Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Language teachers

I have, in the past, made abortive attempts to learn other languages. I even tried Welsh, which was brave because a mispronounciation can cause you to swallow your tongue. I think it's the only language where grammatical mistakes can be fatal.

Language classes are usually dull. Make them more like this, I say!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas visitor.

Interesting this should show up today, of all days.

I hold no special Christmas feeling here, because this date for the birth of Christ was set by the early Church to overlay the old Pagan religious ceremonies linked to the winter solstice and the lengthening of daylight hours afterwards. It isn't actually Christ's birthday.

Nonetheless, a hospital monitor seemed to show an angelic vision just before a girl, who was due to be taken off her ventilator and allowed to die, made an astonishing recovery.

I think it's just sunlight, based on the reflection in the floor which makes clear that the light is on the wall, not in front of it. Note that the corner set into that wall does not reflect so brightly in the floor.

All the same, the girl recovered so whether it was an angel or not, she and her family certainly had a happier Christmas than they expected.

Which makes a nice change from all the Christmas-Eve murders I've been reading about today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Silent nights, unfortunately.

No luck with my own investigations lately, and I haven't found who owns the field where Robert the Bruce's battle was fought, so I had a look on Flickr for ghost photos instead.

Over 3000 responses to 'ghost' and from my point of view, very disappointing. All those I saw were fakes - they don't pretend to be otherwise, they are arty fakes. Although I rather liked this one and wonder how it was done. I'm thinking chicken wire supports and careful angling of the shot.

Anyway, the UK is about to close for the day. Nothing sensible will happen before the fifth of January now. Not that there's been a great deal of sense around lately anyway, what with bans on everything and a new stupid law every day. On Friday, the Sales begin and I'll be keeping well out of the way. People go into a frenzy for things they don't need just because they're cheap, and it can be infectious so it's best not to go near them.

I hope to get out and scout a couple of locations but at this time of year, the chance of being interrupted by wandering drunks is very high. If the weather holds, there are one or two remote places.

On the other hand, I do have some very nice whisky here and it's warm inside. A night off seems in order.

Merry Christmas to those who aren't offended by it, and Bah Humbug to those who are.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back to the river.

Low light image of where I think the ford was located in 1745.
Photo taken an hour after sunset this evening.

I wonder if anyone remembers, this time last year, I visited a spot beside the river where the Jacobites crossed to attack the Macleod’s men? The date was either the 22nd or 23rd December 1745; historical records vary on this.

There was another battle here, on the 24th December 1307, when Robert the Bruce defeated the Comyns. That took place in a field to the other side of town which I have not yet visited.

It seems then, as now, the Scots took to fighting a lot at this time of year. Maybe it’s their favourite way to keep warm. Although that would not explain the Battle of Barra (May, 1308) or the battle of Harlaw, (July, 1411), both within a couple of miles of here. It’s usually reasonably warm during those months.

I have, tonight, revisited the river site and again I have little to report. I still wonder if I’m at the right spot – there have been a lot of changes here in two and a half centuries. The ford is long gone, there is a railway bridge and a road bridge – the second road bridge to be built here – so the original site of the ford is very difficult to pin down. The shallowest region of the river is currently beneath the road bridge but it could have silted up as a result of the presence of the bridge, or it could have been filled during construction. So I’m not certain the place is correct.

I wasn’t expecting ghosts, although there were a few deaths during the Jacobite crossing and of course, during the construction and reconstruction of the bridge. What I was hoping for was a replay phenomenon. No actual spirits, just a recording that would show no interaction with the observer. Once more I was disappointed but as long as the weather holds, I can try again tomorrow night. A trip to the 1307 site on the 24th is also possible although I will need to find out who owns the field and secure permission to visit, if I can. Farmers here have a habit of chasing off interlopers with buckshot so it’s best to make sure.

Searching on the history of this place is difficult because of the vagaries of such deep history: the mysterious mounds known as the Bass and the Conyng have not yet been explained, despite some historians’ insistence that they are mediaeval motte-and-bailey structures, even though they appear to have been in existence around 881 AD and possibly earlier. The Conyng is rumoured to contain the remains of a certain King Aodh. As far as I am aware, neither the Bass nor the Conyng have ever been excavated. Since they are now surrounded by a cemetery, in current use, it would take a very brave archaeologist to insist on disturbing that ground.

The Bass, with the Conyng hidden behind it.

Looking down on the Conyng from the top of the Bass.

This place was known to have Pictish inhabitants, and I have already posted some of the stones they left behind. So the history here goes a long way into BC dates and hardly anyone bothered to keep decent records until relatively recently. There is a lot of interesting stuff compressed into a very small area.

The Bass and Conyng can wait - tomorrow it's back to the riverside for me. It might be a futile investigation but it doesn't even incur travel costs, so it's worth a look.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

NDE studied by science at last.

At last, someone's set up a serious and reasonably large study into near-death experiences. This is to be run over a whole range of hospitals and will use some good science to look into the matter.

It'll take time but it will be interesting to see what they find. It'll be especially interesting to find out whether they manage to publish the findings.

Firefox takes over.

I have used Internet Explorer since its inception, mainly because it came free with every computer I've bought. However, lately it seems there's been a bug which puts computers at a high risk from hackers, and since I operate my bank accounts online, I switched to Firefox for safety.

It's pretty good, but it takes a bit of getting used to. For one thing it seems to need plugins installed for all the things I took for granted - flash video, etc - and it'll take a while to sort all that out.

It is faster, but then I haven't yet bogged it down with a cache I rarely clear and massive amounts of cached pages I never bother to wipe.

All the same, if you bank or shop online, it might be better not to do it through Internet Explorer until that security thing is fixed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blue cars and rigid logic.

Suppose you sit at the roadside for an hour and watch the cars go by. Suppose every car that passes while you're there is a blue Ford. Is it reasonable to conclude that (a) all cars are blue Fords or (b) that no cars other than blue Fords can use that road? Or something else?

Suppose I buy a blue car and paint it red. I have therefore replicated a red car. Is it then reasonable to conclude that all red cars are fakes, that they are all actually overpainted blue cars?

All of the above are patently ridiculous. I can't conclude from watching one stretch of road for one hour that blue cars are all there is to see. Just because I can overpaint a blue car red does not mean that all red cars are overpainted blue ones.

And yet those are perfectly correct logical deductions based on the inflexible application of logic to a limited dataset. They are exactly the approach used by sceptics and by those we might call 'militant atheists'. That last distinction is important - I consider myself atheist but I'm not intent on converting anyone else to my way of thinking, or even interested in trying. Militant atheists put considerable effort into conversion of others into what can only be considered a sort of paradoxical religion. An unquestioning belief in non-belief based on the pronouncements of a few Wise Ones who claim to have Seen the Unlight.

Okay. I'm in a bad mood. I was looking forward to the Geminids and that huge full moon but cloud cover wrecked both. Now we have fog so dense I can't see the house across the street. So someone's going to take the brunt of it.

James Randi believes that because he can fake a bent key, that means Uri Geller is also faking it. (For the record, I think he probably is too but that's beside the point of this argument). Randi is painting the blue car red here and concluding that because he can replicate something by trickery, everyone who does it is also using trickery.

Likewise, all those stage magicians who 'replicate' astrology by giving out generic, newspaper-style 'readings' assume that because they can fake it, all astrology must be fake. Cold reading can give a good impression of communication with the dead, but to assume from that that all mediums are fakes is, once more, painting the blue car red.

Perfectly logical deductions from a limited dataset. Oh, I can't blame them for it. The paranormal, by definition, isn't a defined science. I can't call a ghost to order. Neither can any real medium. I don't know what ghosts are made of so I can't devise a machine that will definitely, undoubtedly, tell you when one is present or let you visualise them. I honestly don't know whether Uri Geller was ever able to bend metal or whether he can do it now. I have doubts on the spoon-bending, but one thing I do know is that any paranormal ability depends on a calm mind.

One thing that's common in reported ghost sightings is that when the subject is asked what they were thinking about, the usual answer is 'nothing in particular'. Their minds were relaxed, not concentrated on anything and therefore more open and receptive. A busy mind ignores extraneous information. In particular, it ignores the unexpected. A passing shadow will be dismissed in favour of the task at hand. I think that's why ghost reports are declining now that people are in general very concerned about matters financial. The stress of being forced to perform on demand will make most fail and will make some fake it to get a 'result'. But this is digressing from the point.

In the latest Fortean Times (issue 244), there is a long article on Richard Dawkins, the Archbishop of Atheism. It makes some very good points. The author sounds religious and I am not, and yet the author is not expounding the fundamentalist religious 'oh no it isn't' argument, but making logical and sensible arguments.

One of Dawkins' principal contentions is that since it would take a long time for an intelligent being to evolve, and longer still for one to evolve who was capable of creating a universe, then a being such as God is impossible because the universe has not existed long enough for him to have formed.

There is an obvious logical flaw here, but before I continue, let me just say that I have no truck with the literal six day creation followed by a sit down and a cup of tea scenario. That is obviously allegory and is not meant to be taken literally, and has been disproved to death. The best estimate at the moment - and without a time machine we'll never know for certain - is the big bang theory. That does pose a problem for a pure science world view in that we don't know where the matter came from, we don't know why it was compressed into a point and we don't know why it went bang. 'Let there be light' is an equally valid stance at the moment.

(side note: it's not possible to take a time machine back to watch the big bang because before it happened, all the universe was in that dot. Any time machine arriving there would be mashed into quarks inside the dot. Outside the dot was the whatever-it-is outside our current universe, and possibly a God who lit the blue touch paper. Or maybe not.)

The logical flaw is perhaps best described by a little story. Imagine, if you will, a man with a tube full of single celled organisms. He builds a little world for his pets in which they reproduce at such speed he is able to watch them form larger organisms, until they develop an intelligent species, who then set out to study their world.

Although our experimenter gives his pets clues to his existence, they don't believe him. The world, they argue, has physical limits that do not permit the existence of the experimenter. Besides, it hasn't existed long enough for the experimenter to have evolved.

Therein lies the fallacy. The experimenter set the physical limits of the world so he is not constrained by them. He's outside it, looking in. He also had already developed to his current state before time began for the world he created.

So if there is a God, he was already God before the big bang and therefore before time began for our universe. Physical laws do not apply to a being that is outside the universe and able to look in on all of it. God is not disproven by Dawkins.

Dawkins does not succeed in disproving God because it cannot be done. I choose not to believe (with hedged bets just in case) but I cannot prove there is no God. People are alive for a short time. We see that road for an hour and count those blue cars and think that's all there is. It does not occur to most of us to look around the corner and see what else there might be, or where the road might lead. Some are scared of what it might mean. Some flatly refuse to believe there even is a corner - and if there is, it's blue cars all the way.

Whether there is a God or not I can't say. I am, however, certain that there's more to that road than just the blue cars and I'm trying very hard to see around that corner.

There is more than what our five senses can detect. Science already knows this to some extent but has grown old and complacent and introspective. Whatever happened to 'research for the sake of it'?

Don't watch the cars go past. Look at where the road is going.


Every night has been overcast with thick cloud and rain. So, no sign of the Moon and no sign of the Geminids from anywhere near here.

I think I'll have to go and punch a sceptic.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bad moon rising?

The moon's orbit around the earth is elliptical, not circular, so sometimes it's closer than at other times. Tonight is one of those times.

The unusual part of this otherwise perfectly normal event is that the moon is also full tonight. If it's not cloudy, we'll see the biggest full moon in a long time.

The full moon has psychological effects on many people - real effects, psychologicaly measurable, and not usually good. We call raving madmen 'lunatics' for a good reason.

So if you're out watching the moon tonight, don't forget to watch out for lunatics too!
Oh and don't forget the Geminid meteors. They start tonight and usually last for three nights.
Update at 8pm Saturday: It was overcast with rain all last night and it looks like being the same again tonight. If anyone gets any good photos, let me know!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Santa's clock is six months out.

Apparently, science has been studying religion again. Specifically, the star that was supposed to lead the Wise Men to the birth of Christ.

It seems that there was a bright conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on 17th June, 2BC. That's not far out. Certainly, since the calculation of our current calendar took place long after the BC/AD changeover year but long before the invention of computers, an error of two years is pretty good.

Finding that there was a 'star' at that time does not, of course, prove that it's all true but it does show that at least part of the story is accurate. Whether there were wise men and whether they followed that star or not, there certainly was an unusually bright 'star' in the sky at around the right time.

I am always intrigued to find scientists studying something they generally deny exists. There are some religious scientists but these astronomers, I think, are not. That these scientists are not students of religion is clear:

'December is an arbitrary date we have accepted but it doesn't really mean that is when it happened.

No, the date was chosen deliberately by the early Church to override an important pagan festival that was already in place, at the winter solstice and the three days after that. It never actually had anything to do with the birth of Christ. Just like Easter (a fertility festival) and Halloween (a cleansing ritual at the end of harvest: Celtic New Year), and others, the Church dates were set deliberately to swamp out the older religions. The dates don't mean a thing.

What this does mean, for those of you looking forward to Christmas, is that you've missed it. Sorry. It was six months ago.

Well, probably, anyway.

This can't be good for me.

I haven't been here much lately because I'm working on a recorders and microphones section for the second edition of 'ghosthunting', and I'm trying not to get into excessive detail. Well, okay, I already did. I'm trying to make it less boring which is hard because the detail doesn't bore me.

I have, while working on this, just been scared half to death.

MySpace (I have a page there but haven't looked in for months) just sent out an Email headed
"Hi Romulus Crowe, have our photographers spotted you yet?" (I added the comma. The senders don't seem to know what they are).


I know about Google Earth and their mission to photograph everyone and everything. I have already ducked one of their camera cars. I had no idea MySpace were in on this too.

Fortunately it was a false alarm. They are 'catching the hottest people at hotter parties' and since I am no friend of either heat or parties, it is unlikely they'll happen across me.

...on the other hand, it now occurs to me that I should be on film so that someone, sometime, will be able to verify that my ghost is really me, someday. I'm going to have to think about that. I'm not used to being in front of the camera.

So. What's a 'smile' again?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Outside temperature is -5C/23F so I'm browsing the news tonight.

Some time ago, so long ago I haven't been able to find it, I mentioned one of those experiments where one person wears virtual reality goggles, and someone else has cameras linked to those goggles. The effect is that the person with the VR goggles has the sensation of seeing themselves from outside their body and actually feels as though they are outside their body. At the time, it was touted as proof that out-of-body experiences don't happen. That they are illusion.

My response was that it proved nothing of the kind. It proved only that the sensations reported by those who claim out-of-body experience (OOB) can be replicated using technology. Nothing more. It had no bearing on OOB, ghosts, the soul, nothing. It was just a clever technological illusion. Well, I thought no further about it.

It's come up again, and this time I've thought about it some more (they're not making silly claims so I've been able to read it more calmly).

The report says that those who experience this artificial OOB effect report a sense of ownership of the body they 'inhabit' through the illusion. That it becomes theirs, even if it's someone of a different race and/or gender, or even a plastic dummy. The researchers plan to use it to attempt to treat sufferers of anorexia and bulimia, to correct their body image. Worth a try. It might work, it might not, but at least it's not drugs.

However, it made me think. If the mind can be so easily disconnected from the body, why is nobody apparently following up the implications of that? From where I'm standing, it has some pretty big implications.

Okay, I'm biased because of my particular interest but even so, the implications are there. A readily disconnectable mind/body pair suggests firstly that they might well be separate things (something psychology and neuroscience have been known to fight over) and secondly, that they are not particularly firmly connected in the first place.

So, rather than debunking OOB, these experiments increase the possibility that there is something real happening in those reports. It also puts the credibility of ghosts, the soul, and even (whisper it) religion up a notch. The sceptics will scoff, but let them.

In these experiments, the brain does not leave the body. Neither does the mind, if you'll allow me the assumption that these are separate things for the sake of this argument. This is not an OOB, it's just an illusion. The mind is not transferred into the other's body. All that happens is that sensory input from one person goes to another person's mind. No telepathy, no ghostly wandering, no Ka, no soul, just wires. This experiment doesn't prove or disprove anything supernatural--it wasn't intended to--but it does suggest another possible line of research.

What is interesting is that one person's mind can so readily accept that it is in a place other than in its own body. There is no resistance. There is no screaming madness at the 'wrongness' of it. It's just accepted and the recipient of the illusion genuinely feels as though they are in another body. Just like changing into a new and unfamiliar suit of clothes: they feel a bit odd at first but you soon get used to them.

I have no personal experience of OOB's and no religious agenda so I don't seek to convince anyone of the reality of those things. I have yet to be absolutely convinced myself. However, if the mind can accept that it is apparently outside the body and not find that situation uncomfortable, doesn't that at least make you wonder why?

Why would the mind be so capable of dealing with that?