Monday, November 29, 2010

Double standards.

I've already mentioned the study on precognition that looks remarkably well done. Last week's New Scientist (issue dated 20 Nov 2010) mentioned it too, in dismissive terms. The scientific world's analysis of any such study is 'It simply cannot be' and that's the end of it. The New Scientist editorial goes so far as to claim that investigators set up some kind of magical sensory adaptation in volunteers with half a ping pong ball taped over each eye, and white noise in the ears.

In fact, those conditions are used to be certain that the subject could not have heard or seen anything that might clue them in to what they were supposed to receive telepathically. Far from being a magical ritual set up by investigators, they are a response to the scientific world's insistence that the experimental procedures are absolutely cheat-proof.

Yet now, these methodologies, brought in as a result of mainstream insistence, are held up as proof of the lunacy of paranormal investigation. Doublethink is everywhere these days.

Yes, we have to take special care in any investigation, not only because we are guaranteed to meet a wall of 'I don't believe it' no matter what we do, but because there are cheats out there. Lots of cheats. Some very clever ones. Some have become famous by convincing most of the world that stage magic is real magic, even after regular debunking. So yes, we have to be very careful in our methods.

Taping half-balls over eyes might seem like overkill but cheats have been known to adjust blindfolds so they can see. To have that cautionary experimentation referred to as if it is some kind of arcane ritual simply serves to demonstrate the blinkers worn by mainstream science. If they cannot find fault in that study on precognition, they will use derision and scorn to belittle the whole field.

In that same issue is an article on quantum physics, which claims to have sent particles back in time to interact with themselves. No scoffing from New Scientist here. This claim is lauded as a great breakthrough. I admit that the details of quantum physics is way over my head but having read the article twice, I cannot see where the 'back in time' part fits in. Maybe that's just me.

So, in one issue, there are two articles on, effectively, time shifting in which an event that has not yet occurred shows an effect in the present. One is considered a great breakthrough, the other is the babbling of the spooky brigade.

There is really nothing that can be done about personal prejudice. If, faced with correctly performed experiments, someone wants to resort to abuse and misrepresentation to support their preconceived notions, then why bother arguing with them? Nothing will change their minds. You might as well try to persuade the Pope to convert to Buddhism. Or bang your head on a wall.

I choose to spend my time investigating things that mainstream science simply dismisses. Will I ever persuade any of the mainstream to take any of it seriously? Probably not. It no longer matters to me. My own curiosity is the only drive I need. So, scoff away, pretend I'm not here.

The only other thing I need is some decent weather. Cold and damp might be fine for ghosts but not for me. It doesn't do much for expensive electronics either.

Just as well I don't have deadlines.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

God and gods.

I haven't been to the lab for a while. I have things to do that require me to shift my sleeping pattern away from nocturnal and it's not easy. It hasn't worked yet.

So I have had time to think. And read blogs.

I read a lot on ancient Celtic religion and other things that come under the 'Pagan' banner, as well as on modern religions. I am not religious, neither am I atheist. Pascal's wager states that belief is better than non-belief because if there is no God, it doesn't matter - but if there is, it matters a lot.

Pascal was wrong. You can't just say you believe, you either do or you don't and if there is a God, he will know. So if you don't believe, don't waste your time pretending. It's not going to work. You might as well enjoy some debauchery, drunkenness and devilment because you're going to Hell anyway. So I didn't take up Pascal's wager even though I don't have time for any of those other things.

I am not a believer. I am also not a fervent non-believer. I am an apathist. I don't care whether there is a God or not, I'm an outside observer. However, I am very interested in the reasons people believe or don't and in the structures of religions. A study conducted some time ago suggested that there was a genetic component to belief and that priests were likely to beget more priests. That's bad news if you're Catholic because your priesthood has been busy wiping out their own genetic predisposition to the priesthood. All they have now are politicians and paedophiles.

Maybe I'm looking for something, maybe I'm just curious. I don't know. One thing that came up on Tom Sheepandgoats blog led to me wondering if there was a subliminal reason I left the church in my youth. On the back wall of the church I visited were the Ten Commandments (Exodus ch. 20). The second one says 'No graven images - you worship a graven image and you're hot pitchfork fodder, matey' or words to that effect. At the front of the church was a carving of Jesus on the cross. A graven image, and we all had to bow before it. Perhaps my subconscious thought the dichotomy was just too much.

Anyway, I left faith and became a 'don't care'. Even so, my interest remained. The thought processes were fired up again by a post on Tessa Dick's blog.

What I chiefly noticed about all the other gods, Pagan, Roman, Greek, Norse, all of them (before Gerald Gardner's New Age revision of the Pagan faith) was that these gods had to be appeased rather than worshipped. There were gods of war and of storms and all sorts of nasty things and if they didn't get what they wanted, people got hurt. This was more a Mafia of gods than any sort of benevolent father figure.

The Abrahamic god structure through the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all depended on one god (they call it by different names but it acts much the same way) who basically says 'Follow me, be nice to each other and you're in. Oh, and smite the unbeliever while you're at it.' I am, so far, unsmited but with all those religions out there it's only a matter of time. One thing the Abrahamic religions state, unlike the rest, is that their God will not whack them just for fun.

All of these trace back to something called a War in Heaven in which many angels decided they could do better than their creator and staged a takeover bid. They failed and were cast out. Not to Hell. To Earth. They weren't the first.

The best known is, of course, Lucifer but he wasn't one of those who first came down in defiance of law. Nor was he the serpent in Eden. He was still allowed into Heaven in Job's time, at least. According to the book of Enoch (not in the current Bible), it was Semjaza and eighteen others, plus many unnamed ones, who came down to Earth and took wives, giving rise to the Nephilim or giants, depending on the version you have. The Nephilim eventually died out and the angels involved were fired.

They weren't killed. Separated from their source of power they would be limited in what they could do but they were most likely still immortal. So they're still around.

Could they have set up their own godlike structures? They knew how to do it, they were trained by the best. After the heavenly war they would have been joined by many others. In Solomon's time, according to Goetia (definitely not part of the Bible, but part of Lemegeton which won't be found in any devout Christian library, although you can get it on Amazon), seventy-two of the fallen asked to endure penance so they could go home. Solomon sealed them in a brass casket and threw them into a lake beside Babylon. The Babylonians, thinking he was hiding treasure, eventually retrieved the casket and opened it and the compressed fallen angels, by now driven nuts, escaped. Shades of Pandora's Box?

What interests me is the way it all fits together. Most of the pantheistic gods can be somewhat petty at times and none of them have the omnipotence and all-over power of the one God. Each of the gods in a pantheon is a specialist. None of them - not even the leader - is all-powerful and none are omnipresent. Tales of Zeus/Jupiter producing children from human women matches Abrahamic tradition of angels - not God - doing the same. God only does this once and even then it's not absolutely certain he was the father. Nowadays he'd be paying maintenance anyway.

It's an enormous jigsaw puzzle but the pieces fit together gradually. Solomon and the seventy-two fallen angels, Pandora's box. The Nephilim, and Leda and the swan. Immortals cast to Earth with limited powers and pantheons of gods with one power each. Pantheons that come and go - Norse gods, Roman and Greek, changing names and moving to a new patch just as businesses do nowadays.

I am not convinced that this stems from a God. Before the Abrahamic religions, there was one that regarded the snake as a carrier of wisdom. It is logical, therefore, that the new religion would try to discredit the old by casting the snake in the role of deceiver. Whether that is what actually happened, thousands of years ago, is impossible to say. Nevertheless, it must be included as a possibility.

It's just that there are so many coincidences in these things. The dates of festivals are irrelevant - Easter is there to overshadow the spring equinox, Christmas to cover the winter solstice (the holly is not of Christian origin, but stems from the Pagan battle between the Holly King and the Oak King, and you are probably happier not knowing where the tree decorations originate). Even Halloween was once just Celtic New Year. There is considerable overlap in religion as the new always strives to eradicate the old.

Still, there is too much overlap to ignore. Goetia/Clavicula Salomonis and the story of Pandora do not reference each other at all. Neither do the tales of Zeus as a lusty swan and those of fallen angels taking wives. Hercules and the Nephilim. I have seen no connections made between these.

There is much in folklore and religion that should be studied seriously but is not. Science dismisses without thought far too many things that really should be examined. Sure, they might turn out to be of no importance but can we really decide that with a snort and a sneer?

Is that modern science? All too often, I fear it is.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Who saw this one coming?

At last there has been a scientific study of premonition that was so well set up that not even the sceptics can tear it down.

There was no fault in the methodology, although nobody predicted anything really worth knowing - just which words would be chosen and where a randomly-placed picture would be. An attempt to replicate it over the internet failed, but the effect might be distance-limited so replication should really follow the format of the original experiment, with subjects in the lab. All the same, the principle is there with results well above the possibility of chance.

The scoffers are out in force as usual - but these are scoffers, not sceptics. Being sceptical is part of science. Simply sticking your fingers in your ears and saying 'I don't believe it' is not science. Sceptics check things, scoffers simply deny them.

There is a flipside to this of course, and it's the anti-sceptic statement 'the science is settled'. Real science is never settled. Science that is afraid of sceptical inquiry is science with something to hide. Like Climatology, and much of current obesity, alcohol and smoking research. So much as question it and they'll scream 'Heretic!'. The science is settled, you see, and dissent must be punished. Not answered. Punished.

What's the connection? Those who simply make pronouncements rather than bothering with all that 'reproducibility' and 'transparency' stuff are the same ones who scoff at any form of paranormal research. Yet paranormal researchers' methods have to be open and clear because there is no chance of anyone listening if the full data is not available.

Climatology refuses to release data and details of methods. Ask why, and ask why it's actually getting noticeably colder every year and you won't get a reasoned response. You'll be called a heretic.

Smoking research has long since descended into the utterly bizarre, with infections now blamed on little tobacco goblins and trace amounts of tobacco causing nonsmokers to drop dead on contact. Question it, and you'll be told the 'science' is settled and you're a heretic.

That five-a-day vegetable thing, and the alcohol units per week per adult... do you know where they came from? Have you seen the research that produced those figures? No. You haven't. There isn't any. Those figures were simply plucked out of the air and they are now Government policy. They are based on nothing at all. Reproducibility of methods and falsifiability of theory cannot be tested where none even exist. In these cases, 'science' skipped all the theory, experimentation and analysis and went straight to the conclusions. Try questioning it and see what you get.

And yet these same people will scoff at paranormal research. They accuse us of 'making it up'!

These days, paranormal research might be the only branch of science still applying proper techniques. That's something I certainly never expected to see.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wake-up time.

I have left this blog dormant for a long time. The weather has made outdoor investigations impossible for the last couple of years. Currently we have gales and rain and even if the ghosts were dancing in my garden, I wouldn't go out there tonight. They don't get wet or feel cold. I do, and so does my expensive camera equipment.

Lab ghost remains elusive, and in this weather the creaks, rattles and bangs in that old building mean I'd have trouble finding a banshee. Any low voices will be drowned out by howls, whistles, creaking and banging doors and rattling windows and all of it is easily discounted as being down to the wind. I wouldn't be able to prove a thing against that level of background interference.

Things are starting to liven up in the news though. There's another UFO report, although it's one of those 'black triangle' ones. They always make me think of those stealth fighters which, oddly enough, appeared a few years after the first black triangle UFOs. If the military were testing a new secret plane, they would test it at night and they certainly wouldn't admit it was anything to do with them if someone spotted it. So I am very sceptical of black triangles.

The saucer ones are more interesting. I knew that the German air force was interested in that form of flying machine during the Second World War. I was aware they had drawn up plans but I didn't know they had actually built fifteen prototypes. Unfortunately the article doesn't say whether any of them flew. The moon base is part of the movie being advertised. That's fiction. The German attempts to build such a machine were real.

There's one big flaw in the design. If the outer rim rotates at high speed, I don't see how they could stop the inner part rotating in the opposite direction once it left the ground. Helicopters get around this by having a small rotor on the tail to keep the body steady, but these discs don't seem to have a tail. Another way would be to have two sets of blades rotating in opposite directions. Again, there doesn't seem to be room for this in the designs.

Is it even possible to make a circular flying craft? It seems it certainly is. At least at the model scale. I don't know how well those designs would scale up. It is, however, possible.

What's special about this shape of craft is its maneuverability. Like a helicopter, it doesn't have to travel in any particular direction. It can hover or even fly backwards. It can change direction at speed without having to bank or turn. It would be faster than a helicopter at all these things because it is, in effect, just the blade part. There is no heavy passenger cabin hanging below the propulsion unit, the whole thing is the propulsion unit. One thing stops them being spaceships - they can only work in an atmosphere. Rotating propellors get you nowhere in space.

If I was involved in a secret military project to get one of these things working (I'm not and never have been) then how can such a thing be kept secret? Simple denial won't work for long. They'd have to be test-flown and sooner or later, someone will see them. Once in a while there's likely to be a crash.

If, however, a couple of pilots were to dress up as aliens now and then, land in a field where they'd be seen, and start a rumour that the ships were from another planet, then the entire project remains secret as long as everyone who takes an interest is looking the other way.

It's still possible that these UFOs are coming from another world, of course, but there is also the possibility that those 1940's plans weren't discarded when they were captured. They might be from another world. Or they might be from this one.

Perhaps even a mixture of both.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nature laughs at us.

This is a Venus flytrap. It's just a little plant. The leaves are able to close over insects if two of the four internal triggers are tripped and if it gets one, that leaf seals closed and acts as a stomach. The insect is digested.

I know, I shouldn't use flash facing glass but it was the only way. This little plant has been in my greenhouse all year as a natural pest control but now it's cold, it's inside.

The insect-catching part is pretty clever for a plant that lives in nutrient-poor swampland but it's not the cleverest part. It does something much cleverer.

The flower stalk appeared many weeks ago. Since I have seen 'The little shop of horrors' I thought, if that thing says hello, it'll be meeting the secateurs. It didn't. It produced a very long stalk with flowers at the top and as soon as the flowers opened, it stopped producing insect-catching leaves.

This plant, like most plants, needs insects to carry pollen from one flower to another. It also needs insects for nutrients because its natural habitat has so few. So, in a remarkably clever way, it puts its flowers well out of reach of its insect-catching leaves and also reduces its rate of production of those leaves. Now that it's nearly finished flowering it's throwing out the flycatchers again.

That's thinking ahead. By a plant.

Oh sure, we can say that it's just evolutionary response, but that means we have to reduce human 'thinking ahead' to evolutionary response too. Which will we have? Religion puts us above nature, atheism makes us part of nature but above mere animals and plants but that is not logical.

Plants have been here a hell of a lot longer than humans, by the Dawkins Directive, therefore we cannot claim to be evolutionarily superior to plants. Or even bacteria. Intelligent human life has, by geological timescale, only just popped up. So have plants, reptiles and birds stayed stupid all that time?

One thing or the other is all I'm asking. Are we part of nature or not?

I'd say we are but we are not a big part. Not as big as we imagine, not by a long way. We see ourselves as masters of the universe.

Nature sees us as monkeys with shiny toys.

We are part of nature, we are not and never have been its masters. Even if you take the religion standpoint of Adam and Eve, we are not in charge. We are merely gardeners.

We don't even have the observational skills of a pigeon...

So let's keep our arrogance in check. We are a fairly impressive species for the current epoch, but if we had been around in T. rex's day we'd have been a food crop. We make estimates of the universe based on local observations, we declare scientific rules that might or might not apply beyond the small places we have measured and we insist that we are in some way important.

Yet, if the Climatologists are to be believed, a degree or two of warming will kill us all even though here in Scotland the difference between summer and winter can far exceed 40 C. It has been wider. Scotland is not depopulated. The country is not brought to its knees by climate change (aka seasonal variation). And I can assure you, it's not warm here.

We were part of nature but we are becoming a joke. Scared of a bit of frost or of the sun that keeps us alive. Frightened of 0.5 C temperature change when nobody lives anywhere that doesn't vary by ten times that amount within 24 hours.

Nature is not out to get us. Nature is just laughing.

Nature - and this is the hard part to get - genuinely doesn't care.

Nature is busy with new stuff. We are old stuff.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Lab ghosts and copyright theft.

The lab ghost remains camera shy and uncommunicative. I've taken to leaving video cameras running overnight, so we'll see if that catches him out. His most active areas are in parts of the building I can't access at night but now that the clocks have gone back and the winter approaches, it will soon be dark enough within normal working hours.

The new boss of that part of the building scoffs at the idea of ghosts but I noticed that on the Monday following the end of summer time, she was out of there along with the rest of the staff at 5pm, when darkness fell. Usually there are a few hanging around until after 6 pm. So maybe he's been busy spooking the new girl.

It's getting darker and colder and according to the long-standing residents, that's when the ghost gets most active. That's most likely to be because in the summer, it doesn't get dark until well after everyone has gone home and it's full daylight again before they come back in the morning. It's not so much that he's more active, it's more that there are still people there when it's dark. If he has more to play with, it's going to make him harder to catch but then I'll stay later than the rest will so if he wants someone to spook, I'll be the only one available.

Anyway, in the absence of anything to report, I did a little browsing and came across an interesting tale of Internet retribution.

This writer claims that a magazine lifted an article she wrote and republished it without telling her. When she complained, the magazine claimed that 'everything on the internet was public domain' so there was no copyright issue (they are very, very wrong) and that the writer should thank them for editing the work they stole before publishing it.

Well, the magazine has a Facebook page which is now likely to collapse under the weight of comments. In fact they seem to have two, although one might be a spoof. The magazine is unrepentant and if they keep up that attitude, I don't expect them to last very long.

Every word on the Internet is copyrighted, in the same way that every word on paper or chiselled into stone is copyrighted. Whoever tapped the keys that put those words into the machine - that's the copyright holder. It doesn't have to be registered anywhere and it doesn't need to have that little 'c in a circle' symbol attached.

Some things matter more than others. I'm not going to engage a lawyer if someone takes stuff from this blog. It's just ramblings, it costs nothing and earns nothing and I have no intention of making it into a book. The photos I occasionally post are not as good as the originals because I have to reduce their size to make them fit here. I would like to see anything copied from here credited back to me (as I would credit anything I find back to its source) but it's just not important enough to chase.

Articles and the like are not blog posts. They take much more thought and effort than the stream-of-consciousness babble that appears here. They involve work and taking someone else's work to sell for profit is theft. Even if the thief leaves the owner's name on it. It's no different to selling a stolen jacket with someone else's name tag inside - sure, their name is on it but the thief is getting the profit from that stolen property.

I don't think those running that magazine have appreciated how copyright on the Internet works. They took someone's article and published it without contacting the author at all. They then used that article in a magazine which makes them money. The author received no payment of any kind and only patronising condescension when she complained. That was a very bad idea.

In real life, if you act like a dick, only a few people are likely to see it or hear about it. As long as you stop, it's soon forgotten.

On the internet, it's global. The whole world sees, and it's immediate. Computers all over the world record and cache your idiotic behaviour and Internet users can message each other in seconds on things like Twitter or those instant message-link things like MSN that I've never managed to cope with. Within hours, it's everywhere, and it will leak into the real world through Emails and iPhones and Blackberries soon after that.

Yet the magazine in question still refuses to issue a simple apology and a small donation to an organisation - which is all the original author wants. Huge compensation lawsuits have been built on less than this. Sooner or later, an unscrupulous lawyer will find this author, note that it's an open-and-shut case backed up by the snide response of the magazine, and persuade that author that he can get her enough compensation to retire. He probably can, too, and he'll leave the entire staff of that magazine in the poorhouse when he's done.

We call such lawyers 'ambulance chasers' because they are on the lookout for easy cases where someone has been wronged and someone else is clearly and definitely to blame. Everything on the internet has a date stamp. Proving which copy was first is no problem. Compounding this, the magazine have admitted by Email that they care not a jot for copyright and that they did, indeed, lift the entire article without attempting to contact the author.

Someone once copied 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' by taking a download, printing it and selling the copies on eBay. I would never have known, had a kindly commenter not spotted it and pointed it out. I didn't sue, the book is hardly an important (or even noticeable) source of income, but I did write to eBay and the plagiarist vanished. It wasn't about the money because the book doesn't make enough in a year for half a bottle of Christmas whisky, it was the principle. It was theft.

Don't rush to buy that version. I'm working on a much longer and more detailed version. It'll take a while.

When you copy a computer file, the original file remains intact. This is the justification for 'it's not really stealing' because nothing physical has gone missing. However, the principle of theft still applies. It's still taking something without the owner's permission. Something they created through their own efforts and are entitled to profit from, should they so choose. Even if they don't intend to profit from it, that does not justify someone else taking it and profiting from it.

The magazine has admitted taking the writer's article and using it in their for-profit publication. That news is now on the Internet, and it should come as no surprise to find that the Internet is stuffed full of people who write or create art and who don't want their work stolen. Logically, then, you can expect the internet to react to the identification of such a thief in their midst in much the same way as cows with calves will react to the presence of a dog. By stamping on it until the bloodied pulp presents no further threat. They will not stop until the threat is extinguished.

It might have been a good magazine. I doubt I'll ever get the chance to read it now.

Update: Looks like this cookery magazine is toast.