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