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Issue 138 (Nov - Dec 2020)

Issue 138 (Nov - Dec 2020) 2020

Editorial (Issue 138): Pondering the Metaphysical

Our most immediate perceptions of the world around us cause us to understandably focus on what is readily visible and physical. It is impossible to argue against the reality of something that can be held or touched, whereas concepts or ideas that are less immediately provable are much more up for debate. However, observing the laws that have been put in place in the universe, noticing the patterns across almost all people that concern the desire to understand and interpret creation and existence, and the remarkable existence of exceptionally complex animals, plants, and organisms can leave the mind baffled. Is random chance really the best way of exploring their existence and perfection?

Editorial

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Searching for Our Souls

Our modern society has gone astray during much of the past several centuries. While every person is in pursuit of one thing or another, we are searching for our own soul. If we can persist on this search on a sustainable path then we can hope that the days in which we will be revived as our true selves are very close; the days when we will turn towards our true nature and win back our best values.

Lead Article

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Do Plants Develop Cancer?

Cancer is a prevalent disease among humans and animals, affecting millions of lives across the globe. It can be caused in a variety of ways and can affect virtually every part of our bodies, ranging from skin cancer caused by prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays to lung cancer that results from carcinogenic substances smokers inhale. However, plants do not die of cancer despite sometimes being exposed to the sun for over a thousand years – and they do not use any sunscreens!

See-Think-Believe, Botany

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Irritated by Trivialities

Irritated 
by trivialities,
overwhelmed 
by brutality 
and innocent suffering,
disappointed
by our own inadequacies –
–in anxiety, confusion and hope
we turn to You.

Pry us loose from our self-absorption
that we might look for You today,
for Your comfort, Your Peace,
Your power, Your direction.

Break the hold
of the posturing, presumptuous
yet finally false powers of this world.

Awaken us to Your magnificence
that we might live in awe
of nothing but You.

Free us, then, from our fears
that we might, at the least, 
be courteous to all whom we meet,
and thereby offer 
an opening for Your grace.

Humanities, Literature & Languages, Poem

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Where am I From?

Following a soft negotiation of price with the rickshaw driver, I finally had initiated my way back home from the Time to Help foundation. Next to a quick introduction of our names, the driver asked me where I was from. I smiled at him. It was an easy-to-answer question for the majority of people, but not for me.

I was born in Russia, but my family left the country when I was only two; so I don’t remember much to feel part of it.

Humanities, A Moment for Reflection

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Reboot

The morning had withheld its sunlight and left only a gray hue to open its doors when the man turned aside to his wife facing him, her Cantu-scented curls waving in his face. The sunlight compliments her already perfect face even though the gray brings gloom to others, but not him. The sounds of breakfast cooking brew an ambience that acts as lenses onto her beauty while her eyes secure her innocence. The appreciation of sunlight comes natural for those who don’t have it, but alternatives are the only option with no availability. As a result, he finds the sunlight captured in her beauty while her eyes take the picture.

Humanities, Literature & Languages, Fiction

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Ph.inisheD—How I Went from GED to Ph.D

Following thirteen months behind my only sibling’s academic footsteps was hard. From elementary school on, she was a glowing student; absorbing, digesting, and understanding information seemingly by osmosis. She maintained straight A’s throughout her academic career and earned a college scholarship. I, on the other hand, struggled to maintain a C average and ran away from home at the age of fifteen.

Humanities, Literature & Languages, Memoir

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The Meeting Point of Traditional Islamic Literature and Psychotherapy

Muslim psychologists and psychiatrists recently published an eye-opening book titled Applying Islamic Principles to Clinical Mental Health Care. I had learned about Dr. Rania Awaad and her work in mental health at a talk hosted by Salaam Islamic Center. She is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Director of the Muslim Mental Health Lab. Discussing how traditional Islamic texts meet with the modern disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, Dr. Awaad uses the “biopsychosocial” approach; she claims that psychology, mental health, spirituality, and religion cannot be separated. As someone who shares the same understanding, I was deeply impressed with her and her team's clinical treatment methods and their new book. It is a book about introducing Traditional Islamically Integrated Psychotherapy (TIIP), which is the culminating result of the Khalil Center's research.

Humanities, Book Review, Psychotherapy

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Pharmacology: The Journey of a Chemical Compound into a Drug

Most of us have taken, or at least interacted with, medicine at some point or another in our lives. This can range from more “simple” over-the-counter drugs to more complex medicines specifically designed for exact illnesses. Considering the Covid-19 era we are going through and as search for a vaccine is at the highest possible speed, it is important to have at least a general idea on how medicines are developed for our use. This article aims to explore how a complicated mix of chemical compounds in a laboratory end up as pills on a shelf in your local pharmacy. We will also explore a brief history of pharmacology, where drugs get their names, how drugs come into fruition, the various affects that drugs can have on our bodies, along with the discrepancies that exist between them in regard to when, how, and why they should be taken.

Health & Medicine, Science, Medicine, Pharmacology

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Free Radicals and Aging Faster

“Free radicals” are a special type of atom that have been linked to many age-related diseases. They form as a result of a process called Oxidative Stress, which takes place when an oxygen molecule splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. The nature of electrons is such that they like to be in pairs and as a result will “freely” and “radically” search throughout the body for another electron to pair with. They could almost be considered romantic if they were not so dangerous!

Health & Medicine, Science, Biology

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Isolation (Tajrid)

Literally meaning to separate, abstract, peel away, or to isolate oneself from every occupation and engagement, tajrid (isolation) denotes the state where one isolates oneself from worldly things and abandons all carnal or bodily desires. It also denotes turning away from all else save God and being freed from any attachment to wealth, status or position or any worldly expectations, and setting one’s heart totally on Him without expecting anything in return.

Belief, Islamic Sufism, Sufism, Emerald Hills of the Heart

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How Do Ants Know Trigonometry?

Think of yourself as a desert ant. You leave your nest to search for food early in the morning in the deserts of Tunisia, except you do not know where to find food. You, therefore, walk randomly in the desert in a circuitous outward path from your nest until you find food. If you would find food, how do you get it back to your home? How do you go back without having left for yourself any traces or signs in the wasteland, without knowing where you located, and most importantly, without ending up stranded in the scorching heat of the desert? Could you accomplish coming back each day with food? Well, desert ants can.

Science, Entomology

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In Search of a Vaccine for COVID-19

It has been over half a year since Covid-19 swept across the world and forced many countries into quarantine. Hopes of a quick resolution of the disease in many countries have since been, unfortunately, proven to be wrong, and it is evident that the virus is here to stay for a while [1]. The virus is so difficult to deal with considering it can be transferred from person to person even if the carrier does not outwardly display symptoms. Even animals, ranging from mice to tigers, can contract and transmit it to humans [2, 3], and we cannot quarantine or force them to wear facemasks. The virus will eventually hit each person; it is just a matter of time. The virus may additionally arrive in multiple waves, as it is possible to be reinfected [4]. COVID-19 will most likely have a lifespan of a few years, much like other major virus outbreaks of the past such as the swine flu in Hong Kong or Spanish flu. It will probably come and go like a common flu in never ending waves. So, each of us need to be ready until a successful vaccine is developed, and the wisest action for each person to be ready would be to boost our immune systems and practice effective social distancing and sanitation measures, while we deal with this virus for however long it may last.

Health & Medicine, Science, Medicine, Covid-19

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The Existence of God

Kalam Cosmological Arguments of Huduth and Imkan in light of Modern Scientific Discoveries

Humankind has grappled with the questions surrounding God, life, and creation for as long as we can remember (Gülen 2006, 3-4). Historically, philosophers and theologians have sought to produce systematic and rigorous arguments to rationally prove the existence of the Divine through the means of logical deduction (Gök 2018, 10). One such argument that has been synthesized is that of the kalam (the Islamic theology), a cosmological argument which has provided a historical and modern basis for those seeking to validate the existence of God (Gök 2018, 10-13). This argument has come under particular examination in contemporary circles where modern scientific discoveries are seen to both challenge, and support, the existence of God and hence establish a valid basis upon which to argue either case. This essay will thus seek to discuss the validity of the kalam cosmological argument, and its subsets, in relation to two modern scientific discoveries: the Big Bang theory, and the concept of virtual particles.

Religion, Belief, Theology

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The Weight of Our Assumptions About Others - 2

Question: While sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, counsel against condemning believers to shame, despising them, and disclosing their faults, they also enjoin not remaining silent and unresponsive before oppression and evil. How is a believer supposed to achieve this balance?

Belief, Questions & Answers

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Science Square (Issue 138)

How Octopuses Are Able to Taste by Touching

Giesen et al.Molecular Basis of Chemotactile Sensation in Octopus. Cell, October 2020.

Octopuses have often captured human interest with the ability to use their eight suction-cup covered tentacles for touch and taste. Scientists have wondered for decades how their appendages work but very few have studied what happens on a molecular level. In a new report, researchers got a glimpse into how the nervous system in an octopus' tentacles manage these functions. They identified a novel family of sensors in the first layer of cells inside the suction cups that have adapted to react and detect molecules that do not dissolve well in water. The chemotactile receptors on these sensory cells use those molecules to help the animal figure out what it is touching and whether or not that object is prey. This allows an octopus to distinguish between a rock versus a tasty crab. The underlying mechanism is that there are two types of sensory cells in the suckers that line their tentacles: mechanosensory cells for touch and chemosensory cells for taste.  Both taste- and touch-oriented cells are critical for helping octopuses to decide when to hunt and when to retreat. It is well known that particles on land easily travel through the air before they might be sniffed by a bear or a wolf's nostrils. However, the process of smelling or tasting is much less clear in cephalopods that live in the ocean. Some chemicals can travel far from their underwater source and thus make it possible for some creatures to catch a smell of their prey from afar. But for chemicals that don’t move through the ocean easily, a touch-taste strategy can be useful for marine animals, including octopuses. While people tend to perceive five basic tastes – sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami (meaty) – octopuses experience the world of taste differently. Instead, scientists found the most success by stimulating octopuses to respond to what are called terpenoid molecules, a secretion that is often released by marine invertebrates that functions as a defense or warning signal. They smell these molecules and can, in a way, smell fear in their prey.

Natural Forest Regrowth May Be the Best Method to Combat Climate Change

Natural Forest Regrowth May Be the Best Method to Combat Climate Change

Cook-Patton et al. Mapping carbon accumulation potential from global natural forest regrowth. Nature, September 2020.

Reforestation has been considered the leading strategy in the fight to mitigate the effects of climate change with previous studies highlighting the role it can play in capturing and storing atmospheric carbon. There are many ways to incorporate trees into our landscapes, however one of the cheapest and easiest options is to allow forests to regrow on their own if conditions can permit them to. Now, a new study has mapped the potential carbon accumulation in naturally regrown forests over the next 30 years. Researchers from 18 countries brought together more than 13,000 georeferenced measurements of carbon accumulation to generate a wall-to-wall, one-kilometer-resolution map spanning 43 countries that highlights areas with the greatest carbon returns if trees were allowed to reforest naturally. The team demonstrated that natural forest regrowth can capture up to 23 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the atmosphere every year. This is on top of the carbon sequestration already provided by existing forests, which absorb around 30 percent of annual CO2 emissions. The biggest advantage of natural restoration of forests is that it often requires nothing more than human inaction. Nature is constantly at work doing its duty to restore forests often unseen on the edges of fields, on abandoned pastures, and wherever forests lie degraded or former forest land is abandoned. Moreover, natural forest regrowth may promote the re-establishment of local tree species that are best equipped to survive in a given location and support the many organisms that eat them or dwell amongst their branches and roots.

However, natural regrowth may not always be the answer. For example, at sites that are highly degraded, or seed sources are far away, actively planting trees can help to start or speed recovery while helping to establish the right species mix for current and future conditions. While planting trees can sometimes be necessary it should usually be the last option since it is one of the most expensive and often least successful methods of combating climate change. It is estimated that humanity should collectively plant about a trillion trees over the next three decades to effectively fight climate change, which averages out to about a thousand new trees planted in the ground every second and assumes that every tree survives and grows in a healthy manner. Once the cost of nurseries, soil preparation, seeding, and thinning are accounted for, it would easily cost hundreds of billions of dollars. If natural forest growth is cheaper and better then why not work to protect the existing trees and let forests to grow on their own?

Humans are born with brains prewired to see words and lettersLi et al. Innate connectivity patterns drive the development of the visual word form area. Scientific Reports, October 2020

A new study suggests that humans are born with a part of the brain that is prewired to be receptive to seeing words and letters. Researchers analyzed brain fMRI scans of 40 newborns and found that the “visual word form area” (VWFA) was already connected to the language network of the brain, which is akin to the scans of 40 adults. These findings are quite surprising considering some researchers had hypothesized that the pre-reading VWFA starts out like any other part of the visual cortex that are sensitive to seeing faces, scenes, or other objects and only becomes selective to words and letters as children learn to read or at least as they learn language. However, a new study shows that even at birth, the VWFA is more functionally connected to the language network of the brain than it is to other areas. It is likely that experience with spoken and written language will strengthen connections with specific aspects of the language circuit and further differentiate this region's function from its neighbors as a person gains literacy. The main goal of this study is to learn how the brain becomes a “reading brain” and to help understand the differences in reading behavior, which could become useful in the study of dyslexia and other developmental disorders.

Science, Science Square

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