News Briefs 25-09-2015

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”

Quote of the Day:

“Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

W. Faulkner

An Introduction to the Work of Legendary Ufologist Jacques Vallee

Jacques Vallee

Happy birthday to our good friend, legendary ufologist Jacques Vallee! We're privileged to be the publisher of two of Jacques' most celebrated books, Messengers of Deception and Passport to Magonia.

Note too that Jacques has been working hard on a very special collector's edition of his most recent book, Wonders in the Sky (co-authored with Chris Aubeck), and will soon be launching a crowd-funding campaign to finance the printing, which interested readers will be able to contribute to so they can get their hands on a copy - I'll update you when I find out more.

To celebrate Jacques' birthday, here's a few links to Vallee-related lectures and interviews we've posted over the years, full of great insights from his five decades of experience researching the UFO phenomenon:

But for the newbie, it's hard to go past Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers as an eye-opening introduction (yes we publish it, but it's always been my favourite) - Amazon links below:

Passport to Magonia

Stairway to Heaven (Chinese Edition)

Probably not what Jacob --or Robert Plant-- had in mind, but still a beautiful spectacle: Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang created this fiery Sky Ladder by using pyrotechnics and holding them in the air with a balloon.

The installation was realized at Huiyu Island Harbor on June 15th 2015 at 4:49 am, as a way to celebrate his grandmother's 100th birthday.

Guoqiang was the same artist who designed the fireworks for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, in 2008.

News Briefs 24-09-2015

If this guy had been around 20 years ago, who knows... you might all know me by now as 'Father Junkie' ;)

Quote of the Day:

"The future ain't what it used to be"

˜Yogi Berra (RIP)

Stephen Colbert: On Faith & Humor

I was born and raised a Catholic. As a Mexican, there's nothing exceptional about that; but there was a time in my life when I was really committed to my Catholicism. I went to Mass (gladly!), took Communion, despaired when I had 'unclean thoughts' --which was pretty much *all* the time-- walked dozens of miles to see pope John II at San Juan de los Lagos --I was so tired I slept through most of the Eucharist-- and even went with a group made of fellow high-school students to a few 'evangelization journeys' at some of the poorest communities in Mexico.

And, for a little while, I seriously considered the possibility of taking the vows to become a priest.

Eventually I became evermore disenchanted with the church --even though to this day I still hold a special fascination for Jesus, thanks to J.J. Benítez's "Caballo de Troya" novels-- until a day came when I realized in my heart I no longer felt as a Catholic; to the point that nowadays I can barely stand being inside a church during one of the usual social events my family drags me to.

As a renegade Catholic, you keep telling yourself that you 'smartened up', and finally opened your eyes about the many things in the religious dogma which doesn't make any kind of sense; you also tell yourself that if someone decides to remain in the church, is because they haven't yet looked hard enough to those logical fallacies, thus suffering some sort of cognitive dissonance. Some people even have a complete 180° and become rabid anti-religious atheists; there's no greater zealot than the late convert...

Which is why it was so interesting for me to listen to Stephen Colbert, one of the smartest Television figures in the world today, discuss with Fr. Thomas Rosica on the video above how much he loves his Catholic faith, and how for him there doesn't seem to be any conflict between it and his intellect. The conversation was recorded on April 1st, for the Salt and Light media organization.

"Logic itself will not lead me to god... but my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will."

In a way it's interesting to think how there seems to be an interesting rapport --see what I did there?-- between Faith and Humor: Both require a fair amount of intelligence --you cannot make a good joke if you don't understand WHAT things are funny-- and yet at the same time both have to be able to transcend rationality --you cannot 'overthink' a joke; it has to be a visceral reaction in order to be funny.

A strange thing to consider, especially in a time in which Religion and Humor have become something of a mortal combination. While Stephen mentions during the interview how he was glad he was not on the air when the Charlie Hebdo news broke --because he wouldn't have been able to respond-- later in the interview he might have inadvertently hit the nail on why the satire of Charlie Hebdo provoked such a caustic reaction, by discussing how according to C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, 'flippancy' is the only type of humor which doesn't bring joy, and thus moves you away from God.

I also enjoyed how Stephen shares my concept of a Jesus who was laughing all the time.

if Jesus didn't laugh [at Peter falling on the water like Wile E Coyote] then I'm in trouble, because that's the God I worship

Well, I worship a 'God' --however you choose to define 'It'-- who put someone like Stephen Colbert in the same space rock I happen to inhabit at the moment.

News Briefs 23-09-2015

hærfestlice emniht

Quote of the Day:

Is the chaos the breakdown of order, or is the order a breakdown of chaos?

David Peat

Earth as a Blue Marble: The Solar System to Scale

Here's another beautiful attempt to bring the immensity of space into perspective: Filmmakers Alex Gorosh and Wylie Overstreet created an accurately-scaled representation of our solar system in the Nevada desert.

Starting with the Earth as the size of a marble, it turns out you need an area about 7 miles (11.2km) to squeeze in the orbit of the outermost planet, Neptune. The team used glass spheres lit by LEDs and some GPS calculations to map out the solar system on the dry bed of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Once nighttime arrived they shot a timelapse from a nearby mountain that accurately reflects the distance of each orbital path at a scale of roughly 1:847,638,000. Amazing.

I find something really poetic, and almost intimist, in this 'analog' approach of representing the planets and sun using real props instead of computer graphics. It somehow brings the warmth of the human scale to the staggering distances bridging us from the rest of the Universe. Humbling and beautiful at the same time.

And now that I'm writing this, for some reason I'm reminded of the Nazca lines in Peru, imagining pictures of pilgrims holding torches and walking round the sacred desert glyphs, on some ancient ceremony...



The Shadows of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mirror


Mirrors are powerful objects to humans. From John Dee's scrying mirror, the metaphor of a black mirror popularized by the eponymous television show, and admonitions to cover a mirror under many circumstances, like the Jewish shiva or superstition.

Take Bloody Mary. There are many interpretations of this legend, but here's what I learned as a kid. At midnight, stand in darkened room facing a mirror and chant "Bloody Mary" three times. She'll appear in the reflection and bad things will happen. Fortunately, the worst that happened to me was scaring the shit out of my seven year old self. According to Wikipedia, Bloody Mary shows young girls if they will marry or if they will die.

Opie and Tatem's indispensable A Dictionary Of Superstitions expresses a measure of caution with looking glasses:

In the chamber of death .. a dread is felt of some spiritual being imaging himself forth in the blank surface of the mirror .. I suspect that the true reason for shrouding the looking-glass .. is that given me in Warwickshire, that if you look into the mirror in the death-chamber, you will see the corpse looking over your shoulder.

What are we seeing if nothing paranormal is afoot?

The obvious, and unexpected, answer is "ourselves".

A recent study with the catchy name "Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through interpersonal gazing" by Giovanni Caputo, late of the University of Urbino, reveals people who stare at other people for extended periods begin to hallucinate. Chitra Ramaswamy at The Guardian notes, "90% hallucinated a deformed face, 75% saw a monster, 50% said their partner’s face morphed into their own and 15% saw a relative’s face."

julian jaynes sketch of the human brain

The latter two statistics are intriguing, where faces became more familiar and familial. Ancient burial practices focused on imparting immortality upon the deceased. Neolithic plastered human skulls and ancient Egypt's ushabti are physical representations of the deceased, reminding our forebears of the deceased's wisdom and, likely, manifesting as visual and/or auditory hallucinations. These artifacts are part of the archaeological underpinnings of Julian Jaynes's compellingly controversial theory of the bicameral mind: that before humans became properly conscious, our actions were guided by the voices of ancestors and gods originating from our brain's right hemisphere.

Jaynes's description of consciousness, in relation to memory, proposes what people believe to be rote recollection are concepts, the platonic ideals of their office, the view out of the window, et al. These contribute to one's mental sense of place and position in the world. The memories enabling one to see themselves in the third person.

Bringing us back to Bloody Mary and Giovanni Caputo.

People staring at themselves in the mirror are looking at a different self, the unconscious visible in the conscious body. After ten minutes of eye contact humans apprehend their other half, kept in check by the rational left hemisphere. These hallucinations may communicate the subconscious's instincts and reactions kept silent during waking life. Wisdom formerly ascribed to archaic gods and the dead.

Do you trust yourself enough to give it a shot?

News Briefs 22-09-2015

Dance like everyone is watching....

Thanks @m1k3y.

Quote of the Day:

Finnegan's paper began with the electrifying sentence, "The average Canadian has one testicle, just like Adolph Hitler -- or, more precisely, the average Canadian has 0.96 testicles, an even sadder plight than Hitler's, if the average Anything actually existed." He then went on to demonstrate that the normal or average human lives in substandard housing in Asia, has 1.04 vaginas, cannot read or write, suffers from malnutrition and never heard of Silken Thomas Fitzgerald or Brian Boru. "The normal," he concluded "consists of a null set which nobody and nothing really fits."

Robert Anton Wilson, "Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON)"

Snowden vs Fermi: Aliens Might be Encrypting their Messages

The say that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That might explain why world-famous computer hacker --and unofficial Public Enemy #1-- Edward Snowden thinks the reason why our Universe seems to be devoid of chatty aliens, is because they might be more security-conscious than us, Earthlings, and choose to encrypt all of their communications to render them indistinguishable from cosmic background noise.

Snowden threw his 2 bitcoins out there during a 'robot-enabled' conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson, on his popular Star Talk radio show --the robot was a moving screen which allowed Neil to interact with the wanted engineer, from the comfort of his office at the Hayden Planetarium.

"When we think about everything we're hearing from our satellites, or everything they're hearing from our civilization, if there are indeed aliens out there, all of their communications are encrypted by default. So what we're hearing — which is actually an alien television show or a phone call or a message between their planet and their own GPS constellation, whatever it happens to be — is indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation."

Snowden sees this as the natural progression every technologically-advanced civilizations would go through, while Neil rightly pointed out that perhaps aliens would not have to deal with the same type of 'security issues' as we do, meaning the fear of being spied by their government; maybe they are TRULY advanced and don't even need governments in their society --K-Pax anyone?

But perhaps the young computer engineer's solution to the Fermi paradox works better in terms of a possible external threat, behind the so-called 'Great Filter' proposed by Robin Hanson to explain the confounding silence of the Cosmos. Something like a Galactus-like entity which feeds off young, naive civilizations, or advanced aliens who destroy nascent sentient races, the minute they are fool enough to start shouting out their position in the galaxy, like newly-hatched chicks attracting the attention of a snake --if you're a Mass Effect fan, the scenario is quite easy to grasp…

Of course, having the chance to have an exclusive interview with *the* American whistle-blower of the XXIst century, it was impossible for the discussion not to veer into the issues of privacy under our current state of digital surveillance. But the 1st part of the conversation was by far the most enjoyable, because it was a lighthearted chat between two geeks who share a common passion about Science and knowledge --hearing Snowden admit he once read a metallurgy book "just for fun", and that his biggest regret about dropping out from is that he missed the chance to learn more about chemistry in his teens, is perhaps the closest we've ever gotten to knowing who he really is as a person.

But then again, more important than acquiring knowledge is HOW you choose to make use of it. Neil deGrasse Tyson used his knowledge to help the public open their eyes about the wonders up above. Snowden used his to the help the public open their eyes about the rottenness down below.

One of them ended up being a beloved public figure. The other one will perhaps never set foot again on his home.

Talk about a paradox, huh?.