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Lunatic Moon

Full Moon, February 25th 2013,
Diagnose:  Severely Lunatic


The HEIDELBERG Ion Therapy Center and the continuation of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Arriving at Heidelberg train station on a February afternoon not necessarily makes you believe that this place could somehow be linked to the eternal problem of mankind of how to conquer death, a question that is at least 5000 years old has echoes that since these ancient times have never died out. Still, the search for an answer and attempts to overcome the finiteness of life influences what we do and how we exploit our talents today and in the future.
I am on my way from Munich to the Heidelberg Ion Therapy center, through the snow covered abandoned fields of southern Germany, to attend a small informal meeting with pediatric oncologists. We are about to discuss the potential of novel accelerated particle beams in cancer therapy to find a better cure for some rare forms of childhood tumors. Whereas we are confident that scientific progress, medical research and innovation is the most promising way to finally overcome disease and death, 4 and half thousand years ago the most eloquent and free thinkers had less hope that the natural sequence of birth, life and death could be conquered by human innovation. But even then, long before Christian religion invented a fairy- tale of life after death for those who follow the holy bible and are positively selected at the gates of heaven, a narrative existed in Mesopotamia which appears very modern, complex and human from today’s perspective. 
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the main hero initially falls into despair when he realizes that physical life will inevitably end one day. He first tries to get around this shocking frustration by adopting a wild life-style, fighting everyone whom he could define as an enemy, drinking and eating and celebrating bacchantic feasts every night. And of course he soon discovers the ultifmate remedy against the fear of death:  Sex as much as you can. So at least this seems to provide some solace, the hope that if not our own body and soul will gain immortality, at least the fruits of our loins could live on. And even people who understand little about reproduction, evolution of a species and human demographic instinctively know that when we love, death can loose its horror. And in the moment of highest sexual pleasure, death even becomes a joke. Why else does a loving couple cries “Kill me”, if not to show that love is so mighty, that even death is no thread any more. So death and love, in essence excluding each other, form a dipole in our unconsciousness, with the one being impossible without the other.
 I remember that for myself the starting point of puberty was not when I felt the first physical attraction to girls, but when at the age of fourteen after a traditional kids initiation feast I recognized at a silent moment and without any obvious reason that my own life is not infinite, that perhaps one day quite far away in the future, everything that I feel, think, watch, worry about, love, everything will end.  This was one of the most frightening discoveries that I ever made, and I remember that I locked myself in my room and cried bitterly. In particular, it seem absolutely absurd to me that all the guest at this party, my parents, relatives and invited friends celebrated my entry into adulthood, whereas at the very same moment I had discovered for myself the inevitable death. Now I know, that without this horrible recognition that life is not endless, I would have perhaps never discovered the thrill and fascination of love. But the inevitability of death is not only the ultima ratio for love, but vice versa the fight to conquer death is also the only unambigious proof of love. Same as medieval knights showed their love to a young lady by fighting her free from the claws of the evil dragon, we remember cases from more recent episodes of war and oppression when a father or a mother saved their kids life by shielding it with their own body from the bullets and shrapnels.
But the epic of Gilgamesh would have never become the book with by far the longest publication history in mankind (from the first edition of the verses written down on sumeric cuneiform clay plates between 1700 and 2000 B.C. till today with currently more than a hundred different editions listed in the english Amazon alone), if it would have described only the pleasures of love between man and woman. When Gilgamesh meets Enkidu, the uncivilized creature that arises from the wild, he has first to realize that his physical power is not unlimited, but that Enkidu is an respectable fighter as well. Later on he learns from him that sex is nothing that can distinguish a human being from all other animated creatures on earth, and that physical reproduction alone might only give us the illusion of eternal life. Gilgamesh and Enkidu finally decide that death can only be overruled by the active productivity of men, by their creativity and their desire to change to world it was there at a persons birth. Gilgamesh becomes the founder of many cities which give shelter and home and pleasure to many of his nation. In a famous journey, he travels to Libanon to bring from there the famous cedar wood, the strongest and most durable building material in ancient times to roof large palaces and temples. And here, at the gates of the cedar forest, fighting a hostile dragon is not a funny game any more to demonstrate his muscle power, but it has a clear practical purpose: to attain the material he needs for his architectural ambitions.
When Gilgamesh looses his friend Enkidu in the fight against the dragon he comes to the conclusion that the most durable legacy of Enkidus life are the results of his creativity. Reading how high Gilgamesh acknowledged the creative power of man to beat the horror of death, we are wondering today how J.W.Goethe or Karl Marx could have come to a very similar conclusion without knowing  about Gilgamesh’s epos. Its first English translation by the assyrologist and archeologist George Smith was published 1872, 64 years after Goethe’s Johan Faust discovered that “… only those deserves freedom and life, who has to fight for it day by day…” and 5 years after Karl Marx declared the productive labour as the source of all human assets and the driving force of historical progress.
The earliest parts of the epic of Gilagmesh have their origin in the 3rd millennium B.C., perhaps predating the Jewish thora. It is more than 2000 years older than the Christian bible and about 3000 years older than the Quran. But in it admiration of the individual, of the values that a man sets for himself, in the complete absence of any dogmatic, divine rules or moral codices, the Epic could have been written by a modern philosopher. Unlike the thora, the bible or the holy Quran which today have little more than a historical or linguistic value and seem absurd by setting anachronistic standards of a righteous life, the epic of Gilgamesh still today reads like a contemporary essay about the sense and the purpose of human existence.

Epic of Gilgamesh: Cuneiform text on clay plate (British Museum, London)

One of the perhaps most impressive examples of human creativity can be visited next to the Heidelberg University pediatric hospital, where the most advanced technology for accelerated particle tumor therapy is in operation since 2009. Here, nuclei from carbon ions are first accelerated in a circular synchrophasotron with 65 m circumsphere, than guided through a couple of deflecting and focusing magnets and finally channeled through a 650 t, 16m broad and 35 m long so called gantry, which revolves around the patient like a giant wheel within only a few seconds. The accelerated particles finally reaches 3/4 the speed of light, befor they hit the patients tumor placed in the very center of the revolving steel mass, hopefully sterilizing each single of its malignant cells. The doctors place the patient on a tray mounted to a robotic arm such a way that the deadly tumor will always be in the focus point of the particle beam. Invisible to patient, hidden behind a thin designer plastic blinds the revolving giant machinery around him could remind one of the movie "Contact", where Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) sits in the center of three huge revolving steel rings that, as the story goes, can eliminate gravity and send her into another time . But in the very real world of the Heidelberg Ion Therapy facility, the hope is that the patient can soon be send home cancer free, whereas the life threatening tumor in his brain or somewhere else in his body is send into oblivion by the high-precision particle beam that has only the size of a straw but transfers hugh energy. Indeed, the idea to fight deadly tumor cells, each measuring just a few micrometer, by bombarding them with atomic nuclei, each being another 10000 fold smaller, but only after the latter have been accelerated in a machine that  measures several tens of meter in each dimension, weights several hundreds of tons and requires 30% of the electricity of the entire city of Heidelberg, such an idea would have sounded like a science fiction plot only 50 years ago. But opposing the paradigm that a deadly thread is an unavoidable destiny or, even worse a proof of Gods enigmatic logic, is what brings the scientists and medics at the Heidelberg Ion Therapy (HIT) center very close to the ideas of the author of Gilgamesh.
The writer Sin-leqe-unnini, believed to have collected and written down the Epos in the ancient sumeric city of Ninive, shows us Gilgamesh fighting against the ordinary sequelae of life, death, and eventually the quick disappearance of all traces that we left behind us. For the people who designed, constructed and operate HIT, their motivation was not so much to become famous. When the first plans of such a machine emerged, it was a long way to go and more than 30 years to test, redesign, optimize technologies, before the first tumor patient could be successfully treated. And it also was quite obvious, that such a complex, sophisticated and unique technical innovation will hardly ever become profitable, at least not in terms of a quick or predictable financial profit. The main driving force that kept all the people at HIT so passionate about their achievements is the feeling that by curing previously incurable cancer types, each single patient that can be send home disease-free is a clear victory over an otherwise inevitable death.
The Ion Therapy Center (HIT) at the Heidelberg University Clinic. The irregular ring on the upper left is the synchrophasotron (65 m circumfere) to accelerate carbon and other heavy atom nuclei to 3/4 of the speed of light. These high energy nuclei are then deflected by a set of magnets before they enter an array of focussing magnets mounted to a so-called gantry. This giant wheel weights more than 600 tones (right side in blue) and revolves around the patient, targetting the particle beam to the tumor with highest precision (photo courtesy of HIT press-office).  
But Gilgamesh’s search for the purpose of life not only experiences this very transcendent form of continuation in Heidelberg, but has a pure physical dimension just a few kilometers south from HIT. Here, at the archeological institute of the university Stefan Maul, an assyrologist recently began to decipher newly excavated cuneiform clay plates which were recently found in Assur. So whether we will soon hold in hand a continuation of the epic of Gilgamesh, telling us in new chapters what happened after Enkidu died, or if we will soon learn something about Gilgamesh’s childhood and the origins of his restless odysses is not clear yet. But I would not be surprised to learn from these additional chapters of the Epic that it was not only the mythology of the deluge which both the Talmud and the Christian bible copy-pasted from the Sumerian epic. 


Forough Farrokhzad: A Poet that fell silent too soon

Recently I was invited by a friend in Munich to a reading of poetry by an Iranian writer, who died much too young in 1967, only reaching 32 years of age. Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967) was the most famous woman in modern Persian literature. She was exceptionally in the sense that only an extremely small number of Iranian women have achieved anything outside of the home without dependence upon a relationship with a man or male patronage.

From the poems of Forough Farrokhzad, which Kianoosh presented this evening I remember the verses from "Another Birth"

   ... Life may be that cloistered moment  
     When my gaze comes to ruin in your pupils 
     Wherein there lies a feeling 
     Which I shall blend ...

During her short life, Forough not only wrote some of the most influential, beautiful and ever-lasting poetries of modern Persian literature, but she also became a proponent of childrens right, in particular for those from the poor families. Her engagement for the children being isolated and hospitalized for leprosis laid in her honest sympathy with those who are suffering. Unlike modern celebrities, who too often present themself in public with an alibi "social" project, Foroughs activites to help the children with leprosis came from her very personal desire to make the world a little bit better. From the movie "Moon, Sun, Flower, Play" by the German director Claus Strigel one can listen to Foroughs voice, hear how colleagues and friends remember this extraordinary woman and watch scenes from the street-battle preceding the Shahs dismissal and from the childrens leprosis hospital.

Iranian Nose Jobs can sabotage Eugenics

Dear Michael,
It is no secret that many Iranian woman do not value their impressive, arian noses very high. In contrast, they tend to follow a very questionable beauty picture that more and more seems to be coined by the Japanese manga figures. For them, a nose is merely anything more than a small ridge to hide the nostrils.
The historical form of Iranian noses, however, is impressive, and if an ancient myth is true that the nose is the main location of human character, than Iranians must have a lot of it (which I believe many of them will agree).
The more I regret that low self-esteem of Iranians when it comes to the shape of their facial “center of gravity”. Iranian woman try to raise their competetiveness when hunting for a good match on the vanity fair, and the men, beeing either the driving force behind this or the obidient donkey, really fall for this.
Here I will explaine to you (based on what I feel as a young woman and what I learned as a young geneticist) the short and the long term consequences of this:
1) In the short term, there will be a constant drop of beauty among Iranian woman, because more and more collect or borrow money to afford a “Nose Job”. So very soon, you will see less and less Iranian ladies whom their strong and proud character is logically located in an equally strong, sharp and expressive nose. We might be confused soon, that Iranians with strong self-esteem decline to western beauty standard, have their face irreversibly damaged only to fill the pockets of those medics, who as all their colleagues from other disciplines agree, are the least qualified ones to distinguish between health and disease, let alone to cure any real sick patient.
The Iranian woman who lost this attribute of an ancient, devine beauty, however, will in fact have better chances to catch a husband and have more children. That is what we know from natural selection of the fittest, which if we like or dislike, becomes the natural selection for the most attractive in the human population.
But, thanks to genetic laws, there is not only hope in sight, as I will explaine in the following, but in the long term these “Iranian Nose Jobs” even have the potential to rescue the Iranian Nose from becomming extinct by natural selection.
2)  Because on the long term,  of course, no plastic surgery can change the genetic code, that over hundreds of generations insured that Iranians, sometimes synonymously with the original Arian nation, where characterized by nice, sharp, impressive noses. No ordinary medic, let alone the half-educted plastic surgeons, have any clue where in the Iranian genome the key for nose shape is hidden, or how this could be manipulated.  So with the current genetic knowledge and the status-quo of molecular technologies, the real treasure of the Iranian nose is still hidden and safely deposited deep in our genome.  So even if all Iranians have their “noses done”, the next and all following generations still carry the fertile seeds to grow proper Iranian noses again.
But this is only half of the truths, the real excitement comes here:  Without plastic surgery, large Iranian noses could in fact become extinct due to genetic admixture from (Iranian x Non-Iranian) partnerships (introgressing the Small-Nose-Gene-Variant from East-Asian or US or Latin-Americans) followed by preferential marriages between the descendents inheriting the Small-Nose-Genes (and consequently growing these dwarf nose variants reminiscent of a Hobbit face). Over just a few generations, there would indeed undergo a natiural selection for the Small-Nose-Gene-Variants, resulting in irreversible loss of the Iranian noses.  But this, in fact, does not happen, thanks to the plastic surgeons and their messing up with the natural link between beauty, genes, and attractiveness.  By virtually “hiding” the real heritable Iranian Nose variant behind a fake, non-heritable small nose, natural selection can not take place any more.
So in the long term, nose jobs to Iranian woman might ensure that the real traditional Iranian nose shape with its distinct and impressive sharpness will always reappear in every new generation. In other words, the plastic surgeons who make money from nose-reducing operations to Iranians on the assembly line, carry out in fact a very efficient sabotage operation against eugenics.


Are we Stardust ?

Dear Michael,

All the big stars, i.e. those with a mass exceeding the sun's mass by a factor of 1.3, gain most of their energy by a hydrogen-fusion reaction that involves a catalytic cycle, known as the Bethe-Weizsäcker or CNO-cycle.

During this reaction cycle, protons (i.e. hydrogen nuclei) are added four times into a cycling reaction that converts carbon through various nitrogen and oxygene isotopes back to carbon, while releasing helium as the net reaction product and, of course, the enormous amount of energy which fuels the star.

CNO cycle

This cycle in its logic resembles the citric acid cycle, during which all aerobic organisms convert energy from nutrients (i.e. carbohydrates, fat, and sometimes proteins) into ATP. Similar to the Bethe-Weizsäcker cycle, successive transfer of protons (in this case released from water) are an important feature of this energy conversion.

But beyond this similarity in the reaction cycle, the CNO-cycle (providing stars with their enormous energy) and the citric-acid cycle (providing energy to living organisms) are connected by a much more fundamental link: The Bethe-Weizsäcker CNO cycle is the first reaction in the formation of our universe that produces Oxygene and Nitrogene from Carbon and Hydrogene (Carbon is directly produced by 3-alpha fusion of Helium nuclei). And it is these three elements, namely Carbon, Oxygene, Nitrogene and Hydrogene, that are the basic elements of all living matter. All Carbohydrates are made of C, H and O, as are all fatty acids. All proteins are made of C, H, O, and N (with a trace of Sulphur). And essential element that is missing is Phosphorus, an integral constituent of DNA and RNA. But in molar amount, it is much less than C, H, N, and O.

So we have to acknowledge that the main constituents of our body (and of any other living organism as well) were a by-product of the stars engine.

Or as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young put it in their songs lyrics:

We are Stardust

Well I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road And I asked him tell where are you going, this he told me: (He) said, I'm going down to Yasgur's farm, going to join in a rock and roll band. Got to get back to the land, and set my soul free. We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Well, then can I roam beside you? I have come to lose the smog. And I feel myself a cog in something turning. And maybe it's the time of year, yes, said maybe it's the time of man. And I don't know who I am but life is for learning. We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, And everywhere was song and celebration. And I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky, Turning into butterflies above our nation.

We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil's bargain, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden


Ghazal, my Dear, I always believed that you came from another star. What you wrote above shows that you brought from there some interesting ideas with you.

Take Care, my Dear


PS: I think we also have something in common, in our dialogue that is going on for about 3 years now. Whereas I always tried my best to misunderstand you, to fill the empty spaces in your messages with a meaning that perhaps was never there, you in contrast always managed to not understand anything from what I wrote. When I imagined that there are words between the empty spaces in your letters, you decided that the long sentences from me were void of any meaning. How long can this go on ?