The website of Scientific American currently has an excellent feature and interview with 'maverick biologist' Rupert Sheldrake, via science writer John Horgan. Though he considers himself a 'psi skeptic', Horgan's piece is warm and open-minded (we find out that Sheldrake does a good impression of his late friend, Terence McKenna) - very pleasant to see these 'heretical' topics discussed in such a convivial manner for a change.
The article covers many topics, but I thought Rupert's description of his theory of 'morphic resonance' was a very good summary for anybody not intimately familiar with, so have excerpted the relevant parts below. Make sure you head on over and read the entire piece though:
Morphic resonance is the influence of previous structures of activity on subsequent similar structures of activity organized by morphic fields. It enables memories to pass across both space and time from the past. The greater the similarity, the greater the influence of morphic resonance. What this means is that all self-organizing systems, such as molecules, crystals, cells, plants, animals and animal societies, have a collective memory on which each individual draws and to which it contributes. In its most general sense this hypothesis implies that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits.
...The idea of morphic resonance came to me when I was doing research at Cambridge on the development of plants. I was interested in the concept of morphogenetic, or form-shaping, fields, but realized they could not be inherited through genes. They had to be inherited in some other way. The idea of morphic resonance came as a sudden insight. This happened in 1973, but it was a radical idea, and I spent years thinking about it before I published it in my first book, A New Science of Life, in 1981.
...There is a lot of circumstantial evidence for morphic resonance. The most striking experiment involved a long series of tests on rat learning that started in Harvard in the 1920s and continued over several decades. Rats learned to escape from a water-maze and subsequent generations learned faster and faster. At the time this looked like an example of Lamarckian inheritance, which was taboo. The interesting thing is that after the rats had learned to escape more than 10 times quicker at Harvard, when rats were tested in Edinburgh, Scotland and in Melbourne, Australia they started more or less where the Harvard rats left off. In Melbourne the rats continued to improve after repeated testing, and this effect was not confined to the descendants of trained rats, suggesting a morphic resonance rather than epigenetic effect. I discuss this evidence in A New Science of Life, now in its third edition, called Morphic Resonance in the US.
...I would like there to be much more research on morphic resonance and I would like to see a lot more evidence for it. If there were, it would not necessarily refute materialism, but could expand the materialist worldview, which has become excessively dogmatic, as I show in my recent book Science Set Free (called The Science Delusion in the UK). I think something like morphic resonance is necessary to make sense of inheritance, memory, the evolutionary nature of nature, and many other phenomena. Lee Smolin, the theoretical physicist, recently put forward a similar idea, which he calls “the principle of precedence,” and perhaps his hypothesis might mesh in better with established science, since it is formulated in the context of quantum physics. The main question is whether or not the effects predicted by the hypothesis of morphic resonance – or the principle of precedence – actually happen.
P.Z. Myers and company getting frothy at the mouth in 3, 2, 1...
Uh-oh Moscow, who ya gonna call? Photographer Alexander Lukinsky took the incredible image above of strange, ethereal clouds hovering above the Russian capital on Tuesday night. But rather than signaling the impending arrival of Gozer the Gozerian, what Lukinsky caught on his camera was a relatively rare phenomenon known as noctilucent ('night-shining') clouds.
Noctilucent clouds are still surrounded by mystery. There are no recorded observations of them prior to 1885, suggesting they are a relatively new meteorological phenomenon, and possibly linked to global warming. What we do know is that they occur at incredible altitudes: at 76–85 kilometers (46–51 miles) high, they are above the stratosphere. This height helps give them their eerie appearance: the tiny ice crystals from which they are composed are hit by the sun from underneath - giving them a silvery-blue appearance - despite the sun being below the horizon line, meaning the viewer sees these shining clouds from a position of darkness.
While they are rarely sighted, it seems that noctilucent clouds are showing themselves a bit more lately - astrophotographer Christoph Malin captured the time-lapse footage below in London last week, and many other amateur sky-watchers have captured the clouds on camera as well.
Are we truly in control of our actions, or are we being manipulated by unseen beings? It's an idea that is a standard trope of paranoid conspiracy theories, but in the above TED talk, science writer Ed Yong shows how mind control by parasites appears to be almost ubiquitous in nature. And if it happens to so many other species on Earth, then why not humans too...?
(I didn't write this post, the Toxoplasma gondii did)
At least old man Schrödinger let the poor moggie out of the box...
Magnets, how do they f***ing work? We can hear all the explanations in the world about magnets (or non-explanations if you like), but they still seem like some sort of strange magic to our monkey brains.
Which is why the simple 'levitation' tricks done in the video above still seem so cool...I particularly like the pile of books, that would make for a great center-piece on the coffee table no doubt. The effect was created by science and illusion YouTube video producer Brusspup, using a magnetic levitation module from Dutch company Crealev:
I've had smaller units before that will float items weighing about 1 pound. This unit can float objects weighing near 20 pounds. Even though it's beautiful to walk in the room and see this unit sitting there, I love to try and hide the unit with various objects. The magnetic disc is hidden under the chessboard, for instance. For the floating books, I made a fake book and hid the magnet in it. The pillow is one of my favorites. The visual of a floating pillow supporting a 7 pound brick is fun to see. And then the last was just so cool to see. As a kid I dreamed of the Millennium Falcon. So to see it floating just brings it to another level of reality.
Not sure what sort of crazy dreams you might have if you used the pillow though (*ahem*)...
(via Laughing Squid)
The latest issue (Vol 5, Number 2) of the free PDF journal Paranthropology ("anthropological approaches to the paranormal") is now available to download (or you can read it online via Scribd). Here's the complete rundown of features in the latest issue:
- "Profane Illuminations: Machines, Indian Ghosts, and Boundless Flights through Nature at Contemporary Paranormal Gatherings in America", by Darryl Caterine
- "Magic or Science: A Look at Reiki in American Medicine", by Joshua Graham
- "Hidden Apprenticeships, Hidden Loves: Transmission of Enhanced Awareness in Mediumistic and Shamanic Traditions", by David Gordon Wilson
- "Communication Across the Chasm: Experiences With the Deceased", by John A. Napora
- "Book Hauntings", by Mark Valentine
- "Orbs, some deﬁnitive evidence that they are not paranormal", by Steven T. Parsons
- An interview with Andy Sharp (English Heretic), by Hannah Gilbert
- "Playback Hex: William Burroughs and the Magical Objectivity of the Tape Recorder", by James Riley
- A review of the 'Exploring the Extraordinary Conference' (Gettysburg College, March 21 to 23), by T. Peter Park
- A review of Folie et Paranormal (Renaud Evrard), by Jean-Michel Abrassart
- A review of Speak of the Devil: Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England (J.S. La Fontaine) by Michael J. Rush
And in case you haven't read this great resource before, all of the previous issues remain available to download from the site as well. I know from experience the work that goes into doing something like this, so if you get something out of the journal make it your mission to throw some money their way with a PayPal donation.
Astronomers have been scratching their heads over a series of mysterious radio bursts, so rare & intense, up until recently many of them even questioned their cosmic origin. First detected in 2007 through a telescope in Australia, the radio signals are known as fast radio bursts (FRBs) or Lorimer bursts, in honor of West Virginia University astrophysicist Duncan Lorimer, who was the first to discover & describe them on a scientific paper.
Since then, fewer than a dozen FRBs have been detected, the last one by the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, on November 2, 2012 --as reported by National Geographic 2 weeks ago. By now we've only established 3 factors about the bursts: They are incredibly fast (lasting only a few milli-seconds), incredibly bright, and they seem to come from really, REALLY far away (as in billions of light years away).
But what causes them?
Because the signals are so brief and bright, they must be coming from a rather dense source, says astronomer Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “That means a compact object – i.e., a neutron star or a black hole – is likely somehow to blame,” he says.
Just what that compact object is has yet to be explained. One theory suggests that giant flares erupting from highly magnetic neutron stars, known as magnetars, cause the bursts. Others suggest the bursts result from colliding neutron stars or black holes, evaporating primordial black holes, large magnetic stars, or are the death spasms produced when massive, slowly spinning neutron stars collapse into black holes. That last object, proposed in 2013, is known as a blitzar.
Notice that all these hypotheses have 1 thing in common: they assume the bursts are caused by some natural, albeit exotic phenomena. But would it be so ludicrous to speculate that FRBs have an artificial origin? That's what I humbly proposed on my Mysterious Universe column last week; something that could be easily dismissed as the nonsensical delusions of a woo-woo schmuck...
Well, turns out I'm not the only schmuck wondering about FRBs: In a comment left at the NatGeo page, none other than SETI founder Frank Drake is also proposing these mysterious bursts might be good candidates for a signal sent by some advanced civilization:
Indeed, [...] it is a worthy speculation that the FRBs might be a “hailing” message from a distant altruistic civilization. For many years, SETI scientists have speculated about the possible design of a hailing signal — a signal which announces loudly the existence of another civilization, and possibly leads the receiving civilization to a radio channel bearing much information. Without knowing which stars might be the home of other intelligent civilizations, the sending civilization might well adopt a strategy of sending hailing signals to large numbers of potential ETI-supporting stars. To achieve maximum probability of discovery, the right strategy is to send a very narrow-beam, powerful signal. In this case, one can send to only one star at a time, and so the strategy leads to a paradigm in which the transmitting beam is steered to a large number of stars sequentially, leading to the signals being detected possibly as short bursts which may repeat after some long time period. So we should search for more FRBs!
Daily Grail readers have no doubt read of the famous 'Wow!' signal, detected on August 15, 1977, which to this day is still considered the signal closest to filling the criteria of what intelligent ETs would be transmitting through outer space --or at least, the criteria of what modern science currently assumes intelligent ETs would be capable of doing…
There was also a time, when astronomers seriously considered the possibility that pulsars were actually alien beacons, perhaps built & used by some incredibly powerful space-faring civilization, to help them navigate through the stellar oceans. The fact pulsars are now largely considered a natural phenomenon --the same as FRBs-- IMO speak of the current paradigm incongruence we're stuck in: On the one hand, scientists assure us that intelligent life is more than likely widespread throughout the Cosmos; but on the other hand, to propose an observed astronomical event as a sign of these assumed extraterrestrial civilizations, is still largely regarded as a wild speculation --Martian face, anyone?
In recent weeks I've posted two separate stories regarding the topic of how we are locked into a certain perspective by our human-based perception of events in time, and thus 'blind' to many other aspects of reality (see 'Life Too Slow to See' and 'The Language of the Birds'). So when I came across the TED Talk below earlier this week, I thought it provided a beautiful summation of those thoughts (and extension, moving beyond just our limited perception in time, but also in space). In 'Hidden Miracles of the Unseen World', filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg gives us a glimpse of the things we are missing:
We live in a world of unseeable beauty, so subtle and delicate that it is imperceptible to the human eye. To bring this invisible world to light, filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg bends the boundaries of time and space with high-speed cameras, time lapses and microscopes. At TED2014, he shares highlights from his latest project, a 3D film titled "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which slows down, speeds up, and magnifies the astonishing wonders of nature.
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".
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"