As Above, So Below

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Female Hysteria: A History of WTF

Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and “a tendency to cause trouble”.

Since ancient times women considered to be suffering from hysteria would sometimes undergo “pelvic massage” – manual stimulation of the genitals by the doctor until the patient experienced “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm).

Early history

The history of the notion of hysteria can be traced to ancient times; in ancient Greece it was described in the gynecological treatises of the Hippocratic corpus, which date from the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Plato’s dialogue Timaeus compares a woman’s uterus to a living creature that wanders throughout a woman’s body, “blocking passages, obstructing breathing, and causing disease.” The concept of a pathological, wandering womb was later viewed as the source of the term hysteria, which stems from the Greek cognate of uterus, ὑστέρα (hystera).

Galen, a prominent physician from the 2nd century, wrote that hysteria was a disease caused by sexual deprivation in particularly passionate women: hysteria was noted quite often in virgins, nuns, widows and, occasionally, married women. The prescription in medieval and renaissance medicine was intercourse if married, marriage if single, or vaginal massage by a midwife as a last recourse.

Nineteenth century

Such cases were quite profitable for physicians, since the patients were at no risk of death, but needed repeated treatment. The only problem was that physicians did not enjoy the tedious task of vaginal massage (generally referred to as “pelvic massage”): The technique was difficult for a physician to master and could take hours to achieve “hysterical paroxysm”. Referral to midwives, which had been common practice, meant a loss of business for the physician. The chaise longue and fainting couch became popular home furniture to make women more comfortable during home treatment. Fainting rooms were also used for more privacy during home treatment.

A solution was the invention of massage devices, which shortened treatment from hours to minutes, removing the need for midwives and increasing a physician’s treatment capacity. Already at the beginning of the 19th century, hydrotherapy devices were available at Bath, and by the mid-19th century, they were popular at many high-profile bathing resorts across Europe, the United States and other American countries. By 1870, a clockwork-driven vibrator was available for physicians. In 1873, the first electromechanical vibrator was used at an asylum in France for the treatment of hysteria.

By the 20th century, the spread of home electricity brought the vibrator to the consumer market. The appeal of cheaper treatment in the privacy of one’s own home understandably made the vibrator a popular early home appliance. In fact, the electric home vibrator was on the market before many other home appliance ’essentials’: nine years before the electric vacuum cleaner and 10 years before the electric iron. A page from a Sears catalog of home electrical appliances from 1918 includes a portable vibrator with attachments, billed as ”Very useful and satisfactory for home service.”

————

Well shit a brick and fuck me with it. That’s how vibrators came to be? I always knew female hysteria was an umbrella of misdiagnosed fuckery, but wow. Also, 19th century physicians didn’t know the first thing about finger banging despite all the business they were getting. God rest their wives’ souls.

Considering other preposterous notions like the “wandering womb”, it’s kind of mind-blowing we have survived this long as a species. Say what you will about the challenges of today, but I am glad to be alive and well in 2013. So is my uterus.

“Lemurs are a clade of strepsirrhine primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. The word ‘lemur’ derives from the word lemures (ghosts or spirits) from Roman mythology. Lemurs arrived in Madagascar around 62 to 65 million years ago by rafting on mats of vegetation at a time when ocean currents favored oceanic dispersal to the island. Since that time, lemurs have evolved to cope with an extremely seasonal environment and their adaptations give them a level of diversity that rivals that of all other primate groups. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla.”
We should give Madagascar back to the lemurs. If they reached the island floating on nothing but bits of vegetation millions of years ago… they earned the right to call the place their own. High-res

Lemurs are a clade of strepsirrhine primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. The word ‘lemur’ derives from the word lemures (ghosts or spirits) from Roman mythology. Lemurs arrived in Madagascar around 62 to 65 million years ago by rafting on mats of vegetation at a time when ocean currents favored oceanic dispersal to the island. Since that time, lemurs have evolved to cope with an extremely seasonal environment and their adaptations give them a level of diversity that rivals that of all other primate groups. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla.”

We should give Madagascar back to the lemurs. If they reached the island floating on nothing but bits of vegetation millions of years ago… they earned the right to call the place their own.

Zodiac Man: Man as Microcosm
Part of the Medieval worldview was the idea that man was a microcosm (“a little world”) which reflected the macrocosm of the Ptolemaic universe. As the Earth was divided into regions influenced by the planets, similarly the body of man was divided into “regions” governed by signs of the Zodiac. Astrological signs were thought to influence the body and its health, and sketches of the “Zodiac Man” are common in medical treatises of the Middle Ages.
The concept of man as microcosm is thought to originate with the ancient Babylonians. The Egyptians and the Mayans had analogues, and ancient Mithraic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Vedic traditions also contain similar concepts. Microcosmic ideas are fleshed out in the works of Plato (4th-c. BCE), but the first use of the term “microcosmos” in Western philosophy appears later, briefly, in Aristotle’s Physics. The first modern use of the terms macrocosmos and microcosmos, shortened to macrocosm/microcosm, was by Pico della Mirandola in his Heptaplus in 1490.
There were several subsequent variations and expansions, of course. The idea of man as microcosm was popular long after the Middle Ages and was often used as a poetical conceit. Some hermetic and occult traditions embrace the idea of the microcosmic man still today. High-res

Zodiac Man: Man as Microcosm

Part of the Medieval worldview was the idea that man was a microcosm (“a little world”) which reflected the macrocosm of the Ptolemaic universe. As the Earth was divided into regions influenced by the planets, similarly the body of man was divided into “regions” governed by signs of the Zodiac. Astrological signs were thought to influence the body and its health, and sketches of the “Zodiac Man” are common in medical treatises of the Middle Ages.

The concept of man as microcosm is thought to originate with the ancient Babylonians. The Egyptians and the Mayans had analogues, and ancient Mithraic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Vedic traditions also contain similar concepts. Microcosmic ideas are fleshed out in the works of Plato (4th-c. BCE), but the first use of the term “microcosmos” in Western philosophy appears later, briefly, in Aristotle’s Physics. The first modern use of the terms macrocosmos and microcosmos, shortened to macrocosm/microcosm, was by Pico della Mirandola in his Heptaplus in 1490.

There were several subsequent variations and expansions, of course. The idea of man as microcosm was popular long after the Middle Ages and was often used as a poetical conceit. Some hermetic and occult traditions embrace the idea of the microcosmic man still today.

Alchemy runs alongside the traditional narrative of Western thought like a shadow. Long ignored, often discredited as pseudoscience, it has nonetheless had important effects on the cultures of Europe and the Middle East for the past two thousand (or more) years. It’s always been a hermetic field of inquiry, sealed off from mainstream intellectual pursuits, but its traces linger. The phrase ‘hermetically sealed,’ after all, derives from the ‘Seal of Hermes,’ the nickname for the stopper on the long-necked glass jar used in making the Philosopher’s Stone (the substance that would allow for a direct transmutation of an impure metal like lead into the pure silver or gold). We have alchemists to thank for the French name for a double boiler, the bain-marie (bagno-maria in Italian) — a reference to another apocryphal alchemist, Maria the Jew, and her method of heating slowly using water — and for the fact that we refer to quicksilver as ‘mercury.’

Colin Dickey

Homo Sacer

Under the Roman Empire, a man who committed a certain kind of crime was banned from society and all of his rights as a citizen were revoked. He thus became a "homo sacer" (set-apart man). In consequence, he could be killed by anybody, while his life on the other hand was deemed “sacred”, so he could not be sacrificed in a ritual ceremony. In Latin, homo sacer is both “the sacred man” and “the accursed man.”

Roman law no longer applied to someone deemed a Homo sacer, although they would remain “under the spell” of law. The sacred human may thus be understood as someone outside the law, or beyond it. In the case of certain monarchs in western legal traditions, the sovereign and the Homo Sacer have conflated.

The status of homo sacer could fall upon one as a consequence of oath-breaking. An oath in antiquity was essentially a conditional self-cursing, i.e. invoking one or several deities and asking for their punishment in the event of breaking the oath. An oathbreaker was consequently considered the property of the gods whom he had invoked and then deceived. If the oathbreaker was killed, this was understood as the revenge of the gods in whose power he had given himself. Since the oathbreaker was already the property of the oath deity, he could no longer belong to human society, or be consecrated to another deity.

Language deprivation experiments have been attempted several times through history, isolating infants from the normal use of spoken or signed language in an attempt to discover the fundamental character of human nature or the origin of language.

The American literary scholar Roger Shattuck called this kind of research study “The Forbidden Experiment” due to the exceptional deprivation of ordinary human contact it requires. Although not designed to study language, similar experiments on non-human primates utilising complete social deprivation resulted in psychosis.

Ancient records suggest that this kind of experiment was carried out from time to time, though the authenticity of these records is unconfirmable. An early record of an experiment of this kind can be found in Herodotus’s Histories. According to Herodotus, after carrying out such an experiment, the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I concluded the Phrygian race must predate the Egyptians since the child had first spoken something similar to the Phrygian word bekos, meaning “bread.”

An alleged experiment carried out by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century saw young infants raised without human interaction in an attempt to determine if there was a natural language that they might demonstrate once their voices matured. It is claimed he was seeking to discover what language would have been imparted unto Adam and Eve by God.

Zoomable timeline of the cosmos puts us in our place
It certainly makes you feel small. A new interactive website takes you on a crash course through the history of our universe, all the way from the present day right back to 13.7 billion years ago and the dawn of time.
ChronoZoom, which went live yesterday, is a timeline that is subdivided into millions of years, which lets users zoom in on the most interesting eras - whether it’s the birth of the first stars or when humans first walked the Earth.
Manipulating the slider, zooming in from the big bang through to the Mesozoic era for example, you get an intuitive sense of how our own existence on Earth occupies such a tiny portion of the scale. Each segment of time is packed with extras, like video clips or personal stories, or extra data about the period. Zoom in close to the very beginning of time and a separate chart appears that illustrates what happened in the first seconds after the big bang.
Submenus let users switch the focus from the cosmos section of the timeline all the way down to human prehistory and beyond…
(via New Scientist) High-res

Zoomable timeline of the cosmos puts us in our place

It certainly makes you feel small. A new interactive website takes you on a crash course through the history of our universe, all the way from the present day right back to 13.7 billion years ago and the dawn of time.

ChronoZoom, which went live yesterday, is a timeline that is subdivided into millions of years, which lets users zoom in on the most interesting eras - whether it’s the birth of the first stars or when humans first walked the Earth.

Manipulating the slider, zooming in from the big bang through to the Mesozoic era for example, you get an intuitive sense of how our own existence on Earth occupies such a tiny portion of the scale. Each segment of time is packed with extras, like video clips or personal stories, or extra data about the period. Zoom in close to the very beginning of time and a separate chart appears that illustrates what happened in the first seconds after the big bang.

Submenus let users switch the focus from the cosmos section of the timeline all the way down to human prehistory and beyond…

(via New Scientist)

2.14

I like to approach this holiday by reaching out for a big ephemeral hug. You’re all my Valentines. I mean it. Now go out there and spread the love. You don’t need to be manic about it. A warm smile or a lighthearted joke at just the right moment would suffice. But don’t stop with today, make it a daily practice.

This is my signature move when balance is needed. Be inclusive, not exclusive. It’s worked on ex lovers who didn’t know when to give up pet names or other emotional artifacts, and it’s worked on days like today when everyone “has something to say.”

I usually say nothing when the holidays come and go. I like seeing smiling faces and trust real people remain genuine in their approach. I commune with humanity when there is good will to be found.

But once in a while it’s worth kicking up a little dust on perspective.

The transcendental union between two beings is sacred and deserves to be celebrated in an intimate way, no? Why do it with everyone else on a pseudo Christian holiday with no solid historical connection? Once you get underneath all the tacky fanfare and reach those few questionably disconnected threads you find there was more than one Valentine on a path of bloody martyrdom. You can thank Chaucer for the medieval poetry further diluting fact into lore and those popular yet shall remained unnamed card pushers for the fluffy rhetoric.

This is something that has always bothered me about the major holidays. They have either been appropriated from preexisting cultures to assimilate opposing ideologies or have been entirely fabricated by corporations after the money in your wallet. Everyone just accepts these “special” parts of the year because they were spoonfed it that way from the cradle. The more interesting among us might add some flair along the way, but stay glued to these particular points in the ever churning cycle.

If you’re gonna love someone, then do it right.

I believe in the power of tradition, but only when we create it for ourselves.

Steganography

Steganography is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity. The word steganography is of Greek origin and means “concealed writing” from the Greek words steganos (στεγανός) meaning “covered or protected”, and graphei (γραφή) meaning “writing”. The first recorded use of the term was in 1499 by Johannes Trithemius in his Steganographia, a treatise on cryptography and steganography disguised as a book on magic. Generally, messages will appear to be something else: images, articles, shopping lists, or some other covertext and, classically, the hidden message may be in invisible ink between the visible lines of a private letter.

The advantage of steganography, over cryptography alone, is that messages do not attract attention to themselves. Plainly visible encrypted messages—no matter how unbreakable—will arouse suspicion, and may in themselves be incriminating in countries where encryption is illegal. Therefore, whereas cryptography protects the contents of a message, steganography can be said to protect both messages and communicating parties.

Steganography includes the concealment of information within computer files. In digital steganography, electronic communications may include steganographic coding inside of a transport layer, such as a document file, image file, program or protocol. Media files are ideal for steganographic transmission because of their large size. As a simple example, a sender might start with an innocuous image file and adjust the color of every 100th pixel to correspond to a letter in the alphabet, a change so subtle that someone not specifically looking for it is unlikely to notice it.

Image of a tree with a steganographically hidden image. The hidden image is revealed by removing all but the two least significant bits of each color component and a subsequent normalization. The hidden image is shown below.

Image of a cat extracted from the tree image above.


Learn more at Wikipedia.

Forever Animal

Hannen Swaffer, the British journalist, reports that in 1936 visionary artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare wilfully rejected a chance for international fame. He relates that a member of the German Embassy, buying one of Spare’s self-portraits, sent it to Hitler. According to Swaffer, the Fuehrer was so impressed (according to this account because the eyes and the moustache were somewhat like his own) that he invited Spare to go to Germany to paint him. Spare, instead, made a copy of it, which came into Swaffer’s possession. Swaffer indicates that written at the top of the portrait is the reply that Spare “sent to the man who wanted to master Europe and dominate mankind”.

Swaffer reports the reply read as follows:

“Only from negations can I wholesomely conceive you. For I know of no courage sufficient to stomach your aspirations and ultimates. If you are superman, let me be forever animal.”

(via Wikipedia)

Does the Past Exist Yet? Evidence Suggests Your Past Isn’t Set in Stone

Recent discoveries require us to rethink our understanding of history. “The histories of the universe,” said renowned physicist Stephen Hawking “depend on what is being measured, contrary to the usual idea that the universe has an objective observer-independent history.”

Is it possible we live and die in a world of illusions? Physics tells us that objects exist in a suspended state until observed, when they collapse in to just one outcome. Paradoxically, whether events happened in the past may not be determined until sometime in your future — and may even depend on actions that you haven’t taken yet.

In 2002, scientists carried out an amazing experiment, which showed that particles of light “photons” knew — in advance −- what their distant twins would do in the future. They tested the communication between pairs of photons — whether to be either a wave or a particle. Researchers stretched the distance one of the photons had to take to reach its detector, so that the other photon would hit its own detector first. The photons taking this path already finished their journeys -− they either collapse into a particle or don’t before their twin encounters a scrambling device. Somehow, the particles acted on this information before it happened, and across distances instantaneously as if there was no space or time between them. They decided not to become particles before their twin ever encountered the scrambler. It doesn’t matter how we set up the experiment. Our mind and its knowledge is the only thing that determines how they behave. Experiments consistently confirm these observer-dependent effects.

More recently (Science 315, 966, 2007), scientists in France shot photons into an apparatus, and showed that what they did could retroactively change something that had already happened. As the photons passed a fork in the apparatus, they had to decide whether to behave like particles or waves when they hit a beam splitter. Later on - well after the photons passed the fork - the experimenter could randomly switch a second beam splitter on and off. It turns out that what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle actually did at the fork in the past. At that moment, the experimenter chose his history.

Of course, we live in the same world. Particles have a range of possible states, and it’s not until observed that they take on properties. So until the present is determined, how can there be a past? According to visionary physicist John Wheeler (who coined the word “black hole”), “The quantum principle shows that there is a sense in which what an observer will do in the future defines what happens in the past.” Part of the past is locked in when you observe things and the “probability waves collapse.” But there’s still uncertainty, for instance, as to what’s underneath your feet. If you dig a hole, there’s a probability you’ll find a boulder. Say you hit a boulder, the glacial movements of the past that account for the rock being in exactly that spot will change as described in the Science experiment.

But what about dinosaur fossils? Fossils are really no different than anything else in nature. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are “fossils” created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. “We are participators,” Wheeler said “in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past.” Before his death, he stated that when observing light from a quasar, we set up a quantum observation on an enormously large scale. It means, he said, the measurements made on the light now, determines the path it took billions of years ago.

Like the light from Wheeler’s quasar, historical events such as who killed JFK, might also depend on events that haven’t occurred yet. There’s enough uncertainty that it could be one person in one set of circumstances, or another person in another. Although JFK was assassinated, you only possess fragments of information about the event. But as you investigate, you collapse more and more reality. According to biocentrism, space and time are relative to the individual observer - we each carry them around like turtles with shells.

History is a biological phenomenon − it’s the logic of what you, the animal observer experiences. You have multiple possible futures, each with a different history like in the Science experiment. Consider the JFK example: say two gunmen shot at JFK, and there was an equal chance one or the other killed him. This would be a situation much like the famous Schrödinger’s cat experiment, in which the cat is both alive and dead − both possibilities exist until you open the box and investigate.

"We must re-think all that we have ever learned about the past, human evolution and the nature of reality, if we are ever to find our true place in the cosmos," says Constance Hilliard, a historian of science at UNT. Choices you haven’t made yet might determine which of your childhood friends are still alive, or whether your dog got hit by a car yesterday. In fact, you might even collapse realities that determine whether Noah’s Ark sank. "The universe," said John Haldane, "is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

— Robert Lanza

(via Huffington Post and @1pt61808)

Witch on a hallucinogenic flying broomstick

I’ve just found this fascinating discussion on the psychopharmacology of ‘witches ointments’, that supposedly allowed 16th century witches to ‘fly’.

It’s from a fantastic 1998 Anesthesiology article about atropine containing plants, like belladona, deadly nightshade and hemlock, and their effects.

De Laguna was not the sole commentator about the relationship of mind‐altering drugs and witchcraft in the 16th century. In De Praestigiis Daemonum, which Freud called one of the 10 most significant books of all time,Johann Weyer (1515–1588 CE) concluded henbane was a principal ingredient of witches’ brew, along with deadly nightshade and mandrake.

According to Weyer, there were other ointments, but the essential ingredients remained the same in all. The preparations, when applied to the upper thighs or genitals, were said to induce the sensation of rising into the air of flying.

Witches were thought to anoint a chair or broomstick with the devil’s ointment, and after self‐application, would fly through the air to meet for devil worship at the sabbat.Francis Bacon (1561–1626 CE) observed that “… the witches themselves are imaginative, and believe oftentimes they do that, which they do not … transforming themselves into other bodies … not by incantations or ceremonies, but by ointments, and annointing themselves all over.”

In an extensive review of psychotropic plant ointments of the Renaissance, Piomelli and Pollio examined transcripts of witchcraft trials, writings on demonology, and the botanical composition of ointments that alleged witches used on themselves during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Despite the difficulty with accurate identification of the plants, the documents reported consistent pharmacologic effects. Further, the biochemical logic of applying these plants in a fat‐based unguent was sound, as it would promote passage of the alkaloids through the intact skin and mucosa.

The use of soot (slightly alkaline) likely would enhance the passage of organic bases because a weakly alkaline environment would be sufficient to neutralize the positive ionic charge. That this is an effective ethnobotanical technique may be seen with Peruvian coca chewers, who mix in their mouths the cocaine‐containing leaves with alkaline cinders to enhance uptake.

There is even experimental evidence for believing that a fatty base was used in these ointments; an ointment from the 13th or 14th century, found accidentally, was subjected to chemical analysis and had an animal fat content of 40%.

The full article is well worth checking out as it tackles how the plants have been used in potions and preparations through history and were a early form of anaesthesia in ancient and medieval surgery. 

Link to Anesthesiology article.

(via Mind Hacks)

Agreed. And to clarify, listing a number of advances made by the Nazis was not to advocate human cruelty. If you are going to offer a criticism about something as far reaching as the Nazis or their involved corporations, be careful to check whether you yourself have not inadvertently benefited from them. Again, not a point for advocacy, just illustrating the ways in which we can all too easily become hypocrites.
I believe we would have eventually discovered and created these technologies, but once the information is unearthed, no matter by what means, especially if it can benefit in saving lives, it’s hard to bury it. I don’t think it’s right, but that’s just one more fucked up shade of grey the world runs on.
Morality and responsibility are relative beasts. Is a woman saved by a defibrillator condoning the means by which it was created? Is she in some way responsible for the technology being implemented? No, of course not, but these are definitely discussions that should be honored in every generation, because somewhere along the way there is someone in a position of power who will have to make that call. High-res

Agreed. And to clarify, listing a number of advances made by the Nazis was not to advocate human cruelty. If you are going to offer a criticism about something as far reaching as the Nazis or their involved corporations, be careful to check whether you yourself have not inadvertently benefited from them. Again, not a point for advocacy, just illustrating the ways in which we can all too easily become hypocrites.

I believe we would have eventually discovered and created these technologies, but once the information is unearthed, no matter by what means, especially if it can benefit in saving lives, it’s hard to bury it. I don’t think it’s right, but that’s just one more fucked up shade of grey the world runs on.

Morality and responsibility are relative beasts. Is a woman saved by a defibrillator condoning the means by which it was created? Is she in some way responsible for the technology being implemented? No, of course not, but these are definitely discussions that should be honored in every generation, because somewhere along the way there is someone in a position of power who will have to make that call.