Greetings, fellow Coppertops! Here we are in the middle of October, yet still the Fortean Matrix is delivering a smorgasbord of weird stories to sate your paranormal appetite. We'll research the tactics of Guerrilla Skepticism & theories of Theological Conspiracies; we'll analyze the cure of Alzheimer's in a pill, and try to uncover the identity of the first cave painters. And as we try to 3D print alien life-forms following the instructions of a Maverick scientist, we'll put on our tuxedos & head to Stockholm to attend an award ceremony that took almost 50 years in the making. Lucky for me, the Paradigm Symposium is not so strict with the clothing etiquette --I hate wearing ties, you know...
10 Our first Red Pill is a sad one: Scott Carpenter, one of the original seven astronauts in the NASA Mercury program, died last Thursday at the age of 88. On May 24, 1962, he became the second American to orbit the Earth.
I first became enamored by the Mercury program thanks to the movie The Right Stuff; still one of the best movies about the early years of the Space Race. Then again, it's fairly easy to make legends out of the first men who volunteered into their Nation's desperate attempt to keep up with the Russian cosmonauts, putting their lives at the hands of German engineers working with untested technology. During his historical orbital trip on 1962 aboard the Aurora 7 capsule, which lasted less than 5 hours, Carpenter conducted a series of scientific experiments & his craft suffered a malfunction which forced him to take control of it manually. He landed 250 miles off course & during a brief moment Mission Control feared for the worst.
You can find a whole bunch of eulogies & articles celebrating the life of Scott Carpenter on the mainstream media. What you won't find in all those articles, though, is a quote attributed to Carpenter, hinting to many unspoken things that transpired behind the scenes of the Space Race:
"At no time, when the astronauts were in space were they alone: there was a constant surveillance by UFOs." ~NASA's Scott Carpenter [Source]
It is also said that during his 1962 mission (the only time he went into space) Carpenter snapped this blurry photograph of a UFO [Source]:
Were alien intelligences monitoring our first clumsy steps outside our homeworld?
9 I admit it: I failed to find a direct reference to the above quote, or the UFO photograph. I also couldn't find a Youtube video of him speaking on the record on whether he believed UFOs were real or not --unlike his Mercury 7 comrade Gordon Cooper, who was extremely vocal about his opinion that the US government was withholding information about Unidentified Flying Objects.
Cooper's bio on Wikipedia has an adequately neutral paragraph about his involvement with the UFO phenomenon. Unfortunately for the millions of people using Wikipedia, quite a few pages dealing with controversial subjects fail to follow the same type of objectivity, often skewing the facts and/or painting them with a clearly skeptical bias. Many of those questionable edits are the work of a group calling themselves the Guerrilla Skeptics: This is a numerous group of dedicated & well-coordinated individuals lead by a woman called Susan Gerbic, and they are all working with a clear agenda on the table, as explained by Daily Grail's Greg Taylor:
Gerbic describes how the GS group works as a pack to 'game the system' somewhat in order to get certain entries on to the front page of Wikipedia, as well as planning and execution of edits to certain pages. Slightly concerning is her tendency to talk in terms of "my skeptics", "my editors", etc. More concerning is her obvious desire to attack certain people (e.g. see discussion of the edits to the Bill Maher page), rather than simply present a fair and balanced entry.
We all know what happened with Rupert Sheldrake earlier this year when TED tried to purge his presentation video out of their page. Now Rupert is pointing out to how the Guerrilla Skeptics have literally seized control of his Wikipedia bio & refuse any edits that may paint his work in a more positive way.
My good friend The Anomalist had this to say about the Guerrilla Skeptics:
Oh sure, you might thing my bud's bias toward the Paranormal somehow makes his opinion invalid, right? Well, how about Hayley Stevens, a young British skeptic & researcher?
I just hope there comes a day when we all can have discussions about things like Morphic Resonance in a sensible fashion, without bullying tactics or attempts to hijack the conversation toward one direction or the other.
If you think that online quarrels between believers & skeptics seem a lot like religious disputes, then you're probably right. On the one extreme of the spectrum you have people for which very little evidence is needed to validate things like spirit guides & crystal healing; and on the other extreme you have folks for which no amount of evidence will be enough, to sway them from their position that there's nothing on the Fortean realm but kooks & frauds. The folks on the extreme tend to be the loudest, while most of us sit quietly in the middle, trying to draw our own conclusions.
Speaking of religious disputes, one of the news that made the rounds this week was a controversial thesis proposed by Joseph Atwill, who claims Jesus was not an actual historical figure but a fabrication of the Romans, intended as a tool to pacify & control the poor --Atwill actually wrote his book Caesar's Messiah in 2005, but The Independent mentioned him because he is about to make a presentation at the 'Covert Messiah' conference, to be held at the Conway Hall in Holborn next week.
Outlining his ideas in a blog posting on his website Mr Atwill writes: "Christianity may be considered a religion, but it was actually developed and used as a system of mind control to produce slaves that believed God decreed their slavery."
Mr Atwill says that acts of insurrection by Jewish sects, who were awaiting the arrival of a so-called 'warrior Messiah' in Palestine, were a perpetual problem for the Roman Empire and that after the Empire had exhausted all traditional means of dealing with the problem they resorted to psychological warfare.
"They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system," Atwill told PRWeb.com
"That's when the 'peaceful' Messiah story was invented.
"Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to 'give onto Caesar' and pay their taxes to Rome.
Atwill says he is a 'biblical scholar' yet there doesn't seem to be any reference to his educational credentials online. In any case his 'grand conspiracy theory' makes Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code look like a Scooby Doo episode in comparison. FWIW, it's nice to notice the commentators at Doubtful News are as skeptic of his thesis as religious theologians.
Ultimately people will read the biblical texts & find the Jesus they were looking for: to Atwill, a peaceful Messiah to soothe the poor into submission. To me, a revolutionary whose egalitarian ideas were dangerous to the Status Quo.
7 There's no denying, however, the fact that historical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is rather scarce & circumstantial. It is yet another example that ours is a species who suffers from collective Alzheimer's.
Yet Alzheimer's itself might soon become a thing of the past: A recent British study on mice is being heralded as a landmark in the creation of a future pill, that could one day stop the degeneration of neurons experienced by those suffering this disease. The team injected a drug into the stomachs of the mice to control the way cells react to missfolded proteins --the cause of many neurodegenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer's-- and although the mice experienced a lot of nasty side effects, the scientists claim the experiment confirms Alzheimer could in principle be controlled with a pill.
"We were extremely excited when we saw the treatment stop the disease in its tracks and protect brain cells, restoring some normal behaviours and preventing memory loss in the mice.
"We're still a long way from a usable drug for humans – this compound had serious side effects. But the fact we have established that this pathway can be manipulated to protect against brain cell loss, first with genetic tools and now with a compound, means that developing drug treatments targeting this pathway for prion and other neurodegenerative diseases is now a real possibility." ~Lead scientist Prof Giovanna Mallucci, from the MRC toxicology unit at the University of Leicester.
Of course the problem is treatments which may look very promissory in mice end up failing in human trials. So I think the solution is a no-brainer: Make the mice super-smart, super-strong & super-long lived, and let them take charge of the planet for us.
6 Pinky & the Brain's episode Brain of the Future (8 Feb. 1997) involved our hapless heroes traveling to the year 2 billion A.D. using a time machine invented by a future version of the Brain. If someone invented an actual time machine, I would request it to travel to Brazil 30,000 years ago, in order to confirm whether the objects currently being exhibited in Brasilia, are actual evidence of human habitation in that part of the world much earlier than what orthodox History is willing to consider.
The artifacts come from the Serra da Capivara national park in Brazil's northeastern Piaui state, on the border of the Amazon and Atlantic Forests, which attracted the hunter-gatherer civilization that left behind this hoard of local art.
Since the 1970s, Franco-Brazilian archaeologist Niede Guidon has headed a mission to carry out large-scale excavation of Piaui's interior.
"It's difficult to think there exists a site anywhere with a higher concentration of cave art," the 80-year-old Guidon told AFP.
Other traces of the civilization include charcoal remains of structured fires, explained Guidon, who hails from Sao Paulo.
"To date, these are the oldest traces" of human existence in the Americas, she emphasized.
Some of the cave paintings even depict scenes of a sexual nature. Nice to know Brazilians haven't changed that much in the last 30,000 years...
It's amazing to consider how the oldest forms of artistic representation are teaching us new things about our origins. Take cave paintings, for example: For years it was thought that, since most of them evoked hunting scenes, they were the creation of male artists. But now archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University is proposing something more radical, based on a computer algorithm he created to analyze the 'hand stencils' left at the cave walls : According to him, most of the first cave painters were female.
Snow's algorithm calculates the sexual dimorphism present between the hands of men & women --yes, girly hands IS a thing-- which were more acute back in those days. And even though not everyone is convinced with his theory, I think it raises some interesting possibilities: If the first cave artists were women, does that also mean they were also the first shamans?
There's a lot of suggestive cave art which some interpret as evidence of interaction with non-human entities in the ancient past. I wonder how would those artists have reacted if they had taken a stroll along the Bustamante park in Santiago, Chile, on September 29th of this year. That day, according to a witness who only referred to him as 'Ignacio' to the reporters, a strange creature shaped like a manta ray was flying from treetop to treetop:
Ignacio's testimony is rather sparse on details concerning the creature's description. There's no mention of its color, for example. But the pen drawing he made for the cameras has an eerily resemblance to some renderings of Mothman. It's also worth pointing out there were 4 more people with him who also observed the creature, and theirs is not the only report of 'flying humanoids' made recently in that region.
Is Mothman taking a sabbatical in South America? share your thoughts in the Comments section.
3 One element lacking in these Chilean reports though, is the 'artificial fear' experienced by the inhabitants of Point Pleasant, Virginia, during the classic wave of sightings narrated by John Keel in his book. A fear described as 'incapacitating' & completely irrational, almost as if someone switched on the 'fight or flight' mechanism in the witnesses' brains.
But if there's a 'fight or flight' switch, what about a 'bliss' switch? Absolutely, is the response of a growing community of enthusiasts bond by their interest in what they call ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) a.k.a. 'head orgasms.' A recent article on The Guardian blog written by Shelley Taylor gives an overall summation of this phenomenon, which is starting to get the attention of the mainstream. Shelley also points out to a great catalog of Youtube videos --mostly made by women-- filled with visual & auditory 'triggers' intended to elicit a tingling sensation in the head of the viewer, which will slowly run from the crown of the skull down to the spine.
Here's an example:
After I read finishing the article I set out to try a few of those Youtube vids. I must report that I didn't actually experience any tingling sensations, although there were a few times when I felt I was getting close. Perhaps I needed a better pair of headphones, or maybe I respond to a different set of 'triggers.' I must point out though that often times I've experienced something fairly similar, whenever I'm using my iPod during an exercise routine, and a song I really REALLY like is playing --I then feel that tingling sensation starting at the top of my head & slowly circulating down my back, which I exploit as a way to 'boost' my effort. Unfortunately for me the Reddit ASMR page sez this is a totally different phenomenon. Oh well...
I still think watching Bob Ross paint his happy little trees is THE shit.
2 I'm sure that someone will eventually release an iPhone app to trigger ASMR responses on demand. The same way someone will come up with a way to 3D print anything you could possibly need, from appliances to clothes, and even food and medicines.
Now comes pioneer geneticist & venture capitalist Craig Venter, the man who spear-headed the Human Genome Project in the 1990's, is once again back in the news making bold statements which, coming from the man credited with the creation of the 1st artificial life form, do not sound like complete B.S.: Venter is convinced there was once life on Mars, and that it won't be long 'til a scientist will be able to 3D-print samples of alien DNA detected by a rovers 220 million km. away from his lab:
“I am confident that life once thrived on Mars and may well still exist there today,” writes Venter. “The day is not far off when we will be able to send a robotically controlled genome-sequencing unit in a probe to other planets to read the DNA sequence of any alien microbe life that may be there.”
As long as Ben Kingsley is not in charge of the project, I say knock yourselves out.
Venter is something of a maverick, and that does not sit too well with Academia. But once in a while the mavericks are proven right, and Science is compelled to honor them for pushing --sometimes DRAGGING--us forward.
Such is the case with Peter Higgs, the man who in the 1960s proposed the idea of a particle known among scholars as the Higgs boson, and among the laymen as the 'God particle'. In this column we reported the announcement made by CERN that, thanks to the Large Hadron Collider, they had managed to detect a particle closely matched the characteristics predicted by Higgs. To say that we non-physicists fully understand the ramifications of this discovery would be extremely presumptuous; yet the finding has been received with a lot of enthusiasm by the gross of the population. Perhaps we all intuit on a subliminal level that this is a momentous testament to Human ingenuity.
That is why this week the Nobel committee announced their decision to finally award Higgs's contribution with the highest honor in Academia: The Nobel prize in Physics. He shares the award with Francois Englert of Belgium, and his modesty compelled him to point out that his other partner Robert Prout --who died in 2011-- should also be credited for his work. Unfortunately, the Nobel rules stipulate that no prize can be awarded posthumously.
Prof Higgs, who does not own a mobile phone, said a former neighbour had pulled up in her car as he was returning from lunch in Edinburgh.
He added: "She congratulated me on the news and I said 'oh, what news?'"
This may strike the reader as false humility, but i for one I'm inclined to think Mr. Higgs was already satisfied knowing that, after decades of study & billions of dollars invested, he & his associates had been proven right. And isn't that the best reward any man could possibly hope for?
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Next week this column will take a short leave of absence--See y'all in Minneapolis!!