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Red Pills of the Week — September 1st

Greetings, fellow Coppertops! This week we’ll investigate threats both real and imaginary, and find out how difficult it is to discern between the two. We’ll journey deep inside our own bodies, as well as the bottom of the Baltic sea. And as we try to understand the forces governing how our brains make sense of the world around us, we’ll learn the hard lesson of how Fate always has the final laugh. Listen up you pod-borns: You’d better not let me down, or you’re gonna find that me and the machines got something in common.

(10) Emo kids who like to bitch of how alone they feel are probably not the best biologist students in school. Remember the animated movie Osmosis Jones? Well, even thought it was aimed for children in many ways that film is rather close to reality, in the sense of portraying a single human body as a city in itself, inhabited by a whole population of different cells and microorganisms working together for your benefit alone –even if you’re too ingrate to thank or even acknowledge them.

Well, it seems that ingratitude comes with a heavy price. Turns out the gut flora –the swarm of microorganisms hosted in your digestive tract which helps you break down and absorb the nutrients of that big Mac you just had for lunch (Ew!) also helps you keep your flabby love handles in check. But a new study published in August 22th in Nature showed that antibiotics alter the composition of bacteria in the guts of the mice used for the experiment, which ultimately triggered the genes which regulate how carbohydrates are transformed to fatty acids. The end result: super-sized fat mice.

Let’s put it this way: Antibiotics are the medical version of Homeland Security: You abuse of them too much, and the remedy might be worse than the disease. So stop overreacting every-time your kids show up with a runny nose, k?

 

(9)  Speaking of overreacting to imaginary threats, Nobel laureate Brian P Schmidt has joined Stephen Hawking in warning us NOT to be too hasty, in case we want to add ET to our Facebook friends list. At the 28th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Beijing, the astrophysicist lauded for helping discover the acceleration in the expansion of our Universe said:

“Aliens may not be something that we need to worry about. It will be so far away and it takes so long to travel from point A to point B in the universe that it won’t be a problem. But it will happen when it happens,” said Schmidt, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics with Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.”

As you can see, Schmidt’s position is a bit ambiguous, and –with all due respect– a bit disingenuous. If communication between sentient species in our Universe is possible, then how can we be so sure it hasn’t already happened in the 4 ½ billion years our planet has circled the sun? And if there’s indeed a threat, why worry about it since it’s already too late, now that we’ve been broadcasting our whereabouts for the past 60 years?

Schmidt also seems to embrace a very conventional form of space travel, concluding rather hastily that visiting your galactic neighbors is a real drag. And yet who knows? Maybe the fact that our Universe is expanding is proof that there’s more energy to be harvested and exploited than we previously imagined, if we’re smart enough to learn how to do it.

Then again, Schmidt is appallingly young for a Nobel laureate. Maybe he hasn’t realized that by now he’s pretty much untouchable, and therefore allowed to indulge in more unorthodox ideas. It would be interesting to see how his thoughts about ETs mature over the years.

(8) “The Truth is Out There”, reads our mantra. Trouble is, the Truth hasn’t any obligation to agree with our wishes or expectations; something we should be wise to remember as we once again re-visit the ongoing saga of the Ocean X team and their discovery of the anomaly widely –and wildly!– known as the Baltic Sea UFO, which we’ve covered on previous installments of the weekly pills.

The most recent news coming from the team of Swedish treasure hunters is something of a mix loot: Now that the possibility of finding the AAT version of the Millennium Falcon has been thrown overboard (pardon the pun), the Ocean X team is still hoping that whatever they’ve discovered is something of artificial origin. In a recent interview for Red Ice radio, team leader Peter Lindberg seemed to have given the impression that the scientists who have analyzed the samples they’ve returned from the sea floor were ‘baffled’. One of these scientists, associate professor of geology at Stockholm University Volker Brüchert, was quoted by the Swedish tabloids as as saying:

“I was surprised when I researched the material I found a great black stone that could be a volcanic rock. My hypothesis is that this object, this structure [emphasis mine] was formed during the Ice Age many thousands of years ago.”

And yet the skeptics team of Life’s Little Mysteries took it upon themselves to contact Brüchert to confirm his position, and were surely delighted to learn that the geologist is in fact convinced there is nothing mysterious or artificial about the Baltic Sea anomaly. His conclusion: that it is merely a deposit of volcanic material carried out by a glacier at the end of the last Ice Age. Talk about a bucket of ice-cold water!

So, is this the end of the Swedish saga? Was the UFO/Nazi-weapon/Atlantis-ruin nothing but a dull natural formation all along? My gut tells me we should probably wait until the long-expected documentary the Ocean X team is preparing is finally released –Then again, my gut is known to be full of crap from time to time…

(7) If the Baltic Sea anomaly does turn out to be a Glacial deposit, it will become the most famous reminder of the cyclic history of frostings and meltings our planet has gone through. 2 simultaneous news this week alert us of just how close we might be of another major melting: The Arctic ice has shrunk to a record low since it was first started to be measured using satellites in 1979.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/xKWFBvne3GI[/youtube]

And if that weren’t bad enough, on the other pole of the planet scientists have found vast reservoirs of methane trapped beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, becoming a virtual time bomb ready to expel all that greenhouse gas if the ice melts, in what would surely be the Mother of all farts.

We’ve wasted enough precious time with our thumbs up our asses. Whether we wish to keep denying it or not, global warming IS happening; and there’s not much we can do by now except learn how to cope with an increasingly hostile environment –and FAST.

(6) Climate change; deforestation; massive extinctions; depletion of resources. There are many serious threats looming over our immediate future. And in case you have a hard time imagining it, I invite you to take a look at Loom, a short film directed by Luke Scott –son of Riddley & nephew of the late Tom, whom we mentioned last week:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/wcvSTk8M5qY[/youtube]

The film, produced to showcase the RED’s Epic 3D camera technology, certainly does not try to hide its pedigree, with so many clear visual references to Blade Runner, and even Prometheus. And on a personal note, I seem to also detect a veiled reference to the alien hybrid mythos –or maybe I just have a certain fetish for towering Nordic-type women.

(5) The reason I love Sci-Fi is because it shows so many interesting ways into which we can ask to ourselves what it means to be human. And nobody can deny that the most pressing uncertainty about the human condition is whether any aspect of our personality is able to persist, after it’s no longer sustained by the physical body.

Modern Neurobiology is pressed on demonstrating that consciousness is nothing but an epiphenomenon emerging from our neural networks. ‘We’ are the lie we keep telling ourselves thanks to the electrochemical signals providing the convincing facade. Remove the connections though, and POOF! The illusion ends and we along with it.

But what if that’s not the case? What if there are medical cases which challenge the current materialistic model? Meet patient R, a person with extensive brain damage to the three regions long considered to be vital for self-awareness: the insular cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex.

“What this research clearly shows is that self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain,” says David Rudrauf, co-corresponding author of the paper, published online Aug. 22 in the journal PLoS ONE. “In all likelihood, self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.”

Clearly. Or maybe –just maybe– we should start considering the oh so ridiculous possibility that consciousness exists independently of the brain? Just a thought… which may or may not be the product of my neurons.

(4) One of the most important roles of our self-awareness is distinguishing between consensual reality and oneiric fantasy. But what if, like Morpheus said, you were in a dream you couldn’t wake up from? How then, to tell the difference between the ‘real’ world, and the dream world.

–You just know I looove quoting him, dontcha?

Well, I’m sure Morpheus would have gotten a kick out of this new gadget: The Substitutional Reality (SR) system –a.k.a. the Inception helmet— created by Japanese researchers, meant to study cognitive disorders like schizophrenia by way of altering the wearer’s perceptions. The usual ‘scientific’ method of studying a clock… by breaking it into pieces.

The helmet is able to record video, and a panoramic display which can seamlessly switch between the stored footage and live feed. The idea is to mess up with the subject’s sense of reality by switching between live scenes and pre-recorded scenes a-la doppelgängerTrolling, for Science!

Although this is a great tool to study how some mental disorders create a ‘looser’ version of reality –or maybe schizophrenics are just ‘tapping’ into other channels, without much control of the dial– I kinda fear such technology could also be implemented for more questionable purposes, like interrogation techniques or even full-blown brainwashing *shudders*

(3) Despite my suspicions about human consciousness, I cannot overlook the fact that our brains are a fragile thing; specially during its early development. Probably the most successful strategy our species adopted was permitting a more delayed growth between infancy & adulthood, which allowed for a dramatic increase in brain enlargement and learning. Unfortunately this tendency has started to reverse in the last decades, as advertising companies and commercials are demanding our youngsters to behave as consuming adults as soon as possible.

But now a new study has found evidence that regular use of cannabis has the risk of subjecting permanent damage to users under 18. At first glance this might appear to be just another paper confirming the validity of keeping marijuana illegal —“Won’t somebody think of the children??”— BUT the same study also found no significant damage caused in adults; and the same cannot be said of ‘legal’ drugs like tobacco or alcohol –which BTW has also been shown to have a huge repercussion in IQ atrophy if abused at an early age –a self-evident assessment to anyone who’s ever seen ‘Girls Gone Wild in Cancun.’

Personally, I don’t endorse the recreational use of drugs –red pills are the only mind-altering substance I subscribe to!– But at the same time, and in light of these new studies (and others which have been either suppressed or overlooked) I believe continuing the War on Drugs is both futile and morally untenable.

(2) But that’s the problem with our modern society: we overreact with some perceived threats, while neglecting to face the reality of serious dangers. To wit: The farcical big-game hunt carried out after residents of Essex reported a lion loose in the field, resulting in an episode worthy of Monty Python. 24 hours, 30 police officers & 2 surveilling choppers later, and the fearsome feline turned out to be nothing but a large domestic cat.

Fortean researcher Neil Arnold complained about this charade on his blog:

What people need to realize is that there are smaller exotic cats roaming the UK, but stories pertaining to lions, tigers and cheetahs must be taken with a pinch of salt, and if by chance a lion does turn up in the local woods, then it has simply escaped from somewhere and will be recaptured usually with the use of a tranquillizer, or sadly shot dead. Over the years lions, tigers and the like have escaped from private menageries, zoo parks and the occasional circus, but they don’t escape and then live forever more in our wilds – can you imagine a tiger escaping from a zoo and then existing in your local wood for years without detection ? It doesn’t happen. Mind you, if a black leopard cub, or puma kitten was released it could survive easily in the wilds of the UK, there’s plenty of food and cover, but these animals exist by using stealth.

Meanwhile the ‘Zoo experts’ who were called in to help on the search of the ‘lion’ are now being the trendiest target of Internet Lulz –Maybe the toked a lot in their teenage years?

(1) Cryptozoological false alarms are sometimes unintentional, like in the case of the Essex lion; but sometimes they are fueled by a desire to deceive and have a good laugh at the expense of gullible witnesses. Such was the case of Randy Lee Tenley, a 44-year old resident of Montana who had the ill-conceived idea of faking a Bigfoot sighting using a Ghillie suit –and let us now take a moment to consider the absurdity of wishing to be seen, using an attire expressly designed for camouflage!

As you all probably now, the final outcome of Tenley’s prank cost him his life. A rather unsavory episode which has been exploited by anyone adamant on promoting the misconception that Bigfoot equals ‘redneck mindset’. Not to mention the usual suspects exploiting Tenley’s tragic death to also proclaim the death of Sasquatch.

Having said that, the event not only leaves an uncomfortable precedent, but it also forces us as Crypto-fans to wonder just why is it that, in all this time there’s never been an incident involving an automobile impacting with one of these creatures.  Are we to conclude that Bigfoot is way too clever for that, which seems rather unlikely assuming that some specimens should suffer from either illness or old age, resulting in a decline in reflexes and stamina. Or is the answer only accessible if we decide to take the risky step of ascribing a more ‘paranormal’ nature to these hairy giants? The question I feel, should remain open for the time being.

So I guess the moral of the story is: Don’t drink and hoax?

Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Memo to Zion’s Weaponry Department: what’s the point of having a combat Mecha without freaking armored protection?? I mean, Srsly! If you wanna be all chivalrous & shit, challenge the Sentinels to a pistol duel at dawn, and be done with it.

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