John Wheeler Passes Away

Pioneering physicist John Wheeler has died aged 96. Wheeler was one of the last 'legends' from the Manhattan Project era: he coined the term "black hole", taught many of the great 'second generation' physicists including Richard Feynman, and co-authored the established textbook on Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Those who are interested in the 'fringes' of science may have found Wheeler to be a bit of an enigma. He famously petitioned the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), requesting the expulsion of parapsychology which he believed was a pseudoscience. This despite his own reputation as being somewhat anti-establishment, and also having proposed theories suggesting that 'reality' was composed of more than just the physical, and that consciousness was in some way intrinsically involved in the process.

As science writer John Horgan noted: "He has helped gain acceptance — or at least attention — for some of the most out­landish ideas of modern physics, from black holes to multiple-universe theories...he delights in being ahead of — or at least apart from — the pack."

Wheeler's consideration of similarities between physics and information theory - he famously coined the term 'It from Bit' - also provide avenues for contemplating the possibility of psi effects (and also provide crossover into ufologist Jacques Vallee's theories somewhat). And his delayed choice experiment is enough to make anybody question their conception of reality...

Sci-Am has a reprint of John Horgan's excellent 1991 profile of John Wheeler which is well worth checking out.

Fortean Times #235

The latest issue of Fortean Times has been released (#235), here's a quick rundown of the content within:

  • The Last Alchemist: Has Art Kunkin created the mythical Philosopher's Stone?
  • Infectious Insanity: How the concept of folie à deux could be useful to fortean investigators
  • Localised Weirdnesss: A critical look at the notion of 'Window Areas'
  • Walking in the Shadow of Sasquatch: Would you tell anyone if you saw Sasquatch?
  • China's War on Terror: The Chinese authorities' clampdown on aliens, demons, ghosts and other evil entities

As always, plenty of older content can be found freely available on the FT website (though user registration may be required).

Tuesday Blogscan 15-04-2008

A strange assortment to get you through the week...


News Briefs 15-04-2008

Always pick the other door...

  • Seven new deadly sins.
  • Reading Herodotus, and Herodotus and bad fate.
  • Happiness is the measure of true wealth.
  • Unusual earthquake swarm off coast of Oregon puzzles scientists.
  • Is this the way the world will end?
  • Gut bacteria species becoming one.
  • Laser triggers electrical activity in a thunderstorm.
  • Earth cooled down in three rapid steps 33 million years ago.
  • Is Stickney crater an impact feature?
  • A look back at CSICOP and sTARBABY.
  • And behind door No.1, a fatal flaw.
  • Nervous system for man-made structures should improve safety.
  • Blue skies and red hot temperatures in the Cretaceous.
  • Is Stonehenge Roman?
  • The BBC, the UN and climate bullying.

Quote of the Day:

People ask for criticism, but they only want praise.

W. Somerset Maugham

Randi in the UK

Readers in the UK might be interested in a very affordable presentation this weekend (Saturday, 19th of April), featuring an all-star 'skeptical' line-up , including James 'The Amazing' Randi:

The Skeptic magazine and Skeptics in the Pub presents: A rare opportunity to share an evening with James Randi and his associates in an evening of discussion about science, pseudoscience, scepticism and the paranormal.

Scheduled speakers:

  • Prof. Richard Wiseman; Psychologist, University of Hertfordshire.
  • Prof. Chris French; Psychologist, APRU, Goldsmiths, University of London.
  • Dr Simon Singh; author, journalist and TV producer.
  • Dr Ben Goldacre; award winning writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor.
  • Dr Susan Blackmore; freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster.
  • James Randi; sceptic and magician.

Tickets cost £11 (standard), £5.50 (concessions: students & OAPs).

Hard to beat that price for a very good line-up of speakers. Worth getting along to for a skeptical perspective.

News Briefs 14-04-2008

What can I say ...

Quote of the Day:

We may all be unfolded images of aspects which exist in a higher reality.

Brad Steiger

Weekend Blogscan 12-04-2008

A few things to keep you busy over the weekend...


Entheogen Review VE2008

The new issue (Vernal Equinox 2008)of Entheogen Review is now available, with the following contents:

  • "Disembodied Eyes Revisited: An Investigation into the Ontology of Entheogenic Entity Encounters"
  • "Green Flames: Thoughts on Burning Man, the Green Man, and Dionysian Anarchism, with Four Proposals"
  • "Myristica fragrans: An Exploration of the Narcotic Spice"
  • Network Feedback, featuring Insectoid Sphinx Entities, ML-2C-E, Mislabeled DIPT, and a "DMT for the Masses" Erratum
  • "New Data on the Entheogenic Mushroom Psilocybe kumaenorum"
  • Plus the Events Calendar, a conference review, book reviews, a remembrance of John Beresford, and the issue's bibliography.

Ordering details are available at the website.

News Briefs 11-04-2008

Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority...

Quote of the Day:

Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing...

T. H. Huxley

Down the Rabbit-Hole

Paranormal researcher and pundit George P. Hansen - the author of the seminal book The Trickster and the Paranormal - has posted a quite amazing entry on his blog, which touches on the crossovers between UFO/paranormal research and the shady world of government agencies. This is a really sensitive topic, with most people preferring to sweep it under the carpet - but it is one that really, at some stage, needs to come to a head. Most importantly because it has ramifications for the reputation (and research) in multiple fields, from parapsychology to ufology, and alien abductions.

Hansen's blog entry is basically a frontal attack on the credibility of C. B. "Scott" Jones and Colonel John Alexander, as speakers at this year's "X-Conference" (held next weekend):

In the early 1990s, Jones publicly proclaimed that he "honestly did not know of any activity of the U.S. government" in the field of UFOs.1 But in 1992 Robert J. Durant produced a detailed, widely circulated white paper demonstrating that Jones was in a position to throw considerable light on government-UFO activities...

Colonel John Alexander (U.S. Army, retired) was heavily involved with the U.S. government’s psychic spying program, but he was also active with UFOs. In fact, Alexander admitted that he was the model for the "Harold Phillips" character in Howard Blum’s book "Out There: The Government’s Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials".

Hansen then goes on to detail some rather shocking connections, which include links to the JFK assassination investigation, and also to the strange case of Armen Victorian - if you care to research either of these two topics, you'll head down some very deep rabbit-holes indeed! Far too deep to go into should be enough to say they involve plenty of shady government agencies, various levels of harassment and threats, and all the other cloak and dagger you'd expect from such folk.

Hansen's point is this:

Whatever one may think of Jones and Alexander, one cannot reasonably conclude that they have worked to inform the public about government-UFO activities. They have fostered ambiguity and suspicion, and perhaps worse. One might be skeptical of any statements they may make on the topic.

Now, George Hansen is not some kooky conspiracy guy. He is a respected thinker on paranormal topics who has been involved in the field for many years - though he is also disliked by many because he tends to 'call it as he sees it'. And in this case he may be calling the biggest topic there is in the paranormal field. John Alexander is linked to various high-profile research efforts on the paranormal - from the 'Stargate' remote viewing project, through to Robert Bigelow's National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS). Beyond Alexander though, numerous high-profile researchers on paranormal topics also have been connected to government agencies.

My point? Considering its already shaky reputation, the field of paranormal research is one that must be open, honest and transparent. Involvement of government agencies throws a huge - and unwelcome - shadow upon that goal. That's not to say that those involved with such agencies have nefarious goals or are bad people - I know quite a few myself, and most I would have nothing but praise for. But it is a huge issue that needs to be discussed more openly.