Why do we love factual reality?

I have met so many people who love factual reality television. I am also, surprising myself, partial.

Now there are obvious reasons why these shows are so adored. One of the biggest draws is probably their ‘relatability factor’. They portray people trying to get jobs, making relationships, breaking up with people. All of these things are real troubles in young people – the most obvious target demographic.

There’s also another aspect that I think people love. Everyone loves to see into a world which they know they will probably never be a part of. Be it visiting the bars of Kensington (Made in Chelsea) or being a young graduate in Manhattan (Taking New York). You get to see what it’s like: a little peek through a tiny lock into how the other half (or tiny minority) actually live and love.

I mean, another reason people might love it is the people. Never have I seen such a good looking cast for a TV programme.

But, one of the things that I worry about when I’m watching these types of programmes is how the cast are dealing with it. Many of them are very young, very hungry for fame, and just starting out with whatever career they have (usually something like modelling or event planning: these people have a lot of free time on their hands). Being forced into Manhattan obviously isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your life prospects, but what about the mental strain. Being forced to socialise and, dare I say it, date, the people in the cast must be hard.

I imagine the producers would not be too happy if any of the cast refused to forge a relationship with anyone else. Many of the young twenty-somethings are only too happy to oblige. It’s odd because the producers say all the relationships are made naturally, but from the perspective of the people staring in the show, there must be a constant pressure to be interesting.

Whatever the future is for factual reality, I do hope they resolve this sort of paradox. It just seems unfair to force people into things like this. Given a chance to go and live in Manhattan straight after uni is an opportunity few would turn down, but at what cost?


Is science dangerous?

Science, as a discipline, is not particularly old. Certainly other aspects of the human condition, like theology and culture, have had huge impacts for many more thousands of years.

We have seen, however, that over just a few centuries, science has transformed people and society so much. Just in the last few decades with the introduction of the internet and other technologies, we can see how the power of knowledge can change everything we know.

It is definitely easier to look at science and see all the good it has done, as oppposed to some of the awful things that have happened.

Things like nuclear bombs, internet viruses and pests introduced by humans have been, to varying degrees, the result of science. These are generally regarded as really awful things, but does that mean to say that science is awful too?

I would say not necessarily. Science is by definition just going about finding an explanation to some natural phenomenon. There is no inherent value in science, it is just knowledge. Since when did an idea in someone’s mind or an article in a scientific journal set off world wars and create huge misery?

It is only the transition from scientific knowledge to industry and society which creates a problem. Science is absolutely a part of this, as in to say it is integral part of the chain which links a first idea to a terrible event: but it is no more significant than any other part of the sequence.

Science provides the potential, but in reality, it is how humans use knowledge that is the real danger. As usual, humans are to blame, not the idea.

Crime in London

Recently, and very unfortunately, I had my bag stolen in a pub. I’ve had things stolen before so I wasn’t shocked or too upset. I also knew how to replace all my cards and stuff so it wasn’t particularly stressful either!

I can definitely understand why it happened. Someone thought they could make very quick and easy money from selling my phone or whatever, and getting caught isn’t exactly gonna get you in jail for years.

However, what I can’t understand is why you wouldn’t think twice about taking something from someone who clearly had very little to offer.

Let’s go through what was in my bag: a wallet with no cash (or at most, a few coppers) and no cards that would have been of monetary value.

My phone was worth £40 at the most. I know how easily phones are stolen and I like to minimise any collateral damage to myself by buying things like this cheap.

My lecture notes and diary, which are obviously of absolutely no anyone but myself. To me, they were priceless and really really important. To anyone else they may as well be used to fuel a fire.

I did have my tablet in there, but even that was worth only a little over a hundred pounds second hand.

All in all, it wasn’t a particularly good haul for the theft, and it certainly wasn’t a good ordeal for me.

I know that certain people carry hundreds of pounds worth of cash or gadgets, but I’ll bet that most stolen bags contain nothing of any real value.

Does the thief have absolutely no moral compass. Nothing to think, “oh hold on maybe I’m not gaining anything for myself, and I’m probably causing a whole load of harm to this poor guy”.

Or, just perhaps, I’m used to student bars where people are actually, for once, nice human beings.

Ebola: a timeline

How Ebola spread

On the 6th of December 2013, a two year old boy called Emile passed away in a small village in Guinea. His family were keen hunters of bushmeat, and regularly hunted animals like fruit bats for food. His mother, sister and grandmother all died with similar symptoms soon after him. Here lies the first instances of the spread of Ebola in West Africa, which would end up devastating not only the health of many Western African nations, but ruining their economies and instilling fear in populations across the globe too.

After the members of this family died, the disease spread to other neighbouring villages. Ebola had never been seen in these parts of Africa and was not recognised as such for several months. This was one of the fatal flaws in the analyses of many national and international health organisations.

On the 19th March 2014, a statement was released from the Guinean Ministry of Health. It included details of what it termed a ‘viral hemorrhagic fever’ which had thus far killed 23 people. At first it was thought to be Lassa fever, since the Lassa virus is not uncommon in Western Africa, causing up to 500,000 cases every year. But there was still no government or humanitarian action. During this grace period, the Ebola virus had travelled not only between a number of different families, but also across a wide geographic area.

By the 25th March, the World Health Organisation finally became involved. They released their first report, detailing a number of cases from four different regions in the country. At this time, there were also a number of suspected cases in Liberia, and on the 27th March, Liberia revised its statement on Ebola, strongly alluding to what was now thought of as a pandemic: a virus which was no longer confined to one country. On March 28th, Senegal closed all borders with Guinea, and 3 days later, the Liberian cases were confirmed. Liberia would later go on to be devastated by this disease.

Suspected cases came from Mali on April 7th, Sierra Leone on June 20th and Nigeria on the 25th July. The cases from Mali came to light as untrue, but Sierra Leone and Nigeria were and are still being hit hard. On July 29th, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan became the first health-worker to die from the disease. He was a pivotal figure in controlling the disease in Sierra Leone. On the 20th August, riots broke out in a Quarantine area of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. In the ensuing fight, one adolescent died of gunshot wounds.

Between August and October 2014, infected health-workers and foreign nationals were flown to countries like USA, Spain, UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and Norway for treatment. All survived bar a Catholic priest who died in Spain. During September, work began on developing a vaccine for the disease. European and American scientists received donations from GlaxoSmithKline, the Wellcome trust and national governments. The trials are too late according to some commentators, who say that the drug will not be ready in time to treat any patients of the current epidemic.

In early October, Teresa Romero, a Spanish nurse, became the first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa and on the 12th October the first transmission in the USA was confirmed.

216 health-workers have died, in part due to a lack of equipment and a culture of long working hours. In total, 4,555 people are known to have died, from 9,216 cases. The World Health Organisation has warned that these figures, however, are significant underestimates.

Bit of physics…

Ok so I usually post about biology (seeing as that’s what I do at uni) but I found out about a bit of particle physics which seems really interesting so I looked into it a bit more aaand now I’m writing this.

So some British scientists think that they can create matter from just light. The idea for this came originally from two American Scientists called John Wheeler and Gregory Breit. They thought two ‘particles’ of light, called photons, could collide (although this happens very rarely) and create an electron and the antimatter equivalent, namely a positron. Electrons are part of atoms, they make up the peripheries of atoms. This though process was carried out during the production of the first nuclear bomb in 1934. It is a demonstration of Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc^2 (not sure how to do superscirpt :P), otherwise called quantum electrodynamics.

So how does the method actually work? Well, the first stage would be firing electrons at a slab of gold. This produces a beam of high-energy photons. The second stage would be firing a really high-powered laser into a small gold capsule. The last step is a matter of sending the first beam of photons into the gold capsule where the two streams of photons collide with one another.

But whats really exciting is that some British scientists think that they might be able to actually do this within the next year. Some of the labs around the world which think they have the technology to do this are: The Omega laser in New York and the Orion laser in Berkshire, UK.

I personally find this really interesting because it’s such an elegant example of how two things in physics which I personally though almost entirely unrelated can actually be tied to one another quite closely. Everything in science is connected!

Global Warming….. Why does noone seem to be worried D:

It’s been revealed today that The Antarctic ice sheet is dropping in weight by 160 billion tonnes of ice each year. 160 million tonnes seems like an unimaginable number to me, let alone three orders of magnitude higher. It does seem worrying that this is not major news and very few people actually know about this.

The huge loss of ice is most noticeable in the Western ice sheet in Antarctica. Here, there are 6 glaciers, all of which are melting. The cause of this great melt is significantly warmer ocean currents than usual, which are being blown towards Antarctica by stronger winds-something which scientists say is due to climate change.

The melting of the ice is causing global sea levels to rise by 0.43 mm a year, which may not seem a lot now, but we’ve all seen the world maps when the sea levels rise by half a metre or a metre in the media, and it’ll only take 100 or 200 years to reach that stage at this rate.

Antarctica holds 26.5 million cubic kilometres of ice so losing all this frozen water isn’t going to be a problem for the south pole. It’s the coastal towns and cities I’m worried for though.


Ever fancied immortality? Stupid question I know. Well, the jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii may have the answer we’re looking for.It is one of the only animals that is capable of living indefinitely and its secret lies in a unique biological process known as cell transdifferentiation, which essentially reverts the animal back into an embryo. Don’t be too jealous though, the jellyfish often die early due to predators and disease.

Another similar organism is the hydra, a small freshwater animal which some scientists say could live forever. The method of preventing any ageing here is their production of a “FoxO gene”. Hydras injected with large amounts of this gene produce lots of stem cells, which can specialise into any cell, and aid the ability of a hydra to stop ageing.

Rather interestingly, this gene has also been found to be more prevalent in people who live to over 100 years than those who don’t. However, scientists can’t thoroughly prove this gene is the key to achieving human immortality, since this would require genetic modification, and ethical issues start arising here.

The humble lobster is another very interesting organism. It is said that lobsters’ longevity can be attributed to their continued production of a chemical called telomerase. This repairs any age-induced shortening of their genes, and helps to keep the older lobsters even more fertile than the young.

Many of the animals I have mentioned have not actually been observed to live to very old ages due to disease or predators. The oldest continuously living organism isn’t an animal but probably a colony of quaking aspen trees with one massive underground root system, known as Pando. Thought to be 80,000 years old, Pando is also the heaviest known organism.

The oldest single organism on earth is probably a tree in California that is supposedly 5,063 years old and is somewhat affectionately called Dennis. The oldest terrestrial animal ever known to have lived was a 255 year old Aldebra giant tortoise, called Adweita who died in 2006. To give some perspective, he was born before both the founding of the British museum and the Battle of Trafalgar.

Perhaps a more philosophical approach to immortality is the theory of biocentrism. The theory goes that life is at the centre of existence and reality, and it is life that creates the universe, not the universe that creates life. In other words, space, time and death are simply thoughts in our mind which we are taught and believe, but our lives are continuous.

It is possible that there are infinite universes, meaning that all possibilities are happening at once at this point in time. Thus when we die in one universe, we are born again and carry on living in another, and we carry on living in another. A respected scientist, Professor Robert Lanza, put forward this idea and has used quantum physics to provide evidence for it.

An experiment called the double slit shows that when a particle is fired toward a multi-slit barrier, and it is being watched by scientists, the particle only passes through a single slit. Whereas, when it is not watched, the particle passes through two slits at the same time.

Lanza suggests that this observation imposes reality onto the particle; we see it as only passing through one slit, much like we perceive ourselves as existing in one life. However, the particle is clearly capable of existing in two slits; could the same be applied to our view of ourselves?

This is all very interesting, but what can we do now to lengthen our mortal lives? One study found that taking a 30 minute walk three times a week can add 10 years to your life. Another found that being optimistic is the key, since stress provokes a damaging physiological response. A study from Yale University showed that people with a more positive view of ageing lived, on average, seven and a half years longer than those with negative views.

The data still showed this significant pattern even when factors such as age, gender and health were taken into account. Similarly, people who do volunteer work and help others tend to live longer, statistically speaking. In the end, just remember that the average age of nearly everyone’s body cells is just seven to ten years and only a very few cells remain throughout life. You’re younger than you think, but sadly no closer to being immortal.