Latest news from those kinky scientists who live out on the edge. Damn heretics.

Do Microscopic Parasites Living Inside You Control Your Mind?

Are we truly in control of our actions, or are we being manipulated by unseen beings? It's an idea that is a standard trope of paranoid conspiracy theories, but in the above TED talk, science writer Ed Yong shows how mind control by parasites appears to be almost ubiquitous in nature. And if it happens to so many other species on Earth, then why not humans too...?

(I didn't write this post, the Toxoplasma gondii did)

Oh, This Must Be Schrödinger's House…

Quantum cat

At least old man Schrödinger let the poor moggie out of the box...

It Doesn't Matter How Old You Are, Magnets Always Seem Like Some Sort of Strange Magic

Magnets, how do they f***ing work? We can hear all the explanations in the world about magnets (or non-explanations if you like), but they still seem like some sort of strange magic to our monkey brains.

Which is why the simple 'levitation' tricks done in the video above still seem so cool...I particularly like the pile of books, that would make for a great center-piece on the coffee table no doubt. The effect was created by science and illusion YouTube video producer Brusspup, using a magnetic levitation module from Dutch company Crealev:

I've had smaller units before that will float items weighing about 1 pound. This unit can float objects weighing near 20 pounds. Even though it's beautiful to walk in the room and see this unit sitting there, I love to try and hide the unit with various objects. The magnetic disc is hidden under the chessboard, for instance. For the floating books, I made a fake book and hid the magnet in it. The pillow is one of my favorites. The visual of a floating pillow supporting a 7 pound brick is fun to see. And then the last was just so cool to see. As a kid I dreamed of the Millennium Falcon. So to see it floating just brings it to another level of reality.

Not sure what sort of crazy dreams you might have if you used the pillow though (*ahem*)...

(via Laughing Squid)

Paranthropology 5:2


The latest issue (Vol 5, Number 2) of the free PDF journal Paranthropology ("anthropological approaches to the paranormal") is now available to download (or you can read it online via Scribd). Here's the complete rundown of features in the latest issue:

  • "Profane Illuminations: Machines, Indian Ghosts, and Boundless Flights through Nature at Contemporary Paranormal Gatherings in America", by Darryl Caterine
  • "Magic or Science: A Look at Reiki in American Medicine", by Joshua Graham
  • "Hidden Apprenticeships, Hidden Loves: Transmission of Enhanced Awareness in Mediumistic and Shamanic Traditions", by David Gordon Wilson
  • "Communication Across the Chasm: Experiences With the Deceased", by John A. Napora
  • "Book Hauntings", by Mark Valentine
  • "Orbs, some definitive evidence that they are not paranormal", by Steven T. Parsons
  • An interview with Andy Sharp (English Heretic), by Hannah Gilbert
  • "Playback Hex: William Burroughs and the Magical Objectivity of the Tape Recorder", by James Riley
  • A review of the 'Exploring the Extraordinary Conference' (Gettysburg College, March 21 to 23), by T. Peter Park
  • A review of Folie et Paranormal (Renaud Evrard), by Jean-Michel Abrassart
  • A review of Speak of the Devil: Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England (J.S. La Fontaine) by Michael J. Rush

And in case you haven't read this great resource before, all of the previous issues remain available to download from the site as well. I know from experience the work that goes into doing something like this, so if you get something out of the journal make it your mission to throw some money their way with a PayPal donation.

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs): Natural Phenomena or ET Signal?

Astronomers have been scratching their heads over a series of mysterious radio bursts, so rare & intense, up until recently many of them even questioned their cosmic origin. First detected in 2007 through a telescope in Australia, the radio signals are known as fast radio bursts (FRBs) or Lorimer bursts, in honor of West Virginia University astrophysicist Duncan Lorimer, who was the first to discover & describe them on a scientific paper.

Since then, fewer than a dozen FRBs have been detected, the last one by the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, on November 2, 2012 --as reported by National Geographic 2 weeks ago. By now we've only established 3 factors about the bursts: They are incredibly fast (lasting only a few milli-seconds), incredibly bright, and they seem to come from really, REALLY far away (as in billions of light years away).

But what causes them?

Because the signals are so brief and bright, they must be coming from a rather dense source, says astronomer Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “That means a compact object – i.e., a neutron star or a black hole – is likely somehow to blame,” he says.
Just what that compact object is has yet to be explained. One theory suggests that giant flares erupting from highly magnetic neutron stars, known as magnetars, cause the bursts. Others suggest the bursts result from colliding neutron stars or black holes, evaporating primordial black holes, large magnetic stars, or are the death spasms produced when massive, slowly spinning neutron stars collapse into black holes. That last object, proposed in 2013, is known as a blitzar.

Notice that all these hypotheses have 1 thing in common: they assume the bursts are caused by some natural, albeit exotic phenomena. But would it be so ludicrous to speculate that FRBs have an artificial origin? That's what I humbly proposed on my Mysterious Universe column last week; something that could be easily dismissed as the nonsensical delusions of a woo-woo schmuck...

Well, turns out I'm not the only schmuck wondering about FRBs: In a comment left at the NatGeo page, none other than SETI founder Frank Drake is also proposing these mysterious bursts might be good candidates for a signal sent by some advanced civilization:

Indeed, [...] it is a worthy speculation that the FRBs might be a “hailing” message from a distant altruistic civilization. For many years, SETI scientists have speculated about the possible design of a hailing signal — a signal which announces loudly the existence of another civilization, and possibly leads the receiving civilization to a radio channel bearing much information. Without knowing which stars might be the home of other intelligent civilizations, the sending civilization might well adopt a strategy of sending hailing signals to large numbers of potential ETI-supporting stars. To achieve maximum probability of discovery, the right strategy is to send a very narrow-beam, powerful signal. In this case, one can send to only one star at a time, and so the strategy leads to a paradigm in which the transmitting beam is steered to a large number of stars sequentially, leading to the signals being detected possibly as short bursts which may repeat after some long time period. So we should search for more FRBs!

Daily Grail readers have no doubt read of the famous 'Wow!' signal, detected on August 15, 1977, which to this day is still considered the signal closest to filling the criteria of what intelligent ETs would be transmitting through outer space --or at least, the criteria of what modern science currently assumes intelligent ETs would be capable of doing…

There was also a time, when astronomers seriously considered the possibility that pulsars were actually alien beacons, perhaps built & used by some incredibly powerful space-faring civilization, to help them navigate through the stellar oceans. The fact pulsars are now largely considered a natural phenomenon --the same as FRBs-- IMO speak of the current paradigm incongruence we're stuck in: On the one hand, scientists assure us that intelligent life is more than likely widespread throughout the Cosmos; but on the other hand, to propose an observed astronomical event as a sign of these assumed extraterrestrial civilizations, is still largely regarded as a wild speculation --Martian face, anyone?

Hidden Miracles of the Unseen World

Insect living on another insect

In recent weeks I've posted two separate stories regarding the topic of how we are locked into a certain perspective by our human-based perception of events in time, and thus 'blind' to many other aspects of reality (see 'Life Too Slow to See' and 'The Language of the Birds'). So when I came across the TED Talk below earlier this week, I thought it provided a beautiful summation of those thoughts (and extension, moving beyond just our limited perception in time, but also in space). In 'Hidden Miracles of the Unseen World', filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg gives us a glimpse of the things we are missing:

We live in a world of unseeable beauty, so subtle and delicate that it is imperceptible to the human eye. To bring this invisible world to light, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg bends the boundaries of time and space with high-speed cameras, time lapses and microscopes. At TED2014, he shares highlights from his latest project, a 3D film titled "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which slows down, speeds up, and magnifies the astonishing wonders of nature.


Rupert Sheldrake on 'The Extended Mind'

A nice short lecture (27 mins) from Rupert Sheldrake on "how even in our most ordinary perceptions our minds are not confined to the insides of our heads".

Retrocausality: Physicists Ponder Whether the Future Can Influence the Past

Poster for Time-Travel Movie 'Primer'

Issue 9 of the wonderful online magazine Nautilus is now available to read, and offers a fantastic collection of articles on the theme of 'Time'. One of the pieces I recommend checking out is George Musser's article "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate", which delves into the (possible) mystery of retrocausality in modern physics:

Physicists as renowned as John Wheeler, Richard Feynman, Dennis Sciama, and Yakir Aharonov have speculated that causality is a two-headed arrow and the future might influence the past. Today, the leading advocate of this position is Huw Price, a University of Cambridge philosopher who specializes in the physics of time. “The answer to the question, ‘Could the world be such that we do have a limited amount of control over the past,’ ” Price says, “is yes.” What’s more, Price and others argue that the evidence for such control has been staring at us for more than half a century.

That evidence, they say, is something called entanglement, a signature feature of quantum mechanics...

...The standard interpretation of entanglement is that there is some kind of instant communication happening between the two particles. Any communication between them would have to travel the intervening distance instantaneously—that is, infinitely fast. That is plainly faster than light, a speed of communication prohibited by the theory of relativity.

...Price asks us to consider the impossible: that doing something to either of the entangled particles causes effects which travel backward in time to the point in the past when the two particles were close together and interacting strongly. At that point, information from the future is exchanged, each particle alters the behavior of its partner, and these effects then carry forward into the future again. There is no need for instantaneous communication, and no violation of relativity.

Before we get too carried away with the possibilities afforded by retrocausality, it should be noted that even those investigating it clearly say it's all a bit speculative right now. Furthermore, Musser points out that, even assuming retrocausality is real, "our control of the past is very limited — as it must be, if the universe is to avoid imploding in a big logical paradox. Quantum mechanics is set up to deny you that influence. It creates an eddy in the river of time, but only a little one" (sidenote for anyone else that thought it: yes I did hear Arthur Dent saying "Ah, is he?" when I read that sentence).

Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of Professor Daryl Bem's controversial findings that suggest humans may have the ability to 'feel the future'. I wonder what those physicists investigating retrocausality might say about what it allows in terms of presentiment in humans - still inconceivable, or is it a mechanism for such an effect?

Make sure you check out all the stories in Issue 9 of Nautilus, there is some truly fascinating and beautiful writing to enjoy (for instance, see this wonderful piece on the life and work of acclaimed physicist John Archibald Wheeler).

Link: "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate"

Link: Issue 9 of Nautilus: "Time"

Spiders Make Sculptures of Other Spiders


Two species of spider have been discovered building life-like spider effigies from dead insects, leaves, & twigs. What's remarkable is that one species is in Peru, the other in the Philippines. Scientists think the spider sculptures either help lure prey or scare off predators. Perhaps the spiders are just very lonely. Or even more disturbing, the effigies are shrines of worship. So far, "terrific pig" hasn't been seen written in the web.

The spider behaviour raises some very interesting questions about evolution, questions that may be uncomfortable or even heretical for the hard materialists. I'm not convinced this is just random Darwinian trial & error. Science has taken us far, but there's something else at play here that the materialists fall far short of explaining. The dead leaf moth and countless other examples in nature hint at other possibilities. Could mavericks like Rupert Sheldrake be on the right track?

"The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence." ~ Nikola Tesla

In the meantime, bow to the Great Spider Lord Clikzzrt.

Scientists Call For Open, Informed Study of Psi Effects and Consciousness


Is there safety in numbers when it comes to science? Some 90 scientists and academics have co-signed a letter, written by Etzel Cardeña of Lund University and published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, that calls for more mainstream support of open and honest investigation of parapsychological topics, and related mysteries of human consciousness. Cardeña stresses six points in support of his call:

1) Research on parapsychological phenomena (psi) is being carried out in various accredited universities and research centers throughout the world by academics in different disciplines trained in the scientific method (e.g., circa 80 Ph.D.s have been awarded in psi-related topics in the UK in recent years). This research has continued for over a century despite the taboo against investigating the topic, almost complete lack of funding, and professional and personal attacks. The Parapsychological Association has been an affiliate of the AAAS since 1969, and more than 20 Nobel prizewinners and many other eminent scientists have supported the study of psi or even conducted research themselves.

2) Despite a negative attitude by some editors and reviewers, results supporting the validity of psi phenomena continue to be published in peer-reviewed, academic journals in relevant fields, from psychology to neuroscience to physics.

3) Increased experimental controls have not eliminated or even decreased significant support for the existence of psi phenomena, as suggested by various recent meta-analyses.

4) These meta-analyses and other studies17 suggest that data supportive of psi phenomena cannot reasonably be accounted for by chance or by a “file drawer” effect. Indeed, contrary to most disciplines, parapsychology journals have for decades encouraged publication of null results and of papers critical of a psi explanation. A psi trial registry has been established to improve research practice.

5) The effect sizes reported in most meta-analyses are relatively small and the phenomena cannot be produced on demand, but this also characterizes various phenomena found in other disciplines that focus on complex human behavior and performance such as psychology and medicine.

6) Although more conclusive explanations for psi phenomena await further theoretical and research development, they do not prima facie violate known laws of nature given modern theories in physics that transcend classical restrictions of time and space, combined with growing evidence for quantum effects in biological systems.

Cardeña notes that though the 90 co-signers of the letter "differ in the extent to which we are convinced that the case for psi phenomena has already been made", they are united in their view of science "as a non-dogmatic, open, critical but respectful process that requires thorough consideration of all evidence as well as skepticism towards both the assumptions we already hold and those that challenge them".

You can view the full letter, and list of co-signers, at Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

(via Paranormalia)

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