News Briefs 23-06-2014

A veritable Rainbow Cake of weird news.

Quote of the Day:

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.

Dolly Parton

Cold Fusion in an Italian Crop Circle?

Italian Crop Circle

Crop circles aren't restricted to the megalith-infested plains of the United Kingdom - here's one that showed up in Italy on the solstice over the weekend. But rather than being a message from aliens, or manifestations of earth energy interacting with the powers of the Sun, this one seems to be of human origin: Italian circle-maker Francesco Grassi has claimed it as his work (along with his team of Paolo Attivissimo, Marco Morocutti, Simone Angioni, Antonio Ghidoni, Davide Dal Pos, Alessandra Pandolfi), and has titled the crop glyph the "LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) Clock" (LENR is another name for the controversial science of 'cold fusion'). We posted another circle created by Grassi and his team around this time last year.

Regardless of Grassi's claim, the decoding effort has begun in earnest at Crop Circle Connector. Jump on in if you like trying to decode ciphers.

(via Pesco at Boing Boing)

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What the Dying Know

The Dying Light

As regular readers of this site would know, I think the topic of end-of-life experiences (ELEs) deserves a lot more attention than it has so far received, as there is a plethora of fascinating reports out there that have largely been ignored (see for example my posts on both George Harrison's and Steve Job's passing). I devoted a chapter to the topic in my own book on research into the afterlife question, but was recently happy to discover another new book out there that also discusses it in an intelligent manner: Opening Heaven's Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After, by award-winning writer/journalist Patrica Pearson:

What happens when we die? People have been guessing since humans first began to think. Spirituality and religion provided the answers in the past, but in the age of science we're thrown back into the dark. If science cannot 'prove' there is life - or something - after death, then it doesn't exist. And yet ordinary people continue to experience unexplained phenomena when a friend or family member dies. These are normal people, even sceptics like Patricia Pearson. Prompted by her family's surprising experiences around the deaths of her father and her sister, Pearson set out on an open-minded journey of inquiry as a journalist. She discovered that far more people were having uncanny and transcendent experiences than generally let on: roughly half the bereaved population, plus all those who observe the dying (nurses, hospice workers, soldiers, etc.). With many years of examination into current grief research under her belt, she concludes that we cannot simply deprive people the legitimacy of these experiences until there is more solid evidence that 'we inhabit a purely material and mechanistic universe'. Pearson points to new scientific explanations around how dying is experienced, giving these luminous moments credence and understanding. As she says, 'The dying may finally be able to convey to us what they are feeling, and where they glimpse themselves to be going.' Opening Heaven's Door recounts deeply affecting stories of messages from the dying and the dead in a fascinating work of investigative journalism, pointing to new scientific explanations that give these luminous moments the importance felt by those who experience them.

Pearson recently gave a wonderful radio interview exploring the topic, and how the modern world reacts to personal anecdotes about ELEs, which I highly recommend - you can listen to it here (I tried to embed it but unfortunately it autoplays).

For those with the vague feeling that you've heard Patricia Pearson's thoughts on this subject before, it might be because we posted a TEDx Talk she gave last year in which Pearson describes her own personal experience, and how it pushed her to research the topic in more depth - here's a repost of the video for those who don't have time to listen to the 53 minute radio interview above:

Patricia Pearson's Opening Heaven's Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

(thanks to Kat for the heads-up)


News Briefs 20-06-2014

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing."

Quote of the Day:

“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

S. Hawking

News Briefs 19-06-2014

Another day of flooding & impossible traffic in this modern Tenochtitlán, puts me in the mood for a human sacrifice…

  • The secret for a durable religion? Mutation.
  • The Phoenix towers of China: Phallic Iconic & good for the environment.
  • Nessie a plesiosaur? Puh-leeease!
  • According to new study, dinosaurs were neither cold-blooded like reptiles, nor warm-blooded like birds & mammals.
  • Recreating the deadly Spanish flu virus --Ian Malcolm would NOT approve.
  • Dr. Jeff Meldrum explains his involvement in the abominable documentary Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives.
  • Has a Canadian company built the 1st quantum computer? Yes/No
  • Having heart problems? Take 2 Mozart CDs & call me in the morning.
  • THIS is why Elon Musk deserves to inherit Nicola Tesla's title of Coolest Inventor Alive.
  • Musk also wants to start sending humans to Mars in 10-12 years!
  • ...Oh, and in case you needed further proof of his awesomeness: Boom.
  • Double whammy: Finding dark energy & new alien planets, all for the same price.
  • New method to detect alien life: Sniffing out their farts.
  • John Lennon, a casualty of an intergalactic battle for the soul of Rock 'n Roll? That's what 'extraterrestrial expert' claims.
  • Is this the photo of a ghost in Alcatraz prison?
  • Red Pill of the Day: How to FINALLY convince your wife on getting that new UHD TV for your bedroom.

Thanks to Tlaloc & Huitzilopochtli

Quote of the Day:

"Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers."

~Elon Musk

The Mystery of the Blinking Mummy

When we hear the word 'mummy' we immediately think of Egypt, pyramids & ancient pharaohs seeking to preserve their mortal remains for all eternity. But the truth of the matter is that, either by pure chance or on purpose, corpses showing an incredible state of preservation can be found all around the world.

Such is the case of the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, where Rosalía Lombardo, a little girl who died of pneumonia in 1920, was interred for her final rest after being embalmed at the request of her heart-stricken father. When researchers found the little body, they were so amazed by the incredibly life-like appearance of the mummy that Rosalía received the name of 'Sleeping Beauty.'

According to the Peruvian journal El Comercio, scientists interested in learning more about the embalming techniques employed in Rosalía's body put a camera inside her sarcophagus, capable of taking pictures every 60 seconds.

But the researchers were not prepared for what happened next: The images taken by the camera seemed to show the little mummy's eyes opening and closing. A phenomenon that repeats itself several times a day.

A trick of the light? A miracle perhaps? Subsequent studies have come to the conclusion that Rosalia's 'blinking', is due to the natural humidity in the crypt where she's kept - that, or perhaps the little sleeping girl is just waiting for her dad to tell her a a good-night story...

Original Link: Rosalía, la niña momificada que parece abrir los ojos

Read more: Lost "Sleeping Beauty" Mummy Formula Found

Further reading: Multidetector CT investigation of the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo (1918–1920) [Scientific paper]

News Briefs 18-06-2014


Quote of the Day:

We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize that we only have one.

~ Tom "Loki" Hiddleston

Flying Saucer Origins: Debunking Debunkery

NASA's Flying Saucer

Last week's planned testing of NASA's flying saucer lookalike, the 'Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator' (LDSD, pictured above), has inspired a few news stories discussing the iconic nature of the alien saucer image (see for example the BBC's "The Lasting Allure of the Flying Saucer"). On Sunday The Atlantic joined in with "The Man Who Introduced the World to Flying Saucers", a look back at the seminal Kenneth Arnold sighting in 1947 and the idea that the flying saucer mythos has its origins in a misquote:

On June 25, Arnold ended up at the offices of the East Oregonian, a Pendleton newspaper. He told reporters about his sighting. He emphasized the “unidentified” as much as the “flying objects.” He described their movements, saying that they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.”

...Arnold himself, however, would say that he was misquoted — or, at least, taken out of context. Some argue that the entire idea of a flying saucer was based on a reporter's misunderstanding of Arnold's "like a saucer" description as describing a saucer itself—making it "one of the most significant reporter misquotes in history." A 1970 study reviewing U.S. newspaper accounts of the Arnold UFO sighting concluded that the term had been introduced by an editor or headline writer, since the bodies of the early Arnold news stories didn't mention "flying saucers" or "flying discs."

...Was it a "historical misquote," or the second thoughts of reluctant source? (Just after the sighting, on June 27, Arnold would tell reporters that "I haven't had a moment of peace since I first told the story.") More than a half century later, it's even more difficult than it was back then to determine the lines between phantom and fact. The first draft of history can be a rough one.

What is clear, in retrospect, is that, starting on June 26, the flying saucer—as an idea, if not an object—was introduced to Americans. Newspapers began using the terms "flying saucer" and "flying disk" (occasionally: "flying disc") to describe the objects Arnold had seen. And the concept spread; once the idea had been planted in people’s minds, they, too, began seeing saucers.

Readers of our Fortean anthology series Darklore would know that this 'debunking' of the Arnold flying saucer story is itself a bit of a myth. In "Return of the Flying Saucers" (in Volume 5 of Darklore, also available as a free PDF download on the DL site), Martin Shough examines the history of the sighting in detail and comes to the conclusion that Arnold probably did see (or at least, thought he saw) something disk-shaped - though not perfectly circular - on that day:

Arnold himself used both “saucer like objects” and “saucer-like discs” as shape-similes in his own original Air Force report typed by his own hand on or about July 08 1947. Once again, just as important as the fact that Arnold uses these phrases is the conspicuous fact that he does not use these terms in the context of any motion simile.

The Oregon Journal, June 27, said that Arnold “clung stoutly to his story that he saw nine shiny crescent-shaped planes”, but these words are not in quotes from Arnold, they are the writer’s. Where Arnold is actually quoted in the same article he says, “They were
half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex on the rear. I was in a beautiful position to watch them...they looked like a big flat disk [emphases added].” This describes the sort of shape Arnold drew for the Army Air Force, a flat plate with a trimmed off or tapered rear edge, and the “half-moon” clearly plays the same role here as the
“half pie-pan” in the description used by Arnold elsewhere: “half a pie-pan with a convex triangle in the rear”. The shape in Arnold’s drawing suggests that he may have had in mind a gibbous moon, i.e. between half and full; howsoever the reporter has interpreted “half ” to mean “crescent” (in some people’s imaginations “moon” and “crescent” might be almost synonymous) and neglected the rest of the description.

Kenneth Arnold Saucer Drawing

Shough argues that the morphing of Arnold's memory of the objects into 'boomerang-shaped' may have had its origin in a meeting with military officials a month after his sighting:

On July 31 1947 Army CIC officers Brown and Davidson exposed Arnold to what they called a “flying wing” photographed by William Rhodes in Phoenix, intimating that it was “genuine”. Arnold’s reaction is consistent with a tendency to seek the endorsement of conservative military authorities.

It's certainly a story that can be interpreted in various ways, but Martin's essay in Darklore 5 I think is one of the most authoritative histories available.


Do Microscopic Parasites Living Inside You Control Your Mind?

Are we truly in control of our actions, or are we being manipulated by unseen beings? It's an idea that is a standard trope of paranoid conspiracy theories, but in the above TED talk, science writer Ed Yong shows how mind control by parasites appears to be almost ubiquitous in nature. And if it happens to so many other species on Earth, then why not humans too...?

(I didn't write this post, the Toxoplasma gondii did)