Religions have long known that getting away from it all is good for the mind, body and spirit

Rest and relaxation is essential – a lesson religions learned long ago. Maryna Terletska/Moment via Getty Images

Kristen Lucken, Brandeis University

Summer vacations are coming to an end – though not everyone took one.

Under federal law, U.S. companies aren’t required to offer a single paid vacation day, compared to the at least 20 required in the European Union. About 1 in 4 U.S. workers don’t receive any, and even among those who do, few make full use of them. More than half leave at least some vacation days untouched, and almost 1 in 5 say they feel guilty leaving the office, according to a 2019 survey by Priceline.

Americans in lower income brackets are less likely to get away on vacation – a particular concern this summer, with food and gas prices high.

This no-break culture has real consequences for physical, mental and spiritual health. A 2014 Gallup poll found that taking regular vacations with family and friends is linked to a higher sense of well-being, regardless of one’s income. Activities that lead to an improved sense of well-being are positively associated with improved health and productivity.

The importance of getting away from it all isn’t just backed up by contemporary research, though. As a scholar who studies the sociology of religion, I know that religious practices have long emphasized rest and contemplation, which not only improve a person’s mental and physical health, but can also boost a sense of spiritual well-being. And escaping the busyness of everyday life does not have to drain one’s wallet.

Faith, contemplation and rest

Box of Yehuda brand Shabbat candles, used during the Shabbat celebration.
Themes of rest and contemplation are woven through many religious traditions. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam view a day of rest each week as a sacred right and responsibility of believers. The traditional Jewish Shabbat offers a 24-hour period beginning at sundown on Friday when the busyness of everyday life halts. Participants gather to worship, share a meal, study and pray.

Similarly, practicing Muslims celebrate their holy day on Fridays. This is a time when Muslims step away from work to attend a midday jumah, a prayer service at a local mosque, where imams offer sermons on a range of intellectual, spiritual and practical topics and lead congregations in prayer.

Although attendance numbers are declining, many Christians observe the holy Sabbath on Sundays through church attendance, communal worship, music and the sharing of the Eucharist, when Christians consecrate and consume bread and wine representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Christian Sabbath represents a time to rest, pray, worship and spend time with family.

Branches of Islam, Christianity and Judaism additionally call for regular times of prayer and contemplation as part of daily and yearly cycles. In the Islamic tradition, stopping to pray throughout the day represents one of Islam’s five pillars of faith.

Through the practice of meditation, religious traditions quiet the senses to achieve a mindset of rest that they believe brings about heightened consciousness. Hindus, Buddhists and Jains teach the concept of dhyana, which generally translates to “contemplation.”

Through yoga, meditation and other contemplative practices, practitioners can achieve a state of meditative consciousness and self-awareness that can lead to better mental, physical and spiritual health.

Quieting the mind

Religions emphasize the need for rest and quiet reflection so our overcluttered minds can focus on prayer and other contemplative practices. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul discusses how cultivating the “fruit of the spirit” through prayer and contemplation moves us toward patience and away from egocentrism.

Buddhists believe that quieting the mind through meditation can help people recognize that their feelings, perceptions, worldviews and even the self are impermanent features of life that can cause suffering. It can also help people contemplate their connectedness to the world around them.

Rest and contemplation help connect religious people with the deeper sources of meaning they seek to cultivate through scriptural study, meditation and prayer. As the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton explains in his 1948 autobiographical book “The Seven Storey Mountain,” contemplation is a time of rest, the suspension of activity and a “withdrawal into the mysterious interior solitude in which the soul is absorbed in the immense and fruitful silence of God.”

Health benefits of rest and meditation

Medical science has become religion’s unexpected partner in confirming the benefits generated by these religious practices.

Researchers have found an association between downtime, learning and creativity. Sleep, nature walks and exercise offer a number of life-enhancing benefits, including improved memory, productivity and physical health. Recent advances in neuroimaging technologies have allowed researchers to observe brain changes during times of intense prayer, yoga and mindfulness meditation. Scientific evidence suggests that engaging in these practices may lead to improved health and well-being.

A broad range of clinical studies note that regular meditation can physically alter the brain and how it responds to the world. For instance, these practices have been found to transform the brain’s neural pathways and create new neurological networks that can lead to improved health and well-being.

Research on the practices of Japanese and Chinese Buddhist monks reveals benefits for physical and mental health. Furthermore, active meditations, such as yoga, qi gong and tai chi, are found to increase a sense of well-being through the regulation of mood and the reduction in anxiety and depression.

If you can’t break away from work this summer, you can still improve your physical, mental and spiritual health by taking time to rest, exercise, sleep, meditate or pray. Think of these practices as mini “staycations” that allow us to vacate our minds of stress and worry while improving our well-being.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 23, 2021.

Kristen Lucken, Lecturer in Religious Studies, Brandeis University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Ray’s Ramblings 11-16-2022

Well looks like that here in the U.S.A. are in for 2 years of a get nothing done congress, a bunch of party-motivated investigations, and so on now that it is a divided congress between Republicans and Democrats. The House will waste money and time on vengeance comities to hurt the Biden administration and the democrats that headed up the Jan 6th committee and so on. I really hope the republicans do not go down that road, had enough of comities and investigations from the Democrats and I think their time would be better spent trying to reach across the aisle and make some bi-partisan legislation to take care of all those problems they touted the democrats either failed at, etc.

To be honest, I am about fed up with both parties in our government and all their rhetoric, disdain for each other, and b.s. they exaggerate to pump up their voters, etc. If both parties spent just half the energy and money on fixing issues this country is facing that they put into their campaigns and partisan agendas we probably would be a far better off country than we are. Both sides are leaning too much to the extreme in their rhetoric and policies I think, the days of having moderates that are willing to reach across the aisle are basically a thing of the past. If a party member reaches across the aisle they get labeled as a traitor or a Rino / Dino by their colleagues and that is just unproductive and quite juvenile.

We elected those people in congress to represent us all, not just the base of their party or just their party alone. They need to listen to who they were elected by more than they listen to the party in the end. We need good people in office who serve the people and not just follow the beat of one political party or another. Sure stick by their party’s values and political framework for the most part but represent the people who put them in power and also pay their paychecks. We need leaders in congress, not lemmings that follow the crowd, people who get stuff done and think outside the box that being in a political party puts them in.

Well, that’s my political rant for the end of this year, and it is not aimed at one party or another, both sides have been failing us in many ways. I really hope that politics will soon not be on the news all week and we can return to a somewhat normalcy in the news cycle and in life. I wish my Democrat, Independent, Republican, and third-party brothers and sisters happy holidays and peace on earth.

Peace and blessings to all

How cancer cells can become immortal – new research finds a mutated gene that helps melanoma defeat the normal limits on repeated replication

Melanoma is a particularly aggressive form of skin cancer. Dlumen/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Pattra Chun-On, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences and Jonathan Alder, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences

A defining characteristic of cancer cells is their immortality. Usually, normal cells are limited in the number of times they can divide before they stop growing. Cancer cells, however, can overcome this limitation to form tumors and bypass “mortality” by continuing to replicate.

Telomeres play an essential role in determining how many times a cell can divide. These repetitive sequences of DNA are located at the ends of chromosomes, structures that contain genetic information. In normal cells, continued rounds of replication shorten telomeres until they become so short that they eventually trigger the cell to stop replicating. In contrast, tumor cells can maintain the lengths of their telomeres by activating an enzyme called telomerase that rebuilds telomeres during each replication.

Diagram of chromosome with red telomeres at the ends
Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. FancyTapis/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Telomerase is encoded by a gene called TERT, one of the most frequently mutated genes in cancer. TERT mutations cause cells to make a little too much telomerase and are thought to help cancer cells keep their telomeres long even though they replicate at high rates. Melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, is highly dependent on telomerase to grow, and three-quarters of all melanomas acquire mutations in telomerase. These same TERT mutations also occur across other cancer types.

Unexpectedly, researchers found that TERT mutations could only partially explain the longevity of telomeres in melanoma. While TERT mutations did indeed extend the life span of cells, they did not make them immortal. That meant there must be something else that helps telomerase allow cells to grow uncontrollably. But what that “second hit” might be has been unclear.

We are researchers who study the role telomeres play in human health and diseases like cancer in the Alder Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. While investigating the ways that tumors maintain their telomeres, we and our colleagues found another piece to the puzzle: another telomere-associated gene in melanoma. Cancer is a result of uncontrollable cell growth.

Cell immortality gets a boost

Our team focused on melanoma because this type of cancer is linked to people with long telomeres. We examined DNA sequencing data from hundreds of melanomas, looking for mutations in genes related to telomere length.

We identified a cluster of mutations in a gene called TPP1. This gene codes for one of the six proteins that form a molecular complex called shelterin that coats and protects telomeres. Even more interesting is the fact that TPP1 is known to activate telomerase. Identifying the TPP1 gene’s connection to cancer telomeres was, in a way, obvious. After all, it was more than a decade ago that researchers showed that TPP1 would increase telomerase activity.

We tested whether having an excess of TPP1 could make cells immortal. When we introduced just TPP1 proteins into cells, there was no change in cell mortality or telomere length. But when we introduced TERT and TPP1 proteins at the same time, we found that they worked synergistically to cause significant telomere lengthening.

To confirm our hypothesis, we then inserted TPP1 mutations into melanoma cells using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing. We saw an increase in the amount of TPP1 protein the cells made, and a subsequent increase in telomerase activity. Finally, we returned to the DNA sequencing data and found that 5% of all melanomas have a mutation in both TERT and TPP1. While this is still a significant proportion of melanomas, there are likely other factors that contribute to telomere maintenance in this cancer.

Our findings imply that TPP1 is likely one of the missing puzzle pieces that boost telomerase’s capacity to maintain telomeres and support tumor growth and immortality.

Making cancer mortal

Knowing that cancer use these genes in their replication and growth means that researchers could also block them and potentially stop telomeres from lengthening and make cancer cells mortal. This discovery not only gives scientists another potential avenue for cancer treatment, but also draws attention to an underappreciated class of mutations outside the traditional boundaries of genes that can play a role in cancer diagnostics.

Pattra Chun-On, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences and Jonathan Alder, Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ray’s Ramblings 11-11-2022

When you are young finding friends comes easy but as you age the social circle you once had shrinks and adding to it becomes more difficult. The reason why you should take care of the friends you have throughout your life. To the young, I say make many friends and do not hesitate to pursue those you love, for it is better to have tried and failed to gain a love than it is to look back and regret you never tried. Like most people I have a few gals, I was head over heels for in my youth that I was too afraid to pursue or too naive to realize they liked me back. I regret never asking them out and those I did and failed to get do not bother me as much or at all.

So much one will regret doing and/or not doing as you grow older, so if you have a desire, goal, dream, or a love interest while you still are young, put aside your fear and pursue them. Live life with little to no regrets since it’s the only chance at living we all have. Do not get caught up in following the crowd and do not repress who you really are. You are unique and should never hide who you are, if others don’t approve of it, that is their problem. As long as you do not cause harm to others and keep respectful, there is no reason not to be who and what you are.

Always remember to respect other people, they too are unique and deserve to be able to be themselves as well. You do not have to agree with everyone, just have to respect their right to choose how they want to live and what they want to believe as well. Do not get caught up in the need for a villain or some enemy to rally against, instead invest that energy and time into solving problems and into a cause that helps humanity if not just your local community. Plan for the future, learn from the past but keep your focus on living in the now.

Sit down and think through what you want out of life, what you would like to see change in the world, and work towards obtaining those things. This gives you purpose and a goal to work towards, we all need something to give meaning to our lives. Without meaning, and direction in life all we will do is sit still and become stagnant. Find out your limits and try to push them a little each day so you do not become complacent or apathetic. You are your own motivator, and you are the only one who can change or improve yourself.

Peace and Blessings

Ray’s Ramblings 11-7-2022

Tuning out from tv and internet media and going fishing, camping, walking in the woods, and spending time with family and friends is what we all need to do. Put behind us all the politics, opinions, and conspiracy theories behind us for a while. Time to return to real life, interacting with people and enjoying life to the fullest. Time to turn off the electronics and embrace our humanity for a while. Electronics make our lives easier but they also act as a distraction and keep us from enjoying life with those we love.

I grew up during the early home computer years and the invention of home entertainment such as beta max, Nintendo, VHS, and even pong. Spent many dollars worth of coinage to enjoy arcades and so on. I enjoyed all the benefits and the entertainment value of all the electronic gadgets through the decades and until probably my 40s I still spent more time out in the world interacting with other humans. We became too attached to our electronic buddies and strayed away from human interaction in a physical sense.

Photo by Pixabay on

Relying too much on electronics and gadgets not only causes physical ailment due to lack of activity but it seems to add stress on our mental and emotional health as well due to the isolation and separation of ourselves due to the convenience of electronic communications and so on. I am not saying throw your phones, tablets, and other gadgets into the waste bin, I am just saying we all need to take breaks from them and focus on those around us and our own selves more than we all are at this time.

Humans need face-to-face interaction, we also need physical touch to keep us emotionally and mentally healthy. We also need to move around, get sunshine, and fresh air along with a change of scenery to keep fit. Balance is needed, a good balance between our reliance on electronics and being independent of them is all I am saying. Go spend that time with your family, friends, and lovers. Go enjoy the beauty of the outdoors, or even go read that book or write one for others to enjoy.

Blessings to All

Why inequality is growing in the US and around the world

Elon Musk is the world’s wealthiest person. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Fatema Z. Sumar, Harvard Kennedy School

U.S. income inequality grew in 2021 for the first time in a decade, according to data the Census Bureau released in September 2022.

That might sound surprising, since the most accurate measure of the poverty rate declined during the same time span.

But for development experts like me, this apparent contradiction makes perfect sense.

That’s because what’s been driving income inequality in the United States – and around the world for years – is that the very rich are getting even richer, rather than the poor getting poorer.

In every major region of the world outside of Europe, extreme wealth is becoming concentrated in just a handful of people.

Gini index

Economists and other experts track the gap between the rich and the poor with what’s known as the Gini index or coefficient.

This common measure of income inequality is calculated by assessing the relative share of national income received by proportions of the population.

In a society with perfect equality – meaning everyone receives an equal share of the pie – the Gini coefficient would be 0. In the most unequal society conceivably possible, where a single person hoarded every penny of that nation’s wealth, the Gini coefficient would be 1.

The Gini index rose by 1.2% in the U.S. in 2021 to 0.494 from 0.488 a year earlier, the Census found. In many other countries, by contrast, the Gini has been declining even as the COVID-19 pandemic – and the deep recession and weak economic recovery it triggered – worsened global income inequality.

Inequality tends to be greater in developing countries than wealthier ones. The United States is an exception. The U.S. Gini coefficient is much higher than in similar economies, such as Denmark, which had a Gini coefficient of 0.28 in 2019, and France, where it stood at 0.32 in 2018, according to the World Bank.

Wealth inequality

The inequality picture is even bleaker when looking beyond what people earn – their income – to what they own – their assets, investments and other wealth.

In 2021, the richest 1% of Americans owned 34.9% of the country’s wealth, while average Americans in the bottom half had only US$12,065 – less money than their counterparts in other industrial nations. By comparison, the richest 1% in the United Kingdom and Germany owned only 22.6% and 18.6% of their country’s wealth, respectively.

Globally, the richest 10% of people now possess nearly 76% of the world’s wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% own just 2%, according to the 2022 World Inequality Report, which analyzes data and the work of more than 100 researchers and inequality experts.

Drivers of extreme income and wealth

Large increases in executive pay are contributing to higher levels of income inequality.

Take a typical corporate CEO. Back in 1965, he – all CEOs were white men then, and most still are today – earned about 20 times the amount of an average worker at the company he led. In 2018, the typical CEO earned 278 times as much as their typical employees.

But the world’s roughly 2,700 billionaires make most of their money not through wages but through gains in the value of their stocks and other investments.

Their assets grow in large part because of a cascade of corporate and individual tax breaks, rather than salaried wages granted by shareholders. When the wealthy in the United States earn money from capital gains, the highest tax rate they pay is 20%, whereas the highest income earners are on the hook for as much as 37% on every additional dollar they earn.

This calculation does not even count the effects of tax breaks, which often slash the real-world capital gain tax to much lower levels.

Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO Elon Musk is currently the world’s richest man, with a fortune of $240 billion, according to a Bloomberg estimate. The $383 million he made per day in 2020 made it possible for him to buy enough Tesla Model 3 cars to cover almost the whole of Manhattan had he wished to do so.

Musk’s wealth accumulation is extreme. But the founders of several tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Amazon, have all earned many billions of dollars in just a few years. The average person could never make that much money through a salary alone.

Another day, another billionaire

A new billionaire is created every 26 hours, according to Oxfam, an international aid and research group where I used to work.

Globally, inequality is so extreme that the world’s 10 richest men possess more wealth than the 3.1 billion poorest people, Oxfam has calculated.

Economists who study global inequality have found that the rich in large English-speaking countries, along with India and China, have seen a dramatic rise in their earnings since the 1980s. Inequality boomed as deregulation, economic liberalization programs and other policies created opportunities for the rich to get richer.

Why inequality matters

The rich tend to spend less of their money than the poor. As a result, the extreme concentration of wealth can slow the pace of economic growth.

Extreme inequality can also exacerbate political dysfunction and undermine faith in political and economic systems. It can also erode principles of fairness and democratic norms of sharing power and resources.

The richest people have more wealth than entire countries. Such extreme power and influence in the hands of a select few who face little accountability is raising concerns that are part of a robust debate on whether and how to address extreme inequality.

Many proposed solutions call for new taxes, regulations and policies, along with philanthropic strategies like using grants and community-based investments to dismantle inequality.

Voters in some states, like Massachusetts, will get to weigh in on whether to raise taxes on the income earned by their richest residents in ballot initiatives in November 2022. Proponents of these initiatives claim the revenue raised would boost funding for public services, such as education and infrastructure. President Joe Biden is also proposing to almost double the top capital gains tax for those making over $1 million.

However societies choose to act, I believe change is needed.

Fatema Z. Sumar, Executive Director of the Center for International Development, Harvard Kennedy School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Japan’s ‘waste not, want not’ philosophy has deep religious and cultural roots, from monsters and meditation to Marie Kondo’s tidying up

Monsters and spirits –including ‘tsukumogami,’ which are made of everyday objects – in the ‘Hyakki-Yagyō-Emaki’ scroll, painted between the 14th and 16th centuries. Wikimedia Commons

Kevin C. Taylor, University of Memphis

The word “waste” is often frightening. People fear not making the most of their time, whether at work or at leisure, and failing to live life to the fullest.

Warnings against waste run especially deep in Japanese culture. Many Americans are familiar with the famous decluttering technique of organization guru Marie Kondo, who wrote “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Travelers to Japan may hear the classic expression “mottainai,” which means “don’t be wasteful” or “what a waste.” There are even gods, spirits, and monsters, or “yokai,” associated with waste, cleanliness, and respect for material goods.

As a scholar of Asian philosophy and religions, I believe the popularity of “mottainai” expresses an ideal more than a reality. Japan is not always known for being environmentally conscious, but its anti-waste values are deeply held. These traditions have been shaped by centuries-old Buddhist and Shinto teachings about inanimate objects’ interconnectedness with humans that continue to influence culture today.

Soot sprites and ceiling lickers

The idea of avoiding waste is closely tied to ideas of tidiness, which has a whole host of spirits and rituals in Japanese culture. Fans of the famous animator Hayao Miyazaki may recall the cute little soot sprites made of dust in his films “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Spirited Away.” Then there’s the ceiling licker, “tenjōname”: a tall monster with a long tongue said to eat up the filth that accumulates in hard-to-reach places.

“Oosouji,” or “big cleaning,” is an end-of-year household ritual. Previously known as “susuharai” or “soot sweeping,” it is more than a chance to tidy up. The rite is believed to expel the negativity of the previous year while welcoming the Shinto god Toshigami: a major deity, considered a grandson of the gods who created the islands of Japan – and who brings good luck for the new year.

Out with the defiled and old, in with the purified and new.

A painting on a scroll shows several people in traditional Japanese clothing intensely cleaning a house.
A scene of housecleaning in preparation for the new year by artist Kitagawa Utamaro in the late 1700s. Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Revenge of the tools

There are countless varieties of monsters in Japanese folklore, including “yokai.” As Japanese folklore scholar Michael Dylan Foster points out, the category “yokai” is nearly impossible to define, because the meaning is ever-changing – and many yokai themselves are shape-shifters.

For instance, “yurei” are truly terrifying, vengeful ghosts. But another category of yokai is the living, shape-changing “bakemono” – including the mischievous “tanuki,” a raccoon dog, and “kitsune,” or fox, often depicted in statues guarding shrines.

One special class of yokai is known as “tsukumogami,” referring to animated household objects. This concept originates in Shinto, which literally translates as “the way of the gods,” and is Japan’s native folk religion. Shinto recognizes spirits, or “kami,” as existing in various places in the human world: from trees, mountains, and waterfalls to human-made objects.

It is said that when an object becomes 100 years old it becomes inhabited by a Shinto spirit and comes to life as a tsukumogami. The “Tsukumogami-ki,” or “Record of Tool Specters,” is a text written sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries. It tells the story of how just such objects, already 100 years old and possessed by kami, were cast out in the trash after the annual housecleaning ritual. These animated household objects took offense at their casual disregard after years of loyal service. Angered at the perceived disrespect, the tool specters went on a rampage: drinking, gambling, and even kidnapping and killing humans and animals.

A faded poster with brightly colored small images of different kinds of monsters.
A poster of monsters by Japanese artist Utagawa Shigekiyo, published in 1860. Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Despite the Shinto elements, this is not a Shinto story but a Buddhist one. The animated household objects’ frenzy comes to an end when Buddhist priests intervene – meant to convince the audience that Buddhist practices were more powerful than local spirits associated with Shinto. At the time, Buddhism was still cementing its influence in Japan.

Laying objects to rest

If the “Tsukumogami-ki” is Buddhist propaganda, it is also a cautionary tale. The cast-aside objects lash out in anger for being treated without a second thought.

Reverence for objects has persisted throughout Japanese history in many forms. Sometimes this is for practical reasons, and sometimes more symbolic ones. The samurai sword known as the “katana,” for example, was often considered the soul of the warrior, symbolizing devotion to the way of the warrior, or “bushido.” In a more everyday example, cracked teapots are not discarded but rather repaired with gold in a process called “kintsugi,” which adds an asymmetrical beauty like a golden scar.

A light-colored bowl with golden streaks across it sits against a white backdrop.
A bowl restored with gold along the cracks, using the traditional ‘kintsugi’ restoration technique. Marco Montalti/iStock via Getty Images Plus

This reverence also persists in the form of funerary services for a host of objects considered deserving of respect, such as doll-burning ceremonies performed at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. No longer-wanted but not-unloved dolls are collected so that the spirits within can be honored and released before the end of their lives. A similar practice exists for artisans’ sewing needles, which are put to rest with a memorial service.

Karma and clutter

The roots of these attitudes toward material things are therefore religious, practical, and psychological. As a Japanese philosophy of waste, “mottainai” keys into Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on emptiness: minimalism to empty the mind and bring insight.

This desire to show respect also stems from Buddhist beliefs that all things, living or not, are interconnected – a teaching called “pratītyasamutpāda.” It’s closely tied with conceptions of karma: the idea that actions have consequences, especially moral consequences.

In short, Buddhism acknowledges that things shape people, for better or worse. Unhealthy attachment to objects can manifest in different ways, whether it be the perceived need to buy an expensive car or reluctance to let go of unneeded items.

But that does not necessarily mean throwing away everything. When we are done with material goods, we don’t need to simply cast them into the trash to fill up landfills or pollute the air and water. They can be given a dignified send-off, whether through reuse or responsible disposal.

Failing that, the story in the “Record of Tool Specters” warns, they may come back to haunt us.

Now, that’s scary.

Kevin C. Taylor, Director of Religious Studies and Instructor of Philosophy, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The vote, the candidate, and your responsibilty.

Voting is a right we all have in our great nation. Voting is a very important part of the political process and one should take part in it so your voice can be heard. Even with the recent questions on the integrity of our voting systems, you should still go out and cast your vote. When you vote, do not just vote for a party, or against another party. Vote for the candidate that is best for the job and make sure who you are voting for will not only deliver what you desire but also make sure the candidate is what will be the best for all of the country.

Too many times I have witnessed people voting for a candidate just to vote against the candidate they don’t like or just down party lines. Voting in such a way, you may be voting in someone that may get you a few results or keep another candidate from winning but it could be at a great cost to the country as a whole down the road. Seems people no longer care how flawed, how dishonest, or toxic a candidate is as long as he/she fills a seat for the party they belong to or they promised to push an agenda they want to get done. They do not think about all the other things the candidate may push through they don’t like or want or the damage it may cause to the political system, political party, or the country they live in. You need to think if voting for a particular candidate if they are obviously flawed to get the agenda you want is worth the risk of damaging the country you live in.

Look at the candidate, look at his or her voting record, and behavior. Also, look at how much they avoid answering a question directly. Regardless of your political party, you should desire a candidate that has some level of integrity and will work to make this a better country for all people. Vote from your heart but also vote using your mind. Make sure who you are voting for is who you truly want and accept the responsibility for the results in the end. Because you are partially responsible for what the candidate you voted into office does during their term.

How Bob Dylan used the ancient practice of ‘imitatio’ to craft some of the most original songs of his time

Dylan’s complex creative process is unique among contemporary singer-songwriters. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Raphael Falco, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Over the course of six decades, Bob Dylan steadily brought together popular music and poetic excellence. Yet the guardians of literary culture have only rarely accepted Dylan’s legitimacy.

His 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature undermined his outsider status, challenging scholars, fans and critics to think of Dylan as an integral part of international literary heritage. My new book, “No One to Meet: Imitation and Originality in the Songs of Bob Dylan,” takes this challenge seriously and places Dylan within a literary tradition that extends all the way back to the ancients.

I am a professor of early modern literature, with a special interest in the Renaissance. But I am also a longtime Dylan enthusiast and the co-editor of the open-access Dylan Review, the only scholarly journal on Bob Dylan.

After teaching and writing about early modern poetry for 30 years, I couldn’t help but recognize a similarity between the way Dylan composes his songs and the ancient practice known as “imitatio.”

Poetic honey-making

Although the Latin word imitatio would translate to “imitation” in English, it doesn’t mean simply producing a mirror image of something. The term instead describes a practice or a methodology of composing poetry.

The classical author Seneca used bees as a metaphor for writing poetry using imitatio. Just as a bee samples and digests the nectar from a whole field of flowers to produce a new kind of honey – which is part flower and part bee – a poet produces a poem by sampling and digesting the best authors of the past.

Bee collects pollen from a white flower.
To Seneca, the poetry writing process was akin to a bee making honey. K_Thalhofer/iStock via Getty Images

Dylan’s imitations follow this pattern: His best work is always part flower, part Dylan.

Consider a song like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” To write it, Dylan repurposed the familiar Old English ballad “Lord Randal,” retaining the call-and-response framework. In the original, a worried mother asks, “O where ha’ you been, Lord Randal, my son? / And where ha’ you been, my handsome young man?” and her son tells of being poisoned by his true love.

In Dylan’s version, the nominal son responds to the same questions with a brilliant mixture of public and private experiences, conjuring violent images such as a newborn baby surrounded by wolves, black branches dripping blood, the broken tongues of a thousand talkers and pellets poisoning the water. At the end, a young girl hands the speaker – a son in name only – a rainbow, and he promises to know his song well before he’ll stand on the mountain to sing it.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” resounds with the original Old English ballad, which would have been very familiar to Dylan’s original audiences of Greenwich Village folk singers. He first sang the song in 1962 at the Gaslight Cafe on MacDougal Street, a hangout of folk revival stalwarts. To their ears, Dylan’s indictment of American culture – its racism, militarism and reckless destruction of the environment – would have echoed that poisoning in the earlier poem and added force to the repurposed lyrics.

Drawing from the source

Because Dylan “samples and digests” songs from the past, he has been accused of plagiarism.

This charge underestimates Dylan’s complex creative process, which closely resembles that of early modern poets who had a different concept of originality – a concept Dylan intuitively understands. For Renaissance authors, “originality” meant not creating something out of nothing, but going back to what had come before. They literally returned to the “origin.” Writers first searched outside themselves to find models to imitate, and then they transformed what they imitated – that is, what they found, sampled and digested – into something new. Achieving originality depended on the successful imitation and repurposing of an admired author from a much earlier era. They did not imitate each other, or contemporary authors from a different national tradition. Instead, they found their models among authors and works from earlier centuries.

In his book “The Light in Troy,” literary scholar Thomas Greene points to a 1513 letter written by poet Pietro Bembo to Giovanfrancesco Pico della Mirandola.

“Imitation,” Bembo writes, “since it is wholly concerned with a model, must be drawn from the model … the activity of imitating is nothing other than translating the likeness of some other’s style into one’s own writings.” The act of translation was largely stylistic and involved a transformation of the model.

Romantics devise a new definition of originality

However, the Romantics of the late 18th century wished to change, and supersede, that understanding of poetic originality. For them, and the writers who came after them, creative originality meant going inside oneself to find a connection to nature.

As scholar of Romantic literature M.H. Abrams explains in his renowned study “Natural Supernaturalism,” “the poet will proclaim how exquisitely an individual mind … is fitted to the external world, and the external world to the mind, and how the two in union are able to beget a new world.”

Instead of the world wrought by imitating the ancients, the new Romantic theories envisioned the union of nature and the mind as the ideal creative process. Abrams quotes the 18th-century German Romantic Novalis: “The higher philosophy is concerned with the marriage of Nature and Mind.”

The Romantics believed that through this connection of nature and mind, poets would discover something new and produce an original creation. To borrow from past “original” models, rather than producing a supposedly new work or “new world,” could seem like theft, despite the fact, obvious to anyone paging through an anthology, that poets have always responded to one another and to earlier works.

Image of New York City street with banner reading 'Gaslight Poetry Cafe.'
Dylan performed at New York City’s Gaslight Cafe, a popular folk music venue. Bettmann/Getty Images

Unfortunately – as Dylan’s critics too often demonstrate – this bias favoring supposedly “natural” originality over imitation continues to color views of the creative process today.

For six decades now, Dylan has turned that Romantic idea of originality on its head. With his own idiosyncratic method of composing songs and his creative reinvention of the Renaissance practice of imitatio, he has written and performed – yes, imitation functions in performance too – over 600 songs, many of which are the most significant and most significantly original songs of his time.

To me, there is a firm historical and theoretical rationale for what these audiences have long known – and the Nobel Prize committee made official in 2016 – that Bob Dylan is both a modern voice entirely unique and, at the same time, the product of ancient, time-honored ways of practicing and thinking about creativity.

Raphael Falco, Professor of English, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alzheimer’s might not be primarily a brain disease. A new theory suggests it’s an autoimmune condition.

A new theory of Alzheimer’s disease reassesses the role of beta-amyloid in the brain. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Weaver, University of Toronto–a-new-theory-suggests-it-s-an-autoimmune-condition-

The pursuit of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is becoming an increasingly competitive and contentious quest with recent years witnessing several important controversies.

In July 2022, Science magazine reported that a key 2006 research paper, published in the prestigious journal Nature, which identified a subtype of brain protein called beta-amyloid as the cause of Alzheimer’s, may have been based on fabricated data.

One year earlier, in June 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved aducanumab, an antibody-targeting beta-amyloid, as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, even though the data supporting its use were incomplete and contradictory. Some physicians believe aducanumab never should have been approved, while others maintain it should be given a chance.

With millions of people needing an effective treatment, why are researchers still fumbling in this quest for a cure for what is arguably one of the most important diseases confronting humankind?

Escaping the beta-amyloid rut

For years, scientists have been focused on trying to come up with new treatments for Alzheimer’s by preventing the formation of brain-damaging clumps of this mysterious protein called beta-amyloid. In fact, we scientists have arguably got ourselves into a bit of an intellectual rut concentrating almost exclusively on this approach, often neglecting or even ignoring other possible explanations.

Illustration showing red clusters of amyloid plaques in brain tissue
Studying beta-amyloids as abnormal proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease has not translated into a useful drug or therapy. Shutterstock

Regrettably, this dedication to studying the abnormal protein clumps has not translated into a useful drug or therapy. The need for a new “out-of-the-clump” way of thinking about Alzheimer’s is emerging as a top priority in brain science.

My laboratory at the Krembil Brain Institute, part of the University Health Network in Toronto, is devising a new theory of Alzheimer’s disease. Based on our past 30 years of research, we no longer think of Alzheimer’s as primarily a disease of the brain. Rather, we believe that Alzheimer’s is principally a disorder of the immune system within the brain.

The immune system, found in every organ in the body, is a collection of cells and molecules that work in harmony to help repair injuries and protect from foreign invaders. When a person trips and falls, the immune system helps to mend the damaged tissues. When someone experiences a viral or bacterial infection, the immune system helps in the fight against these microbial invaders.

The exact same processes are present in the brain. When there is head trauma, the brain’s immune system kicks into gear to help repair. When bacteria are present in the brain, the immune system is there to fight back.

Alzheimer’s as autoimmune disease

We believe that beta-amyloid is not an abnormally produced protein, but rather is a normally occurring molecule that is part of the brain’s immune system. It is supposed to be there. When brain trauma occurs or when bacteria are present in the brain, beta-amyloid is a key contributor to the brain’s comprehensive immune response. And this is where the problem begins.

Because of striking similarities between the fat molecules that make up both the membranes of bacteria and the membranes of brain cells, beta-amyloid cannot tell the difference between invading bacteria and host brain cells, and mistakenly attacks the very brain cells it is supposed to be protecting.

This leads to a chronic, progressive loss of brain cell function, which ultimately culminates in dementia — all because our body’s immune system cannot differentiate between bacteria and brain cells.

Close-up view of a section of a human brain
A section of a human brain with Alzheimer’s disease displayed at the Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

When regarded as a misdirected attack by the brain’s immune system on the very organ it is supposed to be defending, Alzheimer’s disease emerges as an autoimmune disease. There are many types of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, in which autoantibodies play a crucial role in the development of the disease, and for which steroid-based therapies can be effective. But these therapies will not work against Alzheimer’s disease.

The brain is a very special and distinctive organ, recognized as the most complex structure in the universe. In our model of Alzheimer’s, beta-amyloid helps to protect and bolster our immune system, but unfortunately, it also plays a central role in the autoimmune process that, we believe, may lead to the development of Alzheimer’s.

Though drugs conventionally used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases may not work against Alzheimer’s, we strongly believe that targeting other immune-regulating pathways in the brain will lead us to new and effective treatment approaches for the disease.

Other theories of the disease

A drawing of a brain inside a yellow light bulb, against a green background.
It is gratifying to see new thinking about this age-old disease. (Pixabay)

In addition to this autoimmune theory of Alzheimer’s, many other new and varied theories are beginning to appear. For example, some scientists believe that Alzheimer’s is a disease of tiny cellular structures called mitochondria — the energy factories in every brain cell. Mitochondria convert oxygen from the air we breathe and glucose from the food we eat into the energy required for remembering and thinking.

Some maintain that it is the end-result of a particular brain infection, with bacteria from the mouth often being suggested as the culprit. Still others suggest that the disease may arise from an abnormal handling of metals within the brain, possibly zinc, copper or iron.

It is gratifying to see new thinking about this age-old disease. Dementia currently affects more than 50 million people worldwide, with a new diagnosis being made every three seconds. Often, people living with Alzheimer’s disease are unable to recognize their own children or even their spouse of more than 50 years.

Alzheimer’s is a public health crisis in need of innovative ideas and fresh directions. For the well-being of the people and families living with dementia, and for the socioeconomic impact on our already stressed health-care system coping with the ever-escalating costs and demands of dementia, we need a better understanding of Alzheimer’s, its causes, and what we can do to treat it and to help the people and families who are living with it.

Donald Weaver, Professor of Chemistry and Director of Krembil Research Institute, University Health Network, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.