Anti-aging pill could allow everyone to live over 120 years old

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León famously journeyed to the Americas in search of the Fountain of Youth. If he were still alive today, he might have been able to simply visit his pharmacist instead.

A potential anti-aging drug that is already commercially available for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, called metformin, is soon set to begin clinical trials to see if it can also expand the human life span, reports the Express.

Initial tests on some animals, such as one study of the drug’s effects on worms, suggest that humans could live healthily well into their 120s if the effects are shown to be similar. Metformin could literally be a miracle drug– the Fountain of Youth in pill form. It could change medicine in a way not seen since the discovery of antibiotics. That is, assuming the trials are a success.

Early optimism is high. Since metformin is commercially available for the treatment of diabetes, several extensive studies about its effects are already available; the hype is not merely based on a simple worm study. For instance, last year a study of more than 180,000 people showed that those being treated for diabetes with metformin lived longer than a healthy control sample. That is worth reiterating: Patients being treated for diabetes lived longer than otherwise healthy people.

Other research has shown that metformin could also help to directly treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and even cancer.

“I have been doing research into aging for 25 years and the idea that we would be talking about a clinical trial in humans for an anti-aging drug would have been thought inconceivable,” said Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California. “But there is every reason to believe it’s possible.”

The clinical trial is called Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME), and it will be conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Researchers are looking for 3,000 people in their 70s and 80s who either have or are at risk of having major diseases, and the trial should last from 5 to 7 years.

The drug has already been in use for over 60 years for diabetes patients, so scientists have a pretty good idea of how exactly it works. For instance, metformin is known to make our cells better oxygenated, and its easy to imagine how better oxygenated cells can have a positive effect on the body.

“We lower the risk of heart disease, somebody lives long enough to get cancer. If we reduce the risk of cancer, somebody lives long enough to get Alzheimer’s disease. We are suggesting that the time has arrived to attack them all by going after the biological process of aging,” said Stuart Jay Olshansky, one of the researchers involved in the project.

If all goes well, then age 70 could soon become the new 50. Age 100 could be the new 80, and so on. Better yet, we can age in a healthier fashion, free from many of the debilitating diseases that make living to older ages undesirable. It won’t be an immortality pill, but it might be the next closest thing.

credit: Bryan Nelson

Why can we sense when people are looking at us?

If you’ve ever felt like someone was watching you, you may have attributed that awareness to a sense of unease or a prickling on the back of your neck. But there’s nothing psychic about it; your brain was simply picking up on cues. In fact, your brain is wired to inform you that someone is looking at you — even when they’re not.

“Far from being ESP, the perception originates from a system in the brain that’s devoted to detecting where others are looking,” writes social psychologist Ilan Shrira. This concept may sound confusing, but it actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it as a survival instinct.

Many mammals can tell when another animal is looking at them, but the human “gaze-detection system” is particularly good at doing this from a distance. We’re able to easily discern where someone is looking.

This system is especially sensitive when someone is looking at you directly, and studies have found that particular cells fire when this happens.

“Gaze perception — the ability to tell what someone is looking at — is a social cue people often take for granted,” Colin Clifford, a psychologist at the University of Sydney’s Vision Center, told the Daily Mail. “Judging whether others are looking at us may come naturally, but it’s actually not that simple as our brains have to do a lot of work behind the scenes.”

When you catch someone looking at you, what is it that clued you in? Often, it’s as simple as the position of the person’s head or body.

If both the head and body are turned toward you, it’s clear where the person’s attention is focused. It’s even more obvious when the person’s body is pointed away from you but their head is facing you. When this happens, you immediately look to the person’s eyes to see where they’re looking.
Human eyes are different from those of other animals in this regard. Our pupils and irises are darker from the white part of the eyeball known as the sclera, and this contrast is why you can tell when someone’s looking at you or simply looking past you.

Other species have less visible sclera, which is advantageous for predators that don’t want their prey to know where they’re looking. However, human survival is more dependent on communication, which is why we evolved to have larger, white sclera, which help us make eye contact.

But when head and body positions don’t provide much information, research shows that we can still detect another person’s gaze extraordinarily well because of our peripheral vision.

We evolved to be this sensitive to gaze to survive. Why? Because every look someone throws your way is a potential threat.

Clifford tested this by asking study participants to indicate where various faces were looking. He found that when people couldn’t determine the direction of a gaze — because of dark conditions or the faces were wearing sunglasses — people typically thought they were being watched.

He concluded that in situations where we’re not certain where a person is looking, our brain informs us that we’re being watched — just in case there’s a potential interaction.

“A direct gaze can signal dominance or a threat, and if you perceive something as a threat, you would not want to miss it,” Clifford said. “So simply assuming another person is looking at you may be the safest strategy.”

credit: Laura Moss

What your eye color says about you

Your eyes can be a window into your soul, and some say that your eyes — be them baby blue, sexy green or deep, mysterious brown — may reveal even more.

Like how well you tolerate pain. Or your tendency toward alcohol dependence. Or just how generally agreeable you might be.

Eye color and what eye color really means are a constant source of fascination among scientists, academicians and that guy or girl across the bar. As is often the case with these things, though, it’s not that simple. In fact, it gets pretty complicated.

What you see is what you get

“This general question of the relationship between, say, a visible trait — height or body size, or skin color or eye color or hair color — and anything else, whether it’s a disease trait or whether it’s a visible trait, is something that geneticists think about and talk about all the time. And it’s a topic of understandable popular interest,” says Greg Barsh, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a nonprofit based in Huntsville, Alabama, and a professor emeritus of genetics at Stanford University.

“We do not think, we do not believe that there is a direct connection of eye color with specific diseases. We do not think that there is a relationship, say, between eye color and diabetes, or eye color and cancer, or eye color and behavior.”

Still, many people are all too willing to make that link between the color of someone’s eyes and, say, how well they react in a motor skills test. (Men with dark eyes reportedly performed better than those with lighter-colored eyes — but only when they blue racquetballs, rather than green or yellow.)

Are light-eyed people from a certain region, for example, really less agreeable than the dark-eyed population of the same region, as one study suggests?

It’s easy to accept the hypothesis of this study, which concludes that “light-eyed individuals have a higher prevalence of [alcohol dependency] than dark-eyed individuals.” Or this piece in Cosmopolitan, based on several popular papers, that concludes:

Brown-eyed people are prone to anxiety.
Green-eyed folks have a higher tolerance for pain.
Those with blue eyes have a lower risk of anxiety and depression, yet are more likely to be dependent on alcohol.
Easy, sure. But believable? Can you really make that jump, that generalization, based solely on the color of someone’s eyes? Or is it, as Barsh suggests, more complicated?
Ancestry, cause and correlation

“Most individuals with blue eye color are of North European ancestry. But there are many other traits that are also correlated with North European ancestry,” Barsh says. “So when someone says, ‘Okay, I looked at a bunch of people with blue eyes and I also discovered that they drive faster, or they die sooner, or that they have a difference in pain tolerance,’ … the default question that always must be asked is, ‘How do you know that isn’t a difference that is genetic and happens to be related to their North European ancestry?'”

Barsh cites an old example popular among geneticists: A discovery is made that people in the Bay Area of San Francisco are more adept, as a whole, at using chopsticks than people in many other areas of the country. Is that because, simply, they[re from the Bay Area?

Or is it because many people from Asia, or many people with ancestors from Asia, have settled in the San Francisco area, and those ancestors were adept at eating with chopsticks?

“The situation with visible traits is actually pretty similar, because visible traits are highly, highly correlated with ancestry,” Barsh says. In other words, blue eyes are usually handed down from ancestors in North Europe. People with ancestors from Asia and Africa are normally dark-eyed.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can come to conclusions about diseases or behaviors just based on ancestry, either.

“One of the major challenges that I think all biologists face is distinguishing correlation from causation,” Barsh adds. “If you have two traits found in one group but not another, it can be very challenging to distinguish whether the relationship between the traits is that one causes the other, or they just happen to be present in the same population.”

So to do this thing right, you have to dive deeply into the genetics of a given population. And genetics are a complicated thing. There’s one main gene — it’s called the OCA2 — responsible for eye color, for example. But several other genes contribute. So assigning a behavior, or the chance of getting a disease to, say, the OCA2 and four or five other genes (among some 20,000 in humans) falls a bit on the simplistic side.
“We know enough about the genes that control skin and eye color that [we know] that is, in fact, all that they do. They don’t do other things,” Barsh says. “No matter how much we learn, we’re never going to learn that eye color has anything to do with intelligence. We know that it doesn’t. It doesn’t have anything to do with behavior. It doesn’t have anything to do with disease susceptibility.”

The only exception, it seems, is that those with lighter skin and lighter eyes are more susceptible to the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays from the sun, which could lead to diseases of the eyes and skin.

Other than that, though, the color of those baby blues is that and only that: A color (or lack of, or a combination of colors) based on genes handed down from your ancestors.

Anything else may just be your eyes playing tricks on you.

Credit: John Donovan

Scientists Officially Link Processed Foods To Autoimmune Disease

The modern diet of processed foods, takeaways and microwave meals could be to blame for a sharp increase in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, including alopecia, asthma and eczema.

A team of scientists from Yale University in the U.S and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, say junk food diets could be partly to blame.

‘This study is the first to indicate that excess refined and processed salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases,’ they said.

Junk foods at fast food restaurants as well as processed foods at grocery retailers represent the largest sources of sodium intake from refined salts.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal sent out an international team of researchers to compare the salt content of 2,124 items from fast food establishments such as Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. They found that the average salt content varied between companies and between the same products sold in different countries.

U.S. fast foods are often more than twice as salt-laden as those of other countries. While government-led public health campaigns and legislation efforts have reduced refined salt levels in many countries, the U.S. government has been reluctant to press the issue. That’s left fast-food companies free to go salt crazy, says Norm Campbell, M.D., one of the study authors and a blood-pressure specialist at the University of Calgary.

Many low-fat foods rely on salt–and lots of it–for their flavor. One packet of KFC’s Marzetti Light Italian Dressing might only have 15 calories and 0.5 grams fat, but it also has 510 mg sodium–about 1.5 times as much as one Original Recipe chicken drumstick. (Feel like you’re having too much of a good thing? You probably are.

Bread is the No. 1 source of refined salt consumption in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one 6-inch Roasted Garlic loaf from Subway–just the bread, no meat, no cheeses, no nothing–has 1,260 mg sodium, about as much as 14 strips of bacon.

How Refined Salt Causes Autoimmune Disease

The team from Yale University studied the role of T helper cells in the body. These activate and ‘help’ other cells to fight dangerous pathogens such as bacteria or viruses and battle infections. Previous research suggests that a subset of these cells – known as Th17 cells – also play an important role in the development of autoimmune diseases.

In the latest study, scientists discovered that exposing these cells in a lab to a table salt solution made them act more ‘aggressively.’

They found that mice fed a diet high in refined salts saw a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems that promoted inflammation.

They were also more likely to develop a severe form of a disease associated with multiple sclerosis in humans.

The scientists then conducted a closer examination of these effects at a molecular level.

Laboratory tests revealed that salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines released by Th17 cells 10 times more than usual. Cytokines are proteins used to pass messages between cells.

Study co-author Ralf Linker, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said: ‘These findings are an important contribution to the understanding of multiple sclerosis and may offer new targets for a better treatment of the disease, for which at present there is no cure.’

It develops when the immune system mistakes the myelin that surrounds the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord for a foreign body.

It strips the myelin off the nerves fibres, which disrupts messages passed between the brain and body causing problems with speech, vision and balance.

Another of the study’s authors, Professor David Hafler, from Yale University, said that nature had clearly not intended for the immune system to attack its host body, so he expected that an external factor was playing a part.

He said: ‘These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.

 ‘Humans were genetically selected for conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, where there was no salt. It’s one of the reasons that having a particular gene may make African Americans much more sensitive to salt.

‘Today, Western diets all have high salt content and that has led to increase in hypertension and perhaps autoimmune disease as well.’

The team next plan to study the role that Th17 cells play in autoimmune conditions that affect the skin.

‘It would be interesting to find out if patients with psoriasis can alleviate their symptoms by reducing their salt intake,’ they said.

‘However, the development of autoimmune diseases is a very complex process which depends on many genetic and environmental factors.’

Stick to Good Salts

Refined, processed and bleached salts are the problem. Salt is critical to our health and is the most readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. Our bodies are not designed to processed refined sodium chloride since it has no nutritional value. However, when a salt is filled with dozens of minerals such as in rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt or the grey texture of Celtic salt, our bodies benefit tremendously for their incorporation into our diet.

“These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated,” argues Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life. “We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid.”

“In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions,” explains Dr Hendel. “These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They’re also needed to balance PH levels in the body.”

Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognised in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases.

Dr Hendel believes too few minerals, rather than too much salt, may be to blame for health problems. It’s a view that is echoed by other academics such as David McCarron, of Oregon Health Sciences University in the US.

He says salt has always been part of the human diet, but what has changed is the mineral content of our food. Instead of eating food high in minerals, such as nuts, fruit and vegetables, people are filling themselves up with “mineral empty” processed food and fizzy drinks.

Study Source: This is the result of a study conducted by Dr. Markus Kleinewietfeld, Prof. David Hafler (both Yale University, New Haven and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, and Harvard University, USA), PD Dr. Ralf Linker (Dept. of Neurology, University Hospital Erlangen), Professor Jens Titze (Vanderbilt University and Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg, FAU, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg) and Professor Dominik N. Muller (Experimental and Clinical Research Center, ECRC, a joint cooperation between the Max-Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine, MDC, Berlin, and the Charite — Universitatsmedizin Berlin and FAU) (Nature, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature11868)*. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks healthy tissue instead of fighting pathogens.

‘Transcendence’, A New Reference Guide About Overcoming Human Limitations Through Science and Technology

Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity is a new reference guide by futurist authors R.U. Sirius and Jay Cornell that explores the field of Transhumanism, in which science and technology are harnessed to overcome the limitations of the human experience.

In nearly ninety A-Z entries, Transcendence provides a multilayered look at the accelerating advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, genomics, information technology, nanotechnology, neuroscience, space exploration, synthetic biology, robotics, and virtual worlds that are making transhumanism a reality.

Up To 67% Of People Would Rather Receive An Electric Shock Than Meditate

If you thought you were the only one who’d rather get a bikini wax than meditate for 15 minutes, you’re not alone: New research in Science reveals some people hate the idea so much, they’d rather shock themselves. Seriously.

When given the opportunity to simply sit by themselves and daydream, participants in 11 studies ranging in age from 18 to 77 generally did not enjoy their quiet time. In fact, they found it so unpleasant that 67% of the men and 25% of the women opted to self-administer an electric shock in order to cut their 15 minutes of alone time short.

Enjoyment wasn’t the only issue. Study author David Reinhard, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, was surprised participants found the “thinking period” not only miserable, but difficult. “We tried different kinds of interventions: We tried giving a variety of topics to think about, suggestions for how they should try to control (or not control) their thoughts, as well as giving them an object to fiddle with,” he explains.

If you guessed that this discomfort with stillness is a result of our dependence upon technology, you’re partly right. But what’s really happening, says Reinhard, is an evolutionary trait at work. “The human mind evolved to engage with the world to be vigilant for dangers as well as seek out opportunities,” he says. And while we possess the ability to mentally disengage from the world, it’s not something we get to do often. “Participants chose to engage with the outside world, even if that engagement involves pain,” he says.

If you can empathize with the electric shock group, there’s no reason to feel badly or fear you’re missing out on anything, says Reinhard. “Meditation involves training and consistent practice, which highlights some of the difficulties people face when trying to entertain themselves with only their thoughts.” But if you’d like to give some alone time a whirl and aren’t sure where to start, these meditations that match your personality can help.

Source: Prevention

Is Buddhism the Most Science-Friendly Religion?

Here is some sad news, courtesy of the Pew Research Center’s “Religion & Public Life Project.” Not only is there a growing gap between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to acceptance of evolution, with Democrats at a mere 67 percent and Republicans a paltry and horrifyingly low 43 percent. Even more appalling is the finding that only 27 percent of white evangelical Protestants understand that “humans and other living things have evolved over time.”

What in Darwin’s name is going on? The regrettable reality is that the U.S., being among the world’s most religious countries, is also among the most scientifically ignorant, especially when it comes to the most important, unifying and indubitably “true” finding in biology: evolution by natural selection.

As an evolutionary biologist, I have personally encountered this scientific illiteracy, notably when lecturing in the Bible Belt. At the same time, I’ve been struck by how scientifically knowledgeable the audiences are when I lecture in Asian countries, particularly those strongly influenced by Buddhism. Moreover, I’ve become increasingly convinced that this correlation isn’t coincidental. My decades as a biologist, along with comparable decades as a Buddhist sympathizer, have convinced me that of all the world’s religions – and especially by contrast to the Abrahamic Big Three (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), Buddhism is unusually science-friendly.

To some extent, this might be because much of Buddhism – and certainly, the part that attracts me – isn’t a “religion” at all, but rather a way of looking at the world. Indeed, the Buddha himself is described as having emphasized that he isn’t a god and shouldn’t be treated as such. And, in fact, there are no creator deities in Buddhism, nor holy writ, and so forth.

According to Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the fourteenth Dalai Lama, “Suppose that something is definitely proven through scientific investigation, that a certain hypothesis is verified or a certain fact emerges as a result of scientific investigation. And suppose, furthermore, that that fact is incompatible with Buddhist theory. There is no doubt that we must accept the result of the scientific research.”

More than other religions – indeed, I would say, more than any other religion – Buddhism lends itself to a dialogue with science. Why? Because among the key aspects of Buddhism, we find insistence that knowledge must be gained through personal experience rather than reliance on the authority of sacred texts or the teachings of avowed masters; because its orientation is empirical rather then theoretical; and because it rejects any conception of absolutes.

The comfortable fit between Buddhism and empirical science has been facilitated by several canonical teachings, of which one of the most important is the “Kalama Sutra.” In it, the Buddha advises his audience on how to deal with the bewildering diversity of conflicting claims on the part of various Brahmins and itinerant monks:

“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Rather, when you yourselves know that these things are good; these things are not blamable; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness, then and only then enter into and abide in them.”

This teaching is widely (and appropriately) seen as supporting free inquiry and an absence of rigid dogma, an attitude entirely open to empirical verification and thus, consistent with science. Moreover, the Kalama Sutra fits quite comfortably into the Western scientific tradition: The Royal Society of London, whose full name was the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, and which was the world’s first and for a long time the foremost scientific society, has as its credo,Nullius in verba: “On the words of no one.”

Returning once again to Buddhism’s emphasis on validation-by-experience rather than via hierarchical or scriptural authority, consider this statement from the Pali Canon, which could as well have been uttered by a senior Nobel-winning scientist, advising junior researchers in his laboratory: “Just as one would examine gold through burning, cutting, and rubbing so should monks and scholars examine my words. Only thus should they be accepted, but not merely out of respect for me.”

On balance, it seems reasonable and appropriate that Buddhism be viewed in the West as comparatively free of irrationality, superstitious belief, and stultifying tradition – but this generalization must nonetheless be taken with a grain of salt, noting that in much of the world, Buddhism involves daily ritual devotions, belief in amulets and other special charms, and even the presupposition that the man, Siddhartha Gautama, was a divine being. There are, I regret to note, Buddhist traditions that insist on retaining an array of nonsensical hocus-pocus and abracadabra altogether at odds with any scientific tradition worthy of the name. Among these, the notion of “rebirth” is especially ridiculous, insofar as it implies that after their death, people will eventually reappear in some other form, with their personalities or at least certain “karmic attributes” intact.

I have no difficulty, however, describing Mr. Tenzin Gyatso (born Lhamo Dondrub), as the fourteenth Dalai Lama, so long as this means that he is the fourteenth person to hold that position, in the same sense that Barack Obama is the forty-fourth president of the United States, with no implication that he is in any way the reincarnation of George Washington!

On the other hand, if rebirth is taken to mean the literal recycling of atoms and molecules, as revealed in biogeochemical cycling, and if karma is interpreted (as I believe it warrants) as reflecting the reality of cause-and-effect, not to mention that other fundamental reality, natural selection, whereby the “actions” of our ancestors indeed give rise to ourselves and our “actions” influence our descendants – then Buddhism and biology are close allies indeed. Moreover, the fundamental Buddhist teaching of interconnectedness could as well have come from a “master” of physiological ecology.

In short, rather than NOMA (“Non-Overlapping Magesteria”), as the late Stephen Gould proposed for religion and science, I am impressed that Buddhism offers the bracing prospect of POMA (“Productively Overlapping Magesteria”) – albeit only after removing Buddhism’s religious mumbo-jumbo … that is, when not treating it as a religion. But even then, I won’t hold my breath until Bible Belt America agrees with me.

Source: Scientific American

Einstein And Buddha: Convergence Of Science And Eastern Philosophy

Albert Einstein is possibly the greatest scientist mankind has ever produced. His general theory of relatively created a revolutionary change on how scientists have viewed the world. He discovered that time and space is always related to the observer. His famous equation E=MC2 revealed that matter and energy are interchangeable forms of same substance. Einstein being a genius did not confine his interest only on science. The views he has expressed on Religion, philosophy and politics indicates that he was a great thinker who tried to bridge the gap between science and philosophy or religion. Buddha gave us a great teaching which would lead to tap the maximum potential of the mind which will eventually lead to the understanding of everything happening around us and finally to liberate from the cycle of Sansara (Cycle of Birth and death). The difference between Einstein and Buddha is that while former was keen in finding answers to the phenomenon of outside world, Buddha used his own powers of observation within his mind (introspection), intellect and reasoning, grounded in reality, to guide him to his enlightenment. Both Buddha and Einstein did their research on a scientific basis. Buddha advised his followers NOT to accept what he was teaching them at face value or to take his beliefs “on faith.” Rather, he counseled them to test his theories for themselves, and if they didn’t prove true, then reject them. (Kalama Sutra) Buddha found what he was looking for. Einstein after all his discoveries has to admit mankind does not have the wisdom to understand the all the mysteries of the nature. The purpose of this article is to examine the relevancy of some of Einstein’s statement to Buddhist teachings and also to present Einstein’s view about the religion.
Einstein upheld the need for morality and rightness of the mankind. But he believed that morality should not come from fear or punishment expected from ‘God” or any other force. He said – A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed- (Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science”, New York Times Magazine, 9 November 1930.
Einstein denied the existence of a personal God but he could not provide an answer behind the beauty and methodical way universe has been formed. This he expressed in following way.
I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings. (Albert Einstein, 1954)
Who is this Spinoza’s God Einstein is refereeing to? Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher, who claimed that God is nothing but the NATURE According to Spinoza there is mass, energy, atoms, molecules, life, thought, people, societies, galaxies and perhaps even multiple universes but there is nothing outside nature, including spiritual visions and other phenomena we don’t yet understand. If they exist, they are part of nature. According to Buddhism there are five natural laws at work in the cosmos that cause things to happen, called the Five Niyamas. . Karma is only one of these factors. Present circumstances are the result of countless factors that are always in flux. There is no single cause that makes everything to be the way it is.
The following statement clearly indicates that although Einstein rejected God he is not an atheist.
I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.
Buddha rejected the traditional Hindu view that world was a creation by God and also rejected materialism of atheists. He became the first philosopher to reject the belief ‘Soul’ is a permanent entity. It appears that Einstein accepted both these positions. In the above statement, Einstein was humble enough to admit the inadequacy or limitations of his knowledge to find the answer to the ‘mysteries’ of the world.
Just examine following statement of Einstein
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”
Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. -Einstein
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has to attend to liberation from self- Einstein
It is amazing to know that Buddha, 2500 years back, expressed almost the same view in different words
“All such notions as causation, succession, atoms, and primary elements…are all figments of the imagination and manifestations of the mind. – -Buddha
“All the minds arbitrary conceptions of matter, phenomena and of all conditioning factors and all conceptions and ideas relating thereto are like a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow.- Buddha
According to Buddha, Self is not a rational concept. Self is only an emotional feeling- Therefore consciousness is an illusion and the feeling of ‘Self” is only an activity of brain. People live unconsciously in dream like state believing their existence. As a result they become attached to names and forms, not realising that they have no more basis than the activities of the mind itself. Buddha declared that due to this error in view, liberation of the mankind would be blocked. Buddha called it ignorance what Einstein described it as a delusion of consciousness. Buddha’s solution to free us from prison is by developing and purification of mind, following a clear path towards it (8 FP and 4NT). Buddha’s path also involves widening selfless compassion to all human beings. According to Buddha the attachment (Lust) brings suffering and would also prevent one from escaping the prison. Einstein says that this prison restricts our affection only to our loved ones (Becoming Selfish). He suggests that to free from the prison the compassion should embrace all living creatures. (It is interesting Einstein did not confine compassion only to human beings)
In many instances, Einstein admits that human mind cannot comprehend all the mysteries of the world. But he admired the beauty and methodical way nature operates it. His final conclusion was that answer comes with more wisdom and he once he termed it as true religiousness.
Time and again the passion for understanding has led to the illusion that man is able to comprehend the objective world rationally by pure thought without any empirical foundations- In short, by metaphysics..- Einstein
Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being, existence, reality and the world that encompasses it. Buddha was involved with finding answers to some of these questions in metaphysics. However Buddha avoided speculative metaphysical questions as irrelevant distractions. According to Buddhism, nothing happens without a cause; therefore the universe is infinite with no real beginning. However, it does run in cycles, so there can be a beginning for each particular era.
This Parable of the arrow has often been used to illustrate the Buddha’s teachings that “practitioners who concern themselves with the origins of the universe and other topics are missing the point of religious practice.”
Suppose someone was hit by a poisoned arrow and his friends and relatives found a doctor able to remove the arrow. If this man were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I know whether the person who had shot it was a priest, a prince or a merchant, his name and his family. I will not have it taken out until I know what kind of bow was used and whether the arrowhead was an ordinary one or an iron one.’ That person would die before all these things are ever known to.
In short, work on being here (The Present moment) before you consider why or how you came to be here.
Once Bertrand Russell explained why he accepts the Buddhist view on origin of the world. -” Among the founders of all religions in this world, I respect only one man — the Buddha. The main reason was that the Buddha did not make statements regarding the origin of the world. The Buddha was the only teacher who realised the true nature of the world.” (Bertrand Russell)
It is interesting to note that Modern scientists, Psychologists and Neuroscientists pay great attention to research on brain and mind. Buddhist mediation methods of loving kindness, breathing mediation and mindfulness are widely used in western medicine and psychology. It would be great if more scientists like Einstein come forward to bridge the gap between the science and eastern philosophy in future.
Source: Sri Lanka Guardian