The Science of Religion

Source: maharishiyagyaprogram.eu

Perhaps a potentially interesting area of exploration for neurological and psychological researchers is the science of religion: the science of discovering not only how religion wires the human brain in general but how different religions shape it differently. Perhaps it is indeed worth exploring how a Muslim’s brain is wired to work, perceive, and process ideas differently to a Hindu’s brain and how the religious conditioning changes their outlook on life and society. And more importantly, why people following different religions tend to be tribal or communal in their mannerism.

Of course, it would be going too far to suggest that certain channeling of thoughts would bring about a physiological change. But would it be too far off to suggest that this channeling of thoughts would force certain neuron routes in the brain which could have existed in another state had this intervention not occurred? Would it not inspire or prevent the construction of new patterns of cognitive practices which otherwise would not emerge? Or is it possible that instead of the subtle differences between the religiosity of a Hindu sadhu or a Sufi ascetic and an orthodox Muslim cleric or a Jewish Rabbi, the wiring of the brain would only be apparently different between a religious dogmatic and a rational agnostic?

I know it may sound like an unworthy subject for such a deep exploration but it is of little doubt that these different belief systems nurture a completely different set of behaviors altogether. There have been works which acknowledge the impact of religiosity and spirituality on the human brain, effects of prayer, and explore the neurological basis of religion, but can we study the impact of different faiths? The only problem with this idea is setting up science to “evaluate” religions and their impact on society. However, there must be a way to do so without political controversy as unlikely as it seems.

It would not be unreasonable to suggest that factors such as religious upbringing or inspiration can shape a person’s personality to be a certain way. However, what do we mean when we say that? It definitely implies a pattern in which that person behaves and thinks with certain individual nuances in the context of that cultural tradition.

The politics of such a study is indeed going to be controversial in the postmodern era with many likely to be jumping to comparing it to a pseudo-science such as eugenics in terms of being discriminatory to religious communities. However, it is not necessary to see this potential study through the lens of morality, of right and wrong, and of virtuous and evil. It will merely be a psychological and sociological experiment with possible physical dimensions if anyone gets to discover them.

But at least questions can be asked. How a person would think if they are told about the existence of God and how would they think if they are told there is no God. What would be their behavior if they were to believe if divinity can take different forms of life and how it would be different if divinity was held to be off-limits to mortal creatures? Would there be a difference if they were raised in a vegetarian culture as opposed to a carnivorous tradition that relishes hunting as a sport? Will any such biases impact whether they are more receptive or hostile to people from another culture?

This indeed sounds intriguing but the future of humanity is not depending on it either.

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Why the Society Absolutely Needs the Council of Islamic Ideology

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

Although it is needless to emphasize the importance of the prestigious institute of the Council of Islamic Ideology, considering the kind of constitution and state we have in Pakistan, still it would be a good idea for the Pakistani youth to evaluate the kind of ideas they are putting forth. For their guidance, of course.

I have to offer some counter recommendations to the proposals they have presented only a few days ago. Accepting these recommendations, however, are up to the able people and government of Pakistan.

The Blasphemy Law should not be amended in order to protect minorities. 

Now this is an absolutely valid recommendation. In what other way could the minority religious groups would possibly feel safe if they were not told what to say and what to do? They should actually be prosecuted and indicted more frequently under the Blasphemy Law, so they can feel safer and happier under the infallible protection and shelter of the state. Their homes certainly are unsafe places for them, as we have seen time and time again.

Source: Abid Nawaz/Express

Source: Abid Nawaz/Express

Human Cloning is forbidden under the Shariah. 

There can hardly be a second opinion to this. What could be more horrific than reproducing another human being? Rather recreating. Are not such claims synonymous to challenging Allah that we can do just as good as you do. Indeed, secular scientists only use “medical research” as an excuse to indulge in this immoral and totally unnecessary act. I propose that cloning must be dealt with under the provisions of the Blasphemy Law. This should put such Satanic ideas to rest for good.

DNA shall not be considered primary evidence in rape cases. It can only be used as a secondary or supporting evidence.

Considering that adultery/fornication is a crime of as horrific proportions as rape, especially when done on the sidewalks, the prime evidence condition of four male witnesses should be upheld, and must have precedence over all other forms of evidence. This is why women are recommended to accompany at least four men, acquainted or not, with them at all times and under all circumstances, especially when wearing provocative clothing, so that they do not feel unsafe should a rapist attempt to approach them with malicious intentions.

Furthermore, why would a sane and righteous judge want to trust a woman’s testament which only has half as much weight as that of the accused?

Surely, she could wrongfully accuse an honorable man of faith. Through science, we do know now that all human DNA is 99.99999997% identical, so she could produce someone else’s DNA as effortlessly as if it was the real deal and the honorable courts would not be able to tell the difference. Besides, using DNA as prime evidence would trigger more indictments in rape cases, which would mean more stoned-to-death men and which would mean lesser chances of reproduction for men looking to increase the population of the followers of the Prophet.

What the hell are all the liberal people and feminists complaining about?

The Rectification of the secular translations of terms “Allah”, “Rasool” and “Masjid” as “God”, “Messenger” and “Mosque” or “Place of Worship”. 

This is a much needed recommendation in order to nullify the vile actions of a certain minority in the country that is hellbent to secularize things which are not even meant to be secular. However, there should be a certain exception to the rule, before it is blindly put into effect.

You would not want the Ahmedi community to be using the term “Masjid”, would you?

The Mayan Apocalypse Day Post

Source: Bizarro.com

Source: Bizarro.com

So today is December 21, 2012.

The Sun aligns the center of the Milky Way galaxy, something that happens once in every 25,772 years. Well sorry, that occurs every year. Not me, NASA said that.

And everyone is making fun of the people who believed that today would be the Doomsday. Well, they are spot on because apparently the world will not end today, though I would want to wait till the date December 21 is over on the last timezone in the world, and everyone has the right to criticize the otherwise-all-knowing Mayans. But wait, what do Mayans have to do with this doomsday date? I’d rather give the due credit to the History Channel.

Well, for starters, the end of the Mayan calendar does not mean the end of the world. The cartoon above shows most probably what would have happened.  And no one is stupid enough to expect the plot of a pathetic Roland Emmerich motion picture becoming reality. Although I must say that the panic and destruction in that pathetic motion picture to some extent is very much possible, but perhaps not at ridiculosly apocalyptic levels.

But what really ticks me off is religious people criticizing and invalidating the Mayan Apocalypse theory with a shot of preaching of their own version of the Apocalypse, let it be Hadith eschatology or the Book of Revelations and the Rapture. And the usual line “Only Allah knows about the end of the world”. So your criticism on anyone and anything is more than welcome, but please do examine the validity of the explanation that you are confidently presenting as its alternative as well.

I mean how ridiculous can you get. If we consider the Mayan “prophesy” (because I am not even sure if there was any prophesy at all) to be religious, has it occurred to the religious people that their versions of the story-that-never-happened could be equally false? Especially when their versions of the history have no place for the dinosaurs who went extinct after a similar apocalyptic event, as per scientific estimates with the most plausible explanation, which you are free to doubt without being responsible enough to explain your conviction over your belief-without-evidence.

Source: disbelief.net via Michael Dare

Source: disbelief.net via Michael Dare

Yes there are millions more waiting for Jesus, the Mahdi, the Meshiach, Kalki and God knows who else. Are they any saner than the ones who have been supposed to have brought forth the Doomsday prophesy, a misnomer in the Mayan case. Sorry I am using the Apocalypse as an excuse to bash religion, but it’s just so related to it that it controls people’s lives, especially the Abrahamic fanatics, who base their present prejudices on the basis of horrific future certainties. I can tell that a lot of silent animosity between Muslims and Jews is because of the end of days traditions.

Actually it was really amusing. A news anchor on Aaj TV (and I really don’t want to single them out, it must be going on on several other Pakistani “news” channels as well, but that’s what I was watching at that time) was presenting a report on the December 2012 craze and he was literally preaching Islam on television and I said to whoever was sitting with me: Is this news? Is this a professional news channel? “Only Allah knows about the Judgment Day”. Are we presenting that statement as a fact to the people? I’d never allow that if I were in charge but it’s just hilarious. Maybe they should start hiring mullahs as newscasters and newsroom editors.

But the fact remains that science tells us there will be an Apocalypse sooner or later, whenever it may occur. The Earth could be eaten up by the Sun if Andromeda does not bang into our system before that, or we do not get to witness a Gamma Ray Burst in the coming months that occurred thousands or even millions of years ago. But I believe we have made enough scientific progress to see it coming a bit before it occurs, unless the space agencies choose to hide the information, and in any case we would not be able to do much about it though. Recall Armageddon (1998)?

But even a major earthquake or a flash flood or a tsunami is like Apocalypse for a person whose home is swept away with the indifferent fury of Mother Nature. Therefore, I would not call those who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to take precautions idiots. I think their investment is going to pay off sooner and later, and while hoaxes like 2012 could be dismissed as propaganda for stimulating the business of the “survival industry”, it is not really a bad idea investing for a doomsday backup, whether they call it paranoia or not. Though the key is ease of access on a minute’s notice.

In a similar effort, a Chinese citizen Li Qiyuan has built a spherical doomsday ark that can support 30 people for 2 months in apocalyptic conditions at a cost of $ 288,000. Sounds pretty impressive, especially because it could possibly withstand a lot of shock, though I am not sure about the impact on the physical health of the persons inside. But nevertheless, it is the next best thing after the underground shelter and Larry Hall’s comprehensive luxury 2012 condos. Another entrepreneur with a similar invention has even started taking orders.

The Chinese inventor fittingly named his creation the “Noah’s Ark” and the funny part is that a group of Muslims found that offensive, as usual.  I just hope they don’t kill this very very useful man. But apart from jokes, it is blasphemy scanners like these who end up achieving violent protests and killings.

So I’m glad the end of the world turned out to be pretty hilarious in the end.

Anyway.

Happy Mayan Apocalypse Day.

Better luck next time.

What the World Can Learn from Japan

Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster (Source: blogs.cas.suffolk.edu)

I have immense admiration and respect for the people of Japan. Not only because they have endured some of the most atrocious acts of war and constant threats of natural disasters with great bravery and resilience but also because they have decided to change their lives for the better by at least minimizing the man-made threats around them. I don’t know, maybe it takes massive misfortune to realize how precious life is and how responsible it is to make the world a safer place for others. You may not always agree with the Japanese, such as some of their eccentric dietary habits leading to whale hunting, which has been criticized widely by the Western media, but their approach towards Nuclear energy is something that the entire world, not just the West, should learn something from.

Probably the best piece of news that I read in my recent memory was that Japan had shut down it’s last nuclear reactor. This is a delightful development for anyone who realizes the risks of nuclear reactors present anywhere on the planet. The greatest thing to see was the Japanese people marching on to the roads and actually celebrating the shutting down of the last nuclear reactor. There were warnings that Japan could face a power shortage crisis if nuclear energy is abandoned for power production but the people insisted on going ahead with the closure of the power plants to make their country a much safer place. Call it just a reaction to the Fukushima nuclear plant leak after the recent devastating earthquake if you will, but it is an important step indeed.

While the idea of abandoning power generation through nuclear energy seems very right and noble and uncontroversial and whatnot, it is not really greeted so cheerfully around the world, whether you like it or not. As a matter of fact, people defend power generation through nuclear energy very enthusiastically, saying it is the safest way in the world to produce power. The primary rationale in Europe is that this method of power generation has very low carbon footprint. While that is right, but when you consider the potential risk to the surrounding populations, it does not seem like a very good idea, because Europe is not a very large continent in terms of area and population though it is also not one which is so sparsely populated. As a matter of fact, it is not just about Europe, a part of the world with a history of long wars. Even sparsely populated countries such as Russia would still be at great risk of the occurrence of such accidents.

I think humans tend to get a bit too selfish, as in most of other issues, when they discuss why nuclear energy is dangerous. All we think about is the risk of a potential disaster for the surrounding populations of the area but the responsibility is much greater than that. Because this encourages the proponents of nuclear energy for the construction of plants away from population. While that is the right thing to do in the first place, does it prevent the potential contamination of the environment and the spread of the nuclear waste to other areas, as we witnessed in the nuclear accidents in the past? Of course, you should be pissed about nuclear tests anyway, absolutely unacceptable. The point here is that we are putting the entire environment of the planet in danger because of exposure to nuclear contamination and that jeopardizes all the flora and fauna of the world and not just human life. Furthermore, it endangers the very possibility of life on the planet in the long run.

The fact that we often ignore is that there is no place “safe enough” for building a nuclear plant, let alone for testing a nuclear weapon. There is no place immune to a natural disaster and probably there is no nuclear plant which is absolutely infallible and invincible.

Call it cowardice and losing a great energy source but energy at the cost of safety in such a proportion is certainly not a good trade.

The Japanese have learned this lesson the hard way but I appreciate the way they have reacted to adversity every time it knocks their door.

It is time the world learns this lesson from them.

While there is still time.

Dengue Fever Blues

Source: phuketgazette.net

Dengue fever. I had heard the name of the disease quite a few times throughout my life, ever since my childhood, and I had always taken it lightly. Of course you are not supposed to get freaked out by a disease you don’t even know about when you are a child, until recently as all that changed  A serious dengue fever epidemic broke out in Punjab with its greatest concentration in Lahore. Thankfully, as yet, I or anyone that I know personally have not been infected yet, which is a great advantage of not living in Lahore right now, or say, the parts of Lahore which are getting affected the most, as there are many cities within cities.

Becoming sick in a country where an epidemic outbreak is wreaking havoc can be a very dangerous feeling. In case of dengue fever, caused by dengue virus of the genus Flavivirus spread by the Aedes genus of mosquitoes recognized by its distinct white spots or stripes, the very thought, let alone actually contracting the fever, is probably much more excruciating than any other disease. There is a reason for that. The symptoms of the disease are so vague and commonplace that everyone who gets ill can start fearing for their lives.

Of course, the bone-breaking part of the fever and the appearance of the rash are very specific symptoms that point towards dengue fever, but other than that you would never be able to tell if you have the virus in your veins and if you are in risk of developing serious complications that it could lead to. So it is only natural that the entire city turned up to get themselves tested for dengue fever at hospitals in Lahore. What makes things even worse is that in many cases, it remains asymptomatic. Surviving with the dengue fever virus can be alright, but that exposes other people to the risk of infection.

No one would be afraid of, or even give a damn about the dengue fever thing had so many people not died because of it in its present outbreak in Lahore, with over 5,000 cases reported, over 100 lost their lives and many ill even at this time as I write these lines. I have not kept the exact count of the deaths caused by the epidemic, or at least that is what have been thought to have caused those deaths, but each time you hear the news of more deaths, it shakes you for a minute, frightening you, while also alarming you and renewing your caution.  Although statistically, the death toll resulting from dengue fever is supposed to be extremely low. Maybe, the deaths caused by now have been extremely low. Who knows. One death seems a lot.

This is where an epidemic can be frightening. It is living among death, in a sense. But not too much. I recall that the world has seen worst epidemics, and pandemics for that matter. Wonder how they would have lived through the Black Death.

There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue fever, they tell me. This is how much control we have over the life of the patient, but the treatment is based on symptoms.

This makes you wonder how helpless we are. The only way to evade the disease is to kill mosquitoes and not to let them bite you. Simple. But it is not that simple. At the same time, the politics people argue about it as usual and people die, suggesting that perhaps not even an alien creature can unite the human species. So much for Roland Emmerich’s ideals. If you don’t believe me, you can enlarge a mosquito to giant size and see for yourself what I mean by the alien creature. Now I spend my days dodging it all the time.

Although dengue fever poses a statistically small threat of hemorrhagic fever resulting in death, but how do you know you are not under the risk when you suffer from it. And there is no way to kill the microbe because it is a virus, yeah right. That’s just about how strong human beings are on a cosmic level. The question is what is the point of creating all the sophisticated weapons in the world, which are supposed to protect you, when you cannot even protect yourself from a damn virus, or even a mosquito if its occurrence is not prevented in the first place.

This also raises a question about priorities. Neither will everyone see this nor necessarily agree with it, but why cannot humans as a species concentrate on research that allows them to overcome microbes and diseases resulting in severe complications and deaths with increased focus, and I mean spending more on it than on other apparently useless ventures, as I am sure medical research is always an ongoing process and has made tremendous progress.

Because to me, the measure of the scientific progress of the humans is the absence of a vaccine for a microbe that causes a deadly disease. And I am not even talking about the efforts of the local governance because usually this particular disease breaks out in countries with low resources and generally incompetent and/or corrupt governments.

However, I salute all the medical professionals whoever they are and where ever they are working against this epidemic and curing people and most of all, offering them hope for life. I can never do that. Believe me, you live like never before after you have a close encounter with death.

Why not wage wars and Crusade and Jihad against mosquitoes, especially the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, instead of each other.

At least I am declaring Jihad against mosquitoes.

A Quarter of a Century Since Chernobyl

A quarter of a century has passed since the worst nuclear accident in history. On April 26, 1986, the Nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the then USSR, exploded leaking nuclear radiation about a hundred times the Nuclear explosion at Hiroshima. I cannot think of anything more but to say that the day reminds us why we should be so proud of Nuclear technology. After all, it allows us to make great changes to the way things work naturally, something we consider a sign of human intelligence and intellect. And since it proves potentially dangerous and destructive to human life, this further affirms this notion.

It’s a pity that despite all our scientific advances, we turn to Nuclear Energy as a source of generation of power. Of course, Nuclear Technology is very safe. It rarely causes any casualties and how many accidents have we witnessed since the Chernobyl one? None. Until of course, a massive 9 magnitude earthquake hit the Japanese city of Fukushima on March 11, 2011, causing explosions in the Nuclear power plant in the city, resulting in the leakage of radioactive material to the extent that it is being compared to the Chernobyl incident.

One Nuclear accident caused by human error, the other by a natural disaster.

Either of that could happen at any time and at any Nuclear reactor in the world. We have been very lucky that this does not happen too often. But it very easily could. And we are dealing with Nuclear Radiation here. Its effects spread globally and do not remain confined to the borders of the country suffering such an accident. And let us not even talk about the effects of Nuclear Radiation from such accidents on life.

Even if we rule out the human error factor, or even the computer error part, in causing a Nuclear accident, as strict security measures have been taken in Nuclear plants the world over to prevent incidents such as Chernobyl (or so they tell us), the natural disaster risk factor would always remain there. We still have a long way to go when it comes to fighting the catastrophic effects of natural disasters, but we must not forget that the secondary disasters in their aftermath are usually a creation of our own.

Revisit Chernobyl after 25 years.

For The Effects of Chernobyl on the Wildlife After 25 Years, from National Geographic, Click here.

Not much use in generating power in a way which will not leave anyone who would need it in the first place.

Pretty short sighted for an intelligent species.

The Lessons to Learn from Einstein

 

"Fools!"

My last post was about Stanley Kubrick and he had something in common with Albert Einstein, whose brain must be celebrating his 132nd birthday. I am saying that because both of them had very little formal education, a University degree, if you will, and went on to become really admired and acclaimed figures in their respective fields. While you could work that way if you are to become a film director, it is always more difficult for a scientist-to-be.

Of course, the scientific world would not really offer weight to the opinions and the crazy ideas of a young man out of a clerical office who suddenly was teaching the world with chalk in hand.

He was teaching the teachers, and it seemed horrifying to a lot of people.

But at a very interesting and turbulent point in history, Albert Einstein changed the way we thought about the Universe forever. Well, the view is still evolving of course, but he started it in a way. Of course, there were others too.

But what are the lessons to learn from Einstein, without boring you talking about Relativity. While he will always remain to be the incarnation of human intelligence and inspiration on an individual level, but he must also inspire scientists to work the same way as he used to do. While of course, it is important to keep into consideration the existing theory as a part of the Scientific and Research Method, it is important not to get too much tied by it and give up on the margin of creative reasoning or “thinking outside the box”.

Researchers in universities at times seem to be too lost in the existing and accepted practices. A kind of bureaucratization of knowledge is prevalent in educational institutes, which could seriously affect the progress towards attaining more knowledge, which is the better understanding of the Universe and the laws that govern it, especially the ones which we have not been discovered yet. It does take a little bit of creativity to carry out the Thought Experiments needed to even have a little idea about something as apparently obnoxious as Relativity.

I hope science would some day learn more from Einstein than just Photoelectric Effect and Relativity.

I don’t really have a license to speak about science or about anything for that matter, but that’s how I feel about it.

And I know, they need a mathematical proof.

Maybe, some day science would be able to explain Albert Einstein.

 

P. S. I still have not found the answer to what surrounds the Universe, or the matter that makes up the Universe, if the question seems that crazy to you.