Friday, December 11, 2015

To Infinity and beyond

 I’ve had this statement on my mind for what seems an eternity – you know, like when we can't get a song out of our head. And sure it’s a classic Buzz line courtesy of toy story and itself a variation of "Beyond the infinite" as it appears as a title card in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s quite possible that Buzz is showing everyone that he can do the impossible and cross any asymptote, something that a curve approaches, as it heads towards infinity.

And, it’s that time of the year when one can get back into the business of writing, doing physics and thinking beyond the curbs and bliss of the daily grind. This means hard thinking; my hobby-horse, the nature of time. That illusion or a trick of mind that presents us with a persuasive, ever meandering, passage of time. Here I’m talking in the tradition of Plato, we find time, mathematics and all else on a higher plane that our mind sees into, by a process not unlike sense perception. And I suppose, the inter-play between time and space, the time-space manifold, Riemannian geometry is/was there for Einstein to see.

One of Gödel’s less well-known papers is a 1949 article called, “A Remark on the Relationship Between Relativity Theory and Idealistic Philosophy.” In this paper, Gödel attempts to show that the passage of time is indeed an illusion. The past, present and future of the universe are just different regions of a single vast space-time. Time is part of space-time, but space-time is a higher reality existing outside of time.

For many, including Gödel, mathematics, even the mathematics of the infinite, was an essentially empirical science. But when we begin to talk about infinite numbers that the trouble really begins. Cantor’s Continuum Problem is undecidable on the basis of our present-day theories of mathematics. For a Platonist like Gödel, this means only that we have not yet “looked” at the continuum in a hard enough way.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mirror Mirror

There has been a significant amount of research done on the effect that advertising in the fashion and beauty industry has on women. By creating advertisements with unrealistic images of beauty, it has resulted in anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence in many women.  Most of these negative emotions stems from unhappiness among body and appearance. Less research, however, has been performed relating to cosmetics and how this can have an influence on women, and how women can use cosmetics to manipulate their appearance.

The Miss Universe website says delegates who become a part of the organisation, started in the US, compete with the hope of advancing their careers, personal and humanitarian goals, and of improving the lives of others. There may be some truth in this. According to Daniel Hamermesh author of Beauty Pays, an economist has found that beauty is absolutely connected with success, at least financial success.

Miss Universe Australia 2011 winner Sherri-Lee Biggs says for her the pageant is a stepping stone into a career in modelling and television. "You meet all the right people; you're out there and you kind of become a personality…”

But, low self esteem is more common amongst the beautiful people than you would expect. Some just don’t believe they are attractive. Others have a distorted self image and don’t believe others who tell them how stunning they are. Thus, generally speaking, in their mind everyone is a “liar” and not to be trusted. What’s worse, some are dependent on the first impression reaction of others to define who they are, ie someone who has it all because their beautiful. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Top 7 stressful events

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 medical patients as a way to determine whether stressful events might cause illnesses. The top 7 stressful events list back then were Death of a spouse, divorce, marital separation, imprisonment, death of a close family member, personal injury or illness and marriage (yes marriage.)
More recent research based on a large cohort of people during 20-year period suggest an even more insidious and chronic stressors that take an even heavier toll.
1. The inner critic
Freud called it the superego. It is commonly known as the inner critic. Most people experience it as an internal voice that monitors and berates and criticizes on autopilot. Most people respond negatively to the inner critic without realizing what they are responding to, which makes the inner critic a formidable force.
2. Negative relationships
Clinging to stressful, negative relationships is a revolving door for stress and depression. In this case, you have shackled yourself to negativity and empowered another person to pile on. Common scenarios involve maintaining relationships with people who criticize you, reject you, dismiss you, Refuse to meet your needs, etc
3. Self-sabotage
Self-sabotage happens when you do the opposite of what would make you happy and successful. It's called getting in your own way. Examples of self-sabotage include: you know you should not eat that doughnut, but eat three or four.
4. Internal conflict
Internal conflict is at the heart of indecisiveness. On the one hand you want this. On the other hand, you want that. You can spin your mind on inner conflict for weeks and months and not come to any conclusions or take action.
5. Inner passivity
Inner passivity occurs when you experience self-generated problems as if they were being done to you, rather than as something you are doing to yourself and therefore can stop doing. Nothing causes a greater sense of personal helplessness.
6. Mental activity on autopilot
Medical research suggests that autopilot thinking - the constant churning of the mind that occurs when you are not consciously engaged in a task.
7. Physical or nutritional imbalance – eating well, etc.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Faulty thinking

Our thoughts are constantly helping us to interpret the world around us, describing what’s happening, and trying to make sense of it by helping us interpret events, sights, sounds, smells, feelings. Because of our experiences, life story, culture, religious beliefs and family values, we often make very different interpretations of situations than others.
On Faulty thinking
Cognitive therapy was developed with the belief that a person's experiences result in thoughts. These are connected with schemas or core beliefs developed from early life to create our view of the world and determine our emotional states and behaviours. Disorders are sometimes maintained by negative attitudes and distorted thinking. We must of all, at one point or another held views, or patterns of thoughts that might be seen as thinking errors, fantasies, fallacies and faulty thinking. And faulty ways of thinking are often more likely to occur when we are stressed.
Cognitive therapy focuses on altering faulty thinking patterns. The father of Cognitive therapy, Aaron Beck proposed six types of faulty thinking
  1. Drawing conclusions about oneself or the world without sufficient and relevant information. For example a man not hired by a potential employer perceives himself as totally worthless and believes he probably will never find employment of any sort.
  2. Drawing conclusion from very isolated details and events without considering the larger context or picture. For example a student who receives a C on an exam becomes depressed and stops attending classes even though he has A's and B's in his other courses. The student measures his worth by failures, errors, and weaknesses rather than by successes or strengths.
  3. Holding extreme beliefs on the basis of a single incident and applying it to a different or dissimilar and inappropriate situation. For example a depressed woman who has relationship problems with her boss may believe she is a failure in all other types of relationships.
  4. The process of overestimating the significance of negative events. For example a runner experiences shortness of breath and interprets it as a major health problem, possibly even an indication of imminent death.
  5. Relating external events to one another when no objective basis for such a connection is apparent. For example a student who raises his hand in class and is not called on by the teacher believes that the instructor dislikes or is biased against him.
  6. An "all-or-nothing," "good or bad," and "either-or" approach to viewing the world. For example at one extreme, a woman who perceives herself as "perfect" and immune from making mistakes; at the other extreme, a woman who believes she is totally incompetent.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Depression Medication Choice Decision Aid Tool

The latest health 'snapshot' of the 33 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations has revealed that Australia is now the second-highest prescriber of anti-depressant medications. However, not all antidepressant scripts are filled, and when they are, some patients choose not to use them for a number of reasons.

A new tool, the Depression Medication Choice decision aid, helped adults with moderate to severe depression and their primary care physicians choose appropriate medications together, according to a report published online Sept. 28 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers developed the Depression Medication Choice (DMC) tool to enhance patient involvement in the decision-making process, in the hope that taking their preferences and circumstances into account would improve adherence and stave off premature discontinuation of antidepressants. The investigators then performed a cluster-randomized trial to assess the usefulness of the decision aid in real-world practice.

The study involved 297 adults treated during a 2-year period by 117 clinicians in 10 rural, urban, and suburban private practices across Minnesota and Wisconsin. These demographically diverse patients had moderate to severe depression as measured by scores of 10 or higher on the Patent Health Questionnaire–9 and were considering antidepressant therapy. They were randomly assigned to clinicians who chose antidepressant therapy in the usual manner (139 patients in the control group) or to clinicians who used the DMC to choose antidepressant therapy together (158 patients in the intervention group).

The DMC tool comprised several laminated 10-by-25-cm cards that presented general information about antidepressant efficacy and adverse effects “in terms that matter to patients: weight change, sleep, libido, discontinuation, and cost,” as well as a leaflet for patients to take home. 

Participating clinicians received training in using these cards to prompt discussion during a regular office consultation. Use of the decision aid did not add to the duration of office visits, which is key to routine implementation, the investigators said.

At 3- and 6-month follow-up, patients in the intervention group reported significantly greater comfort with the choice of antidepressant, with a mean difference between the two study groups of 5.3 out of a possible 100 points on a “comfort” scale. Patients in the intervention group also were more knowledgeable about antidepressants (OR, 9.5) and satisfied with their health care compared with the control group.
Clinicians also were more comfortable with treatment decisions, with a mean difference between the two study groups of 11.4 out of 100 possible points. And clinicians who used the DMC tool reported being more satisfied with the decision-making process.

However, there were no significant differences between patients in the two groups regarding control of depression symptoms, remission rate, or rate of response to treatment, as measured by mean PHQ-9 scores. There also was no significant difference in medication adherence. Since most of the clinicians in this study used the DMC tool with very few patients, “it is possible that our trial underestimates the efficacy of the decision aid when used repeatedly and expertly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mental health is an increasingly important topic in the workplace

Mental health is an increasingly important topic in the workplace. According to a report by the National Mental Health Commission and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance It is estimated that, at any point in time, one in six working age people will be suffering from mental illness, which is associated with very high personal and economic costs. 

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity in Australia and is one of the main health related reasons for reduced work performance. Individuals with mental health problems, and their caregivers, are some of the most stigmatised and marginalised groups in the workplace and often miss out on the many benefits good work can offer.  There is increasing evidence that workplaces can play an important and active role in maintaining the mental health and well-being of their workers.

Now, The Workplace Bipolar Inventory, a 39-item questionnaire used to screen for bipolar disorder in the workplace, has showed promise in a small study at the department of mental health at the University of Tokyo.

The investigator asked workers who were on sick leave because of mental health problems to complete the Workplace Bipolar Inventory (WBI), the Mood Disorder Questionnaire, and the Bipolar Spectrum Diagnostic Scale. A subscale of the WBI called the WBI-AB4 proved to have the screening performance that was most informative.

According to the optimal cut-off point, WBI-AB4 would be useful for occupational mental health staffs to screen out bipolarity among workers who have depressive symptoms at the workplace; however, more information of the suspected subjects about the manic/hypomanic episode from their supervisor, colleagues, or family was needed.

This study aimed to develop a new instrument for bipolar disorder screening, the Workplace Bipolar Inventory (WBI), and examine its efficiency as compared with Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ) and Bipolar Spectrum Diagnostic Scale (BSDS) among workers on leave of the absence due to their mental health problems.

Participants were recruited at a psychiatric outpatient clinic for return-to-work in Tokyo, Japan, during September to November 2009. 81 outpatients were recruited, 55 of whom (68%) agreed to participate in this study. Participants answered questionnaires including WBI, MDQ, BSDS, and demographic factors. Their diagnostic information according to the international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems 10th revision (ICD-10) was obtained from their attending psychiatrists. The WBI is a new self-rating 39-item questionnaire which developed with input from occupational mental health specialists and an analysis of WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) items. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Drugs and things

Recently the American Psychiatric association reported the results of a study indicating that nearly 1 in 10 full-time employees in the United States has a substance use disorder. Further, these pointed to challenges of heavy alcohol and illicit drug use facing the accommodation and food services sector. The construction industry is a close second.
The prevalence and patterns of substance use are strongly related to a range of factors – including age, sex, cultural background, and social-environmental context – and these patterns vary for different types of drugs. Population trends in substance use are monitored by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
According to The Australian Psychological Society the use of licit substances is the most prevalent type of substance use, and an accepted part of Australian and most other western societies. The vast majority of Australians use caffeine, through the consumption of tea, coffee, cola drinks and chocolate. The regular use of alcohol and tobacco by adults is acceptable to three out of four and two out of five Australians, respectively. Alcohol is consumed on a weekly basis by 41% of people aged 14 years and over and daily by 9%, and 17% use tobacco on a daily basis.
Some types of illicit substance use are also quite common. More than a third (38%) of the population has at some stage in their lifetime used a substance currently listed as illicit. Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug, having been ‘ever used’ by more than 34% of the Australian population over their lifetime, and used within the last 12 months by almost 11%. 
The use of pain-killers/analgesics for non-medical purposes is reported by 6% of Australians. Almost 10% of people have ‘ever used’ amphetamines, and 8% have ‘ever used’ ecstasy. Each of these groups of substances has been used in the past 12 months by 3% of Australians.
And, again in the United States, some 9.5 percent of full-time workers were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year. A total of 8.7 percent of full-time workers reported heavy drinking (defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion on five or more days over a 30-day period), and 8.6 percent reported illicit drug use in the past month.
The highest rates of past-month heavy alcohol use were found in employees of the mining (17.5 percent) and construction (16.5 percent) industries; the lowest rates were found in health care and social assistant workers (4.4 percent). The highest rates of past-month illicit drug use were found in accommodations and food service industry workers (19.1 percent); the lowest rates were found in public administration employees (4.3 percent). Accommodations and food service industry employees also had the highest rates of past-year abuse of any substance (16.9 percent); those in the educational services sector had the lowest (5.5 percent).
The use of illicit drugs increased from 16.9 percent in 2003-2007 to 19.1 percent in 2008-2012 among accommodations and food service industry workers. Construction workers, in contrast, experienced dips in workers’ past-month use of illicit drugs from 13.9 percent in 2003-2007 to 11.6 percent in 2008-2012.
Andrew Saxon, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington suggests this reflects a public health problem that is beyond the scope of anything psychiatrists can directly address in their day-to-day practices, however, psychiatrists can be (continue to be) alert for and comfortable with diagnosing and treating substance use problems in the patients that they do see since a large number of people with psychiatric disorders also have co-occurring substance use disorders.

The weird implications of modern physics - reality itself may just be an illusion

For those working and studying modern science (especially in modern physics) will know just how very weird its implications have become. For instance, good old objects, things we can touch, smell and feel exist as a state of energy, while waves of probability spread throughout the universe. Existence itself may only be the vibrations on microscopic, trans-dimensional strings.
Attempts to solve problems in quantum physics often run into the problem of consciousness. Though most physicists try to sidestep the issue, it seems that there is a link between the conscious choice of experiment and the outcome of the experiment. In fact, reality itself may just be an illusion.
Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 to illustrate the weird implications of some interpretations (Copenhagen) of quantum mechanics when applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead, a state known as a quantum superposition, as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur. In this scenario a cat in a sealed box, wherein the cat's life or death becomes depended on the state of a radioactive atom, whether it had decayed and emitted radiation or not. Accordingly, the cat remains both alive and dead until the box is opened and observed by a conscious being.
In my book, The Illusion of Reality: A Public Servant’s Secret Essays, I discuss the interplay of light with elementary particles; the idea of emergence as the arrow of time and the role the conscience mind plays in integrating, and creating reality. Much of the book is based on theoretical and mathematical conjectures – however, recent news may change all that. A team of UC Berkeley researchers published a study recently detailing a miniature invisibility cloak that can conceal objects using the principles of quantum mechanical - remember Harry Potter’s cloak?
Under the lead of Xiang Zhang, director of materials sciences at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and professor in the campus’s department of mechanical engineering, the team created the first model of the cloak six years ago. The previous design, however, presented limitations because it was made of a bulkier material and needed to have a fixed shape.
Based on a completely different design principle, the more recent experiment has been capable of concealing a particle that is microscopic in size, researchers said it may be able to cloak larger objects as soon as five years from now. 
According to Zhang, there are many potential future applications of the technology. It could eliminate blind spots by making metal frames of cars transparent. Alternatively, the military may be able to use the technology to hide planes or tanks. Wrinkles and blemishes could be concealed with a design that would mold to the wearer’s features.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Workplace mobbing is complex and real

Workplace mobbing is a complex phenomenon with negative outcomes for individual, group and organizational effectiveness.

In Australia, a government inquiry revealed that calls about workplace bullying had increased by 70 percent in three years. Statistics show that bullying affects one in three employees; what is really worrying is that one in two have witnessed bullying but have done nothing about it. Moreover, the actual incidence of bullying is likely to be much higher: for every case reported, eight to 20 cases are going unreported.

For targets of workplace bullying who suffer severe psychological and social pressure, there are many resources and trained professionals to help them. But for targets of workplace mobbing, which is a form of group bullying that can have even greater impacts on one’s psychological well-being and career, there are far fewer resources. Moreover, few mental health professionals are trained to recognize mobbing, much less address its impacts. Our response to this parallel (understandably) those emotions of grief and loss; the five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Recently Current Psychiatry, part of the US Frontline Medical Communications Inc. published a letter describing Mobbing as more prevalent and the consequences more dire for a victim who is feeling pressured to leave his or her job when there is little hope of getting another one or is taking on responsibilities previously held by others who have been laid off.

Gathering collateral information is critical for diagnostic accuracy and well-articulated interventions that may be recommended. Evaluators who do such assessments at the behest of corporate clients should insist that they have access to employee files investigative reports, and if appropriate permission to interview supervisors, employee assistance program representatives, and human resources personnel familiar with the case.

Mobbing is real and deserves much greater attention by researchers and clinicians in the United States (and one suspects elsewhere too.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Deep Web and a Laissez-faire economy

Whilst researching my book The Illusion of Reality: A Public Servant's Secret Essays I found, perhaps not so unexpectedly given the nature of the book, that I was taking stock of examples of phenomena that on first blush seemed somewhat intuitive and understandable (even by me) and yet behind which lay paradigms seen (sometimes only as faint glimpses) only by a few of the brightest minds in history. Pythagoras and his contemporaries saw the Earth as round, Einstein understood that space and time are effectively one and the same; Watson and Crick described the structure of DNA and the double helix.

So, history tells us that there is always more than what meets the eye, there is always another story. Where there’s smoke there’s fire; behind indulgent binges, benders and late night capitulation; behind the corpse in the reserve, behind the ghost on the road, behind exaggerated, audacious prerogatives there is always another story.

Other stories, other views are not necessarily always a product of choice, a product of intentional abstruseness. Some stories are best attempts at making meaning of the time. Many ancient cultures, for example, subscribed to a flat Earth cosmography. The Israelites, Mesopotamians and others conceived the Earth as a flat disc floating on water beneath an arced firmament separating it from the heavens; a flat land at the bottom of the universe.

Today, looking up at the night sky; we see stars as far as our eyes can see. Through telescopes we see more. But not even the best telescopes can glean the elements of the universe. It turns out that stars, planets, moons, galaxies, and other oddities like human beings and black holes make up only 5% of the known universe. The remaining 95% of the universe is made up of something; something we haven’t the foggiest about - dark energy and dark matter.  Stuff that can't been seen, detected or explained.

There is, also another oddity that has been living amongst us for the greater part of 20 years. And, like dark energy and dark matter and as coincidence go is approximately 95% of the normal world – the Internet world. It turns out that the “Dark Web/Deep Web” is about 500 times the size of the Surface Web; the Web that friendly browsers such as Google and Bing can search.

There is a good chance you are one of about 3.5 Billion people who use Google to search the Surface Web on a daily basis. And the closest you’ve come to see the dark side has been through the many television and film dramatizations of late.

For instance, and if you’re a fan of the American political drama House of Cards, you’ll recall when stalwart and unkempt reporter Lucas Goodwin wanted to dig into the dark deeds of nefarious Vice President Frank Underwood, a techie friend helped Goodwin get onto the Deep Web and make contact with the hacking underworld. And, as I recall it didn’t end well.
Searching the Deep Web is in itself not illegal. In fact the Military, Police and journalists look into the Deep Web, one presumes out of necessity. Let’s not forget whistle-blowers either. Think Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Whilst searching the Deep Web may not be illegal, much of the activities that use the Deep Web as a popular nesting ground are. For example The Silk Road, also known as the eBay of drugs became such a popular site.
Buyers and sellers can transact on a laundry list of products and services.  In a sense, it’s a thriving marketplace for illicit drugs, counterfeit documents, child pornography, weapons and even hit men for hire.

I use the word “transact” purposefully and for two reasons; the first is obvious – a thriving marketplace demands the hustle and bustle of a community trading in wares making the Deep Web probably the most of the  Laissez-faire economies. According to the FBI, the Silk Road alone had cleared an estimated US$1.2 billion in a brief three-year existence.

Secondly, transactions need some form of an agreed currency; but not any currency. You don’t want to buy an AK-47 using your Visa card. But you may use a relatively new digital currency called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is essentially a virtual currency as well as a consensus network that enables a payment system created and held electronically. When I last looked, one Bitcoin was trading at AU$388. It’s easy to see why Bitcoin has become a popular currency in the Deep Web; it allows users to conduct business anonymously. It’s interesting to note that the Bitcoin, like other currencies is not immune from geo-political as well as geo-economic events. When in June 2011 the US senate investigated links between Bitcoin and the Silk Road, the value of the Bitcoin dropped over 90%. The FBI located and arrested the “Dread Pirate Roberts” of Silk Road in November 2011. With the relaunch of Silk Road (Silk Road 2.0) in November 2013 Bitcoin tripled in value.