Greetings, Surface-Dwellers! Underwater Robot's Encounter with a Whale

When the crew of the Nautilus Live expedition were operating their ROV (named Hercules) 2000 feet below surface in the Gulf of Mexico, they were surprised to have an unexpected visitor: A sperm whale showing a lot of curiosity toward their mechanical avatar --all part of the customary sub-oceanic hospitality, I guess...

[Full-screen viewing at 1080p is highly recommended]

Now WHY can't we have one of these gizmos at loch Ness, dammit??



Travis: The Definitive Documentary of the 1975 UFO Event

Thanks to the Robertson panel and the Condon report, by the 1970's UFOs were no longer considered a story worthy to be covered by 'serious' newspapers, and thus were relegated to the supermarket tabloids. That suddenly changed in 1975, when the mysterious disappearance of a young logger by the name of Travis Walton, drew the attention of media outlets from all across the globe.

Their co-workers were suspected of murdering him, and accused of trying to cover the crime with a fantasy tale involving flying saucers and death rays. Then the case did a complete 180° when Travis reappeared, suffering the effects of physical and mental shock. His amazing account of interacting with non-human entities became one of the most famous UFO cases of all time, and was brought to the silver screen with a motion picture under the same title as the book he wrote --Fire in the Sky.

Unfortunately, Travis' story suffered a lot of distortions under the Hollywood treatment, and many elements of his abduction were completely omitted --for instance, the fact that along with the short, big-headed aliens we've come to know as "the Grays," Travis also came into contact with beings that looked completely human. The film's producers were convinced no-one would bother to watch a movie about aliens if they weren't portrayed as terrifying monsters; after all, if they zapped him and abducted him against this will, that means their intentions are evil… right?

Well, Travis himself is not so sure about that. His opinion about the events have shifted over the years, and now he's convinced his abduction was his own fault after his reckless decision of coming too close to the UFO's 'energy field'.

“An accident happened and they didn’t want to leave me behind.”

Seeking to set the record straight, Filmmaker and MUFON state section director Jennifer Stein created a new documentary, in which he managed to gather the personal testimony of Travis and his old co-workers, along with several high-profile researchers like Richard Dolan, discussing the importance of this fascinating case. The film was premiered at the International UFO Congress last February, where it won 2 awards --Best UFO Film of the Year and People's Choice Award-- and it will be screened in several other venues in the United States, and also in Canada and Australia.

This year will also mark the 40th anniversary of Travis' experience, which will be suitably commemorated at the Skyfire summit on November 5th, near the same location where the event happened in 1975. Prior to that He will also be a speaker at the Paradigm symposium in Minneapolis, where I myself will be thrilled to finally meet him in person.



News Briefs 17-04-2015

”Any ritual is an opportunity for transformation.”

Quote of the Day:

“When we practice magic we are always making connections, moving energy, identifying with other forms of being.”


Nightmares of the Future: The Climatological Horror of Life in FORTITUDE

The world is increasingly unthinkable – a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction. In spite of our daily concerns, wants, and desires, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part. To confront this idea is to confront an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all – an idea that has been a central motif of the horror genre for some time.”

~ Eugene Thacker, In The Dust Of This Planet

FORTITUDE is a British psychological thriller TV series that just concluded its first season. It presents as a straight-forward murder mystery, combining elements of classic British crime drama and the new, popular sub-genre of Nordic Noir; calling attention to that second element by featuring Sofie Gråbøl – from UR Nordic Noir, The Killing (Forbrydelsen)– as the Governor of the town that gives its name to this series. Proving the popularity of this type of television, it aired simultaneously in the UK and US, Canada and shortly thereafter in Australia and New Zealand. It is also full of demons.

This is a show about people haunted by their inescapable past and a town slowly infected by the new face of an ancient evil. And these are the aspects I am going to examine in this review. As the show concludes, the who-dunnit aspect becomes immaterial, but the why and the how of it are more than just a cleverly constructed plot device, they're a metaphor for the future of humanity and the planet.

Which is why I started with the opening paragraph of Eugene Thacker's In The Dust of this Planet. What creator Simon Donald has delivered to his audience is part human mystery, part cosmological puzzle. Connections between events beyond the core plot line are rarely explicitly stated or resolved, and most are only obvious in retrospect. To the frustration of many casual viewers, much is left unexplained. Everything isn't tied into a knot woven of simple causality. Instead, this is a drama about the ripples formed by one singular large scale event, which flows over each person in the town differently, affecting all elements of life, in fact all forms of life too. It is about how those waves are generated by a cold, uncaring universe completely dispassionately, that wash equally over the local citizens seemingly regardless of their character or past.

To paraphrase Thacker: “to watch FORTITUDE is to confront an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all.” The innocent are made murderers, victims become killers, the flawed punish the corrupt, the wicked are left as witnesses seeking retribution, two tortured lovers come together only for one to be later shot by the other, and one hero's reward is permanent disfigurement.

It also plays out like a Mundane SF adaptation of The Thing.

I really liked this show. Spoilers follow.

Temperature constrains all life,

In the permafrost,

Hibernating for millions of years or

Decomposing for millions of years.”

~Stanza III, The Subharmonic Murmur of Black Tentacular Voids

My nickname for FORTITUDE's plot device is Checkhov's Mammoth. Events are set in motion by the most harmless of things ... Read More »

News Briefs 16-04-2015

I'm sure in many parallel worlds donating to the Grail would be tax deductible.

Thanks to Grail-Seeker.

Quote of the Day:

"People are too eager to say "This legendary person had flaws!" instead of, "Wow, this flawed human being managed to do something legendary.""

~ Mishell Baker ‏(@mishellbaker )

Hubble @ 25: Quantum-Leaping Our Knowledge of the Cosmos since 1990

NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced.
Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.

The above quote was part of the blockbuster film Apollo 13, but it could have been easily applied to the Hubble space telescope. Launched in April 24th of 1990, the mission started out as a huge embarrassment for NASA and their partners in the European space agency (ESA), when it was realized their $2.5 billion baby had been born with myopia, due to a faulty mirror --that mistake was even exploited as a conspiracy plot in the 1996 sci-fi film The Arrival, starring Charlie Sheen.

After a one-week repair mission in 1993, the Hubble was finally able to open its eyes to the Universe, and during its 25 years of service not only has it managed to become one NASA's most successful projects, but thanks to the spectacular images it has captured many cosmological theories have been completely revolutionized in the span of a single generation, rightly turning it into one of the greatest technological achievements in the history of our species.

Because of all this, the two agencies have launched a webpage to celebrate Hubble's 25th anniversary next week, and many other events are being planned to commemorate its fruitful career. At the same time, many scientists are already looking to the future, and starting to envision the space telescope's replacements: Instruments so sophisticated and powerful, they might be able to detect biological activity on faraway exoplanets.

No doubt Hubble's successors will pose a challenge as great or even greater to NASA than the venerable telescope, especially considering how science-driven missions are "less sexy" than manned exploration, and thus harder to sell to the public. In a time when contenders are starting to get ready for presidencial race, here's hoping the American public will force them to make a serious commitment to support Astrophotography; that we may be able to continue looking far, far away, in order to contemplate ourselves from a different perspective.

In the meantime, feast your eyes --and you imagination-- with some of Hubble's best pictures, as chosen by the scientists who've worked on the project:

The Butterfly Nebula

“The Butterfly Nebula shows what happens to a star at the end of its life, when it loses all of its gas and dust to its surroundings. Not only is this a reminder to the eventual fate of our own Sun and Solar System, but Hubble's unique ability to witness this event in a star's long life cycle sheds light on how stars evolve.” ~Jason Kalirai, project scientist, James Webb Space Telescope, Space Telescope Science Institute

The Helix Nebula

“These shells expelled by dying stars are fragmenting in tight knots of condensed gas. To me that’s fascinating because it means this material going out into the interstellar medium, the material from which new generations of stars form, already has this condensation, this tantalizing possibility of being seeds for planetary formation.” ~Robert O’Dell, astronomer, Vanderbilt University

The Pillars of Creation

“This is one of the iconic images. You see the columns of gas that signify a region where stars have recently formed and are still forming. We have a marvellous newer image with a newer camera, which gave us a visual clue as to how young stars that have recently formed are interacting with the dense gas remaining behind.” ~Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist, Hubble, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


On Alien Abductions and Exploding Heads

Exploding Head Syndrom

In 1876, physician Silas Weir Mitchell described how he was treating two men who suffered from strange “sensory discharges”: being woken from their sleep by the seemingly illusory sound of "loud bells" or a “gunshot”. Provocatively named 'exploding head syndrome', a modern sufferer describes his own symptoms as a "sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of sound, electrical fizzing and a bright flash in my vision, like someone has lit a spotlight in front of my face."

Despite its strangeness (or perhaps because of it?), there has been relatively little research into the disorder. A new theory has however been put forward by Assistant Professor Brian Sharpless of Washington State University:

Several ideas have been proposed, including ear disorders and partial epileptic seizures. But the most compelling theory comes from a handful of studies in which people with the condition have had their brain activity monitored overnight. These small studies suggest that there may be a burst of neural activity in the brain that coincides with the reported explosion.

Normally, when we go to sleep our body shuts down and becomes paralysed so that we don’t act out our dreams. During this transition from wake to sleep, the brain usually turns off bit by bit, says Sharpless.
However, in exploding head syndrome, there is a hiccup in the 'reticular formation' – the part of the brain responsible for overseeing this general shut-down – which results in a delay in switching off some areas.

This delay is associated with a suppression of alpha brainwaves that are normally responsible for drowsiness, and a sudden burst of neural activity in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound. “We think the neurons are all firing at once,” he says, which results in the sensation of an explosion in your head.

Sharpless says that the syndrome's similarity to another neurological disorder, 'sleep paralysis' - both appear to arise from problems in the transition between wakefulness and sleep - may also tie it to some 'paranormal' experiences:

Take a look at these supernatural or alien stories, says Sharpless, and sometimes you can see hints of both sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome. “People can sense these strange explosions in their head, and they may think they’ve had something implanted in their brain. Or they feel this surge of electricity and they think they’ve been shot by some kind of new energy weapon. They can’t move, but hear and see strange things and think they’ve been abducted.”

For more detailed discussion about the sounds heard during paranormal experiences, be sure to have a read of my Darklore article "Her Sweet Murmur".

Link: 'I have Exploding Head Syndrome'

Related: "Her Sweet Murmur: Exploring the aural phenomenology of border experiences"

News Briefs 15-04-2015

What's happening?

Quote of the Day:

While many things are too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.

Thomas Hardy

Scientists Find More Evidence that Animals Can Sense Earthquakes Before They Happen

Fault-line (Image by Ikluft, Creative Commons licence)

It has long been suggested that animals 'know' when an earthquake is about to occur: changes in behaviour have been noted in laboratory mice, daily rhythms of ants have reportedly been disrupted, and cows have been observed to behave unusually (in one case an entire herd of cows was witnessed lying down in unison before an earthquake struck). There were reports of elephants and flamingos heading to higher ground before the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, and more recently of zoo animals acting strangely before an earthquake that struck Washington, D.C. One of the earliest reports of animal behaviour predicting earthquakes is from Greece in 373 BC, when rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes were said to have left their usual homes several days before it struck.

Skeptics on the other hand have suggested that these reports can be dismissed as examples of confirmation bias, where incidental correlations between animal behaviour and earthquakes are remembered and falsely attributed to the existing folk belief, while the many non-manifestations of such behaviour are forgotten.

A particular skeptical mantra is that 'the plural of anecdote is not data' - a comment on the non-evidential value of anecdotal reports. When it comes to animal behaviour before earthquakes, however, a new study has gathered actual data on the topic, and perhaps may have even contributed to substantiating the long held belief that animals can sense an earthquake coming.

The researchers took advantage of nine 'camera traps' being used in Yanachaga National Park in Peru to track the movements of rarely seen animals. Each time these traps' motion sensors are triggered, they take a picture, capturing an image of the animal that is moving past the field of view.

Analysing the images over a 30 day period leading up to the 2011 magnitude 7.0 Contamana earthquake, (and comparing with a 'control' period not associated with an impending earthquake), they found that the camera traps usually 'captured' up to 18 animals a day. However, this number dropped off to much lower numbers consistently around 23 days before the earthquake, and then reduced further just over a week from it striking. In fact, only three animals in total were photographed in the last six days before the earthquake struck, with rodents - the most abundant animal in the forest environment - almost completely disappearing.

Animals captured by camera-trap before earthquake, compared to control

In the paper, the researchers theorise that the changes in behaviour might be caused by the sub-surface grinding of rocks in the lead-up to an earthquake, creating an electric charge that has a number of effects which might be sensed by animals:

  • Emission of ultra-low frequency (ULF) electromagnetic waves that may affect biochemical reactions and disrupt circadian rhythms.
  • Oxidisation of soil organics, creating toxic and/or irritating trace gases, such as carbon monoxide.
  • Ionisation of air molecules - which has been reported to cause blood serotonin levels to increase in animals and humans.

The researchers concluded:

An enhanced air ionisation at the ridge prior to the magnitude 7 Contamana earthquake may have caused the animals to escape to lower altitudes, where they would have been exposed to fewer positive airborne ions. The pre-earthquake anxiety, restlessness and escape reactions of domestic or captive animals, reported anecdotally for many decades, even centuries, may simply be due to the fact that confined animals tend to panic when they are unable to move away from aversive stimuli in their environment. If this correlation can be substantiated by systematically monitoring a wider range of reported pre-earthquake phenomena, this would lead to a better understanding of the premonitory abilities of animals.

Source: "Changes in Animal Activity Prior to a Major (M=7) Earthquake in the Peruvian Andes"