Greetings, fellow Coppertops! Fasten your seat-belts because we’re about to start our 1st mission of July with a group of stories that are sure to let you dizzy: From the 50th anniversary of 1 of the most famous scientific equations, to the trials & tribulations of farmers seeking to sue aliens damaging their fields with crop circles; we’ll also investigate whether the human brain is equipped with an On/Off switch, and take a look at a new study of near-death experiences; finally, we’ll learn about the effects of psilocybin in human consciousness, and what it may ultimately tell us about the nature of Reality itself. This edition of the Red Pills is fondly dedicated to Stan ‘the Man’ Friedman, possibly one of the most famous & influential UFOlogists still active today, who is currently recuperating from a mild cardiac condition he suffered last week. Get well, Mr. Friedman!
The Drake Equation Turns 50
If you’re a fan of Friedman, then you’re aware of how he likes to mock SETI as the ‘Silly Effort To Investigate.’ Whether you agree with him or not, there’s no denying that for a number of decades the search for Extraterrestrial intelligence has been taken as a serious scientific endeavor, and that’s in large part due to astronomer Frank Drake, who 50 years ago organized a meeting at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. It was in this momentous occasion that Drake jotted down a factorial equation which has become famous all around the world: The Drake Equation.
Over at the National Geographic webpage, Nadia Drake –the daughter of the revered alien hunter— wrote a fantastic article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the equation that sparked the scientific quest to answer one of the most ancient questions: Are we alone?
The article also explores how the 1st variables in the equation have changed over the years. For starters, scientists are no longer assuming that stars like our sun are the only ones capable of supporting life –red dwarfs, which are far more numerous in our galaxy, have now been added as likely candidates for R*; also Ne has been recently changed from ‘planets’ to ‘bodies’, in accordance to more modern speculations re. the feasibility of life appearing in moons like Europa, Titan or Enceladus in our own solar system. And finally there’s L, who back in the days of Sagan was interpreted as the number of civilizations capable of overcoming their technological adolescence, a projection of our own fears in the shadow of a possible nuclear self-annihilation; however, even if we don’t blow ourselves up in the next 50 years or so, the technological transition from analog signals to digital transmissions is ‘quieting’ our planet, to the point that a civilization sharing a similar technological level might not be able to detect us by the next century.
Of course there’s the obvious caveat: If a civilization is much more advanced than us, why reject beforehand they’re incapable or uninterested in making their presence known to us by means more direct than a mere radio signal?
As someone who still entertains the possibility that some manifestations of the UFO phenomenon might be explained as the result of an other-worldly agency, I don’t blame the Drake equation for SETI’s myopia; if anything, Frank Drake’s major contribution was in pointing out the great voids in our ignorance in regards to how Life arises & evolves in our Universe, and its relevance is secured thanks to its adaptability to new discoveries & interpretations.
Farmers VS Croppies
In November of 1974, Frank Drake used the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to transmit a 210-byte long message to the globular star cluster M13. The Arecibo message was a binary-coded image filled with information which would enable any potential ETs out there learn a great deal about the origin & nature of the senders.
In 2001, near the Chilbolton radio telescope in the UK, 2 fascinating glyphs appeared in the nearby crop fields denoting a high amount of complexity. One of them was interpreted by some researchers to be a response to the Arecibo message sent 27 years before:
Of course SETI has never considered crop circles as a genuine message from an Extraterrestrial intelligence —here’s a video of Frank Drake pooh-poohing the Chilboton formations, and also revealing a lot of his intellectual bias I might add– and much to the chagrin of true believers, several crop circle artists –of the human variety– have come out in recent years & acknowledged their involvement in the annual appearance of the formations around the English countryside.
But crop circles are a global phenomenon, and this week an irate farmer from the Czech Republic is seeking reparations from whoever is responsible for the crop circle that appeared overnight on his land on June 28th:
The Croatian Times describes this design as “a 4-pointed star, framed by a circle with mysterious Stonehenge-shaped blocks set in a smaller circle.” A local government spokesperson explains, “The corn is not broken, it’s just bent to the ground. But it is beginning to attract a lot of attention and the farmer wants his land protected from curious visitors who are likely to make the matter worse if they start walking over the ground as well.”
As Jason McClellan of Open Minds points out, farmers in England have found a way to ‘insure’ themselves in case their property is targeted by croppies through the Crop Circle Access Pass, a program which gathers funds from visitors wishing to legally enter a field & visit a formation, with the money split between the land owners joining in. Unfortunately the program is unique to the UK, which means our Czech farmers is as likely to get compensation as an abductee is to send its nocturnal kidnappers to jail.
On/Off Switch on the Brain Found?
Speaking of alien abductions, perhaps one of the most scary implications about the phenomenon –if we were to take it literally for the sake of argument– is the idea that the Grays can take control of their human prey & their family members so completely; when you hear of how these individuals claim to wake up in the middle of the night to find a group of spindly entities next to their bed, and how they desperately try to alert their spouses & are incapable of waking them up, it’s almost as if the aliens had turned off some switch inside their heads.
Perhaps the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. An article published in New Scientist has created a lot of ripples all around the interwebz: Mohamad Koubeissi at the George Washington University in Washington DC and his colleagues claim to have found a way to switch off & on the consciousness of an epileptic woman by stimulating a region in her brain called the claustrum.
When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn’t respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments.
First off, I think it’s important to point out this was one isolated case involving an ‘abnormal’ brain –an epileptic woman with a removed hippocampus– so at this point it would be reckless to infer too much of it.
Secondly, regular readers of this column are probably aware on my position re. the Materialistic paradigm reigning over modern Science: I’m against the notion that brain = consciousness, and consider ‘paranormal’ phenomena like OBEs & veridical NDEs as tantalizing evidence that consciousness can exist separated from a functioning cerebrum.
But with these studies, proponents of either argument will interpret it according to their beliefs. So if I say this shows the brain is like a TV receptor and they found the On/Off switch, it doesn’t mean consciousness ceased to exist, but that the brain stopped receiving the signal. But if you ask a materialist, he or she will adamantly argue the complete opposite.
NDEs are Heavenly Peaceful
The most common ‘explanation’ for NDEs is that they’re triggered by a lack of oxygen reaching the dying brain during cardiac arrest. And yet this deconstructive theory fails to explain many commonalities, found in the testimony provided by those patients who manage to recover from their brush with Death. Yet another article released by New Scientist –one that didn’t manage to attain that much attention from the skeptic crowd– deals with one of those almost-universal constants in the NDE phenomenon: The fact that they are overwhelmingly peaceful, despite how traumatic or painful the circumstances which triggered the event.
Steven Laureys, a neuroscientist at the University of Liège in Belgium who works with people in comas and vegetative states, decided to investigate NDEs after his curiosity was piqued by the accounts of some of his patients. “I kept hearing these incredible stories in my consultations,” he says; “knowing how abnormal brain activity is during a cardiac arrest or trauma, it was impressive how rich these memories were. It was very intriguing.” He reasoning was that an NDE after near drowning would be substantially different from one in which the patient had flatlined while being anesthetized during a surgical procedure, or after suffering a heart attack.
His team looked at 190 documented events that resulted from traumas including cardiac arrest, drowning, head injury and high anxiety. Using statistical analysis and a measurement called the Greyson scale to assess the number and intensity of different features of the near-death experiences, the team discovered that surprisingly, the reports shared many similarities
The most common feature was an overwhelming feeling of peacefulness. The next most common was an out-of-body experience. And many people felt a change in their perception of how time was passing. There were only a few examples of negative experiences. “It turns out to be not so bad to have a dying experience,” says Laureys.
Laureys is aware of the negative backlash these types of studies generate among his peers, but he seems to be willing to go wherever the research takes him.
“We need to accept there are many things we don’t understand, but it’s important to apply the best scientific method we can” he says. “It’s a first step in understand something that is really interesting and could ultimately provide a better understanding of consciousness.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
This is Your Brain on ‘Shrooms
Despite what modern Science would have you believe, the truth is there’s a great deal we don’t know about human consciousness, a fact highlighted by how it’s vastly affected by psychedelic substances –a topic which became blacklisted due to the satanization of these compounds. Fortunately & thanks to the labor of brave researchers, we’re finally closing the gap left open during the last 43 years in the study of entheogens and the positive, long-lasting effects they can have in the human brain.
According to a study recently published in Human Brain Mapping, psilocybin could not only proof effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety, but it also unlocks brain states which are usually experienced when we dream; this in turn may trigger a profound & permanent shift in the perspective of the psychonaut.
The study examined brain activity in those who’d received injections of psilocybin, which gives “shrooms” their psychedelic punch. Despite a long history of mushroom use in spiritual practice, scientists have only recently begun to examine the brain activity of those using the compound, and this is the first study to attempt to relate the behavioral effects to biological changes.
After injections, the 15 participants were found to have increased brain function in areas associated with emotion and memory. The effect was strikingly similar to a brain in dream sleep, according to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doctoral researcher in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.
This unexpected finding has prompted researchers to suggest psilocybin causes the brain to enter into a sort of ‘waking dream,’ stimulating areas associated with emotions, while quieting down those in charge of high-level cognition.
Our firm sense of self—the habits and experiences that we find integral to our personality—is quieted by these trips. Carhart-Harris believes that the drugs may unlock emotion while “basically killing the ego,” allowing users to be less narrow-minded and let go of negative outlooks.
‘Killing the Ego’. Now WHERE do we usually find that kind of talk? That’s right: Mystical experiences & Eastern spiritual traditions!
But like I stated earlier, modern scientists are right now more interested in the therapeutic potential of these substances:
It’s still not clear why such effects can have more profound long-term effects on the brain than our nightly dreams. But Carhart-Harris hopes to see more of these compounds in modern medicine. “The way we treat psychological illnesses now is to dampen things,” he said. “We dampen anxiety, dampen ones emotional range in the hope of curing depression, taking the sting out of what one feels.”
But some patients seem to benefit from having their emotions “unlocked” instead. “It would really suit the style of psychotherapy where we engage in a patient’s history and hang-ups,” Carhart-Harris said. “Instead of putting a bandage over the exposed wound, we’d be essentially loosening their minds—promoting a permanent change in outlook.”
Personally what seems to be the most transcendental change in outlook magic mushrooms & LSD could bring about in the experiencer, is the realization that what we consider to be ‘objective reality’ is ALSO another dream. One we happen to share with the rest of the human family.
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Whether the use of power plants or other means, the biggest challenge in our lives is to free our minds. So get crackin’!