Latest news from those kinky scientists who live out on the edge. Damn heretics.

Rupert Sheldrake on 'The Extended Mind'

A nice short lecture (27 mins) from Rupert Sheldrake on "how even in our most ordinary perceptions our minds are not confined to the insides of our heads".

Retrocausality: Physicists Ponder Whether the Future Can Influence the Past

Poster for Time-Travel Movie 'Primer'

Issue 9 of the wonderful online magazine Nautilus is now available to read, and offers a fantastic collection of articles on the theme of 'Time'. One of the pieces I recommend checking out is George Musser's article "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate", which delves into the (possible) mystery of retrocausality in modern physics:

Physicists as renowned as John Wheeler, Richard Feynman, Dennis Sciama, and Yakir Aharonov have speculated that causality is a two-headed arrow and the future might influence the past. Today, the leading advocate of this position is Huw Price, a University of Cambridge philosopher who specializes in the physics of time. “The answer to the question, ‘Could the world be such that we do have a limited amount of control over the past,’ ” Price says, “is yes.” What’s more, Price and others argue that the evidence for such control has been staring at us for more than half a century.

That evidence, they say, is something called entanglement, a signature feature of quantum mechanics...

...The standard interpretation of entanglement is that there is some kind of instant communication happening between the two particles. Any communication between them would have to travel the intervening distance instantaneously—that is, infinitely fast. That is plainly faster than light, a speed of communication prohibited by the theory of relativity.

...Price asks us to consider the impossible: that doing something to either of the entangled particles causes effects which travel backward in time to the point in the past when the two particles were close together and interacting strongly. At that point, information from the future is exchanged, each particle alters the behavior of its partner, and these effects then carry forward into the future again. There is no need for instantaneous communication, and no violation of relativity.

Before we get too carried away with the possibilities afforded by retrocausality, it should be noted that even those investigating it clearly say it's all a bit speculative right now. Furthermore, Musser points out that, even assuming retrocausality is real, "our control of the past is very limited — as it must be, if the universe is to avoid imploding in a big logical paradox. Quantum mechanics is set up to deny you that influence. It creates an eddy in the river of time, but only a little one" (sidenote for anyone else that thought it: yes I did hear Arthur Dent saying "Ah, is he?" when I read that sentence).

Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of Professor Daryl Bem's controversial findings that suggest humans may have the ability to 'feel the future'. I wonder what those physicists investigating retrocausality might say about what it allows in terms of presentiment in humans - still inconceivable, or is it a mechanism for such an effect?

Make sure you check out all the stories in Issue 9 of Nautilus, there is some truly fascinating and beautiful writing to enjoy (for instance, see this wonderful piece on the life and work of acclaimed physicist John Archibald Wheeler).

Link: "The Quantum Mechanics of Fate"

Link: Issue 9 of Nautilus: "Time"

Spiders Make Sculptures of Other Spiders


Two species of spider have been discovered building life-like spider effigies from dead insects, leaves, & twigs. What's remarkable is that one species is in Peru, the other in the Philippines. Scientists think the spider sculptures either help lure prey or scare off predators. Perhaps the spiders are just very lonely. Or even more disturbing, the effigies are shrines of worship. So far, "terrific pig" hasn't been seen written in the web.

The spider behaviour raises some very interesting questions about evolution, questions that may be uncomfortable or even heretical for the hard materialists. I'm not convinced this is just random Darwinian trial & error. Science has taken us far, but there's something else at play here that the materialists fall far short of explaining. The dead leaf moth and countless other examples in nature hint at other possibilities. Could mavericks like Rupert Sheldrake be on the right track?

"The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence." ~ Nikola Tesla

In the meantime, bow to the Great Spider Lord Clikzzrt.

Scientists Call For Open, Informed Study of Psi Effects and Consciousness


Is there safety in numbers when it comes to science? Some 90 scientists and academics have co-signed a letter, written by Etzel Cardeña of Lund University and published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, that calls for more mainstream support of open and honest investigation of parapsychological topics, and related mysteries of human consciousness. Cardeña stresses six points in support of his call:

1) Research on parapsychological phenomena (psi) is being carried out in various accredited universities and research centers throughout the world by academics in different disciplines trained in the scientific method (e.g., circa 80 Ph.D.s have been awarded in psi-related topics in the UK in recent years). This research has continued for over a century despite the taboo against investigating the topic, almost complete lack of funding, and professional and personal attacks. The Parapsychological Association has been an affiliate of the AAAS since 1969, and more than 20 Nobel prizewinners and many other eminent scientists have supported the study of psi or even conducted research themselves.

2) Despite a negative attitude by some editors and reviewers, results supporting the validity of psi phenomena continue to be published in peer-reviewed, academic journals in relevant fields, from psychology to neuroscience to physics.

3) Increased experimental controls have not eliminated or even decreased significant support for the existence of psi phenomena, as suggested by various recent meta-analyses.

4) These meta-analyses and other studies17 suggest that data supportive of psi phenomena cannot reasonably be accounted for by chance or by a “file drawer” effect. Indeed, contrary to most disciplines, parapsychology journals have for decades encouraged publication of null results and of papers critical of a psi explanation. A psi trial registry has been established to improve research practice.

5) The effect sizes reported in most meta-analyses are relatively small and the phenomena cannot be produced on demand, but this also characterizes various phenomena found in other disciplines that focus on complex human behavior and performance such as psychology and medicine.

6) Although more conclusive explanations for psi phenomena await further theoretical and research development, they do not prima facie violate known laws of nature given modern theories in physics that transcend classical restrictions of time and space, combined with growing evidence for quantum effects in biological systems.

Cardeña notes that though the 90 co-signers of the letter "differ in the extent to which we are convinced that the case for psi phenomena has already been made", they are united in their view of science "as a non-dogmatic, open, critical but respectful process that requires thorough consideration of all evidence as well as skepticism towards both the assumptions we already hold and those that challenge them".

You can view the full letter, and list of co-signers, at Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

(via Paranormalia)

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New Study Finds Pattern in Reports of Earthquake Lights

Anomalous lights at Tagish Lake in the Yukon

The phenomenon of earthquake lights has long been a subject of interest to those of a Fortean mindset - not surprising, given the crossovers with other Fortean areas including ufology and other 'earth lights'-related phenomena such as will o' the wisps etc (for a fascinating Fortean take on the phenomenon, see "Shaking Stars, an article by Geoff Falla that we featured in Darklore Vol 3). These mysterious lights have sometimes been reported as orbs or globes of light (for instance, on November 12 1988, a bright purple-pink globe of light moved along the St. Lawrence River near Quebec, just eleven days before a powerful earthquake), while on other occasions it has been reported simply as an odd glow, and even sometimes just as strangely illuminated clouds.

Happily, this week we've also seen some mainstream press coverage of new research into the topic which may just bring a greater understanding of when and how it happens: in a study published in Seismological Research Letters, a team of researchers looked at 65 earthquakes over the last four centuries that had earthquake light reports associated with them, and analyzed the geologic circumstances of each to look for any discernible patterns:

“We built a pretty large database of earthquakes with earthquake lights that happened around the world,” says [Robert] Thériault, a geologist with the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources. “And eventually, when we started to look at them, we found a really striking pattern.”

Worldwide, roughly 95 percent of seismic activity occurs at the boundaries between two or more tectonic plates. But the vast majority of earthquake lights (85 percent) occurred in association with a quake within a tectonic plate at sites of continental rifting, a category that represents just five percent of all earthquakes. Additionally, most of the remaining 15 percent occurred with earthquakes caused by two plates sliding past each other (a transform fault), rather than one plate is pushed underneath another (a subduction zone).

Additionally, the scientists found that earthquake lights appear disproportionately before or during earthquakes, rather than afterward. They don’t yet have an explanation for the unusual location patterns of earthquake lights, but they think they can explain this trend in timing.

Their model, developed over the past few years by co-author Friedemann Freund of San Jose State University, also involves rocks conducting energy up to the surface, but not all the way up to the ionosphere.

“The process starts deep in the crust, where rocks are subjected to high stress levels, prior to the stress being released to produce an earthquake,” Thériault says. In certain types of rock, Freund has shown in lab experiments, this stress can break apart pairs of negatively-charged oxygen atoms that are linked together in peroxy bonds.

When this happens, each of the oxygen ions are released, and these can flow through cracks in the rock, towards the surface. At that point, the thinking goes, high-density groups of these charged atoms will ionize pockets of air, forming a charged gas (a plasma) that emits light.

Given that tectonic stresses build up over time before being released in the earthquake, the researchers suggest that these strange lights might be used in the future as an early-warning sign that a quake is imminent. Readers of this site will know this is not a new idea though - we've previously discussed (almost a decade ago) Michael Persinger's Tectonic Stress Theory, which covers much the same territory. The new paper, though, seems to have done a good job in narrowing down when and in what circumstances the strange phenomenon of earthquake lights tend to occur. See the links at the bottom of this post for more Daily Grail reading related to this fascinating topic.

Link: "Why Do Lights Sometimes Appear in the Sky During An Earthquake?"

Original Paper: "Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments"

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Researchers Levitate Objects and Move Them Around Using Ultrasonic Sound Waves

Japanese engineers have created a system that not only levitates objects, but can also move the objects up, down, left, and right using external controls. Using ultrasonic standing waves from four arrays of speakers, the researchers noted that millimetre-sized particles "were levitated and moved three-dimensionally", extending upon previous work that had achieved movement along one fixed axis.

You can read more about the study in this Arxiv paper: "Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays". Or just watch the video above and gawp...

(via Colossal)

EdgeScience #16

Issue 16 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available to download from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). In the new issue:EdgeScience 16

  • "Fairy-Tale Physics", by Jim Baggott.
  • "Beyond Neuroscience: The Challenge of Yoga", by Donald J. DeGracia.
  • "What's Next?", by Dean Radin.
  • "The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor", by Gerald H. Pollack.

Grab a free PDF of EdgeScience 16 from the SSE website, or the print version from MagCloud. If you do grab the free PDF, please consider a small donation to help the EdgeScience team continue with this excellent publication, via the button on the webpage. There's also a link to join the SSE on that page if you want to keep up with the latest academic research into the fringe areas of science.

Talking to Plants: Does It Make Them Grow Better?

Mythbusters Talking to Plants Online Experiment

Do plants grow better if you talk to them? The idea is pervasive in modern society, although it probably has its roots (no pun intended) in the work of Dr. Gustav Fechner, a German experimental psychologist, who in 1848 suggested that plants would thrive if given attention and talked to. Since then, opinion (and experiments) seems to have alternated between confirming and debunking the idea, though that hasn't stopped keen gardeners (such as Prince Charles) from having a chat with their gardens.

The Mythbusters team have always been happy to investigate this sort of folklore, and a number of years ago when they tested this they returned a verdict of 'Plausible' based on their experimental findings. Here's the episode in question:

Now, for those that are interested in the topic, the Mythbusters currently have an interactive, online experiment running in which two plants are being monitored, one of which is being 'talked to' by a synthesized voice which is reading aloud tweets sent to the plant. It's not exactly scientific, given it seems to be a sample of only two plants, but a neat set-up all the same:

Does talking to plants help them grow? Become a MythBuster and find out. Tweet a message, and your words will be read aloud to the plant. Go ahead, get something off your chest, wish it well, or just pass along today's musings. The plant doesn't care; it just wants to hear from you.

As I write this, it seems that plant being talked to has definitely grown more than the plant sitting in silence. Is there an effect, or is it pure chance? If there is an effect, what causes it? Do sound waves encourage growth (see this recent story for more)? Is it any sound, or only certain sounds or frequencies? Or is it a magnetic field from the speakers surrounding the plant? What do you think?

Link: Talk to a Plant

Astronomer: We'll Hear From ET By 2037


We will hear from extraterrestrials within the next 25 years. The audience was skeptical, but astronomer and SETI boss Seth Shostak was very confident when he made the bet at a recent Boing Boing live event. The thing is, he may be right. Watch Seth's talk below to find out why it's a safe bet. Of course, there's also evidence we've already heard from our galactic neighbours.

Via Boing Boing.

V'ger Has (Finally!) Left the Building

Looks like this is it, folks: After a lot of false alarms, Voyager 1 has officially become the 1st man-made object to leave our cosmic backyard, venturing into the unknown depths of interstellar space --cue the Star Trek soundtrack.

OK, so why has this been so hard to determine? Let's have the JPL Voyager team explain it to us N00bs:

"We have been cautious because we're dealing with one of the most important milestones in the history of exploration," said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Only now do we have the data -- and the analysis -- we needed."

Basically, the team needed more data on plasma, which is ionized gas, the densest and slowest moving of charged particles in space. (The glow of neon in a storefront sign is an example of plasma.) Plasma is the most important marker that distinguishes whether Voyager 1 is inside the solar bubble, known as the heliosphere, which is inflated by plasma that streams outward from our sun, or in interstellar space and surrounded by material ejected by the explosion of nearby giant stars millions of years ago. Adding to the challenge: they didn't know how they'd be able to detect it.

"We looked for the signs predicted by the models that use the best available data, but until now we had no measurements of the plasma from Voyager 1," said Stone.

Voyager's plasma sensor, which would have helped settle the debate more easily, stopped working in 1980. Hence the JPL were left to detect the plasma flow indirectly, by way of analizing the direction of the magnetic fields --the solar plasma would have a field emanating from the center of the heliosphere, whereas interstellar plasma would point from the opposite direction.

Add to it the fact that most computational models were just that: models calculated based on what the scientists were expecting to find, in contrast to how deep space particles actually behave --one thing Gene Roddenberry failed to tell us: "boldly going where no man has gone before" can often translate into lack of consensus on what you discover; but then the series would have turned into 40 minutes of dragging debate, with only 30 seconds or so for Kirk to rushedly kiss an Orion slave girl...

So, can we safely assume Voyager is now well on its way to becoming V'ger?

"What we can say is Voyager 1 is bathed in matter from other stars," Stone said. "What we can't say is what exact discoveries await Voyager's continued journey. No one was able to predict all of the details that Voyager 1 has seen. So we expect more surprises."

But hopefully not the kind of surprise that makes us realize we're all part of an interstellar Truman Show!


... Although you gotta admit, that would explain a lot of things.