Tag Archives: LiveScience

Spooky Science: Paranormal Beliefs Linked to Fearful Worldview

By Elizabeth Palermo via LiveScience.com

ghostly_173People who believe in ghosts may be more afraid of actual, real-world dangers — things like violent crimes or nuclear war — than are people who don’t hold paranormal beliefs, a new survey finds.

The Survey of American Fear asked people in the United States to divulge the terrors that keep them up at night. For the survey, nearly 1,500 participants responded to questions about 88 different fears and anxieties, ranging from commonplace phobias (like fear of heights) to less tangible concerns (like fear of government corruption). The survey also asked participants about their beliefs concerning paranormal and mythical things, like ghosts, Bigfoot and ancient aliens.

An inforgraphic demonstrating the paranormal beliefs included in the Fear Survey. Credit: Chapman University

An inforgraphic demonstrating the paranormal beliefs included in the Fear Survey.
Credit: Chapman University

“The reason we ask [about paranormal things] on the survey is that we’re interested in finding out what kind of clusters of beliefs tend to be associated with fear,” Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University in California and leader of the second annual Fear Survey, told Live Science.

ouija-board-gifLast year in the survey, researchers asked questions that gauged the respondents’ scientific reasoning. This was done to find out how the individuals’ knowledge of scientific ideas (how electricity works, why the sun sets in the west, etc.) related to those respondents’ fears. But this year, the focus was on supernatural beliefs, not scientific ones.

Bader and his colleagues found that quite a few Americans hold paranormal beliefs. The most common of these is the belief that spirits can haunt particular places; 41.4 percent of the demographically representative group of participants said they held this belief. A lot of Americans (26.5 percent) also think that the living and the dead can communicate with each other in some way, the survey found.

Many survey participants said  .  .  .

Continue Reading at LiveScience.com – – –

Viral Soda Infographic: How Does Cola Really Affect the Body?

by Rachael Rettner via livescience

coke-glass_250px_150pxAn infographic that breaks down what happens in your body after you drink one Coke has gone viral, but health experts say some information in the graphic is exaggerated.
In addition, while soda is certainly not a healthy food choice, drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage once in a while wouldn’t necessarily make a person unhealthy, the experts said.
“If you’re drinking one soda on occasion … that doesn’t equate to it being necessarily unhealthy,” said Heather Mangieri, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of the nutrition consulting company Nutrition Checkup in Pittsburgh. “The overall diet quality is what’s important.”
Health experts say the information in this infographic is exaggerated.

Health experts say the information in this infographic is exaggerated.

The infographic, which appears on the blog the Renegade Pharmacist, details seven changes that happen to the body during the first hour after drinking a Coke, including the effects of ingesting 39 grams of sugar. The information for the graphic was taken from a 2010 article on the website blisstree.com
On the whole, the science presented in the infographic is fairly accurate, said Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
However, some of the wording is exaggerated, Mangieri said. For example  .  .  .

Continue Reading – – –


These are two of my own responses on public forums regarding the above infographic:

The guy who made this infographic (Former pharmacist Niraj Naik) is a well known quack, believing in things like:

  • “sound healing” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZTqRvWTRCk),
  • “scientific prayers”,
  • “spiritually awakening sounds”,
  • “Ayurveda” – a “5,000 year old system of natural healing”,
  • “Trypnaural meditations. Trypnaural meditations feature an advanced form of brainwave entrainment using isochronic tones.”

He is a self-described “marketing expert.” He’s no different than Food Babe, he sells pseudoscience and makes outrageous claims as a way of self-promotion to make money.

Source: Former Pharmacist Turned Sound Healer, Niraj Naik Introduces The Alpha Mind Meditation System for Enhanced Health


His first claim is utter BS:

In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100 per cent of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavour allowing you to keep it down.

  1. There is no “recommended daily intake” of sugar.
  2. According to the American Heart Association (http://tinyurl.com/momm5hu), “sugars are not harmful to the body, our bodies don’t need sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food.”
  3. The average 12oz can of Coca Cola has 39 grams of sugar. Ingesting this amount of sugar will NOT make you vomit – with or without phosphoric acid. As an example, most candy bars (see image below) have comparable amounts of sugar and WITHOUT any phosphoric acid and we don’t see people projectile vomiting in candy stores. This is ridiculous.
A Milky Way bar has a comparable amount of sugar as a can of Coca Cola. According to the first claim in the infographic, this amount of sugar (absent any phosphoric acid) should have people projectile vomiting. Why no vomiting? (click image for larger view)

A Milky Way bar has a comparable amount of sugar as a can of Coca Cola. According to the first claim in the infographic, this amount of sugar (absent any phosphoric acid) should have people projectile vomiting. Why no vomiting?
(click image for larger view)

Out-of-Body Experience Is Traced in the Brain

by Tanya Lewis via livescience

What happens in the brain when a person has an out-of-body experience? A team of scientists may now have an answer.

Out-of-Body 722In a new study, researchers using a brain scanner and some fancy camera work gave study participants the illusion that their bodies were located in a part of a room other than where they really were. Then, the researchers examined the participants’ brain activity, to find out which brain regions were involved in the participants’ perceptions about where their body was.

The findings showed that the conscious experience of where one’s body is located arises from activity in brain areas involved in feelings of body ownership, as well as regions that contain cells known to be involved in spatial orientation, the researchers said. Earlier work done in animals had showed these cells, dubbed “GPS cells,” have a key role in navigation and memory.

The feeling of owning a body “is a very basic experience that most of us take for granted in everyday life,” said Dr. Arvid Guterstam, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and co-author of the study published today (April 30) in the journal Current Biology. But Guterstam and his colleagues wanted to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie this everyday experience.

Rubber hands and virtual bodies

In previous experiments, the researchers had explored the feeling of being out of one’s body. For example, the researchers developed the so-called “rubber hand illusion,” in which a person wearing video goggles sees a rubber hand being stroked, while a researcher strokes the participant’s own hand (which is out of sight), producing the feeling that the rubber hand is the participant’s own. The researchers have used a similar technique to give people the feeling of having a manikin’s body, or even an invisible body, as they described in a report published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the new study, Guterstam and his colleagues  .  .  .

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Also See:

Ever Wake Up and Think You See a Ghost?

Here’s What’s Happening

by Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience

It was an ordinary night, but Salma, a 20-year-old student at The American University in Cairo, had a particularly frightening experience. She woke up, unable to move a muscle, and felt as though there were an intruder in her bedroom. She saw what appeared to be a fanged, bloody creature that looked like “something out of a horror movie,” standing beside her bed.

She later explained her experience to researchers who were conducting a survey about sleep paralysis, a common but somewhat unexplained phenomenon in which a person awakens from sleep but feels unable to move. Up to 40 percent of people report experiencing sleep paralysis at some point in their lives, and a few, like Salma, hallucinate shadowy intruders hovering over them.

sleep paralysis 903 flipped_250px“Sleep paralysis can be a very frightening experience for some people, and a clear understanding of what actually causes it would have great implications for people who suffer from it,” said Baland Jalal, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers say that sleep paralysis happens when a person awakens during a stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). People in this stage of sleep are usually dreaming, but their muscles are nearly paralyzed, which might be an evolutionary adaptation that keeps people from acting out their dreams.

It is harder to explain why a subset of people who experience sleep paralysis feel a menacing figure in their room or pressing on their chests.

One possible explanation could be that the hallucination is the brain’s way of . . .

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Also See: Senses and Non-Sense: 7 Odd Hallucinations (livescience)

Are Ghosts Real?

Science Says No-o-o-o

The Pseudoscience of Ghost Hunting

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via livescience

If you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomena: Millions of people are interested in ghosts, and a 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses — and nearly half believe in ghosts.

ghost 820_250pxGhosts have been a popular subject for millennia, appearing in countless stories, from the Bible to “Macbeth,” and even spawning their own folklore genre: ghost stories. Part of the reason is that belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death and spirit communication.

People have tried to (or claimed to) communicate with spirits for ages; in Victorian England, for example, it was fashionable for upper-crust ladies to hold séances in their parlors after tea and crumpets with friends. In America during the late 1800s, many psychic mediums claimed to speak to the dead — but were exposed as frauds by skeptical investigators such as Harry Houdini.

It wasn’t until the past decade that ghost hunting became a widespread interest around the world. Much of this is due to Syfy cable TV’s hit series “Ghost Hunters,” now in its 10th season of not finding good evidence for ghosts. The show spawned several spin-offs, including “Ghost Hunters International” and “Ghost Hunters Academy,” and it’s not hard to see why the show is so popular: the premise is that anyone can look for ghosts.ElmerGhost02_250px The two original stars were ordinary guys (plumbers, in fact) who decided to look for evidence of spirits. Their message: You don’t need to be an egghead scientist, or even have any training in science or investigation. All you need is some free time, a dark place and maybe a few gadgets from an electronics store. If you look long enough, any unexplained light or noise might be evidence of ghosts.

The idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, and one that offers many people comfort; who doesn’t want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren’t looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? Most people believe in ghosts because of personal experience; they have seen or sensed some unexplained presence.

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Aliens? Yes Please. UFOs? No Thanks

Via LiveScience

SETI uses the Arecibo's 305-meter telescope — the largest in the world — to scan the sky for signals from alien civilizations all year round. Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NSF

SETI uses the Arecibo’s 305-meter telescope — the largest in the world — to scan the sky for signals from alien civilizations all year round.
Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NSF

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, may be becoming more mainstream, as evidenced by this week’s House Science and Technology Committee hearing, which included testimony by two well-known SETI hunters, Seth Shostack and Dan Werthimer.

But the hearing took an odd turn when U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a New York Republican, had the floor.

“I think I might ask the question everyone in this room wants to ask,” Collins said. “Have you watched ‘Ancient Aliens’ and what’s your comment about that series?”

The television show, broadcast on The History Channel, explores purported extraterrestrials’ visits to Earth over millions of years.

Shostak, senior scientist at the California-based SETI Institute, started off diplomatically.

“The public is fascinated with the idea that we may be being visited now, or may have been visited in the past, the so-called UFO phenomenon,” he said.

ancientaliens03a_225pxThen he got down to business:

“I personally don’t share the conviction that we are being visited. I don’t think that that would be something that all the governments of the world had managed to obfuscate — to keep secret. I don’t believe that.

“The idea that maybe we were visited during the time of the ancient Egyptians and so forth, keep in mind that in the 4.5-billion year history of the Earth, the time of the ancient Egyptians was yesterday. So again, why were they there then? What was it that brought them to Earth? I have no idea and I don’t find very good evidence,” Shostak said.

MORE – – –

Watch the exchange (2:10 mins):

Watch the full House Science and Technology Committee hearing on YouTube (1 hour).

The Mystery of the Sailing Stones in Death Valley

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

California’s remote, beautiful, and foreboding Death Valley has held a mystery for almost a century: it has stones that seem to move on their own, when no one is looking. It happens at Racetrack Playa, a dry lakebed known for its “sailing stones.” This effect occurs at a few other places as well, though Death Valley is the most famous spot.

Heavy rocks like these seem to slide across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

Heavy rocks like these seem to slide across the surface of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park.

In their book “Mysteries of the World: Unexplained Wonders and Mysterious Phenomena,” Herbert Genzmer and Ulrich Hellenbrand state that “the perfectly flat, dry ground is scoured and scraped with paths that suggest these boulders are being moved along the ground… there is no indication of how this movement could have been brought about by outside forces, and no stone has ever been observed actually making its way across the ground.”

Not all of the stones in Death Valley move. Those that do only move every two to three years, and they don’t all move at the same time or in the same direction. In fact, some seem to have made abrupt 90-degree turns, judging from the tracks, which range from tens of feet to hundreds of feet long. Most of the stones are not huge boulders but instead range from about 6 to 18 inches (15 to 45 centimeters) in diameter.

Several theories have been proposed to explain this curious phenomenon, including some sort of localized, unknown magnetic effect. This theory has been discounted for a variety of reasons including that many of the stones do not contain significant amounts of magnetic elements such as iron, and that the stones should gradually assemble in one place — which they don’t. Some have suggested that the strong winds that blow through the area might move the rocks after the lakebed has become slick.

The most likely solution to the mystery involves a combination of wind, temperature and water. Although Racetrack Playa is a dry lakebed, it is not always dry; in fact, water collects on the surface after rainfall or when snow from surrounding peaks melts. Brian Dunning, a California researcher who discussed this mystery on his Skeptoid podcast, notes that when water is present and the temperature falls below freezing — as it sometimes does — a thin sheet of ice is created: “Solid ice, moving with the surface of the lake and with the inertia of a whole surrounding ice sheet, would have no trouble pushing a rock along the slick muddy floor… As the wind shifts and the flow ebbs, these ice floes drag the rocks across the slippery mud surface in zig-zagging paths, even moving heavy rocks and sometimes dragging some but washing past others nearby.”

NASA researcher Ralph Lorenz became intrigued by the enigmatic stones while studying Death Valley weather conditions. He developed a tabletop experiment to show how the rocks might glide across the surface of the lakebed.

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

Ralph Lorenz’s home experiment

“I took a small rock and put it in a piece of Tupperware, and filled it with water so there was an inch of water with a bit of the rock sticking out,” Lorenz told Smithsonian.com.

After putting the container in the freezer, Lorenz ended up with a small slab of ice with a rock embedded in it. By placing the ice-bound rock in a large tray of water with sand at the bottom, all he had to do was gently blow on the rock to get it to move across the water. And as the ice-embedded rock moved, it scraped a trail in the sand at the tray’s bottom.

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Video via inFact with Brian Dunning (YouTube)

The Riddle of Twin Telepathy

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

Many identical twins — perhaps as many as one in five — claim to share a special psychic connection. About one out of every 30 babies born in the United States is a twin, and identical twins are especially interesting because they have the same genes and are alike in many ways. Brothers and sisters can be close, but some twins claim to know what the other is thinking or feeling. It’s an intriguing idea, but what’s the truth behind it? Coincidence, psychic powers or something else?

shutterstock_40670914_250pxThis sort of psychological connection isn’t necessarily mysterious, of course: any two people who know each other very well and who have shared many common experiences — including non-twin siblings, old married couples, and even best friends — may complete each other’s sentences and have a pretty good idea about what the other person is thinking.

The idea of twin telepathy has been around for well over a century. It appears, for example, in the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novella “The Corsican Brothers.” It tells the story of two once-conjoined brothers who were separated at birth yet even as adults continue to share not only thoughts but also physical sensations. As one twin describes, “However far apart we are now we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effects on the other.” The 2013 best-selling novel “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld also tells the story of twin girls who share a psychic connection.

telepathy500a_200pxMost of the evidence for twin telepathy is not scientific but instead anecdotal. For example, in 2009 a British teenager named Gemma Houghton was in her home when she suddenly had a feeling that her fraternal twin sister, Leanne, needed help. “I just got this feeling to check on her, so I went up to the bathroom and she was under the water,” she said. Gemma found Leanne in a bathtub, unconscious. She had suffered a seizure and slipped under the water, nearly drowning. Gemma called for help and administered first aid, saving her sister’s life.

The story of Gemma and Leanne Houghton has been widely cited as  .  .  .

MORE – – –

The Riddle of Twin Telepathy

Benjamin RadfordBenjamin Radford via LiveScience

Many identical twins — perhaps as many as one in five — claim to share a special psychic connection. About one out of every 30 babies born in the United States is a twin, and identical twins are especially interesting because they have the same genes and are alike in many ways. Brothers and sisters can be close, but some twins claim to know what the other is thinking or feeling. It’s an intriguing idea, but what’s the truth behind it? Coincidence, psychic powers or something else?

EvilTwins-th_250pxThis sort of psychological connection isn’t necessarily mysterious, of course: any two people who know each other very well and who have shared many common experiences — including non-twin siblings, old married couples, and even best friends — may complete each other’s sentences and have a pretty good idea about what the other person is thinking.

The idea of twin telepathy has been around for well over a century. It appears, for example, in the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novella “The Corsican Brothers.” It tells the story of two once-conjoined brothers who were separated at birth yet even as adults continue to share not only thoughts but also physical sensations. As one twin describes, “However far apart we are now we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effects on the other.” The 2013 best-selling novel “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld also tells the story of twin girls who share a psychic connection.

Most of the evidence for twin telepathy is not scientific but instead anecdotal.

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Erasing Bad Memories: Wiping Out Unconscious Traces Is Possible

By Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience

memory-fix_250pxBad memories are not only part of our conscious mind, they also leave a trace in our unconscious. But now, new research shows that actively trying to forget an unwanted memory can help erase this unconscious trace.

In a new study, researchers showed people pairs of images, and sometimes asked the participants to try to forget the first image of an object. The researchers wanted to see whether such willful forgetting could change how easily the participants could later identify an image of that object, this time hidden almost imperceptibly behind “visual noise,” or a scrambled image of the object.

Generally, after people have seen an image, say of a coffee cup, they can more easily identify another image of that coffee cup even if it is masked by such visual noise. That’s because the brain does a bit of work to set up a mental representation of the coffee cup the first time around.

However, in the study, it turned out that participants had a harder time identifying an object within the background noise if they had tried to forget the first.

Moreover, actively trying to forget an object also changed the unconscious brain representation of that image the second time around, according to the study published yesterday (March 17) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Half Of Americans Believe in Medical Conspiracy Theories

By Rachael Rettner via LiveScience

"Do you see what vaccines have done to me?"

“Do you see what vaccines have done to me?”

About half of Americans agree with at least one medical conspiracy theory, a new study suggests.

The study surveyed more than 1,300 Americans to see whether they agreed with six popular medical conspiracy theories — such as the discredited link between vaccines and autism, or the belief that water fluoridation is a cover-up to allow companies to dump dangerous chemicals into the environment.

Nearly half, or 49 percent, of those surveyed agreed with at least one medical conspiracy theory, and 18 percent agreed with three or more theories.

The most commonly endorsed theory was the belief that the Food and Drug Administration is “deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies.” More than a third of Americans, or 37 percent, agreed with this statement.

Twenty percent agreed with the statement: “Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them.” The vaccine-autism link was supported by 20 percent of participants.

Study researcher Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said he was not surprised by the findings. Studies of American’s belief in political conspiracy theories have yielded similar results.

“We see that Americans have conspiracy theories about a lot of things, not just about politics, but also about health and medicine as well,” Oliver said.

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Mysterious Egyptian Spiral Seen on Google Maps

By Marc Lallanilla via LiveScience

Desert Breath, as seen on Google Maps. Credit: Google Earth (click image for larger view)

Desert Breath, as seen on Google Maps.
Credit: Google Earth
(click image for larger view)

To some viewers, it looks like a landing strip for extraterrestrial spacecraft — or perhaps the portal to a parallel universe, if not an ancient monument to a benevolent deity who had a keen eye for design and symmetry.

But what people are actually seeing in the desolate reaches of the Egyptian desert, just a short distance from the shores of the Red Sea, is in fact an environmental art installation. And it’s been baffling tourists and armchair travelers since it was constructed in March 1997.

Danae Stratou, Alexandra Stratou and Stella Constantinides worked as a team to design and build the enormous 1 million square foot (100,000 square meters) piece of artwork — called Desert Breath — to celebrate “the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind,” as stated on the artists’ website. [See Photos of the Stunning ‘Desert Breath’ Spiral]

Constructed as two interlocking spirals — one with vertical cones, the other with conical depressions in the desert floor — Desert Breath was originally designed with a small lake at its center, but recent images on Google Maps show that the lake has emptied.

The entire structure, in fact, is slowly disintegrating as the sand that forms the art piece slowly blows off its cone-shaped hills and fills in its depressions, making it “an instrument to measure the passage of time.”

The art piece joins other mysterious images and environmental artworks that fascinate viewers on Google Earth  .  .  .

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Synchronicity: Definition & Meaning

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

image descriptionAmazing coincidences happen all the time — but are they simply the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? The answer may depend on whether you believe in synchronicity.

The term synchronicity was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung had a strong belief in a wide variety of paranormal phenomenon, including psychic powers, astrology, alchemy, predictive dreams, UFOs and telekinesis (moving objects with the mind). He was also obsessed with numerology — the belief that certain numbers have special cosmic significance, and can predict important life events.

A flock of birds inspired Carl Jung's theory that everything in the universe is intimately connected.

A flock of birds inspired Carl Jung’s theory that everything in the universe is intimately connected.

Jung’s concept of synchronicity is complicated and poorly defined, but can be boiled down to describing “meaningful coincidences.” The concept of synchronicity came to Jung during a period of mental illness in the early 1900s. Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected, and that suggested to him that there must exist a collective unconscious of humankind. This implied to him that events happening all over the world at the same time must be connected in some unknown way.

In his book “137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession,” Arthur I. Miller gives an example of synchronicity; one of his patients “told Jung that when her mother and grandmother died, on each occasion a flock of birds gathered outside the window of the room.” The woman’s husband, who had symptoms of heart problems, went out to see a doctor and “on his way back the man collapsed in the street. Shortly after he had set off to see the specialist a large flock of birds had alighted on the house. His wife immediately recognized this as a sign of her husband’s impending death.”

Is synchronicity real?

There is, of course, a more prosaic explanation for curious coincidence: birds are very common, and simply by random chance a flock will appear near people who are soon to die — just as they appear daily around millions of people who are not soon to die.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs.

Confirmation bias: Selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.

The appearance of synchronicity is the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses); we much more easily notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. The human brain is very good at making connections and seeing designs in ambiguous stimuli and random patterns.

If Jung’s patient came to believe that a flock of birds meant that death was imminent, she would start noticing flocks of birds, and remember the times when they coincided with a loved one’s death. But she would not likely notice or remember the countless times when flocks of birds appeared over people who lived for years or decades longer. Put another way, a person dying when a flock of birds is present is an event; a person not dying when a flock of birds is present is a non-event, and therefore not something anyone pays attention to. This is the result of normal human perceptual and memory biases, not some mysterious cosmic synchronicity.

It’s easy to see why synchronicity has mass appeal; it provides meaning and order in an otherwise random universe. One famous (and more modern) example of synchronicity is  .  .  .

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Shrouded in pseudoscience

Via Skeptophilia

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

I hate to break it to you, LiveScience, but in the interest of accuracy, it’s probably time to take the word “Science” out of the name of your website.

What you’re promoting isn’t really science, any more than The History Channel has anything even remotely to do with history.  You’re passing along to the public the idea that science is this mushy, hand-waving pursuit, where you can do an “experiment” to support an idea you’d already decided was true, generate essentially nothing in the way of data, and then claim that your results support whatever your original contention was.

I say this in light of a recent story called “Shroud of Turin: Could Ancient Earthquake Explain Face of Jesus?”  If the very title makes you suspicious, then good; you’re starting out from the right vantage point.

Let’s begin with the facts.  The Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen cloth that has been preserved for centuries as a holy relic — supposedly the sheet that covered Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.  It shows the image of a naked man, with wounds similar to those described in the bible.

The problem is, the linen cloth was carbon-14 dated — a step that the religious powers-that-be resisted for decades — and it was conclusively shown to date to around 1350 C.E.  It is, put simply, a fake.  So you’d think that would be that.

As we’ve seen before, that is never that when religion enters the picture.

b_shroud JesusThe article in LiveScience tells about a study headed by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino, in Turin, Italy, which discovered that when you crush rocks using a mechanical press, it can cause a brief emission of neutrons.  From that single piece of information, he concludes the following:

  • Earthquakes can therefore be associated with neutron emissions.
  • The neutrons could interact with nitrogen atoms in the linen cloth (or in anything else, presumably), and mess up the carbon-14 dating protocol, causing it to give a wrong answer.
  • The neutrons could also have burned a pattern into the cloth as they passed through it.  Because the cloth was wrapped around a human body, it would have caused an image to appear on it, much like an x-ray.
  • The bible says that there was an earthquake around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, and the “stone rolled back from the tomb.”  [Matthew 28:1-2]
  • So: the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial cloth of Jesus.  Therefore god and the Catholic Church and all of the rest of it.  q.e.d.

Oh, come on, now.  This qualifies as science?  It’s about as bad an example of assuming your conclusion as I’ve ever seen.  And if earthquakes interfered with carbon-14 and nitrogen-14 levels, then radiocarbon dating would never work, since earthquakes happen basically all the time, all over the Earth.  And yet carbon-14 dating has been shown to be extremely accurate, over and over again.

Funny thing, that.

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What is Stigmata?

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

Stigmata15b_250pxPeople who have stigmata exhibit wounds that duplicate or represent those that Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion. The wounds typically appear on the stigmatic’s hands and feet (as from crucifixion spikes) and also sometimes on the side (as from a spear) and hairline (as from a crown of thorns).

Along with possession and exorcism, stigmata often appears in horror films, and it’s not difficult to see why: bloody wounds that mysteriously and spontaneously open up are terrifying. However, stigmatics, who are typically devout Roman Catholics, do not see their affliction as a terrifying menace but instead as a miraculous blessing — a sign that they have been specially chosen by God to suffer the same wounds his son did.

Curiously, there are no known cases of stigmata for the first 1,200 years after Jesus died. The first person said to suffer from stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), and there have been about three dozen others throughout history, most of them women.

Padre Pio

A young Padre Pio (born Francesco Forgione) displays his stigmata.

A young Padre Pio (born Francesco Forgione) displays his stigmata.

The most famous stigmatic in history was Francesco Forgione (1887-1968), better known as Padre Pio, or Pio of Pietrelcina. The most beloved Italian saint of the last century, Padre Pio first began noticing red wounds appearing on his hands in 1910, and the phenomenon progressed until he experienced full stigmata in 1918 as he prayed in front of a crucifix in his monastery’s chapel.

Padre Pio was said to have been able to fly, and also to bilocate (to be in two places at once); his stigmata was allegedly accompanied by a miraculous perfume; the Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, in his 1963 biography of the saint, noted that it smelled of “violets, lilies, roses, incense, or even fresh tobacco,” and “whenever anyone notices the perfume it is a sign that God bestows some grace through the intercession of Padre Pio.”

Journalist Sergio Lizzatto, in his book “Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age” explains the social context in which Padre Pio’s stigmata emerged: “In the first years of the twentieth century, when Padre Pio was a seminarian, the Eucharist — the body and blood of Christ — was at the height of its importance in Catholic practice. Communion was celebrated frequently and became a mass phenomenon. At the same time, asceticism was interpreted in ever more physical terms. Body language — ecstasy, levitation, the stigmata — was held to be the only real mystical language.”

Pio’s stigmata appeared, Lizzatto argues, because that’s exactly what the church and its followers expected to appear in its most devout servants: Jesus’ real, physical torment visited upon the holiest of men.

Though Padre Pio was widely beloved, many weren’t convinced that the friar’s wounds were supernatural. Among the skeptics were two popes and the founder of Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Agostino Gemelli, who examined Padre Pio and concluded that the stigmatic was a “self-mutilating psychopath.”

Still, Padre Pio garnered a widespread following and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Though Pio, who died in 1968, never confessed to faking his stigmata, questions about his honesty surfaced when it was revealed that he had copied his writings about his experiences from an earlier stigmatic named Gemma Galgani. He claimed ignorance of Galgani’s work, and could not explain how his allegedly personal experiences had been published verbatim decades earlier by someone else. Perhaps, he suggested, it was a miracle.

Is stigmata real?

Encyclopedia of Claims_300pxSo is stigmata real, or a hoax, or something in between? The claimed miracle of stigmata — like inedia, where people who claim not to eat food — is very difficult to scientifically verify. Veteran researcher James Randi, in his “Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural,” notes that “Since twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance would be necessary to establish the validity of these phenomena as miracles, no case of stigmata exists that can be said to be free of suspicion,” and though the possibility of genuine stigmata can never be ruled out, “It is interesting to note that in all such cases, the wounds in the hands appear at the palms, which agrees with religious paintings but not with the actualities of crucifixion; the wounds should appear at the wrists.”

If stigmata is real, there is no medical or scientific explanation for it.

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Where is the Proof in Pseudoscience? (Op-Ed)

H/T: (Skeptic Wars)


By Peter Ellerton via LiveScience

homeopathy 803_250pxThe word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.

This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.

A good example of pseudoscience is homoeopathy, which presents the façade of a science-based medical practice but fails to adhere to scientific methodology.

Other things typically branded pseudoscience include astrology, young-Earth creationism, iridology, neuro-linguistic programming and water divining, to name but a few.

What’s the difference?

science 824_200pxKey distinctions between science and pseudoscience are often lost in discussion, and sometimes this makes the public acceptance of scientific findings harder than it should be.

For example, those who think the plural of anecdote is data may not appreciate why this is not scientific (indeed, it can have a proper role to play as a signpost for research).

Other misconceptions about science include what the definition of a theory is, what it means to prove something, how statistics should be used and the nature of evidence and falsification.

Because of these misconceptions, and the confusion they cause, it is sometimes useful to discuss science and pseudoscience in a way that focuses less on operational details and more on the broader functions of science.

What is knowledge?

 John Dewey Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


John Dewey
Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The first and highest level at which science can be distinguished from pseudoscience involves how an area of study grows in knowledge and utility.

The philosopher John Dewey in his Theory of Inquiry said that we understand knowledge as that which is “so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry”.

This is an excellent description of how we come to “know” something in science. It shows how existing knowledge can be used to form new hypotheses, develop new theories and hence create new knowledge.

It is characteristic of science that our knowledge, so expressed, has grown enormously over the last few centuries, guided by the reality check of experimentation.

In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.

No progress made

Contrast this with homeopathy, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.

At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not.

To understand this lack of growth we move to a lower, more detailed level, in which we are concerned with one of the primary goals of science: to provide causal explanations of phenomena.

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Global Warming: Heads they win, tails you lose.

By Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB), January 30, 2014

weasel word 02_flat

Let’s start this article by examining the deceptive use of words and phrases and later i will explain how i believe such deceptions are used in the global warming debate.

A few examples of what i mean.

save02_200pxWhat exactly is being promised by a sign in a store window that says, “Save up to 50% on everything in the store?”

Does it mean:

  1. The discount is 50%
  2. The discount is somewhere between 0% and 50%
  3. The discount applies to everything in the store
  4. The discount only applies to some things in the store
  5. Nothing in the store is discounted
  6. All of the above.

Of course the correct answer is “F” – all of the above.

This is a classic case of advertisers intentionaly using deceptive wording to create a false impression. In this case, the meaning of the words “… up to . . .” can mean anything from 0% to 50%, which renders the rest of the statement meaningless. So even if NOTHING in the store is discounted, this sign is technically true.

Though this kind of deceptive wording might be obvious to some, you might be surprised to learn how many people reading such a sign will interpret it to mean everything in the store is heavily discounted. Deception sells.

Another example . . .


nutriSystem_cropped_250px
Look at the NutriSystem ad to the right. NutriSystem ran print ads like this along with TV commercials and the promise-sounding sales pitch, “… lose all the weight you can at Nutri/System for only $199. Don’t wait, call now.”

Wait a second, back up the truck. Did you catch the deception in this pitch?

For only $199 you will lose all the weight you can? I’m sure you see the problem with this wording. So did the Federal Trade Commission (PDF).

If you don’t lose any weight, then this would be all the weight you can lose. See? NutriSystem didn’t lie – you DID lose all the weight you can – now pay $199!!

One more quick example and i’ll move on to global warming . . .


loan_250pxThis used car salesman on the right. Is he guaranteeing you a loan or is he promising to accept your loan application (so he can toss it into the round file)? There’s a big difference.

How about car dealerships that promise “guaranteed credit” or “cash for all trade-ins!”

Do these sales pitches sound like you will get all the credit you need to buy your dream car and maximum dollars for your used car trade-in? Or do they really mean you’ll get $5 of credit at 25% interest and a whopping $10 for your used car trade-in?

Words mean things. How words are used, misused or not used at all (conspicuous by their absence), also has meaning and can give us a glimpse into the motives behind the words.


I was going through some global warming articles about a week ago and i found this statistic in an article from LiveScience.com:

63pct

My gut finds this statistic hard to believe. It just seems too high compared to other polls i’ve seen in the last few years on the same subject. Two years ago it was reported to be about 50%, now it’s reported at 63%? We haven’t seen any warming in over 15 years and the belief in global warming has climbed? Time to investigate.

So i found the survey upon which this statistic is based (Download the PDF) and i found something interesting on page 34 – the definition of global warming as it was defined for the respondents of this latest survey (November 2013):

GW definition

For the purpose of responding to this survey, there are 3 criteria to consider to determine if you are a global warming believer:

  1. If temperatures have increased over the last 150 years,
  2. future temperatures may increase, and
  3. the worlds climate may change as a result.

Recall the “50% off” sign, the NutriSystem ad and the used car salesman ad at the top of this article. Now look at the wording in the above three criteria. There is one word that renders two of the three criteria completely meaningless.

Do you see it?

The weasel word is “may” in the second and third criteria.

“May” is synonymous with “optional” – something may, OR may NOT, occur.

Thus the three criteria above and these three criteria below are exactly the same from a logic standpoint:

  1. If temperatures have increased over the last 150 years,
  2. future temperatures may OR may NOT increase, and
  3. the worlds climate may OR may NOT change.

With the second and third criterias rendered meaningless, the question of whether global warming is real comes down to one, single question:

  • Have temperatures increased over the last 150 years?

As reported in my last global warming article, this is the temperature record for the last 150 years:

The Record_600px

Like asking if the earth is round, answering the question “Have temperatures increased in the last 150 years?” comes down to a simple, objective, recitation of fact:

  • Yes, the squiggly line is higher on the right side of the graph than it is on the left side of the graph.

Because neither the definition used to assess the answer to the question nor the question itself asks the respondent to consider anything beyond the vertical movement of the squiggly line, the answer to the question cannot be construed as agreeing with the more expansive definition of global warming and the theoretical causes:

GlobalWarmingDefinition

KEEP READING – – –

The Lore and Lure of Ley Lines

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

Many people believe that a grid of earth energies circles the globe, connecting important and sacred sites such as Stonehenge, the Egyptian Pyramids, and the Great Wall of China.

If you plot these and other sites on a map, a curious thing becomes apparent: Many of them can be connected by straight lines. Were these monuments and sacred sites specifically built at those locations by ancient people with lost knowledge of unknown earth energies especially strong along these “ley lines”?

Conspiracists like to play connect-the-dots with important and sacred sites around the world to make pretty lines.

Conspiracists like to play connect-the-dots with important and
sacred sites around the world to make pretty pictures.

History of ley lines

People have often found special significance in the unusual landmarks and geological features surrounding them. High mountain peaks and majestic valleys may be viewed as sacred, for example, while deep, dark caves have often been considered the domain of the underworld. The same is true for roads; in 1800s on the British Isles many people believed in mysterious “fairy paths,” trails connecting certain hilltops in the countryside. It was considered dangerous (or, at the very least, unwise) to walk on those paths during certain days because the wayward traveler might come upon a parade of fairies who would not take kindly to the human interruption.

gridviewPhilip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate describe the origin of ley lines in their “Book of English Magic”: “Alfred Watkins, a landscape photographer in Herefordshire, noticed that ancient sites seemed to be aligned with others nearby. His idea was that our ancestors built and used prominent features in the landscape as navigation points. These features included prehistoric standing stones and stone circles, barrows and mounds, hill forts and earthworks, ancient moats, old pre-Reformation churches, old crossroads and fords, prominent hilltops and fragments of old, straight tracks. Watkins went on to suggest that that the lines connecting these ancient sites represented old trackways or routes that were followed in prehistoric times for the purposes of trade or religious rites, and in 1921 he coined the term ‘ley lines’ to describe these alignments.”

Watkins himself did not believe that there was any magical or mystical significance to ley lines. However, the authors note, “The idea that there is a hidden network of energy lines across the earth … fired the imagination of the burgeoning New Age movement, and dowsers in particular became keen on detecting leys with dowsing.”

Because of this New Age interest, ley lines rose from mundane origins to an entire field of study, spawning books, seminars, and groups of ley line enthusiasts who gather to discuss, research, and walk the lines. Ley lines have also been incorporated into a variety of otherwise unrelated paranormal subjects, including dowsing, UFOs, Atlantis, crop circles and numerology.

Science and pseudoscience

You won’t find ley lines discussed in geography or geology textbooks because they aren’t real, actual, measurable things. Though scientists can find no evidence of these ley lines — they cannot be detected by magnetometers or any other scientific device — New Agers, psychics and others claim to be able to sense or feel their energy.

After all, a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.

After all, a straight line IS the shortest distance between two points.

Watkins’s original idea of ley lines is quite valid and rather intuitive; archaeologists have long known that, on a local and regional scale, roads tend to be built in more or less straight lines, geography allowing, and since a line is the shortest distance between two points it makes sense that important sites in a given culture would often be aligned, not randomly placed.

Ley line experts cannot agree on which “sacred sites” should be included as data points. Some internationally known ancient sites are obvious choices, such as England’s Stonehenge, Egypt’s Great Pyramids, Peru’s Machu Picchu ruins, and Australia’s Ayers Rock. But on a regional and local level, it’s anyone’s game: How big a hill counts as an important hill? Which wells are old enough or important enough? By selectively choosing which data points to include or omit, a person can come up with any pattern he or she wishes to find.

With literally tens of thousands of potential data points around the globe, it is little wonder that ley lines . . .

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How the Brain Creates Out-of-Body Experiences

By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience

astralt_250pxSAN DIEGO — The human mind effortlessly constructs the feeling of inhabiting a body, and now scientists are figuring out how the brain produces that experience.

The findings, presented here Sunday (Nov. 10) at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, highlight which brain regions are active when a person has an out-of-body experience.

Recent studies have shown that the brain incorporates information from multiple senses and the first-person visual perspective to create a sense of body ownership. But it’s still unclear how the brain perceives the body’s location in space.

In the study, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal, participants lay inside an MRI scanner while wearing a head-mounted display that showed a first-person camera view of another person’s body lying in a corner of the scanner room, with their head either parallel to a wall or perpendicular to it. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden repeatedly touched each participant with an object while simultaneously touching the body shown in the camera view. This gave participants the illusion that the body in the camera view belonged to them.

To heighten the illusion, the researchers used . . .

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Mystery Radar Blob Reveals Odd Man-Made Phenomenon

An image of a mysterious blob seen in weather radar on June 4, 2013, in Huntsville, Ala. Credit: Baron Services

An image of a mysterious blob seen in weather radar on June 4, 2013, in Huntsville, Ala.
Credit: Baron Services

Back in June 2013 a radar anomaly appeared on weather radars in the vicinity of Huntsville, Ala.

US radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

US radio host and conspiracy loon Alex Jones

This prompted the usual list of conspiracists to spew their usual inane theories, like the psychotics over at InfoWars (PDF copy here) speculating that the blob with a “strong chemical smell” could be Chinook helicopters, HAARP, chemtrails, military-industrial complex companies, or geoengineering technologies. So mysterious is this phenomenon that the author of this article declared, “we won’t ever find out what it is because it’s probably a result of a military test.”

Pure geniius. Talk about throwing cooked spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

But as usual, the explanation is completely benign. Read below.

Mason I. Bildernerg (MIB)

By Jeanna Bryner via LiveScience

On June 4, meteorologists in Huntsville, Ala., noticed a “blob” on their radar screen that looked like a strong thunderstorm, despite the fact the sun was shining and not a drop of rain could be found within a few hundred miles. After some sleuthing, and several wacky explanations, the scientists have identified the culprit.

“Our operational meteorologist spotted it on radar immediately and initially thought he was caught off-guard by a pop-up thunderstorm that wasn’t in the forecast,” Matthew Havin, data services manager at weather technology company Baron Services, told LiveScience in an email. “Soon after that point we had numerous people from around Huntsville (and even other meteorologists from other states) calling and e-mailing us trying to determine what was going on at the time.”

A U.S. Air Force AC-130 Gunship aircraft executes an evasive maneuver and drops chaff and flares during a firepower demonstration at the Nevada Test and Training Range in Nevada on Sept. 14, 2007. Image credit: http://contrailscience.com

A U.S. Air Force AC-130 Gunship aircraft executes an evasive maneuver and drops chaff and flares during a firepower demonstration at the Nevada Test and Training Range in Nevada on Sept. 14, 2007.
Image credit: http://contrailscience.com

And some of the theories put forth to explain the mysterious blob were doozies, from the conspiracy theory that it was the result of a top-secret ground-based transmitter to interference from a nearby utilities substation.

“My favorite explanation that we heard right away from someone in the general public was that it was caused by 1,000 ladybugs that were released by the Huntsville Botanical Garden earlier that morning,” Havin said. “It would take many millions of ladybugs to really show up on a weather radar, and it wouldn’t look the same as what we were seeing,” said Havin, who described the radar-blob tale at the annual meeting of the National Weather Association this month in Charleston, S.C.

When the team looked at the blob using standard weather radar, all indications were it was a strong thunderstorm. Then they turned to so-called dual-polarity technology developed in the last few years by the National Weather Service. This advanced radar allows scientists to scan in both the horizontal and vertical directions.

They found the blob was not nature-made, after all, and was likely so-called military chaff, or reflective particles used to test military radar.

MORE . . .

The Evil Eye: Meaning of the Curse & Protection Against It

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

If we accidentally cut someone off in traffic, we may get a scowl or menacing glare in return. For most of us it is soon shrugged off, but in many places the evil eye is taken very seriously.

evil-eye_250pxThe evil eye is a human look believed to cause harm to someone or something else. The supernatural harm may come in the form of anything from a minor misfortune to disease, injury or even death. Folklorist Alan Dundes, in his edited volume “The Evil Eye: A Casebook,” notes that “the victim’s good fortune, good health, or good looks — or unguarded comments about them — invite or provoke an attack by someone with the evil eye. If the object attacked is animate, it may fall ill. … Symptoms of illness caused by the evil eye include loss of appetite, excessive yawning, hiccups, vomiting, and fever. If the object attacked is a cow, its milk may dry up; if a plant or fruit tree, it may suddenly wither and die.”

It can even affect objects and buildings: The evil eye cast upon a vehicle may cause it to break down irreparably, while a house so cursed may soon develop a leaky roof or an insect infestation. Just about anything that goes wrong (for any reason, or no reason at all) may be blamed on the power of the evil eye.

Eye in history

The evil eye is well known throughout history. It is mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman texts, as well as in many famous literary works, including the Bible (Proverbs 23:6: “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats”), the Koran and Shakespeare.

The evil eye is essentially a specific type of magical curse, and has its roots in magical thinking and superstition.

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Can Humans Spontaneously Combust? ‘Unexplained Files’ Investigates

By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience

spontaneous human combustion 856_250pxIn Galway, Ireland, 76-year-old Michael Faherty was found burned to death at his home in December 2010. The coroner concluded Faherty’s death was a case of spontaneous human combustion — a human being catching fire with no apparent cause.

Can human bodies simply burst into flame without any external source of ignition? Or could there be a more mundane — and scientific — explanation for the phenomenon? The season finale of the Science Channel’s “The Unexplained Files,” airing Wednesday (Oct. 2) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, investigates this and other mysteries.

More than 200 cases of spontaneous human combustion have been reported around the world. Most involve a victim burning almost completely — although their extremities may remain intact — while their surroundings remain unburned. [Spooky! The 10 Biggest Unexplained Phenomena]

spontaneous human combustion 1143_250pxIn 1986, the charred body of 58-year-old retired firefighter George Mott was found in his apartment outside Crown Point, N.Y. All that was left of him was a leg, a shrunken skull and pieces of his rib cage.

In February, 65-year-old Danny Vanzandt was found burned to death in his home in Sequoyah County, Okla., with no signs of burns on nearby furniture.  Spontaneous combustion was suspected, but a recent medical examiner’s report concluded Vanzandt died from a heart attack before a lit cigarette may have ignited his clothing.

And in 1985, Frank Baker, a Vietnam veteran living in Vermont, claims he spontaneously caught fire while sitting on his couch. Unlike others, Baker lived to tell the tale.

Most scientists dismiss the idea that humans can catch fire for no reason.

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What Is the Illuminati?

By Joseph Castro via LiveScience

An all-seeing eye atop a pyramid is supposedly a symbol for the secret society known as the Illuminati.

An all-seeing eye atop a pyramid is supposedly a symbol for the secret society known as the Illuminati.

The Illuminati was an 18th-century secret society made up of numerous influential intellectuals and freethinkers of the time.

The organization, which is also known as the Bavarian Illuminati, opposed the Roman Catholic Church’s control over philosophy and science; promoted the education of women and their treatment as equals; sought to “enlighten” people’s minds and free them from superstitions and prejudices; and tried to reduce the oppression of the state.

The Illuminati was the brainchild of Adam Weishaupt, who was the chair of canon law and later the dean of the faculty of law at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria (a state in southeast Germany) in the early 1770s, according to “New England and the Bavarian Illuminati” (Columbia University Press, 1918), a nonfiction book about the secret society.

Weishaupt was vocally critical of the “intolerance and bigotry” of the church, which, at the time, held strong influence over the University of Ingolstadt, as well the politics and government of Bavaria.

His criticisms resulted in clashes with the Jesuits, leading Weishaupt to conclude that a secret organization of liberal-minded individuals was necessary to outwit the “enemies of reason.” He initially sought to join one of the Freemason lodges, but lacked the funds to do so and felt the order was too well-known to the general public.

So, on May 1, 1776, Weishaupt formed the Order of the Illuminati with four other members.

The Illumanti grew quickly, gaining some 2,000 members from countries throughout Europe, including France, Poland, Hungary and Italy. This rapid expansion was largely due to . . .

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Strange New State of Consciousness Could Exist, Researcher Says

By Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience

With anesthetics properly given, very few patients wake up during surgery. However, new findings point to the possibility of a state of mind in which a patient is neither fully conscious nor unconscious, experts say.

This possible third state of consciousness, may be a state in which patients can respond to a command, but are not disturbed by pain or the surgery, according to Dr. Jaideep Pandit, anesthetist at St John’s College in England, who discussed the idea today (Sept. 19) at The Annual Congress of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.

Pandit dubbed this state dysanaesthesia, and said the evidence that it exists comes partly from a recent study, in which 34 surgical patients were anesthetized, and had their whole body paralyzed except for their forearm, allowing them to move their fingers in response to commands or to signify if they are awake or in pain during surgery.

One-third of patients in the study moved their finger if they were asked to, even though they were under what seemed to be adequate anesthesia, according to the study led by Dr. Ian F. Russell, of Hull Royal Infirmary in England, and published Sept. 12 in the journal Anaesthesia.

“What’s more remarkable is that they only move their fingers if they are asked. None of the patients spontaneously responded to the surgery. They are presumably not in pain,” said Pandit, who wrote an editorial about the study.

Normally, while patients are under anesthesia, doctors continuously monitor them, and administer anesthetic drugs as needed. The goal is to ensure the patient has received adequate medication to remain deeply unconscious during surgery. However, it is debated how reliable the technologies used during surgery to “measure” unconsciousness are.

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Delusional People See the World Through Their Mind’s Eye

A mechanism for how the brain creates and maintains delusions is revealed in a new study.

By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience

Human beliefs are shaped by perception, but the new research suggests delusions — unfounded but tightly held beliefs — can turn the tables and actually shape perception. People who are prone to forming delusions may not correctly distinguish among different sensory inputs, and may rely on these delusions to help make sense of the world, the study finds. Typical delusions include paranoid ideas or inflated ideas about oneself.

ccc

Having delusions, such as a belief in telekinesis, can influence how people see the world – literally.
Credit: Arman Zhenikeyev | Shutterstock

“Beliefs form in order to minimize our surprise about the world,” said neuroscientist Phil Corlett of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., who was not involved in the study. “Our expectations override what we actually see,” Corlett added.

The prevailing thinking holds that people develop delusions to predict how events in their lives will occur — just as Pavlov‘s dog learned to predict that the sound of a bell ringing meant dinnertime was imminent. Humans update their beliefs when what they predict doesn’t match what they actually experience, Corlett said.

But delusions often appear to override the evidence of the senses. To test this idea, German and Swedish researchers conducted behavioral and neuroimaging experiments on healthy people who harbor delusions.

In one experiment, volunteers were given a questionnaire designed to measure delusional beliefs. Questions included: Do you ever feel as if people are reading your mind?; Do you ever feel as if there is a conspiracy against you?; Do you ever feel as if you are, or destined to be someone very important?; and Are you often worried that your partner may be unfaithful?

The participants then performed a task that tested their visual perception: They were shown a sphere-shaped set of dots rotating in an ambiguous direction, and asked to report which direction it was rotating at various intervals.

People who harbored a greater number of delusional beliefs (those who scored higher on the questionnaire) saw the dots appear to change direction more often than the average person. The result confirms findings from previous studies that delusional individuals have less stable perceptions of the world.

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Did Woman’s ‘Visions’ Locate Missing Boy?

Benjamin RadfordBy Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

The search for a missing 11-year-old California boy came to a tragic end recently when the body of Terry Smith Jr. was found. The boy’s mother reported him missing July 7, and his body was found three days later not far from his home in the rural town of Menifee, according to news reports.

psychic 1208A woman named Pam Ragland, who claims to have psychic or intuitive powers, is being credited by police and others as having located the boy through her visions, according to news reports.

Driven by recurring visions of the boy, a distinctive home and a tree, Ragland searched the area where the boy was last seen, and to her surprise, found a home and tree matched those in her visions, even though she lived 60 miles away and had never been there. Ragland and her children searched the area and discovered Smith buried in a shallow grave near the tree.

The case is strange and intriguing, but not unexplainable. Clues to solving the mystery may lie in psychology and statistics.

Prophetic visions?

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

Because Ragland had never met the Smith family nor been to their property, how could she possibly have recognized their home from her psychic visions? The answer is simple: She very likely saw it on television. Ragland stated that she had been following the extensive news coverage about the missing boy, and that she had her first visions while she was watching a news report about the search for Smith.

Television reports included photographs and video footage of the Smith home and property, and whether or not Ragland remembered paying attention to those images, she had indeed seen the Smith property before she arrived there.

Therefore the fact that a house and tree in her vision “matched” the house and tree where Smith was finally found is not surprising, and merely evidence of her not remembering where she saw an image, not psychic powers.

Psychics or statistics?

psychic_200pxWhy would Ragland suddenly get a (correct) vision of Smith’s location? She has stated believes that she and her children are “intuitive” and that the senses, ideas and intuitions that come to her are meaningful and important.

In high-profile missing persons cases, it is common for police to be inundated with hundreds or thousands of visions, hunches, and feelings from psychics, most of which are contradictory and all of which turn out to be wrong. Despite popular belief and claims to the contrary, there is not a single documented case of a missing person being found or recovered due to psychic information.

Like Ragland, many psychics state they genuinely believe in their powers and abilities, and are sincerely trying to help. Over the course of many missing persons cases and tens of thousands of visions and predictions, eventually a few of them will turn out to be correct simply by chance.

In this case, however, Ragland’s chance of correctly guessing where Smith’s body would be found was much better than pure chance.

It is a statistical fact that . . .

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Here to Hereafter: Can Psychics Really Talk to the Dead?

By Benjamin Radford  via LiveScience (October 2010)

psychic 920_250pxIn the … Clint Eastwood film “Hereafter,” Matt Damon stars as George, a man who has the ability to communicate with ghosts. George, who retired from the contacting-the-dead business (calling it a curse instead of a blessing) is reluctantly drawn back into doing  readings for people who have recently lost loved ones.

People in nearly every culture have long believed that communication with the dead is possible, and throughout the ages many people have claimed to be able to speak with the dearly departed. Ghosts and spirit communication often show up in classic literature, including mythology, the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays.

In Victorian England, it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, candles and other accoutrements were used to try to contact the dead. ouija-board-gifIn the U.S., belief in communication with the dead rose dramatically in the 1800s along with the rise of Spiritualism, a religion founded on hoaxed spirit communication by two young sisters in Hydesville, N.Y. Despite the fact that the sisters later admitted they had only been pretending to get messages from the dead, the religion they helped start flourished, claiming more than 8 million adherents by 1900.

For well over a century, many mediums have been caught faking spirit communication. Harry Houdini exposed many psychics as frauds who used trickery to make vulnerable people believe in the reality of spirit messages. (For more on this, see Massimo Polidoro‘s book “Final Séance,” Prometheus Books, 2001).

ghost-1_200pxWhether real or faked, the messages supposedly conveyed from the great beyond have changed dramatically over time. A century ago, mediums “in touch with the spirit” during séances would write pages and pages of “automatic writing,” the psychic’s hands allegedly guided by ghosts to convey lengthy handwritten messages.

Curiously, ghosts seem to have lost their will (or ability) to write since that time — or even communicate effectively. These days the spirits (as channeled through mediums) seem to prefer a guessing game and instead offer only ambiguous, vague information: “I’m getting a presence with the letter M, or J in the name? A father, or father figure perhaps? Did he give you something special to remember him by, something small?”

If spirit communication is real, one might think . . .

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Whatever Happened to Parapsychology?

Glenn McDonald, Discovery News via LiveScience

mind_body_225pxIt seems that stories of the paranormal sprout up every day, and everywhere, in pop culture and the media. Weird news websites number in the hundreds, and there are entire television series dedicated to psychic abilities, hauntings and paranormal investigation.

But that’s all showbiz, really. The actual academic study of parapsychology — the established term for phenomena such as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, telepathy and precognition — has seemingly disappeared since its heyday in the mid-20th century. So what happened to parapsychology?

It hasn’t gone anywhere, said John Kruth, executive director of the Rhine Research Center in Durham, N.C. It’s just become disorganized, underfunded and — in the realm of traditional science — largely ignored. The Rhine is one of a handful of privately funded groups in the United States still doing active research into parapsychology, sometimes called “psi phenomena.”

“People have never stopped doing research in these areas,” Kruth said. “But the skeptic community is strong and vocal, and they’re much better at working the media.” Kruth attributes much of the field’s decline in the United States, during the 1970s and 1980s, to media-savvy debunkers such as James Randi.

esp_200px“Certainly there are fraudulent practitioners out there, and we’re always watching for that,” Kruth said. “It’s like we have the frauds on one side and the debunkers on the other, and we’re in the middle, still trying to do science.”

Critics respond that, as a field of scientific study, parapsychology has much bigger issues. In short, the science has a fundamental evidence problem.

“It’s fallen into disuse due to the fact that there’s just nothing there,” said Michael Shermer, editor of the quarterly journal Skeptic and columnist for Scientific American. “Parapsychology has been around for more than a century. (Yet) there’s no research protocol that generates useful working hypotheses for other labs to test and develop into a model, and eventually a paradigm that becomes a field. It just isn’t there.”

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What Is Deja vu? What Is Deja vu?

By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor LiveScience

deja-vu_250pxMost people have experienced it at one point or another: déjà vu, the haunting sense that you’ve experienced something before.

French for “already seen,” déjà vu has been under investigation for years by scientists, who have yet to offer a complete explanation for the phenomenon, though it’s reportedly experienced by more than 70 percent of people at some point.

Recent research, however, has yielded some clues into what causes déjà vu. It seems to occur equally among men and women and across races, according to a 2003 study from the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, but déjà vu happens more often in people ages 15 to 25.

neurotransmitters_150pxThat fact has led some experts to believe déjà vu may be linked to neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are found in higher levels in teenagers and young adults — a hypothesis that gained traction after the peculiar case of a healthy 39-year-old man came to light.

The man — a doctor by profession — was fighting the flu by taking amantadine and phenylpropanolamine, two drugs known to increase dopamine activity in the brain. Within 24 hours of starting the drugs, he reported intense, recurrent episodes of déjà vu.

This case study, published in 2001 in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience, reported that once the doctor stopped taking the drugs, his déjà vu also disappeared.

Déjà vu and epilepsy

Another insight into the causes of déjà vu comes from studies of epilepsy. There is a strong and consistent link between déjà vu and the seizures that occur in people with medial temporal lobe epilepsy, a type of epilepsy that affects the brain’s hippocampus.

The hippocampus plays a key role in . . .

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What Are the Marfa Lights | Marfa Texas

By Marc Lallanilla via LiveScience

marfa lights 947The Marfa Lights, mysterious glowing orbs that appear in the desert outside the West Texas town of Marfa, have mystified people for generations.

According to eyewitnesses, the Marfa Lights appear to be roughly the size of basketballs and are varyingly described as white, blue, yellow, red or other colors.

Reportedly, the Marfa Lights hover, merge, twinkle, split into two, flicker, float up into the air or dart quickly across Mitchell Flat (the area east of Marfa where they’re most commonly reported).

There seems to be no way to predict when the lights will appear; they’re seen in various weather conditions, but only a dozen or so nights a year. And nobody knows for sure what they are — or if they really even exist at all.

A closeup of the Marfa Lights

A closeup of the Marfa Lights

The Native Americans of the area thought the Marfa Lights were fallen stars, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The first mention of the lights comes from 1883, when cowhand Robert Reed Ellison claimed to have seen flickering lights one evening while driving a herd of cattle near Mitchell Flat. He assumed the lights were from Apache campfires.

Ellison was told by area settlers that they often saw the lights, too, but upon investigation, they found no ashes or other evidence of a campfire, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

During World War II, pilots from nearby Midland Army Air Field tried to locate the source of the mysterious lights, but were unable to discover anything.

A superior mirage

Lovers of the paranormal have attributed the Marfa Lights to everything from space aliens to the wandering ghosts of Spanish conquistadors.

marfa1_250pxAcademics, too, have tried to offer a scientific explanation for the enigmatic lights. A group of physics students from the University of Texas at Dallas concluded that headlights from vehicles on nearby U.S. Highway 67 could explain at least some of the reported sightings of the Marfa Lights.

Another possible explanation is the refraction of light caused by layers of air at different temperatures. This optical illusion, sometimes called a superior mirage or a “Fata Morgana,” according to Skeptoid.com, occurs when a layer of calm, warm air rests above a layer of cooler air.

A Fata Morgana is sometimes seen in the ocean, causing a ship to appear to float above the horizon. The temperature gradients needed to produce this optical effect are common in the West Texas desert.

Glowing gases

Still others speculate the Marfa Lights may be caused by . . .

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Dowsing: The Pseudoscience of Water Witching

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

dowsing 730_300pxDowsing is an unexplained process in which people use a forked twig or wire to find missing and hidden objects. Dowsing, also known as divining and doodlebugging, is often used to search for water or missing jewelry, but it is also often employed in other applications including ghost hunting, crop circles and fortunetelling.

The dowsing that most people are familiar with is water dowsing, or water witching or rhabdomancy, in which a person holds a Y-shaped branch (or two L-shaped wire rods) and walks around until they feel a pull on the branch, or the wire rods cross, at which point water is allegedly below. Sometimes a pendulum is used held over a map until it swings (or stops swinging) over a spot where the desired object may be found. Dowsing is said to find anything and everything, including missing persons, buried pipes, oil deposits and even archaeological ruins.

[…]

Dowsing: No better than chance

Skeptic James Randi in his “Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural,” notes that dowsers often cannot agree on even the basics of their profession: “Some instructions tell learners never to try dowsing with rubber footwear, while others insist that it helps immeasurably. Some practitioners say that when divining rods cross, that specifically indicates water; others say that water makes the rods diverge to 180 degrees.”

Though some people swear by dowsing’s effectiveness, dowsers have been subjected to many tests over the years and have performed no better than chance under controlled conditions. It’s not surprising that water can often be found with dowsing rods, since if you dig deep enough you’ll find water just about anywhere. If missing objects (and even missing people) could be reliably and accurately located using dowsing techniques, it would be a great benefit: If you lose your keys or cell phone, you should be able to just pull out your pendulum and find it; if a person goes missing or is abducted, police should be able to locate them with dowsing rods.

Science differs from the New Age and paranormal belief in that it progresses, correcting and building on itself. Technology and medicine are continually advancing and refining. Designs and techniques are improved or abandoned depending on how well they work. By contrast, dowsers have not gotten any more accurate over centuries and millennia of practice.

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Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of six books including Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.

Jedi Mind Trick?

Brain Thinks It Inhabits Virtual Body

By Tanya Lewis via LiveScience

In virtual reality, a virtual arm can feel like a real one.
CREDIT: © Mel Slater

The brain’s perception of the body may seem set in stone, but a new study shows the mind can be tricked into taking an entire virtual body for its own.

In 1998, neuroscientists Matthew Botvinick and Jonathan Cohen performed an experiment where they showed people a rubber hand being stroked with a paintbrush, while applying the same strokes to each person’s own, hidden hand. This gave people the feeling that the dummy hand was their own.

Scientists have since demonstrated the so-called rubber hand illusion for other body parts — and even whole bodies. Often this is done by putting people in virtual reality settings.

“It seems the brain, under certain conditions, quite easily accepts the idea that [a virtual body] is your body,” said study author Mel Slater, a computer scientist at the University of Barcelona. [Eye Tricks: Gallery of Visual Illusions]

In the new study, Slater and his colleagues investigated whether taking ownership of a full virtual body resulted in neglect of the real body.

Out-of-body experience

Head-mounted display

Head-mounted display

Study participants wore head-mounted displays in which they saw a virtual body when they looked down at their real body. Half of the participants experienced a realistic body illusion, where the virtual body’s posture and movements matched those of their real body, while the other half experienced an unrealistic one, where the posture and movements didn’t match their own.

The researchers had the participants place their hand on a cooling device, and measured participants’ sensitivity to small changes in temperature as they experienced a realistic virtual body illusion or an unrealistic one.

During the rubber hand illusion, the real hand has been shown to cool down, suggesting the brain pays more attention to the rubber hand. The researchers suspected that if people were neglecting their real body in favor of the virtual one, sensitivity to temperature changes on their real hand would diminish.

But the opposite was true: People remained sensitive to temperature changes when they experienced a strong illusion that the virtual body belonged to them, and became less sensitive when the illusion was unrealistic. In other words, the better the illusion, the more aware people were of temperature changes in their real hand.

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Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It

Via LiveScience

empty-headA growing body of psychology research shows that incompetence deprives people of the ability to recognize their own incompetence. To put it bluntly, dumb people are too dumb to know it. Similarly, unfunny people don’t have a good enough sense of humor to tell.

This disconnect may be responsible for many of society’s problems.

With more than a decade’s worth of research, David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, has demonstrated that humans find it “intrinsically difficult to get a sense of what we don’t know.” Whether an individual lacks competence in logical reasoning, emotional intelligence, humor or even chess abilities, the person still tends to rate his or her skills in that area as being above average.

Dunning and his colleague, Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now at New York University, “have done a number of studies where we will give people a test of some area of knowledge like logical reasoning, knowledge about STDs and how to avoid them, emotional intelligence, etcetera. Then we determine their scores, and basically just ask them how well they think they’ve done,” Dunning said. “We ask, ‘what percentile will your performance fall in?'”

The results are uniform across all the knowledge domains: People who actually did well on the test tend to feel more confident about their performance than people who didn’t do well, but only slightly. Almost everyone thinks they did better than average. “For people at the bottom who are really doing badly — those in the bottom 10th or 15th percentile — they think their work falls in the 60th or 55th percentile, so, above average,” Dunning told Life’s Little Mysteries. The same pattern emerges in tests of people’s ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess. “People at the bottom still think they’re outperforming other people.”

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What is Homeopathy?

Via LiveScience

just-waterHomeopathy is an alternative medical practice in which extremely dilute amounts of certain natural substances are used to treat various ailments.

Although homeopathic medicines are sold in health food stores and at high-end groceries, homeopathy is largely considered quackery. No scientific evidence supports its use; the theory of how homeopathy could work is beyond the realm of known physics; and governments worldwide are increasingly denying insurance payments to cover homeopathic treatment.

[…]

How homeopathy works

Homeopathy is based on rigorous dilutions and mixing, called successions. The dilution level is printed on the bottle of medicine. A typical homeopathic dilution is 30X, where the X represents 10. So, one part toxin (such as the aforementioned poison ivy) is mixed with 10 parts water or alcohol. The mix is shaken; one part of this mix is added to 10 parts of water or alcohol again; and the whole process is repeated 30 times.

The final dilution is one molecule of medicine in 10 to the 30th power (1030) of molecules of solution — or 1 in a million trillion trillion. At this dilution level you’d need to drink 8,000 gallons of water to get one molecule of the medicine — physically possible but implausible.

Other homeopathic solutions are 30C, which represents 100 to the 30th power (10030).  There’s not enough water in the solar system to accommodate this dilution.

Hahnemann didn’t realize this because he developed his theory before the concept in chemistry of the mole and Avogadro constant, which defines the number of particles in any given amount of a substance. So, Hahnemann and his followers could do the mechanical actions of dilution, but unbeknownst to them, they were diluting the medicine right out of the solution.

Does homeopathy work?

warning-homeopathy-not-medicineHomeopathic practitioners today understand the concept of Avogadro constant. They attribute homeopathy’s healing powers to “water memory” — the concept that water has the ability to remember of shape of the medicine it once contained.  There are, however, at least three problems with this stance.

First, this concept of water memory is beyond the realm of known physics. Water is not known to maintain an ordered alignment of molecules for much longer than a picosecond.

Second, if water can remember the shape of what’s in it, then all water has the potential to be homeopathic. Tap water, with its traces of natural substances sloshing about in pipes known to cause cancer and other diseases, would be therapeutic against these diseases.

Third, explanations of how it could work aside, there are no high-quality scientific studies to show that homeopathy is any more effective than a placebo. In testing homeopathy, two trends have emerged: Homeopathy is best at “curing” things that would soon pass anyway, such as colds, but would be dangerous for the treatment of serious ailments, such as diabetes; and the larger and more thorough the scientific study, the more homeopathy resembles a placebo.

Dangers of homeopathy

Don’t assume homeopathy, unregulated by the FDA, is safe. In some cases, the homeopathic medicine does contain traceable amounts of . . .

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Near-Death-Experiences Incredibly Vivid

Via LiveScience

near-death-tunnel_300pxLong after a near-death experience, people recall the incident more vividly and emotionally than real and false memories, new research suggests.

“It’s really something that stays in the mind of people as a clear trace, and it’s even more clear than a real memory,” said Vanessa Charland-Verville, a neuropsychologist in the Coma Science Group at the University of Liege in Belgium. She, along with colleagues, detailed the study online March 27 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Mysterious phenomenon

Roughly 5 percent of the general population and 10 percent of cardiac-arrest victims report near-death experiences, yet no one really knows what they are, Charland-Verville told LiveScience.

Across cultures and religions, people describe similar themes: being out of body; passing through a tunnel, river or door toward warm, glowing light; seeing dead loved ones greet them; and being called back to their bodies or told it’s not time to go yet.

Some think near-death experiences show the spirit and body can be separated. Others say oxygen deprivation or a cascade of chemicals in the failing brain are to blame. Some believe near-death experiences reveal the existence of God or heaven.

But what makes finding an explanation even more complicated is that healthy people in meditative trances and those taking hallucinogens, such as ketamine, describe very similar experiences, Charland-Verville told LiveScience.

Life-changing events

Because it’s impossible to monitor these events in real time, Charland-Verville and her colleagues spoke with those who had gone through these trancelike states, sometimes years earlier.

MORE . . .

Also see: Trippy Tales: The History of 8 Hallucinogens

Consumers Overestimate Benefits of Organic Foods

via LiveScience

organic certified_02_300pxConsumers see a lot of value in organic foods and new research has found that those shoppers are willing to pay a great deal more for that value.

Overall, researchers found that people were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for organic foods than they were for the same products not labeled organic. Consumers are willing to pay more for organic foods because of the so-called “health-halo effect,” researchers say.

That effect, where consumers overvalue the benefits of organic foods, was shown in research by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers Wan-chen Jenny Lee, Mitsuru Shimizu, Kevin Kniffin and Brian Wansink. In that research, 115 people were recruited from a shopping mall in Ithaca, N.Y.

Each of those shoppers was then asked to evaluate three pairs of products. The catch was that one of those products was labeled organic while the other was not. However, both pairs of yogurt, cookies and potato chips used in the study were identical.  Consumers were not able to make the distinction between the products and rated organically labeled food lower in fat, more nutritious, more appetizing and more flavorful. The only difference came when consumers rated cookies not labeled organic as tasting better.

Those attitudes go a long way in explaining why consumers are willing to pay more for organic products than others, researchers say.
MORE . . . .

Penn and Teller give their opinion of Organic Foods.
CAUTION: ADULT LANGUAGE!

Via Penn & Teller: Bullshit! – Organic Food – YouTube.

UFOs Over Texas: Unidentified Floating Fireballs?

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

aliens-ufo_300pxA strange sight in the Texas night sky over the weekend had many people talking about fireballs and alien invasions. But, alas, the real culprit has been identified, a much more Earthly one.

Police in East Liberty County got a 911 emergency call at around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday from a person reporting “red fireballs in the sky.” Responding police officers, along with a dozen locals, described seeing four orange lights moving slowly in a line high in the sky. Police scopes revealed that the objects looked like hot air balloons — complete with flames — but were much smaller and did not have the signature gondola at the bottom.

Even more mysteriously, the lights were estimated to only be a few thousand feet off the ground, and yet they moved silently. No known airplane or helicopter technology could fly that low and remain so quiet. Within minutes the UFOs were gone, having disappeared into the night. They didn’t fly away but instead simply blinked out of existence; some eyewitnesses thought they had vanished behind a passing cloud and would reappear at any moment, but they never did.

Even so, the sighting wasn’t over: A second batch of the strange lights soon appeared, in an identical line and in a more or less identical formation, until they too vanished in the same pattern. Baffled police contacted the National Weather Bureau, the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies, though none of them could shed light on the mystery. No unusual aircraft appeared on radar, and though weather balloons had been launched earlier that day, they were not aloft in the area at that time — and in any event did not match the UFOs description. The National UFO Reporting Center was also contacted, though they had no information to offer.

The Unidentified Flying Objects became IFOs when members of a nearby wedding party informed police that the floating, flaming objects were paper lanterns lit just after their ceremony. Such Chinese lanterns are made of lightweight paper and a candle that provides the heat that lifts the lanterns as well as the light that makes them glow.

That explains why there was no aircraft engine sound, and the flame-like appearance. Each lantern represented a wish made by each of the guests for the new couple. The newlyweds apologized if their wish lanterns scared anyone, and the sheriff took it in stride but noted that the lanterns might pose a fire threat, and asked the public to notify police before lighting such lanterns in the future.

This is not the first time that paper lanterns have sparked UFO reports.

MORE . . .

Also See: UFOs & Psychic Powers: Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena

Jersey Devil: Impossible Animal of Story & Legend

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

jersey-devil

Jersey Devil sightings go back to the 1700s. This image is from a 1909 Philadelphia newspaper.

A devil is said to haunt the wooded Pine Barren of southern New Jersey. Dubbed the Jersey Devil, it has never been photographed or captured, but has appeared in dozens of books, films, and television shows including “The X-Files.”

Most accounts suggest that the creature has a horse-like face with antlers or horns sprouting from the top of its head. It walks on two legs, ending with cloven hooves or pig’s feet. The overall body shape resembles a kangaroo, though it also has wings like a bat. Some say it has a tail like a lizard; others say it has no tail at all. The monster is said to kill dogs, chickens and other small animals, as well as leave spooky cloven hoof prints in snow, and bellow a terrifying screech in the wooded darkness.

History of the Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil is the subject of a legend dating from the early 18th century. There are several variations, but a common story holds that a woman named Mother Leeds (who was believed to have been the wife of a Daniel Leeds) gave birth to her 13th child on a dark and stormy night. Rumors claimed that she was a witch, and bore the Devil’s child. Shortly after birth, it changed form, growing wings, hooves and an equine head. It flew into the air with a bloodcurdling shriek, killing a midwife in the process, and headed toward the woods.

It sounds like a scene from a horror film or novel, too bizarre to be true. And indeed Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast notes that there are holes in the popular story of the Jersey Devil: “In looking at the historical sources, we soon find that this story is not possible. … There appears to be no contemporary sources connecting Daniel Leeds or either of his wives to a devilish character of any sort, and … Although newspapers of the 1800s did occasionally print the Mother Leeds story as given in the legend, we seem to have a total lack of factual basis to anchor it to any real history.”

Despite its origins in legend, several people have claimed to have seen or encountered the Jersey Devil over the past 250 years. In a section on the topic in the encyclopedia “American Folklore,” folklorist Angus Kress Gillespie notes that “The Jersey Devil remained an obscure regional legend through most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, until 1909 when a series of purported ‘Devil’ sightings inspired a Philadelphia businessman to stage a hoax. He painted a kangaroo green, attached fake wings to the helpless creature, and had it exhibited to the public.” The 1909 hoax (and others like it) inspired further sightings and reports, which continue to this day.

What Is the Jersey Devil?

Could the creature be real? The Jersey Devil’s diverse features are strong evidence that it does not — and cannot — exist as a real animal. The most obvious biologically implausible feature is its wings: they would need to be much bigger, and anchored in a much more massive musculoskeletal structure, to lift the animal’s body weight into the air. Birds and bats can fly because their bodies are relatively lightweight; the reputed heavy muscles and thick limbs of the Jersey Devil would never work; you’d have better luck putting butterfly wings on a rhino. Most images of the Jersey Devil look like a monster that a high school Dungeons & Dragons player might dream up as a composite of different, unrelated animals whose features could never actually exist in the same animal, but look weird and scary.

So what’s the explanation for the Jersey Devil? There’s very little to “explain”; we have a monster whose origin is obviously . . .

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Telekinesis: Facts About Mind Over Matter

via LiveScience

Scientific evidence for the psychic ability to move objects or bend spoons remains elusive.

Scientific evidence for the psychic ability to move objects or bend spoons remains elusive.

There are several claimed types of psychic powers, including precognition (knowing future events before they happen); pyrokinesis (creating fire with the mind, popularized in Stephen King’s novel and film “Firestarter”); and telepathy (describing things at a remote location). Among the most dramatic of these is telekinesis (also called psychokinesis, or PK), the ability to move objects through mind power. Though many Americans believe in psychic ability (about 15 percent of us, according to a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey), scientific evidence for its existence remains elusive.

History of telekinesis

LEVITATION_300pxThe idea of people being able to move objects through mind power alone has intrigued people for centuries, though only in the late 1800s was it seen as an ability that might be scientifically demonstrated. This occurred during the heyday of the early religion Spiritualism, when psychic mediums claimed to contact the dead during séances, and objects would suddenly and mysteriously move, float, or fly by themselves across the darkened room, seemingly untouched by human hands. Sometimes small tables would tip or levitate, disturbed either by unseen spirits or the psychic’s mind.

Though many people were convinced — including, ironically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes — it was all a hoax. Fraudulent psychics resorted to trickery, using everything from hidden wires to black-clad accomplices to make objects appear to move untouched. Magician Harry Houdini investigated and exposed many fake mediums, and even wrote a book about it titled “Miracle Mongers and Their Methods.”

As the public slowly grew wise to the faked telekinesis, the phenomenon faded from view. It was revived again in the 1930s and 1940s, when a researcher at Duke University named J.B. Rhine became interested in the idea that people could affect the outcome of random events using their minds. Rhine began with tests of dice rolls, asking subjects to influence the outcome through the power of their minds.

Uri Gellermade millions in the 1970s pretending to bend spoons with his mind.

Uri Geller made millions in the 1970s pretending to bend spoons with his mind.

Though his results were mixed and the effects were small, they were enough to convince him that there was something mysterious going on. Unfortunately for Rhine, other researchers failed to duplicate his findings, and many errors were found in his methods.

A few decades later, in the 1970s, a man named Uri Geller became the world’s best-known psychic and made millions traveling the world demonstrating his claimed psychokinetic abilities including starting broken watches and bending spoons. Though he denied using magic tricks, many skeptical researchers observed that all of Geller’s amazing feats could be — and have been — duplicated by magicians. In 1976, several children who claimed to be able to bend spoons with their minds were tested in controlled experiments at the University of Bath in England. At first the results seemed promising, and experimenters believed they might finally have found real scientific evidence of psychokinesis. However the children were caught cheating on hidden cameras, physically bending spoons with their hands when they thought no one was watching.

MORE . . . .

Via illuminutti.com – Uri Geller’s Tonight Show (lack of) performance (courtesy of James Randi):

5 Strange Theories About Stonehenge

H/T Thomas J. Proffit

via LiveScience

Stonehenge_008_300px

Thousands of years ago, an ancient civilization raised a circle of huge, roughly rectangular stones in a field in what is now Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge, as it would come to be called, has been a mystery ever since.

Building began on the site around 3100 B.C. and continued in phases up until about 1600 B.C. The people who constructed the site left no written records and few clues as to why they bothered to schlep the stones to this spot.

Wild theories about Stonehenge have persisted since the Middle Ages, with 12th-century myths crediting the wizard Merlin with constructing the site. More recently, UFO believers have spun theories about ancient aliens and spacecraft landing pads.

But Stonehenge has inspired a fair number of scientifically reasonable theories as well. Here are five major (and not necessarily mutually exclusive) reasons Stonehenge might exist. [Gallery: Stunning Photos of Stonehenge]

1. A place for burial

Stonehenge may have originally been a cemetery for the elite, according to a new study. Bone fragments were first exhumed from the Stonehenge site more than a century ago, but archaeologists at the time thought the remains were unimportant and reburied them. Now, British researchers have re-exhumed more than 50,000 cremated bone fragments from where they were discarded, representing 63 separate individuals, from Stonehenge. Their analysis, presented on a BBC 4 documentary on March 10, reveals that the people buried at the site were men and women in equal proportions, with some children as well.

The burials occurred in about 3000 B.C., according to study researcher Mike Parker Pearson of the University College London Institute of Archaeology, and the very first stones were brought from Wales at that time to mark the graves. The archaeologists also found a mace head and a bowl possibly used to burn incense, suggesting the people buried in the graves may have been religious or political elite, according to The Guardian newspaper.

2. A place for healing

Another theory suggests that Stone Age people saw Stonehenge as a place with healing properties. In 2008, archaeologists Geoggrey Wainwright and Timothy Darvill reported that a large number of skeletons recovered from around Stonehenge showed signs of illness or injury. The archaeologists also reported discovering fragments of the Stonehenge bluestones — the first stones erected at the site — that had been chipped away by ancient people, perhaps to use as talismans for protective or healing purposes.

3. A soundscape

Or perhaps Stonehenge’s circular construction was created to mimic a sound illusion. That’s the theory of Steven Waller, a researcher in archaeoacoustics. Waller says that if two pipers were to play their instruments in a field, a listener would notice a strange effect. In certain spots, the sound waves from the dual pipes would cancel each other out, creating quiet spots.

The stones of Stonehenge create a similar effect, except with stones, rather than competing sound waves, blocking sound, Waller reported in 2012 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Legends associated with Stonehenge also reference pipers, Waller said, and prehistoric circles are traditionally known as “piper stones.”

Waller’s theory is speculative, but other researchers have confirmed that Stonehenge had amazing acoustics. A study released in May 2012 found that the circle would have caused sound reverberations similar to those in a modern-day cathedral or concert hall.

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Exorcism: Facts and Fiction About Demonic Possession

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

To the extent that exorcisms "work," it is due to the power of suggestion and psychology: If you believe you're possessed (and that an exorcism will cure you), then it just might.

To the extent that exorcisms “work,” it is due to the power of suggestion and psychology: If you believe you’re possessed (and that an exorcism will cure you), then it just might.
CREDIT: udra11 | Shutterstock

The belief that demons exist and can possess people is of course the stuff of fiction and horror films — but it is also one of the most widely-held religious beliefs in the world. Most religions claim that humans can be possessed by demonic spirits (the Bible, for example, recounts six instances of Jesus casting out demons), and offer exorcisms to remedy this threat.

The idea that invading spirits are inherently evil is largely a Judeo-Christian concept; many religions and belief systems accept possession by both beneficent and malevolent entities for short periods of time as uncommon — and not especially alarming — aspects of spiritual life. Spiritualism, a religion that flourished across America in the 1800s and is still practiced in a few places today, teaches that death is an illusion and that spirits can possess humans. New Agers have also long embraced a form of possession called channeling, in which spirits of the dead are said to inhabit a medium’s body and communicate through them. Hundreds of books, and even some symphonies, have been allegedly composed by spirits.

Fictional exorcisms

Hollywood, of course, has been eager to capitalize on the public’s continued fascination with exorcism and demonic possession with films often dubbed “based on a true story.” There are countless exorcism-inspired films, including “The Last Exorcism,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “The Devil Inside” and “The Rite” — wildly varying in quality, originality, and scariness. The greatest cultural influence, of course, came from the classic “The Exorcist.” In the weeks after the film came out in 1974, a Boston Catholic center received daily requests for exorcisms. The script was written by William Peter Blatty, adapted from his best-selling 1971 novel of the same name. Blatty described the inspiration for the film as a Washington Post article he’d read in 1949 about a Maryland boy who had been exorcised. Blatty believed (or claimed to believe) it was an accurate account, though later research revealed the story had been sensationalized was far from credible.

Michael Cuneo, in his book “American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty,” credits Blatty and “The Exorcist” with much of the modern-day interest in exorcism. As for historical accuracy, though, Cuneo characterizes Blatty’s work as a massive structure of fantasy resting on a flimsy foundation of one priest’s diary. There really was a boy who underwent an exorcism, but virtually all of the gory and sensational details appearing in the book and film were wildly exaggerated or completely made up.

Real exorcisms

While many Americans think of real exorcisms as relics of the Dark Ages, exorcisms continue to be performed, often on people who are emotionally and mentally disturbed.

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Crystal Skulls: Legend, Vodka & Indiana Jones

via LiveScience

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Crystal skulls are wonders to behold, but their only power may be to fascinate.
CREDIT: Victor Habbick | Shutterstock

Crystal skulls are among the strangest and most mysterious artifacts in the world. They have been displayed in the finest museums; they have inspired books, films, legends and liquor. According to some they even have supernatural power.

Skulls are, of course, made of minerals; bone is mostly calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. Skulls are at once both mundane and macabre, symbolic reminders of both healing medicine and death. Of all the materials that a skull might be made of, crystal is perhaps the most intriguing. Crystals are central to New Age beliefs, and New Agers have constructed an intricate belief system around them involving auras, reincarnation, chakras, healing, vibrations, and so on.

There are many skulls in the world carved out of quartz, of varying sizes and designs (New Age shops around the world are well-stocked), though not all of them are steeped in myth and romance. There are only a handful of the largest, life-size skulls in existence, and they have inspired awe for generations. They are said to be hundreds or thousands of years old, and possibly of Mayan, Aztec, or even Atlantean origin. The skulls are indeed a sight to behold. skull death_200pxBeyond the artistry of carved crystal, many believe the skulls have special abilities, such as aiding psychic abilities, healing the sick, and even having power over death.

Crystal skulls have captured the imagination of countless New Agers, curiosity seekers, and others; screenwriter George Lucas was so intrigued by crystal skulls he wrote a script about them: the 2008 film “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls.” A Canadian company called Crystal Head Vodka (co-founded by actor and paranormal buff Dan Aykroyd) launched in 2008, bottling its crystal-filtered libation in novelty glass skulls.

The Skull of Doom

The most famous crystal skull is the so-called Skull of Doom, a human-like skull composed of two pieces and made from clear crystal quartz.

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What’s Next for Doomsday?

Space Rock or Last Pope?
End of World Predictions

via LiveScience

Is the next Pope the last before the apocalypse? Some writings, though discredited, would suggest yes. Regardless of validity, doomsday predictions abound, including end-of-world dates set for 2020, 2040, 2060 and 2080.

Is the next Pope the last before the apocalypse? Some writings, though discredited, would suggest yes. Regardless of validity, doomsday predictions abound, including end-of-world dates set for 2020, 2040, 2060 and 2080.
CREDIT: sdecoret | Shutterstock

Y2K? A bust. Judgment Day 2011? As quiet as a mouse. The Mayan apocalypse? Certainly not now.

As they have throughout history, failed doomsday predictions come and go. But with the Pope resigning, an asteroid whizzing near the planet Friday (Feb. 15) and a completely unrelated space rock exploding over Russia, it seems a good time to ask: What’s next?

Plenty, as it turns out. Previous failures have in no way shut down doomsday predictors, and dates are set for possible apocalypses in 2020, 2040, 2060 and 2080 (zeros have an appeal, apparently). One of these doomsdays was even predicted by Sir Isaac Newton himself.

“It’s clear that these kinds of scenarios return over and over and over again,” said John Hoopes, an archaeologist at the University of Kansas who has studied doomsday predictions.

The end is nigh

Doomsday prophecies date back thousands of years. The ancient Persians kicked off the hobby of apocalypse predicting in the Western world, Saint Joseph’s University professor Allen Kerkeslager told LiveScience in December 2012. Apocalypse_100_300pxWhen the Zoroastrian Persians conquered the ancient Jews, they passed their end-of-the-world beliefs into Jewish culture, which subsequently handed them to Christianity. Now, everyone from Protestant preachers like Harold Camping, who predicted Armageddon in 2011, to UFO cultists and New Age mystics occasionally jump on the doomsday train.

The most recent apocalypse prediction was tied to the Mayan calendar, even though actual Mayans and scholars who study ancient Maya culture pointed out repeatedly that the calendar was never meant to predict the end of the world. The appointed day (Dec. 21, 2012) came and went without fire and brimstone.

But failures haven’t stopped aspiring doomsday prophets in the past. In one of the most notorious apocalypse failures ever, American Baptist preacher William Miller predicted the return of Jesus Christ on March 21, 1844. Nothing happened, so Miller and his followers revised the prediction to Oct. 22. When that day, too, passed without incident, it was dubbed the Great Disappointment. [Oops! 11 Failed Doomsday Predictions]

Likewise, Camping predicted the Rapture three times in 1994 before his 2011 predictions.

The Pope’s doomsday

So it should come as no surprise that doomsday believers have plenty of dates to fixate on in the future. Friday’s ultimately harmless asteroid flyby may trigger more anxiety about world-ending asteroid impacts in the near future, Hoopes told LiveScience. A Friday morning meteor explosion that shattered windows and injured more than 1,000 in Russia is likely to do the same.

The surprise announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last week has also triggered doomsday chatter.

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Meteorite Fall in Russia Hurts More than 500 People

via LiveScience

Hundreds of people are reportedly injured, and hundreds of buildings damaged, after a meteorite streaked across the sky above Russia’s Ural Mountains Friday morning (Feb. 15) and exploded in a massive blast.

The meteor explosion was centered around the Chelyabinsk region, which is about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of Moscow.

Meteor_300pxMost of the hundreds injured were reportedly hurt by falling glass in the blast, 112 of whom have been hospitalized, due to cuts from the shattered glass resulting from the blast. In addition, an estimated 297 buildings were damaged, including six hospitals and 12 schools, according to translations of updates by the Russian Emergency Ministry.

Scientists think a meteoroid entered the atmosphere above Russia’s southern Chelyabinsk region, where it exploded and broke up into meteorites scattered across three regions of Russia and Kazakhstan, according to news reports. [Photos of Russia’s Meteor Fireball Blast]

“I would think that this is likely an exploding fireball (or bolide) event caused by the atmospheric impact of a small asteroid,” Don Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program, told SPACE.com. “If the reports of ground damage can be verified, it might suggest an object whose original size was several meters in extent before entering the atmosphere, fragmenting and exploding due to the unequal pressure on the leading side vs. the trailing side.”

Basically, Yeomans added, the meteor “pancaked and exploded.”

(A bolide is an extraterrestrial body ranging in size from 0.6 to 6 miles, or 1-10 km across that hits Earth at velocities faster than a speeding bullet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.)

“This bolide event probably had nothing to do with the upcoming close Earth approach of asteroid 2012 DA14, which is due to pass closely (and safely) past the Earth at 19:24 GMT today,” or 2:24 p.m. ET, Yeomans wrote, adding that the Russian bolide trail did not travel south to north as the asteroid will.

“And the separation in time between the fireball and 2012 DA14 close approach is significant,” Yeomans said.

A large chunk of the space rock has reportedly been discovered in a lake in the Chelyabinsk region, CNN reports.

A report by the Russian television news agency Russia Today showed video of the meteor, which included what appears to be a fireball streaking across the sky from several vantage points. At times the object is so bright it casts shadows.

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Crop Circles Explained

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

According to some estimates, crop circles appear every week somewhere around the world. The strange circles and patterns appear mysteriously overnight in farmers’ fields, provoking puzzlement, delight, and intrigue for both locals and the news media. The circles are mostly found in the United Kingdom, but have spread to dozens of countries around the world in past decades. But who — or what — is making them?

This massive 780-foot (238 meters) crop circle appeared in 2001 in the remote area of Milk Hill in Wiltshire, England. The elaborate design is composed of 409 circles that form a pattern called a double, or six-sided, triskelion, which is a motif consisting of three interlocking spirals.CREDIT: Handy Marks | public domain

This massive 780-foot (238 meters) crop circle appeared in 2001 in the remote area of Milk Hill in Wiltshire, England. The elaborate design is composed of 409 circles that form a pattern called a double, or six-sided, triskelion, which is a motif consisting of three interlocking spirals.
CREDIT: Handy Marks | public domain

[…]

… the first real crop circles didn’t appear until the 1970s, when simple circles began appearing in the English countryside. The number and complexity of the circles increased dramatically, reaching a peak in the 1980s and 1990s when increasingly elaborate circles were produced, including those illustrating complex mathematical equations such as fractals. [Image Album: Mysterious Crop Circles Gallery]

Theories & explanations

Unlike other mysterious phenomenon such as psychic powers, ghosts, or Bigfoot, there is no doubt that crop circles are “real.” The evidence that they exist is clear and overwhelming. The real question is what creates them.

People inspect crop circles within a golden wheat field in Switzerland. The photo was taken on July 29, 2007.CREDIT: Jabberocky | public domain

People inspect crop circles within a golden wheat field in Switzerland. The photo was taken on July 29, 2007.
CREDIT: Jabberocky | public domain

Crop circle enthusiasts have come up with many theories about what creates the patterns, ranging from the plausible to the absurd. One explanation in vogue in the early 1980s was that the mysterious circle patterns were accidentally produced by the especially vigorous sexual activity of horny hedgehogs. Some people have suggested that the circles are somehow created by incredibly localized and precise wind patterns, or by scientifically undetectable Earth energy fields and meridians called ley lines.

Many who favor an extraterrestrial explanation claim that aliens physically make the patterns themselves from spaceships; others suggest that they do it using invisible energy beams from space, saving them the trip down here. Still others believe that it is human, not extraterrestrial, thought and intelligence that is behind the patterns — not in the form of hoaxers but some sort of global psychic power that manifests itself in wheat and other crops.

While there are countless theories, the only known, proven cause of crop circles is humans. Their origin remained a mystery until September 1991, when two men confessed that they had created the patterns for decades as a prank to make people think UFOs had landed (they had been inspired by the 1966 Tully UFO report). They never claimed to have made all the circles — many were copycat pranks done by others — but their hoax launched the crop circle phenomena.

Most crop circle researchers admit that the vast majority of crop circles are created by hoaxers. But, they claim, there’s a remaining tiny percentage that they can’t explain. The real problem is that (despite unproven claims by a few researchers that stalks found inside “real” crop circles show unusual characteristics), there is no reliable scientific way to distinguish “real” crop circles from man-made ones. [Related: Crop-Circle Artists Becoming High Tech]

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Are Ghosts Real?

Science Says No-o-o-o

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

GhostGirl_250pxIf you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone: A 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses, and about one-third believe in ghosts. Tens of thousands of people around the world actively search for ghosts as a hobby. Researcher Sharon Hill of the Doubtful Newsblog counted about 2,000 active amateur ghost-hunting groups in America.

Ghosts have been a popular subject for millennia, appearing in countless stories, from “Macbeth” to the Bible, and even spawning their own folklore genre: ghost stories. Ghosts are perhaps the most common paranormal belief in the world. Part of the reason is that belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death, and spirit communication.

The idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, and one that offers many people comfort; who doesn’t want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren’t looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? Most people believe in ghosts because of personal experience; they have seen or sensed some unexplained presence.

The science and logic of ghosts

ghostly_173Personal experience is one thing, but scientific evidence is another matter. Part of the difficulty in investigating ghosts is that there is not one universally agreed-upon definition of what a ghost is. Some believe that they are spirits of the dead who for whatever reason get “lost” on their way to The Other Side; others claim that ghosts are instead telepathic entities projected into the world from our minds.

Still others create their own special categories for different types of ghosts, such as poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits and shadow people. Of course, it’s all made up, like speculating on the different races of fairies or dragons: there are as many types of ghosts as you want there to be.

There are many contradictions inherent in ideas about ghosts. For example, are ghosts material or not? Either they can move through solid objects without disturbing them, or they can slam doors shut and throw objects across the room. Logically and physically, it’s one or the other. If ghosts are human souls, why do they appear clothed and with (presumably soulless) inanimate objects like hats, canes, and dresses — not to mention the many reports of ghost trains, cars and carriages?

Ghosts1001_200pxIf ghosts are the spirits of those whose deaths were unavenged, why are there unsolved murders, since ghosts are said to communicate with psychic mediums, and should be able to identify their killers for the police. And so on; just about any claim about ghosts raises logical reasons to doubt it.

Ghost hunters use many creative (and dubious) methods to detect the spirits’ presences, often including psychics. Virtually all ghost hunters claim to be scientific, and most give that appearance because they use high-tech scientific equipment such as Geiger counters, Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors, ion detectors, infrared cameras and sensitive microphones. Yet none of this equipment has ever been shown to actually detect ghosts.

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The Brain Retroactively Edits Consciousness

The brain apparently edits a person’s conscious experience retroactively.

via LiveScience

Brain The 03_350pxUp to a half-second after an object disappears from view, the brain can “edit” the experience to retain that object, a new study from France shows. The finding may partly explain the weird feeling of being able to recall something you heard even when you don’t consciously remember hearing it.

The finding also contradicts the notion that the brain sequentially takes in sensory information, processes it and then consciously experiences it, said Tufts University cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, whose books include “Consciousness Explained.”

“You have to get away from the idea that consciousness is like a movie that’s playing in your head and that once the processing is done happening then you’ve got this finished movie that you see.” Dennett told LiveScience. “The editing can go on and on.” [The 10 Greatest Mysteries of the Mind]

The results were published online Dec. 13 in the journal Current Biology.

Strange perception

CONSCIOUSNESS 1239_200pxIntuitively, people think of a linear progression from seeing or hearing something to consciously noticing it. But consciousness and perception may be more of a two-way street, said study author Claire Sergent, a cognitive scientist at Paris Descartes University.

To understand how visual consciousness works, Sergent and her team conducted trials involving 18 students. The participants were shown groups of lines appearing in a circle on either the right or the left side of the screen before they disappeared.

Sometimes the lines were too faint to consciously notice, while other times they were very obvious.

In some of the trials where the lines were very faint, the researchers drew participants’ attention to the spot where the lines had been by briefly dimming the circle — creating more contrast between the circle and the background. That “cueing of attention” happened up to a half-second after the lines disappeared.

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Are Angels Real?

via LiveScience

Images of angels surround us all the time, and especially during the holidays. They appear in paintings, figurines,T-shirts, and just about everything else. Angels appear in several religions; in Islam angels are said to be made of light. Early versions of angels had no gender, though later Christian angels were tall, slender males with soft features, often dressed in flowing robes specially tailored around their large white wings.

angel_275pxThe word “angel” can be traced back to the Greek word “anglos,” which means “messenger” in Hebrew. Angels can take many forms, usually appearing as human or a glowing light or aura. Often—especially in cases of averted tragedy or disaster—angels will not be seen at all, but instead recognized by their actions. If something good, unexpected, and seemingly inexplicable happens, it’s often assumed to be the result of angelic intervention. [Pareidolia: Seeing Faces in Unusual Places]

The angels most people are familiar with today are the Christian angels, which originated from the Hebrew Testaments. The Catholic Church has devoted considerable effort to describing and developing an extensive hierarchy of angels. There are nine different types of angels within three groups or choirs — seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels — with an official census of 496,000 angels.

In Christianity and Islam, angels function mainly as God’s messengers (mostly announcing births and deaths), but in modern times they function more as guardians. Indeed, the word “angel” has come to describe any hero or benefactor. Angels are said to appear to people in times of need; other times they are sensed as comforting but unseen presences.

‘Real Angels’

Despite centuries of theological speculation about angels — from their number to their duties to how many can dance on the head of a pin — no one knows if they exist outside of stories and legends. Many people believe they do: Polls suggest that nearly 70 percent of Americans think angels exist. In their book “Paranormal America,” sociologists Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph Baker note that “Angels pervade popular culture in books, television shows, and movies…. Believers exchange informal testimonials in newsletters and interpersonal conversations about the potential power of angels to influence the world, and more than half of Americans (53 percent) believe that they have personally been saved from harm by a guardian angel.” [Senator Claims Angels Visited Him in Hospital]

A 2007 Baylor Religion Survey found that 57 percent of Catholics, 81 percent of Black Protestants, 66 percent of Evangelical Protestants, and 10 percent of Jews reported having a personal experience with a guardian angel. Curiously, 20 percent of those who identified themselves as having no religion also claimed having encountered an angel.

In one famous 2008 angel encounter, a North Carolina woman . . . more . . .

‘Alien-Like’ Skulls Excavated in Mexico

By Charles Choi via LiveScience

Although cranial deformation and dental mutilation were common features among the pre-Hispanic populations of Mesoamerica and western Mexico, but scientists had not previously seen either in Sonora or the American Southwest.
CREDIT: Cristina García / INAH.
Click image to view full size image

Human skulls deliberately warped into strange, alien-like shapes have been unearthed in a 1,000-year-old cemetery in Mexico, researchers say.

The practice of deforming skulls of children as they grew was common in Central America, and these findings suggest the tradition spread farther north than had been thought, scientists added.

The cemetery was discovered by residents of the small Mexican village of Onavas in 1999 as they were building an irrigation canal. It is the first pre-Hispanic cemetery found in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.

The site, referred to as El Cemeterio, contained the remains of 25 human burials. Thirteen of them had deformed skulls, which were elongate and pointy at the back, and five had mutilated teeth. [See Photos of the ‘Alien’ Skulls]

foto2-1

Of the 25 burials, 17 were children between 5 months and 16 years of age.
CREDIT: Cristina García / INAH.
Click image to view full size image

Dental mutilation involves filing or grinding teeth into odd shapes, while cranial deformation involves distorting the normal growth of a child’s skull by applying force — for example, by using cloths to bind wooden boards against their heads.

“Cranial deformation has been used by different societies in the world as a ritual practice, or for distinction of status within a group or to distinguish between social groups,” said researcher Cristina García Moreno, an archaeologist at Arizona State University. “The reason why these individuals at El Cemeterio deformed their skulls is still unknown.”

“The most common comment I’ve read from people that see the pictures of cranial deformation has been that they think that those people were ‘aliens,'” García added. “I could say that some say that as a joke, but the interesting thing is that some do think so. Obviously we are talking about human beings, not of aliens.”

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Also see Cranial deformation is not ALIEN – Take a minute to Google it.

What if Reality Was Really Just Sim Universe?

By Joel N. Shurkin via LiveScience

Inside Science News Service (ISNS) — What if everything — all of us, the world, the universe — was not real? What if everything we are, know and do was really just someone’s computer simulation?
matrix-red-pill-or-blue-pill_600px
The notion that our reality was some kid on a couch in the far future playing with a computer game like a gigantic Sim City, or Civilization, and we are his characters, isn’t new. But a group of physicists now think they know of a way to test the concept. Three of them propose to test reality by simulating the simulators.

Martin Savage, professor of physics at the University of Washington, Zohreh Davoudi, one of his graduate students, and Silas Beane of the University of New Hampshire, would like to see whether they can find traces of simulation in cosmic rays. The work was uploaded in arXiv, an online archive for drafts of academic research papers.

The notion that reality is something other than we think it is goes far back in philosophy, including Plato and his Parable of the Cave, which claimed reality was merely shadows of real objects on a cave wall. Sixteenth-century philosopher-mathematician René Descartes thought he proved reality with his famous “I think, therefore, I am,” which proposed that he was real and his thoughts had a reality.

binary-code-matrix-styleThen, in 2003, a British philosopher, Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford, published a paper that had the philosophy and computer science departments buzzing.

Bostrom suggested three possibilities: “The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small,” “almost no technologically mature civilizations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours,” or we are “almost certainly” a simulation.

All three could be equally possible, he wrote, but if the first two are false, the third must be true. “There will be an astronomically huge number of simulated minds like ours,” Bostrom wrote.

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