News Briefs: 23-07-2015

Suffering from a 'DC-level' back pain...

Thanks to Frida, who taught me how Art can help you sublimate your sorrows.

Quote of the Day:

"Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?"

˜Frida Kahlo

Animal Telepathy Controversy - Did a Leading Skeptic Really Debunk a 'Psychic Pet'?

'Maverick biologist' Rupert Sheldrake has had more than his fair share of run-ins with skeptics over the years, based on his research into psi, animal telepathy, morphic resonance and more. One rather public battle was with skeptic Richard Wiseman, regarding Sheldrake's experiments with a dog named Jaytee, who seemed to know when his owner was on their way home:

Richard Wiseman is a conjurer and professional Skeptic based at the University of Hertfordshire in England, where he is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology. He replicated Rupert Sheldrake's results with Jaytee, a dog that knew when his owner was coming home, obtaining positive, statistically significant results, and then claimed that he had refuted this dogs abilities! Read a summary of this long-lasting controversy, with links to Rupert's and Richard Wiseman's papers and articles on this subject.

Rupert Sheldrake has now posted the video above to his website, in which Jaytee's owner, Pam Smart - who was rather unfairly treated by media outlets in the wake of Richard Wiseman's debunking - discusses the controversy from her point of view.

For more on this topic, see Rupert Sheldrake's book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (Amazon US/Amazon UK).

And while on Sheldrake-skeptic related matters, interested readers might like to check out this dialogue between Rupert Sheldrake and skeptic Michael Shermer, which recently played out over the course of a couple of months.


News Briefs: 22-07-2015

I'll split the atom! I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!

Quote of the Day:

Consciousness itself is an infinite regress; this explains coincidences.

Robert Anton Wilson

Migration Mystery: Genetic Study Links Native Americans in the Amazon to Indigenous Australians

Surui tribesman from the Amazon

A new study has found that Native Americans in the Amazon bear an unexpected genetic connection to indigenous people of Australasia. The results suggest a previously unknown wave of migration to the Americas thousands of years ago:

“It’s incredibly surprising,” said David Reich, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and senior author of the study. “There’s a strong working model in archaeology and genetics, of which I have been a proponent, that most Native Americans today extend from a single pulse of expansion south of the ice sheets—and that’s wrong. We missed something very important in the original data.”

Previous research had shown that Native Americans from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America can trace their ancestry to a single “founding population” called the First Americans, who came across the Bering land bridge about 15,000 years ago. In 2012, Reich and colleagues enriched this history by showing that certain indigenous groups in northern Canada inherited DNA from at least two subsequent waves of migration.

The new study, published July 21 in Nature, indicates that there’s more to the story.

Researcher Pontus Skoglund was studying genetic data gathered as part of a previous study when he noticed the link between a couple of Native American groups in Brazil and indigenous groups in Australasia. Reich admitted that it was “an unexpected and somewhat confusing result...we spent a really long time trying to make this result go away and it just got stronger.”

After looking into this link further, they found that the Tupí-speaking Suruí and Karitiana, and the Ge-speaking Xavante of the Amazon shared a common ancestor - no longer in existence - more closely related to indigenous Australasians than any other present-day population, though no traces of this ancestor's genetic lineage were found in other Native American groups in South, Central or North America.

While the migration route of this ancestral group remains a mystery, the study proposes that 'Population Y' came down from the ice sheets along with the First Americans, forming the two founding populations of the Americas.

Link: Genetic studies link indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Australasia

(h/t @AnomalistNews)

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Documentary Explores the Possibility of Gaining 'Superpowers' Via Meditation and Focused Breathing

Here's a fascinating Vice documentary on the possibility of much greater conscious control of our bodies, using meditation and focused breathing to allow direct modification of our autonomic nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune system.

Such abilities are of course part of a number of ancient Eastern traditions, but it was interesting to see it through the prism of a modern European practitioner:

Wim Hof first caught the attention of scientists when he proved he was able to stay submerged in ice for one hour and 53 minutes without his core body temperature changing. Since then, he's climbed Mount Everest in his shorts, resisted altitude sickness, completed a marathon in the Namibian Desert with no water, and proven—under a laboratory setting—that he's able to influence his autonomic nervous system and immune system at will.

Almost everything Wim has done was previously thought to be impossible, but he's not a freak of nature; he's a master of meditation.

To demonstrate that any human can learn his methods, Wim offered to teach VICE hosts Matt Shea and Daisy-May Hudson how to climb a freezing cold mountain in their shorts without getting cold. But when Matt and Daisy signed up for the training, they had no idea that the so-called Iceman was planning to lead them on a psychedelic journey across Europe that circled the chasm between science and spirituality.

News Briefs 21-07-2015

We're almost at 3000 Facebook likes - like the Daily Grail on Zuckerberg's Spying Network and take us towards 4000!

Thanks @anomalistnews.

Quote of the Day:

Even if intelligence were widespread in the cosmos, we may only ever recognise a small and atypical fraction of it. Some “brains” may package reality in a fashion that we can’t conceive. Others could be living contemplative lives, perhaps deep under some planetary ocean, doing nothing to reveal their presence. The only type of intelligence we could detect would be the (perhaps small) subset that used a technology attuned to our own parochial concepts.

Sir Martin Rees

Snail-Riding Frog Is in No Hurry

In our continuing saga of 'Animals Around the World Keep Riding Each Other,' nothing says "taking it slow" as the picture of a little Indonesian blue-webbed gliding frog, hitching a ride on the back of a snail. Because climbing to the top is secondary to doin' it with style.

C'mon, you animals! Show me a scorpion on top of a frog next time, just to prove that smarty-ass Aesop wrong.

[H/T Laughing Squid. Images by Kurito Afsheen]

The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Just Got Real

Radio Telescope Scans the Sky

Today marks 46 years since Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on extraterrestrial ground, when the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed on the Moon. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner certainly has a sense of occasion, because he chose this auspicious date to announce what may be the next big step in learning about our universe: a $100 million project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

SETI has fought for decades to secure a decent amount of funding to conduct a thorough search of the skies, although until recently they were also hamstrung by the technology available to do so. Both of those problems have suddenly been solved through the wallet of Milner, who made his fortune through a number of smart investments, including being an early funder of Facebook.

Milner announced his 'Breakthrough Initiatives' today, flanked by the likes of Stephen Hawking, SETI pioneer Frank Drake, and exoplanet hunter extraordinaire Geoff Marcy:

  1. 'Breakthrough Listen' will conduct the most comprehensive search for signals from alien civilisations ever, using the best technology available. Included is a large amount of observation time on two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes: Green Bank Telescope in the United States, and Parkes Telescope in Australia. Previously only allowed a day or two per year on these big telescopes, SETI researchers will now have thousands of hours of listening time.
  2. 'Breakthrough Message' is the complementary project to send a message back to listening aliens, “to describe ourselves and our planet in language that other minds can understand", according to Milner. This will involve a million dollar prize pool for a competition to create the message, as well as some debate as to whether sending a message is in fact a smart move (ie. should we broadcast our existence in case there are nasty aliens out there).

Stephen Hawking voiced his support for the project in the following statement:

To understand the Universe, you must know about atoms. About the forces that bind them.

The contours of space and time. The birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies. The secrets of black holes.

But that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars. But not the lights that shine from planet Earth.

To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds.

We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth. So in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life. Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours, aware of what they mean.

Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos. Unseen beacons, announcing that here, on one rock, the Universe discovered its existence.

Either way, there is no bigger question. It’s time to commit to finding the answer - to search for life beyond Earth. The Breakthrough Initiatives are making that commitment.

We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.

The data from the Breakthrough Listen project will be open, allowing anyone to search through and process it, and will be integrated with SETI@home, allowing volunteers to contribute time on their home computers to sift through the SETI data deluge.

For more information, see the Breakthrough Initiatives website, and as always, science writer Alan Boyle is doing a great job keeping us all up to date with the latest happenings.

The Ancient Mountain of Light

This week the Nature website featured a commentary from Indonesian science journalist Dyna Rochmyaningsih, warning that nationalism, rather than science, may be driving some recent projects in her homeland. One of the projects she mentions is the archaeological work being done at Gunung Padang, with some alleged discoveries that would make Indonesia home to Earth’s oldest discovered civilization (possibly 25,000 years old).

Gunung Padang seems likely to feature in alternative historian Graham Hancock's upcoming book Magicians of the Gods, which will certainly bring these claims to a much wider audience in the West - though we have been discussing it here on the Daily Grail for two years now. In last year's release of our anthology Darklore, Martin J. Clemens wrote an article on the Gunung Padang discovery, and at that time he too warned that "some Indonesian leaders want to establish their country as the birthplace of Asian culture, and they tend to seek out storylines that confirm that bias."

Given the commentary in Nature, I thought it would be worth reproducing Martin's essay in full here at the Grail (excerpted from Darklore Volume 8)


Gunung Padang (Creative Commons, Mohammad Fadli)

The Ancient Mountain of Light

by Martin J. Clemens

In the science world, much of the research is inaccessible to the layman. If the concepts being studied aren’t orders of magnitude over the heads of the general public, then the means to participate are just not available, whether due to cost or physical location. There are exceptions, however, such as astronomy. In fact, amateur astronomers have been integral to progress in the field, and professional scientists welcome their input, often using their backyard observations as a starting point in the process of discovering some of the most interesting objects and events in the night sky.

Archaeology is sometimes thought of in those same terms, though that really depends on who you ask. Archaeology is the study of human activity in the past, through observation and analysis of the effects of material culture. Essentially, that means that archaeologists look at artefacts and locations and try to determine what those items mean within the context of the particular culture in question. It can be a difficult process, and it requires those who undertake it to be well-read in the humanities, and to have a background in the physical sciences. They must be experts on history, and be conversant in psychology, biology and sometimes physics. But these things aren’t exclusive to archaeologists. Anyone can be well-read on the humanities. Many laymen are experts on history and are conversant in biology and physics. And since almost every archaeological find is ultimately dependent on subjective interpretation, it would seem that the field is more open than some would like to think.

The products of archaeology are not the artefacts and ancient buildings that they study; the product is the information gleaned from those items. The dusty trinkets and buried structures are the tools archaeologists use to measure the impact lost cultures had on their environment, and on the members of their societies. The problem arises when that story, or stories as the case may be, don’t readily betray the secrets of their originators. Even among the so-called experts, agreement is hard to come by, and when those who look in on the golden circle from the outside get into the fray, things can get messy.

In the world of archaeology, there are some basic truths that form the foundation of the study. One of those truths is the general anthropological timeline, which outlines not only the progression of human development, from the early emergence out of Africa, to our spread throughout Asia and Europe and eventually Australia and the Americas. Other foundational elements include the individual demographics and histories of all of the various civilizations that existed between then and now. But that timeline is only a truth in so far as the majority believe it to be…and there are other voices in the crowd.

It has generally been thought that our ancestors began building monuments and structures for ritual purposes at a specific time in our history. That time is roughly 9000 years ago, or in the 7th millennium BCE. The prevailing wisdom of archaeology says that disparate cultures across Europe and Asia began developing the skills necessary to construct long lasting works of art and primitive architecture using stone as a medium around this time. There were probably many failed starts and half-developed projects that never saw the light of day, but of the examples we know about, the oldest are apparently no older than about 7000 years, indicating that it took roughly 2000 years to hone our skills. By about 5000 years ago, we were building sophisticated structures like Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, and thus our progression from primitive hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian societies with the time and wherewithal to develop a culture of our own was well underway.

One important aspect of the above, is the implied idea that these skills were developed independently by different cultures. Each culture, we’re told, invented, practised and perfected their techniques on their own, with little to no help from other peoples. This is the accepted wisdom.

There are elements of the archaeological record that would seem to disagree however. One of those elements is a megalithic/Neolithic site in the ... Read More »

News Briefs 20-07-2015

Mic check - say g'day in the comments if you're a regular reader!

Quote of the Day:

The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

Hossein Derakhshan ("The Web We Have to Save")