Friday, May 30, 2008

Crunching numbers.

I'm not the only one analysing paranormal data with a serious approach. There are others out there. A lot.

The way you see an investigation portrayed on TV isn't real. We don't just wave EMF meters at random, we don't run to places where there might have been a 'clunk', we definitely don't run at the hint of something paranormal.

The actual investigation process, if TV were to show it, would be very dull indeed. It's methodical and slow, deliberate and progressive. There are several cameras involved, most on tripods, which have to be checked for battery and recording time and batteries/tapes/memory cards replaced as necessary. Voice recorders too - although these new digital ones have so much recording time there's no need to worry about that. Just their batteries.

No rewinding during the investigation, no matter what you think you saw. All analysis comes afterwards. The investigation is data collection. Times of potentially interesting events are noted for later, but nothing--nothing--is rewound and looked at at the time. Rewinding is the best way to miss something important or to accidentally overwrite whatever you found.

A discontinuous recording also smacks of tampering. It's impossible to prove the recording wasn't tampered with if it's in short, broken chunks. It might have been assembled later. The original must be in one continuous stream.

So the actual investigation won't make good TV. Analysis of the data won't make good TV either - watching someone sit, eyes closed, with headphones on while they track through sound for EVP's, or staring at a screen waiting for movement is hardly riveting.

It's therefore not surprising that the newly started beginner, even when they find something, is shrugged off by the sceptics. The TV shows give entirely the wrong impression of how to run an investigation. But then, that's TV. It's entertainment. If it doesn't entertain, it doesn't get the ratings.

It does, at least, raise people's interest in the subject which is good. On the plus side, it means that paranormal investigators are less likely to be labelled 'nut'. On the negative side, it means that anyone who thinks they have a haunting expects to cash in. I don't charge for an investigation - but I won't pay to go to work.

A good example is on the Paranormal Database, where they have analysed their database of UK paranormal reports by region. This is data collection and analysis put to good use.

The regions are, or course, arbitrary because they are based on counties/countries. The borders aren't defined by any kind of paranormal parameter so they aren't a perfect basis for the distribution of paranormal events. Nonetheless, since we have no other parameter at present, they will do.

London tops the list, because it has the highest population density and the least 'blank' space (space where nobody lives).

Wales is down at no. 43 - but then Wales is taken as a whole and not split into counties. Much of Wales is occupied only by sheep and shepherds, and large areas don't even have those. Most of the population is concentrated in towns in the easily accessible parts. I suspect, if it was split into counties, the same effect would show as in the overall database. There are more reports in areas of high population density.

I'd also like to see the data collated in terms of how long each settlement has existed. New towns, built on green space, I'd expect to have fewer incidences than those built on previous Roman or even Pictish sites, simply because many more people have lived (and died) there.

That sounds like it's worth doing because if there is a correlation between length of occupation/size of town and paranormal reports, surely that's useful evidence?

It is. It's evidence. It's still not proof because there are alternative explanations for such a correlation. For example, the more people live in a place, and the longer they live there, the greater the chance of stories being invented and handed down until they are eventually passed off as fact. So it's not proof.

Dividing the paranormal events by arbitrary regions doesn't allow any kind of statistical analysis. A better (though much more labour-intensive) method would be to draw a grid over the UK, determine the paranormal events/current population density/average age of settlements for the area under each square of the grid. The smaller the squares, the better.

That's a lot of squares. Statistically, you don't need to examine every single one. You could take, say, ten percent of squares and pick them at random by throwing a dart at the grid. No cheating and aiming for London all the time!

You'd then determine the parameters for each square and test for a correlation between paranormal activity and one or more of the variables listed. If you get a significant result it would then be worth doing all the rest of the squares.

It sounds dull. It is dull. It's slogging away at numbers for hours upon hours.

That's what science is really like. Playing with the gadgets, hanging around locations, travelling, yes it's all part of the deal but the biggest part involves sitting with a calculator and working out standard deviations.

If I find the time I'll have a go at the Paranormal Database myself.

Another 'Roswell Autopsy' or is this better?

I hear tell there's a chap in Denver who claims to have film of a live alien.

All I have is a short news article concerning one Jeff Peckman.

Has anyone out there heard more of this?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The reason, or one of them.

Some time ago, I was in a long discussion with a devout sceptic, Dikkii, about the very existence of the subject area I study and one of his points was that there was no practical application for what I’m researching.

I dodged the question.

He also asked why I didn’t take Randi’s million-dollar challenge. I said I didn’t think that much money was enough. I also pointed out that I can’t make a ghost show up on demand, so wouldn’t win it anyway other than by sheer luck.

He, and others, asked me to show my data. I refused.

I won’t be showing the data. A million would not be enough. I dodged that question for a reason.

Here it is.

Imagine you asked that same question to an engineer who worked on, say, hologrammatic projection. He claims he can encode a hologram in a piece of quartz and have it replay, in three dimensions, when someone passes or when light hits it in the right way or in response to a particular sound or… well, whatever you want.

Sceptics laugh at him and say ‘If you can do this, show the data’.

He says ‘Not yet, I don’t have enough to patent this’.

Sceptics continue to laugh.

Why won’t he show them the data? He’s close to perfecting his technique so where’s the harm? Doesn’t he want to prove he can do this?

Imagine walking through a museum or a botanical garden. You touch a rock and a 3D image appears of a curator, explaining the details of what you’re looking at.

Imagine a rock you place in your garden that takes the energy of sunlight and produces a hologram of exotic birds complete with birdsong.

Imagine books with embedded crystals that produce full size images in the room while you read.

How much do you think that would be worth? In that engineer’s shoes, would you just give it away to any stranger who asked?

Now, consider one of the two aspects I study. The ‘replay’ apparition. Suppose I succeed in working out how those images and sound become encoded in the environment, and what triggers the replay? There are no spirits in these apparitions. They replay in exactly the same way every time. They never interact with observers. They are recordings. What's more, they are not all triggered by the same thing.

No application? One million dollars? Should I post everything I’ve found so far?

What would you do?

Now, about those ghosts.

There are spirits that I currently consider to be the ghosts of dead people. There are others that appear not to be. It is possible that all the spirits are human and that some can pretend not to be. It is possible that none of them are human and some can pretend to be so. Or both. Or something else. There’s a lot of work to do yet.

Now, I can’t prove to you that they’re there but suppose I could? Suppose I could not only prove it but show you how to communicate with these spirits? Suppose I could get clear and consistent conversations with them? Does that have no application?

I doubt the military, for one, would agree, although I would prefer not to get involved in all that.

There’s no need anyway. Applications – let’s just skim a couple.

A burning building. Firefighters want to know if there’s anyone alive in there and where they are. The better the information, the less risk to the firefighters and the faster they can get people out. Who better to wander the building than someone unaffected by fire and smoke? At the moment, if a ghost did this, who would they tell?

A nuclear reactor has a problem. Staff suspect a coolant leak but going inside the core would be deadly unless it’s completely shut down. Very expensive and hardly quick. Does it really have to be done? What if they had access to someone unaffected by radiation and who doesn’t even need to open the door? If there is a leak, the ghost can’t fix it but they can tell staff to start the shutdown and minimise time in the core by telling the repair crew exactly where the problem is. If there isn’t a leak, it saves time, money, and means the staff don’t spend a lot of time looking for the problem in the wrong place.

This application is much more difficult to achieve since it means persuading a thinking being—a ghost—to do something we can’t pay them for. I don’t know what they want and I suspect that, just like the living, they don’t all want the same things.

This one is further away also because of its nature. Producing a hologram won’t surprise anyone and it’s hard to refute the evidence of your eyes. Even if I could get a sceptic to hear a ghost’s voice, they’d accuse me of ventriloquism. If I could get a sceptic to see a ghost, they’d say it was a hologram.

Hologram production would also be reproducible. Getting a ghost to cooperate is a whole different game.

There are reasons I dodge questions, refuse to show much data, have no interest in Randi’s money or bow to the demands of sceptics. For the same reasons, I despise fakes because they get in the way and waste time.

Have I never posted anything supernatural on the blog? No ghost photos at all?

Look again. I’m not hiding it all.

Addendum: Reading over that, it looks like I'm in it for the money. That's not the case - I doubt my investigations of ghosts will ever make me rich.

It's just that I see the potential in this, although there's more potential return (in my lifetime) in the rock/hologram data than in the real-spirit data.

At some point, I'm going to need an engineer and probably a geologist and a few other specialists. If you're in one of those categories, stick around. I'll be in touch when I have enough to convince you it's worthwhile!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Psychic as career.

One last post from me tonight and then sleep. My Circadian rhythms have been seriously messed with over the last few days and it's catchup time.

Every time I find Randi's face I go over to look at his site, To see if he's seen the errors in his thinking. Not yet.

One of the things he slates there is the medium. 'There can be no real mediums in the world,' he declares (paraphrased). 'They are all fakes and charlatans'.

There are real mediums. I know at least two.

There really are dead people wandering around. I've met them.

What the sceptics should say is 'There are no real mediums on TV' because that is absolutely true.

Real mediums make a living from other jobs. No real medium makes a living from being a medium for one simple reason.

It cannot be done.

You cannot set up a half hour show and expect exactly three spirits, all of whom are related to someone in your audience, to show up on time.

You cannot expect to set up that show without sometimes finding that none of the spirits who do show up match with anyone in the audience.

You cannot set up that show and expect any spirits to show up at all.

One hundred percent success guarantees fraud. There is no other way to do it. The TV psychics never fail. They always get the right number of matches for the show. Always. They never have a show where none of the spirits they contact have any relationship to the audience. They never have a show where no spirits turn up. What do they do, make them sign contracts? All TV psychics are faking it and I say that precisely because they never fail. If they log a failure in the next few weeks I'll know they read this blog. Too late - you're faking it and I know it.

Real mediums know that ghosts do not come when you call. They are not pets. They are dead people and are just as capricious as the live versions. Ghosts show up when they have something to say. They don't follow TV schedules. They don't follow their relatives around 24/7. Come on. If you were a ghost you'd find something else to do, right? What if you had eight kids? How would you follow them all? If Kid #3 was at the show and you were busy looking over Kid #5's new baby, would you heed the call of the TV cameras or say 'Screw them'? I know what I'd do.

It is not possible to make money as a medium. Customers will not accept success rates of 10% or lower. Ghosts will not do as they are told. They will not conveniently show up for readings.

All TV psychics are fakes, yes, but that does not mean that all psychics are fakes. That is the fallacy in the sceptic's thinking. The real medium cannot make money using their ability. The real medium isn't going to knock your door and give you a message from the Great Beyond because they know they'll get laughed at and possibly punched. Real mediums are out there but they will never be famous for it. There is no way for them to prove it since they can never be sure of when a spirit will choose to speak to them, and they can't 'book' a ghost to coincide with a lab appointment.

The logic is there if you look for it.

Are frauds harmless?

I won't put any more YouTube videos up tonight, I promise, but James Randi (a sceptic and therefore an enemy by default, as well as a man whose methods I don't like) has a very valid point in this video.

Frauds don't just waste time. They ruin careers and cost money.

In this case, many careers and an awful lot of money.

I have no patience with frauds and no sympathy for them when they get caught.

It is NOT a 'bit of harmless fun'.

James Randi and The Psychic Chemist

I saw this one a long time ago and have only just managed to find it again. I think the clip ends before any explanation of how it was done comes up.

It's easy. The initial liquid is a weak alkali and the coloured liquid is a pH indicator. The high stirring speed is essential because all that's needed to change the pH from alkali to acid is carbonic acid. Which is what you get when you dissolve carbon dioxide in water. Which is what happens when you breathe into rapidly-stirred water. The rapid stirring means his breath dissolves faster.

All he's doing is breathing into the water. A drop of alkali changes it back, and all he needs do is breathe into it again.

This is one of those fakes that makes life very difficult for me and others, and I despise him for it.

The scientist, if she is one, is either in on the act or is a completely useless idiot. I suspect the former.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


If you type ‘UFO Ghost’ into any search engine you’ll get a whole slew of results. Many, many sites cover both ghosts and UFO’s, along with cryptozoology and telepathy and telekinesis and… well, anything you can think of.

I think that’s a mistake.

The thing is, all these subject areas are different. They are lumped together under ‘paranormal’ because science likes to use the name as a dumping ground for stuff it doesn’t believe is worthwhile studying. Some of us scientists like to rummage around in that dump for discarded gems, but most scientists stay away. I know of several who’d deny that the paranormal existed at all, even in theory.

Hey, you can’t blame them. The scientific establishment is very, very conservative and doesn’t take too kindly to its rising stars associating with kooks like me. If you have plans on climbing the hierarchy, a CV that includes even one paranormal study is going to slow you down. If you want to study the paranormal, don’t set your sights on chancellorships for your old age. That’s just the way it is.

Many will reinforce their mainstream attitude by public ridicule of all those paranormal subjects. Few bother to come up with any kind of logical, evidence based argument. The statement ‘It’s all a load of bunk’ is all they need to get cheers from the gallery. The most common is ‘Well, I’ve never seen a real paranormal event so it can’t be true’.

Well, I’ve never seen a planet around another star, nor have I seen subatomic particles, a coelacanth, a Tamarind monkey, or Buckminster-Fullerene. I don’t deny those things exist because other scientists have provided evidence that they do. I don’t wave away their evidence with ‘Bah. It’s all hokum’. I don’t say ‘Well I haven’t seen it so it can’t be true’.

Let’s take subatomic particles. You can’t show me one. You can’t produce one. You can’t put one on display. All you can show are lines on photographic film. Lines produced by particle collisions that you say demonstrate the existence of quarks and other atomic debris. What do I see? I see what appears to be a doctor’s prescription form. A lot of squiggly lines. Yet I don’t deny the existence of those particles. I’m not a physicist. I haven’t studied the subject. When it comes to quarks, I put my faith in those who have studied physics. I do not dismiss someone else’s chosen subject of study as ‘chasing squiggles’.

So I don’t dismiss UFO’s but I don’t study them either. They represent an entirely different phenomenon which requires an entirely different approach to study. The mass of information available means that taking on such a subject would be a daunting task. UFO’s, and all those other subjects, I file under SEP*

Just as in the study of ghosts, UFO’s have spawned a heck of a lot of out-and-out frauds, along with many cases of mistaken identity. That’s where the resemblance between the subjects ends. UFO’s, if they are real, are metallic flying craft. From this world or another, or both, who knows? They are not spirits in any way, they are not ghosts, and the techniques I use will neither find them nor prove their existence.

Telepathy and telekinesis are human interactions with other humans and/or the environment. No ghosts, and no spaceships. A different field of study. Astrology looks at planetary movements and relates them to human life. A different field again. Cryptozoology looks for real, as-yet undiscovered animals. Not ghost dogs, not space cats, not telepathic voles and not astrological creatures. It’s not all the same.

Putting it all in one place makes it appear to be all the same. Setting yourself up to cover all of these subjects, and more, blends them together in the eyes of the sceptics who, remember, aren’t actually studying any of these subjects. They are looking for targets. Putting all those targets in one place makes it easy.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told ‘So you’re into all that paranormal stuff, eh? Say hello to the little green men next time you see them.’

I’ve seen meteor showers. I’ve watched satellites pass overhead. I’ve seen Venus and Mercury. I’ve seen many aircraft lights at night. I have never seen a UFO. I haven’t even been looking.

Oh, I’m interested in all those other subjects. I’m interested in biology, chemistry and physics too. There’s a lander approaching Mars as I write. I hope it gets there safely because I want to hear about the information it sends back. I’m interested in all subjects of science and in many subjects outside science.

I cannot study them all. Nobody can. I study the phenomenon referred to as ‘ghosts’. That’s it. No Russian women move paperclips under glass in my lab. Nobody takes telepathy tests. Nobody gets healed. I’d be very interested to read of any positive results in those cases but I don’t perform the experiments.

If you want to study a subject in detail then you have to specialise. Spreading yourself over a whole range of disparate fields just means you get a superficial impression of each and an in-depth knowledge of none. The edges blur in your mind until it becomes difficult to separate each subject. When a sceptic pounds you with ‘there is no proof of telepathy so UFO’s aren’t real either’, there should be no problem slapping them down. After all, alchemy has been discredited so its younger cousin, chemistry, must be bunk too, right? It’s the same argument.

If your sceptic can bounce from one subject to another, pouring liberal quantities of scorn, how will you defend yourself? It’s far easier if you stick to one subject and refuse to be deflected. Try to catch me out with a scathing critique of faith healing? Never studied it. Back to ghosts. Telekinesis? Never studied it. Back to ghosts.

Specialise, people. Sceptics are looking for cracks. Every subject, paranormal or mainstream, has a crack or two. Every subject has a ‘we don’t know yet’ section. If it didn’t, it would be closed and stamped ‘finished’. Don’t put all your work into the paranormal’s equivalent of ‘general science for remedials’. Specialise. Focus. Concentrate your efforts.

There are a host of subject areas all mixed together under the paranormal heading. It’s time to separate them out.

Time to get some real results.


*Someone Else’s Problem.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Eugenics by any other name...

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

It consists of a variety of questions. There's usually at least one anagram in there. You can either do these or you can't. I know some very intelligent people who have dyslexia, so could never work out an anagram. That's one question they'd never get right.

For myself, if I don't get it in the first few seconds, chances are I won't get it at all.

There are a lot of 'which of these things is out of place', 'what's the next in sequence', and spatial organisation questions. Plus some general knowledge.

General knowledge, like the anagram, is a matter of either you know it or you don't. The other questions test thinking skills rather more directly. Even so, you can improve your score on this type of test if you practice that kind of thinking.

If you're taught to think logically. If you're taught well, in other words.

No, this is not a rant against teachers. They do the best they can under the mountains of ridiculous restrictions and beurocratic paperwork that are set up with the sole purpose of making their job impossible.

Yet there are, as in all careers, very good teachers and not-so-good teachers. And, naturally, some utterly worthless oafs.

These are not evenly distributed among schools and colleges. Oh, no. The best teachers get the best jobs with the highest pay. The worst get stuck in cesspits, where they'd be better off with an animal handling degree than a teaching one. Again, that's the same as any other profession.

So where a school can offer higher salaries, there will be many applicants for any vacant post. Many to choose from. That school can be very selective. Where salaries are low, the best people don't apply. It's not complicated but this simple equation seems to have eluded the school system. Also many colleges and a few universities.

It has certainly eluded this man.

Bruce Charlton, reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle University, suggested that the low numbers of working-class students at elite universities was the "natural outcome" of IQ differences between classes.

The man is an idiot. Low numbers of working class students reflects a simpler fact. The best teachers are in well-paid jobs in the public schools. The schools where the chinless wonders, the monocled morons and the pampered pansies of the rich spend their time bullying each other and (if rumour is to be believed) indulging in unsavoury practices involving fruit. Nonetheless, they have access to better teachers and some, certainly not all, will derive considerable benefit from this.

The working class have access only to the PC-riddled, micromanaged and overlegislated state schools. It's not that their IQ's are lower. They rarely get a chance to develop the talents in their heads.

Before all this pandering to the lowest common denominator in schools, before teachers were forced to restrict the thinking of anyone who showed signs of rising above the ranks of the retarded lest they embarrass those to whom evolution is a distant future dream, I went to school.

If you were an idiot, you were told so. In those words. If your destiny involved nothing more taxing than collecting trolleys in a supermarket car park, you were told so. Teachers used sarcasm like a rapier, to great effect. Faced with an adult sigh, accompanied by 'Well, I suppose the world needs road sweepers too', some would shrug and practice with a brush. Others, incensed by the remark, would turn away from spending their weekends with illicit beer and force knowledge into their heads. Some I, and others, thought were doomed to a wastrel life in the early years surprised everyone by changing their ways and passing their exams.

Why? Because they were told they were useless and they fought back.

When I lectured, I saw exactly the opposite of what Bruce Charlton suggested. The rich kids were mostly lazy, worthless individuals who intended to rely on Daddy's money, and had no real need to work. Not all, by any means, but certainly most.

Those from less advantaged backgrounds were prepared to put in the time and do the work. They'd already had to work hard to get as far as they had. They knew how to work. Again, not all. Some saw University as a way to avoid getting a job for three years. Overall though, those who fought their way up from the looming dole queue were motivated. They were intelligent. They would work.

They worked because they had been told by teachers, in their early years, that they could never amount to anything and they were determined to prove those teachers wrong.

Nowadays it's all the wrong way round. Teachers (and lecturers) are not allowed to write 'fail' on papers in case we bruise their fragile little egos. I was continually in trouble for this, and more so when I asked a student if he was in possession of a brain. He said yes. I asked if he'd read the manual. He complained. I said he was a weak-minded oaf whose brain, at his death, would be eligible for reassignment since all it contained was his name and even that wasn't spelled correctly. There were red faces and wagging fingers. Once more, I was nearly fired but some core of reason remained within the ageing custodians of university life. I suspect they longed for the old days. I also suspect most of them have been replaced by now.

I would have resigned, but I knew the department was to close so I waited for the redundancy payout so I could set up on my own. I'm happier not teaching. Writing 'not achieved' instead of 'fail' or 'give it up and practice lifting bins' just wasn't me. Apparently even 'not achieved and not likely to' was unacceptable to the deadly vipers of the PC crowd.

Teaching now panders to the weak and the stupid. Those who show signs of intelligence are held back, forced to play dumb and fit in. Oh, sure, 'swots' have always been a target. There used to be a lot of us, and we were organised, smart, and not all of us were small and feeble. The teachers generally supported the intelligent against the stupid - not least beause the intelligent knew how to manipulate a situation. The 'swots' could look after themselves.

No more. The 'swots' are split, underground, hiding in shadows. The drooling thugs now rule the schools, and the intelligent are stamped on not only by our ancestral forms in school uniform, but by teachers too.

Schools claim a zero tolerance approach to bullying, but bullies must not be punished. They must be understood. Well, I'd like these thugs to understand me and I have some heavy and sharp objects I'd like to use to help explain. Teachers can't do that. They can't even threaten to do that. The teachers of my day had the option of using a cane on a miscreant's tender parts. I was lucky in that the headmaster at my school rarely resorted to that - but we all knew he could, if we pushed too far. If all headmasters had been so controlled then we might not have had the tweed-clad hand-wringers stopping any form of punishment. Instead of controlling the few headmasters who overindulged, they banned everything. Well, surprise.

If I had gone home and complained that I'd been caned, my father would have been furious. He would likely have punished me again, on the grounds that I must have been extremely naughty in order to have deserved such punishment. Nowadays, parents sue the school. They are less concerned with the temporary red marks on Little Wayne's backside than they are with the chance of free cash.

This is where the disparity between rich and poor in the big universities comes from. Not from IQ, because that's not determined by how wealthy your family is. It's partially genetics and partially teaching. No, it comes from the difference in teaching quality in the schools these kids attend.

Our state schools are turning out weak minds in weak bodies. Overconfident thugs with a belief in their own invincibility and certain that the world owes them a living. They have gone through a school system where the adults capitulate to their every whim. Zero tolerance for bullies? The schools produce little else. Fortunately all that's needed is bared teeth and a snarl to shock them into silence.

If any of those future benefit scroungers get this far - which I doubt because there are more than two syllables in some of the words - consider this. You do not have a 'right to life'. That right doesn't exist.

Count yourselves lucky that the rest of us don't have the right to kill you. Yet.

(What the hell is an 'evolutionary psychiatrist'? How many more stupid jobs are we going to make up just to get 'evolution' in the title? What's next - 'evolutionary fireman'? It's really not helping.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Living in God's test tube.

I follow no religion. I have no evidence to suggest there is a God, and no proof there isn't. Just want to make that clear.

Now, to borrow an Americanism and turn it into decent English - I'm about to get all religious on your bottom.

I watched this rather dull speaker who nonetheless made interesting points. It made me theorise (science-speak for 'think a bit'). The video is 20 minutes so you'll need some time to hear him. It's not vital to the rest of the post.

First, an assumption. Nothing wrong with that, science does it all the time. Let us assume that there is a God. If you're determined there isn't then you might as well skip the rest because without that assumption, none of the rest matters.

So. The way Genesis is written. man appears to be an afterthought. God makes light, the universe, the Earth, plants a garden, makes animals and then thinks 'Hey, I know. I'll make little beasties who look like me. They can look after the garden'. In other words, we're not the highest species. We're the gardeners.

Sounds unlikely for a supreme being. Surely the creation of humanity was the whole point, and the rest would have been built to support that? Otherwise, why bother with religion? Gardeners don't worship their bosses.

Second (anthropic) assumption, then. God made all of it so he could have people around.

Okay. First problem, why make so much of it? Why all those stars, all those planets, all those galaxies? Why not just this one solar system? In fact, what do we even need the other planets for?

Third assumption (one already in place viz. Christianity): God gave us free will.

In that case, God can't reveal himself. If he does, free will is gone. We don't have free will to deny something we can see. I can't deny the existence of China because I've seen it. I can deny the existence of Belgium, even though it's silly, because I haven't. I don't, in case you're wondering.

So how to work this? If God wants beings with free will, specifically with the freedom to choose whether or not to believe in him, he can't do anything that would prove his existence. Once proven, pop goes free choice.

Now I'm going to blaspheme. I'm going to rewrite Genesis. I hear a mass hiss of breath sucked through teeth, even now.

One. God is the only intelligence in a blank universe. The theory of Boltzmann brains makes this at least, scientifically possible. I'm not going to explain it here.

Two. God makes some company. The angels. They're okay, but a bit dull. They keep worshipping, all the time, and never think for themselves. Why would they? They know God exists because they can see him. God decides he wants to make beings with the freedom to choose their own path.

Three. This God has full control of the nothing around him. Not much to do, there's no 'space' and no 'time' yet. So he pops off the big bang and starts time and space rolling. Note: since God was there before time and space, he's not constrained by either.

Four. Does he just pop off this big bang without any sort of plan? I doubt it. Remember, he wants the creatures to have free will. He can't be obvious. So he sets physical laws for this universe, laws that allow his creatures to live but that don't, in themselves, prove he made them. The other stars, planets, galaxies, are there so we can't assume we're special in any way. It's up to each of us, individually, to make the choice. Besides, in order for the physical laws to make sense, the rest of it has to be there.

Five. Now he makes the stars, within the parameters he's set. Planets too, again not violating the laws he's set. For the sun to burn long enough, it has to be nuclear. It puts out a lot of radiation. The Earth has to be pretty close in order to be warm enough, but needs a magnetic field to deflect the radiation. In order to have a magnetic field, it has to have a molten core, but that means earthquakes, volcanoes etc. will happen. Can't be helped. God has to hide behind the physical laws because if he proves his existence, there's no longer any point to what he's doing.

Six. Water, land, plants, animals, birds, and finally man. At first, God treats Adam and Eve like pets but he knows they're going to disobey him. He made them that way, and made the tree of knowledge to give them a reason to be naughty. Once they eat from it, he makes a show of being quite miffed and sends them into the world. As intended from the outset.

See, he can't prove his existence but he has to give them a start. A few clues so they know he's there, but never enough to prove it. Adam and Eve saw God, but nobody else did. My mother claimed to have seen a UFO. Do I believe her, or do I think she was mistaken? So it was with the later humans. Early ones (according to the Bible) spoke directly with the Big Fella, but later ones did not. Denied the experience, they had to choose whether to believe or not.

Seven. About now, some of the angels are feeling a bit left out of things. They decide to take a closer look at these new beings and find that some are a bit of all right. A few glasses of communion wine later and there are half-breeds--Nephilim--around.

Eight. God says 'Oi! What are you doing?' and boots the offenders out. They hang around Earth, resentful, spotty and wearing hoodies and cause trouble wherever they can.

Fast forward to today.

God can't interfere in tsunamis, hurricanes and floods because to do so, he'd have to prove his existence. That would ruin the whole point of the experiment. I think in scientific terms so my thoughts come out that way. Once an experiment is set up and running, interfering in it will nullify the result. The next assumption is that God is thinking that way too. He might not be happy with how it's going but if he interferes, the whole thing is ruined.

On the basis of the assumptions made within this rambling thought experiment, God set up mankind with the choice to believe in him or not. That's the experimental hypothesis: Left to themselves, man will reach the conclusion that there must be a creator and that in order to achieve peace, they must let him run things. If said creator shows up, the experiment is over.

The Inquisition, world wars, the Holocaust, fundamentalist terrorists of all types, must have had him gnashing his teeth in frustration. He could not stop it, because to do so would destroy free choice and therefore terminate his experiment with the hypothesis untested.

On the other hand, God equally cannot cure the sick, save people from disaster, respond to prayer or find you that parking space when you need it. Non-interference means non-interference. No exceptions. In an experiment, the experimenter can't say 'Oh, I'll just tweak this little bit. It won't matter.'

Yes it will. Butterflies and gales come to mind.

If God exists, and (for the reasons outlined) can't interfere to save thousands from major disasters, then he can't interfere to perform any miracle, no matter how small. He has given the clues already. The experiment is in progress. Now he has no option but to watch and see how it turns out.

I guess if there's a moral to all this, it must be that whether there's a God or not, we're on our own.

At least for the duration of the experiment.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

If you're paranoid, we're watching you.

No, it isn't real. Just in case you were wondering.

It's cruel but very, very funny.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cameras and infrared. 2 – Digital.

First of all, the only serious problem I have with digital cameras is the ease with which their photos can be manipulated. Fakery is far too easy with these cameras. Using a digital image as ‘proof’ is going to be very difficult indeed. They do have some very useful aspects though, and that does not include the 'orbs' so championed by those who should know better.

Digital cameras see into the infrared. The easy way to prove this to yourself is to take a TV remote, the kind with a red window or visible LED, point it at your face and press a button. You’ll see nothing.

Now, aim it at a digital camera, watch the screen and press a button. You’ll see the remote light up. It’s infrared, and the camera can see it.

You’re probably wondering, then, why you can see it through the camera if it’s infrared, and your eyes can’t see infrared? The screen you’re looking at can’t display infrared either.

The camera’s sensor reacts to light. Visible light, infrared, ultraviolet, all of it. It sees the infrared as light, which activates pixels, which send the information ‘I have seen the light’ to the processor, which then transfers that image of light to the right bit of the screen. The processor simply forms an image based on what the pixels tell it, and since the screen works only in visible light images, it translates the infrared image sent by the sensor into a visible-light equivalent on the screen.

This works best on a monochrome setting because there’s no ‘colour’ in infrared or ultraviolet. They are outside our visible range so we can’t assign them ‘red’ and ‘blue’, they just show up as ‘light’. That’s why it works best as a greyscale image.

Because of this sensitivity to infrared, the optics in digital cameras include a filter to block most of it. It doesn’t block all of it—and the degree of infrared-blocking varies immensely between cameras—but it blocks enough so the infrared image doesn’t interfere with the visible-light image. There are two ways around this.

One is to fit an infrared filter, which looks totally opaque because it blocks all visible light. Only infrared gets though. Set the camera to monochrome (black and white) and look through the filter. You’ll need a camera capable of high ASA (ISO) settings and/or able to operate at slow shutter speeds. You’re also best to have a tripod for this, even though you’ll be shooting in daylight.

At night, where there’s little or no visible light around, you don’t even need the filter. You will probably still need the tripod. I can get away with handheld using a Sony DSC-H5 but even so, most shots are blurred. A tripod is best.

This scores over the use of infrared film in several important respects.

-You don’t have to pay for film so even if nine out of ten shots are rubbish, it’s cost nothing.

-There’s no film to keep cool. Just slot in the filter and you’re in business.

-You don’t have to use up a whole series of shots in one session. You can alternate infrared and normal shots, which means you can take photos of the same scene in both normal and infrared within seconds of each other.

-Best of all, when you look at the camera’s viewscreen you can see what the camera sees. That’s not possible with film. The exception is night photography where you might have trouble seeing the screen. Even so, that’s no worse than the film option.

The downside, as always, is that it’s easy to produce a fake so whatever you find will be hard to use as proof. All the same, you have a good chance of capturing images that you might miss with film, not least because you can shoot away without worrying about film costs. Just remember these cameras have no ‘manual’ setting. If the battery runs out, the camera won’t work at all so always have spares.

Infrared photos taken with these cameras can be grainy, because of the need for a high ASA setting. The DSC-H5 will go to 1000ASA but it’s seriously grainy at that setting. It does let you capture a scene you wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise, even if it isn’t the best photo in the world.

That’s another thing about digital. If you load your camera with 400ASA film, then you’re stuck with that until the end of the roll. A digital camera can be set to 100ASA for one shot, then to 800ASA for the next. It’s far less restrictive.

So what kind of images can you expect? Well, here are some shots of an old shed beside the railway line, close to that old cottage I’ve been looking at.

This is it in daylight, in colour. It's just a shed:

Daylight, monochrome. It’s easier to compare with the infrared images this way.

Here it is again in daylight with an infrared filter. These photos were taken at different times (well, duh!) and from different angles, but they are used here as examples and not a scientific study of a shed:
Vegetation reflects infrared so appears bright. The blue sky isn't emitting much infrared so it looks dark. If ghosts are related to infrared radiation in any way, they would be expected to show up in such images. Not necessarily as perfectly-formed images of people, but at least as recognisable outlines, preferably of the right height and shape.

And again at night, without the filter – first, distant and enlarged:

It's very grainy because there was almost no visible light available. What the camera is picking up here is infrared, and there wasn't too much of that available either. The 'streak' in the top left corner is a twig. There was a nearby bush in shot.

Night, no filter, closer than before and therefore less grainy:

The one good thing about grainy images is that they're harder to add fakes to. Matching the 'grain' would take considerable skill and a lot of time, and fakers aren't likely to go that far. You could enlarge these and look at the overall grain and work out whether I'd added something. I haven't. What you see are the photos I took. Feel free to enlarge them and check.

Infrared images are never going to be perfect. The blocking filter in the camera's optics is a sticking point. I did read an article about how to take those out, and even took apart a couple of old video cameras to try it. I discovered that my skills did not extend to reassembling those optics. It's not a good idea to try that with your best cameras - the old ones I used for that experiment are now scrap.

All the same, if you want to try infrared, the cheapest and easiest place to start is with a digital camera and an infrared filter. Results vary between cameras, so you'll want to try out a few before spending a lot of cash. Get the filter first and ask your friends to loan you their cameras for a moment.

Oh, and make sure you buy one that a) has a monochrome setting and b) has the ability to accept filters. Not all of them do this!

It works with video cameras too.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Insults for the common good.

I insulted someone today.

'What?' I hear you cry. 'You, Romulus? Never!'

It was for her own good. It was like this...

Browsing among the gadgetry in a local supermarket, I stepped back and collided with a trolley, which had magically appeared directly behind me. The only other person in the aisle was a woman who had parked the trolley a foot behind me while she wandered along the shelves. She glared at me for having the temerity to shove her trolley out of my way. It was quite a glare, one that would make a hamster proud, so I responded with one of my own.

Her face contorted, with sloth-like speed, into an expression I can only describe as 'startled sheep'. I kept my voice low and measured, so as not to tax her intellect.

"Tell me," I said, "are you a professional idiot or is it just a hobby? If it's a hobby, you really should consider turning pro."

"Huh?" was her considered response. I could imagine neurons nudging each other into wakefulness within her brain. Eventually she formed a sentence. "What did you say?"

"Can't you remember? It was only a few seconds ago. Cast your mind back and see if you can find it." I held out little hope.

I marvelled at the Neanderthal appearance she achieved while thinking. It was most impressive but I feared she might blow a gasket, so I put her out of her misery.

"I was just saying, you have a natural talent that you should consider nuturing. I honestly believe you could reach Olympic standards."

Have you ever seen a face trying to smile and frown at the same time? It's hard to describe but well worth seeing. Anyway, since there was no prospect of conversation, I left her to her thoughts. I wonder if she'll wake up in the middle of the night, a week or so from now, and shout, "Hey! He called me an idiot!"

These people are real. It's too easy to forget, insulated in the world of academia where almost everyone you talk to has a doctorate in something, that the average IQ is 100. It's not a coincidence, IQ tests are set up so that 100 reflects an average score. If you hobnob with academics, you're unlikely to be speaking to anyone below 120 - and that includes technical staff. Heck, the porters and cleaners are smarter than average in that environment.

Half of the population have IQ's below 100. Consider that for a moment. Entry to Mensa requires (I think) a minimum 140, and they say that represents the top 2%. Assuming a normal distribution, the bottom 2% are below 60, which leaves 48% of the population between 60 and 100.

These people can vote. They can also be manipulated and bamboozled with ease. Heck, I've known several academics you can reduce to a gibbering heap with conversation as your only weapon.

Politicians know this too. They know that whatever sleaze and scandal they're caught at now, by election day it'll be forgotten. It's forgotten by the time the next edition of the paper hits the shelves.

Politicians know how easy it is to deflect most people's attention, which is why we're treated to reams of garbage about 'celebrities' who have never actually done a damn thing in their lives. Someone coined the phrase 'famous for being famous', can't recall who said it but there are many in that category. Headline fodder.

I saw an issue of 'the Sun', a popular tabloid paper, during the alleged fuel crisis (it came to naught, just another deflection). War in Iraq and Afghanistan, stabbings proliferating in the streets, an imminent shortage of petrol, forthcoming local elections, which took the front page?

None of them. The front page story concerned a comedian who had slightly miffed a footballer with a thoughtless comment at a private function. Seriously. That was front page news.

No wonder most people's heads have nothing in them. Read their minds? Not a problem, it's composed of one-syllable words in large print. Telepathy can never be proved with these people as subjects because they have no thoughts to transfer. They believe what they're told, but you can tell them the opposite tomorrow and they'll believe that instead. Their minds have been erased by soap operas and bland news. Nothing is retained. They complain that prices have gone up, but ask what the price was yesterday and they can't remember. Their brains have shut down.

If insulting them gets those brains to work again, even for a short while, it's worth it.

It's a lot of fun, too.

Cameras and infrared. 1 - Film

I go on about this a lot, but it’s important. Standard photographic film reacts to a similar range of wavelengths as the eye. It does pick up more ultraviolet than we can, which is what causes that overall ‘haze’ on photos taken in bright sunlight. Fortunately UV doesn’t travel well through glass so the lens stops most of it. You can clear the problem with a simple UV filter, which is a good idea anyway. They are cheap, and if your camera takes a head-on knock, you’ll find it much cheaper to replace a UV filter than a scratched lens.

So all my cameras have UV filters.

Infrared is a whole different game. If you want to take photos in the infrared on film, you have to buy special infrared film. Note that you don’t need a special camera, just special film BUT…

…some camera backs reflect infrared and will mess up your photos. Watch for that.

Using infrared film is a lot of fuss, even if you can find a shop that sells it. There are no local suppliers where I live now and I won’t buy it by post. There are some things you have to know about that film before you hand over your cash.

It has to be stored cold. If you ask for it, and it doesn’t come out of a fridge, don’t buy it. Infrared film is very heat sensitive. It can be fogged before it ever goes in a camera if it’s not properly stored. If you get some, rush home and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Now comes the interesting part. The film must be stored cold, but if you put cold film in a warm camera you’ll get condensation on the film. So you need to bring it up to ambient temperature before loading it.

Right. Your camera is loaded with infrared film. Now you need an infrared filter, which will block all visible light. This means that when you look through the viewfinder, you see nothing. Okay, slide the filter out of the way, frame and focus the shot, slide the filter back and shoot, right? Wrong.

Infrared light does not focus in the same place as visible light. If you have a good SLR camera, you’ll notice every lens has a red dot or mark, a little to the left of the centre mark. Focus your shot, look at the lens and the centre mark will tell you the focusing distance. Move that to align with the red dot, and you’re focused for infrared.

Okay. Now you can slide that filter back into place and take the shot. Assuming whatever you were shooting at is still around. Did I mention you should do all this on a tripod? Well, you should.

Let’s say you’ve been through that ten times and taken ten shots. Your film isn’t finished but there’s nothing else to interest you. Pack up and go home, leave the film in place and try for more tomorrow?

Nope. That film has to be stored cold, remember. You MUST finish it now. Use the whole film, rewind, take it out of the camera and put it back in its cool-box. When you get home, keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to process it.

If you’re taking it to be processed, find a specialist. Don’t fall for ‘Oh, we can do that. It’s just like black and white film’. Not quite. The processor needs to keep it in the fridge. If they don’t they’ve ruined it.

Whether you process yourself or have someone do it—no safelight. When developing film, usually you can have a very dim red light on, just enough to see what you’re doing. Not with infrared. Total darkness, or you’re screwed.

So, to summarise:

Infrared film must be kept cold, warmed up to use, used all in one session and then kept cold again.

You can’t see through the filter, and if you focus with the filter out of the way, it’ll be wrong.

If any internal component of the camera reflects infrared you’re screwed. If you have one of those that uses an infrared light and sensor to track the frame number, you’re totally screwed.

Developing it requires an ability to work without sight. No, you can’t use infrared night-vision goggles. Obviously.

Infrared film is expensive and extremely difficult to use. I gave up on it, because you’d need to take many, many shots to have a chance of getting a seriously good ghost photo, and even then it’s just too easy to ruin the film. Plus, setting up the shot takes so long that whatever you were aimed at will have wandered off. Too much expense, too much trouble, for too little return. Not worth the bother.

Then along came digital. They see infrared all the time, and you can even frame a shot through a filter. I’ll deal with them next.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The orb that wasn’t (aren’t they all?).

One of the pictures I took of the ruined cottage showed something a little odd. To the right, just above the wall, is what appears to be an orb. What’s odd is that this is in broad daylight, no flash, no filter and no reason to see illuminated dust. Further, the orb appears to be distant, behind a fence post. I noticed nothing at the time.

Here it is enlarged.

Well, it’s definitely behind the fence post. It’s bright and circular. What might it be? Will I have to recant all I’ve said about orbs in the past? Noticing some features within the disc, I enlarged it further. Ignore the 'product placement'. I didn't put that there.

Here we see the mystic symbol ‘60’ within the orb’s disc.

That’s right, it’s a speed limit sign for the railway that runs behind the fence.

These signs are reflective but you don’t notice that in daylight. Because they reflect wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, into the infrared and ultraviolet, the digital camera does notice.

Such infrared/ultraviolet reflections are a common cause of ‘lights that weren’t there when the photo was taken’. They were there. Human eyes just can’t see them. Digital cameras see infrared and ultraviolet and not only at night. They see these wavelengths all the time. Normally, the intensity of light in a daylight shot overrides any image due to infrared, but once in a while a highly IR/UV-reflective surface will crop up, and the camera will show something you didn’t see.

So if a ghost is visible in the infrared, you won’t see them but your camera will. In daylight, that won’t be easy because they’d have to be intensely infrared to even show as an outline on the image. At night, or with an infrared filter by day, the image would show up better.

This wasn’t a ghost, it was a tin disc on a stick, but it illustrates the principle. Don’t give up looking just because the sun’s come up. Your camera is still able to see things you can’t.

At least I can still say with confidence that orbs are bunk.