News Briefs 20-03-2017

Johnny B. Interplanetary...

Thanks to @MattStaggs and @m1k3y.

Quote of the Day:

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.

John Lennon

Previously Unseen Nuclear Test Footage Released on YouTube

In the post-World War II era the United States conducted hundreds of atmospheric nuclear tests, with multiple cameras capturing each event at around 2,400 frames per second. Like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, however, these treasures have largely been forgotten as they languished in high-security vaults around the country.

With time running out to archive this material (film decomposes over time), the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory undertook a mammoth operation to capture these tests for posterity:

For the past five years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a crack team of film experts, archivists and software developers have been on a mission to hunt down, scan, reanalyze and declassify these decomposing films. The goals are to preserve the films’ content before it’s lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.

And now they have shared some of this material with us all, by posting a bunch of the videos they've scanned to YouTube.

At the top of this post is the 'Turk' blast of 7 March 1955, conducted as part of 'Operation Teapot'. The terrifying video shows the blast effect of a 40 kiloton nuke, which is about twice the yield of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, though it pales into insignificance compared to the megaton devices now in the arsenals of a number of countries around the world.

But at least there's sane people in charge of those nuclear arsenals, amirite?

Link: Nuclear test videos uploaded by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

News Briefs 18-03-2017

”We live in a nightmare of falsehoods, and there are few who are sufficiently awake and aware to see things as they are.”

Quote of the Day:

“To recover a sense of reality is to recover the truth about ourselves and the world in which we live, and thereby to gain the power of keeping this world from flying asunder.”

Nikolai Berdyaev

Two New Scientific Papers Suggest a Catastrophic Extraterrestrial Impact Event Occurred 12,000 Years Ago

Comet impact

'Alternative history' researcher and author Graham Hancock has long postulated that a cataclysm some 12,000 years ago might have wiped out advanced civilisations. In his most recent book Magicians of the Gods (Amazon US/Amazon UK) he discusses at length the Younger Dryas period (c. 12,900 to c. 11,700 calendar years ago), which began when temperatures plummeted over the course of just a few decades - and the 'heretical' theory that this event may have been caused by a comet impact.

Now, two new papers recently published in respected journals may perhaps provide material support for that idea. The first, published late last week in Nature's "Scientific Reports", notes the discovery of "a distinct platinum anomaly spread widely across North America and dating to the Younger Dryas (YD) onset", supporting the conclusions of previous papers that have provided evidence for an impact event at that time. The presence of platinum is a strong indicator of an impact event: as lead author Christopher Moore has pointed out, the element "is very rare in Earth’s crust, but it is common in asteroids and comets"; and previous studies have also found "a rise in platinum concentrations over 14 years and subsequent drop during the following 7 years" that is consistent with "the known residence time of stratospheric dust".

Christopher Moore says that his team's finding on elevated levels of platinum... a confirmation of data previously reported for the Younger-Dryas onset several years ago in a Greenland ice-core. The authors for that study concluded that the most likely source of such platinum enrichment was from the impact of an extraterrestrial object.

Our data show that this anomaly is present in sediments from U.S. archaeological sites that date to the start of the Younger-Dryas event. It is continental in scale - possibly global - and it's consistent with the hypothesis that an extraterrestrial impact took place.

The other new paper has just been published in the journal Geomorphology ("A model for the geomorphology of the Carolina Bays). It also provides evidence for an impact event around that time, suggesting that the Carolina Bays may be the remains of "oblique conical craters formed on ground liquefied by the seismic shock waves of secondary impacts of glacier ice boulders ejected by an extraterrestrial impact on the Laurentide Ice Sheet".

Graham Hancock has discussed this new finding on his Facebook page:

The evidence for an extinction level comet-impact event in North America 12,800 years ago, setting in motion the mysterious episode of megafaunal extinctions, floods and freezing temperatures that geologists call the Younger Dryas, continues to grow stronger with a new paper published in the distinguished peer-reviewed journal Geomorphology. You can read a discussion of the implications of the paper, and you can download a pdf of the paper itself, here.

Those who have read my book Magicians of the Gods, now available in an extended and updated paperback edition, will be aware that I focus extensively on the Younger Dryas cataclysm in which I believe not only mammoths, not only the hunter-gatherer "Clovis" culture, but also an advanced prehistoric civilization, hitherto the stuff only of myths and legends, was lost to history. This, in my view, was when we became a species with amnesia.

Check out my previous post on this subject, with more links and papers, here.

You can of course read Graham's thoughts on this topic at length by picking up a copy of Magicians of the Gods from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

News Briefs 16-03-2017

"In the beginning was the Code, and the Code was with the Programmer…"

Quote of the Day:

"Do I believe, for example, that by using magic I could fly? No. How would you get around gravity? Impossible. Do I believe that I might be able to project my consciousness into a very, very vivid simulation of flying? Yeah. Yes, I've done that. Yes, that works."

˜Alan Moore

Séance: A Photography Project on Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm

Seance hands. Photograph by Shannon Taggart.

Can you capture the supernatural with a camera lens? For the past 16 years, that has been photographer Shannon Taggart's goal, and in pursuing it she has traveled from the world's largest Spiritualist community in Lily Dale, New York, to France, Spain, and the Arthur Findlay College in England. Her work has been published in such esteemed publications as TIME, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine and Discover.

Shannon's personal interest in Spiritualism began as a teenager, after her cousin received a reading from a medium who revealed a secret about her grandfather’s death that turned out to be true:

In 2001, I began photographing at the place where my grandfather’s message was received: Lily Dale, New York, the town which is home to the world’s largest Spiritualist community. I quickly immersed myself in Lily Dale’s world, receiving readings, experiencing healings, joining in séances, attending a psychic college and sitting in a medium’s cabinet, always with my camera. I expected to spend one summer figuring out the tricks of the Spiritualist trade. Instead, Spiritualism’s mysterious processes, earnest practitioners, surprising cultural history and bizarre photographic past became a resource and an inspiration for my own work. I began a sixteen-year quest to document contemporary Spiritualism and to find and photograph ‘ectoplasm’ – the elusive substance that is said to be both spiritual and material.

However, Shannon soon learned that this would be no 'point and click' excursion in photographic technique:

Photographing Spiritualism presents a unique challenge: how do you photograph the invisible? Sitting in the charged atmospheres of the séance rooms I encountered, I wondered how to approach the exchange between a veiled presence and a visible body? Technical mistakes led me to explore the inherent imperfections within the photographic process. Unpredictable elements (blur, abstraction, motion, flare) seemed to insinuate, or refer to, the unseen. I began to use conventions that are considered wrong, messy, or ‘tricky’. I crossed the boundary of what is commonly considered unprofessional in the practice of photography: I invited anomaly. In playing with the process, the invisible was automated. My camera rendered some striking synchronicities. The resulting images consider the conjuring power of photography itself.

Now, after many years in the séance room, Shannon has plans to publish a book on the topic of Spiritualism that will include many of her photographs, as well as historical images and original text "that will contextualize Spiritualism’s surprising cultural history and bizarre photographic past": SÉANCE: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm. To bring the book project to fruition, Shannon is looking for pre-publication support from the community via a crowd-funding campaign:

My book on Spiritualism will merge ethnographic study, journalism and art. I will contextualize Spiritualism’s history and highlight its surprising connections to nineteenth-century social reform, scientific inquiry, artistic practice and popular culture. Ultimately, this work seeks to amplify the reflexive relationship between Spiritualism and photography and to explore the ideological, material, geographical, historical and metaphysical correspondences between the two. Erik Davis, author of media studies cult classic TechGnosis and expert on the intersection between technology and the religious imagination, will contribute the foreword.

Below I've embedded a short video from Shannon describing the project. You can also find a short excerpt and some images from the book at Shannon's website. To support the project, head to the crowd-funding campaign page for SÉANCE: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm and check out the large range of pledge rewards on offer to backers.

Link: SÉANCE: Spiritualist Ritual and the Search for Ectoplasm

News Briefs 15-03-2017

Feeling stressed? Doctor Grail prescribes this five minute dose of peace and beauty...

Thanks to @MattStaggs.

Quote of the Day:

The top 1% of the world's population own 80% of the world's wealth. It's incredible that people put up with it. But...they're poor, they're demoralised, and they're frightened. And therefore they think perhaps the safest thing is to take orders and hope for the best.

Tony Benn

Mental Illness Treatment May Offer Evidence for Quantum Effects in the Brain

Quantum Mind

Here at the Grail we've covered the controversial idea of 'quantum consciousness' many times over the years (we interviewed prominent researcher Stu Hameroff way back in 2005). A recent mention of the topic here was in the news briefs a few weeks ago, where we linked to a great piece at the BBC titled "The Strange Link Between the Human Mind and Quantum Physics".

Given the length of the piece, and the 'heavy' topics discussed, I thought it would be worth pointing out a fascinating part of that article that some readers may not have made it to. It is where it discusses the research of physicist Matthew Fisher, of the University of California, in which he suggests an explanation for how quantum effects could persist in the brain for decent periods of time (there is a lot of skepticism about 'quantum consciousness' due to the 'warm and wet' conditions in the human brain, both of which destroy quantum effects very quickly).

In his study ("Quantum cognition: The possibility of processing with nuclear spins in the brain"), Fisher argued that the brain might contain molecules that are capable of sustaining robust quantum superpositions for up to a day.

Specifically, he thinks that the nuclei of phosphorus atoms may have this ability.

Phosphorus atoms are everywhere in living cells. They often take the form of phosphate ions, in which one phosphorus atom joins up with four oxygen atoms. Such ions are the basic unit of energy within cells.

The phosphorus nuclei have a quantum property called spin, which makes them rather like little magnets with poles pointing in particular directions. In an entangled state, the spin of one phosphorus nucleus depends on that of the other.

Put another way, entangled states are really superposition states involving more than one quantum particle. Fisher says that the quantum-mechanical behaviour of these nuclear spins could plausibly resist decoherence on human timescales.

According to Fisher, this could happen if the phosphorus atoms are incorporated into larger objects called "Posner molecules" (clusters of six phosphate ions, combined with nine calcium ions).

What I found really interesting is the medical anomaly that led Fisher to formulating this hypothesis:

He first got this idea when he started thinking about mental illness.

"My entry into the biochemistry of the brain started when I decided three or four years ago to explore how on earth the lithium ion could have such a dramatic effect in treating mental conditions," Fisher says.

Lithium drugs are widely used for treating bipolar disorder. They work, but nobody really knows how.

"I wasn't looking for a quantum explanation," Fisher says. But then he came across a paper reporting that lithium drugs had different effects on the behaviour of rats, depending on what form – or "isotope" – of lithium was used.

On the face of it, that was extremely puzzling. In chemical terms, different isotopes behave almost identically, so if the lithium worked like a conventional drug the isotopes should all have had the same effect.

But Fisher realised that the nuclei of the atoms of different lithium isotopes can have different spins. This quantum property might affect the way lithium drugs act. For example, if lithium substitutes for calcium in Posner molecules, the lithium spins might "feel" and influence those of phosphorus atoms, and so interfere with their entanglement.

If this is true, it would help to explain why lithium can treat bipolar disorder.

It should be noted that Fisher himself is quite wary of being associated with mystical 'quantum woo' ideas (good luck with that once Deepak starts talking about it...). But I do think this is another wonderful case study of how looking deeper into anomalies can sometimes lead to (possible) breakthroughs in our understanding of both ourselves and the cosmos.


News Briefs 14-03-2017

Kong chaos!

Thanks @LorenColeman and @CultofWeird.

Quote of the Day:

You have to remember we brought back a picture of the Earth as it is 240,000 miles away. And the fact is, it gives you a different perspective of the Earth when you see it as three-dimensional between the sun and the moon...

You have to really kind of think about our own existence here in the universe. You realise that people often say, ‘I hope to go to heaven when I die,'. In reality, if you think about it, you go to heaven when you’re born.

Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell