Saturday, September 10, 2016

Umkhosi woMhlanga explained - Reed Dance Ceremony

The annual Reed Dance Ceremony is a Zulu event that sees tens of thousands of young Zulu virgins (maidens) flock to Nyokeni Palace in Nongoma where they deliver fragile reeds, symbolic of their precious purity, to the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

Here is an interactive map of Nyokeni Palace which shows what happened at this year's (2015) Reed Dance Ceremony at the palace in Nongoma.

Be sure to hover over the yellow icon if you have any burning question you need answered. This is my first attempt at this kind of infographic so be kind.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Life and Death of an idea

It starts off somewhere in my brain, I cannot say exactly where. Out of nothing it comes alive and consumes my every thought. No matter how I look at it; it is perfect, it is beautiful; it is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

It is a great idea.

I don’t talk to people much, but when I do, I usually spew a lot of small talk that usually amounts to nothing.

This is why I prefer to write my thoughts, to make an argument online in the written word, where I can gather my thoughts, groom them, fine-tune them and project them into the world like a mother does to her child.

I can’t tell you now what kinds of chemicals are released into my brain when I suddenly get a good idea, but I can assure you by speculation that no recreational drug beats it.

I could be in a 15-seater taxi when it strikes me, but I will be smiling among strangers commuting to or from work like a retard.

The thing about these world-changing ideas is that they have lives of their own in my mind. Like a Russian nesting doll, they are minds within a mind, albeit a troubled one.

You see, an idea is born in my mind, and like a newborn infant, it is full of hope, this miracle that comes out of nowhere.Each idea starts off life with a great deal of hope, with a positive mindset in the world that is my mind.

The intricacies and realities, as far as my mind goes are at first kind to the young idea. An idea soon grows to see the world of my mind for what it truly is, cruel and unkind to the wellbeing of the young idea.

Soon enough, doodles on paper from the idea’s youth are stark reminders of what the once highly-spirited idea used to be, a far cry from its current wellbeing.

As with humans, the harsh environment of the world that is my brain soon kills what was a child-like outlook on the world. My mind is cruel to any good idea, and few have survived into advanced age, although barely.

“You’re not good enough,” an idea in my mind is constantly told by Common Sense. “You’re a waste of space,” my Logic shouts. It Is a dark, dark world in there and very few good ideas survive a constant bombardment from Anxiety, by far the cruellest of the bunch.

A once vibrant, but now decimated idea finds refuge from aliens of another world; ideas of another mind. Bound between sheets of dead trees, dark squiggles come alive as an idea jumps from the mind of a long-dead author into mine, hundreds or even thousands of years later.

I am then reminded of the immortality of my ideas and how they can live long and prosper if only I preserve them on dark squiggles between sheets of dead trees.

Maybe, just maybe the beautiful idea can make its way into a less troubled mind, a world better suited to nurse it back to health and nurture it into something amazing.

Preoccupied with the well-being of the idea, I sometimes forget about the ultimate end of the world, the Apocalypse of my mind; my ultimate death.

I love the way words go. The way thoughts can materialize on paper and digital screens, how they can cause a reaction and make another human connect with you, albeit in a positive or a negative manner.

All that matters is that you connect!

Without preservation on dark squiggles between sheets of dead trees, the idea will surely die with me; it will cease to exist within the world, as will I in mine.

This makes me wonder, being the being that I am, being alive and conscious, might I be an idea in the mind of a God? Well, that might make me out to be nothing but a dream, a fleeting thought destined to live and die in a flash.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Why I'd take science over religion any day

Televangelists perform seemingly modern miracles right in front of our eyes, so to speak. Advanced space telescopes look into deep space to find amazingly earth-like planets all over the galaxy.

These two are claims that profoundly engage us as humans and both compel us to make the most important of life's decisions: what to believe. What one believes greatly impacts one's behaviour and personality; basically one's worldview. But how does one decide which one is the correct fact?

Well, to avoid any conflict one may simply accept both, that some men and women can cure people with little more than prayer, and that there are indeed many other planets like ours in the Milky Way galaxy. For the curious, both these disciplines accommodate those who wish to "prove" or further investigate these "facts". For the first one, only your faith is asked of you, and the other one, science is offered as a truth-finding tool.

For intermediate truth-seekers, the televangelist asks that you call in and receive the prayer and the miracle that comes with it. While the organization responsible for the discovery of a new planet attaches an article explaining how the discovery was made. If one is still not convinced of the validity of either claim, then you are more than welcome to take the academic route. Theology is preferred for the first claim but science (and engineering) is the taken for the second claim.

In theology one is told, by authority that miracles do happen and that prayer does change the physical laws of the universe and the proof of it can be found in the authority of holy books and past philosophers (who conform to such ideas). In science however, one is taught to never accept any idea unless it has been proven independently countless times, and even then, one is taught to try as they may to disprove accepted ideas to test their strength and validity in reality.

In summary, in religion you are told to believe what you are told (and here I transcend all levels of theology to the highest authority who will basically tell you to believe what you are told), and in science you are told to go investigate it yourself and you are taught methods that will lead you to the truth of a physical reality.

For these reasons, I am obsessed with the communication of science, and I am very much against the proliferation of religion as it counteracts any progress I make in communicating methods for truth-finding.

I have made it a principle of mine to vanquish misinformation and vow everyday not to accommodate alternative means of truth-finding that are in fact false and more than likely lead to great conflicts as we do away with our desire for the honest truth, the physical reality of the universe.

So, two amazing things happen: a miracle on television with a man or woman praying, and a miracle in another solar system with a large team of scientists and engineers sciencing (sic).

Who do you choose to believe?

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Moon and the reason I was working this Christmas

KING Goodwill Zwelithini, young men coming to age, the full Moon and a great moral teacher is born. All these things have conspired to have me go to work this Christmas. 

Having the full moon this Christmas –something that has not happened since Star Wars Episode IV but more on that later- may seem like a Christmas miracle to some, but to not so to me. You see, the full moon being on the 25th December of this year means that the First Fruits Ceremony (called “uMkhosi woSelwa”) also has to coincide with this day.

UMkhosi WoSelwa is a sacred, traditional Zulu ceremony that sees young men flock to the King’s eNyokeni Palace in kwaNongoma. Once there, over several days they perform certain sacred rituals in line with what is expected of a Zulu man. When the King announced that uMkhosi WeSolwa will be held for a few days including Christmas, I cannot say that I was overly enthused.

Contrary to what I thought I knew about the Zulu nation, a lot of their lifestyle is dependent on the night sky. Indeed on many occasions, I have witnessed the King talking about the importance of astronomy for Zulus.

King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu has, on these public occasions, mentioned how the positions of the stars and planets play an important role in determining when harvests are made, when certain traditional ceremonies are conducted, and the role bodies like the moon play in the history of this great nation.

Speaking of which, around this time of year in 1878/9, His Majesty King Cetshwayo kaMpande, faced with imminent war cancelled this ceremony for that year in order to prepare his men for an altercation with Her Majesty’s Army in the midst of the dawn Anglo-Zulu war.

The heavens again became important, as the King’s men defeated the greatest army in the world at the time. As spears and cow-hide shields defeated semi-automatic guns, the Moon blocked the sun, and the blood-stained battlefield of iSandlwana momentarily turned day to night; a sign to the Zulu that God was on their side.

The current king has brought back this and many other traditional Zulu ceremonies, and as per custom, uMkhosi Woselwa has to happen during the last full moon of the year. The last time we had a Christmas full moon was in 1977, the same year the first Star Wars film in the 7-piece saga was first released.

While a Christmas full moon may seem special at first, it is quite rare as it occurs once every 38 years, but so it does for every other day of every other month as Neil deGresse Tyson tweeted this week.

Anyway, I cannot really complain about my predicament, as it has prompted me to think of the science of the moon, Star Wars, Christmas, and a proud Zulu nation and their ties to the night sky that has survived to this day.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Five reasons the world lost thier minds over #HomoNaledi

After it's discovery, the newly discovered human relative has sparked interest in more than just the scientific community. Among a few controversies, it got a lot of politicians talking science and evoluton.

The short video below is packed with juicy tid-bits about the world-famous discovery made in our very backyard in a digesteable format perfect for any curious SAfrican. The video was made by the good people at with a little help from yours truly; yup, I wrote the script!

So, go onto their website and enjoy an array of great South Africa science stories and share them with your friends!

You can follow me on Twitter: @astrosibs

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On the origin of misconceptions

Here is a column article of mine that was published in the Zululand Fever newspaper last year in response to a letter from a reader who was responding to a previous opinion piece about evolution I had penned.

I think it is still relevant in light of the many misconceptions that have risen from the announcement of the newly discovered homo naledi bones at the Cradle of Humankind.

On the origin of misconceptions

There are many misconceptions about the sciences and I find that facts can be twisted to suit a certain group’s beliefs. But reality has this nagging tendency to not bend to the will of those who choose to misrepresent it.

I am referring to instances I am usually exposed to where some people subscribe to misconceptions disguised as scientific facts. These misconceptions, I have observed, seldom come from people who have actually read the scientific concepts they refer to and often their references are authoritative accounts from people who themselves are non-scientists.

Here I am referring to a letter published in the Zululand Fever last week (1 August 2014) in which a Mr. S. Naidoo made some categorical mistakes in his inferences about the theory of evolution. First of all, having explicitly excluded religion from the discussion, Mr. Naidoo delved into the world of science and proceeded to explain why evolutionary scientists are racist zealots.

Whilst I cannot comment much on that, I can comment on the science. For one, I cannot find any historical references where the world famous naturalist, Charles Darwin, was said to have racist intentions on voyage aboard the H.M.S. Beagle en route to the Galapagos archipelago in the 17th century.

Mr. Naidoo supports his “evolution is racist” theory with the idea that evolution infers a difference in the races, more specifically that black people are less evolved that white people. No. the scientific theory of evolution does not at all say this. Also, it is not true that the scientific theory of evolution means that one species begets another.

A common question people ask is “if we evolved from apes, why are they still around?”  That is a fair question but it is unfortunately followed by “this proves that evolution is wrong.” Evolution does not mean that “we came from monkeys”. According to the theory of evolution we share a common ancestor with our ape and monkey cousins.

A number of people are not too happy to be associated with our hominid cousins - sort of like that drunkard uncle you don’t want your friends to know about.  You cannot erase the DNA evidence that links you to such relatives just because they are always naked and they swing on trees. The ape cousins, that is. Not your uncle.

Naidoo then talks about "true science" and explains how species do not change from one to the other. And he is right, because that is not the theory of evolution. To better understand what evolution means, no one column article can do it justice, but to use an example I usually use, let us consider this gedunkanexperiment.

Imagine a herd of species of antelope on a veld. Now, if some natural barrier were to suddenly prevent the two halves of the group from meeting for several generations, each would adapt to the unique conditions on each side of the barrier, provided conditions do change respectively.

Now, if they were to somehow overcome the barrier to meet again and find that they look different, would we then have new species?

Species are defined as a group of organisms whose offspring are able to interbreed. That means that their babies can have babies. Now, let’s say that these two antelope groups try to get it on and we find that any two individuals (one male and one female from each group) are unable to interbreed; we would then say that they are now two different species.

From one species, came two. Not one species changing into another when the urge strikes it. That is not evolution. Another important aspect of Darwinism is that individuals do not choose to “evolve”, it is those individuals who happen to be best suited to survive conditions being dished out by nature that survive. This is what we call evolution by natural selection.

This information is not bound in some sacred texts hidden in some fortress under the section “Forbidden Knowledge: 300-399”, but is science that is easily available at public libraries and reputable bookstores. Just ask for the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin and your effort at actually reading the book and enriching your mind on what evolution really is, should open your mind to reality.

I am not saying Darwinism is cast in stone as there are still gaps in the science of it. But the beauty of it is the overwhelming evidence that is written in the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of “non-believers” and the scientifically literate alike. On the origins of the universe; whether it was created by God or happened by accident, no-one can say for sure.

I applaud those who apply their minds in considering the question anyway instead of dogmatically sticking to one idea.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Umkhosi woMhlanga explained - Reed Dance Ceremony

The annual Reed Dance Ceremony is a Zulu event that sees tens of thousands of young Zulu virgins (maidens) flock to Nyokeni Palace in Nongoma where they deliver fragile reeds, symbolic of their precious purity, to the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

Here is an interactive map of Nyokeni Palace which shows what happened at this year's Reed Dance Ceremony at the palace in Nongoma.

Be sure to hover over the yellow icon if you have any burning question you need answered. This is my first attempt at this kind of infographic so be kind.