Greetings, fellow Coppertops! As we rapidly approach the time to wrap up the 2013 edition of this column, the Fortean Matrix still has in store for us plenty of cool stuff to digest: From tool-using reptiles to entangled black holes & glowing marine monsters. And as we ponder on the potential to store memories in DNA, we'll encounter astounding new fossil evidence, that should force us to rewrite the entire book of Human Evolution. Speaking of evolving, these Red Pills are dedicated to the living memory of Madiba, a man I learned to admire during my adolescence --when Apartheid was still prevalent-- and who taught me that tolerance & non-violence are the best strategies to bring about positive paradigm shifts.
But Mandela is not the only luminary we lost this week. Iconoclast author Colin Wilson, who became an overnight celebrity during his twenties with the success of his book The Outsider, passed away at the age of 82. His early success faded away though, when he started to pursue an interest in heretic topics like UFOs & the Occult. The kind of stuff at the margins of society that has made many of us true outsiders at the eyes of 'respectable' folks.
“As a young man I was scornful about the supernatural but as I have got older, the sharp line that divided the credible from the incredible has tended to blur; I am aware that the whole world is slightly incredible”
― Colin Wilson
Farewell, fellow rebel. May you continue your journey toward that which you were instinctively drawn to since your early youth.
9 Wilson was a man aware of his own genius, which to some it may seem pedantic, but in his case he had ample evidence to prove it. But 'genius' is something that can also be found in the natural world, something illustrated perfectly by the next Pill: A new study suggests crocs & alligators --those living fossils that have inhabited this planet since the Age of the Dinosaurs-- are capable of using twigs & branches as TOOLS to lure in potential prey, such as birds.
The researchers found that the occurrence of sticks on crocodilians was not random. It was more often seen in those reptiles living near the bird nests and was only witnessed during the nesting season. Of course, it could be that floating sticks randomly find themselves atop a croc's nose, but the researchers say that floating sticks are extremely rare in the waters observed. This means that it's more likely that the reptiles are deliberately collecting and using the twigs as bait. If this is the case, it would be described as tool use.
I'm sure Steve Irwin would have gotten a kick out of this new appraisal of his favorite animals. Possibly he wouldn't have been that surprised, either!
8 Granted: when it comes to tool use, no other animal species can equal the craftsmanship of our own. We've reached a stage in our evolution when we're ready to spawn a whole new phylum of beings devoted entirely to satisfy our every whim. I'm talking about the upcoming robot revolution, which --by the looks of the latest news-- will be mainly spearheaded by dotcom giants: On the one hand we have the news that Amazon is planning to start delivering shipments via aerial drones in the near future --how near? that looks to be more of a policy problem than a technological one. But on the other hand there's evidence showing Google has started to acquire several robot-related companies too.
I just hope Larry & Sergey remember to include "don't be evil" as part of the Googleuristic robot laws...
7 If the Google bots & the Amazon drones eventually uprise against us & take over, I wonder what they'd do with our massive stockpile of nuclear weapons. Since these AI entities would be theoretically far more intelligent than their carbon-based predecessors, one would expect they'd be far more careful with their handling & storage: One of the most mentioned news recently, is that for the past 20 years the super-duper secret code for the launching of the Minuteman missiles in the US was... 00000000.
But why should it even surprise us? The fact that our higher echelons of power have deemed necessary to mass produce weapons capable of obliterate all life on this planet several times over, is further confirmation that the Watterson dictum is still the best answer to the Fermi paradox.
Should a technological civilization somehow manage to grow beyond its societal adolescence, it's not unreasonable to suspect they'd devote most of their efforts in expanding beyond their planetary constraints. In our current infancy we deem such efforts so difficult as to be almost foolhardy, but perhaps older species have managed to learn a few more things about the nature of the Cosmos.
Kristan Jense, a theoretical physicist at Stony Brook University in New York, seems to have come up with a way to reconcile the two greatest theories in Physics, Quantum Mechanics & General Relativity, by linking Einstein-Rosen bridges in space-time --a.k.a. wormholes-- with what is known as quantum entanglement between subatomic particles. From Jense's perspective, both phenomena are one & the same. What's more, these ideas allude to the fact that our physical reality is the 'holographic' shadow of a higher subset --what our friend Mr. Fusco would call Super-Geometry.
A higher awareness of the physical world paves the way to quantum leaps in human culture. And I can barely think of a bigger milestone than the discovery of alien life. Alas, such discoveries must still be parsed through the filters of political opportunity...
Remember Stephen Basset's Citizens Hearing of Disclosure, where there were (former) members of Congress listening to the (still anecdotal) evidence on the reality of the UFO phenomenon, and its (possible) connection with extraterrestrial life? Well something akin to that happened this week, but on a more official --and possibly less sensationalistic-- basis: In front of a House of Representatives committee last Wednesday, several witnesses from NASA, MIT & the Library of Congress gave their professional opinion that the answer to the age-old question of whether we're alone in the Universe or not is closer than ever. Our current technology is mature enough to locate inhabited worlds, but what is lacking is WILL in the form of public funding.
"I know that funding is tough, but it's the best thing that you can do," said Dr Mary Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at Nasa.
"You've pretty much indicated [the discovery of] life on other planets is inevitable," observed Bill Posey, Republican of Florida. "It's just a matter of time and funding."
I honestly see this seeming silence as a sort of test. Maybe if we finally put our shit together we'll be allowed to be released of our solitary confinement.
4 Still, there's plenty of alien life to be discovered in the confines of our native biosphere. At least that was what several videos taken at the Bristol harbor implied: Witnesses observed a strange-looking glowing creature floating around near the docks, and the clips uploaded to Youtube even managed to confound a few marine biologists.
Unfortunately, it was later revealed that the glowing creature was not an emissary of James Cameron's Abyss ETs, but merely an elaborate hoax perpetrated by some stupid TV show.
But hey, not ALL monster videos are complete hoaxes. Take a look at this intriguing clip recorded at the Mekong river in Thailand.
While I'm confident this is only the sighting of a humongous catfish, what I like about this clip is that it highlights some of the skeptic misconceptions invoking the increasing prevalence of smartphone cameras --"how come we don't get HD quality footage of Bigfoot or UFOs?". This video was clearly not a forgery, and still it showed many elements now used to discredit anomalous sightings: shaky footage & low image quality. Yes, smartphones are becoming more ubiquitous, but in developing nations the high-end gear is still as rare as your average cryptid.
3 Forging a hoax video is not the worst thing 'believers' can pull off to try to support their argument. The Daily Grail has highlighted a recent scandal in the world of Egyptology, where 2 German researchers --initially thought to be students from Dresden University-- unleashed the ire of Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities when they scraped the surface of the controversial Khufu's cartouche inside the Great Pyramid. The reckless duo of 'alternative archeologists' is allegedly trying to confirm the theory that the Pyramid's age is much older than Khufu's reign, which is why they took samples from the red pigment of the cartouche in order to conduct scientific analysis --thing is, they apparently forgot to ask permission to the Egyptian government for it, thus unleashing a modern-day witch hunt for these German dudes, named Dominique Görlitz and Stefan Erdmann.
Watch a trailer from a documentary prepared by Görlitz & Erdmann, and in 1:31 you'll see the vandalic act which they're charged for:
The actions of these misguided individuals actually harm the cause of alternative history, because it ultimately justifies the need for bulldogs like Zahi Hawass to protect the integrity of these historical heirlooms.
We need to safeguard places like the Great Pyramid because they are beacons of Humanity's memory. But perhaps memories can be passed on to future generations through more subtle methods: Recent scientific tests with mice suggest that the phobias triggered by traumatic events experienced by parents, can be carried out to the offspring through a sort of genetic memory. Frank Herbert vindicated at last!!
Researchers worked to train mice to avoid a smell that was similar to cherry blossoms and it was found that this aversion to the scent was displayed by their "grandchildren". The research has been linked to similar testing done into the genetic anxieties and phobias.
Scientists from Emory University School in Medicine, US, looked at sperm's response to the introduction of a fear of the scent. It was found that the part of the DNA that signalled a higher sensitivity for the smell was more active within the sperm.
The sins of the father indeed --or the scents, at any rate...
But this is not the biggest genetic bombshell we suffered this last week! An astounding discovery in Spain is about to rewrite the first chapters in ALL of the History books in the world: A femur retrieved from a cave called Sima de los Huesos (Bone Pit) is been dated to be 400,000 years old. But instead of being an ancestor of Neanderthals --our cousins who were believed to have ruled over Europe thousands of years before the arrival of Homo Sapiens-- this new specimen closely match the newly discovered Denisovans, who were initially thought to have remained in East Asia.
The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.
“Right now, we’ve basically generated a big question mark,” said Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of the new study.
Our modern tools are starting to shed a new light into our previous assumptions on human evolutions, which were mainly inferred by mere morphological scrutiny. But for me the most exciting possibility from these new discoveries, is this: If ancient human evolution needs a major rewrite, then what about human civilization? What if there are places like Göbleki Tepe that are not 12,000 years old, but perhaps 30,000 or 50-100,000 years old, that were not built by our direct ancestors?
What if Tolkien was right all along?
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out; encouraging you not to be afraid to walk out your front door, and let your feet lead you to your destiny.