The above documentary, "The Occult Experience", is a 1985 feature examining occult practices across the world during the 1980s. Researched and produced by Australian occult scholar Nevill Drury, it features the likes of Anton LaVey, Michael Harner, Margot Adler, H.R. Giger and Michael Aquino, discussing Satanism, Wicca and other esoteric 'traditions'. Watching it from our current vantage point 30 years on, there's a certain cringe factor to a number of the segments, but it's still a fascinating picture of the occult community at the time.
Fast forward to the current day, and Reality Sandwich is featuring a discussion between Mitch Horowitz and Richard Smoley on the 'State of the Occult 2013'. It's interesting to see the opinions of those in the 1985 documentary, as well as surmise their underlying motivations, and compare to the commentary in the Reality Sandwich piece:
Horowitz: A topic that comes up every now and then is whether we are poised for some sort of an occult revival in the early 21st century. I'm of different minds about it, frankly. A couple of years ago when people would ask me if I saw a new occult revival on the horizon I would say no. I absolutely did not. In fact, I was very concerned that large precincts of the New Age were giving themselves over to conspiracy theories, to a certain degree of paranoia, and other outposts of the New Age just couldn't run away fast enough from terms like New Age or occult or ESP, and they were desperate to try to appear serious, or to try one last ditch effort to make themselves appealing to the New York Times Book Review, which I'm afraid is never really going to work out.
And yet maybe, maybe I feel a little less grave about things today than I did a couple of years ago, if only because, by whatever labels people live under, I do see a lot of people in this country very freely adapting practices and ideas from different religious traditions and fashioning something very personal out of it all. Of course critics or cynics refer to this as "cafeteria religion," and yet I find something very appealing about what people critically call cafeteria religion.
I think we are living in an age of dissemination right now. This is not an age of secrecy, I don't think it's an age of large organizations, and I don't think it's an age of great teachers, but it is an age in which ideas are dispersed to large numbers of people and ingathered in new ways. I find in my own life, for example, a deep interest in meditation, a deep interest in the writings of Transcendentalism, a deep interest in the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, an interest in the writings of a brilliant spiritual thinker, who was not widely known, who died in 1992, named Vernon Howard. I find some of these things permeate my own family life, too. So if there's any part of me that feels there's something fresh bubbling up, it's in this determination with which people around the world, where they're able to, are selecting among different spiritual traditions, and doing so with great vigor. I'm interested to see what comes out of that.
Is the occult scene moving forward, or is it a stagnant pond full of rotting ideas? Feel free to share your thoughts.
- DNA transistors are one example of how future computers will take many different forms.
- The aliens beat us to it: does the terrestrial genetic code contain a "Wow! signal" (pdf)?
- Richard Smoley and Mitch Horowitz discuss the state of the occult: 2013.
- 12 million Americans believe lizard people run the country.
- Why rain smells so good.
- Can music be more effective than drugs?
- How to produce a 3D printed skeleton from a CT scan of a living animal.
- Robot dragonfly takes to the air.
- Astrophysicist uses statistics to seek Shakespeare's identity.
- How parallel universes actually work.
- The cursed ring that may have inspired Tolkien.
- C. S. Lewis and H. P. Lovecraft on loathing and longing for alien worlds.
- English farmer makes vodka from cow's milk.
- Ham press turns out to be $5M meteorite.
- A couple of days late for this but: Conspiratorial cosmology - the case against the Universe, from the Journal of Comparative Irrelevance (pdf).
Quote of the Day:
"Our lives are about development, mutation and the possibility of change; that is almost a definition of what life is: change... If you disable change, if you effectively stop time, if you prevent the possibility of the alteration of an individual's circumstances — and that must include at least the possibility that they alter for the worse — then you don't have life after death; you just have death."
Iain Banks, Look to Windward
In the TEDx Talk embedded above, visionary artist Alex Grey gives a touching and humorous account of his journey as an artist, his metamorphosis from depressed loner to spiritually fulfilled family man, and the power of creativity, spirituality, and art in transforming our world through the transformation of human consciousness. It is inspiring and thought-provoking. And, if the recent TED debacle involving talks by Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake are anything to go by, it will soon be removed from YouTube by TED, due to Alex discussing 'pseudoscientific' ideas such as psychic energies, global consciousness and the power of prayer, as well as 'promoting' the use of illicit drugs such as LSD and ayahuasca.
Now to be clear: I am not challenging TED to take this talk down in order to maintain consistency with the previous action of removing talks by Hancock and Sheldrake! Quite the opposite in fact. What it again highlights though, I think, is how badly TED got it wrong with the previous talks, and it goes back to the original decision that they needed to 'patrol' TEDx talks (which are talks given at independently organised events, sanctioned under the umbrella of the well-respected - at least until recently - TED brand name) for 'pseudoscientific' ideas. TED stands for 'Technology, Entertainment, Design', and their tagline is "Ideas worth spreading". I'm not sure at what stage they shifted to feeling like they were a promoter for orthodox scientific thought, but it was a strange leap to make...some of their most popular talks have featured more spiritual and emotional topics, such as Jill Bolte Taylor's presentation about her experience of having a stroke, and Elizabeth Gilbert's call to return to the concept of 'muses', with an explicit challenge to modern, rational philosophy.
Now, as I said previously, TED has to be allowed to protect its brand name and reputation - even Rupert Sheldrake agrees that "there's a lot of rubbish and there has to be some kind of filter". Where TED got it wrong though is in reacting to pressure from orthodox (and in some cases, militant/fundamentalist) science advocates, and deciding they had to remove anything that had the slightest whiff of anti- or pseudo-science about them for fear of being castigated or ridiculed. I'm sure TED feels like it has to keep well-known scientists on its side for future validity. But even moreso it needs to keep well-informed viewers interested and engaged with ideas that provoke the mind. Sheldrake challenged what he calls the 'dogmas' of science head-on, but did so out of a love for science and the advancement of knowledge. Hancock presented alternative theories of evolution and consciousness worth considering, but explicitly couched them as speculative. There is little doubt that TED over-reacted in removing both of those talks, and their regrettable, spurious post-hoc reasoning for doing so stands as stark evidence of that conclusion.
This week the TED fiasco got even more farcical when they pulled the plug on the upcoming TEDxWestHollywood, with a theme named "Brother can you spare a paradigm". The speakers involved included scientists such as Marilyn Schlitz from the Institute of Noetic Sciences and remote-viewing pioneer Russell Targ, and TED officials looked into some sort of (very rational!) crystal ball they have and predicted that some of the speakers would "use the language of science to claim they have proven the truth of ideas that are speculative". That statement lies at the heart of the problem with their takedown of Hancock and Sheldrake's talks as well - they seem to be extrapolating from people talking about concepts, and presenting challenges to orthodoxy, to them claiming objective truth (when, if you watch those talks, you'll see they carefully frame their talks so as *not* to do that). If TED want to present 'ideas worth spreading', then they need to begin with 'ideas worth discussing'. Not 'ideas we should probably censor'.
TED have a major problem. They have now set a benchmark where some of their most popular talks should be removed to comply with their own guidelines, as applied to Hancock, Sheldrake and TEDxWestHollywood. They will also, to be consistent, be compelled other fantastic talks, such as Alex Grey's talk above. All because of a lack of bravery in the face of criticism from the establishment. TED's recent actions have been gutless, showing a lack of leadership in the face of some rather petty criticisms, and a lack of willingness to believe in the free market of ideas, where the strong and good survive through rigorous discussion and debate. And also by believing, for some strange reason, that "ideas worth spreading" must have some basis in rational, materialist science.
Here's a thought experiment for TED officials: Mahatma Gandhi gives a talk at TEDxNewDelhi discussing non-violence, and the idea that God is Truth and Truth is God. Are his ideas worth spreading, or do you not want to be associated with them? It's time for TED to get back in the market of discussing and spreading ideas, rather than deciding what is safe for people's consumption. More likely though, I think, is that they will soon either dissolve or take more of an active, controlling hand in their TEDx subsidiary. And other organisations will rise to fill the gap that hundreds of thousands of viewers wish to have filled, in presenting real discussions at the edge of our knowledge and philosophy.
Big, fresh ideas suffocate and die in controlling environments. So the real question might be: is TED on the fast-track into obsolescence?
- What's Easter without a Turin Shroud story in the news: Shroud "is not a medieval forgery", says new book.
- The reality of the near-death experience.
- Strange sleep disorder makes people see demons.
- 'Flying saucer' hides in Saturnian rings.
- Can the number of UFO reports be measured via the Will Smith Effect?
- Why bother searching for E.T.?
- Earth is an alien planet.
- Is the purpose of our universe simply to make babies?
- Not content to pull down talks, TED has now taken down an entire TEDx conference before it starts because of the 'pseudoscientific' speakers.
- Graham Hancock discusses the TEDx fiasco on the Disinfo podcast.
- Air Force wants new energy weapons to cause non-lethal ‘bioeffects’.
- How Hitler's Germany planned to fry the world with space-based mirrors.
- Trove of Neanderthal fossils found in Greek cave.
- Vaccine-autism link debunked again.
- 10 bizarre true stories that look like April Fools pranks but aren't.
- Add this one to the list: cross-dressing Catholic priest purchases dildo shop as a cover for his meth-dealing activities.
- Hagfish slime: the clothing of the future?
- Another time-traveling cellphone user identified (no doubt upset at the lack of cell-phone towers in 1938).
- Houdini octopus.
Quote of the Day:
We were constructed to serve the interests of our genes, not the reverse… The reason we exist is because it once served their ends to create us.
Keith E. Stanovich ('The Robot's Rebellion')
Skeptics often say that the near-death experience (NDE) is a type of hallucination, but those familiar with the literature will know that many NDErs describe the phenomenon as "realer than real", rather than some sort of surreal, cloudy dream-like experience. Now, researchers from the University of Liège have backed up the accounts of those near-death experiencers, in a study which found that the NDEs seem to be "unique, unrivalled memories" that "have more characteristics than any kind of memory of real or imagined events". That is, NDE memories seem more real than even memories of actual events.
The researchers compared phenomenological characteristics in reports of near-death experiences with memories of imagined and real events, using three groups: 8 coma survivors who had an NDE (as defined by the Greyson NDE scale), 6 coma survivors who didn't have an NDE but did have memories of their coma, and 7 coma survivors with no memories, as well as an additional control group of 18 age-matched healthy volunteers. Five different types of memories were assessed using a standard memory questionnaire. The results were surprising, to say the least, showing that...
...NDE memories have more characteristics than memories of imagined and real events (p<0.02). NDE memories contain more self-referential and emotional information and have better clarity than memories of coma (all ps<0.02). The present study showed that NDE memories contained more characteristics than real event memories and coma memories. Thus, this suggests that they cannot be considered as imagined event memories. On the contrary, their physiological origins could lead them to be really perceived although not lived in the reality. Further work is needed to better understand this phenomenon.
It's worth noting that by comparing the NDE memories with the memories of other (non-NDE) coma survivors, the researchers uncovered an interesting fact: NDE memories don't seem to be strong simply because of the death component, as has often been surmised, but rather as a consequence of the content of the experience.
So what do we make of this finding that NDE memories seem to be 'more real' than real memories? That obviously depends on the paradigm you're embedded within, as evidenced by press release covering the results and this subsequent LiveScience story about it:
The brain, in conditions conducive to such phenomena occurring, is prey to chaos. Physiological and pharmacological mechanisms are completely disturbed, exacerbated or, conversely, diminished. Certain studies have put forward a physiological explanation for certain components of NDE, such as Out-of-Body Experiences, which could be explained by dysfunctions of the temporo-parietal lobe. In this context the study published in PLOS ONE suggests that these same mechanisms could also could also 'create' a perception - which would thus be processed by the individual as coming from the exterior - of reality. In a kind of way their brain is lying to them, like in a hallucination. These events being particularly surprising and especially important from an emotional and personal perspective, the conditions are ripe for the memory of this event being extremely detailed, precise and durable.
Glad we've swept those pesky results under the carpet...
Read the original paper: "Characteristics of Near-Death Experiences Memories as Compared to Real and Imagined Events Memories"
It's damned-near impossible to sort wheat from chaff this April 1st (and every other day), so as usual, caveat lector!
- Swedish archaeologists find Thor's Hammer.
- Billionaire Clive Palmer orders 117 more mechanical dinosaurs for his Palmer Coolum Resort -- on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane.
- Ever wanted to see atoms in 3D? Now you can.
- Pesticide makes bees forget the scent for food, new study finds. Neocotinoids block the part of the brain bees use for learning, leaving them unable to make link between floral scents and nectar.
- The chemical pesticide lobby is waging a multi-million dollar battle to prevent regulation of chemicals linked to the dramatic escalation in the deaths of pollinating bees over the past year.
- Sea DMT: God molecule or barnacle repellent?
- Sheriff's deputies fruitlessly searched the home of two former CIA employees for marijuana because the couple had bought indoor growing supplies to raise vegetables.
- Alfred Anaya put secret compartments in cars. So the DEA put him in prison.
- Mexican drug cartels reportedly dispatching agents deep inside US.
- The campaign to end America's war on drugs: The US war on drugs has cost one trillion dollars and resulted in 45 million arrests, and yet nothing has changed. I think Mexico and Honduras would debate that last point.
- This giant mesh wall acts like an air filter for Mexico City.
- Alexander Mandon has been buried alive as a 'cure' after being struck by lightning 4 times since September. Reminds me of Castaneda. In The Eagle's Gift, wasn't it?
- Unintentionally letting down our guard with web privacy.
- How anonymous cellphone location data leave 'fingerprints' that can easily personally identify you.
- Government fights for use of spy tool that spoofs cell towers.
- Has cancer-stricken millionaire REALLY left $2 million in buried treasure in the New Mexico mountains? Eccentric 'Indiana Jones of Santa Fe' reveals eleventh clue in the hunt for his loot.
- How much gold is there in the world?
- Amazon rainforest is up for auction -- to oil companies.
- Our inconsistent ethical instincts.
- April fools' jokes 2013 - the best on the web.
Quote of the Day:
Danny Porter, chief prosecutor in Gwinnett County, Ga., said he has tried to entice dozens of suspected cartel members to cooperate with American authorities. Nearly all declined. Some laughed in his face.
"They say, `We are more scared of them (the cartels) than we are of you. We talk and they'll boil our family in acid,"' Porter said. "Their families are essentially hostages."
From 'Mexican drug cartels reportedly dispatching agents deep inside US.'
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- FBI comes clean on top X-File: "We never investigated".
- White House can't afford its shapeshifting alien reptile guards.
- Termites are the creators of mysterious fairy circles, German scientist claims.
- Have anthropologists found the first human-Neanderthal hybrid?
- Somebody call the wahmbulance - the TEDx rent-a-cops are getting all frothy at the mouth again.
- A shot across materialism's bow.
- Vial of deadly virus goes missing from Texas lab. Nothing to be concerned about there...
- Study finds fungi, not plant matter, responsible for most carbon sequestration in northern forests
- Time fears the pyramids.
- Volcanic lightning…how does that f**king work?
- The 33 most beautiful abandoned places in the world. I think they've got a few wrong, but still an amazing gallery.
- The boy who lived in the Amityville horror house breaks his 40 year silence.
- Are writers mediums? A spooky synchronicity...
- On the latest Binnall of America podcast, David Weatherly discusses the Black Eyed Children phenomenon.
- The aliens from Independence Day are returning.
- Pentagon's mad scientists want a tattoo that tracks troops' vital signs. If those lads have a big night out on the turps, lord knows what ink they're going to end up with…
- The earth is mysteriously opening up in Arizona.
- 2011 Oklahoma earthquake linked to oil drilling
- Hypercleanliness may be making us sick.
- Eostre: the making of a myth.
- Image of the Day: David and Goliath - Saturn and one of its moons, Mimas. That's a photo folks.
Quote of the Day:
Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.
Sir Terry Pratchett
- Was Jesus a woman?
- Memories of near death experiences: more real than reality?
- Human/Neanderthal hybrid skeleton found? ('lovechild' may be the wrong term here).
- Jimmy Page, Aleister Crowley and the curse of Eddie And The Hot Rods.
- Pesticide makes bees forget the scent for food.
- Sea hare blocks predators sense of smell (and it's a Stegosaurus/slug hybrid by the looks of it).
- Smelling out the spurious Eostre Hare.
- Back in 1973, thought-detector vans not only successfully reduced the number of telepathic crimes in Scarfolk, but also exposed hundreds of "wrong thinkers."
- The largest cyberattack in history that never happened.
- Sounds like consciousness? Electroencephalophonic music to my ears!
- Fukushima town revealed in Google Street View two years after tsunami.
- Suspected bones of Alfred the Great exhumed.
- Shooting star over Stonehenge.
- Zen and the illusion of free will.
- The Rainbow City built By Martians in Antarctica.
- Dr. Who, blonde twins, harp music, what's not to love?
Thanks, as ever, to everyone on the Twitter
Quote of the Day:
"a 'wrong thought' is a thought, which, when thought, contains themes thought to be not right, therefore wrong, and therefore prosecutable. An unthought thought may be potentially wrong, but the thought will not be prosecutable until such a time that the thought has been thought and its themes have been thoroughly thought through and deemed wrong by the authorities. Thinking about which specific thoughts may or may not be prosecutable may also be prosecutable."
A group of Russian youths has (illegally) climbed the Great Pyramid at Giza at night, and posted some lovely photos online (such as the one above) for all of us law-abiding citizens to drool over.
I was taken by the fact that one of the images featured someone lying in almost the exact location on top of the Great Pyramid as the two ladies were standing in the photo I've posted previously from 1920 - we move through the ghosts of the past no matter where we travel. Compare the difference between skylines in the two following images: the first taken by the Russian adventurers this year, the second taken almost 100 years ago, in 1920. Cairo seems to have grown a little (especially considering the centre of Cairo is in the opposite direction)...
In juxtaposition, the stones on the Great Pyramid and Khafre's pyramid look not to have changed at all. As the old saying goes, "man fears time, time fears the pyramids"...
"The universe we seeing playing out in space and time may be just the surface level, where we float like little boats while leviathans stir in the deep."
- As well as detect the electric fields of flowers, honeybees can move each other with electric fields.
- 100 year starship video offers a virtual trip through the galaxy.
- A living ocean on a Jovian moon?
- Explosive volcanic eruptions triggered by cosmic rays.
- Planck telescope maps the distribution of all the matter in the cosmos.
- We're steadily losing our religion - but not our belief.
- The depiction of witches over the past 500 years.
- 19 year old develops plan to clean up ocean trash vortexes.
- Reality show seeks kids with past lives.
- Is it too late to stop the cyborgs?
- Damp squib: Chinese fishmonger finds a bomb inside a squid.
- Gravity-free black hole model proving useful.
- Ancient Egypt - a hypochondriac's nightmare.
- Is dark matter a glimpse of a deeper level of reality?
- The mysterious disappearance, and reappearance, of Ada Constance Kent.
- The most surreal places on Earth.
Quote of the Day:
Give me one free miracle and I will explain everything else.