Sunday, 15 May 2011

What is witchcraft, anyway?

This article which warns that witchcraft is "on the rise" in the UK may not be the best piece available, but what got my hackles up were the people in the comments squealing "that's not witchcraft, I'm a witch, and I don't do that!".

Now, I can understand not wanting to be tarred with that brush. After all, who would want to be associated with child abuse of that nature? But, of course, it is not the practitioners of witchcraft that are perpetrating the abuse, it is those who perceive something they think of as "witchcraft" affecting the child in question.

What annoys me is this egoistical assumption that "because I call what I believe X, noone else has the right to think that X means anything different". I'm sure that I can be accused of falling into the same trap at times (Atheism and Bujinkan are probably the two most likely candidates). However, I do know there are other people out there, and I do know they all think differently to me. In the global community that the internet (among other things) has created, we cannot afford _not_ to understand this.

In this case, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo believe in something that they term 'witchcraft' (This must be true, wikipedia says so!). Wiccans/Pagan/New-Agers/et al. also believe in something they term 'witchcraft'. The problem presumably comes because one group _practices_ something they call 'witchcraft' and associate themselves directly with the term, while the other group uses the term as to describe somewhat fuzzy concepts about being able to control the natural world through supernatural means (on a side note: isn't that what 'prayer' is about, too?).

Rant over. Silly people for being blinkered to multiple uses of the same terminology, and for getting the wrong end of the stick in the first place because of those blinkers.

(Sources: )

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

:59 seconds - Happiness

Day 1: "Think back over the past week and list three things in your life for which to be grateful"

1: Having a wonderful group of people who I train with. Yesterday's EMAA session was terrific, and I hope Oz is taking notes on who needs what drills - because I know I need some, but I am not entirely sure what! The Bujinkan session was also good - I was feeling really quite off kilter, but from all accounts the two participants enjoyed themselves and got something out of it.

2: Having someone close who I can talk to about things that annoy me. Had a few issues at work, and was grateful to be able to offload some of that to someone who could listen without judging. I hope I am as good a listener for them as they are for me.

3: While I am not grateful to my boss for initially making a big deal out of my mistakes, I do appreciate that he wanted to find a way around it happening again. If only I knew what would help...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Life in the lab

Another way to determine what alternative life might look like is to try to invent it ourselves.

If we can create new molecules which can behave in life-like way, we may then go out and look for these in the environment, says Professor Steven Benner, of the University of Florida.

His team have created perhaps the closest yet to a man-made alternative form of life.

"We are announcing the first example of an artificial synthetic chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution," he told the conference.

"Is it alive? Well, I can tell you that it is not self-sustaining.

"You have to have a graduate student stand there and feed it from time to time, but it is evolving."

The molecule is essentially a modified version of our own DNA double helix - but with six "letters" in its genetic alphabet, instead of four.

These nucleotides pair up in strands, which can replicate, though only with the help of polymerase enzymes and heat.

"Sometimes mistakes are made in pairing and these mistakes are maintained in the next generation - it is evolving," said Prof Brenner.

"The next step is to apply natural selection to it, to see if it can evolve under selective pressure.

"The accepted definition of life is a molecule capable of Darwinian evolution, so we are trying to put together molecules that are capable of doing it."

But he questioned whether our definition of "living" is perhaps too "Earth-centric".

"Remember - just because you are a chemical system which is self-sustaining and capable of Darwinian evolution, that doesn't mean that is the universal definition of life," he said.

...fine...but what other definitions might we apply. According to my latest reading, life is defined not just as being capable of Darwinian evolution (i.e. hereditary descent with modifications), but is required to consume energy and...something else which I've forgotten right now (D'oh - will look it up and update this).

What caught my eye was the ability to create something life-like with a different DNA coding. Would be interesting to see if you could go the other way and reduce it to two letters - essentially a binary code!