Welcome to Spring/Autumn (apply hemispheric orientation as appropriate)!
- The James Webb Space Telescope will search for a 'second Earth' among the weird habitable worlds of the TRAPPIST-1 solar system.
- Did the Oscars just prove that we are living in a computer simulation?
- Discovery of giant neuron might explain how the brain creates consciousness.
- A vast network of tunnels lies hidden beneath the city of Chicago.
- The Inca Empire constructed over 40,000km of roads and superhighways in just 100 years.
- Fabled 'Atlantis alloy' recovered in greater numbers from ancient shipwreck.
- How brain scientists forgot that brains have owners.
- Mars needs...lawyers?
- Was ancient Earth surrounded by a solid shell? New theory suggests plate tectonics began later than previously thought.
- Mysteries of the first ever map of the North Pole.
- A huge crater in Siberia is getting bigger.
- The strange McGurk Effect: What you see can affect what you hear.
- 'Materialist parapsychologist' and ex-Project Stargate head Dr Ed May slams Dean Radin on the latest Skeptiko podcast.
- Girlfriend of dead UFO conspiracy theorist is now a suspect.
- Chilean police report paranormal activity while investigating a domestic disturbance.
- Nicaraguan woman burnt to death on a fire during exorcism ritual.
- The blood of dragons may be the key to destroying antibiotic resistance. Man, fantasy quests have really gone downhill with their storylines...
- Updating conspiracy theory: The rise of weaponised narrative and manipulation via social networks.
Quote of the Day:
Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups…So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.
Philip K. Dick
The past few months has seen a proliferation of think pieces about 'fake news', much of it overstated or wrong-headed, and much also ignoring the fact that fake news has been around as long as news has. But there is certainly some truth at the centre of it all, and it may be more a case that the rise of social networks has allowed for a new type of 'personalised' manipulation via fake, hyperbolic and/or emotive stories, and it is that which we are noticing.
For those wishing to better inform themselves - in order to protect themselves against this manipulation - I heartily recommend two articles in particular. The first is a DefenseOne article titled "Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace":
Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.
The article hits the nail on the head, I think, by pointing out the 'information overload' we are now experiencing makes us vulnerable to oversimplified, emotive narratives (a key component also in the rise in 'populist' movements):
Cultures, institutions, and individuals are, among many other things, information-processing mechanisms. As they become overwhelmed with information complexity, the tendency to retreat into simpler narratives becomes stronger.
Under this stress, cultures fragment. Institutions are stretched until they become ineffective or even dysfunctional. Individuals who define their identity primarily through the state – such as Americans, Russians, Chinese, or Europeans – retreat to a mythic Golden Age nationalism, while those who prioritize cultural and religious bonds retreat to fundamentalism.
...By offering cheap passage through a complex world, weaponized narrative furnishes emotional certainty at the cost of rational understanding. The emotionally satisfying decision to accept a weaponized narrative — to believe, to have faith — inoculates cultures, institutions, and individuals against counterarguments and inconvenient facts. This departure from rationality opens such ring-fenced belief communities to manipulation and their societies to attack.
While the observations in the DefenseOne article are mostly about a new type of battleground between nation states, the second article I recommend takes this one step further, and shows how any rich and powerful individual can push their own political view by manipulating us via weaponized narrative that uses our own social data against us. The article, "Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media", starts off rather blandly, discussing one of the biggest funders of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Robert Mercer - "a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs". It is the later part of the article, when it discusses how Mercer is doing this, that we should all be paying major attention to:
there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)
On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a “propaganda machine”.
...[According to the communications director of the Leave.EU (Brexit) campaign], Cambridge Analytica had worked for them...it had taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people’s Facebook profiles.
Facebook was the key to the entire campaign. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert.
Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results...with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself.
According to an expert in the field, Professor Jonathan Rust:
The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.
It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.
Quoting short sections doesn't really do either of the articles justice - I heartily recommend reading them both in their entirety to understand how vulnerable we all are to manipulation in the 21st century. But how do we combat these types of strategies? Your suggestions are more than welcome in the comments section!
Fly me to the Moon!
- SpaceX will send two paying tourists around the Moon next year. (Official announcement can be found at the SpaceX website.)
- Reporter goes to the International UFO Congress to learn the truth about the Phoenix Lights.
- The (potentially) habitable worlds of TRAPPIST-1.
- Humans are surprisingly talented at navigating the world via echolocation.
- A mysterious Neolithic labyrinth has been found in Denmark.
- After 20 years of controversy, the 9000-year-old remains of Kennewick Man have finally been laid to rest.
- Study of ancient skulls suggests there may have been multiple migrations into the Americas.
- Ten first-hand descriptions of how it feels to die.
- Reviving extinct species: is it worth the cost?
- There are now only 30 miniature porpoises left in the wild.
- People in a South American desert have evolved to detoxify arsenic that laces their water supply.
- Dystopian future update: Data from internet-connected teddy bears leaked and ransomed, exposing kids' voice messages
- Dystopian future update #2: How technocratic hyper-rationalism has birthed right-wing extremism.
- The 'big data' billionaire waging war on mainstream media and manipulating people using their own social network usage.
- HAARP is back in business conducting ionospheric experiments again. Thanks Trump!
- Video of the Day: New Boston Dynamics robot. That is all.
Quote of the Day:
Utopian movements produce dystopias.
Just when you thought you could survive the coming robot revolution by outrunning them, Boston Dynamics have released video of their latest invention, 'Handle': a 6 and a half foot tall humanoid style robot which can travel 9mph via the wheels on the end of its legs. Oh, and it can jump 4 feet vertically while its motoring along too...
It uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds.
Joking aside though, this latest robot looks to have amazing potential for simple carrying/moving/delivery jobs.
We're on an express elevator to hell...going down!
- Over the weekend witches and Christians went head to head during the casting of a spell of 'magical resistance' against Trump.
- Mystery over two male Black Death victims buried hand in hand.
- 93-mile-long ancient wall in Jordan puzzles archaeologists.
- Could satellites help find the tomb of Genghis Khan?
- Researchers involved in scans for secret chambers in King Tut's tomb can't talk about the project due to non-disclosure agreements.
- Roman roads lead to...McDonalds?
- Rise of the transhumanists.
- Most scientists "can't replicate studies by their peers".
- Physicists uncover geometric "theory space".
- Five languages that could change the way you think.
- Researchers believe they will soon be able to erase specific memories from the brain.
- Does the Large Hadron Collider disprove ghosts?
- The surprisingly tricky question of whether viruses are alive.
- The search for extraterrestrial life just got a lot more interesting.
- Animated gif of the Day: Behold, the engine of life, mitosis.
Quote of the Day:
You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.
Robert A. Heinlein
"The Tao is like a well: used but never used up..."
- Life in another solar system?
- Interstellar flights to Trappist-1 leaving soon.
- NASA debates astronauts on the SLS rocket.
- More ancient life underground.
- Eclipse visible in southern hemisphere on Sunday.
- The future of fusion?
- Unveiling the Mayan dark ages.
- There goes a supernova - what a pushover…
- The neuron of consciousness?
- Kirigami reveals new class of materials.
- Biking the 1890’s.
- Rise of the superbugs.
- Four generations of sungazers.
- This week’s evidence of the looming robot uprising… climbing ‘bots.
Quote of the Day:
“...It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.”
In recent years there has been a surge in interest in the idea that human behaviour might be sometimes manipulated by microscopic parasites, as this has been observed happening in many other species. Perhaps the most famous example is the brain parasite toxoplasma gondii, which manipulates rodents' behaviour to make them less fearful of cats. It does this because toxo only reproduces inside a cat's stomach - by making the rodents less fearful, they are more likely to be eaten and 'deliver their payload' to where it needs to be.
Some have suggested that humans too might be affected by toxo, an idea that sounded even more plausible when last year researchers found that chimpanzees with toxo seem to be less fearful of a feline predator, the leopard. Previous to that study, other research had implicated toxo as the possible cause of a range of psychological effects in humans, from delayed reaction time right through to suicidal thoughts.
But a new piece of research has now thrown doubts over that idea, with scientists finding no evidence that cat ownership contributes to mental health problems in teenagers:
Congenital or early life infection with Toxoplasma gondii has been implicated in schizophrenia aetiology. Childhood cat ownership has been hypothesized as an intermediary marker of T. gondii infection and, by proxy, as a risk factor for later psychosis. Evidence supporting this hypothesis is, however, limited.
We used birth cohort data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to investigate whether cat ownership in pregnancy and childhood (ages 4 and 10 years) was associated with psychotic experiences (PEs) in early [13yo] and late [18yo] adolescence, rated from semi-structured interviews. We used logistic regression to examine associations between cat ownership and PEs, adjusting for several sociodemographic and socioeconomic factors, household characteristics and dog ownership.
Cat ownership during pregnancy was not associated with PEs at age 13 years or 18 years. Initial univariable evidence that cat ownership at ages 4 and 10 years was associated with PEs at age 13 years did not persist after multivariable adjustment. There was no evidence that childhood cat ownership was associated with PEs at age 18 years.
The researchers concluded that while pregnant women "should continue to avoid handling soiled cat litter, given possible T. gondii exposure", overall the study "strongly indicates that cat ownership in pregnancy or early childhood does not confer an increased risk of later adolescent PEs."
So there's one less excuse to use when your child asks you for a kitten...
Our lives are always the prelude. What comes next is up to us.
- Nearby star hosts 7 Earth-sized planets. At least 3 of which could be habitable.
- Michael Strauss: Our universe is too big for even the most imaginative Sci-Fi.
- Tom DeLonge gets the 2017 UFO Researcher of the Year award at the IUFOC. Welp, Disclosure brought upon by a rocker would NOT be the most outrageous story of 2017, that's for sure…
- Russian military zapped by aliens after shooting down UFO, CIA declassified document claims.
- That time when the CIA asked Ingo Swann to remote view Jupiter.
- When the NSA feared psychics could make cities lost in time and space --or, as we say, shifting the gear to Eleven...
- YESSSSSS! The One wants to do a Matrix sequel :D
- Why were Americans obsessed with ghosts in the 1940s?
- Yes, you ARE crazy. But not because of your cats.
- Lyle Blackburn has a new book about the Fouke Monster.
- Is California bound to be struck by a 200-year storm of massive proportions?
- The Rome of America: What lies under Teotihuacán.
- Organ-on-a-chip mimics heart's biomechanical properties.
- Psychedelics help reduce opioid addiction according to new study.
- Red Pill of the Day: Swedish politician wants workers to have paid sex breaks to improve their health. Eff universal income. Give us THIS!!!
Quote of the Day:
"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death."
My daughter Isis reviews fantasy genre books from her viewpoint as a teenager - check out her blog 'The Book Goddess' for some cool recommendations (both old and new).
- New evidence for the strange idea that the Universe is a hologram.
- Twitter has made our alien contact protocols obsolete.
- NASA's Fermi telescope has found a signal at the centre of the Andromeda galaxy that could indicate the presence of dark matter.
- The ten weirdest physics facts, from relativity to quantum physics.
- Five experiments that show the universe is weird...really weird.
- The example of Easter Island shows why humanity will be extinct within 100 years.
- Greece displays 7000-year-old archaeological enigma.
- Search for secret chamber in King Tut's tomb to recommence.
- Mysterious downfall of the Aztecs may have been caused by salmonella.
- DNA reveals prehistoric Native American dynasty centered on women.
- The post-human world: A conversation about the end of work, individualism and the fate of the human species.
- A warning from Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.
- This brain implant makes telepathic typing possible.
- Someone just bought Hitler's personal phone for $243,000.
- Alex Jones's misInfoWars: 7 batshit conspiracy theories.
- Batshit enough to give him the ear of POTUS.
- But does Alex Jones know if the owls are what they seem?
- Democrats are now embracing conspiracy theories.
- The strange photographs used to prove conspiracy theories.
- Meet the albino woman who survived a kidnapping by people who wanted to use her body parts for magic.
- Is there evidence for life after death? Of course there is, as you all know from reading my book on the topic...
- Video of the Day: Jaguar vs giant anteater.
Quote of the Day:
Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
Martin Luther King Jr.
When I was looking for suitable artwork for the cover of Darklore Volume 8, I was lucky enough to serendipitously come across the amazing drawings of Steve Richards, aka the (poetically named) 'Cosmic Joker'. When I asked Steve about how he fell into drawing sacred geometry-themed artworks, he told me that the urge to make art hit him just seven years ago in 2010, though stopped shortly after, before returning in 2012, when "I immediately knew it was staying and it wasn't going to just disappear". Along with this urge came a "throbbing" in Steve's forehead as well as tinnitus.
So for 6 months I just drew non stop bright vibrant pictures with colouring pencils...and then in Dec 2012 I picked up a fineliner [and] haven't stopped since!
My life long passions regarding the nature of reality, consciousness, ancient Egypt, synchronicity, cycles and symbols are themes I'm trying to put into my Art and finding ways of including information too, where symbolic, coded or literal. Trying to make information beautifull springs to mind.
Steve now has more than just a book cover as part of his portfolio - he has an entire book! As part of the recent interest in colouring-as-a-form-of-meditation, Steve created the illustrations for the recently released book The Golden Ratio Coloring Book: And Other Mathematical Patterns Inspired by Nature and Art. If you're into colouring, and you read this site, then it's likely this book will be right up your alley with illustrations like this:
You can find out more about Steve/follow him on social media/buy his stuff via the following links: