Straw-Ban: Yes, It Helps, But Also, No

Image courtesy of  pixabay

Image courtesy of pixabay

We’re finally seeing a trend in the anti-plastic movement and are heading towards a “waste-free” society. Restaurants and cafes no longer giving out straws has been a massive shift. Re-usable water bottles and coffee containers are also readily available for purchase to banish the never-ending cycle of plastic water bottles and wax-coated cups that will outlive you on this planet. But it all begs the question: are these small steps even making a dent in the issue?

I’ve been on a waste-free journey for many years now, though it has an extreme learning curve with plenty of obstacles. Our society has developed an addiction to convenience and mindless purchasing. An article posted by CBC in April states that we’re producing 300-million tonnes of plastic each year but very little of that is plastic straws.  And since the 1950’s, we’ve produced over 8-billion tonnes of the stuff with over 6-billion of those tonnes becoming waste.

In my opinion, banning straws is a step in the right direction, because at least people are starting to recognize—on a smaller scale—that disposable plastics shouldn’t be used so irresponsibly. Something you use for only a couple minutes will sit on our planet for a minimum of a few centuries, since they are rarely recycled. The experts in the fight against this environmental catastrophe are evidently very supportive of the changes at hand, but the banning of straws is just a speck of snow on the larger invasive iceberg. Rob Opsomer, a leader in the UK conservation movement, says, "Given they are such a tiny fraction of the overall market, we cannot stop at straws. We need to rethink the entire plastics industry." That being said, what is the next step for the Average Joe?

I’m positive that all of us in the millennial generation can remember the famous jingle, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” But over the years the 3R’s have been rethought, and two more R’s have been added to the gang: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose. For example, instead of buying a new dishwasher when a part needs replacing, just get the new part!

Instead of buying a case of bottled water at Costco every week, splurge on a Contigo water bottle while you’re there and save thousands of dollars for yourself and spare the ocean some breathing room while you’re at it. Refusing to use disposable plastics will set everything in motion towards a cleaner, greener Earth. If everyone got on board, big-box stores would be forced to supply us with eco-friendly products at a reasonable price—the cycle won’t end until we come together as a whole. Movements like the straw ban is just the start, and a very good one at that, but there needs to be more—from all of us.

I could go on for another four thousand words, but our attention spans deserve the ability to click another link. There are plenty of resources available, and I’m one of them! For more information on what you can do I’ve provided some insightful sources online, but don’t hesitate to ask me a question either; it helps me on my journey too.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/banning-plastic-straws-1.4628160

https://oneplanetzero.com/blogs/news/plastic-pollution-still-think-you-cant-make-a-difference

http://sites.psu.edu/math033fa17/2017/10/10/plastic-vs-reusable-water-bottles/

https://www.banthebottle.net/articles/battle-of-the-reusable-bottles-plastic-vs-aluminum-vs-stainless-steel/

Contact Me: vinc0088@algonquinlive.com


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Chloe Vincent

Chloe Vincent is an avid reader, aspiring writer, and lover of culture. Being in her second year of Professional Writing at Algonquin College and a new mother there’s always another step to take to get further. Check out her children’s book “The Life of a Pie” at the Connections store and always check back here for more.

The Chinese Room: Are Computers Conscious?

Photo courtesy of  Pexels.com .

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com.

You wake up in a small room. There’s a door with a slot at the bottom, a large binder, and a pen. As your eyes adjust to the bright light, a piece of paper slides under the door. You reach over and see that it’s covered in Chinese characters. Confused, you go open the huge binder: it’s a huge list of instructions written in English. The first instruction tells you to write a list of Chinese characters if you see a certain string of characters written on the paper. You notice that the Chinese on the paper and in the instruction match, and so you carefully draw out the corresponding lines of Chinese. After this, you pass the paper back under the door, only for it to return with more Chinese written on it. 

This goes on for hours, with you referring back to the binder to know what to write, until the door opens and a Chinese man pokes his head in. He looks surprised, saying, “Wow, you speak Chinese very fluently!” Of course, he says this in Chinese, so it’s lost on you. All this time, he thought he was speaking with a native Chinese speaker, but you were only manipulating symbols according to a set of rules.

Forgetting about why you might find yourself in this kind of situation, it’s an argument that can actually teach us a lot about machine consciousness. For John Searle—the creator of this argument—it proves that it’s impossible for computers to be conscious.

Here’s how: in the Chinese Room, you are the computer’s processor and the binder of instructions are the “program.” The Chinese writings given to you from beneath the door are the “input,” and your responses are the “output.” In this way, Searle’s Chinese Room represents the basic functions of a computer. 

Now, the question at the centre of all this has to do with whether the person inside the Chinese Room is able to speak Chinese or not. The answer to this question will answer another, more important one: Is a computer that appears to be conscious actually conscious, or just faking it? We’ve all seen computers “acting” very lifelike, whether they be in science-fiction or in real-life. Apple’s Siri can hold a reasonably complex conversation about anything from the weather to how to bake apple pie.

But does Siri really know how to bake? They might appear like they know, but to Searle, they’re faking it just as much as the person in the Chinese Room is faking knowing Chinese. Whenever Siri is asked a question, it refers to its own binder of instructions—the internet—and then regurgitates whatever it finds there.

It might sound very convincing, and it might respond so quickly you could swear another human was speaking for it, but at its core it is just a machine running a complex program at a speed sufficient enough to fool you. Just like the person inside the Chinese Room, programs like Siri aren’t aware of the symbols and concepts they’re controlling. They’re just following a bunch of rules.

So next time you worry that robots are going to take over, have no fear: they might be terrifying, but they won’t be conscious of it. That’s some consolation, if there is any.

If you’re hankering for more information on Searle’s “Chinese Room,” check out a paper written on it at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


And if you’re looking to learn about a similar thought-experiment, I wrote a two-part blog series on the “Ship of Theseus Paradox,” which you can read here.


Matthew Montopoli

Matt is in his second year of Algonquin’s Professional Writing program. He enjoys writing, editing, reading history and philosophy, and not talking about himself.

What Proto-Christmas Can Teach You

Courtesy of Bruce Mars, via Pexels Images

Courtesy of Bruce Mars, via Pexels Images

Oh, I hear it too—Christmas really is already in the air. Now, I love this period of Yuletide happiness, but I am also a stout believer in the idea that all traditions come from somewhere. If you don’t know where something comes from, how can you love (or hate) it? Christmas in my house has always been pillared by traditions, big and small. So today I’d like to share with you one of the pillars of Christmas itself so you can better know where it is believed it comes from—the ancient festival of Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was the biggest bash in town back when the Roman Empire was large and in charge. The most popular festival by far, it was dedicated to celebrating the god Saturn, the deity devoted to agriculture and harvest, by getting down and getting festive.

In all honesty, Saturnalia was pretty cool—despite being in the middle of the time of slaves. Lasting seven days and seven nights, from December 17th to 24th, all work and business was cancelled. Certain moral restrictions were lessened or lifted; frivolity was not only encouraged, but mandatory. Even slaves were lifted of their typical responsibilities, often being invited to the table for dinner, and allowed to speak their mind. Some slave owners would even turn the tables—serving their servants lightly throughout the week.

Think Mardi Gras, but with an added twist of our familiar Yuletide traditions—greetings in the streets, high spirits. A mock king from the streets was chosen for the week, and as the week drew to a close, gifts were exchanged. Typically, these gifts would be made of wax: candles, figurines, and fruit models were all popular options.

One of the last traditions of Saturnalia was the invitation of Saturn himself to join the fun. Usually, the cult statue of Saturn stood bound by the ankles with woolen bands, but for the festival, these were cut. Almost as if the Romans wanted him to step out and get crazy with them.

              So, what can we learn from this proto-Christmas tradition? Here’s my list.

1.       Cut loose a little. December is a serious time full of exams, family stressors, and financial insanity. Make things a little easier on yourself and have some fun.

2.       Put your business to the side (if you can).

3.       Treat someone with a little extra kindness, even if you normally wouldn’t.

4.       Give something—no matter how small or inconsequential.

5.       Let someone else, maybe someone you normally wouldn’t, join the fun.

Now, it’s at this point in the post that I have to warn you: most scholars will not confirm that Christmas is connected to Saturnalia. But with core values like the five above being heavily featured in both holidays, I don’t super-duper think that matters. If you’re going to take anything from this article, take the lessons.

And in all honesty, no matter what you celebrate, I think Saturnalia has some great tips for you and your loved ones. Let’s help each other through the dark winter months this year by saying hello, letting the crazy roll off, and show a little extra kindness.

Good karma never hurt nobody, now did it?

If you’d like to learn more about other winter solstice traditions, check this out!


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Shannon Morrow

Shannon Morrow is always curious, and as a result, loves knowing all sorts of things. A second year professional writing student, she enjoys telling people about her weird dreams, birds and trying to learn how to cook- that one isn’t going too well. And yeah, she knows her glasses make her look like a beetle sometimes. Roll with it.

Let's Get Glowing

image courtesy of  telegraph.co.uk

image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk

Bioluminescence. Insects and mushrooms and other creatures filled with glowing fluid. There are biological explanations for this, but what if there are other reasons? Perhaps the creatures that glow are more heavenly than others? They are a light to the animals and insects who walk in the darkness.

When I lived in Guelph many moons ago, the firefly population of the forests there were abnormally high. As we drank our beers and walked through the forest paths under the full moon, hundreds of fireflies would explode out of the grass and bushes, creating a green star-field around us as we carried onward. 

We would go into the forest on purpose to enter this sight. Weekend after weekend we went, and weekend after weekend we were greeted by our hypnotic friends.

The fireflies seemed like more than just chemicals as they covered the area with their mysterious airborne glow; appearing, disappearing, then reappearing in a perfect rhythm. There was an aesthetic reason for their existence, a purpose of beauty and sight. They commanded us to step into their star-field, beckoned us onward with their magnetic pull. They were shooting stars in slow motion, illuminating the darkness of Ontario.

Way down on the forest floor, does the insect seek the cover of a glowing mushroom? Do they feel better under the warm glow of its greenish hum? Do the creatures of the forest avoid eating the mushrooms because of their glow? Are animals susceptible to enjoying their beauty?

I imagine a colony of tiny critters, awaiting the sun to set, so they can embark on their journey to the glow-shrooms. Under its canopy of green light, they partake in their holy rituals, which they do to ensure that the sun rises on the following morning. The fireflies perch themselves upon the top of the mushrooms and defend the ritual of the critters from the dark smelly insects; the shit-eaters and the rot-munchers. They fight a localized battle for the light and the dark. The moon watches and waits—she cheers for the critters in their fight against the darkness. She wants the return of the sun, too.

But maybe that just happens in myths and animated children’s films.

Maybe the glow is just a glow; a mating display, a type of camouflage, a misdirection? Maybe the glow is just chemicals, and nothing more? Either way, beauty exists where it is perceived. And more importantly, beauty exists where we decide to put it.



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Christopher Sire

Christopher is a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who specializes in fantasy and science fiction. He avoids TV like the plague; he sings and plays guitar in his spare time.

DST: Time-Saving Device, or Work of Pure Evil?

Image courtesy of  pixabay

Image courtesy of pixabay

If you’ve noticed that people are a little more irritable lately, or maybe just a little more sleepy, you know what’s to blame. And for once, it’s not the exhausting political landscape currently plaguing… well, most of the world. No, people are so tired lately because of the awful social convention known as Daylight Savings Time. Before you start, no, it’s not about farmers. Ask a farmer why DST is a thing and they’ll shut you down faster than a fella can come up with a folksy simile. Don’t put the blame of your biannual exhaustion on farmers—they have enough on their plate. In fact, farmers were infamously against DST, presenting the only organized lobby against it.

If you’re looking for someone to blame, look no further than the founders of Oktoberfest and the inspiration for the bad-guys in the best two Die Hard movies: World War I era Germans.* DST was invented by Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, with the hopes it would help in the war effort. In spite of how Germany fared in WWI, a lot of other people thought this was a good idea and adopted it in their countries.

Regardless of whether or not it helped back then, it doesn’t now. Researchers at the University of Washington found that you save a bit of money on your electricity bill thanks to having more sunlight—but you end up paying way more in air conditioning anyway . Not to mention a study done by the New England Journal of Medicine found an increased risk of heart attack in the days after the time change—and another study shows that there is a significant increase in car collisions the day of DST.

So not only is this archaic system annoying and unnecessary, it’s dangerous. California recently voted to end Daylight Savings, freeing themselves from its iron grip. Arizona hasn’t done it since 2005. So why is Canada so far behind? How have we fallen behind Arizona? That’s just embarrassing.

*Little known fact: Canadians in Thunder Bay actually turned their clocks forward by one hour in 1908 and it was adopted by Regina in 1914, beating Germany and Austria by two years. But as anyone who has been to Thunder Bay or Regina can attest to, nothing done in those cities actually counts.


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Ian Mitchell

Ian Mitchell is a pro-wrestling fan who also happens to be in the second year of the Professional Writing program. When not telling his friends about how he would run the WWE, he can be found playing video games, doodling, and writing a rules system for a pro-wrestling tabletop roleplaying game.

Stressed? Call Your Hairdresser—Here's How They Can Help

Image courtesy of Pexels Images

Image courtesy of Pexels Images

You know when things are so hectic in your life that you just think to yourself screw it? And screwing it means doing something radical like buying something lavish, ending a relationship, or—I don’t know—getting bangs? If you find yourself about to make a big decision and you’re thinking of grabbing some scissors, I have to level with you—it’s the healthiest decision you can make.

I know twelve people who, over the course of our friendship, got bangs when they were in some sort of crisis. Maybe they didn’t have control over their environment and they wanted something they could control, or they weren’t sure who they were anymore, or they had just broken up with someone. Either way, all twelve turned to their hairdressers and said “Everything must go.”

We see it in TV all the time; a female character is going through something heavy and she cuts her own hair. The audience feels for her, because that’s the type of universal decision we can understand. In my life, any impulsive but harmless act that someone does under stress, I refer to as “getting bangs”. For example: you randomly got a tattoo. Bangs. You spent a lot of money on essential oils for no reason. Bangs. You bought a parrot. Bangs.

It’s all coming up bangs folks. But why? Why is it all literally coming up bangs? And why, during this school season, are there so many bangs?

As a matter of fact, it’s completely normal. Doing something impulsive, like breaking something, cutting your hair, or engaging in retail therapy is a form of self-investment. It’s self care. Cutting hair is popular because it often makes us happy or more confident. Changing our appearance is also immediate—I look different, therefore I shall feel different soon.

This transcends all levels of bangs; eliminating something that sometimes bugs you, that’s getting a daily roadblock out of the way. This translates into it is gone, therefore it cannot challenge me.  Indulging on something that might make you happy, for a moment, really does make us happy. I have something new, therefore something will change.

These rash decisions—no matter how big or small—make us feel like we’re doing something to push us out of the head space we’re in, however stuck.

Yes, sometimes you regret it. Sometimes the bangs weren’t the number one choice. But no matter what they look like, or what form they take, you took a step for yourself. A little moment, or a long one, that makes you see your situation in a new way.

So congratulations! I hope you love your bangs! And I hope your coping mechanisms stay healthy this school year, because no matter how much I joke, bangs can sometimes be unwise. Debt, fall outs, and harm are unhealthy bangs, bangs that I don’t endorse. So if you notice you’re acting a little off and are looking for a little rush, check out your local hairdresser, and not the gambling table.

After all, bangs are making a comeback.

Want to read more? Check out the source on Lifehacker.


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Shannon Morrow

Shannon Morrow is always curious, and as a result, loves knowing all sorts of things. A second year professional writing student, she enjoys telling people about her weird dreams, birds and trying to learn how to cook - that one isn’t going too well. And yeah, she knows her glasses make her look like a beetle sometimes. Roll with it.

Mushrooms—Not a Silent Killer

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I’ve had a poster by David Arora hanging in my bedroom for over 20 years, titled: “Edible Mushrooms of the Forest Floor.” It’s stunning in colour, and the variety of all the different mushrooms would make your eyes cross if you looked at it for too long — but I love it. I love knowing that the mushroom is genetically closer to mammals than it is to plants. I love knowing that the largest known organism on Earth is a mushroom, but even with all this information, I also developed a fear of coming across one of them on a walk through the forest.

What if the mushroom was just a look-a-like of its non-toxic sister, and then my dog eats it? Or if the spores somehow get in my lungs and I become a mushroom lady? I think anyone would question the situation, rushing to the vet or calling poison control. As a society we generally fear fungi and their fruit — the mushroom — unless it’s wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store, assuming it can only be poisonous if found on its own. But in reality, mushrooms are the most incredible, productive, and fascinating organisms on our planet. And we’re still learning what they can do for us as well as what they can do to us.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had multiple conversations about mushrooms. The conversation usually starts with me asking the person, “Have you heard of Paul Stamets?” I’m always desperately trying to talk about his discoveries, but the conversation always leads to talking about psychedelic mushrooms (psilocybin). It’s disappointing every time; I take a moment to educate and just get blank stares or glances at the wall behind me.

First, Paul Stamets is a fascinating human being with more passion for fungi than anyone I have yet to come across; and second, I am not talking about psychedelic mushrooms. Although they are a big part of the growing fear that has developed in North America, I’m talking about the mushrooms growing on your lawn in mid-August, or the gourmet boxes you see at the grocery store, or even ones you’ve never heard of like the agarikon mushroom from the Pacific North-West. To me, there are few topics more misunderstood than mushrooms, and what makes it more intriguing for me is how fearful we are of them.

The first mention of mycophobia was by British mycologist W.D. Hay in 1887. He claimed that the people of Britain were well known for being fearful of mushrooms and stayed away from them, almost entirely to avoid poisoning. Now, only buying white button mushrooms to eat and considering portobello mushrooms as an exotic variety in our kitchens is just the tip of the cap of our on-going collective phobia. The only way to release our society from this irrational fear is to become educated, and finally grow out of this hardened primal concern.

Other countries are more inclined to harvest wild mushrooms (eg. Russia, Poland, and Ukraine), and they praise the ability to do so, with legislated guidelines. They’re the ones known as mycophiles, the polar opposite to the Brits of W.D. Hays’ time, and to us in the 21st century. David Arora — a veteran in the mycological community — as well as mushroom cultivators, are no stranger to this stigma against their beloved fungal group.

“…consider this: out of several thousand different kinds of wild mushrooms in North America, only five or six are deadly poisonous! And once you know what to look for, it’s about as difficult to tell a deadly Amanita from a savory chanterelle as it is a lima bean from an artichoke.” Comforting words from David Arora. He — as well as Paul Stamets and other mycologists — are patient and attentive to our fears. So before you panic at the park, or the grocery store, remember what you read here today.

 

If you’re interested in reading more about mycology, fungi, and the people who nurture them check out these sites:

https://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/16/us/animals-and-fungi-evolutionary-tie.html

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236909591_Mycophilic_or_Mycophobic_Legislation_and_Guidelines_on_Wild_Mushroom_Commerce_Reveal_Different_Consumption_Behaviour_in_European_Countries

http://tcpermaculture.com/site/2013/07/01/fighting-fungophobia-or-mycophobia-the-fear-of-mushrooms/

http://fortune.com/2014/07/25/a-fungus-among-us/


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Chloe Vincent

Chloe Vincent is an avid reader, aspiring writer, and lover of culture. Being in her second year of Professional Writing at Algonquin College and a new mother there’s always another step to take to get further. Check out her children’s book “The Life of a Pie” at the Connections store and always check back here for more.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Photo by  pina messina  on  Unsplash

Growing up, there was probably some jerk/wet blanket who told you that there can be too much of a good thing. They told you not to eat all your Halloween candy in one night because you’ll get a stomach ache; don’t play that song over and over again, you’ll get sick of it; don’t forget to list three things, because only listing two things isn’t funny. But is there any truth to this? At what point is too much of a thing that’s actually good for you? What happens when you chug ten gallons of water? Or take fifteen vitamin supplements a day for three months?

As it turns out, bad things happen. All those jerks/wet blankets were right—there can be too much of a good thing. Now before you put that Halloween candy down, just hear me out—I’m not talking about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or those gross Tootsie Rolls that keep getting handed out. (Seriously, who likes Tootsie Rolls? Any amount of Tootsie Rolls is too much.)

I’m talking about water. That clear, wet stuff that you’re supposed to drink six cups of a day according to some study sometime. (Or maybe you aren’t supposed to drink that much? Jury’s out on that one.) Either way, at a certain point, it becomes too much water. And the result of drinking too much water isn’t just that you have to sit in your seat squirming anxiously, wondering if it’s too soon to go to the washroom again because you just went ten minutes ago so, will everyone think you’re weird if you go again? In fact, too much water can be downright deadly. It’s called water intoxication, or hyponatremia if ya nasty. It causes the levels of sodium in your blood to plummet, which is important in maintaining the proper level of liquid in your cells. Without sodium, your cells start to swell—which, in the case of your brain, is very dangerous.

But what else can you get too much of? Vitamin overdosing is also a real and messed-up thing. Too much Vitamin D can give you a lot of stomach issues and can even result in dangerous heart abnormalities. The B vitamins (did you know there are 8 B vitamins? Who came up with this?) can cause a whole mess of problems. B6? That can cause nerve toxicity. B3? Nausea, jaundice, and liver problems. And if you think that sounds bad, steer clear of Vitamin A overdosing—that can just straight up kill you. It can also give you dry skin and make you lose your hair, so any hopes of leaving behind a pretty corpse are out the window.

But before you throw out your water bottle and those expensive multivitamins, stop worrying. It takes a tremendous amount of water or vitamins to get these symptoms. It takes gallons of water in a short period of time for your kidneys to start falling behind, and it takes nearly forty times the recommended dose of any given vitamin every day for a while before those symptoms kick in. So as long as you aren’t religiously chugging water or chewing vitamins like candy (which, come on, we all did as kids—Flintstones vitamins were tasty) you should be able to avoid these Issues. Don’t use this as an excuse to skimp out on (what I’m told are) important parts of a healthy lifestyle.


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Ian Mitchell

Ian Mitchell is a pro-wrestling fan who also happens to be in the second year of the Professional Writing program. When not telling his friends about how he would run the WWE, he can be found playing video games, doodling, and writing a rules system for a pro-wrestling tabletop roleplaying game.

The Ship of Theseus: What makes you, you? (Part 2 of 2)

Image courtesy of  STOCKsnap.io

Image courtesy of STOCKsnap.io

If you haven’t, go check out Part 1!


Picking up where we left off: if we look back at our answers to the original problem, we might not feel so confident about either one, right? I’d hope so, because neither side truly resolves the problem. If we look at the first answer — that Ship A and Ship B are different because their physical makeup aren’t the same — then we have to believe that we also aren’t the same person we were seven years ago.

But that doesn’t feel right. Although our personalities might change a lot in seven years, most people probably believe that there is something that truly makes them them, and that this “something” has been there for their entire life. They might call it many things — their soul, their mind, or just their character — but in the end everyone has a sense of it.

But some people might have trouble agreeing with the existence of souls and all these vague ideas about “underlying qualities.” For them, the science is clear, and the science says that we are never the same thing; that we are constantly changing. But there also might be some facts that allow a compatibility between the two differing ideas.

You might remember in Part 1 that I didn’t say that every part of your body is replaced every seven years. I actually said almost every part. It just so happens that this irreplaceable part is also the most important organ in your body: your brain. Unfortunately for us, our neurons don’t regenerate. But on the other hand, our brain cells last a very long time. Once our brain stops growing in our mid-20s, the neurons we have at twenty-five will be the same neurons that will carry us all the way to old age. So unlike your hand, which will be replaced many times in your life, your brain will always remain.

What does this mean for the scientifically-minded person? Well, it should mean that there is no problem: everything that makes you you, like your memories, are stored in your brain. And since the brain never physically changes then neither do you.

However, I don’t think it’s so simple to separate our bodies from our brains, given that they are fundamentally linked and can’t exist without each other. On top of that, are memories really the best basis for your identity given that they are never set in stone and often wither away in old age? Does that mean that as you grow older, you become less and less of your original self? And let’s not even mention what might lie in the future with cybernetic brain enhancement. Will you still be yourself when half of your brain is machine? What about when it is completely cybernetic? 

Unfortunately, I’m out of time! These are questions you’ll have to wrestle with on your own.

In the end, it seems the only fact about ourselves that never changes is that we are always changing. As Heraclitus says, “It is not possible to step twice into the same river, or to come into contact twice with a mortal-being in the same state.”


Matthew Montopoli

Matt is in his second year of Algonquin’s Professional Writing program. He enjoys writing, editing, reading history and philosophy, and not talking about himself.

Warning: Your Game Avatar Just Became Sentient

Image courtesy of  www.iqvis.com

Image courtesy of www.iqvis.com

What would happen if a video game character became sentient?

How would it view humanity? Would it be able to comprehend our world, even if a detailed explanation were provided to it? How would it react if it was granted access to a web camera to view the real world?

I have always thought that the character would probably think they were crazy if a human were to transmit a voice and explain what the human world is. Since a video game character is completely locked within a computer generated world, the concept of anything being outside of their world may appear as ridiculous and confusing. Much the same as the very thought that humans have sometimes: is there anything outside of our universe?

Just like if God Itself were to whisper into one of our ears and tell us that there is so much beyond our universe, we would probably think we were crazy and seek medical help immediately.

The character in the video game world would probably be confused and have a huge amount of questions for us: why am I here? Where does my universe exist? How did you make the universe? How long will my universe exist? The questions would be endless in the same way as if God spoke to a human.

What questions would you ask God (if there were such an entity)?

If the entire population of the video game world became sentient, then the situation would become even more interesting. If a human transmitted a message to only one character (providing the game characters were programmed to understand English—or any other language) how would the character’s story be viewed by its friends? Would the character seem like one of the “crazy prophets” that have been encountered in our own world?

Hearing voices from far away has been a problem for humanity for as long as can be remembered. Mental illnesses have been shown to be the cause of auditory and visual hallucinations. I wonder, of what would the sentient game character be accused?

Would they be accused of lying? Would they be accused of mental health problems? Would they be accused of attempting to manipulate their friends? These sound like the familiar things that those in our own world are accused of when they “hear the voice of God”.

I wonder if the characters would gather together and protest against the human voice and demand a perfect way of life to be programmed into the machine. Perhaps they would all stop working and doing other programmed tasks (depending on each of their roles within the video game like blacksmith, mechanic, soldier, etc) and demand that all life be perfect within their world.

How would the characters view the concept of their world being powered by electricity? Would they be able to comprehend something that is so near to them? Electricity could safely be considered the “fabric of their reality” and as we humans have a difficult time understanding the atoms and quarks (and potential superstrings) that make up our own world, solar system, galaxy, and universe. Perhaps they too would not be able to comprehend the nature of their own electric reality.

I have asked more questions than I have answered.


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Christopher Sire

Christopher is a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who specializes in fantasy and science fiction. He sings and plays guitar in his spare time.

The Problems With Transporters

Image courtesy of manic-expression.com

Image courtesy of manic-expression.com

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I have always wondered how the problems with transporter technology were handled. Since transporters do not exist, the problems I have with them are more philosophical than scientific; although the engineering problems connected to them would be the first challenges with their construction. For example, how do we build one? Is it possible to do so? Are they even theoretically possible? 

I have always wondered how the brain is broken down and reconstructed upon transport. I have always thought that if the brain were “pulled apart” into subatomic particles, would the person not be considered dead? How would the brain be reconstructed? Wouldn’t a small amount of misplaced neurons result in a possible alteration of the person’s personality, brain functioning, etc?

Would there have to be some kind of artificially maintained communication between the cells of the body as they were “injected” through the subspace stream? How would this occur? What would the person experience upon being transported? Would they “go dark”, as if falling asleep? Would their vision fall apart as the transporter beam disassembled their entire being?

Once the brain was pulled apart, would not everything that makes the person human also be pulled apart? If the neural network were to be disassembled, even for an instant, would not all memories, learning, everything, be lost forever?

My theory on these odd questions would have to be the following: somehow, when the brain is deconstructed, there would have to be some information transfer between the atoms, molecules, and neurons of the brain in order to keep the person alive while retaining their personality, memories, and other mental qualities. Either that, or the transporter would have to keep a snapshot of the entire personality and experience profile of the person at molecular deconstruction, “re-injecting” this profile into the fully reassembled brain.

And where does the transporter keep a record of the human’s appearance? How would it reconstruct trillions of atoms, cells, and molecules? Would it rebuild them in the same way in which they came apart? I have often wondered how Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle related to transporter technology (even though, if I remember correctly, there was a mechanism present within the transporter to “compensate” for the problem of not knowing a particle’s position and velocity simultaneously, known as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle).


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Christopher Sire

Christopher is a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who specializes in fantasy and science fiction. He sings and plays guitar in his spare time.

What Happens When You Crack Them Knucks?

Photo courtesy of  pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

It’s been a long day. You’re just home from work, and the whatever it is you do was tough today. You relax in your favourite chair or on your second favourite couch and stretch out your tired limbs. In return, you are greeted with a cacophony of snaps and crackles that would put the Rice Krispies mascots to shame. People tell you you’ll get arthritis, and that the sound is really gas bubbles popping in your joints. But is any of that true?

In short, no. It’s been shown conclusively that knuckle cracking has no correlation to developing arthritis. A study published in 2011 showed that the rate of arthritis was the same in people who cracked their knuckles than it was in those who did not. Unfortunately, other studies have shown that habitual knuckle-crackers have a higher rate of swollen joints and a weaker grip. So while the traditional rumour might be false, it seems that knuckle-cracking still isn’t an incredibly healthy option.

As for the cause, it’s a fairly recent discovery. In diarthrodial joints (which is a fancy way of saying joints where two bones interact, like your wrist, elbow, or knee) there is something called a joint capsule. This is a pocket of tissue that is formed around the joint, and inside this pocket is a lubricant as well as serving as a nutrient for the cells that live there. The fluid in the capsule also contains dissolved gasses, mainly nitrogen, which form bubbles that pop as you stretch your joint. The popping allows your knuckles to move a little further, which is why cracking your joints lets you stretch them a little more.

As for why such tiny bubbles of gas cause such a loud noise, scientists aren’t even sure. However, they do know why you can’t just endlessly crack your knuckles: the gasses need about 20 minutes to build up again before there’s enough to form a bubble. So next time you reach a little further for your phone and you hear your shoulder pop, don’t worry too much about what’s going on. It’s just bubbles of nitrogen and carbon dioxide quickly forming and popping in your joint capsule with such force that you can hear it quite clearly from a few feet away. So when someone complains about you cracking your knuckles, just throw some science back in their face.


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Ian Mitchell

Ian Mitchell is a pro-wrestling fan who also happens to be in the second year of the Professional Writing program. When not telling his friends about how he would run the WWE, he can be found playing video games, doodling, and writing a rules system for a pro-wrestling tabletop roleplaying game.

The Ship of Theseus: What makes you, you? (Part 1 of 2)

image courtesy of  StockSnap.io

image courtesy of StockSnap.io

Imagine this for a second: you have a job at a history museum, working on preserving a large wooden ship. When it was first stored in the museum each of its wooden planks were fairly new. But as time goes on, some of the planks start to rot. Your job is to replace the rotting planks. So you diligently do your job until, suddenly, you realize that you’ve replaced every plank in the ship. There’s nothing left that was original. It might look like the same old ship the day it was brought to the museum, but it’s not made out of the same wood. So the question is: “Is it the same ship at the end?”

That’s the conundrum at the core of the “Ship of Theseus” paradox. It might seem pretty simple to figure out at the start. But after looking closer, you might not feel so confident; especially once you think about some of the larger implications.

Let’s start off with a simple response, the one you probably thought of first. “You’re such a dummy, Matt,” you say. “It’s obvious they’re not the same ships since they have a completely different physical makeup.” And you would be right, my inquisitive friend. It’s plain that Ship A (the original one) isn’t the same as Ship B (the restored one) since their essential atomic structure is different. And we could easily walk away from this so-called “paradox,” baffled at how someone could be stumped by it.

On the other hand is an equally strong point of view. “It’s ridiculous to say that they’re different ships,” another person might say. “They may be made of different things, but there was always an underlying part of the ship that kept it what it is: its form. Its shape was always the same, so it was always the same ship.” Again, another interesting perspective.

But I don’t think this example is concrete enough for us to really sink our teeth into. Besides, who cares if a new wooden ship is or isn’t the same as an old one? What we need is something more personal, more intimate.

And there isn’t anything more intimate than ourselves and our bodies. Anyone who’s gotten a scab over a scrape knows that their body is always replacing old cells: skin cells are constantly scraped off, and old blood cells are programmed to die once they grow old. In fact, almost every part of your body will be replaced after seven years. As well, nearly three-hundred million of our body’s cells die every minute—that’s five million every second! You are, in many ways, a living, breathing Ship of Theseus.

Read more about the “Ship of Theseus paradox” and what it could mean for your identity in Part 2.


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Matthew Montopoli

Matt is in his second year of Algonquin’s Professional Writing program. He enjoys writing, editing, reading history and philosophy, and not talking about himself. 

CHANGE MY MIND: The Witches from Macbeth are the coolest ladies in literature.

Image courtesy of Rob Potter via. Unsplash Images

Image courtesy of Rob Potter via. Unsplash Images

If you’ve been to high school, you’ve probably read Macbeth. If you haven’t, you’ve heard of it. If you haven’t, who even are you, and why do you live in isolation? I loved Macbeth, which sounds basic, but I loved it because the language was off the chain beautiful and because it’s got witches. I love witches—the magic, the mystery, the outfits. Never have I ever seen witches in media and not fallen in love with them. But the witches from Macbeth are by far my favorites, and some of the coolest characters in media ever. Let me explain.

Evidence the first: They were, at the time, a smart political device used by Shakespeare. In 1606 when the play was first written and performed, witches were the talk of every town. Who was a witch? What would they do? How do we stop them?

With the church being pretty much the only power everywhere, witchcraft became a capital offence and many women were executed with no proof that they were actually witches. Can you imagine minding your own damn business and some local police roll in and kill you because Prudence next door said she saw you near a frog one time? Because that’s what it was like. Women would be accused of witchcraft for any reason, including not having enough children, or living at the edge of your community.

So, with witches being the fear and talk of the town, Shakespeare made the inspired move to have three of them not only in his play, but open his play. The three witches meet on a heath and discuss meeting Macbeth in an open field when the battle is over. This would have captured the attention of his audience immediately, with both fear and curiosity.

Evidence the second: Who doesn’t love magic and who isn’t curious about the occult? These three haggard women show up talking about screwing up Macbeth’s life with an ill-fated prophecy, then they talk about a grey cat and toad (both of which are symbols for the devil). Then they get down to gossiping about a woman with chestnuts and how they’re just going to screw up her husband’s whole situation and get him lost at sea!

That’s power. And not just power—needless power. They don’t have to do that, but they want to, and we never learn a concrete reason as to why. Evil for the sake of evil? Now that’s cool, and an absolute rarity today in media. Everyone needs a reason, but in life there isn’t a reason for everything. So we are left to our little mysteries, and Macbeth provides.

Evidence the third: Their presence in the play, in any reimagining of it, is always super cool. My personal favorite is the Patrick Stewart 2010 version where the witches appear as nurses and show up throughout the story. Their lingering presence gives the audience the feeling that Macbeth and his surrounding partners are putting on a performance for the witches, and not the real audience. In Geoffrey Wright’s 2006 version, they are school girls, first seen having a ritual in a graveyard. But if you’re old school, they are as they were first depicted: ancient, strange women in the 1971 version by Roman Polanski. There’s a witch for everyone, and with Halloween quickly descending, why not make finding your favorite a mission?

So, the three witches were politically created, powerful, mysterious, and always end up being badass. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous, no doubt with a little help from the witches and their charm. So the big question is: when will you buckle down and revisit a high school classic?


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Shannon Morrow

Shannon Morrow is always curious, and as a result, loves knowing all sorts of things. A second year professional writing student, she enjoys telling people about her weird dreams, birds and trying to learn how to cook- that one isn’t going too well. And yeah, she knows her glasses make her look like a beetle sometimes. Roll with it.

Do Bugs Get Sick?

Photo by  Denise Johnson  on  Unsplash

I was sitting on my porch when a fly came into my personal space. He buzzed around my head and, very naturally, landed on me. I wasn’t feeling well that week as I was fighting a cold my son so graciously shared with me. My younger, more curious mind made an appearance and I asked the question, “Can I give this fly my cold?” I was really hoping I could.

I really hate insects; buzzing around my head, making shots at my ear, their tiny nonsensical legs, and just generally pissing me off on a regular basis left me with nothing to love. I wanted it to feel as crappy as I did. Someone once said to me, “If they’re outside they’re insects—but if they’re inside, they’re bugs.” Makes sense. But either way, they’re an entity I choose to despise regardless of their status in the circle of life.

Although there is no research I could find that shows an insect can be infected the way we are with the common cold (I picture a tiny house fly with a microscopic hanky wiping mucous from his mouth parts after a wee sneeze attack) there is an entire field dedicated to insect pathology. With my strange thought as a platform for discovery, I found all kinds of new branches of what I would consider underground science.

The most publicly known topic in the insect the pathologist’s agenda right now is Colony Collapse Disorder. In 2006, beekeepers in America were seeing 30-90% of their bee colonies just disappearing over-night with no explanation, trace, or even a clue to speculate on the mysterious disappearance. Insect pathologists burst into action to find the cause. They’re still working on the causes and effects in this department, but there has been significant research and studies on neonicotinoids having a deathly effect on pollinators. Insecticides with the neonic are now being banned across the world; such bans are active in Canada and in Europe. This field of study is fascinating, and easily steals you into the rabbit hole of the internet, yet it still didn’t answer my question.

With a bit more digging I came to a very reasonable and easy answer, cited from a guy who goes by the name Klenow on Reddit. He works in biotech (whatever that may entail, good luck to you). He stated that, although they can contract the cold virus, their respiratory system works nothing like ours and wouldn’t be affected the way we humans are. No mini hanky for you, fly!

That being said, it’s still important to know that flies thrive and survive off excrement and carcasses. They carry bacteria around like they’re the local transit system. Salmonella, E. Coli, and typhoid are just a sample of terrifying bacteria they could drop off at any given time. If that doesn’t make me hate them even more than I already did, well, the word loathe now comes to mind.

Related Articles

Giving House Flies a Virus to Prevent Reproduction

Insects Get Sick Too: The Study of Insect Pathology


Chloe Vincent

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Chloe Vincent is an avid reader, aspiring writer, and lover of culture. Being in her second year of Professional Writing at Algonquin College and a new mother there’s always another step to take to get further. Check out her children’s book “The Life of a Pie” at the Connections store and always check back here for more.