Adrian's Writing Blog

news, articles and reviews

'Secrets of Anti-gravity Propulsion' by Paul Laviolette - book review

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My last blog entry was a review of Paul Laviolette's video talk on antigravity technology and the theoretical physics behind it. In this blog entry, I'm reviewing his book 'Secrets of Antigravity Propulsion'. I'm pleased to say that it is an excellent book. Many books on the subjects of UFO technology, free energy and secret space programmes are often light on solid theory and therefore hard to believe but Dr Laviolette's book is thick with quality physics and solid experimental evidence.

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Dr Laviolette is qualified and experienced as a physicist and engineer and shows it with his in-depth descriptions in the book of sub-quantum kinetics, an alternative theoretical description of the fundamental behaviour of reality. On the science direct website, there is an article by Laviolette describing this theory, entitled 'The Cosmic Ether: Introduction to Subquantum Kinetics'. The abstract reads:

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Dr Paul Laviolette talk on electro-gravitics

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Here is a very interesting video of a presentation by the physicist Paul Laviolette on the subject of alternative physics theories, Townsend Brown, electro-gravitics and related matters. Dr Laviolette speaks slowly in the video, which can take some getting used to, but everything he says is worth thinking about, so if you factor in the time needed to think about what he’s saying, the talk goes very quickly!

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Climate change - We're now in Survival Earth

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I haven't talked about climate change recently on this website because I don't want to moan or get all self-righteous or just bore everyone (which is very easy to do on the subject of climate change!) To be honest, there is vast amounts of evidence available to show that our planet is warming dangerously and that it's down to all the fossil fuels we're burning; that fact is based on very simple physics. It's also clear what we need to do reduce its effect; stop burning fossil fuels, eat less meat and do our utmost to curb and eventually reduce our population. It's all pretty straightforward.

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'Unconventional Flying Objects' by Paul Hill - book review

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Most of the time, when people talk about UFOs or Unidentified Flying Objects, they tend to fall into two main camps. Some parties declare that UFOs are a delusion, 'swamp gas', 'venus', weather balloons or some other item that would be found out within ten minutes of close inspection. Other parties immediately produce wildly fantastic explanations and theories as to UFOs purpose and origin, also without good supporting evidence. Both attitudes are understandable but don't help us develop a better, accurate knowledge of what's actually going on.

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By comparison, Paul R. Hill, a very experienced aeronautical engineer with an excellent grasp of physics and engineering concepts, decided to approach the matter of UFO's in a very different way. He adopted the following strategy.

1) Assume that UFOs are real devices but are not defying the laws of physics, that they are functioning machines, albeit advanced ones.
2) Collate observations on UFOs, especially observations carried out by skilled personnel, such as military observers and engineers.
3) Use the collated information to identify patterns of behaviour by the UFOs, their emissions (radiation etc), their weight (ground imprints) and any and all factual evidence that can be used to deduce the mode of their operation.

By doing this, Paul Hill came up with fascinating and scientifically sound possibilities as to how the UFOs operate and whether or not it is feasible for those craft to have come from planets around other stars. Read More...

Fascinating talk on advanced propulsion by Dr Tom Valone

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One of the problems of investigating the topic of UFOs is that there is an awful lot of woefully unscientific material out there on that subject. It's not a lot of fun watching videos or reading books that seem, at first glance, to be a possible treasure trove of valuable information, only to find that they are stating facts that are physically impossible, even when one accepts that mainstream science is on the wrong path regarding many important aspects of reality and ourselves.

Fortunately, there are some people who are interested in the field of UFOs, mind over matter, spirits and other officially 'crank' topics, who do have a solid scientific understanding. One of them is Dr Tom Valone. Below is a talk he gave at the X-Conference a few years back on the subject of advanced propulsion systems, UFOs and what their flight behaviour (as far as can be observed) may be telling us about what is possible in terms of interstellar transportation.


During the talk, Dr Valone touches on a physics matter that has intrigued me for many years. He explains that the perceived ability of some unidentified flying craft to execute high-speed, right-angle turns indicates that their designers have developed technology that reduces or negates inertial mass. Dr Valone points out in his talk that it may be possible to reduce inertial mass by creating a very-high-voltage electromagnetic environment. Traditionally, inertial mass and gravitational mass for an object are assumed to always stay the same - this is known as the Equivalence Principle - but this assumption may be flawed. In certain exotic systems, involving high voltages, the inertial mass, possibly created by the object's interaction with the vacuum energy field, could be reduced.

Interestingly, I explored this possibility in an article a few years ago but not with regard to UFOs. Instead, I postulated that stars, being high-voltage, high-pressure, high-temperature plasma balls, may have a much lower inertial mass than their gravitational mass. This would explain why stars orbit the centres of their galaxies much faster than they should, a phenomenon that has caused mainstream physics to conclude that the universe is full of dark matter. I'll try and mention this interesting idea to Dr Valone; he may find it fascinating! :-)

The mysterious history of New Zealand

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While trawling through the enormous mixed-bag that is YouTube, I found this very interesting New Zealand documentary exploring the history of New Zealand. The documentary puts forward a convincing case that the Polynesians who settled in New Zealand around eight hundred years ago did not find it empty of human occupation. Instead, they found pale-skinned, ginger and blonde-haired peoples already living in NZ. What's more, the distinct culture of Maori New Zealand we see today, with its designs, totems and figures, was not brought to that land by the Polynesians but instead was a mix of their culture and one inherited from the inhabitants already living in New Zealand. The documentary goes on to report that genetic analysis, carbon dating and other tests on mummified bodies, bones and sacred sites in New Zealand make it clear that a race of people did arrive in New Zealand around 3,000 years ago. This group was originally from Persia and its members had already created communities in places as far apart as Easter Island, Peru and Western Ireland, with a distinct culture common to all those places.

Sadly, the documentary also reports that attempts in New Zealand to highlight this new evidence have been deliberately ignored and suppressed, to the point of authorities banning further excavation and classifying scientific discoveries. Yet again, it would seem that certain white males in power in the Western World are making very sure that a flawed version of our history is enforced. As Orwell once said; 'He who controls the present writes the past'.

Thing Explainer book review

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Amid lots of blog posts about dark forces controlling society, the seismic flaws at the heart of orthodox science, the tragic underbelly of human behaviour and the future collapse of civilisation, it's good to talk about something fun. I've recently finished reading Randall Munroe's 'Thing Explainer' hardback science book and I heartily recommend it. Munroe's filled his book with lovely diagrams of important devices (e.g. the Curiosity Rover, a skyscraper) and has followed the neat plan of only using a lexicon of one thousand popular words. This way, he never burdens and confuses the reader with technical jargon and also gives us a fresh view of familiar devices by describing them in simple terms. Munroe is known through his xkcd website which is also lots of fun, especially for those who like Dilbert and think Unix is an elegant and quite beautiful operating system (which I personally do).

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It's available from all good bookshops and is a delight. Buy it, read it from cover to cover, laugh and be fascinated. After that, give it to someone you love, while downplaying the fact that you've actually read it first, all the way through, and pretend instead that you always had them in mind when you bought the book [Note: To do this effectively, do not read it in the bath].

Twelve important psychology experiments

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I thought it would be a good time to go over all the psychology experiments that I've encountered over the years, ones that have been fascinating and revealing studies on human behaviour. It's not a comprehensive list, for sure, but it is a good list, I think, full of revealing content. It starts out fun and harmless and becomes darker as it progresses, so you can stop at any point if you become too saddened by human nature.

I haven't included psychology experiments showing 'psi' effects, such as work done by Daryl Bem, Robert Jahn and others; I think they're better off in their own list. I also haven't included experiments about cognitive bias, although there are lots of interesting ones for that subject (e.g. anchoring bias, halo effect, priming, framing etc). My favourite cognitive bias example at the moment is the 'UP TO 50% OFF' sale signs we see here in Britain all the time. Many people will see these signs and expect items inside to be 30% off or 40%. In fact, the sign does not state this at all. In fact, what the sign says is exactly the same as saying; 'NO MORE THAN 50% OFF.' Imagine what the customer would think if he or she saw a sign like that stuck on the shop window? Read More...

Dean Radin and Reality

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Here's another good video from Dean Radin, who is a senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Science over in the United States. I reviewed another video presented by him recently in which he explains the scientific evidence that show how our minds influence events at the quantum level, which underpins physical reality. This video covers similar, related material, including a very accessible explanation of our understanding of reality. Specifically, Radin explains how the material constituents of our reality don't give rise to our minds but that our minds give rise to the material constituent of our physical reality.



In this video, as well as the previous video I've blogged about, Radin ponders why the scientific establishment adamantly refuses to accept the consequences of such a huge amount of experimental evidence, along with the conclusions made by many esteemed scientists over the last century. He notes that the New York Times recently went so far as to warn people not to even entertain the conclusions of an upcoming science paper, even before it was published, because it broke the established paradigm.

It's a very important question; how can all this consistent and repeatable evidence be ignored? One reason is financial. Those at the top of the money-tree in science decide what the scientific establishment believe and disbelieves. That small elite at the financial summits hold the purse strings and the vast majority of scientists tow the dogmatic line because they have bills to pay and they want to progress in their careers. A few scientists may risk their reputation and careers to put forward theories that are against the official line but they are few in number and so can easily be marginalised and excluded from the journals and senior posts. Our scientific establishment certainly does include many principled and brilliant scientists but, because it is a hierarchical, financial organisation, it is cursed to follow the wishes and personal agendas of its financial overlords. As for what their agendas are, and why they're so keen to block a mind-first understanding of reality, that's a topic for another article.

Secondly, there's also a huge problem known as the herd effect. On that matter, I'll leave you with the classic Candid Camera sequence from the 1950's:


Experimental evidence for the mind's influence on reality.

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In my book 'How science shows that almost everything important we've been told is wrong', I've tried to explain how a generation of quantum physicists, giants in their field, concluded that our minds must be responsible for creating reality out of the quantum realm. As part of that explanation, I've reported on experiments that provide solid trial evidence that such a phenomenon does occur, in particular the work of Professor Jahn at Princeton University.

Another scientist who's been conducting a similar type of experiment is Dean Radin, working on the West Coast of the United States. Dr Radin has written a number of books, including 'Supernormal', which I have reviewed already. He's also presented several videos to show, carefully, methodically and thoroughly, the experimental case for our minds influencing quantum-scale events. Here's one video presented by him that I do recommend:



As Dr Radin explains, the experimental results his team have produced - to support the idea that our minds influence reality at the quantum scale - are highly convincing. The results are far above any chance result. To speak scientifically, they are 4 sigma in deviation from the norm. in other words, it is extremely unlikely that the results of his team's experiments are just a chance occurrence. Their results also correspond fully with the results Dr Jahn produced in his long series of experiments.

In his summing up in the video, Dr Radin agrees with comments I have made in the past about how our Western scientific establishment rejects these results. He accepts that the current situation is no different to Galileo inviting the Catholic Priests to look through his telescope. The powers-that-be in the Western World in our time do not want the current dogmatic paradigm of Scientific Materialism changed, even though it is fundamentally flawed and irrational.

Hopefully, fingers crossed, the change will happen regardless. To quote Napoleon Bonaparte:

“There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind."


Planet Nine and the end of our last ice age

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Today's Guardian newspaper reports on a new twist in the theory that a massive ninth planet exists in our solar system, travelling in a very long (17,000 year) orbit around our sun. At the beginning of this year, astronomers put forward the idea that a massive planet, a little smaller than Neptune, was causing the strange orbits of objects in our Kuiper belt; the remote region at the edge of our solar system (only beaten by the even more remote Oort Cloud).

This week, the researchers explained that the existence of such a planet also explained the strange tilt of our sun in relation to our known planets. This new supporting fact makes the 'Planet Nine' hypothesis (not planet ten as pluto is officially no longer a planet) much more convincing. Here's the video explaining what they've found:



The reason I'm blogging about this, apart from it being really interesting new science, is that it could be the missing piece in the strange events at the end of our last ice age. About 12,000 years ago, according to the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, our planet was showered with a large number of meteorites. These meteorites caused huge wildfires, threw up a lot of soot and dust into the atmosphere and cooled the planet for many years. In my book, 'how science shows…', I point out that Plato's ancient dialogues ‘Timaeus’ and 'Critias' - the source of the legends about Atlantis - also talk about a 'declination of the bodies' in the sky and a corresponding conflagration on the Earth in very ancient times. In one passage, the Ancient Egyptian priest states:

“There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes. There is a story, which even you have preserved, that once upon a time Paethon, the son of Helios, having yoked the steeds in his father’s chariot, because he was not able to drive them in the path of his father, burnt up all that was upon the earth, and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt. Now this has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals.”

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Up until now, the reason that our planet was bombarded by asteroids in 10,000 BC was unknown. I therefore had to speculate in the book as to its cause, but this latest research about Planet Nine could be the missing piece of the jigsaw.

It is likely that Planet Nine, if it does exist, is currently at the far side of its orbit, which would explain why astronomers haven't spotted it. If this is correct, then Planet Nine would have entered our solar system around 10,000 ago (approximately), the period of the Younger Dryas impact event. What's more, the arrival of a massive planet in our solar system, travelling through our Kuiper Belt, would understandably throw a lot of planetoids and asteroids out of their normal orbits. These objects could then have plunged into the inner solar system and bombarded our planet. It all fits together very well. If the evidence is correct, then the Younger Dryas Impact Event did happen in 10,000 BC and it was caused by Planet Nine's arrival in our solar system.

This theory also leads to a very strange possibility; that Zechariah Sitchin's theory about a mysterious extra planet, Nibiru, that he states is written about in the Ancient Sumerian records, may not be as far-fetched as it seems. I haven't studied his work in detail so I can't comment further, but it is another possible area of interest.

Fascinating stuff! :-)

The simple logic of a new view of reality

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In the last two months, I've been receiving some good feedback on my book 'How science shows that almost everything important we've been told is wrong'. People do seem to be enjoying the humour and the clear explanation of the scientific topics. So far, no one's complimented me on my illustrations, which is a bit disappointing :-(.(Maybe they appreciate them subconsciously?) but otherwise, the comments have been complimentary and encouraging.

One interesting pattern so far in the feedback is that readers will read the whole of the book but then take issue over a minor point, rather than discuss the book's core points. For example, readers have taken issue over the idea that the Ancient Egyptians actually sent their pharaoh god's spirit to Thuban on a ray of light. I do make it clear that such an idea cannot be proven with science and remains simply a supposition, a reporting of the Ancient Egyptian belief. The actual solid evidence on that topic shows only that the Ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid to beam a ray of light at the star Thuban in 2787 BC, the moment in history when it was actually, physically possible to send a ray of light successfully to another star from a fixed structure located on Earth.

Even though the 'Great Pyramid, Thuban and 2787BC' theory is solid and significant, it's not the truly important element of the book. I'm going to describe, below, THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE BOOK in just three statements. These statements are entirely scientific but their conclusion is profound. Here goes:

1) Everything physical in the universe, if left to its own devices, becomes more disordered over time. This is known as the Law of Entropy or 'the Second Law of Thermodynamics'.

2) But there is a problem; Life becomes more ordered over time. Life turns simple matter (gases, water) into highly complex structures (DNA, proteins, cells). The phenomena of Life cannot be explained away as a result of the sun's energy, as energy and order are not related; a hot gas is no more ordered than a cold gas. In fact, increasing energy invariably increases disorder, not the other way round. Life's ordering effect therefore cannot be coming from a purely physical cause.

3) Therefore, since Life is
increasing order in our universe and everything in our universe, if left to its own devices, decreases in order, then Life must be being influenced by something outside of our universe, outside of physical reality.

It's definitely worth reading the third statement more than once, to get one's head around it. Once one has done that, the statement's consequences start to take shape and they are extensive and profound. 'How science shows' explores some of those consequences but not all (there's too many to fit in one book!).

Although the above, third statement may seem controversial, in many ways, science established that conclusion decades ago. In cosmology, the riddles of the Baryon Asymmetry Problem, the Fine Tuning Problem and Boltzmann's Well-Ordered Universe Problem can only be solved by accepting that an intelligence created our universe and that intelligence continued to exert a positive, organising influence over the universe. For more on that topic, do please read this earlier blog post.

Therefore, it can be scientifically proven that Materialism, the idea that only physical things exist, is wrong. Materialism is impossible in our universe. Our universe has to have been created by an organising intelligence, originating from outside of physical reality. In addition, all living things in our universe have to be physical manifestations of organising influences originating from outside of physical reality; that's the only way they can exist and defy entropy, according to our scientific understanding.

What's fascinating is that once a person accepts the above three statements, then everything about our lives and reality becomes profoundly different; that's why I chose such a provocative title to the book. All the extra stuff in 'How Science Shows…' about pyramids and Atlantis and corn-on-the-cob is fun and valid, but of secondary importance to the third statement written out above. It's that statement that is so important, as it is the Galileo's Telescope that brings the Holy Church of Materialism and Atheism crashing down to the ground. Viva La Revolution! ;-)

Adrian Ellis, 12th Oct 2016

Someone made the cake

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This week, I though it would be good to blog about cosmology. I've been reading week's New Scientist magazine for years. In its pages, on a regular basis, there'll be an article on how physicists are trying to come up with a solution to solve thorny problems regarding the Big Bang; the beginning of our universe. Unfortunately, this has been going on for literally decades with no sign of any significant progress. A big part of the problem is that there are several glaring problems with the current, Materialist view of the universe's birth. They are 'Boltzmann's Well Ordered Universe Problem', 'The Baryon Asymmetry Problem' and the 'Fine-Tuning Problem.' These problems are clear, straightforward and simply refuse to go away. What's interesting is that they can all be solved if one adopts a particular Dualist view of the universe. In my new non-fiction book, 'How science shows that almost everything important we've been told is wrong', I've explained how that works and I thought it would be fun to post it here:

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At the beginning of the twentieth century, several astronomers noticed something odd about galaxies. When they studied the motion of remote galaxies by measuring their red shift (similar to a Doppler Shift), it seemed that all the galaxies were all moving away from us and each other. There seemed to be only one conclusion, that the universe itself was expanding. It was as if the universe was like the surface of a balloon and everything on that surface was moving away from everything else as the universe ‘inflated’.

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This startling fact did match a consequence of Albert Einstein’s General Relativity, which predicted that the whole universe should be expanding. In 1927, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic Priest and astrophysicist, took note of this new information. He concluded that if everything in the universe is expanding away from every other thing in the universe, then the universe must have originally started from a single point. Lemaître called this single point from which the universe sprang the ‘Primeval Atom’ or ‘Cosmic Egg’. These names are evocative and apt, but they aren’t half as much fun as ‘Big Bang’. This description was coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle during a 1949 BBC radio broadcast. Hoyle didn’t believe the universe was expanding and his choice of phrase, whether deliberate or not, wasn’t exactly complimentary or scientifically accurate. Since space and time also started at that first moment, nothing had any size, nor was there anything to explode into, thus making a ‘big bang’ impossible on all counts. Nevertheless, the phrase stuck. Read More...

'We are not alone' book review and Martian thoughts

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This week, I've been reading 'We are not alone' by Dirk Schulze-Makuch and David Darling, a popular science book that reports on and explains the evidence for life in other parts of our solar system and what form that life might take.

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The book's first half focusses on Mars and the evidence for life on that planet. That particular topic has been in the news this week. There's been lots of media discussion and NASA press conferences about the significance of tell-tale trails on the martian surface, particularly running down from certain cliffs and mountains. As 'We are not alone' points out, this evidence has been known for ten years or more, and so it's surprising that it's being reported as such a big deal now. The cynic in me would wonder if it's something to do with the release of Matt Damon's latest movie 'The Martian', but that's probably just a coincidence.

As Darling Schulze-Makuch's book explains, the story of evidence for life on Mars kicked off with Percival Lovell and his claims for Martian 'canals'. In truth, Lovell was simply re-iterating an Italian astronomer's observations of 'canali' on Mars, which is Italian for 'channel', but Lovell's embellishments and conclusion that Mars was inhabited by a civilisation struck a popular chord.

Later on, probably the most important episode of 'life on Mars' evidence came from the Viking lander expedition. Devices on the Viking lander found evidence of life in the Martian soil. This evidence should, at least if NASA had followed its own rules, have been enough for scientists to declare that life does exist on Mars, but certain scientists on the NASA panel had their way and the evidence was eventually dismissed as inconclusive. Read More...

Recreating the solar system in the Nevada Desert

Two film makers recreate an accurate scale model of the solar system in Nevada’s sandy Black Rock Desert. It's a wonderful way to show how tiny the Earth is, even in its own solar system. Heartily recommended.


Michael Faraday and self-deception

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This week, the excellent website Brainpickings has published an article about the eminent British scientist Michael Faraday. On May 6, 1854, Faraday delivered a lecture at the Royal Institution on the subject of “mental discipline,” later included in his volume Experimental Researches In Chemistry And Physics. Here's what he said:
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Among those points of self-education which take up the form of mental discipline, there is one of great importance, and, moreover, difficult to deal with, because it involves an internal conflict, and equally touches our vanity and our ease. It consists in the tendency to deceive ourselves regarding all we wish for, and the necessity of resistance to these desires. It is impossible for any one who has not been constrained, by the course of his occupation and thoughts, to a habit of continual self-correction, to be aware of the amount of error in relation to judgment arising from this tendency. The force of the temptation which urges us to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in favour of our desires, and to disregard those which oppose them, is wonderfully great. In this respect we are all, more or less, active promoters of error. In place of practising wholesome self-abnegation, we ever make the wish the father to the thought: we receive as friendly that which agrees with, we resist with dislike that which opposes us; whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense.

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Why do we move forward in time?

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This week, the New Scientist magazine gave me a big compliment by making my latest letter to them their Editor’s letter of the week. Here it is:

Your article 'Why do we move forward in time?" (Issue 3037, 5th Sept 2015, pg34) makes it clear that physics has no clear answer as to why time passes. The article reminded me of an ancient Zen Koan. Two monks were watching a flag flapping in the wind. One said to the other, "The flag is moving." The other replied, "The wind is moving." A Zen master, walking nearby, overheard them. He said, "It is not the flag nor the wind that is moving but your minds." The idea that our minds experience the four-dimensional 'landscape' of physical reality in a chosen time direction would explain the phenomenon of time passing without violating any physics. Perhaps the Zen master was right philosophically and scientifically?


The article concerned was one of a series of articles in the New Scientist that week (issue 3037) about aspects of physics that non one had yet solved. The tricky nature of time is definitely one of these big conundrums. We all experience time flowing; we do things, one after the other, day after day. Around us clocks tick and cars drive and birds fly etc. We can't seem to stop or alter this flow of time. We can't make time stand still. It can certainly sometimes seem as if time is flowing more slowly than at other times. For example, waiting to go into an exam can seem to last forever, but while you're doing the exam, time can seem to scream by. I remember once starting a strategy board game, then becoming completely engrossed and then looking up and finding out that two hours had gone by, as if in a flash. Read More...

What does an atom look like?

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Here’s the standard picture of an atom. Stylish, isn't it? It's elegant, distinctive and memorable. But there's a problem, because this image of ball-like electrons circling a gobstopper-like nucleus in specific, single, elliptical paths is scientifically wrong.
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But don't take it from me. Here’s what Richard Feynmann (who won a Nobel Prize for physics for co-developing Quantum Electro-Dynamics) said about such an image in his book ‘Q.E.D. The strange theory of light and matter’ (page 84):

“Shortly after electrons were discovered, it was thought that atoms were like little solar systems, made up of a central, heavy part (called the nucleus) and electrons, which went around in orbits, much like the planets do when they go around the sun. If you think that’s the way atoms are, then you’re back in 1910.”

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Superficial intelligence - the limits of A.I.

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Last weekend, I listed all the letters I sent to the New Scientist magazine for the past three months. Although they weren't printed, I thought it would be nice for people to read the letters anyway, rather than leave them to sit, forgotten on a shelf (sort of). They aren't very long and I think they make some interesting points - one of them even includes a joke! - so it seemed worthwhile to blog them.
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This weekend (5th Sept), out of the blue, the New Scientist have actually printed one of those letters, the 4th August letter entitled 'Superficial Intelligence'. This is what I wrote on the 4th August:

Dear New Scientist. In your Opinion page (issue 3032, 1st August 2015, pg22), Martin Rees states that biological brains will eventually be superseded by far superior, machine intelligences. This follows on from recent comments in the media by Stephen Hawking and others, warning of the dangers of runaway A.I. These are all surprising assertions, as digital computers, fundamentally, are no different from punch-card clocks. Also, A.I. and quantum computing have so far failed to live up to their initial hype; they're currently more Superficial Intelligence than Artificial Intelligence. How do Hawking and Rees think these automated sorters and calculators will reach such lofty goals? 

I'm pleased that the New Scientist magazine published it. They didn't publish the full letter; they removed the middle sentence, but it's still good to see it in the magazine. Thinking again on the topic, I would like to add a few more points. I did write a blog article in March, explaining the fundamental limitations of computers, and that does cover a lot, but here's three new points: Read More...

New Scientist rejected letters

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So far this year, I've been writing regular letters to the New Scientist magazine. Up until May, they printed quite a few of them, on the subjects of alien contact, alien signals, VR headsets transforming public performances, killer robots, the accuracy of internet facts, home servers to create bitcoins and one or two others, which was great.
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But since late May, they haven't printed any of my letters, which is odd, but there you go. Rather than leave the letters to moulder on a shelf, I thought I'd publish my last three months' worth of new scientist letters on my blog. Here they are, in chronological order:

'Fast food hit' (13th May)

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Dear New Scientist. In your recent '60 seconds' column (issue 3020, 9th May 2015, pg7), you report that recent research shows that 'fructose appears to make our brains more responsive to images of food than glucose, and people who drink fructose-rich drinks are more likely to choose high-calorie foods over money prizes'. Since fructose, particularly in the form of high fructose corn syrup or HFCS, is a mainstay ingredient in fast food drinks, does this mean that fast food should be declared officially addictive? 
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We're in a holo-deck reality

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Yes, I know the title of this article sounds nuts, or at least pointlessly nerdy, but actually, it might be true (or at least, sort of true). In this article, I'm going to show scientifically how the idea that 'our reality is a holo-deck construction' is a strong, scientific and logical theory for our existence. My explanation will be comprehensive, in-depth and not at all bonkers.
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Clearly, such an outlandish idea does need a lot of evidence to back it up, so I'll pose a series of sensible questions and answer each in turn. If I can answer all the questions with a 'yes', then I hope that'll show the validity of the theory. Here goes…
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Heisenberg: Physics and Philosophy - book review

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This week, I've been reading 'Physics and Philosophy' by Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg was one of the leading lights of the Quantum Physics generation in the early twentieth century. He was the prime discoverer of the Uncertainty Principle; that it is impossible to know both the velocity and position of a subatomic particle at the same time.

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I'll say, straight away, that 'Physics and Philosophy' is a dry read; the book is never going to succeed as a mainstream popular science book. Heisenberg writes like a physics professor giving a church sermon, but he also writes with an air of calm authority. He isn't polemicist or a demagogue. There's no sign that he has an axe to grind. As a result, the book reads as a benchmark of sober thought on the philosophical implications of what physicists discovered in the early twentieth century.

During his book, Heisenberg stays very much in the middle ground of the philosophical interpretations of quantum physics. He never concludes that the mind is required for matter to appear out of the quantum realm, unlike Wigner and Von Neumann, but neither does he follow the lead of Einstein and doggedly advocate the Classical Physics viewpoint of an external reality that is present and real all the time, whether we observe it or not. Instead, he talks calmly about what he thinks we can reliably conclude from the experimental evidence and the mathematics, and how that is elegant and beautiful and sufficient just by itself. Read More...

The Teddington Interpretation

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I went to Teddington last week to have coffee with a friend who works at the National Physical Laboratory. While I was in Teddington's Broad Street, I bought a copy of Werner Heisenberg’s book ‘Physics and Philosophy’ from the local charity shop. It’s a dry but interesting read. I haven't finished it yet but as I read through its first chapter, while sitting in a Teddington cafe, it got me thinking about the Copenhagen Interpretation in quantum physics. After my second biscuit, I thought of a really interesting idea…

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The Copenhagen Interpretation was developed in the 1920’s by a Danish quantum physicist, Neils Bohr, and his colleagues at Bohr’s Institute for physics in Copenhagen, Denmark. It has become the standard, modern way to view the behaviour of reality at its most fundamental levels; the world of atoms, protons, electrons et al.

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At the time of its creation, the Copenhagen Interpretation was seen as a bizarre idea. Albert Einstein hated it and refused to accept it during his entire life. For Einstein, the Interpretation's most annoying feature was that it made it clear that there was no possible way to know what was happening in between scientific observations. In other words, the Copenhagen Interpretation made it clear that a scientist might measure the location of an electron at a certain point, but outside of that measurement, the electron wasn’t actually anywhere in particular between measurements. All that could be said about the electron's location was that there was a probability of it being in any particular place. The only time when it was definitely somewhere was when a measurement was made. Einstein hated this idea and it prompted him to make his famous comment ‘God does not play dice’. He also famously complained to his biographer, ‘do you really think the moon ceases to exist if we don’t look at it?’ Read More...

UFOs: Lord Admiral speaks

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Here's another post on the subject of UFO's, following on from my earlier post about the evidence for aliens on Earth (or at least aliens popping over and saying 'hello'). The UFO phenomenon is a fascinating area, but it's a tricky one to study, as it's a swamp of information of varying credibility.

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To avoid as much baloney as possible, I've been looking for witnesses and/or commentators with impeccable backgrounds. My earlier post examined comments from a former Chief of Staff to the Clintons and from a former cabinet minister in the Canadian government. This post is all about an interview with a British Lord Admiral, NATO committee chairman and British Defence minister. His name is Lord Peter Hill-Norton, and I'd say he's about as impeccable a witness as you could possibly get.

In the interview, Hill-Norton talks about the Bentwater incident, in which a UFO supposedly landed at a UK airbase in 1956 (an incident similar to the later Rendlesham forest incident. Hill-Norton discusses the matter in a logical, matter-of-fact way, using clear and straightforward arguments and his thought-provoking conclusions are sound. The interview isn't too long, and it's interesting all the way through. I heartily recommend it.


Military physics and Paul Czysz

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While trawling through youtube recently in the search for some solid UFO material (something I discussed in this earlier blog), I stumbled upon some fascinating interviews with several U.S. military engineers and physicists. This article is about one of them, Paul Czysz.

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Paul Czysz was a Saint Louis University professor emeritus and alumnus who taught in the department of aerospace and mechanical engineering at Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology for more than 10 years. He died on Aug. 18th 2013. He was 79. He spent much of his career working for the McDonnell Douglas Corporation and in the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. In 1986, Czysz was named a McDonnell Douglas Fellow for his work in hypersonic aircraft concepts. As far as I can tell, he gave the interview below shortly before his death.

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UFOs: Something strange is going on

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Unidentified Flying Objects are fascinating. I can't imagine anyone who's interested in science-fiction not being interested in flying saucers; they're mysterious, alien, advanced and a little bit scary. What's more, the possibility of aliens visiting Earth, using advanced technology, is perfectly feasible too. From a statistical point of view, the chance that we're entirely alone in the galaxy is virtually nil and the chance that a sentient species on a nearby star has reached a level of technology that enables them to visit us is extremely high.

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I used to be sceptical of UFO's being real, because I thought that interstellar travel was physically impossible because of the Laws of Relativity, but after reading a recent paper on manipulating space-time to travel at faster-than-light speeds, I'm now happy to accept that superluminal travel is feasible. If the physics of superluminal travel are fine, then it would be very strange indeed if no aliens had visited us in the past or were visiting us now. Therefore, according to logic and probability, there should be aliens visiting our planet right now and it's highly likely they've been visiting our planet for a long time.

But if that's true, then either those aliens are keeping a very low profile or the powers-that-be leading our countries on Earth know about them and they're keeping the fact a secret. This second possibility shouldn't really come as a shock to anyone. 'Knowledge is Power' goes the old adage and powerful people like to be as powerful as possible. We're therefore left with two possibilities; there are no aliens visiting Earth (which is statistically highly unlikely) or there are aliens visiting Earth and our governments are keeping it secret (which is statistically highly likely, but hard to prove). Which is it? Read More...

Travel to the stars by exploding atomic bombs

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I discovered this fascinating programme on youtube yesterday. It's an old BBC4 documentary about Freeman Dyson and his project to design a spaceship that travels into space, propelled by detonating a series of nuclear explosions.


I found the documentary both engrossing and bizarre. Throughout the program, the people involved in the project were convinced that it was a viable and brilliant way to send humans into space and the other planets in our solar system. They pointed out, sensibly, that rocket motors did not produce enough power to effectively fling humans to the edges of our solar system, or our nearby astral neighbours. Chemical rockets were good enough to go to the moon, but that's about it.

This all made sense, but at no point in the documentary did anyone say 'wait a second, how on Earth are you going to accurately steer this craft as you explode nuclear weapons under its 'spring plate'? Also, how are you going to safely detonate a whole series of nuclear bombs under this 'spring plate' without them frying the crew with radiation or running the risk of one of them blowing up while it's still inside the bomb bay? The practical problems seem endless, and yet they carried on with idealistic zeal. Fascinating stuff.

Fever: a magical cancer cure

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This week, I've been reading 'Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers and other odd events on the way to scientific discovery'. It's a popular science book from the people at New Scientist magazine and is a series of short stories (each a few pages long) about weird and wonderful and often very important scientific and technological inventions and discoveries. I'm enjoying the book, although reading a long string of disconnected stories can feel a bit laborious sometimes, but there some absolute gems amongst the collection.

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One story really jumped out. On page 21 of the book, the author describes the fascinating story of Dr William Coley, an American doctor living and working in New York in the 1870's. During his work, Dr Coley stumbled upon a fascinating pattern. He treated many patients with tumours. The standard medical treatment for these tumours was to cut them out, but they invariably grew back. Coley found that patients who had tumours, but then suffered an infection that sent them into a high fever, very often were entirely cured of their tumours. For example:

The man's medical records were quite clear. His case was hopeless. In the space of three years, he had had five operations to remove a tumour from his neck. The last was a failure: it was impossible to remove the whole tumour. He would die soon. As if that wasn't bad enough, the poor man then suffered two attacks of erysipelas, a skin infection that produced a lurid red rash and a high fever. But when the fever broke and the man recovered, his tumour had vanished. Seven years later, he was still alive and well. There could be only one explanation: whatever had caused the fever had also destroyed the cancer.

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The Centrifuge Brain Project

The ‘science fiction future’ event at the BFI on the South Bank in London last weekend included a wide variety of short films. It was a very mixed collection but there were some gems. Here's one of them. It starts out looking like a serious documentary about a scientist studying the effects of G forces on people, and then you begin to realise that it isn't… :-)


Mindsets and the Pauli Effect

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On Saturday, I went to the ‘science fiction future’ event at the BFI on the South Bank in London. The afternoon was a mixed affair but one of the speakers, Lydia Nicholas, made a very interesting comment during her entertaining talk on biology. She quoted a biologist who said:

"Cell work is so sensitive. Some times I wonder if the success of my experiment is down to whether I'm feeling happy or sad that day."



The quote generated laughter in the room but I wondered, surely a scientist would be intrigued by this experience? He or she might say to themselves; this is an interesting phenomenon. I'm noticing a pattern of behaviour. Is this phenomenon repeatable? If it is repeatable, I'd know it is a reliable, measurable phenomenon. If it is, then I've extended my knowledge of the world around me. I can then write up my experiments and distribute the information to others. That way, others can be made aware of what I've found. Ideally, one or more of them will conduct the experiments too and they can report whether or not they found the same effect. I can perform a set of experiments and in each one, record my own state of mind, giving my level of happiness a scale of one to ten, then carry out the cell work and record the results. It would be a relatively inexpensive task and if the phenomenon is real, it would be a big step forward in understanding how reality works. If the phenomenon isn't reliable, then I can conclude that it was purely a concoction on my part. Read More...

Warp drive isn't science fiction!

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Since I've been knee-high to a grasshopper, I've been a huge fan of Star Trek, both the original series, the Next Generation series and the recent J.J.Abrams movies. Quality stuff. But recently, since I've becoming a budding science fiction writer, I've felt duty bound to write science fiction that is based on solid science. In other words, if the technology in a story is not evidently scientifically sound or no attempt is made to explain how it is scientifically sound, then I can't write about it as it's not science-fiction, it's fantasy fiction.

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This is where Star Trek has become a big problem to me, because Einstein, in his famous Theory of General Relativity, makes it clear that no material object can go faster that the speed of light. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that travelling between the stars is an impossible task. You either go so fast that you're rapidly smeared all over your pilots chair like a coating of gravy, or if you go slow enough to stay in one piece and end up dying of old age or being turned into a biological colander by endless cosmic ray bombardment, or both, or all three. We all may be used to the crew of Star Trek zooming between the stars in a few hours, enough time to develop a slow-burning romance, or play an odd version of chess, or play an instrument that neatly doubles up as a kitchen implement, but that doesn't mean it's scientifically okay. Read More...

Remote Viewing introduction

As promised in my earlier blog, here's an introduction to the technique of remote viewing; the ability to perceive remote places or events by conjuring up information about them in one’s mind.

As I mentioned in the last blog, if the Influence Idea is correct, then the physical universe around us is a collaborative construction by minds, an idea that many famous quantum physicists almost a century ago also concluded was true. This idea is also supported by a large number of experiments that have been carried out using rigorous scientific techniques since then, a body of research that is reported on, for example, by Dean Radin in his recent book 'Supernormal', a book I recently reviewed.

There are many fascinating consequences to this idea. One key consequence is that since our minds originate from outside the space-time fabric of the physical universe, we potentially can perceive any moment in time and space. Clearly, this is would not be an easy thing to do, even if it was possible. Normally, we perceive events or places only with the eyes and ears of the bodies we inhabit, at least during our waking hours, but it would seem to be theoretically possible.

Fortunately, according to a whole pile of evidence, there are a lot of people who didn't just think about it being a possibility, but actively pursued it as a skill. Read More...

Galileo and Remote Viewing

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A week-or-so ago, I wrote a review of Dean Radin's book 'Supernormal', in which Radin describes a huge body of research by qualified scientists that show that what we often refer to as 'ESP' effects are real and quantifiable. The research in the book leaves the reader with an unavoidable conclusion; that the idea that the universe is a physical, solid place that is unaffected by mental influence and can exist independently of observation is not just scientifically incorrect, it's plain wrong. In other words, 'materialism' is bunk.

Interestingly, the book's logical conclusions can also be deduced from the Influence Idea. The Influence Idea is relatively simple and can be summed up in one sentence: the only way that Life can exist and flourish in a universe governed by Entropy is for there to be an external, non-physical organising influence acting upon physical reality. Read More...

VR primed for the next stage

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The development of VR has been an up-and-down story over the last few decades, but it took an important step forward recently with the creation of the Oculus Rift headset. According to the reports, when a person wears the Oculus Rift headset, they can comfortably 'look around' with the headset without their virtual view becoming a spinning mess of nausea. A lot of commentators are suggesting that this new product heralds the long-awaited era of mainstream use of VR headsets by much of the population for entertainment, education and other related activities.

The New Scientist magazine ran an article last week on this subject entitled 'Virtual reality film revolution puts you in the scene'. The article reports on how several major companies involved in technology and film, such as Sony, are exploring how to use VR to make a new generation of movies and documentaries. The article discusses the benefits, but also the obstacles for VR film-making. I wrote a letter to the New Scientist magazine, suggesting a different use for this new technology, which they've published: Read More...

Clockwork minds

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There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the potential threat of A.I.; the danger that robots and artificial intelligences could become sentient, accelerate in intelligence and destroy humanity. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have all warned of this threat. Musk is even pledging millions of dollars to study and plan against this outcome. It seems pretty weird that these guys are talking about the threat of A.I. rather than climate change, whose existence is very, very well supported with evidence and which will become highly dangerous to humanity, but there you go.

How real is the threat of rogue A.I.'s? Can one really become sentient, accelerate in intelligence, form its own agenda and take over the world, destroying humanity in the process? Read More...

Light Years book review

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Light is utterly fascinating. Recently, I've developed the sneaking suspicion that reality is just light. Although physicists talk extensively about subatomic particles such as neutrons, protons, neutrinos, muons, electrons etc, as far as I can tell, none of these subatomic particles can be directly detected or observed. All we ever see are light patterns. Although subatomic particles could still exist, their existence is actually only inferred from light phenomena; it is hypothetical. According to the strict rules of science, the existence of subatomic particles should therefore only regarded as an idea, not as a fact, which is a fascinating idea in itself.

Brian Clegg doesn't mention this idea in his book. Instead, he takes the reader on a historical journey, tracking the development of our understanding of light from Ancient Greece all the way to the latest manipulations of light in the laboratory. Read More...

Doomsday Men and Dr Strangelove

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Here's a quick book review of a book I've just finished called 'Doomsday Men' by P.D.Smith. The book is all about the history of atomic research, from Madame Curie onwards, and how it became used to build the ultimate military weapon, the hydrogen bomb and its fictional but apocalyptic dark sibling, the radioactive 'cobalt bomb'.

I enjoyed the book. It was pretty clear from early on (in fact, P.D.Smith admitted as much himself) that the author had been writing a biography of Leo Szilard, an admirable and brilliant Hungarian physicist who had to leave his home in Budapest when Nazism and anti-Semitism emerged in central Europe. He ditched up in London and finally emigrated to the United States. Unlike other brilliant Hungarian physicists who ended up playing a major role in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb (such as Von Neumann and Edward Teller), Szilard was a compassionate and ethical man. Read More...

Google and Max Planck

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In last week's New Scientist magazine, Hal Hodson wrote an interesting article reporting on Google's project to try and weed out what New Scientist magazine often refers to as 'fruitloopery'. Google's plan is to assess websites' statements for accuracy by comparing them to its own store of knowledge. If that website's 'facts' don't match Google's own official facts, then Google will lower that website's ranking accordingly, so that viewers won't be exposed to spurious information. This sounds great, but there is a problem. Here's the letter I wrote in response:

Hal Hodson reports that Google's software for ranking pages on their trustworthiness will make its judgement by drawing on a store of facts gathered from the internet. Isn't this circular logic? How would the Google system handle a statement such as "glass is a liquid"? On the internet, the notion that glass is a slow-moving liquid, resulting in medieval windows that are thicker at the bottom, seems far more prevalent than the truth – that glass is a solid and medieval glaziers placed the thicker end of blown glass sheets at the bottom. Since nothing on the internet is unanimously agreed, Google's software would have to take the majority consensus. If this happened, there is a good chance that any site dispelling a popular misconception would appear far down the list of search results, making it harder, not easier, for people to learn the truth. Popular fiction would dominate because the software would add it to the Knowledge Vault and use that reference point to downgrade the truth. Intelligent people can make clever software, but no one makes intelligent software.


This project also reminded of the physicist Max Planck's comment about new ideas. He said:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

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SETI and sci-fi expectations

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The New Scientist magazine's letters page this week includes some more discussions about SETI and alien contact. This topic was discussed a while back and I wrote in about it, but there's always something new to add. This week's discussion includes my response to an earlier letter on the subject of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligences:

In your letters page (21st Feb 2015) John Bailey concludes that since we haven’t been bombarded with self-replicating alien robots or seen huge heat signatures in space, there probably aren’t any advanced civilisations in our galaxy. He seems to think that advanced races will have a ‘more is better’ philosophy, but climate change is showing us that a ‘less is better’ philosophy is the only intelligent long-term strategy. If this is correct, then the more advanced a race is in the galaxy, the less visible they’ll be. It’s the quiet ones that are clever, not the shouters.


John Bailey's expectation that advanced alien civilisations will be huge, star-spanning confederations with big, powerful ships and zillions of self-replicating robots is, I think, because of how they're currently depicted in mainstream fiction. We pick whatever seems cutting-edge and exciting at the moment - nano-technology, robotics, ion-drives - and multiply them by a thousand or a thousand million and, voila, that's your advanced alien civilisation. A century-or-so ago, H.G.Wells came up with the idea of Cavorite, a substance that could negate gravity. Using this discovery, two Englishmen travelled to the moon. From a scientific point of view, Cavorite is just as believable as a warp drive or a hyperdrive but it's now seen as quaint, silly and unscientific. I'd bet that self-replicating robots will be seen as just as daft in a century's time.
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Wind power is flying high

This week, my post about the Climate Change march on the 7th March started positive and then fell apart into a morass of despairing futility. Sorry! To make amends, here's a really positive article about the progress of renewable power generation.

For a long time now, wind power has been criticised as being an eyesore and an inefficient and hopeless method of power generation, but these criticisms are fast looking ridiculous. For example, wind power is Denmark is so successful that it is meeting their entire energy needs during periods of the year! They constantly monitor and display the output in the country and the net difference between energy produced and energy consumed (source: energinet.dk):

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Computing power and bitcoins

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It's March! Hooray! The British winter is coming to an end. This week, I have another letter in the New Scientist Magazine. This week's letter refers to a New Scientist article about a business venture that hopes to persuade home-owners to buy computer processing servers to both heat their homes and make money as freelance number crunchers, as described in this article.

"The plan to sell home data centres to customers as heat sources sounds innovative, but seems to be missing some key financial points (7th February, pg20). Each customer will need to seek the extra computing power online. The cost of a high-bandwidth connection to the internet and an intermediary to handle the processing tasks is not mentioned. More importantly, the article doesn't mention Moore's law, which states that computing power doubles every two years [Although this law isn't as straightforward nowadays with processor speed limits, it is still roughly true]. This means that the expensive kit a Project Exergy customer buys will roughly halve in value every two years. Also, companies buying the processing power will invariably switch to newer users with newer and faster kit. Early Exergy adopters will be abandoned, leaving them with nothing more than [wildly] expensive electric heaters."


As can be seen from my letter, I wasn't impressed with the strategy of Project Exergy described in the article, but I think their sentiment is positive. As the article states, 'it takes the energy from 34 coal power plants to sustain all digital activities in the US every year'. That's an awful lot of CO2 and innovative ways to reduce this consumption are most welcome, but I think their current strategy isn't the answer.

How about this for an alternative approach? Instead of each household installing servers that remote companies can use for processing tasks, why not set up the servers to mine bitcoins?
Bitcoins are created by running an algorithm to solve a mathematical equation for certain values. In other words, processing time is converted into units of digital currency. If households set up their Exergy servers to do this work, they would not need to encourage remote clients to use their machines and they would therefore not need an intermediary. They would also not need to transmit lots of data and would therefore not need a fat pipe to the internet. In addition, their servers would still be able to grind out bitcoins as the years went by, just at a relatively slower rate. These households would therefore not get 'dumped' by processor clients switching to new customers.

It's still not ideal, but it's hard to think of any currency accumulation that isn't energy intensive. Gold is inert and non-toxic, but it takes a lot of effort and power to get it out of the ground and refine it. Also, its mining processes are hideously bad on the environment. Much of the wealth of the modern world is effectively petroleum turned into money, which isn't much good either. By comparison, generating bitcoins while heating your home doesn't seem too irresponsible. If I can, I'll suggest the idea to the Project Exergy people.

Apart from all that, I'm still immersed in writing a science-fiction comedy novel. I'll try and knock out an article on something interesting soon, when there's a natural gap in the writing. Until then, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you're enjoying the longer, sunnier days! :-)


SETI, the 'Wow' signal and the film 'Contact'

Just a quick note to say that another of my letters has appeared in the New Scientist magazine. This one is all about the 'Wow!' signal; the interstellar signal picked up by a U.S. radio telescope in the 1970's. The 'Wow!' signal is probably the most important result so far in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Here's my letter:

In your article on a new strategy for those involved in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI), David Messerschmitt says that alien civilisations would logically choose to send short, wide-band radio signals rather than prolonged narrow-band ones, to improve both energy efficiency and bandwidth (31st January, p17). Yet probably the most important signal so far detected by SETI is the narrow-band 'Wow!' signal, picked up in 1977. It came from the direction of Sagittarius and was almost exactly on the hydrogen line, a frequency many thought would be ideal for interstellar transmission. Should we tell the alien civilisation in Sagittarius that they're being a bit primitive?


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Reading the letter again, it reminds me of the film 'Contact', starring Jodie Foster, based on the book by Carl Sagan. 'Contact' is a great movie, not only as a story but as a scientifically valid idea. In the film, Foster's character is an astronomer obsessed with finding evidence of transmissions from alien civilisations. She has to fight tooth and nail for funding. She is on the point of giving up when she is given a grant by a mysterious billionaire. She continues her work. One day, her team picks up a signal. It is a narrow-band signal, just like the 'Wow!' signal and it contains detailed information on how to build a device with which to make contact with the aliens who sent the message.

The U.S. government builds the machine described in the blueprints. Eventually, Jodie Foster's character gets to travel in the machine. I won't reveal any more to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the way the story unfolds and is finally resolved is both clever and intelligent.

There is a terrible irony if we compare 'Contact' with the 'Wow!' signal. If we had received the 'Wow!' signal today, rather than in 1977, we'd have the technology to record it in detail and analyse it, just as Foster's team did with the signal they received in the film. It's perfectly possible that the 'Wow!' signal was an extremely detailed signal, just like the film. Unfortunately, the technology available at the time could only record a few alphanumeric values, so we'll never know. Argh! How frustrating!

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There is also a funny side to the story of the 'Wow' signal. To quote the Wikipedia article:

In 2012, on the 35th anniversary of the Wow! signal, Arecibo Observatory beamed a response from humanity, containing 10,000 Twitter messages, in the direction from which the signal originated.


To think, we might have had better kit and found the 'Wow!' message to be full of data. We'd have decoded it, delirious with excitement at the prospect of receiving messages from an interstellar civilisation, and read ten thousand alien social networking messages! CHECK OUT HER TENTACLES! OMG! LOL! :-)

Reality is Light

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I've popped a new article in the 'Strange Science' section called 'Reality is Light'. This article puts forward the interesting idea that reality is nothing more than a changing pattern of electromagnetic radiation. If this is true, then subatomic particles and their accompanying forces are not real, but are simply useful ideas for predicting how this pattern of light changes.

The article then discusses another interesting possibility, that gravity is not a force as such, but instead is a hidden property of light that causes all light paths to reduce in scale over time. I've talked about bats in caves to help communicate this idea, but I haven't drawn any illustrations, so it is a bit dry.

The last part of the article puts forward another idea, that if gravity is the scalar reduction over time of the light pattern that is reality, then the assumption that gravitational mass and inertial mass (known as the Equivalence Principle) may not true for stars, due to their role as massive light creators.

There's a very good chance that my article is tosh, but it's still fun to speculate! ;-)

The Great Pyramid and 2787 BC

For the last few years, I've been working on an ancient mystery story. Its first incarnation was a non-fiction book called 'The Golden Web' but after some feedback, I realised that early version was too dense and convoluted to appeal to many readers. Instead, I've been creating a graphic novel about the same subject using the same researched material, evidence and ideas. This graphic novel is currently entitled 'The Great Secret'. It isn't yet complete. When I do complete it, I'll be looking for a publisher. I'll post any news of that progress when it occurs.

As part of spreading awareness of the graphic novel and the ideas contained within it, I've posted an article on this website about a key piece of evidence that I unearthed while researching the story. As the title of this blog entry indicates, the key piece of evidence concerns the Great Pyramid and the year 2787 BC, when a crucial celestial event occurred. For a full explanation, do please read the article.


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Evolution and tailored alien viruses

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Just a quick note to say that my article 'Evolution and tailored alien viruses' is now available on the website here. This article is in the first issue of Visiting Alien magazine but as that magazine is now on hold, I thought I'd put it on the website for easy access.

The article puts forward a strange but perfectly possible idea; that evolution on Earth has not entirely been guided by random mutation, as Charles Darwin explained in his theory of evolution by natural selection. Recent studies in microbiology and genetics indicate that our genome, our DNA library, is chock-full of old virus code. Viruses work by infiltrating the DNA machinery of cells and they can insert their instructions into cell's DNA. There is scientific evidence now that the very basic features of multicellular life have come about not by random mutation but through the action of foreign viruses.

My article puts forward the possibility that evolution on Earth may have been guided and accelerated by tailored viruses sent here from planets orbiting other stars. For more info, check out the article.

Chloë's Quantum Quest

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Greetings! It's cold here in Blighty but it's beautiful in the sunshine.

The beginning of February is only a week away. I was planning to bring out the second issue of 'Visiting Alien' magazine. Unfortunately, there haven't been enough downloads to justify putting out another issue at the moment; but that's okay, as putting the magazine together and working on its contents has already reaped creative dividends.

While assembling chapter 2 of 'Chloë solves the Universe', I delved a little deeper into the history of the Neumann-Wigner hypothesis. This is the idea, put forward by two brilliant scientists, that our minds must be outside of the physical system and influencing it, in order for ghostly quantum superpositions to turn into real objects like photons and electrons. I discovered that this viewpoint wasn't just the view of two mavericks. It was actually fully or partly supported by a host of famous quantum physicists, astrophysicists and mathematicians. Wolfgang Pauli, John Von Neumann, Max Planck, Arthur Eddington, Erwin Schrödinger, Eugene Wigner and Werner Heisenberg were all of the view that materialism was no longer valid. Quantum physics had effectively killed that belief. Instead, they concluded that reality had to be dependent on the mind, either being a creation of the mind or a separate construction to the mind that the mind actively influenced. They debated about this matter for decades. Like any long-running debate, the views of those involved shifted but for many of them, the mind-first idea became more valid over time, rather than less.

I think it's very surprising that this important debate has never been written about in a popular science book (as far as I know). That may be because popular science books are usually written by senior scientists who are still active in science. The problem with this approach is that it may lend weight to the scientist's views but nowadays, any scientist who espouses a view that isn't materialist is endangering his or her scientific career, whether or not the evidence supports such a view. In recent decades, many senior scientists, doctors, biochemists and neurologists have produced evidence strongly indicating that the materialist view is wrong but in most instances, they've been careful not to make any statements but simply present the evidence. This is a shame, and it's not scientific, but there you go. Eugene Wigner, who won a Nobel Prize in 1963, wrote of this problem in his article 'remarks on the mind-body question':

"In the words of Neils Bohr, 'the word consciousness, applied to ourselves as well as others, is indispensable when dealing with the human situation'. In view of all this, one may well wonder how materialism, the doctrine that 'life could only be explained by sophisticated combinations of physical and chemical laws' could so long be accepted by the majority of scientists. The reason is probably that it is an emotional necessity to exalt the problem to which one wants to devote a lifetime. If one admitted anything like the statement that the laws we study in physics and chemistry are limiting laws, similar to the laws of mechanics which exclude the consideration of electrical phenomena, or the laws of macroscopic physics which exclude the consideration of 'atoms', we could not devote ourselves to our study as wholeheartedly as we have in order to recognise any new regularity in nature. The regularity which we are trying to track down must appear the all-important regularity, if we are to pursue it with sufficient devotion to be successful."


I'm therefore rewriting 'Chloë solves the Universe' as 'Chloë's Quantum Quest'. Its central focus will be this historical debate between these Nobel Prize-winning physicists. Chloë will find out about quantum physics and then hear of the Big Argument between the physicists about the nature of reality. When she hears that the mind-first view has been abandoned by modern physicists, she is indignant and decides to do something about it.

chloe-quest-1-8

That'll be my job for the next couple of months. Roll on Spring!

SLS, mouth ulcers and the scientific method

scientist
Science isn't just something done by clever people in lab coats. The wonderful thing about the scientific method is that it can be done anywhere and by doing it, you can find out if something is really true. You don't have to believe hearsay or nod dumbly when the Big Wig tells you and everyone else what is true and what isn't true because That's What's Been Written. Instead, you can go away and find it out for yourself.

Another great thing about the scientific method is that it is relatively straightforward. Someone starts by having an idea about how an aspect of the world works. This is a person's possible theory or hypothesis (which literally means 'scene running beneath'). It is often the case that this hypothesis will fly in the face of the accepted theory. The person's hypothesis will often include assumptions about how the world works, which are its axioms. To find out if the hypothesis is true, a person will conduct several experiments. He or she designs these experiments to show, through physical events, whether or not the hypothesis is correct. Depending on the results, the person may conduct further experiments to make sure that the physical evidence he or she has gathered is proof that the hypothesis is correct and that there wasn't just a lucky coincidence, which would indicate a possible false correlation. Once false correlations are ruled out by isolating key elements, the hypothesis can be regarded as fact.

I carried out this process recently with a very mundane problem. I kept getting mouth ulcers. Mouth ulcers aren't fun. They're not life-threatening but they can be a real pain. On a regular basis, I'd been getting them since I was eight, or possibly earlier. About ten years ago, after a particularly bad infestation, I chatted about the problem to a colleague. He said with assured confidence that it was because I was eating acidic foods like tomatoes. I nodded in appreciation at this insight but later on, I thought 'my mouth should be perfectly able to eat tomatoes. Evolution would have weeded out such a simple problem'. But without any anything else to go on, I couldn't come up with a different hypothesis.

That is until last year, when I was chatting to friend. She remarked that she bought SLS-free soap for her young son because he'd had eczema problems since he was a baby. That got me thinking. 'My mouth ulcers are a skin problem of a kind. Could they be the result of my mouth being sensitive to SLS?' That idea became my hypothesis.

My next step was to investigate SLS. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (or Laureth Sulphate or SLES if it's the 'ethyl' version) is a foaming agent. If you add a small amount of SLS to a product it makes the product foam up in an attractive manner as soon as you add water. Because of this, SLS is added to soaps, washing-up liquids and toothpaste, among others. It's in a lot of products. I noticed that it was in toothpaste. I checked my popular brand toothpaste; yep, it was an ingredient. My hypothesis that SLS was giving me mouth ulcers was still possible.

My next step was to perform an experiment; I stopped using my SLS toothpaste. I looked for an alternative brand, free of that ingredient. After a bit of effort, I found one in the local health food shop. I began using that toothpaste exclusively. After several weeks, I realised that I had not had a single mouth ulcer. It looked as if I had proved my hypothesis.

But then I thought: 'perhaps there is another ingredient in the toothpaste I was using previously that is really the cause of my mouth ulcers?' If that was true, then I would have had a false correlation. To test this possibility, I put some soap, containing SLS, on my fingers and then rubbed my fingers around the inside of my mouth. This way, I was isolating SLS from the other toothpaste ingredients. Twenty-four hours later, I had two painful, sensitive mouth ulcers. This experiment gave me the confidence to decide that SLS was the culprit. [There was still the possibility that some other ingredient was the actual culprit but I wasn't going to buy a hundred products and deliberately give myself mouth ulcers for two months. No way!]

Flushed with success (but not inflamed), I wondered about another skin problem I've had most of my life; clammy hands. Did SLS cause that too? That was a trickier challenge because we generally touch more chemical products with our hands than we put inside our mouths. To test this hypothesis, I had to get rid of SLS soaps (which includes pretty much all liquid soaps) and SLS washing up liquids, since I hand-washed my dishes. Eventually, I found an SLS free washing-up liquid made by 'earth friendly products'. Three weeks after switching to those products, I found that in my home at least, my hands were dry as a bone with almost no outbreaks of clamminess.

One day soon after, I popped around to chat to a neighbour. He handed me a mug for my tea, fresh from his kitchen draining-board and as I grasped it, my right hand broke out in a sweat. It was that fast! Not only that, but there couldn't have been much more than a tiny residue of SLS on the mug. Such a large reaction to such a small residue seems to indicate that my hands are hyper-sensitive to the chemical in a similar way to someone with an acute allergy. It was a fascinating reminder of how fast my hands would become clammy again if I let cheaper, SLS-based products back into my daily life.

Since that time, my mouth has been completely ulcer-free and my hands have been almost entirely bone-dry at home. Success!

p.s. If you've found this article interesting, you might want to read my article about Mono-Amine Oxidase, Preserved Meat and a child's Problem Behaviour.

Winter popular science books

Up here in the upper part of the Northern Hemisphere, we're into the depths of January where it gets dark and cold and Christmas has become a vague memory. To help everyone get through the long evenings before Spring, here's a review of some popular science books I've read recently.

waking-the-giant-book
First up is Waking the Giant by Bill McGuire. Bill is a very experienced scientist working in the field of geophysics, vulcanism and other related stuff. In the book, he explains that when our planet's climate changes, it generally doesn't do it in a smooth manner. It is far more likely, almost inevitable, that the changing conditions will trigger a major event which will then trigger other related major events. For example, if a glacier warms and melts, a large lake can form in the middle of the glacier. Eventually, this huge body of water is being held back by a wall of ice. When this wall breaks, the vast amount of water can catastrophically flood an area. This, for example, occurred towards the end of the last ice age forming the Minnesota Scablands. As McGuire points out in his book, this huge shift in weight on the Earth can cause the crust to rise up. This can cause major earthquakes, which in turn give rise to eruptions, as the pressure on subterranean magma chambers is lessened by the shifts in water and cracks are created by the earthquakes, giving the magma access to the surface. These subsequent eruptions release ash and gases into the atmosphere, which alter the climate, triggering other climactic events. McGuire makes it clear that Earth's recent physical history is not a steady change but instead, is one of calm periods punctuated by episodes of mayhem. McGuire ends the book with a warning; that climate change we're experiencing will have a similar affect and we need to prepare for what it will bring.

secret-anarchy-book
I really enjoyed Michael Brooks' '13 Things that don't make sense'. It's still one of my favourite popular science books. Brooks follows that success with this new book about what goes on behind the scenes in science; what the scientists really get up to and how they behave with each other. The world of scientific research is often depicted as one populated by shy, low key, grey-haired men working away diligently and carefully discussing and analysing each other's work and I have personally met scientists in that mould but, to be honest, they're in a minority. In my experience, scientists nowadays are invariably bright, alert, pragmatic, borderline-obsessive men and women who love what they do and put their heart and soul into it. They're also a very emotional bunch with strong opinions, friends and in many instances, bitter enemies (which makes them pretty much like any other workplace). Brooks' book entertainingly tells stories that reinforce this view, stories of heroes and heroines, of sexism, lying, fabrication, courage, idealism, ego and luck. It's lots of fun and I heartily recommend it.

experiment-11-book
In a similar vein to Brooks' 'The Secret Anarchy of Science' is Peter Pringle's 'Experiment Eleven'. This is the story of the discovery of Streptomycin, an extremely important antibiotic that brought fame, wealth, high scientific standing and a Nobel Prize to one man. Unfortunately, as the book explains, he wasn't the one who discovered Streptomycin. The man who discovered it gained only pain, heartbreak, betrayal and penury as a result of his find. 'Experiment Eleven' is a story of how the lure of money and scientific fame propelled a man to lie about his role in an important discovery and conduct a base feud against the man who did discover the crucial agent that saved so many lives in the latter half of the twentieth century. As it says on the cover, the New Scientist magazine thought it was a 'riveting and heartbreaking book'. It is an engrossing and heart-rending story and I'm glad I read it.

why-does-e=mc2-book
Last up in my winter list is 'Why does E=Mc2' by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. I'm a bit confused as to why there's two authors to this book. It seemed when I read it that the whole text was written by one man. Then again, I didn't notice much of a change of style when I read 'Good Omens' by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, so perhaps I'm just rubbish at spotting who writes what. Anyway, 'Why does E=Mc2' is a good book. It's the most technical of all the books reviewed here and it does require a good understanding of physics and mathematics. That approach does make the book a drier read than, say, Michael Brooks' books, but that's not a criticism as it means the reader is introduced to some fascinating concepts relating to Relativity. For readers who prefer fun science, I'd say choose something else. For a reader who wants to learn a bit more about Relativity than is usually found in popular science books, I'd say definitely give it a go.

Population blind spot

The kind folks at New Scientist magazine published another of my letters this week. This one's all about global population and is a response to an article in the magazine discussing whether we, as a species, could have avoided wrecking our environment by advancing technologically without fossil fuels:

Examining the possibility of a world without fossil fuels, Michael Le Page comes to the conclusion that global warming may be an inevitable result of any industrialised civilisation, as fossil fuels are an unavoidable phase of that development (18th October pg34). He also reports that this might explain the apparent absence of extraterrestrial civilisations despite the high probability that they exist, as each planet offers once chance at transitioning from reliance on finite fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.Perhaps it would be useful to consider a sentient race that could control its population? If our global population had stabilised at a healthy 7 million, rather than 7 billion or more, it's perfectly feasible that we could have passed right through our fossil fuel phase without wrecking our planet's environment.


The editor writes: We will never know for sure. But it is likely that a critical mass of people as well as energy is needed to reach something we would recognise as an industrialised civilisation.


It's an interesting response from the New Scientist editor. How many people
would be needed on this planet for us to continue to develop successfully as a technological species? From a genetic perspective, a species' minimum viable population (or MVP) is in the thousands, so a human population of a million or more is definitely genetically healthy. Genetics aside, what population is needed for technological development? What global population would be required to keep us advancing technologically to the point where we did developed a purely renewable technology society?

Well,
how about the entire Roman Empire?

Roman_Empire_Trajan_117AD

The map above (courtesy of the Wikipedia page) shows the extent of the Roman Empire in around 100 AD. It was big. Surely if our global population was the same as the population of the entire Roman Empire, we'd be able to keep going technologically? Around the time of Christ, daily life in Roman Empire wasn't significantly different from today. They had water supplies, sewage systems, household heating, international trade, docks, cranes, pottery and metalwork and a quality road network. They had developed mathematics, researched complex astronomy and created steam-power prototypes. If the Roman Empire was the only civilisation in the world and its population had stabilised at that point and it had been given enough time, surely it would have been capable of advancing past us? It is true that a lot of technological development in Europe was thanks to developments outside Europe, particularly from the Arab world but the Arab world gained many of their technological developments from Egypt and Greece, which were both part the Roman Empire. For a scientist trying to decide on a critical mass of people required to develop into a modern industrial civilisation, the population of the Roman Empire would seem an adequate amount.

Here's the rub. The population of the Roman Empire, east and west together, in 400 AD, was
70 million people. The entire population of the world at the time of Christ was about 170 million people. Our current global population is a hundred times larger than the population of the entire Roman Empire.

It's very strange that the subject of population is very rarely mentioned when people talk about climate change. It's almost a blind spot and yet population is the elephant in the room. For example, for every extra person in Britain, we need to spend £140,000
more on infrastructure; roads, houses, hospitals etc. Extra people are a big burden. For anyone interested in learning more about the effects of population increase, I recommend visiting the population matters website. Population Matters is a charity that works to educate and inform people about the effect of population on our planet and ourselves. The '£140,000' fact comes from a recent study they conducted into the effects of population growth.

There's a dark final point to the matter of a sustainable global population. It would seem that 70 million people (or 1% of our current population) is a believable global population for survival and development. We've grown fifty times larger in the last two-thousand years and we're still growing, but all the evidence points to climate change putting us back
down to that figure in the next five hundred years if we don't do it ourselves. That reduction will be brutal and ugly if we don't find a way to do it ourselves humanely. The choice is ours.

The dangers of milk

In previous blogs, I've talked about the increasing evidence that diets high in animal protein - meat and dairy - are bad for our health. The most interesting example, I think, was the excellent health documentary Forks over Knives, but there is also evidence specifically about diet changes, gut flora and bowel cancer, as well as the news that meat-free diets can make your cells younger.

A new article out this week adds to that corpus of knowledge. The article appeared in this week's New Scientist magazine and reports on a recent health study of tens of thousands of people in Sweden. The study ran for over 20 years and focussed on milk consumption by adults. It found that:

'the more milk people drank, the more likely they were to die or experience a bone fracture during the study period.'


The study also found that women who reported that they drank three-or-more glasses of milk a day had almost double the risk of dying during the study period as those who reported only drinking one.

This evidence flies in the face of the traditional view of milk; that it's a healthy food and that it helps our bones because it contains calcium. Clearly, this view needs a very strong review. As far as I can remember, the forks over knives documentary gives an explanation that fits the Swedish study very well. Forks over Knives explains that milk does contain calcium but our bodies can't absorb that calcium because we don't have the appropriate enzymes (not surprisingly, as we're not calves). After digestion, the proteins and other elements in milk can create an acid environment in our blood. Our body has to rectify that acid-alkaline balance by drawing calcium from our bones. The bizarre net result is that drinking milk causes us to lose calcium from our bones, not gain it.

This theory is not mentioned in the New Scientist article. It reports that the scientists at Uppsala University could not state a definite causal connection to explain the results of their study. They felt the most likely explanation was that drinking milk was causing inflammation.

Whichever it is, the facts speak for themselves. Don't believe anyone who says that drinking milk is good for your bones.

Dolphins and self-delusion

The kind people at the New Scientist magazine have published another one of my letters. Here it is:

"In her article exploring whether dolphins live up to their reputation for intelligence, Caroline Williams tells of being forcefully rebuffed by a dolphin after attempting to connect with it (27th September, p46). In this era of climate change, the possibility that dolphins don't want to be friends with humans makes them seem more intelligent and emotionally developed than ever."


The mention of climate change led me to think about its connection with another recent topic,
Milgram's Experiment. For a long time, many psychologists have been deeply unhappy that Milgram's Experiment seems to show that most people would willingly cause pain and death to an unfortunate target if they were gradually coaxed into it by authority figures. Humanity isn't like that, they say, people aren't that bad!

But a form of Milgram's Experiment is going on as we speak. It started a while ago when some people were coaxed into hurting a living target in return for personal reward. The level of harm they inflicted was slowly ramped up. They willingly continued to harm the target, even though they could see how it was suffering. Now, the experiment has reached the stage where the people involved are inflicting lethal levels of harm on the living target. Yet, they are still continuing
even though they profess to be concerned about the target's welfare. The experiment I'm talking about is climate change. The living target suffering is the Earth's biosphere and the people concerned are, well, nearly every affluent individual on the planet.

Perceptive creatures, dolphins.

'Consciousness after physical death' report published

operating-theatre-vector
After several years of work, a major study into what patients experience when their hearts have stopped beating has been published. Dr Sam Parnia, a research fellow at Southampton University, led the study, which 'spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria'. Here is a quote from the article in the Telegraph newspaper:

They found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted. One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room. Despite being unconscious and ‘dead’ for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.


consciousness-beyond-life
Dr Parnia's study confirms other studies conducted under clinical conditions, in particular the work of Dr Pim Van Lommel in the Netherlands. Lommel has written a compelling book called Consciousness Beyond Life about his clinical work studying the experiences of patients whose bodies physically die on the operating table but who are then brought back to life.

The evidence now appears to be conclusive. When someone physically dies on an operating table, in essence when their heart stops, their brain has about twenty seconds worth of oxygen. After that, the brain is unable to function. According to the current orthodox view of consciousness, the subject can no longer think as the brain can no longer work. And yet Dr Parnia's study and Dr Van Lommel's before it, and other associated studies, clearly show that the mind does function. Subjects who physically die and are then revived are found to have been fully aware of what was going on during the several minutes that their bodies were dead. In some cases, they even give detailed descriptions of what happened in the room while they were physically dead which tally with what actually happened.

cotards-syndrome
Thanks to this exhaustive and thorough study, and all the studies before it, the materialist view that the functioning brain creates the conscious mind can now be regarded as an invalid idea. There is already a body of evidence showing that people can function as intelligent adults while missing major parts of their brain, as reported in this recent New Scientist article. People can even function as conscious adults when their brains aren't even electrically active, such as in the strange case of Cotard's syndrome, where the subject thinks they are dead. Parnia's report, along with Van Lommel's and others, supplies the thorough scientific evidence that negates the 'functioning brain creates the mind' idea. As Richard Feynmann famously stated: A theory may be popular and it might even be endorsed by famous scientists but if the evidence negates it, then that theory must be thrown out. Throw out the materialist view of the mind!

Milgram's experiment just won't die

Just a quick note to say that another of my letters has appeared in New Scientist magazine.

unknown
This letter was in response to a recent feature article in which several psychologists put forward the idea that Milgram's famous experiment (which, among other things, is the subject of a track in Peter Gabriel's excellent, classic, bewitching album 'So') isn't quite as bleak as people have made out. For those who haven't heard of Milgram's famous psychology experiment, I've described it in this earlier post.

In the New Scientist article, the psychologists argued that the members of the public that participated in Milgram's experiment - the ones that applied the electric shocks - weren't as bad as everyone has made them out. One reason the psychologists gave was that the subjects in the experiment were told that the experiment had scientific benefit. That, argued the psychologists, was partly why the subjects applied what they thought were lethal level shocks. Also, the psychologists argued, Milgram did the experiment many times, with different parameters (including one where the subjects carrying out the shocks had to physically put the victim's hands on the shock plates) and in some of those versions, a greater percentage of people refused to carry out the shocks to lethal levels. All this, the psychologists emphasised, showed that people
aren't as willing to inflict pain and eventual death on a victim - if instructed to by an authority figure - as Milgram's experiments make out.

Being a right picky, curmudgeonly so-and-so, I felt I had to respond with this letter:

"In re-evaluating Stanley Milgram's infamous experiments, Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher argue against the popular view that most people will willingly shock someone to death if an authority figure asks them to (13th Sept, pg28). These psychologists might change their mind if they watch the 2010 French/Swiss televisions documentary 'Le Jeu de la Mort', in which participants in a fake game show were asked to shock a contestant who answered trivia questions incorrectly. The participants knew there was no scientific benefit. Yet only a fifth of them stopped before inflicting what they thought were lethal level shocks."


I was very pleased that New Scientist published the letter. The version they printed wasn't actually the version I sent them, but theirs is better. Nuts, I still haven't cracked this clear and efficient prose malarkey. For those who'd like more info on how the devious but illuminating French-speaking fake-game-show people reinforced Milgram's infamous findings, here's the
BBC report.

Is Bigfoot Denisovan Man?

bigfoot-print
A few weeks ago, the New Scientist magazine published a very interesting article about Denisovan Man. Denisovan Man is similar to Neanderthal Man. They are both offshoots, like ourselves (Homo Sapiens) from an earlier common ancestor, Homo Heidelbergensis.

We know of the existence of Denisovan Man because a scientist named Michael Shunkov from the Russian Academy of Science looked for interesting fossils in a cave in Siberia (named after a hermit called Denis). In the cave, Shunkov found an interesting sliver of a finger bone. He bagged and labelled the shard and sent it off for analysis.The results came back. The bone belonged to a hitherto unknown version of primitive man. This strain was genetically similar to ourselves and Neanderthal man but clearly separate. Excited by the news, Shunkov searched the cave for further evidence of this new species. He found a surprisingly large wisdom tooth. At first, he thought the tooth was too large to be Denisovan (or any proto-human) but the genetic testing carried out later confirmed it was also from Denisovan Man.

Scientists have carried out further genetic analysis and examination of these artefacts and have been able to work out what Denisovan Man would have looked like. They are confident that Denisovan Man had dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes. It is also likely that Denisovans were as hairy as Neanderthal Man, possibly even as hairy as their common genetic ancestor, Homo Heidelbergensis. It is also likely that Denisovans were large and robust, like Homo Heidelbergensis. As the article states: "[Homo Heidelbergensis] were big and robust guys, with body mass estimates around 100 kilograms”.

Interestingly, the Denisovan wisdom tooth also indicates that the Denisovans were large and powerful individuals. In fact, it is possible that they were larger than Homo Heidelbergensis. There is no reason why Denisovans could not have grown to be nine feet tall. This would have put a strain on their heart and other physical processes, leading to a shorter life, but the benefit it gave to survival may have outweighed this limitation. We - home sapiens - became group operators and tool users to fend off large predators. Denisovans may have evolved a different approach; to become large and powerful like gorillas to avoid predation by bears, tigers and other large carnivores. Built like this, Denisovans could have operated in small, family groups, consuming an omnivorous diet. They wouldn’t have had claws for protection, but their physical power and some crude weapons could have been enough to ensure their survival amongst wild animals.

Denisovans wouldn’t have stood a chance against Homo Sapiens. We would have wiped them out if they tried to compete with us. Their best tactic to survive on a planet inhabited by homo sapiens would be to avoid us whenever possible. If we came close, they would need to get away and, ideally, drive us off. Driving us off with violence would probably only result in their deaths. Denisovans would therefore benefit from some sort of non-violent repulsion, like creating a terrible stink. With this ability, and enough remote, wild terrain to lose themselves in, Denisovans could theoretically have survived on a planet dominated by homo sapiens

If Denisovans did develop these abilities (evasion of humanity, repulsive smell) then there’s a fascinating possibility, that they have not died out but still exist. There still are some wild and remote parts of the world in which they could still be living. The reason we haven't captured a Denisovan is that, unlike other rare creatures, Denisovans would be very adept at deliberately avoiding detection by humans. All a hunter would experience would be a dim shape, followed by a terrible smell and possibly the distant sounds of movement in the underground. If this is true, it would explain the stories of Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti etc. It would also explain why so many cultures in our past accepted and believed that an elusive, huge, powerful ape-man existed that avoided man and could emit a terrible smell.

Unfortunately, there can’t be many Denisovans left. Top predators need a large territory to survive and Denisovans would be no exception. If one was captured, people's initial disbelief would be followed by fascination and a mad rush to bag some more, rapidly followed by the realisation that there were critically endangered. Perhaps it's better if we do believe that Denisovans died out and Bigfoot doesn't exist; it's probably a lot safer to be a myth! ;-)

The universe is a construction

In this week's New Scientist magazine, there is a very interesting article called 'Cosmic Conundrums' about the problems in modern cosmology. The strap line for the article was: 'what can we do when cosmology raises questions it cannot answer?'

the-big-bang-NASA

There's no doubt that modern cosmology has several problems that it is current incapable of solving; here's a list of them below. The first two are mentioned in the article.

Boltzmann's 'Well ordered Universe' problem

Ludwig Boltzmann noticed in the late nineteenth century that the universe was in a very well-ordered state; in simple terms, it worked. The suns were stable and supplied energy, planets orbited them, supporting life. What confused Boltzmann was that he knew about thermodynamics and the Law of Entropy. It made no sense that a universe in which things always got more chaotic over time, it would be in this state after billions of years. It made no sense.

The fine tuning problem

The laws of the universe are extremely friendly to life. In fact, the ratios of the fundamental constants are incredibly, precisely, just right for stars and planets to form. If one or more of them were even a tiny amount different from their real values, we couldn't have atoms, never mind stars. Somehow, possibly by astonishing accident, our universe has just the right fundamental constants for atoms and stars to exist.

The baryon asymmetry problem

When the Big Bang banged, it should have produce equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. This is because, according to physics, the universe treats anti-matter and matter both equally. The only problem with this fact is that if the universe had treated them equally when it began, the matter and anti-matter would have cancelled each other out by colliding in a flash of light, leaving nothing but some radiation. Clearly, this hasn't happened and there is nothing in physics to explain why.

What's very interesting about this list of problems is that there is an answer that solves them all, that makes them all make sense. It is very simple:

The Universe is a construction

In other words, the universe didn't come into existence as a random event. The universe is a creation, made with a positive purpose and designed so that it is stable. That is why its settings (its laws, constants and ratios) are astonishingly fine-tuned so that suns and solar systems can form. That's also why our universe is filled with matter, whereas a universe that was created as a random event from nothing should have produced equal amounts of matter and anti-matter.

The strange conundrum then becomes, if that's the only logical answer and it solves all the existing conundrums, why hasn't it been accepted and widely disseminated?

The reason, in a word, is materialism. The dominant belief in modern science at the moment is materialism. Materialists believe that only inert matter exists. Even our minds are not real. According to materialists, they are simply a sensory phenomenon, like a rainbow. Materialists only believe that our universe came about as a random event, an event without any bias, an event where there was no tendency or movement towards a particular goal. It's worth noting at this point that materialism is purely a belief; it is not based on any scientific evidence. Some scientists may think that science has proved materialism but there are many experiments made by senior scientists that negate this view. These experiments have been dismissed on spurious grounds because they don't agree with materialism. Ironically, it's a lot like the Renaissance Vatican priests refusing to look in Galileo's telescope.

In case someone is thinking that I'm making a case for religion, I'm not. The fact that the universe is a construction doesn't mean that it was made by God (or a god). The evidence doesn't indicate who or what constructed our universe, or how or why it was done. Our universe might have been created by a single entity, it might be a technological creation by an extremely advanced civilization, it might be a huge, collaborative, consensual illusion. The evidence doesn't help us work this out, but it sure is an interesting question.

If any readers would like read a related idea of mine, that also explores how life exists, please have a leaf through the Influence Idea. There's lots of attractive illustrations and pictures of famous scientists and some sheds.

I've sent the New Scientist magazine a letter about this cosmological conundrum, pointing out that all the problems they mentioned are solved if we accept that the universe is a construction. They've been very kind to publish my letters in the past, so it may turn up in the magazine at some point. Here's hoping! :-)

postscript:

They have published my letter. Hooray! That is very good of them, as any scientific view that's even a little non-materialistic can get some serious flack. Thank you, New Scientist magazine.

Viruses and artificial evolution

tree-of-life-viruses

A very interesting article appeared in this week's New Scientist magazine entitled 'Thank viruses for your skin and bone'. The article explains that many of the proteins that our cells manufacture are from genes originally found in viruses. More importantly, the proteins needed for cell fusion, for multicellular organisms such as ourselves and all living things, all seem to have come from viruses. This is a fascinating continuation of an earlier New Scientist article discussing the increasing importance scientists give to viruses in relation to cellular evolution. Felix Rey of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, who headed up the work, speculates that:

Viruses may be responsible for the very existence of multicellular organisms. Viruses come and go between different cells, exchanging genetic information between them. "This makes me think that viruses have contributed enormously to the communication between cells, and to the appearance of multicellular organisms on Earth."


This idea has fascinating consequences, not only for our understanding of the natural processes of evolution, but of the possibilities for artificially guiding evolution. For example, if your civilisation existed for tens of millennia and you had advanced knowledge of genetic engineering, you could steer the evolution of life on another planet. As long as the target planet contained unicellular organisms, you could repeatedly send tailored viruses to that planet. These viruses would infect the remote cells, change their genetic code and gradually modify them to become multicellular organisms. You could continue this process, sending new viruses that deliberately alter and extend the genetic code of life on that planet. By doing this, you could make those primitive organisms more advanced, more varied, more sophisticated. You would be the overriding source of evolution on that planet.

Although it would be easier to do this to another planet in your solar system, it would be perfectly feasible to do the same trick to a planet around another star. As viruses are so small and relatively hardy, you could 'coat' them to allow them to be propelled by a laser beam. You could then point a laser at that star and insert a stream of virus packets into that beam. Although the vast majority of virus packets would be lost en route, a small fraction could reach the target planet intact. Once they were there, they could infect life on that planet. In the same way that a viral infection of our bodies can start with only a single virus particle, you would only need a handful of virus packets to successfully infect life on the alien planet to make the process work. Once they had infected life on the target planet, they would use the living organisms on the planet to create more copies of themselves and, by doing that, spread their gene-altering code to life on the entire planet.

It's interesting to think of the human race carrying out such a project in the future, when our level of technical understanding has reached a sufficient level, but a more pertinent question is; has this been done to us?

Logically, if a race reached such a level of advancement, it could accelerate evolution on the planets around its neighbouring stars. These planets would in turn develop until they had intelligent, technically advanced races who would also carry out such work. Instead of life around stars being a random event, rare in appearance, that develops slowly to a semi-random plan, you would instead have a viral, hot-housing, guided development of life spreading out exponentially across the galaxy.

If evolution on this planet, and possibly our own evolution as a species, had been influenced in this way, how would we know if it had occurred?

One way that we could work out that it had happened would be if the fossil record showed a sudden and very strange leap in evolution during a very short period, a change that could not be explained by any natural event on our planet. Interestingly, such an event did occur about one billion years ago. Our planet is about four billion years old. For its first three-or-so billion years, very little evolution went on. Our planet contained mostly single-celled amoeba, exactly the type of organisms that would have existed before these special viruses had appeared to kick-start multi-cellular activity. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye geologically - multi-cellular organisms appear in the fossil record and there is an explosion of evolution, leading to a variety of multi-cellular organisms such as trilobites. This became known as the Cambrian Explosion.

Was the Cambrian Explosion caused by alien tailored viruses kick-starting evolution on Earth? It certainly fits the facts. Unfortunately, I can see no way to prove such a theory. It has to stay as a piece of speculation.

By comparison, if a virus-filled laser beam had been fired at our planet in recent times, when we were sufficiently advanced to record the event, we could prove that it had happened. If such an event had happened when we were sufficiently advanced, it's possible to guess how it would have been recorded. Here's a rough description:

Observers see that a nearby star has abruptly changes colour (as a laser beam from it focuses on our planet). The star becomes 'fiery' (due the laser light being scattered by our atmosphere). The star turning 'fiery' is accompanied by the emergence one or more epidemics (most likely isolated to particular species that share certain biological similarities). Animals of certain species become ill, showing symptoms of viral infection, but most recover. The records talk of fear and awe of the fiery star and religious ceremonies are carried out in an attempt to placate the star's malevolent effect. Eventually, the fiery star returns to normal and people go back to their normal routines (but unknown to them, specialised genes have been added to the genetic code of one or more species, according to a plan developed by the civilisation living on a planet around that fiery star).


Sounds exotic and fantastic? Well, this is where things get really interesting...

A year-or-so ago, I wrote an article about a very strange series of events during our Classical Era. This was the laser transmissions from Sirius article. It put forward the strange but scientifically feasible idea that Earth received a laser transmission from Sirius in the first millennium before Christ. During that time, the star Sirius, normally a bright, white star in our sky, was reported by many different sources to have blazed a fiery red for years on end, during a period of centuries, and in particular that it blazed red towards the end of the Northern Hemisphere Summer, the origin of the phrase the 'dog days of summer' named after the Dog Star itself. During that time, according to multiple reports, the fiery star brought epidemics that affected men and dogs.

When I wrote that article, I couldn't understand why a transmission from Sirius would bring epidemics. Why would an advanced alien civilisation want to send us diseases? Rabies seemed the closest disease to the epidemics described; why on Earth would advanced aliens beam us rabies on a laser?

This strange evidence now makes much more sense, in the light of the new research on viruses' role in cellular evolution. The prime reason why the star Sirius turned 'fiery' all those centuries ago was specifically to send us one or more tailored viruses.

If that is the case, what viruses were sent Earth? What genetic codes were the virus designed to install and what species were they designed to affect? The reports from Ancient Greece make it clear that people did succumb to some sort of illness when the star flared red; they were astroboletus or 'star-struck'. What did the illness(es) they succumbed to do to them? Were our ancestors deliberately targeted by an alien civilisation from Sirius and infected with a gene-altering virus?

It sounds very far-fetched as an idea, but as far as I can tell, it is thoroughly grounded in solid science. Certainly, psychologically, it isn't an idea that'll be popular with most people. The possibility that evolution on our planet - including the evolution of our own species - has been guided by a remote alien civilisation makes us look like a bunch of lab mice. Very humbling!

There is one more strange consequence of this 'tailored viruses fired at planets to artificially guide evolution' idea. Perhaps the media outlets need to be buzzing with a shocking new development. Intelligent Design is now a scientifically viable idea; the only problem is that God's not involved at all, the job's been done by our Dog Star's Little Green Men… :-)

Science fiction predictions

In my last blog post, I talked about science fiction ideas and how they can come about. As a follow-on, here's a video on the same topic from PBS digital studios project called 'It's Okay to be Smart'. I found out about it from a recent Brainpickings article:



The video is lots of fun and it does a good job of celebrating how many predictions such science-fiction authors as H.G.Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Douglas Adams got right about our modern world. As the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Nils Bohr once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." :-)

Science fiction ideas

I'm a big fan of New Scientist magazine; I think I've read almost every issue of the weekly magazine from cover to cover for at least the last five years. I love its combination of factual accuracy, readable and accessible style and topicality. It's also been a very useful tool for me to generate new ideas. I'd read about a fact, theory or invention in the magazine and 'flip' it; imagining that item being used in a very different way.

For an example of this 'flipping', here's a letter I wrote to New Scientist recently which has now been published in their letters page:

In your recent article 'artificial tendons help you walk' (issue 2953, pg21), Yong-Lae Park and colleagues of Carnegia Mellon University made 'a robotic device with artificial muscles that could help people with cerebral palsy strengthen their foot and ankle muscles'. There may be another potential use for such robotic devices; helping ordinary people develop their muscles (get ripped) without having to actually move their limbs themselves. In the future, someone may simply climb inside a full-body version of the device and develop a bodybuilder physique without (literally!) lifting a finger.


For anyone keen to find new ways to come up with creative ideas for stories, I definitely recommend they try this 'flipping' approach. It has a Zen Buddhism element to it in the sense that you need to break out of the predictable way of thinking about a story, invention or place. Jokes and humour also follow this approach, flipping an idea around in such a way that it is interesting, but totally unexpected. It's also great fun!

Producing ideas this way can actually influence the future. The lateral-thinking ideas of science-fiction writers have inspired engineers to make the very items they conjured up in their stories. Arthur C. Clarke famously predicted the usefulness of orbitting satellites and Douglas Adams pointed out how Digital Audio Compact Discs might be rather useful for computer data storage. Perhaps someone will read my letter and in five-years' time, start a company that makes robotic suits that turn their owners from couch potatoes into muscle-bound Adonis's? I've no idea, but it's an interesting idea. :-)

A military moon

moon-catapult
A moon catapult

One fun thing about writing science fiction is looking at what’s happening now in the world and extrapolating. Sometimes though, you don’t need to extrapolate and come up with far-fetched ideas. Instead, you can work out what could already present but hasn’t been made public. This is science-fiction drifting close to a technical analysis; it's a fiction only in the sense that it hasn’t been proved. By comparison, science-fiction that speculates on a possible distant future is plausible fiction; it will probably never happen, but it’s still interesting.

This article is aimed at the former category and it’s to do with our moon.

Much has been written about the recent burst of activity in moon exploration by our planet’s major powers. The Chinese currently have a robot on the moon, nicknamed ‘Jade Rabbit’ which is attracting huge interest among Chinese citizens as it explores and analyses the moon’s surface. India is also investing large sums of money in visiting the moon and according to this Daily Telegraph article, both China and India plan to land people on the moon in the next ten years. The United States, who have already been to the moon, are talking about a new programme of exploration and there are reports Japan also wants to be involved.

An interesting question to ask is; why are they all doing it? It’s true that a country gains a lot of kudos if it completes a successful mission, but it’s a very expensive endeavour. According to this NASA website, it costs about $500,000,000 to send a robot to the moon. Another way of estimating the cost is per kilo of payload. According to some science websites, it costs about two million dollars for every kilogram you put on the moon. In other words, if you want to put a bicycle on the moon (probably a folding one), you’ll need to spend about twenty-million dollars. These prices don’t include all the efforts put into developing new technologies, the cost of failed missions and other related issues.

Along with the sheer expense, there is also the unedifying fact that the moon has already been landed on and it’s not an exciting place; it’s a dead, airless lump of rock. No nation is going to stay up into the small hours to see a robot land on the Sea of Tranquility. But there is a possible and very viable reason why the big nations of our planet, particularly the emerging superpowers, are racing to put robots, people and eventually bases on the moon, and it’s do with height.

In the history of warfare, height has always been of huge importance. Tribes soon noticed that attacking downhill is a lot easier, and more successful, than attacking uphill. Millennia later, as soon as people could take to the air, they used airborne craft to gain a new height advantage, bombing and strafing their enemy on the ground. When both sides had airborne craft, those craft that could climb higher gained a crucial advantage. The latest stage in this war of altitude has been the development of satellites for reconnaissance and communication, which all major nations now have. More recently the technology to knock out those satellites has been developed, with successful tests by more than one superpower showing they can knock out their own ageing or erratic satellites, and if push comes to shove, someone else’s. This satellite stage in the war of altitude is now a crowded, well-established territory. To gain a singular advantage, someone has to take the next altitude step; the moon.

A base on the moon has several strategic benefits. Firstly, it’s a super-satellite. There are a huge number of commercial and military satellites currently orbiting the Earth. They are extremely vulnerable, delicate devices. As popularised in the recent movie ‘Gravity’, there are so many satellites orbitting our planet that the destruction of just a few could release so much debris that a chain-reaction could break a huge number of the satellites currently in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. It is also perfectly possible, as mentioned earlier, for ground-based lasers and rockets to knock them out individually. By comparison, an installation of communication or reconnaissance equipment on the moon, protected by some sort of screen, would be far harder to knock out. The moon therefore becomes an ideal back-up location for military communication and reconnaissance hardware.

But this article focusses on a second and more dramatic use, that makes full and devastating use of the moon’s position as the ultimate high ground.

earth-moon-gravity-wells

Earth is big and, as a result, it has a strong gravity. By comparison, the moon is smaller and has less gravity, roughly one-seventh of Earth’s. If someone on the moon wants to attack a spot on the Earth, all they need to do is to throw a moon rock hard enough to leave the moon’s weak gravity well. The rock will then pass into Earth’s gravity well and fall down it, finally striking its appointed target on the Earth’s surface. This process is like a giant on a mountain tossing a boulder on to a fertile valley below. This is a kinetic weapon, as the damage it causes is entirely down to the speed at which it strikes the target, due to the extreme height from which the object has fallen.

To make such a weapon work on the moon, the attacker needs ammunition - rocks - of which the moon has loads, and some means to toss those projectiles in a guided way, in order for them to hit their intended target. Previous science-fiction stories have explored this idea, such as Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, in which rocks coated in iron are launched from the Moon, at Earth, by an electromagnetic cannon. Although Heinlein’s book was a masterwork of speculative fiction, wrapping such rocks in iron as a way to propel them is a dated method and unfeasible. Iron is heavy and rare on the moon. There is a better alternative and it involves more modern technology, that of lasers and solar power.

To launch a rock from the Moon to the Earth, you need a) a power source of some kind for the launching and b) something that launches the rocks out of the moon’s gravity. The first requirement, power, can be supplied by solar power. The moon can receive the full intensity of the sun’s rays, uninterrupted, for long periods of time, making this an ideal spot for solar power generation.

The next thing needed is something to launch the rock. Lasers can carry out this task. A possible mechanism is as follows:

laser-propulsion-moon-rock

On the far side of the moon, a solar array is installed on its surface, along with a robot and several lasers. The solar array charges up the robot. The robot then digs a rock out of the lunar surface and places the rock in a harness hung from poles above the ground, placed in the centre of a circle of lasers. The robot retreats and the lasers, powered by the solar array, fire beams at the rock in the harness. The heat of the laser beams on the rock causes material on its surface to heat up and boil off. This emission of gases pushes the rock in the opposite direction to the gases it emits. Using this ‘action and reaction’ effect, the lasers ‘push’ the rock upwards, against the moon’s weak gravity. By altering the intensity of their beams and where they hit the rock, the lasers guide the rock upwards and entirely away from the lunar surface, accelerating it out of the moon’s gravity well. Once the rock is free of the lunar gravity, the lasers are turned off and the rock is left to fall down the Earth’s gravity well until it finally hits the intended target.

There are many practical benefits to investing in this type of weapon. It runs entirely from its own power source. It also has effectively limitless ammo. If it is placed on the far side of the moon, it is not even vulnerable to any Earth-based lasers’ attempts to disable it. It effectively becomes the most powerful catapult ever created, firing its shot from the highest-ever castle, behind the thickest-ever wall. Although the weapon’s location would make communication with it from an Earth-based command centre very difficult, the weapon’s computer could be semi-autonomous, or even receive its instructions from probes located further away from Earth than the moon, for example at one of the Sun’s Lagrange points, that have relayed instructions to it from an Earth-based command centre.

Is such a weapon on the minds of the super-states racing to explore and colonise the moon? I don’t know, but I would very be surprised if none of them have done a feasibility study. The idea isn’t new to science-fiction and recent developments in laser efficiency, solar power efficiency and robotics make it far more achievable than when Heinlein wrote about it, fifty years ago. Knowing what we do about human-kind, it's sensible to believe that one or more super-states will install such a weapon if they think it's worth the cost. Civilisation has followed a logical path for millennia and there’s no reason to think that will change, at least until natural factors bring it to a painful end. I think the moon will be a key piece in our next global war. Someone will establish a weapon on our moon and use this new high ground to devastating effect.

meteorite-shower

Note: Thinking about this again, a day later, I'm keen to check through some more of the technical aspects. For example, how big does a lump of rock that's travelled from the moon need to be to avoid being burnt up in Earth's atmosphere? This could be tricky to work out but I'll see what I can do.

Diet changes, gut flora and bowel cancer

vegetarian

A few months ago, I wrote a blog article about the excellent Forks over Knives documentary. The documentary made a fascinating and convincing case for the connection between major illnesses and a diet high in animal proteins. As a follow-on from that entry, I thought I’d mention a new article in this week’s New Scientist magazine. It reports on some very interesting new research. To quote:

Switching to a diet based exclusively on animals or plants triggers rapid changes to the microbes that rule your gut. This knowledge could help fine-tune diets to improve health, as well as reduce the risk of illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease.

Read More...

Meat-free diet can make your cells younger

new-scientist-cover
This is a follow-on article from my earlier blog post this month about the ‘Forks over Knives’ documentary, a film that I’d strongly recommend people seeing, as it puts forward a fascinating health case for following a diet low in animal proteins.

The New Scientist magazine last week reported on a study by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California to see if diet and lifestyle could reduce or revert cell-ageing in 10 men in their early sixties with prostate cancer. They were ‘asked to follow a strict healthy-living regime rather than take a course of drugs. They ate a meat-free diet, did exercise and yoga daily and went to weekly group therapies. After five years, the telomeres on a type of white blood cell were 10% longer on average in these men. In contrast, 25 men with the same condition who kept to their usual lifestyles saw the telomeres on these cells shrink by an average of 3% over the same period.’ Read More...

Plants influence quantum behaviour

photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is an amazing process, not only how it works but that it works at all. Considering how diffuse sunlight is, and the spread of its light across a broad spectrum, it’s incredible that plants can harvest sunlight’s power to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars. A few months ago, a very interesting article appeared on the BBC website, reporting on some new research into how plants are able to carry out their amazing process of photosynthesis. To quote from the article:

The idea that plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently has received a boost. Plants gather packets of light called photons, shuttling them deep into their cells where their energy is converted with extraordinary efficiency. A report in Science journal adds weight to the idea that an effect called a "coherence" helps determine the most efficient path for the photons. Experts have called the work "a nice proof" of some contentious ideas.

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Heading Towards Omega book review

Heading-towards-omega
Following on from my review of the book ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’, I thought it would be useful to write about another excellent, thought-provoking book on the Near Death Experience phenomenon; ‘Heading Towards Omega’ by Kenneth Ring.

‘Heading Towards Omega’ focusses on people’s reports of their Near Death Experiences, including episodes they experienced decades before, the circumstances of their NDE and the effect those NDE’s had on their lives and their view of life and reality. The experiences of those subjects closely match those reported in ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’. Both describe separating from the body, viewing their body from outside, observing people in the room, awareness of a tunnel, a light at the end of that tunnel, a realm of light, the presence of loved ones, encounters with higher individuals filled with love, the reviewing of their life so far, their decision to return to their body, their return and connection with the physical world - along with its pain and intensity and physical limitations - and, finally, their the return to a waking, aware state. Read More...

Consciousness Beyond Life book review

consciousness-beyond-life
I’ve recently finished reading ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’ by the Dutch cardiologist Dr Pim Van Lommel. The book studies and discusses the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences, when a person is effectively dead for a short period of time, later recovers and then recounts a dramatic experience that occurred while they were clinically dead.

Unlike other books on the subject, such as Kenneth Ring’s excellent ‘Heading Towards Omega’, the book describes Dr Van Lommel decision to set up a study to rule out the possibility that these episodes were fantasised or were caused by the subjects’ brains hallucinating when low on oxygen or affected by drugs. Read More...

The woman who woke up just in time

operating-theatre-vector


This article comes from the Independent newspaper. It describes the instance where a woman, who was thought to be dead, woke up as the medical staff were wheeling her in the operating theatre to have her organs removed as a transplant donor. To quote from the article, ‘her eyes opened in response to the bright lights in the operating theatre, causing doctors to immediately call off the procedure.’

Not surprisingly, everyone involved was quite shocked. The hospital involved, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Centre in Syracuse, was a professionally run hospital that had highly trained staff and modern technology, and yet they had completed failed to spot that their patient wasn’t actually dead.

Read More...

The man who believed he was dead

cotards-syndrome

Today’s article comes from New Scientist. In it, a man named Graham attempted suicide but his bid failed. Afterwards, he told everyone around him that he regarded himself as dead. He no longer gained any joy from life, from normally pleasurable activities, and saw no point in continuing to exist. The mental problem that Graham was suffering from is known as Cotard’s Syndrome.

What is fascinating about this particular patient was that the researchers took the step of analysing Graham’s brain using the latest scanning techniques. They found that portions of his brain that should have been active, since he was clearly alive, showed virtually no activity at all. He had the brain activity of someone who was unconscious or in a coma, and yet he was walking around conscious and living like anyone else. Only his depression and his view of the world was different.

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Kit will save us!

Back in the 1960’s, when skirts were short and architecture was Lego-like, Freeman Dyson, a physicist and engineer, came up with the idea of a Dyson Sphere. The idea was straightforward; a sun gives out lots of energy but planets only get a fraction of it. What if you built a sphere entirely around the sun and made the inside surface of that sphere like a planet? That way, you’d have an enormous area of land to use which would all be getting sunshine. You could house a squidgillion number of people that way. Sorted! The idea was intriguing, memorable and cropped up in a slightly altered way in Larry Niven’s very successful science fiction novel ‘Ringworld’.

The idea also cropped up more recently in a
New Scientist magazine article. The article’s author reported attempts underway by scientists to find Dyson Spheres out there in the Milky Way. The logic of the article was as follows: By the laws of probability, there should be many advanced civilisations out there in our galaxy. If there are, some of them should have built Dyson Spheres (or similar enormous engineering constructions) in order to house their expanding populations and help their expansion through the Galaxy. There should therefore be Dyson Spheres out there, encasing stars; it’s just a case of spotting their heat signature, shape, E/M emissions etc. Read More...

Low MAO and bad behaviour

A while back, a friend of mine told me that her ten-year-old son was having behavioural problems at school. He’d become increasingly irritable, moody, tearful and sensitive, culminating in a fight with a class-mate. It was a worrying development, particularly since he was usually a friendly, relaxed, cheerful kid.

At their house, while thinking on the problem, I noticed that my friend was giving her son more ice-cream than before. I pointed it out to her and she said that since her son’s infant food allergies were gone, he was enjoying the ability to eat dairy. I asked what he’d been eating on the day he’d had the fight. She said they’d had garlic sausage for lunch.

I wondered if these foodstuffs could be connected to a child’s bad behaviour, particularly a child that might have a history of food intolerance. After a bit of investigation, I came up with a possible problem and put this article together for her:


GOOD AND BAD AMINES


We humans are good at eating and digesting a wide range of food. We’re
omnivores, from omni meaning ‘all’ and vorare meaning ‘devour’, as in ‘voracious’. Our bodies though need to be careful what they let into our bloodstreams. If certain food molecules get into our bloodstreams, they can cause problems all over our bodies and, in particular, in our brains.

Read More...

The Freezing Gaze People

anomaly-logo
In the New Scientist magazine this week, there’s an interesting article about black holes. Black holes are a fascinating object in the cosmos, being the collapsed remains of giant stars that have gone supernova. Because the stars were so huge, when their material collapses inwards due to gravity, the centre becomes so dense that it can no longer stay as matter and becomes a singularity, a strange theoretical entity. Gravity is so intense in a black hole that if light falls into it, it can’t get out, which is why they’re black.

The problem scientists are finding with black holes is that the physics (and maths) of a black hole doesn’t fit with the physics (and maths) of the universe. These problems are really extensions of a still bigger problem, which is that physicists have developed two important theories to explain reality; Relativity, which explains the largest scales brilliantly and Quantum Physics, which explains the smallest scales brilliantly. The only problem is that the two theories aren’t compatible. Black holes, being a place in the universe where the largest becomes deeply involved in the tiniest, not surprisingly are a source of much consternation; they’re like huge cosmic signposts saying ‘YOU’RE MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT!’.
Read More...

A Planck length of time

anomaly-logo
Science fiction writing is fun. You get to combine scientific and technical knowledge (interstellar travel, subatomic physics, TCP/IP networking, ant behaviour, you name it) with a large dollop of imagination and bingo!, you’ve got a story. Well, nearly. You also need to be perfectly happy sitting in a room, on your own, for umpteen hours, with little to show for it… “What have you been doing?” “Writing.” “Can I see it?” “No.” “Is it good?” “Dunno.” “Will it be published?” “Don’t know.” “Right… how long have you been doing this?” “For about two-thousand hours.”

max-planck
With that in mind, I enjoyed this quote from the Nobel prize winning physicist, Max Planck:

“New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.”

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Science warp at the BBC

test-tube-pic
Science is brilliant. I love the fact that a scientist doesn’t give empty opinions, but bases them on factual evidence that he or she always supplies along with his or her opinion. Also, that if someone else gives an opinion that the scientist knows to be false, the scientist will explain why it’s false and offer up the evidence to support their view. When this is combined with a desire to educate and inform, such as often occurs on the BBC, the results can be hugely praiseworthy.

Five_second
Something though seems to have gone horribly wrong with the BBC’s balanced reporting of scientific information this week. Their most popular video article concerns ‘the five second rule’ for food dropped on the floor. In it, Sophie Van Brugen, with the help of Dr Ronald Cutler, sets out to discover if the following rule is true, that ‘if you pick up food dropped on the floor within five seconds of it falling, you’ll be safe’. It’s a popular idea, as illustrated above from the wikipedia - ‘five second rule’ entry. Read More...

Climate change - methane is now bubbling up from the open ocean

I feel I have to make people aware of another ominous development in our changing climate. I reported at the beginning of the year on methane bubbling up from the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. This event had been predicted by scientists. Vast amounts of methane are trapped in the frozen ground in that region, created from decaying vegetation. As the arctic warms, the surface ice will melt, releasing that methane gas. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and so will help to increase the temperature of the region even further, causing more methane release and eventually, catastrophic heating.

A news article has appeared in this morning's Independent newspaper reporting that methane has now been discovered bubbling up from the open arctic ocean, appearing through cracks in the thinning ice. To quote: Read More...

Lego Technic Antikythera mechanism

New Scientist have added a great video showing an accurate recreation of the Antikythera mechanism made from Lego Technic! I've been a huge fan of Lego Technic from an early age and I've been fascinated by the Antikythera mechanism, an astonishingly sophisticated solar eclipse calculator made in the first century BC and found in a wreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in around 1900 AD.

Here's the video. I'll be honest, it makes me want to go out immediately and buy a huge Lego Technic kit.


Interstellar laser transmission and Sirius

I read a very interesting article in the New Scientist this week; it was an interview with Geoff Marcy (pictured), partly responsible for discovering many of the exoplanets we now know about. In the article, Dr Marcy explains that he's switching from exoplanet discovery (planets orbiting other stars) to SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He feels that he's done what he wanted to do with the exoplanet work and wants to 'roll the dice' and take on a long-shot SETI subject.

Dr Marcy believes that if alien civilizations do exist, some must be sufficiently advanced to be communicating between stars. To do this, they would logically use lasers, since lasers enable tight, focussed, information-rich communication. We on Earth have been sending out lasers and radio waves into space for a while now and Dr Marcy suspects that alien civilizations may target us as a result. As he states in the interview: 'maybe they are studying us with their own lasers, for whatever reason, and we should be looking for that. And that's what I plan to do.'

The reason I'm mentioning this is that, based on the evidence I uncovered in my book 'The Golden Web', such an event may have already happened.
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RSA Animate on YouTube

A friend sent me some very interesting links today and I thought I'd pass them on to anyone interested in popular science, psychology and the brain. The first one was to the web site brainpickings.org which looks to be full of good content. Here's a quote I've picked out of one of its recent articles:


“You are a mashup of what you let into your life,” artist Austin Kleon recently proclaimed. This encapsulates the founding philosophy behind Brain Pickings — a filtration mechanism that lets into your life things that are interesting, meaningful, creatively and intellectually stimulating, memorable. Naturally, I was thrilled for the release of Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption — an intelligent manifesto for optimizing the 11 hours we spend consuming information on any given day (a number that, for some of us, might be frighteningly higher) in a way that serves our intellectual, creative, and psychological well-being.

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Climate change - the canary in the coal mine has just died

I don't report on many events relating to climate change; it would get boring and depressing. I did write recently about climate sceptics and the flaws in their approach but most of the time, I try and keep the articles few in number but interesting.


Unfortunately, I read an article in the Independent at the very beginning of this year which I think is of huge significance. In the article, to quote, 'Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.'

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Dr Rupert Sheldrake and morphic fields

Last year, I wrote to Rupert Sheldrake, a fascinating man who developed the theory of morphogenetic fields and is the author of books such as 'Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home' and 'Seven Experiments That Could Change the World', both of which I recommend. I wanted to make him aware of the intriguing research that Luc Montagnier has been carrying out with water and DNA. He very kindly replied and agreed it was very interesting and threw up a lot of questions but he couldn't see on first glance how it could connect to his theory of morphogenetic fields. Here's my reply:

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It's hard work listening to climate sceptics

I get annoyed with climate sceptics. I read an article recently in the Independent and the number of ranting comments from climate sceptics, based on hopeless evidence, really got my goat. I accepted that if I argued with them, I'd get nowhere. Instead, I wrote this comment: Read More...

New Scientist caption competition

Being an ardent fan of the New Scientist magazine, I couldn't resist entering its caption competition. The picture is as follows:



My entries were:

'Are you sure this'll be okay, Dr Jekyll?'

and

'And with that final drop, they had created the world's strongest espresso'

New Scientist are running one every week for four weeks, no purchase necessary!

The AV referendum - it's still bugging me

Last week, for the first time in my entire adult life, myself and the rest of the people of the UK got the chance to chance their electoral voting system. The change available to us wasn't exactly earth shattering; we were able to choose between the current system (first past the post - you put an 'x' beside your chosen candidate and the one with the most votes gets a seat in Parliament) and AV (you get to rank your choices on the voting slip). AV wasn't much of an alternative. There are better voting methods out there like Single Transferrable Vote or STV but that was what we got.

And then two thirds of us (or at least the half of voters who actually turned up) said 'no' to AV. WHAATTTT????? Read More...

Climate Change and what trees are made from

I noticed this week that the New Scientist has a one page advert from the Spectator magazine, announcing an upcoming debate on Climate Change. It is introduced as follows:

“The number of people in the UK who do not believe in global warming has doubled in the last two years, according to a poll from the office of national statistics. Does this represent the common sense of a British public who can see the claims of the climate alarmists dissolve before their eyes?”



It’s an interesting choice of phrase, common sense. Common sense is a very important skill to have. Read More...