Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Model for Quantum Consciousness

I first read Sir Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind back when I was in college working on my psychology degree. In the book Penrose reviewed much of the current research surrounding consciousness and concluded that the most reasonable explanation for the bulk of the data was to envision consciousness as a coherent phenomenon related to quantum interactions within the brain. At the time of publication, 1989, he concluded that these quantum effects were possibly unknowable, which would seriously impede any effort to construct a fully conscious form of artificial intelligence.

However, since 1989 incredible strides have been made in terms of mapping brain activity. More recently Penrose and others who support his ideas believe they may have found the point of interaction between neurons and the quantum realm, in the form of tiny structures called microtubules. With the recent fuss over Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven, near-death experiences are once more in the news. On a recent television documentary, Penrose colleague Dr. Stuart Hameroff commented on how the quantum microtubule idea could model and explain such experiences.

According to this idea, consciousness is a program for a quantum computer in the brain which can persist in the universe even after death, explaining the perceptions of those who have near-death experiences.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is Hurricane Sandy Coming for the Gays?

As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the east coast, evangelist John McTernan knows exactly who to blame for the massive storm. It's coming for the gays. Huffington Post reports that in a blog post, McTernan recently linked the storm to President Obama's announcement of support for same-sex marriage - and, course, those icky gay people in general, just because. This sort of pronouncement is nothing new for right-wing evangelicals, who have blamed everything from Hurricane Katrina to the 9/11 attacks on the supposed limitless God-enraging power of gays.

In a wordy and occasionally rambling blog on his website, chaplain John McTernan seems to link Hurricane Sandy (and a number of other recent weather-related trends and natural disasters) on LGBT people and President Barack Obama's recent backing of marriage equality. While most of McTernan's wrath is directed at Obama, he has some choice words for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, too.

"God is systematically destroying America," McTernan writes. "Just look at what has happened this year."

Calling Sandy "the most powerful hurricane on record" (it's not) that "could do catastrophic damage to the entire Northeast," McTernan adds, "Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood (he's not) which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!"

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Trouble With Orbs

Anybody who's watched Ghost Hunters should be well aware of Jason and Grant's stance on orbs, mysterious lights that appear in photographs and which some investigators believe are proof of paranormal activity. The Ghost Hunters are skeptical about these phenomena, and for good reason. There are many natural explanations for orb phenomena and only when all of those are eliminated can such a light be described as paranormal. Camera issues tend to be the top explanation for orbs, followed by dust or lint in the air that can reflect light. As an example, take a look at the photograph above. You can click on it to enlarge. The picture was taken by Amy Voight, a photographer for the Toledo Blade, at the Mansion View Inn during a night-long paranormal investigation of the purportedly haunted site. The photograph was the only piece of evidence collected during the investigation that showed anything unusual.

Amy set up a tripod and set her camera for a minute-long exposure so it could soak in all available light. And that's when our night proved most interesting. There was nothing on the staircase, yet after the first shot the image on the camera's digital screen showed a blob of white light in the middle of the staircase.

Amy shot the staircase again and the unexplainable bright blur was still there. I marched up the stairs and stood just to the right of where the illuminated glob was, as we'd seen on her camera screen. There was nothing on the stairs. No light reflection from a nearby light fixture or from outside the facing window. It was simply dark carpeting on the stairs. I put my foot down where the glow was and Amy took another photo which shows the light fading away. In the two subsequent photos with me standing in the same spot on the stairs, the light is gone. These photos were all taken roughly a minute apart.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Glimmerings of Transpersonal Realization

About a month ago Aeon Magazine published this article by science fiction writer Ken MacLeod. In the article, MacLeod describes several experiences that to him seem inexplicable, but which are quite familiar to practicing magicians. We work with these states of consciousness all the time, or least we should if we are being diligent in our practices. MacLeod's accounts are rendered in a matter-of-fact way without the hype of the overly religious or the immediate dismissal of the professional skeptic, and as such they provide good examples of how these experiences feel from a relatively objective perspective - or, at least as objective as is possible when relating inner states of consciousness.

MacLeod groups his experiences into two categories, both of which I would describe as forms of transpersonal realization. The first type is a sense of presence that he has encountered twice, both times when in close contact with nature. The first of these instances happened when he was a child exploring a wild area near his home on the Isle of Lewis.

On at least one, maybe more, of these adventures I became intensely aware of something that rang from the silence, sunlight, solitude, and rock. I can only describe it as a sense of some enormous presence. It was everywhere, like the shimmer of the heat in the air. Maybe I was frightened at first but that passed, and it became something that was just there, like the light.

Not surprisingly for a son of the manse, I had not even the most childish spirituality. I believed what I was told, but as far I was concerned it was all facts about some reality of which I had no personal experience, like Australia. It just didn’t occur to me to attribute this feeling of presence to God, or to any other supernatural agency.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Questioning Eben Alexander

Two weeks ago I put up a post discussing the claims of Dr. Eben Alexander III, a prominent neurosurgeon who has written a new book describing a near-death experience that occurred while he was in a coma. His book, called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife, is rapidly rising on the bestseller lists, but its actual content raises some new questions about the accuracy of his account.

While the experiences Alexander describes contain many features common to near-death experiences reported all over the world, they are cast in explicit, sectarian terms specific to Christianity and seem to contain an extraordinary level of detail. Some of this may be due to the duration of his coma - he was unconscious without measurable brain function for a full week, whereas most near-death experiences only last minutes. However, a careful reading of the book reveals another possible explanation - not only was he not the skeptic he claimed to be prior to his coma, he may very well have conflated his memory of the experience with other events from his life both before and after his illness. Slate's Daniel Engber explains:

For starters, Alexander says it took him "months to come to terms with what happened," as if he'd had to reconstruct the ultra-real experience after his recovery. One might timidly suggest that the story is confabulated—that is to say, his wounded brain filled in the gaps in time with a holy flight of fancy. (Perhaps his experience of "flying" came from memories of skydiving while a student at University of North Carolina?) It also seems at least half-plausible that Alexander's dreamy chit-chat with Jehovah happened in his head, as he was emerging from his coma, and during a time in which the author says he suffered from what's called "ICU psychosis." In the book—which I've had the great displeasure of perusing—he describes waking up to "a strange and exhausting paranoid universe" in which "Internet messages" showed up wherever he looked, and a "grinding, monotonous, anti-melodious chanting" filled his head. "Some of the dreams I had during this period were stunningly and frighteningly vivid," he says.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fear the Free Yoga Classes!

For the past month the school district in Encinatas, California has been offering free yoga classes to students. In order to comply with federal guidelines regarding the promotion of religion in schools, the classes do not include any eastern religious content and consist of the same sort of stretching and breathing exercises that you would find in a totally secular exercise class at your local YMCA (Note: the 'C' there does in fact stand for "Christian"). Furthermore, the classes are elective so no students are forced to participate. None of that is good enough for a group of paranoid Christian parents, who fear that the complete absence of eastern religious teachings in the classes somehow constitutes indoctrination into Hinduism. An e-mail sent by these parents on October 12th to Superintendent Tim Baird threatened legal action if the classes were not stopped.

The district has removed any religious content from the twice-weekly classes, Baird said.

"I think that they really would like to think that, but I don't think that, in actuality, it has been done," said Mary Eady, who removed her son from the classes. "There's really a lot of unease among a lot of parents."

The superintendent said only a few parents have pulled their children from the yoga classes and he did not expect district trustees to cancel the program. "Our goal is that kids get a really healthy workout, that they get a chance to relax and reduce stress and yoga's perfect for that," Baird said.

"Yoga is a worldwide exercise regime utilized by people of many different faiths," he said. "Yoga is part of our mainstream culture."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trademarking Religious Expression?

New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow is a controversial figure in the National Football League. This is not due to his ability on the field, as Tebow is a decent but not amazing player. Rather, it is because of his highly public Christian beliefs. While most football players are Christian, just like most Americans, Tewbow is incredibly over-the-top about it. Last season with the Denver Broncos he took to kneeling down and praying after successful plays, which sports commentators began describing as "Tebowing." Debate raged over whether Tebow was merely an especially devout Christian or in fact a grandstanding narcissist, and now Tebow himself appears to have answered that question - by trying to trademark his own name as a term for prayer.

A management and consulting firm representing New York Jets back-up quarterback and evangelical sports icon Tim Tebow has moved one step closer to holding the trademark "Tebowing" for use on things as widespread as clothing, pencil sharpeners and holiday ornaments.

Tebow has long been very public about his Christian faith. In college, he sported Bible verses on his eye black, which the NCAA went on to ban after his graduation. Tebow invoked God frequently at news conferences and wrote at length about his faith and growing up the son of evangelical missionaries the Philippines in an autobiography.

"Tebowing" became part of the American lexicon when Tebow, then a second year player for the Denver Broncos, was photographed bowing in prayer in the end zone on one knee, helmeted head bowed a top a clenched fist. It quickly became an Internet meme.

Friday, October 19, 2012

This is Your Brain on Prayer

Huffington Post has an article up today that discusses active areas of the brain during prayer. I'm a big fan of this sort of research, because I think if we are ever going to understand religious or spiritual experiences we need to have a good idea of what the brain is doing when those experiences are going on. According to the study, brain scans of religious people engaged in prayer show higher levels of activity in both the prefrontal cortex and the language processing center than do baseline control scans.

Note that this should not be taken to imply that I embrace the so-called "epiphenomenon" model that treats consciousness as a sort of side effect of brain activity, but rather that I believe consciousness and the brain are tightly integrated and interact in a strongly related fashion. Since directly measuring consciousness is not yet possible, we need to examine the side of the equation that can be directly observed in order to get greater insight into what is going on with the system as a whole.

The red part indicates greater activity, and in this case, increased activity is observed in the frontal lobes and the language area of the brain. This is the part of the brain that activates during conversation, and Dr. Newberg believes that for the brain, praying to God in the Judeo-Christian tradition is similar to talking to people. "When we study Buddhist meditation where they are visualizing something, we might expect to see a change or increased activity in the visual part of the brain," Dr. Newberg said.

While observing atheists meditating or "contemplating God," Dr. Newberg did not observe any of the brain activity in the frontal lobe that he observed in religious people.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Legislating Magick is a Bad Idea

The current debate going on in Zimbabwe over the so-called "Witchcraft and Suppression Act" is a perfect example of how trying to legislate magical or other spiritual practices is an incredibly bad idea. The government now finds itself working to preserve cultural practices such as traditional healing while at the same time prohibiting the use of "supernatural powers" for purposes that are more nefarious. But by the very nature of magick it can be difficult to determine the intent of a practitioner. If African spells are anything like their Western counterparts, many of the same components are used in both helpful and harmful operations. In the Western system Saturn, for example, rules cursing - but you could invoke Saturn to both cast a curse and protect yourself from one and the two ritual forms would be almost identical. Last week Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa tried to explain the fine distinction that the government is trying to make in applying the current law.

“Clearly if you point out that someone was a witch, it is defamatory.
“But if you can prove it that someone was found with a human hand that is enough proof,” he said.
“If you can open a grave and eat its contents, that’s enough proof.”
Minister Chinamasa said witchcraft allegations have in the past divided families.
Hardworking and wealthier families, he said, have usually been the target of such allegations.
The usual allegations, he said, were that these wealthier families were using poor families to work in their fields at night.
“If you can prove that, then it is witchcraft.
“But witchcraft is not the wisdom we want to protect.
“That power to make supernatural powers to cause harm to others is not what we want to protect under traditional medical knowledge,” he said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is Hunger Games Satanic?

Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy has become one of the most popular young adult series in the United States. Predictably, it has also attracted the attention of the sort of people who think books containing content deemed offensive should be banned, and was the third most challenged book series of 2011.

Given the history of book challenges this is not particularly surprising - the series is a dystopian work that is quite dark and relatively violent by young adult fiction standards. However, what I find bizarre is that in addition to being challenged on violence, the series was also challenged as "occult/satanic."

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

My understanding is that the series is straight dystopian science fiction with no paranormal or fantasy elements, so how exactly does this work? Could it be that those pushing to ban it have not even read it? In some ways it strikes me as more disturbing if they did, because it implies a view of occultism that is completely disconnected from reality. Is the series "Satanic" because the world it depicts just plain sucks? By that definition, much of regular life also qualifies and I suppose that means Satanists are everywhere.

Now I have not read the series myself, so I could be way off base here and maybe somebody can set me straight. Is there any occultism in the Hunger Games trilogy? If so, maybe I would find it worth reading.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Stealth Airship to Hunt Bigfoot

As a followup to yesterday's post about Russian yetis, I came across this article about a group of American cryptozoologists who have a new idea for hunting the sasquatch, the yeti's North American cousin. The sasquatch or bigfoot is known to be quiet, shy, and elusive. It seems to hear hunters coming a mile away and disappear without a trace into the forest. The theory goes that what bigfoot hunters really need is something silent or almost so that can navigate the difficult terrain of the Pacific Northwest's mountains. The technology has finally caught up on that front, and investigators now hope to track the mysterious creature using a remote-controlled stealth airship.

Using a 45-foot-long, camera-mounted, remote-controlled airship, project founder William Barnes plans to work with a team that includes one scientist to conduct nighttime flyovers of reported Bigfoot hotspots around the United States.

Barnes, a gold dredger whose current endeavor was inspired by an alleged encounter with a Bigfoot-like creature he claims to have had in 1997, thinks the helium-filled craft will allow his team to succeed where others have failed due to its unprecedented advantages in two key areas: stealth and maneuverability.

The camera aboard the craft can film in infrared, thermal imaging and high definition. And as the ship scans densely wooded regions from a penetrating vantage, it will never spook a potential subject with a broken twig or run out of breath in a one-sided foot race, Barnes believes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Russian Yetis Migrating North

The United States is not the only country in the world to support a population of cryptozoologists. British researchers have been trying for years to prove that the Loch Ness Monster exists, the Chinese have tried to capture a specimen of a jungle ape-man called the Yaren, and Russian "hominologists" apparently study yetis, the so-called "abominable snowmen" of Asia. One of these researchers now claims that these creatures are being affected by climate change.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that if yetis indeed exist, they must be affected by the environment just like every other animal. Igor Burtsev, a Russian cryptozoologist, has announced that this is indeed the case - this year's hot Siberian summer has forced the mysterious creatures northward. He explained that while most of the yetis in Siberia live in near the caverns known as Azas Cave in the Mountain Shoria region, several have now been spotted further north of the area than in previous years.

Hominologists believe that the heat might have served as a reason for the migration of the Yetis north of the Azas Cave that was considered to be their home. The Director of the International Centre of Hominology in Moscow Igor Burtsev has been studying the Yetis for nearly half a century now. He has been cooperating with thousands of volunteer researchers all over the world: as you know, there is an opinion that there is no such science as hominology in the world today. The Yetis live everywhere but most of them live in Mountain Shoria, Igor Burtsev says.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Neurosurgeon Recounts Near-Death Experience

The evidence continues to mount that something potentially paranormal is going on during near-death experiences. Dr. Eben Alexander, a prominent neurosurgeon, experienced what he believes to be visions of the afterlife while in a week-long coma. What's especially interesting about this case is that unlike most near-death experiences that last for only a few minutes, this one occurred over the course of a full week during which Alexander's brain was monitored the entire time. According to the scans, during the period of the coma his neocortex ceased to function. Much like the near-death experiences in the film Flatliners, his experiences did not register as brain activity. Based on those scans Alexander is convinced that according to conventional models of the mind and brain there is no way that he could have experienced such a detailed, vivid, and lasting experience in his coma state.

Alexander says he first found himself floating above clouds before witnessing, "transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamer like lines behind them."

He claims to have been escorted by an unknown female companion and says he communicated with these beings through a method of correspondence that transcended language. Alexander says the messages he received from those beings loosely translated as:

"You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever."

"You have nothing to fear."

"There is nothing you can do wrong."

From there, Alexander claims to have traveled to "an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting." He believes this void was the home of God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Clearing Connecticut's "Witches"

When most people think of witchcraft trials in the Americas they think of the well-known trials that happened in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690's. However, similar trials happened all over New England during the seventeenth century. In Connecticut, 46 people were prosecuted and 11 were executed during a series of trials that began in 1647. For the last seven years a group of their descendants have been working to convince state officials to denounce the trials and clear the names of those accused.

"They were wrongly accused. It’s a justice issue," said Debra Lynne of New Milford, who says her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Sanford, was hanged for witchcraft in Hartford in 1662.

The first person executed in the New World for witchcraft was Alice Young of Windsor, Conn., who was hanged in Hartford in 1647, according to several books on the trials. The last executions were in 1662.

Many historians believe fear was a major driver of Connecticut’s witch trials, according to the state report. Deeply religious colonists who endured years of fighting with Native Americans, floods and sickness may have been looking for someone to blame for their hardships, the report said.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Tesla Science Center!

This story isn't so much paranormal as just plain cool. After a web campaign that raised more than a million dollars, Nikola Tesla enthusiasts have purchased the Wardenclyffe site and plan to convert the last remaining Tesla laboratory there into a museum showcasing his work. Tesla created most of the technology behind our modern alternating current electrical grid that powers pretty much everything these days, and in addition made a number of other important discoveries regarding the nature of electromagnetic energy. He also is a key figure among fringe science fans, some of whom claim that he was so far ahead of his time that some of his designs are still not understood.

The overgrown 16-acre site, in Shoreham, features his only surviving workshop. The crumbling brick laboratory was designed by Tesla’s friend Stanford White, a celebrated architect who drew up plans in Manhattan for the Washington Arch as well as neoclassical gems like the Century Club.

The Agfa Corporation, which owns the heavily wooded site and once operated a factory there, agreed to sell the estate to the Tesla enthusiasts for an undisclosed sum after they succeeded in raising $1.4 million through a Web campaign. The property had been listed at $1.6 million.

“All the terms and conditions have been accepted,” said John P. O’Hara, a real estate agent on Long Island who represents the property. “It’s all good. The stars have finally aligned.” Agfa’s attorney, Christopher M. Santomassimo, confirmed the deal, saying, “We have reached an agreement.”

Monday, October 8, 2012

Did We Build the Flying Saucers After All?

There are plenty of possible explanations for UFO sightings besides the presence of alien spacecraft. The most plausible, generally speaking, is that the vehicles spotted are classified prototype aircraft developed as "black projects" for the military. It certainly is interesting to note that the development of the stealth fighter corresponded well with sightings of triangular objects rather than the more old-school saucers, and "Area 51" in Nevada that is famous for such sightings did serve as a testing facility for experimental military aircraft at that time. In fact, according to recently declassified documents from the National Archives, such projects date all the way back to the early "flying saucer" period of the 1950's.

The National Archives has recently published never-before-seen schematics and details of a 1950s military venture, called Project 1794, which aimed to build a supersonic flying saucer.

The newly declassified materials show the U.S. Air Force had a contract with a now-defunct Canadian company to build an aircraft unlike anything seen before. Project 1794 got as far as the initial rounds of product development and into prototype design. In a memo dating from 1956 the results from pre-prototype testing are summarized and reveal exactly what the developers had hoped to create.

The saucer was supposed to reach a top speed of “between Mach 3 and Mach 4, a ceiling of over 100,000 ft. and a maximum range with allowances of about 1,000 nautical miles,” according to the document.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Experts Agree No Maya Apocalypse in Sight

This is exactly what I've been saying all along. The latest findings from a group of experts on Mayan civilization show that the Maya never predicted any sort of an apocalypse for the year 2012. Maybe this will silence the apocalypse enthusiasts who refused to listen to what the actual Maya had to say back when they were first asked about the supposed prediction - that the whole thing is made up and has nothing to do with their calendar or their religion - but I somehow doubt those folks are going to listen to reason until the date actually passes without incident.

That calendar is made up of 394-year periods known as baktuns, the UK newspaper explained, and began in the year 3114 BC. On or around December 21, the calendar would have completed 5,125 years of 13 baktuns, and while those with an in-depth knowledge of Maya culture say that 13 was a “significant” number for them, they see the date ending of this period as “a milestone — but not an end.”

“Fears that the calendar does point to the end have circulated in recent years,” Associated Press (AP) reporter Adriana Gomez Licon wrote on Friday. “People in that camp believe the Maya may have been privy to impending astronomical disasters that would coincide with 2012, ranging from explosive storms on the surface of the sun that could knock out power grids to a galactic alignment that could trigger a reversal in Earth’s magnetic field.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Saudis to Rein In Religious Police

For awhile now I've been covering the sometimes deadly antics of Saudi Arabia's anti-witchcraft squad, the so-called Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. At first some of the stories were amusing, but they rapidly devolved into classic witch persecutions similar to those going on in parts of Africa and Asia. In Saudi Arabia they were all the more terrifying because they carried the government's stamp of approval. It seems, though, that even the Saudis are becoming fed up with this out-of-control organization. The committee's new chief has pledged to limit some of the civil liberties abuses for which the group is well-known around the world.

“The new system will set a mechanism for the field work of the committee’s men which hands over some of their specialisations to other state bodies, such as arrests and interrogations,” Al-Hayat daily quoted religious police chief Sheikh Abdullatiff Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh as saying. Agents of the body known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice will also be banned from carrying out “searches without prior approval from the governor,” he said.

Okaz daily also reported that the religious police agents will be prohibited from “standing at the entrances of shopping malls to prevent the entry of any person,” referring to attempts by agents to ban women who do not comply with the Islamic dress code and unmarried couples from entering malls. Relatively moderate Sheikh, appointed in January as the new chief of the religious police, has raised hopes that a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the Islamic country.

While the article makes no mention of witchcraft prosecutions, I'm hoping that these new policies also mean that people will be freer to practice alternative religious beliefs without fear of arrest and possible execution. Saudi Arabia so far has a pretty dismal record in that department. I would certainly expect that the limitations on searches and so forth will make such cases more difficult to pursue, and hopefully that means we'll be seeing a lot fewer of them. Of course, even one instance of religious persecution is still one too many, and in that regard the anti-witchcraft squad has a long way to go.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Saga of Nazi Space Buddha

This story has been making the rounds on the social networking sites lately, and let's face it - any headline that includes Nazis, space, and Buddha is going to get some attention. It refers to a 24 centimeter Buddhist statue of the deity Vaisravana that was taken back to Germany by the Nazis in 1939, perhaps because it depicts a swastika symbol on the figure's breastplate. Between 10 and 20 thousand years before that, though, the metal from which the figure is carved actually fell from space. The statue was in fact made from a piece of a meteorite that struck the earth along the border between Siberia and Mongolia.

More precisely, Buchner's team has managed to tie the statue to a known meteorite – the Chinga ataxite, which fell to Earth between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago near the border between Siberia and Mongolia. It fragmented as it fell, and just two pieces heavier than 10 kilograms were known before the new analysis. The "Space Buddha", as Buchner's team has dubbed the statue, is the third such piece, at 10.6 kilograms.

"Having looked at some of the published trace element data for this artifact, it looks pretty convincing to me that this is very likely originated from Chinga iron meteorite," says Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Other venerated objects are thought to have had similar extraterrestrial origins – including the Black Stone in Mecca, Saudi Arabia – but Wadhwa says it is difficult to verify these assumptions because the objects have never been fully analysed scientifically. And none of these supposed meteorite fragments has been carved into a religious sculpture, making the Space Buddha the only one of its kind.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Truth About Tinfoil Hats

Some people have too much free time. That's about the only explanation I can come up with for this group of MIT researchers who decided to explore the effectiveness of aluminum foil for blocking out the crazy - with science! According to tinfoil hat advocates, the metal shields the brain from potentially mind-controlling radio waves. However, the researchers found that the reality was much more complex.

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fasting for Romney

With about a month to go before the presidential election, most polling analysis shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lagging behind President Barack Obama. The race remains close, however, and Romney's best hope of pulling off an upset probably hinges on his performance in the two presidential debates scheduled for this month. In addition to being a politician, Romney is a prominent member of the Mormon Church, and some of his brethren organized a fast yesterday to improve his chances. The first presidential debate is this Wednesday.

A group of his fellow Mormons is organizing a fast Sunday so "that he will be blessed in the debates" with President Obama, which begin on Wednesday. "I know that fasting and praying brings about miracles," reads an email reportedly sent by a fast organizer. "I also know of no power greater than our Father in Heaven."

Fasting is nothing unusual for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church holds one fast day a month, usually the first Sunday of the month, and asks members to donate the money they would ordinarily spend on food that day to help feed the needy. Mormons often dedicate their fasts to asking God for special blessings.

Fasting has a long history as a spiritual practice, and many find cultivating the discipline that it requires to be rewarding. However, as a magician I can tell you that fasting does not make the transition into the practical magical realm very well. The practice appears in the old grimoires, but as part of the initial purification stage of the operation rather than the evocation itself. That is, even in traditional magical texts its efficacy is directly related to the state of the practitioner rather than the goal of the operation. The idea that in and of itself a fast will produce some sort of miraculous benefit seems to be rooted in the just-world hypothesis, in that self-denial is apparently assumed to result in some completely unrelated benefit manifesting in a paranormal manner. I've never seen any reason to believe that such things happen in the real world.