Mosquitoes, diseases and the “natural” delusion

Mosquitoes have always been a major problem in the tropical regions. There are few things as unpleasant as a mosquito bite. That, however, is nothing compared to the very real threat mosquitoes pose to humans as disease vectors. Mosquitoes are known to be carriers of a variety of diseases such as malaria, dengue, filariasis and chikungunya, among others.  Zika , a viral disease spread by mosquito bites, that otherwise presents very mild symptoms, has of late become another reason for major concern worldwide. It has been found that the virus that causes the disease can be sexually transmitted, and that if a pregnant woman has zika, her child is very likely to be born with microcephaly and neurological problems that may lead to severe mental and physical handicaps or even death. And the virus, which was confined mainly to certain parts of Africa and Asia in the past, saw an outbreak in Brazil recently, and has since been spreading worldwide, because the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus are spreading, with a little help from their human friends. It is important, then, to stop the mosquitoes from doing any harm, and steps have to be taken to prevent them from spreading. Continue reading “Mosquitoes, diseases and the “natural” delusion”

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“Magnetic Hill”, media and science

A short promotional video I came across yesterday claims that the Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, India generates a strong magnetic field that pulls cars, bikes or “anything made of metal” with their ignition off towards it. It claims that even airplanes feel the effect of its strong magnetic field when they fly over it. Even the site I linked to has this to say:

The Magnetic hill, located close to Leh, is known for its wonderful magnetic properties…..Not only vehicle, even helicopters and aircrafts feel the same magnetic impact. Locals and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel claim that the helicopters and aircrafts that pass through the area have to fly at a greater speed to avoid the magnetic impact of the Magnetic hill. And if the aircraft comes within the radius of Magnetic Hill, it starts to jerk…..The drivers will inform you that Indian Air Force pilots always steer clear of the Magnetic Hill.

You could complain about how weakly the tourism pitch for such a wonderful, seemingly unique natural phenomenon has been made on the website. But it is difficult not to be amazed or even amused at how the vehicles seem to move against the slope towards the “Magnetic Hill,” apparently because of its rather strong magnetic field and because the vehicles are made of parts that contain ferromagnetic material. That is something we don’t often encounter in our daily life, if at all. No wonder such a place is a tourist attraction. But one question naturally arises: what causes the “Magnetic Hill” to have such a strong magnetic field? Rather, since magnetic fields can be directly measured, how strong is the magnetic field at the Magnetic Hill? Continue reading ““Magnetic Hill”, media and science”

Evolution and challenges to its understanding

I came across a rather amusing article in Scientific American today, entitled Creationism Invades Europe. It sounds rather ominous, but I think the first paragraph from the article itself will put things in perspective:

“This is outrageous!” Red-faced and visibly agitated, the 60-something was darting toward a hyperrealistic silicone reconstruction of Lucy, the world-famous, 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis. After a highly confused couple of minutes it emerged that the man was operating within a 6,000-year biblical time frame. But he did not object to the evolutionary age of Lucy. He objected to her nakedness. “You have to cover her up! It’s almost as bad as going to the beach!”

I thought it felt good to go to the beach? The waves splashing on you, the sand (making sandcastles if you are young/talented enough), the sun in all its glory (unless it’s a rainy and murky day), beach volleyball etc. But anyway, I digress. This is a well-clothed Creationist in Europe talking. Who believes that humans were created out of God’s magic fart (not exactly, of course) one fine morning just about 6000 years ago. God’s creations also include all the fossils and bones, which a variety of dating methods have shown to be hundreds of thousands of years old, many showing clear signs of following evolutionary trends. God created them for whatever reason. But because Lucy, evolutionarily one of the earliest hominids and ancestresses of humans, could not be so because a reconstructed model of hers was totally naked! Apparently the gentleman forgot to remember that people don’t exactly take birth in their diapers. Nor do certain feral children who had grown up in the wild automatically learn the social importance of clothing. Continue reading “Evolution and challenges to its understanding”

Charlie Hebdo, laïcité and Italy

Charlie Hebdo loves being in the news. After shooting to international prominence in January 2015 following a terrorist attack on its office in Paris, which killed 12 of its staff members, people around the world came to know more about the magazine. Initial reaction to the atrocity was one of horror, followed by solidarity -which led to je suis <insert persecuted entity here> becoming something of a meme- and yet another round of debates over the limits to free speech and expression. People also started reflecting over whether or not minorities and their cultural claims being disproportionately targeted for criticism made them victims to cultural bullying in unfamiliar lands. Nevertheless, Charlie Hebdo, by and large, captured media attention in all parts of the world. What was a small throughput French magazine read by probably a few thousand people in Paris became an internationally recognized satire magazine known for its irreverent satire and dark humor. When they made a comeback not long after the tragic episode, they were praised the world over for their bravery. This now means that Charlie Hebdo‘s readership has conceivably taken an upward curve in parts of the world where French is spoken and understood, apart from having its works being translated into different languages. Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo, laïcité and Italy”

The “religion of peace” and the politics of appeasement

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.

-George W Bush, September 2001

Sufism is a celebration of diversity and pluralism, expressed in the words of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, that every people has its own path of truth, beliefs and focus of reverence. These words reflect the divine message of the Holy Prophet that there is no compulsion in religion; and also that to every people, we have appointed ways of worship which they observe.

Narendra Modi, March 2016

The media’s interpretation of Modi’s comments was “Islam is a religion of peace.” If that is to be believed, then two leaders of two separate, disparate democracies have made basically the same comment, 15 years apart. But Modi is also a member of a right-wing Hindu nationalist umbrella group, some of whose cells are openly anti – minority, directing their ire particularly towards Muslims. How can Modi then be making such comments contradictory to party interest? Hadn’t he said that he would not appease anyone before he became the Prime Minister of India? Well, reality check. Or realpolitik, if you like. Welcome to the world of appeasement.

Even as Europe is trying to cope with an exodus of refugees from mainly Muslim majority countries in West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa, and intra – EU differences over policies regarding their intake, and even as the wounds Europe had incurred from the 13/11 Paris attacks last year were beginning to heal, Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU has come under attack today, witnessing two separate explosions at the airport and at a metro station close to the EU’s core institutions, obviously targeting people of business and business itself. Witnesses apparently heard now-much-dreaded Arabic chants before the bombs went off, which means that the airport attack might have been suicide bombing, which has by now become a signature of jihadist mass murder and destruction. It’s now been determined that the terrorist group IS was involved in carrying out this latest spell of barbarism on humanity, and so there is little doubt as to where the injunction to kill, maim and terrorize came from. If someone had indeed chanted something in Arabic before committing their grisly suicide-murder, it’s a safe bet that he didn’t martyr himself for the cause of Communism at the heart of Brussels.

Continue reading “The “religion of peace” and the politics of appeasement”

Myths, facts and decision making: The human animal

The world is full of facts. People are facts. Therefore myths are facts. Sounds like a logical fallacy? Well, actually it isn’t. It’s just playing with semantics a little. What I mean to say here is that facts are what help us create a picture of reality. We talk about Homo sapiens as a species because we know individuals similar to us (or me) exist, and that we can group them together. So people are facts. It also seems almost inevitable that if there are people, there will be myths, gossip and so forth. There is always a limit to our perception of reality. However, our perception of reality -which can be mistaken at times- is in itself a component of reality. We need to understand that in order to understand ourselves. That is why studying myths belonging to a particular culture is an important exercise in trying to get an anthropological or sociological picture of that culture. The diversity of myths across cultures gives us an insight into the varying ways in which human societies evolved over time. Even in relatively modern, secular societies you have truckloads of urban legends that have little basis in reality. Religion, for example, is a collection of myths. A recent study published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making studied how susceptible humans are to meaningless bafflegab. Do they judge it to be more profound? This is what the study found:

We gave people syntactically coherent sentences that consisted of random vague buzzwords and, across four studies, these statements were judged to be at least somewhat profound. This tendency was also evident when we presented participants with similar real-world examples of pseudo-profound bullshit.
For example, many test subjects judged statements like these to be profound:
Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.
Which has no real meaning. Rather which begs an explanation and is given none. That is what obscurantism is all about. This kind of receptivity to pseudo-profound bullshit, of course, co – varied with other personality characteristics and indicators.
Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.

Continue reading “Myths, facts and decision making: The human animal”