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22.11.13

Declared

Yesterday, I was at a surgery night shift. Night shifts are always stressful and chaotic, but some are even more so. At some point an ambulance arrived, and everybody just knew and ran to the windows. It's hard to tell how you know. The assessment happens mostly subconsciously, and it's not a medical one; it's instinctive. It's about how the driver is driving, how the paramedic opens the door, it's probably that you can feel the people's emotions within that ambulance way before you can see what's inside; way before the one paramedic shouts "Doctor, get a doctor! Clear the hallway!" while pushing the gurney at full speed, the other one running next to it while pressing rhythmically the chest of the unconscious person.

Many doctors of all specialties are already on the move. The students, we exchange looks. I'm not sure what to do. I'm here for surgery and this is a cardiological emergency. I want to go, for some reason, but I'm also afraid of finding out whether I can handle what I'll see. I stay put, feeling torn, and keeping on doing whatever I was already doing.

Barely five minutes pass and we experience a collective deja vu. A second cardiac arrest arrives and we're all dumbstruck. But that's how it is, the universe just rolls its dice billions of times every moment and improbable events happen all the time. There's no mechanism to make them happen at a more convenient moment, or distribute them evenly across spacetime. A surgeon follows the gurney to the cardiology emergency room and I can't fight the impulse; I follow her, too.

In the room, chaos. The two gurneys are parked next to each other and a large group of nurses, residents, attendants, and interns of cardiology, pathology and surgery are moving in a weird display of purposeful frenzy around them. Two are holding the bags over the mouths of the two patients, two are doing compressions, while others are trying to insert catheters, or setting up cardiographers and defibrillators.

The first one is a small, almost emaciated woman, dressed up in a rock style, with brightly manicured nails, many tattoos and all the physical signs of a regular drug user. It's hard to tell her age, as drug use makes people look older, but my guess would be she is in her mid-thirties. The second one is a man in his early fifties, maybe, very common looking and folk-y, he was the average man. There are three more patients in the room, conscious, pale and scared beyond words for having to witness this.

But it's already too late. Their hearts just won't start again. Her heart is responding to the compressions, his isn't. Soon, it's clear he's too far gone. The attendant calls it. A paramedic comes inside and tells him to inform his wife and son who are waiting just outside. I'm right next to the door. He opens the door, looks at the wife and tells her "Unfortunately, we lost him". As the door swings to close, I have a clear view of her falling apart in the hands of her son, her guttural wail bouncing around inside my brain. My heart contracts painfully, echoing that all-powerful gut-wrenching pain I know that woman is experiencing in that moment. We avoid each others eyes. My eyes prickle, but I don't have any tears.

I have to say, it is a relief watching grown-up, experienced doctors be scared. There is an immature glee aspect to this relief, brought about by years of endless taunting, sarcasm, and pushing around I've had to endure during my studies, but there is, also, something else. When I see hands of arrogant, self-consumed, experienced doctors slightly shaking, when I hear them holding their breath, I see through their hypocrisy. They treat us like we're weak and scared, but that's just being human; and they are human, too. It's a relief seeing that: They care. They try to hide it, to seem strong, to deal with it, for many and any reasons, but in moments like these they can't hide from me.

They're still working on the woman, who had clearly over-dosed. They just found her lying on the street, no clue who she was, if she had family or friends out there. What was her life like, I wonder? What had she been through, what was she like?  I'm sure society has failed her though. I wish I could will her back to us, so she could tell me her story. CPR, epinephrine, CPR, epinephrine, CPR, epinephrine... one minute, five minutes... ten minutes tick and it's over. The brain damage is complete. Someone insists on keeping it up with the unscientific argument of "not two out of two"; but that's just wishful thinking and misunderstanding of statistics.

The surgeon stops the compressions, sweating and panting from the physical effort. She leaves the room of disappointed health professionals and I follow her out. On our way to the surgical emergency department we walk past the grieving wife and son. The pain is cutting through me, acute like a blade.

And the night goes on. While I'm trying to help, I'm searching my brain, looking for signs of a silent break-down creeping up on me, but I find nothing. I think fleetingly of how this will haunt me; how something seemed to have died in me, something like an innocence. But the moment I register the thought I know it’s not “mine”; it’s just what people say, what people write people say in movies and books.

There are more or less three common reactions in the face of death. The first is fear, simple freaking out. Death scares us, rips the people we love away from us; comes hand-in-hand almost always with pain, disease, and suffering. The second is a kind of selfish and bittersweet gratitude that you’re still alive. Selfish, because a person just died and you are thinking about yourself; bittersweet, because you know it’s temporary. You’ll die, too, eventually, and probably sooner than you expect. The third is a seeming indifference. Some people seem completely untouched by death. Some talk about it with surprising carelessness. Obviously, there often are combinations of these in each person and case.

However, I wasn't scared. I wasn't grateful. I wasn't indifferent. What I truly felt was that I had the complete picture at last, not only as a med student, but as a living being.

We've distanced ourselves from death; and life. We've distanced ourselves from experiencing fully. The part of new age philosophy that has it right is that we do care about nonsense. We pay too much attention to and waste too much energy for things that are not important. I wish we sang in buses and danced in the streets. I wish people would share their emotions more. I wish pomposity and up-tightness were not mistaken for responsibility and professionalism. I wish insensitivity was not confused with strength, and caring for weakness.

Where new age philosophy has it wrong is that it celebrates gratitude so much that it equates self-consumed whining with struggling against inequality and injustice. Being grateful even for the bad things in life, simply because it means you are alive is a good example of mood incongruence. What's mentally healthy is to be sad when sad things happen and happy when happy things happen. We can talk about the limits of the intensity of normal emotions, as well as how much fluctuation is too much fluctuation whatever the stimuli, but in the end asking people to be happy independently of what's going on around them is downright sociopathic.
After all, the essence of many unhealthy relationships is being too grateful you have that person in your life that you make excuses, disregard, accept, and take as a given their harmful behavior.

So, the mature thing to do in the face of death is to get things into perspective.

If I am to be honest, I'd probably not like these people very much on a personal level. I don't like most people on a personal level. Most people do not rise up to my standards of intelligence, kindness, conscientiousness, consistency, professionalism, humility and all the other things I value in a person. But my arrogant and hypocritical elitism, since by default not even I rise up to my own standards, is not the point of this post.


The point is that no matter whether I'd like these people or not, I'd still want the best for them.
The point is that life is rare. Life comes with love and happiness, it also comes with pain and suffering; and empathy is the answer. What could ever be our purpose if not building a society as nice, kind, and beautiful as we possibly can, while enjoying and making the most of the time we have?

29.10.13

Levels of organization of matter

I have tried to make this overview as precise, brief and simple as possible, but at the same time interesting to everybody, no matter your scientific and general knowledge background. It definitely wasn't an easy balance. Since we're passing over practically every science out there, making no mistakes was completely unrealistic, so I had to fight the austere perfectionist inside me to give this a shot. You might find some things difficult or some things not quite correct. If you belong to the former, don't get disappointed, the point is not to understand everything, but rather to get an idea about the structure of the Cosmos and get stimulated to learn more about it. Lots of links will redirect you to Wikipedia articles where you can read more about the various concepts discussed and at the end of the article you can find pictures for every level. If you belong to the latter, forgive my mistakes and send me some feedback about how I can make this even better, keeping in mind that the purpose of this article is not to be published in a scientific magazine. Enjoy!

Matter has self-assembling properties. Here we’ll discuss the levels of its organization from the subatomic particles to the universe, even though more will probably be discovered as science progresses. Life, expressed by the levels between the macromolecules and the biosphere, is a branch of the organization of matter, since it is not necessary for the formation of the following levels. Also, this is only how life the way we know it on Earth is organized. We don't know that this is the only way "life" can be formed, as we haven't encountered any other type of life either on or off our planet. In any case, for the greater part of the universe, where there is no life, we pass from molecules directly to cosmic dust.

Elementary subatomic particles are unknown to have substructure, thus unknown to be composed of other particles. All elementary particles are, depending on their spin, either fermions or bosons. Fermions are the matter (quarks and leptons) and antimatter (antiquarks and antileptons) particles. The electron is a lepton. Bosons are “force particles”, i.e. they mediate interactions among fermions. So, fermions could be considered the structural unit of matter, while bosons are the mediators of the fundamental forces of nature (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear) that affect matter.
Combinations of elementary particles form the composite particles. Protons and neutrons are composite particles, each of them formed by three quarks, and together they form the nuclei of atoms.

2. Atom
The atom is consisted of the nucleus and the electrons that are distributed around it. Depending upon the number of neutrons and protons of the nucleus, the atom belongs to a different chemical element. Every element has its own chemical properties, which dictate the way it interacts with the other elements.

The interactions of atoms lead to the formation of chemical bonds among them and the creation of a molecule. Every molecule has its own chemical properties, that result from the atoms that form it and the type of bond that connects them. This combination leads to “emergent” properties that the atoms themselves, when unbound, do not necessarily exhibit.
Molecules made of two or more different elements are called chemical compounds. Compounds that consist of any elements but carbon are called inorganic, while those that contain carbon are called organic.
On certain occasions, many similar or identical compounds, the monomers, form long chains, the polymers. Organic polymers are very big molecules that exhibit, in turn, new (bio)chemical properties, like storing of information and complex and highly selective catalytic function (enzymes). Being very big, they are vulnerable and quickly split to their components when they are free in the environment. However, when they are protected, say, by a double layer of lipids, such as a cell membrane, they can persist, interact and form life, they way we know it on our planet. The macromolecules on which life depends are carbohydrates, proteins, nucleic acids and lipids (lipids are not true macromolecules, but are basic to life and are often mentioned along with the others).
The organelle is an organized collection of macromolecules and inorganic molecules within the cell that performs certain specific functions. For example, the mitochondrion is an organelle that contains macromolecules of all types, with the basic function of producing energy.
3.3 Cell
The cell is a collection of organelles and inorganic molecules (water, sodium, potassium etc) and it is the structural unit of life. It's the smallest possible entity that presents the characteristics of life and, therefore, that can be considered “alive”. Some cells constitute an organism themselves (unicellular organisms), while others live in groups (multicellular organisms).
3.4 Tissue
In multicellular organisms, cells can differ from each other. A group of similar cells that execute the same functions constitutes a tissue. For example, muscle tissue comprises many similar cells, the muscle cells (or muscle fibres), which have the same characteristics, including the ability to contract. The other three basic tissue types are the nerve, the epithelial and the connective tissue.
3.5 Organ
The organ is consisted of cells of different tissues organized so that they can perform a complex, higher biological function. The heart, for example, contains a connective tissue “skeleton” in the shape of four rings that the heart muscle fibers attach to. The latter form four cavities that are covered internally by epithelial tissue, the endocardium. Externally, the entire heart muscle is covered by a double-walled epithelial sac, the pericardium. Within the walls of the heart there is its electrical conduction system, consisted of specialized cells that behave as both muscle and nervous tissue, which regulates the contraction of the muscle fibers. Thus, the heart functions as a pump, propelling forward the blood that enters it.
It is a group of organs that performs an even more complex biological function. The heart, a network of arterial, venous and capillary vessels, and the blood compose the cardiovascular system, which aims at the exchange of substances between every part of the body and the environment.
The organism is an individual, contiguous living system. It can be either uni- or multicellular. On the occasion of complex life forms, the organism is a set of organ systems that cooperate for the formation of an autonomous life form.
A group of organisms that belong to the same species.
A group of interacting organisms of different species that share the same environment.
3.10 Ecosystem
A community along with the inorganic matter (soil, water, air etc) of its environment.
3.11 Biosphere
It’s the set of all the ecosystems of the Earth (or another populated planet). Therefore, it also represents the zone of life on Earth.
It is a small collection of molecules that floats into space.

Dust particles, under the influence of gravity, attract each other and accumulate forming accretions.

An accretion can be organized in a well formed celestial body. Stars are big spherical luminous celestial bodies, which produce their own light and heat. Planets are bodies that orbit a star and have enough mass so that they can obtain a spherical shape. They do not transmit their own light and heat but receive these from their star. The planet we inhabit is the Earth and the star it orbits is the Sun. There are other celestial bodies, as well, such as asteroids and satellites.

It is consisted of a star along with the planets and the rest of the celestial bodies that are under the influence of its gravitational field. The star system of our Sun is called Solar system.

It is a group of stars, from tens to several millions, that are held together by the mutual gravitational forces. All the stars of a star cluster were born around the same period of time from the same cosmic dust, and each one has its own star system, with its planets, asteroids etc.

9. Galaxy
A system of millions or billions of star systems and clusters that are held together by gravitational forces forms a galaxy. The galaxy in which our solar system is found is the Milky way.

A group of galaxies (from a few to a few thousands) that are held together by gravity comprise a galaxy cluster.

All of the existent spacetime, along with all of the matter and energy that it contains, constitute the Universe.

Explore the various levels in this wonderful interactive animation: The Scale of the Universe


1a. Elementary subatomic particles included in the Standard Model.
Source: Wikipedia, Elementary particle
1b. A proton is a composite particle
consisting of two up and one down quarks.
Source: Wikipedia, Proton
2. An illustration of the Helium atom, depicting the nucleus (pink)
and the electron cloud distribution (black).
Source: Wikipedia, Atom
3. A water molecule is made of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms.
3.1. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a type a nucleic acid that encodes the genetic information for the development and functioning of all known living organisms and many viruses. Here is depicted the structure of the double helix of the DNA. On the right, you can see the four monomers of the DNA, T, A, C, G.
Source: Wikipedia, DNA
3.2 Electron microscopy of two mitochondria from mammalian lung tissue.
Source: Wikipedia, Mitochondrion
3.3. The basic components of an animal cell.
Source: Wikipedia, Cell (biology)
3.4. The different types of the muscle tissue.
Source: Wikipedia, Muscle tissue
3.5. The human heart.
Source: Wikipedia, Heart
3.6. The human circulatory system.
Source: Wikipedia, Circulatory system
3.7. All organisms are classified in groups (from domains to species) based on their evolutionary relationships. Here is a speculative phylogenetic tree of life of all existent organisms based on genetic analysis.  Bacteria and archea are all unicellular, while the eukaryotes range from unicellular (such as the protozoan amoebas) to multicellular (such as all the plants and animals, including humans).
Source: Wikipedia, Organism
3.8. Map of population trends of jellyfish. Red: increase (high certainty),
yellow: increase (low certainty), green: stable/variable, blue: decrease, gray: no data.
Source: Wikipedia, Population dynamics
3.9. Predation is an interspecific interaction basic to community ecology.
Source: Wikipedia, Community (ecology)
3.10. Nitrogen cycling in an ecosystem, containing bacteria, fungi, plants,
plant eating animals, along with inorganic materials, such as air and soil.
Source: Wikipedia, Ecosystem
3.11. This composite image gives an indication of the magnitude and distribution
of global primary production (the production of organic matter
from inorganic carbon sources) both oceanic and terrestrial.
Source: Wikipedia, Biosphere
4. An interplanetary dust particle.
Source: Wikipedia, Cosmic dust
5. Artist's conception of a black hole drawing matter
from a nearby star , forming an accretion disc.
Source: Wikipedia, Accretion disk
6. Celestial bodies of our Solar System, including the Sun, the planets, asteroids etc.
Source: Wikipedia, Solar System model
7. The orbits of the bodies in the Solar System to scale
(clockwise from top left)
Source: Wikipedia, Solarsystem
8. The star cluster of Pleiades.
Source: Wikipedia, Star cluster
9. A fish-eye mosaic of the Milky Way arching at a high inclination across the night sky,
shot from a dark sky location in Chile.
Source: Wikipedia, Milky Way
10. The Abell S740 galaxy cluster.
Source: Wikipedia, Abell_S740
11. Illustration of the Big bang theory, the prevailing cosmological model. In this diagram time increases from left to right, and one dimension of space is suppressed, so at any given time the Universe is represented by a disk-shaped "slice" of the diagram.
Source: Wikipedia, Universe

5.9.13

September


(Original post: Σεπτέμβριος - 01/09/2009)

There is something specific in September’s air. When it passes through some window – especially the one I bang my head on when I wake up every other day – I recognize it. It reminds me of something I don’t remember anymore; or maybe there was never something and it all started one time I thought it reminded me of something.
There is, in any case, a relief in that air, like I’m glad I survived another summer; but, also, a melancholy, as if I’ve missed another chance.
There is the anticipation for rain and snow, but most of all for clouds. The sun is beautiful and necessary, but so absolute, as well. Its direct light makes everything seem unquestionable and inflexible. There is, however, this type of clouds, not the dark but the white one, that distributes the light evenly and gives space a mysterious texture. It caresses the objects instead of imposing itself to them.
And then I wake up from the stupor of mundane reality and live in a parallel edition of it, where time unravels more unhurriedly and there is meaning and purpose in everything. And then I dream; and I breathe again.
Breathing in this air, breathing in the ozone of a rainy day, I try to understand what it reminds me of, what I have forgotten for what feels like a long time now. And I realize I have forgotten to live; or perhaps I never learnt. I feel I should know instinctively how to live, but I don’t. When I let myself, when I don’t actively try, I fall into torpor; I melt in an irresolute mental form. Living is for me like trying to stay away when you are insufferably sleepy: Maddeningly difficult and tiring and doomed to fail, in the end, no matter how much you try. But all that matters to me is there, right next to consciousness, and the longer I stay away from it, the more I get exasperated.
But the clouds bring me closer. The clouds remind me. And along with the reminder comes the sense of opportunity. One more opportunity for one more year; for one more conscious beginning.

26.8.13

In the air

(Original post: Στον Αέρα - 16/01/12)

I’ve flown many times. Sometimes because I’m being hunted and I’m trying to get away, others just for the pleasure of flight; sometimes it’s like I’m swimming in the air, others I’m launched like a rocket; sometimes I’m having difficulties and I lose my balance or direction. I’ve flown over cities and mountains, among waves and planets.

Always, of course, in my dreams.

Yesterday, however, I didn’t fly. Yesterday I found myself hovering effortlessly. That had never happened to me before. Momentum has always been a prerequisite for my dream flight and immobility in the air immediately activated Newton’s Law.

Despite this, I found myself hovering troublelessly. And the colours! They were as wonderful as a high definition screen’s. Maybe technology has indeed reached the point of realizing our dreams; maybe it has managed to actually surpass them. I had never before seen colours like these but in movie theaters, in science fiction, in computer games, in the most advanced graphics.

But here they were in front of me, around me. A superb, crystal, stunningly blue sky was stretching out in front of me and around me and superb stunningly – unnaturally – green vegetation was covering the ground way beneath my feet.

Somewhere between the waves of wonder and admiration I felt some pinches of fear. If I made to move, would this beautiful world disappear? The moment of hesitation passed as fast as it had come. Such a beautiful world could only exist to be explored and I would be a fool not to try it. Besides, this beauty, this wondrous magic around me could not hold common emotions, mundane reactions.


I made the first step in the air and it supported me. And there I was, walking in the air, supported by nothing, holding on to nowhere; I and this magic world. And it was so magical! Trees were floating, as if they had sprouted up from the air itself, sporting weird shapes since they were unaffected by gravity, but looking quite stable, as if they had figured out a secret way of attaching themselves on the vacuum. Perhaps the trees asked the air to hold me as well; perhaps I’ve had inherent this impossible knowledge myself.

I’d seen the gorgeous sky and the gorgeous green, but what I hadn’t seen was the water. A crystalline river was flowing in the air, rising and falling and twisting as if it was dodging invisible, immaterial obstacles, or maybe it was celebrating its absolute freedom of moving in any way it wanted for once, instead of being defined by solids and gravity. One of its endings was splitting in shiny, twirling streams, like vessels in an angiogram.

I approached enchanted,
captivated by the soft iridescence, the magical, impossible aerial flow of the water. I touched a few streams and, while my hands got wet from the water, they continued to flow undisturbed, as if they were being filled from nowhere.


A few drops got detached and were left hanging in the air like intact soap bubbles, like liquid prisms refracting the light, like liquid mirrors reflecting the world around them. I reached out, pushed some of them, and watched their course as they soared through the air and upset the rich foliage of a plant creeping on the nothingness. There they met the dew that already decorated its leaves, like little lights. I drew nearer and touched the bright green leaves. They were velvet on their underside and, on their top, silk.


The flow of the water and the whisper of my breath were the only sounds in this kingdom of peace. The rich light which seemed to emanate from the objects – as if it preexisted rather than it was coming from a source – was split by the crystalline water in the colorful iris. And I was singing to them. I was singing to the trees and the sky, to the water and the colours.

The absolute aesthetic supremacy… a true masterpiece of the subconscious…


22.8.13

An idea about ideas

All ideas need humans to support them, because they don't exist on their own. Ideas are parasites of the mind; they cannot survive on their own, they cannot even be on their own. Therefore, all ideas need me. I choose which ones I will embrace and not even to those do I easily offer permanent dwelling. With so much supply, I constantly search for better ones.

I don’t need the ideas. The ideas need me.

I replace ideas without hesitation or guilt. I have no responsibility towards any idea. On the contrary, I have responsibility towards myself to select, keep and support the ideas that express me for as long as they express me.

My ideas do not define me. I define my ideas.

The ideas of others pose no danger to my ideas; unless the others are unable to accept that we don’t all have the same ideas; unless they are unwilling to have their ideas challenged; and unless their ideas endanger my or other people’s physical or mental integrity. Under these conditions, not only do I not mind if others have different ideas, but I’m also happy to talk with them, because discussion reveals the weaknesses of ideas; and the recognizing of the weaknesses leads to the creation of new ideas that express us even better.

My ideas are completely negotiable; my integrity is not at all.

I am not afraid of changing ideas when they stop expressing me.
I am not afraid of not changing ideas when they keep expressing me.
I am not afraid of supporting the ideas that express me.
I am not afraid of listening to the ideas of others and redefine mine.

But all of the above constitute an idea. Let’s assume that at some point this idea seizes to express me. Let’s say that I stop considering my ideas negotiable and I don’t want to change them. If I change my original idea, then I keep following my original idea, that says I should change ideas when they stop expressing me. But if I don’t change it, I’ll keep following the idea that my ideas are negotiable. So, according to my original idea about ideas, all ideas are negotiable and replaceable, except for the idea that all ideas are negotiable and replaceable. (What an arrogant idea indeed! It sets rules for all ideas but itself!)

So, how open am I, really, to ideas, since I have an idea that I cannot not follow one way or the other?

(Original post: Μια ιδέα για τις ιδέες -16/01/09)

21.8.13

The table of the final truth

The beginning was difficult. We entered an auditorium shaped like a vertical matchbox. The floor was the smallest rectangular side of it with seats in an amphitheatric square bracket. You could neither ignore nor stay too far away from the cadaver that was lying, dumped rather unceremoniously, on the metallic table in the middle of the room; a man. The sight was not at all pleasant and the awkwardness of all of us was as obvious as it was expected. The smell of decomposition is not helping. Whispers and nervous chuckles sound among us as we scatter around the seats, trying to sit near classmates we are most comfortable with. Some get pale, some joke around, some try to show academic interest, some cold professionalism.

I gaze up at the blinding light coming from the windows on the upper part of the tall chamber and try to put my thoughts in order. This man has lost his life. How petty is it, being preoccupied with my own feelings, my own insecurities? How I feel is completely irrelevant. This hour belongs to this man, to his life. What’s more, whatever this man had been through is over. He’s not in pain anymore, he’s not suffering. He’s not doing anything else either, of course. The following hour would be difficult for us, not him. So, I simply had to deal with it. Funnily enough, it wasn’t as hard as I’d have thought.

The scalpel cuts the flesh. Always following the same predetermined path; like a prophecy about to be fulfilled, it draws its course and exposes one by one the inner layers of the material side of this person. Without fear, without passion, without any emotion, neutrally, like the official messenger of some higher, unmitigated truth, the coroner dictates the findings to his female assistant.

The assistant has certainly been animated from the pages of some dark novel: Thin face, white marble skin in full contrast to dark eyes and beautiful, long, wavy, black hair. An enigmatic beauty, she fits the picture so perfectly that the irony doesn’t manage to bother me.

There’s no other sound besides the meeting of the metallic instruments with the flesh, the steady voice of the coroner, the occasional rustle from the turning of a page on the assistant’s notes. Fifty people we might as well had been as lifeless as the man on the table… if one didn’t count the energy that can be only be produced by the weight of a collectively held breath. Fifty people and nobody makes the tiniest sound. The minutes pass, turn into an hour and keep passing and not even the slightest creak of a chair from somebody’s attempt to get comfortable, not even the slightest swish of some fabric from the smallest of movements has sounded. Nobody talks. Nobody moves. Nobody takes notes. Nobody breathes.

Like statues, like birds locked in the eyes of the snake, we watch wide-eyed, mesmerized, as the procedure progresses. Systematically, responsibly, everything’s cut, weighed, studied, and prepared for microscopy. 

And there are no more secrets.

Violent, barbaric, primitive, but with such control and coldness and seriousness, that it is impossible not to feel at awe. Whatever you’ve seen, whatever you’ve done, this is something different, higher; it takes by itself a ritualistic character.

If there is a god, there’s no way they don’t think we are exceeding our jurisdiction. If there is a god then every time a human is autopsied I’m certain they turn their back at as in disapproval for the mundanity with which we treat the matter of one of their creations.

But this mundanity, this seaming desecration, does not originate from lack of respect or from an insolent attitude, so it doesn’t come in opposition to the celebration of the grandeur of life. Besides, this is the grandeur of life; that it is the exception, a wonderful, occasional, vulnerable concentration of organization that all the forces around it try to degenerate, to dissipate – and, sooner or later, they succeed in it. Life is a relentless war, an ongoing attempt at maintaining a hole in the water during a storm.

And medicine is an important weapon in this war. That’s why they cause so much awe, the emergency room, the operating rooms, the defibrillation, the artificial respiration, all the extreme procedures that can delay the inevitable; the adrenaline, the responsibility. But the autopsy comes after the battle; after the defeat. It honors life in its absence. So unhurried, so cold. So crude, and yet so elegant, leading to the enunciation of the cause of the irreversible outcome… leading to the last truth.

Because, while the crime has already been committed, the culprit can still be found; and this is where they will be found… on the table of the final truth.

8.8.13

If I believed...


If I believed in God…


I wouldn’t be too happy or sad about specific events. The isolated actions of God cannot be good or bad. God sees the whole picture, while I don’t, so I can’t judge what is “good” and what is “bad”, except in a very limited time frame and with very limited perception of the overall results. Therefore, no matter how much I'd experience certain events as positive or negative, I would try to find out what God wants me to learn from them instead of thanking, or cursing, or begging him. I would depend upon my faith to find the strength to deal with the “negative” ones and I wouldn't let myself get too content with the “positive” ones.

I would never and for no reason blame him, of course; but I would never thank him for anything specific either. I would thank him constantly simply for existing, for being there, and loving me, and guiding me, and taking care of me; simply for caring.

I’d follow his rules with no hesitation and no doubt. The power and the righteousness of God are self-evident if you believe in him and they leave no room for negotiation. So, the path is very simple: Abide by God’s rules or repent every time you break them and you’ll be rewarded sooner (in this life) or later (after death). Disregard them and you’ll pay sooner or later. What, then, would ever be worth disobeying God himself for? Since I’d have a path that would ensure me the grace of God, of the supreme and most perfect being, why would I ever, even for once, go against him?

I would never ask anything of him, since I’d only want for myself what he wants for me. What’s more hypocritical than asking the highest intelligence to change its mind for you? Besides, why would he ever change his mind? If God wants your loved one to die in a car crash, then your loved one will die in a car crash. If he wants you to get your degree or a raise, you’ll get your degree or a raise. Why would the omnipotent being base such decisions on how many times you prayed or how intently you were focused? And, in the end, why bother him with such trivial matters? Most of our worries are insignificant in the face of God’s plan and anyone who serves him cannot not understand that they mustn't get wasted on such meaningless issues.

I wouldn’t worry, I wouldn’t fear for anything, since I would know that my soul will be safe in his hands, protected and safeguarded, for as long as I'm swearing my allegiance to him.

But I don’t believe. Without fear or favour, without pride or shame, I can state it, simply because it is so. And, although I don’t believe, my way is not that different than what it would be if I did.

Although I don’t believe…

I, indeed, try not to be too happy or too sad when good or bad things happen, because I know that the complexity of the situations surpasses my ability to understand it. Something that seems good/bad now, might be bad/good tomorrow, or have a later consequence that I can’t see yet.

I, indeed, don’t thank or curse anybody for any specific thing, although that’s because I don’t think there’s anyone to thank or curse. I, indeed, thank some things simply because they exist, in a secular and poetic pagan anthropomorphizing way; I thank the Universe, the Sun, the Earth etc simply because they exist, making it possible for me to exist, as well.

I, indeed, follow some rules without hesitation or doubt, those of morality. Some say they are subjective, but I have reasons to think they are, at least for the most part, universal and timeless. However, I follow the rules of morality not only without guarantee that I will be rewarded for that, but without guarantee that I won’t be, at least, punished for it.

I, indeed, don't wait for anything to fall out of the sky. I make the most of the opportunities that come my way and I try to create opportunities myself. And I always keep in mind that the point is to deal with whatever happens the best way I can.

But because I don’t believe…

I worry and fear about a lot of things, but mostly for my “soul” (unscientific term that I use to describe my conscious sense of integrity); because I’m not waiting for some god to show me the right path, to guide me when I don’t know what to do, to make me happy, to help me make people around me happy. I believe that whatever will happen, will happen by my powers, by the help of other people and/or by chance. I don’t believe in divine justice or Judgment, so that I will be vindicated sooner or later..

I’m not waiting for some god to teach me compassion, solidarity. And I don’t need some god to bribe me with a paradise and bully me with a hell to keep me from killing, stealing, cheating, tolerating lying, hypocrisy, greed, intolerance. I don’t need a god to teach me the value of love or to show me the human potential for
both the best and the worst.

No, I don’t need any God.
I need people.

I need my parents, my siblings, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers, my classmates, my employers, my employees, my clients, my passers-by. I need signs by some of them that, whether they believe in some superior being or not, they believe in me… they believe in us.

30.6.13

Disillusionment

There is a curious phenomenon going on in the modern psychiatric community. Whoever has walked around in a psychiatric clinic knows that there are many Napoleons, Elvis’, Cleopatras and Jesus’ walking around the Earth. There are also many people with chips implanted in their heads, being followed by the government or aliens.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the most widely used reference work for psychiatrists, states that “Delusion is a false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).” (p. 765)

The second half neatly negates the first. Think about what it means… it means that the validity or absurdity of a claim has nothing to do with its attachment to reality, but rather the amount of people who support it and the level of organization of these people (that's an ad populum if I ever saw one). Truth has no consistency over time. One is delusional if they think the Earth is flat now, but not a few hundred years ago. It was perfectly solid believing in witches some time ago, but not now for some reason. It is delusional, thinking aliens are spying on you, but it’s perfectly acceptable believing that an invisible force watches over you all day long, occasionally communicating its wishes. Something that is delusional in one culture is normative a few hundred kilometers away, based not on the reasons to back it up, but the simple number of subscribers.
And a lone psychotic, say Hitler or an Inquisitor, are delusional in their belief that some “race” or “religion” is pure and the others ought to die, only until they gain an audience to their psychosis or only if they don’t have an ancient “sacred” scripture to back them up.

Science is once more forced to tip-toe around religion. This silent double standard acts as an umbrella protecting all sorts of popular unfounded claims be it astrology, chemtrails or Jesus himself. And what’s worse, most scientists do not realize they are forced to be intellectually dishonest in order to accommodate systematic delusions. After all, this is in itself a widely held belief not to be challenged or doubted for its validity.

Which brings us to another widely held, cherished in fact, delusion:

“People should be free to believe whatever they want”

It is widely considered civilized of us to have reached to this conclusion. Accepting each other’s beliefs is considered liberal, fair, and humane. The only qualification offered is “provided we don’t hurt others”. But let’s dissect this claim.


Firstly, what constitutes “hurt”? Let’s take astrology, for example. It appears that you’re not hurting others by believing the position of the stars on the sky on the day you were born tells you all you need to know about your future. One who really believes in it might make terrible mistakes, financial, personal etc, because “their signs told them it was a great idea”, thus hurting themselves. But say they don’t even believe “so much”. Say their belief in astrology is limited to the personality traits of each sign. Each time these people ask your sign, they think they know everything about you. You’re labeled in their minds as “committed Taurus”, “ambitious Capricorn”, “hypocrite Gemini” or whatever. Though they don’t hurt you exactly, they do lessen your interaction. They are unfair to you by not bothering to see who you really are. They miss out and you miss out on a real human connection for the sake of simplicity, emotional safety and intellectual laziness. 


Secondly, what is “freedom” concerning beliefs? Are we free to believe that rocks are alive? Are we free to believe that plastic is good for the environment? Are we free to believe that oranges are bad for our kidneys? Are we free to believe that pouring coffee all over the keyboard makes it work better? Are we free to believe that wool must be washed in boiling water? Are we free to believe that we dance the rain to us? 

Again, not all of these claims cause harm, but all of them pose a potential direct or indirect threat to us, others or the environment, through the misrepresentation of reality inside our brains. There is no reality-opposing belief that really, truly doesn’t harm anyone, even if only the person who has it or their children who are raised indoctrinated by it. The distance between their reality and the reality of the Universe will inevitably lead in the very least to someone’s disappointment and confusion.

So, are we “free” to believe whatever we want? Should we be “free” to believe whatever we want? Should we want to be “free” to believe whatever we want? The answer is no. We are free to use our imagination and entertain all sorts of ideas, but in the end we are and should be constantly restrained by reality, by facts, by evidence, by critical thinking.


Let me be clear, I’m not talking about censorship, laws, arrests, courts, jails or any other forceful way of limiting freedom. I’m talking about abolishing the culture of “political correctness” to the point of foolishness. So that the next time someone tells you “they don’t believe in evolution” you don’t have to take them seriously in order to be intellectually “honest”. You don’t have to accept “their opinion”. Preferably, don’t call them names or make fun of them either. Tell them that they know nothing about evolution and therefore their opinion about it is irrelevant. By all means, they can go and study it and try scientifically disproving it. 


But, in the end, it comes down to reality for the sake of reality. Just the fact that we need to argue about why it’s a good idea for our beliefs to be aligned with (scientific) reality proves how much we have surrendered ourselves to "supernatural" claims.