The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

There is a real affinity for the goals of Freemasonry and the Seven Liberal Arts. From earliest teachings, we see that they are the foundation of many degree rites, the first of which is the FellowCraft Degree. To understand why this is, I think we must first understand the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts and what their history is.

The Liberal Arts have been, from antiquity, been the foundation stone upon which knowledge of the natural world rests. The seven liberal arts have been utilized since ancient Greece. Plato and Pythagoras were first in codifying their importance; the flowering of our western understanding of the liberal arts took place in medieval education systems, where they were categorized into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric are the Trivium, and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy are the Quadrivium. The Trivium combines the use of the senses with knowledge to lay the foundation for further study. The Quadrivium was considered to be the higher level education for the philosopher, and employed the use of the Trivium to be able to compose higher ideas and thereby, expand the knowledge of the human condition.

Freemasons the world over have expounded on the Seven Liberal Arts ad infinitum. All you need to do is search Freemasonry and Seven Liberal Arts, and you get a great deal of regurgitated drivel. That is not what I am striving to do in this next series. Here, my goal is to simply explain why the Seven Liberal Arts seem to have a kinship with Freemasonry, and perhaps provide small examples of each – withsevenliberalarts and without a Freemasonic connection. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide what you’d like to do with the information.

Plato’s Dialogues explain the curriculum outlined in detail and for any serious student of liberal arts, Plato is required reading. I, therefore, will not relate these concepts here. Suffice to say that the study of the Liberal Arts is more of a study of knowledge than it is of any specific actual data and information. As we may have learned by now, knowledge without application is dead and useless. Knowledge in the pursuit of higher ideals and higher ideas is more valuable than… than… well, you get the idea. Remember, one of the goals of Freemasonry is to better the human condition while standing up in defiance of falsehood, ignorance, and hatred. How do we do that if we are not searching to better our communication and knowledge, and the ways to bring both to life?

The Trivium is, as I said above, the foundation stone of the Seven Liberal Arts and really provides us the method and ability to communicate. It is composed of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: Knowledge and Learning of Language
  • Logic: Reasoning, Questioning, and Thinking with Language
  • Rhetoric: Directing, moving, and Persuading using Language

While these all seem to be in relation to language, they are much more than language. They are the skills involved in achieving these ends. Therefore, the study of Grammar is also the study of history, geography, reading, and writing. It is basic, absolutely, but more encompassing than simply learning one’s ABCs and how to put pen on paper and write. Logic is about how we learn – we use our senses to experience, put our minds to thought, question, and experiment. We learn to ask the correct questions to achieve the answers we seek. They are not provided to us – we must seek them out and test for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric is the ability to take what we have learned with grammar and dialectic and put them firmly into the hands of an audience we are attempting to persuade. Rhetoric uses emotional discourse, thoughtfully created and properly applied, to communicate new ideas.

If it is not clear to the Freemason now why at least the Trivium is not important, one might want to question what they have actually learned while being a Freemason. Many may think that Freemasonry is all about enlightenment, walking in squares, or religious meanings. It might be those things to some but I think the true goals of Freemasonry are to provide a framework of how to be in the world, to make that world better for those that follow us but more importantly, for our own betterment. We cannot communicate lofty ideals via ritual alone – we need to be able to express what we have learned to a wider audience, to bring new thoughts to a wider world. To me, when we talk about service to the world, there is no greater service than being a hand-up to the betterment of the human condition and we do that by “teaching a man how to fish.” Study of the Liberal Arts is by one means to catch that “fish.”

Hortus_Deliciarum,_Die_Philosophie_mit_den_sieben_freien_Künsten

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

In 2015, the State of California faced one of the most severe droughts on record. Governor Jerry Brown had declared a drought “State of Emergency” in January of 2014 and directed state officials to take action to prepare for water shortages. However, conditions continued to deteriorate leading the Governor to order a 25 percent mandatory reduction in municipal water usage statewide. According to the Governor’s office, California’s water supplies dipped to alarming levels in 2015, indicated by depleted levels of snowpack, groundwater, water in reservoirs, and river water flows. Led by Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team of scientists utilized data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in an effort to better understand and adapt tograce California’s water crisis. The new data led to more responsible decision making at the individual, state, and federal level. 

National Significance of California’s Drought

California’s drought has national significance for a number of reasons, including the fact that the state currently produces 50 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. As the highest producing agricultural state in the United States, California has over 80,000 farms, which account for a large percentage of the State’s water usage.

Additionally, more than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply.  Negotiated in 1922, The Colorado River Compact allocated the water of the Colorado River across these seven states. Of the river’s lower basin water resources, California’s allotment is more than half [4.4. maf (million-acre-feet) of the 7.5 maf].  Supplying approximately 60 percent of the water for Southern California, the Colorado River provides a vital link in sustaining the region’s water for irrigation, human consumption, and hydroelectric pograce-drought-california-02-08-14_printwer.

Unfortunately, water levels in the Colorado River continued to decrease as a result of prolonged drought conditions in the West. As of April 2015, the Colorado River was flowing at 63 percent of average. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted further restrictions to the Lower Basin States due to drops in the reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority,  provided this sobering analysis: “If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000 ( feet above sea level), we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada.”   The U.S. Secretary of the Interior could declare a water shortage on the river, triggering a required alteration of “the Law of the River,” which began in 1922. The drought in California has implications for all Americans, especially those who live in the seven “compact” states. In order to address the growing drought concerns, Federal agencies and stakeholders have been diligently working to find innovative solutions to ensure adequate water supplies for the future. 

Drought Recovery in 2016 

Effective crisis management often depends on three components: encompassing data describing the problem, determined leadership, and an informed, sympathetic community. When all stakeholders have understand what the problem is and what needs to be done to correct the situation, leadership can easily motivate the general population into appropriate action. The three components are all present in California’s drought recovery. The historic drought in California saw some major improvements in the rainy season of 2o16 and millions of people experienced a slow but steady reclamation of water supply. California’s reservoirs saw significant increases in volume, and the two largest in the state, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, were well over 90 percent for the year. californiadroughtrecovery

An update to the U.S. Drought Monitor was issued in April of 2016 which declared a large area of central California, from roughly Sacramento to Fresno, improved regarding the drought. More positive news followed in the fall of 2016 as October rains lifted the drought status altogether from 12 percent of the state. 

Californians have demonstrated leadership in conserving water, as residential water use decreased by 28 percent compared with usage in 2013. Local water suppliers saved 1.6 million acre feet of water in the first 12 months of the conservation plan, which is enough water to supply eight million people for a year. In October 2015, 46 percent of the state was in top level drought.  A year later, California’s percentage of extreme drought was down to 21 percent.  “Californians’ continued commitment to conservation shows they don’t take water for granted anymore,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. 

Stewardship in Freemasonry

The unprecedented drought across the West was a signal to Americans that what worked in the past is unsustainable in the future. For many U.S. regions, intense competition for water and diminished supplies forced local and state authorities to make tough decisions on water allocations, including implementation of unpopular restrictions. As Vicki Arroyo, the Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center, explained, “We’re entering uncharted territory, and yet our expertise and our systems are based on the past. ‘Stationarity’ is the notion that we can anticipate the future based on the past, and plan accordingly, and this principle governs much of our engineering, our design of critical infrastructure, city water systems, building codes, even water rights and other legal precedents.” Changes were necessary and action was required. Thankfully, technological upgrades, increased responsible water use, and improvements in state and national water policy are now reversing past water loss into water gain. 

Likewise, Freemasons are called upon to be good stewards of our planet, which includes careful and responsible management of natural resources. A good steward diligently examines the needs and vulnerabilities of his or her community. In turn, this examination helps the steward plan and prepare for the future. By evaluating our current vulnerabilities, we can create strong communities, which can not only survive, but thrive.

Catalyzing Scientific Innovation: Bald’s Leechbook and the Superbug MRSA

Catalyzing Scientific Innovation: Bald’s Leechbook and the Superbug MRSA

When we encounter what seems impossible, the solution can often be found where we might least expect it. By expanding search parameters to include information that appears paradoxical or unconventional, we can create a shift to innovation. To many, the concept of mining ancient medical texts for cures to modern diseases might seem like a waste of time. One woman’s curiosity, however, led her to do just that. When she joined forces with other open-minded researchers, they were shocked to discover that one ancient recipe was uniquely effective on the modern superbug, MRSA.

The MRSA Problem

During the past four decades, the public health impact of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has evolved from a controllable nuisance into a serious concern. Staphylococcus aureus or “staph” bacteria commonly live on our skin and in our environment, however, they can get inside the body and cause serious infections. When common antibiotics cease to kill the staph bacteria, this type of staph is referred to as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

The symptoms of MRSA depend on the infection site. In the majority of cases, MRSA causes mild infections on the epidermis, like sores or boils.  However, the bacteria can also lead to serious infections of surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract. Allowed to develop into mature growths, MRSA infections can become deadly. MRSAthreatInfographicCDC Perhaps the most worrisome component of the bacteria is that it is spread by contact: touching another person or objects that have the bacteria on them.

Referred to by scientists as a modern superbug, MRSA has become a worldwide problem due to the inability of antibiotics to effectively treat the bacteria. Epidemiological studies in the United States and Canada demonstrate a 17 percent increase in reported MRSA cases over an eleven year period beginning in 1995. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 94,000 people developed their first invasive MRSA infection in the United States in 2005. Of the 94,000 infected, 19,000 of the infected individuals died.

Acknowledged by the CDC as ‘public health’s ticking time bomb,’ antibiotic resistance threatens to return our world to the time when simple infections proved fatal. A 2014 study commissioned by the U.K.’s Prime Minister reported that by the year 2050, antibiotic resistant infections are expected to kill 10 million people each year, which is more than currently die from cancer. In response to this growing crisis, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget requested a doubling of the amount of U.S. federal funding for combating and preventing antibiotic resistance to mDoctorLeeore than $1.2 billion.

The Innovative Solution

Dr. Christina Lee had an idea. A Professor in Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, she was curious as to whether remedy’s from an ancient medical text, Bald’s Leechbook, might prove effective against modern diseases. Containing Anglo-Saxon recipes for medicines, salves, and treatments, Bald’s Leechbook is one of the earliest known medical textbooks, which is thought to originate from the 10th Century.

With her translation of Bald’s Leechbook, Dr. Lee turned to her colleague, Dr. Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the university. Together with other researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, the team decided to recreate an “eye salve” recipe from the text that listed two species of allium (garlic, leek, or onion), wine, and oxgall (bile found in the stomach of a cow). The recipe included precise instructions for the concocting of topical solution, includEyeSalveRemedying the use of a brass vessel for brewing and a specific type of purifying strainer. The mixture was then to be left for nine days before use.

“We recreated the recipe as faithfully as we could. The Bald gives very precise instructions for the ratio of different ingredients and for the way they should be combined before use, so we tried to follow that as closely as possible,” said microbiologist, Freya Harrison, who led the work in the lab at the School of Life Sciences. The researchers made four samples of the “eyesalve,” while also creating a control treatment. While none of the individual ingredients alone had any significant impact, the combined “eyesalve” almost totally obliterated the MRSA infection. Approximately one bacterial cell in a thousand survived in mice wounds.

One member of the team, Dr. Steve Diggle, stated, “When we built this recipe in the lab, I didn’t really expect it to actually do anything. When we found that it could actually disrupt and kills cells in the (MRSA) biofilms. I was genuinely amazed.” For while modern antibiotics can treat early infections, MRSA’s impenetrable reputation comes from the biofilm it builds around mature infection sites which antibiotics cannot breech. Thus, Bald’s “eyesalve” demonstrUniversityofNottinghamResearchersated the ability to do what antibiotics could not. The U.S. National Institute for Health (NIH) reports that biofilms are implicated in up to 80 percent of all chronic and recurring infections.

Biofilms serves as shields that protect bacteria from attacking antibiotics and other treatments. In addition, Biofilms allow bacteria to stick to medical implants, tissues, and other surfaces.

The University of Nottingham’s team then turned to Dr. Kendra Rumbaugh, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University, to see if their research could be replicated. Dr. Rumbaugh carried out in vivo testing of the Bald’s remedy on MRSA infected skin wounds in mice at Texas Tech and reported, “this ‘ancient remedy’ performed as good if not better than the conventional antibiotics we used.”

Dr. Christina Lee explained, “We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings. But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science.”

Freemasonry’s Approach to Critical Thinking

Freemasonry rejects dogma, teaching individuals to think for themselves. Merriam-Webster defines dogma as “a belief that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” Since the germ theory of disease was not really fully developed until the 1870s, what new information could be gained from a medical text from the 10th century? While dogmatic scientific thinking may have precluded research into text such as Bald’s Leechbook, the team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in England and Texas Tech University stepped outside the realm of conventional sources for scientific study.  Their efforts provided a needed catalyst in solving the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.

Whence Came You? Recent Scientific Challenges To The Big Bang Theory

Whence Came You? Recent Scientific Challenges To The Big Bang Theory

From time immemorial, the thinking man has pondered the origins of the Universe and his role in the cosmos. Scientists in the early 20th century brought forth The Big Bang Theory to explain the creation of the Universe. Recent scientific research, however, provides compelling evidence that the age of the Universe could be infinite. Was there a singular starting point of the Universe? What if the Universe has existed forever?

Understanding The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory postulates that our Universe did have a definite beginning. Prior to that, there was nothing. After that moment, there was something: our Universe. According to this theory, our Universe came into existence as a “singularity” approximately 13.7 billion years ago.

Singularities are thought to exist at the core of black holes, which are areas of intense gravitational pressure. The pressure inside a black hole is thought to be so intense that finite matter is actually smashed into infinite density. The Big Bang Theory argues that our known Universe began as an infinitely small, hot and dense singularity.

This is an illustration showing the cosmic epochs of the Universe.Then there was an explosion at which time the singularity inflated and then cooled. The Universe changed over millions of years from something tiny and very hot to the Universe’s current size and temperature. And the Universe has continued to expand and cool throughout history.  Thus, the Big Bang Theory provided a scientifically-based explanation of what happened at the very beginning of our universe continuing until our current time.  

Evidence for The Big Bang Theory

In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble studied distant spirals in the deep skies, measuring the individual stars within the spirals and HubbleandTelescopedetermining the brightness of each star. By combining these measurements with their movement and brightness, Hubble deduced that the Universe was expanding from a once compacted state.

If the Universe was smaller and denser in the past, The Big Bang Theory argues that the Universe expanded from a smaller state to reach its current point. In the 1940s George Gamow added to the theory by postulating that if the Universe was smaller it must also have been hotter. Defined by its wavelength, radiation’s energy and temperature stretch as the fabric of space expands. Thus, if the Universe were smaller, radiation wavelengths were condensed and created a higher temperature.

Extrapolating backwards, there is a point reached when radiation becomes too energetic to form neutral atoms. In the 1960s, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson experimented with the Holmdel Horn Antenna, built to detect radio waves bounced off Echo balloon satellites. When Penzias and Wilson reduced their data, they discovered a persistent low, steady and mysterious noise. Certain that the radiation they detected on a wavelength of 7.35 centimeters did not come from the Earth, the Sun, or the Milky Way Galaxy, they eventually postulated that it was the radiation left over from an explosion that filled the Universe at the beginning of its existence. They termed this remanent energy, Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Their work helped to cement the wide-scale acceptance of The Big Bang Theory.

Recent Scientific Challenges to The Big Bang Theory

Modern scientific research demonstrates compelling evidence against the concept of a singularity as the beginning of the Universe. Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel argues that instead of the singularity point, the Universe transitioned from a prior state, not filled with matter, antimatter, radiation, neutrinos, etc. Undergoing a period of Cosmic Inflation, this pre-Universe was filled with a form of energy inherent to space itself and expanded slowly without a change in energy or temperature. In the phase of Cosmic Inflation, there was an exponential expansion that stretched the Universe flat and wiped out any ultra-massive relic particles and topological defects. Ending approximately 13.8 billion years ago, Cosmic Inflation set up the conditions that lead to a Big Bang event, thus creating our known observable Universe. This theory adds the fascinating possibility that we may be living in a multiverse and our observable Universe is just one of many Universes.

In February of 2015, two physicists, Ahmed Farag Ali, Professor at Benha University in Egypt, and Saurya Das, Professor at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, pub440px-CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAPlished “Cosmology from Quantum Potential.” Their work proposes a “corrected” version of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and demonstrates inaccuracies in the current Big Bang Theory.  In the new formulation, the Universe did not originate from an infinitely dense singularity. In fact, the “theory suggests that the age of the universe could be infinite” according to the study co-author Saurya Das.

Moreover, Das and Ali’s research utilized Bohemian Mechanics to reconcile two of the most dominant theories in physics, Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. Using this form of quantum theory, the researchers calculated a small correction term that could be included in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. In the new formulation, there is no zero-point singularity, and the Universe is infinitely old.

Destroying Ignorance

The Masonic Philosophical Society was established with the primary ambition to destroy ignorance. Which begs the question, “What is ignorance?” Perhaps ignorance is accepting what others tell you or what you have been taught without qucosmologyestioning. Instead of blindly accepting a concept like The Big Bang Theory as fact, Masonry teaches an individual to question why we believe something, to do our own research, and to consider other points of view. By questioning our preconceived notions, we open new doors of insight into how our world works and our role in the cosmos.

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

In today’s hectic world,  it is easy to turn a blind eye to concerns outside our direct purview. Our willful blindness becomes even more pervasive when it comes to issues which are unpopular or which lack a perceivable benefit to our lives. Freemasons, however, are called to stand up for what is right, just, and true. Do we have an obligation to protect the endangered?

The Endangered Species Act

As one of the more controversial U.S. laws, the Endangered Species Act has been derided as detrimental to progress and to the economy. When President Richard Nixon declared the need foBackfromtheBrinkr increased species conservation, Congress responded by passing the Endangered Species Act which was signed by Nixon on December 28, 1973.

The Act’s goal is to prevent the extinction of imperiled species, and to recover those populations by decreasing threats to their survival. In the forty-two years since the bill was passed, only 10 species protected under the Act have been declared extinct. Scientists estimate that at least 227 species would have likely gone extinct without the legislation. The Bald Eagle and the Grizzly Bear are two notable species that have been saved from extinction and removed from the list.

Colorado’s State Fish: The Greenback Cutthroat Trout

As of 2014, there were 1,261 endangered species protected by the ESA which includes Colorado’s State Fish: the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Presumed to be extinct in 1937, a few wild populations of the trout were discovered in the basins of the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Following the listing of the fish under the Endangered Species Act, the scientific community launched a conservation campaign. Questions over the genetic characteristics of the elusive fish prevented the establishment of wild populations as empirical eviBearCreekGreenBackdence demonstrates that successful restoration of an endangered species requires knowledge of the species’ diversity and distribution.

The Role of Molecular Ecology

The science of Molecular Ecology provided the missing link to preventing the species’ demise. Molecular ecology applies molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and genomics to solve traditional ecological questions. Researchers at the University of Colorado analyzed the DNA extracted from wild trout and from preserved specimens collected as far back as 1857. The team first collected multiple samples of tissue and bone from the preserved trout specimens, obtaining fragments of DNA which they pieced together like a high-tech jigsaw puzzle to reveal two telltale genes of the individual specimens.  Utilizing the genetic data from museum samples, scientists were able to pinpoint the location of the last surviving wild population of the greenback cutthroat trout.

Led by Dr. Jessica Metcalf and Dr. Andrew Martin, the team was able to collect trout for repopulation efforts from  Bear Creek, a small tributary of the Arkansas River west of Colorado Springs. Since the trout were outside of their native habitat, the researchers concluded that the fish were placed there as a restocking effort. US Fish and Wildlife Service’s fisheries biologist Chris Kennedy discovered documentation that from 1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and White River Basins were stocked across Colorado, including in Bear Creek.  

Dr. Jessica Metcalf

– Dr. Jessica Metcalf, Evolutionary Biologist

Using the Bear Creek Greenbacks, conservationists have been successful in replicating the population. Dr. Metcalf explained her success stating, “This is a real win for conservation genetics. We were able to use historical specimens to find out something quite novel about cutthroat trout biodiversity that has resulted in a management action. We are not just bringing a native species back to its historic range, but the greenback cutthroat trout, our Colorado state fish.” The aquatics team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife oversaw the raising of approximately 3,500 greenback cutthroat trout, offspring of fish taken from Bear Creek, at the Mt. Shavano State Rearing Unit and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. “We finally have the opportunity to bring these fish home,” Biologist Doug Krieger reported about the introduction of the fish into Zimmerman Lake. On August 8, 2014, in an effort spearheaded by the greenback cutthroat recovery team, Colorado’s state fish was reintroduced to its native range.

Freemasonry: Protecting the Endangered

In our modern culture is “truth” an endangered species? In America, espousing moral relativism, an unwillingness or inability to make judgments about what is right or wrong, has become an accepted norm. When ethical, moral, or social issues are debated in the public sphere, the use of rationality and logic to address such issues is often discouraged in order to foster a climate of inclusiveness. We must, however, be wary of confusing tolerance with moral ambiguity.  Freemasonry teaches individuals to living a life of high moral rectitude and to seek the truth in all situations. Whether the discussion relates to endangered wildlife, censorship, or euthanasia, an objective search for the underlying truth is often ignored to the detriment of all.

Seeking the Light: The Role of Algae and Optogenetics in treating Neurological Disorders

Seeking the Light: The Role of Algae and Optogenetics in treating Neurological Disorders

The Human brain and nervous system form an intricate matrix of electrical signals that coordinate our thoughts, emotions, memories, senses, speech, and movement. Over a billion people worldwide have a form of brain disorder that incapacitates them in some manner. Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with an inherited condition that impacts their nervous system. Known as Neurogenetic diseases, these conditions are primarily caused by an alteration, or mutation, in the individual’s Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). At a cost of over $1 trillion a year, researchers and companies have a tremendous incentive to find cures for these diseases of the brain and nervous system.

Could light-seeking organisms, such as algae, provide the missing link in curing these debilitating diseases?

Neurogenetic Diseases

Billions of neurons make up the brain and form an interconnected network which communicates using chemicals called neurotransmitters. The correct functioning of this complex neural network is necessary for activitiesdna-editing such as thinking, walking, and talking. Neurogenetic disease can lead to the misfiring of neurons and can lead to irreversible degeneration of specific neurons.

Affecting individuals of all ages, neurogenetic diseases are typically chronic and debilitating. In the most extreme disorders, the impacts are degenerative and reduce the individual’s lifespan. Scientists classify neurogenetic diseases into two categories: monogenetic and complex. Disorders caused by a mutation in a single gene are referred to as “monogenetic diseases,” and  include Huntington’s disease, myotonic dystrophy, Rett syndrome and fragile X syndrome. In Monogenic diseases, a single-gene mutation causes certain neurons in the central or the peripheral nervous system to develop abnormally or function poorly. In “complex diseases” such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, disorders can be caused by mutations in multiple genes with additional environmental factors contributing to the development of the disease.

Gene Therapy

Individuals diagnosed with a neurogenetic disease live with a severe, often times progressive, disability. In degenerative neurogenetic disorders, the ability to move or talk can deteriorate thereby decreasing an individual’s independence and quality of life. In some diseases, cognitive functioning also declines which impacts the ability to reason, understand situations, and remhuman-dnaember friends, family, and past events.

Up to the 1980’s, neurogenetic diseases could be diagnosed, but little could be done to prevent the onset or progression of the diseases. Breakthroughs in understanding the human genome, the DNA sequence, has brought new hopes to those dealing with neurogenetic diseases. Gene therapy introduces new genetic material to cells to replace missing or malfunctioning genes. Previously existing only in the realm of science fiction, gene therapy has produced promising results in treating neurological diseases.

Optogenetics and Algae

Light seeking organisms, such as algae, are currently being utilized and studied by researchers in the hopes of providing a breakthrough in genetic therapies in neurological disorders. Algae needs sunlight to complete its cycle of photosynthesis: converting carbon dioxide and water into sugar which feeds the organism. Algae senses and moves towards the light via phototaxis. It is this desire for light which has made chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a single-celled alga, the focus of cutting edge reCross_section_of_a_Chlamydomonas_reinhardtii_algae_cellsearch in treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Chlamydomonas proteins, called channelrhodopsins, were discovered on an alga’s eyespot by a research team at the Texas Health Science Center.

Optogenetics uses light to control neurons which have been genetically sensitized to light. While brain cells are not sensitive to light, by introducing light-sensitive proteins into specific types of neurons, scientists can selectively control the modified neurons by shining light into the brain. Dr. Edward Boyden, an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, along with his team, envisioned a mechanism for modifying neurons.

His team spliced light-sensitive DNA from the alga into a virus, known as a gene therapy vector, which is then introduced into the body of an individual. His colleague, Dr. Feng Zhang, described the process stating, “My first challenge was to figure out a way to put channelrhodopsin-2 into neurons reliably and safely. I modified the HIV virus so that rather than delivering viral content into infected cells, the modified virus would deliver a gene for the light-sensitive protein.” Thus, through the use of algae in Optogenetics, scientists are developing innovative advancements in treating disorders including Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, and depression.

Freemasonry and Seeking the Light

Freemasons seek the light to enable discovery, to gain knowledge, and to dispel ignorance. The absence of light impairs one’s ability to see and keeps tBlue Light Masoniche individual in a state of darkness and ignorance.

The Ancient Mysteries, from which Freemasonry has derived many of its teachings, developed the concept of Light as a symbol of Knowledge and Truth. Whether catalyzed by an individual’s desire for wisdom or algae’s desire to complete its cycle of photosynthesis, the search for light is truly beneficial for all.

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics, has become known as a radical agent of change since his election in March of 2013, especially with regard to environmentalism. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, Pope Francis hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before his ordination as a Catholic Priest in 1969, he held some unusual jobs, including chemical technician and nightclub bouncer, which may have given him a deeper appreciation for the common man and his travails.

SaintFrancisHis choice for papal name, Francis, speaks to his deep respect and admiration to Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Ecology. Pope Francis’ radical changes to the Catholic Church, following a period of decline in public opinion and membership, reflects the legend surrounding Saint Francis. While praying at an ancient church at San Damiano, Saint Francis heard the voice of Christ saying, “Francis, repair my church.” As the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, it may be less than a surprise that his approach to leading the Catholic Church is different than that of his predecessors. To declare, however, that environmental degradation is a sin is a truly revolutionary step in the eyes of many people around the world.

The Jesuit Approach

The Jesuit Order, also referred to as the Society of Jesus, was founded in the 1530s by Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius, a Basque soldier who experienced spiritual transformation at the age of 33 after being severely jesuit-emblem
wounded in battle, formed a brotherhood of himself and six other companions with a dedication to service of God whatever the sacrifice. Dedicated scholars devoted to knowledge and learning, Jesuits have served the Catholic Church for centuries and have taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The Jesuits are the largest order in the Catholic Church, and the leader of the Jesuits is referred to as the “the Black Pope” for his distinctive black attire and his perceived power. The Order’s structure is of a military-style and ethos, and the Jesuit troops are known for their willingness to go wherever and whenever needed to do their duty to God and humanity. In the 1960s, the Order decisively shifted their focus toward an emphasis of working on social justice, a sentiment echoed in the writings of Pope Francis.

The Pope’s Environmental Manifesto: Laudato Si

In June of 2015, Pope Francis released a revolutionary manifesto, an encyclical of 184 pages, entitled “Laudato Si,” translated as “Praise Be To You.” With the Subtitle of “On Care for Our Common Home,” the document represents a compilation of work and a collaboration of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars and previous popes. One member involved in the creation of the document, the U.N. Assistant Secretary for Climate Change, Janos Pasztor, described the unique nature of the encyclical by stating: “We have a situation here in which science and religion are totally aligned.” A revolutionary concept, indeed, in our polarized society and world.

pope-francis-laudato-si-artworkThe earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.

  • Pope Francis, “Laudato Si”

The Pope calls for all countries to adopt a circular model of production, known as sustainable development, which is capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. Additionally, he emphatically affirms that science has reached a consensus that the planet is experiencing “a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and an increase of extreme weather events.  

While he acknowledges that other factors are affecting the planet, such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, and the solar cycle, Pope Francis argues that primary blame can be attributed to human activity. He writes, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecLaudato-Si-quote-3osystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Sin and the Catholic Church

What constitutes a sin? Sin has been defined as an “offense against reason, truth, and right conscience” and “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI provided this direction on the theology of sin stating:  “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Pope Francis’ environmental treatise states that the destruction of the environment is not merely a sin, but it is the major sin of our time. The destruction of the planet is “our sin” and the Pope delivers a shocking condemnation on the current public inaction to deal with environmental issues. Pope Francis decries humanity’s reckless behavior in terms of a heedless worship of technology, compulsive consumerism, and an addiction to fossil fuels. Selfish behavior has pushed our planet to a perilous “breaking point,” and Pope Francis warns that “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”

Ecology, Values, and Freemasonry

Pope Francis’ decisive statement on climate change shifts the focus from a question of science to a question of values. He argues that climate change is a global problem with far reaching environmental and social consequences, with the mPope_Francis_address_to_Congressost dire predictions for the poorest of the world. In his manifesto, Pope Francis calls on humanity to collectively acknowledge a “sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

Freemasonry shares this important lesson and teaches its members to regard all of humanity as a brotherhood under God. When an individual treats each of his fellows as an equal, the application of this lesson of moral rectitude brings an increase in harmony and peace to our conflicted planet. Masons are obliged to exercise brotherly love for all humanity.

As Pope Francis writes, rich or poor, we are all children of the same Creator with each person deserving support and protection. Freemasonry instructs that we are all stewards of the earth: placed here to protect and cherish the great gift of our natural world. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs on the theology of sin, we should all realize our shared responsibility to take care of each other and the planet.