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 ❤

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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.

Space and love is infinite

Every year in early spring, my parents would spend hours putting in the bedding plants – the sweet peas, Busy Lizzies, geraniums, petunias and begonias. Now, it is the end of summer and most of these plants are preparing to die.

“Oh Ma, why do you bother? Why don’t you just plant evergreens?” I used to ask her in exasperation.

“Jac, someday you’ll understand,” she had replied each time with her legendary patience.

I think I do. There is no forever. Even the evergreens die. We live and we die, that is the cycle of life. Only space and love is infinite. I know. My mother’s love will go on, because I have loved my children the way she loved me. Look at the endless night sky and you will see.

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Inspiration for the title

A galaxy is a system of millions or billions of stars. There are an infinite number of galaxies in our universe.

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Look at the night sky. You can see other galaxies with your naked eye. From planet earth in the Milky Way Galaxy, you can see the Andromeda, 2.4million light years away.

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The distance between any two galaxies grows with time, creating an illusion of mechanical movement.

But the galaxies themselves never move. Motion is an illusion. To try to catch something would be like catching infinity. All that is, is here and now.

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Below: working on explaining this concept:

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World Wide Web

The Internet is so pervasive in our lives, but do you ever stop to wonder about a greater, more magical network, one that is created entirely Nature?

My parents are both passionate biologists, and they created that wonder in me that never dims. Their particular passion is fungi. Mushrooms to you and I. But what we see above ground are just the sex organs of these small but amazing organisms. Beneath these fungus are roots that nurture the whole forest through a beautiful mutualistic symbiotic relationship. A complexity far beyond the comprehension of the mere human brain exists below ground, connecting all living things. Indeed, the forest is far more than you can see.

So here’s a little practice in mindfulness: the next time to log on to the Internet, think about the magical network beneath your feet.

Working on my next book, inspired by my parents, of course ❤

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Understanding the physical world

In conversations with my daughter, I became interested in how we learn maths (because Catching Infinity is maths/physics-based). She has many friends who does not understand maths, cannot do maths and are scared of maths. Unfortunately that fear and dislike persists till adulthood, possibly for the rest of someone’s lifetime. I hope  Catching Infinity will change that.

There are sociological theories about why maths holds terror for many students: thinking in abstract and in symbols is not ‘normal’ in the world we live in, and also the fact that it is a subject that a student is either right or wrong. Fear of failure often impedes progress in the subject. You have to be relaxed to be good at maths.

Yet maths is the foundations of so many things. Like physics.

Here’s something that came to my attention recently:

One thing that never fails to awe me is the fact that so much of the human brain is unknown despite the billions we have invested into its research. For example, do you know that there is a special part of the human brain that is responsible for comprehension of physics/physics-like subjects? Take away the maths and the scary equations, physics is just an inner intuitive sense for how things will bounce, wobble, or fall. We use it all the time unconsciously in our heads. So, my message to adults and children alike, learn to love physics.

To test the physics centre of your brain, go to: