Medley

Palmyra: Renewed dangers

Palmyra: Renewed dangers

Rene Wadlow – USA

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Ruins of Palmyra, Homs Governorate, Syria (© James Gordon)

By one of the ironies of military strategy, the Syrian government forces and their Russian allies concentrated on the current battle for Aleppo, leaving the historic city of Palmyra largely unguarded. The Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh in Arabic) had held Palmyra, called “the Venice of the Sands” for some10 months, starting in May 2015 until they were forced to leave by Syrian government forces and allies in April 2016. In May 2016, Russia had celebrated the flight of ISIS with a short concert of Prokofiev’s music played by musicians from the Marinskiy Theatre in the Roman-era outdoor theater and a video talk by President Putin.

Now ISIS forces are back in control and both the people and the monuments of Palmyra are in real danger. When in control of Palmyra, on 23 August 2015, the temples of Baalshamien – Lord of the Heavens –  and Bel – a goddess often associated with the moon, had been largely destroyed by ISIS. This iconoclastic approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same which had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan – monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road. The destruction of the Palmyra temples was also to show the impotence of the international community to stop ISIS. Smaller artifacts were destroyed or sold off in what has become a massive trade of looted art works.

Read more: Palmyra: Renewed dangers

God and your Brain

This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits

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An fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan shows regions of the brain that become active when devoutly religious study participants have a spiritual experience, including a reward center in the brain, the nucleus accumbens. Credit: Jeffrey Anderson

Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine. The findings will be published Nov. 29 in the journal Social Neuroscience.

“We're just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent,” says senior author and neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson. “In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia.”

Read more: God and your Brain

Oxytocin enhances spirituality: The biology of awe

Oxytocin enhances spirituality: The biology of awe

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Is there a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people? Oxytocin makes men more likely to say so. Credit: © Oleksandr Kotenko / Fotolia

Oxytocin has been dubbed the “love hormone” for its role promoting social bonding, altruism and more. Now new research from Duke University suggests the hormone may also support spirituality.

In the study, men reported a greater sense of spirituality shortly after taking oxytocin and a week later. Participants who took oxytocin also experienced more positive emotions during meditation, said lead author Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke.

“Spirituality and meditation have each been linked to health and well-being in previous research,” Van Cappellen said. “We were interested in understanding biological factors that may enhance those spiritual experiences.”

“Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs.”

Read more: Oxytocin enhances spirituality: The biology of awe

We don’t have an energy problem. Raw materials are our problem.

Michiel Haas – the Netherlands 

The author is one of the initiators of The Elephants project; this initiative aims to renovate the Adyar Estate.

In this essay Michiel shows us that there is more than enough energy on our planet Earth. The sun provides us with 10,000 times more energy than is consumed yearly, worldwide. The challenge is to convert this sun energy into electricity and to discover other ways to harness sun power. To convert this power we need lots of different devises such as PV-cells, wind mills, and others. For these devises, we need raw materials, and there we get into trouble. Currently we don’t have enough of some kinds minerals to build enough devices to convert sun power into electricity. 

This issue brings us to another problem: scarcity of the raw materials that we need for the building industry. With the increasing world population, the need for houses, schools, offices and other buildings will also increase and with that the need for raw materials. In the article, some solutions for the raw material scarcity are offered. 

Read more: We don’t have an energy problem. Raw materials are our problem.

The Minds of Dogs

Psychological science explores the minds of dogs

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Dogs are one of the most common household pets in the world, so it’s curious that we know relatively little about their cognitive abilities when we know so much about the abilities of other animals, from primates to cetaceans. Over the last couple decades, researchers have been aiming to bridge this gap in scientific knowledge, investigating how our canine companions behave and what they know and why.

The October 2016 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science presents an entire special issue dedicated to exploring all that psychological scientists have learned about dog behavior and cognition in recent years. Current Directions in Psychological Science is a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The table of contents can be found at: http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/25/5.tochttp://cdp.sagepub.com/content/25/5.toc

Read more: The Minds of Dogs

The Mysticism and Persistence of the Druze

The Mysticism and Persistence of the Druze

Victor Peñaranda – The Philippines 

 Medley Druze 2

The religion of the Druze is based on the unity of life and belongs to an esoteric tradition often misunderstood in a volatile region where the major religions have been invoked to wage wars. In their spiritual practice, the Druze do not have personal deity, but they believe that the divine incarnates itself in the human individual. The name by which the Druze like to be known is Muwahhidun (sing. Muwahhid) which reflects their central belief in a mystical union (tawhid) with the One.

Like several religious minorities in the Middle East (e.g. Yazedi and Mandaean), the Druze have been provoked to take political sides in historical conflicts that involve a complex cast of nations and factions with diverse motivations.

The Institute of Druze Studies once estimated that about 40-50% of Druze lived in Syria, 30-40% in Lebanon, 6-7% in Israel and Jordan. But due to the prolonged violence that has devastated Syria since 2011, a significant number of Druze have emigrated to North America, Europe and Australia.

There are about one million Druze in the world today.

Read more: The Mysticism and Persistence of the Druze

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