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Red Pills of the Week — December 2th

Greetings, fellow Coppertops! The Fortean Matrix has in store for us a journey through space & the space between spaces. We’ll review plans to nuke the Moon, and projects to militarize unicorns. We’ll assess the dangers of ghost-hunting ghost-pranking, and dial the new Exorcism hot-line. And as we recover from the disappointments caused by NASA’s poor PR skills, we’ll cheer up by gazing at the sacred symmetry wrapping up the Code of Life. Be prepared: the day of Zion’s reckoning grows near…

(10) Elon Musk, the man who’s turning into the geekosphere biggest hero thanks to the success his SpaceX company has gathered this year –dude’s rich as f#$k and has his own rockets. ´Nuff said!– put the whole Twitterverse in overdrive with a talk showing the man does love to think big: He wants to send 80,000 people to Mars at a cost for $500k a trip.

“At Mars, you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big,” Musk told an audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on Friday (Nov. 16). Musk was there to talk about his business plans, and to receive the Society’s gold medal for his contribution to the commercialization of space.

So Elon wants to become a real-life Peter Weyland. Fine by me I guess, although as mentioned by Ben & Aaron on the last free episode of MU, he really needs to think something in terms of appropriate incentives, because often times folks with half a mill in their bank accounts are NOT the pioneering kind you’d need to found Mankind’s first extra-planetary foothold.

And if his future Martian settlement is not called the MURSK colony, I’m gonna be very disappointed.

(9) What would be the implications for future human settlements in Mars though, if we actually found evidence of life on Mars? In his seminal book Cosmos, Carl Sagan wrote that if it were to him he’d leave Mars alone then, for it would belong to the Martians, even if they were humble bacteria.

Thankfully for Musk and other potential space entrepreneurs, we still haven’t found evidence of life, neither extinct nor present, on the Red Planet. And as everybody with an Internet connection found out this week, all the previous excitement about a ‘ground-breaking’ future announcement from the Curiosity mission was completely undeserved.

According to NASA, it was all a LOL misunderstanding caused by the NPR journalist, who misinterpreted John Grotzinger (project scientist of the Mars Science Laboratory) and his excitement about the mission in general. This coupled with the fact that the JPL guys were probably more worried with not missing their flights to see their families for Thanksgiving, and that NASA has never really learned to polish their PR skills –this despite previous blunders, like the ‘arsenic life’ brouhaha for example– and made things worse by sending a rather ambiguous Twitter message using Curiosity’s own account:

So, somewhat understandably IMO, the whole thing translated into ‘ZOMG! MARTIANS‘ in the consciousness of the hive mind. To throw a bucket of cold water into our collective heads, a NASA spokesperson told the New York Times that the findings would be “interesting” rather than “earth-shattering.” Boy imagine if they said that about their sex life…

And showing there are people more disappointed than me out there, NASA suffered yet another indignity at the hands of a trolling hacker who registered the URL nasaupdatecenter.us to spread the rumor that Curiosity had found plastic beads on Mars, possibly to prepare the populace to the fact that Martians taught New Orleans how to celebrate Mardi Gras –which, if you think about it, actually makes total sense…

(8) Almost as if to appease all the angry space enthusiasts, NASA decided to stay on the headlines by launching a press conference to reveal the discovery of ice water on Mercury:

Mercury likely harbors between 100 billion and 1 trillion metric tons of water ice in permanently shadowed areas near its poles, scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Messenger spacecraft announced Thursday.

Because the best way to calm all the kiddies, is by giving them a Mercurial snow cone.

(7) The previous pills might make you think I have a huge grudge against NASA. I actually don’t. Despite its many flaws, the American space agency has probably done more to advance our knowledge of the universe than any other organization in the history of Man. And if there really are big secrets held about structures on the moon, or UFO sightings made during missions, I’m sure that 99% of the people working for NASA are kept more in the dark than we do.

And to show that management of space endeavors could fall in far worse hands, here comes the next pill reporting on the  secret plans the US had to nuke the moon. Wait, WHAT??

Believe it or not, the United States considered the possibility of detonating a nuclear device on the surface of the moon, in order to intimidate the Soviets, according to a 12-year-old interview with physicist Leonard Reiffel, formerly of the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation and later a deputy director of NASA. It’s even said that Carl Sagan himself got involved in the project, although  because of his strong pacifist stance, I’d assume he was just acting as a consultant and he might have shown his opposition to the idea.

Military officials abandoned the idea, Reiffel said, in part because of the danger it posed to people on Earth if the mission failed. Scientists also were concerned about contaminating the moon with radioactive material.

As a Fortean, it’s impossible not to consider the possibility that this project might have had something to do with all the rumors of an alien base located on the far side of the Moon. Which makes you wonder what would have happened if the United States had decided to carry out this reckless project…

And yet in the history of bad ideas, nuking the moon still falls short when compared with the plan of using a bomb to turn the enemy soldiers gay!

(6) Keeping up with the FAABulous, we now head to North Korea, where the state-run news agency –and Srsly, is there something in North Korea that is NOT run by the state??– reported the discovery of a mythical unicorn lair. This magical beast, known as the Kirin –which resembles more like a hybrid between a horse and a dragon with a dildo instead of a unicorn if you ask me– was the epic mount of the even more epic king Tongmyong, founder of the ancient kingdom of Koguryo.

North Korea is obviously not insinuating that magical kirins actually existed. A more sober article on io9 explains that the motive behind the press-release might have political undertones, to reaffirm the military regime’s claims that Pyongyang is the modern site where the ancient capital of Koguryo. And as you can see if you read the whole article even this claim is hotly debated by scholars.

My take? that the North Koreans got jealous of all the attention their Southern enemies were getting thanks to Psy and his Gangnam style –which does involve a dance which simulates horse-back riding– and so they thought?: “what’s cooler than riding an invisible horse? Riding a magical unicorn!

(Credit to FrankN.Stein for the awesome image)

(5) While the scenario of an invasion of North Korean unicorns seems rather unlikely, the scenario of a robot uprising wiping out or enslaving the human race remains disturbingly possible; at least in the minds of a few scientists, who consider dismissing such fears as science fiction could be potentially reckless. As such, the The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) will study the dangers posed by artificial intelligence, nanotechnology & sexy fembots biotechnology. CSER was co-founded by co-founded by Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price, cosmology and astrophysics professor Martin Rees and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn –perhaps to ensure that Skype doesn’t turn into Skynet.

“It seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology,” Prof Price told the AFP news agency.

“What we’re trying to do is to push it forward in the respectable scientific community.”

He added that as robots and computers become smarter than humans, we could find ourselves at the mercy of “machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don’t include us”.

This idea of ‘machines whose interest don’t include us’ was brilliantly explored in Dresden Codak’s webcomic Hob, which I highly recommend.

As for myself, while I have expressed my own fear re. the Singularity in other forums, I confess that I’m still wondering if the next step in humanity’s evolution would necessitate of our merging with synthetic life of our own creation, as portrayed in movies like the first Start Trek film.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/Xla4BnppeUM[/youtube]

I guess we’ll find out soon enough…

(4) There are more conventional machines some people are scared of. One of those machines are elevators, especially if one gets stuck inside them, which can delve into a pretty perturbing situation. Add to that the apparition of a shrieking ghost child, and the situation will transform into utterly terrifying or completely hilarious, depending on which side of the TV monitor you find yourself at.

While many people raised concerns about how this tasteless prank could have gone horribly wrong if one of the victims suffered from a heart condition –or decided to retaliate and attack the mini-banshee– it seems that the whole thing might have been staged. At least that’s what was implied in this Brazilian webpage which showed that the last terrified elevator passenger is a professional actor. So now I guess we’ll need the Mythbuster to tell us whether the ‘ghost-in-elevator’ hoax was a hoax in itself! Oh well…

(3) If the Brazilian prank had been carried out in the United States, there’s the possibility that the producers would have faced a pretty steep lawsuit. And yet when one sees the state of ‘Reality TV’ ghost-hunting shows, you get the impression that the networks will do anything to keep the ratings high, regardless of the consequences.

Unfortunately, sometimes the consequences of ghost-hunting can be deadly. Proof of this is the sad demise of Sara Harris, a member of a paranormal investigation group located in North Carolina, who fell gravely ill and ultimately passed away due to exposure to bat and rodent droppings during one of their investigations, which infected her lungs.

Although I can’t comment on Mrs. Harris’s experience in the field, this unfortunate outcome goes to show the enormous risks viewers might put themselves at, only because they think it would be cool to emulate the ghost-hunters on TV. Not only are old houses incredibly hazardous due to insanitary conditions, and the many dangers one might find in old buildings –collapsible floors, exposed electrical wiring, etc– but let’s also consider the other menacing forces these groups might encounter, just because they want to prove to themselves the existence of preternatural entities –what if the entities don’t want to be disturbed by uninvited interlopers?

(2) Angry spirits inhabiting your house is scary enough. But what if the spirits are inhabiting your own body? Who you gonna call?

The Exorcist hotline, that’s who! Due to the increasing demand, the Catholic church in Milan has established a phone number available Monday to Friday from 2.30pm to 5pm, where people in distress can seek the service of a professional exorcist.

Monsignor Angelo Mascheroni, the diocese’s chief exorcist of 17 years, told the incrocinews Italian website he has met an exorcist who set a record of seeing 120 people a day.

“He was only able to offer a blessing, to cheer people up. It’s not enough. One should take between two to four appointments a day, no more. Otherwise it’s too much,” he noted.

The Monsignor warned those who prefer magicians to priests in emergency cases.

“Magicians will charge you, but we devote our time, listening, giving blessings … everything for free – it couldn’t be other way. And we do not limit ourselves to 10 minutes of meeting, but give as much is needed,” Monsignor Mascheroni added.

Dial 1-800-PAZUZU. If you’re turning your head 180° and puking whole buckets of green goop, press 666.

(1) Demons & spirits are very elusive to our cameras. The same could have been said about the DNA double-helix… until now: for the first time, a team of Italian scientists led by Enzo di Fabrizio at the University of Genoa –the past and the future converging at the Red Pills– used an electron microscope to reveal the beautiful geometric structure of the molecule, which stores all the necessary information to create something is complex as a human body from a single cell.

As a layman, what surprises me the most of these images is just how tightly packed the double-helix strand really is. Then again, this form makes more sense than all the looser artistic representations DNA usually receives. The other thing that makes this so exciting for me, is how our technology is allowing us to observe elements of the natural world of which we only had an indirect knowledge. Could it be that in the future we might also be able to observe things which still remain theoretical for some, or even illusory for others?

Might a soul-croscope become real one day?

Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Remember: learning Kung-fu is fun. But learning how not needing to fight would be more useful.

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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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