Eyes to see higher dimensions

The world is so full of natural miracles and little pockets of magic, but we often don’t have the eyes to see them.  Only a couple of days ago, my 17-year-old daughter mused why these humble clams have geometric patterns on their shells?

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If markings have evolved for the purpose of camouflage (and hence protection from predator), then why geometric patterns? My friend from Borneo tells me that certain shells, chosen for their markings, are soaked in babies’ bathwater to soothe skin rash.  The natural world is indeed miraculous and wondrous.

But we often don’t see beyond the first three spatial dimensions.  As PW, the protagonist in Catching Infinity said, human beings cannot see higher dimensions because of a fault in evolution. As predators do not leapt out at our early ancestors from higher dimensions, we have not evolved the capabilities to see higher dimensions.

But that capability is there. It is in our brains. Researchers from the Blue Brain Project, a Swiss research initiative devoted to building a supercomputer-powered reconstruction of the human brain, using algebraic topology have discovered groups of neurons connect into ‘cliques’, and that the number of neurons in a clique would lead to its size as a high-dimensional geometric object.

According to the researchers, algebraic topology provides mathematical tools for discerning details of the neural network both in a close-up view at the level of individual neurons, and a grander scale of the brain structure as a whole.

By connecting these two levels, the researchers could discern high-dimensional geometric structures in the brain, formed by collections of tightly connected neurons (cliques) and the empty spaces (cavities) between them.

The full article can be accessed here.

In his inaugural lecture on the 26th dimension, PW talked about being free from the cages that restrict us.  Only today, I was talking to a friend who was lamenting about the restrictions of her life. She is in her thirties, tired, weighed down and demoralised by her dead-end job and living in a grey high-rise.  But as she is single and well-qualified, there are many other exciting options out there that she could pursue instead of being stuck. But she could not see any one of those options.

“Look up Teach Georgia!” I urged her. Go to Tbilisi and beyond, to the magical land in the remote Caucus mountains, live in the pure culture, discover a new world and find the unknown world within yourself. Be alive again. Georgia is the most magical country I know.

But perhaps we are too scared to let go of the known, safe world to look beyond the limiting confines of our everyday life.  Here’s a beautiful call to opening ourselves up to live fully from Pema Chödrön. See the higher dimensions. Know that WE CAN.

If we knew that tonight we were going to go blind, we would take a longing, last real look at every blade of grass, every cloud formation, every speck of dust, every rainbow, raindrop—everything.  Pema Chödrön

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I dedicate this to my late friend Eva. Dear, I see you x

 

 

 

DRINK ME potion

The DRINK ME potion is a magic liquid in Wonderland that makes the drinker shrink in size. When Alice could not fit through the tiny trapdoor to get into the enchanted garden beyond, a glass bottle with a label that says “Drink Me” magically appeared on the table.

The potion tasted of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast all mixed up. It was so delicious that Alice drank every last drop.

I’ve always been fascinated by magic potions and have made a few in my alchemist kitchen. The green potion in the photograph above which I made contains millions of ephemeral, powerful chlorophyll cells and has the power to heal insides and charge the human body with good energy. If it is not working after a few doses, increase the consumption and the time.

Imagine my delight in finding these botanically brewed potions! They are delicious and have the effect of making drinkers’ tastebuds sparkle.

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I will be giving these cute little bottles out the at the forthcoming Wonderland workshops to the lucky ones Stay tuned for news of exciting workshops!

If you want to read about botanical brewing, do visit Fentimans’ website by clicking on this link.

 

 

 

Love and the universe

In a time when we are hurtling towards time-poverty, where things happen at a super-fast timescale, I would like to share something old-fashioned about deep connection with another person and the universe.

January 2017

Upon seeing this sunset from my balcony, we grabbed our picnic food, stuffed it into an old rucksack, and raced 600m to the beach. I think we were smiling as we walked single-file along the busy road leading to the seafront, amidst the traffic and pedestrians living their lives on the streets. I wanted to turn around and tell him this: “I am so incredibly happy to be with you.”

At the beach, just when the world was beginning to turn dusky pink by the setting sun, we fell into step next to each other and held hands. I love holding his hand. A thousand magical things happen whenever his fingers reach for mine.

We found a spot somewhere on the beach and laid down the picnic blanket. It was my old horse blanket, all tatty and memorable, but this was one of the rare occasions I did not think about my home in the Shires. I was here, fully present with this man who lit some long-buried fire in me.

As we sat down, his arms went round me and I moulded my body to his. I could feel him kissing my hair softly. Though the cloud had come in by now and obscured the display, we were lost in the beauty of the moment.

Until I broke the enchantment and moved away from him. ‘Your back,” I said. “You’ll strain your back bearing my weight.”

He was spooning me whilst sitting upright. And I thought about the spinous fibres of his erector spinae dancing alongside his spine, and his quadratus lumborum supporting my weight. He smiled teasingly at me – only a crazy woman would think about erector spinae and quadratus lumborum in a romantic moment like this – but he followed my lead anyway. We moved to a better spot. We found a tree that was just right for us, as its trunk concaved into a hollow into which his back fitted perfectly. I relaxed again, thinking about him in yoga class, on the mat beside me.

An aeon ago, before he became this special person to me, he had been a deeply familiar system of biological parts, subject to my mental dissection and intellectual exercise. He had entered my consciousness as a familiarity, and from then on, he weaved his individual and personalised magic in me. But I had thought about his body long before then, visualised its internal workings. I saw the architectural wonders of his body in my mind’s eye before I even first kissed his skin.

And here he was now, holding me in this enchanted space. He was touching my upper arm softly, like he was tracing the intricate network of arteries, veins and capillaries beneath my skin, subcutaneous layer, connective tissues and muscles. “So soft,” he breathed, watching my face in the fading light. At that moment in time, I thought it was the most perfect moment ever. The world around us faded into a distant blur – the Russian tourists, the Chinese chatter, the beach dogs, the whole world. All that was left was just he and I alone in this vast and magical universe.

It was as if some deep part of me was waiting for this man to breathe fire into my inner being. His molecules – the signature of his essence – somehow fitted in the intricate 3-D molecular structures within me, catalysing a waterfall of beautiful reactions. It is said that emotions arise from the synapses in the brain, but I am not so sure. I felt a visceral reaction deep within me at the taste of him.

We ate goat’s cheese and sundried tomatoes. And sticky mango rice. I tasted that on his lips, his tongue, his saliva, and felt all the parts of me that was capable of expressing joy coming alive, coming to glorious life.

And reading the book by Sophie Sabbage about the art of living on borrowed time, I thought, how exquisite it is to feel and to love deeply. Indeed, we don’t ‘fall’ in love. We rise. We are more, not less, of ourselves in its presence. We are uplifted, not laid low.

And thus we live; we really live.

Jellyfish and Winnie The Pooh

The conversation started between my daughter and I about jellyfish, because I wrote a short story about a girl who kept jellyfish in the bath.

“Jellyfish are pointless,” G declared. “They have no brains.”

Brains are overrated, as my partner once told me. Sea squirts are born with brains to allow them to move to where they want to go, and then, upon finding their happy spot, they ate their brains up. Jellyfish don’t even have brains to start off with.

But this conversation reminded me of a book I once read, beautifully written by Benjamin Hoff, with the title The Tao of Pooh. The book opened with Confucius, Buddha and Laotzi (the traditional founder of Taoism) standing over a vat of vinegar. Confucius found the vinegar sour, the Buddha found it bitter whilst Laozi found it satisfying.

The jellyfish, without brain and hence, without direction, is the embodiment of the Tao principle of wei wu wei, the concept of “effortless doing”. They just float freely in the ocean, and if you ever watched a jellyfish swim, you could almost see enjoyment in their brainless beings as it flows up and down with the current stream.

It goes where the ocean takes it, no preference, no complaint, all experiences same-same to the jellyfish. This is the Taoist principle of pu, which is to be open to all that life brings us but be unburdened by it.

“Passiveness!” She retorted spiritedly, with her usual fire.

Indeed it is, but it is because Taoism sees nature/the universe as a self-balancing system that does not require an input of external force.

Like the jellyfish, we can learn so much from life around us and go amazing places, IF we open ourselves to it. So dear daughter, two very beautiful teachings from a humble, brainless living being. Just go with the flow of the ocean of life, reconcile yourself with the natural universe and embrace all experiences without being unnecessarily burdened by these experiences.

******

Three philosophers – a follower of Confucius, a Buddhist and a Taoist – fell seriously ill.

The Confucius philosopher: “I will seek out the best doctor and follow the advice and rituals.”

The Buddhist: “Life is about suffering. I will mediate and understand the nature of suffering and hence, gain self-realisation and freedom.”

The Taoist: “I am part of the universe. Thus I will carry on, without fear of death.”

Finding a piece of paradise

I was trying to find a small piece of paradise for a few days, some little place amongst a coconut grove with an ocean roaring beyond. It took me a while, though I live on the tropical island of Phuket. I didn’t want boutique villas or Airbnb houses owned by expats, and I certainly didn’t want hotels.

I wanted rural and real, yet with some modern comforts.

I went north, off the beaten path a bit, and in the shadows of a couple of international hotels, I found what I was looking for. The owner is a 42-year old Thai lady who used to work as an airport representative at Phuket International Airport. Dhao (or Stella) owns a piece of land on which she built eight sweet little bungalows. She built the bungalows away a bit from the sea so that they are not threatened by the sometimes violent monsoon that hit the island during the rainy seasons. “I’ve been here for four years, and I have not needed to change anything,” she said. I like her story as we drove in her little car, laughing like two old friends.

Stella (left) and I:

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Our little house was basic: plastic furniture, a few sticks of furniture, beach mats in the cupboard. But there were butterflies and little birds in the verdant garden where our pink bungalow sits.

“Look,” he said. “There’s a sort of a woodpecker just by the long grass.”

“Love his stripey pants,” I replied, looking out of the window, feeling foolishly happy, loving the peace around us.

We paddled a long way out on one paddle board, just two human beings, the sun, the sea breeze and the open ocean. This is how life is meant to be, I realised, stripped of its complications and unnecessary burdens.

At night, we had the back door open and watched the rain, listened to the call of the insects outside. Yes, there were mosquitoes but hmmm, they never bit me. I slept peacefully and deeply, to wake up to a beautiful blazing day. And the days were indeed beautiful, as well as peaceful and tranquil. I wondered fleetingly how this little piece of paradise would be like when the seven other bungalows are occupied, but no matter, we are surrounded by so much lush, undeveloped space.

I began writing the draft for my new book. He sits cross-legged on the bed, wearing anti-glare glasses, frowning a little as he deconstructed what I wrote. For me, life couldn’t get any better than it was at this moment.

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Stella can be contacted at themaikhaobeachroom@gmail.com

Getting in touch

We often forget, we are magic. Or maybe we have never thought of ourselves in this way. But each and everyone of us is. Magic.

We open our eyes and we see, “Me” and “You”, and then because of conditioning of society, we see “Us” and “Them”. We see the separation, and the gulf, rather than the components, constituents, building blocks and the purity of the architecture that build the human beings we see as “Others”, “Hate”, “Not like me”, “Gay”, “Straight”, “Black”, “White”.

We create these divisions in our minds and society encourages us to. In time, we lose sight of  who we are. Who we truly are.  Let’s start with you.

Close your eyes. Hug yourself. Take yourself inwards with your breath. Turn your eyes into your body, so that your sight follows your breath’s journey inwards. Begin to feel the muscles beneath your skin. We might be obsessed with the physicality of someone’s touch, but when two people are connected with pure love, the layers beneath the superficial skin and muscles come alive. The cells within us respond to love, which is the most fundamental of four fundamental forces of nature. It is the wind beneath the wings of these physical forces that govern our universe.

But it starts with you, not with your partner or your child. By connecting to your deepest self, you begin to understand you are Magic. You begin to feel Love. You begin to feel that in each and every cell of you. You begin to understand. Magic and Love becomes real. It is then you pass it on.

I recently did this experiment with my partner. We sat facing each other, not touching, physically detached. It took some effort, because we are so deeply connected to one another. By the sheer force of our willpower, we took ourselves away from each other and turned our eyes inwards. His image burned at the back of my eyelids and I struggled to look past him into my own self. At first, I saw the ugliness of me – my need for him, my dependency on him, my fear of losing him. I saw how empty my life would be without him.

But beyond that, there were this bunch of cells. They were just getting on with their own business. At first, it seemed like chaos, like entropy in the world. Ten trillion times a second, the molecular reactions take place in our bodies to collectively confer upon us the attribute of being alive. 

But from chaos rises order. The kinesin molecules walking on the cytoplasm of the cell, transporting a heavy vesicle containing life-making atoms. The calcium pump embedded in the cellular membrane to maintain the processes of life. The constant weave of the long threads of structural proteins. All in the silent theatre of life. Sheer magic (please view the VIMEO below by John Liebler).

And then we opened our eyes and saw each other. When our fingers met, there was this great energy charge happening between us, this seismic force called Love.

Try it ❤

Magic trees

In the small book of Catching Infinity, An Evening In Wonderland, I wrote that as a boy, PW used to hide in the hollowed out trunks of dead, thousand -year-old baobab trees and the whole universe was with him in that small magical space.

Now, a photographer called Beth Moon has published a collection of photographs of ancient trees of South Africa and Botswana. You can read the article in the Smothsonian here.

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In that article, Carl Taylor, a research associate with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, describes the tree: “When the leaves are off they have this immense trunk and these little stubbly branches, so it looks like somebody pulled them up from the ground and reversed them and the roots are growing aerially.”

Now, isn’t that simply magical?

Wonderland: Shapes & Illnesses

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At first glance, you might think that this drawing is that of a mandala or some mathematical shape which I am so fond of. But actually, it is a diagrammatic representation of the Barr-Epstein virus.

Virus symmetry is one of the most beautiful, naturally occurring structures of nature. Though incredibly tiny (the smallest animal virus is the one that causes foot-and-mouth disease at 20nm), viron symmetry is highly structured and falls into highly organised categories: helical, polyhedral (cubical) and binal symmetry.

Not so bacterium structures which sometimes look like primitive spaceship.

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My daughter who is studying Biology for her International Baccalaureate commented dourly that there is so much stuff to learn for this subject. I don’t want her to just memorise stuff, but to be excited by the knowledge (or else the three years of preclinical medical course would be hellishly long for her).

So relating virus and bacteria to us and our daily lives:

Virus and bacteria cause infection in the body. When their presence is detected, the body switches on its inflammatory response, which is its strategy for fighting infection.  However, inflammation can kill, though it was meant to be our body’s lifesaving strategy.

But here’s the useful piece of information that you might not previously know: virus and bacteria cause different types of inflammatory responses. Studies done at Yale University by Ruslan Medzhitov showed that a body recovering from colds (often caused by viruses) benefit from feeding, whilst those suffering from fever (typically caused by bacteria) should be starved, especially of carbohydrates which breaks down into glucose. For me, this is a really exciting discovery because it means that Medicine can move forward from blanket prescription of antibiotics – which does not work in many cases anyway – to a wellbeing system of managing health through nutrition.

The old adage of feeding the cold and starving the fever seems to be on its way to be proven ‘true’ by modern scientific establishment.

In the meantime, I leave you with some viruses.

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Note: In my novella which will be published on the 21st November 2016, An Evening in Wonderland – A Brief Story of Maths, Physics & The Universe (suitable for young adults), the protagonist Alice Liddell urged her beloved Professor to close his eyes and look for the symmetries in the world within and also out there in the universe, for within the shapes lie the truth that he was seeking.

You can read an interview with Ruzlan Medzhitov in the New York Times by clicking on the link here.

 

So long as your heart shall beat

Listening to someone’s heartbeats is one of the most intimate things you can do, when you lay your ear against a pregnant belly listening to the fast and faint foetal heartbeats, or when you rest with your head on your lover’s chest listening to grown-up cardiac music.

There is music in heartbeats, if you listen carefully. The first sounds you hear is the closing of the mitral and tricuspid valves during the systole. Systole is the name given to the phase when blood is forced out of the ventricles into arteries that will take it round the body, nurturing and sustaining distant parts. These valves close like efficient biological doors to prevent the back flow of blood back into the heart chambers.

And then you will hear the second sound, the sound of diastole. You can tell a lot about the heart from this sound, without having to break into the rib cage. A healthy valve closing should sound like a gentle, muffled tap on a soft surface. Any variation is an indication that all is not well within, when the valves are not playing to the primal beats of life. I could spend forever listening to these primal beats.

Because hearts are not just four-chambered organs with a lifetime function of supplying blood, waiting to die from a litany of breakdown causes – aortic dissection, haemodynamic deterioration, dyspnoea, syncope. It has a finite life. It is not just about the valves and the sounds either. Sometimes, when cardiac muscles forget their place in this orchestra and play to the wrong beat, the heart begins its dance of death. Death follows hot on its heels. Angor animi. When you are about to die, you feel an anguish of the soul, this angor animi. I know, I have felt it, this anguish. But as I lay listening to his heartbeats on Halnaker Hill on this glorious summer’s day I know that I am alive, because so long as he shall live, so do I.

To do:

Put your hand on the spot on your ribcage directly above where your heart sits. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Bring your attention inwards, following the flow of your breath. Where the breath goes, energy and consciousness follow. Connect to the rhythm of your beating heart. Listen for its music. And then say to yourself, again and again, softly, “I am, I am, I am.”

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Love is the lesson

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I did this simple piece of art yesterday as I was told to summarise Catching Infinity into 10 words. I took out my colouring pencils and a paintbrush and did this instead.

As a scientist, I know that we are just a bag of chemicals with a finite shelf-life. And then we are no more. What goes on beyond our organic matter is how we had lived our lives: how will we live on in the minds of the people who once loved us, when our bodies are long gone? That is the BIG philosophical point I made in Catching Infinity. That only love goes on.

So that is the philosophy. What about the practicality? We are still human beings who eat, shit, fuck, cry, laugh. We make dumb decisions, chasing chemical highs, be it a job, exciting lovers, faraway travels or handbags. No matter, all the same. Dopamine, dopamine, dopamine to satisfy some receptors in the complex human brain.

But it’s OK. It’s all human experience. We are here to learn and we learn from our experiences. Bur learn what?

From Catching Infinity, Chapter 5: Dreams are made of quarks

But Ouma was scared of dying, though Oupa had already gone ahead. Sometimes, in her last years, she was like a little girl and had often clung to PW’s hand whenever he came to visit and they sat on the stoep watching the unmoving veld. Time had stood still then.

“I’m scared that they will put me into the ground, and that I will be stuck there forever,” she confided to her grandson.

“You will travel again, Ouma,” he promised her. You will leave the reality of old bones, failing sight and a body that had reached the end of the road behind. You can follow my frogs to Cape Town. Or head towards Mozambique, where Hennie’s spirit roams with the lions. You can even cross oceans and go further to find the soul of your beloved husband.

He knew his grandparents held hands until Oupa died. They were lovers till the end, his Ouma and his Oupa. And PW began to wonder, who will hold his hand when his eyes are rheumy, his skin paper-thin and his body stooped, when he is no longer the hotshot Professor of Theoretical Physics at Oxford? Who will still be there, loving him, as his Ouma had loved his Oupa till the end of his days? And he knew, in a flash of insight, that love is not an emotion. It is a construction, a life-long build.

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Photograph: a beautiful day in Bosham, Hampshire, summer 2016.