Debate has long raged over the provenance of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, a document filled with strange illustrations and text written in a language that has never been decoded. Though the codex has been dated to around the time of the Renaissance, it first came to modern attention in 1912 when it was purchased by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, whose name has been attached to it ever since.
Theories about the Voynich Manuscript have ranged from it being a prank by a Renaissance artist, through to an artefact given to Roger Bacon by future time-travelers, and decoded by an alien held at Area 51 (sounds legit!). The latest in the long list of Voynich theories is the claim, by a botanist and retired information technology researcher, that the Voynich Manuscript contains illustrations of plants native to Mexico, and that the text is likely written in an extinct form of the Nahuatl language:
Previously, many researchers assumed that the manuscript must have originated in Europe, where it was found. But botanist Arthur Tucker of Delaware State University in Dover noticed similarities between certain plants in the manuscript and illustrations of plants in 16th century records from Mexico.
Tucker began collecting copies of Mexican botanical books out of curiosity about the history of herbs there. "Quite by accident, I ran across the Voynich and it was a Homer Simpson moment of D'oh! Of course – this matches my other codices and the artwork of 16th century Mexico."
The most striking example was an illustration of a soap plant (xiuhamolli) in a Mexican book dated 1552. Tucker and Rexford Talbert, a retired information technology researcher at the US Department of Defense and NASA, connected a total of 37 of the 303 plants, six animals and one mineral illustrated in the Voynich manuscript to 16th century species in the region that lies between Texas, California and Nicaragua. They think many of the plants could have come from what is now central Mexico.
On the basis of these similarities, the pair suggests that the manuscript came from the New World, and that it might be written in an extinct form of the Mexican language Nahuatl. Deciphering the names of these plants could therefore help crack the Voynich code.
It's worth noting, however, that the pair are not the first to suggest that the language might be related to Nahuatl - in a 2001 book, James Comegys claimed that the manuscript was "a medical text in Nahuatl attributable to Francisco Hernandez and his Aztec Ticiti collaborators".
And it's definitely worth keeping a healthy dose of skepticism at hand, as there are a number of valid objections to their Voynich theory. But it's all good fun = you never know, the final answer to the mystery might surprise us...
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And you can dream, so dream out loud.
- Vale Robert Van de Castle, a gentleman & a dream scholar.
- Dreams as a Multidimensional Expression of Psi.
- Harriet Tubman's dreams freed hundreds of escaped slaves (Amazon).
- Fireflies & forests: beautiful photos by Tsuneaki Hiramatsu.
- Do children have a greater sense of the lives they lived before?
- A teenage skydiver survived a 3000ft fall in the USA.
- Do... or do not. There is no try. Feeling powerless makes objects heavier.
- Rabbits unearth an archaeological treasure trove in England.
- Excavations planned for a 2000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sri Lanka.
- Is the myth of Jason & the Golden Fleece based on historical reality?
- Mysterious stone pillars were not made by
- Bronze horns were thrown into bogs in Late Bronze Age Ireland.
- Photos from a spectacular Imbolc fire festival in Yorkshire, UK.
- Of snowdrops & churchyards: February's fair maids are out for Imbolc.
- Keeping the hearth fire burning: traditions hidden in plain sight.
- Tempting the Serpent: why Appalachian church-goers drink snake poison.
- The irrefutable link between Dungeons & Dragons and human sacrifice.
- Town buried by tumbleweeds, cable TV horror movie coming soon.
- A small village in Kazakhstan has been hit by a sleep epidemic.
- Study finds short people more prone to paranoia, tall people more Fortean.
- Creator of The X-Files, Chris Carter, returns to TV with The After.
Quote of the Day:
"Sleeping is the height of genius."
~ Soren Kierkegaard
Fullscreen the hell out of this transfixing real-time video of an auroral substorm causing rivers of light to flow across the sky above Yellowknife in Canada. Definitely on my bucket list - absolutely beautiful.
As mentioned in Tuesday's news briefs, there's an interesting story doing the rounds today about (the ruins of) a newly discovered step pyramid that predates the construction of the Great Pyramid. What I found particularly interesting is that the pyramid was one of seven pyramids scattered around Egypt, all of which did not have a funerary purpose:
Scattered throughout central and southern Egypt, the provincial pyramids are located near major settlements, have no internal chambers and were not intended for burial. Six of the seven pyramids have almost identical dimensions, including the newly uncovered one at Edfu, which is about 60 x 61 feet (18.4 x 18.6 m).
The purpose of these seven pyramids is a mystery. They may have been used as symbolic monuments dedicated to the royal cult that affirmed the power of the king in the southern provinces.
"The similarities from one pyramid to the other are really amazing, and there is definitely a common plan," said Gregory Marouard, a research associate at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute who led the work at the Edfu pyramid. On the east side of the newly uncovered pyramid, his team found the remains of an installation where food offerings appear to have been made — a discovery that is important for understanding this kind of pyramid since it provides clues as to what they were used for.
The only way I can understand The Hangover 3 is to assume it was some sort of primitive attempt at a Voight-Kampff test...
- Newly-discovered 4600-year-old step pyramid predates the Great Pyramid - and no one knows why the ancient Egyptians built it.
- Retrocausality: Can the future influence the past?
- We might be destroying the universe just by looking at it.
- Astronomy's latest mystery: something hit the Earth in 773AD and nobody knows what.
- Did panic-inducing infrasound lead to the deaths of nine Russian hikers at Dyatlov Pass?
- The BBC's Sherlock Holmes employs a technique invented by the ancient Greeks: the memory palace.
- Are we searching for aliens in the wrong place?
- Bristol police hunt for crocodile after bus driver reports seeing one.
- What's this? Oh, just a tool-making cockatoo.
- Holy carp! Fish can use tools too!
- PETA doesn't' want you to kill Bigfoot, but Texas doesn't really give a crap.
- Did you hear the one about Nessie, the Sceptic and the Water Horse?
- A Daily Grail PSA: exorcisms may not work over Skype. Consider yourself warned.
- Paranormal TV star buys Indiana 'Demon House'.
- Heaven is for Real: Will new movie promote a Christian interpretation of the near-death experience?
- Esoteric tourism Tuesday: the hanging coffins of Sagada.
- Charlemagne's bones are (probably) real.
- How's 'The Year of the Whores' working out for you?
- Image of the Day: A new perspective on Saturn's polar hexagon.
Quote of the Day:
You cannot use butterfly language to communicate with caterpillars.
In mid-January prominent 'skeptic' Brian Dunning was a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. If you can spare the time, it is a 3-hour education in how *not* to do science and skepticism outreach. There's sponsor messages and the like at the beginning, so hang in there - the interview starts 3:48 in (some NSFW language):
Now firstly, I have to say I was surprised that Joe Rogan had Dunning on his show. In fact, I'm amazed Brian Dunning is still even relevant in skeptical circles given that he plead guilty to fraud last year, for his part in a scheme to 'hack' eBay's affiliate marketing program - a scheme which netted his company some $5.2million.
That doesn't mean that Brian Dunning hasn't made positive contributions to skepticism, but to me, a fraud conviction - especially one based on the abuse of the trust of his readers and users of his software, should at the very least put him 'off-limits' for a while until he's served some penance or shown some contrition (he is awaiting sentencing). Instead, he retains a large fanbase, one which contributed $15,000 to a Kickstarter campaign he ran just a few months back.
Dunning however has also made some very sorry contributions to skepticism, such as this blog post in which he suggested that Stanton Friedman was the author of the MJ-12 documents, and that Philip Klass flushed him out with a genius plan. That particular blog is either written from a complete lack of familiarity with the case, or is a bunch of misinformation meant to smear Friedman's name (or maybe Dunning was just trolling for extra hits on his blog post). To compound the idiocy of his post, Dunning then went on to berate me in the comments after I tried to point out his errors, suggesting that I may have "clinically crossed the line to a diagnosable, treatable mental illness". It is this aspect of his character that has dominated most of the articles and presentations of his that I've come across. It's for that reason mainly that I'm surprised Joe had him on the show.
As the old saying goes though, give a man enough rope...and Joe Rogan handed out 3 hours of it, during which Dunning came across as arrogant, unwilling to concede points, and keen to 'get' Joe.
Make no mistake, this was a fantastic opportunity to spread some good thoughts about critical thinking. Joe Rogan has 1.25 million Twitter followers, and a huge audience for his podcast. He's a guy who is curious about lots of things, loves science and is (as far as I've seen) always a gracious and polite host to his guests, whether he agrees with them or not. But that curiosity has also led Joe to contemplate the type of things we discuss here on The Daily Grail regularly, and for that, Brian Dunning had previously put Joe on a list of "Ten Most Wanted: Celebrities Who Promote Harmful Pseudoscience". So, you can imagine where Joe started. And for most of the next 3 hours, Joe and Brian Dunning were at odds - but with Joe remaining calm, polite and self-deprecating, while Dunning had to continually defend indefensible statements, unwilling to concede points to Joe. A number of these exchanges offered some fascinating insights though.
At one point during the debate over Joe Rogan's inclusion on Brian Dunning's 'naughty list', Dunning brought up Joe's statements that the collapse of one of the buildings on 9-11 looked like a controlled demolition, intimating that it was reckless of him to do so unless he framed it as an example of how easy it is to be mistaken. Joe's response was spot on: "Why do I have to do that, to observe something that's fascinating? Dunning goes on a few minutes later to read through his 'rap sheet' of Joe Rogan's promotion of pseudoscience, and after reading it out loud is moved himself to note, "God this makes me sound like an asshole". Joe responds: "Well it's just factually inaccurate on so many different levels, I don't understand why you wrote it". He goes on to point out a key part of being a true explorer of knowledge - willing to look foolish exploring and debating strange areas:
There's things that you said I believe that I don't, and I've never said that I do. What I'm willing to do is look stupid. And by talking about things and saying "that looks like a controlled demolition", I know that puts you in the nutter camp. But I'm not saying it's a controlled demolition. But...not being willing to debate it and being too insecure to discuss the reality of what you're viewing is silly, it's preposterous. It doesn't mean I'm promoting the idea that 9-11 was an inside job or that it was a plot by the government. I don't think that, I've never thought that. But I do think that building looks like a controlled demolition. That's all. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that.
Given the length of the interview, I won't post excerpts from the entire conversation - please do take a listen if you can spare the time though. If you want to get a feel for how the audience felt about Brian Dunning's appearance on the JRE podcast, I dare you to look in the comments thread on YouTube (NSFW). Yowzers...
To his credit, after the interview, Joe asked people not to post angry diatribes towards Brian Dunning, saying he was a good guy and deserved some respect. Dunning's response today left a fair bit to be desired: to update his list saying "Joe did not convince me that he should be removed from this list. Indeed he certified it stronger than ever... Joe did deny that he ever believed 9/11 was a conspiracy, but then spent half an hour convincing me that it was." This appears to have been the final straw for Joe Rogan - understandably, given the discussions about his 9/11 views during the show - with the stand-up comedian calling out Dunning on the updated list (his follow-up tweet, not reproduced here, has more...colourful language):
— Joe Rogan (@joerogan) February 4, 2014
Maybe Brian Dunning is just trolling for hits to his website, looking after his own finances, I don't know. All I can say is that in terms of promoting skepticism, he failed epically. I'm sure many 'skeptics' will blame the irrational hordes of JRE listeners for not getting what Brian Dunning was saying, but they would be fooling themselves. They should pay attention to how Dunning himself realized, when reading his criticism out loud, that he sounded "like an asshole". Talking down to people, and telling them that they need to be saved from their own irrationality/stupidity, doesn't tend to work so well. Try and be a little more relaxed, have some fun...and don't fear the woo.
Update: Brian Dunning has now posted a long and detailed blog post with his reasoning for not taking Joe Rogan off his list. Oh and he also posted this 'music video' of himself rapping about science. I don't even...
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One of the biggest selling books in recent years on the topic of near-death experiences has been Heaven is for Real, which tells the story of (then) 3-year-old Colton Burpo's NDE during emergency surgery in 2003. The success of the book, which puts a rather heavy Christian slant on the near-death experience, has led to it being adapated into a movie, which will be released at Easter (yup). Here's the trailer:
Veteran near-death experience researcher Nancy Evans Bush has posted a short blog entry with more information, and some of her own thoughts about the upcoming movie release:
You may have read Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, if only because it is likely to wind up rivaling Agatha Christie for longevity on best-seller lists. In its simplest element, it is a sweet story. The little boy was three at the time of his NDE, four when he began mentioning it to his parents. He said angels sang to him, and he sat on Jesus’ lap.
If the resulting book dealt only with that part of his story, all might have been well. But the child’s father is a conservative Protestant pastor, a biblical literalist. By the time the sincere but hardly impartial father stopped asking questions, and the boy stopped adding details in response to those questions, seven years had passed and the entire project was in the hands of Lynn Vincent, the ghost writer behind Sarah Palin’s memoir, Going Rogue. Further, the relative simplicity of the few original details had grown as the boy grew, into an elaborated account of Christian exclusivity and holy warfare that puts Revelation imagery into the hands of human warriors resembling Marvel comic book heroes.
The book was published in November, 2010. Today, the end of January, 2014, its front cover announces sales of more than eight million copies; of 6,249 Amazon reviews, 84% (5,345) boast four or five stars. The writer of my email message is certainly right about the story’s hitting the stratosphere.
Soon, anywhere else but Earth may be considered 'superhabitable'.
- Star next door may host a 'superhabitable' world.
- New DNA sequencing technique solves the problem of contamination, promising new insights into human origins from previously-handled samples.
- Dinosaur bones and jelly donuts on Mars.
- Need-based psychic ability appears to be strongest type.
- Babylonian tale of round ark draws ire from some Christian circles.
- NSA spied on climate talks so the Obama admin. could sabotage them.
- Did alien life evolve just after the Big Bang?
- Vinay Gupta talks about crisis preparation and resilience on a macro/micro scale on London Real.
- Seeing as a service: Forget augmented reality. What about diminished reality?
- New Cretaceous Titanosaur discovered.
- Mirrors may have worked magic in ancient Japanese rituals.
- Scientists who warn of the dangers of believing too much in science.
- Theo Paijmans asks "Where have all the monsters gone?"
- Is alchemy back in fashion?
- Theft of Pope John Paul II's blood raises the question "Is there really a Satanic New Year?"
- First-person view of Felix Baumgartner's space jump.
- Animated online realtime global weathermap. H/t BoingBoing.
- And here's what that weather around Britain has been up to.
Quote of the Day:
Without a free press, we have nothing, not even an illusion of freedom.
A summary of all the stories and news briefs posted on The Daily Grail over the past week - check 'em out if you missed any:
- Spiders Make Sculptures of Other Spiders
- News Briefs 27-01-2014 (Monday)
- Man Can Listen to Four Symphonies in his Head - Simultaneously!
- News Briefs 28-01-2014 (Tuesday)
- Ancients - A Timelapse Video That Follows a Cycle Unbroken Since the Dawn of Time
- Will Storr's "The Heretics" Now Available in Paperback
- News Briefs 29-01-2014 (Wednesday)
- Historia Discordia - Documenting the Origins and History of the Discordian Society
- News Briefs 30-01-2014 (Thursday)
- A Nurse's Research into Near-Death Experiences
- Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and now The Zero Theorem - Terry Gilliam Completes His Dystopian Sci-Fi Trilogy
- News Briefs 31-01-2014 (Friday)
- Realistically Colorized Historical Photos: It's Just Like Time-Traveling!
- Retrocausality: Physicists Ponder Whether the Future Can Influence the Past
Have a good weekend!
Issue 9 of the wonderful online magazine Nautilus is now available to read, and offers a fantastic collection of articles on the theme of 'Time'. One of the pieces I recommend checking out is George Musser's article "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate", which delves into the (possible) mystery of retrocausality in modern physics:
Physicists as renowned as John Wheeler, Richard Feynman, Dennis Sciama, and Yakir Aharonov have speculated that causality is a two-headed arrow and the future might influence the past. Today, the leading advocate of this position is Huw Price, a University of Cambridge philosopher who specializes in the physics of time. “The answer to the question, ‘Could the world be such that we do have a limited amount of control over the past,’ ” Price says, “is yes.” What’s more, Price and others argue that the evidence for such control has been staring at us for more than half a century.
That evidence, they say, is something called entanglement, a signature feature of quantum mechanics...
...The standard interpretation of entanglement is that there is some kind of instant communication happening between the two particles. Any communication between them would have to travel the intervening distance instantaneously—that is, infinitely fast. That is plainly faster than light, a speed of communication prohibited by the theory of relativity.
...Price asks us to consider the impossible: that doing something to either of the entangled particles causes effects which travel backward in time to the point in the past when the two particles were close together and interacting strongly. At that point, information from the future is exchanged, each particle alters the behavior of its partner, and these effects then carry forward into the future again. There is no need for instantaneous communication, and no violation of relativity.
Before we get too carried away with the possibilities afforded by retrocausality, it should be noted that even those investigating it clearly say it's all a bit speculative right now. Furthermore, Musser points out that, even assuming retrocausality is real, "our control of the past is very limited — as it must be, if the universe is to avoid imploding in a big logical paradox. Quantum mechanics is set up to deny you that influence. It creates an eddy in the river of time, but only a little one" (sidenote for anyone else that thought it: yes I did hear Arthur Dent saying "Ah, is he?" when I read that sentence).
Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of Professor Daryl Bem's controversial findings that suggest humans may have the ability to 'feel the future'. I wonder what those physicists investigating retrocausality might say about what it allows in terms of presentiment in humans - still inconceivable, or is it a mechanism for such an effect?
Make sure you check out all the stories in Issue 9 of Nautilus, there is some truly fascinating and beautiful writing to enjoy (for instance, see this wonderful piece on the life and work of acclaimed physicist John Archibald Wheeler).
Link: "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate"