News Briefs 21-04-2016

Have joy.

Quote of the Day

"Creativity is Intelligence having fun."

˜Albert Einstein

Today I Learned: There is Such a Thing as 'Meteorburn'

Chelyabinsk meteor

Today's accidental research find: some people were actually sunburnt by the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013 (okay, maybe that should be 'meteorburnt'). Of 1113 witnesses who were outside during the event, some 415 reported feeling warm, 315 "hot", while 25 (2.2%) noted the heat was so intense they were 'sunburnt' by it. One of those, Korkino resident Vladimir Petrov, reported sunburn "as severe as causing his skin to peel off some time after the event".

Additionally, 180 people reported that their eyes hurt during the event, with 70 of those temporarily blinded, and 11 receiving retinal burns.

Interestingly though, it is a bit of a mystery as to how the fireball could have 'sunburnt' people on the ground:

The estimated UV dose resulting from the passage of the Chelyabinsk fireball would not have exceeded 200 W at a range of 30 km, and yet reports of suffering sunburn and skin peeling, the latter requiring a minimum dosage of at least 1,000 W, were reported—indeed, the sensation of feeling heat was reported at ranges in excess of 100 km from the Chelyabinsk fireball path. Clearly, this is an area requiring continued investigation. (Reference: "Electrophonic Sound Generation by the Chelyabinsk Fireball", by Martin Beech)

Other odd experiences during the event included so-called 'electrophonic sounds' (sounds heard at the same time as the meteor, even though it was too far away to hear instantaneously), and odd smells including a sulfur scent. All in all, the sort of thing Charles Fort would have enjoyed very much....

Update: It seems 'meteorburn' is not a new thing! Martin Kottmeyer sent in this report of a huge fireball seen over England in 1719 that has many parallels with the Chelyabinsk meteor:

“Sitting at the fire-side about eight a clock at night, the Moon shining then very bright, and the sky clear, not the least cloud to be seen, on the sudden there appeared a very great light far brighter than the Sun at noon-day, accompanied with so great an heat, that the arm of mine which was next to the window burnt for many hours as if it had been scalded. There was so great a smoak, that I thought, and so did many others, that all the ground had been on fire; but we soon perceived that it was in the sky.

...Some minutes after this (I should think at least seven or eight) we heard a report like a great cannon (much greater than ever I heard.) It shook the house and windows very much. About a minute after, there went off to our thinking, about thirty, not so big. They sounded just as the Tower-Guns did, when we were in Mincing Lane, but shook the house and windows much more.

Witness testimony of this fireball also included reports of electrophonic sounds; one account mentions "I thought I heard a noise of hissing, like what is made by the flying of a large rocket in the air".

Related stories:

News Briefs 20-04-2016

Nothing to see here.

  • Oldest depiction of Ancient Egyptian demons found.
  • Did a coded message lead an American to a lost civilization in China?
  • First scientific analysis of Mesolithic shaman headdresses.
  • How to hide from aliens.
  • Psychologists study intense awe astronauts feel viewing Earth from space.
  • Will we know extraterrestrial life when we see it?
  • We are closing in on possible whereabouts of Planet Nine
  • Researchers can identify you by your brain waves with 100 percent accuracy.
  • New evidence that grandmothers were crucial for human evolution.
  • Mysterious painted skull found in Vienna.
  • Alien 'Wow!' signal could be explained after almost 40 years.
  • Study shows how LSD mimics infant's mind as ego dissolves.
  • Most video game players experience flashbacks and hallucinations.
  • Did comets kick-start life on Earth? Chemists find missing piece of puzzle.
  • 'Magic mushroom' drug psilocybin may ease pain of rejection.
  • A tiny forest tribe built a DIY drone from YouTube to fight off illegal loggers.
  • Oscar, the fake Frankenstein's Chicken.
  • Stonehenge was the work of Satan's army of giants, says Christian who somehow has a Ph.D.
  • Flying Spaghetti Monster is not God, rules mortal judge.

Quote of the Day:

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.

Henry David Thoreau

Man Face Swaps with Museum Statues

Museum face swap

Plenty of people have been having fun lately with face swapping - using mobile cameras and apps to exchange faces with another person in real-time. Inspired, this young guy went to a museum and face-swapped with the statues there...

Look, I'm no expert on ancient magic, but if Hollywood movies have taught me anything, this is just asking for an ancient curse to come to life.

Museum Face Swap 2

Link: So I Went to the Museum...

News Briefs 19-04-2016

Happy Bicycle Day!

Quote of the Day:

Deliberate provocation of mystical experience, particularly by LSD and related hallucinogens, in contrast to spontaneous visionary experiences, entails dangers that must not be underestimated. Practitioners must take into account the peculiar effects of these substances, namely their ability to influence our consciousness, the innermost essence of our being. The history of LSD to date amply demonstrates the catastrophic consequences that can ensue when its profound effect is misjudged and the substance is mistaken for a pleasure drug.

Albert Hofmann

TED Talk: The Most Mysterious Star in the Universe

Image

One of the big controversies in astronomy this year has been the "Astronomers Discover Something 'You Would Expect an Alien Civilization to Build', and SETI Wants a Look" story. For anyone wanting to better understand the scientific story behind this topic, check out the TED talk above by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian.

Something massive, with roughly 1,000 times the area of Earth, is blocking the light coming from a distant star known as KIC 8462852, and nobody is quite sure what it is. As astronomer Tabetha Boyajian investigated this perplexing celestial object, a colleague suggested something unusual: Could it be an alien-built megastructure? Such an extraordinary idea would require extraordinary evidence. In this talk, Boyajian gives us a look at how scientists search for and test hypotheses when faced with the unknown.

Related stories:

News Briefs 18-04-2016

Reminder: if you use social media, you can like The Daily Grail on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

Quote of the Day:

When the whole world is running toward a cliff, he who is running in the opposite direction seems to have lost his mind.

C.S. Lewis

News Briefs 16-04-2016

”A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.

Quote of the Day:

“Once you can honestly say, "I don't know", then it becomes possible to get at the truth.”

R. Heinlein

Mushrooms in Wonderland

Alice meets the caterpillar

by Mike Jay

(For more fascinating articles like this one be sure to like The Daily Grail on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.)

The first well-documented hallucinogenic mushroom experience in Britain took place in London’s Green Park on 3 October 1799. Like many such experiences before and since, it was accidental. A man subsequently identified only as ‘J.S.’ was in the habit of gathering small field mushrooms from the park on autumn mornings, and cooking them up into a breakfast broth for his wife and young family. But this particular morning, an hour after they had finished eating, the world began to turn very strange. J.S. found black spots and odd flashes of colour bursting across his vision; he became disorientated, and had difficulty in standing and moving around. His family were complaining of stomach cramps and cold, numb extremities. The notion of poisonous toadstools leapt to his mind, and he staggered out into the streets to seek help. but within a hundred yards he had forgotten where he was going, or why, and was found wandering about in a confused state.

By chance, a doctor named Everard Brande happened to be passing through this insalubrious part of town, and he was summoned to treat J.S. and his family. The scene that he discovered was so bizarre and unfamiliar that he would write it up at length and publish it in The Medical and Physical Journal later that year. The family’s symptoms were rising and falling in giddy waves, their pupils dilated, their pulses and breathing becoming fluttering and laboured, then returning to normal before accelerating into another crisis. They were all fixated on the fear that they were dying, except for the youngest, the eight-year-old Edward S., whose symptoms were the strangest of all. He had eaten a large portion of the mushrooms and was ‘attacked with fits of immoderate laughter’ which his parents’ threats could not subdue. He seemed to have been transported into another world, from which he would only return under duress to speak nonsense: ‘when roused and interrogated as to it, he answered indifferently, yes or no, as he did to every other question, evidently without any relation to what was asked’.

Dr.Everard Brande would diagnose the family’s condition as the ‘deleterious effects of a very common species of agaric [mushroom], not hitherto suspected to be poisonous’. Today, we can be more specific: this was clearly intoxication by Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata), the ‘magic mushrooms’ which grow plentifully across the hills, moors, commons, golf courses and playing fields of Britain every autumn. But though Dr.Brande’s account of the J.S. family’s trip would not be forgotten, and would continue to be cited in Victorian drug literature for decades, the nineteenth century would come and go without any conclusive identification of the Liberty Cap as the species in question. In fact, it would not be until Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD, turned his attention to hallucinogenic mushrooms in the 1950s that the botanical identity of these and other mushrooms containing psilocybin, LSD’s chemical cousin, would be confirmed.

But if they were obscure to Victorian science, there was another tradition which would appear to explore the ability of certain mushrooms to whisk humans off to another world: Victorian fairy lore. Over the nineteenth century, a vast body of art and literature would connect mushrooms and toadstools with elves, pixies, hollow hills and the unwitting transport of subjects to fairyland, a world of shifting perspectives and dimensions seething with elemental spirits. Is it possible that the Victorian fairy tradition, underneath its twee and bourgeois exterior, operated as a conduit for a hidden world of homegrown psychedelia, parallel perhaps to the ancient shamanic and ritual uses of similar mushrooms in the New World? Were the authors of such otherworld narratives - Alice in Wonderland, for example - aware of the powers of certain mushrooms to lead unsuspecting visitors to enchanted lands? Were they, perhaps, even writing from personal experience?

The J.S. family’s trip in 1799 is a useful jumping-off point for such enquiries, because it establishes several basic facts. First - and contrary to the opinion of some recent American scholars - British (and European) magic mushrooms are not a recent arrival from the New World, but were part of our indigenous flora at least two hundred years ago. Second, the species in question was unknown at the time, at least to science. Third, its hallucinogenic effects were unfamiliar, perhaps even unheard of - certainly unprecedented enough for a London doctor to feel the need to draw them to the attention of his medical colleagues.

In other scholarly contexts, though, the mind-altering effects of certain plants were already familiar. Through classical sources like The Golden Ass, the idea of witches’ potions which transformed their subjects was an inheritance from antiquity. The pharmacopeia and materia medica of doctors and herbalists had long included the drug effects of common plants like belladonna and opium poppies, though mushrooms had featured in them rarely. The eighteenth century had turned up several more exotic examples from distant cultures: Russian explorers describing the use of fly agaric mushrooms in Siberia, Captain Cook observing the kava-kava ritual in Polynesia. In 1762 Carl Linnaeus, the great taxonomist and father of modern botany, had compiled the first ever list of intoxicating plants: his monograph, entitled Inebriantia, had included opium, cannabis, datura, henbane and tobacco. Slowly, the study of such plants was emerging from the margins and tall tales of classical studies, ethnography, folklore and medicine and becoming a subject in its own right.

It was as part of this same interest that European fairy lore was also being assembled by a new generation of amateur folklore collectors such as the Brothers Grimm, who realised that the inexorable drift of peasant populations from country to city was beginning to dismantle centuries of folk stories, songs and oral histories. The Victorian fairy tradition, as it emerged, would be imbued with this new sensibility which rendered rustic traditions no longer coarse, backward and primitive but picturesque and semi-sacred, an escape from the austerity of industrial living into an ancient, often pagan otherworld. Under the guise of ‘innocence’, sensual and erotic themes could be explored with a boldness not permitted in more realistic genres, and the muddy and impoverished countryside could be re-enchanted with imagery drawn from the classical and arabesque. Within this process, the lore of plants and flowers was carefully curated and woven into supernatural tapestries of flower-fairies and enchanted woods; and within this imaginal world of plants, mushrooms and toadstools began popping up all over. Fairy rings and toadstool-dwelling elves were recycled through a pictorial culture of motif and decoration until they became emblematic of fairyland itself.

Fairy ring

This was a quiet but substantial image makeover for Britain’s fungi. Previously, in herbals and medical texts, they had been largely shunned, associated with dung-heaps and poison; in Romantic poetry the smell of death had still clung to them (‘fungous brood/coloured like a corpse’s cheek’, as Keats put it). Now, a new generation of folklorists began to ... Read More »