News Briefs 29-08-2014

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Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.

Carl Sagan

The Mystery of Death Valley's "Wandering Stones" Has Finally Been Solved

Wandering Stone of Death Valley, by Arno Goudol (Creative Comomons Licence)

A long-standing Fortean mystery has been the 'wandering stones' of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California. It might be time to cross this one off the list though:

Ending a half-century of geological speculation, scientists have finally seen the process that causes rocks to move atop Racetrack Playa, a desert lake bed in the mountains above Death Valley, California. Researchers watched a pond freeze atop the playa, then break apart into sheets of ice that — blown by wind — shoved rocks across the lake bed.

...The researchers began studying the region in 2011, setting up a weather station and time-lapse cameras and dropping off rocks loaded with Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers. The rocks were designed to start recording their position and speed as soon as something made them move.

...When the researchers travelled to the playa in December 2013 to check instruments and change batteries, they found a huge ice-encrusted pond covering about one-third of the 4.5-kilometre-long playa. After several days of camping, they decided to sit above the southern end of the playa on the morning of 20 December. “It was a beautiful sunny day, and there began to be rippled melt pools in front of us,” Richard Norris says. “At 11:37 a.m., very abruptly, there was a pop-pop-crackle all over the place in front of us — and I said to my cousin, ‘This is it.’ ”

They watched as the ice began moving past the rocks, mostly breaking apart but also shoving them gently...when the ice melted away that afternoon, they saw freshly formed trails left behind by more than 60 moving rocks.

The following month, the research team even managed to capture video of the phenomenon occurring:

Whether this is the complete explanation of the wandering stones phenomenon is still unknown - there have been reports of the stones moving during summer months as well, when it's unlikely that ice could form on the playa, leading previous researchers to note that ice "is not a required component or precondition for sliding rock activity".

So while the mystery seems to have largely been solved, there's still a few loose ends that might need cleaning up.

Link: 'Wandering stones' of Death Valley explained

News Briefs 28-08-2014

Keep Calm & Shift your Paradigm.

Quote of the Day:

“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”

~Alan Watts

Freeze Me Until I Can Live Again - A Short Documentary on Cryonics

In the 1960s a ground-breaking idea emerged: that freezing people soon after their death might preserve brain structures, and that in the future advanced technology and know-how might allow these frozen cadavers to be resuscitated and given extended life. Fifty years later, more than 250 people have undergone cryopreservation procedures following their passing (though contrary to what you may have heard, Walt Disney is not one of them), with a small 'cryonics' industry storing their bodies (or in some cases, just their heads) awaiting future salvation.

The above documentary, We Will Live Again, takes a look inside "the unusual and extraordinary operations of the Cryonics Institute", following Ben Best and Andy Zawacki, the caretakers of 99 deceased human bodies stored at below freezing temperatures in cryopreservation. It's a strange and thought-provoking exploration of mortality, and our attempts to avoid it, well worth a watch.

News Briefs 27-08-2014

I'd like to be straightly looked after.

Quote of the Day:

We men of study, whose heads are in our books, have need to be straightly looked after! We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Secret Buried Beneath Stonehenge that has Astonished Archaeologists

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, by Andrew Dunn (Creative Commons Licence)

One of the striking features about Stonehenge is how lonely it feels, standing bare upon the fields of Wiltshire (if one ignores more modern constructions). But was it that way in the past? Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating feature on new research that suggests the megaliths of Stonehenge were just one part of a much larger complex. Using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, Vince Gaffney and his team of archaeologists have spent four-years gathering information on what still lies beneath the soil of four square miles of the countryside surrounding England's most famous megalithic monument:

The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted....Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing...something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”

Link: What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?

News Briefs 26-08-2014

Make sure you like The Daily Grail on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and/or put us in your Google+ circles...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

Up to the Twentieth Century, reality was everything humans could track, smell, see, and hear. Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that that they can touch, smell, see, and hear is less than one-millionth of reality.

Buckminster Fuller

Rock and Roll: A New Theory on How the Ancient Egyptians Moved Massive Blocks of Stone

Pyramid of Khufu (by Bradipus, Creative Commons Licence)

A new paper on arXiv.org offers a novel solution to the mystery of how the ancient Egyptians moved millions of massive stone blocks around: by rolling them inside a 12-sided wooden frame. Noting the orthodox theory - that the blocks were put on sleds which were pulled, with the sand in front of the sled being constantly lubricated with - results in a not insignificant level of friction, they suggest that the dodecagon idea would be a far more efficient method of moving these heavy blocks:

As an alternative to dragging large blocks, one can consider
rolling the blocks. Rolling a prism of 4 sides is not efficient, but
adding wooden rods to the surface can effectively increase the number of sides. The crew can then pull on a rope wrapped around and passing over the top of the block. In this configuration, static friction acts in the direction of the desired motion, rather than opposing the motion. In effect the block and rope combination becomes a 2:1 pulley, though the pulley was not yet formally "known" to the Egyptians at that time. The rods can be re-used many times, and there is no need to to transport large quantities of water for lubrication.

...By attaching 12 identical wooden rods to the faces of the block, one effectively transforms the block into a dodecagon prism with very little added mass, much lower ground pressure, and with good cross country mobility... It would seem that some variation of rolling the blocks should now be considered to be among the “best” and most likely method used to move the stones for the great pyramids

The paper goes into more of the physics behind the idea, as well as offering some experimental data to back the authors' theory up.

(h/t Norman R.)

Link: How they (should have) built the pyramids

You might also like: Has This Retired Construction Worker Figured Out How Stonehenge Was Built?

A Reality Beyond Death?

The Matrix - Take the Red Pill

Excerpted from Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife, available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

For more fascinating stories like this one, like The Daily Grail's Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and/or put us in your Google+ circles.

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We often think of our identity in terms of our physical body, but is it just something that we – as only a consciousness – simply use as a vehicle? This is an interesting idea, and has been with us throughout human history, largely built into the religious beliefs of cultures around the world. But we should be careful of falling into the trap of thinking about an afterlife existence based simply on the religious or cultural models we have been brought up with. Most people who were exposed to some sort of religion in their upbringing are imprinted with the fairly simplistic idea that surviving death means a transparent, ethereal version of you floats ‘up’ to a heaven of fluffy clouds, and lives there for eternity in happiness. Who knows, perhaps elements of this are correct – some of near-death experiences and other visions of an afterlife actually do correlate in some respects with these ideas. But perhaps also these experiences are filtered through an overlay of our own expectations and cultural beliefs, and the ‘true’ experience could be fundamentally different. It’s fun to consider some of these possibilities.

The way our view of an external realm ‘beyond reality’ can change is illustrated well by the science fiction blockbuster The Matrix, with Neo taking the red pill and ‘waking up’ into the ‘real’ world, despite having thought until that point that the computer-generated Matrix was the real world. Before the age of computers the idea that we might be inside some sort of virtual reality, with the ‘real us’ residing in another realm, was barely known. Certainly, versions of this idea existed before the computer age, notably in discussions of the strange world of dreams. For example, the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once remarked on the difficulty of distinguishing where ‘reality’ lies with the following words: “Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man”.

The influential 17th century philosopher René Descartes also wondered how we could actually know what reality is, given that our senses can be so unreliable, and yet it is only through these senses (and then subsequent interpretation by the brain) that we comprehend the world ‘out there’. Descartes deduced that all we can be sure of about ‘reality’ is just one thing – that if we think, then we must in some way exist, at the very least as just a mind. He summarized this view with his well-known maxim ‘cogito ergo sum’ (‘I think, therefore I am’). Beyond that, for all we know, we could just be a ‘brain in a vat’ – a piece of meat hooked up to sensors that trick our mind into thinking it is undergoing experiences in a virtual world. The Matrix took all these older ideas and made them new again by making them the centerpiece of a movie about a false reality (spoiler warning for the young kids out there):

The fact that all of our sensorial experience of ‘reality’ must necessarily be filtered subjectively through the brain – and thus isn’t ‘reality’ at all (for example, we apprehend the world very differently to an infrared-sensing rattlesnake) – was enunciated in Hindu culture via the term maya (illusion): the idea that we can never identify or comprehend the actual truth or reality of the world, only (at best) a fragment of it.

But in the 21st century, the ‘simulation argument’ – the suggestion that all of what we think of as ‘reality’ is actually a simulation, and that until now we have been unaware of the fact – has gone mainstream. Not only through the popularity of The Matrix, but through first-hand experience: many computer gamers now spend several hours a day immersed in the virtual worlds of first-person shooters. As an example of how things are progressing in the world of virtual reality immersion, see this recent demonstration: ... Read More »

News Briefs 25-08-2014

Make of it what you will:

Quote of the Day:

What is now proved was once only imagined.

William Blake