Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science

Knowledge is (not) Power

أَفَرَأَيْتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ إِلَٰهَهُ هَوَاهُ وَأَضَلَّهُ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ وَخَتَمَ عَلَىٰ سَمْعِهِ وَقَلْبِهِ وَجَعَلَ عَلَىٰ بَصَرِهِ غِشَاوَةً فَمَن يَهْدِيهِ مِن بَعْدِ اللَّهِ ۚ أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ

Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded? (QS. 45:23)

knowledge-blue

To the best of our knowledge, modern human has been living for roughly 100,000 years, only a tiny fraction of 4.5 Billion years that the earth has been around, and yet our impact, to a certain extent, is significant. We may conclude for a long period of time, the inhabitants of the earth are mostly unintelligent beings. Thus, some say that we, human are now separated from other species because of this so-called intelligence. In Abrahamic Faith, all of the religion agreed that Adam was given the knowledge of the names. Hence, he know to use terms as implies within names.

Most researchers today believe that all of the human accomplishment such as farming, foraging, creating societies, and so on, were the product of a revolution in Homo Sapiens’ cognitive abilities. What caused these new ways of thinking and communicating? Researchers argue that genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brain, and thus enabling them to come up with new ways of thinking and communicate it with a new type of language. This ability showcase what human are capable of.

As implies within the creation of Adam and what is his best feature, we can conclude that the knowledge and its potential lies within every human being, whether you are creationist or evolutionist. But, let’s not discuss that for now.

Human minds progressed and shape our civilization today, the so-called “Scientific Revolution” era. During this period of time humankind has obtained enormous powers by investing resources in scientific research. It is a revolution because the world obtained enormous medical, military, and economic powers.

But, most people in average having problems digesting modern science. College students having difficulties solving their calculus homework, or how to build their science project. Out of billions of people, how many really understand quantum physics, molecular biology, and macroeconomics? Science nevertheless enjoys immense prestige. Leaders of the world may not understand nuclear physics in detail, but they do know what nuclear bomb is and how catastrophic it may become.

In 1602, Francis Bacon published a scientific manifesto titled, The New Instrument. In that manifesto, he argued that ‘Knowledge is Power’. The real use of knowledge is not whether it is true or not, but whether it empowers us or not. Bacon connects science and technology, and this connection flourishes in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Having all said that, science at the end of the day is unable to set its own priorities and incapable of determining what to do with its own discoveries. It is merely tools to be utilized.

Even one of the pioneer of the scientific method in our era, British philosopher, logician, and Nobel Prize Winner, Bertrand Russell said, “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” Love and knowledge. If having knowledge is considered as having power then it should be accompanied by principle or moral. It might mislead humankind and brought them to an end.

Human desire is at every cause of war and terror that our world has witnessed. Quran (Look up QS 45:23 in the beginning) called that desire or هوي (hawa) with an original literal meaning “to drop, fall, tumble, fall down, sink, etc.” Hence, any people who follow their desire (lust), as in this meaning, will fall or in this case (Quran) let the people blindly go astray with sealing in their ears and hearts. Even for the person with knowledge (علم).

Sometimes we are having difficulties in separating knowledge as in classical text (hard knowledge) and having “knowledge”. Having a lot of Hadith recitation might not be considered as knowledge if the person did not apply it. Having plenty of information about Islam doesn’t make a person wise.

Imam Malik enlighten us with his saying,

“Knowledge does not refer to plenty of information; rather, knowledge is a light that Allah puts into the heart of a true believer.”

Knowledge is depicted as light from Allah, while the light itself symbolizes hope, a guidance, that will guide us in our darkest moments. Interestingly, the word “knowledge” itself, علم (‘ilm/knowledge) is unique. If you flip the last two letters it will become عمل (‘amal/action), and if you flip the word, it will form لمع (lama’/shine, brilliance).

In Islam, this knowledge that you gain needs to be applied, so that you can gain understanding and be able to become a brilliant person with Allah’s help. The light penetrates the heart of the believer so that he aware of his existence and what needs to be done between him and his Master, and thus taking action in which makes the person shine. What is exactly the light that can penetrate the heart? That light, I can argue, is the Quran, sent down from Allah.

Human desire problem is so deep and complicated. Any knowledgeable and wise person might have fallen because of it. Let it be in politics, economics, or sciences. Everyone might succumb.

They must complete the equation that prescribed before. Let the Quran speak and act as a light. Knowledge is a light that illuminates civilization through the heart of believers. Having plentiful information about Islam is not the same as having knowledge. Having scholarly debates sometimes not considered gaining knowledge if they are following their ego and desire.

Let Allah guide us through His knowledge to act as humanity’s beacon of light.  

References

  1. Harari, Yuval Noah., Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harvill Secker, 1st edition, 2014
  2. Michio Kaku (videos: on the Evolution of Intelligent)
  3. Mohammed Ghilan excerpt in his videos
  4. Dictionary: ejtaal.net
  5. Quran: legacy.Quran.com
Posted in Miscellaneous, Science

Mesmerized

There is no such thing as the job category, “motivational speaker”. You should take more cautious action regarding of this fact. If you happened to meet someone whose job is to motivate people, there is some sort sense of fraud. Careful.

In recent decades in many places around the world, people have been mesmerized by some public speakers, notably known as “motivational speaker”. It seems that everything they have spoken of will solve all of your problems right away.

In development countries where the gap between the elite and the poor is so obvious, the need for people to get motivated is exceptionally high. What is motivation anyway? Simply, it is all the reason for someone to do action in their life. At least that is what Wikipedia says [1]. This is what people looking for.

There is a strong demand from an audience who want the illusion those “motivational speaker” sell! Thus, those so-called “motivational speaker” business worked out!

When people’s mind clouded by this illusion, this is where the problem started. The words from the speakers became so mesmerized to the people, in a way that they couldn’t tell which one is the truth and which one is the deception. I would argue, that this phenomenon is similar to hypnosis but happened in different ways.

People do not care about what implies in the speech, even if the speakers is globally well-known, they do not care about their personal story how they became the speakers. Again, this is some sort of hypnosis in large masses. People became mesmerized and caught up in their own illusion and dream: to get motivated.

Interestingly enough the word “mesmerize” is originated from German Physician, Dr. Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer [2], who theorized that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism or simply mesmerism. Although, modern science has debunked this theory.

But even so, this theory of mesmerism has been derived to a general well-known term “hypnosis”. James Braid, based on Franz Mesmer theory although different in how the procedure worked, developed the term hypnosis. This term means a state where human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and thus enhanced capacity for response to suggestion [3].

Back to the motivational speakers, imagine you are attending their seminar and pay the entrance fee. You pay the fee because you expect to get what you want, regardless the specific theme for the seminar, right? With this in mind, you are set-up yourself on your own illusion, unless you REALLY KNOW what you are doing and what the reality behind of all your problems!

I am not saying that all the “motivational speakers” is bad. It is because sometimes simple minded people tend to be fallen into this trap, without knowing the reality behind it. If you are an employee at a private company, and the speaker told you to quit and then become an entrepreneur instead and follow your dream not to work in someone’s company, what will you do? Some people fall into this trap, they are becoming jobless, and they fail to become successful entrepreneurs! Is the speaker want to take this case as their responsibility? I doubt they will.

its-a-trap
You should always remember to chant this magic words 🙂

 

Pieces that people need to observe is that many successful people having harsh life in their early life. Even some of them who happened to become successful speakers happened to live through hardship and difficulties. If you are aware of this reality then you can proceed, and enjoy your motivational seminar.

Again, there is no job category such as “motivational speaker”, as one article from Forbes says, “Speaking is an activity. It is a way to communicate your passion about a subject upon which you’re expert” [3].  

It’s all begin with the idea, passion, craft, and expertise. If you want to become one, having your story to be told in front of a big audience, start with those four!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation
  2. http://www.historyofhypnosis.org/franz-anton-mesmer/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnosis
  4. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2012/04/25/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-motivational-speaker/#182aeee6defa
Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science

Lost in Details

While our eyes help to capture images surround us, it is that our visual system as a whole made it work, the eyes and brain that have the all important task of organizing, and making sense of what we are seeing. It turns out that our age affects how we visually interpret information.

There is a tendency for people to visually organize things into groups rather than seeing them as individual objects. It is known as Gestalt Perception [1].

A study in Germany showed that young adults perceive and process images in a different way than other adults. Young adults tend to perceive things in detail, while the older one perceive it as a whole as they got lost in details. This study led researchers to believe that the gestalt perception decline with age.

forest-tree

Young adults or even children are found to be more active in learning as they ask many questions, an important or even dumb question. They fill their life with curiosity and creativity. They will ask many detail questions! As we grow older, our perception to interpret reality becomes limited, and it led many averages of us to routine daily life without any space to explore our creativity.

But the issue is not with that curiosity attitude that we had as children, it is about our attitude nowadays. As a civilized people, we should start by asking the right question. For that question, we should come up with the process of thinking. By means of that process, the so-called philosophy is needed as its purpose is to come up with the right questions  as one of the scholars, Slavoj Zizek, has to say [2].

The beauty lies in the details, some say, but paying attention to many details may lead to disoriented purpose or goal. Asking questions that are not fit in the context may ruin the process of thinking, blurring its purpose!

One day, I read a few arguments regarding someone prayer (salah) and how they should straightening their rows in a perfect and complete rows. It is as The Prophet ﷺ saying, “Straighten your rows as the straightening of rows is essential for a perfect and correct prayer.” [3]

In the other places, he ﷺ says, “Allah and His angels send blessings upon those who complete the rows, and whoever fills a gap, Allah will raise him one degree in status thereby.” [4]

From the look of these sayings, the arguments and debates began. They are all focused on whether someone has close the gap in between people to make a complete and straight rows. There are people who paying attention to very specific details, how people should make the good and complete row in prayer, even they measure the gap in between people when they salah!

It is not that this thing is not important at all. No, please don’t misunderstand my intention. There are nothing wrong with arguing and debates. But sometimes people losing their temper and self-claim their opinions, while they may also losing their logic within their mind. Thus, series of debates began.

Those endless debates may make us disoriented in our own Muslim society. Additionally, this phenomenon showed that we are still not connected as an Ummah. We should pay attention while still in-tact our mindset as one Ummah. We should ask intelligent questions, not for imposing our arguments to win debates, rather for increasing our humility in our prayer and worship. This is how we improve our personal and social life.

Our Ummah may need to renew our faith after series of unfortunate events happened in the Muslim world, especially in the last century [5], it as The Prophet ﷺ  saying, “The people will soon summon one another to attack you as people when eating invite others to share their dish. Someone asked: Will that be because of our small numbers at that time? He replied: No, you will be numerous at that time: but you will be scum and rubbish like that carried down by a torrent” [6]

nine eleven
one of the images taken from 9/11 event

 

This establishment of faith should come first by the process of correct thinking. It is easier for saying than it is to be done in action. As the Ummah keep falling to the degree of a disunite people and falling into endless debates, and on the other hand, there are problems arise, as our young Muslim becomes obsessed with the idea of Islam without a proper scholarship and rushes into judgment.

Maybe it is as the early paragraph described, young adults rather perceive things more in detail than as a whole. But without proper balance as in knowledge, our Ummah has fallen into that trap, and thus we can’t see the whole picture. We can’t process our thinking properly because we are clouded with debates and rather quick judgment to value something or someone!

We should avoid getting lost in details and losing our true purpose!

References

  1. Reference for Gestalt Perception
  2. There is one video done by Slavoj Zizek, one of the great philosophers today, which explained the purpose of philosophy. You can find it here: Zizek video
  3. Sahih al-Bukhari 723 [Book 10, Hadith 117]
  4. Sunan Ibn Majah [Book 5, Hadith 1048]
  5. The series of unfortunate events started with the division within Arab world as in here, and with the falling of the Ottoman Empire, and the rising of Nation-State model, many Muslim places were invaded, especially one of the heart of Muslim World, Palestine. Long story short, in 2001, all the feeling the western had has culminated after 9/11, and now with the conflict rising in Syria, and the appearance of ISIS to black-flag the religion of Islam, worsening the condition.
  6. Sunan Abi Dawud 4297 [Book 39, Hadith 7]
Posted in Book Review, Philosophy, Science

Beyond “What is Life?”

what is life gambar

Many of us may ask “What is life, really?”

All living things made up from cells, and cells made up practically from “dead” matters.

How can dead matters turn into living things? What are the processes inside of it? The key lies in some information that processed inside one part of the cells, which is DNA. As the living things live, the DNA processes all the genetic information needed for cells to grow until a certain time. They produce proteins, they build everything that every cell needed to grow.

All cells, we can say, programmed themselves to be “dead” at some point. Thermodynamically, as they grow, cells tend to be more chaotic in time. As you grow old, you will see a wrinkle, white hair and so on. This is natural things that happen in living things, but does that means living things is the same as “life” itself? Is life the aggregate of all reaction processes that are taking place inside of cells?

The cycle continues as they continue to breed so that their species do not fall into extinction. To avoid losing track of information, new entity succeeded their predecessors. The information (genetic code.red) then carried through generations. In a way, life is just a lot of stuff that carries genetic information around. So is DNA life then? DNA itself is certainly a very complex molecule, but it can’t do anything by itself.

Then viruses added problems. We are not very sure if they can count as living things or dead. It depends on the condition in which they are inside a host or not. There are some viruses that can re-animate the dead cells, well it blurred the line, again.

Furthermore, there are mitochondria, the “power plant” of most complex cells and were previously free-living bacteria that entered a partnership with bigger cells. They still have their DNA and can multiply, but they are not alive anymore! They traded their own life for the survival of their DNA. Maybe, life is information that manages to ensure its continued existence, or it is not?

One person who thought deeply about it was the Quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger. He really gives his thought on what is going on in our cells, although his effort in this biology-related matter, some (biologist.red) says, unheard or plays an insignificant role at some point.

Does Quantum mechanics which underpin many physics and chemistry phenomenon also play a role inside living organism?

****

Probably most of us have probably heard of quantum mechanics or quantum physics. Quantum mechanics describes a reality on the tiniest scales; the world in which particles can exist in two or more places at once spread themselves in a wave-like behavior, tunnel through impenetrable walls and so forth. A really different world!

Over a century, this bizarre description has been part of all our lives. The mathematical formulation was completed in mid-1920’s. Quantum mechanics already describing how the electrons arrange themselves within atoms. By doing so it underpins the whole chemistry, material science, and electronics; we can say that it is the very essence of most technological advances of the past half-century.

If Quantum mechanics can describe the behavior of the atoms with all their weirdness, then why aren’t all the objects around us, including humans (which made up of atoms) also able to be in two places at once, and so forth? One obvious difference is that the Quantum world does apply to single particles consisting of just a handful atoms.

Quantum effects were certainly unexpected to play any role inside of living cells. Yet, 70 years ago, Nobel-prize winning physicist and Quantum pioneer, Erwin Schrödinger suggested that deep down, some aspects of biology must be based on the rules and orderly world of quantum mechanics. His book inspired a generation of scientists. Probably we have heard his journey in exploring the quantum world, but only a few knew he was also tackled one of the biggest questions: “What is Life?”

**

DUBLIN. In the first Friday of February 1943, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger give a lecture with an intriguing title: “What is Life?”

The interest was so great that the lecture had to be repeated on the following Monday. On three consecutive Fridays, 56-year-old Schrödinger walked into the Fritzgerald Building lecture theater to give his talks, in which he explored the relationship between quantum physics and recent discovery in biology.

But what about life? What is the nature of it? Schrödinger was amazed by the fact that chromosomes are accurately duplicated during cell division (mitosis) and during the creation of sex cells (meiosis).

He pointed out that heredity depends on molecules made of comparatively few particles – certainly too few to benefit from the order from disorder rules of thermodynamics. But life was clearly in order. Why?

For biologists, the apparent unchanging characteristic of genes was simply a fact. But for Schrödinger, it’s a “problem”. He calculated that each gene might be composed of only 1000 atoms. Thus, genes should be continuously shimmering and altering because the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry are statistical; although atoms overall tend to behave consistently, an individual atom can behave in a way that contradicts these laws. For most objects we encounter, this probably doesn’t matter. Most of them don’t behave in unpredictable ways.

If genes are made only a few hundred atoms, they should display that uncertain behavior, and they should not remain constant over the generations. And yet, the experiments showed that mutations occur quite rarely!

The challenge was to explain how genes act lawfully and cause organisms to behave lawfully, while being composed only a few number of atoms, a significant proportion of which may be behaving unlawfully. He then suggested that life was based on a novel physical principle whereas its macroscopic order is a reflection of quantum level order, rather than the molecular disorder that characterizes the inanimate world. He coined this as “order from order”.

Schrödinger then argued that chromosomes “contain, in some kind of code-script, the entire pattern of the individual’s future development and of its functioning in the mature state.” This was the very first time anyone clearly suggested genes might contain, or even simply could be, “a code-script”.

Years to come, that code-script like was founded. It is the DNA. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins (The founders) – all claimed that Schrödinger’s “What is Life?” played an important role in their personal journeys toward their work on finding the structure of DNA.

**

Entering the new realm of science: Quantum Biology

Theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili and molecular geneticist Johnjoe McFadden have been discussing physics and chemistry phenomenon that might affect biology in their published book entitled Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology. As the books said, Quantum Biology is about “looking for non-trivial, the counter-intuitive ideas in Quantum mechanics and to see if they do indeed play an important role in describing the processes of life.”

Life on the edge - quantum biology

The first question raised to build a new foundation for Quantum Biology is: Does quantum mechanics play a role inside living organism?

Up until a decade ago, most biologists would have disagreed that quantum physics plays a role inside living organism. But as the scientists, particularly biologist probes the dynamics of smaller systems – even individual atoms and molecules inside living cells, the sign of quantum mechanical behavior in the building blocks of life are becoming increasingly apparent.

There are certain specific behaviors in living organism that required quantum mechanics to be explained. For example, the European robin, Erithacus rubecula. Every year, around this time (autumn), thousands of European robins escape the oncoming harsh Scandinavian winter and head south to the warmer Mediterranean coasts. How they find their way is one of the wonders of the natural world. Unlike many other species, they do not rely on landmarks, ocean currents, a position of the sun or a built-in star map. They are using a remarkable navigation sense. They are able to detect tiny variations in the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field. They also seem to be able to “see” the Earth’s magnetic field! The birds’ built-in compass appears to make use of one of the strangest features of quantum mechanics.

Over the past few years, the European robin and its quantum “sixth sense”, has emerged as the pin-up for a new field of research. One that brings altogether the complex, wonderful yet messy living world and the strange orderly world of atoms and elementary particles in a collision of disciplines that is astonishing. It’s Quantum Biology!

Another example is Enzymes, the workhorses of life. They speed up chemical reactions so that processes proceed in seconds inside living cells. How they accelerate chemical reactions? Experiments over the years have shown that enzymes make use of quantum tunneling to accelerate biochemical reactions. The enzyme encourages electrons and protons to vanish from one position in a biomolecule and instantly reappear in another, without passing through the gap. A kind of teleportation.

Another vital process in the biology is photosynthesis. Many argue that it is the most important biochemical reaction on the earth. The processes essentially happens when light energy captured by chlorophyll molecule and converted into chemical energy in which harnessed to fix carbon dioxide and turn it into plant matter. The process whereby this light energy is transported has long been a puzzle because of its efficiency. The question then, how?

In 2007 in California, an experiment carried out and probed what was going on by firing short bursts of laser light at photosynthetic complexes. Then it was revealed that the energy packet performing a neat quantum trick. It behaves quantum mechanically, like a spread-out wave, and samples all possible routes at once to find the quickest way.

All these quantum effects have come as a surprise to most scientists who believed that the quantum mechanics only applied in the microscopic world. All delicate quantum properties were thought to vanish in bigger objects, such as living cells. So how does life manage its quantum trickery?

Rather than avoiding molecular storms, recent research suggests that life embraces them. Just as Schrödinger predicted, life seems to be balanced on the boundary between this sensible everyday world and the weird yet wonderful quantum world.

This thought gathers all quantum physicist, biochemist, molecular biologist, and all related inter-disciplinary field for joining the new-breed, a brand of new emerging science: Quantum Biology.

Perhaps, although Quantum Biology is still speculative, it may explain life’s biggest questions: “What is life?”

What is Life then? 

Sources:
1. Discover: Science for the curious September 2015 edition page 60
2. Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden