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From the pyramids to Stonehenge – were prehistoric people astronomers?

File 20180306 146661 134tohl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Ricardo Liberato/wikimedia, CC BY-ND

Daniel Brown, Nottingham Trent University

Ever since humans could look up to see the sky, we have been amazed by its beauty and untold mysteries. Naturally then, astronomy is often described as the oldest of the sciences, inspiring people for thousands of years. Celestial phenomena are featured in prehistoric cave paintings. And monuments such as the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge seem to be aligned with precision to cardinal points or the positions where the moon, sun or stars rise and set on the horizon.

Today, we seem to struggle to imagine how ancient people could build and orient such structures. This has led to many assumptions. Some suggest prehistoric people must have had some knowledge of mathematics and sciences to do this, whereas others go so far as to speculate that alien visitors showed them how to do it.

But what do we actually know about how people of the past understood the sky and developed a cosmology? A scientific discipline called “archaeoastronomy” or “cultural astronomy”, developed in the 1970s, is starting to provide insights. This subject combines various specialist areas, such as astronomy, archaeology, anthropology and ethno-astronomy.

Simplistic methods

The pyramids of Egypt are some of the most impressive ancient monuments, and several are oriented with high precision. Egyptologist Flinder Petrie carried out the first high-precision survey of the Giza pyramids in the 19th century. He found that each of the four edges of the pyramids’ bases point towards a cardinal direction to within a quarter of a degree.

But how did the Egyptians know that? Just recently, Glen Dash, an engineer who studies the Giza pyramids, proposed a theory. He draws upon the ancient method of the “Indian circle”, which only requires a shadow casting stick and string to construct an east-west direction. He outlined how this method could have been used for the pyramids based on its simplicity alone.

So could this have been the case? It’s not impossible, but at this point we are in danger of falling into a popular trap of reflecting our current world views, methods and ideas into the past. Insight into mythology and relevant methods known and used at the time are likely to provide a more reliable answer.

Stonehenge sun.
simonwakefield/Flickr, CC BY-SA

This is not the first time scientists have jumped to conclusions about a scientific approach applied to the past. A similar thing happened with Stonehenge. In 1964, the late astronomer Gerald Hawkins developed an intricate method to use pit holes and markers to predict eclipses at the mysterious monument. However, this does not mean that this is how Stonehenge was intended to be used.

Way forward

To start understanding the past we need to include various approaches from other disciplines to support an idea. We also have to understand that there will never be only one explanation or answer to how a monument might have been aligned or used.

So how can cultural astronomy explain the pyramids’ alignment? A study from 2001 proposed that two stars, Megrez and Phad, in the stellar constellation known as Ursa Major may have been the key. These stars are visible through the entire night. Their lowest position in the sky during a night can mark north using the merkhet – an ancient timekeeping instrument composing a bar with a plumb line attached to a wooden handle to track stars’ alignment.

The benefit of this interpretation is that it links to star mythology drawn from inscriptions in the temple of Horus in Edfu. These elaborate on using the merkhet as a surveying tool – a technique that can also explain the orientation of other Egyptian sites. The inscription includes the hieroglyph “the Bull’s Foreleg” which represents the Big Dipper star constellation and its possible position in the sky.

The use of the two stars Megrez and Phad of Ursa Major to line up with the cardinal north direction (meridian indicated in orange) as simulated for 2562BC.
Daniel Brown

Similarly, better ideas for Stonehenge have been offered. One study identified strange circles of wood near the monument, and suggested these may have represented the living while the rocks at Stonehenge represented the dead. Similar practices are seen in monuments found in Madagascar, suggesting it may have been a common way for prehistoric people to think about the living and the dead. It also offers an exciting new way of understanding Stonehenge in its wider landscape. Others have interpreted Stonehenge and especially its avenue as marking the ritual passage through the underworld with views of the moon on the horizon.

Cultural astronomy has also helped shed light on 6,000-year-old passage graves – a type of tomb consisting of a chamber of connected stones and a long narrow entrance – in Portugal. Archaeologist Fabio Silva has shown how views from inside the tombs frame the horizon where the star Aldebaran rises above a mountain range. This might mean it was built to give a view of the star from the inside either for the dead or the living, possibly as an initiation ritual.

Fieldwork at one of the passage graves in Portugal, Dolmen da Orca. Next to the stone structure is a replica tent to simulate the view from inside of the passage grave.
Daniel Brown

But Silva also drew upon wider supporting evidence. The framed mountain range is where the builders of the graves would have migrated with their livestock over summer. The star Aldebaran rises for the first time here in the year – known as a helical rising – during the beginning of this migration. Interestingly, ancient folklore also talks about a shepherd in this area who spotted a star so bright that it lit up the mountain range. Arriving there he decided to name both the mountain range and his dog after the star – both names still exist today.

Current work carried out by myself in collaboration with Silva has also shown how a view from within the long, narrow entrance passages to the tombs could enhance the star’s visibility by restricting the view through an aperture.

The ConversationBut while it is easy to assume that prehistoric people were analytic astronomers with great knowledge of science, it’s important to remember that this only reflects our modern views of astronomy. Findings from cultural astronomy show that people of the past were indeed sky watchers and incorporated what they saw in many aspects of their lives. While there are still many mysteries surrounding the meaning and origins of ancient structures, an approach drawing on as many areas as possible, including experiences and engaging in meaning is likely our best bet to work out just what they were once used for.

Daniel Brown, Lecturer in Astronomy, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Why Wikipedia often overlooks stories of women in history

File 20180314 113462 hhoyez.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Less than a third of biographical entries on Wikipedia are about women.

Tamar Carroll, Rochester Institute of Technology and Lara Nicosia, Rochester Institute of Technology

Movements like #MeToo are drawing increased attention to the systemic discrimination facing women in a range of professional fields, from Hollywood and journalism to banking and government.

Discrimination is also a problem on user-driven sites like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website worldwide. In January, the English-language version of the online encyclopedia had over 7.3 billion page views, more than 2000 percent higher than other online reference sites such as IMDb or

The volume of traffic on Wikipedia’s site – coupled with its integration into search results and digital assistants like Alexa and Siri – makes Wikipedia the predominant source of information on the web. YouTube even recently announced that it would start including Wikipedia links below videos on highly contested topics. But studies show that Wikipedia underrepresents content on women.

At the Rochester Institute of Technology, we’re taking steps to empower our students and our global community to address issues of gender bias on Wikipedia.

Signs of bias

Driven by a cohort of over 33 million volunteer editors, Wikipedia’s content can change in almost real time. That makes it a prime resource for current events, popular culture, sports and other evolving topics.

But relying on volunteers leads to systemic biases – both in content creation and improvement. A 2013 study estimated that women only accounted for 16.1 percent of Wikipedia’s total editor base. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales believes that number has not changed much since then, despite several organized efforts.

If women don’t actively edit Wikipedia at the same rate as men, topics of interest to women are at risk of receiving disproportionately low coverage. One study found that Wikipedia’s coverage of women was more comprehensive than Encyclopedia Britannica online, but entries on women still constituted less than 30 percent of biographical coverage. Entries on women also more frequently link to entries on men than vice-versa and are more likely to include information on romantic relationships and family roles.

What’s more, Wikipedia’s policies state that all content must be “attributable to a reliable, published source.” Since women throughout history have been less represented in published literature than men, it can be challenging to find reliable published sources on women.

An obituary in a paper of record is often a criterion for inclusion as a biographical entry in Wikipedia. So it should be no surprise that women are underrepresented as subjects in this vast online encyclopedia. As The New York Times itself noted, its obituaries since 1851 “have been dominated by white men” – an oversight the paper now hopes to address through its “Overlooked” series.

Categorization can also be an issue. In 2013, a New York Times op-ed revealed that some editors had moved women’s entries from gender-neutral categories (e.g., “American novelists”) to gender-focused subcategories (e.g., “American women novelists”).

Next great American woman novelist?
Roman Kosolapov/

Wikipedia is not the only online resource that suffers from such biases. The user-contributed online mapping service OpenStreetMap is also more heavily edited by men. On GitHub, an online development platform, women’s contributions have a higher acceptance rate than men, but a study showed that the rate drops noticeably when the contributor could be identified as a woman through their username or profile image.

Gender bias is also an ongoing issue in content development and search algorithms. Google Translate has been shown to overuse masculine pronouns and, for a time, LinkedIn recommended men’s names in search results when users searched for a woman.

What can be done?

The solution to systemic biases that plague the web remains unclear. But libraries, museums, individual editors and the Wikimedia Foundation itself continue to make efforts to improve gender representation on sites such as Wikipedia.

Organized edit-a-thons can create a community around editing and developing underrepresented content. Edit-a-thons aim to increase the number of active female editors on Wikipedia, while empowering participants to edit entries on women during the event and into the future.

Later this month, our university library will host its second annual Women on Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in celebration of Women’s History Month. The goal is to improve the content on at least 100 women in one afternoon.

For the past four years, students in our school’s American Women’s and Gender History course have worked to create new or substantially edit existing Wikipedia entries about women. One student created an entry on deaf-blind pioneer Geraldine Lawhorn, while another added roughly 1,500 words to jazz artist Blanche Calloway’s entry.

This class was supported by the Wikimedia Education Program, which encourages educators and students to contribute to Wikipedia in academic settings.

Through this assignment, students can immediately see how their efforts contribute to the larger conversation around women’s history topics. One student said that it was “the most meaningful assignment she had” as an undergraduate.

Other efforts to address gender bias on Wikipedia include Wikipedia’s Inspire Campaign; organized editing communities such as Women in Red and Wikipedia’s Teahouse; and the National Science Foundation’s Collaborative Research grant.

The ConversationWikipedia’s dependence on volunteer editors has resulted in several systemic issues, but it also offers an opportunity for self-correction. Organized efforts help to give voice to women previously ignored by other resources.

Tamar Carroll, Associate Professor of History, Rochester Institute of Technology and Lara Nicosia, Liberal Arts Librarian, Rochester Institute of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Saudade – A Kemal Yildirim Film

Over the years I’ve had the honor to review Indy films from several different production companies.

Kemal Yildirim was one of the first producers to approach me. I remember wondering if I was up to the task of reviewing.

My first love is music and although I do watch a fair amount of stuff, I certainly am no film guru. But maybe that gives me an edge. I’m just an average guy when it comes to film and my response to it. No great, learned film school cred to boast of. So maybe I can speak for the common woman and man and not just Indy film buffs.

A few of the low-budget films I’ve considered in the past were, at first sight, pretty challenging. But I always wait before writing, trying to see things through the producer’s eye instead of simply reacting. From being flexible I’ve learned a lot and have come to appreciate how the mix of images and themes indirectly fit into my own life.

It’s a fine line, being an amateur, untutored reviewer like myself. You have to strike the balance. Give the film a positive spin, if possible, while not compromising your integrity.

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Alice (Holly-Rose Durham) and her father Wilhelm (Sean Botha) – Used with permission

Today, after watching the latest release from writer, director, and actor Kemal Yildirim, it’s easy to find words of praise.

I enjoyed Saudade, named after a word alluding to a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia. It’s one of the first films I’ve seen in a long time without clicking Pause. I do that a lot…

So what’s this film about?

Well, on the surface we have a troubled couple making out, slapping each other around kind of film. Essentially flashbacks of a stormy romance with fairly straightforward images of coffee grinding and cleansing (Lady Macbeth?). But the camerawork, pacing and strong performances suggest more.

Not wanting to give a spoiler I won’t go overboard on the details. I’ll just mention a certain ambiguity running right up till the end that kept me hanging in.

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Alice and Tris (Kemal Yildirim) – Used with permission

In one hazy shot, we don’t know if the attractive but distressed Alice is going to hang herself on a tree outside her window or if that is her dead mother dangling on a rope. We can’t tell if we’re looking into the future, an imagined future, or a grim memory. And what of the night scene toward the end where Alice walks outside and starts digging. Is that her own grave? Someone else’s?

A phone call in the closing scene could tie it all up. Make Saudade clear. But I was still trying to put things together after the credits.

Some might find this deliberate mystification lacking and others, satisfying. There is no definite epiphany; instead, we’re just left with lingering questions.

If we were to compare this short film to music, someone like Erik Satie might come to mind. The tight edits are reminiscent of the parsimony in Satie’s work. And the overall feel is atmospheric and somewhat ambiguous, again like Satie.

I’ve been reviewing Yildirim’s films for almost a decade, and Saudade is a definite step forward or perhaps a shift in direction. The film deals with memories, emotion and is infinitely subtler than the director’s earlier projects.

Saudade is an open-ended drama that will probably speak to more moviegoers than we realize.


Saudade was produced by Kemal Yildirim and Mol Smith. Before writing this I looked at, where one can find an excellent screenshot of the digging scene and more info.

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The Numinous and Numinosity – Seeing The Light Beyond All Lights

I can’t remember when I first encountered the English term numinous; most likely while reading a Jungian work or something by Carl Jung himself.

Embed from Getty Images

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961),
the founder of analytical psychology, circa 1960.

The word derives from the Latin numen, usually translated as “the presence of a god or goddess” or the “will, manifestation or power of a deity.”

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The Vatican, the exorcists and the return of the Devil in a time of enchantment

File 20180301 36674 1r5weyr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Detail from Saint Michael and the Demon, a neogothical stained glass window from Saint-Martin de Florac Church.
Vassil/Wikimedia Commons

Philip Almond, The University of Queensland

Sicilian priest and long-time exorcist Father Benigno Palilla recently told Vatican Radio that requests for exorcisms had tripled in the past few years. There were now, he said, 500,000 alleged cases of demonic possession recorded in Italy each year.

With a population of around 60 million, this means the Devil is apparently active in one of every 120 Italians. That’s a lot of demoniacs and a lot of demons – at least some 500,000 of them if they’re not multi-tasking.

As a result of this demonic epidemic, a six-day school will be held in Rome in April at a Catholic education institute, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, to train clergy in how to recognise and deal with the demonically possessed.

Why the sudden increase in possession by the Devil? Palilla attributes it to an increase in practices that “open the door to the Devil” – such as people seeking out wizards and fortune tellers, reading tarot cards, and generally dabbling in magic and the occult.

All this seems rather odd coming out of a Vatican under the reign of the apparently “modern” Pope Francis. Yet, while the pope is socially progressive, he is theologically quite conservative. The Devil is a real person, “armed with dark powers”, he declared in a television interview in December 2017.

Pope Francis at the Vatican last month: he has said the Devil is a real person.
Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

The Devil is nothing if not ecumenical. It is not merely Catholics who apparently become possessed. Conservative evangelical Protestantism, particularly in its Pentecostal forms, has also seen the need for “deliverance ministries” for those who have become infested with demons whether from dabbling with the Devil in occult and magical practices or simply as a result of the Devil’s increased activity as the end of the world approaches. As the late Billy Graham declared in July 2016: “Satan is not only real, but he is far greater than we are, so great that we should have every reason to fear him.”

Read more:
What is Pope Francis on about with all this talk of Satan and evil?

A Christian tradition

In viewing a vast array of modern occult practices as demonic, Palilla is drawing on a Christian tradition of viewing magic and the occult as satanic that goes back to Saint Augustine (354-430 CE) and beyond. For Augustine, even the simplest forms of divination – like reading the stars, examining the entrails of animals, or observing the flight of birds to foretell the future – were dealing in the satanic.

In the golden age of demonic possession from 1500 to 1700, demoniacs and exorcists multiplied. It was difficult to tell then, as now, whether the increase in exorcists was a consequence of the increase in the possessed, or vice versa. Possession was undoubtedly very contagious.

In Catholic Europe, convents of nuns were said to show the signs of possession. Their tongues hung from their mouths, swollen, black and hard; they threw themselves backwards until their hands touched their feet and walked around like that; they made use of expressions so indecent, it was said, as to shame the most debauched of men.

In Protestant England, children in godly households were prone to be “infected”. Certainly in both European Catholicism and English Puritanism, the power of the exorcist over the demons was an effective tool in demonstrating the truth of Catholicism or Protestantism respectively.

So, ironically, the Devil served the interests of both Catholic and Protestant churches. Modern Catholics and Protestants seem just as keen on demonstrating their respective religious truths not only against confessional opponents but against the “dark powers” of secularism too.

Why the recent rise?

We can date the rise of demonic possession in the modern West to the early 1970s, in particular, to an emblematic moment in the 1973 film The Exorcist. There the demon inside the 12-year-old Regan announces to the exorcist Father Damien Karras: “And I’m the Devil. Now kindly undo these straps.” When the priest asks, “Where’s Regan?”, the demon responds: “In here. With us.”

This was the beginning of a re-engagement with the demonic in film, television, literature and music – and in Christianity – that has lasted to the present. It influenced the moral panic about the imagined sexual abuse of children in satanic cults. It also contributed to the increased (although unwarranted) suspicions among conservative Christians of demonic influence in the developing New Age movements, particularly modern witchcraft (Wicca) and neo-paganism.

Read more:
A murky cauldron – modern witchcraft and the spell on Trump

This re-emergence of the Devil in popular Western culture is part of a new engagement with an enchanted world. Popular culture has embraced a realm of preternatural beings both good and evil – vampires and fairies, witches and wizards, werewolves and wraiths, shape-shifters and superheroes, succubi and incubi, elves and aliens, hobbits and the denizens of Hogwarts, not to mention zombies.

So an enchanted world now exists alongside the disenchanted one. It is a place of multiple meanings where the supernatural occupies a space somewhere between reality and unreality. It is a domain where belief is a matter of choice and disbelief willingly and happily suspended. Horror and fascination happily mingle with each other.

In this newly enchanted world, the Devil has once again found a place. It is this new imaginary realm that has enabled the fear of the Devil yet again to capture the modern Western imagination.

The ConversationThis rediscovered realm of the supernatural has, as conservative Catholicism and Protestantism would have it, enabled the Devil, in the words of the New Testament, “to prowl about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour”.

Philip Almond, Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The Zen of Quantum Physics

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with two topics, Zen, and quantum physics. Along the way, there have been many things that have caught my fancy, from writers, filmmakers, philosophers, and psychologists. But I always come back to Zen and physics, especially quantum physics.

I don’t pretend that this essay is original, many have written on the topic with much more authority than me. Even though I have no scientific background, I will try and delve a little more deeply than books like The Secret with the topical quotes from ‘international coaches and speakers’ like (I am paraphrasing) “new discoveries in quantum physics prove that our thoughts create our realities” or from Ig Nobel prize winner Deepak Chopra for this brilliant piece of writing, which I found on Wikipedia,

“Quantum healing is healing the body-mind from a quantum level. That means from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level. Our bodies ultimately are fields of information, intelligence, and energy. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong. So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body.”

I think he was really burning the midnight oil, (and maybe some other substances) when he wrote that one. It is extremely easy to fall into ridiculous clichés when discussing these topics, but by doing so they lose all their mystery. Somehow, the subatomic world of quarks, photons, and electrons is as wonderful as the Big Bang and Black Holes, Haikus and the Bodhidharma.

While classical physics and even Relativity are understandable, if vaguely sometimes, the quantum mysteries are still mysteries for even the physicists themselves, and that I find very appealing. The key mystery for each human being is the origin and destiny of their own essence and what is our essence other than our consciousness? Consciousness, personal and impersonal, is the key to Zen. To become enlightened is to leave your personal consciousness and enter the universal consciousness. You realize you are not a pinky, but part of an entire body. Easy to conceptualize but very, very difficult to feel completely.

In quantum theory, subatomic particles exist in probability waves and are only defined when “something conscious” observes them. Otherwise, they are everywhere and nowhere. This may be a simplification, but it captures the essence of the enigma. The famous phrase from Einstein about God not rolling the dice comes from this mystery. Einstein wanted a deterministic universe, but unfortunately, he didn’t get it. Schrodinger summed it up in his famous thought experiment about whether the cat is dead or alive. The thought experiment helps us to focus on the mystery of state. What state is the cat in before someone observes? It’s not clear.

Schrödinger, one of the founders of quantum theory, wrote:

“One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a “blurred model” for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks”

Image Wikipedia

Basically, the cat is neither alive nor dead till someone observes it. I love the last sentence. It captures the essence of quantum theory. The theory is clear, but the laws are ‘murky’ as Schrodinger puts it.

Applied quantum theory works wonderfully; it has enabled much technological advancement from microchips to lasers. There is no debate about whether it works or not. It is real. Most scientists spend their time on the practical applications and leave the “spooky” part to others. What has fascinated me is the idea that our consciousness plays an active role in creating reality. No one imagines the world will end when they die. It clearly continues once our consciousness disappears in death (I will assume here it does).

As a young history student, I was always fascinated by Calvin’s concept of pre-destination. I found it disturbing that we had no choice in the final outcome. God was all knowing, hence he knew before he created us whether we would be saved or not. In a sense, Einstein was a Calvinist, and the Niels Bohr, the principal figure in quantum theory, was a Catholic. The Catholic Church disputed the predestination theory, arguing the sacraments allowed a person to ‘choose’. A photon can be a particle, or it can be a wave. What converts it from wave to particle is some ways appears to be conscious observation.

The riddle of Zen is a different one. By ‘being’ the conscious observer, we ‘lose our consciousness’. The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is the ego. Zen also has its own thought experiments, Koans in the Rinzai tradition. A Koan is something that one meditates on, with the hope that at some point, the conscious egoic mind tires and breaks down and the truth hits you, but not through the thinking mind. The most famous Koan and the first one given to many students is Mu.

“A monk asked Zhaozhou, a Chinese Zen master (known as J?sh? in Japanese): “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”, Zhaozhou answered: “Wú” (in Japanese, Mu).”

Students will spend weeks, months, even years looking for “Mu”. But they will never find it with logic, they must transcend the logic.

Image –

One of the great axioms of Buddhism is Form is Emptiness, and Emptiness is Form. Try to imagine a circle drawn perfectly on a white piece of paper, in black ink. What is inside the black line is the form, the black line is the emptiness. Not easy? Does it remind you of the cat being alive and dead? To feel alive and enlightened I must fully realize that I don’t exist. Niels Bohr said, “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.”

Einstein said, “I can’t accept quantum mechanics because it involves spooky actions at a distance.” For example, two electrons from the same hydrogen atom fly out into space in different directions and they are millions of light years apart. Each has a ‘spin’, up or down let’s say. One must be up, and the other down, but we don’t know which is which until we measure. And once we measure one, the other one “somehow knows”. Einstein’s spooky action. Communication faster than the speed of light, or maybe some sort of movement back in time as some have suggested.

I wish I could offer the great unifying theory of Zen and Quantum Physics, but that would be like finally sleeping with my great unrequited love, and at this point, I prefer to maintain the mystery and keep her at a “spooky distance.”


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About the Author:

Robert Bonomo is a 42-year-old novelist and internet marketer. He has lived and worked in Madrid, New York, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Valencia, Miami, and Kamchatka among a few other not so remarkable places. He has worked as a land surveyor, car salesman, spice salesman, transportation salesman, English teacher with a few other not mentionalbe gigs in between.

Article Source: ArticlesBase.comThe Zen of Quantum Physics

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Criminalizing Jewish and Muslim Rites

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Embed from Getty Images
Promise to Abram (Genesis 15, 5)

Approximately 500 Icelandic physicians have backed a bill in Iceland’s parliament that would ban circumcision for non-medical (i.e. religious) reasons.

The draft law would impose a very harsh six-year prison term on anyone guilty of “removing part or all of the [child’s] sexual organs”; arguing the practice violates the child’s rights.

If the anti-circumcision bill passes Iceland would be the first European country to ban the procedure since it was first banned in the communist Soviet Union.

MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party, who introduced the bill in early February, said: “We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe” She also said. “Banning circumcision of boys does not go against the religious right of their parents.”

Religious Jewish and Muslim parents would strongly disagree with her. But she is not alone in this self-righteous view.

In Denmark, a petition featured on the parliament’s website proposing to ban non-medical (i.e. religious) circumcision of boys, has received 20,000 signatures out of the 50,000 needed to come up for a parliamentary vote as draft resolution. The petition, posted on Feb. 1, will remain active for 180 days.

English: Karita Bekkemellem in Ethiopia to lea...

Karita Bekkemellem in Ethiopia to learn more about the campaign against Female genital mutilation, in November 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Iceland passed a law in 2005 banning female genital mutilation, and supporters of this move have compared it to that law. However, FGM is not circumcision: it is female genital mutilation, and comparing it to circumcision is a slander of both Islam and Judaism. It is important that Muslims and Jews make this distinction clear to the general public.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day. However, Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance.

But, even during Medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children.

Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have forbidden ritual circumcision of males. These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.

This is part of a larger dilemma facing left-wing parties in Europe, which often struggle to balance their stated commitment to minority rights, with a pushy, self-righteous, secularist agenda that is perceived as intolerant by most members of minority religious groups.

It is totally false to compare the custom of female genital mutilation to the religious practice of male circumcision.

First, while there are great medical benefits from removal of the foreskin of a male, especially in reducing the spread of HIV and other sexually spread diseases; there is no medical benefit at all to a female from the removal of her clitoris and labia.

Embed from Getty Images
God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 18), steel engraving, published 1841

In Africa, Jewish and Muslim men have much lower rates of AIDS than uncircumcised Christian men. A recent discovery is that uncircumcised men harbor more bacteria around the head of the penis than do circumcised men, and the mix of microbial species is decidedly different in the two groups. These changes in microbial numbers and diversity may explain why circumcised men are less likely to get infected with HIV.

The report, which appeared April 16, 2013 in mBio, finds that when the foreskin is removed from the head of the penis, resident microbes become exposed to oxygen and many bacteria flee the scene. The scientists suggest that high amounts of bacteria, and the presence of poorly understood anaerobic microbes in uncircumcised men, might contribute to inflammation, which would facilitate infection by HIV lodged in the foreskin.

Second, there is no evidence that female genital mutilation promotes chastity and preserves a woman’s virtue. Having a considerate, loving and faithful husband does much more to promote a woman’s virtue than female genital mutilation.

Third, male circumcision is a religious requirement; female genital mutilation is only a tribal custom, originating in sub Sahara Africa; which is now being spread by Muslim religious extremists to Asia and the West as part of a reaction against the rising rate of girls going to high school and woman going to work outside the home.

Finally, and most important of all, male circumcision is derived from the God inspired practice of Prophet Abraham and Prophet Muhammad.

God said to Abraham (Genesis 17:7): “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…

(8-12) “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God. And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

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Promise to Abram (Genesis 15), steel engraving, published in 1841

“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,” (Genesis 17: 7-12a)

And Allah ordered Prophet Muhammad to follow the religion of Abraham/Ibrahim. When Allah said (Qur’an 16:123) “Then We inspired you: ‘Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith’.” And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision.

Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God’s will. As a Hadith says: Prophet Muhammad said: “Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe.” (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.)

Abraham’s first born son Ishmael, was a young boy when he was circumcised, so Muslims do not have to circumcise their son’s on an exact date. A Hadith states: When Ibn Abbas was asked “How old were you when the Prophet Muhammad died?” He replied, “At that time I had been circumcised. At that time people did not circumcise boys till they attained the age of puberty (Baligh).” (Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: “The Prophet performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th. Day.” ( Al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)

Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for all future generations.

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Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22, 11-13), wood engraving, published 1877

For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham which is also celebrated each year during the annual Hajj ceremonies.

For both Muslims and Jews circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God’s commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons pain and suffering always lead eventually to great spiritual benefits.

Female genital mutilation is the exact opposite of circumcision both medically and religiously.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: Rabbi Maller’s book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: One Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness between Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles by Rabbi Maller first published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon and Morebooks.

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