News Briefs 03-02-2015

Hello out there?

Quote of the Day:

The sad truth is that outside of the alternative belief community, nobody's listening.

Nick Pope

Man Descends from the Sky and Lands at the Pyramids of Giza

When Pharaoh Khufu stood before his Great Pyramid 4500 years ago, I wonder if he could have imagined that in the future a flying man would descend from the heavens like a god. In order to advertise an energy drink...

...heeeeey, maybe that's the solution to the mystery of the pyramids!

I'm not saying it was Red Bull

News Briefs 30-01-2015

"Reason is immortal, all else mortal."

Quote of the Day:

“Let no one persuade you by word or deed to do or say whatever is not best for you.”


News Briefs 29-01-2015

Damn giants grow taller each year…

Thanks to the inventor of ellipsis --whoever you were...

Quote of the Day:

"Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day."

~E. B. White, responding to a letter-writer in 1973, Letters of Note.

The Greeks may have used magic to tip sports scores in their favour

You know what’s coming up this weekend, right?  I fear to type the word lest sports enthusiast descend upon us.  Everyone says they only watch it for the commercials, and I admit, that’s a big part of why I tune in too.  Of course, with the news lately, the NFL isn’t exactly drawing a loyal crowd anymore.  The players are overpaid thugs and the league officials aren’t much better.  None the less, there are always a lot of people planning to sit through the entire eight hours of coverage – not even including the game itself – beer in hand, chips, pizza and rowdy friends all within arm’s reach.

Everyone has their favourite team too, and I will refrain from taking sides here, since the fan base can be more rabid than Ancient Alien proponents.  But in the end, what really decides the outcome of the game?  Is it skill?  Teamwork?  Planning?  Sponsorships?  Performance enhancing drugs?

How much of a role does luck play in this contest?

I know, I know, your team doesn’t need luck.  But what if you could enhance your team’s chances for foisting that giant silver cup into the air?  What if you could do something more than not shaving until they win, or wearing the same socks and underwear every day of the playoffs?

In ancient Greece – the culture that gave birth to the very idea of competitive sports – they took things into their own hands…their own magic hands.

You see, some of the Greeks, superstitious as they were, took to carving elaborate magic spheres out of marble and burying them on the “playing field” so as to enhance the luck of whichever champion they were backing (and likely betting on).

A single surviving example of one of these magical spheres sits in the collection of the Acropolis Museum of Athens.  It was discovered during a dig in 1866 by archaeologist, antiquities dealer, and apparently, scoundrel, Prof Athanasios Rhousopoulos, buried in the hill just outside the temple of Dionysus.

It’s a relatively obscure bit of Greek history, but like any other aspect of their culture, it related directly to their pantheon of gods.

This particular sphere, known only as The Magic Sphere of the Museum of Athens, is ... Read More »

News Briefs 28-01-2015

Clicky here for full mock photo & source.

Photo of the Day:

Milky Way over the Seven Strong Men by Sergei Makurin

The Star Computer of the Ancient World - Revealing the Secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism (Brett Seymour / WHOI)

The Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating article on the Antikythera Mechanism by Jo Marchant, a wonderful writer on things historical. In the feature, Marchant describes the wonderful intricacy of the device, which allowed it to compute the 'celestial time'/location of a number of prominent heavenly bodies:

The Antikythera mechanism was similar in size to a mantel clock, and bits of wood found on the fragments suggest it was housed in a wooden case. Like a clock, the case would’ve had a large circular face with rotating hands. There was a knob or handle on the side, for winding the mechanism forward or backward. And as the knob turned, trains of interlocking gearwheels drove at least seven hands at various speeds. Instead of hours and minutes, the hands displayed celestial time: one hand for the Sun, one for the Moon and one for each of the five planets visible to the naked eye—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. A rotating black and silver ball showed the phase of the Moon. Inscriptions explained which stars rose and set on any particular date. There were also two dial systems on the back of the case, each with a pin that followed its own spiral groove, like the needle on a record player. One of these dials was a calendar. The other showed the timing of lunar and solar eclipses.

Despite a number of the mechanism's pieces being missing, further secrets continue to be revealed. For instance, an inscription tells how coloured balls were used to represent the Sun and Mars on the front face. Other mysteries continue to be debated: perhaps most interestingly, how the device was able to represent the complex movement of the planets (which from our point of view, at different times move forward and backward through the sky when viewed on a nightly basis).

For me, another prominent mystery remains - how such a complex and useful device is so unique in the record of the ancient world. Where are the prototypes, the evolutionary forebears, of the Antikythera Mechanism? Where are its copies? After all, in modern times any piece of advanced technology quickly inspires 'knock-offs'.

Was the Antikythera Mechanism a one-off work of genius, unable to be replicated? Or does it indicate that the record of the ancient world remains woefully incomplete, and that our forebears were more technologically advanced than we have thought?

Link: Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer

News Briefs 27-01-2015

The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.

Quote of the Day:

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Martin Luther

Why Animals (Including Humans) Use Psychoactive Plants

Teniers Smoking Monkeys

Over at Boing Boing, Johann Hari (Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs) writes about drug use in the animal kingdom - and by extension, in human society. He begins by discussing the work of Professor Ronald Siegel:

As a young scientific researcher, Siegel had been confidently told by his supervisor that humans were the only species that seek out drugs to use for their own pleasure. But Siegel had seen cats lunging at catnip — which, he knew, contains chemicals that mimic the pheromones in a male tomcat’s pee —so, he wondered, could his supervisor really be right? Given the number of species in the world, aren’t there others who want to get high, or stoned, or drunk?

This question set him on a path that would take twenty-five years of his life, studying the drug-taking habits of animals from the mongooses of Hawaii to the elephants of South Africa to the grasshoppers of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. It was such an implausible mission that in one marijuana field in Hawaii, he was taken hostage by the local drug dealers, because when he told them he was there to see what happened when mongooses ate marijuana, they thought it was the worst police cover story they had ever heard.

Here at the Grail we've also previously posted about jaguars tripping on harmine and reindeer eating magic mushrooms. In his fantastic book High Society: Mind-altering drugs in history and culture, Mike Jay also notes that human drug use may have been, in some cases, inspired by other animals:

In many human cultures, the origin stories of plant-derived drugs involve tales of people observing and copying the habits of animals. In Ethiopia, for example, the discovery of coffee is attributed to goatherders who observerd their flock becoming frisky and high-spirited after consuming coffee beans. Goats are very fond of coffee, and modern plantations must be robustly fenced against them; their taste for the effects of caffeine may have prompted the plant, which spreads it seeds via animal droppings, to produce it. Theirs is a long-standing symbiosis, though human participation in the cycle is relatively new.

(For more on the beginnings of psychoactive drug use by humans, take a look at Paul Devereux's The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia*)

Both Johann Hari and Mike Jay also note another aspect of drug use in animals - that it is often closely related to their environment, and sometimes with trauma being suffered. Hari notes that in Vietnam, "the water buffalo have always shunned the local opium plants. They don’t like them. But when the American bombs started to fall all around them during the war, the buffalo left their normal grazing grounds, broke into the opium fields, and began to chew." In Professor Siegel's research, a mongoose avoided the hallucinogenic silver morning glory in its pen until its mate died in a storm. And Mike Jay cites the research of addiction psychologist Bruce Alexander, in which rats taken out of cages and given a pleasant environment to live in reduced their intake of a supplied morphine solution to 1/20th that of their caged neighbours.

In all, Jay concludes:

Such experiments do not disprove the claim that animals take drugs for their chemical rewards, but they do indicate that the impulse to take drugs is more than a simple behavioural reflex. In humans, of course, the variables become far more complicated. Sensory pleasure is an obvious component of most drug use, though the definitions of pleasure are as varied as human culture itself. But some drugs offer strictly functional benefits. The ability to alter consciousness in dramatic but controllable ways has many uses, and there is much evidence to suggest that humans have long used such drugs instrumentally: even, in some cases, elaborating their entire social systems around the heightened states of consciousness such substances produce.

Link: Why animals eat psychoactive plants

Book: High Society: Mind-altering drugs in history and culture

(* Full disclosure: The Long Trip is printed by Daily Grail Publishing)

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News Briefs 26-01-2014

Revised guidelines...

Thanks to @UnlikelyWorlds and @AnomalistNews.

Quote of the Day:

Those of us who are old enough to remember the first half of the 'UFO era' have the definite perception that the public discussion of the topic has devolved. As a society, we are collectively stupider on this subject than we were a generation ago.

Larry Lemke