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Red Pills of the Week — February 15th

Greetings, fellow Coppertops! On this week’s mission we’ll investigate whether we’re closer to harnessing the power of the sun, or if the machines will still need to rely on fleshy batteries to keep the Matrix running. We’ll also search for subatomic aliens & the real X-Men; and as we finish revisiting one of the most popular relics in all Christendom, we’ll conclude by trying to determine the origin of the enigmatic Paracas skulls. Listen up, crew: We’re gonna try to implement a few operational changes here in the Nebuchadnezzar, by focusing on only 5 Red Pills per week instead of the usual 10; in doing so I hope I can add more ‘meat’ into each one of the stories, while still keeping the column on a reasonable size. If you like the changes or hate them with all your heart let me know in the comments section, k?


nuclear fusion

Here we are in 2014, with only 1 more year ’til we reach the date of Back to the Future 2. And since I’m waaay too old to bother about freaking hoverboards by now, and a flying car would probably be beyond my salary anyway, I’m only left with one caveat: Where the hell is my Mr. Fusion, dammit??

You see, ever since I went to see the BttF trilogy on the big screen & still liked Huey Lewis & the News –shut the hell up, Nicki Minaj fans!– I’ve been promised unlimited free energy delivered by way of nuclear fusion, which basically consists of boinking together 2 hydrogen nuclei, which in return will produce a single hooligan helium atom which will go looking for trouble with 2 more helium atoms, ergo causing a chain reaction the likes of which are only observable in Nature inside the core of stars like our good ole Sun.

Turns out though, that achieving nuclear fusion artificially is really, really, REALLY hard. Scientists have been toying with Tokamak donut-shaped reactors for decades, and even though the Europeans are still going ahead with the construction of the ITER experimental reactor in France, they’re not making any promises on when they’ll have a commercial-ready reactor online.

But this week there was a very promising news from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a place where they’re usually busy toying with computational simulations of nuclear detonations –seeing how that’s more kosher than blowing an actual nuclear bomb, ya know– but also conducts experiments in nuclear fusion which employ extremely Pew-pew-pewable lasers aimed at a small gold cylinder at heating it to a temperature of millions of degrees, producing X-rays that get focused on an even smaller plastic container of hydrogen gas. The resulting pressure compress deuterium isotopes –a funkier, heavier ‘flavor’ of hydrogen– thus causing a self-sustaining chain reaction. Theoretically, at least.

Because of this convoluted process, only 1/200th of the energy that the lasers generate is imparted to the hydrogen fuel, compressing it enough to produce a small amount of fusion. Until now, the energy given off by the fusing hydrogen hasn’t been enough to set off a chain reaction. The hydrogen fuel also always consumed more energy than it put out. But during experiments late last year, NIF researchers were finally able to get the hydrogen to give off as much as 1.7 times more energy than it had taken in, a result that appears today in Nature. In subsequent experiments last month, the team was able to produce as much as 2.6 times more energy than was put into the hydrogen fuel.

“The physics is a breakthrough,” said physicist Riccardo Betti of the University of Rochester, who was not involved in the work. “If fusion will ever become a viable source of energy, we may look back and say that in 2013, for the first time, a plasma produced more energy out than it took in.”

But the dream of fusion energy isn’t yet a reality. “In terms of making energy to power the grid, it’s still light-years away,” Betti said.

With nuclear fusion we’re talking about installations the size of small cities, & temperatures as hotter than the center of the sun. But what if the answer to the world’s energy needs would involve much cooler temperatures & smaller machines? Cold fusion is still considered pseudo-science by mainstream media & skeptics, but that hasn’t stopped some commercial enterprises from (quietly) researching the phenomenon initially discovered by Pons & Fleischmann in the mid 90’s. It’s just a matter of giving it a less-controversial name, like Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) & Voilá! even the US Department of Energy is willing to take the technology seriously.

Whatever, man. Just give me my Mr. Fusion already. Or else things are gonna get REALLY heavy!



We assume more advanced extraterrestrial intelligences would have even bigger energetic needs than us, and we also assume we’d easily detect their ginormous technological achievements in the form of mammoth astro-engineering projects, standing out like a sore thumb across the cold, uniform landscape of the Cosmos.

Problem is, no signs of Dyson’s spheres or Vogon intergalactic highways have been discovered so far. Could it be that perhaps we’re basing our assumptions on an entirely wrong scale? That is exactly what Australian A.I. researcher Hugo de Garis has been proposing –as reported by Centauri Dreams— on a set of thought-provoking papers available at & H+ magazine, in which he explains his ideas on what he calls ‘X-Tech‘: the idea that truly advanced civilizations will inevitable develop technologies at the femtom-scale level –even tinier than our current wet dreams of nano-tech robots!

The hyper intelligences that are billions of years older than we are in our universe (which is about 3 times older than our sun), have probably “downgraded” themselves to achieve hugely greater performance levels. Whole civilizations may be living inside volumes the size of nucleons or smaller.

(…)Therefore I recommend that humanity start thinking about ways to detect their presence. We need a SIPI, a Search for Infra Particle Intelligence. For example, why are the elementary particles such “carbon copies” of each other, for each particle type? Once one starts “seeing” intelligence in elementary particles, it changes the way one looks at them, and the way one interprets the laws of nature, and the interpretation of quantum mechanics, etc. It’s a real paradigm shift away from looking for non human intelligence in outer space, to looking for it in inner space, i.e. SIPI.

For the love of Dagobah, Hugo: whatever you do, just don’t call these femtom-aliens Midichlorians!!



X-Tech sounds cool, but not as cool as X-Men. Next summer Bryan Singer will return us to a world in which both past & future mutants will try to shape the course of history. Meanwhile in the ‘real’ world the line dividing Science Fiction from Science Fact keeps getting blurrier & blurrier: The Daily Mail had an article detailing the efforts of a team of scientists in putting together what they call the Innovation Challenge project. The program, launched by a global pharmaceutical company, is intended to seek individuals with ‘rare phenotypes;’ not exactly those with the ability to shape-shift or shoot lasers out of their eyes, but people with an unusual resistance to disease or perhaps extremely fast healing properties –even if they lack adamantium claws– in hopes to find in their DNA the clues to cure ailments like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis.

Oh, and they’re willing to pay Big Buck$ for the best submissions –up to US$10,000!

Describing the online challenge from a patient perspective, Alastair Kent, Director of the Genetic Alliance UK, said: ‘The Genetic Alliance UK, supports high quality biomedical research targeted at serious unmet needs and we believe that those who participate in this challenge could be helping people who are affected by disease.

‘We are encouraging people to enter the challenge because without active participation we may miss the genetic key to solving some of the world’s most difficult to treat illnesses.’

The company is asking potential entrants to describe their interesting or rare characteristic on an online form which is available until midnight on February 20.

They say the best submission will receive an award of US $10,000 (£6,123).

Additionally, bonus awards – no smaller than US $1,000 (£612) – will be paid to entrants who the judges feel submitted an especially interesting or relevant entry.

What say you, my dear Coppertops? Are you willing to throw away a mutant’s best line of defense –your anonymity– in order to benefit the rest of the un-evolved Homo Sapiens?



Though he’s hardly the most powerful mutant in the Marvel universe, Wolverine remains everyone’s fave. And it’s easy to see why: aside from being the prototypical anti-hero with a shadowy past & complex morals, his mutant powers make him virtually immortal; to the point that he’s literally risen from the dead on numerous occasions.

But way before Stan Lee was even born, the story of one particular super-mutant had already managed to change the world. I’m talking of course about the J-Man himself, who according to the New Testament left his grave after the 3rd day; but not before leaving a tangible testament of his resurrection in the form of a long piece of cloth known as the Shroud of Turin –a least that’s how Catholics interpret if of course; for atheists & skeptics, the shroud is nothing but a Medieval forgery, and they point out to a radiocarbon testing conducted in the 1980’s, which placed the origin of the ‘sindone‘ at around 1260-1390 A.D.

But not everyone was satisfied with these results. Among allegations of possible contamination & procedural errors, there were those who proposed that the energy which managed to cause the imprint on the superficial portions of the cloth –no more than a few microns in depth, which would discount the use of a brush– could have also produced a false reading in the radiocarbon tests. The question would be then: What kind of energy was involved?

Enter Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy –curious… his name literally means ‘carpenter’– who just published a paper in which he proposes that an earthquake hitting ancient Jerusalem in 33 A.D. was responsible for the inaccurate RC dating  as well as the ‘negative-like’ image of the crucified man on the shroud; specifically, he alludes to neutrinos released by tectonic activity, and the neutron radiation produced carbon isotopes which subsequently were misinterpreted by the 1988 tests.

This is based on their research into piezonuclear fission reactions, which are triggered when very brittle rock specimens are crushed under a press machine. In the process, neutrons are produced without gamma emissions. Analogously, the researchers theorize further that neutron flux increments, in correspondence to seismic activity, should be a result of the same reactions.

The researchers therefore believe that neutron emission from a historical earthquake in 33 A.D. in Old Jerusalem, which measured 8.2 on the Richter Scale, could have been strong enough to cause neutron imaging through its interaction with nitrogen nuclei.

On the one hand, this could have created the distinctive image on the Shroud through radiation imagery, while on the other, it could have increased the level of carbon-14 isotopes found on the linen fibres that could have confused the 1988 radiocarbon dating tests.

In the end though, hard as they try no amount of scientific analysis would be able to directly link this fascinating historic relic with the figure of Jesus of Nazareth –that’s where personal faith would come in… or not.


Faraway, so close...

Faraway, so close…

It seems that bringing modern tools to settle matters of the ancient past will often bring about heated debate. This is not only true with the shroud of Turin, but also with mysteries from the so-called New World.

In 1928 Peruvian Archeologist Julio Tello found a mass graveyard belonging to the Paracas Andean culture. The mummified remains showed skulls which were notably elongated, a feature initially thought to correspond to the widespread practice of head-binding techniques, observed by many indigenous cultures like the Mesoamerican Mayas. But some researchers proposed that the Paracas skulls were not the result of ritual cranial deformation, since they showed 25% more cranial volume & were 60% heavier than ‘normal’ skulls. They’re also said to contain one parietal plate instead of two.

In 2011 alt-historian Brien Foerster asked the owner of the Paracas local museum permission to extract samples from 5 of the 35 skulls housed in the collection. The samples included hair, including roots, a tooth, skull bone and skin, which were then sent to the United States for DNA analysis.

According to Foerster, the preliminary MtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA, which is the genetic material that is passed directly from the mother to the sibling) has thrown some remarkable results: “mutations unknown in any human, primate, or animal known so far,” which would presumably put the Paracas specimens outside the orthodox human family tree.

But here’s where the problems begin to jump up: we’ve already discussed how unexpected contamination in samples can mess with the readings. Also, just because you come up with an unknown doesn’t give you the right to say “… therefore aliens,” you’re only allowed to say you’ve found an anomaly and that’s it. And IF you find an anomaly, you’re inviting peers to look into your work more closely.

It seems that people are looking more closely, and they’re not liking what they’ve found: Judging by what both Martin Clemens & Sharon Hill have dug out so far, it seems Foerster asked the late Lloyd Pye for help, who in turn may or may not have involved Dr. Melba Ketchum into the DNA analysis of the Paracas samples —oh boy…

I don’t like going with the ‘guilt by association’ judgements, but on previous occasions we’ve discussed how ineffective Ketchum’s involvement has been in convincing mainstream science in the existence of undiscovered primates living in the forests of North America. Foerster told Hill that Ketchum is not the geneticist involved in the sequencing of the Paracas samples, so the jury is still out on this one…

As for the cranial deformation practices themselves, I’ve sometimes wondered whether there was something more to the simple ‘trying to emulate the gods’ explanation offered by Ancient Aliens proponents. What if the ancients were binding their skulls in order to elicit some type of altered state of consciousness?

Or maybe it’s just that back then the ladies used to judge you by the size of your… head.

Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out, encouraging you to never be afraid to GNARFLE THE GARTHOK!!


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