A conversation today had me thinking about the idea of radical forgiveness as exemplified by the Truth and Justice Commission of South Africa, and Justice. It seems that the society that doesn’t move in Justice is not able to get over it’s past, not able to forgive. However, the greatest example of radical forgiveness of the modern era must belong to Abdu’l-Baha. Having spent a lifetime from childhood in exile, imprisonment and house arrest, having been under threat of murder or execution, having guided the infant Baha’i community in Persia, peacefully, through a period of loss of hundred of lives by the hands of the Persian authorities, Abdu’l-Baha stood as comfort to a man who was at the heart of that lifetime of attacks. The story was told by a man who facilitated this chance meeting between Abdu’l-Baha and the Prince (brother of the Shah) in France in 1911.
Transformation is usually understood as a change of type rather than an improvement on the old. When faced with a challenge, there seem to be only a two types of strategies. The first and most common is to use the same vehicle (framework, tools etc) that has had previous success, perhaps increasing the effort (resources) and dominate the challenge by a well known activity. This strategy will either succeed or fail. If it succeeds the use of the strategy will be reinforced. If it fails it might still be used or it maybe that another strategy is implemented. If the failing strategy becomes defended and rationalised, even if critically, it might be improved through the increase of resources, but continued use will eventually meet absolute failure and defeat ensures all resources are exhausted. If the failing strategy is recognised for what it often is, a strategy that no longer meets the requirements of the challenge, then a transformative motion can be brought into play.
The history of the world and the more ancient history of the universe is evidence that the transformative motion is in play, regardless of the conscious notice of it. Our human consciousness provides an opportunity to comprehend the transformative motion and even mobilise it.
There is a idea from mystical philosophy, that the creation is perfect. A transformative perspective shows two aspects of this idea. The first is the creation is what it is. What becomes of it over time is all that is, and that any appellation of imperfection to the universe is purely subjective. It just IS. The second is that the human subjective concept of perfection is a true reflection of a real quality and the estimate of perfection by the human being is part of the transformative motion of the universe. This aspect of perfection implies that since the human being became conscious, we have been directly linked to the transformative fate of the world and the universe. In this aspect, the universe has a potential to be perfect in a way that humans (perhaps not only humans) imagine.
Perfection, then, is a state that continually appears as a new type of thing that resolves a challenge, is imagined and, then, forged by the human being. If perfection or a new type of thing can appear, there must be some sense in which it always existed. If it always existed, then why didn’t it appear at some other time, resolve the challenge before suffering ensured. Apart from discussions about the causality of all things, and the specific causality called human learning, it could be said that the transformative motion is one of disappearance and appearance. While everything that is perfect, for all time, exists in potential in the universe, its potentiality or hidden-ness is a function of the apparentness and activity of another type of solution. Only when that solution fails and then disappears, does the new type of thing appear.
Appearance and disappearance of types of things occurs from the largest structures of the universe (the universe itself) to the smallest, over the smallest quanta of time to the largest. Transformative motion, therefore, is the warp and weft of the fabric of the universe.
The question for us, in our meagre human existence, in wanting to effect the transformative process to alleviate our own suffering, is, of anything that causes suffering, or any challenge of which we are now failing, what needs to DISAPPEAR for the new type of thing from which we are not suffering, from which we are succeeding to resolve the challenge., APPEARS.
In the immediate aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Yasi in the Tully area, North Queensland, June Perkins took to documenting the story of resilience of the people around her. In the process of this documentation, June was one of the people activating resilience-building activities for the community.
The stories she tells in “After Yasi – Finding the Smile Within” are simple, almost pedestrian, and so are, in style, a commentary on the paradox of an ordinariness of the community spirit that seems quite extraordinary. These straightforward stories shine a light on the vulnerability of people who have had their lives turned on their heads in one day of environmental violence.
The poems that people wrote for the book are similarly simple and authentic, a sharing of lives finding their way out of the struggle to making it work again.
Throughout June’s photography captures both the devastation and the recovery, and, in the recovery, the beauty and the friendships.
Having an interest in contemporary dance, I particularly appreciated that one of the recovery events that June documented was a dance workshop run by local dancer Danielle Wilson. Contemporary dance is still a less well-developed community art form in Australia, so it was great to see it working for the community in resilience building. When the world shows us that, rather than being stable and faithful, it can be unstable and fickle, it often attacks the very core of our identity. In that attack, the body and mind can need the experience of revisiting the feeling of the event and the aftermath. Often it can be difficult to express in words what is showing up for the body. Facilitated contemporary dance can allow the mind to honor what the body is expressing and then generating a new story, a new future as a reconstituted identity and self-assurance. Contemporary dance also brings bodies and minds together, so that the sharing of experience and a new future with others, restores faith in that our true stability and support and our tomorrow is in the people around us.
Not all lights were created equal. Some lights use more energy than others to create a glow. Incandescent globes shine white hot, wasting a lot of electricity as heat. Fluorescent lights use much less electricity, but better still are light emitting diodes, or LEDs.
LEDs are responsible for the light behind lots of computer screens, smartphones and other devices. They are very efficient, creating a lot of light for only a small amount of electricity. The Nobel Prize in Physics this year was awarded for the invention of blue LEDs to Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, both from Japan, as well as Shuji Nakamura,spiderr from the United States.
Why blue? For 30 years, blue LEDs were the missing part of the puzzle. After red LEDs were invented, green ones soon followed. But blue was tricky, and without blue, we couldn’t make white light. White is made from the three primary colours of light – red, blue and green.
Eventually, scientists cracked the problem and created blue LEDs. They did it by growing crystals of a chemical called gallium nitride. That was made only 20 years ago, but already blue LEDs have become part of the devices many of us use each day.
The best thing about bright LEDs is that they need so little electricity to run. That makes it easy for them to be powered by solar energy. Cheap solar panel torches can give light to the 1.5 billion people in the world who live without access to an electricity grid. It can allow them to read, cook, work and walk around safely after dark.
Many of us take light for granted. How many lights surround you right now? About a quarter of the world’s electricity is used to make light. If we switched to low-energy LEDs, we could make a real difference to the environment. Now that’s a brighter future.
Our planet is not all it seems. Based on the soil at our feet, we might imagine that the world is rock and dirt all the way down. But what we can see is just the crust of Earth: the outer surface. Beneath is hot, flowing rock called the mantle.
Compare Earth to a hard-boiled egg. The egg’s shell is Earth’s crust, and the white layer of egg is Earth’s mantle. This is a handy model, but even the shell of an egg is too thick to represent the crust – that’s how thin it is compared with the rest of Earth.
We can see signs of the mantle in volcanoes, where the flowing rock from this hidden part of the planet rises to the surface. Underground, the hot rock is known as magma, but when it erupts to the surface, it is called lava – and it is extremely dangerous. Volcanoes are like a crack in the Earth’s shell, and they let lava, ash, gas and steam escape. Sometimes they even explode.
Last month, Japan’s Mount Ontake volcano erupted. Lives were lost, because there was very little warning before the eruption, and people were hiking around the volcano.
This recent eruption of Mount Ontake was explosive. The hot molten rock met liquid water, making the water expand into steam almost immediately. Steam has more energy than liquid water, and takes up more space. So, when the water around the volcano on Mount Ontake suddenly turned into steam, there was an explosion. The steam had enough energy to throw rocks into the sky.
On the other side of the world, in Iceland, the Bárðarbunga (Bardarbunga) volcano is erupting. It has been erupting for weeks and weeks. It has not exploded like Mount Ontake, but this is the largest eruption that Iceland has seen for centuries. Before the lava began to flow, there were more earthquakes in the area than usual – a warning that an eruption was on the way.
The spider was a Goliath birdeater tarantula, and the lucky entomologist to make the rare sighting was Piotr Naskrecki. He spotted the spider in the deep rainforests of Guyana, South America.
The Goliath birdeater is the largest spider in the world: about the size of a dinner plate. It sports some rather imposing two-inch fangs, but its venom isn’t deadly to humans.
When Piotr made the discovery, he first thought it was a small, furry mammal. When he realised what he was looking at – as mentioned in his blog – he was “ecstatic about finally seeing one of these wonderful, almost mythical creatures in person”. Clearly, he was the right person to have had this unique experience.
Despite their potentially hair-raising qualities, these spiders are pretty interesting creatures. For starters, they make a distinct clicking noise as they walk, described by Piotr as “not unlike that of a horse’s hooves hitting the ground (albeit, admittedly, not as loud)”. When threatened, they create a hissing sound by rubbing their leg hairs together. They can even release a cloud of hair from their abdomen – something Piotr was the victim of, causing him to “itch and cry for several days”.
And, do they live up to their name by eating birds? Well, they can, but they generally feed on smaller creatures that are much easier to catch, such as earthworms. So, birds don’t have to worry too much, and neither do you unless you’re planning on a late-night stroll in a South American rainforest anytime soon.
THE POO TREATMENT
The idea behind using faeces as a medicine lies in the bacteria that live in your gut, which are known as gut flora. When you are sick, the balance of the gut flora is disrupted. Introducing a healthy strain of bacteria into the gut (via foreign fecal matter) is thought to restore the normal balance and help fight the problem.
In the past, this has been investigated by doctors who – believe it or not – transplanted fresh poo into the guts of patients who had an intestinal infection. The process is known as FMT, or fecal microbiota transplantation. It worked in treating the condition, but was rather impractical.
As an alternative, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States tried giving frozen FMT capsules to 20 patients who had an intestinal infection of Clostridium difficile bacteria. This infection causes bloating, diarrhoea and pain. The current treatment is not working effectively, so doctors are looking to replace it using FMT. In the trial, patients took 15 FMT capsules over two consecutive days. After six months, 90 per cent of the patients were cured!
But, where did the poo come from? Where else, but volunteer donations! Before the donated feces were used in the treatment, they went through a careful process of screening and testing.
While the trial was successful, it was only a small study. Larger studies are needed to confirm the results and improve the treatment. As for us, we can all be thankful that doctors are hard at work to keep us healthy – even if the medicine doesn’t sound all that appetising.
The Rosetta spacecraft has just completed a high-speed chase to catch comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta was launched ten years ago from Earth. Since then, it has travelled over six billion kilometres, going around the Sun five times before meeting the comet halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.
It’s been a tricky trip to the comet. Over the last few months, Rosetta has made many manoeuvres to make sure it is going the right way. It had to change its speed to match how fast the comet was moving. If it didn’t do that, it would fly right past it.
This will be the most detailed study of a comet ever. Rosetta carries the gear for 11 science experiments, including tools to measure the gas and dust around the comet. It has already found out that the comet is releasing water vapour, and loses two small glasses worth of water each second.
The lander Philae detached from Rosetta successfully and arrived softly on the comet, but it seems its harpoons didn’t fire. The harpoons were supposed to tether the lander to the comet, and Philae might have landed in a tricky spot. As people figure out more details about the landing, Philae is getting started on its primary mission. It carries a multi-purpose sensor to study the comet’s surface. The lander also has tools to drill into the comet, take samples and analyse them.
Comets are like pieces of history frozen in time. They haven’t changed much since the solar system formed over four thousand billion years ago. Rosetta and Philae may well find out new details about the start of our solar system.
Animal scientists often need to approach their research subjects in the wild. But, this can be very disruptive to the animals and change their behaviour. If an animal behaves differently when people are around, it is hard for people to observe the animal’s natural behaviour.
As an alternative, French researchers sent rovers into a penguin colony in Antarctica. The rovers used a radio-frequency identification (RFID) antenna to successful identify a colony of king penguins. But, the researchers really wanted to know whether the rovers affected the penguins more or less than a human observer.
To find out, the scientists first attached heart rate monitors to 34 incubating king penguins. Later on, they found that when a person was collecting data, the penguins’ heart rates rose four times more than when a rover was doing the same job. When people were nearby, fights broke out between penguins and the colony became disorganised. The rover caused much less disturbance to the colony than a person did.
The rover was also tested in a colony of emperor penguins. This time, the rover caused some distress. But, when the rover was disguised as a baby penguin chick, the birds allowed it to approach – and some even tried to communicate with it!
The researchers hope these promising results will be seen with other animals, and that the rovers can be used for other purposes, such as carrying recording devices to study animal sounds. For some animals, though, scientists will have to perfect their rover disguises first!
A team of scientists created a detailed, digital 3D model of the dodo by scanning skeletons of the bird with modern laser scanning technology. The skeletons included the world’s only complete dodo skeleton, housed at the Natural History Museum in Port Louis, Mauritius.
“The scans enable us to reconstruct how the dodo walked, moved and lived to a level of detail that has never been possible before,” says team leader, Leon Claessens. Leon is a vertebrate paleontologist at the college of the Holy Cross in Worcester, the United States.
Dodos once lived on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean about 2000 kilometres from Africa. They were around one metre tall and weighed 10–18 kilograms. Dodos became extinct in the 1600s, in one of the first known cases of human-caused extinction. The birds disappeared only 90 years after humans settled on the island.
Very little is actually known about these birds and details of their biology and behaviour have remained a mystery – until now.
The 3D scans revealed dodo knee and ankle bones that were previously unknown to science. The research team also found that the dodo has only a small keel, the bone that extends from the sternum (breastbone) and is attached to the wing muscles. The dodo’s keel is smaller than the one found in their closest relative, the extinct Rodrigues solitaire, who used its wings in combat. With a small keel, scientists think the dodo didn’t use its wings in this way and was less aggressive.
“All the new information on the dodo is providing scientists with a much clearer picture of this iconic bird”, says Leon. He adds that it “appears to have been a lot less clumsy and cumbersome than portrayed in popular culture, but instead was a successful and dynamic bird adapted to life on Mauritius, which had no place to escape once humans arrived on the island.”
In future work, the scientists plan to use the 3D models to examine exactly how fast a dodo could walk or run, and what it might have been eating with its massive beak.
Researchers from the University of Washington hope to explore new ways for humans to communicate with each other. They have set up a demonstration in which a video game is played using the brain of one person – and the hand of another.
The researchers used two machines in the demonstration. The first, an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, picks up activity in the brain. The second, a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil, delivers information to another brain using pulses of electricity.
To play the video game, people had to fire cannons at the right time. One volunteer, or ‘sender’, watched the game. When they thought about firing a cannon, their brain activity was picked up by the EEG. The electrical signals were sent to the TMS coil, which was positioned over the brain of the ‘receiver’ volunteer. The receiver was sitting in another room with their hand positioned over the game’s control pad. When the TMS coil fired, the receiver’s hand moved, hitting the control pad and firing the cannon.
Dr Marc Kamke, Research Fellow from the Queensland Brain Institute, says the demonstration is a good example of what neuroscientists can do and the techniques they can use.
Marc adds that the demonstration setup was novel, but doesn’t add a lot to what neuroscientists already know. The brain-to-brain connection was also very specific to the setup, and if the TMS was positioned over another part of the brain – for example, the visual cortex – it would have caused the receiver to see flashes of light.
The University of Washington researchers are next looking to transmit more complex processes, such as concepts, thoughts and rules.
Inspired by gecko feet, a research lab at Stanford University in America developed the climbing device, which recently allowed a person who weighed 70 kilograms to climb a sheer glass wall. The team have also used the structure of gecko feet to design super-sticky tape and climbing robots called Stickybots.
To walk on walls and ceilings, geckos have hair-like fibres called setae on their feet that stick to surfaces. These fibres are tipped with hundreds of spatulas, so small they are on the nanoscale.
Mimicking the gecko’s feet, there are tiny wedges of silicon polymer on the surface of the new climbing device. These wedges are made from similar stuff as some kitchen spatulas, but are about the same thickness as a human hair. They are not sticky when touched lightly to a surface. But when you place a load on them, such as your body, the wedges flatten out, pressing on to the surface and sticking.
These tiny wedges can be removed and repositioned by the climber many times and will stick to surfaces including glass, plastic, varnished wood and metals.
If you copied gecko feet exactly, a human would need giant sticky pads on their hands about the size of two tennis rackets. To make the hand pads smaller and dependable, the researchers tweaked the gecko’s sticky system. They made sure the climber’s weight is distributed evenly over the surface of each hand’s sticky pad.
To do this, each pad is divided up into postage stamp-sized tiles that all flatten and stick to the surface, even if that surface is uneven. An array of springs and flexible cords within the pad distributes the load evenly – making sure that all of the tiles have the same maximum load. If they didn’t do this, one tile would become overloaded and fail, overloading its neighbours and causing a wave of failing tiles over the entire pad.
Could this technology mean we could climb buildings like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible? Maybe, but as we are not built like geckos, keeping our climbs to small walls might be the best idea until the technology develops.
THE FISH SMELL LIKE CORAL
On the Great Barrier Reef, the harlequin filefish shelters in coral branches overnight. Researchers have found that these fish not only look like coral, they smell like it too.
“By feeding on corals, the harlequin filefish ends up smelling enough like its food that predators have a hard time distinguishing it from the surrounding coral habitat,” says study lead author Dr Rohan Brooker, a marine biologist at James Cook University. “For many animals, vision is less important than their sense of smell,” he adds.
On the reef there are many predators, so it’s worth having a good way of camouflaging yourself. Although these sneaky smells are effective, the harlequin filefish still has to be careful. Each fish has to shelter in the same coral it has eaten otherwise predators will sniff it down. And what does it smell like? We will never know, as people can’t smell underwater.
The experiment took place off the coast of Far North Queensland, at the science research station on Lizard Island. Researchers studied harlequin filefish and a fish that eats them, the blue-spotted rock cod. They also studied the reaction of a small crab that lives on coral branches.
After the fish had eaten coral, the cod were less likely to notice them. The small crabs couldn’t tell the fish from coral and went towards them, thinking they were shelter.
We don’t know many animals that chemically camouflage themselves by smelling like their environment, but perhaps it’s because we haven’t looked. We tend to use our eyes more than our noses when we investigate the world. This research could be the beginning of following our noses to find a whole new world of smell-a-likes.
THE SECRET LIFE OF SOILS
We use antibiotics to help fight infections, such as a festering sore on your arm or a chest infection. Growing in these infections are unwelcome bacteria that your immune system is having a hard time fighting off. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria for us.
Unfortunately, infectious bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we already have. Researchers are now working hard looking for new antibiotics.
Most of the antibiotics we use today come from soil bacteria. Bacteria produce these molecules to keep other bacteria away from their turf. But we can only use antibiotics from bacteria that can be grown in the lab. These only make up a tiny proportion of all the bacteria living in soil. Most bacteria, around 99 per cent, cannot be grown outside their natural homes, be it soil or on the surface of a glacier.
To get round this problem, researchers have developed a tiny growing cell, called an iChip. It grows bacteria while keeping them in their snug soil home. They first catch a single cell and surround it with membranes that let food and water through, and then they place the whole thing back in the soil.
Using this technique, researchers have found thousands of new bacteria in soil from their own backyards! One extract from one of these bacteria is a molecule called teixobactin that might work as an antibiotic. Trials of this molecule on humans will start in a couple of years.
Listening to Professor Mary-Jane Rubenstein reflecting on the work of Martin Heidegger and the question of his membership in the Nazi party that he never public spoke, I was taken by the recognition of the corruptibility that is human. It seems that Heidegger did believe that his role in support of the Nazi Party was something regretful, yet the best scholars of his work are confounded that, in this matter, his life did not reflect his own philosophical work. For Professor Rubenstein, it seemed that Heidegger become lost in his own ‘wonderment’ and was unable, as he himself proposed, to move between what is (culture as it occurs) and something imaginary that is possible.
And yet, I find myself recognizing that here we all stand in a corruption of what we think. By thinking I mean all those conclusions we make from our arguments and investigations, and all those things we say we believe as distinct from our true belief that shows up as what we do.
In that recognition of our incorruptibility of belief, I find myself acknowledging that the place I believe in Baha’u’llah, is a conviction of His incorruptibility. In Baha’u’llah’s life, I can perceive no inconsistency with his writings and actions, even though he sets a high moral bar and was under sever threat for the latter 40 years of His life. Of course, it might not be true that He was incorruptible and that some might object to that conclusion. Yet how would we approach such a conversation? The problems lies in that, all we others being corruptible, have no claim to the authority, the incorruptibility, to be able to evaluate incorruptibility.
Indeed, I find that there is only one possible approach to the conversation around the question whether Baha’u’llah, His life or His teachings are corrupted, and that is through the corruptibility of our own lives. And straight away, a key teaching of Baha’u’llah as found in the Hidden Words, that goes to the heart of all our conversations, is clarified,
“O Son of Man! Transgress not thy limits, nor claim that which beseemeth thee not. Prostrate thyself before the countenance of thy God, the Lord of might and power.”
“O Son of Being! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.”
Shortly after these words, Baha’u’llah cautions
“O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.”
Perhaps there is a form of conversation that has us talking from our own failures and limitations, as an account, a restoration of our accountability around those failing, and as an access to talking into the teachings of Baha’u’llah. It might be that not all things that Baha’u’llah taught are comprehensible, either to their correctness, necessity or implications, yet, as we resolve our own accountabilities, maybe a simple openness occurs that allows for some possibility that we will comprehend some truth. And yet we can still stand between how we perceive the world and that possibility of some other truth that Baha’u’llah is creating, without relinquishing any cherished point of view. That space ‘in between’ is a space for further conversation, and further conversation. In that to and fro, that play of ‘then something else might also be possible’ some unknown outcome, realization, being, might be released. Even as Baha’u’llah also evokes, ““Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.” Such freedom can occur through the open conversation in which some aspect of our own inherent incorruptible nature reveals itself.
As Baha’u’llah asks us implore, ”Let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquillity on me, O my Companion, and let the riches of Thine ancient countenance deliver me from all except Thee, O my Master, and let the tidings of the revelation of Thine incorruptible Essence bring me joy, O Thou Who art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!” He might not be asking that this essence is something YET to be gifted by some external hidden God but that IS ALREADY gifted to us all, giving Him to direct, “Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.