The Vincan Civilization and Symbols

In the previous post, we looked at how the oldest form of writing we know (known as proto-writing) was discovered at the Jiahu site in China. The next piece of evidence comes from another end of the world – Vinča in Serbia.

A piece of the Tărtăria tablet set with incised symbols that dates back to 5300 BC to the Vinčan culture. The tablet was discovered in 1961 by Archaeologist Nicolae in Tartaria, Romania. Vlassa. Image Credit: FlorinCB (Creative Commons)

In 1908, a Serbian archaeologist Miloje Vasić discovered the largest, and oldest Neolithic settlement in Europe dating back 5500 to 4500 BCE encompassing what is today Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, eastern Hungary, Moldova, southern Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia.

Farming and agriculture got introduced to the civilization during the First Temperate Neolithic which was maintained and further ameliorated that saw the blooming of population and construction of urban settlements – long before the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. Evidences show that the Vincans were probably the first metallurgists as one of the copper mines discovered from the site has been dated to be at least 7000 years old (Rudgley, 1999). This actually predates the Copper/Chalcolithic Age.

One of the reasons the civilization flourished and advanced so well has been associated with their use of written symbols for communication. Various artifacts that have been unearthed have embedded in them symbols that were in use throughout the culture.

Vincan symbols. Source: Creative Commons

They were also ceramicists, weavers and excellent traders – one of the other reasons the culture flourished and bloomed throughout the empire. Rudgley (1999), however, states that these symbols were probably derived from religious concerns rather than for material purposes.

Although these symbols remain to be deciphered until today (or may  never be deciphered) they have been related to the early pictograms of Sumerians with the implication that latter probably borrowed some of its symbols from the Vincan culture (a matter of great controversy and debate). But most historians agree that the Vincan fingerprint is reflected in the Cretan and Sumerian scriptures and cultures.

Bibliography 

Rudgley (1999). The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age. USA: Simon and Schuster.

Beforeit’snews.(2013). Did Vicans invent writing before the Sumerians and Egyptians? Cryptographer translates Tartaria tablets. 

The Oldest Piece of Writing (Jiahu, China)

Jiahu Writing

This is supposedly the oldest piece of writing, discovered at the Jiahu site in Henan, China. The excavations carried out in 1999 uncovered these symbols embedded in tortoise shells, suggesting that writing first started soon after the Neolithic Revolution, around 7000 – 5800 BCE in the Peiligang culture, long before its presumed origin on the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia (around 3200BCE) (Clair & Snyder, 2012).

It should be noted that these are just symbols; a form of proto-writing so there are debates about whether this pertained to any language at all as its meaning is undeciphered to date; but the symbols are related to the modern Chinese script than any other style of writing (Malone, 2012).So it is fair to say that this nevertheless is a representative of written communication; and quite possibly the oldest one.

Bibliography

Clair,K. & Snyder, C.B. (2012). A typographic Workbook: A Primer to History, Techniques, and Artistry. USA: John Wiley & Sons

Malone, M. S. (2012). The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Huan Memory. USA: St. Martin’s Press

Wikipedia

Why I’m an Agnostic

I’m an agnostic because I haven’t given up wondering. And based on what I know to be true, an agnostic is the only thing I can be.

This is a great video and sums up why I’m straddling the fence when it comes to God,  universe and our existence.  My life as a student and a strong proponent of science is obverse to my background of being born in a religious family and being around people with all kinds of faiths and religions.

I’ve been pursuing this subject for years and it seems the more one tries to comprehend this world, the more incomprehensible it turns out to be.

So, is this an act of futility? To question; to be curious and strive for an answer?

Absolutely not. In the end one comes to realize that it is the JOURNEY that matters and not the DESTINATION.  There are things that are going to completely shake your world view and blow your realm of reality; that moment of epiphany!

I love the way this has been recorded; the sound, the images and the voice. They all match up with its contents.

The Origins of Religion (Neolithic Era)

Göbekli Tepe, Şanlıurfa (Turkey) believed to be the oldest temple in the world (ca 10000 BCE). Photo credit: Teomancimit (Creative Commons)

The Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution that took place roughly around 12000 years ago was a cornerstone in shaping the pre-modern/modern world; an impetus transcending the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to sedentary specialized societies.

The cultivation of food crops and domestication of animals meant that the wandering ways for survival were no longer necessary. Life wasn’t all about survival. There was time,  to find a higher purpose of life; creativity, art, spirituality, political and social organizations as well as scientific development, which in conjunction with that carried down over the millennia flourished cultural and lifestyle values.

The oldest temple yet discovered is the Göbekli Tepesituated about 15km Northeast from the city of Sanliurfa in Southeastern Turkey and is believed to have been built around 10000 BCE. The ruins of the site suggest that the complex religious practices and rituals had already been well established and was already an essential aspect of life, long before the settlement took place.

Charles C. Mann, in his “The Birth of Religion” in the National Geographic Magazine goes on to say that it might have been “the urge to worship” that actually sparked civilization and settlement and rather than the other way round.

The Origins of Religion (Pre-Neolithic Era)

As we have seen in The most important discovery of man part 1 and part 2, fire gave our ancestors the light to life. It enabled them to ignite to new heights hitherto unaccomplished by any other species in pre-history. We also witnessed how the flame was sanctified across various cultures that saw the rise of priesthood that strengthened as the knowledge of fire manipulation grew profounder over the millennia.

It is not a matter of debate that the seeds of religion were sown hundreds of thousands of years ago, when man first started worshipping; as a means of his reverence for nature – and all that she vouchsafed him. The Urantia book suggests that the first objects to be worshipped were stones and hills, a practice common in Southern India even today. One can speculate that before the taming of fire, they were much more reliant on stone tools for dealing with predators, chopping food etc. This was followed by the worship of trees, plants, animals, elements (air, water, earth, fire) and the heavenly bodies.

The outburst of volcanoes, storms, cyclones, earthquakes, floods, change of seasons were incomprehensible forces of nature which greatly baffled our ancestors. Unlike other primates, as they had strayed into the territory of rational thinking,  it was hard to simply overlook the motifs behind these inexplicable phenomena. And thus the idea of nature being one powerful supreme being  was surmised, one that would eventuate into God and the various rituals in his extolment. 

This, of course is a mere generalization of the events that have taken place over hundreds of thousands of years and this kind of veneration has been subject to geographic location and lifestyle of people. For example, the desert nomads revered the night sky, particularly the moon as it allowed them to travel at night. the phases of the moon and the position of the stars and planets were very important to them for navigation. Sun was rather seen as a deterrent. But for those dwelling in bone-chilling cold of the ice age glaciers, sun and the warmth and light it provided was the ultimate savior.

Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio

I fist came across the Fibonacci Sequence while reading “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. Didn’t really pay much attention at the time. Recently, while surfing through youtube about ancient religions I stumbled across this video and it dawned on me that maybe I should do a bit of research.

I was flabbergasted to know how nature reveals herself in this order of numbers and in profusion; from the florets of sunflower to wave curves to the structure of DNA. When you divide a number in the Fibonacci sequence by its preceding one, the value obtained is close to the Golden Ratio (which is approx. 1.6180339887) and represented by phi (φ). It turns out that the Greeks were the ones to first notice that almost every jaw-dropping pattern that occurs in nature is ruled by this ratio.

It turns out that the Sanskrit scholars of early India were very acquainted with this fingerprint of nature and its use is reflected in various prosodies dating back to 200 BCE. However, it wasn’t until 1202 AD that this sequence was introduced to the west by Leonardo Fibonacci (an Italian mathematician who is also known to have spread the Hindu-Arabic numbering system to Europe).

The following is just a preamble to the Fibonacci series and the Golden ratio but there is more out there. Click here to learn more.

Sameer.

Seto Gumba / White Monastery in Kathmandu

Situated atop the Druk Amitabha mountain, the monastery has been open to the public since not so long ago. The opulent Buddhist/Tibetan architecture with all its intricacies over a vast area of land offers a touch of grandeur amid the hilly terrain where most houses are traditional Nepalese.

I remember several years ago when the monastery was still being built, I used to hike up there almost every evening with my buddies. This time the roads were sealed all the way to the bottom of the hill (leading to the Adeshwor temple and forming a junction with the road leading to Sitapaila and Halchowk) so we would get there on a motorbike. Apart from the magnificent edifices you will also get to witness the enthralling sunset (you can watch this from outside the monastery, too).

The monastery is open to the public only on Saturdays, and has a cafe and a shop inside. The whole area is very well maintained, clean and proper. Peace and tranquility is reflected in every corner. The spectacular panorama of the Kathmandu Valley all around is the icing on the cake.

So if you are in Kathmandu looking for places to visit, make sure you do not miss out on this one! You won’t be disappointed! The nobility of this place will certainly mesmerize you.

A Spiritual Journey in Kathmandu, Nepal

wpid-20140105_145922.jpg

While back in Nepal this winter clicked this from my mobile on a sunny afternoon while sauntering off to the Swayambhu temple, a complex of stupas and quintessence of the Buddhist heritage of the Kathmandu Valley. The site is one of the most attractive destinations for tourists and offers a unique, panoramic view of the Valley along with its vibrant, spiritual charm. Rested on top of the Swayambhu hill, the temple is also infamous for a very steep hike that leads to it and for getting mobbed by monkeys roaming around – the reason most people like to call it “The Monkey Temple”.

Einstein vs Bohr. Does God throw dice?

In the world of physics, it can be called the Clash of the Titans. Many believe that the upheaval in the scientific world that sparked in the 20th century is unsurpassed by any event or spate of events that pertain to our understanding of the cosmos. The advent of the Planck’s constant, proposed by Max Planck in 1900 would revolutionize our knowledge of atoms and the universe.

In 1905, Albert Einstein, with his sharp visual imagination and youthful energy was able to incorporate Planck’s idea by putting forward the idea that light comes not just in waves but in tiny packets – called quanta (photons). However, as he admitted himself, he struggled to comprehend the unsettling implications of this theory; as it was incongruous with his vision of the underlying reality of the universe (Isaacson, 2007).

Niels Bohr, in 1913 proposed that the electrons in an atom revolve in certain paths called orbits and as an atom agitates under heat, the electrons jump from one orbit to the other and vice versa without ever landing in the space between the two orbits. He defined the quanta as the energy required to displace an electron between two successive orbits.  Einstein, though initially wary succumbed to Bohr’s such proposition in the ensuing years.

The Uncertainty Principle

In 1927, Werner Heisenberg, a student of Niels Bohr pioneered the uncertainty principle which states

The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.  

In the words of Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein, his life and universe,

The very act of observing something – of allowing photons or electrons or any other particles or waves of energy to strike the object affects the observation. But Heisenberg’s theory went beyond that. An electron does not have a definite position or path until we observe it.

The uncertainty principle, so simple yet so startling, was a stake at the heart of physics. It asserts that there is no objective reality – not even an objective position of a particle – outside of our observations. Heisenberg’s principle and other aspects of quantum mechanics undermine the notion that the universe obeys strict causal laws. 

This was such a huge blow to Einstein’s reasoning behind the mystics of the universe that he regarded the uncertainty principle as unpropitious, if at best incomplete. As the ensuing experiments continued to demonstrate the uncertain nature of the quanta, Einstein embarked in his quest for a Unified Field Theory that would expound the subatomic world in a way the uncertainty principle did not. His quest itself would remain incomplete if not unavailing.

The impression of a world ruled by probabilities and not by determinism based on Newton’s laws was a concept he would never relent to until his death; as he once famously remarked to his friend and physicist Max Born,

“….but I am convinced that at any rate he (God) does not throw dice.”

There was yet another problem with the quantum mechanics that Einstein could not reconcile with – entanglement; a property where an observation made on a particle instantaneously affects another particle at a distance. His Special Theory of Relativity had ascribed the speed of light as the “cosmic speed limit”. In other words, nothing can travel faster than light. So he considered the idea of entanglement an absurdity as he called it

spooky action at a distance”

The two gangsters of theoretical physics first met in 1920 when Bohr visited Einstein in his Berlin apartment. Following their obverse discussion on the quanta, the two parted; each admiring the other’s personality and intellect. Einstein found the Dane “personally endearing” and the latter, for his part also “revered” him. In their next meeting in Copenhagen, the two got in a streetcar and had an intense intellectual debate as Bohr drove desultorily forgetful of his home where he was supposed to take him to (Cromwell, 2010).

Their biggest clash was at the 1927 and 1930 Solvay conferences with Einstein attacking the quantum interpretation of the world with his witty, astute reasoning and Bohr, with Heisenberg and Pauli’s support, pulling together a rational answer usually pointing the inaccuracies in Einstein’s thought experiment-contrived questions. The detailed description of the two debates can be read here.

One on occasion Bohr responded to Einstein’s adage that God does not play dice by saying

“….stop telling God what to do.”

An excerpt from Isaacson’s biography of Einstein goes as follows:

“More than just a friendship, their relationship became an intellectual entanglement that began with divergent views about quantum mechanics but then expanded into related issues of science, knowledge and philosophy. ‘In all the history of human thought, there is no greater dialogue than that which took place over the years between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein about the meaning of the quantum’, says the physicist John Wheeler, who studied under Bohr.”

So what do the experiments reveal?

In 1964, after both Einstein and Bohr had died, John Bell, an Irish theorist working at the CERN in Geneva, proposed a way for testing the two approaches. In 1982, Alain Aspect, a French physicist and his co-workers were able to conduct the experiment using two-photon laser excitation and the results conformed with the quantum approach i.e. the entanglement. Other experiments carried out since then have all pointed to the predictions of the quantum theory.

So was Einstein wrong? Perhaps. From what we know until now,

At the fundamental level, we live in a world of uncertainty, of probability rather than predictability. In the everyday world, if we know the initial state of an object then by using Newtonian Laws, its final state can be calculated precisely. At the quantum level, however, no matter how much you know about the present, the future can only be predicted in terms of probabilities.

Our universe is one ruled by uncertainty. At least from what we know until now, God really does play dice.

Bibliography

Cromwell, R. L. (2010). Being Human: Human Being: Manifesto for a New Psychology. Indiana, USA: iUniverse.

Isaacson, W. (2007). Einstein, His Life And Universe. Croydon, UK: CPI Group.

Phys.org. (2010). New light shed on old dispute between Einstein and Bohr. Retrieved from http://phys.org/news183054425.html.

Sarahana. (2012). Einstein vs. Bohr: how their career-long debate led to parallel universes. Retrieved from http://www.imposemagazine.com/bytes/einstein-vs-bohr. 

The Most Important Discovery of Man (Part 2)

Fire in Religions and Myths

The strange properties of fire and the power it rendered to our ancestors made them believe that it must have some “divine” roots. Hereafter, the sun was regarded as the “blazing ball of fire” and the divinity itself, and coupled with the descrying of the constellations overtime gave birth to the cosmic religions we know today.

It was, therefore, inevitable that he who controlled fire would manifest superiority over the rest. This would mean that an esoteric entity had to be formed for managing the flame endowed from the heavens – the ministries of priesthood. For the thousands of years that followed the ministry would cultivate and accrue an understanding of flame far beyond that possessed by a layman. The priests would ultimately be seen as having supernatural powers and delegates of the divine. All the scientific and spiritual erudition that followed over the millennia would be in the possession of the priesthood.

In Hinduism

Glorifying the virtues of fire are some of the most ancient texts in the world. The earliest non-hieroglyphic account of fire (called agni in Sanskrit) worship and exaltation is found in the following Sanskrit hymns of the Rig Veda (c.1500 BCE), the oldest of the sacred books in Hinduism

अग्निमीळे पुरोहितं यज्ञस्य देवं रत्वीजम |
होतारं रत्नधातमम ||
अग्निः पूर्वेभिर्र्षिभिरीड्यो नूतनैरुत |
स देवानेह वक्षति ||
अग्निना रयिमश्नवत पोषमेव दिवे-दिवे |
यशसं वीरवत्तमम ||
अग्ने यं यज्ञमध्वरं विश्वतः परिभूरसि |
स इद्देवेषु गछति ||
अग्निर्होता कविक्रतुः सत्यश्चित्रश्रवस्तमः |
देवो देवेभिरा गमत ||
यदङग दाशुषे तवमग्ने भद्रं करिष्यसि |
तवेत तत सत्यमङगिरः ||
उप तवाग्ने दिवे-दिवे दोषावस्तर्धिया वयम |
नमो भरन्त एमसि ||
राजन्तमध्वराणां गोपां रतस्य दीदिविम |
वर्धमानंस्वे दमे ||
स नः पितेव सूनवे.अग्ने सूपायनो भव |
सचस्वा नः सवस्तये ||

1 I Laud Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice,
The hotar, lavishest of wealth.
2 Worthy is Agni to be praised by living as by ancient seers.
He shall bring hitherward the Gods.
3 Through Agni man obtaineth wealth, yea, plenty waxing day by day,
Most rich in heroes, glorious.
4 Agni, the perfect sacrifice which thou encompassest about
Verily goeth to the Gods.
5 May Agni, sapient-minded Priest, truthful, most gloriously great,
The God, come hither with the Gods.
6 Whatever blessing, Agni, thou wilt grant unto thy worshipper,
That, Aṅgiras, is indeed thy truth.
7 To thee, dispeller of the night, O Agni, day by day with prayer
Bringing thee reverence, we come
8 Ruler of sacrifices, guard of Law eternal, radiant One,
Increasing in thine own abode.
9 Be to us easy of approach, even as a father to his son:
Agni, be with us for our weal.

(tr. by T.H. Griffith, 1896. Souce: sacred-texts.com)

 According to a popular account when Edison invented his gramophone in the 19th century he wanted a veteran scholar to record the first piece for which he asked Prof. Max Muller of Germany. Muller, being a scholar of Indian religious studies recorded the fist hymns of the Rig Veda

अग्नि॒म् ई॑ळे पुरो॒हि॑तं

(agni meele purohitam)

much to the surprise of the audience. Later Muller revealed that the words coming out of the gramophone, agni meele purohitam, were the very first words of the Rig Veda, the book of philosophies laid down by the Indians who had attained high civilization and learning at a time the rest of the world was just coming out from its savage past.

The Hindus regarded fire as one of the five elements; the other being earth, water, air and sky (collectively called panchamahabhuta) essential for life and growth of all beings. In the scriptures they regarded agni as the God of fire, ruler over all forms of fire in earth and in heavens and is depicted as being born from the friction between two fire sticks. It is from this word agni that the Latin gets its word for fire – Ignis.  The Hindu practice of cremation is a form of worshipping the agni. The Rig Veda extolls agni as a divine messenger between the mortals and Gods, the conduit, the means of communication between Gods and worshippers; the sanctifier, without whom no sacred ritual is consummated; who is ever young and immortal.

In Greek and Roman

In the Greek Pantheon, Prometheus, the Titan first gave the precious fire to mankind having stolen it from Mt. Olympus, home of the gods. He lighted his torch from the chariot of the sun god Phoebus and brought the ‘divine’ flame to earth salvaging the humans from the cold and ferocious predators; an endeavor directly contradicting Zeus’ ideas which sees him penalized to eternity. The Greek god of fire is Hephaestus; his counterpart being Vulcan in Roman. Vesta the Roman goddess of the hearth, equivalent of Hestia in Greek had on her altar a sacred fire brought by Aeneas of Troy burning perpetually, extinguished and renewed only on March 1, the then Roman New Year by the chief priest or Pontifex Maximus and guarded by Vestal Virgins all year round. The Caesars also had sacred fire carried before them, signifying their power and glory.

Outside of their pantheon, The Greeks considered fire as one of the four classical elements (the rest being air, water and earth akin to the Hindus). Heraclitus (c. 535 BCE – c. 435 BCE), famous for his doctrines on universal flux and the unity of opposites, insisted that all the classical elements and thus everything in the physical world is a manifestation of fire which later was disapproved by Empedocles and Aristotle.

In Pre-Christian and Christian tradition

Regarding fire symbolism in pre-Christian/pagan rituals authors Janet and Colin Bord (1972) note,

Fire always played an important part in the pre-Christian rituals and there are probably more vestiges of our Sun/fire worshipping ancestors in our present calendar and traditional observances than any other aspect of pagan rites.”

The Zoroastrians, for example, though not fire-worshippers, maintained flames in their temples (called Agiaries) symbolizing the light of the god Ahur Mazda and were never extinguished. The Native American tribe worshipped ancestral fire spirits just like the West African tribes. The Aztecs worshipped Xiuhtecuhtli, the lord of volcanoes, fire, day and heat. Similarly, the Inca of Peru paid homage to Manco Cápac, their fire and solar deity.

In Christianity, the flames represent the Holy Ghost, as he descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost. Hell is believed to be full of fire. Author Garry R. Varner (2009) comments in his article Fire Symbolism in Myth and Religion,

“Christianity continued many of the ancient pagan rituals and embraced many of their symbols as a way to induce the “heathen” population to convert. Candles, censers and ancient imagery continue to reflect the mysterious nature of fire. Relying on the ancient belief that fire is the ultimate purifier and punisher fire became a tool for the ultimate destruction of evil and witchcraft, and over time the destroyer of contrary thought.” 

Bibliography

BBC News. (2009). Religions. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian/worship/worship.shtml 

Bord, J. & Bord. Colin. (1972). Mysterious Britain: Ancient Secrets of Britain and Ireland. London: Thorsons.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Vesta. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/626927/Vesta

Faber, H.B. (1919). Military Pyrotechnics. Washington, USA: Government Printing Office.

Graham, D.W. (2011). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/

Mackenzie, D. A. (1985). India Myths and Legends. London: Bracken Books.

Ward, M. (2011). Breathedreamgo. Retrieved from http://breathedreamgo.com/2011/03/first-recording-sanskrit/

O’Looney, K. (2014). Fire as a symbol in religion. Summer session #2. Gonzaga University, Washington.

Varner, R.G. (2009). Fire Symbolism in Myth and Religion. Circle Magazine: Sacred Flames, Sacred Fires, (105).

Wikipedia The Free Encyclopaedia (2013). Fire (Classical Element). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_(classical_element)

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