Tuesday, May 1, 2007

It has been a long year...

This year has been crazy. Classes have been hard. Life has been strange. I am so glad that the semester is coming to an end. Finals this week and next week. Math final today. Bio. Lab practical on Friday. Bio. next week. Uuuuhhhh….. I guess my classes ended well. My first college level math is done (with a ‘B’ even). My Latin class is over. Bio went well and things came together quite well in this class as well. I actually ended up learning a lot about a subject that I really enjoy and I wrote a kick ass paper so I guess that’s what is important. All of my LER’s are out of the way now. Declared a major finally. Biological Sciences. I can see myself behind a microscope for the rest of my life. At least I’ll be happy. I had some great experiences with Keiko (my roommate from Japan).Trying to explain why we carve pumpkins for Halloween and why we stuff ourselves until we can't move for Thanksgiving. Watching her drive a golf cart when she has never driven before. It was hard to see her leave but I have a welcome home anytime I want to visit Japan now (like I have the money to fly over just for the weekend). I got a lot closer to my current roommate and friend from home, Gina. This was a friendship that I am glad developed. I saw some friends go through some hard times. My best friend from high school got married, had a beautiful baby boy, and got sent to Iraq. It scares me every day to think I could see him on the news. It seems like this is too often the case for too many people. This fucking war needs to stop. I just RSVPed to another friend’s wedding. I guess that can be considered good news if you look at it right. October marked the two year anniversary of a friend’s death. Things are getting back to normal again. Finally at the end things are starting look up for once. I am applying for a good job on campus next year and I think I have found an apartment for next semester as well (with all the tuition hikes and my lack of financial aid I pretty much have to go off campus now). This will be my last summer at home. I’m turning 20 in a few weeks and I don’t want to be reliant on my parents anymore. Perhaps the best news so far this year; Derek (my brother who is 2 years older than me) has decided to go back to school. He is so brilliant. So much smarter than I am in so many areas. This is really big because I was the first person ever in my family to go to college and now Derek is too. We can finally help support each other now. I hope things turn out well for him. For the most part this year has been hard, but things are pulling together now as the semester nears its end. Hopefully things will only go up (not including gas prices).

I hope everyone has a great summer and good luck on finals!!!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Doomsday Dream

So I had this dream last night. I am not exactly religious but it freaked me out. I wrote this at 3:45 in the morning and it sounds like something out of a cheesy sci-fi movie. It probably spawned from the religious debate that my roommates and I have been having. I do not lend myself to any particular religion, my boyfriend is Christian, my roommate is atheist and her boyfriend is Catholic so you can see where we all have different views. Somehow this probably embedded itself into my subconscious and this came out. What the hell???

The earth is in ruin. Everywhere is destruction, fire, chaos, death. There are no structures still standing, except one lone building in the distance. The building reaches to the sky where it touches the only white patch of clouds in sight. The patch which is a symbol of hope seems to be slowly closing in. Lightning flashes within the clouds. All of a sudden I find myself in a garden with many other people, the first I have seen yet. The garden looks as if it was once beautiful, but thorns now grow from the ground and entangle the trees. The air is becoming clouded and hard to breath. Everyone is standing around talking in hushed tones, but the voices together form a dull cacophony of fear. There is one voice speaking above the rest. It is calm yet urgent. It is coming from very far away. I am the first; it seems, to realize the truth. I try to hush the others but to no avail. I look over my shoulder only to realize that I have wings. I turn around to see everyone else and now they to have wings. I see standing in a corner a familiar face. I run over to him. Just as I reach out to him I feel myself being pulled away. Like being dragged under water. Everything is getting darker as I get farther and farther away. Then for a moment everything is black. The next thing I know I am inside the building. I am standing in what looks to be a waiting room. There are people all over; all of them with the same bleak expression on their faces. Everything is one color. A sort of grayish yellow. The floors, the ceiling, the walls, the peoples clothes, their skin, all the same dark color. There are places where walls are not fully built or falling apart. Behind the walls are rows and rows of beds each inhabited with another person that looks the same as the last. I don’t know where I am so I ask a man standing in the hallway. He points to a door behind me and says we are at the gates of heaven. We are in limbo. In my confusion I scream at the man that I am supposed to be in heaven; that there is a mistake. He just laughs at me. I turn and walk down the hallway. There is room after room after room of nothing but scattered papers overturned desks and chairs; broken windows. The things you would expect to find in a post apocalyptic world. Halfway down the hall I turn to look behind me and find a trail of blood and feathers. I look at my wings. They appear as though they are melting. Flesh and feathers rot and fall to the floor. I don’t have much time. I turn and begin walking faster and then I am running down the hall. I come to the end of the hallway. There is a man. He is turned away from me. He is dressed in black and has hair down to the center of his back. His hair is in dread locks. The man has a mop in his hands and is dragging it across the floor. The water he is using in the bucket is black. He slowly turns to face me. All I see are his black rimmed glasses staring at me. He smiles. I don’t even have to speak “God is dead” these are the only words he speaks. He laughs to himself and goes back to his work. I step towards the door directly in front of me and turn the handle. It opens. I am outside for only seconds before I am back inside lying on the floor gasping for air. I cannot remember what was behind the door but I know I cannot go back. I stand and notice that I am now dressed in all black and my wings are nothing more than bloody stalks. The man is gone but it doesn’t matter. I have to get back to heaven. I begin running down the hall following my own trail of blood and feathers. I look over my shoulder. The man is back and he is chasing after me. After a moment I look again and the man has become two shadowy figures. I reach the waiting room outside the gates. The gates have been forced open and no one alive remains in the waiting room. I enter the gate and try to force it closed. I cannot close it. The figures pass through me and I wake up.

OH GOD!!!The world is coming to an end. Everyone bury your heads in the sand!!!

I have such odd dreams!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The History of the Dominion of Melchizedek

The Dominion of Melchizedek is not actually a real place…well actually there is an interesting story behind it at least. I have taken the name of this “nation” from a webpage and created a fictional story about its history. Some of the “facts” are loosely based on truth about the “nation” but all names have been changed and the story is completely ridiculous anyways. If you wish to know about the “real” Dominion of Melchizedek click here and you can ask Tony-the-Wonder-Llama about it. It is kind of funny and I hope you enjoy these random antics…

The Dominion of Melchizedek: The Story Of A Mime With A Dream

The Dominion of Melchizedek is a wonderful and amazing nation that was founded by Harry Sampson and his son Gary. Their story is one of heartbreak, persecution and finally, freedom! Harry Sampson was born in California to very poor parents. The great depression had taken a great toll on Harry’s family and had a lasting effect throughout his childhood and into his early adolescence. Harry’s parents, hoping to alter his bleak future, decided to make the trek from their tiny one room shack in Yreka to Los Angeles, in their 1972 Ford Pinto to try to make a future in Hollywood. This plan never really came through for the Sampson’s and Harry ended up finding work as a stationary mime extra in a modern Broadway rendition of the classic French mime film “Les Enfants du Paradis''. This show failed miserably costing the producers and cast including David every penny they had. This failure affected Harry‘s pride but not his spirit.

Shortly after Harry’s 28th birthday he announced to his parents that “Hollywood was not fair!” and that he had been accepted to a very prestigious school for mimes and struggling actors in Mexico. He would be leaving immediately. This however was not the truth but only a glamorous story he told his parents for the reason he was going to Mexico. The real reason was to become a counterfeiter and make millions so that he could come back one day and give his parents the retirement they always deserved. His parents responded to the news the way parents would. His mother said to him “Make sure you take plenty of stationery so you can write us. Don’t wash your clothes in the water because its dirty. Don’t lose our address and don’t talk to bums because they’re just trying to get your money.” With that advice his mother gave him fare for the bus and kissed him goodbye. His father simply said to him “Stay on the right track and whether or not you make it we will be here for you always.” Those were the first and last words his father would ever speak to him.

Harry’s life took a very strange turn when he arrived in Mexico. He had success for a few years with the counterfeit business and also got engaged to a beautiful woman names Sheila, whose father was a hut builder. Harry decided to attend Mime Community college after all and try to make an honest living. Sheila soon became pregnant and the marriage was approaching. On their wedding day Sheila left Harry and the new baby, Greg, at the altar. This crushed Harry and caused him to seriously consider his life’s calling. Harry took the counterfeit money and decided to found his own country where his son would have a chance to grow up in complete seclusion and never have to interact with society. After selling all of his possessions, except his son, Harry started looking for a site to build his empire. After buying a map from a one-eyed pirate Harry found the perfect uninhabited island in the Pacific previously only used for testing nuclear weapons by France. Harry moved there immediately and declared the island the Dominion of Melchizedek. The weather was beautiful on the little island and there was blue sky everywhere in sight. Harry decided that this new found nation should be founded on certain principles. First and foremost, it’s absolutely imperative that every citizen must have at least two gods of their choosing; you’re favorite color must be bananas because it is the nations chief export and you must be patriotic; and the principal rule of the society is that any time you write a research paper you must cite every source used perfectly or you will be put to death because plagiarism is absolutely intolerable. Harry had come to know the great moral importance of citations from his sophomore English class in Mime Community College.

The Dominion of Melchizedek enjoyed great peace for the first year of its existence with its relatively small population of 2. However,the worst tragedy in The Dominion of Melchizedek would soon shake the very foundation of the nation. The still unaware French military decided to test another nuclear weapon on the island completely destroying the entire right side, plunging it into the water, and killing three innocent crustaceans that never saw it coming. The effect on the island was devastating. Harry declared war on France and proclaimed that they had violated the sanctity of his great nation. He screamed his rage from the shores of The Dominion of Melchizedek, which did not yet have working phones, but France was just too far away to hear the threats of war. He decided that the new rite of passage for anyone wanting to become a citizen of The Dominion of Melchizedek would be to travel to France and de-pants a street mime while screaming the truth about the devastating attack on his island. Harry lived for many more years raising his son and when he passed on Greg took control of The Dominion of Melchizedek and still governs today unbeknownst to many in the world, especially France.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Altercentric Perception by Infants and Adults in Dialogue Summary

Journal 16: Summary 8:

A symptom I have previously discussed pertaining to autism has been a diminished or complete lack of language skills. In an earlier post I have also discussed a possible debunking of this symptom with the Facilitated Communication method. I will now explain further the mechanisms of speech and dialogue to explain why Facilitated Communication may not work in many individuals with autism and similar disorders. By this explanation Facilitated Communication should be dispelled and if not for the fact that it is a reality in many lives I would find it difficult to believe. There is no explanation for why Facilitated Communication works in some but an explanation of why it does not work in others may be revealed in the following summary.

Think of how we speak to one another. Think about what is said of couples who complete one another sentences. If I said to you “I am going to the ….”. In anticipation of the end of my sentence you may be mentally filling in the blank; the movies, the park, the bathroom. The same way a mother sitting in the park with her child knows before her child ever finishes the sentence “ Mommy I need to…” ‘go to the bathroom’ her mind automatically fills in as she gets up to escort him to the bathroom. This demonstrates Stein Braten’s theory of Ego’s virtual participation in Alter’s complementary act. The Ego is the person doing the act (the speaker in this first case) and the Alter is the person receiving the act (the listener in this first case). By virtual participation he explains that while the Ego is speaking the Alter is actively participating in listening and is anticipating the meaning of the Egos words, while the Ego is, in turn, listening to himself speak and anticipating the response of the Alter. Vice versa, after the Ego has spoken the opposite happens; the Alter speaks after having anticipated and contemplated the words of the Ego, and the Ego now virtually participates, recalls his own act of speech and mentally speaks (in anticipation of the Alter’s speech) to himself, therefore reinforcing his own learning of language. To demonstrate this recall that responses in conversation are almost instantaneous. A question is asked and as we listen; we anticipate the question and contemplate our responses while the Ego is still speaking. (This demonstrates Baron-Cohen’s theory of mindreading discussed earlier in my research.)

The semantics of language are however difficult to define and explain so to further explain his theory Braten describes an example of a behavioral manifestation of this theory in an infants feeding time. He calls this part of his study early infant imitation and learning by altercentric participation. Essentially, he demonstrates an 11 1/2 month old child being spoon fed by her mother. The child opens her mouth as the food approaches and swallows the food after the mother places it into her mouth. After some time, and this has been demonstrated as a milestone for learning, the infant takes the spoon from the mother and proceeds to feed the mother. When the child puts the food into the mother’s mouth the child closes her own mouth, as she did when she was eating the food, and swallows. This shows the infant has learned to reenact by first being a participant and then being a virtual participant through the being in the caregiver stance. As Braten explains the infant is “a virtual co-author of their enactments.” The child is now left with a reinforced memory of having been fed and having fed and has learned the action through encoding in the brain by the mirror system.

As I have already discussed a disturbance in the mirror system disables the ability of one to code acts correctly in the brain and learn in the way expressed here by the infant. Braten briefly explains the complications of a faulty mirror system in autistic individuals. He explains that an inability to “transcend own body-centred view points” due to a malfunctioning mirror system makes it nearly impossible to imitate face-to-face situations and therefore it becomes infinitely complicated to teach face-to-face interaction and language to those suffering from mirror neuron dysfunctions like in many autistic people. As for cases of autism where Facilitated Communication has become an answer to this impossibility, it still remains to be researched how these individuals are different and why it works.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

To Present or to Persuade that is the Question!

Journal 15:

At the beginning of this project I automatically assumed I would be doing a persuasive research paper, however the project since then has taken on a different tone. I admit in the beginning I rushed into this subject and shortly after reading my first few sources and made it my mission to convince everyone in the world that mirror neurons were the most cutting edge answer to all of autisms problems.With many of the sourcing saying that the discovery of the mirror neuron system was one of the greatest unpublished discoveries of the decade it was easy to become overexcited and a little disappointing when I looked a little further. Scientists always disagree with one another and the facts always tend to support something other than what they are trying to convince us of, this I take to be generally true. Autism research is nothing different; thousands of researchers all doing independent research and all presenting accurate, but conflicting findings. What I have found concerning mirror neurons in autism is enough to have convinced me that they play a role in autism, but as a scientist and a researcher myself all I can do, professionally, is present what I have found in an expository research paper and let people make their own educated opinion on the subject. To try to lead people to believe that my opinion is the right one would be embarrassing and unprofessional on my part due to the amount of research that does not agree with my findings. For these reasons my paper will clearly be an expository research paper.

"'Helping' Autistic People to Speak" Summary

Journal 14: Summary 7:

This Article was linked to the other Time Magazine article I summarized called “Inside the Autistic Mind”. It is written by the same author, Claudia Wallis, and is just as interesting as the last. The article is about facilitated communication, a method of communication used by autistic individuals. With this method a keyboard is usually used by the autistic person to type their thoughts. In most cases another person, called the facilitator, helps to steady and guide the autistic individual in their communication. Sometimes physical support is needed for example leaning on a shoulder, or holding a hand. The method is somewhat controversial. Some claim that it is really the facilitator doing the communicating. In studies where the facilitator was separated from the autistic individual, a small number of facilitators were shown to be communicating their own feelings and not those of the autistic individual. The facilitators were not shown to be purposefully guiding the communication but rather were unaware of that they were leading the conversations. In more cases than not it was shown to be successful, however there are still problems with the system. Loved ones can inadvertently guide ones communications without realizing it, but for those who have learned to use facilitated Communication without physical support it has changed their lives. Being able to communicate with the world gives a purpose to living as Chandima Rajapatirana says through his keyboard "FC doesn’t cure you, but it gives you a reason to live." The effects of this form of communication on an autistic individual’s life can obviously be seen in this statement.

Works cited:

Wallis, Claudia . “’Helping’ Autistic People to Speak”. Time 10 May 2006. 7 Mar. 2007 < http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1192775,00.html>

*Photograph from Time Magazine. Chandima Rajapatirana uses facilitated communication to speak with his mother, Anoja, who is also one of his facilitators.

International Meeting for Autism Research; The Latest and Greatest

Journal 13:

Recently I discovered this source while searching on the Autism Speaks website. This is a relatively important breakthrough in my research. The source itself is an overview of the International Meeting for Autism Research that took place in June 2006. It brought together almost 900 scientists all actively studying Autism. It outlined every aspect being researched and all of the latest breakthroughs in autism research.

One of the first issues discussed at the meeting was early diagnosis. Currently autism cannot be properly diagnosed until age 2 but Sally Rogers, a researcher at the High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium, discussed her findings in a study done on 6 month old babies. She found faint sings of autism in children that were more prone to looking at their mothers mouth rather that into their eyes. This shows an early disconnection with the person closest to them, a very usual symptom of autism. This makes me wonder about whether this can be associated with the mindreading studies I have been using. They too tested infants around 6 months and found that they were not yet able to mindread, only more towards seven or eight months did this ability begin to show in the tests done by Prof Claes von Hofsten. Either way if early sings such as the eye patterns that Rogers saw can lead to early EEG testing and early diagnosis it would be a step forward.

Another very popular discussion at the meeting was genetics and the prevalence of autism in families. A lecture given by Conrad Gilliam discussed genetic screening and a dozen different chromosomes that have been shown to contain incongruities in autistic individuals. From my own understanding of genetic screening, without one specific mutation on a specific chromosome to look for it would be difficult to give a sure diagnosis using this method. With Down syndrome amniocentesis can be used to see the extra copy of chromosome 21, but in autism no one chromosome is a cause making this method very unstable. One possible effect that gene abnormalities could have is, in brain development for example, when neurons are developing each one has a specific area to travel to, but if those signals are interrupted and the neuron does not travel to the correct place it could result in deficiencies in some areas and in others special talents. In an article in Time magazine Claudia Wallis writes “Autistic people have been shown to use their brains in unusual ways: they memorize alphabet characters in a part of the brain that ordinarily processes shapes. They tend to use the visual centers in the back of the brain for tasks usually handled by the prefrontal cortex.” This could be explained with the above genetic theory. Also discussed as a part of the discussion on genetics was the prevalence of autism in families with autism. Studies done on language and social communications on autistic twins, autistic non-twin siblings, and the parents of the children showed support for genetic factors and also suggested a higher rate of autism in families. The Autism Genome Project (AGP) gave lectures on their first findings in their completed genome scan. Their preliminary findings showed two chromosomal regions and three other possible sites that could have susceptibility to autism. Research in this area is still being analyzed and could provide more breakthroughs when fully deciphered.

The next subject of the meeting was neurobiology and neuroanatomy. “Cynthia Schumann and David Amaral at the MIND Institute at UC Davis reported that the size of the amygdala (an area of the brain that regulates emotion, anxiety and fear) was larger in young children but not adults with autism.” These findings potentially explain emotional and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescence with autism. Studies done by Gene Blatt showed two different neurotransmitter systems; the glutamine and the GABA systems. One of the systems; the GABA system uses a neurochemical known to slow down neuron action. A dysfunction was found in these two systems in individuals with autism which could cause a disruption of the neurons ability to ‘talk’ to one another. This lead to a discussion of the “underconectivity’ theory. This theory says that the brain regions have difficulty communicating with each other in those suffering from autism. “Marcel Just suggested that while different areas of the cortex may be ‘activated' normally in individuals with autism, different brain areas may not be working together effectively, leading to a lower degree of integration of information from sensory and motor inputs.” Mirror neurons were also discussed at the meting showing that a dysfunctional mirror neuron system “could explain many of the core symptoms of autism.” Also EEG could be used to monitor mirror neurons and therefore diagnose autism at an earlier age.

The final discussion was one of the most important; treatments. Current medications and FDA approval for which was discussed citing a need for more research into which medications are working and what symptom they treat. Risperdal, a medication used for aggression, has been called into question due to its affect on the glutamine and GABA systems discussed earlier. Other medications used to control seizures have been shown to be effective and others still are being tested to determine effectiveness.

To conclude the author of this article wrote “The International Meeting for Autism Research provides scientists the opportunity to learn from other researchers so that major discoveries and advances can be made even faster. Scientists cannot conduct research without the ongoing collaboration, input and updates of the most current findings in all areas of autism research, and this meeting makes these advancements possible.” The importance of a meeting such as this one is immeasurable. It is great to make a breakthrough, but without sharing your findings and collaborating with other researchers working towards the same goal, nothing can be done and science cannot move forward.

Works cited:

“Researchers, Scientists Share New Autism Research Findings”. Autism Speaks. June 2006. 7 Mar. 2007.

Wallis, Claudia . “Inside the Autistic Mind”. Time 7 May 2006. 1 Mar. 2007