Greetings, fellow Coppertops! On our weekly sojourn of the Fortean Matrix we'll encounter transparent brains & universes created ex-nihilo. We'll travel to Puerto Rico to investigate new reports of the chupacabras, and we'll also revise the age of Stonehenge. And as we try to apply Moore's law to the evolution of life in the Cosmos, we'll rejoice in the discovery of 3 new exo-planets, including the closest one resembling a second Earth discovered so far. This week The Red Pills are celebrating its 1st year of existence on Mysterious Universe, so grab a chair & a beverage, because this party is just getting started!
10 Alas, even happy anniversaries can be tarnished with sad news, like the infamous bombings committed in Boston by a pair of young men of Chechen origin. As is usually the case, people with a militant attitude are quick to exploit such tragedies to further their particular agenda, like conspiracy blabbermouth Alex Jones yelling "false flag!!" without bothering to wait for the dust of the explosions to settle down, and even professional skeptic Benjamin Radford condemnation of psychics, for 'failing to predict the attack' --of course, if a psychic had in fact warned about the bombs, I'm sure he or she would have been accused by the likes of Radford of negligent scare-mongering.
But the thing that impressed me the most about this incident, is how the online social media played such a predominant role during its whole dramatic unfolding. On Twitter people were quick to retweet the messages issued by the Boston police, as well as offering aid & shelter to anyone living near the blast sites. But a somewhat disquieting development was the rise of what I choose to call 'armchair vigilantism', with members of Reddit determined to use their open-source collaboration to pinpoint & identify any would-be suspect --and by 'suspect' Redditors apparently meant any non-white attendee carrying a big backpack...
Only one day after the events, the Find Boston Bombers subreddit was formed to collate and analyze photos of the crime scene, expanding to more than 3,000 users in less than half a day. Some of them had interesting observations to make, others had clearly just watched too much CSI and thought that circling vaguely Arab-looking faces in bizarre diagrams made them super sleuths. The only evidence that the real police had at the time of the subreddit's creation were the remains of one or two pressure cookers and a dark nylon backpack or duffel bag, which has led to innocent bystanders with "saggy backpacks" finding themselves the victims of Facebook witch hunts.
Are criminal investigations bound to become the new Farmville?
9 Fortunately the last surviving suspect has been apprehended, no thanks to the Find Boston Bombers subredddit I might add. But don't feel bad guys, for you can still use your CSI expertise to find a much more elusive target: Bigfoot.
A search which could turn up to be quite profitable: Olympia beer, a Washington state brewer, is offering the tant-ale-lizing sum of $1 million dollars to anyone who can provide irrefutable evidence of the existence of the hairy Houdini.
“We have been sharing the same backyard for over a century and we believe it’s time to do what has never been done, and that is to offer a one million dollar reward to anyone who can ensure the safe capture of Bigfoot,” the company said on its website.
But you'd better put down the shotguns Bubba, because the brewers are adamant that Sasquatch must be treated humanely --and that means killing is a No-No.
This is certainly not the 1st time that a big reward has been offered to provide evidence of Bigfoot. And meanwhile new 'Blobsquatch' videos keep uploading on Youtube, and the subject is still considered a laughing stock among most scientists & biologists. If a body finally surfaces we'll all have to make a big toast with a pint of Olympia beer --and I'm buying!
8 My 1st introduction to the fascinating world of Cryptozoology was a Spanish version of Tim Dinsdale's book, Loch Ness Monster, which I found in my uncle Fernando's library. Every time I stayed with my cousins during the summer or winter holidays, I'd seek out that old book to re-read it one more time.
Now I'm a middle-aged red pill junkie, and my views concerning the most famous monster in the world have changed quite a bit. I'm more skeptic of the plesiosaur theory to explain the creature --although the sightings of long necks and small heads are still my faves-- and with the famous Surgeon's photo debunked, and even the suggestive underwater photos taken by Robert Rines in 1972 called into question, it has become increasingly difficult to remain open to the possibility of large aquatic creatures inhabiting the Scottish lake.
This year will mark the 80th anniversary of the first modern sighting of the beastie --Mrs Aldie Mackay, April 1933-- and because of this the BBC was forced to re-visit the monster history & ask: is Nessie's legend just a big tourist trap? Mrs Mackay was, after all, a hotel manager...
So was Mrs Mackay motivated by cynical thoughts of her bank balance?
(Marine biologist Adrian) Shine believes not.
"She was far from a self-publicist. It was her husband who told the water bailiff, and she stayed anonymous in the newspaper report.
"She didn't say anything for two reasons. Firstly, because she thought she would be seen as self-advertising.
"But also because they used to say for people who had seen something in the loch "take more water with it"… suggesting they were drunks."
There's no denying that locals have profited from the enthusiasm of weekend monster hunters eager to catch a glimpse of the furtive creature, but even the most skeptical investigators concede that people reporting the sightings are not driven by profit, but genuinely believe to have observed something anomalous. So here's hoping that we don't have to wait another 80 years to solve the riddle of loch Ness.
7 Nessie & Bigfoot are classic cryptids, but a relative new comer has tried to steal their popularity. I'm talking of course of the infamous chupacabras, who made a big splash in the BBS forums & newsletters of the early Internet in the mid 90s.
Since those bygone years the chupacabras has suffered an interesting mutation in the collective imaginarium: instead of a bipedal reptile with huge red eyes & a spiky back, people now associate the Spanish word with mangy hairless canids roaming the deserted roads of the south-western United States. But now word has come that the chupacabras has returned to the jungles of Puerto Rico, and the witnesses are once again reporting the original features of the goat-sucking monster. Hey, even cryptids have the right to feel homesick, vatos!
6 To my knowledge the only DNA analysis of an alleged chupacabras showed it was a coyote, and we all know Dr. Melba Ketchum's attempts to legitimize her study of Bigfoot DNA. Fortunately for us, we don't have to rely on her exclusively to study the DNA of a real living fossil: researchers have just sequenced the genome of the coelacanth, a deep-sea fish which was thought to be extinct for 65 million years, until it was discovered in 1938.
The study is important because it can help us learn more of the evolution of land animals. In fact, the paper revealed that is the lungfish & not the coelacanth, the fish more closely related to the 1st 4-legged creatures which decided to venture out of the water.
Professor Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, from the University of Uppsala in Sweden and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in the US, said: "What we can see is that while the genome as whole changes, the protein-coding genes - that make the living fish - are much more stable and much more unchanging.
"And if you think about it, this might be correlated to the fact that the coelacanth lives in a rather extreme and stable environment.
"It lives several hundred metres down in the ocean, and it may also be in an environment where it doesn't have a lot of competitors. So maybe it adapted to that environment a long time ago and it doesn't have a huge need for change."
If the bottom of the oceans are so stable, it makes you wonder if other types of living fossils are still thriving down there --Megalodon, anyone?
5 DNA sequencing can help us learn a lot about biological species, but it has its limits. Fortunately, scientists are always coming up with new ways to peer into the mysteries of life, and reveal things which have remained obscured... until now.
Take for instance this new method, which can make a rat's brain transparent --& I do mean COMPLETELY transparent! The revolutionary technique does not involve any spell taught in Hogwarts, but relies instead on a meticulous replacement of the brain's lipids with a hydrogel, which are later turned into a rigid polymer (plastic) that conserves the intact inner structure of the cerebrum. Then it's only a matter of rinsing the lipids & Voilá! see-through rat brain, which can then be painted with chemical markers to reveal astonishing details, with a lot more accuracy than an MRI scan.
4 Observing an ancient archeological site is a way of peering into the minds of those who built them, hundreds or thousands of years ago. For our next Pill we now must travel to one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the planet: Stonehenge.
A new study has revealed that Stonehenge was occupied by humans at least 5000 years earlier than previously thought. Mind you, this does not mean the famous stone circle is that old, but it proves that the 1st monument built at Stonehenge, consisting of large wooden poles, was erected in the Mesolithic period, circa 8500-7000 B.C.
Open University archaeologist David Jacques and friends started to survey the previously-unlooked at area around a mile from the main monument at Stonehenge, when they were still students in 1999.
The site contained a spring, leading him to work on the theory that it could have been a water supply for early man. He said: 'In this landscape you can see why archaeologists and antiquarians over the last 200 years had basically honed in on the monument, there is so much to look at and explore.
'I suppose what my team did, which is a slightly fresher version of that, was look at natural places - so where are there places in the landscape where you would imagine animals might have gone to, to have a drink.'My thinking is where you find wild animals, you tend to find people, certainly hunter-gatherer groups, coming afterwards.
Stonehenge is also the site of numerous anomalous phenomena, including UFO sightings & crop circles. Could this spring of water be a clue into all those other mysteries?
3 In Great Britain you can not only find some of the most ancient human settlements in the world, but also some of the world's greatest scientific minds. Such is the case of Stephen Hawking, arguably the most famous scientist alive today --his voice is certainly the most easy to recognize.
But possibly one of the reasons of Hawking's popularity is due to his open atheism, which was once again clearly evident during his latest public appearance, in which he lay the case for a Big Bang without divine intervention:
He noted that many people still seek a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists, and at one point, he quipped, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
After going through some of the leading cosmological theories, & telling yet again his famous anecdote about the pope John Paul II, he concluded by asserting how Richard Feynman's 'M-theory' --which posits how there's a myriad of different universes with different physical laws & cosmological constants, and we just happen to inhabit the one particular universe with the right kind of laws & constants that favor the rise of stars & intelligent creatures, bent on torturing themselves by asking how they got to be here anyway-- is the most consistent with observational data.
All well & good, Mr. Hawking, but something tells me the reason you find 'M-theory' appealing, is because it tries to solve the Anthropic principle by drowning it with infinite possibilities. Maybe it just me, but saying the Universe always was & always will be is not so different from explaining things with "God did it."
2 We all know that when it comes to alien life out there, Hawking's view is closer to Independence Day than Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. Even if they don't agree with him, most scientists are willing to accept that we're not alone in the Universe, merely on account of probability basis --and the fact that the Universe is quite ginormous.
But a new study co-authored by a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health has reached an amazing conclusion: that life arose in the Universe some 9.8 billion years ago. The basis for such a bold claim? Moore's law.
Moore's law, coined after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, is more a prediction than an actual scientific law, yet so far it has proven very reliable when it comes to calculate the advances in process speed of new computer chips. What NIH geneticist Alexei Sharov and theoretical biologist Richard Gordon did, is apply Moore's law to biological evolution in order to explain the accelerated complexity of organisms; but instead of the 18 months observed in the doubling of micro-processors' speed, Sharov & Gordon posit that complexity in genomes double every 376 million years.
"What is most interesting in this relationship," the researchers write "is that it can be extrapolated back to the origin of life. Genome complexity reaches zero, which corresponds to just one base pair, at time ca. 9.7 billion years ago... ±2.5 billion years."
The authors then extrapolate from these figures that ours is probably the 1st civilization to emerge in the Universe, which is kind of a drag --13.5 billion years of effort, and THIS is the best the Cosmos can offer??-- Then again, the paper's thesis is pretty much unfalsifiable as far as I can estimate, but it's interesting speculation nonetheless.
What I find appealing about all this is how we keep comparing complex natural phenomena with complex computational problems --"code is code", as Terence Mckenna liked to point out, whether it's information embedded on a computer chip or a nucleic acid strand-- and these ideas kee fueling my suspicions that the basic building blocks in the Universe are not Energy & Tie, but Consciousness & Information.
But getting back to the issue of complexity, it's important to point out that genomic complexity is NOT indicative of overall complexity in an organism --consider this: the lungfish's DNA is 40 times bigger than ours! If we return to computational analogies, the lungfish is like an old IBM of the 1960s, while we humans are the iPads of the animal kingdom.
1 The moment all these ideas about life in the universe will stop being purely academic, is when we finally find other examples of organisms outside the boundaries of our own planet. That day maybe closer than we think, thanks to the discovery of new exoplanets orbiting inside what we call the 'habitable zone'.
NASA's Kepler space telescope has just found 3 new exoplanets fitting that criteria, including one that is the most Earth-like planet discovered to date.
That most intriguing one is called Kepler-62f, a rocky world just 1.4 times bigger than Earth that circles a star smaller and dimmer than the sun. Kepler-62f's newfound neighbor, Kepler-62e, is just 1.6 times larger than Earth, making the pair among the smallest exoplanets yet found in their star's habitable zone — the just-right range of distances where liquid water can exist on a world's surface.
These 2 planets are thought to be water worlds, with a single global ocean covering their whole surface. The other new planet, Kepler-69c is 1.7 times the size of Earth, BUT it orbits a star very similar to our sun. Bottomline is they day we find a new Earth 2.0 is literally just around the corner.
Stephen Bassett, who is leading the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, thinks a new paradigm will be reached by ending the 'Truth embargo.' I however think that the paradigm shift will more likely be achieved outside UFOlogy, and finding conclusive evidence of life on other planets will probably prove to be far more useful in changing the public's perception about alien life, than all the hearings & documentaries & UFO conferences put together.
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out, hoping we can continue to enjoy the wonders of the Fortean Matrix for many more years to come.