News Briefs 23-05-2008

Fare thee well, Dr. Lamb. Good luck and Godspeed…

Thanks Greg!

Quote of the Day:

"They're not gonna catch us... We're on a mission from God."

Dan ‘Jake’ Aykroyd

Dead for a Day?

Yahoo has video of a strange news case in which it is claimed that an elderly woman was dead - that is, with no brain waves - for 17 hours, before suddenly resuscitating herself as nurses made final preparations for the dead body. The family had made the decision to turn off life support, but the woman was left on a respirator for almost a day as a decision over organ donation was mulled over, despite showing no signs of brain function.

When interviewed, she said "I feel blessed and I know God has something in store for me." It would be interesting to know if she underwent any sort of (Very!) Near Death Experience, and also to get a full report from a scientist/medical doctor rather than relying on this media report for details. Much more here and here. I still have some questions over the "10% chance of survival" mixed with "no neurological functioning", and also how long her body temperature was lowered via hypothermia. Thanks RPJ and Kat.

More on Spielberg's Paranormal Project

We reported a while back about rumours concerning Steven Spielberg's involvement in a "Paranormal Facebook" - that is, a social networking website devoted to paranormal topics. In today's news briefs, RPJ points at a fresh update on the state of the project:

The site will reportedly be called “Rising” or “The Rising” (our understanding is that they have acquired both .com domain names), and the logo above and animated logo below are at least preliminary versions of the final.

...The Rising will have original video content with a permanent host in addition to the social network where users can share stories and experiences, tapping into serious demand for this kind of thing.

Not sure whether to take this at face value, or whether it could all be a movie (or game) tie-in, or even possible an Alternative Reality Game (ARG). Guess we'll see as time progresses (in the meantime, if Mr Spielberg needs a news guy for his new site, I could sure use some income for this gig...)

In other Spielberg-related news, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has opened, and reviews are pretty good (see Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB). Looks like it recaptures the vibe of the series well, which is no mean feat - I'll have to check it out. (BTW, I just finished typesetting Filip Coppens' article on the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull for Darklore Volume 2, and I'm sure you folks will really dig it)

Let Them Eat Gold

On the menu of a Wall Street restaurant is a burger covered in gold flakes - at US$180 for one burger, it's a meal fit for Gordon Gekko. Is there an Illuminati version of Gordon Ramsay loose in a New York restaurant? That's an appetising conspiracy, but sprinkling your food with gold isn't new. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt ingested gold dust, believing it prolonged one's life. Restaurants in Turkey have been serving gold-flecked meals for a while, and they were undoubtedly inspired by history:

Europe has very old traditions in using edible gold on food, dating back to the Renaissance. While 15th century alchemists used gold medicinally as an aid to digestion, 16th century Italian dukes decorated their risotto with it. The Elizabethans added gold dust to fruit at their most sumptuous banquets and ate sweets covered in gold in the afternoons to maintain healthy hearts. Gold is still considered medicinal in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. The Japanese continue to use gold regularly in their diet, and it is especially consumed at New Year’s when it is thought to bring luck and prosperity. There are several brands of sake that feature gold flakes in the bottle.

A small bottle of Kizakura sake sits on the shelf above my computer, a past birthday present that I never drank. The gold flakes sit at the bottom, autumn leaves in a pond, until I shake it like a snow-globe. But this beautiful concept is shattered by my conscience conjuring images of the obscenely rich gorging themselves on gold and beef at the expense of environmental and human rights.

Or perhaps it's simply that the sake I just drank is well past its expiry date...how else can I explain contemplating a conspiracy of Wall Street burgers sprinkled with gold dust, Illuminati chefs, and alchemical immortality?

News Briefs 22-05-2008

If this were to be the last day of your life, what would you change?

Arigato Greg-san

Quote of the Day:

“There is no requirement that every statement be a scientific statement. Nor are non-scientific statements worthless or irrational simply because they are not scientific. “She sings beautifully.” “He is a good man.” “I love you.” These are all non-scientific statements that can be of great value. Science is not the only useful way of looking at life.”

William D. Phillips, Nobel Laureate.

10 Close Encounters

Last Sunday NBC's Dateline aired a UFO special titled "10 Close Encounters Caught on Tape", which presented a number of the more famous UFO cases in which video or photos of the event were recorded. The video of each segment is now available as an online feature at MSNBC.com, along with 'Internet only' material as well. The cases are certainly international in flavour, and include the Phoenix Lights, the McMinnville UFO photo, the Belgian Triangle, the Mexican Air Force footage, and New Zealand orbs. 'Experts' featured include Bruce Maccabee, James Fox, James Oberg and Michael Shermer. Cheesy at times, demonstratably wrong in certain aspects (eg. in conflating the two Phoenix Lights sighting), and some silly comments from ufologists and skeptics alike - but still worth checking out.

Remote Viewing Whitewash...

It's interesting to note how easily history/scientific results can be rewritten. In a New Scientist story we linked to earlier in the week - "Fifty years of DARPA: Hits, misses and ones to watch" - the following was listed in the 'Failed Projects' section:

Telepathic spies: One of the agency's most infamous blunders was its 1970s psychic spy program, inspired by reports that the Soviets were researching the area. DARPA invested millions to see if telepaths and psychokinetics – who claim to move objects using thought alone – could carry out remote espionage. They couldn't.

Now firstly I have to say that I've never actually heard of the psi spy programs belonging to DARPA - the 1970s forerunners of Project Stargate were funded by the CIA, and then at the end of the decade taken over by the Air Force and Army. Kenneth Kress, who was intimately involved with the research during this period, had this to say about DARPA's involvement - or lack of - in the programs (in his article "Parapsychology in Intelligence"):

At one time, we felt we had the strong interest of some people at DARPA to discuss our data. The SRI contractors and I went to a briefing where we had a several-hour confrontation with an assemblage of hostile DARPA people who had been convened especially to debunk our results. After a long, inconclusive, emotional discussion, we left. Contacts with DARPA stopped for several years.

Secondly, rather than being an "infamous blunder" which failed in its attempt to prove 'psychic espionage' abilities, much of the data suggest more research is more than warranted. Statistics professor Jessica Utts, who reviewed some of the experiments, had this to say about remote viewing:

Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well-established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance...there is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data.

Hard to tally that scientific overview with the article's conclusion isn't it? Vociferous psi skeptic Ray Hyman, a high-standing member of CSICOP, co-reviewed the data with Utts, and was forced by the positive results and robust experimental protocols to conclude: "I cannot provide suitable candidates for what flaws, if any, might be present. Just the same, it is impossible in principle to say that any particular experiment or experimental series is completely free from flaws." Prominent skeptic Richard Wiseman had to concur with Utts, though adding the usual caveat: "I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do."

The false information in this New Scientist article is now free to propagate endlessly. Whether there is something to remote viewing and psi abilities is still a matter for debate. This article though is guilty of badly misrepresenting the topic.

Wednesday Blogscan 21-05-2008

A strange assortment to get you through the week...

Enjoy!

News Briefs 20-05-2008

Surprise! Oh alright, it's just me...

Thanks Ross.

Quote of the Day:

What I'd like to do now - well, what I'd *like* to do now is grow my beard very long, weave it into my pubes and strum it like a harp.

Bill Bailey

Is God Obsolete?

A new publication from the Templeton Foundation (available as online reading and a PDF download as well) seeks to explore the question "Does science make belief in God obsolete?" TDG readers may find it worth checking out, as according to this MSNBC article, "the answers offered by the booklet's two theologians, eight scientists, two cultural commentators and one philosopher are more creative and sophisticated than the mind-numbing 'culture wars' portrayed on television." Even more motivation for checking it out is that the publication is edited and contributed to by prominent media skeptic Michael Shermer...or at least his Bizarro world alter-ego:

Biological evolution is glacially slow compared to cultural evolution. Because of this, and the fact that the cosmos is very big and the space between the stars is vast, the probability of making contact with an ETI that is technologically equal to or only slightly more advanced than us is virtually nil. If we ever do encounter the representatives of an ETI, they will be so far ahead of us technologically that they will appear as gods to us.

For an ETI who is a million years more advanced than we are, engineering the creation of planets and stars may be entirely possible. And if universes are created out of collapsing black holes—which some cosmologists think is probable—it is not inconceivable that a sufficiently advanced ETI could even create a universe.

What would we call an intelligent being capable of engineering a universe, stars, planets, and life? If we knew the underlying science and technology used to do the engineering, we would call it extraterrestrial intelligence; if we did not know the underlying science and technology, we would call it God.

Don't fret though, MS manages to throw in a few standard skeptical pejoratives along with the more thought-provoking (or what I like to call, 'Daily Grail oriented') stuff. Other contributors include Christopher Hitchins, Steven Pinker, Victor Stenger and Keith Ward, among others.