Posted in Science & Nature

## Grandi’s Series

In 1703, Italian mathematician and monk Guido Grandi posed a deceptively simple-sounding question:

What is the sum of the following infinite series?
1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1…

With simple arithmetic, we can easily divide the series using parentheses (brackets):

(1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + (1 – 1) + (1 – 1)… = 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 +… = 0

But what if we changed the way we used the parentheses?

1 + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1) + (-1 + 1)… = 1 + 0 + 0 + 0 +… = 1

Because of the way negative numbers work, this solution is equally feasible. Ergo, both 0 and 1 are acceptable answers.

How can one series possibly have two different answers? Grandi used the fact that both 0 and 1 are possible from his series as proof that God exists, as something (1) can be made from nothing (0).

Grandi’s series becomes even stranger when a more advanced technique is applied.

Let us say that Grandi’s series is denoted by S (S = 1 – 1 + 1 – 1…).
We can then break down the series as 1 – (1 + 1 -1 + 1…), because the plus and minus signs can be inverted together.
Ergo, S = 1 – S → 2S = 1 → S = ½

Now we have three answers to Grandi’s question: 0, 1 and ½.
For over 150 years, mathematicians fiercely debated the answer to Grandi’s question. By the 19th century, mathematics had evolved and mathematicians had figured out better ways to solve infinite series.

The classic example is the solution to the series: 1 + ½ + ¼ + ⅛…
To solve this, you can add the partial sums, where you add each number to the sum of the previous numbers to see what number you are approaching (the limit).

1 → 1.5 → 1.75 → 1.875 → 1.9375… until we infinitely approach 2 (or 1.9999999…)

If we apply this method to Grandi’s series, we do not approach a single number because we keep swinging between 0 and 1. (1 → 0 → 1 → 0 → 1…)

So we can apply another method, where we average the partial sums as we go instead of adding.

e.g. 1 → ½(1 + 1.5) = 1.25 → ⅓(1 + 1.5 + 1.75) = 1.416 → ¼(1 + 1.5 + 1.75 + 1.875) = 1.531… until we approach 2.

Using this method on Grandi’s series:

1 → ½(1 + 0) = ½ → ⅓(1 + 0 + 1) = ⅔ → ¼(1 + 0 + 1 + 0) = ½…

Eventually, the series appears to converge on ½, showing that the answer to Grandi’s series seems to be ½.

The problem with this method is that Grandi’s series does not actually have a limit, but we are applying a solution as if it has a limit. This is similar to using a divide by 0 trick to prove that 1 + 1 = 3. In mathematics, when rules are bent, we end up with weird, paradoxical results.

To show this empirically, consider the thought experiment of Thomson’s Lamp:

Imagine a lamp that is turned on after 1 minute, turned off after ½ minute, turned on again after ¼ minute ad infinitum.
This incorporates both infinite series discussed above.
Ergo, we know that the sum of time is 2 minutes.
So, at the end of 2 minutes, is the lamp on or off?
If Grandi’s series solves to 0, the light is off; if it is 1, the light is on.
Then what does it mean if Grandi’s series solves to ½?
Is the light on or off?

Posted in History & Literature

## The Egg

Short story written by Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. And in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“I’m Jesus?”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

Posted in History & Literature

## Namaste

Yoga has become a popular fitness trend in the developed world. People enjoy yoga as they feel it combines regular exercise, flexibility and meditation all in one session. One popular tradition that is seen in modern yoga is how instructors (yogi) will say “Namaste” at the start and end of a session.

What does namaste mean? Some people think it means “goodbye” in Hindi, while some people ascribe deeper meaning to the word such as “love and peace to all” or “the divine in me bows to the divine in you”. All in all, it has become somewhat of a catchphrase in the yoga world.

In reality, namaste is simply a greeting. It can be used either when you meet someone or say goodbye, but the important point is that it is a very formal greeting. It is more often used in formal settings such as important meetings. The word comes from the Sanskrit roots namas, meaning “bow” or “to pay homage to”, and te, essentially meaning “to you”. Therefore, a literal translation of namaste would be “I pay homage to you”.

Interestingly, namaste has never been an important part of traditional yoga. Yoga in India generally come from religious traditions. Since Hinduism is a polytheistic religion involving many gods, each yoga lineage would have a specific greeting praising their respective gods. This is in contrast to namaste, which puts more importance on the individual person than the god. So ironically, namaste somewhat contradicts the traditional philosophy of yoga.

Unfortunately, the worst part is that most people do not even pronounce the word correctly, saying “NA-ma-stay” instead of the correct “nuh-MAS-the” (“t” is pronounced as “th” in Hindi) with the emphasis on the middle syllable.

It is unclear when the trend of saying namaste in modern yoga came from, but it is certainly a product of the Western appropriation of the practice. Perhaps it was introduced to add a more spiritual, faux-profound flavour to exercising.

Nevertheless, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Posted in History & Literature, Special Long Essays

## Hell

The concept of hell is one of the oldest and most widespread concepts in the history of humanity. The idea that you are punished in the afterlife for your misdeeds during your earthly life is found in both the Western and Eastern hemisphere, from ancient civilisations to tribal communities to modern societies. Hell is typically described as the place the wicked are sent to for eternal damnation. It is often populated by all kinds of demons and monsters, located underground in a hot, fiery location. Depending on the religion, there may be a “death god” ruling over the realm, such as Satan, Yama, Hades or Hel. In hell, sinners are usually punished with various forms of torture, often fitting their crimes or having an ironic twist.

For example, in the Buddhist hell, seven “death gods” judge you for 49 days. One judgement tests whether you committed crimes of the tongue, such as lying or conning. If you are judged guilty, your tongue will be pulled out and it will be ploughed and sowed with seeds for eternity. In another court, you are judged for “how cold you were to others”, turning away from them when they needed your warmth and generosity. If you are guilty, you are locked away in a frozen hell for eternity. After being found not guilty in all seven courts, you are granted a chance to be reborn into your next life.

Why is hell such a common concept around the world? Every child knows the answer to that: if you do bad things, you will burn in hell. Ergo, you should not do bad things. This is the classic appeal to fear fallacy that has been used time and time again by politicians to control the masses. Death is an excellent deterrent to misdemeanour. In ancient times (and in certain modern nations), the death penalty was used to keep order in society, as the threat of death is usually good enough to persuade people out of doing something bad.

However, if a person does not care about death because they believe that all the woes of earthly life end with death, then what do you do? Early religious leaders most likely found the answer in hell – a place where you will suffer for eternity, without relief. Hell is an extremely simple way of persuading the masses that living by the law and a moral code will lead to a peaceful rest in the afterlife. Heaven is the perfect positive reinforcement and hell is the perfect positive punishment.

In Christianity, breaking one of the Ten Commandments is a clear sin. If you do not repent for this sin or ask for forgiveness, then you will be barred entry from heaven and be sent to a fiery hell, where Satan and his minions will put you in a chamber full of torture for the rest of eternity. However, the greatest punishment in Christian hell is not the torture itself, but knowing that you will forever be separated from the love and blessing of God.

(from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch)

As with many aspects of religion, hell was an important part of keeping order in ancient civilisations. To enforce this system, the picture of hell had to be fleshed out with as many grotesque, horrific details as possible. Luckily, hell was a rich source of inspiration for artists and writers throughout history. Dante wrote extensively on how he imagined hell to be structured in The Divine Comedy. Hieronymus Bosch painted large works where he used his twisted imagination to create all kinds of strange monsters. Auguste Rodin made a large sculpture called The Gates of Hell to depict imagery from Dante’s The Divine Comedy (this is where the famous figures of The Thinker and The Kiss come from). Some of the most famous Greek mythology stories involve hell and the underworld in some way, such as Orpheus’ rescue of his wife and the banishment of the Titans to Tartarus by the New Gods.

Hell appears to be the perfect form of divine judgement of your sins, but it also poses a question. Many religions preach that their gods are benevolent, just and moral. How could a god that sends their beloved children into a place of eternal suffering be called just? One would expect this to be too harsh a punishment and unnecessarily immoral. This is especially the case for those who are called “wicked” for being a non-believer. The Rapture described in the Bible explains that on Judgement Day, Jesus Christ will collect those who are good and worthy of God’s love and ascend to heaven, while the rest of the world will be left in hell. This is very different to the doctrine of Buddhism and Judaism where it is believed that hell is a “process” through which you are cleansed of sin after paying for your sins, after which you may receive peace and rebirth.

One proposed answer to the so-called “problem of hell” is that human beings are given free will and what we decide to do with it is our responsibility. Therefore, going to hell is seen as a “choice” you make in life.

(The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, from the Sistine Chapel)

But is going to hell really a choice? I cannot speak for the process of going to the afterlife as I have never been there. However, one interpretation you could consider is that hell is not some fiery realm in another dimension – but Earth itself.
It appears that Earth itself is not the best world to live in. Children die of starvation, men are murdered, women are raped, the elderly suffer from incurable diseases… If that does not sound bad enough, most people live in a hell of their own in one way or another.

Our insecurities prevent us from truly loving. We fail to achieve our dreams because we are too afraid of taking the risk. When things do not go the way we planned, we blame and beat ourselves up about it until we are miserable. The neurotic are trapped in constant anxiety, the depressed cannot see light amongst the darkness they wallow in, the pessimists are too cynical to see joy in this world and the optimists have their hopes and dreams crushed by the cruel face of reality.

We do not know whether there is hell or heaven in the afterlife, but there certainly is a hell on Earth and that is the one you create in your own mind. Instead of worrying about what kind of eternal suffering we may experience after our death, perhaps we should focus on saving ourselves from the hell that we live in. Until you find a way to escape this hell, whether it be through love, happiness or success, you will forever be trapped in misery and regret. Hell is not a fiery underworld of suffering nor a frozen wasteland of damnation – it is a state of mind.

(Image source: http://akirakirai.deviantart.com/art/Fear-194527543)

Posted in Philosophy

## Pascal’s Wager

In the 17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal made the following argument for believing in a god:

1. There is a god or there is not.
2. You can choose to believe in a god or not (the wager).
3. If there is a god, you will be rewarded eternally in the afterlife for your faith, but be punished eternally if you do not believe.
4. If there is no god, you lose a finite amount of your time and maybe some material wealth for believing in a god.
5. Ergo: As the rewards and punishments that follow in the case of god existing is infinite, it is better to bet that there is a god, no matter how infinitesimal the odds may be.

Pascal’s wager does not deal with the possibility of whether gods exist or not; that is irrelevant to the wager. He merely suggests that the odds suggest that you should believe. But is this really the case?

To begin with, what Pascal promotes through this wager is not true belief or faith, but a rational choice to believe – something that is not really possible. Believing is not a product of reasoning but more of an alternative. Furthermore, if there really is an omniscient god, would he not easily see the impure motives behind your “faith”?

Secondly, how do we know that the god you believe in is the true god? There have been thousands and thousands of religions throughout history. Who is to say that the deity that you will face in the afterlife will not be Hades, Odin or Yama? If that is the case, then you will have lined up behind the wrong god and you will be punished for your “idol worship”. This argument nullifies the mathematical advantage of infinite rewards that Pascal suggests.

Lastly, one cannot rule out the possibility should a god exist, there is no way of knowing whether that god is benevolent or malevolent. Pascal’s wager only deals with the two possibilities of a benevolent god and the absence of god, but if a malevolent, wrathful god exists, then what is the gain from worshipping him? When you kill an insect, do you judge whether that insect has faith in you then reward or punish it accordingly? It is likely that in this scenario, worshipping such a god will be a waste of time and you will be relatively better off not believing in god.

In 1990, an American philosopher named Michael Martin presented a counter-wager to Pascal’s wager – the so-called atheist’s wager. He argued that if a benevolent god existed, then he should reward good deeds regardless of your faith. If a god does not exist, then your good deeds will leave a good legacy and the world will (hopefully) be a slightly better place to live in after you pass away.

Ergo, the wager we should be making is not whether a god exists or not, but that we should be good.

(If you are interested in this, you should read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, he explains this very elegantly)

Posted in Philosophy

## Creation And Destruction

In Hindi mythology, it is said that the universe is controlled by three major gods (Trimurti): Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu is the ultimate omnipotent god who is depicted resting on his giant serpent Ananta, tended to by Lakshmi. A lotus grows out of Vishnu’s navel and gives rise to Brahma – the creator. When Brahma awakens, the universe is created. Brahma models the universe according to Vishnu’s dreams and imaginations – dipping into the experiences of his past incarnations. Once the universe is created, it is maintained by Vishnu.

However, the Hindu view of cosmology is that the universe is not fixed. It continuously undergoes a cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction. The god who is responsible for the destruction of the universe is Shiva. When a certain time comes, Shiva dances the tandava to annihilate the universe and all of its contents. But this is not an act of evil. It is for the purpose of rebuilding the universe, reaching closer to a perfect, ideal world. Once there is nothing, Vishnu rebirths Brahma and the cycle begins again.

Remarkably, this is strikingly similar to the current scientific model of how the universe came about. It is suggested that the universe arose from a massive explosion of matter, something we call the Big Bang. Since the Big Bang, the universe has been expanding at the speed of light. However, it is theorised that one day the expansion will decelerate, until the forces of the universe pull it back together to cause a contraction. The universe contracts until all matter is crushed into a single point – an event called the Big Crunch. This gives rise to an extremely dense piece of matter that will eventually undergo a new Big Bang to create a different universe.

Destruction is not an evil force. Shiva is not considered the devil, but a great god who is almost as popular as Vishnu. This is because Hindus (rightly) believe that destruction is a key component of nature, allowing for the cycle of birth and death. A caterpillar must destroy its form within its chrysalis to form the pool of matter that will give rise to a beautiful butterfly. Creation and destruction are simply polar forces that cannot exist without each other and sometimes even the best of things have to fall apart to make way for better things. Furthermore, one cannot forget the importance of the neutral force that maintains the status quo between creation and destruction.

Nature is governed by these three force: plus, minus and zero.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

## The Three Christs Of Ypsilanti

On July 1, 1959, a social psychologist named Milton Rokeach began an experiment in Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan to explore the nature of delusions. He gathered three paranoid schizophrenics who each believed they were Jesus Christ and put them in one room. Technically, there can only be one Jesus Christ. So how did the three schizophrenics respond to each other’s claims that they were Jesus?

The experiment ran for two years, with the three patients meeting regularly with Rokeach (under the guise that it was a support group). The initial meetings were far from peaceful. One “Christ” would yell out that the other two were fakes, while another would decry that he would not worship the other Christ as he was the real Jesus. The third reasoned that there cannot be more than one Jesus, and that he was the Good Lord. The arguments escalated to the point of physical violence in many cases. No one would budge and accept that the other person could be Jesus, as they themselves were Jesus. It was the ultimate paradox and cognitive dissonance, as there can be only one Jesus.

Rokeach hoped that the patients would soon see the error of their delusions. He even went as far as sending each of them fake letters from the patient’s “wife” and “the hospital boss” to see if they would alter their routine as the letter advised. But instead of breaking down and accepting that they were deluded, the three patients each found an explanation to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

One patient declared that his fellow patients were actually dead but being controlled by “machines”, thus their arguments were not credible. The other two explained that the other patients were “crazy” people with mental health issues, thus they should not be believed.

This is not a surprising ending to the story, as the definition of a delusion is that it is a “fixed, false belief not amenable to reason”. By definition, a delusion cannot be “reasoned” or broken with logic. Even if you blatantly show the patient proof that their delusion is not real, the patient will not yield. Instead, they will find creative ways to work around the inconvenient truth. Ergo, no matter what evidence you put forward, those three patients would always, in their mind, be the one and only Jesus Christ.

Now let us assume that you met a doppelgänger who states that they are the real “you”, challenging your identity. How would you respond? Challenging one’s identity is the most vicious attack possible, as no person is secure enough with their own identity to be unaffected by the attack. Because people define themselves with a set identity, changing even a small portion of their identity causes extreme confusion and panic. To avoid such emotional turmoil, the brain does everything in its power to protect the identity it believes in. This is why people will respond with fury and anger when their identity is challenged.

People say that “I know myself the best”. But if we construct our identities around flimsy, false foundations, we would still cling to the idea that that is our true identity. If people were to suggest that we are not who we think we are, our brain would defend its identity at all costs. In that case, are our identities delusional? How do we know whether our identity is the real us, or a delusion our brain is clinging to?

Better yet, imagine that everyone around you claimed that you are a duck. Even though you know for sure that you are not a duck, everyone else sees you as a duck and defines you as a duck. An interesting thing about delusions is that the definition includes the phrase: “…and not in keeping with that person’s subculture”. This means that if everyone in your subculture were to say that your belief and your identity were wrong, you could be labelled “delusional”. In that case, are you crazy or is everyone else crazy?

Posted in Philosophy

## Black Cat

Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat.

Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that is not there.

Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that is not there and shouting “I found it!”

Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.

Posted in History & Literature

## Week

In Genesis from the Old Testament of the Bible, it is said that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. But the system of a seven-day week can be found in many other cultures and religions. The origin of the seven-day week system is ancient Babylonia. The Babylonians believed that every seventh day was one of misfortune, with 7 having the significance that it is the largest single-digit prime number and the number of heavenly bodies known at the time (sun, moon, five planets). This was passed on to the Jewish people who made the seventh day the Sabbath. This was then adopted by Catholics in Rome and in 325AD, it was officially decided at the Concilium Nicaenum (official council that was held to vote for the official religion of Rome) that every week would be seven days long.

There is also a reason for assigning a heavenly body to each day (Monday = Moon, Tuesday = Mars, Wednesday = Mercury, Thursday = Jupiter, Friday = Venus, Saturday = Saturn, Sunday = Sun). At first, the order of the days was the same as the order of heavenly bodies by their distance from the Earth: “Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon”. This was then cross-referenced with the astrological 24-hour system of planetary hours, resulting in a new order of “Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus”. Because of this, the week started on Saturday in ancient times. It was only during Roman times when the week was changed to start on the Sunday, with Sunday becoming an official day of rest.

The Romans named the days after the heavenly body assigned to that day. For example, “Sunday” obviously comes from “Sun”, with the same applying to Monday and Saturday. This system is used in Korea and China, where each day is labelled according to the assigned planet. For example, Thursday is 목요일(mok yo il) in Korean, where 목 means wood, with 목성(mok sung) meaning Jupiter.

In English, the names of each day are mixed. Some are based on planets like the Korean system (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), while others inherit their name from the Germanic people. The Germanic people assigned one of their gods (from Norse mythology) to each day (except Sunday and Monday, which are related to the Sun and the Moon, while Saturday had a completely different name). Tuesday stands for “Tyr’s day”, Wednesday stands for “Wodan’s(or Odin’s) day”, Thursday stands for “Thor’s day” and Friday stands for “Frigg’s day”.

Interestingly, the Norse god assigned to each day correlates with the Greek/Roman god assigned to it. For example, Thursday is “Thor’s day” and also “the day of Jupiter”. Jupiter is the Roman king of gods (same as Zeus from Greek mythology) who uses lightning, while Thor is the Norse god of thunder.

Not every country calls each day a meaningful name. In China, Monday is simply 星期一(xing qi yi), or “first star period”, with each day after that being one number higher (Sunday is specially called 星期日(xing qi ri), where the number is replaced by the character for “Sun”). Although China used the same system as Korea and Japan based on 음양오행설(eum yang oh hang sul, system of Five Elements and Yin Yang), the days were renamed with the simplification of the language.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

## Lazarus

In the New Testament of the Bible, there is a scene where Jesus resurrects a man by the name of Lazarus back four days after his death. This “miracle” is of course a fictitious event, but nonetheless, the name Lazarus has come to symbolise resurrection after death. For example, there are two actual medical conditions named after Lazarus, both related to death.

The first is called Lazarus phenomenon, where a person who is declared to be clinically dead spontaneously returns to life. This is an extremely rare event that has only been recorded in about 30 cases. In most of these cases, the patients had suffered a cardiac arrest, with all attempts at resuscitation (e.g. CPR, adrenaline) had failed. Sometime after the person was declared clinically dead (usually around 5~10 minutes), the person’s circulatory system would suddenly start on its own and the person would be “resurrected” (quite literally). In one case, a 61 year-old woman was declared officially dead after her heart stopped and her vitals did not return after continuous resuscitation. At the morgue, however, she was found to have a pulse and breathing on her own. She later sued the hospital for the neurological and physical injury caused by oxygen deprivation during her death. There is even a case report of a patient who returned to life two and a half hours after dying (although he died again 3 weeks later).

Of course, the Lazarus phenomenon is not a miracle. In most cases, it is hypothesised that when resuscitation is attempted then stopped, there is a rare chance of the relieving of pressure causing blood to fill the heart, causing a sudden expansion and kickstarting the electrical circuit. Other factors that may influence this is hyperkalaemia resulting from ischaemia and high doses of adrenaline given to the patient during resuscitation having a delayed effect.
Because of this rare “complication” of death, doctors are advised to observe the patient for about 10 minutes after declaring them dead. Just in case.

The second is called Lazarus sign and it occurs not in dead patients, but brain-dead patients. Brain-dead patients are immobile as their higher functions such as cognition and motor functions are destroyed. However, there are rare cases where the brainstem is somehow stimulated, triggering a reflex arc from the spinal cord. This reflex is seen as the patient suddenly raising their arms and dropping them on their chest in a crossed position, much like Egyptian mummies. As the spinal cord is not usually damaged in brain-dead patients, this reflex arc is possible, similar to a knee jerk reflex. The Lazarus sign should not be misinterpreted as a sign that a brain-dead patient is conscious, as it is an involuntary movement. However, it has been mistaken for the resuscitation of a patient, or in some cases, as a miracle.