On Scientific Inquisition

We humans have always been guided by two fundamental systems: Faith and Science. Faith implores us to live life as it is and accept what comes in life as the will of God or fate. It has its own pros and cons, which I shall not discuss here. Science, on the other hand, urges us to transcend the boundaries that are created by our surrender to the fate. The advancement in medicine and technology is the result of inquisitive minds who studied the nature and imagined what else they could do with the knowledge they gained. They also disseminated the knowledge they obtained so that it would not be lost with time.

Suppression of knowledge and scientific inquisition in Europe during the Middle Age (5th to15th century) led to numerous wars, widespread famine and submission to fate. During this period in the history of humanity, also known as the Dark Age, several scientific discoveries are said to have lost. Scientists were termed “heretics” by the Church and were executed. The Renaissance Period, of which the Republic of Florence and Leonardo da Vinci are central, gave rise to art and through it, promotion of scientific discoveries, inventions and rediscoveries.

In the ancient Indian sub-continent (most of the times attributed to the Indus Valley Civilization), the Vedas and Upavedas, and later the Upanishads promoted the culture of scientific and logical discourse. Proverb such as Vaade Vaade Jaayate Tatwabodha (वादे वादे जायते तत्वबोध:), i.e. knowledge is gained through debates is alone sufficient to understand the importance of discourses in order to discover the truth of the world. The knowledge however came under the control of few people on the administration for centuries. The lack of effective dissemination of the ancient wisdom has created a lot of problems in the sub-continent.

Scientific discoveries have made things possible that were treated only as imagination in the past. The discovery of sea-routes brought people closer, the invention of aeroplane reduced the time for the journeys between different parts of the world, the invention of telegraph and telephone changed the way messages were shared. On the basic principles of navigation, aerodynamics and telecommunication, the humanity has moved from the Age of Cultivation to Age of Global Communication.

Not just that, humanity has also given up the instant submission to fate. In the Dark Age, Black Plague killed thousands of people in Europe. Venice, because of the lack of burial grounds, suffered the most. Instead of contemplating that the disease was spreading through the canals, they believed they were suffering the wrath of God and their loss was God’s will. In the modern age, humans do not readily submit to Faith when they encounter diseases. They investigate the disease, their causes and work on the vaccines and inoculation.

As students of Geology, a branch of science, we have gained some fundamental knowledge about the Earth and how it works during the four-year B.Sc. programme. We have learnt to observe the rocks and soils, to ask what they are and why they are there. We have familiarized ourselves with the Earth processes and the benefits and the problems they bring. We have studied about natural hazards and some ways to mitigate them. We can strive to learn more and publicize what we know. We can make the world a better place.

There is no doubt that the Earthquake of 2072 B.S. (2015) gave rise to a mass awareness about how that particular earthquake occurred. Some people used to say, with much politicisation, “There are two plates: Indian and Chinese. The Indian plate moves to the North to encroach the Chinese plate. Nepal is in middle. That was why the earthquake occurred.”

While I myself tried to remove politics whenever I could, there is a mass of people who believe the above statement to be true. They are right that Nepal lies in between two plates. But most of them are not aware what “plate” really is and that the Earth’s lithosphere is made of a number of plates. As a student of Geology, I feel that we have a lot to do to make the public aware of what the plates are and how they are formed.

We, ourselves however should be ready to face skepticism. Science is not a belief system. Whenever scientists come across hypotheses and theories, they first question, “Is it true? What are the evidences?” A hypothesis can become a major theory if evidences support it. The theory of Plate Tectonics is a common example. If the evidences from submarine navigation and Paleomagnetic studies had not been available, the theory would still have remained a hypothesis. Similarly, if a new hypothesis can challenge and prove that it is stronger than an existing theory, the existing theory, even if popular, will be discarded.

Many people put a blame upon science for the problems we’ve been facing. Sure, guns and bombs have been developed by science and are being used to inflict terrors. Nuclear weapons have threatened the existence of our dear home itself. The knowledge of making explosives and harnessing nuclear energy was not bad itself. Gunpowder and dynamite were used in construction works, and nuclear energy has become an important source of energy in many nations. That’s why I firmly believe that it’s not science that is faulty. The fault is on our crooked desire of using knowledge that we have.

In short, as a student of science, I appeal to everyone to gain right knowledge from the nature, from each other and from what our ancestors have passed on to us. I urge everyone to deliver the knowledge to the public and to the generations to come. Because only with the right knowledge, we the make the world a better place.

[The above article was intended to be the editorial for GEOWORLD Students’ Magazine, Vol. 8, 2017. It was heavily cut in the magazine for the sake of relevance and space]

Advertisements

Environmental Sustainability, Evolution and Natural Selection

Truly. We are the fittest species till date but if we mess up with the nature that we have to live in, no adaptation, no survival instinct can save us.

SafeNEPAL

Environmental conservation and its sustainability have been increasingly important issue throughout the world. The ecology friendly environment is one of the burning needs of today’s world if we want to sustain the human species and the quality of living on this planet. Although the effects of the human on the environment may not be clearly seen in day to day life, the accumulated impact over the time is quite evident. The ozone layer depletion, rapidly changing weather patterns and rising earth’s temperature are some of the obvious negative impacts caused by humanity.

Conservation of ecological system comes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. There are numerous known and unknown factors which help preserve a sound ecological system of which we human are just a small part. Every part of the ecosystem is equally important for every species in it to live and thrive in harmony, call it environment if you…

View original post 251 more words

सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

– सुबिक कार्की (इजिप्टबाट फर्केर) – गत वर्ष वैशाखको महाभूकम्पले नेपालका थुप्रै सम्पदा भत्किएका छन्। त्यसको पुननिर्माण अझै हुन सकेको छैन। सम्पदा संरक्षणको चिन्ता जागिरहेको बेला यहाँ म एउटा सम्पदा संरक्षणको अदभूत नमूना प्रस्तुत गर्दैछु। एघार देश भएर सुडानबाट इजिप्ट हुँदै भूमध्यसागरमा विसर्जन हुने संसारकै सबैभन्दा लामो नाइल नदीको इजिप्ट खण्डमा सन् १९५४ मा […]

via सम्पदा स‍ंरक्षणको अद्‌भूत नमूना : ठाउँ नै सारेर पनि यसरी जोगाइयो — Mysansar

Understanding Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Disaster- Through Football!

Last week I took a class of Engineering Geology (finally getting into something practically useful in the beginning of fourth year). I will give brief definitions and examples of the terms used. Then before you get bored, I will get into a funny way to remember the technical terms using football (soccer).

Prior to that class, I thought hazard and disaster were the same. However, technically, they are different. Let’s take a look at the definitions I studied.

Hazard: Probability of occurrence of an event or phenomenon which can damage lives and properties.

Disaster: The actual occurrence of a dangerous phenomenon which damages lives and property.

When seismologists say, “Nepal lies in a seismically active zone,” they are talking about the probable damages an earthquake can cause (hazard). When they talk about the damage caused by the earthquake in Nepal last year, they are saying something about disaster the earthquake brought up.

Let us also look at two more terms- risk and vulnerability.

Risk: The consequences in terms of “potential losses” for some particular cause, time and place. Specific risk is the product of hazard and vulnerability (Johnson and Degraff, 1988).

Vulnerability: The degree of risk a community is at due to various factors. For example, poor designing and construction of a house makes it vulnerable for a disaster and people living in it are at risk.

I am done with the definitions. Let’s use football- in particular, a famous footballer to understand the above defined terms. The footballer is (as you might already have realized) Eden Hazard.

E. Hazard is a hazard to his opponent team because he has the capacity to score a goal although he may not score in every match. In this match we are talking of, Hazard attacked several times but did not succeed. E. Hazard remained a hazard until 88th minute.

In the eighty-ninth minute of the match, when no goal has not yet occurred, E. Hazard gets a pass from his teammate and he dribbles ahead. His skill allows him to get through the defenders of opposition team. Their defence which had been vulnerable by previous attacks, is now exposed and is at a greater risk (due to the combined effects of Hazard and vulnerability) Hazard shoots and when the opponent goalkeeper cannot save the goal. Hazard has brought a disaster to his opposition. A draw would have made the opposition the league winner. But Hazard’s goal changes the equation. The other team is damaged psychologically.

Reduce Risk! Save Lives!!

Prey v/s Predator: An Easy Victory for Arachnid

Nature is brutally beautiful. It keeps us alive but does not let live forever. This is the story of  a battle in nature I witnessed on May 13.

Spring was gradually being replaced by summer. Every year during this time, in the evenings, we see these strange creatures. We call them ‘chhichimira’. I don’t know what it is but my parents used to tell that they are winged-ants. Because the queen and the  males fly to mate, it might be true, although I cannot surely say if ants mate during the evening or if a certain species follows the pattern. All I know is that they are attracted to light just like moths and they have extremely short life. They stick on to electric bulbs, fluorescent lamps and LED bulbs as well. They fly for about fifteen minutes and they shed their transparent wings; then fall off dead. I usually examine them at that stage and they do look like ants. But I haven’t seen any of them fly away alive (the saddest part). I will call them winged-ants for the sake of convenience.

That evening, I was sitting in my room bored after long hours of exam preparation. The curtains had been pulled down to avoid the entrance of insects (It’s compulsory during spring and summer.) because of which the room was getting hot. Two insects of the kind I have mentioned above came into the room, however. (Failure of the curtains!) I just kept staring at them as if there was no work to do. They danced up and down and around the LED bulb on the wall in front of me. As I was watching them, I noticed a small movement on the right. From behind the tube light (it was not being used at that time because of the power cut off), a spider, too had been watching the movements of the insects.

It turned out to be the smartest between them. As soon as one of the insects had flown upwards, the spider rushed (crawling on the wall) and pounced upon it. All these (from my first sight of the spider to its pouncing upon the helpless winged-ant) had happened within three seconds! I could not believe my eyes. I had seen an extraordinary sight. Yet I had presence of mind because I got the later struggled captured on my camera.

image

The predator had grabbed the prey’s head. The prey wanted to get out. It flapped it’s wings for a while in vain. Sometime later, it gave up struggling and the spider started dragging its meal upwards. It was a difficult task. Firstly, it had to climb a vertical wall backwards carrying its prey. Secondly, the partner of the insect which had been pounced upon was luring the spider to drop its meal. The another winged-ant tried frantically to reach the spider but it never went very close. Two or three times, it had reached near the spider, I thought the spider would leave the one on its mouth and grab the other instead. But the spider did not leave the grip on its food. Neither did it give any attention to the second one. For it had flown for long already and its attempt (if I can call it, though it was nothing of the sort) of saving its friend had weakened it. After some minutes of it flight (the longest among these insects I have ever seen), it gave up. Most probably, it died.

Some more pics of the brutal predator and an almost dead prey.

image

image

image

Zika Viral Infection- What is it?

As I was scrolling down the Facebook page on my phone, I came across a news on Image Khabar, which shocked me. It said that the World Health Organization (WHO) had warned the Americans not to conceive children. I also saw something new- Zika virus. (I first thought Jika because the news is in Nepali!) I immediately googled to get some information on it.

History
The Zika virus was first discovered in the rhesus monkeys in the year 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda. The monkey in which the virus was discovered had suffered from mild fever. The first reported case in humans was in 1952 from Uganda and Tanzania. Since then, the disease was believed to be a mild one but the WHO now classifies it as an “emerging” disease. Recent outbreaks have occurred at French Polynesia (2013) and Brazil (2015).

Mode of Transmission
The disease transmits through the vector Aedes aegyptii, the mosquito also responsible for dengue. Recently, it has also been found to have transmitted sexually.

Symptoms
According to the WHO, the symptoms are similar to that of Dengue. Mild fever, rashes on the skin, conjunctivitis, headache lasting for 2-7 days are the major symptoms. In children, microcephaly occurs hampering the mental growth. The virus can be detected on blood culture.

Treatment
There is no vaccines or medicines developed for the treatment of the disease. Paracetamol can be used for the symptoms above.

Warnings
The WHO has warned that the disease might spread fast in the USA and in the peripheral nations. It has also warned of pregnancy during the outbreak of the disease.

Conclusion
Adaptation and evolution of the vector and the virus is spreading a “new” disease as an epidemic every year. Last year, it was Ebola, this year it is Zika. There might be another outbreak next year. The WHO and the media should be active to spread information about the recent outbreaks. Had the WHO not warned the USA, no one would have known about the disease. This situation should be changed. There should be an immediate breaking news once an outbreak is known. Preventive measures should be taken before the disease turns into an epidemic.

References
1. www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zika_virus
3. mobile.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/health/two-cases-suggest-zika-virus-could-be-spread-through-sex.html