Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'Fortean' Category

CSI: Vatican

Zoom in. Now… enhance.

tilma_2It has become a trope, and as such, has also been parodied. Amazingly though, even before television was invented, the Catholic Church was already resorting to this plot device to promote a miracle which, incidentally, may have been a complete work of fiction.

It’s all related to the miracle of Guadalupe, a very special Marian Apparition not only because it’s one of the pillars of Catholic belief in Mexico and one of the largest Catholic shrines in the world…

But also because the miracle left a very physical evidence behind, the allegedly supernaturally formed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

Like other relics, all sorts of claims to support supernatural characteristics are promoted by the faithful, and among them is the claim that:

“According to many scientists who have inspected the image, it seems that in her eyes, in both of them and in the precise location as reflected by a live human eye, could be seen many figures that have been extensively analyzed and seem to correspond to the shape and size of human figures located in front of the image.”


This is “CSI: Vatican”, where “zoom… and enhance” works even in an image painted over cloth. As early as 1929 alleged “reflections” in the eyes of the image were already being considered, but as in CSI, it would be only with the aid of computer “enhancement” that such claims would gain greater notoriety.


Nevertheless, this only works that way in fiction. Any image record, in any medium, will have several limitations, and one could consider the impossibility of such feats of “enhancement” both through Information Theory – by defining how one cannot extract indefinite amounts of information from a defined set of pixels – as well as limits related to fundamental physical effects such as the uncertainty principle and Planck’s constant.

What the faithful see in the eyes of Guadalupe is simply pareidolia.


Yeah, I know, terrible joke, but now you know how religion can be stranger than fiction.

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Do you feel lucky, time-traveler Punk?


“New York circa 1905. "Unloading at banana docks." 8×10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company” [click for full-size original at Shorpy]

Given that the time-traveler hipster is the most viewed page here on Forgetomori, when I saw the time-traveler punk on Anomalist I just had to blog about it. Even though I must be first to admit this is not as impressive, as his clothes are quite clearly in context, his allegedly mohawk hairstyle is quite interesting.

And as it happens, I was about to blog about mohawk hairstyles, because like stamped T-shirts they look like something quite modern, when contrary to stamped T-shirts, they are not.

The oldest known record of a Mohawk hairstyle actually predates the Mohawk tribe: it’s been found on the Clonycavan Man, an Iron Age body in Dublin, Ireland. That’s a 2,300 years old quite well-preserved Mohawk hair. I didn’t include a photo here because it’s still not that much to look for, but just follow the above link to Wikipedia.


It would be the fierce image of tribal warriors that would make the Mohawk hairstyle enter modern popular culture, but long before the punk movement. In World War II, the US 101st Airborne Division famous for it’s bravery fighting in Europe, as depicted on “Band of Brothers”, had a sub-unit selected and trained for an almost suicidal mission: the Filthy Thirteen.

To incite fear in the enemies, and as a leader of the group, Jake McNiece, was part Native-American, they cut their hair Mohawk style and even painted their faces. The photo above was published by Stars and Stripes in June 1944, and soldiers later in the Vietnam war would also sport such hairstyle.

A fictional Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle, would then be immortalized in “Taxi Driver” (1976).


Which brings us back to the time-traveler punk unloading at banana docks. By definition this sort of “time-traveler photos” will be singled out because of the fashion statements the apparently out of place hipsters/punks will be sporting.

However – this speaks a lot about fashion – as in the most famous photo, here too the punk wasn’t actually making any sort of fashion statement. He may have cut his hair that way for any number of reasons, you don’t know if he only shaved one side of his hair.

Yesterday’s worker at the banana docks with a ridiculous haircut my be tomorrow’s David Beckham.

Popularity: 8% [?]


Self-fulfilling prophecy


“Last fall, on Oct. 8, Gennady Osipovich met with a Gypsy woman to have his future told. He became enraged when the self-proclaimed clairvoyant informed him that he was bound for a "kazyonny dom," or "state-sponsored house," a Russian slang term for prison, regional prosecutors said in a statement Thursday.

Osipovich proceeded to employ dubious logic, according to the prosecutors. In order to prevent this fortune from coming true, Osipovich tried to kill the woman. He pulled out a knife and stabbed her, though she managed to escape.

Tragically, two witnesses were unable to flee in time. Osipovich stabbed each of them repeatedly, and the victims died of the knife wounds, investigators said.

Prosecutors said Osipovich was sentenced to 22 years in a maximum security prison.” [Moscow Times]

As incredible as the story is, and as skeptical as we usually are of such, here’s a link for an official website (in Russian) with confirmation. [via Marginal Revolution]

Popularity: 4% [?]


Le Serrec’s Sea Serpent photos


This picture gives me the shivers, even though it “has been rather universally labeled a hoax”, as cryptozoologist Loren Coleman points out. Darren Naish over at Tetrapod Zoology wrote an excellent piece back in 2008 on these amazing Hook Island sea monster photos.

It was on Naish’s post that I saw two additional photos that, even knowing they must have been hoaxed, managed to creep me out even further.


Perhaps that has something to do one with the fact one of my terrors since childhood have been giant underwater creatures. But I don’t think I’m alone and the story told by photographer Robert Le Serrec in 1965 that his wife saw this gigantic tadpole-like creature, and he along with friend Henk de Jong got off their boat to get better close-ups and even film this huge 75-80 ft thing is quite unbelievable. According to them, they only returned to the boat when the creature opened its mouth and moved towards them.

The story is highly doubtful even if you don’t take into account that Le Serrec was not a very credible man, that six years earlier he was apparently already talking about making money with a sea-serpent and that according to Coleman even the Interpol was after him.

So, this must have been a hoax, but how he did it? Darren Naish quotes Ivan Sanderson’s suggestions of “either a plastic bag used by the US Navy ‘for experiments in towing petrol’, a deflated skyhook balloon which had become covered in weed, or a roll of cloth which had been tied together in places”.

Naish favors however the idea that “it was a custom-shaped expanse of plastic sheeting, weighted down with sand”, an idea also favored by Bernard Heuvelmans already in 1968.

It’s a very good suggestion. Naish notes how the broken outline of the creature-thing, especially as can be seen in the head close-up photos, show  that “in at least four spots it looks like someone has placed handfuls of sand on top of the edge of the creature: exactly what you would do if trying to weight down a monster-shaped sheet of plastic.”

But this broken outline bothers me. They could be as Naish suggests the result of sand thrown over the black plastic sheet at the bottom of the lagoon, but I tried the best I could to better see the bottom and I would assume the several rocks that can be seen would mark the contour of the creature if it was plastic sheeting weighed down. Apparently, they don’t. The borders go over the rocks, perhaps that’s why Sanderson suggested weed and cloth tied together, because the border is very broken.

Most of the broken outline could be simply due to the water waves distorting the image of the borders of the creature at the bottom. This Japanese video parody of the Le Serrec photo is funny, but it also illustrates that water distortion on the borders:

But there’s another possibility: the whole black streak could be simply thick oil floating over water. If you look at the broken outline, is could composed of patches of oil breaking from the main blob. Here are some images from the oil spill by South Korean tanker Hebei Spirit in 2007.



This spill is on a much, much larger scale, and looks somewhat different from Le Serrec’s photos. But it illustrates the idea. It has its problems, starting from the fact that I don’t know if it would be even possible to get oil in that shape for a couple of minutes, or even longer; if one could make “eyes” by poking holes in the oil floating. Also, Le Serrec’s story actually mentions that the alleged creature was at the bottom of the lagoon, which favors the idea that that was true, only that the creature was a black plastic sheet, as suggested by Heuvelmans and Naish (and also supported by Coleman).

I hope further investigation, analyzing better quality versions of the original photos, and perhaps even some attempts at reproduction on site, would definitely settle how he did it. Naish even mentions rumors that Le Serrec may be still alive and living in Asia – as of 2003.

However he hoaxed this, and as skeptical as I am, the pictures really creep me out.

Popularity: 3% [?]


Jacques Vallée: Magonians create crop circles

Beautiful sunlight through clouds

“Angels, demons, fairies, creatures from heaven, hell, or Magonia: they inspire our strangest dreams, shape our destinies, steal our desires.” – Jacques Vallée, “Passport to Magonia

Recently, acknowledged Fortean researcher Jacques Vallée published a series of posts on our cherished BoingBoing regarding crop circles (part 1, 2, 3, 4). News from last year about a directed microwave weapon by the US army prompted Vallée to argue that, since “these things are typically revealed 30 years after they are tested”, their initial development and testing would fit well with the heyday of the crop circle frenzy.

That is, Vallée promoted the idea, which he initially suggested in 1991, that crop circles are made by the military using directed energy systems, beamed from “a low-observable dirigible using corn fields as a convenient calibration target.”

Crop circle 3

But this is the web, 2.0, this was BoingBoing, one of the biggest blogs on the web, and most of the 66 comments were very critical of the idea, several of them considering it even a joke. Most of the comment authors didn’t even know who Vallée was, an indication they had almost no background on the Fortean field.

In his second post, Vallée started saying that the original text was, “among other things, a social science test of the role of belief systems in the manipulation of memes and factual data”. Critical of the response, he then went on to explain why his hypothesis wasn’t a joke.

Curiously, in his own seminal book four decades ago, “Passport to Magonia” (1969), Vallée himself does not take very seriously the idea that Soviets were responsible for crop circles:

“Rumors circulated blaming the Soviets for using the vast open spaces of Australia to develop scientific ideas one or two centuries ahead of those of the Americans. Why the Soviets could not conduct their secret testing in the vast open spaces of Siberia was not disclosed. Neither was it revealed why the pilots of the super-secret communist weapon could not resist the temptation to buzz the tractor of a twenty-seven-year-old banana grower.”

He has changed his mind since at least 1991, but he should be able to understand why people would find it hard to consider seriously the idea that secret weapons would be tested on highly publicized events, besides Stonehenge for instance, instead of “the vast open spaces of Siberia” or anywhere else, and for what reason would the military “not resist the temptation to buzz” some farmers. Or any other witness.

If this was indeed a social science test, it seems nobody did their homework, as apparently no one confronted Vallée on what he had published. But let’s take the idea seriously: does it stand as something reasonable, even probable?

Keep reading for more of our long comment on the subject, with trackbacks to BoingBoing, of course.

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