Remembering the 'Radioactive Boy Scout'

Radioactivity warning symbol

In last week's news briefs we reported the the death of David Hahn, aka 'the radioactive boy scout', aged just 39. In his teenage years Hahn constructed a 'breeder-style nuclear reactor' in the back-shed of his family home after becoming fascinated by the subject through the Boy Scouts and his father's chemistry books. The coroner's results are still pending, so it is still unknown whether Hahn died as a result of his nuclear interest, or by some other cause.

I've seen a number of comments around the web and on social media in the days since along the lines of "lol, Darwin Award winner" (referring to a mock award to "recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death"). I've always found the DA rather distasteful, perhaps because they boil down someone's life, and the tragedy of their death to their family, into a one-line, superficial quip (FWIW, I usually enjoy dark humour). So, to help you get to know Hahn a little better, here's an article with a bit more depth, followed by two videos documenting his story in his own words.

Like any teenager, Hahn held after-school jobs at a local fast-food restaurant and a grocery store, but unlike other teenagers, he was using his wages to buy chemistry supplies. For a summer stay at Scout camp, Hahn showed up with powdered magnesium, thinking the other scouts would use it to make fireworks. Instead, they blasted a hole through their tent. Finally, after an explosion in the family basement, David’s parents requested that his experiments be conducted in the shed in their backyard.

Bad idea.

“Sure, they thought it was odd that Hahn often wore a gas mask in the shed and would sometimes discard his clothing after working there until two in the morning, but they chalked it up to their own limited education,” Silverstein wrote.

David’s father laid down the law, insisting that he find some other pastime — specifically, becoming an Eagle Scout. And it turned out that one of the program’s merit badges was in Atomic Energy. Hahn earned his merit badge by building a model of a nuclear reactor using rubber bands and soda straws on a can of juice, adding some coat hangers and kitchen matches...

...His ambition started to grow, and he was determined to produce real radioactive materials. “He remained unfazed by accidents that turned his hair green, burned his skin, or knocked him out cold,” the Christian Science Monitor wrote later. He extracted americium-241 from old smoke detectors, then welded it together with a blowtorch. He extracted thorium from thousands of old lanterns — again using his blowtorch — and successfully purified it “to at least 9,000 times the level found in nature and 170 times the level that requires NRC licensing.” Harpers even reports that “he wrote to a Czechoslovakian firm that sells uranium to commercial and university buyers, whose name was provided, he told me, by the NRC,” then formulated his own nitric acid to try to isolate to the uranium.

(thanks to @Becky_Bongos)

News Briefs 21-11-2016

Truth in advertising...

Thanks @JohnReppion.

Quote of the Day:

Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.

'1984' (George Orwell)

Near-Death Experiences and the Origin of Afterlife Beliefs

For those that enjoyed my essay on near-death experiences throughout history (expanded upon in my book Stop Worrying, There Probably is an Afterlife), the talk above, "Near-Death Experience and the Origin of Afterlife Beliefs", delivered by Gregory Shushan at the 2016 IANDS conference, will likely be of interest.

Whatever their source (biological, psychological, and/or metaphysical), NDEs are unquestionably part of human experience. While they share similar themes wherever they occur, no two descriptions are exactly alike. As with any experience, NDEs are filtered through our layers of culture, language, and individuality. The interpretation of the phenomenon as indicative of survival after bodily death, however, appears to be universal. Accounts from around the world and throughout history show that NDEs regularly impact beliefs about the afterlife, despite cross-cultural differences. This presentation addresses their role in the formation of afterlife beliefs; the relationship between NDEs and cultural expectations; and the varying modes of interpretation and assimilation of these experiences in different societies. The argument that NDEs are a driving force behind religious beliefs aligns well with the conference’s focus on the transformative aspects of NDEs, and how they are integrated into people’s lives.

News Briefs 18-11-2016

“If you want to change the way people respond to you, change the way you respond to people.”

Quote of the Day:

“The universe is an intelligence test.”

Timothy Leary

News Briefs 17-11-2016

Textbooks, improved...

Quote of the Day:

We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And, it’s not easy.

Terence McKenna

Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast

Our good friend Graham Hancock appeared once again on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast yesterday, joined by 'renegade scholar' Randall Carlson for a three and a half hour discussion on ancient cataclysms and lost civilisations. I still haven't got through the whole thing (3.5 hours!), but what I've listened to so far has been a fun and enlightening discussion touching on many of the issues raised in Graham's most recent book, Magicians of the Gods (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK).

News Briefs 16-11-2016

Post-fact...

Quote of the Day:

Culture replaces authentic feeling with words. As an example of this, imagine an infant lying in its cradle, and the window is open, and into the room comes something, marvelous, mysterious, glittering, shedding light of many colors, movement, sound, a transformative hierophany of integrated perception and the child is enthralled and then the mother comes into the room and she says to the child, “that’s a bird, baby, that’s a bird,” instantly the complex wave of the angel peacock iridescent trans-formative mystery is collapsed, into the word. All mystery is gone, the child learns this is a bird, this is a bird, and by the time we’re five or six years old all the mystery of reality has been carefully tiled over with words. This is a bird, this is a house, this is the sky, and we seal ourselves in within a linguistic shell of dis-empowered perception.

Terence McKenna

Gary Lachman Discusses His New Book "Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson"

Gary Lachman is one of my favourite writers on the history and philosophies of esotericism (and we're lucky enough to have him contribute here at the Grail periodically on his personal blog). So I really enjoyed sitting down and watching this recent talk Gary gave at Watkins Books in London about his latest book Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson. It's got a lovely 'up-close' personal feel to it, as if I was sitting on a folding chair in the front row listening to Gary chat about things.

Gary Lachman, Wilson's friend and biographer, discusses his new book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, and take the audience on a tour of Wilson's central ideas.

2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of the existential classic The Outsider, the book that in 1956 threw its twenty-four year old author, Colin Wilson, into fame and achieved worldwide success. Between then and his death in 2013, Wilson wrote an enormous number of books exploring the edgier areas of human psychology - such as his groundbreaking history The Occult (1971) - with gripping analyses of sexuality, criminality, consciousness, the paranormal, and mystical experience, as well as novels like Ritual in the Dark, The Mind Parasites, and The Space Vampires.

You can grab a copy of Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson via Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Related: An Excerpt from Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson

News Briefs 15-11-2016

GOAT...

Quote of the Day:

The problem is not to find the answer, it is to face the answer.

Terence McKenna