour in relation to reflection of multi surfaces. A topic, it seems infinitely more subtle then the high-school treatment of Newtonian optics.  So when one starts to think they are coming to terms with the counter-intuitive nature of light, photons behave even more strangely when pushed through a double-slit experiment.

So photons (particles for that matter) do not have a particular location and velocity; they merely have probabilities of location and velocity meaning a particle is all the possible futures it can have Viz-a-viz the Copenhagen interpretation suggesting that quantum mechanics does not yield a description of an objective reality but deals only with probabilities of observing, or measuring, various aspects of energy quanta.

So all but one of these futures collapses when it is observed. Meanwhile, these futures of the same particle can interfere with each other. Quantum probability is not a mere description of where a particle could be found and could be going, a mere mathematical abstraction, it is an actual property.

The photon in the experiment is all the possible paths it can take, some through one slit, some through the other, and it is interfering with itself. For each photon, measuring devices record one possible outcome of this self-interference.

Then comes the quantum eraser, proposed by Scully and Drühl in 1982. Given the basic principle of complementarity (for each degree of freedom, the dynamical variables are a pair of complementary observables) the precise knowledge of one implies complete unpredictability of the other.

For example, precise knowledge of a particle position implies complete unpredictability of its momentum. Because it’s generally assumed that the mechanism responsible for the loss of the interference pattern is the uncertainty principle, the “which-way” information of the particles is found without disturbing their wave-function.

The reason of the interference loss is the quantum information contained in the measuring apparatus, by means of the entanglement correlations between the particles and the path detectors. The experiment shows that if such quantum information is afterwards erased from the system, then the interference reappears (which would be impossible in the case of a perturbation).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It takes 21 days to change a habit

Yesterday as a part of a presentation I gave at the National Disability Service support worker’s conference, I talked about the old adage, “It takes 21 days to change a habit”. The thrust of my mention was about reinforcement, breaking habits, and building new ones.

We’ve known for years about the neuroplasticity — the brain’s capacity to create new pathways, a crucial part of recovery for anyone who loses a sense or a cognitive or motor ability. But it can also be part of everyday life for all of us. While it is often true that learning is easier in childhood, neuroscientists now know that the brain does not stop growing, even in our later years. Every time we practice an old skill or learn a new one, existing neural connections are strengthened and, over time, neurons create more connections to other neurons. Even new nerve cells can be generated.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Childhood illness and schizophrenia

According to the Journal of Psychiatry Research a study of the birth and hospital records of more than 40,000 young adults in Western Australia, GUT and chest infections in early childhood appear to raise the risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, even if they do not spread to the brain.

Boys who were admitted to hospital at least twice before age three with respiratory or intestinal infections were 80% more likely than others to develop the schizophrenia by the time they were in their mid-to-late 20s.

Previous research has shown an linkage between brain infections, such as meningitis, and schizophrenia, but this study is the first to demonstrate a link with illnesses that rarely involve the central nervous system - suggesting widespread inflammation, and the body's response to it, may be sufficient to disrupt brain development.

In a separate study published last month, Cambridge University scientists wrote that particular infections during pregnancy, such as rubella, were linked to higher schizophrenia risk in offspring. It was possible, they concluded, that some viruses, or viral strains, might similarly have a disproportionate effect on brain development during early childhood.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The God particle and stats...

We all know by now that CERN announced the discovery of the long-sought Higgs particle (or the so called God particle) last Wednesday. This is a discovery about nothing – that is it describes what is occurring in the vacuum. This achievement is huge considering it culminates literally decades of effort by thousands of physicists and engineers spending billions of euros to build the Large Hadron Collider. But the media’s reporting of 5-sigma as a measure of “certainty” was also remarkable.

First the vacuum - A vacuum is a space entirely devoid of matter and so represents a least possible energy state. Peter Higgs, and others realized that the state with least energy needn’t be empty - it can instead be filled with a physical quantity that slows down [electron] and gives mass to everything we know.

As mentioned some media outlets associated 5-sigma as a measure of certainty for the discovery of the Higgs boson. The gold standard for a discovery is a "5-sigma" bump, where sigma is a measure of bumpiness or standard deviation. A bump that high means that the odds are less than 1 in 3.5 million that it was produced by chance.

For instance, the science editor at the Swedish news paper Dagens Nyheter reported that a sigma of 4.9 equals a certainty of 99.99994%, which obviously isn’t true, simply because p(D|H0 ) is not the same as p(H0|D) meaning p-value represents the conditional probability of getting the data given that the null hypothesis is true. Nothing more, and it surely doesn’t give the probability for the alternative hypothesis being true, Ala the “certainty” that something has been found that’s not a random fluctuation.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Can you keep a secret

Recently much has been written about the physical and psychological consequences of secrecy. We know for example, that some of us can be trusted with other’s private matters, while some of us are less capable of keeping our mouths shut.

A diagnostic tool called the Self-Concealment Score gauges how secretive we are on a scale of ten (very open) to 50 (bank vault). Most of it turns out fall somewhere near the middle, which is the healthy range.

Generally, people with high-self concealment scores are those who tend to keep their thoughts and feelings bottled up and can be correlated with a host of emotional and physical issues, including stress, depression and have low self esteem.

Secrecy, it turns out, is taxing. Studies suggest that exercising the kind of self control required to deliberately conceal information is psychologically and even physically tiring, which sheds light on why secrecy can sabotage our health and well-being. It may also help explain why, for instance, it’s harder to diet during times of stress—because restraint depletes the same physical and emotional reserves as do stress and exhaustion.