Though we posted it in the news briefs last week, I wanted to bring attention to this profile of scientific 'heretic' Rupert Sheldrake in The Guardian. It is, I think, a nice little insight into the life and thinking of a particularly fascinating man, without getting too deeply into the arguments about his research and theories:
Sheldrake is the same age as Dawkins – 70 this year – and though their careers began in an almost identical biochemical place, they could hardly have ended up further apart. If Sheldrake's ideas could be boiled down to a sentence, you might borrow one from Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Richard, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…"
"What we have in common," Sheldrake says, "is that we are both certain that evolution is the central feature of nature. But I would say his theory of evolution stops at biology. When it comes to cosmology, for example, he has little to say. I would take the evolutionary principle there, too. I think that the 'laws of nature' are also prone to evolve; I think they are more like habits than laws. Much of what we are beginning to understand is that they clearly have evolved differently in different parts of the universe."
The comments below the article are another matter. Which ironically perhaps illustrate Sheldrake's criticisms of 'scientific fundamentalism' better than even he can.
We're used to scientists telling us that the universe is inert matter, that we lack free will, and that our ideas, beliefs and goals are just 'folk psychology'. To voice dissent is to invite sharp correction or be denounced as a follower of pseudoscience. So for those of us who are suspicious of the claims of materialism it's astonishing, and also heartening, to hear a scientist agree that it's a hidebound ideology, dismiss the belief in determinism as a 'delusion' and call on the 'high priests' of science to abandon their 'fantasy of omniscience'.
All this sounds rather rhetorical, and the title of The Science Delusion seems to have been chosen as a counterblast to the Great Panjandrum of scientific orthodoxy himself. But Rupert Sheldrake is not Richard Dawkins, and this is as coloured as his language gets; the book certainly has little about religion. For the most part it's a dispassionate expose of materialism's failures and a plea for scientists to open up to new thinking. The sciences are being held back by 'assumptions that have hardened into dogmas, maintained by powerful taboos', he argues. Not only have the most fundamental questions not been answered for all time, they can all be replaced by more interesting and fruitful ones.
A fascinating synchronicity to share (though based on the sad news of someone's passing): I've been slowly working my way through the new book from Jeff Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. Jeff's publisher kindly sent me a copy to peruse, but it's taken me a long time to get through the book as I've been ultra-busy recently getting both Communing with the Gods and the latest instalment of Darklore out the door, so by the time I've been getting to relax with a book it's after midnight and I'm already eye-balled out after proof-reading all day.
Anyhow, a large part of Mutants and Mystics addresses the links between the pioneers of the superhero genre and paranormal topics. So when I saw the news last week of the passing of Alvin Schwartz, former writer of Batman and Superman comics, and creator of the character of Superman's alter-ego Bizarro, I wondered whether Jeff Kripal's book discussed Schwartz. Later that night, on picking up the book and opening it to my bookmark from a few nights previous, I started the new section "Waking Up Inside a Story" on page 237. Here's the first words I read: "Alvin Schwartz began writing comics in 1939".
Now, ordinarily that would make me say "wow!" and have a bit of a laugh at the general weirdness of things. But in this case, it goes even deeper. You see, Kripal's book (like his previous release, Authors of the Impossible, available from Amazon US and UK), is *all about* how the paranormal and general weirdness such as synchronicities seem to suggest that we are 'being written' by something else (an extension of Fort's "we're property", if you will). He addresses these types of experiences specifically in this 'pitch video' for Scott Hulan Jones' documentary based on Authors of the Impossible, leading off with the bizarre and frightening account of another comic book legend, Doug Moench:
In the section about Schwartz that I went on to read, Kripal references a number of anomalistic experiences that Schwartz underwent, and the fact that these synchronicities were mentioned in a section which I had began after experiencing one myself was enough to raise the hair on my arms:
[T]hese anomalies began to fall into a consistent pattern. They seemed to connect to one another, to refer to each other in complex metaphorical ways... He began to realize in his own italicized terms that "in the multilayered universe, as it really exists, there are clumps of events that belong together, that are related in a kind of noncausal grouping, their connection having to do with value and meaning rather than material events" [A Gathering of Selves, p. 83].
Following C.G. Jung, he would call these patterns "deeper currents and vital synchronicities". In effect, these strange events were now making up their own story, as if they were taking on an independent life of their own. In my own terms, Alvin Schwartz was entering the stage of Realization, that is, he was beginning to realize that even as he wrote, and especially when he wrote, he was being written, and that the paranormal, like the person, is first and foremost a story.
Rather a jarring experience, I have to say. Add to that my coming across the video of Jacques Vallee (posted yesterday) the following day, in which he also references these sorts of strange coincidences, and what it might mean for our conception of reality, and I'm currently feeling a bit like there's a glitch in the matrix...
What do you get when you go to a TEDx talk by Jacques Vallee? Everything from UFO cults and synchronicities to Renaissance magic and the software of reality. Not for the faint-of-heart orthodox scientist, JV takes the audience on a wide-ranging tour of hints and suggestions that reality may not be exactly as we think it is:
The 'Melchidezek coincidence' that Jacques mentions is discussed in his book Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults (Amazon US and Amazon UK), published by Daily Grail Publishing (I also noted that JV used part of the cover graphic from the book at the end of his talk...sweeeet).
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While the bizarre mysteries of the quantum world often get all the headlines, Einstein's special theory of relativity has its fair share of strange as well. Take a ride on the relativity rollercoaster (created by physicist Michael Hush from the Australian National University), in which the speed of light is reduced to 5m/s in order to show some of the odd effects on space and time that occur when traveling near the speed of light:
From New Scientist:
As the ride begins, you experience colour shifting caused by the Doppler effect. Your surroundings also appear distorted as objects are seen at different points in time because of the finite speed of light. Due to the extreme velocity and the effect of angular compression, you start to see objects you've already passed by.
As the rollercoaster passes over a series of bumps, colour-shifting and distortion increase and decrease. At this point, the animators ignore changes in colour to accentuate the bending and twisting of objects. As the ride descends towards a big loop, angular compression affects the horizon, which first looks like a ball, then later seems to wrap around you.
In the final segment of the ride, a column looks stretched as part of it is seen at an earlier time. "The rollercoaster is travelling at about 90 per cent of light speed," says Savage. "The viewer's position changes a lot during the time it takes light to reach the viewer from the object.
If you don't have a broadband connection, try a heavy dose of LSD for the same effect...
Ever wanted to be tested by parapsychologists for a hidden psi ability? Here's your chance, and all from the comfort of your chair: the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) have launched a beta-version of their online double-slit experiment. Dean Radin explains:
This experiment tests the role of consciousness in the "collapse" of the quantum wavefunction.
This test sends live data from the double-slit system in our lab directly into a Flash client in your web browser. As a result only one person can take the test at any given time. If you login for the test you may find that the server is already in use, but a message should inform you when the test will be available again.
It takes about 15 minutes to go through the written and video instructions, another few minutes to fill out a survey, and then the test itself lasts about 12 minutes.
IONS have made a short 'promo' trailer for the research which I've included below - more detailed information is available in the other videos at the IONS research page.
This is a fascinating talk from David Kaiser on the the history of the counter-culture's involvement with the 'new physics' during the 1970s:
MIT Professor David Kaiser describes the field of physic's bumpy transition from New Age to cutting edge.
In recent years, the field of quantum information science has catapulted to the cutting edge of physics. Long before the big budgets and dedicated teams, however, the field smoldered on the scientific sidelines within the hazy, bong-filled excesses of the 1970s New Age movement. Many of the ideas that now occupy the core of quantum information science once found their home amid an anything-goes counterculture frenzy, a mishmash of spoon-bending psychics, Eastern mysticism, LSD trips, CIA spooks chasing mind-reading dreams, and comparable "Age of Aquarius" enthusiasts.
Wednesday marked the 11th anniversary of the first appearance of supposed time traveler John Titor back in the year 2000. While Titor's prophecy failures have diminished his semi-mythical status somewhat, it remains a great storyline that deals with a fascinating topic. So this short documentary that looks at both the Titor myth and the possibility of time travel, and features the likes of Michio Kaku, is well worth a watch:
Hoping the copyright notice dated to 1960 is an in-joke...
Cuttlefish, how do they work?
Two things stand out for me from that intriguing short video. Firstly, the thought that they disguise themselves by "consciously manipulat[ing] their skin". Secondly, that they mimic different environments, despite being color blind. Crazy.
Now this would have had me wondering had I seen it with my own eyes - a small cloud moves in strange ways, jumping from one position to another:
The explanation, provided by a meteorologist, has to do with the electric fields present within clouds (responsible for, most obviously, lightning):
The answer lies in this: ice crystals, especially long needles, tend to become aligned with the ambient electric field.
So what you are seeing is sunlight reflecting off ice crystal faces that are constantly being oriented by the developing electric field just above the [cumulonimbus] top. Then there is a discharge in the cloud, and the field collapses momentarily, and the crystals begin to realign again. Then this just keeps happening over and over.
Read more over at Bad Astronomy.