Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Overlooked. 2012 Academy Awards


Playing chess with Death. Max von Sydow in Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal" (1957)
Playing chess with Death.
Max von Sydow in Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal" (1957)

Have you ever wondered how the Hollywood universe really worked? Or why your favorite movie wasn't even nominated for an Oscar? Or why a rather mediocre performance was rewarded with one? Or why Hollywood overlooked fabulous actors and rewarded them with Oscars for a lifetime achievement at the end of their career, if at all?


Not even nominated!
 
In this respect, this year Academy Awards ceremony was not much different form the previous ones. Many cinema lovers must have been left asking the same questions: Was the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film politically motivated? Was the French silent movie really the best film of the 2011? Why Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" did not win? Should Glen Close have received the Best Actress Award? Why was Max von Sydow or Gary Oldman overlooked again?
 
Glenn Close in Rodrigo Garcia's "Albert Nobbs" (2011)
Glenn Close in Rodrigo Garcia's "Albert Nobbs" (2011)

You might never find answers to your questions because there seem to be no clear criteria for the Awards. There are more than 6,000 Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences. They watch the movies and cast a vote thus "collectively" deciding who gets the Oscar and who doesn't. 

But just like the appreciation of any art form, enjoyment of the Seventh Art is a very individual matter. So maybe it isn't really important whether a movie was awarded or not as long as you enjoyed watching it. The best movies are these that let you experience the magic of a silver screen and completely forget the world around you no matter how intellectually profound or politically engaged they might be.


By Dominique Allmon ©2012 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Utopia



Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzling straight and simple.
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

By Wislawa Szymborska
(2 July 1923  - 1 February 2012)


      

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Imagination and the Void


Jackson Pollock at Work 
Jackson Pollock at Work

By Patrick Laude

The ambiguous power of images has never been as pervasive as it is today through the world of media and virtual reality. Images shape ideas and tendencies, determine action, invade daily consciousness, and sometimes rule over opinion. They can hypnotize and control; they can feed all sorts of delusions and foster imbalance. In short, images fill up the vacuum left by the spiritual disarray of our contemporary world. So saturated is modern life with myriads of images of all kinds that we don't take notice of most of them anymore. One must wonder what may remain of the power of creative imagination when such a passive, hardly conscious relationship with images has settled in and become second nature.

Notwithstanding, modern man still values imagination as a rare, mysterious, and awesome faculty. Our schools encourage children to explore, display, enrich their imagination, although what we mean by it is far from clear, so blurry and capricious have become the criteria that validate its worth and function. When we try to specify what imagination entails, the most likely associations involve subjectivity, individuality, and freedom from boundaries. Imagination is a private, idiosyncratic realm that makes one enjoy the oft-complacent delights of being special. As a comforting haven of fantasy, it protects us from the harshness of an objective world of drab realism and cold, inhuman structures. It seemingly frees one’s mind and heart from the strictures of an industrialized world of tedious, mechanical, senseless activity. From all of this we may infer that imagination is akin to a world of unreality to which we turn to find solace from a reality that alienates us and robs us of meaning and happiness. The imaginary is not real. Its very raison d'être is to be a sort of parallel reality to which we may escape...

In a world in which reality is defined by action and outer realizations, imagination is also prized for its prospective, unconventional, creative power of exploration and discovery. To the impediments of memory, akin to the hindering weight of the past, modern man espouses the seemingly unlimited power of projection of an imagination that defies the constraints of reality as it is known. Modern science and technology thrive on this sense of unhampered liberty to question, inquire, and fathom. This is, in a sense, the very pride that modern mankind boasts as its uncontested superiority over ages of allegedly conformist compliance with unexamined beliefs and unscrutinized customs. There is no modernity without unconstrained imagination, imagination to think, to do, and to be.


Article source Parabola Magazine

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Hid the Body... Now What?



For James

It was a dark, gloomy February evening. I was bored. The party was canceled, my husband was away for the weekend and there was nothing on TV that I wanted to watch. I called everyone I knew, but my friends were either lazy or busy or just as bored as I was.

I ordered pizza. The guy who delivered my order looked like someone who tortured small animals. Maybe he jumped in for someone because I could not imagine that Giovanni's Fine Italian restaurant would hire someone like that. You expected a shady mafia type guy to arrive at your door. This was to add some spice to your pizza experience, not disgust.

I shut the door as quickly as I could. The pizza was too large for two, but I decided to eat it all by myself. Candles, Merlot, and Miles Davis. Nice!

And yet, Friday evening all alone was not my idea of fun...

I remembered a joke that was making rounds on facebook. "If you are bored, send a message to a random number..." This was such a fun idea! I took my iPhone and composed the suggested message: "I hid the body... now what?" The message went to a number I dialed without even looking at the keys.

I took another bite of my pizza and there it was. Faster than I would even think. "What did you do with the knife?"

Interesting, I thought. Whoever was there must have been just as bored as I was. "There was no knife!" I answered.

Seconds later a new message came. "You did not look under the bed!" "Oh, yes! I did!" I was laughing. This was turning to be quite a fun!

An angry message came back seconds later "I told you to check carefully you idiot!"

Was someone overdoing it or something? "I did my job. I want my money now!" I wrote.

"You will get nothing!" was the answer.

I took a large sip of wine and tried to think of something funny to make the person on the other side even more furious. And just as I was ready to type the message I heard a loud bang on my door. "Police! Open the door!"....

By Dominique Allmon

Image "Between past and present" by Nico De Pasquale

Creative Commons License
I Hid the Body... Now What? by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

A New Industrial Revolution



Some people think that nanotechnology will transform the world. Nanotechnology, to these people, is a new technology which is not with us yet, but whose arrival within the next fifty years is absolutely inevitable. Once the technology is mastered, we will learn to make tiny machines that will be able to assemble anything atom by atom, from any kind of raw material.

The consequences, they believe, will be transforming. Material things of any kind will become virtually free, as well as being immeasurably superior in all respects to anything we have available to us now. These tiny machines will be able to repair our bodies from the inside, cell by cell. The threat of disease will be eliminated, and the process of aging will be only a historical memory. In this world, energy will be clean and abundant and the environment will have been repaired to a pristine state. Space travel will be cheap and easy and death will be abolished.

Some pessimists see an alternative future - one transformed by nanotechnology, but infinitely for the worse. They predict that we will learn to make these immensely powerful but tiny robots, but that we will not have the wisdom to control them. To the pessimists, nano technology will allow us to make new kinds of living, intelligent organisms, who may not wish to continue being our servants.

These tiny machines will be able to reproduce, feed and adapt to their environment, in just the same way as living organisms do. But unlike natural organisms, they will be made from tough, synthetic materials and they will have been carefully designed rather than having emerged from the blind lottery of evolution. Whether unleashed on the world by a malicious act, or developing out of control from the experiments of naive scientists, these self replicating nanoscale robots will certainly break out of our custody, and when this happens our doom is assured.

The pessimists think that life itself will have no chance in the struggle for supremacy with these nano robots; they will take over the world, consuming its resources and rendering feebler, carbon based life forms such as ourselves at best irrelevant, and at worst extinct. In this scenario we humans will accidentally, and quite possibly with the best of intentions, use the power of science to destroy humanity.

The above quotes come from the book Soft Machines, Nanotechnology and Life by Richard Jones.

      

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Planet of Apes



For James

I woke up completely confused. Something happened last night and I wasn't quite sure what. I felt pain everywhere. Was it a dream? No, it could not have been. I discovered strange markings on my wrist. There was no blood anywhere, but the markings looked liked a freshly cut polygonal wound. I touched it and a beam of light shot straight into my eyes. Like in trance I could suddenly hear a strange metallic voice.

"My name is Xanara, she said. I am a scientist from the planet Throxos.

You may not know it, but we come here to observe the progress of an experiment that our forefathers began in the protium cycle of time.

Back then such experiments were conducted by our scientists all over the known universe. They were incredibly curious and had a vision of a universe that was very different from the one they were born into. And while they were trying to decode their own origins, they decided to experiment with their genetic substance.

If what they already knew was true, they must have been able to recreate themselves or create something completely different. They believed that it must have been possible to recreate the conditions in which life could thrive or even create new conditions for the still un-created life forms simply to see if such exercise would bring any results.

The Planet of Apes, as we call it, is only one of the countless planets our forefathers visited, but not the only one on which the experiment was successful. And unlike everywhere else they went, this tiny planet of a minor solar system in a disc shaped distant galaxy, already had life.

Our genetic code was implanted into various species that lived on the planet. After first few reproductive cycles it was clear that the species lost the ability to metamorphose. Only the embryos retained that quality. But once the creatures were born they remained what they were - clumsy chunks of inflexible matter And their intelligence was minimal. No one would have ever survived on our planet with such an underdeveloped capabilities.

It took five cycles of time for the beings on this planet to finally grasp the fact that they were not alone in the universe! On other planets the species made of our unadulterated genetic code developed much faster and did not even need that much of our help. They began to create their own technologies and went on to explore the intergalactic space. 

But on this planet life seemed to malfunction. The lifespan was too short for them to evolve a functional organ of cognition. The genetic code was contaminated. The animal part apparently took over in every aspect of their existence. We tried to end our experiment here, but the species seemed to possess an impressive will to survive. This quality was not known to us. When time comes we simply know we have to move on.

You are a scientist who got stuck in an "unsolvable" problem, just like many of the more creative minds in the past. Every time this happened, we came to a rescue. A little push just to see what would happen if you solved the problem. 

The "discoveries" your species made distinguished you from all the other species on this planet. And although all of you carry our genetic code, you were the only ones who received help from us. The story of your civilization is written with our ink, but we gave you enough freedom to chose what you would do with the information you received from us. The choices you've made were quite appalling sometimes, but we did not come here to judge you. Sooner or later you will self-destruct.

When you wake up you will have all the knowledge to solve the problem you are working on, but you will forget about our encounter..."

As soon a I heard her last words the light disappeared and there was not a trace of the strange mutilation on my wrist. Did I dream it? I must be overworked or something!

***
I made some coffee and sat at the computer.

The project was almost dead. The Agency wanted to terminate it. Beginning next month there will be no more funding. And worse of all, my friends thought I was mad. The mad man with an Utopian vision! They laughed, but I knew that it was possible!

I took a sip of my java and looked at the blueprints. I checked my calculations. And there it was! The missing link. Faster than I could ever type, one equation sprang after another. So simple. Why didn't I think of it before?

By Dominique Allmon

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Birthday Ansel Adams!


Church in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico by Ansel Easton Adams (February 20 1902 - April 22, 1984)
Church in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico by Ansel Easton Adams
(February 20 1902 - April 22, 1984)

Ansel Easton Adams, born on this day 110 years ago, was an American photographer and environmentalist, best known for his black-and-white photographs of the American West, especially in Yosemite National Park. One of his most famous photographs was "Moon and Half Dome" taken in Yosemite National Park, California.

Moon and Half Dome by Ansel Easton Adams
Moon and Half Dome by Ansel Easton Adams

With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. The resulting clarity and depth characterized his photographs and the work of those to whom he taught the system. Adams primarily used large-format cameras despite their size, weight, setup time, and film cost, because their high resolution helped ensure sharpness in his images.

Adams founded the Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, which in turn created the Museum of Modern Art's department of photography. Adams's photographs are reproduced on calendars, posters, and in books, making his photographs widely distributed.




To read the whole biography please click here

Genesis



A book review by Patrick Ness

The 21st century hasn't gone well. The Last War has engulfed the world in cataclysmic battles and plagues; only the forward thinking of Plato, a millionaire businessman on the islands of Aotearoa (New Zealand, to you and me), saved his country. He built the Great Sea Fence around the entire Republic (that would be, ahem, Plato's Republic) to keep out a planet full of desperate refugees. Isolated, the republic thrived, and as communications stopped being received from the rest of the world, it became, quite literally, the last outlet of civilization on the face of the Earth.

All was not well, though. The citizens were kept in line mainly out of fear, and as the threat of infection and war seemed to dissipate over the decades, so did the republic's control over the populace. Until one day border guard Adam Forde made a fateful decision when a refugee appeared at a section of the fence he was overseeing, setting off a chain of events culminating in the Great War, the event that irreparably changed not only the republic, but the entire world.

Bernard Beckett's Genesis is set some time later, when young student Anaximander is being interviewed by three examiners for a place in the exclusive academy, which accepts less than 1% of all applicants. With her beloved tutor Pericles, Anax has studied the life of Adam Forde for three solid years. She has a risky theory to propound about Forde's true place in their history, a theory that might clash with the academy's official order of events.

Her interview, all five hours of it, makes up the entirety of Genesis, a daring formal experiment that may not always work dramatically, but has a palate-cleansing purity unusual in most young adult fiction. Unsurprisingly, given the plethora of Greek names - Plato, Pericles, even Anaximander was a real philosopher - the novel takes the form of a Socratic dialogue, with pages of Anax and her examiners exchanging views.

Anax describes the events of Forde's life in great, sometimes improbable, detail, creating holograms to illustrate her points. There are, in fact, times when Genesis feels a bit like sitting in on a doctoral defense, but this also allows Beckett to expound his ideas with admirable economy. "Human spirit," he says, "is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism." It's this spirit which we discard at our great peril. Fear is the killer of our species, he argues, allowing us to be easily manipulated by our leaders and by each other.

When Forde rescued the girl, the government used his show trial as an opportunity to scare the populace once again with threats of incomers and fear of the unknown. This had unexpected consequences, and as a creative punishment he was incarcerated with Art, an artificial intelligence android with the face of an orangutan, ostensibly to let Art learn from the interaction but in the vague hope that Art might kill Forde in an "accident".

Art soon grew far more intelligent than expected, though, drifting into possible real consciousness. As Anax digs deeper and deeper into her interview, she reaches towards information she feels is missing about Art's true place in the republic's history and a secret slowly begins to surface, one that provides a Twilight Zone-style moral twist to the proceedings. Beckett has written a very different young adult novel - assured, cool, almost cold - that will make smart teenagers feel very respected.




Set on a remote island in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, this electrifying novel is destined to become a modern classic.

In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim?

Article source here
Image source here


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reflections on Our Times



By Carl Sagan

We live in an extraordinary age. These are times of stunning changes in social organization, economic well-being, moral and ethical precepts, philosophical and religious perspectives, and human self-knowledge, as well as in our understanding of that vast universe in which we are embedded like a grain of sand in a cosmic ocean. (…)

As long as there have been human beings, we have posed the deep and fundamental questions, which evoke wonder and stir us into at least a tentative and trembling awareness, questions on the origins of consciousness; life on our planet; the beginnings of the Earth; the formation of the Sun; the possibility of intelligent beings somewhere up there in the depths of the sky; as well as, the grandest inquiry of all - on the advent, nature and ultimate destiny of the universe. For all but the last instant of human history these issues have been the exclusive province of philosophers and poets, shamans and theologians. The diverse and mutually contradictory answers offered demonstrate that few of the proposed solutions have been correct.

But today, as a result of knowledge painfully extracted from nature, through generations of careful thinking, observing, and experimenting, we are on the verge of glimpsing at least preliminary answers to many of these questions. (…)

If we do not destroy ourselves, most of us will be around for the answers. Had we been born fifty years earlier, we could have wondered, pondered, speculated about these issues, but we could have done nothing about them. Had we been born fifty years later, the answers would, I think, already have been in. Our children will have been taught the answers before most of them will have had the opportunity to even formulate the questions.

By far the most exciting, satisfying and exhilarating time to be alive is the time in which we pass from ignorance to knowledge on these fundamental issues; the age where we begin in wonder and end in understanding. In all of the four-billion-year history of the human family, there is only one generation privileged to live through that unique transitional moment: that generation is ours".

Image Snow York by Stephan Gael


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Alcohol and the Brain



"While the history of alcohol use dates back thousands of years, the chemistry of alcohol metabolism - what actually takes place in the body when we imbibe - is only now becoming clear. Indeed, our understanding of alcohol’s toxic effects is still evolving. We know, for example, that the liver is uniquely susceptible to injury from alcohol, as it is the organ primarily responsible for metabolizing toxins entering the bloodstream. While evidence suggests that drinking in moderation may confer modest cardiovascular benefits, make no mistake - generally speaking, alcohol is toxic to living cells." Dale Kiefer in a publication called "A Little Known Fact: Alcohol is a Carcinogen"

To drink or not to drink?

Information about alcohol and its impact on brain health and health in general, can be confusing at times. In many publications we read that people who drink two drinks a day are healthier, live longer, and have lower risk of Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease than heavy drinkers or those who do not drink at all. Other findings present evidence that any amount of alcohol is detrimental to brain health. Alcohol affects many parts of the brain. It has adverse effect on the brain tissue and it also depresses the central nervous system. What are we to make out of such conflicting reports?

The effects of alcohol are quite obvious after just a few drinks, although men seem to tolerate higher amounts of alcohol than women. Blurred vision, distorted speech, slower reaction time, impaired memory function, and distorted motor function, are the most immediate and noticeable effects of alcohol on the brain and the amount of alcohol that causes such impairments is rather minimal. Some people do not even need to drink much to reach the state of complete inebriation.

Alcohol and brain physiology

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is the alcohol that is commonly consumed in alcoholic drinks. Once ingested, alcohol is not digested like other foods or drinks. It is calculated that about 20 percent of ingested alcohol bypass the digestive system and enter the bloodstream directly through the stomach wall. The remaining 80 percent is absorbed through the wall of the small intestine. The brain needs a constant supply of blood and is quite vulnerable to the effects of ethanol. Within minutes of alcohol consumption, the brain receives blood that is infused with alcohol. Alcohol interferes with communication between neurons by interacting with the receptors on some cells. Alcohol suppresses excitatory nerve pathway activity, increasing at the same time the inhibitory nerve pathway activity. This enhances the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and diminishes the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamine. As a consequence, a person under the influence of alcohol experiences sluggishness. Moreover, acetaldehyde which is a toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism, can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause irritation of brain membranes. This not only leads to headaches and hangover, but also increases the risk of developing a cancer.

Excessive drinking increases the exposure to acetaldehyd. This can cause brain fog, memory lapses, mood swings, irritability, and loss of motivation. But probably the most damaging effect of alcohol in the brain is caused by the free radicals produced during the metabolism of alcohol. Free radicals destroy cell membranes in a process called lipid peroxidation and precipitate the aging of the brain. Research demonstrated that the concentrations of creatine and choline in the brain diminish with the increasing levels of alcohol. Creatine protects the brain cells and choline is a building component of cell membranes. Diminished amounts of these compounds in the brain leave this organ vulnerable to damage. Autopsies show that people who abused alcohol had smaller and more shrunken brains than abstinent adults of the same age and gender.

In order to function properly, the brain needs a steady supply of glucose. In July 2009 researchers found out that even relatively small amounts of alcohol cause changes in the sugar that is being delivered to the brain. The brain's activity diminishes as it begins to run on the sugar derived from alcohol instead of the glucose that it normally uses.

Research also shows that alcohol does not destroy the entire brain cells, but damages dendrites which are responsible for the delivery of the incoming information to the brain. In moderate drinkers this damage is temporary. The dendrites grow back, but the brain cell structure is altered permanently. After a period of abstinence, the brain cells seem to regenerate even in the brains of alcoholics. However, scientist are still trying to figure out the impact of these altered structures on the brain function.

Alcohol and cognition 

The American Journal of Epidemiology announced in 2005 that some observational studies suggested improved cognitive function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia in moderate drinkers. But research also shows that heavy alcohol consumption impairs the cognitive function. People who abuse alcohol have impaired memory and diminished reasoning ability. Although less dramatically, the cognitive function is also affected in people who consider themselves to be social drinkers. Tests demonstrated some deficits in cognitive performance that could be correlated to the amount of alcohol consumed. The findings, however, are inconsistent as there are other studies that show no correlation between alcohol consumption and the cognitive impairment. Researchers generally agree, though, that some cognitive impairment in alcoholics is reversible. Three factors may play a role here: abstinence from alcohol, better nutrition, and improved social interaction. However, the skills that require novel, complex, and rapid information processing take the longest time to recover.

Heavy, long-term abuse of alcohol is associated with the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome in which deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is responsible for a number of symptoms including confusion and dementia. Alcohol interferes with the active gastrointestinal transport of Thiamine. In addition, a chronic liver disease in heavy drinkers interferes with thiamine metabolism and the liver's capacity to store this vitamin. The chronic lack of Vitamin B1 impacts the memory centers in the brain. A person may suffer from memory loss or loses the ability to form new memories. Loss of muscle coordination, changes in vision, and hallucinations have been observed as well.

Alcohol and Alzheimer's disease

As far as Alzheimer's disease is concerned, findings are inconclusive. While some researchers insist that alcohol consumption impairs cognition and causes damage to brain tissue, others demonstrated that moderate alcohol use actually lowered the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. It is possible that alcoholic dementia and Alzheimer's disease are caused by factors that are not yet understood. An ongoing research is being conducted and we may learn more about the Alzheimer's-alcohol connection in the near future. 

Alcohol and stroke

The most recent studies demonstrated that alcohol consumption is related to the incidence of stroke. The higher the consumption of alcohol, the higher the risk of stroke. This is true for both, the ischemic (due to lack of glucose and oxygen supply to the brain) and the hemorrhagic (due to bleeding) types of stoke. However, research showed that moderate drinking may protect individuals against the ischemic stroke. There is also an evidence that women benefit more than man from the moderate alcohol consumption. Alcohol seems to inhibit coagulation and rise the HDL or high-density lipoprotein commonly known as the good cholesterol. Both factors are associated with lowered risk of ischemic stroke. However, the fact that alcohol inhibits coagulation and rises blood pressure may directly lead to the increased risk of the hemorrhagic stroke.

Alcohol and brain development

There is no safe dosage of alcohol for pregnant women. Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of miscarriage and still birth. They give births to smaller children with the so called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Alcohol impedes the normal physical and mental development of a child. Children whose mothers drunk alcohol during pregnancy have a developmental delay and often show signs of mental retardation. The physical effects of alcohol may vary from infant to infant and depend on the amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy, but all infants show abnormal brain and behavioral development. This fact must be seriously considered by all women who are pregnant or trying to conceive a child.

Conclusion

Alcohol affects every organ of the body and deprives the body of nutrients. The consequences are more severe in people who regularly abuse alcohol, but so called social drinkers experience noticeable changes in behavior and motor function even after moderate consumption of alcohol. All researchers agree that alcohol consumed in large quantities over a long period of time is detrimental to health in general and brain health in particular. However, researchers found out that even the brain of a former alcoholic has the capability to regenerate itself to a certain degree. The current theory is that people can only profit from small amounts of alcohol. Scientific medical research demonstrated that moderate alcohol consumption improves thinking, reasoning, and memory in aging adults. It is up to every individual to decide for or against the alcohol consumption. Active lifestyle and wholesome nutrition are vital independently from the choices made.

By Dominique Allmon

*Information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy St. Valentine's Day!



Sensuality

The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra... And just as music traverses walls, sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy. - Anaïs Nin

Wishing everyone a very happy and sensual St. Valentine's Day ♥ Dominique

         

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Beauty And The Rose


Rose - the queen of all flowers

Since ancient times rose has been a symbol of love, beauty, and sensuality. No other flower is so universally known and appreciated.

In ancient Egypt roses were considered to be sacred and were used in offerings to the goddess Isis. Remains of roses were found in Egyptian tombs were they were used as the funerary wreaths.

Cleopatra is believed to have perfumed the sails of her ship with rose water when she sailed to meet Marcus Antonius. The legend has it that the chamber of their first encounter was carpeted with rose petals. No wonder the Roman commander lost his mind.

In ancient Greece the rose was consecrated to the goddess of love Aphrodite. Romans continued this tradition and offered this lovely flower to Venus. The rose was omnipresent in ancient Rome. Rose water and rose oil were the symbols of luxury and were used to stimulate the senses during lavish banquets at the Roman court. The Patricians decorated their mansions with roses and wore rose garlands around their necks.

The flower was also used in Greece by the Eleusian Mystery schools. Temples were decorated with roses and the aspirants wore a rose before their initiation. The flower was to remind them of silence and secrecy they were sworn to. This tradition known as "sub rosa dictum" goes back to Alexandria and the Alexandrian hermetic tradition where rose was dedicated to Horus/Harpocrates, the god of silence.*

The rose as a symbol of silence was later adopted by the Rosicrucian Order and by the Freemasons. The adepts were sworn to secrecy and were not allowed to reveal any information about proceedings of the Orders.

Since the ancient times roses were valued for their medicinal properties. Roman historian and naturalist Pliny the Elder recorded thirty two conditions that could be relieved with roses. Rose petals, rose leaves, and rose hips were used internally and externally. Young rose buds were used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote the movement of the Qi energy within the body, to cure digestive disorders, and to alleviate gynecological disorders.

In Europe, a 12th century mystic Hildegard of Bingen used roses to heal the lepers. A century later, Crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought the Damascus rose to France. The species, Rosa gallica officinalis, also known as the  Apothecary's rose, was cultivated for medicinal purposes and gave rise to the entire industry whose center was the town of Provins. Grasse - another town in Provence - became the world capitol of perfume after the first perfume was created there by Molinard during the reign of Catherine de Medici to perfume the exquisite leather goods and camouflage the bad smell that resulted from the tanning process. The delicate rose, however, was not in the center of the perfume industry that sprung up there. The perfume makers in Grasse mostly used lavender, myrtle, thyme, rosemary, orange blossom, wild mimosa, and jasmine that were harvested from the surrounding fields. 

Modern science confirms some therapeutic properties of roses. Scientists discovered that all parts of the rose plant contain healing substances, antioxidants, and vitamins. Rose hips, for instance, are very rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E, beta carotene, malic acid, tannins, and zinc. Rose petals contain quercetin and other bioflavonoids, tannin, and vitamin C, among others. Rose leaves have astringent properties and are rich in antibacterial compounds. The rose hip seed oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Dried rose petals and rose hips can be used to make delicious healing infusions. Remember, however, that only certified organic roses should be used for consumption.

The healing properties of roses were also exploited to make cosmetics. Early on it was discovered that rose oil, rose hip oil, and rose water could be applied to the skin to heal skin conditions and to beautify complexion.

Centuries ago people learned how to distill the essence of rose from rose petals. The precious rose attar or rose essential oil has a very complex chemical composition. More than four hundred different compounds have been identified so far.

The essence has been used to make perfumes, perfumed oils, and pomades. To this day it retained its status as the costliest ingredient used by perfumers. The reason for it is the laborious process of harvest and distillation. It takes more than four thousand pounds of manually harvested rose petals to produce one pound of the essential oil. Some of the most expensive perfumes in the world were made with the rose essence. The legendary perfume Joy that was created for the couturier Jean Patou in 1929 by Henri Alméras, for instance, is a sensual floral scent that requires 10,000 jasmine flowers and 28 dozen Bulgarian roses to create one ounce of perfume.

Essential rose oil is used in aromatherapy to relax, sooth the nerves, and uplift the spirit.

The hydrosol part of the distillate is known as rose water and can be used externally as a soothing lotion for the skin or internally to help digestion. I love to drink a tiny cup of so called "white coffee" which is made of rose water and green cardamom pods.

To make this aromatic digestive drink boil cup of pure water with a teaspoonful of cardamom pods to release the aroma. Remove the cardamom pods. Add cup of rose water and bring it to boil. Serve after a heavy meal or whenever you need a help with digestion. Honey or brown sugar may be added to the drink to mask the slightly "soapy" taste, but I prefer to drink it unsweetened, just as it was served to me in a Lebanese restaurant in Egypt.

Dr. Hauschka Famou Rose Cream
Dr. Hauschka Day Rose Cream

The anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of rose oil make it a perfect ingredient in skincare. Modern cosmetic companies often use either hexane-extracted rose essence or a synthetic rose scent to perfume their beauty products or to make perfumes. Synthetic rose scent has no therapeutic properties whatsoever and may cause allergies.

There are, however,  few cosmetic lines that can be trusted. One of them is Dr. Hauschka. The German company applies holistic principles that have roots in the anthroposophic philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and makes, among others, the absolutely fabulous Rose Day Cream! This formulation utilizes the flower's aspects of strength and softness and its power to harmonize. The rose makes this cream a perfect product for all skin types. The Rose Day Cream is a particular blessing for people with sensitive or dehydrated skin and  for those with a complexion prone to redness. The delicate rose scent is soothing to the mind and never overpowering. The cream has a very pleasant texture and is easily absorbed by the skin leaving it nourished and well protected.

Dr. Hauschka developed a unique skincare concept which respects the skin's own metabolic processes. The best results can be expected when products are used as suggested.

In the production of many of its cosmetics Dr. Hauschka utilizes rose essential oil, rose water, rose wax, and rose petal extract. Based on the holistic philosophy, every single ingredient is used according to its individual effect and  its interaction with other ingredients. Only the purest ingredients are used and packaging is fully recyclable. Dr. Hauschka products are not tested on animals.

By Dominique Allmon

* Harpokrates or the Horus child personifies the new born sun. He was depicted as a child suckling his finger. This gesture, however, was misread as a sign of silence. Thanks to this misreading Horus became the god of silence.

    


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The Beauty and the Rose by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quote of the Day



Creativity is the intelligence having fun! - Albert Einstein

To find out how to unlock your inner Einstein, please click here


      

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Prevent Age-Related Memory Loss



How does aging affect memory?

Our memories make us unique. They are stored in different parts of the brain. We talk about the short-term and long-term memory and the brain stores these information differently.

As we age, the blood supply to the brain decreases and with it, the ability to deliver the nutrients necessary to support cognition. Brain cells die systematically and the body produces less of the chemicals needed by the brain to function optimally. This process begins quite early in the life of an individual, usually in the mid-twenties and accelerates in the fifties and sixties. As we are getting older, these physical changes affect the way memories are stored and retrieved. Aging does not usually affect the short-term memory. We also do not forget ancient memories or the skills that we have learned and performed over a long time. We do not forget wisdom or the knowledge acquired from our life experience, and we do not forget how to learn new things, although it may take a bit longer to do so. We may, however, forget our appointments, or what we did or said just two days ago or last week. We may forget details of a conversation we had recently, or personal details of people we know. We may forget things we were supposed to do or buy, or misplace our belongings and forget where we put them.

For many people such memory lapses are considered to be the normal part of aging, but they do not have to be so. There are many ways to improve the memory, concentration, and learning skills. We do not have to resign ourselves to processes that can be reversed to a considerable degree. The brain is capable of producing new brain cells and new neural connections at any age. With a little nutritional help and self-discipline, one can improve his or her cognitive skills enhancing at the same time the overall quality of life.

There are many factors that play a role in the way our memories are formed and retrieved. Stress and malnutrition may affect our memories independently from the aging process. Hormonal imbalance, especially during the menopause, may also seriously affect memory of aging women. To a great degree these problems can be alleviated with nutrition, supplementation, and memory training therapy.

Stress management is very important as the stress hormone cortisol has the capacity to negatively impact memory. Scientists found out that cortisol shrinks the dendrites impairing the communication between neurons in the brain. Fortunately, when stress is under control and the levels of cortisol decline, dendrites regenerate and return to their optimal function. The importance of sleep cannot be underestimated. Sleep plays important role in memory consolidation. Insufficient sleep affects learning as well as some memory tasks.

Food for thought

Like every other cell in the body, brain cells need a steady supply of nutrients and oxygen. Our life styles can affect our cerebral function. We can either deprive our brains of vital nutrients, or deliver everything the brain needs in order to function properly. Various studies suggest that nutrition rich in vitamins and antioxidants may help preserve cognitive function and slow or even reverse memory decline. Certain foods are considered to be perfect memory boosters. They contain high amounts of memory enhancing nutrients:
  • Walnuts are rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids which are the absolutely necessary food for the brain. Insufficient amounts of omega-3 in the body are related to the diminished cognitive function.
  • Cold water fish such as salmon, halibut, and mackerel is rich in the vital omega-3 essential fatty acids. Adding fish to our diets does not only prevent us from heart disease and stroke, but also considerably improves our mood and memory function.
  • Blueberries contain anthocyanin, a compound that can boost the neurons activity by amplifying the signals that are necessary to activate processes responsible for the memory function.
  • Red onions contain flavonoid fisetin which is known to stimulate the pathways responsible for the long-term memory. They also contain quercetin and anthocyanin, two compounds that are known to enhance memory.
  • Apples are well known for their health improving qualities. They are also well researched memory boosters. Apples and apple juice prevent decline of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.
  • Grapes, especially the Concord variety and pure juice made of them were found in a recent study to support learning and memory function in adults with early memory loss symptoms. Persons who drunk the pure Concord juice demonstrated improved short-term memory retention and spatial, non-verbal memory. This effect was attributed to the high amount of antioxidants in Concord grapes.
  • Cruciferous vegetables were shown in a recent Harvard study to improve our memory function. Vegetables such a broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage seem to slow dawn the age-related memory decline and improve the overall cognitive function.
  • Leafy green vegetables such as Swiss chard, spinach, and kale, are rich in Vitamin B9 also known as folic acid or folate. Vitamin B9 helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. It is necessary to break down the amino acid homocysteine which is toxic to the nerve cells. 
Memory protocol

There are many scientifically tested nutrients that can considerably improve memory and prevent memory decline. There are many products on the market containing memory boosting herbs and nutrients. Some of them deliver the combination of nutrients that act in synergy, others use a single herb. Depending on one's condition and the overall health, it may be necessary to supplement for a longer period of time in order to see considerable results. Below is the list of most important nutrients and herbs that can be used to improve memory and learning.

Nutrients:
  • Posphatidyl choline (PC) is a precursor to acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is the key chemical for memory and its deficiency is considered to be the most common cause for deteriorating memory. Eating foods rich in PC, such as egg yolks and sardines, or supplementing with lecithin granules can considerably improve memory function and learning.
  • Phosphatidyl serine (PS) is a phospholipid that is an essential part of cell membranes in the body. The highest concentration of PS are found in the brain where it is believed to play a role in preserving and improving cognitive function in aging adults. It is believed that PS plays a key role in the communication between cells. Studies suggest that people in their fifties may not be able to synthesize sufficient amounts of PS and may have to supplement in order to preserve their memory function. People with learning difficulties and age related memory impairment profit greatly from supplementation with PS.
  • Quercetin is a flavonoid with strong antioxidant properties. Studies demonstrated that quercetin may be able to prevent age related memory impairment as well as the outbreak of Alzheimer's disease. Quercetin has the ability to inhibit the formation of amyloid beta protein. It can also destabilize the existing amyloid beta protein. Amyloid beta protein is the main constituent of the amyloid plaque in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
  • DMAE is a precursor to choline that easily crosses the brain-blood barrier. It helps the brain to accelerate the production of acetylcholine that is indispensable for optimal memory function.
  • CoQ10 is an enzyme that naturally occurs in the body. Its production diminishes with age. Studies demonstrated that CoQ 10 can considerably slow down, but does not actually cure, the progress of dementia in people affected by the Alzheimer's disease.
  • Omega-3 are the essential fatty acids indispensable for the optimal memory function. Omega-3 helps curb inflammation in the brain that may be responsible for memory impairment and the Alzheimer's disease.
  • Vitamin B12 is a nutrient found in meat, fish, and dairy products, especially yogurt. It is also manufactured by the bacteria in the human intestines. Vitamin B12 has many functions in the body. Among others, it is essential for the metabolism of the nerve cells and necessary for the optimal health of the entire nervous system. Studies demonstrated that vitamin B12 may prevent the age related brain volume loss in older people. Adequate blood levels of this nutrient may prevent age-related memory impairment.
Herbs:
  • Ginko biloba has been used in Chinese Traditional Medicine for thousands of years to improve memory function and treat dementia. The herb improves micro circulation in the body and helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Studies demonstrated that ginko biloba is safe and very effective in treating symptoms of mild dementia, but are rather inconclusive about its function in improving memory of healthy, young adults.
  • Huperzine A is an extract of a plant Huperzia serrata or club moss. This herb has a long tradition in China and has been used to successfully enhance memory. Studies demonstrated that Huperzine A interferes with the enzyme acetylcholinesterase that is responsible for the break down of acetylcholine making acetylcholine available in the brain. Acetylcholine is involved in memory and learning and its shortage in the brain is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Vinpocetine is an extract of Vinca minor or periwinkle. It has the ability to improve the blood flow and circulation. Like ginko biloba, it helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the brain. It also enhances the energy production in the brain cells. Studies demonstrated that vinpocetine supplements improve concentration, learning, and memory recall.
Mental activity:

Aging brain needs stimulation! Studies demonstrated that people who know how to speak a foreign language may add as many as 40 years to their cognitive health! It does not matter whether they learned the language as children or much later in their lives. Although it may be more difficult to master a language in our 50s or 60s, it is never too late to give it a try.

Curiosity kills boredom. Activities such as reading, creative writing, or puzzle solving may help delay the age related memory loss, especially if they are performed daily.

Pathological changes in memory

There are, however, pathological changes in memory that are not the part of a normal aging process. A person may forget things that he or she was doing repeatedly over a longer period of time, or be unable to recall complex processes. There may be a difficulty in learning new things or difficulty making choices because the alternative solutions have been forgotten or do not appear at all in a person's mind. A person may forget things more often and has a difficulty to keep a track of what is going on. These and similar memory problems may indicate the onset of Alzheimer's disease and have to be taken seriously.

Although Alzheimer's disease affects aging individuals, it should not be considered as an inevitable consequence of aging. Not all aging people develop Alzheimer's disease. There are many elderly people who stay active and have rather good memories. Many writers and scientists, for instance, retain their ability to think clearly and creatively, to form new memories, and to remember the details they need for their work, until old age. Research demonstrated that healthy, well-nourished, intellectually active people show no signs of deteriorating memory. It must be understood that mental decline is not an inevitable sign of aging and can be reversed. We can boost memory and retain alertness at any age. Nutrition, physical exercise, and intellectual challenge are the vital elements of cognitive health.  

By Dominique Allmon

*Information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease. 


    


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How to Prevent Age-Related Memory Loss by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.