News Briefs 15-11-2016


Quote of the Day:

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

Terence McKenna

Speculations on the Physics of Alien Spaceship Propulsion

Shell Spaceship in Arrival

When I saw the new 'alien first contact' movie Arrival last week, one particular element that made me smile was seeing the alien spaceship leaving Earth basically by dissolving into a cloud or mist. Readers with Fortean tastes will likely be familiar with tales of UFOs disappearing into clouds. For example:

On many occasions UFOs are reported to become gradually engulfed in a vapor cloud. One such case can be found in James McCampbell's "Effects of UFOs upon people": A highway patrolman saw a strange object sitting on the ground in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It was early morning on a wintry day. Suddenly, the object became surrounded by a mist. Then a brilliant glow appeared as the object rose off the ground.

And another:

A doctor saw two large disk-shaped objects merge into one, and the single object sent a beam of light in his direction. It vanished with a sort of explosion, leaving a cloud that dissapated slowly.

This 'dissolving into mist' factor - along with other elements from UFO sightings - have been discussed at length by some UFO researchers as possible clues to they way in which they travel (although doing so does tend to make the perhaps erroneous leap from 'UFO' to 'spaceship'). However, there seems little consensus, with explanations for the link ranging from the effects of plasma propulsion, to reduced atmospheric pressure surrounding the UFO.

So I was interested today to read polymath Stephen Wolfram's length discussion of his contribution to the science in Arrival. Wolfram covers a lot of ground, but at one point he does appear to discuss his idea for how the aliens might achieve interstellar travel (an idea which he came up with overnight, surprising even himself):

Maybe the spacecraft has its strange rattleback-like shape because it spins as it travels, generating gravitational waves in spacetime in the process... The gravitational waves would lead to a perturbation in the structure of spacetime, [and] the spacecraft somehow “swims” through spacetime, propelled by the effects of these gravitational waves. Around the skin of the spacecraft, there’s “gravitational turbulence” in the structure of spacetime, with power-law correlations like the turbulence one sees around objects moving in fluids. (Or maybe the spacecraft just “boils spacetime” around it…)

So there you go UFO researchers, there's another possibility to add to your list of propulsion theories!

There's much more of interest in Wolfram's blog post, I recommend it for anyone interested in high-concept scientific thinking about the alien contact scenario. And one particular passage stood out to me, not so much because of the 'alien' concepts discussed, but a very human one. These days, it often seems to be the case that 'speculation' is a no-no in scientific thinking - "stick to the facts". But Wolfram points out how liberating it felt for him to explore how 'the impossible' might be achieved:

It’s fun for an “actual scientist” like me to come up with stuff like this. It’s kind of liberating. Especially since every one of these science fiction-y pieces of dialogue can lead one into a long, serious, physics discussion.

I think there has to be room for plenty of speculation in science - it's just a case of communicating clearly to others that you are doing so, rather than suggesting something as a certainty.

Link: Quick, How Might the Alien Spacecraft Work?

Further reading: Your Choice of Starships (at Centauri Dreams)

News Briefs 14-11-2016

A new paradigm....

Thanks Sicco.

Quote of the Day:

Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.

Mark Twain

Movie Review: Arrival

Amy Adams makes alien contact in Arrival

This may be one of the shortest movie reviews you'll ever read. Because to appreciate Arrival, a new movie in the 'first alien contact' sci-fi sub-genre, I think you're better off going in absolutely blind. Don't read reviews, don't watch the trailer, and don't read the short story it is based on. Just go.

Given the recommendation above, this 'review' will expand outwards from the most simple of statements, so if you haven't seen the movie I recommend reading as little as possible from the following. How far you read on should depend on how much encouragement or detail you need before going to see a movie. Obviously, the further you go down, the more spoilers are involved - so be warned.

So to start:

1. Go see it. Stop reading this now, and go see it.

2. Need more introductory detail about the movie? Arrival is directed by Denis Villeneuve - the guy behind the excellent Sicario and Prisoners - and is based on the acclaimed short story by Ted Chiang, Story of Your Life. It stars award-winners Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Here's the synopsis, and trailer (there is also a separate international trailer). Note again though, I recommend not watching the trailers:

When multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate, including language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Humankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers – and to find them, Banks, Donnelly and Weber will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and quite possibly humanity.

3. Need a feel for the movie? If you liked Contact, you will ... Read More »

News Briefs 11-11-2016

“Tiger got to hunt, Bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, "Why, why, why?"

Quote of the Day:

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”

K. Vonnegut

Beware the Slenderman - HBO Documentary on a Modern Monster Myth

The Slenderman

We've been covering the modern monster mythos of 'Slenderman' here on the Grail since back in 2011, when Cat Vincent contributed an article about 'Slendy' to Darklore Volume 6. From small memes, however, big things grow - and in May this year it was announced that Slenderman would get his own movie.

And now, to add to that, HBO will be airing the documentary Beware the Slenderman in January. Here's the trailer, which focuses on the (real-life) attempted murder (by stabbing) in 2014 of a 12-year-old girl by two friends who claimed to be doing it on behalf of Slenderman:

For more background reading on the Slenderman phenomenon, be sure to check out Cat Vincent's articles "The Slenderman" (PDF), "Killing Slenderman", and "Slenderman: Five Years".

News Briefs 10-11-2016

Not much news about today, apologies. Everyone seems to be transfixed by some election thing that apparently happened yesterday...

Quote of the Day:

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Marcus Aurelius

News Briefs 09-11-2016

Okay, so...President Biff?

Quote of the Day:

Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.

Joseph Goebbels

The Deeper You Go - A Documentary on the Mystery of Consciousness

"The Deeper You Go" is a half-hour documentary, available freely online, that looks into the mystery of consciousness:

Is consciousness a byproduct of the brain or is the brain a vehicle for consciousness? Preeminent minds debate the nature of consciousness in this 30 minute documentary. Featuring: Eben Alexander, Susan Blackmore, David Chalmers, Deepak Chopra, Patricia Churchland, Stanislas Dehaene, Daniel Dennett, Stuart Hameroff, Dean Radin, John Searle and Rupert Sheldrake.

The documentary was self-funded, so if you enjoy it please consider dropping some coin in the creators' PayPal account. For more information about the documentary, visit the official website.