Good name for a band don't you think? I've just posted a TED talk by legendary mycologist (mushroom researcher) Paul Stamets which is well worth checking out. The man is an absolute expert in the field (although perhaps more famous for his specific literature on 'magic mushrooms'), so much so that he almost comes across as a mad scientist with his fresh ideas (when you see his idea of ant-killing fungus - replete with mushroom popping out of the head of a dead ant - you sort of get stuck between saying "that's cool" and "that's scary). A good watch all the same, and less than 20 minutes viewing time.
Huge news: I mentioned last week that the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration had posted two volumes of the most excellent Journal of Scientific Exploration (JSE) online as PDF downloads. Seems I jumped the gun a little - if you head to the JSE website now, you'll find that they have actually made *all* volumes from 1987 to 2006 available as free PDF downloads. That's 20 volumes/70 issues of JSE (!!!) - absolutely the most important journal for ideas on the edge of science and knowledge.
A short and general list of topics covered (in a scientific manner) in the 20,000 or so pages now available: remote viewing, earth lights, ball lightning, reincarnation, telepathy, psychokinesis, ufology, the afterlife, crop circles, fringe archaeology, biofields, 'orbs', intelligent design, precognition, poltergeists, earthquake phenomena and cryptozoology. The list of contributors is a who's who of 'alternative research', and in each volume there's also commentaries, letters to the editor, and reviews of the most interesting books on these strange and wonderful topics. There is literally so much content in these 20 volumes that I think we should perhaps post and discuss one each month here on TDG. Can you tell I'm very excited?
To repay the favour to the SSE for this wonderful resource, and make sure you have the absolute latest issue of JSE as a hardcopy in your hands, you can subscribe to the journal (see the bottom of the page) - or alternatively, be aware that joining the SSE means that you get complimentary issues anyhow, so you may find that worthwhile as well.
Speaking of the latest issue of JSE: it's a special release celebrating the life and research of reincarnation investigator Dr Ian Stevenson. Annalisa Ventola has a write-up of the content in the issue. (Incidentally, Annalisa also notes that the Society for Scientific Exploration will be holding their 27th annual general meeting in Boulder, Colorado at the end of June.)
Get cracking on those JSE downloads - you're looking at about a gigabyte to download them all...
My love for the Society for Scientific Exploration is overflowing at the moment, after discovering that they have put Volumes 19 and 20 of the Journal of Scientific Exploration (that's all 8 journal issues from 2005 and 2006!) online as free PDF downloads. Within you'll find all sorts of cutting edge scientific investigations, commentaries and reviews on various 'fringe' topics - contributors include Ian Stevenson, Gary Schwartz, Dean Radin, Robert Jahn...all the usual suspects, the list goes on and on. Seriously, you could download these and be reading for the next few weeks. So I'll see you then.
Don't forget that you can have the latest hardcopy issue of JSE in your hot little hands simply by subscribing to the journal (see the bottom of the page). Also note that joining the SSE means that you get complimentary issues anyhow, so you may find that worthwhile as well. It is *the* journal of choice for anybody interested in 'alternative' science ideas, so definitely money well spent.
Pioneering physicist John Wheeler has died aged 96. Wheeler was one of the last 'legends' from the Manhattan Project era: he coined the term "black hole", taught many of the great 'second generation' physicists including Richard Feynman, and co-authored the established textbook on Einstein's general theory of relativity.
Those who are interested in the 'fringes' of science may have found Wheeler to be a bit of an enigma. He famously petitioned the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), requesting the expulsion of parapsychology which he believed was a pseudoscience. This despite his own reputation as being somewhat anti-establishment, and also having proposed theories suggesting that 'reality' was composed of more than just the physical, and that consciousness was in some way intrinsically involved in the process.
As science writer John Horgan noted: "He has helped gain acceptance — or at least attention — for some of the most outlandish ideas of modern physics, from black holes to multiple-universe theories...he delights in being ahead of — or at least apart from — the pack."
Wheeler's consideration of similarities between physics and information theory - he famously coined the term 'It from Bit' - also provide avenues for contemplating the possibility of psi effects (and also provide crossover into ufologist Jacques Vallee's theories somewhat). And his delayed choice experiment is enough to make anybody question their conception of reality...
Sci-Am has a reprint of John Horgan's excellent 1991 profile of John Wheeler which is well worth checking out.
April 1 this year brought the usual bunch of 'big news' gags (although, sadly, most people don't make their stories humourous or obvious at all, preferring simply to hoax). New Scientist took an odder tack though, by publishing real news on topics so bizarre, that readers would think they were April Fool's jokes.
The one story that stood out (and was in our news briefs this week), was this one: "'They're here': The mechanism of poltergeist activity":
The sight of small blonde girls watching television is guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of anyone who has watched the movie Poltergeist. We're right to be terrified, say physicists. Children generate poltergeist activity by channelling energy into the quantum mechanical vacuum.
Pierro Brovetto, whose last known address was the Instituto Fisica Superiore, in Cagliari, Italy and his colleague Vera Maxia wanted to explain the origin of poltergeist phenomena, characterised by objects flying around the room "of their own accord"...
...Brovetto and Maxia hypothesise that the changes in the brain that occur at puberty involve fluctuations in electron activity that, in rare cases, can create disturbances up to a few metres around the outside of the brain. These disturbances would be similar in character to the quantum mechanical fluctuations that physicists believe occur in the vacuum, in which "virtual" particle and antiparticle pairs pop up for a fleeting moment, before they annihilate each other and disappear again.
The research is from the journal Neuroquantology, "a journal dedicated to supporting the interdisciplinary exploration of the nature of quantum physics and its relation to the nervous system."
New Scientist also throw a final joke into the mix by quoting Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson - who is on the editorial board for the journal - as saying the paper "looks distinctly flaky". It will be interesting to see if Josephson - an emphatic supporter of psi research - responds in some manner.
The fifth issue of Rudy Rucker's most excellent webzine Flurb is now available online. Flurb offers "astonishing tales" of a sci-fi flavour. Plenty of weird and wonderful speculative fiction to satisfy even the most hardcore Grailer out there - good fun. (h/t Boing Boing)
Science fiction author and future visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke has passed away aged 90. The man behind 2001: A Space Odyssey had quite a prescient mind when it came to picturing how the future would look - this is a huge (though hardly unexpected) loss:
George Whitesides, the executive director of the National Space Society, on which Clarke served on the board of governors, paid tribute to Sir Arthur.
He told BBC News 24: "That particular enthusiasm of his was what I think made him so popular in many ways.
"He was always thinking about what could come next but also about how life could be improved in the future.
"It's a vision that I think we could use more of today."
Clarke was also fascinated by the paranormal and mysteries, and many will remember him for his "Mysterious Worlds" television series. Although he later recanted some of his previous 'belief' in the paranormal, he appears to have retained his interest in 'strange' topics throughout his life.
Sure to be many thousands of words written about his passing, so no need for me to add any more to it.
The winner of the 2008 Templeton Prize (for Progress toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities) is Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest Michael Heller. New Scientist have an excellent interview with Heller (do you call him Dr Heller or Father Heller?), who receives £820,000 towards his research from the Templeton Foundation. In it, he discusses how he resolves the seemingly fundamental disconnect between science and religion:
Everything depends on your concept of rationality. Science is a model of rationality. The question is whether the limits of rationality coincide with limits of the scientific method. If they do, then there is no place for religion or theology because everything outside of the scientific method is automatically irrational. On the other hand, if you agree that they do not coincide then there is a place for rational religious belief. If you look at the recent history of science and philosophy, you can see that the dominating philosophy in western countries was positivistic, it said that the scientific method is identical with rationality and that what’s beyond the scientific method is beyond rationality. Nowadays very few philosophers agree with this; we are more pluralistic.
While Heller's words are sure to draw a rebuke from hardcore atheists and fundamentalists alike, his analysis is spot on in my opinion. The tying of rationalism to physicalist science is one of the real flaws in current atheist opinion (again in my opinion). And while I personally can't see how I would resolve Catholicism within this spectrum of rationalism, I do think Heller offers some good insights in this interview.
The latest book from theoretical physicist Michio Kaku was released yesterday in the U.S., and it sounds right up the alley of most TDG readers: Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel.
One hundred years ago, scientists would have said that lasers, televisions, and the atomic bomb were beyond the realm of physical possibility. In Physics of the Impossible, the renowned physicist Michio Kaku explores to what extent the technologies and devices of science fiction that are deemed equally impossible today might well become commonplace in the future.
From teleportation to telekinesis, Kaku uses the world of science fiction to explore the fundamentals—and the limits—of the laws of physics as we know them today. He ranks the impossible technologies by categories—Class I, II, and III, depending on when they might be achieved, within the next century, millennia, or perhaps never.
The L.A. Times has reviewed the book, and Kaku also wrote an article on some of the topics covered for Discover Magazine, which you can read online. Better still, just pick up a copy of the book (Amazon US or preorder from Amazon UK).
I gave paranormal researcher (and critic) George Hansen two thumbs up last year for making the excellent skeptical journal Zetetic Scholar available online via his website. I'll have to extend that now to three or four thumbs up (ignoring my anatomical limitations), with his announcement that his website now also hosts online copies (in PDF) of the 1980s paranormal journal Archaeus:
The Archaeus Project was one of the groups active in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was founded in 1982 in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and during its early years it focused heavily, though not exclusively, on the paranormal. It conducted investigations, sponsored lecture series, held conferences, established a library, and published periodicals and monographs.
Its journal, Archaeus, was published in five volumes, from 1983 to 1989. It carried papers from a variety of contributors, with names familiar to paranormal researchers, including (in order of first appearance): Eldon A. Byrd, Jack Houck, James McClenon, John Thomas Richards, Dennis Stillings, Robert C. Beck, Jule Eisenbud, Andrija Puharich, Elizabeth A. Rauscher, Otto H. Schmitt, George P. Hansen, W. E. Cox, Robert E. L. Masters, Earl E. Bakken, Hilary Evans, Martin S. Kottmeyer, Peter M. Rojcewicz, Michael Grosso, Alvin H. Lawson, Michael A. Persinger.
In his blog post Hansen also reviews how the Archaeus Project sits within his 'paranormal trickster' theory. Plenty of fascinating reading in those PDFs (though the unavailable Issue 5 is probably the one I'm most interested in...of course!) - great to see someone like George Hansen preserving and disseminating historically important documents related to the paranormal.