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Life on Earth, Pandemics and the Covid-19 disaster

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Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe

University of Buckingham, UK and

National Institute for Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka

Dr. Sarath C. Witana, MD Dr. Ananda Nimalsuriya, MD

Philosophers and political thinkers down the ages, Locke, Kant and Russel among others, have all stressed the importance of preserving personal and individual liberty as a prime goal of any civilised society. Limitations of liberty are of course necessary but only in so far as they prevent violence and demonstrable harm to others. The limitations of our freedoms being enforced on us in relation to the current pandemic have no rational basis whatsoever, and in our view constitute a flagrant denial of our human rights.

The Earth teems with life of all kinds, lifeforms ranging from the simplest microorganisms to the most complex of life forms – plants, animals, humans. Microbial life forms – bacteria and viruses – are present not only on or near the Earth’s surface, on land and in the oceans – but also in the deep ocean floor, kilometres below the surface, and at least 10 kilometres in the atmosphere. We humans – Homo Sapiens – are perched atop this pyramid of Earthly life declaring ourselves to be in command of all we survey.

Over the past century biologists have unravelled the mind-blowing complexity of life at a molecular level as well as its super-astronomical information content as is clearly manifest for instance in the arrangement of amino acids in crucial enzymes. At the same time astronomers are unravelling a universe that is every bit as complex, informationally rich and as magnificent as life itself. For too long, however, we have failed to appreciate that there must exist an intimate and inextricable connection between life on the Earth and the vast external cosmos. Only by acknowledging this link would it ever be possible to fully understand the world in which we live.

For well over a century the concept of life starting by a process of “spontaneous generation” on the Earth in a primordial soup of organics has been firmly locked into the cannon of science. Attempts to synthesize life from non-life have continued in the most advanced biotech laboratories for well over half a century. With the passage of time all such hopes have turned out to be utterly illusory. Every attempt that has been made thus far to replicate the process of spontaneous generation in the laboratory has ended in dismal failure.

 

Four decades ago, the late Sir Fred Hoyle and one of us (CW) had already accumulated enough supportive evidence to state with confidence that terrestrial life must be inextricably linked to the cosmos at large. The main connecting link was comets and cometary debris that continually gains entry to the Earth’s environment. Supportive evidence came from many different scientific disciplines – astronomy, space science, biology and geology. The conclusion that was evident for over four decades was that life is not and cannot be a planet-based phenomenon, but can only be understood as a truly cosmic phenomenon, the Earth being just one of billions of sites on which life has taken root and evolved. The evidence in support of this cosmic theory of life is everywhere around us, but few have had the courage of link it all into a coherent story. This reminds us of the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay whose sonnet “Huntsman, What Quarry?” says it all:

“Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,

Rains from the sky a meteoric shower

Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.

Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill

Is daily spun; but there exists no loom

To weave it into fabric. . . .”

There can be little doubt that the world is now facing a crisis more serious than any it has seen over the past several decades. The Covid-19 pandemic is an indisputable fact, but to face it squarely and deal with the problem in an honest way is of paramount importance for our survival, and indeed the survival of billions of people around the world. This is a pandemic caused by a new virus. But our human species has faced many millions of similar pandemics in the past. Recorded history is in fact full of accounts of past plagues – the plague of Athens, the plague of Justinian, the Black Death come to mind, and there were many others that punctuated our past.

With the dawn of the new millennium in 2001 the unravelling of our genomes – human DNA, as well as the DNA of primates – has shown clearly that as much as 10 percent of our silent (non-coding DNA) has an origin in viruses. The evolution of our primate line leading from early anthropoids to humans have been marked by a succession of viral pandemics each one of which may have been a close call to extinction. However, a small proportion of survivors were left after each such pandemic and it is likely that the viral information carried through the evolving line at times contributed to the development of new traits and biological functions. This radical point of view in relation to scientific orthodoxy, but one that has to be faced.

 

Biosphere reaching to the sky

Before coming to matters directly related to the present pandemic let us note that tons of viruses are actually swept daily into the sky from all across the world. This happens via tornadoes, dust storms and oceanic spray, and the same viruses (along with others from space) continually fall back to ground in mist and rain. Several independent studies carried out over the past three decades have all shown that a variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi can actually be recovered from the stratosphere from heights of up to 40km. These microbial entities are generally similar to those found on Earth’s surface, the obvious inference being that they are transferred from the ground level to the stratosphere. Other investigations including one conducted by balloon sampling of stratospheric air have led to estimates of an infall rate from space of the order of tonnes of microbes every day.

Recently an international team of scientists placed collectors high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain to collect the shower of viruses that falls from the sky. The number of viruses falling upon the mountain tops was mind-boggling – amounting to a staggering 800 million individual viruses that are deposited daily on every square metre of the planet’s surface. These results when combined with earlier studies that show the existence of some ten million viruses in every single drop of ocean water clearly points to the existence of a vast virosphere (an ecology of viruses) high in the sky which continually mixes with our well-recognized ground level biosphere and microbiomes. Scientists have speculated for some time that there is a stream of bacteria and viruses continually circling the planet above the planet’s weather systems, and this is only recently coming to be established as a fact.

In the light of all the available scientific evidence we can imagine a feedback cycle involving interchange of viruses (and bacteria) between two reservoirs – a stratospheric virosphere at and a ground level and atmospheric biosphere that includes plants animals and humans. Both biospheres, at ground level and in the sky, are interconnected and are involved in the onset and continuation of epidemic and pandemic diseases in our view. As early as 1979 Fred Hoyle and one of us published all the relevant data pointing to this connection in the book “Diseases from Space” (a revised edition of which has just been published.)

 

Tropospheric cloud viral reservoir and COVID-19

One of us along with a team of colleagues have studied all the data relating to the origin and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic began and came to a conclusion that the facts are markedly different from the generally accepted orthodox views of this pandemic. We think President Trump came the closest to articulating the truth about the pandemic when he told Bob Woodward in February 2019 that the virus was in the air and people became sick by breathing the virus laden air.

The bare facts are that in late 2019 a large load of SARS-CoV-2 virions (the causative virus) was somehow introduced into the atmosphere in the environs of the Wuhan in Hubei province of China. There have been many theories of the new Corona virus (genetically related to the viruses that caused SARS-1, MERS some years earlier and also to some prevailing zoonotic viruses) came into existence at this moment in time. Our preferred view is that the causative virions first entered the stratosphere/troposphere/atmosphere from an external cosmic source above this region of China from a comet fragment. This was probably related to the Jilin fireball that exploded over northern China in late October 2019.

Whatever happened is now only of academic interest, but the facts are clear. The evidence points overwhelmingly to the introduction of a vast quantity of the Covid-19 causing virus in the Hubei province of China that began to lead to cases of acute disease and death from November 2019 onwards. It is reasonable to conclude that the atmosphere over many thousand square kilometres of the Earth’s surface became thick with the primary infalling virus as well as with secondary replications from human infections over a very short time. Much of this kept recycling through upward currents back and forth into the tropospheric jet steam. Subsequent breakthroughs from the tropospheric jet stream back to ground level are responsible mainly if not entirely for the subsequent sporadic in falls defining hotspots of infection around the world. Person-to-person spreading of course occurs, but the primary cause is viral infall from the streams of fast flowing gas that makes up the tropospheric jet streams.

The initial first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is well recorded to have occupied nearly a full calendar year, infalls of virus from the troposphere being essentially controlled by local weather conditions. As in the case of other respiratory viruses this process has a seasonal cycle particularly in the north and south temperate latitudes. We believe it is this cycle that we are now witnessing as a second wave of COVID-19 around the world.

This, in our view, is the only model of the pandemic that can explain many facts:

1. The emergence of new expanding hotspots of infection after the intial Wuhan outbreak straddle a narrow latitude belt centred on 30 degrees North (the location of the northern jet stream)

2. Within each “hotspot” clustering of cases over a wide range of distance scales point to patchiness of incidence at ground level. The pattern is similar to a virus laden mist/dust falling to the ground crossing various length scales of atmospheric turbulence.

3. The many instances of infections with no first cause (first case) identifiable, such as in ships at sea or remote islands.

4. Mysterious clusters called community spread, or attributed to unidentifiable “superspreaders”

5. Medical facts point to the availability of a well-defined protocol for early diagnosis and isolation, followed by regimes of treatment that have been attested to alleviate acute inflammatory responses and serious illness that might follow.

All these facts are now clearly staring us in the face and yet we refuse to take note of them. The devasting consequences of a wrong theory of the pandemic that involved huge curtailments in our personal freedom, lockdowns around the world, causing disastrous effects on every walk of human life are now becoming amply clear.

It is of paramount importance that we take note of the facts as we have presented them in this article, and spur governments to act in the best interests of everyone.

Humanity in 2020 deserves no less. The long march to freedom from tyranny must begin – the tyranny of wrong science, and the tyranny of the governments who are being misled.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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