Archive | February 2015

Seneca and Paul

It has been mentioned before that many aspects of greek philosophy are comparable to the way of thought of Christianity. Although, in their essence and foundations they contradict. And I believe that Seneca is not the difference.

Seneca is renowned throughout history as an extraordinary writer, and he was. Many of his writings, specifically, his philosophical ones about stoicism are similar to what apostle Paul taught. However, that doesn’t mean that they were talking about the same thing and with the same understanding. Therefore, the mere fact of relating them is utterly mistaken.

Seneca’s ideas are similar to those of Aristotle and his eudaimonia, with a couple of differences. Up to what I have understood, Seneca says that a good man should seek the perfection of his reason. Reason is the ultimate characteristic by which the greatness of man is measured because it defines whom man is in the midst of all living things. It is through reason that you desire to do honorable things and achieve the practice of virtue. Attaining honor through reason is man’s intrinsic good. While reason is his unique good.

Apostle Paul was judged by Seneca’s brother, Gallio, in Corinth. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”

He also wrote to the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”

Finally, in the first chapter to the Corinthians he writes,” For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

Christianity is the faith in the possibility of the manifestation of the power of God. It is not simply a philosophy because it is not cemented upon rational or visible things, but in irrational and invisible things. One cannot mix the ideas of Western philosophers with the way of thought of the Kingdom of God as it will necessarily make one err in truly understanding God. This is when confusion arises creating chaos in society and providing a negative impact in it, as well.

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Bone Marrow

When we hear the word “bone(s)”, we normally think of the classic science class skeleton hanging or standing somewhere in a corner, or the tv show about forensics and criminal investigation. Some might also be reminded of a time when they suffered terrible pain in the breaking of their bones. Whatever the case, we rarely think of an essential structure that helps us avoid fatal endings, known as “bone marrow”.

The bone marrow is a living, sponge-like tissue that resides within the inner spaces of long bones and flat bones in our bodies. Bone marrow is incharge of creating all types of blood cells, such as red cells, white cells, and platelets. There are two types of bone marrow, red bone marrow and yellow bone marrow. While yellow bone marrow is largely inactive, it aids in the functions of the red marrow.

Red bone marrow is where the action happens. This area of the bone marrow covers 100% of the bone medulla in newborns and reduces to 50% when we become adults. However, if we have lost much blood, yellow marrow will convert into red marrow to produce more red blood cells. Red marrow creates billions of all kinds of blood cells each day in a process known as hematopoiesis. In hematopoiesis, stem cells give rise to all of the different mature blood cell types and tissues. Without bone marrow, our body wouldn’t be able to be oxygenated, fight infections, and close injuries to stop bleeding.

How Rome Became an Empire

Previously, I mentioned that perhaps something more powerful than law is tradition, well now, we will see how the desire of peace might become more powerful than tradition. We will use the story of Augustus to prove this statement.

Rome had gone through lots of chaos and its citizens were tired of too much blood shedding. They were sick of emperors, triumvirates, senators, conspiracies and what not. They longed for peace. After the first triumvirate (Julius Caesar, Cassus, and Pompey) conflict had passed, soon came the murdering of Caesar by Brutus and Cassius. Caesars will fell directly upon his grand-nephew, Octavian. However, the surviving consul and close associate of Caesar, Marc Antony, with a little knack managed to get hold of much of Caesar’s great wealth.

As Marc Antony grew in power, the Senate began to concern about him, just as they had done with every other man before him. Cicero, the man who had exposed the catiline conspiracy, again was warning the senate that Antony was aiming at dictatorship and should be controlled. Therefore, the senate planned to use Octavian against Marc Antony. Cicero said that Octavian was to be “praised, honored, and removed” Nevertheless, they were underestimating the capacity of Caesar’s grand-nephew.

Now Octavian was also getting quite suspicious about Antony and even before arriving to Rome, he used some of the great wealth he was to inherit to lure some of Caesar’s veterans from their boring lives as farmers to seek adventure and financial gain under his leadership. By doing so, he raised two legions mighty enough to defeat Marc Antony sufficiently to obtain greater support from the senate and demand and receive the consulship of Rome plus the death of Caesar’s assassins.

Octavian then realized that Cicero and the Senate were just temporarily using him, thus he chose to ally with Marc Antony and this is how a second triumvirate was formed, composed of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus. The three gain overwhelming power and win wars both together and by themselves. Then, like all alliances formed of very powerful members, Antony and Octavian begin to become envious of each other. Confirming suspicions, Marc Anthony winds up marrying Cleopatra the queen of Egypt and having children with her.

Octavian described Antony to the senate as an incopetent drunkard who would sell Rome to Egypt. To prove his “theory”, he demonstarted how Antony was giving Cleopatra their most tribute-yeilding provinces, the great inheritance he desired to give his children, and how he wanted to move the capital of the Roman Republic to Alexandria. Hence, in a shocking move, Octavian declares war to Cleopatra and in 31 BC at the Battle of Actium Octavian becomes the decisive victor. Seeing this, Antony and Cleopatra desperately flee to Egypt and commit suicide there.

The Senate had made Octavian tribune for life and after this whole war waging, he was left with a tremendous problem to fix. He understood that he couldn’t retire from his position of authority or else a civil war would potentially arise. He couldn’t allow provincial commanders to have too much authority but needed to maintain the military unified at his command and that one person had to exercise full power without the risk of making it seem like despotism and arouse hatred. Octavian had the necessity to balance all concerns, but he didn’t exactly know how to do it, so he did it through trial and error until he found an effective path.

By 29 BC he was back in Rome after his triumph against Cleopatra. Here he spent the wealth of Egyptians on Romans, forgave property owners their tax arrears and reduced his 60 legions to 28. In the month of January 27 BC, when order was established in Rome, he went to the Senate and relinquished his powers. Notwithstanding, the Senate gave the powers back to Octavian, because they were afraid of someone worst than him could take them. This is how the Augustan Settlement was born.

Octavian continued to be consul, violating the tradition of reelection and took administration of Syria, Spain, and Gaul, the places where the bulk of the remaining Roman legions were left. That automatically made Octavian the supreme military commander. Later, he was given the “revered” title of Augustus, even though he preferred the title of “princeps” (first citizen) to not look like an impudent ruler. Finally, in the year 23 BC Augustus resigned consulship and was granted permanent imperium that could override any provincial governor and was given “tribunicia potestas” which meant he could bring measures before the people and exercise veto.

Augustus became an emperor and Rome became an empire, but why did the people of Rome permit such occurrence, we saw how the people of Rome went nuts just because Tiberius Gracchus violated a few traditions? Well, Augustus was very tactic as he kept the forms of the old republic of Rome while changing its inner workings. All powers took the form of the traditional Roman practices but they were enforced by one man. He was prudent and didn’t encourage the cult of his person, but rather the patriotic cult of “Roma et Augustus” which was aimed at Rome but involved him indirectly.

Discretely Propagating Augustus

The Aeneid is the central epic poem of Roman history written by Virgil. This man desired peace and believed that through the reign of Augustus there was a wide possibility of acquiring it. Virgil thought the Aeneid would be a perfect gift for the Roman people, and Octavian/Augustus encouraged the idea for he thought that it would honor Romans. After listening to the Georgics, also by Virgil, Augustus was convinced that Virgil was the indicated poet to carry out the job.

Of course, the question of “what will the poem be about” would arise. Would it be utterly about the great emperor Augustus and his great achievements? Actually, Virgil would choose the legend of the Trojan Aeneas and would strategically aim the epic at Augustus as the culmination of everything that Rome is, he was the great hero and descendant of the founder of Rome Aeneas. The Aeneid would open the way for the empire of Augustus to be established easier as it would make him as the great personification of the virtues of Rome.

The Kidneys and Osmosis

I believe that one of the greatest satisfactions we human beings experience is the instant we excrete a yellow substance called urine. Or in a more colloquial manner, the moment we pee. I know that this is perhaps not the best way to begin a scientific essay, but I want you to be relaxed when you receive this wonderful piece of information. This might seem like a tough question to many, and it is, but here you will know the answer: What is the relationship between the kidneys and osmosis?

First, let’s understand what osmosis is. Basically, osmosis is when water or any other sort of liquid moves across a semipermeable membrane from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. At one side you have lots of solutes to which water will be bound to and on the other the water is “free”. Therefore, because water has an adhesion trait, the “free” one will pass through the semipermeable membrane and bind to the solutes on the other side and dilute them to create an equal amount of concentration on both sides. The side of “free” water and little solutes is known as hypoosmotic and the other that attracts water and has many solution is hyperosmotic.

Now, the kidneys are very complex organs that are shaped like a bean. They are extremely essential for they serve as removers of excess organic molecules from the blood and of waste products in our metabolism. Without them, the environment within our body would be looking something like Chernobyl. In other words, they maintain homeostasis (their specialty) in us by regulating electrolytes (e.g. salt), maintaining the pH balance, and regulating the blood pressure by equalizing the amount of water and sodium. In practical terms, they serve as a filter of the blood and remove water soluble wastes such as urea (nitrogen-filled) and ammonium through urine. Kidneys also produce hormones and reabsorb water, glucose, and amino acids into the body.

Okay, so now that we understand the basics, let’s look at the organisms inside the kidneys that carry out the process and then relate them with osmosis. These include, the nephron, loops of Henle, the adrenal cortex, and the renal medulla.

Containing the structures of the nephrons in charge of keeping the balance of water and sodium in the blood is the renal medulla. The nephron holds the proximal tubule, the loops of Henle which, the distal tubule, and the collecting tubule.

Things function like this. A ball or network of capillaries called the glomerulus passes through a dome shape known as Bowman’s capsule. The cells belonging to Bowman’s capsule are permeable to small solutes and water, but not to large molecules, proteins, or large blood cells. This enables blood to be filtered correctly and nutrients to not be excreted in urine. This means that the renal medulla is hypertonic (adds higher osmotic pressure) to the filtrate in the nephron and this aids in the reabsorption of water. Having less concentrations of vitamins, salt, glucose and other solutes equal to the concentrations in the blood, the resulting filtrate will pass to the proximal tubule.

Inside the proximal tubule, reabsorption will occur. Epithelial cells will return sodium ions to interstitial fluid by active transport. Negative ions and water will passively follow sodium and diffuse back into the capillaries. Glucose, amino acids, and other desired compounds will do similarly in an active and passive transport pattern. To maintain the pH balance, transport epithelium cells actively pump hydrogen ions to lower acidity, while adding ammonia to buffer it. Bicarbonate reabsorption is aided by the proximal tubules to increase the pH and keep stability. As water and other useful solutes are reabsorbed, urea becomes more concentrated in proximal tubules.

Here comes the important part, the Henle Loop. The loop of Henle is a U-shaped tube that extends from the proximal tubule and leads to the distal tubule. It consists of a descending limb and ascending limb. It begins in the cortex, receives filtrate from the proximal tubule, extends into the medulla as the descending limb, and then returns to the cortex as the ascending limb to empty into the distal tubule. The primary role of the loop of Henle is to concentrate the salt in the interstitium (tissue surrounding loop).

As the interstitial fluid descends in the loop, it becomes progressively more concentrated. Since it is permeable to water, this descending limb will cause more water to be reabsorbed. The transport epithelium is permeated by aquaporins (water channels), which easily let water through by osmosis, allowing salt to continue flowing into the ascending loop. The ascending limb epithelium is impermeable to water (very rare in biology) and is responsible of absorbing ions as it is dotted with specialized channels for it. Finally, salt diffuses out of the tubule near its thinner tip and as it moves farther up into a thick membrane, salt is removed via active transport. All of this causes the resulting filtrate to be more dilute as it enters the distal tubule.

The hypoosmotic fluid in the distal tubule will receive a secretion of potassium for the regulation of concentration of salt and potassium in bodily fluids. Aditionally, it will receive hydrogen ions secreted by the tubule to regulate pH and absorb bicarbonate. Much of the ion transport in the distal tubule is regulated by the endocrine system. Here is when the adrenal cortex comes in as it produces the hormone aldosterone to reabsorb more sodium and secrete more potassium in the distal tubule. To conclude the process, the filtrate is transported to the collecting duct. Here the filtrate will pass through the medulla towards the renal pelvis, where it will ultimately be turned into urine. Hormones will aslo control the permeability of the epithelial tissue and regulate the urine’s concentration.

In very short terms, if there is too much water, the kidney uses more water in the urine. If there is not enough water, the kidney uses less in the urine. This is why we make less pee when we are dehydrated. Osmosis and diffusion help regulate the whole process without utilizing too much energy. While the filtrate of the blood travels into the kidney, the concentration of sodium increases and water dilutes it via osmosis. Then, the ascending Henle loop becomes water resistant to not allow the water to dilute the salt. The end result is urine in the collecting duct ready to be flushed away. All of this happens so that we do not lose more water than we need to.

The Struggle of the Orders

One of the greatest disputes in early Rome took place between two major social groups known as the Patricians and Plebeians. This conflict is known as the Struggle of the Orders. The problem originated because the Patricians enjoyed all political rights leading to a large amount of oppression upon Plebeians. The former ones were enslaved, imprisoned in dungeons, or even killed if they didn’t pay their debts and were not allowed to marry Patricians. Now, you could not become a Patrician or buy your way into it, you were simply born in it.

In 494 BC the Plebeians, whom were the majority in population, resolved that maybe they didn’t have wealth or political power, but they had themselves. The Patricians, in a certain way, needed the Plebeians more, as for military protection, than the Plebeians needed the Patricians. Therefore, they concluded that the best way to fight for their equality was to secede from Rome and win concessions. It is the old saying, “you don’t know what you have, until you lose it.” Patricians experienced it and thus began to give way to their privileges.

Little by little, Plebeians began to return to Rome as they were given concessions. The greatest one is probably making the Roman law public by placing the 12 Tables in the center of the city. Laws that included the capital punishment or enslavement to defaulting debtors and others similar to “an-eye-for-an-eye” justice. Of course, this would hamper the possibility of tremendous abuse. Plebeians also received the power to elect sacrosanct tribunes to represent them in the Roman government. And in 471 BC, the concilium plebis (Plebeian Council) was formed, which provided self-government on the Plebeians and the capability to pass laws on themselves. In 287 BC, the concilium plebis’ resolutions became binding on all.

By the late 5th century BC, various political offices were opened to Plebeians. In the early 4th century BC the Senate began to distribute some conquered land to the Plebeians, like the Etruscan city of Veii, intermarriage was allowed, and debt slavery was abolished altogether. Around the year 367 BC, the Plebeians were made eligible for consulship, in 347 BC at least one consul had to be a Plebeian, and in 172 BC came the first time when both consuls were Plebeians.

As we can see, this is a practical example of what may occur to the liberty of a people when they apply their individual rights and demand the enforcement of them. However, even with all of these changes, accepted due to the fear of the Plebeians leaving again, Rome had not yet become a democracy as it continued to be dominated by the aristocracy and normal people did not have any “good” political representation.

Tiberius Gracchus

I believe that perhaps something more powerful than law, is tradition and I don’t necessarily say this as if it is a good thing. Tiberius Gracchus’ story more or less seems to prove this statement.

After the second Punic War, there was severe collateral damage that arose tremendous economic and social problems in Rome. The countryside was utterly destroyed and farms were found in horrible conditions. Hence, many people chose to sell their lands to the newly rich. These people were in majority veterans of war that were now landless and moving into the cities with their families to find a job. However, the scene in the cities was more distressing, because many jobs were already taken by slaves who provided extremely cheap labor. Their last hope was to rejoin the army, but a norm stood in their way, no landless citizen was allowed to join the army.

This was the time when Tiberius Gracchus showed up to help these people. He pursued a land reform for the eligibility of more people to serve in the military if they were land owners. He tried to revive an old principle which said that excess public land held by citizens should be returned. His idea did not have a complete support in the Senate but did not give way for absolute rejection either.

Now, Tiberius, as practically all famous people had different types of popularity. To some, he was a renowned reformer sincerely seeking the good of the poor, but to others, he was an ambitious politician whose disrespect for Roman tradition was a perilous indication of urge to flatter the people and become very powerful. Why and how exactly did he violate tradition?

Well, their is a wide range of possibility that Tiberius was seeking the good of his fellow citizens for the mere reason that he said it was not righteous for a wild beast in Italy to have shelter and for a man who fought for Italy to be roaming around the land with his family and without a place to lay his head. Therefore, he desired to distribute land to these veterans. The manner in which he fought for this to be accomplished might also hint at his intentions.

Tiberius Gracchus took the bill directly to the concilium plebis (Plebeian Council) bypassing, in this way, the senate and thus violating an important custom which stated that no bill could ever be passed without the consent of the Senate. Although the bill passed, the senate refused to fund the land commission. Notwithstanding, the King of Pergamum who had no heir died that year and bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. A window was open and Tiberius took the opportunity to use the tax revenues from Pergamum to fund the commission. Yet again this infringed the Senate’s traditional custodianship of both finances and foreign policies.

Desperate to stop Tiberius, the Senate influenced Marcus Octavius, a tribune, to veto Tiberius’ bill. Not willing to give up, Tiberius then asked for the resignation of Octavius and held a vote of the Assembly to remove him as tribune. 35 people voted and when 17 were in favor of his removal and only one vote was needed to decide, Tiberius halted the voting and pleaded Octavius to withstand from his position to prevent dishonor upon himself as he was cast out in this way. After a moment of silence, Octavius yielded and removed his veto. Asking for the resignation of Octavius violated the tradition of collegiality (companionship in government) in Rome.

Finally, to ensure the success of his land commission, Tiberius decides to run for immediate reelection placing the icing on the cake of his “traditional” violations. Maybe, now the Senate was just looking for an excuse to vanish Tiberius’ influence. Therefore, in a political rally, Tiberius senses danger for his life and gives a sign to his companions by placing his hand over his head. Seeing this, are his opponents who believe he is asking for the crown and announce this to the Senate who in turn finds the spark to blow the bomb. Publicly, at that moment, the Senate slaughters Tiberius along with his followers and kills him in cold blood. To worsen things out, Tiberius’ mother is not allow to grieve the death of his son. I guess that the only reward of this was that the land commission did accumulate true accomplishments.

Respiration

Stop breathing for 10 minutes and what happens? You won’t be alive to answer that question. You see, have you ever thought about what happens when you inhale (take air in) and exhale (take air out)? As almost all of the things that occur within our body I’m pretty sure you haven’t, unless you’re some sort of scientist. Respiration is perhaps the most essential system for the preservation of our lives and we’re barely even conscious of it when it takes place.

A practical definition of respiration is “the process of ventilating the lungs through an alternation of inhaling and exhaling air”. We inhale oxygen and exchange it for carbon dioxide which we exhale. For certain, many reading this essay will know that the nose, the lungs, the ribs, and the brain are part of breathing, but other features include the trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, alveoli, and diaphragm. Let’s analyze in depth our respiration process.

The lungs are divided and subdivided into numerous compartments. They are a sponge-like organ which is interpenetrated with blood vessels and capillaries. At the instant you allow air inside your body, this one will pass through the trachea (part of the throat that leads to lungs), which is behind the esophagus (part of the throat that leads to stomach). The trachea separates into two bronchi which are too branched into bronchioles. Then, the bronchioles are divided into even smaller branches, ultimately ending in the alveoli aligned with capillaries where gas exchange occurs.

Oxygen-rich air we breathe is dissolved in the moist lining of the alveoli. The blood in the capillaries is carrying much carbon dioxide and very little oxygen. This difference in partial pressure causes highly concentrated oxygen in the lungs to diffuse into the blood in the capillaries and carbon dioxide to diffuse out of the blood into the alveoli to be exhaled. With this exchange process, more oxygen is able to be inhaled enabling us to prevail in the continuous living of our lives. When the air pressure is high inside the lungs, the air from the lungs flows out. When the air pressure is low inside, then air flows into the lungs.

Diffusion is the proper name for this basic process of trade. The word diffusion is derived from the Latin word, “diffundere”, which means “to spread out”. If a substance is “spreading out”, it is moving from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. Carbon dioxide in the capillaries “spreads out” and allows a higher concentration of oxygen to enter and expel the CO2. Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are transported around the body in the blood through arteries, veins and capillaries. They bind to hemoglobin in red blood cells, although oxygen does so more effectively.

Inside our thoracic cavity are the lungs approximately contained by the rib cage. A muscular partition known as the diaphragm forms the bottom wall of the thoracic cavity. When we respire this muscle contracts, the intercostal muscles (between the ribs) pull the ribs up, pull the sternum out enlarging the cavity and reducing air pressure in the lungs. The air containing higher pressure than the alveoli rushes inside our lungs and the pressure in the air and alveoli are relatively equalized. However, the concentration of oxygen is greater in the newly arrived air than that one of the alveoli. After this happens, the oxygen and carbon dioxide will diffuse as previously described within the capillaries.

In a nutshell this is what happens when we breathe. Inhalation is initiated by the diaphragm and intercostal muscles expanding the lungs and allowing a high pressure of air to enter the lungs and oxygen to enter the alveoli to exchange carbon dioxide in the blood through the capillaries. Carbon dioxide is expelled through exhalation to begin the cycle all over again. All of this in a matter of seconds.