In this latest 'Shot of Awe' video, Jason Silva wonders whether humans are at a point in history where evolution has become a secondary process, and the time has arrived when *we* will have to decide what we want to become.
More Jason Silva monologues:
A summary of all the stories and news briefs posted on The Daily Grail over the past week. Feel free to share anything interesting!
- News Briefs 14-07-2014 (Monday)
- All Hail Breaks Loose in Siberia! (video)
- Rupert Sheldrake Discusses Morphic Resonance and Animal Telepathy with Scientific American
- News Briefs 15-07-2014 (Tuesday)
- Classic Text on Consciousness and E.S.P Made Available Online
- Ancient Amazonian People Built Massive Circular Structures Before the Rainforest Existed
- News Briefs 16-07-2014 (Wednesday)
- 'Weird Al' Yankovic Believes All the Conspiracies in His Latest Parody Music Video, 'Foil'
- News Briefs 17-07-2014 (Thursday)
- Magic Mushrooms were the Inspiration for Frank Herbert's Science Fiction Epic 'Dune'
- News Briefs 18-07-2014 (Friday)
- Consecration of the Host - You Are Legion, For You Are Many
- What's the Frequency, SyFy? 12 Monkeys TV Trailer
Have a good weekend!
If you're regular member of this eclectic salon we call The Grail, chances are you're also a big fan of Terry Gilliam. For me it's difficult to pick my favorite Gilliam film, but 12 Monkeys is definitely among the top 3.
Which is why I have mixed feelings about this recently released trailer for the upcoming serialized version of 12 Monkeys, premiering on SyFy next fall:
It's not so much that I'm ranting about the shameless recycling of yesteryear classics --after all, Battlestar Galactica was a masterful adaptation-- but nowhere in the trailer is the delightfully quirky humor that is such a big part of Gilliam's style; from the looks of it, SyFy is aiming straight for the dark, dystopic side of the story in a very serious way --maybe too serious. C'mon, SyFy! If the whole world's going to hell due to the outbreak of an engineered virus, why not have a few laughs while we're at it?
Or maybe all that was needed to get me on board was... this.
Back in March Science Writer and blogger Ed Yong gave a TED talk on the subject of parasites and the fascinating ways in which they can sometimes "subvert and override the wills of their hosts" (a full video of the talk posted here on DG). In his talk Yong spoke about how rodents infected with the brain parasite toxoplasma gondii effectively become “cat-seeking missiles”; seeking out felines and getting themselves eaten just so that toxo can then develop and reproduce inside the cat. As much as one third of the global human population may be infected with toxo. Although mild flu-like symptoms occasionally occur during the first few weeks following exposure, toxo generally produces no symptoms in healthy human adults (toxoplasmosis can be fatal to infants and those with weakened immune systems, however). Opinions are currently divided among researchers as to what, if any, influence toxo has on the behaviour of infected humans (although links to schizophrenia are amongst the effects which have been hypothesised ). But, says, Yong in his TED talk, even if it isn’t from toxo, “Given the widespread nature of such manipulations [of hosts by parasites], it would be completely implausible if humans were the only creature not under the same thrall.”
While the idea of mind control via a parasite may seem like science fiction, there is an example we're all already familiar with: rabies. The rabies virus induces aggressive, violent behaviour in the infected, increasing the chances of the host biting other animals. The rabies virus is transmitted via the saliva of the infected into a new host. It's a somewhat crude (and oversimplified) example but its one that is pretty much universally accepted and understood.
Not all parasites make themselves so conspicuous however, in fact it may come as a surprise to you that there may be as many as ten times more bacterial cells in your body than there are human cells . 90 trillion or so microbes are your constant passengers; you are a walking ecosystem . The human microbiome (to give it its proper scientific name) is the aggregate of micro-organisms that reside on and inside us; from between our toes, to the tips of our eyelashes, to our gastrointestinal tracts. Some of these organisms perform tasks which are known to be beneficial to us, the host, but the majority have thus far been too poorly researched for us to understand what, if any, role they play in shaping our lives . That however is changing, especially when it comes to the gut–brain axis.
The gut–brain axis refers to the biochemical signalling taking place between the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system, involving intestinal microbiota (gut bacteria) which have been shown to play an important role in brain function. Changes in gut bacteria are now being investigated as possible contributors to, or triggers for the worsening of, autism . A 2013 study carried out by the University of California found that subjects who regularly ingested beneficial "probiotic" bacteria showed altered brain function . Earlier this year researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Arizona, Tucson published that they had found that people living in cold, northern latitudes have bacteria in their guts that may predispose them to obesity . How we process information, how we interact with others and the world around us, even our outward appearance, may all be controlled to some degree by our microbiome. Gut bacteria has even been proven to alter sexual preference (although only in fruit flies thus far) . How much of what we think of as "us", might actually be "them"?
At the beginning of July 2014 a paper entitled Midichlorians - the biomeme hypothesis: is there a microbial component to religious rituals? was posted on the open access, peer-reviewed online journal Biology Direct (full text here). The paper puts forward the following hypothesis:
Some microorganisms would gain an evolutionary advantage by encouraging human hosts to perform certain rituals that facilitate microbial transmission. We hypothesize that certain aspects of religious behaviour observed in human society could be influenced by microbial host control and that the transmission of some religious rituals could be regarded as a simultaneous transmission of both ideas (memes) and organisms. We call this a “biomeme” hypothesis
Practices such as the touching and kissing of holy relics, drinking from or bathing in sacred waters, and ritual flagellation or piercing of the body are postulated as a possible means of transmission of specific parasites. The practice of fasting, "known to reduce total gut bacteria and affect the gut microbiome composition", could have a part to play in a parasite's life cycle, or else its effect upon the host. The veneration, or eschewing, of certain domestic animals could be a means of controlling which parasites the host is exposed to. Even celibacy in holy men and women could be linked to parasitic passengers; "it has been noted that many parasites eliminate their hosts reproductive potential as they channel all available resources to maximize their own reproductive success."
The hypothesis is completely unproven. It is mere leap of logic or flight of fantasy, depending on your own perception. Responding to one of their learned reviewers (all of whom seem entertained by the hypothesis but highly sceptical), the paper's authors state "We also agree with Dr. Koonin that our hypothesis is outrageous and may be incorrect, however we believe that it’s still an interesting one and worth considering. [...] What makes our hypothesis perceived as more outrageous [than others] is that religion is indeed a taboo subject in human society."
This response seems to suggest that the idea of parasitic control being a factor in some acts of religious behaviour would be inherently anti-religious; that it would somehow undermine the previously perceived purpose of those acts. But, why should that be the case? If proven to be true, would it not demonstrate that ritualistic religious behaviour had a provable, physical root? If the feelings of community, of belonging, and so on that people get from religious participation were proven to be caused by parasites controlling their hosts (just as the tapeworm Flamingolepis liguloides turns brine shrimp from solitary into social creatures ) would that not make them all the more real? No longer mere traditions, superstitions, or "brainwashing" as some would have it, these acts would have a concrete demonstrable cause and purpose. Some would argue it could be the death of religion, others would call it proof of a creator.
If we, the host, could in fact be the product of our passengers - those whose cells outnumber our own by ten to one - in so many ways, who is to say which of the behaviours and effects caused by "them" are the real "us"? If ritualistic religious behaviour could be eradicated, say via antibiotics just as an example, then what else would we choose to change? What if non-religious ritualistic behaviour was proven to have a similar root? Would we choose to eradicate peoples' desire to attend football matches? Muddy music festivals? Do we pick and choose which are positive and negative traits? Intelligence, body type, mental health... Do we legislate? Do we immunise? What does a homosapien look and like at the end of all that? What are we without our 90 trillion strong microbiome? Is it still what you and I think of today as human?
I fully acknowledge that is all ridiculous and outlandish speculation on my part, of course; a writer's imagination going into overdrive, but that's because parasitic control is an incredibly inspiring topic. Indeed, in his TED talk, Ed Yong said "I'm a writer and fellow writers in the audience will know that we love stories. Parasites allow us to resist the allure of obvious stories; their world is one of plot twists and unexpected explanations."
Midichlorians - the biomeme hypothesis... is itself, in effect, a work of speculative fiction; building upon existing research and ideas with a series of "what if"s. One of my favourite passages in the paper reads as follows:
It seems that something like Toxoplasma gondii would be a good preliminary candidate for the role of our hypothetical microbe that promotes religious behavior as it is prevalent and widespread (as religious practices are) and its infection is associated with some behavioral traits and it is capable of latently residing in the human brain. Coincidentally, the sacred status of cats, definitive hosts of Toxoplasma gondii was part of the ancient Egyptian religious tradition for centuries. To our knowledge, no research on the association between toxoplasmosis or similar infections and religiosity has been performed, thus such an association could have been overlooked
The entire great civilisation of Ancient Egypt motivated by cat parasites. That couldn't be true, surely? You just keep telling yourself that when you're checking your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram today and seeing images of cat after cat after cat.
Putting this piece together I was curious as to whether Ed Yong would have read (or even heard about) Midichlorians - the biomeme hypothesis... so I dropped him an email asking if he'd like to comment upon the hypothesis. He very kindly sent me this response:
It is clear that parasites and microbes can manipulate animal behaviour but it is very hard to confirm such manipulations, even in species that can be experimented upon. Hypotheses like this will remain cute just-so stories until they can actually be verified
“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning."
- Material world vs. Matrix.
- …Just don’t burst the bubble.
- Taking the quantum bounce.
- Gazing into the hollow earth..
- Mice, rats and NDEs.
- UFO or UFW?
- ATLAS looks beyond Higgs.
- Signs 2.0?
- The fern future.
- The snow, glaciers and monuments of Mars.
- Seeking the dark side.
- Wheat, decoded.
- If you believe, they put a man in the moon.
- Measuring gravity.
- Peering inside other worlds.
- Food supplies vs. crop waste.
- Non-locality vs. Copenhagen.
- The ‘10% of your brain’ myth.
- Futurama goes 3D.
- Proving Wallace & Gromit’s ‘Wrong Trousers’ right.
- The most terrifying thought experiment… ever?
- This week’s evidence of the looming robot uprising… Jibo!
Quote of the Day:
“Quantum theory provides us with a striking illustration of the fact that we can fully understand a connection though we can only speak of it in images and parables.”
One of the central plot devices in Frank Herbert's 1965 science-fiction epic Dune is melange - colloquially known as 'spice' - a naturally-occurring drug found only on the planet Arrakis which has numerous positive effects, including heightened awareness, life extension, and prescience. These effects make it the most important commodity in the cosmos, especially as the prescience allows for faster-than-light interstellar starship navigation (and thus trade) by the 'Guild Navigators'. The spice also has other more, deleterious effects, which begin with its addictive properties, a symptom of which is the tinting of the whites and pupils of the eye to a dark shade of blue.
This central theme of Dune has often prompted assocations with psychedelic culture - the mystical-surrealist avant-garde film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who once attempted to make a film based on Dune, said that he "wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating". The popular nickname for the strong hallucinogen dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT) - 'spice' - may also have taken some inspiration from the novel.
But it seems the origin of the spice theme actually does have a direct link to the psychedelic experience: in his book Mycelium Running, legendary mycologist Paul Stamets notes that not only was Frank Herbert a talented and innovative mushroom enthusiast, but that the sci-fi author confessed to him that Dune took its inspiration from Herbert's experiences with magic mushrooms:
Frank Herbert, the well-known author of the Dune books, told me his technique for using spores. When I met him in the early 1980s, Frank enjoyed collecting mushrooms on his property near Port Townsend, Washington. An avid mushroom collector, he felt that throwing his less-than-perfcct wild chanterelles into the garbage or compost didn't make sense. Instead, he would put a few weathered chanterelles in a 5-gallon bucket of water, add some salt, and then, after 1 or 2 clavs, pour this spore-mass slurry on the ground at the base of newly planted firs. When he told me chanterelles were glowing from trees not even 10 years old, I couldn't believe it. No one had previously reported chanterelles arising near such young trees, nor had anyone reported them growing as a result of using this method." Of course, it did work for frank, who was simply following nature's lead.
Frank's discovery has now been confirmed in the mushroom industry. It is now known that it's possible to grow many mushrooms using spore slurries from elder mushrooms. Many variables come into play, but in a sense this method is just a variation of what happens when it rains. Water dilutes spores from mushrooms and carries them to new environments. Our responsibility is to make that path easier. Such is the way of nature.
Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.
It seems Frank Herbert did indeed 'let the spice flow'!
Isn't it time to change the tune??
- Is the recent Israel/Palestine conflict just another war over natural resources?
- Camaraderie in the trenches of WWI.
- The Australian government is making sure there will never be another Julian Assange.
- "Who controls the polls, controls the future (of the Internet)"
- Graham Hancock interviewed by Abby Martin, on Breaking the Set.
- This 10,000-year-old rock painting in India is going to raise the hairs of you-know-who!
- Rehabilitating the Swastika, in 5 easy steps.
- Photographer shares his close encounter with UFO abductee Betty Hill.
- Radio Misterioso interviews filmmaker & animator Patrick Connelly, who's currently making a documentary about the Contactee movement.
- 'Angelic' UFO over Italy.
- While touring in London, Mike Clelland had a past-life hypnotic regression. Here's what happened.
- Hallucinatory voices are 'shaped' by local culture, according to Stanford anthropologist.
- Ghost-hunter Hayley Stevens recounts 3 weird things that happened to her --and why she STILL doesn't believe in ghosts.
- Physicist Sean Carroll on why his fellow scientists should stop saying silly things about Philosophy.
- The ethical & legal implications of child sex-bots.
- Red Pill of the Day: Ugandan Police shoots 'aggressive tortoise'. Hostile chelonian was buried alongside its ninja regalia.
Thanks to Inannawhimsey
Quote of the Day:
"What we call imagination is actually the universal library of what's real. You couldn't imagine it if it weren't real somewhere, sometime."
We all love some Weird Al here at the Grail Tower, so there were a few laughs today when we came across his latest parody music video, 'Foil', a take-off of New Zealand singer Lorde's 'Royals'. The title gives away the link to conspiracy theories, but I'll leave you to check it out without any more spoilers...
After reading some of the crazy news briefs today you'll be all like this…
- Ancient Amazonians built massive circular structures before the rainforest existed.
- The quest to find 12 (real) hidden treasures from a 1982 treasure hunt book, after the author's death.
- 'Holy Grail' stolen. (A police spokeswoman said: “I don’t want to say we are hunting the Holy Grail, but ...)
- Dungeons and Dragons - the game that influenced a generation of writers.
- Waiter awarded half of lottery jackpot after predicting the win in a dream.
- More puzzling radio bursts from deep space.
- Curiosity rover finds a large, shiny iron meteorite embedded in the Martian soil. A possible explanation for this anomaly?
- As the Rosetta space probe approaches its target, new image show that it appears to be a double-comet.
- Why do we have different blood types? It's still a mystery.
- Blindfolded geckos are still able to change to the appropriate colour for camouflage, because they can see with their skin.
- Sunflowers remember their previous sun-directed movements, even when locked away in isolation.
- 'Werewolf' wreaks havoc on livestock in the Philippines.
- Japanese haemorrhoid sufferers point their bums at a 'holy egg' in hope of a cure.
- Giant hole appears at 'world's end' in Siberia. Suddenly this story from Monday's news briefs doesn't seem so crazy...
- Five ways materialists beg the question.
- Thor's a woman, and Archie is dead. We're not in Kansas anymore Toto…
- Voldemort lives on, hidden on Joaquin Phoenix’s forehead. And he’s sporting a mean-ass goatee.
- Image(s) of the Day: The Ancient Kaiju Project augments classic paintings with pop culture monsters and objects.
Quote of the Day:
The cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation.
Two mysteries for the price of one: were some parts of the Amazon rainforests actually grassy plains just a few thousand years ago, and why (and how) were the ancient people of that area building massive circular earthworks? Environmental scientist John Francis Carson and his colleagues are trying to find the answers:
A series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon were there before the rainforest existed, a new study finds.
...Since the 1980s, deforestation has revealed massive earthworks in the form of ditches up to 16 feet (5 meters) deep, and often just as wide... These human-made structures remain a mystery: They may have been used for defense, drainage, or perhaps ceremonial or religious reasons.
Carson and his colleagues wanted to explore the question of whether early Amazonians had a major impact on the forest. They focused on the Amazon of northeastern Bolivia, where they had sediment cores from two lakes nearby major earthworks sites. These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can hint at the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago.
An examination of the two cores — one from the large lake, Laguna Oricore, and one from the smaller lake, Laguna Granja — revealed a surprise: The very oldest sediments didn't come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. In fact, the Bolivian Amazon before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago looked more like the savannas of Africa than today's jungle environment.