Ye gods it's hypnotic.
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Well, Saturday night's 'Supermoon' didn't tear the Earth apart (unless you include the previous week's earthquake) or unleash a lycanthropy pandemic upon the globe. But it *did* offer a lovely photo opportunity - check out this wonderful image of our lunar partner rising over the iconic Glastonbury Tor (click the image for the superlarge Supermoon version:
For more great 'Supermoon' images, check out the complete gallery over at Anorak.
The UK's Telegraph has a long and interesting article about the crop circle scene, which talks to a couple of TDG's good friends, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Pilkington, and includes some interesting comments from Rob Irving about croppies and 'rationalism':
[A] display of circle-making by a team of young engineers who won the 1992 International Crop Circle Making Competition was a revelation to the maverick biologist, Rupert Sheldrake: ‘For flattening the crop, they used a roller consisting of a piece of PVC piping with a rope through it, pushing it with their feet. To get into the crop without leaving footprints, they used two lightweight aluminium stepladders with a plank between them, acting as a bridge. For marking out a ring, they used a telescopic device projecting from the top of an aluminium stepladder. A string was attached to the end of it in such a way that by holding the string and walking in a circle around this central position a perfect ring could be marked out without leaving any trace on the ground in the middle.’ That’s complicated kit.
Mark Pilkington, a writer and publisher who helped with some of the more beautiful and complex late Nineties/early Noughties formations, talks of teams of three or four, using only the planks et al. It is, he says: ‘Physically and mentally hard work. Even after a modest job, you’re flat out. It’s often disorienting. I’ve worked on formations and when I’ve seen the photographs afterwards, I’ve thought: “Bloody hell! How did we do that?” ’
The designs are marvellous: perhaps it’s no wonder that, as Pilkington says, some cerelogists believe human ‘circle makers are channels for a greater force and that some formations are made by divine intervention’. Certainly, when Pilkington has told people what he’s done, he’s got into near fights: people want to believe. Such antipathy has gone to extremes: according to one of their number, one group of circle-makers had ‘potatoes stuck up their exhausts, wing mirrors ripped off our cars and threats of violence’.
Irving thinks people want to take ‘a vacation from rationalism’. And, he adds, it’s particularly the case that ‘people associate certain landscapes with legends. That’s why circles come to sacred sites: Avebury and Stonehenge galvanise this idea of mystery. I see it as a feedback route: people go to a certain place with certain expectations. Then something happens and they leave satisfied.’
It’s to sustain the mystery, he says, that circle-makers never claim authorship of a particular circle: ‘In our culture, art is all to do with artists: it’s about whodunit, not about what art does. With the circles, it’s about the effect they have on people.’
Just a shame the article didn't reference our own Perceval in the section on the Euler's Identity crop circle...
Previously on TDG:
On the eve of this year's Summer Solstice, a crop circle appeared in a wheat field in Bakersfield, California. Apocalyptic memo from our alien overlords? Trans-Atlantic plasma vortexes? Military dirigibles housing microwave beam weapons? Alas no - just British underground artists the Circlemakers creating a 'stage' for the American rock band Korn to perform a live gig on:
The Circlemakers have a dedicated page with photos, videos and schematics of the construction process and live gig, and how it came about:
It's not very often one of the biggest rock groups in the US rings up and asks us if we'd like to fly to their home town - in this case Bakersfield, California - to create a massive crop circle for them to perform a secret gig in... but that's exactly what happened last month, when Korn gave us a call!
Circlemakers John Lundberg, Wil Russell, Rob Irving and Mark Barnes flew to California to create the Korn crop circle. The formation was created in two stages over two days in mature wheat. It measured a whopping 700ft long by 230ft wide. Heat stroke was an ever-present possibility as the temperature soared to 120 degrees.
For those just as interested in the music as the crop circle design, you can watch the entire live gig online, via Korn's MySpace page (or via the below video embed):
Previously on TDG:
Our alien overlords aren't content to stick to 2D sacred geometry - they've been inspired by James Cameron and gone all 3D with their crop glyphs:
Image credit: Mike Walker
Not sure about the '4D' mentions in Daily Mail article though...
When I saw the photos of the Wilton Windmill crop circle (the photo here is by Steve Alexander), reported on 22nd May, I was immediately struck by the possibility of a message encoded in 8-bit binary.
After transcribing the binary digits, I translated each byte (8 bits) into its corresponding ASCII character with this handy online converter, starting from the direction of the windmill, and working clockwise around the circle and out from the centre. (If you're having trouble following this, see the animation linked at the bottom of the article).
The result was this:
It looked like some kind of equation, and when I looked it up, Google asked if I meant: e^(i)pi)1=0, for which the top result was Euler's identity: eiπ+1=0. This has been called "the most beautiful theorem in mathematics". No surprise that it should turn up in a crop circle then!
One of the things that had caught my attention on initially seeing the pictures of the crop formation had been the way that it referenced both the turning wheel of the windmill and the twelve-part division of the zodiacal cycle, the cosmic wheel. On looking a little deeper into the mathematics, it becomes clear that the formation also represents Euler's formula, of which Euler's Identity is a special case, in graphical form - as a circle, with radii represented at different angles. On reflection, this is a very cleverly executed and elegant design, in which mathematical and symbolic meanings are fused into a single 'identity'.
Not being a mathematician, I wasn't sure about the odd notation of the formula as expressed in the crop circle, but I assumed that, for the circle-maker, it could be a way to get around the limitations of ASCII text, and was a near enough approximation for me to get the intended result.
One thing that bothered me was the inclusion of the anomalous 'h' in the message/formula. Certainly, with the absent '+', it made up the number of characters to the symbolic number twelve.
Perhaps significantly, the 'h', with the adjacent 'i', reads 'hi' - an embedded message from the circle-maker? It was only when a Facebook contact suggested that 'h' could be a reference to the Planck constant, taking us from the world of maths into the world of physics, that I realised a possible new layer of meaning within the embedded message. Could the makers have left a 'Planck' in the design as a subtle joke on all the croppies who might pronounce this a 'genuine' crop circle as opposed to a circle made with a plank?! I wonder if anyone has looked down that arc that represents the binary digit in question - could there be a physical plank there?
Less flippantly, I think that the more likely scenario is that the circle-makers made a genuine mistake. The binary encoding for 'h' - 01101000 is just one binary digit different to that for '(' - 00101000. The extra opening bracket would pair up with the otherwise unpaired closing bracket in the message to give us e^((i)pi)1=0.
This animated explanation of the 2010 Wilton Windmill crop circle design that I put together should make everything clear!
Also, here's my original blog post.
Jacques Vallee has posted the third instalment of his four-part series on crop circles over at Boing Boing. This time around, Jacques discusses the hoaxer theory, the weakness of 'New Age' explanations, and once again returns to the question of advanced technology being used:
I once met several of these artists at a conference in Switzerland, where they were presenting their techniques and the resulting data. When I asked them, "How dare you fool people this way?" they answered that art in general was about fooling people to create a sense of awe, beauty or simply a brief, healthy disconnect with ordinary reality. One of them pointed out that "When you look at the Mona Lisa you think you look at a woman, but you have been fooled: there is no woman there; someone just applied some paint to a rectangular piece of canvas. Well, we do the same thing, except that our canvas happens to be a cornfield."
When you put it that way it is perfectly all right for teams of artists to run through the fields at night and produce things like the spider, the bicycle or more elaborate geometric designs. People like Jim Schnabel have participated in the game and there are even international competitions in circle making, with recognition for the most complex productions. No wonder people are convinced that all the circles are made for fun by a team of humans crushing the corn for kicks when the subject comes up in discussions among scientists or businessmen today. The difficult question is, "does this explain ALL the circles, or only the relatively simple ones?" The artists I spoke to in Switzerland confessed that some of the extraordinary designs were beyond their ability to produce them. While the initial "weather phenomenon" theory of Terence Meaden and others has not survived, there are still people who firmly believe the complex designs are made by Aliens and some who state they are a warning from Gaia. Among the technical community there are also those who pursue the idea first expressed by Dr. Jean-Pierre Petit, Jean-Jacques Velasco and others, looking to military electronics as the key to the mystery.
As I've mentioned previously, I don't feel there's much evidence supporting the 'aerial weapon' theory, and it certainly doesn't shake hands politely with the rule of parsimony. I *do* however support Jacques in raising these questions and exploring them. For all the attacks in the comments, few people seem to have noted the final paragraph, in which Jacques makes clear that he does not think the weapon hypothesis is the most logical. He just wants to explore possibilities:
From the point of view of rational analysis the weight of evidence is still on the side of the skeptics who assure us that all crop circles are made by artists and lovable, jolly old men like Doug and Dave. But there are facts that don't quite fit, and the alternatives are worth considering.
And, viewing some of his words in these blog posts - and the comments left by readers - I also do get the feeling that these 'crop circle' posts are as much about Jacques exploring people's beliefs and rationalisations as they are about glyphs in fields. Certainly, he knows and is interested in the replies being posted - more than the commenters seem to appreciate...I had a bit of a giggle when I read this line: "Since we have obviously hit a nerve it may be interesting to drill a bit further."
I'm looking forward to the final instalment of the series, which Jacques says will explore the "construction and manipulation of belief systems" - ground which he covered in depth in his classic book Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults (Amazon US and Amazon UK), re-released in 2008 by Daily Grail Publishing.
Previously on TDG:
- Jacques Vallee Blogs on Boing Boing (Part 1)
- Going Around in Crop Circles (Part 2)
- Jacques Vallee: On Messengers of Deception
- Jacques Vallee: A Man of Many Dimensions
- TDG Review of The Field Guide
- TDG review of Circlespeak
- Crop Circles and Black Helicopters
- Crop Circles of Google Earth
- The Cereal Business
A wonderful short time-lapse video to make you feel that sense of wonder and awe at time beyond time, and space beyond space. Tom Lowe's Timescape: Death is the Road to Awe:
The name of the piece takes its name from the evocative music heard in the clip, from Clint Mansell's excellent soundtrack to the movie The Fountain. (Add to that his recent work on Moon, and the stunning Requiem for a Dream soundtrack - check out 'Lux Aeterna' for instance - and Mansell is one of the most interesting musical artists in the world today in my opinion.)
Over the past fortnight, legendary paranormal researcher Jacques Vallee has posted two guest-blogs on (the insanely popular website) Boing Boing, on the topic of crop circles. In the first, "In Search of Alien Glyphs", he details his own alternative theory for their construction (first set out in "Crop Circles: 'Signs from Above' or Human Artifacts?":
In Sept. 1991, I published in a New Age magazine my own hypothesis about the Crop Circles phenomenon. I speculated they involved a military aerial device (not a space-based instrument) for generating such designs using focused microwave beams, such as a "maser." At the time nobody wanted to hear that the beautiful pictures in English corn fields might be crafted by a technical team inside some lab, bouncing signals from a hovering platform and using individual corn stalks as simple pixels to calibrate a lethal device. So my paper was met with dead silence.
Vallee then related his own theory to recent news regarding military use of microwaves. The comments from the Boing Boing crowd were as would be expected - a few supportive of the theory, or at least of Vallee's outside-the-box thinking - but mostly along the lines of...
Just for giggles, why not try some *gasp* actual science?
Look at the stalks. Have they been blasted with microwaves, or just bent by a guy with a two-by-four on a rope?
This fails even as a troll. Stupid conspiracy theories shouldn't have easily testable disproof.
Nevertheless, Vallee followed up his post with a second last week, titled "Alien Glyphs, Human Myths, Blogging Bliss". He began by addressing the many comments to his previous post, by saying his blog entry "could be considered, among other things, as a social science test of the role of belief systems in the manipulation of memes and factual data," going on to "explain why the hypothesis is not a joke but a logical result from observation and from the process of asking the right questions."
On the first point, I fully agree with Jacques. For every crazy gullible believer out there, there's also some armchair expert who thinks any 'skeptically-oriented' explanation that they hear solves the case - without reading any further. In the crop circle case, it's largely the 'Doug and Dave' headline, though if the 'skeptic' has read a bit more deeply, it would be the claims of groups like the Circlemakers and some of their public demonstrations. Belief systems are of all kinds, and aren't just restricted to crazy woos.
On the second point, I can only claim partial agreement. As all readers would know, I am *heavily* in favour of people putting forward alternative, out-of-the-box explanations of mysterious phenomena (as long as they are recognized as such). And Jacques has been clear on multiple occasions that it is just that. So I say good on him for doing so.
However, for me, parsimony suggests that crop circles are, quite simply, made by human artists with relatively simple equipment.