What is Philosophy Anyway?

Philosophy: What the heck is it?

Update: 1-April-2014

My brother recently asked me…is a Zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Here is my reply:
There are two types of Zebras. A white one has black stripes and a black one has white stripes. As with most things in this world. …. Lau Kean Lee, 29-March-2014

399px-Paris_2010_-_Le_Penseur : What is Philosophy
This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, by Daniel Stockman.

Have you at some point in your life waxed lyrical over a seemingly profound statement or article? And did that P word, “Philosophy”, come to mind? In my case, my first brush with a profound idea must have been the time (when I was 12 or 13 years old) I saw a picture of a “thinking man”; a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin of a naked man sitting on a rock with  his chin resting on a hand, deep in thought. The caption on that photo read, “I think therefore I am”, by René Descartes. “Wow, that sounds pretty deep, but what did it really mean?”

“I think therefore I am” – René Descartes

I thought to myself. And that started a life-long journey to understand and make sense of this thing called Philosophy.

Most people, and I am one of those, would just go through life without really digging deeper into Philosophy and just take whatever small doses that may come along in our day-to-day living. Sometimes it comes in the guise of comedy, as when Charles M. Schulz made his Linus character in Peanuts say, “I love Mankind; it’s people I can’t stand!”. Or sometimes it gets splashed in my face as when watching my favourite SciFi, Star Trek and Spock spoke the memorable line, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. And in later life, one finds that spirituality is steeped in profound ideas, as this website’s by-line ascribed to the Buddha, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

I am now making an effort to actually understand what exactly is Philosophy. In my library, I found three books to educate myself on this nebulous subject.

1. The Story Of Philosophy – Bryan Magee

The Story of Philosophy
The Story of Philosophy by Bryan Magee


Prof Bryan Magee from the Oxford University was also a Fellow of the Yale University. He wrote this surprisingly readable book on a difficult subject.
In just four pages, the prelude “An Introduction To Philosophy” pages 6-9, the meaning of Philosophy shone with clarity. In any field of human activity, we can question the fundamentals normally taken for granted. Prof Magee introduced the concept gently by giving simple examples in diversed subjects or disciplines, like when one asks what is Freedom and what is Equality and are they in conflict, as in politics (Political Philosophy); or when one asks what is Justice in law and is that the same as social justice (Philosophy of Law); or when one asks is there perfect health, and if not what is the meaning of cure (Philosophy of Medicine).

“What is the nature of whatever it is that exists?” “How, if at all, can we know?”

While this demonstrates that there can be a philosophical discourse in any subject, the greatest philosophers go deeper than that and questioned the most fundamental aspects of our existence and our experience. The two fundamental questions at the heart of Philosophy are: “What is the nature of whatever it is that exists?”  (ontology) and “How, if at all, can we know?” (epistemology). Prof Magee then rounds off his introduction to philosophy by stressing that Philosophy, Science and Art are not at odds with one another. All three confront the mystery posed by the two fundamental questions to try to achieve a deeper understanding. All three rely on inspiration and criticism and make their findings public to be shared. And yet because they follow different methods and different paths, they appeal to different temperaments. (Note: this last word, “temperament” makes for interesting reading by itself… ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_temperaments). The rest of the book then delves into the different great philosophers and their respective era.

2.  The Dream of Reason – Anthony Gottlieb

A History of Philosophy
The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb

Anthony Gottlieb was from Cambridge University but he was a professional journalist having served as Science Editor and Executive Editor of The Economist even though he was also a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. So it is interesting to read Anthony’s take on Philosophy from a journalist’s approach, viz. “…to rely only on primary sources, whenever they still exist, to question conventional wisdom, and … to explain it as clearly as possible.”

And so you find in “The Dream of Reason” (A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance), a readable journalistic account of philosophers’ stubborn or obstinate effort to think clearly.

I found his Part 3, Chapter 13, “Three Roads to Tranquillity: Epicureans, Stoics and Sceptics” particularly interesting.  Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC marks the start of a new era, the “Hellenistic age”.  It means that Alexander’s former domain became Greek-ish rather than purely Greek. It brought a new era in philosophy as well, with three main schools of thought; the Epicureans, the Stoics and the Sceptics. If an Epicurean said one thing, a Stoic would say the opposite and a Sceptic would refuse to commit either way. How interesting!

In the final Chapter 14, we learn that in AD 529, a Christian emperor, Justinian, put an end to the philosophical squabbles by closing down the philosophical schools in Athens in favour of his own imperial university in Constantinople and wanted to ban non-Christian philosophy throughout the Roman Empire. And so philosophy languished in the “haven of piety” for the next thousand years.

“I was struck by the large number of falsehoods I had accepted as true in my childhood.” – René Descartes

Enter the French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes (1596-1650), who developed the rigorous mechanistic model where he “consider(s) false any belief that falls prey to even the slightest doubt”. This is considered “Rationalism” and Descartes earned the title, “Father of Modern Philosophy”.

Gottlieb intended to write a second volume to continue the tale from Descartes to the present day, but as far as I know, it has not been published until today. Hopefully, it will be witten and published in due course.

3.  Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder

The History of Philosophy
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Jostein Gaarder was a Norwegian high-school teacher of Philosophy. He used his teaching capability to write a popular novel which effectively covers the 3,000 years history of philosophy from Socrates to Sartre. Very much like how modern-day management books are written as business fables, Gaarder first published his novel in his native Norwegian in 1991, revolving around a 14-year old girl, Sophie, who progressively learnt Philosophy through a prolonged correspondence with a fifty-year-old philosopher, Alberto Knox. The novel begins with Sophie receiving a mysterious letter with a question,  “Who are you?” and then a second letter with an equally intriguing question, “Where does the world come from?” The third mail came in the form of a postcard addressed to another girl, Hilde, c/o Sophie.

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” – Francis Bacon

What followed were a series of philosophical lessons taught to Sophie by Alberto. How Hilde fit into this story, if told here, would be a spoiler. Suffice to say that in the course of the novel, Sophie and Hilde (and thus we the readers) are taken on a grand tour of the history of Western Philosophy.

Where Gottlieb left off, Gaarder continued from Descartes, Spinoza, Locke and others to The Enlightenment  (the Renaissance) and Romanticism until the Present.

The novel is reputed to have been translated into fifty-three languages, with over thirty million copies in print. In 1997, Jostein Gaarder and his wife, Siri Dannevig, established the Sophie Prize (named after the book), a USD100,000 annual international award for environment and development. Unfortunately, Gaarder found himself embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism  after he wrote an article in 2006 criticising and condemning certain aspects of Israeli politics and Judaism.
(ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jostein_Gaarder)

Footnote:
I was intrigued by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and read up on him on Wikipedia.

“Bacon has been called the creator of empiricism. His works established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method. His demand for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural marked a new turn in the rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, much of which still surrounds conceptions of proper methodology today.”

As it turns out, while Descartes and Rationalism were widely populart in Europe, Francis Bacon’s Empiricism in England can be seen as a counter-point to Rationalism.
Leibniz, a rationalist, said “There are two kinds of truths: truths of reasoning and truths of fact.” While John Locke, an empiricist, said “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience”. It must be noted that Prof Magee wrote that Locke is considered the chief founding father of empiricism.

Related reading:
Rationalism vs. Empiricism


Birds Around Malaysia

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Birds Around Malaysia


Updated: 1-Dec-2014

Yesterday evening, a family of three Pink-necked Green Pigeons roosted on the power cable over my garden and posed for me.
The two males have colourful plumage that gives its name while the female has plain dull green feathers.
One of the males is really fat (the father?)…LOL

Updated: 27-March-2014

Added White-throated Kingfisher, Oriental Magpie-Robin and Olive-backed Sundird. Everyday, I just have to be patient and a new bird may come visiting.

Updated: 17-March-2014

Yesterday, three Javan Mynas visited my garden unexpectedly. Don’t they look like the “Angry Birds”?


This is a gallery of birds around Malaysia. So far, most of these are common birds that regularly visit my own garden. Occasionally I catch sight of some non-native migratory birds flying overhead in formation. That’s when your pulse quickens and you grab your camera (hopefully within reach) and pray that you have captured some decent shots.

Keep your eyes open and look out for these birds around your house and neighbourhood.
All these birds were in my garden, my sister’s garden, or around my neighbourhood. The beautiful Jungle Fowls were in Baling.
Please let me know if I’ve identified any of the birds wrongly.

I will be updating this gallery continually and hopefully in time this will be a useful gallery of Birds Around Malaysia.

Medicinal Weeds – Nature’s Pharmacy In Your Garden

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Medicinal Weeds

 

After this, you will love the weeds in your garden. Here is a roundup of common weeds and wild plants with medicinal curative properties for natural remedies that you may find in your own garden or around your neighbourhood. These 10 plants are all found in my own garden; all photos are mine.

We have all, at one time or another, heard about some miracle plant that has natural medicinal curative properties but often we wonder about its efficacy and whether it has any adverse side effect. To help allay such concerns, I have compiled first person reports in my other website, www.free2cure.com If any of these medicinal weeds work for you, please send me a note (admin@free2share.com) for me to add to the first-person reports in Free2Cure.

References:

Healing Herbs of Malaysia – SIRIM
Herbs of Malaysia – J. Samy, M. Sugumaran and Kate Lee
Wonder of Herbs – G G Enterprise
Various other websites

1. Rat Ear (Pepper Elder, Ketumpang Air, Peperomia pellucida L.)

IMG_5403 rat ear medicinal weedMost Malaysian gardens will have this small succulent medicinal weed growing profusely among the other plants especially in damp shady areas. Although it usually grows wild and is seldom cultivated, it can be eaten raw as “ulam”.

The plant eaten raw or blanched can treat gout, arthritis, rheumatism, kidney stone and gastro-intestinal IMG_6935 rat ear medicinal weedproblems. It is used as a paste to treat boils, pimples and burns. The juice is used to relieve cough, fever, common cold, headache, sore throat, diarrhoea, prostate problems and reduce high blood pressure.

References:

a. Translation from Noraida Arifin’s Herba:

“Drink the fresh juice drink to avoid infection of the eyes, diarrhea, cough, flu and infections bladder as well as for lowering high blood pressure. The leaves contain antibacterial properties that can treat skin diseases such as boils, acne and sunburn. It also can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and it is also a remedy for joint pain and abdominal pain. The fluid of the stem is used to cure fever and headache.”

b. Philippine Medicinal Plants

“Medicinal Uses:
Infusion and decoction of leaves and stems are used for gout and arthritis.
Externally, as a facial rinse for complexion problems.
Pounded whole plant used as warm poultice for boils, pustules and pimples.

New uses
Belongs to the “preferred list” of Philippine medicinal plants, being studied for its use in the treatment of arthritis and gout.
For arthritis: Leaves and stems of the fresh plant may be eaten as salad. Or, as an infusion, put a 20-cm plant in 2 glasses of boiling water; and 1/2 cup of this infusion is taken morning and evening.”

c. YinYangHerbs.com

“Use : For glaucoma and eyes diseases

Ingredients:
Use the whole plant (4-5 mature plants).
Use Chinese Wolfberry (3 table spoons).
Use brown sugar (1 table spoon).
Method :
Put 4 bowls of water in a pot.
Put peperomia plants, Chinese wolfberry and brown sugar into the pot.
Boil up the pot and reduce to slow fire.
Boil in slow fire till 8/10 of a bowl.
Drink the tea when cool.
Indication :
Drink every two days.
There should be improvement after a week.
Continue until cure.
During the course, you could be expected to get watery eyes.”

d. Natural Herbal Medicine Ng Pinoy

“Medical Uses: (parts use: leaves and stems)

Fresh juice out of stem and leaves combats eye inflammation.
Concoction of leaves are used as treatment for headache, fever, common colds, sore throat, cough, coughing, and diarrhea.
Also used to fight against prostate problems.
Mixture and decoction of leaves and stems ease gout and arthritis.
Concoction of stems and leaves is good against high blood pressure.
Concoction of leaves are used for abscesses, conjunctivitis, rheumatic pains, and gout.
Externally, as a facial wash for skin problems.
Pounded whole plant used as warm poultice for wounds, boils, and pimples.”

2. Seed On The Leaf (Pick-A-Back, Dukung Anak, Phyllanthus amarus (niruri) )

_MG_2809 seed on the leaf medicinal weedThis is considered a ferocious medicinal weed, that does well in high soil moisture, sandy loam soil in full sunlight or partial shade. The stem is usually erect with thin branches that bear two rows of tiny alternating leaves. Both male and female flowers are borne underneath the leaves along the whole length of the branches, hence the name “Seed On The Leaf”.

_MG_2810 seed on the back medicinal weedThe plant is also referred to as “stone breaker” as it is used to eliminate gallstones and kidney stones. It is an Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat bronchitis, anaemia, asthma, frequent menstruation and diabetes. It is also a diuretic for genital-urinary infections, urological disorders and kidney ailments, using a decoction of the young leaves and roots. The extracts have been commercialised as tonics to ease digestion, help food assimilation and for toning and improving liver functions. It is also used to treat jaundice, diarrhoea, and STD. The plant gained worldwide recognition in the 1980’s as having anti-viral effect against Hepatitis B. It has similar beneficial effects as green tea to combat stress and pollutants. The plant is now recognised for its anti-tumour ans anti-viral properties.

3. White Kyllinga (Rumput Kyllinga Putih, Shui Wu Gong, Cyperus kyllingia)

IMG_7374 white kyllinga medicinal weedThis grass-like medicinal weed is known as a sedge of the Cyperaceae family. It is quite a tenacious weed that seems to grow in some unlikely places in your garden. It has a characteristic three-sided erect stem about 5-10 cm tall with three thin longish grass-like leaves. Atop this crown of three leaves sits the whitish flower ball.

It is used to treat common IMG_7371 white kyllinga medicinal weedcolds, bronchitis, malaria, arthritis, joint pains and rheumatism. It is also used as a remedy for diarrhea, dysentery, stomach and intestinial problems.

(Ref: http://earthmedicineinstitute.com/more/library/medicinal-plants/kyllinga-brevifolia-nemoralis/ )

4. Mimosa (Touch-Me-Not, Mimosa pudica L.)

IMG_7212 mimosa medicinal weedThis medicinal weed appears to be able grow well in any soil or light condition in the wild. In the garden it will take root in pots, on the open ground, under shady plants or in full sunlight. It is sensitive to touch (“thigmotropism”) or sudden movement believed to be a defensive trait to deter herbivores or possibly shake off insects. This stimuli may be transmitted to neighbouring leaves (” seismonastic movements”). The leaves also close during low light or night-time andIMG_5603 (2) mimosa medicinal weedre-open when bright (“nyctinastic movement”). The young plant may grow erect but soon droop and creep along the ground with age. It is prickly with unique woolly pink flowers.

It has a bitter and astringent taste and in Ayurveda, it is used for diarrhea (athisaara), Amoebic dysentery (raktaatisaara), gynecological disorders, skin diseases, bronchitis, general weakness and impotence. Most commonly used is the root, but leaves, flowers, bark, and fruit can also be used. (ref: http://mahmoodsgarden.com/references/plant-files/mimosa-pudica/ )

5. Sessile Joyweed (False Daisy, Creeping Chaffweed, Carpet Weed, Keremak, Alternanthera sessilis L.)

IMG_7129 sessile joyweed medicinal weedThere are green and red varieties of this medicinal weed that grow well in damp shady areas. The red one is now quite popular and can be bought from wet markets. It is used to treat the heart and circulatory system. It is also used to nourish the kidneys and liver.

IMG_7211 sessile joyweed medicinal weedThe plant has anti-virus and anti-bacteria properties. It is rich in beta-carotene and Vitamin C and is eaten as ulam. It is used to treat indigestion and fever, to promote bile secretion and induce milk secretion. The leaf poultice is applied on acne, pimples, carbuncle, conjunctivitis, sprains, burns and eczema.

 

6. Tiny-leafed Creeper, Big-leafed Creeper (Ara Tanah, Susu Nabi, Susu Kambing, Keremak Susu, Xiao Fei Yang, Dai Fei Yang, Euphurbia hirta L.)

IMG_7260 tiny leafed creeper medicinal weedThe Tiny-leafed Creeper is a medicinal weed that grows mainly on old concrete walls and stone road surfaces as well as around the crevices of stones and rocks. The Big-leafed Creeper is the more common one found in many gardens among crevices. It belongs to the rubber family and the plant contains milky sap or latex.

Both the Tiny-leafed and Big-leafed Creepers are used to treat skin diseases such as itchiness, eczema, blistered skin, skin IMG_7249 big leafed creeper medicinal weedinfection and shingles. The preparation involves boiling the creeper in water and using the solution to bathe the affected part. A small portion of the plant is crushed for its “milk” to apply on the affected part after washing it with the solution. Use about 15-30 grams of the plant to boil in water to drink. The whole plant is boiled for the tonic to treat bronchitis, asthma, cough and throat spasms. Be careful when extracting the “milk” as it is harmful to the eyes. Be warned too that prolonged and regular contact with the sap is carcinogenic.

7. Common Passion Flower (Passion Vine Stinking Passion Flower, Timun Dendang, Passiflora foetida Linn)

IMG_7037 passion flower medicinal weedThis is a fairly common wild creeper found in many gardens. According to Wikipedia, there are over 500 species belonging to the family Passifloraceae. When I researched this ceeper which is growing wild in my garden, I was overwhelmed by the tremendous varieties of this flowery vine. It took a while to find a match and hence identify my flower, but even then there seems to be a few IMG_7159 passion flower medicinal weedvariations in the shape of the leaves. While the literature mentioned that the whole plant has an unpleasant smell, I did not notice any stink from my plant. Even the crushed leaf gave a not-too-unpleasant smell.

The shoots of this medicinal weed can be cooked and eaten, while the fruit is very sweet.

“The plant is reported to be used in Malaya to cure itches. The leaves are applied to the head for giddiness and headache and a decoction is given in biliousness and asthama. ” (ref: http://www.treknature.com/gallery/Asia/India/photo138500.htm)

IMG_7045 passion flower medicinal weed“Passion flower has been used to treat sleep disorders and historically in homeopathic medicine to treat pain, insomnia related to neurasthenia or hysteria, and nervous exhaustion.” (ref: http://www.drugs.com/npp/passion-flower.html)

8. Blue Billy Goat Weed (White Weed, Floss Flower, Rumput Tahi Babi, Ageratum houstonianum L.)

IMG_7190 blue billy goat medicinal weedThis medicinal weed, on the other hand, deserves its name, Rumput Tahi Babi, as it has a distinctive unpleasant smell. Apparently, this plant’s small flowers have colours ranging from purple to blue to lavender and pink. Mine is light purple. The seeds are small, light with fluffy hairs that are easily dispersed by wind. This weed thrives better in the cooler highlands and seems to be easily diseased in the lowlands, like in my garden.

IMG_7189 blue billy goat medicinal weedThe leaf poultice is applied and wrapped over cuts, wounds and boils. The juice extracted from the stem is dripped into an inflamed ear to treat the infection. Tea made from dried young shoots and leaves is used as a remedy for malaria, excessive menstrual bleeding, uterine disorder. This plant is also used as a contraceptive.

 

9. Sword Fern (Boston Fern, Ladder Fern. Nephrolepidaceae Family)

IMG_7348 sword fern medicinal weedThere is a very good chance that your garden may have at least one fern growing wild in a quiet corner or crack in the wall or on the trunk of one of your trees. I counted seven different types of ferns growing wild in my garden. Ferns are ubiquitous wild plants that spread by spores, since they do not flower and hence do not have seeds. It was quite a task to identify my fern which I at first thought was Goniophlebium percussum but I have now decided it belongs to the Nephrolepidaceae Family, since it exhibits the family’s characteristic of upright (erect) fonds. (When Boston Ferns are grown IMG_7349 sword fern medicinal weedin hanging pots, the fonds hang down gracefully). The spores are also aligned closer to the edges of the leaves whereas the Goniophlebium’s spores are closer to the mid-rib of the leaf. What I am still uncertain about is whether my fern is Nephrolepis exaltata, Nephrolepis acutifolio, Nephrolepis biserrata, Nephrolepis cordifolio or Nephrolepis hirsutula.

To add to the confusion, “Some authorities place Nephrolepis in the family Davalliaceae (Davallia family), others in the Polypodiaceae (polypody family), and still others in the Oleandraceae (ladder fern family).” (ref: http://www.floridata.com/ref/n/neph_exa.cfm ).

IMG_7350 sword fern medicinal weedThe medicinal weed, Nephrolepis is used to treat general disorder of the liver system (Nephrolepis cordifolio ), general skin disorders such as blisters, boils, abscesses and sores (Nephrolepis cordifolio, Nephrolepis biserrata), renal disorders ( Nephrolepis cordifolio) and menstrual disorders (Nephrolepis exaltata). (ref: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/moorea/ethnopteridology.html ). It is considered Considered antibacterial, antitussive, styptic, antifungal. (ref: http://stuartxchange.com/Bayabang.html ).

Research has been conducted to explore the diuretic potential of Nephrolepis cordifolia rhizome juice in rats.

Fresh and roasted tubers of Nephrolepis cordifolia are consumed by the locals in Nepal. The edible tuber is also recorded in http://www.eattheweeds.com/nephrolepis-cordifolia-edible-watery-tubers-2/

Also check out these scientific papers:

In Vitro Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties of Aqueous and Non-Aqueous Frond Extracts of Psilotum nudum, Nephrolepis biserrata and Nephrolepis cordifolia

A Review on the Potential Uses of Ferns

10. Congo Jute ( Sar Boh Chau, Pulut-pulut, Urena lobata L.)

IMG_5139 congo jute medicinal weedI’ve saved the best for last, simply because I have written a “first-person” (on behalf of my mum-in-law) account of this miracle medicinal weed in www.free2cure.com

This wild plant has seeds like tiny prickly hedgehogs that cling to your clothings when you brush against it. It is a very hardy plant that grows well in bright sunlight and poor soil up to about 2 metres. IMG_5166 congo jute medicinal weedThe flowers are either pink or white, although it is believed that plant with white flowers has greater efficacy in the treatment of chronic renal failure.

The stems are cut in small pieces of about 3-4 cm each and dried for easier storage. Use about 5-6 pieces at a time to make soup or tea for the patient to drink. For details, go to www.free2cure.com

IMG_5158 congo jute medicinal weedThis plant is credited with saving my mum-in-law’s life when she was stricken by chronic renal failure at the age of 68, and the doctors had given up on her. We were told to prepare for the inevitable but then a kind soul told us about this plant. In a no-choice situation, we tried it and she recovered and went on to live a healthy life until the ripe old age of 89, when she passed away because of old age and not because of kidney failure.

The extract of the leaves and roots is also claimed to be used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, gonorrhoea and malaria fever. A decoction of the leaves and roots drunk as a tea will relieve body aches caused by over exertion. An infusion of the roots is presecribed for difficult childbirth while a poultice of the leaves is used to treat wounds and skin diseases. In some places, the plant is mashed and and used to treat fractures, wounds and snake bites. The leaves and stems are used as a diuretic ( I guess this is the case of the treatment for my mum-in-law), while a decoction of the seeds is used to treat worms.


OK, there you have it. An overview of 10 medicinal weeds or wild plants commonly found in many gardens. Love ’em, for they may well come in handy to save you or a loved one. And if any of these weeds work for you, please write a first-person testimony in Free2Cure ( www.free2cure.com ) to help others.

If you find the above article interesting, you may also want to read  ” 17 Amazing Houseplants that Clean the Air ”  at  https://www.tipsbulletin.com/plants-that-clean-the-air/

Disclaimer: This article is purely for information only. Use at your own risk.