Posted in Psychology & Medicine

The Importance Of Television

Fire is considered one of the most important discoveries in the history of our species. Since the dawn of time, it has provided us with warmth, light, cooked food and the power to invent even more things.

We can see how important fire was to our ancestors from how integral it was within a house.
In prehistoric times, there would always be a fire at the centre of a cave or hut, where the family could gather around for warmth and light. Here, they would warm themselves on a cold winter’s day and cook meat that they hunted during the day to tenderise it.

Unlike the old days, we no longer have open fires in the house. Instead, fire has been split into three different forms.

  • Instead of huddling around an open fire for warmth, we have boilers and hot water cylinders to warm our houses.
  • Instead of cooking our food over a campfire, we have gas or electric stoves and ovens.
  • Instead of the flickering flames providing us with light and distraction, we have television and computers.

Of course, we still have fireplaces, barbeques and candles, but the modern person tends to rely more on modernised versions of fire.

An interesting takeaway from this theory is how television is the modern form of the psychological comfort that fire provided us. In prehistoric times, people would struggle to stay alive, running from predators and hunting to feed the family. Looking at the fire mindlessly at the end of a hard day’s work would have been a way to destress and unwind.

Nowadays, most of us are lucky enough to not have to fear death on a day-to-day basis, but we still suffer constant stress from the busy modern life. Perhaps sitting in front of a television or computer to procrastinate for half an hour is not the worst thing in the world.

That said, everything should be done in moderation. It is good to relax for a set amount of time, but if you spent every evening after work staring at a screen without an original thought, your mind will dull and atrophy.

So, it is good to balance out the mindless entertainment such as comedy or reality shows with films that provoke thoughts and emotions, documentaries that provide you with knowledge, and shows that stimulate your creativity.

Most importantly, what you think and feel and learn after watching these should act as fodder for conversations that help deepen your connection with other people.

Posted in Science & Nature

Fighting Fire With Fire

On a hot summer’s day, one tends to drink cold drinks and eat cold foods to try cool their body down. But an old Korean proverb states that one should control fire with fire (yiyul-chiyul, 이열치열, 以熱治熱). In other words, instead of drinking cold drinks, it is better for your health if you eat hot soup to combat the heat. When the temperature becomes hot, the body redirects blood flow to the skin to cool itself, meaning there is less blood flow to the organs and causing the internal temperature to drop. Although cooling yourself is good, having a cold drink rapidly on a hot day can suddenly cause a large temperature difference between the surface and the organs, leading to digestive problems. In severe cases, it can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea, with a vicious cycle where the heat is trapped on the surface and you feel even hotter. Ergo, having a hot food like samgyetang (a Korean chicken soup with many nutritious foods to revitalise your health in the summer) warms the organs and allows for better communication between the organs and the skin to effectively overcome the heat.

The philosophy of yiyul-chiyul can be extended beyond the scopes of medicine. Just as the proverb defeat savages with savages (yiyi-jeyi, 이이제이, 以夷制夷) says, one can control a certain force by using the same force on it. A great example is backfires. A forest fire tends to be too large in area to be extinguished with water. But if you deliberately start a fire just beyond its trajectory, it will burn everything as it moves towards the forest fire. Eventually the two fires will meet and without any fuel to consume, both will be extinguished.

Posted in History & Literature

Elements: Wu Xing Of The East

In ancient China and Korea, there are five, not four, basic elements (Japan also has five but they are slightly different). In the East, these five elements are called “oh hang (오행, 五行)” in Korean and “wu xing” in China. These are (read in Korean): hwa (火, fire), su (水, water), mok (木, wood), geum (金, metal), and toh (土, earth). When you combined with the theory of Yin and Yang, the concept is known as the Yin-Yang and the Five Elements theory (eum yang oh hang sul, 음양오행설). Wu Xing is quite different from the Four Elements of ancient Greece in that it explains the changes in life and the universe rather than being the building blocks of matter (“wu xing” translates to “five ways”). To first understand Wu Xing, one must understand that each element is more of an abstract concept than the actual object. For example, “mok” does not mean wood per se, but rather a symbol for the life force of a growing tree.

There are two relationships between the elements in Wu Xing: Creation (상생, 相生) and Destruction (상극, 相剋). Creation refers to the cyclic principle of what generates what, and Destruction refers to what overcomes and represses what. The Creation and Destruction of Wu Xing are as follows:

  • 목생화(木生火): Wood creates Fire. Wood feeds Fire.
  • 화생토(火生土): Fire creates Earth. Fire makes ash which becomes Earth.
  • 토생금(土生金): Earth creates Metal. Earth bears Metal.
  • 금생수(金生水): Metal creates Water. Metal carries Water.
  • 수생목(水生木): Water creates Wood. Water nourishes Wood.
  • 목극토(木剋土): Wood beats Earth. Wood takes roots in Earth.
  • 토극수(土剋水): Earth beats Water. Earth absorbs Water.
  • 수극화(水剋火): Water beats Fire. Water quenches Fire.
  • 화극금(火剋金): Fire beats Metal.  Fire melts Metal.
  • 금극목(金剋木): Metal beats Wood. Metal chops Wood.

(Image source

Posted in History & Literature

Elements: Four Elements Of The West

Human beings have believed that all matter can be divided into basic elements for a very long time. Although we now know that the basic building block of the universe is atoms, what did ancient people believe matter was made of?

In ancient Greece, the seat of Western culture, it was believed that everything was made from the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. According to Aristotle, every element has a primary and secondary characteristic, with the four characteristics being hot, cold, dry and wet. Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot, fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry, earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold and water is primarily cold and secondarily wet. He also spoke of a fifth element (quintessence) beyond the four elements. The name of the fifth element is aether and it is a pure and heavenly element that cannot be corrupted like the earthly four elements. Furthermore, it was thought that aether was the element of the sky and stars were composed of it as they were heavenly, not earthly.

The four classic elements of ancient Greece had an impact not only on physics and chemistry, but also on philosophy and culture (the concept of the four elements is popular in modern games too). The most interesting example of these is a theory by Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, that states that the human body is composed of four bodily fluids (humours) and an imbalance between the humours caused diseases. The four humours are yellow bile (fire), black bile (earth), blood (air) and phlegm (water). Furthermore, he believed that the four humours affected personalities too. For example, an excess of black bile (“melan chole” in Greek) would cause a person to become introspective and think negatively, leading to depression or “melancholy”. This is quite possibly the first medical records on clinical depression.

The four classic elements of ancient Greece can also be found in ancient Egypt and many other ancient civilisations. It also had a significant influence on alchemy in the Middle Ages.

(Image source

Posted in Science & Nature


The following are some strange things that happen when certain objects are placed in a microwave (and then turned on).

  • Never put metallic objects in a microwave. Metals act as an antenna, collecting the microwave and creating an electric current. This causes the metal to heat up, burning the food or melting plastic containers. Also, if the metal is pointy, it may cause an electric arc (sparks) which can be very dangerous. 
  • Ice alone does not melt in a microwave. This is because microwaves cause vibrations of particles to generate heat, but in ice the water molecules are tightly bonded and so vibration does not occur. 
  • Microwaves can cause something called superheating of liquids. This means that the liquid is heated to beyond its boiling temperature without boiling. A superheated liquid can spontaneously begin to boil in an explosive manner when disturbed. This is dangerous as it can mean that a cup of boiling hot water may suddenly explode in your face.
  • Certain foods are known to generate sparks in a microwave. For example, when two oblique slices of chilli pepper are placed near each other point-to-point, a flame sparks between the two points from the arcing electricity. Grapes do the same thing.
  • Some foods such as grapes and eggs explode in a microwave. This is because of the pressure building up within it from all the steam being released all at once. This is amplified with something like an ostrich egg where the shell is strong enough to contain an immense pressure. But when a certain pressure is reached, the egg will literally explode and send shrapnels of microwave pieces flying out like a bombshell.
  • A piece of garlic will spin rapidly in a microwave as garlic has a thin tube running on one side. As water evaporates, the vapours rush towards both ends causing the garlic to spin. Also, if you cut the bottom of a clove of garlic then microwave it for about 15 seconds, the pieces of garlic will pop out easily.
  • As explained above, metal conducts microwaves and generates a current. This is most obvious when a CD is placed in a microwave, where sparks dance on the surface (assuming the reflective surface is facing up). Similarly, a fluorescent tube will light up in a microwave from the electricity generated.
  • Placing an open flame, such as a lit candle, inside a microwave produces a very strange phenomenon. The naked flame will become ionised plasma and shoot up to the ceiling of the microwave. This is observed as a ball of light floating around. Note that this is extremely dangerous and most likely will destroy the microwave.


Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Birthday Cake

The ritual of blowing out candles on one’s birthday is interesting as it shows the characteristics of human beings very well. This ritual shows that the person can make fire while reminding themselves they can extinguish it with one breath. It is a ritual that helps a baby develop into a responsible, social being that is capable of controlling fire. On the other hand, an old person being so breathless that they cannot even blow out a candle signifies that it is time for them to be socially excluded by the active population.

Posted in Science & Nature

Nuclear Explosion

Nuclear weapons are quite possibly the most dangerous weapons mankind has ever developed. Through the use of nuclear fission, atoms are split to release the massive amounts of energy contained within, causing a gargantuan explosion. When a typical nuclear bomb detonates, energy is released in various forms: blast energy (40~50%), heat (30~50%), radiation (5%) and fallout (5~10%). The distribution of the energy varies according to the type of bomb (e.g. neutron bombs produce significantly more radiation than heat and blast energy).

The initial damage that follows a nuclear explosion is from the blast energy, much like a conventional weapon. The sheer amount of kinetic energy creates a shockwave that pulverises everything in its path, travelling at speeds over 1000km/h. In addition, the heat from the explosion, over ten million degrees celsius at one point, causes vaporisation of all matter within a certain radius, causing a massive release of gases, fuelling the shockwave from the expansion. In the case of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, all structures within 1.6km were vaporised and those within a 3.2km radius suffered moderate to severe damage. A modern nuclear weapon is at least tens of times more destructive and will affect a significantly larger area.

At the same time, thermal radiation spreads out in all directions much like sunlight. Thermal radiation travels far further than shockwaves and can cause severe burns and eye injuries (flash blindness) to people in the vicinity (if they are close enough, they will spontaneously combust or melt). Near ground zero (point of explosion), a firestorm may erupt from the sheer amount of heat energy, as observed as a fireball. 

Next comes the indirect effects.
Ionising radiation is produced when atoms are split and these have detrimental effects on living organisms. Not only are they responsible for mutations in the genome, leading to deformed offspring, sterility and cancer, but if there is sufficient radiation, a person will immediately die from acute radiation poisoning.
The same radiation, especially gamma rays, creates what is called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). EMP is caught by metal objects and induces a high voltage surge, destroying unshielded electronic devices. Sometimes, nuclear bombs are detonated at very high altitudes so that only the EMP affects the ground, damaging enemy communications and destroying entire power grids.
Lastly, radioactive material rains from the sky for long periods of time, also known as fallout. Fallout causes continuous radiation damage in affected areas.

A nuclear bomb is truly a weapon of mass destruction as it utilises various forms of destruction to devastate all life forms within an area spanning several kilometres, even killing over the course of time in the form of radiation.

Posted in Philosophy

Town Musicians Of Bremen

Once upon a time, a donkey who had worked hard for his master all his life on a farm was about to be sold off simply because he was old. The donkey fled to Bremen where he hoped to be a travelling musician. On his way to Bremen, he met a cat, a dog and a rooster who were all placed in a similar predicament. The four animals decide to form a band of animal musicians. While travelling together, they came across a house full of delicious food and a warm fire. 

However, they soon found out the house was inhabited by robbers. The animals decided they should somehow chase away the robbers and ultimately came up with the plan of the rooster jumping on the cat’s back, who was on the dog’s back who was on the donkey’s back. The quartet began singing at the top of their voice. The robbers were startled by the strange sound and terrifying figure and ran for their lives, thinking the house was haunted. The musicians then feast on the food and spend a warm night in the house.

Later that night, the robbers returned and sent one of their members to scout the house. In the dimly lit room, he sees the cat’s eyes but believes it to be candlelight. At that moment, the cat scratched his face, the dog bit his leg, the donkey kicked the robber and the rooster chased him out the door. The robber then told his companions about how he was scratched by the long nails of a witch (cat), stabbed by an ogre’s blade (dog), hit by the club of a giant (donkey) and worst of all, chased away by the shrieks of a dragon (rooster). The robbers gave up on the house and the animals spent the rest of their lives in that house happily ever after.

The moral of this story is that even after being thrown away, if you stay optimistic and work through the troubles you can still live a happy life. A similar lesson is found in a quote by General Douglas MacArthur: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”. If you have passion, dreams and a friend who has the same mindset, nothing is impossible.


Posted in Science & Nature


Every creature on earth knows the fearful power of fire. Learning how to utilise it is possibly one of man’s greatest achievements, as it allowed science and technology to kickstart in every way. However, we still lose control over it sometimes and suffer the consequences. Fire can develop from a tiny ember to a full-blown firestorm that incinerates everything in its path. The following are the four stages of fire development:

  • Stage 1 – Incipient stage: No visible smoke and very little heat. Small fire.
  • Stage 2 – Build-up stage: More heat causes pyrolysis (decomposition of material due to heat), releasing combustible gases. May cause a flashover (every combustible surface in the room ignites all at once).
  • Stage 3 – Fully-developed stage: Visible flame, massive amounts of heat, smoke and toxic gases. Everything is burning.
  • Stage 4 – Decay stage: Fire is either contained or extinguished. If not, may spread to other areas (e.g. the next room).

After sufficient heat has built up, fire spreads almost explosively (sometimes literally) causing extensive damage. Thus, the most important part is preventing the fire in the first place or extinguishing a small fire still at the incipient stage. As powerful a tool it may be, it can also destroy everything you hold precious within a matter of hours.

An interesting phenomenon related to fire is backdrafts. This is similar to flashovers (described above) except it is triggered by oxygen rather than a build-up of heat. Both cause a sudden transition from a small fire to a full-scale inferno.
A backdraft occurs when a burning room is filled with pyrolysed, combustible gases but lack the oxygen needed to continue burning as it was used up while the fire was building up. When a firefighter or a broken window causes air to rush into the room, the pressure in the room spikes and every combustible material suddenly bursts into flames, exploding out in a ball of fire. Backdrafts are one of the most dangerous fire phenomena that claim the lives of countless firefighters.

Posted in Science & Nature

How To Make Fire

Fire has been the single most useful tool in the history of mankind – something that truly separates us from other animals. Yet, when stranded in the wild, most people are incapable of making fire as the comfort of technology has robbed us of the skill.

Obviously the easiest method is a lighter or matches. 
The next easiest method is striking a flint with a knife, piece of steel or another flint. However, flints are not easy to recognise in nature unless you have experience. The following methods use minimum equipments that can often be found in the wild.
Note that you must have dry tinder to catch the spark and kindling to start the fire. Tinder is any easily combustible material that is light and fluffy, so that it quickly burns up after catching the spark.

There are two main methods: sunlight and friction.

Sunlight can be focused to create a spot of intense heat. This is a phenomenon even children use to burn things (such as insects). Instead of a magnifying glass, you can disassemble a camera to take the lens out, or use a plastic bag filled with water to make a crude convex lens.

The other method involves rubbing two pieces of wood rapidly. There are many ways to do this, with some methods being easier and faster.
The most crude method is the hand drill, often the first thing people associate to firemaking. This is when you simply rub a wooden stick in a notch in a fire board (larger piece of wood). Do this by spinning the shaft between your two palms in a fast motion. The tinder is put where it is being rubbed so that it starts burning when enough heat builds.
This is actually surprisingly tiring and hard to make fire with, so an improved method called the bow drill is used more often. This uses the same methods, but instead of your hands, you make a bow and wrap the bowstring around the shaft. This lets you spin the shaft with long forward-and-backward motions, lessening the burden. Putting a piece of wood or rock on top of the stick also prevents hurting the supporting hand.

Lastly, the fire plough method can be used. Here a groove is cut into a fire board, and a long stick is rubbed along it in a ploughing motion. The hot charcoal made is transferred to the tinder.

Once the tinder is smouldering, blow into it or swing the tinder to aerate it, fuelling the fire. This will cause the tinder to light up, which can be put in the kindling to start a fire. Slowly feed the fire with firewood (too much and you will smother it) while giving it plenty of air.
Now, you have warmth, light and hot food.