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 Science & Nature

From Cell To Birth: Fertilisation

Once the sperm enters the vagina, the real battle begins. The vagina is highly acidic, an environment in which sperm can only survive 2~3 hours. It is crucial for the sperm to enter the uterus through the cervix, but only 1% of the 200~300 million sperm make it through.

Even within the uterus, they must brace harsh conditions as they travel against gravity. After about 5 hours of intense swimming, the sperm reach the top of the uterus. Here they face a choice: go left or go right. Half the sperm make the wrong choice and head down the eggless fallopian tube and ultimately die. The rest navigate their way through the maze of folds in the fallopian tube, often getting lost or sticking to the wall thinking that it is an egg.

About 200 sperm finally make it to the egg, which sits in the ampulla of the fallopian tube. But as always, there is competition even at this final moment. Only one sperm can win the race, and the fastest one will ultimately produce a new life.

When the first sperm touches the egg, a series of chemical reactions occur, essentially “priming” the sperm. This causes it to start the acrosome reaction, where it releases a hoard of enzymes from its head, digesting away the covering shell (zona pellucida) of the egg. It then becomes supercharged, using all of its energy to drive itself inwards until it reaches the oocyte within. As soon as this happens, the tail breaks off, and one final chemical reaction as the calcium level spikes occurs to release more enzymes that prevent the acrosome reaction in other sperm. It also solidifies the zona, forming an impenetrable shield to prevent other sperm coming in (polyspermy can lead to a failed pregnancy).

The calcium spike that causes the above cortical reaction also triggers the egg to divide, so that it reaches the most mature stage. The winning sperm can then combine its nucleus with the oocyte, forming the 46 chromosomes that will set the genetic basis of the new zygote (first stage of a baby).

To reach the egg, the sperm must travel over 20cm – beating its tail over 20,000 times. The probability that a certain sperm will fertilise the egg is 1 in 500,000,000.
Life starts under a near-zero probability condition.

(Full series here: