Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for April, 2008

A Single Planet of the Apes?

Dr. Charley Lineweaver, from Australian National University, has a pessimistic view on SETI. On a lecture (check the slides, PDF), he remembers that there’s no clear evidence that there’s anything like an “evolutionary trend” towards intelligence like ours. Assuming that intelligent life will eventually arise in any ecosystem is what Lineweaver calls the “Planet of the Apes Hypothesis”, and he doesn’t find it very reasonable:

“Independent experiments in evolution have been conducted on Earth over the past 200 million years. The names of the individual experiments are South America, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar, India, North America”.

In none of these isolated ecosystems a different species of intelligent animal anywhere similar to us arose, Lineweaver points. If our species suddenly disappeared from Earth, nothing guarantees that another species would fill our civilized niche, not even apes dedicated to hide the Statue of Liberty. No Planet of the Apes besides ours.

Likewise, even if life was common in the Universe, even if complex life was not so rare, there could be endless exotic ecosystems without intelligent beings building civilizations. If evolution and adaptability are not product of pure chance (a common misunderstanding of natural selection), intelligence like ours could well be.

Lineweaver goes on and mentions more interesting analogies, like assuming there is a trend towards bigger noses, which would eventually become the “handy” elephant trunk. That’s clearly not the case, but we hesitate to assume our high intelligence could have been produced the same way.

“I sued to think the brain was the most important organ until I realized what was telling me that”, he quotes in the end.

The main argument advanced by Charley Lineweaver is not new, and is certainly not definitive. Even if you grant the assertion that there no comparable intelligence arose in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Madagascar and India, it did arise on Africa, and one in seven is not so bad.

The main problem, of course, is that our sample is too small, and it’s good to remember that high intelligence may well be very rare, but there are “billions and billions” of planets out there. Lineweaver himself supports SETI, just in case he is wrong. That’s intelligent.

Check also the other slides from the Are We Alone? lectures. [via io9]

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The Transhuman Terminator

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom“, as He used to say. And truly, Mindhacks published a disturbing note, involving so many profound and complex questions, and the saddest thing is that it seems society will not only be incapable to understand much less correctly judge its implications until long after they are in full effect.

By now you must probably be aware of decades-old research on brain activity and free-will, pointing that our decision-making process is certainly different from the concept of an immaterial puff-puff white cloud making the choices and somehow transmitting those to a mostly useless gray matter inside our heads. In fact, unconscious processes on that brain anticipate the conscious perception of a decision, suggesting that the decision emerges from activities on that gray matter about which that imaginary puff-puff cloud called consciousness never becomes aware of.

Such cerebral activity was originally measured in EEG scans, being confirmed as years passed by and having been recently confirmed even in fMRI scans. This more recent study suggests that unconscious cerebral activity may anticipate a conscious choice on up to seven seconds . That may seem bizarre, but only if you are stuck into that puff-puff cloud concept.

If you rather realize that it’s only natural that our decisions come from many processes in our minds combining memory, reasoning, emotion and even some randomness, otherwise called creativity or “free will”, then those scientific findings are no big surprise.

Now, remember DARPA, which created among other things this sacred Internet. It has funded for years many projects trying to create better man-machine interfaces, and those include brain activity scanners, which may eventually allow one to pilot an airplane just by sheer “mind power”, for instance. Remotely. Combine that with the abolition of the puff-puff cloud concept, and you may be very scared.

The external control of an object may be accomplished in part or as a whole by reading unconscious brain activity. They may not even be “unconscious thoughts”, as they could be distant from what we would consider a “full thought”. Those unconscious cerebral functions may anticipate decisions that may never have been actually “made” consciously. And that, effectively, would not be felt afterwards as beings made by oneself, as the ideomotor effect commonly demonstrates.

Which finally leads us to mention lawyer Stephen White article on the Cornell International Law Journal pondering on just how war crimes and responsibility may be affected by such novelties: ‘Brave New World: Neurowarfare and the Limits of International Humanitarian Law‘ (PDF).

Could a soldier be prosecuted by the consequences of his unconscious cerebral activity, of which he by definition has no control of? Who would be responsible for an act? White suggests that the responsibility should be better spread over those involved in the development and application of the technology, and in all concludes that law must be discussed and revised for this new 21st century “neurowarfare”.

Which only emphasizes that man-machine integration on a full unconscious level may fundamentally change our perception and perhaps even nature. Transhumanism may seem like a silly gadgety “philosophy”, but a transhuman will not be just an Iron Man with increased physical powers. A transhuman will not even be someone with the entire Internet embedded on his brain. Being able to access all the information in the world with your conscious mind is one thing.

Having information and actions scanned and executed from your unconscious mind, and going even further, having information injected unconsciously in our brain to affect your consciousness would be something completely different. Something transhuman. Terrifyingly transhuman.

And this not only will be, but it’s being funded by DARPA right now. The first true transhuman may be, ironically, a soldier under command. “So say we all”.

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Bloody UFOs

“Felix Fernandez, Omar Gonzalez and Virgilio Moreno, workers at the Direccion Provincial de Vialidad (Provincial Highway Authority) were returning from La Junta toward the city of Malargue in the south of the province of Mendoza after having worked on some machinery. As the journey elapsed, Fernandez took pictures of the landscape with his cell phone (of which no data is available to this day).

At 18:50 hours, a strange flying object – disk shaped – appeared out of nowhere and maneuvered in front of the sun and the witnesses. It flew over the area for 15 minutes until standing still for a moment and losing itself toward the west in the El Chacal region. This allowed several photos to be taken of it.

The episode was retold by Fernandez himself on Alvear’s Radio 1 and recently reached the media. Analyzes performed by our specialist, Jorge Luis Figueiras, shows a typical solid ‘saucer’ shape with interesting contours and edges, similar to the ones photographed with cell phones at El Chocon and Santiago del Estero, both in 2008.” [MDZ, translation by Scott Corrales, IHU]

I quoted the whole report/news item because the alleged “flying object in front of the sun” was in fact the sun. There’s little doubt about that, as even if there was a real flying object “in front of the sun” it couldn’t possibly appear the way it does in the image.

That and the fact that photographing the sun directly with a cell phone camera, though, may produce exactly the effect seen in the image. Continue reading for more.

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Sheep circles

That’s no crop. No fungus. Not sugarcane either. Those are flocks of sheep . The photo and the “mystery” was publicized in January by the Daily Mail, and a few days ago the very same paper publicized another curiosity. With sheeps.

In the first news item, the idea was to explore the strangeness, but on the more recent, wordy one, we are presented with the lovely story and abilities of shepherd dogs, who guaranteed that the woolly animals maintained their “formation”.

But there can be a more simple explanation for both cases and it may simply involve throwing food on the ground forming the desired drawing. Shepherd dogs may be responsible, at least in part, but relying solely on them would be doing the same the hard way. It’s a more newsworthy story, though.

Using food and animals to spell messages is not news at all on Forteanism. You can view a design concept by Kyung-Ah Park using honey and caterpillars here, and that’s our link to quickly mention a recent Brazilian “miracle” case.

On 2005, Maria Aparecida Martins DAvilla claimed to have witnessed a Marian Apparition in her house, and as evidence she presented many leaves from her garden that allegedly formed sacred messages. They were created by ants, by divine inspiration, she claimed.

The adorable detail in this story was that the written messages nevertheless had many grammatical errors. I jokingly called it the “miracle of the semiliterate ants”. The messages were actually created spreading honey on the leaves with the desired message and letting the ants feast on it, exactly like the design concept referred previously, and in one photo of the allegedly miraculous messages one could clearly see the ants eating only wet parts of a leaf.

Sheep circle’s relation with other Forteana is not just sarcasm, though. When we mentioned crop circles, fairy rings et al at the beginning, it’s because surprisingly there is, or was, a straight faced consideration of a connection. As William Corliss excellent Science Frontiers quoted, in 1989 one G.T. Meaden published on his Journal of Meteorology a letter with a curious report. Of a sheep circle . The reference is “Sheep in Circular Flocks: Is There a Meteorological, or Some Other, Connection?”.

That’s George Terence Meaden, one of the first to seriously consider crop circles, and most widely known in the “cereology” field by his meteorological hypothesis regarding the phenomenon. He was played with, though, as circlemakers gradually created more and more absurd designs that couldn’t possibly be caused by natural phenomena, even bizarre ones, as he himself admitted. Though he insists that some of the more simple ones may be “authentic”.

If only he limited himself to irregular bent sugarcanes and more prosaic meteorological phenomena, he would have a more sure hit. But linking sheep circles with crop circles and whirlwinds, and therefore fungi, sugarcane and semi-literate godly ants, that’s part of the joy of studying the fringe.

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An alien with boobies (and floating torsos)

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the “Monna Lisa” EBE, “humanoid, female, 1.65 meter. Genitalized, haired, six fingers (we guess that mathematics are based on a dozen). Function; pilot, piloting device fixed to fingers and eyes, no clothes.” Wow, an alien with “no clothes” as a function.

This comes thanks to “William Rutledge”, the brave astronaut of the secret Apollo 20 mission. He goes on: “we had to cut two cables connected to the nose. No nostril. Leonov unfixed the eyes device (you’ll see that in the video). concretions of blood or bio liquid erupted and froze from the mouth, nose, eyes and some parts of the body. Some parts of the body were in unusual good condition, (hair) and the skin was protected by a thin transparent protection layer. As we told to mission control, condition seemed not dead not alive. We had no medical background or experience, but Leonov and I used a test, we fixed our bio equipment on the EBE, and telemetry received by surgeon (Mission Control meds) was positive.”

Just ignore for a moment the fact that the video clearly shows a nose and the hair is in no “good” condition. You wanted to see alien mammary glands first. As I do. Here they are (around 1:46):

Should we proceed to our usual ordinary investigation? As a matter of fact, many people have already noted interesting things about these videos, we just have to present them. Continue reading for more.

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