Vale BKS Iyengar, the 'Man Who Brought Yoga to the West'

BKS Iyengar

One of the most influential Yoga practitioners of the modern era, BKS Iyengar, has passed away at 95 years of age.

Better known by his initials, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar is one of the world's best-known yoga gurus. As the New York Times wrote in a 2002 profile, "Perhaps no one has done more than Mr. Iyengar to bring yoga to the West." In 2004, Time recognized his global influence, naming him one of the world's most influential living people. His 1966 book Light on Yoga contains detailed instructions on how to perform more than 200 poses, according to Yoga Journal, and remains influential. That magazine has referred to Light on Yoga as the "Bible" of yoga.

For a glimpse of Iyengar in action, see the video below, filmed in 1977 (when he would have been around 58 years of age).

Full story: BKS Iyengar, who helped bring yoga to the West, has died

New Research Suggests Autistic Savants May Have Enhanced Telepathic Abilities

Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant in Rain Man

The amazing abilities of autistic savants – prodigious feats of memory and calculation, as well as musical and artistic talents, despite the presence of mental disabilities (see the bottom of this post for examples) - remains one of the most fascinating topics in brain science. But these abilities may only be the tip of the iceberg, with new research suggesting that autistic savants may also have an enhanced capacity for extrasensory perception.

In 2013 neuropsychiatrist Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell was sent three homemade videos of a severely autistic nine-year-old girl which claimed to show her demonstrating a telepathic ability. Intrigued, Powell organised to conduct research sessions with two separate therapists who had reported telepathic experiences with the girl.

Though the ideal scientific set-up would be to keep the 'sender' and 'receiver' isolated from each other, this case had the complication of the sensitive nature of the girl's condition. As such, Powell kept the therapist in the same room, noting that "even subtle changes to the environment are very distracting and disturbing for a child with severe autism". Instead, a divider was put between the therapists and the child. Then randomized numbers, sentences, fake words, and visual images were presented to the therapists. The girl was then asked to “read the therapist’s mind.”

The therapists were asked to write their own verbal descriptions of the images for comparison to the girl’s answers. Random numbers were generated for mathematical equations.

The girl was asked to give all the numbers involved in the equations and duplicate the answers generated by the author with a calculator…The child typed her answers after choosing them from a stencil. To assess for any possible visual and/or auditory cueing, five high definition point-of-view (POV) cameras and three microphones were strategically placed in the experimental space to capture coverage of the entire room, the therapist and child, and their separate workspaces.

Powell presented her preliminary findings at the 57th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, held last weekend. The results were jaw-dropping, with 'hits' such as 100% accuracy on two random numbers, one eight digits and the other nine; 60 to 100% accuracy on three of the five-letter nonsense words; 100% accuracy on six out of twelve equations with 15 to 19 digits each; and between 81 to 100% accuracy on sentences of between 18 and 35 letters. The video surveillance showed no evidence of cueing or fraud.

Powell's conclusion: "The data is highly suggestive of an alternative, latent and/or default communication mechanism that can be accessed by people born with severely impaired language abilities.

This new research comes on the back of news reports last year of a nine-year-old autistic girl in Sharjah who appears to have the ability to read her mother's mind. Though the idea that autistic savants might have paranormal abilities goes back further than that. Pioneering researcher into Savant Syndrome, Darold Treffert, included a section on the possibility of extrasensory perception in savants in his 1989 book Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome:

Dr. Bernard Rimland describes several instances of extrasensory perception in his autistic savants. In his sample of approximately 5400 autistic children, 561 cases, or approximately 10 percent, were reported to have special abilities. Four of the 561 cases were based on reports from parents who claimed that their child had consistently exhibited signs of extrasensory perception. In one case, the parent reported that "teachers have also noticed that George probably has ESP. He seems to be very psychic. We would decide to pick up George from school suddenly, if we were in the area (he usually rode the bus). He would tell the teacher we were coming, and he would come to open the door when we arrived. So he has many special abilities, but cannot write his name or write a sentence".

Two other reports made by parents describe children with, in one case, "an extraordinary ability to hear conversations out of range of hearing, and to pick up thoughts not spoken" and, in another case, "verified ESP…first observed around age 4". The child in the latter case "accurately related an accidental occurrence known only to her father. His watch crystal fell out in the bathroom and was immediately replaced. Michelle accurately related the entire incident back to her father a short time thereafter. Several dozens of similar 'clairvoyant' instances have occurred since this first incident. Statistical probability of coincidental knowledge nil."

The parents of Ellen, a blind musical savant…report three instances of unusual perception on her part. One perhaps could be explained by heightened auditory discrimination: in that instance the driver of the special bus that picks her up each day to take her to her classes gave the usual very brief horn beep when picking her up one morning. Instantly Ellen said, "New bus". On checking, it was determined that indeed a different – and new – bus was waiting. The difference in the sounds of the horns was imperceptible to her parents. The other instances are more difficult to explain. One week before Christmas she announced what would be in her gift packages, although she really had no way of knowing and had not been given any clues as to what those gifts might be. Another instance had to do with a telephone call. Ellen's sister, for a variety of reasons, always calls her parents' home during the day and, only under special circumstances, does she call in the evening. At supper time one evening Ellen told her parents that her sister would be calling. Her mother assured her, for the above reasons, that there would be no such call. Shortly thereafter the telephone rang and Ellen answered it, knowing it would be her sister, who it was. The sister has been called out of town unexpectedly and wanted her parents to know that. Ellen somehow knew that the call was coming.

…Some have explained the savant in terms of reincarnation. Barbara Boudreaux recalls that one day some friends who believe that to be the case asked Ellen to listen to a Mozart piece she had never heard before. Near the end they stopped the piece and asked Ellen to play it for them. She obligingly did and, according to the friends at least, continued to play the piece beyond the point at which they had stopped – "as if" she had heard the whole number – and played it just as Mozart had written it.

Are these abilities, and the new research by Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell, explainable without recourse to paranormal abilities? Savants certainly have magical-like abilities that could easily lead to unnecessary leaps of logic – the 'new bus' example given above is a case in point where an enhanced ability could be being mistaken for something paranormal. Would it be so far-fetched to think that the girl in this new research is picking up cues that seem impossible to us? Also, given her severe disability, is there any sort of interaction needed with others to give her answers?

Alternatively, many have suggested that the brain disabilities and injuries suffered by both autistic savants and acquired savants are the likely cause of their savant abilities; shutting down one section of the mind seem to open pathways to these latent abilities which seem almost superhuman to the rest of us (some researchers, such as Dr. Allan Snyder, think we may be able to unlock these abilities via magnetic stimulation). Could this unlocking of ability also allow access to hidden functions of the brain related to extra-sensory perception? Only time, and further research, will offer a definitive answer.

For more on the incredible abilities of autistic and acquired savants, see the links at the bottom of this article.

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News Briefs 19-08-2014

Cats in zero-gravity. You're welcome.

Quote of the Day:

Right now, there could well be messages from the stars flying right through this room. Through you and me. And if we had the right receiver set up properly, we could detect them. I still get chills thinking about it.

Frank Drake (quoted in Five Billion Years of Solitude)

Shedding Some Light on the Houston UFO Sighting

Houston UFO

The big UFO news over the past few days has been a supposed mass sighting of unidentified object hovering over Houston Texas, with the image above being one of the most publicized photos of a few doing the rounds. A search of Twitter shows that over the past day or two this has become a hugely popular story, probably on account of the Daily Mail story linked above.

Could a UFO have visited Texas this week?

Several people have taken it to Twitter to post pictures showing a strange object floating through the Houston clouds during a storm last Monday.

Some of the pictures show a bright oval object hovering. An unrelated picture shows a similar object through clouds. There are others, some showing what appears to be lights underneath the 'thing.'

Here's a local news report from immediately after the 'sighting' (August 12):

My thoughts: originally on seeing the most popular photos, I wondered why some of the photos show a very stormy night, while others show what appears to be a very clear night. After that, I dug into Twitter a bit to try and find the origins of the most popular photos - and, rather than finding "several people", the two most popular seem to have originated with the same person, one Nathaniel Xavier (@djnayyz) - photo 1, and photo 2. (Note: in a later tweet @djnayyz then said "I never took that picture I just posted it", though he has not yet answered commenters asking about the actual origin. He also seems happy to take the national media attention that's come along with his 'reposts').

A couple of days later Xavier then posted a video of the UFO to Instagram:

Is that ball lightning? Or is it just an old favourite CG 'UFO' video effect?

Returning to the photos however, there seems to be a fairly simple explanation: the 'UFO' is just the reflection of a highway light pole in the car window (a common source for UFO misidentification). See the image below for comparison, and note the number of lights on the UFO:


This would neatly explain how the centre of the UFO seems to be 'transparent' - only the lights are showing up in the reflection. Look again at the image at the top of this post, considering whether it might be a reflection of a light on the window...

A guess for how things played out: 'UFO' noticed while driving in car, image posted to social media, gains momentum, post another photo, gets on local TV, friend creates a nice CG UFO video, post to social media, international media attention. Purely a guess though, so I welcome your thoughts.

(thanks for the heads-up Kat)

News Briefs 18-08-2014

Today's flotsam.

Quote of the Day:

The age of automation is going to be the age of 'do it yourself.'

Marshall McLuhan

Ancient Maya Cities Discovered in the Mexican Jungle

Lost Maya Pyramid

I'm sure in this day and age there are no more archaeological secrets to be discovered. Wait, what?

A monster mouth doorway, ruined pyramid temples and palace remains emerged from the Mexican jungle as archaeologists unearthed two ancient Mayan cities. Found in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, the cities were hidden in thick vegetation and hardly accessible.

"Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites," expedition leader Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), said. Sprajc and his team found the massive remains as they further explored the area around Chactun, a large Maya city discovered by the Slovenian archaeologist in 2013.

Link: Ancient Maya Cities Found in Jungle

But wait, there are more lost cities!

Pipe Guy: Low-tech Techno Music

It's nice to know how once the next Carrington event drives our entire civilization to a post-Apocalyptic collapse, that even without electricity we'll still be able to enjoy of some wicked techno beats at the Thunderdome; all thanks to a few PVC pipes, a pair of thongs* & a whole lotta insane talent:

Ginger Pipe Bro gets to be eaten last.

(*)Thongs: The Aussie term for flip-flops, because g'day mate!

[H/t Geekologie]

News Briefs 15-08-2014

“Nothing is so common-place as to wish to be remarkable.”

Quote of the Day:

“Death only grasps; to live is to pursue. 
Dream on! There's nothing but illusion true!”

O.W. Holmes Sr.

SETI, Terence McKenna Style

Shroom satellite dish
(Creator: Sean Gereson)

It is only the conceit of the scientific and postindustrial societies that allows us to even propound some of the questions that we take to be so important. For instance, the question of contact with extraterrestrials is a kind of red herring premised upon a number of assumptions that a moment's reflection will show are completely false. To search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant. And yet, this has been chosen as the avenue by which it is assumed contact is likely to occur. Meanwhile, there are people all over the world - psychics, shamans, mystics, schizophrenics - whose heads are filled with information, but it has been ruled a priori irrelevant, incoherent, or mad. Only that which is validated through consensus via certain sanctioned instrumentalities will be accepted as a signal. The problem is that we are so inundated by these signals - these other dimensions - that there is a great deal of noise in the circuit.

It is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it is telling the truth, because the demons are of many kinds: "Some are made of ions, some of mind; the ones of ketamine, you'll find, stutter often and are blind." The reaction to these voices is not to kneel in genuflection before a god, because then one will be like Dorothy in her first encounter with Oz. There is no dignity in the universe unless we meet these things on our feet, and that means having an I/Thou relationship. One say to the Other: "You say you are omniscient, omnipresent, or you say you are from Zeta Reticuli. You're long on talk, but what can you show me?" Magicians, people who invoke these things, have always understood that one must go into such encounters with one's wits about oneself.

What does extraterrestrial communication have to do with this family of hallucinogenic compounds I wish to discuss? Simply this: that the unique presentational phenomenology of this family of compounds has been overlooked. Psilocybin, though rare, is the best known of these neglected substances. Psilocybin, in the minds of the uninformed public and in the eyes of the law, is lumped together with LSD and mescaline, when in fact each of these compounds is a phenomenologically defined universe unto itself. Psilocybin and DMT invoke the Logos, although DMT is more intense and more brief in its action. This means that they work directly on the language centers, so that an important aspect of the experience is the interior dialogue. As soon as one discovers this about psilocybin and about tryptamines in general, one must decide whether or not to enter into this dialogue and to try and make sense of the incoming signal. This is what I have attempted.

Link: Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness, by Terence McKenna