You are not afraid of the dark. You are afraid of what is in it. You are not afraid of heights. You are afraid of falling. You are not afraid of trying. You are afraid of failing. You are not afraid of being in love. You are afraid of not being loved back.
The natural response to fear is fleeing from it. It is an instinct designed to preserve our life. But fear - like all emotions - is an irrational thing. Sometimes we fear something not for what it is, but what it could turn out to be. Therefore, the greatest fear is the fear of possibilities. Because we are scared of a certain possibility, we avoid the precipitant to prevent the possibility from happening.
But the possibility you are afraid of is merely one of many branches on the tree of possibilities. You might find the dark room holds a surprise party for you. You might find the height will not lead to a fall to your death, but show you the greatest scenery you have ever seen. You might find that the person you were too afraid of asking out may have been in love with you all along.
By not opening the proverbial box, you extinguish all of these wonderful possibilities. No matter how scary it may be, give the future a chance and take a shot.
Each and every one of us have two selves: the self we truly are in our mind and hearts and the self we present to the world. Let us call these the inner self and outer self. For the most part, we know both our inner and outer selves quite well, because we know what we are thinking and feeling and we consciously control what image we show to other people. But because we cannot read minds, we usually only know the outer selves of other people.
Our inner self is somewhat difficult to change consciously as it is mostly shaped by our natural personalities, our upbringing and environmental factors such as life experience. On contrast, we have the ability to change how others see us through various ways. We wear smart clothing to suggest we are well-cultured, we tell jokes to give the image of a funny person and we emphasise our strengths while downplaying our weaknesses and insecurities to show our best possible side. Because of this, it is unfair to compare yourself (your “inner self”) to others (their “outer self”). The “perfect” person you are comparing yourself to may just be an outer shell shielding that person’s weak, insecure inner self that is no better than you.
We all have our own demons and insecurities, but no one wants others to know as all we see in society are strong, charismatic, charming outer selves and we seem so weak in comparison. In the end, we all live behind masks to try fit into a world full of masked people, too afraid of showing our true selves and being hurt.
Then how can we truly connect if we are all pretending to be different people? Always remember that others are just as afraid of lowering their mask as you are. You cannot expect the other person to open up to you first when you are not prepared to yourself. On the other hand, you cannot be hurt when they are reluctant to open up just because you have. To show your inner self means leaving yourself to be vulnerable, so it is understandable for people to take time for it to happen. All you can do is to let yourself be vulnerable first and show the other person that you are just as weak and scared as they are. That is the cost of connection.
There are mixed responses to the concept of positivity. Many people (often realists) feel that it is “unnecessary” and “fluffy” - something that does not help you survive in this dog-eat-dog world. Others lie at the other end of the spectrum and spit out generic, pseudo-inspirational quotes, saying that they are so happy that nothing can touch them. But as with anything, balance is crucial. Being overly pessimistic can make you a miserable, anhedonic person who is incapable of getting any enjoyment out of life. Being overly optimistic can make you have false hope, setting you up for a catastrophic crash when a bad situation arises to knock you off your feet.
So what is a good balance? According to the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, having an overall positive balance of emotions leads to a happier life with not only more contentment, but more awareness, mindfulness, creativity and success. Through positivity, a person can break out of the prison made by everyday stress and explore hobbies and interests, learning new skills, meeting people and building relatinoships. It also builds resilience, allowing you to withstand more stress and endure on until a better time. A rough rule of thumb is a 3:1 ratio of positive and negative emotions.
The reason it is important to allow for some negativity is that human emotions are not black and white. Sadness, pain and stress can be crippling if left unchecked, but they also catalyse growth and change. Human beings grow by learning from experience. If you ignore and push down the negative emotions, you will never react to them and you will not learn how to become better at preventing and managing such harsh times. Much like how something as foul and repulsive as manure can be an excellent fertiliser, negativity in controlled amounts acts to help you develop positivity. Do not let negativity control your life and do not bottle it up, pretending not to be affected by it. Instead, let yourself be overwhelmed once in a while, cry if you need to and learn from the experience.
The secret to positivity is not just boosting your happiness level, but being mindful of all of your emotions and learning to find the balance.
In 1764, a young woman herding cattle in Gevaudan, France, told the story of how she was attacked by a giant, fearsome beast. She reported that the beast charged towards her, but was only stopped by the bulls that defended her. The beast was described as being as big as a calf, with a large dog-like head with exposed very large fangs and dark reddish fur with black streaks. Not long after this story, a young boy living nearby was violently killed, with his throat torn out. The number of people attacked and killed by this mysterious beast grew and grew. The population of Gevaudan was terrified. No wolf or dog had been known to be as large as the beast reported by survivors, nor as vicious as this.
The story of the so-called “Beast of Gevaudan" was heard by Louis XV, who responded by dispatching professional wolf-hunters to Gevaudan to slay the beast. One of these men was called Francois Antoine - a veteran wolfhunter. Over the coming months, he hunted several large wolves, but the attacks continued.
On September 21, 1765, Antoine finally encountered the beast. It was a ferocious wolf-like animal, about 1.8m long and 70cm tall. Antoine shot it several times, in the eye, shoulder and side. The beast withstood the first couple of shots and finally fell to the ground after the third. But as Antoine and his colleagues cheered, the beast stood back up and charged Antoine. It took two more shots to finally slay the beast. Survivors of attacks were able to identify the beast as the true Beast of Gevaudan. The beast was embalmed and stuffed for display and the populace of Gevaudan celebrated the end of the terror, with Antoine being celebrated as a hero and expert wolfslayer.
However, the story did not end there. Attacks continued for years even after the Wolf of Chazes was slain. The ultimate end to the story is credited to a hunter named Jean Chastel, who shot and killed a large wolf-like beast in 1767, after which the attacks stopped. Some say that he used a blessed silver bullet - possibly originating the myth that werewolves can only be killed by silver bullets.
It is still unclear what exactly the Beast of Gevaudan was. Some believe it to be a large wolf, but most historians agree that it was likely a wolf-dog hybrid given its large size, unusual ferocity and distinct coloured fur. Other theories include the beast being a large red mastiff, an Asian hyena or a pack of wolves, which is likely given the sheer number of attacks in such a short space of time. All in all, the final kill count of the Beast of Gevaudan is estimated between 80 to 120 people, with a further 49 injuries.
The concept of hell is one of the oldest and most widespread concepts in the history of humanity. The idea that you are punished in the afterlife for your misdeeds during your earthly life is found in both the Western and Eastern hemisphere, from ancient civilisations to tribal communities to modern societies. Hell is typically described as the place the wicked are sent to for eternal damnation. It is often populated by all kinds of demons and monsters, located underground in a hot, fiery location. Depending on the religion, there may be a “death god" ruling over the realm, such as Satan, Yama, Hades or Hel. In hell, sinners are usually punished with various forms of torture, often fitting their crimes or having an ironic twist.
For example, in the Buddhist hell, seven “death gods” judge you for 49 days. One judgement tests whether you committed crimes of the tongue, such as lying or conning. If you are judged guilty, your tongue will be pulled out and it will be ploughed and sowed with seeds for eternity. In another court, you are judged for “how cold you were to others”, turning away from them when they needed your warmth and generosity. If you are guilty, you are locked away in a frozen hell for eternity. After being found not guilty in all seven courts, you are granted a chance to be reborn into your next life.
Why is hell such a common concept around the world? Every child knows the answer to that: if you do bad things, you will burn in hell. Ergo, you should not do bad things. This is the classic appeal to fear fallacy that has been used time and time again by politicians to control the masses. Death is an excellent deterrent to misdemeanour. In ancient times (and in certain modern nations), the death penalty was used to keep order in society, as the threat of death is usually good enough to persuade people out of doing something bad.
However, if a person does not care about death because they believe that all the woes of earthly life end with death, then what do you do? Early religious leaders most likely found the answer in hell - a place where you will suffer for eternity, without relief. Hell is an extremely simple way of persuading the masses that living by the law and a moral code will lead to a peaceful rest in the afterlife. Heaven is the perfect positive reinforcement and hell is the perfect positive punishment.
In Christianity, breaking one of the Ten Commandments is a clear sin. If you do not repent for this sin or ask for forgiveness, then you will be barred entry from heaven and be sent to a fiery hell, where Satan and his minions will put you in a chamber full of torture for the rest of eternity. However, the greatest punishment in Christian hell is not the torture itself, but knowing that you will forever be separated from the love and blessing of God.
(from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch)
As with many aspects of religion, hell was an important part of keeping order in ancient civilisations. To enforce this system, the picture of hell had to be fleshed out with as many grotesque, horrific details as possible. Luckily, hell was a rich source of inspiration for artists and writers throughout history. Dante wrote extensively on how he imagined hell to be structured in The Divine Comedy. Hieronymus Bosch painted large works where he used his twisted imagination to create all kinds of strange monsters. Auguste Rodin made a large sculpture called The Gates of Hell to depict imagery from Dante’s The Divine Comedy (this is where the famous figures of The Thinker and The Kiss come from). Some of the most famous Greek mythology stories involve hell and the underworld in some way, such as Orpheus’ rescue of his wife and the banishment of the Titans to Tartarus by the New Gods.
Hell appears to be the perfect form of divine judgement of your sins, but it also poses a question. Many religions preach that their gods are benevolent, just and moral. How could a god that sends their beloved children into a place of eternal suffering be called just? One would expect this to be too harsh a punishment and unnecessarily immoral. This is especially the case for those who are called “wicked” for being a non-believer. The Rapture described in the Bible explains that on Judgement Day, Jesus Christ will collect those who are good and worthy of God’s love and ascend to heaven, while the rest of the world will be left in hell. This is very different to the doctrine of Buddhism and Judaism where it is believed that hell is a “process” through which you are cleansed of sin after paying for your sins, after which you may receive peace and rebirth.
(The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, from the Sistine Chapel)
But is going to hell really a choice? I cannot speak for the process of going to the afterlife as I have never been there. However, one interpretation you could consider is that hell is not some fiery realm in another dimension - but Earth itself. It appears that Earth itself is not the best world to live in. Children die of starvation, men are murdered, women are raped, the elderly suffer from incurable diseases… If that does not sound bad enough, most people live in a hell of their own in one way or another.
Our insecurities prevent us from truly loving. We fail to achieve our dreams because we are too afraid of taking the risk. When things do not go the way we planned, we blame and beat ourselves up about it until we are miserable. The neurotic are trapped in constant anxiety, the depressed cannot see light amongst the darkness they wallow in, the pessimists are too cynical to see joy in this world and the optimists have their hopes and dreams crushed by the cruel face of reality.
We do not know whether there is hell or heaven in the afterlife, but there certainly is a hell on Earth and that is the one you create in your own mind. Instead of worrying about what kind of eternal suffering we may experience after our death, perhaps we should focus on saving ourselves from the hell that we live in. Until you find a way to escape this hell, whether it be through love, happiness or success, you will forever be trapped in misery and regret. Hell is not a fiery underworld of suffering nor a frozen wasteland of damnation - it is a state of mind.
Sorry, pulling a one-week hiatus from ARK because I have long cases on Friday and I happen to have reached 600 posts!!! Which means I am due a long post as the tradition goes hehe. Here’s the previous “100th” posts that I’ve written to keep you entertained until next week. Enjoy and see you soon! :)
According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. The humans at this time were complete. They felt as if nothing could harm them and that they could conquer the gods. Zeus feared the humans’ power and split them into two separate parts to create humans as they are now. Two arms, two legs, one face, half a soul.
Thanks to Zeus, all human beings are condemned to spend the rest of their lives in search of their other halves. When one of them meets the other half - that is, the other half of his or her original self - the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy. There is an unspoken understanding of one another - an unexplainable longing and attraction for each other. One will not be out of the other’s sight, even for a moment. The two continuously yearn for each other and strive to be together until they are finally united.
Love is simply the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete. It tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.
Historically, silver has been associated with cleansing, healing, the moon and warding off evil. For example, it is said that some monsters such as werewolves would only die if it is shot by a silver bullet. The Greek goddess of hunting and the moon, Artemis, carries a silver bow. Although it is always seconded to gold when it comes to precious metals, silver is a fascinating metal.
It is the most reflective metal on Earth and has the highest conductivity for heat and electricity. It is ductile and malleable, making it a good choice of metal for making coins, jewellery and silverware (hence the name). Because of how reflective it is, it is also used in solar panels and special mirrors, such as those in telescopes.
Another useful characteristic of silver is its chemical reactivity. Thanks to this property, silver forms many different compounds with varying applications. Silver halides are photosensitive and turn dark when they are exposed to light. This is the basis of film photography, where the light shone on a film coated with silver halides leaves a photographic imprint. Silver oxides are sometimes used in batteries and silver/mercury alloys are used for dental fillings.
Silver also plays a role in medicine. Silver ions have been shown to inactivate bacteria such as E. coli, making silver nanoparticles a useful antiseptic that can be impregnated into different materials such as wound dressings. Silver nitrate sticks are used in emergency departments as applying it to a bleeding vessel in the nose will release nitric acid, which cauterises (burns off) the vessel to stop a nosebleed. In medieval Korea, silver spoons were used to test if a food has been poisoned with arsenic, as arsenic reacts with silver to form a black tarnish. If a person has too much silver build-up in their body, they can develop argyria (silver poisoning), which turns the skin an eerie bluish-grey colour.
In the late 18th century, the great mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss was given a punishment by his teacher for being mischievous. The punishment was this simple yet tedious problem: add every integer number from 1 to a 100.
Gauss, now referred to as the “Princeps mathematicorum” (Latin for “the Prince of Mathematicians”), came up with a simple shortcut and solved the problem without breaking a sweat. He realised that he could add two numbers from opposite ends of the range of numbers and get the same number e.g. 1 + 100 = 101, 2 + 99 = 101 etc. Using this logic, there must be a certain number of identical pairs of 101.
If you take the time to look at how most birds walk, such as a chicken or a pigeon, you will notice that they bob their heads. This seems extremely impractical as if we bobbed our heads like that, we would likely become dizzy and vomit quite soon. So why do birds do it and why does it not make them dizzy?
A major difference between birds and human beings is the way our vision works. In humans, our eyes are constantly moving at a rapid rate (saccade) to collate information and stabilise images. Even when we are walking and our head is moving around, our eyes use various sensory information and reflexes to fix our vision at one point, giving us a clear picture. This is such a powerful reflex that one test to check a person’s brainstem function (for example, when they are in a coma) is to move the head and see if the eyes stay fixed on a point or if they follow the head (doll’s eye test). If the brainstem is intact, the eyes will keep looking at a fixed point despite head movement.
Birds on the other hand, cannot fix their vision this way. Instead what they do is they keep their head absolutely still in three-dimensional space when their body is moving. If you hold a chicken in the air and move the body around, you will find that the head stays stationary. This means that when they are walking, the bird’s head will stay still while the body takes a step forwards, then it will move to catch up to the body. From a third person’s point of view, this makes it look like they are bobbing their head, although they are just keeping it very still. In 1978, Dr Barrie J. Frost did an experiment where he put pigeons on a treadmill surrounded by a still backdrop and found that the pigeons did not bob their heads because there was nothing to see.
The five senses are something we take for granted as we never even give a thought as to how complex the way we receive sensory information about the world we live in. As incredible the science behind all the senses may be, it is also interesting to see such intricate mechanisms being fooled by sensory illusions. An experiment that highlights how intricate the senses can be is that of the rubber hand illusion.
In this experiment, researchers made participants look at a dummy rubber hand, while obscuring their real hand from view. They then applied exactly the same stimulus to the real hand as the rubber hand, such as stroking it with a brush or feather. Within a short amount of time, the participants reported that they were convinced that the rubber hand was their real hand, confusing the visual sensation of seeing the rubber hand with the tactile sensation of their real hand being brushed.
Because the brain is so good at piecing together things to come up with explanations, it links the two sensations and thus concludes that the rubber hand must be part of the body. The association is so strong that some participants would even feel pain when the rubber hand was attacked, pulling away their real arm.
One of the lesser known senses of the body is proprioception - the sensation of knowing where your body lies in three-dimensional space. This sensation is what lets you do things with your eyes closed, while also being responsible for the feeling of embarrassing yourself with a fall when someone pulls the chair out from under you. Proprioception is based on a delicate “body map" your brain draws out from various sensory information such as your joint position and touch sensation from your muscle and skin. It then adds more information such as vision and spatial orientation information from your inner ears to accurately predict how you will interact in your environment. In the case of the rubber hand illusion, the brain is fooled into remapping the body map to accommodate the rubber hand.
The application of this phenomenon, known as multisensory integration, extends from out-of-body experiences to phantom limb pain, where amputees feel pain and sensation from an amputated limb. There are also anecdotal evidence of men with penile prostheses being able to achieve orgasms, most likely thanks to the rubber hand illusion.
One way of achieving happiness is through compassion - the wish that other people will be happy and free from suffering. Empathy is a powerful tool and when others are happy, we tend to feel happy as well (but not always). But in modern society, people are so busy with their own lives and stresses that they do not have the luxury of caring for the well-being of others. The result of this is our compassion drying up, crippling our ability to be happy. Here is a simple meditation that helps train your compassion.
The first step of this meditation is simple: think of someone you know that is suffering and wish them good fortune. It could be a friend who has gone through a break-up or a family member who is ill. Wish that they will find the right one eventually or that they will get better soon. An important point is that you should be sincere with this, ergo it is easier to do it for people you care about. Over time, you will find that it is easier and easier to wish for someone to not suffer and it will slowly become almost a “habit”.
Once you feel yourself becoming comfortable with this, try it out on strangers on the street. If you see someone, think to yourself “I wish that person will have a good day”. It could be that you wish that person will have a loving family to go home to, or even a little thing such as someone complimenting them. Much like training an unused muscle, it will be difficult at first but you will slowly see your compassion grow and strengthen, as you genuinely wish the better for others. Perhaps you will even find yourself doing little things to brighten someone else’s day, such as giving a compliment, listening to someone’s problems or giving a small but thoughtful gift.
The ultimate step of this meditation is being compassionate towards someone you truly dislike. If you are able to wish good fortune on your worst enemy and sincerely hope that they would be happy, you would truly be a compassionate person. Like any skill, it takes much training and effort to train yourself to be this compassionate. But even if you cannot reach this level, every single step towards becoming a more compassionate person will make you feel just a little bit happier.