A young alcoholic in Burma was fired from his truck driving route. With no money or prospects, he returned to the local monastery, where he had been educated, for food and shelter. One of the monks there was a master fortune-teller; he could draw up star charts, read palms, and the people respected him. The young drunk watched him, wrote down everything the monk told his customers, studying which people needed which types of messages, how to satisfy them, yet keep them coming back. When he was confident enough, he started wandering around festivals to tell fortunes, and got quite good at it himself. He soon moved back to Rangoon and set up shop in the shade of the banyan trees at the zoo.
The Sea of Moscow is a lunar Mare on the back of the moon, which means that only 24 humans have ever seen it with their own eyes. All were men. None were Russian. 24 is a good, manageable number. I could list all of their birth dates on a single page, along with a historical event for each.
One of those events would be the 717 abdication of Theodosius III from the Byzantine throne. He stepped down and joined the clergy, along with his son.
Another event would be the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. One hundred and forty six people died—many from smoke inhalation, many by leaping from the windows or falling as the fire escape collapsed.
The Seas, or Maria, of the moon are usually named after mental or emotional states. The Sea of Sadness, the Sea of Cleverness, and so on. The Sea of Moscow was allowed on the argument that Moscow is a state of mind.
conjugate into the first person
Alaungpaya, the founder of the last dynasty of Burma, would have made a great essayist.
Only two major cities stood in the way of a united Burma: Syriam and Bago (where I once spent two hours at a bus stop with two Germans and a hundred flies, hanging in the air like fat black bullets). Syriam’s walls were too difficult to successfully siege, and French reinforcements were on their way to drive Alaungpaya back. With the clock ticking, he put out a call for volunteers. 93 of his men came forward; guards, officers, princes. They were given leather helmets, fresh armor, and were sent to the walls by night.
That same night, Alaungpaya had his drummers beat loudly, to convince Syriam’s guards that there was a celebration in the camp—that they were too distracted to attack. The drums beat, the monsoon rains fell, and the 93 soldiers of the Golden Company of Alaungpaya climbed the walls of the city, slaughtered their way to the gates, and swung them open for the army to pour through. 73 of the Golden company died. Alaungpaya lives forever in stone and steel and the hearts of the Burmese people.
The goal of the essay is the same as the goal of any other will to power: to conjugate into the first person.
By military power, you conjugate foreigners into citizens.
By religious power, you conjugate heretics into adherents.
By political power, you conjugate multiplicity into hegemony.
And by intellectual power, you conjugate one worldview into another.
Intellectual power has to be sneaky in order to be effective. The Backfire Effect has been (finally) noted by scientists, trailing their usual few thousand years behind attentive observers of the human condition: when people are confronted with facts which contradict—even subtly—their beliefs or worldview, they walk away from the confrontation more assured in their original beliefs than they were before. This shocked the scientists who first (“first”) discovered the effect, but wouldn’t much surprise anyone who’s paid attention to the movements of their own mind while reading an article they disagree with, or hearing an anecdote that points against a belief they hold. The mind stiffens its borders, moors against the tide. –If you’re a big believer in the sciences, for example, note how your mind acted all through this paragraph. Note how hostile you’re probably feeling about now.
If you want to convince, you can’t attack head-on. You have to make someone believe that they already agree with you. You have to send in the Golden Company, to open the gates from the inside.
One experiment would be to strip away all persuasive language from your essay. Take away everything meant to convince, leave only the direct evidence presented. Have faith that the facts as they stand will form an irrefutable constellation of crystalized reality. The scales will fall from your readers’ eyes, and their neurons will re-map in thine image.
Different cultures have different ideas of the constellations. We call the same thing the Great Bear and the Big Dipper. There’s probably a culture that thinks it’s a fish.
I searched around, and the Burmese called the Great Dipper ‘Pucwan Tara,’ or ‘The Crustacean.’ Many cultures agree on ‘Bear.’
Alaungpaya’s persuasive flair extended beyond military maneuvers. After taking the throne, he opened a line of communication with England by sending King George II a letter, engraved on gold parchment, lined with rubies, and rolled up into an ivory vase.
In one of those [Varanasi] temples we saw a devotee working for salvation in a curious way. He had a huge wad of clay beside him and was making it up into little wee gods no bigger than carpet tacks. He stuck a grain of rice into each—to represent the lingam, I think. He turned them out nimbly, for he had had long practice and had acquired great facility. Every day he made 2,000 gods, then threw them into the holy Ganges.
–Mark Twain, Following the Equator
a useless evaporator
When you find hundreds and thousands of infant bones, first thing you do is you measure them.
Sometimes, each set of bones will be of different lengths and proportions. This means that the infants died at a variety of sizes and thus ages, from a day old to a month old to a year old. This suggests a boneyard where you can place a baby after it dies of illness or frailty. These sites are not uncommon.
Other times, the bones will be of very similar lengths and proportions. This means that the infants died at almost exactly the same age—almost always less than one week old. This suggests a boneyard where you can leave a baby after you kill it. These sites are not uncommon.
A Roman site in Hambleden, England is the site of 97 similarly proportioned sets of infant bones. Infanticide was “tolerated in the Roman world… if not completely acceptable.”
In Ashkelon, Israel, nearly a hundred full term infants rest in the sewer beneath the site of an ancient brothel.
Suffocation was a common method of infanticide, but the ancient Greeks found it barbaric. They preferred leaving the child outside to die. A preserved letter from a Greek man to his wife informs her of his business dealings, his quick return home, and in passing, instructs her “if you have the baby before I get home: keep it if it’s a boy, if it’s a girl, expose it.”
An alternate translation swaps “expose” for “discard.”
The goal of internal alchemy, in the Daoist tradition, is to concentrate the human essence within the body. A man’s essence is called ‘The White Tiger.’ A woman’s essence is “The Red Dragon.” A good alchemist, a good Daoist, won’t allow their body to discard these essences, if they can help it.
The prescribed practice for women involves meditation one day before her period begins. She should, at midnight, put on a robe, cross her legs, and put her hands firmly on the sides of her ribs (the relevant document does not specify whether the hands go akimbo, to the same-side rib, or whether each hand crosses to the opposite side), and feel the qi rise and fall in her body until she has caught the rhythm. At this point, she should tense her body and visualize two red channels of qi rising from her womb up to her head, and settling back in the center of her chest. She should keep this up until her body is noticeably warm, and then stop the meditation. Afterwards, she should put a white handkerchief in her vagina to measure how much blood is present. Within 3 months, the menses should have ceased, as her body will be absorbing the qi rather than expending it.
Mabiki is an archaic Japanese word, meaning “to uproot plants from an overcrowded garden.” This common practice gives the other plants the space and resources to thrive.
Mabiki was also a common euphemism for infanticide.
Some Chinese tribes in the Song dynasty did not view babies as humans until about 6 months after birth.
Many cultures have seen personhood as beginning only after a child has been named.
About 450 per year; this is the rate at which American parents confirmably kill their offspring. Mothers usually kill children under 8, while the fathers murder 8+. Parenting so often comes down to the division of labor.
There have been a number of cultures in which the two parents of a child are expected to live under the same roof at minimum until the child is grown, and most often for life. Sexual or romantic contact outside of this parenting pairing is sternly admonished.
An Aztec woman takes an arrow to the gut. Nine months later, she gives birth to the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl. The symbolism here doesn’t really qualify as esoteric.
Water in the human body has a half-life of about one week, meaning if you drink a cup of water now, half of it will still be inside you next week, one quarter of it in two weeks, and so on. Within 3-4 months, almost all the water in your body has been replaced.
Accepting that water makes up about 2/3 of your body, this means that 60% of your body was not there a season ago. It was in the ground, in fruit, in dirt, in aquifers, in treatment plants, and so on. By the next season, it will be far away from you yet again.
The figure usually given for the replacement of the rest of the cells in your body is 7 years. It’s not a super accurate figure, but that doesn’t matter for this point.
It’s easy to watch a tornado, waterspout, or dust-devil and to accept that the cyclone is not the exact composition of the dirt, water, leaves, shingles, and trash that are passing through it at a given moment. Even the air in a tornado is, in short order, spit out into a wake of fresh disturbance, as new air displaces it in an energetic flow.
A cyclone is not the matter it contains at a given moment, but the energy that animates it, the process that arranges and moves that matter. This sits easily in the mind, this fact.
It’s difficult, however, to watch the human body and separate it from it’s exact, present-tense composition. The same sentence, when ‘cyclone’ is replaced by ‘human body,’ is no less factually accurate, but is infinitely more likely to get eye rolls: A human body is not the matter it contains, but the energy that animates it, the process that arranges and moves that matter.
To see oneself as anything other than solid blurs the line between self and environment, which is a big no-no if you want to be taken seriously in conversation, or get tenure, or be allowed on talk shows.
The human mind does not process slowness in accurate or meaningful ways.
It is technically possible to raise a child whose first language is Morse Code.
Salamanders, says St. Augustine, serve as very strong evidence of the existence of Hell. Salamanders burn but are not consumed by the fire; the same is true of unbelievers in The Bad Place. Salamanders prove that the concept is sound.
The Talmud says that if you cover yourself in salamander blood, you will be immune to harm from fire. The text provides no tips on a proper ratio of blood to surface area.
Four rivers run through the gardens of Jannah, the Islamic paradise. Tradition associates these rivers with the Nile, the Euphrates, the Amu Darya, and the Syr Darya; the last two, if you’re not familiar, flow through Central Asia, pouring into the Aral sea, via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. The Aral Sea (actually a lake) was a critical hub along the Silk Road, a bustling economy of buying, hunting, selling, weaving, fishing, trading, etc.
In the 20th century, a Soviet climatologist deemed the Aral Sea a “useless evaporator,” a waste of two perfectly good rivers. Hating to see waste, a program was devised to fix this “mistake of nature” by re-directing Syr and Amu Darya, irrigating the desert to grow export-quality cotton.
Without the rivers, the useless evaporator evaporated. The main basin of the Aral Sea is now called the Aralkum Desert. Nearby industrial projects have contributed heavy pollution and strong contaminants that permeate the sands. Winds from Siberia pick up the polluted dust and carry is around the world; Aralkum pollutants have been found in soil samples from Russsia, Norway, and Greenland, as well as in the blood of antarctic penguins.
The Quran tells us that those at God’s right hand will be covered in deep shade. They will be blessed with more fruit than they can eat. Their bracelets will be blinding. The sound of running water will be ever near.
“It is said that no snakes enter the city of Aleppo, and if any of its soil is sprinkled on a snake it dies immediately. No gnats are ever found in it, and if a man puts his hand outside its walls a gnat might alight upon it; when he brings it inside, the gnat flies away.”
–The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, trans. Elias Muhanna
A confusion of nature
Burmese script is mostly circle-based. မင်္ဂလာပါ is how they write “mingalaba,” or “hello.” Their alphabet is a descendent of older Dravidian scripts, which were written on palm leaves. The leaves tear under the stress of straight lines, but hold up under circular writing.
Asian dragons are mostly serpentine, while in Europe, they tend to be conglomerate beasts. The distinction’s not absolute, more like a rule of thumb.
In The Brothers Karamazov, a child is born with 6 fingers. The father tells his wife and priest not to christen it, because it’s a dragon. When pressed, and after a long silence, he elaborates only, “It’s a confusion of nature.”
Chinese dragons sometimes have stag heads, Sardinian dragons resemble basilisks. In South America, the feathered serpent is a central and recurring image. The Aztec Xiuhcoatl was a turquoise fire-breathing serpent. The Incan Amaru is depicted with birds wings and sometimes a puma’s head. In France, the Turasque is depicted with a lion’s head, 6 bear legs, an ox body covered in a turtle shell, and a lizards tail ending in a scorpion’s stinger. A Korean friend of mine described western dragons as “fat lizards.”
Figures vary depending on your parameters, but billions or hundreds of billions of dollars have poured into research on and purchase of antidepressants. After all this flurry of development, advertising, buying, selling, prescribing, antidepressants have an efficacy no greater than that of placebo.
The side effects of homeopathy and Reiki include neither suicidal thoughts nor anhedonia.
There are several explanations to the presence (though not the prevalence) of dragons in geographically distant mythologies. They range from unlikely (whale bones, as-yet-undiscovered diffusion) to begging the question (collective unconscious).
Groups of mice were implanted with both human bronchial epithelial cells (lung lining) and human lung carcinoma A548 cells (lung cancer). They were injected with a solution of Pomegranate Fruit Extract, at 50-150 micrograms per milliliter for a period of 72 hours.
After the scheduled 3 days, a grad student took the a mouse out of its enclosure, wedged its head into the gap of a piece of lab equipment, and swung a bladed lever to shear off the mouse’s head. The student repeated this series of motions on the next creature, and the next and the next. It was tedious work.
When the headless mice had their guts tugged open to examine the cell implants, the pomegranate extract had had “minimal effect” on the human lung tissue, but had slowed the growth of the cancer cells a little. (No word on how it affected the mice’s native cells over the three days.) This study was a modest success in showing that pomegranate has positive effects in inhibiting lung cancer growth. Other labs have decapitated their own mice and found little to no positive effect.
Kent Scientific Equipment sells Rodent & Small Animal Guillotines for $893 per unit. Replacement Blades are $425 per box.
Source Naturals sells Pomegranate Extract for $62.83 per bottle. Each bottle lasts 60 days if used as directed.
The Jackson Laboratory sells a 3-week old female mouse for $103.00 to academic and non-profit institutions. Commercial and for-profit institutions pay $233.85.
Zoroastrianism in modern Iran does not make survival easy for itself. Many sects hold to an absolute bond between blood and faith, which doesn’t allow for outside conversion. Ahura Mazda does not accept followers whose ancestors were not Zoroastrian.
When a Zoroastrian dies, they’re placed on a raised, circular platform called a Tower of Silence. Vultures make short work of the soft tissue, and decomposition takes care of the rest. Burial of the body has traditionally been seen as a desecration.
The last functioning Tower of Silence is in a suburb of Mumbai, India.
99.9% of India’s vultures were killed in the 1980s, by the introduction of an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle. Sun-reflecting mirrors around the Tower’s platform focus the sun’s rays on the center, to speed the decay of the bodies, but this is still significantly slower than tradition and public health demand. They’re experimenting with captive vulture breeding.
Depending on where you look, energy is defined either as “the ability of a system to do work,” or, “the capacity to cause things to happen,” or, “a property of objects which can be transferred to other objects or converted to other forms.”
“Other forms”: the forms of energy include mechanical energy, thermal energy, radiant energy, electrical energy, sonic energy. A quick perusal reveals that “forms of energy” is a misnomer—the energy does not take different forms. What the term “forms of energy” describes is the object or body that is moved by energy; by this ability, capacity, or property.
If an electron is moved, we call this electrical energy. If a proton is moved, we call is radiant energy. If molecules are moved, it is thermal energy. (Though if those molecules are air, it is sonic energy.)
The one factor that does not change is the energy. What does not change is that physicists do not know what energy is.
The scientific facts about energy:
1- Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it is eternal.
2- Matter is a form of Energy. Energy is a state of Matter.
3- Energy’s relation to time is complex, maybe incomprehensible.
4- Energy is everywhere, and in a very empirical way, it is everything. (See #2)
5- Energy kick-started the universe. The exact mechanism is still debated.
6- Energy sustains the universe—which is itself energy.
Archaic Daoist prayer literature is as fascinating as it is boring. Petitions to the underworld were written on the template of petitions between imperial and provincial officials. Imagine modern prayers using the format and tone of interoffice memos.