News Briefs 23-05-2017

Mad world...

Thanks to @t3dy.

Quote of the Day:

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Douglas Adams, 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism (Brett Seymour / WHOI)

If future civilisations found our computers some 2000 years from now, how would they go about figuring out how they worked and what they were for? That's the problem that faced researchers when they set out to uncover the secrets of the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2000-year-old 'computer' found in a shipwreck off the Greek coast.

What they have discovered is remarkable - not least because they didn't start out with a working device, but instead just various pieces, many heavily encrusted, after it had virtually disintegrated while on the bottom of the Mediterranean. Through painstaking multidisciplinary research and reconstruction, researchers have found that the Antikythera Mechanism was used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses in the future, testifying to both the astronomical knowledge and technical abilities of whoever built the device. (Researchers have recently also figured out that It could be used to track a four-year cycle of athletic games of the time.)

The documentary below gives a wonderful insight into the entire process of the decoding of the Antikythera Mechanism and the insights that have consistently blown the minds of historians as we move toward a better understanding of its functions:

What we realised was that the ancient Greeks had built a machine to predict the future. It was an extraordinary idea, that you could take scientific theories of the time and mechanise them, to see what their outputs would be many decades hence. It was essentially the first time that the human race had created a computer.

Highly recommended, the entire documentary is absolutely fascinating!

For more insights into the Antikythera Mechanism, see Jo Marchant's excellent Decoding the Heavens: A 2000-Year-Old Computer and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets, and also the links below for more recent news on the continuing research.

Related stories:

News Briefs 22-05-2017

And I for one welcome our new orb overlord...

Quote of the Day:

I'm looking California,
and feeling Minnesota.

Soundgarden, "Outshined"

Astronomers Scramble for their Telescopes as 'Alien Megastructure' Star Starts Dimming Again

Dyson Sphere

The controversy over the 'alien megastructure' star (aka KIC 8462852, 'Tabby's Star', and Boyajian's Star) has raged in the few short years since it was noticed that the light it is emitting has periodically dimmed - a pattern that doesn’t show up anywhere else in astronomy, across 150,000 stars surveyed.

If the topic is new to you, work your way through the 'Related Stories' links at the bottom of this post, as we've been covering it for a while now. Or, for the tldr; crowd, here's the Wikipedia summary:

Unusual light fluctuations of the star were discovered by citizen scientists as part of the Planet Hunters project, and in September 2015 astronomers and citizen scientists associated with the project posted a preprint of a paper on arXiv describing the data and possible interpretations. The discovery was made from data collected by the Kepler space telescope, which observes changes in the brightness of distant stars to detect exoplanets.

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the star's large irregular changes in brightness as measured by its unusual light curve, but none to date fully explain all aspects of the curve. The leading hypothesis, based on a lack of observed infrared light, posits a swarm of cold, dusty comet fragments in a highly eccentric orbit. However, the notion that disturbed comets from such a cloud could exist in high enough numbers to obscure 22% of the star's observed luminosity has been doubted. Another hypothesis is that of a large number of small masses in "tight formation" orbiting the star. However, spectroscopic study of the system has found no evidence for coalescing material or hot close-in dust or circumstellar matter from an evaporating or exploding planet within a few astronomical units of the mature central star. It has also been hypothesized that the changes in brightness could be signs of activity associated with intelligent extraterrestrial life constructing a Dyson swarm.

(And if you really don't like reading, check out this TED talk about KIC 8462852, by Tabetha Boyajian herself.)

Now, the controversy over the star looks set to be reignited - and hopefully answers to the mystery uncovered - with news that it has just started dimming again. Astronomers are, understandably, a wee bit excited about this:

The dimming event is still underway as I write, so it's still very early days in terms of looking for patterns and answers. However, the following graph posted by @David_Kipping shows an interesting comparison between the public observations of the star so far to a previously recorded dipping event.

Dipping pattern in Tabby's Star

To keep up to date with developments related to this new dimming event, it is probably worth checking out the ongoing discussion currently taking place on a Reddit board devoted to KIC 8462852. Also, last night Tabetha Boyajian participated in an online Q&A about the new observations currently underway, which I've embedded below for those interested:

Related Stories:

News Briefs 19-05-2017

“To realise the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.”

Quote of the Day:

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”

Bertrand Russell

Memories of Near Death Experiences are 'More Real Than Real'

Near Death Experience

A new study of near-death experiences (NDEs) has given a scientific footing to the oft-reported effect of the experience feeling 'more real than real' (e.g. ‘‘My death experience is more real to me than life”; ‘‘It was more real than real: absolute reality”; ‘‘I have no doubt that this experience was real. It was vastly more real than anything we experience here”.)

Intrigued by such accounts, long-time NDE researcher Dr Bruce Greyson and co-author Lauren Moore set out to investigate the reliability of these strange memories of another world encountered during a brush with death:

[S]everal factors commonly associated with near-death experiences may cast doubt on the reliability of memories of the event: (1) NDEs often occur in the presence of cardiac arrest, which often produces some amnesia for the event; (2) they may occur under the influence of potentially psychoactive medications, which can alter memories; (3) they usually occur in traumatic situations, which are known to influence the accuracy of memory; (4) they are usually associated with strong positive emotion, which may influence memory; and (5) they are sometimes reported long after the event, a factor that has been shown to reduce the detail and vividness of memories.

All of these factors have raised questions about the reliability of memories of near-death experiences. In contrast to these reasons to question the reliability of NDE memories, near-death experiencers themselves usually harbor no doubts at all. In fact, it is the norm for near-death experiencers to describe the NDE as ‘‘realer than real” or ‘‘more real than anything else I’ve ever experienced”.

Greyson and Moore administered a test known as the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire to 122 survivors of a close brush with death who reported having a near-death experience. The test is based on findings that memories of real events tend to contain more perceptual information (e.g. color and sound), more contextual information (e.g. recall of the surrounding time and place), more meaningful supporting detail such as emotional information, and and fewer elements that are bizarre.

NDErs completed the questionnaire for three different memories - their near-death experience, a real event that occurred around the same time, and an event imagined around the same time - so a comparison could be made. The results were surprising: NDE memories were ranked 'more real' than the real events:

The data from this study suggest that memories of NDEs are not comparable to memories of imagined events. Memories of NDEs were rated higher on the MCQ than memories of real events, which in turn were rated higher than memories of imagined events.

Our observation that MCQ scores are higher for memories of a real event than memories of an imagined event are consistent with previous studies by Johnson et al. (1988) and with what would be expected in comparing memories of real and imagined events. The fact that MCQ scores were even higher for NDEs suggests that they are recalled as even ‘‘more real” than real events, which is in line with how NDErs describe them. Our findings are consistent with those of Thonnard et al. (2013) and Palmieri et al. (2014), both of whom concluded that recollections of NDEs were suggestive of memories of real experiences rather false memories of imagined experiences.

Link: ""Characteristics of memories for near-death experiences" at ResearchGate

Related: The Reality of the Near Death Experience

News Briefs 18-05-2017

Welcome to the Daily Grail where we're not afraid to tackle the big questions. My name's Chris and I'll be your host today. Red Pill Junkie has been detained by several scantily-clad black-eyed girls. Pray for him.

Thanks to Patrick Huyghe, Chris Woodyard, and viewers like you.

Quote of the Day:

"To wisdom belongs the intellectual apprehension of things eternal; to knowledge, the rational apprehension of things temporal."
- St. Augustine of Hippo

News Briefs 17-05-2017

Memo: remember to take more memos...

Quote of the Day:

We are the children of concrete and steel.

Living Colour, "Type"

Hidden History Debated: Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson Go Head to Head with Skeptic Michael Shermer on the Joe Rogan Podcast

Late last year 'alternative history' author Graham Hancock and 'renegade scholar' Randall Carlson appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast discussing a major topic in Graham's recent book Magicians of the Gods (Amazon US/Amazon UK) - namely, evidence pointing to the possibility that there was a major global catastrophe at the end of the last Ice Age, caused by a comet impact. Noted skeptic Michael Shermer - who has also previously appeared on Joe's show - was moved to comment about the information presented on the podcast, questioning the validity of what was being said.

So Joe decided to bring them all together in the same room to debate the topic face-to-face - resulting in the three and a half hour dialogue (quadralogue?) above.

Related links: