Why I Am Grateful For Tech And Science Advances

Just a few days ago I was chatting with one of the older residents in my complex and the subject of technology and scientific advances came up.  He made the statement to the effect that ‘besides making people easier to monitor, manipulate, and kill, tech advances have done little for the betterment of humanity.’  I wanted to laugh at this short sighted statement. How forgetful and often ungrateful we can be.  I’ve alluded to tech advances by and large improving things for people in previous posts.  In one I made the parallel between what technologies we in 2015 take for granted and what various U.S. presidents didn’t have (i.e. Jefferson not having railroads, Lincoln not having electric lights or telephones, FDR never having a credit card, JFK never having a microwave oven, etc.).  And these were things I just came up with at a moment’s notice.

There are drawbacks at times but these are often offset by the benefits of advances over previous techs. Sure antibiotics are often over used and can make some people less resistant to future sickness.  But how many people on this planet that are living full, content, and productive lives that would have died if it weren’t for the development of antibiotics to begin with?  Or automobiles?  Who seriously wants to go back to the late 1800s when cities like London and New York where having problems with the stench, diseases, flies, and rodents that resulted from entire lots piled high with horse manure?  I grew up around farming and often worked on my uncle’s farm during the summers.  I can tell you that farm animals like horses, cows, and pigs eat lots of grains and hay.  Since cars don’t eat wheat or hay, that frees up lots of crops to go to humans.  Yeah, I get the whole ethanol being made from corn argument.  But ethanol can be made from switch grass, sugar cane or anything else that ferments.

Another place I’m grateful for tech advances is in the field of medicine and health.  The two anti psychotic medications I’m currently taking weren’t available even in 2010.  And they have fewer side effects and the ones they have are less severe.  My current medications aren’t as bad in terms of promoting weight gain.  One medication I was on several years ago had sore joints and sleepiness as one of the side effects.  But because of the options made available due to advances in medical science I was able to switch to something different and the side effects went away quickly.  As far as the argument that psych meds promote mental health problems, have you looked at the history of mental illness treatments?  Before the 1950s about the only options for someone with my diagnosis were long term hospitalizations and electroshock therapy.  If I were born even in 1920 instead of 1980 with my mental health problems I would have either been long term hospitalization, homeless, or dead.  For the first three years of my mental illness problems I wasn’t on any kind of treatment.  Went through the last two years of public high school and the first year of college dealing with constant paranoia, depression, anxiety, and anger.  I was far more short tempered, argumentative, and paranoid without treatment.  It’s a wonder I didn’t assault one of my classmates or anyone else.

To suggest that modern medical tech advances have made us less healthy and lowered our quality of life is not only false, it’s stupid. Some will argue that we have more cases of cancer now than we did three generations ago.  For starters we have more people and people are living longer now than three generations ago.  In 1900 the average life expectancy even in USA and Western Europe was maybe 50.  Now we in USA complain that life expectancy is ‘only’ in the late 70s when in some places like Japan it’s the lower 80s.  Even in some of the poorer countries in Africa life expectancy is in the late 50s and even early 60s and that is with AIDS pandemics and civil wars. In the early 1900s these same regions life expectancy was in the early 30s.  Cancer is one of those things that the chances of getting go up with age.  My grandfather died of pancreatic cancer but he was 87 years old too.  He also had serious hepatitis during the 1940s.  Had he gotten that in the 1860s instead of the 1940s, he might not have lived past his twenties. What is worse, dying from a stroke at age 70 or dying from chorlea at age 25?

Some my argue that tech advances have led to the breakdown of the traditional family unit.  I know the stats state that divorce rates in many first world nations are at 50 percent or higher.  But traditionally many people were married more than once in their lives.  Men often remarried and had mixed families, not due to divorce, but because their wives dying from childbirth or any number of illnesses.  Women often remarried because of their husbands dying in wars, work related accidents, or illnesses.  If we were to take the numbers there are probably more people making to their 50 year anniversary celebration now than even 60 years ago, again due to more people and better health.  And sometimes men married more than once because they had more than one wife at a time.  Polygamy and not having one mate for life are as old as life itself.  It could be possible that someday, thanks to advances in medical tech, we could be seeing couples have 100th anniversary parties like some people have 60 year anniversary parties now.  What would you get a spouse who has been with you for an entire century?

I could go on but I won’t.  But we are often forgetful and even less than grateful.  I for one am grateful for tech advances.  I would love to see scientists, engineers, researchers, and health care workers get the attention that the media reserves all too often for politicians, musicians, and star athletes.  But that is probably not going to happen simply because bad news sells better than good.  Yet if you are a scientist, engineer, health care worker, researcher, or anyone who works to provide the essentials for modern living, I am thankful for all you men and women.  Keep up the good work.  If you are so inclined to see actual data on advances in health, wealth, and overall well being, check out humanprogress.org.

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Weight Loss, Exercise, and Mental Health. Winter Edition

doctor-2          mental-health

It’s been awhile since I last reported on my ongoing project of losing weight, maintaining mental equilibrium, and working on improving myself overall.  For awhile, from late October through most of November, I wasn’t losing nor gaining weight.  In early December, I had a flare up of the symptoms of schizophrenia and I had a second day of flare ups in mid January.  I met with my psych nurse, readjusted some of my meds, and found out that I had lost 10 pounds since late November.  I’m now down 65 pounds overall.  We had a fairly cold, but dry, December and first half of January.  I wasn’t exercising outdoors much, having moved my routines indoors.  I added small arm weights to my routine an average of twice a week.  I have found if I stretch before and after lifting, I don’t really feel sore the morning after lifting.  I had heard that some football coaches were doing this stretching after practices and games and they were seeing less pulled muscle problems in their players.  I gave it a try and it seems to work.  I still won’t work the same muscles two days in a row no matter how good they feel.

Another indoor exercise I do is just putting on dance music on my iPod, throw on the headphones, and dance to the tunes for about thirty minutes at a time.  I do this usually three days a week on average.  Since I live in a top floor apartment with squeaky floors, I do have to be care where and when I do this.  If I do this at night, I usually have to dance in my living room or kitchen.  No reason to wake up my downstairs neighbors if I do this at 9pm or later.

Even when I walked outdoors during the summer and fall, I did usually thirty minutes per day probably four to five days per week.  I made it a point to have at least one day a week off from exercise entirely, just for recuperating and breaking up the routine mentally.  I didn’t start out walking thirty minutes per day.  When I started this ‘life style overhaul’ I could walk only 1/4 of a mile in one shot without sitting down.  Pretty sad I had let myself slide so bad.  And yes, it was my fault.  I used the idea that my psych meds were promoting my weight gain and I couldn’t do anything about it.  Yes I could do something about it.  I had to reexamine everything I was doing.  I needed to know exactly what I was eating, what I was doing for exercise, how much water I was drinking, and how much I was sleeping.  After looking everything over, I saw what I was doing poorly (almost everything), and had to adjust accordingly.

On March 17, 2014, I began my exercise routine and keeping my day to day health journal. When most people in my hometown were doing the St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl (I live in a college town after all), I was doing a different type of crawl because I was sore from my first day of exercise.  I had been sedentary all winter, slept probably 11 to 12 hours most days, so I was out of practice and I was feeling it.  But within a couple of weeks, I stretched that 1/4 mile to 1/3 of a mile.  Within six weeks of beginning, I was doing at least 2/3 of a mile.  By the middle of June I was easily doing one mile without stopping. When Labor Day rolled around I could walk for one hour at a time but I was slightly sore for the next day, but it wasn’t the kind of pain crawl I was doing in March.  By the first of October I found out I was down 50 pounds overall.  The day after Halloween, I was down 55 pounds overall and, unknown to me at the time, I came to my first ‘plateau’.  I went through at least a six week period when I didn’t lose or gain.  I had heard about the possibility of having one of these periods.  I wasn’t terribly surprised that after 55 pounds lost, my body would go through a while of resetting itself.

The human body is quite amazing in that it regulates itself and is very adaptable.  I imagine my body might have thought it was experiencing a period of calorie shortages and was hording as much energy as it could.  Remember, that for most of human history, a person didn’t always have a consistent food supply.  There were the proverbial times of feasts and famines.  So the body adapted to become stingy with it’s on hand calories and to crave sources of easy calories like carbs, sugars, and proteins.  It is only within the last few generations we’ve had such strong food security with so little effort.  And, in western countries like USA, we’re doing this with probably only one percent of the work force actually working in farming and food production.

I’m dead convinced that one of the reasons for such tragic rates of obesity (and I needed to and still need to listen to this as much as anyone) in western nations was that we kept the eating habits our great grandparents had but did only a fraction of the physical labor.  In my own family, as far as I can tell, our entire family worked in farming, sharecropping, etc. as far back as we can trace.  My parents were the first generation of their families to either not grow up on a farm or not work on one.  I tell this aside simply to state many people have lost contact with how much time and work it really takes to grow crops, raise farm animals, hunt, fish, and gather wild food.  So we often eat food, and waste it, with little appreciation of how much work it took to get it from farm to dining room table.  And, as we’ve gone from a farming and manufacturing based economy to a knowledge based and service economy, we are seeing the foolishness of keeping the same eating habits without the corresponding physical activity.  Either the physical activity has to increase, the food consumption has to decline, or ideally both happens.  We saw the bad effects of smoking and excessing alcohol consumption and adjusted accordingly, starting about forty years ago.  I believe we’re now starting to make adjustments as a society to the problems of obesity and associated sicknesses.  Had I not taken steps to address my problems with obesity and physical health problems, then no amount of mental health successes were going to matter.

Sure I still have flare ups of mental illness problems even with as much weight I’ve lost.  I’ll probably be fighting mental illness issues for a long time, barring some major medical breakthroughs in the treatment of brain issues.  I do have hope that major breakthroughs will be happening, especially when I think that there are teams of scientists, researchers, engineers, etc. all over the world just thinking about how to improve what we have and just dreaming up entirely new ways to do things.  Theses are quite exciting times we live in, especially for those of us who pay attention to technology breakthroughs.  A good site I stumbled on that details breakthroughs we as a species have done since 2000 and projected new breakthroughs for many decades to come is futuretimeline.net.  There have to be literally dozens of sites such as this detailing tech breakthroughs.  I often lose sight of the big picture during days of struggle.  We do live in exciting times though challenging times.  But with challenges come opportunities.  Who knows what advances in the treatment of all illness, let alone mental illness, the next few decades and years will bring?