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.
A dozen is a counting term used to describe 12 of something. But when you have a baker’s dozen of bread, you have 13 pieces of baking, not 12. This may seem like a charitable gift from the baker, but the historical origin is somewhat different.
In the Middle Ages (particulary around the 13th century), baking was not an exact science and loaves of breads were made with varying sizes and weights. This made it easy for bakers to short the customer by giving them smaller loaves than what the customer needed.
To stop this, many countries implemented laws that prevented bakers from shorting the customer, usually by setting a minimum weight for a dozen loaves of bread. However, it is entirely possible for the baker to lose a few loaves of breads to accidental dropping, burning or thieves stealing them. Because the breads may come out smaller, it could not be guaranteed that a dozen loaves would be heavy enough to meet the guidelines - no matter how honest the baker was. To offset this, bakers began adding an extra loaf to ensure that they would not disobey the law (and pay a hefty fine or be seriously punished).
Another theory with less historical evidence is based on the shape of baking trays. Most baking trays are made in a 3:2 ratio and the most efficient way to place loaves of breads on these trays is a 4:5:4 hexagonal arrangement. This arrangement has the advantage of avoiding the corners, where the temperature will heat up then cool down faster, making the results less perfect. Therefore, bakers may have sold a batch of 13 loaves together instead of selling 12 and leaving one out.
When we make a mistake while writing in pen, we usually scribble out the mistake. But whether you draw zigzags, spirals or scratch left and right, it is difficult to complete hide the mistake as the letters will show through the scribble. The brain has a fantastic skill of recognising letters, so it can read between the lines, so to speak.
To truly obscure your mistake or to redact confidential information, the best way to scribble it out is by writing on it. If you write over your mistake repeatedly with random letters of the alphabet, it will completely obscure whatever word lies beneath.
We have a tendency to want to believe in reasons. The human brain loves answers and explanations, so when something unexplainable or uncertain happens, we try our best to find a “reason” for why it happened. This psychological bias has shaped history, resulting in women being burned at the stakes as witches, cults and religions being founded and even entire ethnic groups being purged for a crime they did not commit.
But believing that things happen for a reason - whether such a thing exists or not - is not always a negative thing. Hope and faith that things will be alright and that the future will play out according to destiny or fate gives us comfort, as it allows us to begin to understand an uncertain future. Although the future will come no matter what and there is usually not much we can do to change it, we still want to know what will happen. This is why people seek fortune tellers, read horoscopes and secretly enjoy spoilers for books and movies.
But no matter how much we wish that our lives will play out as the universe has planned (hopefully towards a happy ending), the harsh reality is that things just happen. Things happen in the world not because of a pre-written script, but because of causality.
Earthquakes happen because of plate tectonics and hurricanes happen due to warm oceans and convection currents. Wars and economic crises happen because of human greed. You get heart disease because of lifestyle choices and your genetic make-up. Good things happen to good people because they treat people well and their deeds are reciprocated. You lost your wallet because you were careless and you ended up with “the one" because the two of you took action to get to know each other and did everything in your power to be together.
Everything in life is a result of cause and effect. Although it is more comforting to think that the hand of fate will push you towards the right career or your soulmate, or that good things are happening because of some karmic reward system, but isn’t it more rewarding to think that your happiness is a result of your own choices and actions? Sure, sometimes in life we need something to blame when bad things happen, but never let that be an excuse to stop yourself from taking that leap of faith to try change and build your own destiny.