Sunday, May 30, 2010

More dubious science.

It looks as if science has just given up these days. Instead of reason and logic, many now seem to be depending on 'This is how it is because we say so, just shut up and do as you are told'.

Those 'units per week' limits on alcohol consumption weren't the result of any research at all. They were made-up numbers. That 'five-a-day' rule for fruit and vegetables was made-up too. No research behind it at all. Second hand smoke has not a shred of evidence behind it. Third hand smoke is risible. Global warming is not actually happening - the whole thing is based on a short period of warming that ended a decade ago, and since then the planet has been cooling. It has been much hotter in the past according to those ice-core samples and life wasn't erased.

Even in the 'debunkers' camp, those who spend a lot of time trying to disprove every aspect of the paranormal, they're just not trying any more.

A group calling themselves scientists claim to have proved that those out-of-body experiences reported by people close to death are just sparks in a dying brain. Yet when you look at the report, they have proved no such thing.

What they did was to run brain scans on dying patients. A perfectly logical and sensible way to look for an explanation of near-death experiences. What they saw was a burst of furious brain activity in the unconscious patient, followed shortly by death.

None of the patients came back after that burst of activity so there are no reported visions or experiences to link to it. Furthermore, they describe the activity like so:

'We think the near-death experiences could be caused by a surge of electrical energy released as the brain runs out of oxygen,' Dr Chawla told The Times.

'As blood flow slows down and oxygen levels fall, the brain cells fire one last electrical impulse. It starts in one part of the brain and spreads in a cascade and this may give people vivid mental sensations.'

That does not sound like brain activity leading to coherent and remembered images. It sounds like the sort of random cascade that happens in cases of epilepsy.

They found a random cascade of last-burst activity in a dying brain. A final firing of neurons that have done their job and are shutting down forever. Not a series of logical and coherent pathways firing, just a last blast of random noise. None of the patients survived so there were no reported visions to link with this random noise.

From that, they conclude that they have explained the phenomenon known as near-death experience.

This is not science. This is starting with a conclusion and forcing a tenuous link from the data to pretend you've proved that conclusion. There is an awful lot of this about these days and it's time the higher echelons of science took these ludicrous experiments to task. Science seems to me to be in a seriously bad way nowadays. It's losing credibility at an alarming rate - and I say that as a scientist working on the paranormal, a field of study these same scientists deride as 'woo'.

It's not much fun battling sceptics and debunkers if they're not even going to try for the slightest shred of credibility. When nobody challenges the science, when those who do challenge it are simply labelled with whatever label they now apply to heretics and then ignored, then science is not science. Paranormal investigators are challenged on every detail and that is how it should be. It makes us take more precautions to rule out errors, and it makes us cautious in interpreting results. All branches of science must be subject to that scrutiny or there'll be more and more rubbish spouted by people who should know better.

If this slide into pretend science continues, the paranormal could well end up as the only credible branch left.

I don't think I'd like being mainstream.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An odd sort of thing.

It probably means nothing but the current weather (warm with occasional and unpredictable monsoons) leaves me with time to brood on little things.

In the UK, if you use a mobile (cell) phone to send a text message, but send it to a landline phone, there's no screen on the landline phone so the message can't be displayed. Instead, you get an automated call and a recorded voice reads out the number of the phone that sent the message, then reads the message.

I had one such call today. I have no idea who owns the phone it came from, the number is nowhere in my list of contacts. The message was short and enigmatic.

"Jim passed away this morning."

Now, I know several people called Jim, scattered around the country. There are even some overseas. One in particular is an uncle who is old and hasn't been well for some time. So what do I do? Phone back the number and say 'Who are you, and which Jim do you mean?' I have a reputation for being allegedly insensitive but that's a bit much even for me.

The alternative would be to phone every Jim I know with the following short exchange:

Jim: Hello?

Me: Oh, you're not dead then.


The one who doesn't answer gets a card. I could call it 'Funeral Roulette' but that would get me further accusations of insensitivity, I suspect.

Then again, it could have been a wrong number. Probably safest to do nothing and wait until someone doesn't turn up somewhere.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is it or isn't it?

This the the 'Wem Ghost', photographed in 1995 by Tony O'Rahilly while photographing the town hall as it burned in a fire. Apparently it was a real-film rather than a digital photo and while it could be faked using real film, it's very hard to do that without it being spotted. Digital fakery is easy, but apparently this image wasn't digital.

Now, someone claims to have debunked this photo. Brian Lear claims the girl's image appears in a 1922 postcard - the girl at the left of the picture.

Unfortunately these are the only images I have, the ones from the newspaper article I've linked to. I can't enlarge the postcard to see if it's the same girl so I'll take it on trust that the two girls look very similar. They certainly seem to be wearing the same clothes.

I'm not convinced that this is a debunking. I'm not convinced by the original photo either because I'm not aware of any checks made on the negatives. Even so, all I really see here is that the Wem Ghost was dressed in 1920's style and looks like - indeed might have been - the same girl from the Wem postcard printed some 75 years earlier.

There was speculation that the Wem ghost was Jane Churm, who accidentally set fire to an older town hall in the town in 1677. The correlation in dress between the 1920's postcard and the ghost photo suggests it wasn't - but it still does not prove that the ghost photo was faked.

It is possible that the ghost photo contains the image of that girl from the 1920's postcard. She was resident in the same town and we have no record of when she died. It might have been the day after the postcard photo was taken and she might have been haunting the town since then. So the Wem Ghost might indeed be that girl from the postcard.

Or it could have been faked by transposing the postcard image onto the burning town hall. I don't think her stance is the same in the ghost photo as in the postcard but I'd need better images of both to be sure. I also don't think a 1920's postcard photo would reproduce well enough to produce the ghost image. There should be visible grain in the image, and it would be different between the image of the girl (taken with 1920's film) and the image of the fire (taken with 1995 film).

Any competent photo technician could spot that. Hell, with images from 1920 film and 1995 film, anyone with a hand lens should be able to see it.

I'll look out for better quality images on the Internet. The Wem ghost photo won't be hard to find, but the postcard might be.

I'm not saying the ghost photo is real, but I don't believe this debunking is credible. The ghost photo, for me, stays in the 'not disproven' category.

UPDATE - The Shropshire Star is where this story originated. They have an enlarged image of the girl in the postcard and she does look very, very similar to the one in the ghost photo. Even down to the shadow across her face.

The case for 'fake' is very strong indeed for this one.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Something happened while I was asleep.

I feel as if I'm coming out of hibernation. For months, it has been freezing here. Far longer and far colder than usual. Only now is it warming up out there. Then we had the Government election that nobody won, and the lunacy that followed (and still follows) it. The paranormal seems to have been brushed aside - nobody has time any more.

Then again, nobody has much time for anything any more. Or anyone. People seem so tense, so rushed, so angry all the time. It does indeed sound like what Tom Sheepandgoats would call the 'end times'. Everyone is angry all the time and nobody seems to know what they are angry about.

There has been a proliferation of amateur psychological tricksters. Have you noticed, in a supermarket queue, the person behind taking small steps forward? It's an intimidation technique designed to make you hurry up. It works if you don't know about it. If you do know about it and are annoyed by it, the response is called 'precision packing' where every item must be tested in various orientations before placing it in the bag, and on no account must you be anywhere near ready to pay when the last item has come through.

By the time you put your credit card in the reader slot, they will be at your shoulder. That's when I turn around, look them in the eye and say, loudly;

"Would it be easier if I just told you the number, so you won't have to watch me type it in?"

You want to play psychological games? I like such games. Once they have withdrawn, red-faced, and I have paid and left, they still have to go through that same checkout, with the same checkout operator, the same customer waiting behind them, the same staff and customers on adjacent tills...

A small woman once decided I was in her way in the shop so she accelerated her trolley at me and looked sideways. I was supposed to panic and move aside. I stared straight at her. She lost. Cars, when overtaking, like to swerve in to assert their dominance. I have a rusty wreck so a few more dents won't trouble me so I swerve right back at them. It accelerates surprisingly fast too. I have followed people who tailgate, overtake with an inch clearance and then cut-in too tight for tens of miles. I have seen them slow to let me pass and speed up to lose me and I have stayed there, grinning in their mirrors, with no intention of doing anything more than scaring the living daylights out of them.

Psychological games are the only ones worth playing. Play them with me if you want, I like those games.

There's something deeper going on. People didn't used to cross the road without bothering to look. People didn't used to barge each other out of the way. People didn't used to try every trick to intimidate everyone they met. Cars didn't used to race at you if you were turning a junction well ahead of them. I'm not talking about twenty years ago. The difference is noticeable between this year and last. The world (at least, the UK) has become childish and pathetic. Everyone is out for themselves and cares not a fig for those around them. Okay, it means I get more justification for using voice-tone tricks and the Glare but really, those are for particularly objectionable people and troublesome students. Now, it seems everyone is asking for it.

What happened out there while I was homebound by ice? Did you all go mad or something?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The temperature has dropped below freezing and it's snow and hail here. There might be a reason for that.

The UK has just elected a new government, with a massive public voting declaration of 'don't care'. Nobody won it. There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes horsetrading in the last few days and now we will have a weak Conservative government propped up by Liberal Democrats until the whole lot collapses and we'll have to vote again. It shouldn't take long.

In this election, for the first time, a Green MP won a seat. Since then, the weather has returned to winter.

Last October our government met to discuss global warming and how much tax they could squeeze out of us for it. It snowed. The first time we'd seen snow in October for a very long time.

Then there was the Copenhagen meeting where lots of governments discussed global warming and how much tax they could squeeze out of us for it. We had the coldest and longest winter in memory and Washington looked like a scene from a natural-disaster movie. Around here, gardens that had been established for decades have been ruined by one single winter.

The tax issue mystifies me. How does taking more money from us solve anything? Are they going to bribe the planet to stay cool?

Every time the people of this planet get worked up about global warming, the temperature drops. I wonder if it's connected to Jung's 'collective unconscious' with perhaps some form of telekinesis thrown in. When so many people are trying to wish-away global warming, are they producing a cooling effect?

If so, it's a bad thing because the planet isn't warming.

Not when it's sub-zero in May.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Heavy Soul.

In 1907, Duncan MacDougall published a paper on the weight of the soul. Fortean Times carried an article on it in the latest issue and so does the Journal of Scientific Exploration this month.

In essence, he took volunteers who were doomed and laid them on a bed which was suspended on a scale. When they died, their body weight immediately declined by between 10 and 45 grams. The same test applied to dogs showed no weight loss on death. Then again, it was 1907 and a smaller animal's soul might not be detectable by the methods available then. It has not been repeated because Science doesn't like it.

Involuntary evacuation of bowel or bladder at death is of no relevance because that weight is still on the bed.

It looks as though the soul might have mass. Not very much, but it does suggest a cohesive existence in the physical world. If we have up to 40 grams of reality to deal with after death, then the lack of frequent manifestation is easy to explain. We end up as substantial as fog, and must draw on external energy to appear.

Scientifically, it all fits together but Science will never recognise that.