The Future of Artificial Intelligence

We’ve all pondered the future — a utopia filled with autonomy and convenience at our finger tips — with impunity. Many contemporary pessimists believe that implementing artificial intelligence, which, in this case, may self-replicate itself into “artificial super-intelligence” might just leave humanity vulnerable. Such qualms present themselves in irrational, yet understandable ways. For example, eminent thinkers Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk believe, aside from climate change, that the future of AI is grim because robots may end up reconfiguring themselves at an ever-increasing rate; far superior to what any human mind could process in a short period of time. Much akin to the movies I Robot and 2001: A Space odyssey, these thoughts have been infused into our minds and now rattle our brains. Could AI really pose such a dire threat to humanity or are we being unrealistic about it?

As sentient beings who are constrained by emotion, it’s hard to fathom how an autonomous system may be able to supersede us, consciously. I mean, it took evolution millions of years to construct this faulty anatomy we are endowed with; and unfortunately, we are fraught with biological problems throughout life. Thus, building a super-computer machine who doesn’t have to be bounded by withering cells and a fickle brain could easily out-think and out-perform us in no time.

We already have cars that drive themselves and IBM’s Watson that can compile millions of pages of information and piece together a normal answer through hints and clues as it once did against Jeopardy’s most brilliant contestants. That said, super-AI is essentially right around the corner.

The effect of AI on the economy will be substantial. Many menial jobs may be supplanted by robots who will do the job more efficiently and effectively. This could put a giant chasm in our financial distribution; where the divide between the poor and the rich grows alarmingly more distant. But, economists and mathematicians speculate that these problems can be solved by adjusting taxes and being monetarily cautious. The good thing about technology and humanity is that we find a way to coexist without stepping on each other’s toes. We’ve feared many things during our progress as humans, but we always seem to push the envelope without tearing the paper.

Consciousness is a sticky subject because it is highly subjective and brain-based. So, if in time these robots do experience life as we do, they will be highly susceptible to rotten emotions such as envy, hatred, deceit, and jealousy. When these emotions go unnoticed in AI, we could be in for a world of trouble. But who says we have to let these robots get to the same level as us, sentimentally? We could easily put boundaries on their expansiveness and override such self-multiplying type of advancement. Even if they somehow do figure out a way to become nearly all-powerful that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become villainous or malicious. Since humans think like humans, we get a false view that distorts our reality by thinking every organism has to be exactly like us. That’s astoundingly untrue, we are what we are because we are made by building blocks that allow us to be what we are. Robots don’t have to operate on the same bandwidth as us.

Ultimately, I think AI will facilitate humanity in the work area and thus catapult our technology to even greater heights. I’m an optimist: scientists and engineers are wise enough to modify and predict any shortcomings in AI before they transpire. AI won’t destroy us because we won’t let them. There will be ample codes and algorithmic functions that could destruct such a hostile group of robots if need be. Super-AI I’m a bit more weary about because depending on the technological ramifications, this typer of hyper-robot could completely predict how we would look to control it which could open a can of worms. But for now, and in the near future, be jubilant and embrace artificial intelligence! We’ll be completely safe from any unfeeling machines that want to impose their will on the human civilization.

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The Future of Selfies

In a distant, alternate universe, Tami has just snapped and shared her 10,000th selfie. She becomes the first person to do so in a mere 5 years. Tami is lauded by the entire planet; as fans fantasize about being able to achieve such a feat, they begin to try to mimic her perfection. Tami, a 25-year-old self-employed model, feels highly empowered by giving people a chance to witness her unprecedented beauty. Tabloids swoon over catching her in the act of posing for a selfie. She’s a role model. A saint. A woman of valor with a smug attitude that everyone ought to aspire to have. She has told people that her narcissism and self-righteousness can be further extended and she therefore plans on upping her selfie capturing to uncharted heights. Her fans abound, and people can’t wait to see more of her. The future looks bright…

Suppose such a universe did exist; hey, it might be imperceptible and right in our backyard! I doubt it, but selfies have transformed the way you and I perceive each other. The images reflect a “me-first” connotation in an increasingly “me-first” society. We all witness people who post endless photos of themselves in a mild-mannered way. These people are harmless; they’re just presenting the fruits of their labor. It’s good to have confidence and a bit of egotism, which can fuel you to do bigger and better things, but when these habits become visceral compulsions—the need to post pictures of yourself—you need to lighten the load.

Selfies have become commonplace in society. We see them being snapped everywhere from funerals to doctor offices. Think of how rare it was to get a picture of someone back in the AOL instant-messaging days; you would have salivated just to see one selfie taken by the woman or man with whom you were in conversation. But now that technology continues to increase at an alarming rate, we have the resources to present ourselves in a plethora of different ways, and at the most unceremonious times.

Apps like Instagram and Snapchat encourage you to post as much as you can of whatever you want, and the most important “whatever” is yourself. So we are left with people posting the same selfies unendingly, because “it’s not nice to criticize people” and the apps essentially provoke you to share instantaneously. Just remember: anything done in moderation is fine, but, usually, familiarity breeds contempt. Too much of anything gets old really quickly. People who have that mysterious mystique about them tend to keep the audience on their toes.

Let me drop a term I learned in economics some years back that has stuck with me: the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. This basically states that the more you have of a good, the less you desire it the next time. It applies to many things in life: food, music, SELFIES, etc. That said, the more often you post selfies, the less your audience is enraptured by each successive picture, given the short lapse of time in between them. This is not only directed at women; men tend to turn the camera on themselves a lot nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I think most selfies that people take are appealing and worth viewing, but they can quickly become redundant.

When your relationship is seemingly flawless and your partner starts taking selfies, consider that a massive red flag. Selfies are toxic for dating; they can tear down a good relationship faster than a wrecking ball against a Lego set. That is because a selfie is inherently attention-seeking, and creates a chasm of uncertainty and insecurity from your partner who values you the most. You show me a relationship that has a lot of selfie-posting from either ends, and I’ll show you a relationship that has a short lifespan.

Sometimes the prettiest females are the ones who don’t know they’re pretty; the under-the-radar, coy individuals who rarely dive into their egos. Studies have claimed that frequent selfie sharers have a dark underlying factor linked to narcissism and traits of psychopathy. These studies are still in their nascent stages, but evidence is being corroborated by many different outlets. Kim Kardashian is releasing a book titled selfish, which is a compilation of selfies throughout her “hardscrabble” life. This highfalutin tale will probably have a great effect on young, impressionable minds; and, maybe for the worse. I do commend Kim’s ability to promote her brand from a business standpoint, but maybe not in such a gaudy and dishonorable way.

Now, what will happen to future generations who embark in the realm of “selfiedom”? Will there be a backlash against selfies for fear that too much pretention might make one un-relatable to more modest people? It all remains to be seen. Moreover, these apps that unveil our privacy and give constant viewership to our friends and family will not dominate our life forever. There will always be something new and innovative waiting around the corner. Hopefully the avant-garde of that “something” will unshackle us from the depths of conceit in which we’ve been buried. Vanity can be inherent, but that doesn’t mean we should look away from things of great value in life.

In my estimation, extreme selfie shooting will eventually become a diagnosed disorder—a compulsion to exhibit oneself for the approval of others—that will inevitably wane through digital detox. All phones are equipped with cameras, but once we decide to spend less time on the phone because we’re literally wasting our lives away, we’ll naturally see a decline in selfies. Until that time, embrace the countless selfies that people share without any qualms. My advice is to post selfies that are original but to post them infrequently, so your onlookers will eagerly anticipate the next one. The visual aesthetics of a female are one of the greatest sights we can glance at, but we don’t need Tami’s reality to become our own.

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Exercise Your Way to a Better Brain

Motion is self-expanding. We can easily succumb to the nonchalance of sitting on a couch and watching endless hours of Netflix. However, a sedentary approach to life is a shortcut to an accelerated death. To grow and live long, we must stay in motion. Physical activity endeavors from Pilates to sports to yoga all contribute handsomely to enhancing your body not just physically, but mentally. All the small things add up in the end, but we can temporarily obviate our inevitable demise by expending more kinetic energy, daily. The benefits of the impacts that exercise places on your brain are enough to convince any sane person to get moving post-haste. The brain can atrophy (cerebral atrophy) just like muscles can with underuse.

Throughout life we are battered by pangs of distress, emotional despondency, injuries, illnesses, diseases, hapless happenings, brain cell deterioration, etc. Moreover, most of these maladies come at the expense of our own ignorance. We’re taught early in life how important physical activity is in gym class. Some of us adhere, some throw the information in the back of our cerebellum only to be retrieved when it’s too late; or when we’ve been perturbed by unsettling news that an impending problem with our body will soon be taking place.

One of my favorite platitudes that I can’t say enough, “The time is now,” really hits the nail on the head on why we shouldn’t delay the advancement of our mind & bodies because tomorrow is truly not guaranteed. I understand how easy it is to be lazy; the willingness to not unleash any energy seems like a quality that an obese society cherishes. There’s too many avenues of contentment and complacency that, and much to our own chagrin, end up withering us away — even unknowingly.

Neurobiologically, exercise releases cortisol — the stress hormone that increases fat and stifles memory consolidation — which is a major benefit to adapting to stressors that may offset your system’s homeostasis. Along with strengthening your immune system, exercise can increase euphoria and feelings of bliss by the production of endorphins. Hence the term “Runner’s high” that befalls you once you reach a plateau of running and the feeling of comfortability and oneness with the specific activity. Long walks stimulate creativity and de-stress you from whatever may be burdening you at the moment.

Alzheimer’s, the terrible neurodegenerative disease that affects millions of people,  can be slowly prevented by increasing your movement. Scientists and psychologists have proven that a reduction of cognitive decline can be the result of implementing small, 20-30 minute routines into your daily regimen. Obesity is a big risk factor for Alzheimer’s, so continuing to shed body weight can stave off the eventual disease and lower the incidence rate.

Cognitive functioning and brain plasticity will be expanded 10-fold by instituting any form of aerobic exercise into your lifestyle. The brain will become sharper, motor skills will improve, brain fogginess will subside, the ability to learn new things will increase, and your memory will strengthen. These are advantageous points enough to keep you from ever wanting to take the escalator again.

As time progresses, we slowly lose more and more brain cells. We just aren’t made to last forever. Our bodies fade just as ink does on a sopping wet canvas. Death is inescapable, but we can decelerate the process by becoming more active. A civilization in motion is one that is highly prosperous and productive. Showing our kids the importance of ‘go-getter-ness’ and relaying the undeniable benefits of movement can take our planet to greater heights. As the battle with obesity and decline in brain functioning continues, understand that you choose whether or not you want to make yourself better. Be wise, get moving.

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Appreciating the Moment

Our society prides itself on getting things done in a timely fashion. If we fall behind or procrastinate longer than usual, we feel things such as anxiety and uneasiness. These consequential feelings induce a burden on our shoulders that never seems to be pacified. We make plans. We talk about the future. We promote our aspirations through endless contemplation. But, when things go amiss (which they inevitably will), we notice that we’ve—unbeknownst to ourselves—sacrificed our most precious commodity: time.

Some of us adamantly feel as if we are truly living in the moment, but once we enter that destination, a cascade of thoughts leaves us tumbling down a mountain of unforeseeable anticipation. To actually feel the present moment, we have to relinquish our external world and look inward at our current situation. Whether by recognizing your thoughts or being grateful for what you have right this instant, remaining faithful to the moment on any given day for a certain amount of time will lead to the gratification of your self-worth.

Recently, I had a vivid moment of nostalgia in the shower that was akin to revisiting a dream or getting the unsettling feeling of déjà vu, which left me startled. I was thinking back to a time when I was in the shower—at the inception of my 21st birthday—and thinking, “Wow, 18 felt like it was yesterday.” Now, with me being 26, I got the same feeling about being 21. To summarize those profound but fleeting thoughts: life is a race against time, and things go faster as you get older. I realized that we’re all so inundated with distractions that we continue to shrug off the essence of life: living. Of course, technology presents itself in a way that’s abundantly innovative; thus, it leaves us yearning for what’s to come and how things may change going forward.

What we fail to notice is that the only time is now. Eventually, when we arrive at the future, we lose grip of it quickly, only to forget that we’ve even made it there. Contemplatives—people who practice meditation—understand the value of living by creating circumstances where they can really feel in tune with life. Mindful mediation has steadily become a beneficial practice that can relieve stress and increase brainpower. It’s tantamount to physical exercise for the body, but for the brain. Getting lost in life has been an antiquated endeavor that has lost its flair due to the barrage of social outlets at our fingertips. Life is short, even when it’s long-lived. We ought to appreciate the moment and be grateful for it before we become aware that everything snuck past us.

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Are We Alone in the Universe?

There are three deep questions that philosophers and scientists continually raise in their quest for enlightenment: What is the meaning of life? What kick-started life? Are we alone? Now, as humans we are virtually still in our infancy, having existed for a mere 200,000 years on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old (pretty difficult to comprehend how slow evolution takes to create physiological changes.) When you unpack our anatomy, both chemically and biologically, you’ll notice that we are comprised of the same “stuff” that pervades the universe. Astonishingly, we’re as much related to the universe as it is to us. However, stumbling upon another species that is more or less intelligent than us would be a significant milestone, considering that we have only been exposed to our own biosphere. However, things would change. Determining whether or not the extraterrestrials were hostile or benevolent would require us to tread lightly.

Given the gargantuan number of stars existing in our galaxy alone (100+ billion), it would be naive to say that life couldn’t form on any of these surfaces. Exoplanets—planets that are orbiting a star that is different than ours—are being discovered by the boatloads. Astronomers are shrewdly sifting out which planets are eligible to be exoplanets by recognizing certain light emissions and measuring distances from the star and the planet. Scientists swoon over these observances because it brings them one step closer to finding planets that are able to sustain life. Life, according to our standards, needs to be in a proximate distance from the sun in order to be viable. This zone is called the “Goldilocks zone.” When you exist in this region, your climate is neither too hot nor too cold. Earth, of course, teems with life because it is perfectly seated in that destination. Also, water is vital to survival and the conception of life because it can mix organic compounds together. It is only a matter of time until we find a twin-earth that has been around long enough to have life emerge into a multi-celled organism. Scientists are dutifully and cleverly using tactics to efficiently weed out all of the planets that do not satisfy the “habitable planet” criterion.

But what if life does not have to be based on a human-encoded rubric? What if life can exist interdimensionally? Firstly, if life can exist without the chemicals that are strewn throughout our molecular structure, then it is probably safe to say that life is abundant in the universe. Secondly, we cannot tackle such a question without having known that the other species is definitely disparate from us. But, let us think hypothetically: If this species were entirely made up of an undiscovered element, rather than our 6 elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus), then we would have great trouble analyzing it. If they are thousands of years ahead of us technologically, then we would concede their dominance in an instant. Anything that much more advanced than us is indistinguishable from magic. If you take a peasant who existed in the barbaric medieval age and give him a glimpse of what life is like today, he would be befuddled and flabbergasted within seconds, taken aback by unsettling thoughts such as “how’s that even possible!?” Technological growth is exponential, and these beings may be able tap into interstellar travel as easy as it is for us to ride a bike. Such a scenario is totally plausible when you think about how far we have come in the last century alone.

Interdimensional life that may thrive in a higher dimension would be peculiar and unquantifiable. Since we exist in 4 dimensions (length, width, height, and time), we cannot wrap our heads around anything existing elsewhere. Scientists theoretically postulate that there are 10 dimensions, which ultimately leads to infinite universes e.g., string theory (yes, I know, sounds preposterous.) Some scientists even posit that our universe is one among many that pop in and out of existence like little bubbles. As dehumanizing as it sounds, it shows the complexity of all things and how meticulously we are all interconnected. Therefore, it is a lot more reasonable that we find aliens of our nature than anything else. We are simply not evolved enough to witness imperceptible beings who dwell in other dimensions.

Would aliens be hostile or benevolent? That is an undeniably hard question to answer. But we can be introspective and take a look at ourselves. Human nature tends to be selfish and altruistic. In order for us to propagate and survive, we had to be cooperative. However, we also had to preserve our evolutionary upbringing. It is all in our genes; some people are more helping and caring than others, mostly not by choice. Of course you can acquiesce and override those natural feelings to do something you want, but only to an extent. When it comes to good and evil, we lie in the middle of the train tracks. For example, people are ostensibly “good,” but behind closed doors they may be malicious and duplicitous. The worst possible scenario in discovering intelligent beings would be to find ones that are plundering planets because they need to colonize somewhere. These beings would not be kind in their approach to obtaining our resources. But when you think about it, if we were on our last leg of existence and we knew there was a prospering, less-evolved life form in our backyard, would we aggressively seek out our necessary ingredients to survive? Most likely, given our track record, but we have not yet been pushed against that wall.

There most likely is other life out there somewhere, just based on probability. Until we find “them,” we should be wary in our approach to discovering them in case they’re unfriendly. Space exploration is an important sector of science because it provides us with a way to expand our resourcefulness, rather than remaining bound by earth’s finite assets. UFOs that have been spotted in our atmosphere are mostly bunk and, if anything, anomalous behavior. Even if they were actual extraterrestrials, and that is the way in which they choose to communicate with us, then they are certainly not doing a good job of it. Most UFO observers eventually get exposed or are just delusionally unscientific. It would be cool to find different life out there; we’d gain a lot of uncharted insight. I just hope I am alive for the eureka moment.

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Why We Need to Take ISIS Seriously

With all the recent hoopla and fear-mongering that’s been surfacing on social media networks and news channels concerning ISIS, we undeniably need to be proactive rather than reactive. Looking back, the atrocities that transpired in New York City 13 years ago still leave a nasty taste in our mouths no matter how much solace we receive. ISIS, the neo-Al Qaeda militant group, is without a doubt, morally reprehensible. From decapitating innocent people to raping young women, allowing this unjust behavior to persist would be naively perverse of us. Backed by religious certainty, members of ISIS claim they are doing “Allah’s” work. But how can we reprimand these maniacal individuals if what they’re doing seems right in their eyes?

Even if Islam is, by and large, opposed to these actions of ISIS, the religion itself needs to be castigated. In sports, when one person acts out (however much he or she may belie the true integrity of the team), the whole squad is penalized and scrutinized. Thus, because Islam claims to be a religion of “peace,” we immediately need to take a step back and look at the macro aspects of the religion. One thing should be wildly apparent: when your doctrines leapfrog over what’s innately right, it establishes a breach in moral responsibility. That said, your “God” could command you to annihilate anyone, thereby making the action inherently okay in your mind. And that, my friend, is where religion becomes remarkably dangerous and irrational.

The new video that has gone viral via Vice news makes it clear that ISIS is acquiring people from all different nations. In the video, the embattled member is asked, “How were you recruited?” He happily replies, “No one recruited me…I opened the newspaper, I read the Koran.” Seemingly green with envy, the ISIS spokesman’s interview was laden with ridiculous comments and jabs thrown at America behind the guise of Allah’s suggestions. As uncomfortable as it is to hear such obscenities, this faith-based initiative to placate Allah is totally absurd. To say they’re not motivated by faith—and a resolute faith at that—pulls the veil right over our eyes and makes us that much more vulnerable.

Going forward, we have to take this man’s motives at face value. We must pull no punches and take every precaution necessary, even if it’s bombing and detaining innocent people of that sect. We cannot allow ourselves to fall victim to another gigantic tragedy. The handwriting is on the wall; acting proactively will ensure our safety. The truth is that to vanquish depraved behavior, sometimes you have to eradicate those who are unruly. Terrorism is the final draft of delusion, and we should not tolerate it or anything associated with it. People who make their immoral decisions through the purview of a messiah complex have an agenda that will ultimately ruin us as a civilization. Let’s be wise and let the powers that be lead us to a full-blown attack.

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We’re Nothing But a Victim Of Our Brain

There’s nothing more dehumanizing than realizing that you are beholden to a part of your brain of which you have no control–the unconscious. For years, philosophers have squabbled over whether or not there’s free will, or, rather, are we just an amalgamation of neurons being shot off and transmitted throughout our prefrontal cortex thereby mitigating our sense of self. It’s quite evident that we aren’t always the drivers of our bodies and the authors of our thoughts, but astonishingly, the observers. This concept of a lack of free will is somewhat arcane, but is being uncovered slowly by neuroscience. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are derived from our unconscious (once dubbed as the “subconscious;” both terms are interchangeable.) Our predispositions and predilections are primarily out of our control; it’s only at the moment they arise that we feel we’ve created these feelings–which of course is illusory. Moreover, we’re plagued by cognitive biases that we generally fall victim to in the midst of quick-thinking. But, we aren’t robots (as far as i know) and we do waffle over choices ad infinitum until we stumble upon an answer that is most conducive to our wellbeing. However, if something is unbreachable, such as the aforementioned unconscious which makes up the majority of our actions, aren’t we not truly responsible for most of our wrongdoings, missteps, and negative behavior, given that we had no other choice? Aren’t we just playing to the beat of our own brain? If we were able to choose differently, wouldn’t we need a different brain that doesn’t constitute a potential predictable outcome of which you had zero choice in developing?

Brain processes that happen automatically with little to no conscious effort surprisingly occur more than we think. Experiments conducted at the University of Columbia asked participants to perform a set of tasks under functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). One of the tasks was pressing a specific button with their right or left hand, which seemingly would be unpredictable to onlookers and one’s self. However, what the participants didn’t know was that whatever choices they eventually chose, it was already decided by their unconscious 7 seconds before with 98% accuracy! The FMRI was beaming with blood flow to that specific area in the brain which would press the right or left button. This stood as a clear indicator that our unconscious is in the driver seat and we are just the presenters of what it chooses, in the end. As soon as consciousness kicks in, it’s by that point we are duped into thinking we’ve actually, consciously, made the decisions ourselves.

We are constricted and influenced by our genes, environment, and evolutionary upbringing, all of which we had no conscious modifications toward. When you really inspect your thoughts, you’ll come to a stark realization that thoughts arise out of nowhere. We tend to witness our inner lives so frequently that we aren’t jarred by the outcomes of things that happen solely because we think we’re always in control and it was our fault for choosing this or that. Causes and effects that happen systematically in the universe make things irreversible or unchangeable; if you were given a chance to redo your final decision on something, as long as the universe is configured the same way (mostly your brain & body) then you’ll choose that same exact choice the second time around.

Think of all the chemicals that propel you into a merry temperament or a testy mood. These emotions are sustained through a myriad of brain functioning variables that are mostly out of our grasp. If we really have absolute free will, wouldn’t we all be in great shape, happy as a clam, smart as whip, and in deep love? Our brain dictates our behavior and we can’t tap into our most profound facet of our brain that’s responsible for most of how we act. Thus, as disconcerting as it may be, we are, which Sam Harris so elegantly states: “You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm”

Cognitive biases also have their way of manipulating us into using shortcuts as survival tactics developed through years of trial and error. The confirmation bias–a bias which tends to favor the preconceived beliefs a person thinks are true no matter how much opposing evidence is provided– is what keeps inveterate traditions around. I find myself conforming to the confirmation bias sometimes by looking up something that favors my outlook on a particular subject, but usually things that are opinionated and trivial. This bias can be detrimental when people start believing in unrealistic things and devise their life around something that’s extraordinarily farcical such as thinking UFO’s are hovering over your house every-night, for the odd and narcissistic sake that they want to abduct you and no one else. Blocking out contrary evidence can hamper someone’s mental development and ultimately affect those around you. Conspiracy theorists and the like tend to gravitate toward conformation of their irrational notions rather than the dis-conformation of what lies beneath the veracity of that belief. We are preprogrammed to act this way in order for the brain to make sense of things in an easier fashion and to fill the gaps in our logic. Overcoming this bias takes practice and an open-minded attitude to see things from both sides and recognize that empirical evidence supersedes belief no matter how near and dear that belief may be to you.

I think the for most part our brains have been molded over years and years of evolution to act a certain way. And since we don’t exist in an era where survival is urgent every single day, we’re burdened with these subtle glitches in our thinking that leave us swayed toward one side rather than the other. Our will is finite; it can only go so far. Some people can wake up tomorrow and decide to go on a strict diet, while others will vacillate the idea until they’ve essentially run out of time. Our brains are plastic and we can mend them to some degree, but we cannot replace them (not yet at least.) So, whichever way your brain is constructed you have to realize your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly because your brain has an uncanny way of misleading you towards conclusions that may be good for you in the moment, but harmful for you in the long run.

 

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