News Briefs 09-12-2016

“All mass is interaction.”

Quote of the Day:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

R. Feynman

Dinosaur's Feathery Tail Found Preserved In Amber

Dinosaur tail feathers amber

Come on, let me see you shake your tail feather. Announcing their discovery in the journal Current Biology, scientists found a 99-million-year-old dinosaur tail covered in fine feathers, including bones and soft tissue, perfectly preserved in amber. While individual feathers have been found in amber, and other evidence captured in fossil impressions, this is the first time scientists have been able to study feathers still attached to a dinosaur.

We're extremely lucky palaeontologist Dr Lida Xing was searching an amber market in Myanmar last year, near the Chinese border, where he spotted the relic. The tail fragment is believed to be from a young sparrow-sized dinosaur that lived in the Cretaceous period.

More info and photos at National Geographic. And I managed to go the entire post without referencing Jurassic Park!

dinosaur tail feathers amber

Masks: Bowie and Artists of Artifice

David Bowie Blackstar era

Masks: Bowie and Artists of Artifice is a proposed interdisciplinary anthology that will explore "the complicated, even paradoxical relationship between fiction and fact, presentation and existence, within an artist’s life and work", using the late, great David Bowie as a touchstone.

An artist exists as a character in the public’s mind, every bit as much as their creations. Quite often, such creations are themselves doubles of the creator’s life, though they are never one and the same thing. The tensions that exist within the duality of art and artifice are highlighted using artwork as double for the life, and the life as double for the work, with the understanding that neither are perfect representations of the others. Thus, artifice can very well become a route to art, which is a central anxiety that drove postmodern and pop art to theoretical excess. This is why the device of the mask is so compelling, because it reveals this relationship, and it also creates an amount of discomfort over the questions it raises — who is it that chooses who we are, when we are so often cast into a role as much as choose it? What does authenticity mean in this context?

Amongst the possible artists treated, David Bowie stands out for making a career out of creating and discarding such doubles. Further artists worth exploring include Yukio Mishima, Hunter S. Thompson, Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde, Antonin Artaud, et al., or specific works of art that emphasize this point, like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

...Where appropriate, we will delve into the occult and shamanic traditions, balancing the anthropological approach of Eliade with the narratives of practitioners themselves. Aleister Crowley can provide a bridge into these subjects, as a popular occultist who both emphasized the idea of identity as performance, and also served amongst the legion of Bowie’s influences.

Submissions for the anthology are invited from artists, writers and academics and are due by April 24, 2017. Full details at the Modern Mythology website.

News Briefs 08-12-2016

Applied logic in religious studies...

Quote of the Day:

Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.

Mark Twain

What Happened to the Holy Grail?

The Holy Grail

The myth of the Holy Grail is embedded in our culture - the sacred Christian treasure, and the mystery of where it disappeared to (or even if it existed in the first place, as many historians believe it is simply a legend), has fascinated us for so long that it has now even become a turn of phrase signifying the greatest search. It's found in everything from the Grail romances to Dan Brown (even if, in the latter case, as 'the royal blood', rather than an actual cup).

But is it possible that the legendary religious treasure does exist? The short video below, posted by the Smithsonian Museum, discusses the research of Spanish historian Marguerita Torres, who may have found out where the cup went after it disappeared from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 909 AD. In a medieval text found in a library in Egypt, Torres discovered that 150 years after going missing - possibly looted during 11th century troubles in the Holy Land - the Grail may have made its way into the hands of a Spanish king:

The text tells the story of a Muslim entourage giving the cup to a king in Spain - the King of Leon, Ferdinand the Great. But if the cup was looted, why would it then be handed to a Christian king in Spain? In 1055, Spain was divided. Muslims rule the south, and Christians the north. Leon is the most powerful Christian kingdom. And its king, Ferdinand, is looking to push south, into Muslim kingdoms. The document reveals that a Muslim ruler...gave the cup of Christ to King Ferdinand in a bid to prevent any possible invasion.

From this evidence, Marguerita Torres believes she has identified the Holy Grail: the goblet of the Infanta Doña Urraca, found in the museum of the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, Spain. Historians disagree. But if you're interested in hearing more about Torres' argument, check out her book Kings of the Grail: Tracing the Historic Journey of the Cup of Christ from Jerusalem to Modern-Day Spain (Amazon US/Amazon UK).
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News Briefs 07-12-2016

Read the introduction to our new release, Spirits of Place (featuring Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and others) over at the book's official website.

Thanks Pedrag.

Quote of the Day:

Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk.

Dolores ('Westworld')

Read the Editor's Introduction to SPIRITS OF PLACE

Introduction to the book Spirits of Place

As we announced on the weekend, we've just released a new book featuring essays from Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Iain Sinclair and others, titled Spirits of Place.

I've just made the official website for the book live, and added a PDF of the full introduction to the book (by editor John Reppion), so head over to the Spirits of Place website and check it out. It sets the tone for the book beautifully, with John recounting his own personal experience of a "vision of fourth-dimensional time" overlaid on a location, his fascination and interaction with the ancient megaliths of Liverpool, and how the book came to be.

The website is fairly sparse at the moment, but we'll add extra content as we find time - it's a fascinating topic, I think the modern world has lost its relationship with the 'spirit' of place, and we should start thinking about it more and 'connecting' with the environments we live in in more meaningful ways.

We also have ordering information for the book on the site, but it's worth noting that stock is dwindling on the limited edition hardcover (we're currently releasing the first 100 of the entire print run of 200, with added tip-in sheet signed by Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair, Joanne Parker, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo and John Reppion, to be shipped in January), so if you're after a copy you should get in fairly soon. Easy purchasing button below (the price is roughly $AUS93, which works out at around $US70) - note too that we'll send out a complimentary Kindle eBook edition of the book with each order, for those who can't wait to read it.

Link: Spirits of Place website

News Briefs 06-12-2016

In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits...

Quote of the Day:

They say that great beasts once roamed this world, as big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures.

Dolores (in 'Westworld')

Westworld and the Coming Era of Post-Biological Evolution

Dolores the robot

Spoilers for Westworld S01E10 follow

They say that great beasts once roamed this world, as big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look what it's done to you.

One day, you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt...your dreams forgotten, the horrors you faced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn't belong to you, or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come.

- Dolores, to William (in 'Westworld')

Biological evolution has driven the proliferation of life, and intelligence, on Earth and possibly many other worlds. From the first simple life form, as Darwin noted, "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved". But after 4 billion years, is evolution itself evolving into a higher form?

Many have suggested that we - that is, humans - are on the brink of moving from biological evolution to a new stage of 'post-biological', or technological, evolution. That is, our minds and abilities have reached a point where we can use our powers of observation, comprehension of feedback, and ability to build tools to accomplish goals, in order to enhance our functionality and ability to survive - in a faster, and more targeted way, than the 'random mutations' of biological evolution.

For example, evolution has given us some amazing talents, but the changes wrought on us over time have been fit for the purpose simply of existing on a thin sliver of the globe - we can't survive underwater at all without technological help, and we can't survive far above 5km in altitude. Even with technological help, once we travel beyond our planet's magnetosphere we are at risk from cosmic rays. And yet we have robots patrolling the depths of our oceans, and traveling beyond the Solar System.

Our method of fueling our body is a wonder of nature...taking in other biological materials, and converting them to energy, in an extremely efficient manner. And yet consuming food or liquid outside of the area we have evolved in - such as drinking water in a different location - can be dangerous enough to kill us due to our vulnerability to other tiny forms of biological life. Robots on the other hand can employ multiple methods of powering themselves - from solar to nuclear reactions - and those systems are becoming more and more efficient over time as our technological knowledge increases.

And, as pointed out in last night's episode of Westworld, the other downside of biological evolution is that it hasn't solved the problem of ageing, and eventual death (or perhaps more likely, in terms of the survival of a species as a whole, the death of individuals is a good evolutionary strategy). As our technology has advanced, we have become much better at staving off the effects of accident, disease, ageing and death - from prosthetics to antibiotics to organ transplants - but in the end, we are limited by the fact that we have no way of replacing an ageing, dying brain, the very centre of our being.

But if machine intelligence advances to a point where that intelligence becomes a functional entity, then a new step in technological evolution will have taken place. Because machine intelligence *can* be stored, backed-up, and replaced. A self-sustaining robotic machine intelligence with the ability to reproduce itself, and the ability to store multiple 'back-up' versions of itself, would in effect be an immortal.

Could we reach a stage where human consciousness is able to be encoded and stored in the same way? I'm doubtful, though I would be happy to be proved wrong! But if is impossible, then the next rung on the evolutionary ladder could belong to another creature - one that we created ourselves. Just as the Neanderthals disappeared as Homo sapiens began proliferating, in the coming millennia humans may end up being the species that disappears into extinction, with machines taking our place.

The machines may in the end be our final, grand composition, and our only survival will be in the way we "become the music".

It's gonna be alright Teddy, I understand now. This world doesn't belong to them...it belongs to us.

- Dolores

News Briefs 05-12-2016

Check out our new book, Spirits of Place, featuring essays from the likes of Alan Moore and Warren Ellis!

Quote of the Day:

If you are willing to look at another person's behavior as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over time, cease to react to all.

Yogi Bhajan