Anonymous said: Hi - I stumbled across your blog while scouring the inter webs, and I just want to say: you seem to be an incredible person. I find your intelligence downright attractive in every way possible. Sorry to be so forthcoming, but I just thought I should let you know that someone out there is very enamored with you. I'm sending good vibes to you from across oceans tonight!

I’m very touched, that’s among the most beautiful compliments I’ve gotten. Thank you Anonymous! :)

Souls Of Trees

In spring and summer, everything is green and idyllic, with every tree boasting its own coat of leaves. But in winter, the trees are stripped of their leaves and are forced to show their bare branches. A once lush, beautiful forest becomes a field of bony, crooked wooden skeletons. No matter how magnificent a tree may be in the summer, you can see its true form in winter.

But are the trees ashamed to show their true selves? The reason trees bare themselves in winter is so that they can store up energy and chlorophyll to produce more leaves in spring, when there is more sunshine. The branches continuously reach upward and outward, biding until better time has come.

It is the souls of the trees we see in the winter - continuously struggling to survive, but always holding on until it can bloom its flowers and leaves again. No matter how tough the conditions, these souls live on.

(Inspiration from Nymphomaniac Vol. I)

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Off on another adventure

So I know there hasn’t been much life update here, but I’m going to- wait for it - Malta! I’m doing an 8-week elective there in Accident & Emergency, then taking a 2-week holiday in Europe. At the airport right now actually haha. I’ll try update parts of my trip here!

Until I come back, ARK is on hiatus…But got one more post queued up for Saturday!

So au revoir people~ :D

The Devil’s Interval

(See below NB for a simple guide to musical notes and tones)

In music, depending on what notes you use in a single chord, you can produce beautiful harmonies as the tones complement each other. The opposite of this is called dissonance and it results in a harsh, unpleasant sound. A famous example of this is a tritone - a chord made from two notes exactly three whole tones apart. In a standard C major diatonic scale (which doesn’t involve any flats or sharps), there is only one tritone per octave: F and B. But on the chromatic scale (all keys), any number of tritones are possible.

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Historically, the tritone has been the black sheep of music theory due to its dissonance crashing any harmony of a song and being difficult to sing. It sticks out like a sore thumb among the sea of beautiful harmonies that other tones make. The tritone was hated so much so that it was named diabolus in musica (“the devil in music”) or the devil’s interval since the Middle Ages, even being banned in the production of music prior to the Renaissance. To this day, the tritone is suggested as an “evil”, “scary” sound.

Over time, composers worked around the tritone until they realised that thanks to the connotations, the tritone was a useful way to express “evil” in a musical way. The cultural association was exploited freely in works such as Franz Liszt’s Dante Sonata, where the tritone is used to depict Hell. The association is found in modern music as well to produce an unsettling feeling, such as the opening notes of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. The tritone is a common feature of heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath.

Even though these songs use the devil’s interval, they are not at all inferior to “normal” major scale music. They are still beautiful in their own, interesting way. Perhaps the notion of good and evil have no place in judging whether something is beautiful or not.

NB: Musical tones are noted using the alphabet: C, D, E, F, G, A and B, with a flat(b) to denote a semitone lower, or a sharp(#) to denote a semitone higher. This is easy to visualise on a piano keyboard, where a single tone interval involves a white key, a black key in between and another white key. The interval between a white key and a black key is a semitone.

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(Image: Portion of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights depicting musicians’ hell)

Ticking Bomb Scenario

Imagine a situation where a terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in a major city and has it rigged to explode in 24 hours. Only he knows where the bomb is and how to disarm it. The authorities successfully capture him but he is not volunteering the information after hours of interrogation. Millions of lives are at stake because one man hides behind his rights and the control of his tongue. In such a scenario, is it morally justified to torture him until he gives away the information needed to prevent a catastrophe?

Torture is an unacceptable violation of a human being’s most fundamental rights. By inflicting pain and terror, the torturer systematically destroys the victim - physically, emotionally and psychologically. However, in the above scenario, not torturing the bomber will result in the death of countless innocent lives. Is the right of a murderous madman equivalent to a million other human beings? When asked this, the majority of people would answer that yes, in this scenario, torture can be justified.

However, this scenario is a hypothetical philosophical model to outline the argument that torture may be morally justified in certain situations. It is not a way to prove that governments should legally use torture as part of interrogations. The ticking bomb scenario has many weaknesses, such as the fact that such a scenario where all the elements line up so perfectly is highly unlikely to arise. But even so, it may be used as a base of a slippery slope, with people arguing that if a million lives can be saved by torturing an individual, what about a thousand lives? A hundred lives? Or even five lives? What if we have a legal system in place where a judge must issue a warrant after assessing the scenario? Then surely an argument can be made that in certain scenarios, there is no time for this process and lives are at stake. Ultimately, the legalisation of torture is an extremely dangerous slippery slope that can facilitate the violation of human rights with ease.

An alternative system is the so called Dirty Harry case. In this case, torture is still illegal, but a single individual in law enforcement decides to go rogue and takes the matter into his own hands. Because he decides to torture the suspect as an individual, not as part of an institution, he will be committing a crime for which he will be tried in the future. If the jury finds him guilty, he will be punished by being imprisoned. Therefore, the “Dirty Harry” must weigh the potential benefit of torturing the suspect (i.e. saving lives) versus the potential risks (i.e. going to prison), giving him incentive to make a more careful decision.

(Source: Check out this Reddit comment for a more elaborate explanation with references)

Break A Leg

In theatre, there is a superstition that wishing good luck to an actor or actress brings them bad luck instead. Because of this, theatre cast around all around Europe have traditionally wished bad luck on each other or cursed to counteract this. This superstition is likely the root of the phrase “break a leg”, which is an expression used to wish well for a person who is about to perform. Similar customs are found in other European countries, such as “merde!” in France (meaning “shit”). “Merde” is also used frequently in professional dancing circles, especially ballet dancers.

The exact meaning of the phrase is not known, but there are many theories. The “leg” may be referring to the side curtains of the stage. In the past, actors were not paid unless their act made it onto the stage. Therefore, “breaking” the “leg - as in stepping past the curtains on to the stage - was an act of success and a guarantee of a paycheck. “Breaking a leg” may be referring to the act of bending one’s leg and bowing - something that is done repeatedly at the end of a show, especially if it was successful. More obscure theories include the story of a famous British actor in the 18th century literally breaking his leg while passionately acting out a scene from Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Skeleton

Is it better to have a skeleton inside the body, or on the surface?

In the case of insects, the skeleton is on the surface and takes the form of a shell that protects them from external damage. The flesh is protected by this shell and becomes soft until it becomes fluid-form. Therefore, when something sharp penetrates the armour, it causes critical, irreversible damage.

If the skeleton is inside the body, it takes the form of thin, hard bones. The soft flesh on the outside is exposed to harm. This leads to endless number of wounds. However, the weakness of being exposed leads to the muscles becoming harder with more resistant muscle fibres. The flesh evolves.

I have met many people who wear an intellectual shell made from remarkable knowledge and intellect, protecting themselves from attacks made by people with different ideas. They appeared much more robust than normal people. They would laugh at everything else, saying “I don’t care”. But when a different opinion would penetrate the hard exterior of their mind, the blow to their ego was indescribable.

I have also met people who would be hurt by even the smallest, insignificant confrontations or dissonance. However, they were sensitive because their minds were open and they learnt something from whatever attack they received.

(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)

Werber spoke of the “skeleton” of the body and mind, but human beings have one other thing that needs a sturdy skeleton - the heart. Many people protect their heart from being broken with hard armour. They do not open up themselves easily and always give an image of strength and stability. But there is no such thing as a life without pain. People who put a skeleton on the outside of their heart tend to be those who have been hurt badly before and trying to protect themselves from being hurt again. This may be effective to some degree, but if you close off your heart, you cannot heal your wounds and you also shut off the happiness of connection. If they suffer pain greater than their armour can withstand, their heart is shattered and they fall into a pit of despair, unable to recover.

On the contrary, some people open up easily to others, exposing themselves to frequent pains from social interactions. These people are sensitive to pain and heartbreak. Hence, the world considers them frail and weak. But as these people have a strong skeleton inside their hearts, they can recover from any wound and they become stronger like well-developed muscle. They grow through pain and their heart - like a warrior who has fought countless battles - becomes strong and resilient against the pains of the world.

We mustn’t avoid suffering and pain and instead try to overcome it. Through this we learn how to bounce back and through experience, we develop ourselves. Suffering is hard, but it is a catalyst that helps us grow into a strong, resilient person.

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Atrophy

With exercise, muscles get bigger and bigger to generate enough power to meet the demand. This is called hypertrophy, where the cells in tissue divide faster to increase their numbers and build mass. When you do not use the muscles as much, the body decides to recycle the precious resources by breaking down the extra muscle. This is called atrophy - also known as wasting.

Muscles are not the only things that atrophy. The less you think deeply and explore your curiosities, the more your intelligence and wisdom atrophies. As you care less, your heart and ability to love atrophies. As you smile and laugh less, your happiness atrophies.

Like much of nature, the human body dislikes the status quo and strives to avoid stagnation. It continuously breaks down old, unnecessary things to make way for new, different things that will help you better adapt to your environment.

Unfortunately for us, that means to maintain the parts of us that we like, we must train and use the relevant “muscles” - whether it be lifting weights, reading books or laughing heartily for no reason.

Found a perfect GIF to describe my mornings lately. Early mornings suck.

Threading A Marble

It is recorded that one day, Confucius was presented with a small marble that was filled with tiny holes with twists and turns. He was challenged to try thread the marble with a piece of thread. Confucius tried and tried but could not complete the challenge.

Feeling lost, he asked for some time to think and took a walk. A passing woman noticed him and asked what was wrong. Upon hearing the story, the woman said: “Think quietly, quieten your thoughts”. This gave Confucius an idea, so he thanked the woman and returned to the puzzle. In Chinese, the character for “quiet (密, mi)” sounds the same as “honey (蜜, mi)”. He found an ant, tied a thread around its waist and then placed it on one hole. He smeared some honey on the hole on the other side of the marble and the ant followed the scent, threading the marble as it travelled through the twists and turns.

Thomas Edison famously said that “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. Although this quote is usually used to stress the importance of effort and striving to succeed, you still need that 1% of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to achieve true success. The inspiration can be from anywhere - a small memory in the recess of your mind, the casual remark of a passerby, an insignificant detail in your surrounding… What is important that you open your eyes and be open to such inspiration, no matter how silly or lowly you think the source is. You never know what or who will inspire you to have a eureka moment.

Mandrake

The plant Mandragora officinarum, more commonly known as mandrake, is a plant that has interested people in various fields throughout history. Firstly, the root is split into two at the end, giving the uprooted plant the appearance of a human being. Secondly, it belongs to the nightshade family, containing plants such as the infamous deadly nightshade (belladonna), tobacco, Datura, petunia, tomatoes and potatoes. Like its relatives the belladonna and Datura, mandrakes contain alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine. These substances are potent (and toxic) hallucinogenics and sedatives, which is why they have had various uses ranging from witchcraft to anaesthesia to murder through poisonings.

The shape of the mandrake and its hallucinogenic effects have given it notoriety. Legend goes that when a mandrake root is dug up, it shrieks with such terror that anyone who hears it will die - possibly referring to the toxicity of the alkaloids. Historical texts give detailed instructions on digging up mandrakes by tying a hungry dog to the root and making it pull the plant out of the ground when the owner is out of earshot and he lures the dog with food.

Other folklore suggest that mandrake only grow when the ground is inseminated by semen dripping from a hanged man. This folklore is likely fuelled by the mandrake’s human-like appearance. Ancient and medieval literature associates mandrake being used to make fertility agents and love potions(again, likely related to the hallucinatory, sedative effects). Mandrake is a common ingredient in magic rituals of various kinds, such as in Wiccan rituals.

Alkaloids extracted from mandrake have been used in medicine since the Middle Ages, where extracts were used to anaesthetise patients before surgery, as it has a sedating, hypnotic effect. Eye drops made from mandrake extract were used for hallucinations and mandrake syrups were used to aide sleep. In modern medicine, scopolamine is used in motion sickness patches and atropine is used to speed up the heart rate when it slows too much.

The extensive list of supposed and actual properties of mandrake has made it a popular plant in fiction as well and it can be found in countless works throughout time, such as works of Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K. Rowling.

The Importance Of Hugging

American psychologist Harry Harlow was interested in the debate surrounding the role of the mother. Some scholars argued that a mother’s role is to provide food for the baby, while others argued for the importance of the mother’s tender loving care for the baby. To investigate this, Harlow created two “mothers” for a group of infant rhesus macaques (species of monkeys). One mother was made of wire and wood and the other made of soft cloth to simulate the physical contact of an actual mother monkey. The twist was that only the wire mother provided milk for the infant. Despite this, an overwhelming number of infant macaques chose the cloth mother over the wire mother, choosing physical contact over nourishment. It was found that when given the two choices, the infants would visit the wire mother only for a feed, then would cling to the cloth mother the rest of the time. Harlow concluded that the mother’s role is not only to feed the young, but to provide them with “contact comfort" through physical contact.

Hugging is a form of physical contact found in almost every culture across the globe. It non-verbally communicates to the other person that you love and care for them and that you are compassionate for their happiness. It can provide the warmth, comfort, support and security the other person may need at the end of a tough day.

The act of hugging induces a massive release of oxytocin into your system, giving you the sensation of happiness and connection. It reduces your blood pressure and dissolves anxiety, making you feel more at peace. The behaviour of hugging is seen in a mother holding her child, a child cuddling a teddy bear, a couple communicating their affection, or two friends sharing a moment of happiness.

When two people hug, they become something more than a simple group of two people. In that moment of a hug, the two people enter a transcendent zone filled with only love and happiness, where they are protected from the sorrows and evils of the world. It is the physical form of human connection. In other words, a hug is the closest thing to the physical manifestation of true happiness.

1 + 1 = 3

Interesting Numbers

One of the more humorous sides to numbers is mathematicians’ attempts to categorise numbers as “interesting" or "dull”. For example, 1 is interesting because it is the first positive integer. 73 is interesting because it is the 21st prime number and 21 is a multiple of 7 and 3. The number 1729 is a good example of how a number can seem dull but later found to be interesting. When the British mathematician G. H. Hardy visited Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, he commented that the number of the taxicab he rode in on was 1729 - a number he found to be rather dull. Ramanujan objected and stated it is very interesting as it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways (1729 = 1³ + 12³ = 9³ + 10³). Such numbers are now referred to as taxicab numbers and 1729 is called the Hardy-Ramanujan number.

A way to discover the smallest most uninteresting number is through the Online Encyclopaedia of Integer Sequences, which documents every integer worth noting as it is in some sort of arithmetic sequence. The smallest integer that does not appear in this encyclopaedia as part of a sequence could be considered as objectively the smallest “uninteresting” number. In 2009, this number was 11630, but has since changed to 12407, then 13794 and now 14228 (22 April 2014).

But paradoxically, the smallest uninteresting number is interesting in itself by being the smallest most uninteresting number. This is known as the interesting number paradox. By this paradox, every natural number is unique and ergo, “interesting”.

Number Line

(Image source: http://www.xkcd.com/899/, and here's an explanation of some of the numbers on it)