Parapsychology researcher Dr Dean Radin has posted a summary of a newly published scientific paper (which he co-authored) to his blog: "Compassionate Intention as a Therapeutic Intervention by Partners of Cancer Patients" (subtitle: "Effects of Distant Intention on the Patients' Autonomic Nervous System"):
Objective: This double-blind study investigated the effects of intention on the autonomic nervous system of a human “sender” and distant “receiver” of those intentions, and it explored the roles that motivation and training might have in modulating these effects.
While it's a little strong to use the word "healing", the results of this study do seem to suggest that 'intention' may have an effect on the autonomic system of the 'target':
Results: Overall, receivers’ skin conductance increased during the intention epochs (z = 3.9; p < 0.00009, two-tailed). Planned differences in skin conductance among the three groups were not significant, but a post hoc analysis showed that peak deviations were largest and most sustained in the trained group, followed by more moderate effects in the wait group, and still smaller effects in the control group.
Conclusions: Directing intention toward a distant person is correlated with activation of that person’s autonomic nervous system. Strong motivation to heal and to be healed, and training on how to cultivate and direct compassionate intention, may further enhance this effect.
The full paper is published in the July/August edition of Explore.
His Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for research and discoveries relating to what scientists and philosophers call the Big Questions. We support work at the world's top universities in such fields as theoretical physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and social science relating to love, forgiveness, creativity, purpose, and the nature and origin of religious belief.
The Templeton Prize (for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities) is awarded each year to "a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, best exemplifies "trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity."
Beyond the Prize, some controversy has surrounded the awarding of 'Fellowships' and grants to institutions, researchers and journalists. Author John Horgan has written of his guilt in accepting money and travel, due to his "misgivings about the foundation's agenda of reconciling religion and science", and perhaps also due to the fact that the Foundation is now run by John Templeton Jr, "an evangelical Christian [who] is the chairman of Let Freedom Ring Inc., which raises funds for conservative causes.". Though Horgan and many others ended up accepting the grants/fellowships, some have not:
At least one scientist has publicly refused to accept money from the foundation. Sean M. Carroll, a physicist at the University of Chicago, declined an invitation to speak at a Templeton-sponsored conference held last fall, which featured 16 Nobel laureates and was endorsed by the American Physical Society. Carroll explained in his blog that "the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are part of one big undertaking." An atheist, Carroll did not want his name to be "implicitly associated with an effort I find to be woefully misguided." Yet Carroll admitted that he had been tempted by the foundation's offer of a $2,000 honorarium.
Personally, I think the aims of the Templeton Foundation are laudable. Hopefully, in the wake of Sir John Templeton's death, no ideologies will be imposed upon either the Foundation, or those whom it supports.
Missed this news last week: Lyall Watson, author of the best-selling book Supernature - massively influential in the 'alternative' genre - passed away on June 25th, aged 69.
A radical thinker operating at the margins of accepted science, Watson was an apparent polymath who might have sprung fully-formed from a Victorian adventure by Jules Verne or H Rider Haggard. A dapper, shimmering figure, often dressed for the tropics in a safari suit of white linen, he led the first scientific journey up the Amazon river, and was the first white person seen by headhunters in Papua New Guinea.
Supernature, his most successful book, dealt with mysterious and inexplicable natural phenomena. It became a 1970s student essential, and was acclaimed for its stimulating treatment of exotic and unexpected scientific facts and discoveries.
Some were fascinated by Supernature's coverage of apparently amazing scientific breakthroughs, such as Cleve Backster's work with plant 'emotions', but others found it all to be credulous claptrap. Watson's work was later dismissed out-of-hand by many skeptics on account of his 'invention' of the now legendary "100th monkey" hypothesis in his 1979 book Lifetide:
Watson's tale was that an unspecified number of monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea. But the addition of a further monkey – the so-called hundredth – apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold, pushing it through a kind of critical mass, because by evening almost every monkey was doing it. Moreover the habit seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously in monkey colonies on other islands and on the mainland.
Although it seemed a good story, the part about spontaneous transmission, at least, was not true. Watson, however, was blamed only for "myth-making" rather than confabulation. "It is a metaphor of my own making," he admitted in 1986, "based on very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay. I have never pretended otherwise." Although the hundredth monkey theory occupied only a few paragraphs of his total output, it bulked disproportionately large in critical studies of his work. Watson himself remained unrepentant, however, and declared on his website: "I still think it's a good idea!"
Regardless of the reader's opinion of Watson's books (25 in all!), one thing is sure - his seminal Supernature had a vast influence on young minds looking for fresh ideas in science.
In the wake of the recent IEEE Spectrum feature on the 'Singularity', science fiction author Warren Ellis set transhuman tongues a-waggin' when he described the speculative scenario as a techno-religion:
The Singularity is the last trench of the religious impulse in the technocratic community. The Singularity has been denigrated as "The Rapture For Nerds," and not without cause. It’s pretty much indivisible from the religious faith in describing the desire to be saved by something that isn’t there (or even the desire to be destroyed by something that isn’t there) and throws off no evidence of its ever intending to exist. It’s a new faith for people who think they’re otherwise much too evolved to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or any other idiot back-brain cult you care to suggest.
Ellis' comments drew a swift rebuke from transhumanist pundit George Dvorsky, on his Sentient Developments blog: "The day is coming, my friends, when Singularity denial will seem as outrageous and irresponsible as the denial of anthropogenic global warming." I'm not sure whether that's a worthwhile analogy just yet, but anyhow...
Ellis has not been a lone voice in expressing his doubts about salvation through Singularity. Last week, author Douglas Hofstadter took a pot-shot at the movement's prophet, Ray Kurzweil, in an interview:
I am very glad that we still have a very very long ways to go in our quest for AI. I think of this seemingly “pessimistic” view of mine as being in fact a profound kind of optimism, whereas the seemingly “optimistic” visions of Ray Kurzweil and others strike me as actually being a deeply pessimistic view of the nature of the human mind...
...I think Ray Kurzweil is terrified by his own mortality and deeply longs to avoid death. I understand this obsession of his and am even somehow touched by its ferocious intensity, but I think it badly distorts his vision. As I see it, Kurzweil's desperate hopes seriously cloud his scientific objectivity.
In any case, the vision that Kurzweil offers (and other very smart people offer it too, such as Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, perhaps Marvin Minsky, and many others — usually people who strike me as being overgrown teen-age sci-fi addicts, I have to say) is repugnant to me. On the surface it may sound very idealistic and utopian, but deep down I find it extremely selfish and greedy... I don't even like thinking about this nutty technology-glorifying scenario, now usually called “The Singularity”...it just gives me the creeps.
The Hofstadter interview is well worth a full read - there's lots of interesting ideas and debates swirling around in that one...
Special effects wizard Stan Winston passed away yesterday, aged 62. Winston was the creator of some of the modern era's greatest sci-fi 'monster' characters, working on Aliens, Terminator, Predator and Jurassic Park, among many other movies (and winning Oscars for a number of them). Such an amazing body of work, one of science fiction's greatest in my opinion (those writers always get all the credit, time to change that).
The Mars Phoenix lander has found a patch of what looks like ice after scraping away a thin layer of soil. NASA scientists are being coy and cautious about the discovery, but this jaw-dropping photograph says a thousand words. I certainly don't need to write any more about it, just click the link and prepare to be amazed. Is it ice, salt, rock... or bone? If only the lander was mounted with a flame-thrower. This is amazing news, stay tuned.
Tis the season, to be Fortean. If the release of Jim Steinmeyer's biography of Charles Fort and Tarcher's reissue of Fort's books in anthology form weren't enough for you, check out this new website - Tales from the Fort: The Charles Fort Files...
This site is an effort to organize the research of Charles Hoy Fort into a more easily utilized resource by gathering and placing under various subject headings the vast amount of information scattered throughout Fort's books. The information contained within these pages is gleaned from extensive study of the four non-fiction books published by Charles Fort in his lifetime.
The headings under which the phenomena are placed include 'Falls' (strange things falling from the skies), 'OOPARTS' (Out of Place Artifacts), Creatures, UFOs and Apparitions. If you don't have the time to work your way through the books, this website will probably be a good resource. As Emps says over at Cabinet of Wonders, "dig into ancient astronauts, Ufology, earthlights, etc. and what you find is Fort standing there tapping his foot and wondering why you are so late for the party."
Do you want to live forever? The IEEE's Spectrum Online offers a great online special report devoted to 'The Singularity' (a possible future point where technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence leads to runaway technological and transhuman innovation). The feature offers video, articles, debates and more, including input from writers, researchers and experts on the topic of the singularity (Ray Kurzweil, Vernor Vinge etc), consciousness (Christof Koch), and the limits of science (John Horgan).
Definitely well worth browsing through the feature, there's a lot of thought-provoking content there. Though I'll be more impressed the day singularity proponents include an 'old-school' "survival of death" researcher in their forums, to debate whether we should actually be trying to prolong physical life forever...
Good name for a band don't you think? I've just posted a TED talk by legendary mycologist (mushroom researcher) Paul Stamets which is well worth checking out. The man is an absolute expert in the field (although perhaps more famous for his specific literature on 'magic mushrooms'), so much so that he almost comes across as a mad scientist with his fresh ideas (when you see his idea of ant-killing fungus - replete with mushroom popping out of the head of a dead ant - you sort of get stuck between saying "that's cool" and "that's scary). A good watch all the same, and less than 20 minutes viewing time.
Huge news: I mentioned last week that the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration had posted two volumes of the most excellent Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE) online as PDF downloads. Seems I jumped the gun a little - if you head to the JSE website now, you'll find that they have actually made *all* volumes from 1987 to 2006 available as free PDF downloads. That's 20 volumes/70 issues of JSE (!!!) - absolutely the most important journal for ideas on the edge of science and knowledge.
A short and general list of topics covered (in a scientific manner) in the 20,000 or so pages now available: remote viewing, earth lights, ball lightning, reincarnation, telepathy, psychokinesis, ufology, the afterlife, crop circles, fringe archaeology, biofields, 'orbs', intelligent design, precognition, poltergeists, earthquake phenomena and cryptozoology. The list of contributors is a who's who of 'alternative research', and in each volume there's also commentaries, letters to the editor, and reviews of the most interesting books on these strange and wonderful topics. There is literally so much content in these 20 volumes that I think we should perhaps post and discuss one each month here on TDG. Can you tell I'm very excited?
To repay the favour to the SSE for this wonderful resource, and make sure you have the absolute latest issue of JSE as a hardcopy in your hands, you can subscribe to the journal (see the bottom of the page) - or alternatively, be aware that joining the SSE means that you get complimentary issues anyhow, so you may find that worthwhile as well.
Speaking of the latest issue of JSE: it's a special release celebrating the life and research of reincarnation investigator Dr Ian Stevenson. Annalisa Ventola has a write-up of the content in the issue. (Incidentally, Annalisa also notes that the Society for Scientific Exploration will be holding their 27th annual general meeting in Boulder, Colorado at the end of June.)
Get cracking on those JSE downloads - you're looking at about a gigabyte to download them all...