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Red Pills of the Week — September 15th

Greetings, fellow Coppertops! I hope you remembered to bring your flame-resistant suits, as this week’s journey promises to be a rather heated experience: we’ll investigate cosmic impacts and volcanic eruptions, experiments aimed to probe the very fabric of reality, and techniques that could implant synthetic memories into our brains. And as we browse the pages of magazines focused on demonic possessions, we’ll take a look at the straining effects of religious views in current events, as we try to find a way to reconcile secular philosophies with spiritual beliefs; a goal that seems almost impossible, even in the virtual trenches of the web’s opinion wars. Let’s have a systems check-up before launch –and for the last time: the EMP button is *not* a toy!

(10) Our first stop takes out of the planet en-route to Jupiter, the massive giant that acts as a sort of gaseous bouncer for the club of the inner solar system. Proof of that is a recent massive explosion on the Jovian surface, which created a fireball so bright it was observed by several amateur astronomers. The impact was likely a small comet caught by Jupiter’s ginormous gravitational pull, a fireworks show which helps reminds us how much we owe it to this world for keeping our own safe of many rogue celestial vagabonds.

For our Fortean community, this event also forces us to look back upon the Heaven’s Gate mass-suicide tragedy, when a community of brainwashed individuals believed the apocalyptic promises of their wild-eyed leader, and chose to ‘shed their earthly containers’ so they could hitch a ride aboard the giant space-ship said to be following comet Hale-Bopp. Here’s hoping we won’t have to include news of mass suicides triggered by the Mayan prophecy’s hoopla in future installments of the weekly red pills…

(9) Then again, It’s hard not getting a bit nervous when you keep getting reports of erupting volcanoes all across the Pacific Ring of Fire. This time it was the turn of Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego, or Fire Volcano –very original with their names, those Guatemalans– which gave its strongest eruption since 1974 and forced the evacuation of around 33,000 people. Hardly the kind of news one likes to get, specially if you live near something like this:

But fear not, your friendly neighborhood RPJ has devised a way to appease the angry volcano gods ‘old school’ style: let’s throw a few politicians inside them –Hey, even if it doesn’t work, it’s still a win-win scenario!

(8) Ok, we seemed to have let our imagination run wild on that last pill, so let’s get back on track with a bit of Science: Remember those CERN guys in Geneva, feeling all smug & bragging because they (might have) found that pesky Higgs boson? Well, it seems success gets over scientists’ heads the same way as with rock stars: they are not content with their Large Hadron Collider anymore, and now the want a Larger collider! Dudes, it’s not about the size, remember?

Or is it? The new proposing underground accelerator, which would have a diameter of 50miles (80kms)  –that’s 3 times the size of the current one under Geneva!– would be used to find how gravity works at a molecular level. And you think 80kms will be sufficient to quell the obsession of the CERN scientists? Ha! That’s how the Forerunners started, yo…

(7) You know who else are out of control? DARPA, with their mad-scientist schemes to robotize everything they can think of. Last week we mentioned their cheetah-bot, which was scary but not that threatening, since the quadruped killer machine still needed to be tethered in order to keep balance. But now here comes the robo-mule, which seems like a prop taken from the Western version of Terminator:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/40gECrmuCaU[/youtube]

“We’ve refined the LS3 platform and have begun field-testing against requirements of the Marine Corps,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, DARPA program manager. “The vision for LS3 is to combine the capabilities of a pack mule with the intelligence of a trained animal.”

Yeah well, unless they’re not planning any stealth ops with it (srsly, put a muffler on that thing!) I guess it could be a real asset for the troops, with a nice steam-punk retro-twist –After 2 world wars, the mules are getting back to the army, fellers!– but you know what really bothers me about DARPA the most: that with all that unlimited flow of cash for R&D, they can’t seem to spare some change to hire a competent graphic designer, and get a decent logo!

(6) A robot uprising is scary, sure. But even scarier to me would be living in a Total Recall scenario, where you couldn’t really trust whether your memories really happened or not. And that sort of Dicktopya might be closer to reality than we think, ‘thanks’ to a new research published in Nature Neuroscience, in which scientists managed to store short-term declarative memories –the kind of stuff your brain plans on retaining only briefly– on the neural circuits of a mouse’s hippocampus kept in vitro. The researchers were able to detect the electro-chemical activity triggered by the mnemonic stimuli, which lasted about 10 seconds.

As always with these type of announcements, I find myself on the fence: On the one hand I obviously would like to have the chance to plug all sorts of programs directly into my brain, so I could learn Kung Fu or read War & Peace in just 10 minutes. And there are also those who think hacking our brain would be the only option we have, if we want to solve all our piling problems before life on this planet becomes untenable.

And yet… it’s not difficult to envision numerous ways in which this sort of technology could be horribly abused, like on the movie Dark City, where an innocent man is given the memories of a murderer and charged with crimes he didn’t commit. Could we come to a point where we would not be able to trust anyone’s memories –including our own!– the same way we can’t trust the validity of all those Youtube videos showing fake CGI Ufos and hoaxers wearing  a gorilla suit?

(5) There are many ‘analogic’ methods to hack into our brain right now though, and the way they’re carelessly exploited by some members of Western society is both disturbing and disgusting. I think I’ve stated before how I’m not in favor of the recreational use of drugs, and yet at the same time I acknowledge how useful *some* of them are as tools to increase our levels of consciousness and attain a great deal of insight, as part of the cultural tradition of many ethnic groups all over the world.

But this is a road not intended just for anyone, and the consequences of approaching entheogens without the proper respect and preparation can be literally fatal, as shown by the news regarding the death of Kyle Nolan, a U.S. teen during an ayahuasca ritual in Peru; a tragedy that was allegedly tried to be covered up by the curandero who performed the ceremony.

Local police chief Roberto Palomino said: “During a drinking session of a hallucinogenic beverage, the following day they found him dead and did not advise authorities, police or competent authorities.

“They proceeded to bury and get rid of the body.”

If I, a middle-aged over-weight man with no physical fitness were to participate in the NY marathon and died of a heart attack as a consequence of it, no one would hesitate on blaming my death on my own stupid carelessness; although I suppose the marathon organizers would also need to ensure all the runners had the adequate preparation to endure the physical trial of the competition. Likewise, it really annoys me how young Westerners with ample economic resources seem eager to repeat the same mistakes of their hippie predecessors, when 40 years ago they flocked on to Mexico following the footsteps of Carlos Castañeda, as they rushed to get their hands on all the mushrooms their dollars could buy, while drowning the promise of the 60’s movement in their own vomit.

(4) Speaking of bad trips, a more cheerful story comes to us from Germany, where a Bavarian hiker called the police reporting a naked man staggering around the Alpine woods. After the officers successfully located the unclad stranger and took him to a hospital, it was discovered to be a monk from Traunstein, who had planned a camping trip with his bike, but allegedly fell intoxicated after eating wild berries which gave him hallucinations and partial paralysis –and a sudden need to emulate our father Adam, it seems.

If a similar incident happens during the upcoming Paradigm symposium, I now have the perfect alibi!

(3) Or maybe the bare-skinned padre was the victim of demonic possession? That might be the conclusion reached by the readers of the new Polish magazine devoted to the fun topic of exorcism.

“The rise in the number or exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling,” Father Aleksander Posacki, a professor of philosophy, theology and leading demonologist and exorcist told reporters in Warsaw at the Monday launch of the Egzorcysta monthly.

THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU… to subscribe.

(2) Ok, that was a bit of a cheap shot, and I admit it. After all, mocking Catholicism seems to be the last form of bigotry widely accepted in our PC-conscious world. And it certainly doesn’t carry the consequences of criticizing Islam, as is painfully obvious due to the last tragic events occurring this week in the Middle East, caused by this crappy attempt of a film titled Innocence of Muslims –“sort of like Birth of a Nation meets Bed Intruder meets Team America: World Police”  according to Boing Boing blogger Xeni Jardin.

So why mentioning this stupid movie here at the pills? Well, because my Spidey senses tell me something doesn’t add up here: The launching of the movie trailer on Youtube coinciding with the 11th anniversary of 9/11, coupled with the shady nature of the film-maker –a man who originally went by the name Sam Bacile, identified as a ‘Israeli investor’, but was later found out Bacile was the alias of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Coptic Christian with a police record involving bank fraud and drug trafficking– forces me to put my old tinfoil hat on and consider the possibility that the unrest in the Middle East was engineered.

Because a quick glimpse at American media shows that journalists are all too happy to show the current riots as the logical consequence of last year’s Arab Spring. Add to that pictures of a few people using Guy Fawkes masks in the protests where American flags are being burned, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is de-facto associated with Terrorism in the eyes of American viewers.

So at this point, where information is scarce and events are on-going, we can do little but wait and do two important things: Ask who gets to be benefited with the current situation, and follow the money trail.

(1) This sort of events is just the kind of thing that the new atheist movement loooves to point out as ammo for their online discussion battles decrying the maladies of religious thinking in our world. A kind of battle I saw myself entering at io9 when commenting on the Dalai Lama’s recent comment on his Facebook page –we may still lack flying cars and hoverboards, but we now have religious leaders partaking of online social networks. Welcome to future, Marty:

“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

Predictably, all the atheist geeks cheered in joy yelling “Score!”, as if his Holiness’ remark was a sort of capitulation, deferring to the higher wisdom of the likes of Sam Harris, who claims Science is now more than able to function as our moral compass.

But I just didn’t see it the same way. For the record, as a person who was raised as a Catholic, and attended schools run by religious orders most of his life, including college –and even toyed with the idea of joining an order for a very brief period of time!– I’m fully against organized religions, as they inevitably transform into power magnets even if they begin with the noblest of intentions. But, at the same time, I try NOT to throw the baby with the bathwater.

Science is cool, and we all know that, and it’s an awesome tool to discern many of the mysteries surrounding us. But trying to rely on the same tool for all our problems is like trying to see microbes with a telescope –it’s just not built for it. So while I fully support the Dalai Lama’s call to stop perceiving our fallible interpretations of the transcendence of life as infallible, I reject post-modernist notions which keep telling us that having some sort of spiritualist notions immediately pairs you with beheading Jihadists or acolyte-buggering priests.

It’s time to look for a 3rd alternative, and stop deferring to a higher authority in order to raise our pleas to a hidden deity living in far away, and outside of us.

It’s time to look for the God within.

Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out, reminding you that The Matrix can never tell you who you are –because where would be the fun in that?

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Miguel Romero a.k.a. Red Pill Junkie is a cartoonist and fortean blogger who writes at Daily Grail and Mysterious Universe..
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