Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Random thoughts. Can you hear them?

I'm still spending a lot of time fighting the garden (most of which has now been deleted). I'd like to plant fresh things but I'm not yet confident the frosts have passed. The snow has at least gone but it's still pretty cold.

This isn't 'climate change'. I remember a fishing trip in April in the 1980's where the line froze to the rod rings. I also remember a May 1st, about ten or twelve years ago, where I had to seek shelter in a hurry because of hailstones that came down like buckshot. They actually punched holes in many plants.

The last ten years or so have seen warm April weather but it's just a natural cycle and nothing to get all worked up about. Unless, of course, you've set up a career or a tax income based entirely on lunatic scare stories. As, indeed, many have these days, and not just on climate change. Scares range from third hand smoke (comical) to deleting salt from the diet (dangerous) and they are everywhere now.

Funnily enough, nobody seems to be doing much about pollution, which is a real problem. They're all too involved in what kind of light bulbs we use and never seem to mention that the low-energy ones are full of mercury vapour. Whatever you do, don't break one of those things. They are far, far worse than the old filament types.

The logic has gone from science and the world, I think. This week I read an article in 'Fortean Times' about telepathy. It's not a subject I study but it's interesting because there are tantalising hints that there might be something in it. No proof, just hints.

My only possible experience was when my grandmother died. I knew she had gone even though I was hundreds of miles away at the time and when I was informed of her time of death, the time matched my experience exactly. However, that is not evidence of telepathy, but of an entirely different phenomenon which I've experienced more and more since then. Personally, I have not experienced anything I could definitely call telepathy.

The problem I have with studies on things like telepathy is not that they are too likely to find an effect, but that they are too likely to find no effect.

The current method for testing telepathy is, basically, this:

The receiver wears headphones transmitting white noise, half a ping-pong ball taped over each eye and is in a dimly-lit room with no contact possible with the outside. Okay. They can't hear or see anything.

The sender chooses one of four pictures and attempts to send it to the receiver. Then the receiver comes out of their sensory deprivation room and, with the sender cleared away so they can't give any hints, points out the picture they 'saw'.

On pure chance they would choose the right picture 25% of the time. Statistically that is correct. However, it assumes something. Something very important.

It assumes everyone is a telepath.

It assumes everyone can 'send' and everyone can 'receive'. Well, I don't seem to be able to do either of those things. Some might be able to receive but not send and vice versa.

The 25% result due to chance must be modified by the proportion of people in the population who are actually able to use telepathy. What proportion of the population can do that? I have no idea and neither does anyone else. Every test assumes it is a standard human trait.

Which is rather like assuming every human can run a mile in four minutes, or pull a railway carriage, or land an arrow in the bullseye every time. A few people can but most people can't.

I suspect telepathy is like that. I am certain that mediumship is like that. Using randomly selected people means that the few who might be genuine are lost among the noise of those who have no ability at all. So when a telepathy study turns up a 38% success rate, that is not 'just above chance'. That is astoundingly above chance.

What to do about it? I leave that to those who actually study telepathy but I would suggest devising some sort of 'pre-test' procedure which can select for those who show promise as 'senders' and those who would be best placed as 'receivers'.

The sceptics will say that this is introducing bias, but how so? If telepathy is not real then no amount of pre-selection will result in improved results. The results would be the same every time if there is no effect, no matter what criteria you use to select the participants.

If there is a real effect and if it is not in every person, then pre-selection will show an improved set of results over random selection. It will weed out those with little or no ability in the same way that successive races weed out the slow runners until only the fastest are left. If there is no real effect (as in, if everyone always ran at the same speed anyway or if nobody can transmit thought) there will be no difference.

So, take the participants who scored accurately and test them again as a subset. If telepathy is not real then the success rate will be about the same. If it is real then the selected group will score much higher than the random group. Treat it like a competition.

Worth considering, perhaps?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


My new decking is covered in snow. All preparation for the greenhouse has stopped.

Mood: murderous.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Corporeal visitor.

This little fellow lives in my garden. He's less than an inch long (excluding tail which is twice as long as he is) and he's photographed in the act of raiding the bird-feeders.

He wasn't bothered by my presence and I like him, so he can stay.

I'll put in a lower-down feeder for him.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ghosts and aliens and filled-in ponds.

I have been scarce lately because of the effort involved in entirely remodelling the garden. The pond is filled in, the wrecked lower lawn dug out, the dead plants bagged and ready to take to the dump. I'm putting in decking - or rather, someone who knows what they are doing is putting in decking and I'm getting in their way. For a wooden structure, there seems to be rather a lot of concrete involved.

There is some haste in this because the weather forecast says we are to expect snow next week. That's nothing unusual, I recall having to seek rapid shelter because of a hail shower that punched my hostas full of holes one year and felt like it was doing the same to me. It was the first of May, I think it was 2001 or maybe 2002. So it is not 'climate change' but it will soon be illegal to say that.

Garden centres and supermarkets have been selling garden plants for over a month, but only an idiot would buy them now. Unless he had a greenhouse, which I will order as soon as the weather calms down. I decided on polycarbonate rather than glass because it's less likely to break in a hard frost, or when rampaging mobs of drooling children-shaped demonic entities decide that throwing stones at random strangers' property is some kind of a good idea.

I might also build a pillory, in case I need it for something.

It has been an excessively long break from investigating but it's not just me who is affected. There are few reports in the news these days, nobody is willing to freeze to death on the off-chance of a photo that no sceptic will believe anyway. What is interesting is that my 'guest' appears to be active again. It's been silent throughout the cold weather and I thought it had left.

There are far more reports of ghostly activity when the temperature is comfortable than when it is cold. I'd always put this down to the investigators, rather than the ghosts, and assumed that cold weather might not affect activity anywhere near as much as it would affect those looking for it. Then again, ghostly activity is associated with a drop in temperature so maybe ghosts (human or otherwise) don't just absorb heat, but require it. The ability to generate a temperature differential might be important. That would be harder to do in severe cold and might also be hard in severe heat. This will take some thinking about.

On the UFO side of things, an American professor says that the subject should be studied properly, in universities. I agree absolutely. Sceptics will howl 'Waste of time' because they are true believers in what they think science should be about.

Science is, or should be, about investigating. Many people have reported seeing something unusual. Dismissing them all as cranks is not science. Maybe what they see is not from another world, maybe it's a phenomenon of this world and if that's the case, should we ignore a natural event on the say-so of true believers in the logic of 'I haven't seen it so it's not real'?

Maybe, just maybe, some of those sightings are totally inexplicable by science as we currently understand it.

The sceptics will say 'Then we should ignore it. It's inconvenient. Stick your fingers in your ears and sing "La-la-la". It's not real. Stay with the herd.'

I say, that's when science gets really interesting.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The death of education.

Another birthday passed. Still, it's better than the alternative. Perhaps it's time to give some consideration to what I plan to do with my life. Then again, I think that way every year... for about a day.

I have to admit, my life is considerably better than the one facing this country's youth. They now leave school fully versed in Socialist dogma and the tenets of Climatology but barely able to read or add up. When I went to school, it was clear that we were there to learn. Political indoctrination was around, depending who was in power at the time but it was never so blatant and never so intense. Teachers were allowed to enforce discipline but now, any teacher who tries that is likely to end up in court on child abuse charges. Over half the schools in this country have a 'no contact' policy which means that teachers cannot lay a finger on the horrible little monsters in their charge, on pain of instant dismissal and arrest. The outcome was predictable from the start.

Even New Scientist, a magazine I thought was about science, push the Green God's agenda with religious fervour while decrying religion as mumbo-jumbo. They have reacted to calls that the actual scientific debate around global warming be taught in schools (rather than This Is So, just shut up and believe) by saying they are the same as teaching creationism.

So if you don't believe in the global warming religion, you are a heretic and must be burned. I have a very good book on the Spanish Inquisition they might like to read.

For me, creationism in schools is no problem as long as it's in religion class, not science class. It is religion, after all. I don't demand that all religions give equal sermon-time to 'alternative interpretations' so I regard it as unfair that religion demands time in science class. So yes, teach creation, but in the right classroom. Give the children all the information and let them decide for themselves which to go with.

I know, Archbishop Dawkins of the Church of Nothing would be incensed at that attitude. To him, people must be forced to not-believe for their own good. Just as Tomas de Torquemada forced people to believe in Catholicism for their own good. Exactly the same, but he'll never see it.

Let's face it. It really doesn't matter most of the time. Whether a plumber or a barrister or a policeman or even a medic believes in creation or spontaneous generation of the universe is of no relevance at all to their jobs. If you are a creationist, you're not likely to want a job studying evolution. If you take the scientific path, you are not likely to study for holy orders. It really does not matter in the slightest.

You can even be devoutly religious and not follow the '6000 years' thing. That was calculated by a man, not a god, and men are fallible.

So I would say, give all those children all the information from all sides and let them work out which they will follow. Just... in the right classes.

Now we have a government who demand that children shop their parents for smoking, believe without question in the Climatology doctrine, nag their families with utterly inaccurate and frankly dangerous assertions on salt and fat and meat consumption, and learn about all forms of sex from the age of five.

Writing and maths are not important any more. New Scientist and Archbishop Dawkins are fretting over creationism and demanding everyone follow science, but have failed to notice that nobody is teaching science any more.

When I was at school, the acceleration due to gravity was 9.8 m/s/s (how fast something accelerates when you drop it, no matter what it weighs). Now, children in school are being told it's 10 m/s/s because it makes the sums easier. So if you have gained weight, have no fear. You have not gained mass. Gravity has increased, which just makes you seem heavier.

This is far more serious than whether the children learn about God. They are being told factually incorrect information in science class, facts that apply to the here and now - and New Scientist is worried that they might learn something wrong about the past?

Where is the credibility of that science class when they change definite physical laws to make the sums easier? There is no child in the class without a calculator. I didn't have one when I learned to work out square roots and quadratic equations on paper. Calculators were not allowed in exams then. Make the sums easier? Calculators already do that. This is not about making life easier. It is pure dumbing-down of an entire generation.

A supermarket chain has complained that candidates for jobs are increasingly useless. A supermarket chain. What must the universities be thinking - oh, I forgot, they think only about money these days. Once places of study and exploration of science, they are now businesses where income trumps truth. The stuff coming out labelled 'research' nowadays might as well have been written by the funding company's marketing department and in some cases, probably was. There is little science left in universities, and less in New Scientist.

So we return to the days of Copernicus and Galileo, where individuals free of State interference perform real experiments with no outside influence forcing their conclusions.

Lucky for me, I'm already there.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Twiddling thumbs.

31st March 2010. Yesterday, and this is what it looks like here. Not too deep, but it's back. It's melting again but slowly and I'm wishing I had put a bet on for a white Easter. It could still happen.

I defy anyone to report a 'cold spot' anywhere within five hundred miles. Nobody could possibly tell if the temperature dropped. It's already low enough to numb exposed skin. I also defy anyone to try to convince me that the world is warming. I can't remember the last time we had a white Easter here. My clematis should be rocketing with new growth by now - it's barely formed buds. Daffodils are only now rising above the soil. I still have snowdrops!

As for investigating hauntings - not a chance. A night out in this weather and I'd be the haunting.

I think I'll put a greenhouse where that pond was. With a heater in it.

I've just realised something. I often label photos with an abbreviated date, day/month/year, two digits each. 31st March 2010 comes out as 310310. Anyone know anything about numerology? It's interesting, but far too mathematical for me.