Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal

Damned Facts Book Cover

Forteans, take note: a new book, edited by our good friend Jack Hunter (Paranthropology, Talking With the Spirits), provides a fascinating anthology of essays that are sure to be of interest to you. Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal (Amazon US/Amazon UK) features contributions from the likes of Jeff Kripal, David Clarke, David V. Barrett and others, covering topics ranging from William James to John Keel's Mothman.

Here's Gary Lachman's summary of the book:

Jack Hunter's Damned Facts, a collection of well-researched and closely argued essays into all things anomalous, presents some delightful, fascinating, and eye-brow raising evidence that there are more things in heaven and earth-and anywhere in between-than are dreamed of in practically anyone's philosophy. Taking their cue from the original anomalist, Charles Fort, who argued that mystery begins everywhere, Hunter and his contributors plunge headfirst into some deep waters and drag up to the surface enough oddities to satisfy even the most discerning taste in the unusual. It's my bet that Fort himself would have been damned proud.

Links: Purchase Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal at Amazon US or Amazon UK.

News Briefs 10-05-2016

Earth is an alien planet...

Thanks Baldrick.

Quote of the Day:

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.

Edith Wharton

Alien Planet Passes in Front of Our Sun

Just in case you needed reminding of how knee-tremblingly epic our Sun is, NASA has released video of yesterday's Mercury transit as shot by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. And it is full. Of. The. Awes.

Less than once per decade, Mercury passes between the Earth and the sun in a rare astronomical event known as a planetary transit. The 2016 Mercury transit occurred on May 9th, between roughly 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT.

The images in this video are from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO.

Music: Encompass by Mark Petrie

For more info on the Mercury transit go to: http://www.nasa.gov/transit

The music is excellent, but can someone also do a version with John Murphy's 'Adagio in D Minor' from the Sunshine soundtrack?

Has a Lost Maya City Been Found By a 15-Year-Old Based on Ancient Star Maps?

Is this a lost city of the Maya

Almost three decades after Robert Bauval made headlines - and generated plenty of discussion and debate - with his controversial 'Orion Correlation Theory' (the suggestion that pyramids in Egypt were sited in particular locations in order to resemble the stars in the constellation of Orion), a new story is hitting headlines around the world today claiming that a 'lost' Maya city has been located in the Americas, through the matching of star locations to the placement of ancient cities.

What makes the story even more incredible is that the discoverer is a 15-year-old school student! William Gadoury from Quebec was perplexed as to "why the Maya built their cities away from rivers, on marginal lands and in the mountains", and "as they worshipped the stars" wondered if they might have chosen the location of its towns and cities to mirror the imagery of the sky.

He found Mayan cities lined up exactly with stars in the civilization's major constellations. Studying the star map further, he discovered one city was missing from a constellation of three stars.

Using satellite images provided by the Canadian Space Agency and then mapped on to Google Earth, he discovered the city where the third star of the constellation suggested it would be.

The similarities to Bauval's work don't end there. According to a French-language Wikipedia page the constellation that Gadoury identified with the star that had no corresponding city was the Maya version of Orion. "Three of the stars of this constellation form a triangle, are: Alnitak ( Zeta Orionis ), Rigel (Beta Orionis) and Saiph ( saiph )", it notes, with two of those corresponding to the ancient Mayan cities of Calakmul and El Mirador. But the third star did not correspond to any known Maya site, leading him to assume that - if his city/correlation theory was correct - there would be a 'lost' city hiding in that position. And, using high-resolution satellite imagery, courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency, Gadoury claims to have found exactly that.

Others with more substantial credentials have agreed:

Doctor Armand La Rocque, from the University of New Brunswick, said one image showed a street network and a large square which could possibly be a pyramid. He told The Independent: "A square is not natural, it is mostly artificial and can hardly be attributed to natural phenomena. "If we add these together, we have a lot of indication there might be a Mayan city in the area.".

Sounds exciting as hell, and if true is a stunning discovery about the importance of the night sky to ancient people. But let's also stop and breathe a little. The 'discovery' is currently based on seemingly geometric figures spotted on a satellite photograph - nobody has actually visited the area yet to confirm there is actually a lost city there. Furthermore, even if ancient ruins are discovered where Gadoury claims they should be, does it confirm the constellation correlation theory, or is it just a matter of there being so many sites in the Americas that you can 'join the dots' any way you like? (Though personally, that seems a bridge too far given the amount of corresponding sites he has claimed to have found already.)

What seems a little odd is that this isn't actually a new story - Gadoury first got media attention for his theory as a 13-year-old in 2014 and began searching for the 'lost city' later that year. CBC spoke to Daniel De Lisle of the Canadian Space Agency, who noted that the CSA first came into contact with Gadoury at a conference in 2014 - "at that time William won [a science] exposition, and one of the prizes was for him to present his project at this international conference...his booth was right beside ours; we just chit-chatted with him, and realized there was a high potential for him to make an interesting discovery, and we decided to support him":

William did a first project trying to make a correlation between the locations of the stars with the different constellations, and tried to understand how they could identify the various cities - and he made an almost 90% correlation between the fact that the stars locations could pinpoint the cities.

And one of the studies he did, he found a constellation that had no specific location on the ground. So what the space agency did was provide him with a few images over the area of interest...so he could see with the high-resolution imagery that we provided him with to try and locate this hidden or unknown city.

It could be that archaeologists just haven't treated the claim as a genuine one in the intervening time - given both the 'fringe' nature of the theory, and that it is coming from a teenager. But the coverage being given to the story now should guarantee that it gets more serious investigation.

The next logical step would seem to be to get out there and see if those geometric figures truly are a lost city. If it is...game on!

Update: Gizmodo have posted an article on this same topic, and in recent updates have included skeptical comments by archaeologists and anthropologists. One of those is Mesoamerican expert David Stuart, who in a Facebook post labeled the lost city claim as "false":

The whole thing is a mess -- a terrible example of junk science hitting the internet in free-fall. The ancient Maya didn't plot their ancient cities according to constellations. Seeing such patterns is a rorschach process, since sites are everywhere, and so are stars. The square feature that was found on Google Earth is indeed man-made, but it's an old fallow cornfield, or milpa.

News Briefs 09-05-2016

Heeeeeere's Skippy!

Thanks to @TheUFOTrail.

Quote of the Day:

One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, "Is it half full or half empty?" So I drank the water. No more problem.

Alejandro Jodorowsky

The Mystical Genius of Srinivasa Ramanujan

Stories about mathematicians are, perhaps surprisingly, the fodder for a number of critically acclaimed movies - from the fictional Good Will Hunting to the John Nash biopic A Beautiful Mind. And now, another film about a mathematical genius has arrived: The Man Who Knew Infinity (trailer above).

It tells the true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, an Indian self-taught prodigy, who credited his brilliant insights to visions given to him by a goddess.

Though he had almost no formal training in pure mathematics, he made extraordinary contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions. Ramanujan initially developed his own mathematical research in isolation; it was quickly recognized by Indian mathematicians. When his skills became obvious and known to the wider mathematical community, centered in Europe at the time, he began a famous partnership with the English mathematician G. H. Hardy, who realized that Ramanujan had rediscovered previously known theorems in addition to producing new ones.

...Ramanujan credited his acumen to his family goddess, Mahalakshmi of Namakkal. He looked to her for inspiration in his work, and claimed to dream of blood drops that symbolised her male consort, Narasimha, after which he would receive visions of scrolls of complex mathematical content unfolding before his eyes. He often said, "An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God."

Beyond the mystical manner in which he made his breakthroughs, what is also extraordinary about Ramanujan's work is that, as one mathematician has put it, "there is a seeming reversal of cause and effect. No one can write down a formula with deep, hidden properties unless they first know what the deep properties are that they are trying to encode. This is the way mathematicians understand math to work; it is the only way they—we—know to approach the subject. But the significance of the tau function—the reason to write it down—wasn’t discovered until Ramanujan had been dead for sixty years":

"There’s no way Ramanujan knew all these intermediate things,” says Ono. “The concepts [encoded in the tau function] didn’t exist when he was alive. That’s the mind-boggling part: Ramanujan anticipated the work of people who would live long after him. He had visions that said there were going to be some theories in the future. Somehow. He didn’t need any intermediate steps for him to anticipate that there would be all these subjects, and that he would find the first examples of them, and that they would go on to be the prototypes that we desperately needed to build our subjects. Whether he’s in fashion or out of fashion has more to do with us, with where we are in coming to grips with him.

So what was the origin of Ramanujan's genius? Hidden abilities of the human brain? A conduit directly plugged into the back-end of mathematics? Or truly visions from another realm?

Sadly, Ramanujan died at the age of just 32...one can only wonder what other breakthroughs he might have made given a long and prosperous life.

News Briefs 06-05-2016

"Our responsibility is much greater than we might have supposed, because it involves all mankind."

Quote of the Day:

“The real nature of the present revealed itself: it was what exists, all that was not present did not exist.”

Jean Paul Sartre

News Briefs 05-05-2016

With so many people feeling this means the end of the world is nigh, just remember: *Every day* is the end of the world for someone, somewhere.

  • Brave New World: Biotech company granted ethical permission to use stem sell technology to stimulate the nervous system of brain-dead patients.
  • Bernardo Kastrup: You're being subtly deceived (again) by that recent LSD study.
  • IBM is letting anyone play with their quantum computer --anyone that knows HOW quantum computing works, that is.
  • When robots are instruments of male desire.
  • The self-powered camera is one of this year's Invention Award winners.
  • The good news: Ancient DNA reveals ancestry and migration history of modern Europeans.
  • The bad news: Rising seas are swamping our archeological heritage.
  • Global warming is slowly suffocating our oceans.
  • In order to control wild carp populations, Australians are giving them herpes. Wait, what?!
  • Planet 9 just got weirder.
  • Oh look, Canada will have its 1st National Public Hearing on UFOs. I wonder what kind of 'experts' they'll gather…
  • Sonic boom drama over Doncaster: Typhoon jets intercepting AirFrance airliner, or dogfight with UFO rising from the North Sea? You be the judge!
  • Turkish witness photographs oval UFO.
  • The things you learn by setting up a Google news alert for the word "Satanic."
  • Economic inequality between first class passengers and the rest of us lowly plebes, is the #1 cause of 'air rage' --that and the f$#%in baby crying on seat D27!!
  • Red Pill of the Day: Screenwriter issues formal apology for penning the script of Dragon Ball: Evolution. And you thought Majin Buu was the biggest redemption story in the whole saga!

Thanks to my uncle Juan Ramón. Buen viaje, tío!

Quote of the Day:

"Maybe this world is another planet's hell."

~Aldous Huxley

All-Hearing Eye: Researchers Can Reconstruct Audio From Objects' Micro-Movements Captured Only on Video

Person of Interest - Control's Office

Sometimes even science fiction can't keep up with technological developments...

Consider the excellent Person of Interest, a television show that over four seasons (the fifth and final season began last night) has had a long and fascinating story arc exploring the impact of artificial intelligences on our world, especially in the context of surveillance and law enforcement. In the final episode of season 4 - which aired around a year ago -, one scene has the character 'Control' placing cell phones in a sound-proof box, to stop the artificial intelligence named 'Samaritan' from hearing the content of her discussion by hijacking the cell's microphone.

Turns out that may have been a touch naive, especially coming from someone in her position. Because in real life, a couple of months earlier at TED 2015), researcher Abe Davis demoed software that allowed him and his team to reconstruct audio of an event, purely from video taken (ie. no audio required at all) on an off-the-shelf camera. They did so by creating algorithms that looked for tiny movements in objects in the environment (on the order of micrometres, invisible to the human eye and even a fraction of a pixel). As 'sound' is actually air vibration perceived by our ears, the micro-movements captured by the video can be used to reconstruct the air vibrations that caused them.

Subtle motion happens around us all the time, including tiny vibrations caused by sound. New technology shows that we can pick up on these vibrations and actually re-create sound and conversations just from a video of a seemingly still object. But now Abe Davis takes it one step further: Watch him demo software that lets anyone interact with these hidden properties, just from a simple video.

Watch the amazing demonstration below:

While Samaritan would surely employ such a system in its 'sousveillance' arsenal, Davis does point out that there are other applications as well, including creating an actual '3D model' of an object and its natural movements, simply by capturing its subtle motion.

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