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Did Michelangelo Hide Secret Messages in the Sistine Chapel’s Ceiling?
The painting measures 12,000 sq. ft. and includes over 300 life-like figures.
Visitors have marveled at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for over five hundred years. It draws millions of tourists annually and holds a special place in Christianity. Besides serving as the Pope’s private chapel, it’s also where a papal enclave takes place, should the pontiff pass on, and the need arise to elect a new one. The last one was in 2013.
At age 33, Michelangelo Buonarotti began the project. It was 1508. He finished in 1512. It wasn’t easy. He painted mostly standing up, not on his back as rumored. Craning his neck for long hours caused him terrible headaches, spasms, and muscle cramps. A mold bloom made him scrap the first draft. He scraped the whole ceiling and started over. The great master even had to create a system of scaffolding and platforms to allow him to complete the work.
Michelangelo was already a renowned sculptor whose David and Pieta caused shock waves across Europe. The resulting fame won him Pope Julius II’s commission. He saw himself as a sculptor and didn’t take painting seriously. He also thought the offer a plot perpetrated by his rivals, including fellow ninja turtle namesake, Raphael. This master of human anatomy ultimately “sculpted” his figures onto the chapel’s ceiling.
Behind the figure of God, the clouds form a brain. Neurosurgery. May 2010.
Without an initial plan on how to lay it out, the breadth and intricate detail of the final work is nothing short of spectacular. Measuring 12,000 sq. ft. (1,100 m²), it includes nine scenes from the Old Testament and more than 300 life-like figures. Their portrayals and natural anatomy are said to have inspired generations of artists and scientists. The panel “The Creation of Adam,” where God and Adam’s fingers nearly touch, is one of the most recognizable and reproduced artworks in human history.
Though it was the Renaissance, the church was extremely strict, and running afoul of the authorities proved dangerous for one’s life and freedom. That’s why it’s fascinating to consider that one of history’s greatest artists hid secret images in his most famous work. Sounds like something from a Dan Brown novel.
Consider "The Creation of Adam." In 1990, physician Frank Lynn Meshberger discovered something, a brain hidden in God’s figure where the robes of the angels flanking him intertwine. It’s believed to signify God’s bequeathing of intelligence to humankind.
The cloud behind God is also said to be in the shape of a brain. That’s not nearly all. One of the angel’s feet is two-cleft like a horse. But Dr. Meshberger believes if you look closer, you'll see the dual lobes of the pituitary gland. In 2000, a kidney specialist found a kidney hidden in another panel. That makes sense, as the artist suffered from kidney stones.
Note the smoothness on other figures, yet the bumpiness in God’s chin. Neurosurgery. May 2010.
A 2010 study uncovered another brain hidden in the panel, “The Separation of Light From Darkness.” It’s underneath God’s uplifted chin, within his neck. The brain stem, parts of the temporal lobe, the medulla, and other structures are clearly visible. This part of the body is actually smooth, which is why it stuck out.
The study conducted by medical illustrator Ian Suk and neurosurgeon Dr. Rafael J. Tamargo, was published in the journal Neurosurgery. The use of light and God’s short-cropped beard—which is usually portrayed as long and flowing, added weight to the argument, though some scholars remain dubious. The hairs in his beard even curl upward to reveal the image beneath.
The prodigy, starting in his teens, was known to dissect and study corpses in the church graveyard, which is why his sculptures were so life-like. The fact that he had mastered the portrayal of human anatomy makes the bumpiness of God’s neck stick out. “It’s an unusual view of the brainstem, from the bottom up. Most people wouldn’t recognize it unless they had extensively studied neuroanatomy,” Suk said.
In the same panel, God is in a red robe. Optic nerves are portrayed in the twists of his robe, around his waist, in the same way as is found in a Da Vinci illustration from 1487. The two men were contemporaries and kept tabs on one another. Look closely and you’ll notice a structure in his chest. Another unnatural roll of fabric there is the figure of a human spinal cord, according to Suk and Tamargo, both of Johns Hopkins. “It looks like the central nervous system may have been too good a motif to use only once,” Tamargo said.
A 2016 Brazilian study published in the journal Clinical Anatomy, found that in addition to internal organs, the artist may have also imbued the work with female anatomical structures. A ram’s skull that looks very much like a uterus appears eight times throughout the painting.
Women are depicted as brawny to project female strength. Yet, art historians counter that the reason is, he only studied male cadavers. They also posit that the eight triangles in the piece all facing downward symbolize the female anatomy and in this way, allude to the “sacred feminine.” This was a motif held in high esteem in Greco-Roman art, but which threatened the male-dominated church. Women also take frontstage in certain scenes, which is taken as a way of honoring women.
Was the use of hidden symbols the artist thumbing his nose at the church, an homage to science—glorifying the human mind, a recognition of the divine feminine, or offering some other cryptic meaning? Interpretations will spiral off for years to come. One wonders if we will ever uncover the mysteries behind these hidden organs or if the answers are lost to the cavernous maw of oblivion.
To learn more about secret messages in Renaissance art, click here:
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
What’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota?
This is a mysterious map. Obviously about music, or more precisely musicians. But what’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota? None of these musicians are from those states! Everyone knows that! Is this map that stupid, or just looking for a fight? Let’s pause a moment and consider our attention spans, shrinking faster than polar ice caps.
Can passenger airships make a triumphantly 'green' comeback?
Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>