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Loneliness: a serious health risk

Lonely girl (Credit: Tom Woodward via Flickr)In a recent article for The Washington Post, Amy Ellis Nutt examines one of the most under-appreciated health risks facing many people today: loneliness. That people feel lonely from time to time is not a novel concept. However recent research has found "significant links between loneliness and illness" that demonstrate how "social isolation changes the human genome in profound, long-lasting ways." Scientists have found that such changes, which occur on a cellular level, can cause damage similar to that of smoking, diabetes, and obesity while also placing individuals at greater risk of heart attacks, metastatic cancer, and Alzheimer's among other diseases.

As neuroscientist John Cacioppo speculates, such cellular changes stem from a time when one's survival depended on living in community with others and working well with those around you. Because isolation in a more primitive setting would almost invariably lead to death, our bodies developed signals to tell us that something is wrong. He likened is to the way our blood sugar drops to let us know that we need to eat.

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Is chivalry dead?

Jim Carrey (L) as Lloyd Christmas, and Jeff Daniels (R) as Harry Dunne wearing brigh orange and baby blue tuxedos in a scene from the New Line Cinema Cult Classic Dumb and Dumber (Credit: New Line Cinema)Before Dumb and Dumber, there was Don Quixote. Lloyd Christmas crossed the United States to return his beloved Mary Swanson's Samsonite briefcase. Don Quixote sought to prove his love for Dulcinea by becoming a knight in search of adventure across Spain.

Christmas battled the cold; Quixote battled windmills.

Each went to great lengths to show his honor and prove his love. Don Quixote epitomized 17th century chivalry; Lloyd represented the 20th century. But is chivalry dead today?

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Our history of violence

Abstract illustration of medieval battle. (Credit: Vertyr via Fotolia)There's an old cliché that dead men tell no tales. But as the New York Times describes, a recent discovery on the shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya begs to differ. Scientists working near the lake have recently discovered the remains of a group of hunter-gatherers from roughly 10,000 years ago who were attacked and slaughtered. As James Gorman describes, "Of twelve relatively complete skeletons, ten showed unmistakable signs of violent death . . . Partial remains of at least fifteen other people were found at the site and are thought to have died in the same attack." A combination of arrow and spear wounds along with other clear demonstrations of violence leaves little doubt as to the cause of death in each case.

While the violent tendencies woven into the fabric of humanity's sinful nature should not come as a surprise, this discovery is thought by many experts to be the first example of war-like aggression in a prehistoric, hunter-gatherer culture. Previously, many speculated that such violence came about only when groups began to form more established societies. But while researchers were quick to point out that one find does not definitively change our understanding of ancient warfare, it does perhaps point to the need to re-examine those beliefs.

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