In Norse mythology, a fylgja (plural fylgjur) is a spirit who accompanies a person in connection to their fate or fortune. The word fylgja means “to accompany” similar to that of the Irish Fetch. It can also mean “afterbirth of a child”[1] meaning that the afterbirth and the fylgja are connected. In some instances, the fylgja can take on the form of the animal that shows itself when a baby is born or as the creature that eats the afterbirth. In some literature and sagas, the fylgjur can take the form of mice, dogs, foxes, cats, birds of prey, or carrion eaters because these were animals that would typically eat such afterbirths.[1]

Other ideas of fylgjur are that the animals reflect the character of the person they represent, akin to a totem animal. Men who were viewed as a leader would often have fylgja to show their true character. This means that if they had a “tame nature”, their fylgja would typically be an ox, goat, or boar. If they had an “untame nature” they would have fylgjur such as a fox, wolf, deer, bear, eagle, falcon, leopard, lion, or a serpent.[2] Turville-Petre cites multiple instances where an evil wizard or sorcerer’s fylgja is a fox, because the mage is sly and hiding something, or an enemy’s fylgja is a wolf.[1] In The Story of Howard the Halt [Hárvarðar saga Ísfirðings], the character Atli has a dream about eighteen wolves running towards him with a vixen as their leader. As it turns out, the dream presages that Atli will be attacked by an army with a sorcerer at the front.[3]

Fylgjur may also “mark transformations between human and animal”[2] or shape shifting. In Egil’s Saga, there are references to both Egil and Skallagrim transforming into wolves or bears, and there are examples of shape shifting in the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, where Bodvar Bjarki turns into a bear during a battle as a last stand. These transformations are possibly implied in the saga descriptions of berserkers who transform into animals or display bestial abilities.

Fylgjur usually appear in the form of an animal or a human and commonly appear during sleep, but the sagas relate that they could appear while a person is awake as well, and that seeing one’s fylgja is an omen of one’s impending death. However, when fylgjur appear in the form of women, they are then supposedly guardian spirits for people or clans (ættir). According to Else Mundal, the women fylgja could also be considered a dís, a ghost or goddess that is attached to fate.[4] Both Andy Orchardand Rudolf Simek note parallels between the concept of the hamingja—a personification of a family’s or individual’s fortune—and the fylgja. An example of such an occurrence would be in Gisli Surrson’s Saga where the main character, Gisli, is visited by two beautiful women, one who is trying to bring good fortune and one that is trying to edge him towards violence. These two women could represent the women ancestors of Gisli’s family ties, such as the ties between his wife Aud and his sister Thordis, relating to the idea of the hamingja and dís.

(From Wikipedia.org)

In Addition to Testosterone, Another Hormone Is Vital for Early Male Development

A hormone called androsterone, produced in the placenta and other organs, plays a role in fetal development in the womb

While testosterone plays a significant role in fetal development, it is not the only hormone that influences masculinization. (noBorders – Brayden Howie)

By Paul Fowler, The Conversation


FEBRUARY 27, 2019

Often the first question parents are asked after the birth of their child is “congratulations, girl or boy?” For parents of one in 2,000 to 4,000 births, however, there is not an easy answer. This is when the baby has “ambiguous” genitalia, where it is not clear which sex they belong to. In baby boys, this was long thought to be caused by problems linked to testosterone—as were more common disorders such as undescended testicles and malformed penises, which respectively occur in 9 percent and 1 percent of births.

But now it is clear that the reality is slightly different. According to new research in which I am a co-author, another hormone known as androsterone—which originates in the placenta and fetal adrenal gland—is also vital to the process that turns fetuses in boys. These insights have the potential to make a big difference to how we treat sexual disorders in male babies in future—and are also relevant to the whole debate about male and female identity.

Even small children are aware that men and women usually look different. It is common knowledge that boys become men because the testes of the man produce the “male” hormone testosterone and, in turn, testosterone makes men masculine. We know this thanks to the French endocrinologist Alfred Jost’s groundbreaking studies in the early 1950s.

There are several times in boys’ lives in which bursts of testosterone play a key role in their development as males. The most well known is of course puberty, in which the testes start making much more testosterone. This makes boys hairier, grows their genitals and makes their voices break.

The other times are the “mini-puberty” that takes place at around three months after birth, which leads certain changes in the testes and brain; and when a boy is still a fetus in the womb, around three months into his mother’s pregnancy. While all these bursts of testosterone are probably very important in making a normal male, it is the one in the womb that affects whether the child will be a boy at all. What is now clear is that testosterone and the testes have been hogging the podium when in fact we need to share the honors around.

Testosterone and super-testosterone

Testosterone is part a family of male sex hormones called androgens. To get a normal male, testosterone needs to be turned into another androgen called dihyrotestosterone or DHT, a “super-testosterone” that is five times more potent than its cousin. This conversion is done in the tissue of what will become the penis, along with the other parts of the body that develop male characteristics. The consequences of the process are clear: boys who cannot turn testosterone into DHT are born looking female and only become more obviously male at puberty.

These include the Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic, who, due to a genetic mutation, lack the enzymes to make the DHT conversion. Studying these extraordinary children in the early 1970s led the American researcher Julianne Imperato-McGinley to develop the drug finasteride to treat prostate cancer.

For years, this story was considered complete—masculinization was due to testosterone and the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Then an Australian zoologist named Marilyn Renfree, in an elegant series of studies in the 2000s, published the first evidence that things may not be that simple. She was actually studying wallabies, since the young in the pouch were easily accessible for experimental purposes and they mimic much of the period of pregnancy in humans and other mammals with placentas. Renfree found that the genitals of the young male wallabies made DHT even without testosterone from their testes. The only reliable conclusion was that they were converting other androgens to DHT.

It became clear that there are two ways to make a “male signal” in a wallaby fetus, both of which are necessary to normal sexual development. The first is by testosterone from the testes. The second is through different androgens that can also be made by other organs in the human, including the fetus’s adrenal glands, liver and the placenta. These other processes came to be known as the “backdoor” pathway.

But was the same thing true in humans? It was later shown that it was, by studying male human newborns who were not properly masculinized; they had undescended testes and ambiguous genitals, despite having testes that made testosterone. It turned out they were unable to make the backdoor androgens because they had mutations in the genes of enzymes that were key to the process of the conversion into DHT.

As further evidence that both types of male signal are essential to normal development of human male fetuses, it was also discovered that fetuses whose placentas are not working properly are around twice as likely to be born with undescended testes or with malformed penises—especially if they are also born abnormally small (for their gestational age).

What we have shown

In our research, which also involved the University of Glasgow and French and Swedish collaborators, we have been able to explain why. We measured the levels of different male sex hormones in the blood of male and female fetuses, and were surprised to find that only two androgens were higher in males than females: testosterone and androsterone. The relevance to the placenta is that it is up to 6,000 times heavier than the fetus and it makes large amounts of a hormone called progesterone, which it can convert into androsterone—as can the fetal liver and adrenal glands. The human fetuses’ testes have no ability to make this conversion.

Fetus Development
Fetal development. (Sebastian Kaulitzki)

We then also showed that the testosterone and androsterone were converted into DHT in male target tissues like the penis. And not only are both androgens required to masculinize the fetus, there can be abnormalities where levels are lower than normal: for example, a good index of the degree of masculinization is the distance between the anus and genitals, and this is shorter than usual in newborns with malformed penises.

People affected by disorders of sexual development, including malformed penises, can have a very difficult time and face delicate surgery, hormone therapy and other treatments. Every new piece of information into how masculinization happens raises the prospect of improving when and how these disorders are detected and treated in future. Early enough diagnosis of reduced placental function related to androgen production in early pregnancy might enable treatment before penis formation is complete, avoiding the need for corrective surgery later in life.

A final take-home message from our study is that while testosterone and androsterone are indeed higher on average in male than female fetuses, the difference is quite small. There is also considerable overlap between the lowest levels in boys and the highest levels in girls. Those in society who are adamant that the only choice for people is a binary choice of man or woman are not basing their views on biological reality. Treasured beliefs about the supremacy of testosterone and the testes in making a man are also obviously flawed.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. The ConversationPaul Fowler, Chair in Translational Medical Services, University of Aberdeen

(Submitted by Suzanne Deakins, H.W., M.)

Shifting one’s perspective

The Best Questions to Ask Yourself to Shift Your Perspective

The way you see something can easily keep you stuck and stressed—or it can free you. In other words, your perspective is powerful in creating the life you want to live—or not.

For instance, if you think you’ll never find a fulfilling job, you’ll feel demoralized, and you won’t do the very things you need to do to find a fulfilling job. That is, you likely won’t create an effective resume, brush up on your interview skills and write a compelling cover letter.

That’s because, as psychotherapist Megan Gunnell, LMSW, pointed out, our perspective affects our feelings, and these feelings affect our behavior. This also means that if you change your perspective, you’ll change your feelings and then you’ll change your behavior for the better.

For example, you’re starting your day, and you’re already thinking, There’s not enough time! There’s never enough time! I’ll be late! Today is going to be awful. You start feeling anxious and rushed and stressed. “Then you behave in a way that makes you forget things and lose your focus and consequently, you are inefficient, scattered, late and not able to complete what you’re doing,” said Gunnell, also a speaker, writer and international retreat leader in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Your body also starts reacting based on your anxious, overwhelmed thoughts: You release adrenaline and cortisol, she said.

However, if you reframe your perspective—I’ll do my best, one task at a time—then you’ll feel calm and confident. “Your behavior isn’t rushed or erratic, and you find you are efficient and effective in your approach to completing your tasks.” 

We adopt all kinds of unhelpful perspectives that keep us stuck. We think we don’t have control over our circumstances and our lives, and we think our ability to grow and accomplish certain goals is limited (when it actually isn’t), said Diane Webb, LMHC, a psychotherapist and self-development coach in private practice in Clifton Park, N.Y. “If you think there are limits, the limits will present themselves.”

We think in terms of “always” and “never.” “You’re unemployed and unhappy today, so you start to think you’ll always be unemployed and sad,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a board-certified psychologist and writer in Pasadena, Calif. “You’ve dated 10 men and haven’t yet found a great fit, so you start to believe that you’ll never find a solid relationship.”

Thankfully, our perspectives aren’t permanent, and sometimes they don’t take much to shift—a simple (and profound) question can alter our viewpoint, and help us create incredible change. These questions can help you see things through a healthier, more effective lens:

Is this perspective an old tape on replay? According to Webb, an old tape is an old way of thinking—about deficits you thought you had but outgrew, or definitions you gave yourself that no longer fit what you’ve become and achieved. For example, an executive still sees herself as inadequate because she struggled with math in school, she said.

What do I want? How do I feel? 
“Many people get so involved in the needs and wants of others they fail to check in with their own wants and feelings,” Howes said. You still might need to consider others, but your desires are just as important.

Does this perspective prevent me from abundance, happiness and peace? Webb suggested asking this question, which is vital because we regularly think things that don’t serve or support us.

What has this perspective cost me? What have I missed out on because of this perspective? Webb said. These questions speak to whether you’re clinging to negative, limiting perspectives that have led you to decline positive opportunities (or make unhealthy decisions). Because if a perspective is poisoning your life, why are you holding onto it?

If I were twice as strong and twice as confident, what decision would I make? Howes asks his clients this question when it seems like fear is clouding their judgment. “This doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice, but it does show how much power they’re giving to fear.”

What am I grateful for in this moment? According to Gunnell, gratitude moves us from a mentality of scarcity to a mentality of abundance. It moves us from being filled with fear and worry to feeling empowered and maybe even seeing possibilities where before we saw none.

For instance, Gunnell’s client is the breadwinner of her family, while her husband stays home with their young kids. Her job involved long hours, grueling deadlines, demanding expectations and frequent global travel. The stress was sparking significant health issues. For months she dreamed about finding a new job, but she thought she didn’t have the time for a comprehensive search, and felt pressure as the primary earner to stay. Then she was let go—and felt shocked, angry and devastated. However, she quickly shifted to a grateful, hopeful perspective: This gives her “a break to catch her breath, reduce her stress and start a comprehensive job search for a new position in a company [that’s] a better fit for her family, life balance and health.”

Does this perspective belong to someone else? Do I want to adopt it myself? For instance, we often internalize our parents’ perspective about ourselves, who we’d become in the future and their approach to life, Webb said. We also often internalize societal expectations and standards. But, as the latter question illustrates, just because we once took on a perspective doesn’t mean we have to keep it; we have a choice in whether to adopt a viewpoint or not.

What would my mentor or hero do? “We have role models for a reason, to model bravery and character for us,” Howes said. “Sometimes it’s easier to get in touch with their motivations than our own, and this is worth exploring.”

What can I learn from this? You can gain insight even when you feel terribly stuck, Howes said. For example, when you ask this question, you might realize that you should trust your gut, that you need to better control your anger, or that you’ve been pursuing the wrong relationships, he said. “Sometimes just knowing there’s a nugget you’ll take away feels empowering.”

Is this perspective in alignment with what I want in my life? Webb said. Reflect on what you want your life and your days to look like. Does your mindset match these desires and dreams? Does your mindset match these specific images?

How will I want to remember this chapter of my life when I re-tell the story? When you’re feeling paralyzed, it’s hard to see the bigger picture—and to see potential solutions. Which is why Howes suggested imagining yourself “some time in the future telling the story from this time” and wondering how you’d like the narrative to sound. For instance, you might come up with: “I kept pushing until I found a brand-new solution,” Howes said.

The Fatal Flaw in Leftist American Politics

Jordan Peterson: The fatal flaw in leftist American politics

Dr Jordan B Peterson argues that it's the ethical responsibility of left-leaning people to identify liberal extremism and distinguish themselves from it the same way conservatives distance themselves from the doctrine of racial superiority. Failing to recognize such extremism may be liberalism's fatal flaw, he says, stating, "You cannot win if you play identity politics."Do you agree?

Posted by Big Think on Friday, March 1, 2019

From Bill Gates

Whenever I want to understand something better, I pick up a book. Reading is my favorite way to learn about a new subject—whether it’s global health, quantum computing, or world history. Here are 10 books that helped inform my choices for this year’s list of 10 breakthrough technologies.

Life 3.0

by Max Tegmark
Anyone who wants to discuss how artificial intelligence is shaping the world should read this book. Tegmark, a physicist by training, takes a scientific approach. He doesn’t spend a lot of time saying we should do this or that, and as a result, Life 3.0 offers a terrific baseline of knowledge on the subject.

This story is part of our March/April 2019 Issue

See the rest of the issue

Should We Eat Meat?

by Vaclav Smil
I’m a huge fan of everything Smil writes. He’s skeptical that meat and dairy alternatives like those discussed in this issue will make a dent in global dietary habits. We might disagree on that particular point, but I think Smil has smart things to say about how to feed the world without destroying the planet.

I Contain Multitudes

by Ed Yong
I’m fascinated by microbes, and the human gut might hold the key to fixing all sorts of medical issues. I was particularly interested by Yong’s account of how the bacteria that live in our digestive systems might be manipulated to prevent malnutrition.

The Emperor of All Maladies

by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning “biography” of cancer is a beautifully told account of the progress made in fighting the disease over the last century. Some of the scientific advances that have resulted have led to other breakthroughs, like the vaccines included in this year’s breakthrough technologies list.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by Katherine Boo
Boo’s deeply reported narrative of life in a Mumbai slum might seem like an odd choice for a list of books about technology. But she offers perhaps the clearest look I’ve seen at the world’s sanitation challenges. This one is essential reading for anyone hoping to reinvent the toilet.

Homo Deus

by Yuval Noah Harari
Harari describes a bleak future without sickness, hunger, and war—but where godlike elites and super-intelligent robots consider the rest of humanity to be superfluous. I’m more optimistic than he is about the chances of averting such a dystopia. If you’re looking to tackle tomorrow’s challenges, he offers some great food for thought.

Enlightenment Now

by Steven Pinker
In my opening essay for this issue, I write about how innovation is increasingly aimed at improving quality of life. Pinker explains why in Enlightenment Now (which happens to be my favorite book). He looks at 15 different measures of progress to explain how and why the world is getting better.

Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air

by David MacKay
If you’re interested in learning where energy comes from, how it is used, and what challenges are involved in switching to new sources, I can’t recommend this book highly enough—and it will help you get more out of the next book on my list.

Energy Myths and Realities

by Vaclav Smil
Smil convincingly argues that our present-day energy infrastructure will persist. He and I share a belief that nuclear power, which can use existing infrastructure while also reducing carbon emissions, will be an important electricity source for decades.

The Most Powerful Idea in the World

by William Rosen
For understanding how innovations change the world and evolve over time, Rosen’s comprehensive history of the steam engine is as good a book as you will find.

~ Bill Gates