June 07, 2003

MAGIC: THE GATHERING

Hello, my friends...

As you may know by now, I recently underwent yet another move to start a new job that has been working me like a galley slave (see SHANGHAIED, below).

When I posted MAGIC three weeks ago, I have to admit that I was feeling a lot of self-induced pressure to shorten these essays, based on the fact that every reference was to the "long, but...essay by Bill Whittle."

I wasn't terribly happy with the ending, and I had a little Noam Chomsky riff I wanted to make, but I ended up cutting both for the sake of brevity.

Then came 350 comments or so, and I realized that I had left a few major holes in the argument, mostly having to do with defending aginst the idea that rationalism equals a drab, dour, mechanical and joyless existence.

As the Freedoms say, "au, contraire!"

So while I didn't have time for a new essay, and won't before next weekend at the very earliest, I did do some extensive re-writing to MAGIC, and I like it much better now.

Be warned: it is by far the longest one to date. If you're new to these parts, you should probably know that it's a good idea to get a cup of coffee and relax. Hopefully I can provide you with a good read. That's ultimately what I'm trying to do. So from now on, I'll stop writing when I think I'm finished, and if it's too long for some people, well, there's always the BACK button.

My favorite line in the comments came from the very bright and interesting LabRat, who wrote a lot of fascinating things, including: Bill's target is roughly the size of a continent. He CAN'T be truly complete without writing a series of books about it.

Thanks Lab. Too true. This is my tenth essay. Like the others, it does have political overtones. That's what I do. Three more to go before I assemble the thirteen into a book called SILENT AMERICA.

And after that? Well, I'd like to continue to take a shot at that vast continent-sized target of illogic and pseudo-science, and try to convey a little of the joys of doing difficult things well, as I write in MAGIC V2.0.

So after we get out the first book, I'm on to ten essays -- decimal, scientific -- on why we're such a nifty species and how we can get back to the bright light of Reason that made this nation what it is. I'd like to name that second book LONG JOURNEY OF A YOUNG GOD, the name the the first planetarium show I ever ran, a really magnificent piece of writing (on the Apollo program and the myth of the hero) by my old boss, TV's StarGazer, Jack Horkheimer. Hopefully he'll give me his blessing when the time comes.

Now off to MAGIC! By the time you get through it, it should be next week already and I can move on to poor, oft-delayed TRINITY.

(And thanks for the rescue offers!)

PS If you read the original and you want to talk about the differences, make a comment right here.

Posted by Proteus at June 7, 2003 02:02 AM
Comments

Personally, I never thought the original version of MAGIC needed expansion, except to extend the sheer pleasure of reading it. Granted, the ending was a tad abrupt, but I thought all the salient points had been thoroughly and brilliantly covered already. Still, Director's Cuts are always more enjoyable to me. So, thanks.

As always, a great, GREAT job, Bill. A stylish, snappy, humorous expression of your own beliefs, presented in such a logically circuitous fashion that, by the time you're done, the points are almost unassailable. It's what you do best... being persuasive.

Of course, that doesn't mean you're always right, as I'm sure you'd readily admit. It just means you're that convincing. You're well-read, well-informed, and best of all, you're a great, great writer who can make even your most contrary points of view palatable to even your most dissenting readers just because it's such a damned entertaining read. But, like all of us normal mortal humans, you are, first and foremost, a student of your own preconceptions, and therefore just as biased in your research as you are in your conclusions.

Evidence---the centerpiece of all scientific reasoning---still just comprises the pieces of the jigsaw, not the finished puzzle itself. Evidence gives you a REASON to believe something is true, but does not necessarily tell you what the truth is.

The obvious and easily observable evidence is that the sun goes around the Earth. And until about 500 years ago, "hard science" held that conclusion as a fundamental and immutable FACT, provable and RE-provable by the simplest of experiments... you go outside, and you WATCH the sun track across the sky, from horizon to horizon. There you go! Sun goes around Earth! A scientifically proven, evidence-based FACT. Done.

It turned out to be wrong, of course. Granted, it was the self-correcting nature of science itself that eventually figured out the truth, and that's where its greatest value lies... in its capacity to constantly cross-check itself and dispute its findings whenever new evidence comes to light. The flipside of that coin though, is that you can never know when "science" has found the absolute bottom line. In fact, you have to presume that it never will (or at least not for a long, long time). To presume otherwise is to presume that we've discovered all there is to know about any given subject already... that every "physical law" in our books is already complete and all-encompassing, that nothing new will ever be discovered, no variations or special exceptions will ever come to light, and no technology will ever be invented that can detect or measure those things that cannot be detected or measured today. And I know you well enough to know that you don't believe that.

Einstein's Theory of General Relativity was a breakthrough of epochal proportions, and, as you pointed out, it has yet to be disproven, despite all manner of attempts to do so. Does that mean that it's infallible? That it will NEVER be altered by later discoveries? If so, then why is anyone bothering to examine it anymore? What's to examine? That's a complete A-to-Z, all-encompassing, carved-in-stone, gospel LAW now, isn't it? It hasn't been disproven YET, therefore it never WILL be. Right? Of course not. (speaking of which, I loved the little twist they gave it in the movie "K-PAX," starring Kevin Spacey, in which he "clarified" that Einstein hadn't said that matter couldn't TRAVEL at the speed of light... only that it couldn't be ACCELERATED to that speed... maybe just happy fiction, but outside-the-box thinking nonetheless)

Any good scientific mind will acknowledge that there is always more to learn, more to quantify, and new tools to pursue that knowledge with coming on-line all the time. Therefore it is safe to presume---hell, it's downright LIKELY---that SOMEDAY in the future "Something New" is going to be discovered about good old "E=mc2" that will at least enhance the existing theorem, if not correct or even, God forbid, DISPROVE it, in lieu of a more accurate, more complete concept, based on newly acquired evidence of the time.

And, having acknowledged that possibility, how can anyone flatly debunk an entire premise SOLELY on the basis of a current lack of "scientific evidence" to support it? You can hold whatever opinion you like, and express it as JUST THAT... your opinion, based on this or that logic. But to use a current lack of "scientific evidence" as "proof" that something doesn't or COULDN'T exist is just "bad science." That's not how the scientific method works.

As you've said yourself, "an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

To me, any time anyone says with "scientific certainty" that something is impossible, it will almost invariably be proven otherwise. I always loved that little note in that one planetarium show that you and I once ran down in Miami, in which scientific assertions about the impossibility of a flight to the moon were listed, one after the other in a fast sequence, right at the beginning of the show. Scientists "proving" mathematically how humans would never survive the crushing Gs of a cannon-shot into space... once again failing to take into account the possibility of alternative means being discovered at a future date.

This is one place---probably the ONLY place---you and I have regularly disagreed in the past... over your premise that, if it hasn't been "proven" through creditable scientific experimentation, that one must therefore presume that it (whatever "it" is) doesn't exist at all. I'm sorry, but, at least in MY world, that's just wrong. Worse, it's shortsighted and even (to use your own word) lazy.

If you've never witnessed an unresolved "UFO sighting" yourself, never seen a ghost, had a premonition, done a firewalk, experienced a past-life regression... WHATEVER... if you've never read the works of the people who do these things, see these things, or have experienced them... if your only sources of information on these subjects are the debunkers... then your readiness to wave them all off in one grand dismissive gesture is just as "lazy" as that of the person who reads and attends courses in only those areas and then consigns all of "hard science" to the sterile laboratories and soulless, tunnel-vision-afflicted gnomes that they believe all researchers to be. Those "New Age" and "pseudo-spiritual" pursuits may BE all bunk and self-delusion, but approaching them with that very preconception and prejudice, accepting outright only the judgments of the debunkers and the opinions of those who have also done, seen, and experienced none of those things for themselves, and then holding up the lack of hard, documented scientific evidence as reason enough to presume that those phenomena do not even EXIST is just as lopsided and "lazily biased" as the point of view from the other side of the fence.

Having said all that though, I push this perspective only to the extent that it applies to the "otherworldly belief systems" that you so cavalierly brushed aside as hooey (much as Dr. Sagan did in the only non-fiction work of his that I ever read). To the extent that "magical" or "wishful" thinking applies to the politics of our nation however, you and I are in complete agreement. And you did a dazzling job of showing how the constant unfurling of history so clearly presents us with the hard data needed to "steer our ship of state." Hard data. Not the presumption of incorrectness based on an absence of data.

Every one of your politically based essays to date has just been amazing to me... broad in scope, rooted in more than just the arms-length perspective of "right here, right now," and very original in the connections made to other seemingly unrelated fields. I've always said that you're the only true "genius" I've ever met in my life, and I don't say that lightly. You know (and UNDERSTAND) more about more things than anyone else I've ever known, and with the skill of a Master Debater (that never sounds right) you are eminently convincing on any point you seek to present. I do believe that, if challenged, you could put on an equally convincing show for the exact opposite side of every point you've ever made as well. I would just say to be careful around the trap of "intellectual disdain" when it comes to those things whose sole lacking is insufficient scientific backing. Choose to disbelieve if you like, but avoid categorizing such things as "impossible," and asserting that every scientific principle we hold so dear today is inviolable, or incapable of being expounded upon, enhanced, or corrected at a later date. "Unfurling history" has amassed quite a catalogue of debunked debunkers already.

Still, keep up the fabulous work. What you're doing here isn't just enlightening, educational, and hugely entertaining... it's not just brilliant, erudite, and original... it's IMPORTANT!

You're on a big stage now, right where you ought to be.

When I buy the first five copies of your book, I want them all autographed.

ZOO-HA!

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 7, 2003 08:25 AM

First of all, Bill, I'd offer to bear your children, but I have the feeling my partner might not go for the idea. ;)

On to the main point... I don't know Bill at all except through his essays. So I could be completely wrong about him in the particular case, Silverback. But I didn't get out of "Magic", the original or the revisted, the sense of rejection of all possibilities not immediately in line with established science.

I do, however, feel that the comparison of general and special relativity to New Age mysticism is a reduction to absurdity. I don't know about Bill, but I DO read the stuff these people put out. I have read about homeopathy, and magnets, and crystals, and pyramids, and UFOs, and telekinesis, and long-range viewing. I like to get primary source material whenever I can. And I generally come to the exact same conclusion as the debunkers. The distinction between the homeopath and Einstein is, in fact, weight of evidence; Einstein didn't come up with relativity from a dream or musing, he came up with it by observing the behavior of the universe and applying a whole lot of math. All science and scientists are open to change, they merely require a good reason. And this is a very logical way to behave, because quacks and crackpots outnumber genuine revolutionaries millions to one.

Everything we experience in life is a myriad of possibilities. If you'll permit me my own absurdity: My cat likes to wake me up by yowling urgently at five in the morning. He still has food, so he's not hungry. He has plenty of fresh water, so he's not thirsty. It is possible that he is being tickled awake by very efficient ninja clowns, and he is sounding the general alarm. But the reason I reject entirely the Stealth Clown Premature Siamese Waking Hypothesis is that it is extremely improbable compared to the leading theory, which is that he's simply bored and lonely and wants me to pay attention to him. So improbable, in fact, that it is simply not worth my consideration until I find something more compelling, like clown footprints in the front garden. And in the absence of footprints, or tufts of Bozo wig, I'm also unlikely to lend any credence to the idea even if advanced by my neighbor, who claims he saw them and has a known clown obsession.

And so it is with science and mysticism; I retain the opinion that homeopathy is nonsense because it has little to no solid evidence of efficacy, the principles its adherents claim it operates on contradict everything currently known about chemistry and the behavior of drugs in the body, and the theory that its adherents are either credulous, ill-educated, or with a deep and fundamental distrust of the medical establishment is far more likely. If someone comes up with a good reason for me to reject chemistry and accept homeopathy, I'm all ears. Because no one has doesn't mean I'm closed-minded, it means in all likelihood there probably isn't any such reason.

There is a difference between rock-ribbed dogmatism and healthy skepticism. But they can be easy to confuse, especially when what you are being healthily skeptical about is so unlikely as to warrant total dismissal in the absence of a LOT more evidence than it has.

The scientific process may be slower than the credulous leap, but its hit-to-miss ratio makes it more than worth it.

Posted by: LabRat on June 7, 2003 10:35 AM

Until mine, the comments are nearly as good as the essay. Good job Bill! Who knows who is going to be coaching my favorite college football team this fall? A lame, but well publicized reason for sanctions against him. Sad...

Where does religion fit in all of this? My personal belief is that it's a crutch for those who need one, and I don't mean that in an entirely negative way. Unless we're talking Islam and there my lack of familiarity with the religion leaves me totally baffled except for watching the atrocities committed in the name of it. I'd put it right up there with magic myself although it has served some useful purposes. It's also caused a lot of problems, not only against other religions, but between various factions. One of the most important points in the Constitution separates church and state. Why is that? Why is that point continually being fought in very small battles? Why is religion continually seeking power? Shouldn't it be content nurturing and providing contentment to the followers? If I look at it from a followers perspective I wonder why God needs more power when theoretically he already has it. While I agree with your concept of "magic", until you tackle the most pernicious version, I'll keep the faith.

cheers,

Dick

Posted by: hairofthedawg on June 7, 2003 11:53 AM

Excellent! I was hoping that LabRat would be one of Bill's earliest commentors. Besides Bill himself, I've always felt that you presented some of the best and most interesting monologues in all the previous essays' comment lists. Good to hear from you, LabRat.

But to clarify, I wasn't trying to COMPARE Einstein's Theory of General Relativity to "New Age mysticism." They were two separate points. I brought up the relativity thing only to show that, as groundbreaking as it was, one mustn't presume that it is the end-all be-all on the subject... that at some point in the future, they aren't going to learn more, on the basis of a broader evidentiary base and more advanced testing technology... that merely because we've got a sound basis here for cogent discussion on the likelihood of ever exceeding the "lightspeed barrier," we'll therefore NEVER learn more than we know today, NEVER find any new physical properties that can be taken advantage of, and NEVER come up with some completely novel outside-the-box way of approaching the problem. Therefore I recommend against such statements as would imply that we, by definition, will never be able to rise above this obstacle because the physical laws as we know them today are complete, inviolable, and will never be found wanting in the future.

In other words, Einstein was a genius, and pushed us into a whole new epoch of scientific forward motion, but I'd be willing to bet that even HE didn't think he'd "gotten it ALL" in that one leap. There was much more yet to understand. If I recall, he was still wrestling with some kind of a Unified Field Theory at the time he died, trying to reconcile the big picture of his breakthrough with the smaller picture of quantum physics. And who knows what that might have turned up eventually... or WILL yet turn up... and how that might contradict or enhance that good old reliable e=mc2.

Hence the reason for including the little aside about the planetarium show that started with all the "hard science" declarations about how man would never be able to go to the moon because he couldn't survive the crushing Gs of a cannon-shot out of the atmosphere. Their science was completely correct, their math detailed and brutally succinct, but their PREMISE was flawed because it started with the idea that they'd already thought of every METHOD we might use to get there. Rockets hadn't been invented at the time of those turn-of-the-century quotes.

And that's what I'm hearing whenever I hear anyone scoffing at something that is currently considered "improbable," labeling it "impossible" because our current understanding of the laws don't allow for it. The short form, I guess, is to never say anything is impossible... unlikely, implausible, even laughable perhaps. But never "impossible."

As for the "New Age mysticism" comments... perhaps I did wander into the realms of discussions that Bill and I have had in person there... I'm not sure... but I brought that up originally just to caution against accepting ONLY the words of the debunkers. Carl Sagan was also brilliant, and in the handful of his books that I read, he, like Bill, also did a brilliant job of showing the reliability of cognitive reasoning over uninformed wishing and pie-in-the-sky dreaming. But, in "Cosmos" in particular, his "in-depth" investigation into those spacey subjects was barely cursory, coming across instead as a dismissive wave of the hand before moving on to the "obvious truths." And even when I was in my most hardcore atheistic state of mind, that summary shrug when covering all that ground was a bit of a disappointment to me. I would rather have heard those arguments picked apart with "counter-proofs" than have them summarily exiled from thought. And yes, I realize, the book "Cosmos" was not the place to expound on such issues.

Short form... suffice it to say, I was raised by a Professor of Geology, and one of the co-inventors of the Carbon-14 dating process, and so I've been familiar... and comfortable... with the entire evolutionary process almost since my first days of social awareness. But at age 28, after a couple of decades of flaming atheism, I finally decided to actually EXPERIENCE some of those things that I'd decried so vehemently all those years. To determine FOR MYSELF how valid my own "dismissals" were. And I actually went on a little "binge" of "New Age mystical" pursuits for a while, all the while keeping my rabid arch-skeptical brain on a short leash until I could see for myself how much credence was warranted in each case. And though I never got any "good" at any of the things I tried, I did see and experience ENOUGH to convince me that there is more out there than what our 5 senses can detect. Unless you believe in MASSIVE, ongoing, consistent coincidences... or if you believe in vast, coordinated, and unbetrayed conspiracies that allow for some pretty extensive cover-ups of fraud and fakery... unless you think every single person who's ever had such an experience is either a liar or, at best, delusional... then you (well, at least I) have to allow some breathing room for that which is as yet unmeasurable, undetectable, or outside the realm of our experience.

I am not a devoted follower of anything, and I do not practice any of the things I looked into... including past-life regressions, energy work, hands-on healing, and firewalking, among others... but I do feel that, having looked beyond the debunking texts that I'd held so dear for so long, and having actually TRIED this stuff myself, I am at least somewhat qualified to express the opinion that there is more to this world than meets the skeptical eye. And I hate to hear it all being shrugged off in one lump-sum category called "New Age mysticism." Like I said in my comment to Bill, this stuff may BE all bunk and fluffy thinking... most of it almost certainly IS... but to have it all rounded up into one stinky, dirty little Evil Word that can be tossed aside en masse just because we haven't YET found an acceptably credible way to detect or measure or record or document these things (in some cases), well, that's not "good science" either. Curiosity is discarded, and is way too often supplanted with arrogance.

Fortunately, I also know Bill well enough to know that that is not the case with him.

Now for my own little pet-related absurdity... my dog, a weiner-dog named Megan, had an interesting little "ism" of her own. When I'd be back in the computer room, struggling through a simulated dogfight or tussling with uncooperative cards or just writing, there were times when something would really tick me off. I mean, punch the wall, yell at the computer, stomp out into the garage and kick the recycling bins kinda' pissed. But I didn't want anyone else to hear me losing it, so I'd just "tighten up"... clench my teeth and my fists and quietly wrestle away my anger in silence. And every time... and I do mean EVERY time... Megan, who had been out in the living room, sitting next to my wife, watching the blaring television, would suddenly trot into the computer room and start licking my ankles... until my funk blew over and I'd start talking goofy baby-talk to her and stroking her head. Then she'd stop licking, turn around, and trot right back out of the room. Every friggin' time.

It was a running joke between my wife and I, because she didn't NEED to actually HEAR me fuming back there... she could tell I was having a quiet little shit-fit whenever Megan would get up and trot back to the computer room.

Megan never came back there when I was just working on the computer... at least not if my wife was home at the same time. She'd only come back at those peaks of my anger. She couldn't HEAR me from the other side of the house and over the racket of the TV, if for no other reason than because I wasn't making any audible noise. There was no food or water kept back there, no toys, and no back door that she might want to take outside. So what's the simplest, most likely possibility here? That she came back repeatedly, consistently, and in the longest string of unbroken coincidences in history? Or that, far simpler still, she might have been "receiving" some kinds of heated signals from me? I don't KNOW what kinds of signals, and I'm pretty damned certain no scientist has ever come up with a device that could have detected or measured that "signal," but a scientist COULD have recorded the consistency and timing of her trips and then been forced to determine whether or not it was a magnificent string of coincidences or maybe just something that he had no way of explaining or quantifying.

Whatever. Believe it or not, I'm really not arguing here. I agree with everything you said. I'm just allowing for other as-yet-unmeasurable possibilities as well.

In the meantime, thanks for all the great commentary on Bill's work. You brought up some great stuff there.

And in case you're wondering, I've known Bill since he was 10 and I was 12, living on Key Biscayne in Miami. He got me my first job, working at the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, when he was 14 and I was 16. And you have no idea how incredibly proud I am of him and his accomplishments, and most of all his brilliance.

So again, to Bill... keep up the great work, dude. And to LabRat... ditto.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 7, 2003 12:49 PM

Flattery will get you nowhere, Silverback. (Actually, that's probably not true, but I've got to at least make the effort.) As for my being early on the scene... NOT being so would necessitate my having something better to do on a Saturday afternoon.

If your point was not directed comparatively toward such people and premises as have been attacked, then I'm honestly curious as to why you found it necessary to bring up Dr. Einstein at all. If the distinction between crackpots and genuine revolutionaries has been made, then what IS the issue? I hear what you're saying about how we don't know it all yet, but I don't see where it's been said or implied that we DO know it all. At least from his essays, I get the impression that intellectual curiosity is a trait Bill and I share. And I know that Sagan, champion of SETI, shared it as well.

I accept that there is that out there which is currently inexplicable. I have a- large- running mental "open file" of odd things that have happened to and around me, and that I can't explain. The distinction between that and that which I regard as an affront to science is that I acknowledge that I can't explain it acceptably, and then wait until I have the means. (I also accept that I may never. Such is the mystery of life.) The "new agers" that irritate me act like scientists in that they try to divine and explicate a system of rules for the world they live in, with the key exception that they do not bother with things like evidence or testability. It's not the existence of the unknown that gets to me, it's the wholesale invention of a new "known", for whatever purpose. And along with that goes the rejection of a sound known in favor of a more exciting "known".

"I am convinced that most great scientific discoveries begin not with 'Eureka!', but 'Hey, that's funny.'" - Isaac Asimov

In any case, I really AM off to take a stab at productivity now. Later.

Posted by: LabRat on June 7, 2003 01:25 PM

About two years ago a friend and I were sitting in McSorley's Ale House decrying the growing number of crackpot internet sites. We both worried about the capacity for well-written propoganda, easily reached through search engines, to influence the under-informed or the under-critical. Any agenda driven sophist with a website and some blarney could post anything; without fact checking, references, peer review or accountablity.

One of my complaints was that I'd wasted some time at a site that claimed to have a convincing theory of Gravity, complete with excrutiating mathmatics and observational evidence. The theory basically held that Gravity was a product of Universal Expansion. The math was suspect, the observation was theoretic, and at the end the guy finally admitted that he probably didn't know what he was talking about. Harmless in the end. But other sites dealing with other subjects could be harmful to the unsuspecting curious and gullible.
We, of course, didn't advocate any form of regulation/censorship; we were just concerned for the future of critical thinking and fact-based debate.

But recent events seem to show us (me, anyways) that the effect of the internet -- the free exchange of ideas and debate -- is actually having the opposite effect. It's not the garbage on the internet that seems to have been in need our communal critique; it's the garbage in the old media. The crisis at the New York Times' and exposing Michael Moore's "documentaries" for the dishonest propoganda that they are are just two examples of the Blogosphere having real effect by throwing light on the hitherto dark corners of where the media mogul roaches used to be able to rest unmolested by fact-checkers.

And even a non-daily updated site like this -- with essays and Comments threads -- serves as a great forum for admirers and dissenters and keeps us all on our toes.

So, thanks Bill for making the time and effort to write these gems.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 7, 2003 02:13 PM

Congratulations, Bill, a wonderful though not exactly perfect thesis, "Magic." However, I've had a little Mnemone that I've used to allow myself some operating room most of my life, it is: Infinity IS.

Debunking is a subject I've got a lot of experience with, since I've been fighting the professional debunkers most of my life (Phillip Klasse, James Oberg, James Randi, et al). You start your essay basically pooh-poohing the idea that there can be a race not-of-this-Earth that has the ability to get to our 'here', from their 'there', apparently, based on the idea that its just too far away. Who said it was, "Too far away?"...I'd hate to think that I was the village idiot who still believed that distance would even be a problem for a fullblown "Level I" civiliation, let alone a "Level II or III."

According to Kip Thorn, Stephen Hawkins, Michio Kaku and most of the real, formidable, "Theoretical Physicists" of the modern generation, we are just now emerging as a "Level ZERO" civilization, while (in fact) still not there.

To clarify where I'm going, I'll expand on my philosophy a little: "Infinity extends to all things, Space/Time, Energy Bands and Frequencies, Universes and, Realities. There are no absolutes, because that too is infinite." I've been following the tracks of the ancient "gods and goddesses" since I was a child in Sunday School who suddenly realized that some of the things I was being taught didn't ring true. Do I think they were Immortal? No...Do I think they were Omniscient and Omnipotent? No...Do I believe that they were immune to the effects of Aging? No...Do I believe that they were mortal, just as we are? Yes.

Do I believe they were "God"? No, first there was more than one, but, never more than 500 existing at one time on this planet. Second, they died of various things (accidents), executed several of their own (after due deliberation and conviction), and, killed each other in various ways for various reasons, including, in the various (documented) wars amongst gods and men. And, they weren't prone to using magic, just a science so advanced it still looks like magic to us, several thousand years after the last one "withdrew from the sight of man."

Am I a Christian? Yes, though I've learned that things in the Bible may not be exactly accurate, such as the 'name' "Thomas," which was 'deliberately' not translated. It means, "Twin."

Jesus' eldest brother, Judas, was called Judas Thomas. He was also called, Judas called Thomas, Judas called Didymus, Judas Didymus, Thomas Didymus, the Apostle Thomas, and, St. Thomas. Strangely, Didymus also means Twin, and, prior to the 16th Century, when either Mary, Joseph, or both, were depicted with a Christ Child, there was not one, but, two young boys in the picture, both with haloes, and, identical.

Think about Raphaels famous painting of the "Last Supper," where Jesus is in the center of the table, and, the Apostle Thomas is seen standing on the left side, glass raised in a toast, an identical twin to Jesus. Raphael got in a lot of trouble for that, because the Church had only recently declared the practice of depicting Jesus and Judas as twins would henceforth be anathema to those of Christian faith.

St. Thomas founded all of the Byzantine or Assyrian Christian Churches, as, St. Paul and Peter founded all of the Western faiths. Caused a schism, that, which came to a head in the early 16th Century. Paul and Thomas hated each other with an all encompassing vengeance that trickled down through the ages, coloring attitudes and 'painting' new histories, to the present day.

Do I believe there is life beyond the Planet Earth? Yes. Everything that Astronomers look at, and, check for the tools of Life proves, again and again, that the precursers and materials to allow the evolution of life is there...everywhere. Life is ubiquitous to the Universe, and, probably this Solar System.

Do I believe in UFO's? Yes. No equivocallity, flat YES. I've seen things that resembled Geese, like Madonna resembles a Main Battle Tank. Didn't need any pictures to prove what I saw, because I don't care what others think, and, never felt a need to prove anything...while fighting for the right of others to tell their stories, and, present evidence that has never been refuted, contrary to the "long-held-beliefs" and 'pat' statements and 'proof' of diehard skeptics.

Do I believe that there are senses that can't be explained? Yes, been there...walked the walk, talked the talk, and, did it myself.

Gordon DeSpain

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 7, 2003 03:50 PM

Addendum:

First: Not only is the Universe larger than we can measure, but, the Infinite Sea of Knowledge is larger than we can imagine. If we take all the accumulated knowledge of the Human Race (extant or no), from the time the first 'critter' crawled ashore in some distant past, roll it into a vast ball, then, toss it into the Infinite Sea of Knowledge...how long would it take to find it again?...and, could we?

Do I believe in Leprechauns? Well...I don't know. It's an interesting question, but, I just never thought about it, before. But, I have an idea where we could find an answer...the Infinite Sea of Knowledge. Let's toss that idea, that question, into that Infinite Sea of Knowledge (along with all our other unanswered questions), and, see if an answer comes floating back.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 7, 2003 04:39 PM

Geez,I feel like the neanderthal here;I don't even know if it is appropriate to use that last semicolon. I just read what Bill says and absorb it. Like movies. I watch a movie and either like or dislike it. It was information. Then critics pick it apart, piece by piece and find these little nuances I don't perceive.
I guess I tend to think of Bill as Steven DenBeste snorting a little Frank J.-informative yet fun and personable.
Hell, Bill, the longer the better because it always sucks to get to the end and realize it's over !

Posted by: Paul on June 7, 2003 05:10 PM

Bill - once again, you've written something a joy to read, even if I disagree with parts of it.

I'm a debunker who believes, if that makes any sense. A better way of phrasing it (or actually, paraphrasing it) comes from Spider Robinson, who wrote a book called Time Pressure. In it, the narrator character is explaining the difference between true science fiction fans and normal humans. It goes something like (and here's where the paraphrasing comes in *grin*):

A science fiction fan and a normal human will go through the same list of explanations when something weird happens, but for opposite reasons. The normal will think "I'm high; no, I don't do drugs. I'm drunk; no, I haven't had anything to drink. A blow to the head; that's it - I hit my head earlier; that's why I'm seeing this." A science fiction fan will go through the same list, hoping to disprove them.

A truly honest one will carefully explore all the possiblities. That's where I come in.

I have had three separate things happen in my life that I have absolutely no explanation for, and I'm not going to waste everyone's bandwidth describing them. (If you're interested, click my name - it shoud link to my e-mail.) I both do and don't want them explained - if they are, it means there's something new that I now know. I'll admit to sadness if they're explained, but I'm not so wedded to them as Weird Stuff (TM) that I'll attempt to explain away the laws of physics. (I actually have had people tell me that I didn't actually have the things I alluded to happen - that I hallucinated them for the sake of a story. I simply walked away.)

I really wish that I was as good at explaining myself as I see that you and Stephen Den Beste are. (And LabRat, and GreatHairySilverback, and...*grin*) I guess what I'm really asking (and if my brain was on enough to properly understand GHS, he was too) is that you keep an open mind. The universe is a strange and wondrous place, and we don't understand it all yet.

Posted by: Keith McComb on June 7, 2003 05:34 PM

Gordon,

I believe your premise, "Infinity Is", is arbitrary and unfounded. Einstein's equation T = t`/sq.rt. of 1-(v^2/c^2) where (t`) is rest(local) time, and describes the Relativistic time dilation (T). It's why a body cannot be accellerated to a relative velocity (v) of light (c). This prevents matter from being "disconnected" from other matter since information can't travel at a greater speed. Infinities are incoherent and therefore un-physical. All particle experiments varify this.

As far as the Galaxy and Universe teeming with Life, that may be true depending on your definition of "teeming". Consider these facts:

The Earth is a fertile place for Life to thrive. If Life is to permeate the Galaxy then it sure as hell is gonna grow here. Over and over and over...
But, so far as we can tell (and we can tell pretty good), all Life on Earth is related. This means that on this oasis -- this 5 billion year old Life supporting paradise -- Life began once. ONCE!! ...about 2-3 billion years ago. So, while Life seems very resilient here in warm bosom of home, it may not be as common in the Galaxy or Universe at large as we'd like to believe.

For intelligent creatures to arise out of that Life that may exist on other planets, a complex and unstructured chain of events has to occur.
Of all the millions upon millions of species that have lived and gone extinct over billions of years, only Homo Sapiens (again, as far as we know) has been capable of building a spaceship.

We came from tree-dwelling primates; with hands good for grasping branches rather than the paws and hooves of ground-dwelling quadropeds.
We, and our Ape cousins, began spending more time on the ground, gaining in size.
Exanding deserts forced Us out of the jungles and onto the plains, where our hands became tool makers. An omnivorous diet fed complete proteins to our brain which helped us to solve the problem of survival by allowing us to adapt to swift changes in the environment. When drought came we walked away rather than thirst and starve like our less cerebral fellow critters. Eventually we were US.

But all this intelligence and problem-solving adaptability wouldn't be put to building a technological world of computers and spaceships unless we had heavy metals readily available.
Iron, copper, gold, etc there and ready for mining.
In order to have heavy metals close to the surface of a planet you need some serious erosion of the top soil to take place. You need tectonic plates moving and pushing against each other, building mountains and changing the course of rivers. We have all that in droves on Earth; not because it's warm and wet, but because of that Monster Rock in the sky.

It's been said that an Alien visitor might consider the Earth-Moon a Duel Planetary system. The relative hugeness of our satellite isn't remotely approached anywhere else in the Solar System.
But, perhaps it can also be said, that such visitors would not be surprised at that, since they would probably have a similar body at their homeworld.

Assuming all of the conditions are met on another planet somewhere out there, there's another problem. The Galaxy is billions upon billions of years old. Species -- perhaps even intelligent ones -- are extant and extinct in a cosmic blink of an eye. If another spacefaring species were to have evolved somewhere else, AND be visiting us now...the TIMING would have to be astonishingly coincidental.

In summary, Life on Earth once, Intelligent Life once, metals required, timing is everything.
I don't believe in UFOs because A) It's not very likely, and B) I've never seen any credible evidence of one.
Carl Sagan used to say that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Your claims of having seen UFOs are fantastic, and I'm not easily given to fantasy.

Gawd, these Comments are nearly as long as Bill's essays. Yeesh!


Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 7, 2003 05:48 PM

Interesting exchange, GreatHairy.., and LabRat. While I certainly have no objection to excessive thinking, I am a life-long desciple of Mr. Ockam, and the Theory Of Economy Of Movement. Was it not Heinlein who always declared that a lazy man invented the automatic pilot? I could be wrong.

Most humans encounter mysteries from an early age, and solve them, more or less, to their own satisfaction. The numbers drop sharply after High School, and by the third decade of life, we are generally left with those who are paid to ponder, and those who suffer the double-edged gift of an endlessly curious nature. Being blessed/cursed in such a fashion, while simultaniously cultivating a strong propensity toward economy/efficiency, I was forced to reconcile this potentally devastating combination.

While both of you peck around the edges, neither directly addresses the idea of odds making. Life is an endless series of figuring the odds, from waking in the morning, to turning in at night, for the duration of our lives. From slam-dunks, to hipshots, and everything in between, we make choices based on figuring the odds, using the information at our disposal. Allow me to submit my metaphor, and hopefully link it to your discussion.

I see the(my) brain as a transmission. A 3-speed manual transmission, to be exact. The number of gears is arbitrary, but I am middle aged, and have fond memories that color my choice.:)

3rd, or high gear is where we spend the majority of our time. Perception is going along swimmingly, and sensory input is being collated against memory by a bunch of bored collators watching the clock until quitting time. Our world is without any surprises, or mysteries. It's a productive day, and life is good. A tremendous number of people live their entire lives in third gear. Those in third gear are the ones who stand around gawking when a shot rings out, instead of hitting the floor. If, or when reality jamb-shifts them into second gear, many who didn't even know they had but one gear are confused, upset, and sometimes forever changed by the experience.

Second gear is not unlike any other second gear. It is pressed into service for climbing hills, turning corners, and any other occasion where additional torque may be necessary. Sensory information arrives that the collators don't have an exact slot for. Often, they can run a quick scan of the entire memory, and find a dusty old seldom used slot, and save the day. This results in only a momentary pause in our travels, and we hardly notice. Sometimes, however, brand new information arrives, a scan produces nothing, and the collators are at a loss. They immediately get on the horn to the bookie dept.

The bookies are the odds makers. They access the same memory scan, but are not in the collating business. When new information comes in, they run it against the memory. They know that there is no exact match, or collating wouldn't have called them. They find a close match, and figure the odds. Making their choice on that, they send the slot number back to collating, the info is inserted. If it sticks, collating updates the memory to include the new info, and things return to normal. If it doesn't, the process is repeated until it does, all with blazing speed, of course.

This is a rather beneign use of second gear, and it happens all the time. The first trip into a carnival funhouse full of warped mirrors is preceded by certain informational keys that dictate our concern. Those coming out the other end of the funhouse are laughing, and enjoying themselves, for example. Better yet, parents, or older siblings lead us along with reassurance. So we enter the house of mirrors not knowing what lies ahead, but armed with enough information to lay to rest any grave concern. Since we really don't have the exact information as to what happens in a house of mirrors, the bookies have been hard at work...second gear. All of the grotesque images we see, and the warped reflections that would otherwise drive the collators into a lather, have been pre-handled by the bookies, and all is well.

Second gear is not always so beneign. Sometimes we receive information that so strongly resists being processed, that we don't even know if we are in peril, or not. The collators are drumming pencils in a major snit. The bookies are in an intense huddle. This is where the bookies really shine. They take all the information available, scant as it may be, figure the odds as only they can, and then they make the call. To shoot, or not shoot at a firing range designed for such a test can generate amazing amounts of adrenalin, stress, and sweat, even when pre-handled, and known to not have any lethal repercussions. To shoot, or not shoot in a real-life situation, is a serious test of second gear, and we better have spent some time there, and be familiar with what is happening.

First gear is crunch time. The collators are passed out cold, the memory is all but shorted out, and the bookies have been doing some serious drinking. The information coming in is beyond collation. This gear runs on more emotion, and determination than reason, logic, or memory. First gear is the repository for things yet undiscovered, and things momentarily considered "unknowable". In it resides the Leap Of Faith that is essential for the practice of any religion. It is for musing about the night sky, or our beginnings, or ends. In my mis-spent youth, first gear served me well during periods of experimentation with hallucinogens. At times, it was the only gear left, by default. I knew I had a pulse, and that was about it. I did know enough to just hold it in first, and ride it out. Drunken bookies still figure odds, and it was something to hang my hat on, whatever a hat was. First gear is for combat. First gear is for desperation. first gear keeps us alive, and gets us through, until we are capable of grabbing second again, and back up through the gears to cruising speed.

I said at the beginning that this was a manual transmission. That is partly true. Quite often, I deliberately shift gears, and I almost always know what gear I'm in. After decades with this metaphor, however, a good number of the shifts are automatic. In all fields of endeavor, and thinking of, and discussing every possible topic, it has served me well enough to keep using it. I know what gear to use to know what to do if I am being shot at, how to enjoy a sunrise, or whether a pyramid under my bed will bring eternal happiness. There is no such thing as arrogant, offhand dismissal. That is neutral, and I have no use for it.

Posted by: Arch Stanton on June 7, 2003 06:47 PM

Hi Spork,

Working generally backwards through your comments, I don't need imperical evidence (presented by others) for things I've experienced, first hand, that were undeniably real and not something of this earth. Believe me, I tried to make birds of them, Planes, Meteorites, Balloons, anything but what I was seeing, up close. Your belief in UFO's is based on your non-experience, and, mine is a little more personal and varied (it's not just one I've seen).

I've studied a lot of things in my life, and, most of that 'determined digging' was a result of something I didn't understand, couldn't explain, and, nobody else believes in. I've also run afoul of a lot of really determined professional Skeptics, and, after digging up the proof they asked for, almost all used the standard 'James Randi' method of debunking, to wit, "I don't believe," usually followed by pointing to something that was debunked years ago. However, it's mete to consider the actual definition of "Debunk" (part of a course in "Debunking" I took on CSICOP's Website): (When faced with an event you absolutely cannot refute) Tell a lie and repeat it, til it's the last thing heard, and, the only thing remembered.

I'm a great Fan of Albert Einstein, though not much of a mathematician, and, within the last three months they've discovered that the "Speed of Light" is not fixed, in fact it's variable. Though the amount is infinitesimal, it still varies, and, this shakes a lot of trees. They've also postulated, within the last year, that it may not be the Barrier we think it is, simply because they can define ways around and through it, without touching it.

Now, who said that life must follow our precepts, be organic, or, even anything we would recognize as living? There are things right here on Earth that defy everything we thought we knew about life, and, within the last 5 years they've discovered that an unknown, 'recently discovered' Genus of life, Archaeia, outnumbers us Eucharyotes, and the Procaryotes, put together.

I worked on the commissioning of the Exxon/Mobil Platform Diana, and, while setting the Anchors for the Platform, they discovered huge beds of Methane Ice on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. To the amazement of Scientists, there is an entire food Chain of creatures living on and in the Ice, all based on (built upon) several different tiny creatures that eat Methane, and, all survive in a Methane saturated 'Atmosphere' of Water...without sunlight, without Oxygen, without, and in spite of, heat.

There are things living on this Planet that may outnumber every other living Genus, that require neither Sunlight, air/oxygen, free water, and, at both extremes of temperature, up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit (around and in "Black Smokers" at the deepest parts of the Oceans), and, far below freezing. In at least the one case, near the temperature of frozen Methane. There are things surviving in Antarctica which produce a chemical that keeps the water around them from freezing, and, others (small varieties of Fish) that have Anti-Freeze in their blood and live in an upside down world below the ice.

There are many things existing on 'this' Planet that survive in ecosystems more extreme than those found on the Planet Mars, and, at greater extremes (a little Shrimp-like creature that lives 'in' the "Black Smokers," yet, zips out into water far below freezing to feed and breed, and, zips back...the temperature differential alone should fry them).

The little Stardust Spacecraft, that they've now lost contact with, stuck a little 'sticky' Stop Sign out into the Interstellar Breeze, and, was plastered with a Tar-like Substance that was identified as a pre-cursor to RNA and DNA. It looks like the whole Universe may be related.

We do not yet know all the environments on Earth that have living creatures in them (except everywhere we've looked so far), so how can we pontifically tell the Universe where, when and what type of life it may evolve.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 7, 2003 07:02 PM

You know, Bill, there is an basis underlying most of what I know, and some of what I believe. There is a little bubble of it floating around in my head all the time, and it's reinforced by some of my family's roots.

My family came from Europe at one time or another. My father's people came from England in the early 1800's, and they spent until the late 1800s in Maine and Vermont before moving to the mid-West, and the German side of his family came to the Dakota's in the late 1800's. My Mom's people were Scot and Irish and settled in Illinois and Missouri. So, in effect, I was handed a double dose of hard headedness, between Yankees, Scots, and Germans, plus a generous amount of blarney by the Irish kin.

What it all settles down to is my core beliefs are tempered by pragmatism.

Pragmatism, with a large dose of that famous Missouri sentiment, Show Me.

I strongly believe in the a variations of the hippies simple theme. "If it works right, don't fuck with it." As far as medicine or dentistry is concerned: "If it doesn't hurt, don't mess with it." "Not only is function infinitly more important than form, the form of the idea is driven by its function." All of these ideas are examples of simple pragmatism in action.

Another question I tend to ask is: Who benefits?

Take the Kyoto Treaty. It is for an ostensibly laudable idea, and an initial knee jerk thought would be, ok it sounds good. But then I take a look at who benefits. Does everyone in the world benefit? Most definitely not. The underdeveloped nations benefit tremendously. The first and second world nations suffer. Now what about the science? Is there near unanimity amongst the experts about the benefits or the costs? Small for the former and tremendous for the latter. So I say forget the Treaty.

I am not a citizen of the nations of Europe. If I were, I would be closely examining this idea of a European Union. Again, the initial premise is appealing: let's stand up to nasty old America. Together, we are a match for all the world. I believe that upon reflection we see the underlying value and basic merit of these statements: zero. It's all twaddle.

So far as I can see, there has been little examination of the cost of joining the EU. These costs have only recently been published in the document set up to guide the Union.

Let's see, you can't call another EU member any derogatory name. No more drunken Irishmen, no more suave French lovers, no more earthy Italian women, no more German barmaids in dirndls showing off their not minimal assets, and so on. Those statements are against the law. When a politician of whatever stripe does something abysmally stupid, as it seems politicians are wont to do, you can't call them on it.

You also cannot control who travels within your borders. All borders have the same level of security, supposedly. Rome International, do you hear that? You, who let the terrorists in who killed Navy diver Robert Steadman? Or France, that has often offered shelter to inimical threats to peace. What about Southern Bavaria in Germany, where many of the European terrorists laid low throughout the 80s?

The idea of a European Union is simply to be the inital form of the post modernist's desire for a World Government, IMVHO. We will impose Socialism, for we elite are much better educated, more capable, and much close to the godhead then you plebians. We will disarm everyone, so no group can dispute our orders.

Personally, I want no part of that. America has the idea, and the ideal, that the people run the nation. Certainly, we have certain vainglorious people who wish to seem in charge. Among them are those who like having the greater part of their state's public features named after them. Hey, it's only money, it doesn't cause anyone any pain, so let the old guy do it.

But when push comes to shove, we the people get the point across. Take a look at very recent history. The political landscape was sharply divided in two. A popular president was impeached, but not removed from office by a razor thin margin. This can only happen when there is great rancor among the populace. We went through the most divisive election in our history. People to this day say that someone stole the election. They disregard little facts like the Electoral College to make their points to the less well informed.

Then some men, not a nation, declare war by killing over 3000 civilians. We start fighting said men. The nation pulls together. The politically minded idiots we put in office still caterwaul about elections, aircraft landings, and other events, but the people remain focused on eliminating the threat.

You see, the people trying to destroy us are a problem. A practical problem, which requires a hard headed solution. One we can show the people. There, that organization is mostly destroyed. This bad man is out of power; no longer shall two hundred children be killed and buried holding their dolls.

What it all comes down to is that we Americans, as individuals, band together to form a group with the belief that the sum is greater than the parts. But the value of the individual is greater than the value of the group. We look at what works, we adopt it, and we make it our own. Hopefully without ever losing sight of the freedoms we cherish.

But we make the decisions as individuals, based upon what is best for the nation.

Pragmatically.

Sapper Mike

Posted by: Sapper Mike on June 7, 2003 07:19 PM

Gordon,

Fascinating. And I know of the worm-like critters that inhabit the cold ocean bottom near magma vents that don't depend on the Sun for anything. The other creatures you mentioned are news to me...and I'd like to learn more about them!

Life is certainly resilient and persistent. Also, perhaps the distinct Phyla could be the result of several different times that Life has begun on Earth. But even that would support the idea that Life would evolve pretty much according to the bio-chemical processes we've witnessed here.

As for what other different forms that Life might take, I think they certainly would be corporeal, material things, and evolve according to the laws of chemistry. (Perhaps not "organic". Silicon is as active as carbon, but not so plentiful. A planet where silicon-based Life would be created would probably mean that silicon is so much more plentiful than carbon, which isn't likely.)

Life that is not, by our experience, anything we would recognize as "alive" -- bodiless? un-"real"? -- is an interesting thought, but, since I have no way of recognizing it as alive, and know of no physical process that would produce an intelligent non-corporeal being, I can't say that I have any expectation that such a creature could exist.

You're right that my non-belief (not DIS-believe) comes from my non-experience of UFOs. I make no claim that you're UFO sightings never happened, nor that the unlikely coincidences that would put them here now haven't happened, but only that I have no evidence that they did. And so I do not BELIEVE in them. Though, if they're there, I'd really love to meet those travelers!

James Randi is one of my heroes. Not because he disbelieves in extraordinary claims, but because he applies science and reason to debunk the charletans and their hoaxes, as well as delusion and general superstition.
I'm a cynic, I know. Only because I want to know what's real and what isn't rather than suspect that I might be comforted by the beauty of some helpless wonderment.

Actually, I had an interesting experience with telepathy -- truely bizarre -- when I was 15. The last person I told about it (other than discussing it with the person who shared the experience) was an Air Force doctor. Needless to say I learned not to discuss such things openly with authority figures with any say in my future!!

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 7, 2003 07:47 PM

Sapper, amen.


HEY! A short post!!

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 7, 2003 07:56 PM

Bill, look above this post..see why it's good to keep comments open, if they're not troll-infested?!
more facts and ideas than my feeble brain can consume in 1 sitting..!
( maybe a companion book of the greatest comments is in order?!)

Posted by: Paul on June 7, 2003 08:16 PM

Hi. Actually, the relationship between Bacteria, Archaea, and Eucaryota was the main thrust of a research project of mine about a year ago. No, it was hardly groundbreaking- it was just looking at a certain biochemical pathway the three share and how it had wandered. Either way it required me to become familiar with archaea.

Some minor points: technically, Archaea and Bacteria are both prokaryotes. (Even more technically, "prokaryote" is now an outdated concept.) Also, they don't outnumber bacteria. And the highest proposed level of taxonomic organization, which encompasses these three groups, is the domain. (Proposed by Carl Woese, and not yet universally accepted.) Taxonomy goes like this: (Domain) Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Archaea is a domain; Methanococcus is a genus.

A less minor point: archaea are weird compared to what we're familiar with, which for most people is mostly vertebrates, but they're not THAT weird. Chemically they make perfect sense, especially in a pre-oxygen atmosphere. They fit quite neatly and satisfyingly into the tree of life, from a biologist's perspective. So they don't really turn my world upside down.

Speaking strictly for myself, I believe in the probability of life elsewhere in the universe, given its size, and the possibility that some of it may be intelligent. I regard the possibility that it has visited and is visiting Earth with skepticism. I regard the possibility that it has crashed near here (I live in New Mexico) with great skepticism. And I flat-out do not accept that it would have any overwhelming interest in the soft tissue of livestock or the anuses of rednecks.

Meanwhile, I'm familiar with everything Gordon mentioned except the "Stardust Spacecraft". Explain?

Posted by: LabRat on June 7, 2003 08:31 PM

I read a Whittle essay and then I read the comments-suddenly I feel very uneducated. Damn those public schools!

I merely wanted to thank you Bill Whittle for revising your Magic essay. As someone pointed out earlier, I read it, I absorb it and I, apparently, miss a lot that the critics do not.

I hope that you will always keep your comments open because I learn just that much more from reading them after one of your essays.

Second-(suck up moment)-When your book comes out, how do we get ourselves an autographed copy?

Ciao

Posted by: serenity on June 8, 2003 12:38 AM

Amen to serenity above. This is much better than anything I ever got through formal education (although I can't deny my own role in the dilution of that education).

More! More!

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 8, 2003 07:16 AM

Hi,

I tend to read and absorb what Bill has to say, but not comment. However, these comments have touched on some areas that I know a lot about.

First, there is lots of weird stuff in the world. I'm not sure how anybody could pay attention and doubt that. HOWEVER, as someone (LabRat?) pointed out above what annoys me is not that people recognize weird stuff, but that they build a world-view based on the weird stuff and not on the (relatively) ordinary. This is where the pseudo-science comes from. I think this is the general point of Bill's discussion of Chomsky and the bucket of black sand.

Maybe another point that needs to be clarified is that it seems to me that "science" is being used ambiguously here. On one side, we have a body of beliefs-physics, chemistry, biology, etc. On the other side we have a bunch of heuristics, attitudes and even moral "rules" that are at least in large part responsible for generating that body of knowledge. This ambiguity matters, as follows. Suppose I claim that I don't believe in some phenomena because it's not scientific. I can mean two things by it. First, I might be denying it because it either doesn't appear within, or is otherwise incompatible, with that established body of beliefs. But, this is just weak and lazy, as GreatHairySilverBack points out. But, I might mean that I have a applied that collection of heuristics, etc., which I trust because of its success in generating the bodies of belief. And, when I do that the phenomenon simply seems to vanish. To be some kind of sensory or cognitive artefact. However, this is certainly neither a weak argument nor a lazy one.

Unfortunately, really employing that toolbox takes time, money and energy. So, I am, and everybody else is, forced to pick and choose when and to what we can apply it. In the other cases we are forced to rely on two reasonably simple and reliable heuristics. First, that if something is radically incompatible with previously established beliefs then it is unlikely to be sufficiently interesting to bring the whole toolbox out to take a look at it. Second, that I can rely on people who have previously shown themselves to be pretty skilled users of the toolbox, to get it right this time.

This brings me to what I actually started out wanting to post about-Einstein, FTL and aliens. In Special Relativity, Einstein pretty clearly gets away with violating the first heuristic above. But, only because of the second one. Non-specialists seem to forget that in the same year that he published the SR paper, he published two other equally important papers solving the problems of Brownian motion and the photoelectric effect using pretty perfectly established methods and science, although the photoelectric paper is more adventurous than the Brownian motion one. (And, is what won him his Nobel prize.) Without this work it seems extremely doubtful that anybody of any consequence would have taken SR seriously. Finally, then General Relativity is the theory of gravity compatible with SR to replace Newton's which isn't, because it requires absolute simultaneity.

Ouch, this taking me a long time to get to the point I started out wanting to make. We know as nearly absolute experimental fact that we cannot accelerate past light speed from below (or above, but that's not really relevant). How do we know this? From particle accelerators. We know that the relativistic mass, which tells us how much energy we have to provide to accelerate a particle a given amount, increases with relative speed. It does so pretty precisely according to the expected calculations from SR, but this is a confirmation for SR not a product of it. It's this fact that forces us to build bigger and more powerful accelerators.

But, there might be shortcuts. Let me just mention two--wormholes and de-compactification. There are solutions to the Einstein Field Equations of GR which allow for connections between two space-like separated events, a wormhole. Unfortunately, this requires large amounts of exotic matter. This matter would have negative gravitational energy-kind of like a negative gravitational charge. We have no idea how to make this stuff, or even whether it's possible.

Alternatively, if e.g. string theorists are correct then spacetime actually consists of more than 4-dimensions, which of course takes us beyond GR. All but four of those dimensions would be compactified. Roughly, rolled up. Now some places which are far apart in 4-D spacetime might actually be pretty close to each other measured across another dimension. An example might help. Take a sheet of paper and roll it up tightly. The more tightly you roll it, the more the two-dimensional sheet of paper looks like a one-dimensional line. And, points on the paper that are a long ways apart when it's flat are now just next to each other. Maybe, we will discover that we can "unfold" spacetime, refold it, "step across" and then unfold it again leaving us at our destination.

Now, the point of all this. These, and I'm willing to bet anything else that anybody can come up with, both require and release truly vast amounts of energy. And somehow I don't think we are really going to miss bursts of radiation as intense as the Sun going off right here in the Solar System.

Just to respond to an obvious objection, I think that anything else we, or anybody else who happens to be out there, come up with will have similar effects because given the light-speed limit the only hope of FTL is the direct manipulation of the structure of spacetime. We know as surely as we know anything that this takes a massive amount of energy. The only place that we know it actually happens is in Black Holes.

And, the variability of the speed of light over the course of the history of the universe doesn't give us any help. First, we're still at the "crackpot or genius?" stage with these ideas. Second, it's still got to be frame-invariant, and as long as that's the case then the shape of the light-cones might change but we're still stuck inside.

Ouch, well this ended being almost Whittlesque itself. But, the upshot is that there are really good scientific reasons for refusing to believe that we are (currently) being visited by aliens. This, of course, is all in addition to the question of why they would travel parsecs to screw around with people and livestock and crash into hills in New Mexico.

Posted by: Jim H. on June 8, 2003 09:03 AM

Hi Lab, Spork, et al,

Remember the comment I made about "determined digging?" Well, not knowing what something is, where it came from, why it's here, and, why it's intruding on my space, is the totality fueling that. I jump from one thing to another, generally trying to relate everything to everything, and, in the process generally skim the top of everything. I usually stick to one or two pertinent categories when trying to stick all this together, like Phylum (when the name was lost in clutter at the time), and, Eucaryotes (Multi-Cell) and Procaryotes (Single-Cell) fills most of my needs, then, someone throws Archaea at me, and, I gotta start over again, tryin' to remember my math (Now, where'd I quit countin' last time?).

Right now, I'm trying to get up to speed on a project Image of Mars that the Anomaly Hunters are working on (Wil Fausts, "Parratopia"), and, trying to figure out where they've been so I'll have an idea where we're going (got the image up in another Window), so I'm not really here, ya know? I'm also trying to follow the latest Gun Rights diddling, and, keep my letter writing moving to stop as much tyrannous fiddling as possible...and, gettin' ready for a local gathering of us Gun Nuts.

Stardust! OK, it's a little Spacecraft that was supposed to do a close encounter with a Comet (sometime this year), made two passes around the sun and Earth, getting gravity boosts to sling it out there, each time, and, suddenly it wasn't there. But, it did manage to carry out a couple of successful scientific experiments, and, the one where it gathered Cosmic (Star) Dust for analysis was one of these. It was capable of a certain amount of onboard analysis, and, the data it returned added to our knowledge of the building blocks of life, by adding this tar-like substance to the tier...a precursor to RNA or DNA, and, possibly both. But, its loss (the Spacecrafts) ended that line of investigation into the nature of the substance, and, how much of it rains down on earth, everyday, along with tons and tons of other Universal debris. The raw material for starting over, after the next Cataclysm.

GHS...Public School? Did I attend one of those? Hmmmmm? Ah...yes, got kicked out of Physics class for blowing up at a teacher who was pushing the Solar System theory of Atomic Construction (a War Hero with a Steel Plate in his head...nuthin' got by that). I was doin' Schroedinger and Heisenberg at the time.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 8, 2003 10:05 AM

Jim,

Great...now, to set you off on another tangent, go to Space Daily.com, and, do a search on, "A Matter of Inertia."

It just gets better and better...thanks, Bill.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 8, 2003 10:15 AM

I am printing this all out to read later, when I am smarter.

(Bill, In this current post you have a typo "the the" just search for the, you'll find it.)

I am currently listening to cut 7 of the Titanic soundtrack album as I read your latest magic.2, it is a similar experience to watching the Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (which I have never done, but I understand it's interesting to do.)

I also wanted to mention something about A.C. Doyle and his interest in his later years in Mediums and Faeries.... the same person who invented that paragon of logic Sherlock Holmes. And all I mean by that is, if you are looking for Leprechauns, you are likely to find them.... the human mind is a very interesting phenomenon.

Posted by: EB on June 8, 2003 02:50 PM

Dear Bill:

I have read and enjoyed three of your essays, so far....This rewrite of "MAGIC" is polished and perfected, an engaging read. I agree that decisions affecting our lives and our country MUST be based on fact, not fiction, which could open up a whole debate on the justification of the war we just waged in Iraq.

I have no background in physics or astronomy, or much of any science for that matter, thus a lot of what I have read here (especially the comments) is way over my head. Sadly, my thoughts are pretty much eneducated opinion, but here goes....

To Hairofthedawg: Reflect that it is not "religion" that seeks power, but MAN who seeks power in the name of religion. Prove to me that any religious writings came from the hand of God and not the hand of man...Did God create man, or did man create God? I don't know, but I do believe that man created religion and that is why there are so many in our world.
And it is man's thirst for power that pits the various religions against one another.

To Spork: All scientific evidence aside, how can you look to the heavens at night, see all those stars and star systems (infinite in number) and NOT BELIEVE in the probability that life exists somewhere out there? That it could be intelligent or that currently it might be as land-locked in it's own unique solar system as we are here on Earth? We have experienced two space shuttle disasters that have halted our manned space exploration temporarily. I've never seen a UFO, but I do believe they could exist. What if some distant civilization put all its hopes in the spacecraft that crashed in New Mexico (if in fact that's what happened). Surely that would have derailed their "manned" space exploration for a while....

While the possibilities here on Earth are becoming more finite, space and beyond still offer an infinite number of possibilities. Use your imagination and open yourself to what could be. I'm sure Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and all the other great inventors based their inventions on the scientific data of their day, but it was their imagination that led to their brilliant inventions.

Which brings me back to Bill: What can you do with "Imagination"? This country was founded by dreamers who imagined a better life for all.....

Posted by: Geem on June 8, 2003 04:11 PM

Geem,

True, I agree that the problem I have with religion is men seeking power through it and should have phrased it better. Thanks for pointing that out.

As far as fact and fiction and Iraq go, I doubt we'll ever know exactly what was going on there, but there, to my mind, was enough justification, even if found after the fact, to make it a worthwhile endeavor.

I don't feel that the discussion here has been about limiting things, but more about choosing what goals to pursue. Why waste time and effort on attempts in vain? I'm all for the exploration of space and discovering the infinite possibilities of the universe but we should be realistic about it. We could spend our time searching for extraterrestrials or become them ourselves, the latter of which I would prefer.

Is it economically feasible? Doubtful, unless you look at it with a really long term view. Should it be done? Yes, if only to provide us with an out-clause. I'm not an environmentalist gloom and doomer, but we need to anticipate a day when we'll need somplace to go. Why not start now?

cheers,

Dick

Posted by: hairofthedawg on June 8, 2003 04:42 PM

howdy Geem,

I didn't mean to leave an impression that I believe that it's impossible that we could be, or have been, visited by aliens. I just haven't seen the evidence that we have. And, for the reasons I blathered on about earlier, I do think it's unlikely (though any credible evidence could change that).

I fully accept that the possibilities of what is and can be that are out there among the stars -- and here at home -- may be "infinite", and I/we (humans) may not be able to comprehend those possibilties any more than my cats can understand a bran muffin recipe. But I can't BELIEVE (i.e. take it on faith, or on suspect evidence) the PROBABILITY that intelligent spacefarers have been here.

Bell, Edison, Franklin et al made amazing discoveries due in large to their imagination. (and, of course, someone who's decided that cancer can't be cured wont be the one to find the cure for cancer.) But imagination alone only gets you to see a possibility; critical thinking and scientific method are what will make it Real.

I gather we agree on these things, though...and are each merely stressing the yin and yang of it (tastes great! less filling!).

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 8, 2003 05:01 PM

Hi Geem, Spork,

Someone mentioned earlier, the different ways we might step out among the Stars, assuming that Faster Than Light Speed is the only answer. However, a couple of things happened in the middle to late '50's, that shook me to my core, and, convinced me there's another way. I'm not the one who thought of it, it has been a theme of Science Fiction writers since the earliest attempts at the genre, it's Generational Spaceships.

One fine spring day, in 1956, I was setting in Mrs Kocyons 5th grade class, bothering the girls on either side, and, suddenly went blind. There was total silence in the room, then a collective gasp, girls screaming, boys yelling, and, Mrs Kocyon (who had been standing by the door) diving for the light switch. She (being our Science teacher) started trying to calm everyone down, explaining that it was nothing but an unexpected eclipse. Then charged out of the room, to call the Planetarium in Houston and find out what th' hell was goin' on, as we drifted toward the Windows for a look.

But, my mind was racing, Eclipses don't happen like that, instant total darkness, and, I knew that something else was happening. My first thought was that it was an Asteroid, and, we were directly under it. Scary, but, for some reason, I accepted the fact that we were gonna die, and, kept my mouth shut to keep from causing panic, or, suddenly flipping out. If I didn't acknowledge the fear, or talk about it, it might go away.

Just as I reached the windows and looked out, the Street Lights came on across the street, as some fast thinking City Employee found the Switches, and, turned 'em on (there were no Electric Eyes, then). There was a slight murmur of appreciation for this mundane event, then everyone shut-up and, stared at a totally black sky at about 9 AM, in total silence. I guess I wasn't the only one that didn't wanta talk about it.

Mrs Kocyon came back about 10 minutes later, and, I could tell when she entered the room, she was panicked. She tried to reassure us that it was probably an Eclipse, but, as yet, her friend at the Planetarium didn't know any more than we did.

She then told us to be calm and wait, she had some more sources to check, she'd be back as soon as she knew anything. She wasn't gone long, apparently someone she knew at the Police Station was receiving information from Louisiana, and, he gave her the best description I've heard, which agreed with the Papers, the next day.

It was the shadow of something beyond the orbit of the Moon, and, it was travelling approximately 1,000 MPH. It had originally appeared in the Gulf of Mexico, crossed the shoreline around Pascagoula, MS, was racing almost due West, and, appeared to be about 300 miles wide. At almost exactly 10 AM, the Sun returned with a Bang, which, while we were relieved, set my mind to calculating. Any way I looked at it, this thing was over a thousand miles long.

The shadow continued across New Mexico, Arizona, and, almost to California...then, Bang, it was gone. It never reached California. With my background in Science Fiction reading, at that time, I instantly decided it had jumped into "Hyperspace," and, found myself at odds with nearly everyone in Pasadena, Texas. Mostly on religious grounds, that there is no life anywhere in the Universe, except on Earth...God said so.

There was a flurry of speculation in the Papers (Houston Chronicle, Press, etc.) the next day, then it died a sudden and silent death.

Along about this same time, the world of Astronomy suddenly shut down as every Astronomer in the world ripped his Telescope around and pointed it at the Sun, to watch an event like none other, before or since. There was a swarm of thousands of geometric shapes, of every kind...Sphere, Square, Rectangle, Pentagon, Hexagon, and, Triangle crossing the face of the sun, in every known formation, grouped apparently by shape.

They continued to sweep majestically across the disc for three days, then one final object swept across the disc as if trying to catch up, and, vanished into the Cosmos.

Astronomers world wide breathed a sigh, and, heaved a collective, "Well, I'm glad that's over," swung their Telescopes back to whatever they were doing before the event, and, forgot about it, but, I didn't. Mrs Kocyon had been following the event, through her friend at the Burke-Baker Planetarium, and, I was chasing every lead I could follow, calling everyone I knew, and, the blackout hit...it never happened.

For an exercise in education, take a look at the Moons of this Solar System...as I have, every picture I could find, and, every fact I could attach to every Moon, including ours. The majority of the larger ones bear the earmarks of Generational Spaceships, parked in Orbits around the Planets, especially those in Trojan Orbits around the outer Planets (more than one Moon in a single Orbit). A book was written about the Moon by the man in charge of the NASA team that analyzed the Seismic readings from the Moon...they all had one opinion, it's hollow, and, rings like a Bell.

Who came here? When? Why?

Who are we? How did we get here?

Lots of things in this world, this Solar System, this Universe...we don't know.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 8, 2003 11:11 PM

Dick and Turning Spork:

Wow, you guys are fast on the draw! It took me a while to get my initial thoughts down in writing....and another while to reflect on your replies.

What I meant to say, I think I said, but then you both expanded on my comments and made me think that my interpretation of your posts was just wishful thinking...I fully accept the principles of scientific research and basing conclusion on scientific fact, but, I leave a door open to the possibility that something exists beyond the sciences that we know. In example: when my daughter was a newborn she ended up in the hospital with a life threatening pneumonia. Logic tells me that hospitalization and competent medical care is what got her well. However, her life hung in the balance for several days until a congregation of strangers, collectively prayed for her recovery one Sunday morning. That evening, she made a "miraculous" turn around and quickly regained good health. Did medical science prevail, or did it get a boost from some as yet unidentified power through the positive thinking of strangers? The human brain is a great frontier for which much research is currently taking place. Perhaps there's more to the phrase "think positive" than we know. I will always be grateful for the doctors who treated my child....and for the prayers.

Yes. I think Iraq was worthwhile, too. (I THINK, because it is not finished yet.) But, I really hope WMD's are found there...and soon...otherwise I question the emphasis on the presence of WMD's in our government's sales pitch for the justification of waging the war. Yes, Saddam needed to go; he should have been dealt with back in '91 (hindsight). He was a menace to the stability of the middle east and, therefore, to us. But, the selling point for going to war was WMD's as a direct threat to the U.S.A. and I think we need to find them to save face, otherwise we are perceived as a trigger happy threat to the rest of the world.

Was the threat to us fact or fiction? Were the intelligence agencies still reeling from the trauma of 9/11? Did FICTION become FACT in order to justify a war and did we buy into the tale? Was it a deliberate attempt to deceive or a kneejerk reaction to the perceived theat of terrorism knocking at our door once again? Was it a case in point of Bill's "MAGIC" in action? As you say, we may never know---but, I'd like to have the answers.....

I'd like to believe that when we die everything becomes crystal clear, but, alas I have the feeling that its dust to dust like all the other critters on this planet and that life everlasting is achieved by raising intelligent, caring children who in turn become nurturing parents who raise intelligent,caring children, etc. Thus a little bit of us goes on..as long as mankind doesn't destroy itself in the name of politics or religion or some other earthly cause du jour.

How do you/we know that Earth wasn't someone else's "out clause" in the past?

So, YES to scientific exploration and YES to creative imagination. They will take us to the stars one day and more answers will be found....more questions, too!

Posted by: Geem on June 8, 2003 11:43 PM

Gordon:

I just read your recent post. Did that really happen? Where is it documented? Why have I never heard of the event before?

Posted by: Geem on June 9, 2003 12:00 AM

Mah esteemed cahleeg, the Gennilmun from Fladah, Great Hahry Siylvahbacka, is tryin' -- I say, TRYIN' ta get a rise out a' me. While I still hold tha flowah (Held the flowah! Hell, son, couldn't git up offa it!), I will attimpt -- I say, ATTIMPT -- to give him an ansah worthy of his great weight in this August foahum.

Bonus points, again, to LabRat -- predictions are one thing, but QUANTIFIABLE predictions separate the Albert Einstein's from the Daryl Hothingwaites. Math rules.

We revere Einstein not because he goofed off at work dreaming up some wacked-out shit. We revere Einstein because he goofed off at work dreaming up some wacked-out shit THAT COULD BE TESTED AND VERIFIED. How many hundreds of millions of people have come up with ideas far less odd or uninuitive than Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, but we don't talk about them because their theories were A BUNCH A' CRRRRAP!

I never said that there is nothing left to be discovered. I am saying that pretty much ALL of the things on the fringe that you have heard about are GARBAGE. Why can I make this statement with such confidence? Aside, obviously, from the fact that I pay for this site and can issue decrees like Misha I?

Well, to those who claim that there may be merit to some of the pseudosciences out there, I remain VERY sceptical, because you make a terrific mis-assumption about scientists and the way they are wired.

There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING that people like me would rather believe in than the idea that UFO's are faster than light, anti-gravity spacecraft filled with super-intelligent beings from other worlds. Imagine all that we could learn from them! Scientists LIVE for these things.

But no serious scientist gives them a second thought. Why? Because the evidence for ALL of these things is just so damnably poor that is fails to rise about the background noise.

A FINGERNAIL clipping from a bona-fide alien could, say, provide a DNA analog, or even better, exotic proteins constructed by right-handed amino acids. That would be very compelling proof, indeed.

Sagan has a very pithy line about this: A woman claims to have had her reproductive tract altered by aliens. Her gynecologist, she asserts, "is completely baffled."

Sagan replies, "apparently not so baffled as to write an article, with accompanying X-rays, MRI's, and biopsy photos, to the New England Journal of Medicine."

I DO emphatically believe that there are entire hosts, lesser fleas ad infinitum, yet to be discovered. But IF concentrating on a swinging crystal REALLY CAN heal wounds, we will learn about it in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN and not on UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. Because if there is any merit to these claims -- ANY AT ALL -- someone will jump on it and make a name for themselves.

All major scientific theories: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Continental Drift, The Big Bang, Evolution, etc., have been met with impassioned opposition. I never claimed that new theories will not supplant old ones, or that unimaginable forces may not exist. I DO SAY, however, that the pseudo-scientific babble that people try to defend in this fashion do not show a scintilla of evidence. Outrageous though it was, there was EVIDENCE for Relativity, EVIDENCE for QUANTUM, EVIDENCE for the Big Bang, Evolution, Continental Drift, etc. There was, indeed, enoough evidence to eventually win over the hard-headed sceptics and THEY CHANGED THEIR MINDS (or died off).The essential defining difference between my belief in antibiotics versus blowing smoke on a sick person with a feather is that there is a long, credible list of EVIDENCE about which one has the better effect on a plague victim.

The second part of Sagan's Dragon in the Garage analogy was also enlightening: suppose you go into the garage, and are told that there is an invisible dragon inside. But you begin to see huge, three-toed footprints in the flour you scatter. You spray-paint the air and a series of ridges and horns appear. You notice specific, isolated scorch marks appearing on the side of the garage wall.

You would have to admit, that there is in fact some evidence to support your claim that you have an invisble dragon in your garage.

To uncover something anomalous and unexpected is why people become scientists in the first place. When something REAL happens that leave these weird little clues, someone will figure out an explanation that will not only explain, but PREDICT such anomalies. Then a 10 or 20 year battle begins, and if the data is solid, reproduceable, and increases in accuracy as we find more ingenious ways to test for it, and the new theory predicts things that have not yet been observed, but then ARE observed, and IN THE CORRECT QUANTITIES, then we have a revolution.


Gray-Haiyahed Stinkinback has not, and ah dayah say CAN NOT, prahvide a shreyd -- Ah say, a SHREYD of evadunce ta suppot any a his theahries or annomlees.

And now ahm off ta bed, ah say, TA BED, aftah of cahwse, a Mint Julip ta calm, ah say, TA CALM mah jangly Nerves.

Posted by: Bill Whittle on June 9, 2003 01:57 AM

Excellent, I preferred the shorter version, perhaps because I thought that the heuristic part was one in many methods used for obtaining evidence. I enjoyed the addition of the sand analogy.

Gordon de Spain, if you are so sure of debunking James Randi, why not submit one of your theories, mystics, etc. to a test?
Me don't think so, perhaps it is to do with the 'bad' money. A tribal indian warrior once cast a spell on the million dollars, any to obtain the money shall suffer from richness...

Whether there is intelligent life forms out there or not... hmmm Up till this point, no PROOF exists, so let's assume that the answer is NO.

Anyhouse, me thinks me shall join Mr Whittle in de barn, wif de cows.

Posted by: Leron on June 9, 2003 04:48 AM

I printed all this out and read it, you people are fun... no one in my real life talks about Einstein at all.

Since it is 2003 and the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's first powered flight (Dec. 17th this year) I thought I'd mention that the brothers had to throw out the "scientific" documentation on wing shapes and other sorts of information that they had been using in their experiments that had been leading them to failure. They had to start over and do wind tunnel tests and begin building their own database of information from scratch. It is very difficult to do that.... it takes a certain personality to overcome that stumbling block, of ignoring the establishment of the time and starting fresh.

I often wonder if Nazi Germany had not persecuted Jews, but rather some other group.... and let's say all the German Scientists stayed there, could they have come up with the Atomic weapon (yes, I know about Heisenberg) or was it something about America that made it possible to happen here?

I know we used a lot of money and the right people to "go do it." And then we did the same thing with the space program. Why did we stop doing it? What other impossible things have we accomplished "not because they are easy, but because they are hard" ? I guess the answer is the computer industry.... but all that came out of that is fast video cards so people can play shoot 'em ups in more colors.

Can some of you smart people (in your spare time) come up with the nuclear fusion thing, so we can have safe nuclear power and also that thing where we run our cars on a teaspoon of water. Thanks.

Posted by: EB on June 9, 2003 08:58 AM

Three words for you, EB: Human Genome Project. Nobody appreciates biologists. Think we'll go eat worms.

By the way, Silverback, it occured to me yesterday afternoon one way your dog might have been able to tell when you were having a moment. If you had been working on the computer until pausing to fight off anger, and you stopped to do that, she might have been able to tell something was wrong not from any noise you were making but by the noises you *stopped* making. Dogs have much better directional hearing than humans, and it's not at all unlikely first that she would have been able to hear the keyboard from where she was, that she would have been far more interested in her packmates than in the TV, and that she would have learned that the sudden quiet from your direction meant something was wrong.

Just an idea. :-)

Posted by: LabRat on June 9, 2003 10:07 AM

Wow! With long essays come long comments.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that if I ever see you write an essay again that doesn't immediately make my ADD rattled brain scream in protest, then I know you've sold out. Keep writing them as long as you want. Maybe for the next one we should call Guinness.

Posted by: Frank J. on June 9, 2003 10:09 AM

If you think you have something worth saying, say it. If you don't, then keep quiet. Pay no attention to us out here in cyberspace when we ask for more or fewer words.

In other words, don't write for readers, write for you. Anything else and it stops becoming fun and starts becoming toil, and quality tends to droop. (I think that just dawned on Mr. Den Beste a few days ago, as this seems to imply. I may be wrong, but this isn't the cornerstone of my argument so I don't care much.)

Posted by: Steve on June 9, 2003 12:07 PM

Bill,
regarding your last post in a southern drawl:
I assumed it sounded like Foghorn Leghorn, but found it much easier to read as if spoken by Forrest Gump.
( I was gonna post something involving multivariable calculus to sound smarter but I'm lucky if I even spelled it right..)

Posted by: Paul on June 9, 2003 01:30 PM

Geem,

Like you, I don't know that we weren't some other place's "out clause" and there are numerous magical theories suggesting just that. The problem I have with them is the, at least to my limited knowledge, consistent progression of evolutionary DNA through the primates. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but when exactly would we have arrived if from elsewhere as an out clause. Genetic engineering is possible, but if they were that advanced, they probably should have done a better job.

EB,

I still feel America has the potential to "do"! Where I place the fault for the lack of doing is with bureaucracy, both in government and excess management in most corporations. It seems the only way to get rid of dead wood is for a corporate takever to occur and one group of managers is replaced by another, or in some cases not. More redundant management. There aren't enough doers anymore and a lot, way too much, of funding for projects is eaten up by redundant middle and upper level managers. Get the money to the engineers and the experimenters!

cheers,

Dick

Posted by: hairofthedawg on June 9, 2003 02:08 PM

I would like to get away from the discussion of scientific vs. unscientific thought as regards "magical phenomena", and discuss Bill's closing argument, and, I believe, central tenet of the essay: non-magical thought as applied to politics.

In discussing the layers on layers of scientific knowledge producing new information/knowledge, Bill adds this kicker:

"It is also a way of thinking that we Americans formerly tried to apply to politics with pride. Show me. I'm listening. We abandon it at our mortal peril."

In the main body of the essay Bill takes Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore to task--Moore moreso than Chomsky. I guess what I am looking for is this: Show me. I'm listening. with regard to political debate.

On the economy:
Show me why the Bush tax cut plan is good/bad.
Show me why I should be for/against eliminating dividend tax cuts.
Show me the Republican plan to restimulate the economy that contains more than soundbites.

On Homeland Security:
Show me that Tom Ridge is doing anything/nothing.
Show me that our foray into Palestinian/Israeli morass is/isn't worthwhile.

On foreign affairs...
On personal choice, human rights, welfare, judicial appointments, proper freedom of speech, ..."

Show me. I am a conservative American, and I want ammunition. For me it is not enough to call Michael Moore an idiot--I already know that. But my liberal/leftist friends think he is a genius--they say "who cares if Columbine was staged--that doesn't mean Moore was wrong!"

In order to carry the day in politics you have to deal with that level of dicussion. The problem with political discussion is that it is based on heuristics, and not facts. At the detail level of political discussion, very little can be "proven" beyond capacity for disbelief. Yes, there are clear absolutes that only morons disagree with (the Iraq War is justifiable, regardless of whether we ever find WMD, for example). But beyond such things the debate gets murky.

Each side trots out its own "experts" who swear that their "data" and analysis are the only true "data" and analyses. People choose to believe/disbelieve whichever set of experts fits/doesn't fit their personal heuristics.

In Bill's previous essays he has tackled--expertly, in my opinion--the foolishness of the anti-American, pro-Saddam, "Peace in our time", please-give-me-more-mass-graves-of-children crowd. That was brilliant, moving, and fun.

But let's bring it down from the 35,000 foot level "America as a place to be revered, supported and loved vs. the alternative" and deal with the realities facing our leaders and politicians.

I want to teach citizenship to my kids. I also want to teach governing to my leaders. I need ammunition.

Any takers?

Posted by: Russ Fletcher on June 9, 2003 02:16 PM

On Palestine/Israel, at least we're doing something. I can't profess to know if it's right, but I feel that we're trying to give both sides fair alternatives to the violence. I also feel the concept of fairness has so long been gone from that region, and specifically that conflict, that it probably won't work. One possible hope is that, if it was true, the reward money from Saddam will no longer be providing incentive to the Palestinians, and if those attacks cease, I feel the Israelis will play ball. The hard part will be getting, more so the Palestinian and Israeli hard liners than the general population, to see past the hatred and look a little further into the future, much what like's going on in Iraq. It's tough there too, but with hope and a little patience, they'll get on the right track.

cheers,

Dick

Posted by: hairofthedawg on June 9, 2003 03:16 PM

Russ Fletcher,

The problem, I think, with discussing "magical thinking" as it pertains to political issues is that heuristics guide -- even control -- our basic values and worldview even more solidly than lazy "magical" thinking.

F'rinstance, you can say "SHOW ME why I should support/oppose a tax cut." One Economist will say you should oppose it because a tax cut will deepen the budget's deficit thus raising interest rates thus stifling economic growth. Another qualified Economist will tell you that you should support a tax cut because that would put more money in the pockets of people who'll spend it and/or invest it thus creating economic growth.

You can say "SHOW ME why I should support/oppose abortion." One person will tell you that a human Life begins at conception, that it then grows throughout it's life through embryonic, fetal, infantile, adolescent, meno-pausal stages; and that there is no scientific or philisophical reason to claim that a person's life begins at any moment AFTER conception. Another will tell you that zygotes and embryoes are not persons because they have no defined individuality or independant existence, and that though they have DNA that is different from either parent it's no different from the DNA of a twin's fingernail, and that a decision of that solemnity needs to be reserved for the mother rather not the Government.

You can't prove or disprove any of these positions. Economics is an inexact science -- mainly guesswork -- because the economy is such a fluid thing, and it's success depends on the tiny influences of each and every decision made by each and every merchant and consumer.
A person's stand on abortion depends on their very personal views of government, religeon, self-interest, biology, philosophy etc.
Foreign Affairs is pretty tricky because it relies on an understanding of Human Nature, plus intelligence information about what's REALLY going on behind the scenes.

In short, Russ, I guess what I'm really saying is Yer On Yer Own! heheh....

Actually this reminds me of something I wanted to say about the Essay... about Bill's "debate" about Iraq (we should let inspections continue, have they solved anything yet, yadda yadda [I can't recall the exact text]...and concludes "MAGIC!").

Bill, you could just as easily have written:

We need to invade NOW(!) because Saddam's WMD are a direct and imminent threat to US.
Now? Does he have bio and chemical weapons?
We know that he USED to.
Have we seen them?
No, but he provided documentation a decade ago that he had them.
Do we know that he hasn't destroyed them?
Well, he hasn't shown documentation that he has.
Do we know that he is close to completing a nuclear development?
We think he is, based on reports from escaped scientists.
So, we've never seen his bio and chem stores, we've never seen his nuclear facilities, but we SUSPECT that he has them, yet we KNOW that we have to halt the inspections and invade NOW(!) because he is about to launch an attack on the U.S.A?? MAGIC!

There's a response we give this, of course. But there'll also be an equal and opposite response to THAT. I guess my point is that that little section of the essay left me a little unsatisfied.
Other justifications for Operation Iraqi Freedom aside; there is a worldview that would support an invasion of Iraq based on our Understanding of the direct threat of Saddam and his WMD. Some would call it defensive, far-sighted, even Visionary. Others would simply call it Paranoia.

Heuristics -- the filter, the method, through/by which we accept or reject entire ways of looking at evidence -- are not a sign of intellectual sloth. They are neccessary for getting on in the world moment by moment, even though they are also the "crutch" that perpetuates the "magical" thinking.

Just an aside: A scientist might say "Seeing Is Believing", and Delusion might be described as "Believing is Seeing."
Back in the mid-'80's (the Cold War days) before I ever heard of the word "heuristics", I gave the unconscious function of "Believing Is Seeing" (what Daniel Dennett in his awesome book 'Consciousness Explained' called "The Great Discriminator") a name; "Checkpoint Charlie Of The Mind". I was into politics more than philosophy at the time...and had to make up my own nomenclature!

sorry for blathering on and on again.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 9, 2003 04:57 PM

Hi Geem,

Yes, they really happened, and, were reported by all three newspapers in Houston, Texas, the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Press, and, the Houston Post, not to mention all three Network Stations, Channels 2, 11, and, 13, and, every local Radio Station. However, two of those papers no longer exist, the Chronicle claims that its archives don't go back that far, and, the Television Stations claim their broadcasts in that era were live and not recorded, plus, how many Radio Stations have archives, even now.

I've seen them mentioned in several books, but, that was years and many books ago, and, I haven't even thought about pursuing the issue in years, not even when I was a Section Leader on the old Encounters Forum of Compuserve ('93? '94?). There was one other event in that time period, and, I haven't thought about it for years, either, a rebroadcast of "Howdy Doody," and, "Kukla Fran and Ollie," that were live shows, and, some of the characters were dead, when they came back from nowhere, and, knocked down and overrode every TV Station in America. I watched that, in total amazement, and, all of the Media mentioned above reported that the signal, that knocked everyone off the air, originated in the Asteroid Belt. This is another thing that I've never been able to document, even though I watched every minute of it, and, tried to follow up.

I was also watching when two Astronauts climbed down from the Lunar Rover (Apollo 17?), one began setting up an experiment, and, the other turned to survey the large Crater directly in front of the Camera. Almost instantly a light came on, on the other side of the Crater, and, in quick succession like someone running from room to room, 5 more came on. The Astronaut said, quietly, "Capcom...We are not alone." Capcom came back, "Say again, we did not read you." He replied, as I slammed into the Console TV on my knees, "I say again, Capcom, we are not alone. They're lined up on the other Rim of the Crater, watching us..." BANG - a startled Walter Cronkite, caught with his mouth open, sputtered, "And, now a word from our Sponsor. It seems we've lost the feed from the Moon."

James Oberg was the NASA spokesman, at the time, and he led the charge to debunk any idea that they had experienced a strange event on the Moon. Incidentally, this was one of the events that caused NASA to install the 7 second delay.

To Leron,

I never corresponded directly with James Randi, except in a backhanded way, through his running buddy, Leon (Polish last name that I never can remember), who was an Aviation Editor for Time Magazine. Leon is the one who created CSICOP's little "Learn to be a Debunker" curriculum, and, made me the offer you suggest. I declined, because I already knew the ground rules for the test...the 'Last Word' belonged to Randi, and, all he had to do, to keep the two million dollars (the interest of which, he was living on), is, say, "I don't believe," and walk away.

James Oberg and I ran head to head on the CNN UFO Forum (though I'd corresponded with him in other places) after NASA terminated his contract (for cause) and he went to work for CNN in the same capacity. I posted links to his Website, quoted things from it, and, he slowly vanished into the night. The biggest strike against him seemed to be that he 'bragged', on the first page of his Website, that he could debunk anything if the price was right. Apparently, CNN didn't think they got their money's worth (we buried him in Links).

Ya see, I don't sell anything, especially my memories of really strange events, and, I've told none of them here. What I've told, thus far, affected a lot more people than just me, and, I'm sure there's documentation out there somewhere, but, I've not found any, still existing, unless James Obergs drivel is plastered across it.

Need I say it? I have no respect for a man who'll sell his soul for 'less' than 30 pieces of Silver. James Randi and Phil Klass I consider two of a kind, even though, along with Carl Sagan, Leon and Dr Donald...? (ach, wrote two books debunking UFO's that were nothing but Ad Hominem Attacks, and, wishful thinking..."...believe me, I know what I'm talking about," as he would say at the end of every chapter), the founding fathers of CSICOP.

Carl Sagan? Yeah, I liked him, read every one of his books, and, especially liked "Brokas Brain," but, really didn't care for "Contact." Superficial, and, hokey 'back-to-square-one' ending...which is actually true to life, as I know it, always beginning over, investigating and fighting the latest debunker.

But, don't get me wrong, I'm probably a more determined skeptic than many of you, because, I've known a few of the hoaxers, and, I know what is, and, isn't.

Leon? Well, the E-Mail correspondence was cordial, interesting, informative, and, fun...in private. But, this was in direct contrast to the online blistering, raging battle. In E-Mail, he goodnaturedly accused me of cheating to pass his course in Debunking...nope, simple self-defense: know your enemy better than he knows himself.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 9, 2003 05:25 PM

No offense, Gordon, but back in 1956 and in the fifth grade, you must have been ten or eleven with a fantastic imagination (well-versed in Sci Fi, too)....Certainly any event of such magnitude would still be on the tips of the tongues of EVERYONE who experienced it......When Mr. Whittle was nine he saw a leprechaun.....

Posted by: Geem on June 9, 2003 06:09 PM

Hey LabRat!

What if there actually is some "factor" found only in the anuses of rednecks that is after all fabulously valuable to some incomprehensible alien civilization?????

David March
animator & fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 9, 2003 06:22 PM

LabRat,
Your theory about the dog is in a Sherlock Holmes story! I think it's from Silver Blaze.

Posted by: EB on June 9, 2003 06:25 PM

Hi Fiddler,

Well, hmmmmmm? Is that the best comeback you have? I'm proud to be a redneck. I was raised a Cowboy by a King-bred Bruni Paint Horse, a classic Tobiana from the first crop of the famous Bruni Paint Horse line. The last title I bore (of several) was the defacto title, "King of the Punching Bag at Gilley's." Been everywhere, several Continents, lots of Countries, and, not a few Islands, and, done and seen everything in between, though sometimes I made it back leaving blood in every Knee and Handprint, while digging for knowledge every inch.

Where have you been?

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 9, 2003 07:27 PM

Hi Geem,

No, it doesn't seem to work that way. Even with the scientific discoveries being made today, we (us plebians) hear very little about it, unless we're directly involved in Science or digging hard all we hear is the "long-held-beliefs," and, pablum from inside the beltway. It seems they think we're too dumb to comprehend all th' big words, I guess (seems my English Minor is not worth much, judged by todays standards. We had to work for our grades...today, showing up for class is worth a 'B').

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 9, 2003 07:34 PM

Ach, something just clicked, I'm gettin' old. Can't count back anymore. I was in Mrs Kocyon's classes of '51-'52, and, '52-'53, fifth and sixth grades. So the events I described happened four years earlier, and, the remainder were scattered throughout the latter '50's.

One of the largest problems with searching for data on these events, is, there were no Computers small enough for home use, no Internet to store them on, and, no-one interested enough, today, to search the Paper trail and scan them online.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 9, 2003 07:48 PM

EB: ""Before deciding that question I had grasped the significance of the silence of the dog, for one true inference invariably suggests others. The Simpson incident had shown me that a dog was kept in the stables, and yet, though someone had been in and had fetched out a horse, he had not barked enough to arouse the two lads in the loft. Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well." - "Silver Blaze"

The detective was theorizing about a silent dog, wheras I was theorizing about a dog reacting to silence. Elementary.

Posted by: LabRat on June 9, 2003 10:01 PM

Gordon, oh Gordon,

Not to be confrontational or anything; but I've concluded that you are either A) telling what you believe to be is the Truth, and are mistaken B) helplessly Delusional C) Self-Delusional for the sake of an Identity D) Lying to propogate a hoax or E) an Andy Kauffman-style put-on artist.
I'm leaning toward C).

It's interesting that 99.9999% of people don't encounter UFOs or any other paranormal experience, yet you claim to have encountered several.
It's also interesting that your detailed description of extra-terrestrial phenomenon was experienced by hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions), yet we have no record of it because of "The Blackout".

I, as a friend whom you've never met, suggest that you either get Real or get some Therapy.

Okay, there I said it.

I've had a few bizarre experiences (okay, 2) in my time. But claiming something that Big and then dismissing the lack of evidence as a result of a "blackout" makes my antennae twirl. I think I'd have gotten past it by now.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 9, 2003 10:30 PM

Some advances in “scientific” understanding of reality seem far more revolutionary than others.

The hierarchy of embedded crystalline spheres that had been steadily embellished to account for increasingly detailed observations of the motions of the planets and sun in Ptolemaic Earth-centered hypothesis of the universe was fiendishly complex, but a remarkably accurate tool for predicting those movements. It was superseded by a “model” that was more elegant in its simplicity, but hold on a second... That seeming elegance is actually the consummation of many decades of analysis, observation, fiddling, guesswork, sweat, and determined puzzling by folks who themselves were the inheritors of the distilled essence of accumulated understanding and knowledge of a culture whose intellectual roots extended back several millenia.

For all the talk of Occam’s Razor, let’s keep in mind that what we call simplicity is actually in many cases an intellectual compression of the DESCRIPTION of observed phenomena, NOT the events themselves. The phenomena are no less subtle or complex as a result of the elegance or brevity of the language used to describe them.

Isn’t that what is meant when people trundle out that saying, “The map is NOT the territory?”

The replacement of Ptolemy’s system of embedded spheres by Copernican ellipses seems a radical simplification. By contrast, the shift from the so-called “classical” physics described by Newton, Leibniz and DesCartes, to the descriptions that emerged with Maxwell, Einstein, Planck, Rutherford, Bohr, Heisenberg, et al., seem to be a bewildering complexification. But it’s helpful to keep in mind that Newton’s laws still agree to a very high degree of accuracy with observed phenomena as long as the objects being studied are not hurtling about at a substantial fraction of the speed of light. In both cases, what’s happened is that as more and more people studied the phenomena, so more and more anomalies were found that required additional tools for study. In some ways it’s like considering the difference between a seemingly simple knife that can be used for an enormous variety of operations by a skilled craftsman, versus the tray of forty scalpels, scrapers, and probes used each for its own specific task by an operating room surgeon.

Scientist William Silvert gives a wonderfully lucid and concise statement of how scientists regard and use theories, hypotheses, and models as tools, in ways that are sometimes valid only within the specific context of a particular problem to be solved. The article “Dangerous Definitions” (from the URL: http://silvert.home.sapo.pt/notions/ecology/definitions.htm) is helpful for those of us who were diverted for whatever reasons from pursuing science in our later education, as are many of the ideas and exchanges here in Bill Whittle's Essay Comments. Yahoo!

To Gordon: I meant not to challenge your assertions, merely to inject humor, which unfortunately is sometimes taken as a slight. My formative experiences came from living in the intellectual ferment of Oxnard, Virginia Beach, and Cincinnati.

To Jim H.: I’ve heard tachyons described as particles that come into existence traveling at greater than light speed. Perhaps implied contradictions can be avoided if it is assumed that the energy required to decelerate a tachyon approaches infinity as its speed approaches C. Nice sort of symmetry, anyway.

To all: The work of Gene Shoemaker, geologist and astronomer (Comet Shoemaker-Levy’s 20-odd fragments plunged into Jupiter in 1994) established fairly emphatically that the solar system is still a locus of collisions between asteroids, comets, and planets. Before he turned to astronomy, his pioneering studies conclusively showed that several major craters previously thought to be volcanic in origin were in fact impact sites (Meteor Crator, AZ, and the Reis Basin astrobleme.) As a result of the scrutiny he, his wife Carolyn and collaborator David Levy began in the last decade, bodies large enough to demolish cities have been observed passing closer to the Earth than the orbit of the moon, some seen only after their nearest approach. It is not at all impossible that a large body could pass between the sun and the earth, so that its shadow would be seen to momentarily cause local darkness, as described by Gordon DeSpain. Until the work of the Shoemakers and Levy, there has been no search for or tracking of near-Earth-orbit asteroids, so there would be no possibility of documentation, except by the most outlandish coincidence. There is after all, a hell of a lot that goes on without making it into the news.

If you take a peek at the JPL page on Near Earth Objects listed below, you will find that on or about July 26th of this summer Earth will be approached to about 4.5 times the distance of the moon by an object with an estimated diameter between 84 and 190 meters, and a relative velocity of about 7 kilometers per second. Some of the other objects listed have diameters of several kilometers, but aren't coming quite so close. Jeez. Who’d-a thunk you could find information like that with a few mouse clicks?

Here are a few websites, or you can do your own search using such keywords as “David Levy” “Eugene Shoemaker” “near earth asteroids” etc. ----
http://www.pibburns.com/catastro/impfolks.htm
http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/
http://spacewatch.lpl.arizona.edu/
http://www.tufts.edu/as/wright_center/impact/astroindex.html

Posted by: David March on June 9, 2003 10:53 PM

Gordon,

I wonder who is more interested in the monetary value, why not do the tests and prove Randi is a fraud once and for all, or is there not enough money offered to waste the time?

Dr Tuning Spork I agree with your analysis, ever thought of practising psychology, hehe ?

Posted by: Leron on June 10, 2003 02:31 AM

To LabRat: interesting idea (about the dog reacting to the silence). I hadn't thought of that one. I still don't buy it however, simply because the dog never came back during the OTHER silences between games, the happy moments of rest AFTER a game well played, nor the moments after the computer had been shut down altogether. Only during the angry pauses. But your point is well taken, and actually illustrates well my own original point... about how, even after all my "sound reasoning" and working out "all" the possibilities that I could think of at the time, any assertion I might have made about how it "couldn't have been anything else" but Canine Psychic Power (having made it into such a rock solid "proven" hypothesis in my own mind) would have been flawed, because it would have presumed that no other alternative explanations would ever present themselves. And obviously they will. And did. Just like all the turn-of-the-century hard science reasons for why it was physically impossible for men to fly to the moon. As logical and arguably provable as they might have been... for their time... later technologies, later thinkers, and newly discovered physical principles made all their carved-in-granite proclamations a joke. That's all I was saying in the first place.

To Bill The Man Whittle: in answer to your question on the phone the other night... absolutely! You show me the evidence that those "800 degree" coals that I walked on barefoot actually only had a SURFACE temperature of a hundred degrees or less (or any similarly sound, provable idea like that), then yeh, it's a done deal. I'll buy that there was nothing "magical" about the experience, no substance to the mind-over-matter argument that our hosts promoted, amen. I'm not looking to have my areas of curiosity justified or forcibly "proven" at all costs. I just want to know the truth. I did that firewalk expressly to SEE FOR MYSELF how valid their claims were. And based on everything I knew at the time, and everything I saw at the time, there was no better explanation. My bare feet were NOT wet with dew, I did not RUN through the coals (I strolled, slowly, three times, including "wading" through the coals the last time, coming out with some coals embedded between my toes), and my feet came out unsinged. I felt the heat, I just didn't burn. I had no way of actually verifying that the temperature of the coals was really 800 degrees, as our instructor claimed, but I do know that the heat radiating off that walking bed was so intense that, from ten feet away, I couldn't even open my eyes. It felt like it was pulling the skin off my face, and I had a mild facial "sunburn" the next day. Also, there was that one guy who got all excited by his successes and did a cartwheel through the coals, and came out with badly blistered hands covered in hanging skin. So it WAS hot enough to burn, whatever the actual temperature was.

I've read many debunkers' claims, before and since then, and until that possibility you mentioned the other night, I haven't heard one that matched the conditions I experienced that night. And since I haven't seen YOUR suggestion mentioned anywhere else yet, nor ever heard of any such data, then it still doesn't hold up as a proven concept for me... YET. If such data DOES come forward, then there ya' go! Done! That's what I want to hear. In lieu of any other viable alternative at the time though (one that did not defy what I'd just seen anyway), and considering the BOATLOAD of tangible, firsthand, experiential EVIDENCE that I'd just acquired, I went with the only remotely plausible explanation that was available to me at the time... and that was the basic "mind over matter" principle that the course instructors had been selling. And believe me, my arch-scientist father did his best to list all the possible "realistic" alternatives (which was the whole reason I called him in the first place), and they were all discarded simply because they didn't match the conditions.

My point? There IS evidence for almost everything we've talked about, including the UFOs (which I don't personally "believe in," except to the extent that they are in fact "unidentified" in many cases). The only real difference seems to lie in how much credulity to ascribe the source. And that, while perfectly understandable, is way too often biased... not often, maybe, and in many cases the bias does not mean that the prejudicial observation is wrong. Only that, well, for ME anyway, it takes a lot of the granite out of any "carved-in-stone" assertions.

That's all.

I don't want to rack up any more bandwidth time beating this point to death. Be happy to "take it outside" though (so to speak), with anyone who wants to write to my e-mail address.

Cheers, again, on all the great work. I can't wait for TRINITY.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 10, 2003 07:15 AM

Excuse me, Mr. GreatHairySilverback, sir?

If there was some mystical reason why you were able to walk on the coals without getting burned, why did that same protection not extend to your fellow firewalker's hands?

I can't think of a good reason why "mind over matter" would only work on feet. Especially if the guy was such a true believer that he felt like doing a somersault.

Posted by: David on June 10, 2003 08:51 AM

Bill, by chance are you a Glenn Beck listener? Your comment about needing enough duct tape in case your head explodes is one he uses often.

Or perhaps Glenn Beck is a Bill Whittle reader?

Bob

Posted by: Bob on June 10, 2003 09:03 AM

Dear other David,

Obviously, the guy who did the somersault was NOT THINKING ABOUT HIS HANDS!!!!!!!
;)

Posted by: David March on June 10, 2003 09:05 AM

Spork:

Your post reflects that you see my problem entirely. "Debunking" Michael Moore is an exercise in futility (satisfying though that exercise may be). There are far too many people whose argument is as I posted earlier: "Just because Moore fabricated stuff for Columbine doesn't mean that he's wrong!"

It is "easy" to debunk scientific things, where "easy" is defined as doable, within the realm of the possible, arrived at logically, etc. It may not actually be "easy" where "easy" means "not requiring work", but it is still doable.

Debunking people from Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore deception is darn-near impossible. There are precious few people convinced even by a thorough debunking of Moore's lies. For me, that is the type of thinking that is dangerous, to use Bill's terms.

I am not worried about scientific laziness--I'm really not. I am sure that there will always be people such as LabRat, Bill Whittle, Steven den Beste, and many other commentors here who are rigorous, careful, and diligent in progressing that area of human thought. Human ingenuity is this area will proceed, unabated, ad infinitum.

I contend that there is not any pervasive return-to-chopping-wood movement in this country, other than a romantic nostalgia for the values of a bygone era. These values manifested themselves in primitive ways: the neighborhood barn-raising (value: community), the gathering around the fire/hearth to read (value: family), etc. Yeah, and people lived very hard, short lives, too. We don't want that--but many of us (including me) wouldn't mind seeing a return of many of those societal values that our modern existence seems to lack.

Would I give up the comfort of my 21st century life for the return of those values? In some respects, maybe, but...honestly? Probably not. I enjoy my computer and my car and my life. But Bill, in many of his essays, has advocated in eloquent words the values that make America great. It is these values that are under attack by the Moores and Chomskys and their ilk. The laziness that Bill decries in "Magic" is not just scientific, reason-based laziness, but it is laziness of integrity, or value-based laziness.

"If it feels good, do it", the triumph of personal rights vs. citizenship, the ever-expanding role of government in intruding into and controlling citizens lives, etc. are the pernicious "magic" that I consider so dangerous. Unfortunately, as you [Tuning Spork] have reiterated, so much of the debate that affects these areas is unprovable, and based on individual heuristics so as to be nearly impossible to win.

I find Bill's previous essays (especially "Confidence" and "History") to be quite strong at building an argument for discussion of America's foundation and its roles, strengths, and importance in the world. "Magic" states the problem, but, alas, cannot state a solution to the "lazy" thinking that goes for political debate right now.

Posted by: Russ Fletcher on June 10, 2003 09:11 AM

Gordon,
I believe the "Close Encounter" you describe was actually on the the first moon landing with Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong not Apollo 17 which was the last landing. These close encounters were apparently not isolated and were fairly common knowledge within NASA but were withheld for national security reasons.

If you have trained observers describing them and photgraphing them what conclusions does that lead one to?

While the probability of an event happening might be extremely small it is 100% when it happens.

I don't know if the following is true or not. I was a young Marine stationed in San Diego and watched the moon landing from my girl friend's beach house in La Jolla. I don't recall the "lights in the crater" happening.

Neil Armstrong & Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin

According to the NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong the Aliens have a base on the Moon and told us in no uncertain terms to get off and stay off the Moon.

According to hitherto un-confirmed reports, both Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin saw UFOs shortly after that historic landing on the Moon in Apollo 11 on 21 July 1969. I remember hearing one of the astronauts refer to a "light" in or on a crater during the television transmission, followed by a request from mission control for further information. Nothing more was heard.

According to a former NASA employee Otto Binder, unnamed radio hams with their own VHF receiving facilities that bypassed NASA's broadcasting outlets picked up the following exchange:

NASA: What's there?
Mission Control calling Apollo 11...

Apollo11: These "Babies" are huge, Sir! Enormous! OH MY GOD! You wouldn't believe it! I'm telling you there are other spacecraft out there, Lined up on the far side of the crater edge! They're on the Moon watching us!

A certain professor, who wished to remain anonymous, was engaged in a discussion with Neil Armstrong during a NASA symposium.

Professor: What REALLY happened out there with Apollo 11?

Armstrong: It was incredible, of course we had always known there was a possibility, the fact is, we were warned off! (by the Aliens). There was never any question then of a space station or a moon city.

Professor: How do you mean "warned off"?

Armstrong: I can't go into details, except to say that their ships were far superior to ours both in size and technology - Boy, were they big!...and menacing! No, there is no question of a space station.

Professor: But NASA had other missions after Apollo 11?

Armstrong: Naturally - NASA was committed at that time, and couldn't risk panic on Earth. But it really was a quick scoop and back again.

According to a Dr. Vladimir Azhazha:

"Neil Armstrong relayed the message to Mission Control that two large, mysterious objects were watching them after having landed near the moon module. But this message was never heard by the public -- because NASA censored it."

According to a Dr. Aleksandr Kasantsev, Buzz Aldrin took color movie film of the UFOs from inside the module, and continued filming them after he and Armstrong went outside.

Armstrong confirmed that the story was true but refused to go into further detail, beyond admitting that the CIA was behind the cover-up.


Posted by: Jesse Brown on June 10, 2003 09:40 AM

LabRat, Right you are! In the example above, the dog is Sherlock Holmes, and the man at the computer is the dog! It is an exact match!
Elizabeth

Posted by: EB on June 10, 2003 09:46 AM

Wow! This has been a great series of comments.

To Russ Fletcher: amen, bro, particularly about the "laziness of integrity or value-based laziness." That and the "dumbing down" of our social standards in general, as less and less becomes more and more acceptable, and "slackerism" becomes the highest aspiration of a whole new generation. I would love to hear Bill charge into that issue.

To David: good point. See "David March" 2 posts below yours for the most succinct response. Basically, right before that guy cartwheeled through the coals, the course instructor had cartwheeled through it herself, specifically to show that the mental process applied universally all over, including her clothes (she claimed the only reason she didn't just ROLL through the coal was because it would get her clothes dirty... I didn't buy that one either). And her hands were as unseared as her feet.

Make of it what you will. I would RATHER have an acceptable hard science explanation for what we did, because it would fit much better into the universe I understand and have lived with all my life. But until I hear one... and I do believe that if ever there was a jury qualified to hand me an unequivocal verdict, they're probably among the commenters on this blog... then the only explanation I've heard, which conforms to the events of that night and is self-consistent, is still the awkward one they gave at the firewalk. I may not be comfortable with it, but just like ghost sightings, premonitions, deja vu, WHATEVER, I've found that I don't have to like it for it to be "true."

Damn, this went longer than I meant it to.

The rest of you talk amongst yourselves.

Posted by: Great Hairy Silverback on June 10, 2003 10:02 AM

Jesse Brown, that was a fun story, but I don't think NASA covered up anything like that, but I enjoy science fiction stories and than one was a little on the weak side. Wouldn't it have been better if the aliens REPLACED Neil and Buzz and the real astronauts are still on the moon! Ohhh, spooky.

Re: coal walking... umm, isn't the coal dust a lower temperature than the coals and therefore you are able to walk on them? I had a coal fall out of a grill once onto the top of my foot and it didn't hurt at all, I was amazed it didn't burn me .... even though I was grilling steaks at the time that were indeed cooking.

Posted by: EB on June 10, 2003 10:04 AM

Good effort, EB (about the coal dust). I'm not sure though that it explains the lack of burning for a completely submerged foot immersed in hot coals, nor the fact that that one guy came out of the pit with some badly blistered hands. I don't know though, to be honest. I'm listening.

Of course, the point of all this was not to legitimize firewalking or any of the various pursuits of "New Age mysticism," but to illustrate simply that there IS evidence to support these things. Arguing against that evidence should include counter-evidence I think... that's all I'm sayin' here.

I shall hush now.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 10, 2003 10:23 AM

Well, ummmm, then why not walk on an open gas flame on a grate then? Why does it have to be coals? I think the fact it is coals means there is something particular about coals that lends itself to being walked on. But I am sure it was still fun. I think that is what people did before "cable" and now that I have cable, I think they had a better time.

Posted by: EB on June 10, 2003 10:29 AM

Excellent point. But then we were but mere neophytes, and one must walk (i.e.; cross a bed of hot coals) before one attempts to run (i.e.; swim across the Kilouea lava fields). So goes the convenient logic, anyway.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 10, 2003 10:45 AM

Leron,

hehheh, thanks. But it turns out I have to ammend my analysis. Gordon has websites out there dedicated to the stuff he's been writing about...and a whole lot of other weird stuff. He's invested in "magic"; big time. Do a google search on "Gordon DeSpain". Interesting results.

Gordon,

I was starting to feel sorry for you for being so lost. Now I know better; you're doing what you love!

regards.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 10, 2003 04:23 PM

Leron, I re-read the comments and realize that yer probably aware of Gordon's web-prose. :0

David March,

re: your post on the 9th, 10:53pm.
The replacement of Ptolemy with Copernicus "seems a radical simplification", which replacing Newton with Eistein et al "seems to be a bewildering complexification."

Copernican eliptic orbits about the Sun seems to US -- since we've been taught it since kindergarten -- to be a simplification. But to people of the times it was an Earth-shattering "complexification" (my new favorite word) of their entire Reality. No longer was the Earth the center of the Universe. It was a sphere, just another planet, orbiting the Sun. No simplification, that.

Understanding Relativity is a daunting task at first, because it's so counter-intuitive. But that passes as you become more and more familiar with (and adjust to) it's logic.

And General and Special Relativity are, in some ways, simpler than Newtonian mechanics because there aren't any "ghosts" left (i.e. action-at-a-distance). It's a more complex way of LOOKING at the world, but, once you dig into it, much more satisfying.

Aaah, yes, the plain and simple Truth. We should kick ourselves everytime for not having seen it earlier.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 10, 2003 05:40 PM

David March,

Apology accepted, and, apology extended for my response. And, I agree with you on your discussion of Theories, Hypothesis, and, the Scientific Method. It's wonderful when a well planned experiment goes exactly as planned, but, if you'll look at the great, world changing discoveries of the past, unlike the Wright Brothers, they were predominantly the result of serendipity..."er, sumthin' ain't right here...? Let's try that again," and, in Thomas Edison's case, again, and, again, and, again, and...he was the best I've ever read about, at "Hammer fittin'" something to make it work...his way.

One of the first assistants he hired was a young Polish imigrant named, Nikola Tesla, but, it was soon apparent that Edison and Tesla could not exist in the same world. Edison would assign him a project, Tesla would set down at his desk, and, not look up for days. He would calculate and draw, quietly rip everything up and start over until he was satisfied, then get up and build something that worked, the first time, every time. Edison considered that a lazy way of doing things, and, in a frustrated tirade, fired him for laziness.

To Edison, the Scientific Method involved a lot of dirt under your fingernails, and, little planning or actual direction, just follow the instructions that came to you in dreams (his claim), and, stick a bunch of stuff together til it works.

To those who might think I would make something up for a little fame: I walked away from fame in 1977 when a production assistant offered me "...minimum wage, all the Beer you can drink, all the Food you can eat, and, all the women you can catch..." to be in the movie, "Urban Cowboy."

Ernie Hicks, Ronnie Short, and, I, had been in a Mano-a-Mano (with a couple of hundred lesser contenders) for a couple of years, over who would dominate the Punching Bag at Gilley's (be the so-called, "King of the Punching Bag"), and, my story still weaves all through the movie, with one exception: when I walked away, the "King of the Punching Bag Contest," the storyline, died a natural death (it's mentioned in the first part of the movie, then never happens).

I laughed at th' guy, made some blistering remarks, and, walked away, because I already had an offer to go to the North Sea on my first great adventure, and, I wouldn't tie my shoelaces for minimum wage, didn't drink that much beer, or, eat that much, and, I was married to the Queen of Gilley's (second wife in the movie) at the time (she already took a dim view of my skirt chasin' ways).

Didn't need 'fame' at the time, don't need it now, and, I sure as hell don't need a wife who can spend more at Walmart than Bill Gates can make, and, walk out with nothing worth keeping (even though I've still got 'er, and, supporting her, somewhere).

To James Randi (should he read this): as I told Leon (in '94), I don't play another man's game, especially when HE's loading the dice.

To those who need proof from an antiquarian, pre-Sputnik age, such as the early Fifties: such was the mind set, in that age (generally driven by religion inspired, "Long Held Belief"), that if something did not fit the accepted paradigm, such as the events I described, it was mentally brushed away (mental blindness set in), and, nobody talked about it, at any level, from the most destitute Bum in the Hobo Jungle, to the highest Church, to the most exalted University and the highest Government authority...most especially the Scientific Community, and, the Government. This type of discrimination still exists, and, there is a minority that you are not only allowed to revile and hate, but, encouraged to: (The modern Jews)...UFO observers, experiencers, Abductees, and, even those who attempt to defend them without being one of them.

You didn't talk about it, attempt to make a big deal out of it, or, try to draw attention to it, you buried it...whatever IT was. And, this mindset literally remains today, as witnessed by the societal burial of Dr. Gilbert Levin, and, the results of his experiments, on Mars, that were carried out by instruments on the Viking 2 Lander (recently verified by another researcher, and, swiftly shoveled into oblivion, again).

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 10, 2003 05:59 PM

Hi Spork,

You're right, I'm adventuring, but, limited by circumstances to doing it 'virtually'. Wandering among the Planets, fighting for Constitutional Rights, and, studying everything about everything...just bein' me. Just an old, worn out Expat, too old to chase women or dance anymore, who never did like 'fighting' that much (did a lot of it...young guys lookin' ta win their Spurs, ya know?), and, can't get a job overseas because...well, the answer seems to be, just because. However, I'm old enough to give "Crankshaft" a run for his money, and, I defy anyone to take away my virtual "Rainbow Stew" (Merle Haggard).

BTW, did you know about the Womans Skull they found buried in the "Texas Aransas Wildlife Preserve" (near Freeport), last year? They knew the Skull was ancient, but, not how ancient until they'd run several thousand experiments, including DNA. They were astounded to discover that she was engulfed and drowned in this coastal bog more than 9,000 years ago, had never eaten anything in her life except refined Cereal Grains of a distinctive type that identified her as Alien to the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the Chemical studies that pinpointed a Global origin by Diet, the identification of her origin was confirmed by 'genotyping' that placed her as (recently) from the "Land Between the Rivers," Mesopotamia...Iraq.

They suspect that the rest of her skeleton may still be there, but, last word I had, they were still trying to determine a method of exhumation to best preserve what little may still exist (recovery of remains handled by private Archaeological Contractor...lost the Link and Name).

There was one article in the Houston Chronicle, to my Knowledge, which was linked from several news Sites along with a link to the Archaeological Contractors Website, then, the story vanished from the radar, and, that Computer got a serious case of Mushroom Cloud (salvaged the Case and Monitor).

Such is life in a skeptical world...don't wanta know about it.

Gorodn

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 10, 2003 07:18 PM

Bill,

This thread oughta be in yer next book. Gordon, LabRat, Geem, Silverback, Russ, Dick, Serenity, Leron, EB, Jesse, ...and I probably missed a few... This is the funnest time I've ever had at a 'blog chat.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 10, 2003 07:37 PM

Hi Jesse,

No, this is a separate event. The Astronauts pulled up to the Crater on the Lunar Rover, got off, and, as one began unpacking an Experiment, the other turned to look across the Crater, and...

I can remember that his last name started with a C (Cunningham?), he is recently deceased, and, used to live near my Motorcycle Racing Sponsor, Richard E. Brown (Roger Chaffee lived on one side, Scott Carpenter on the other, and, several others nearby), across NASA1 from the old Main Gate, at NASA. They used to come to all the after-race Parties at Richards.

One thing that startled me, during Armstrong and Aldrin's sojourn on the Moon. Right at the end, Neil said he was going over to take one more look, and, some more photos "...of the wreckage.." in the little Crater right next to the Lander. If you go to the "Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, select Apollo 11, and, look at every picture of that tiny Crater, the "Bounceback Peak" in the center, isn't. It is exactly what he called it, several times, "Debris," and, "Wreckage." Somebody ran out of ideas and altitude at the same time, and, crashed in that Crater. I hope he "ejected."

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 10, 2003 07:39 PM

There was a Cunningham, early on..but he never walked on the Moon. As far as I recall the only "C" astronauts were Carpenter and Cernan.
Gene Cernan was the last man to walkmon the Moon, Apollo 17. So, maybe who you're thinking of. Still, I've never witnessed nor heard that story.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 10, 2003 09:02 PM

Hi Spork,

The story, as well as a video used to be on the old Italian, "Ovni" website, which is the Italian version of MUFON, though they're not affiliated, to my knowledge. I know of no other source where there might have been a copy of this Video, complete and uncut.

It may have been the best UFO Website in the World, with Videos from most of the Apollo Missions, and, every Shuttle Flight that had any type of unusual event. Incredible Videos that would drop anybody's jaw, and, no-one knows what happened to the Website, nor, has anyone been able to locate the Webmasters...talk about a Conspiracy Theory. One day it was there, and, the next it was gone.

Even JJ Mercieca, of Malta UFO Research, who knew the Webmasters personally, hadn't been able to find them, or, anything concerning them, the last time I exchanged E-Mails with him (couple of years ago?).

These were the last two UFO Sites that I personally spent a lot of time checking, and, posted a lot of Links to, because, they were so professionally done, and, everything could be verified though links to the original sources, even should that be NASA. JJ's site is still up, and, has a lot of Mars images, but, I don't do Cydonia...it's been debunked, which doesn't mean anything's been proven, just debunked.

It was one really big shock to have the worlds greatest source of NASA anomalies simply vanish. And, there don't seem to be any simple answers, like, they just got tired of doing it, or, had a fight and refused to work together anymore, or, couldn't pay the bills, or, whatever...just gone.

Lots of things I'l like to link as evidence, simply don't exist anymore, like the archives of the old Encounters Forum, on Compuserve. It contained an immense amount of information on almost every type of Anomalous subject, and, almost every word ever written about the "Alien Autopsy Films" (all three of them...and, my VHS copies were destroyed by Allison).

But, anything you want to know about the Apollo Missions (that is NASA approved), can be found on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 10, 2003 09:53 PM

Bill: Thanks for hosting this site and allowing the dialogue to go on...it has been entertaining and educational...My head is spinning from all the tech talk posted in these comments. I have worked my way up to "WAR" and applaud your voice of patriotism. About the only place you see open patriotism anymore is at the Grand Ole Opry. "I'm Proud To Be An American" should be sung more often in more places.....

It is interesting that the comments went off on an tangent that focused on unexplained phenomena, or maybe your topic "magic" was the factor that brought that about...I found it interesting that most of us have had experiences or knowledge of unexplained occurrences, extrasensory perceptions or other worldly events...and that most of us (I think, most of us) agreed that the seemingly implausible could in fact be possible...except for you, Mr. Whittle, who requires scientific proof......but, that's O.K. because there's still time in your life to see another leprecahun.

More than one comment alluded to cover-ups of extraordinary phenomena. But, noone ran off on that tangent....not plausible? Not credible? Nobody believes in government cover-ups? Is this not the proper vehicle for that discussion?


Posted by: Geem on June 10, 2003 10:38 PM

BTW did anyone happen to see a picture of space taken from inside the space shuttle by the Israeli astronaut looking out a window and over the left wing? I saw it one time on TV and I swear it showed a lot of damage to that wing. NO mention of it has been made since.

Posted by: Geem on June 10, 2003 10:46 PM

Responding to Geem’s post of 10:38pm 10 June

Here is a specifid example of the sort of problem we are trying to address, I think, Bill through his essays, and the rest of us tossing ideas and “tools” back and forth. You might say we’re trying to panel-beat our brains into some semblance of readiness to evaluate the avalanche of information, claims, propaganda, counterclaims, and damned lies that comes at us every day of our lives.

At the following URL I found very disturbing images of what appears to be a summary execution of a palestinian arrested and subdued by Israeli uniformed officers

http://electronicintifada.net/features/articles/020312beithanina.shtml

Afterwards I looked up a number of websites to try to get more information, and this one seems to be the clearest layout of the issues. You'll notice it is a Pro-palestinian website, and the text indicates the site's extreme skepticism of the Israeli depiction of events.

However, in fairness, they do offer several Israeli official statements, which I think is remarkable.

The Israelis maintain that the person was wearing an explosive device on his chest, and that despite all their attempts to subdue him and remove the device, he persisted in attempting to detonate it, forcing them to kill him to keep him from exploding it.

The problem with pictures is that while photographs do show truth (depending on the cropping, framing, and whether they’ve been actually staged or altered,) it is not always the entire truth, and there are many situations that are not what they seem. Still, you can understand why the sequence of pictures would seem to be a clear case of the Israelis murdering a subdued captive, especially to an Arab audience.

You might also want to look at some other websites. Try this one; it's the list of sites I got when I did a search by google:

http://www.google.com/search?q=death+of+mohammed+saleh+palestinian&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&start=30&sa=N

I hope you understand that I have sympathy for the Palestinian people, and I do not agree with many of the policies of the Israeli government. There are undeniably a lot of right-wing Jewish doctrinaire religious zealots, as well as doctrinaire CULTURAL zealots. But the people living in Israel today, the third and fourth generation since the founding of the state of Israel, are no more responsible for the excesses of their great-great-grandparents than are you and I responsible for wrongs done to American Indians back in the 19th century. I reject the idea that targeting and murdering civilians, women, infants, children, is legitimized by oppression, whether the bombing is by Irish Republican Army fanatics or Palestinian fanatics.

As far as I can tell, Israel has made a number of good-faith attempts to allow Palestinians to create some sort of autonomous self-government, but this has been frustrated and de-railed repeatedly by the duplicity of Yassir Arafat and other fanatics who are not interested in SHARING the territory, but simply want to eliminate jews from the region entirely.

The criticism that seems to carry a lot of weight is that Israel is an artificial state carved out of the homelands of people who were never given a voice in the matter; a violation and affront to all generations to follow.

Well, Guess what? So are Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, et cetera et cetera. Most of the Arab states surrounding Israel were backwater provinces of the Turkish Ottoman empire, without the precisely defined frontiers and borders that satisfy modern cartographers, carved up arbitrarily by England and France during World War I, without regard for the tribes and groups living there, for whom the Europeans had only contempt. The big difference is that all the current arab states are authoritarian regimes, dictatorships, single-party military regimes, or suchlike. Israel is the only country in the region which at least has a popularly elected legislature and leader replaceable by a peaceful vote, and the legislature includes ARAB, elected by arabic citizens of Israel.

In many ways, Bill’s essay “MAGIC” seems to be lamenting the casual ease with which “magical” thinkers dismiss the need for scholarship, or any sort of disciplined study of history, science, or the history of science, or of information sources that disagree with what you already believe to be true.

I’ve heard that an essential concept of information theory is that the importance of a bit of data may be regarded as inversely proportional to it’s likelihood--- that is, its importance is based on how completely it contradicts everything you think you already know. If you disregard it, and it turns out to be true, then you’re in bottomless poop.


David March
animator & fiddler

p.s. I add my thanks to Bill for going to the effort of setting up and providing this incredibly stimulating forum.

Posted by: David March on June 10, 2003 10:56 PM

Bill has admitted to the existence of the unexplained. What he has not done is lauded those who pull an explanation out of their ass and build elaborate constructs of "facts THEY don't want you to know". As well he shouldn't: most of them are full of shit. Additionally, there are plenty of people who just don't want to hear the rational explanation when there is one.

As for why us rationalists haven't commented much on government coverups and the like, I can only speak for myself: I really don't know that much about modern "UFOlogy", and I flat-out don't care enough to do the research necessary to make my own firm judgments, because it's really not one of my interests. There's plenty here on Earth to keep me occupied until the end of time, so unless it's obvious nonsense I tend to keep quiet. I know the government has covered up things in the past, and there are plenty of other things that it hasn't covered up because they didn't happen. Not being in the CIA, I have little way to discern, and unless it's something I have the resources and the drive to look into, I leave it be. I will say this, however: this is the same organization that could not competently run the postal service. I have difficulty believing they could cover up something on the scale of having alien ships and bodies in their possession, especially not for over fifty years.

And Geem: I don't know about you, but I've heard ad nauseam about how much damage there was initially, how we should have known, how some people DID know. If I saw something on the damage to the wing once they were IN space as opposed to at takeoff, it got lost in the shuffle for me.

Posted by: LabRat on June 10, 2003 11:00 PM

Gordon,

With regard to Randi, someone has to set the rules. If we went with the general public's rules, UFO's would exist and Gore would be president owing to popular vote.

Let's change the topic and talk about Edison or your life story and then we may definitely conclude that UFO's exist.

There must have been cameras or at least a pen and paper back in the 50's, I suppose it was only the beginning stages of LSD.

Still proof my dear Watson, PROOF

And a word of advice (conspiracy theory no. 20923092389), if you insist on mentioning the stories of Armstrong and the 'C' guy, I'm afraid we may never hear from you again. :)

Posted by: on June 11, 2003 03:50 AM

Whoops forgot to sign

Posted by: Leron on June 11, 2003 03:53 AM

A skull was found and from that they were able to determine, she "had never eaten anything in her life except refined Cereal Grains." You'd need to find a few more body parts, besides the skull, to determine that. Dontcha think?

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit on June 11, 2003 08:34 AM

I think regarding found skulls and their relation to the dangers of "political correctness," coverups, and conspiracies, and the smashing of precious intellectual theories, you could get a lot more mileage, actual documentation, and a good dose of outrage, from a discussion of "Kennewick Man."

I'll be back to toss in some websites and further comments after some errands.

Yeee-haw!

David March
animator & fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 11, 2003 10:43 AM

Mrs. du Toit: link? I'm not sure what you're talking about.

Posted by: LabRat on June 11, 2003 11:32 AM

I've about come to the conclusion, just from reading this fairly amazing parade of comments, that the central issue here is not one of whether people are ignoring "obvious evidence," or stubbornly believing in their own little "things" despite all the "evidence to the contrary" (although both are most definitely and frequently done), but rather more one of "what SOURCES of evidence people are willing to give credence to." And that's a rather subjective method of determining "truth," don't you think? For ALL sides of the battlefield. Including yours, Bill... and yours, LabRat... and yours, Mr. De Spain. And most definitely, my own.

So far, the only original tenet of mine (that I started these comments with) that I'm still sticking to with any strong conviction after all these discussions, is that there IS evidence to support ALL this stuff... from UFOs to firewalks to psychic dogs. The question then is only to which of those evidentiary sources you grant any credibility.

Even Mr. Occam's infamous razor gets abused in this process, selectively determining what the "simpler" or "more likely" answers are, based on pre-existing preferences.

I've heard acupuncture and acupressure ridiculed as shamanism, comparable to wearing a garlic necklace while on vacation in Transylvania, and that therefore neither western medicine nor the insurance companies that sponsor it will recognize it for its healing efficacy. And yet, one form of evidence that I am willing to accept (personal experience) shows me that when I wear "Sea-Bands" (acupressure wristbands, that press a plastic stud into the acupressure point between the veins of your wrists) are the ONLY things capable of defeating my wretched propensity for motion sickness... including Dramamine, skin patches, and vast quantities of alcohol (yes, I'm being a wise-ass here). Since discovering these things, I've finally been able to fly without medication, ride in the backseat of a car, do the "Back to the Future" ride at Universal Studios, and take a cruise to Bermuda. That, to me... is... evidence.

I'm not claiming that anyone HERE would say otherwise, but there are self-proclaimed "medical experts" that do. And they've got their own well defended batteries of scientifically derived source data to "prove" it. And yet... there I am on a rolling fishing boat, "Sea-Bands" on, and my lunch right where I left it.

In "MAGIC," Bill asked, "Why is it that every certified, approved, authorized and official UFO photo has been revealed by experts – or the perpetrators – to be a hoax?"

Well, by every source of information I've ever seen or heard, not "every one" of them HAS been so defamed. In fact, before Bill's assertion, I'd never heard a figure higher than 90%. And to this day, I've NEVER heard or read an explanation for the broad daylight event that took place over that Brazilian soccer field, in the middle of a national play-off game, back somewhere around the mid- to late-70s, I think it was. I'm not sure. I don't research this stuff. I just channel-surfed through the Discovery channel one day, and there it was. No indistinguishable or questionable lights, no blurry, amorphous blobs, no fading in or out of arguable shapes. These were clearly focused, plump, metal, disklike objects that loitered over the playing field for something like 20 minutes (if I remember correctly), stopping the game, and turning several tens of thousands of eyes skyward. That's a lot of eyes. And a lot of cameras. Not to mention a lot of "evidence."

That doesn't mean they were alien spacecraft, of course. Just "unidentified" flying objects. I personally have never been able to buy the idea that an interstellar spacefaring community, with the technology to conquer light-speeds and light-distances at will (supposedly), would need to drop down to 10' above a cow (or a soccer stadium) to observe the local fauna, when WE can read a license plate from geosynchronous orbit with our own relatively primitive machinery (yes, I exaggerate). But then again, that's the prejudice that I come to the table with. And it doesn't change the fact that right there on that TV screen, unexplainable by the people who put together the documentary, as well as all the "experts" that they interviewed, was EVIDENCE. Questionable perhaps, refutable with the weight of logic perhaps, but evidence nonetheless.

So again, from where I'm standing, it looks like the only dividing line here between the "Uh-HUHs" and "NUH-uhs" is the choice of, and the acceptance of, the source's credibility. If you don't buy the credentials of that show's UFO "experts," what about the 40,000 witnesses with cameras? (or whatever the number was)

Again, I'm not arguing for one side or the other right now... I'm not arguing at all. I'm just trying out the running legs of this little "observation" of mine.

So whaddaya' think? IS there "evidence," of some form or another, to back all these claims? Or does it really come down to "here are the only acceptable facts... if you accept them, you're RIGHT... if you don't, you're WRONG."

Be nice now, guys. No torches, pick-axes, or flaming nooses now. I just wanna' hear what you think.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 11, 2003 11:44 AM

Labrat, it was a quote from Gordon's comment above. Sorry if it sounded obscure. Here’s what he commented:

BTW, did you know about the Womans Skull they found buried in the "Texas Aransas Wildlife Preserve" (near Freeport), last year? They knew the Skull was ancient, but, not how ancient until they'd run several thousand experiments, including DNA. They were astounded to discover that she was engulfed and drowned in this coastal bog more than 9,000 years ago, had never eaten anything in her life except refined Cereal Grains of a distinctive type that identified her as Alien to the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the Chemical studies that pinpointed a Global origin by Diet, the identification of her origin was confirmed by 'genotyping' that placed her as (recently) from the "Land Between the Rivers," Mesopotamia...Iraq.

The interesting thing is the layer of "distraction." It wasn't that the citation was a woman who'd eaten "grain." No, that wouldn't be enough—we need the slight of hand to make it plausible. It was that it was REFINED grain--assuming it was ‘machine’ milled or some sort of modern process. There is no way you could know that! But MORE importantly, you couldn't know she'd eaten ANY grain from just finding her skull, let alone "REFINED." That's the slight of hand--add a layer to the lie (or myth). While we're arguing about it being ‘refined' or 'hand-milled' we've accepted the notion that we 'know' she ate grain—which is IMPOSSIBLE from DNA of a skull for pete’s sakes.

A skull, found buried in a bog, 9,000 years old, wouldn’t have any soft tissue to analyze. Bogs are wet and marshy (assuming we agree on the definition of “bog”). Any soft tissue would have long ago disappeared—no flesh, no intestines, no stomach—nothing left that could contain the DNA-grain analysis. Her skull—the bone—would not contain any marrow either. The entire premise is false, but by layering on the fun twist of “milled” we are expected to miss that the entire case is bogus.

Then we get to the part about the grain coming from Iraq--yee haw, what fun. Grain we don't have, analyzed by the modern process of "DNA" that is both milled AND refined, specifically regional, and found to be from the belly of known civilization. Give that man the gold ring!

Posted by: Mrs. du Toit on June 11, 2003 12:23 PM

Ahh, sorry about that. I read the last stretch of comments before yours right before bed last night, and I guess a large section of them disappeared into the cracks of my pre-coffee brain by today.

As for being able to tell her diet from her skull... some nutritional deficiencies and diseases can indeed be determined from distinct pathological changes that show up in bone. Chronic anemia leaves characteristic markers on bones, and quite often stems from dietary deficiencies, such as might come from an unvaried and primarily grain-based diet. (The "refined" part is indeed important, as what your mother told you is true: the skins- husks in this case- are where the vitamins are.) The problem is that you could also get this kind of anemia from chronic heavy parasitic infection or a genetic disorder, and heavy hookworm infestation would not be at all out of place on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Bogs can actually preserve a lot more than you might think, because despite the damp they are usually anaerobic environments, which means most of the bacteria that do the decomposing would not be able to survive. So it's possible that some marrow could have been preserved. However, I'm still not sure exactly how she or her diet would definitively be placed as of Mesopotamian origin. Some diets do carry giveaway chemical markers, but as far as I know right now cereals aren't one of them. And I can't seem to find anything on this woman upon brief Googleization.

Posted by: LabRat on June 11, 2003 01:45 PM

re: skull
They might be able to tell about the grain from looking at the teeth, too, but who knows how much.

re: purported Israeli astronaut photo:
That was photoshopped to make it look like wing damage. As tests are being done now, the damage that WAS done by the foam, most probably, was to the leading edge. And it caused a gap to form so there may not have been enough damage to be seen or photographed even from the shuttle itself, and the damage would have been on the underside of the wing, not the side the astronauts had a view of from the crew compartment. The CAIB (Columibia Accident Investigation Board) has a web site for those interested in the ongoing investigation.

http://www.caib.us/news/default.asp

Posted by: EB on June 11, 2003 03:08 PM

http://www.snopes.com/photos/shuttle.asp

^^The explanation of the shuttle wing photo and what it really was a picture of, for those still interested.

Posted by: EB on June 11, 2003 03:14 PM

Hold on...This sounds like Bill's fireman story. I think sly Gordon has provided only enough "facts" to get us going...What critical piece of information has he omitted......that the skull found "buried" in the Texas Aransas Wildlife Preserve had been stolen from the Freeport Museum's exhibit of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts?

Posted by: Geem on June 11, 2003 03:36 PM

Well done, very well constructed and elegant to boot. All commentary and criticism is of the kind, loving sort. (And yes, this is a copy of another comment I wrote, but I started turning my original comment here into an essay which will just have to wait.)

1) Typo: "...entire skyscrapers of ideaS, have..."
(Bonus prize for the first person to Dowd a 20 page essay around the quote) ;)

2) I've read Den Beste's essay about inductive vs. deductive logic (the one you referenced in here). I wouldn't normally comment on what parts of the essay you speak to, but since blogging is a subtly different beast than writing, I figured I would make the comment and let you choose whether or not to listen to it. The point you're making here essentially is discussing the failure to distinguish between heuristics and algorithms (inductive vs deductive logic). Essentially the core of the issue is not (at least in my understand of your and Mr. Den Beste's readings) is not a question of assembling heuristics, but presenting people with a verifiable deductive proof of "X", showing that a heuristic also predicts "X" in a specific case and then trying to 'misdirect' the mind into accepting a heuristic result as algorithmic. While the point itself is made, the use of terminology may have not afforded you as much leverage in highlighting the difference between 'reason' and 'magical thinking' as you would have liked. Then again, you may not want to add even more text to dive into that bit of nit-picky trivia.

3) Next time you write, disregard people who complain about length. I think doing this in two sessions (so to speak) has created a difficult situation in which one version is more complete but the other flows better (at least to my semi-literate ear).

4) I had a fourth point, but it kind of got subsumed by my second point. But I needed filler to get to point number five, and I couldn't find any last minute sponsorship to fill the slot and a station identification just didn't seem to be appropriate to this programming segment. So that was the filler.

5) The essential problem that you allude to in this is that all political science (indeed, virtually all soft science) is essentially immune to the requirement of hard deductive reasoning manifested as usable algorithms. It's sort of the problem that math runs into with arbitrarily complex problems (like all that Turing and Godel stuff). So essentially its like you've got a class of problems which must all necessarily be solved by approximation. The difference is that one has no idea of whether or not there is even a deterministic answer to be had, at all, and hence no provable theoretical model to work from. Consequently we are stuck with a completely empirical way of establishing and verifying hypothesis. Considering the late date at which the scientific method was developed, its not at all surpising that magical thinking still has such a hold on people.

6) Something about post-modernism which would make this post entirely too long.

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation on June 11, 2003 05:07 PM

This post is responding to the significance of anomolous found skulls, and some of the conflicts they occasion.

As LabRat indicates, Forensic Anthropologists are able to draw very detailed conclusions about diet by a number of means, despite the dubious assertions of our companion Gordon, and in the last two years I’ve read an article in Discover Magazine (admittedly, not the most unimpeachable source, but reasonably responsible) that a recently found skeleton in a Florida marsh/bog/spring/some such, was determined to be several thousand years old AND found to have an intact if shriveled soft-tissue brain inside the cranium. Preserved by the bog, I seem to recall. Like the Danish bog people found in peat still soft & supple & fully preserved (except the minerals were leached from the bones) after one or two millenia.

Thanks to Great Hairy Silverback for putting his finger on the linchpin of these discussions: Our sources of information each need to be scrutinized, and evaluated continuously; or maybe better to say our assumptions about the legitimacy and trustworthiness of those sources need to be re-examined regularly.

I’ve scrounged up a few websites that lay out the dilemma posed by the discovery of a skeleton that has come to be known as “Kennewick Man” which along with several other conspicuously ANOMALOUS skeletons have been carbon dated to a much earlier date than most current theories allow for ANY humans to have been present in the western hemisphere, AND show characteristics that would tend to identify it as caucasian rather than “native american” in origin.

The prevailing model for aboriginal migration and settlement of the Americas since about the 1940’s or so, has been that the first humans to populate the western hemisphere crossed a “land bridge” exposed by the lowering of ocean levels near end of most recent ice age. This would have put them in extreme northwest of pacific coast maybe far too late to have been ancestral to skeletons now being certified as 8 to 9 thousand years old, in locations such as Kennewick, WA, the American Southwest, or Tierra del Fuego, fer Pete’s SAKE! In addition, the morphological differences in cranial features argues forcefully that these skeletons are absolutely distinct from the population groups we now call “native american.”

So WHAT? Well, there is a huge group that now has a vested interest in promoting the agendas of native tribes. At one time, the issue was the desecration of indian burial sites by craven looters. Okay. Now the issue has shifted to a somewhat less lofty one. You probably won’t be surprised to find that much of the pressure on the government to suppress scientific inquiry into these remains comes from the native american GAMING groups, (and their associates) who stand to rake in many millions of tax-free dollars from casino operations. Many of the legal concessions to those groups come from the argument that they were the original owners of the land, here many thousands of years before the evil Europeans came and wrested away their property. Any skeletons of caucasians found to antedate their residence sorta dilutes that claim.

In my opinion, the native americans deserve a lot of consideration, regardless of whether there were other settlers here a few thousand years before. Jeez, just because they’ve found 2,000-year-old Celts buried side by side with Chinese in the Mongolian desert doesn’t negate 5,000 years of Chinese influence and hegemony! In any case, using the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act as a means of suppressing the truth, out of political correctness (maybe) or worse, in connivance with groups whose only motivation is (gasp!) filthy lucre, is, well... the work of a bunch of sorry rascals.

This excerpt from an article by by Aviva L. Brandt, Associated Press dated September 25, 2000, underscores the bias of the government against any investigation that might overturn the “politically correct” hypotheses by which native americans pursue their claims for additional concessions, rights, territories, etc.:

“Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said the remains were ‘culturally affiliated’ with the five tribes because the bones were found in the Columbia River shallows near the tribes' aboriginal lands.

‘Although ambiguities in the data made this a close call, I was persuaded by the geographic data and oral histories of the five tribes that collectively assert they are the descendants of people who have been in the region of the Upper Columbia Plateau for a very long time,'’ Babbitt said in a statement.”

here are those URLs:

http://www.friendsofpast.org/kennewick-man/court/affidavits/oct99-chatters.htm

http://www.friendsofpast.org/kennewick-man/

http://abcnews.go.com/sections/science/DailyNews/kennewick000426.html

http://www.inform.umd.edu/News/Diamondback/archives/2002/09/17/news14.html

http://www.thenoiseroom.com/archnews.htm

http://www.primtech.net/Penon%20article.html

http://www.treff-raum-espaciotime.com/englisch/Articles/kennewickman.html

http://codesign.scu.edu/anthroweb/years/1990_00/web-kenn.htm

(Key word search on “Kennewick Man found skeleton skull”)

David March
animator & fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 11, 2003 05:47 PM

To Tuning Spork,

Thanks for your points (in your post of June 10, 2003 05:40 PM) about why in hindsight new theories may SEEM to be simplifications to US, where they seemed devilishly unfamiliar and outlandish to the people of the time.

Having taught a buncha folks (mostly animation, filmmaking processes, computer graphics) I have always had to remind myself what it was like to NOT know what I know now.

That point has many applications, as you brought out very graciously.

David March
animator & fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 11, 2003 05:55 PM

David March,

Both of you are correct about the methods of identifying Skulls, and, the methods they used to determine a Geographic area of origen were totally unfamiliar to me, even though I thought I had a pretty good handle on Archaeological Methods as used in the Middle East.

You're right that the anaerobic conditions in the bog produced unusual preservation of the Skull, and, they attempted to cover the site such as would produce the same conditions to protect whatever bones remain to be found. The condition and the type of wear on the Teeth was one pointer, along with the chemical composition of the bones, detailing and presenting the evidence in charts and graphs that really meant nothing to me. They listed the different types of diets, worldwide, and, factored in results of nuclear testing that identified the 'Class of Cereal Grains' which would produce those results, and, would indentify someone who was used to eating soft Breads, Cake, and, other refined Cereal products, as opposed to the diet of the native Hunting and Gathering societies extant in that area during the time span indicated by geological evidence at the site, as confirmed by a number of different dating methods.

I'm very interested in Anthropology, but, more from the cultural and technological side, than Archaeological Forensics, and, as related to historical characters or figures. For instance, Sumeria, unbeknownst to the average person, was the center of Haut Cuisine, with published Gourmet Cookbooks, Haut Couture, with well known Houses of Fashion, who literally advertised much as they do today. It was the center of culture and science, with published books (on clay Tablets, to be sure), Travelogues, Fiction, and, the ability to write poetry was one of the most cherished assets of a courtier. Some of the pictures I've seen of Sumerian Fashion were stunning. Truth is, there are a lot of women in this world who would kill half of Paris for just this one of particular ensemble, that took my breath away (durn...I love a good looking woman, in an outfit just beggin' to be filled to perfection).

Mrs du Toit,

I held a tiny alabaster statuete of the goddess Innana in my hands, exactly like the 7 foot tall statue in the Syrian National Museum, with the dirt from its looting still stuck under the skirt. It was offered to me in my office at the Omar Gas Plant, northeast of the Al Furat (the Euphrates), about 39 Kilometers west of Iraq in 1991, and, I was sure it had come from the Mari dig, even though they told me it did not.

I studied it intently, and, this was no fake (seen some, but, not of this type), it was at least 6,000 years old. I wanted it so much my hands were shaking , but, I did not, and, do not want to become a party to the looting of ancient sites. He was asking 1,000 Algerian Dinars (at 40 to 1 USD), and, it was worth at least a thousand dollars (in the field) as a smuggling item, with an expected return of 10 times again in the US or Europe. But, I wanted it for me, to go in my tiny collection, yet, I handed it back and told him a lie, that I didn't have the money (shaky situation and the wrong word could have been my last). It could also have been a setup...I don't know, but, something wasn't right.

I've had my run-ins with the SSP (Syrian Secret Police), and, my own personal watchdog (my Lead Millwright, Tariq), that I was constantly getting in trouble, because he couldn't keep me out of it.

However, the foregoing was just to illustrate that I'm no neophyte when it comes to understanding and loving the ancient world, and, the countries with histories that go beyond the memory of man. I've walked both sides of the Al Furat and the Al Khabir for hundreds of Kilometers on either side of Deir-ez-Zor, and, I could literally feel a half million years of history thrumming beneath my feet. I've stood on unexcavated City Mounds that no-one even has a name for, and, found a Mud Brick, early Egyptian style Pyramid on the East side of the Al Furat, that isn't even recognized by the Syrians as such (they've got a Radio Booster tower on top of it).

And, these were all very personal, fond memory type experiences: ...climbing Zenobias Tower in Palmyra; standing on top of the East Gate at Halabia (Roman Zenobia...shattered by Diocletians Troops, in pursuit of Zenobia), and, looking across the river at an almost invisible Zelabia, on the other end of the ancient Tunnel under the Al Furat, that was built in a time beyond the memory of man; ...etc..

I speak passable, working Arabic, Thai, Indonesian, Spanish, French and Tagalog (Philipino), but, not without a lot of study and work to pick it up (another self-defense thingey), and, it seems to go away until I step back 'in country'.

Incidentally, all of the above are Indo-Aryan/European based Languages. In short, I've studied a bit.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 11, 2003 08:54 PM

Origen? Ach, origin...mispelled a word...throws it all in doubt...durn.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 11, 2003 08:57 PM

Dave Marsh,

I re-read our comments and realized that I'd left out the coolest part of my arguement; that Ptolemaic astronomy was actually very SIMPLE.
"Circles within circles" is simple because it can -- as anyone who's ever played with a SpiralGraph can attest to -- describe any orbit imaginable...even a SQUARE one!

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 11, 2003 09:20 PM

AHAAA!

Mr. DeSpain (if his REAL NAME!) have SLIPPED UP.

He signed name in one of posts as "Gorodn" obvious clue... for anyone who study RUSSIAN tongue!
Gorod is auld Roshn word for CITY! You SEE?
He spy!
Not to trust.
He try to FOOL us.
Nyekulturni chilavyek.

Hooo Ha!

David mad fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 11, 2003 10:00 PM

Ach, caught me, David...hate that, ya know? It's the most common spelling mistake I make, and, generally it happens when I slip into an unconscious mode of typing, where the words seem to step from Brain to Screen without interface. Usually, when I misspell something, it's a matter of transposed letters, or, as in another misspelled word I found in that post, letters that don't go there, and, can't be indentified...:)

Grodon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 11, 2003 10:24 PM

Hi Leron,

I respect the rules, and, generally try to follow them, but, I have a problem with someone who sets rules that amount to little more than, "I win, you lose," which are the rules Mr. Gore was attempting to run with, as well.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 11, 2003 10:29 PM

GHS,

I'm glad I'm not the only one on this board whose seen things that, to date, cannot be proven imperically through the Scientific Method, and, allows for such in his philosphy of life. I wouldn't tell God how to build a Universe or where to create or allow life to exist, nor, a scientist how to conduct his experiments, even when the logic escapes me...he may be right, logic notwithstanding, and, I've been told God's never wrong. Don't know if I believe that, or not...He created Limousine Liberals, ya know?

Incidentally, I've seen firewalking, and, even though I watched others do it, I couldn't make myself take that step. Not because I thought there was some trick to it, or fakery was involved, just don't like fire...been in it, figuratively if not actually, too many times in my life.

I admire someone who has the guts to take that leap of faith.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 11, 2003 10:51 PM

In central Africa close to the equator, clouds appear in December that form a mystic shape of Zeus, a face resembling images taken from the surface of Mars. Many have taken pictures, none have been disproved.

It is also a fact that Armstrong never landed on the moon,

Extract from G.D Spain:
The Astronaut said, quietly, "Capcom...We are not alone." Capcom came back, "Say again, we did not read you." He replied, as I slammed into the Console TV on my knees, "I say again, Capcom, we are not alone. They're lined up on the other Rim of the Crater, watching us..." BANG - a startled Walter Cronkite, caught with his mouth open, sputtered, "And, now a word from our Sponsor. It seems we've lost the feed from the Moon."

The third actor walked into the room before cue.

Me go bak to da barn to eet sum sereal.

Posted by: Leron (CIA agent) on June 12, 2003 02:38 AM

PS. Do ya fink anyone will tell on me, that i ayte my mama's chocolate cake, when they find my remains 2000 yeers frum now? I swear I had my sereal every morn ma...

Posted by: Leron (still an agent) on June 12, 2003 03:04 AM

Some quotes that I think apply here...

"Smart like horse, hung like Einstein."
(bumper sticker)

"Damn! Seven years of college down the drain!"
(John Belushi, "Animal House")

"Man, I love you guys!"
(any drunk, any night, any bar, any town)

From the heart, man. Keep up the great dialogue.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 12, 2003 08:14 AM

sr?¸sPr???(bs?agreement and debate: GOOD.

Loathesomeness, cowardly sniping, and using my bandwidth to preach Idiotarianism: BAD.

From now on I will just delete trolls and ban them, just like I had a +6 Vorpal Sword! Poof! Goodbye! I banish you to the Outer Realms of Darkest Indymedia, where No Light Shines and Madness is the Coin of the Realm!

Posted by: Bill Whittle on June 12, 2003 02:24 PM

woops. I guess it's (sob) goodbye, then...

(cringe)

dm

Posted by: David March on June 12, 2003 02:58 PM

Ach, well I guess that's it for me, as well. See ya, Leron...ah, BTW, I did some digging in the "Apollo Lunar Surface Journal," and, through a process of elimination, proved my wife is getting old (seems it affects my memory). I was wrong about the Astronaut in question, and even the initial of his name, it was John Young, Apollo 16.

Y'all have a nice day, now...ya hear?

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 12, 2003 06:58 PM

*dipping her toe into deep water*

I'm very leery of leaving comments here. I generally agree with most of what is said here. I just felt the need to express my tangential thinking that occured when I read this essay, again. Thank you for your patience.
-------------------------------------------------

"I find it terribly, tragically sad that the more successful and comfortable we become, the more people pine for a time when none of these everyday miracles existed. "

I would speculate that perhaps people long for the sense of wonder that stories of flying carpets and magic lamps used to provide. The feeling of "...but what if it were true?" that accompanies most myths and fairy tales is a powerful force, and one I believe that is quite needed. The sense of wonder when a child sees something so simple as mixing baking soda, vinegar, and red food coloring to make "lava" for a makeshift volcano does far more than satisfy a grade school "show and tell". It opens doors in that human beings mind to explore, to seek, to question. It's the beginning of the road which produces great thinkers, scientists, artists, and others who start with "nothing" and end up with "something" albeit a theory, musical piece, or treatise.

Debunking is fine and all, and pointing out errors in paradigms has its place. But there is always room for wonder, for magic, for the "wow" that starts the synapses firing along the lines of ".........but what if?".

Scientists don't know everything yet. To assume that the body of knowledge we possess is complete is ludicrous, and scientifically unprovable *wink*. I understand the point Bill was trying to make, and though I find the leap from a flock of geese to Michael Moore well done, I just wanted to speak to what I perceived as an undercurrent. Yes, our modern world is full of fantastic wonder not even imagined two centuries ago. But we still need to wonder, we still need to dream, else our fuel to create further magic, and to progress along roads not even contemplated, will be forever gone.

Just some tangential thoughts on the matter.

Posted by: rae on June 12, 2003 10:08 PM

Howdy, all.
I checked with our host before just leaping in with this... Today my website is operational.
Works and whimsies of the crazed animator & fiddler may now be inspected at the following URL:

http://www.davidmarch.net

This afternoon I delivered a CD with my website documents to the office of my ISP, and it is UP AND RUNNING! It's a little plain in some ways, yet. I am NOT a web designer.The content has to do the job.

You may have observed I have a lot of free time for composing posts to your comments. I am available for employment immediately .

Have stylus, will travel
2D & 3D Character Animator
Will work for negotiable instruments.

I will give full consideration to any reasonable job offer, and then yous guys can have a little respite from my rantings.

Comments & critiques are welcome.

David March
animator & fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 12, 2003 10:08 PM

I tend to strike sort of a compromised opinion between the two extremes of openmindedness and scientific confidence. I've read Demon Haunted World, which Bill referred to in Magic, and I agree that on balance scientific rigor is generally better than the lack thereof. However, I found DHW and, to a lesser extent, Magic (Sorry Bill!) somewhat too monolithic to be fully satisfying, though I did agree with the main argument in both.

Sure, I find credulity somewhat stupefying when witnessed, and flatter myself that I demand a fair amount of proof before accepting a new belief. And I believe Bill when he says he _saw_ a leprechaun, and others who have commented above to the extent of having seen a UFO. I just don't think they've interpreted their own observations accurately.

I recall seeing a program on Discovery Channel about stealth aircraft a few years ago. One photo they showed was the now-famous deliberately blurred early photo of the F-117 Nighthawk, made public sometime before the Gulf War. I tried to place myself mentally in a time when stealth aircraft weren't a well-known military asset, and it suddenly occurred to me that if I had seen that photo or even that actual jet in 1988 I would have been absolutely _convinced_ I had just seen a UFO. And if a major war hadn't since necessitated the public use of stealth technology, I might still believe it.

It seems that the Occamite solution to a UFO observation is simply that an experimental military jet has been spotted; the US military spends an enormous amount of money on R&D, and they likely have secret weapons platforms at their disposal now which would be hard to guess at. The flying object may indeed be unidentified, but that doesn't mean it's from another star system. Likelier it's just our tax dollars at work buying neat machines for use in killing bad people.

That said, I also once read one of Lawrence Krauss' Physics of Star Trek books, in which he goes on at some length about the impossibility of ESP because it doesn't operate on one of the four known physical forces. This argument is reasonably persuasive and well-supported by evidence collected to date, but seems too confidently dogmatic to suit me. Too much is being learned in particle physics today (and too much remains yet unknown) for me to fully rule out any phenomenon just because we can't explain it under one of the four forces of physics we've identified.

Now, although I can't rule it out, the ESP types don't help their cause by not producing any real systematic evidence in support of their cause; therefore, though Krauss' point isn't really proven to my taste, I think that his position is much likelier to prove true in the end than the opposite, and I would consider myself a skeptic or nonbeliever in whatever manner of ESP postmodernism you might suggest.

To close this post which is by now surely longer than it is interesting, I'll point out one of the discrepancies in modern physics which helps me to remain skeptical, even to the claims made by science advocates. [Note for the following that I'm not a scientist, or even close to it; I've just read a little about physics here and there.] General Relativity prohibits matter and even information from travelling faster than light speed. Quantum Physics does not (at least for information). In fact, in Quantum Physics two complementary particles seem to be able to share information instantaneously across any arbitrarily large distance, making it decidedly faster than light speed. But according to General Relativity, for anything moving at the speed of light, time stops, meaning that the elapsed time from point A to point B is zero when measured from the point of view of the lightspeed traveller--just as it is from the point of view of Quantum Physics. This possibility of travel across the entire universe at infinite speed in zero time elapsed suggests to me an interconnectedness we simply don't understand at all and which I won't embarrass myself by trying to describe any better than that. This says to me only that we will have many more surprises in store for us in physics before we're done learning, and we should at least bear in mind the limitations of our knowledge, even as we justly demand the best and most systematic proof possible when presented with new claims.

Posted by: JKS on June 12, 2003 10:14 PM

David,
You're too funny!! Is this like offering the fat lady money to put her clothes on? *wink*

Enjoy your comments! I'd hire ya if I could, hon, but I don't have any work that is up your alley.

Posted by: rae on June 12, 2003 10:14 PM

I think it was Confucius who was first quoted as saying, "Wha'?"

To what were you referring, Sir Bill? What "loathsome, cowardly sniping" and "idiotarianism?" You must have already deleted it from the roster before I had a chance to see it. Either that, or perhaps you had a bad dream, and added that entry while somnambulating.

As for the rest of you, don't you dare go away. I came here to learn something, damn it, and I'm not through taking notes.

Good to hear from you too Rae.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 13, 2003 07:47 AM

Who needs to waste 4 years going to college? Between the original posting and the comments, I learned and understood more about Science, Philosophy, Relativity, and how to explain a point in 2 hrs than I did sitting on my ass in class. Den Beste and Whittle are like the 2 hidden Aces you have up your sleeve in a debate. You whip out Den Beste to explain HOW things work...and Whittle to explain WHY this is a good thing.

Keep up the great work guys - I'm getting one helluva education!

Posted by: Bob on June 13, 2003 07:56 AM

I hate to drag the conversation back into the murky depths of two days ago, but I'm going to anyway.

I had asked, "why did that same protection not extend to your fellow firewalker's hands?"

To which David March replied, "Obviously, the guy who did the somersault was NOT THINKING ABOUT HIS HANDS!!!!!!!"

But, GreatHairySilverback had previously told us, "Also, there was that one guy who got all excited by his successes and did a cartwheel through the coals, and came out with badly blistered hands covered in hanging skin." That sounds to me like a guy who was convinced of his overall immunity to fire damage. If it was simply a matter of belief, it shouldn't have mattered where or how he touched the coals. He should have been fine.

But, anyway, here we have a measurable, quantifiable phenomenon. People can, under certain circumstances, walk on hot coals without suffering burns. It's so easy that some of those weekend corporate team-building retreats use it as a bonding exercise. It is observable. It happens, theories be hanged. Better yet, it's testable.

Given that, which is better?
1) Believing that human willpower or faith is able to contravene the laws of thermodynamics.
2) Finding out what is happening at the coal/foot interface to prevent the burning.

Would it not be better to determine the circumstances under which human flesh can safely come into direct physical contact with burning coals? Something like that could have all sorts of useful applications, from insulation to improved furnace efficiency.

Posted by: Formerly David on June 13, 2003 08:22 AM

Formerly David!
I'll take a combination of the two, that through faith in ingenuity and persistence, a way can be found to circumvent the fire walker from burning his hands. *wink*

Posted by: Rae on June 13, 2003 09:25 AM

Good afternoon, Formerly David. Bear with me here for a moment... it's been almost 20 years since I did the firewalk, and I didn't take notes... but I'll try to briefly paraphrase.

The exercise with the firewalk was not one of just "believing" or "trusting in higher powers" or strengthening one's faith in anything. In fact, the course itself had nothing to do with firewalking, but with conquering one's fears. And the firewalk was just a bonus, an optional way of showing yourself that your fears are only as real as you make them (personally, at the time I thought that was kind of a dangerous ethos to accept whole-hog, considering all the ways that could blow up in your face, but then I was trying to go with the flow and I went with it). No, the exercise was more of a "confident focus on an ideal," a combined image of unsinged, healthy skin, plus a sort of temporary faith in the idea of "fire is our friend." That plus the oft-repeated mantra "I will feel the heat, but I will not burn."

Not one damned scientific thing about it. Even at the time, at the peak of my most open-minded curiosity, I couldn't buy the fluffy stuff, did not participate in the chanting, and was horribly self-conscious about just holding hands around the crumbling bonfire that eventually became the bed of coals. I did try to keep my eye on the objective though (the unsinged feet thing), if for no other reason than to keep it OFF the ferocious heat rolling off those coals.

And the mental thing was not like slathering on an coat of sunblock. You couldn't just wipe-and-forget. You had to sustain and "direct" it, constantly... keep reciting the mantra, keep picturing the fire as your friend (which I never could do very convincingly), and "feel" yourself as unburnable (boy, I am REALLY paraphrasing now).

So, to answer your first question: the explanation given to us at the time by the course instructor, as the guy came stumbling out of the coal bed with his hands shaking and dripping molten skin, was that he'd gone a-flingin' himself through the coals with nothing but cockiness and excitement on his mind, and none of the requisite concentration on the points that mattered. In other words, his mind, and his concentration, weren't where they were supposed to be.

Supposedly. Such was their teaching.

In answer to your second question; absolutely! As I said in my earlier posting, I would much rather have a sound, hard science explanation for it. For starters, it wouldn't be so embarrassing trying to relate the vague quasi-supernatural explanation for it. For another, a perfectly logical (and proven) "real world" explanation would fit much better into the more clearly defined structure of the universe that I know, trust, and feel comfortable with. So absolutely! Yes! Bring on the results of those cold, clinical, forensic test results, and tell me what really happened out there that night.

Like I said when I first mentioned the firewalk though... my point in bringing it up was not to legitimize it or "prove" the existence of powers or forces beyond the measurable scope of science... only to show that there WAS EVIDENCE to support their claims. Arguable, almost certainly refutable evidence, given enough time in testing and study... just like the obvious "evidence" that the sun goes around the Earth and not the other way around... but evidence nonetheless.

In other words, the blanket statement that "there is not a shred of evidence" to support these things is just not true. There IS evidence. Call it questionable if you want, particularly if you HAVE seen the official hard-science line on what "it really is" (which I have not), but don't say "there's no evidence." And short of expecting everyone in the world to acquire a PhD-level education on every topic they'll ever hold an opinion on, it's not unrealistic... and not a sign of ignorance or laziness either... for a person to accept what they see and what they've been told by a "voice of authority" as being the truth, at least until such time as they learn better. That's the "scientific method" in action.

Now, to cling to the fluffy ill-informed stuff even after you've seen with your own eyes the very "real," tangible, provable and RE-provable experiment results, THEN, in my opinion, THEN you're making a conscious choice to stick with "Magical Thinking." THEN you lose me as a supporter. Some people call that faith. At best, I'd call that BLIND faith, at worst "unthinking stubbornness."

That's the point of all this. I was an air traffic controller for 12 years, so I am intimately familiar with all the ins and outs of the aviation business, both military and civilian. As a result, I tend to be much more intolerant of inaccuracies in the depiction of air traffic control in public venues (movies, news, documentaries) than others. However, despite my own personal irritation at these misrepresentations, I do not accuse others of laziness or idiotarianism for accepting these lame fakeries as truth. To me, it is not unreasonable that they would come to incorrect conclusions about the ATC business, when it IS reasonable to expect a scriptwriter to do a little research on the subject about which he's writing.

See what I'm gettin' at here?

Dad-gummit! Another longwinded monologue! I swore I wouldn't do that again. Sorry about that.

Keep up the talkin' and thinkin' folks.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 13, 2003 10:56 AM

My first thought when trying to explain how you can walk on hot coals without damage when a cartwheeler does get burned was that the coals on the surface are cooler and perhaps contain more ash than those that are below. Maybe the ash limits the heat transfer, but when the cartwheeler performed his stunt, he probably penetrated that layer and dug in to where the coals were still burning brightly.

Just thinking out loud(sort of)

cheers,

Dick

Posted by: hairofthedawg on June 13, 2003 11:30 AM

http://www.pitt.edu/~dwilley/fire.html A pretty good explication of the physics behind firewalking. This may not be complete, but to me the fact that people who have neither faith nor concentration on "it's not hot" can do it unharmed refutes the instructors' explanation right there. (As well as the fact that I've never seen documentation of one of these people crossing the afore-suggested gas jets or lava beds.)

As for the cartwheeling guy- in order to perform a cartwheel, as opposed to a walk, even dragging your feet through the top layer as you go, you have to have a smaller surface area than your feet in direct contact with the coals for much longer than you would for a step, with all your weight on those two points, and sustained for several seconds as your hands act as a pivot point. Since coals conduct heat poorly, those few seconds would make a great deal of difference.

It still amazes me how many people read both the essay AND the comments and still come away convinced that scientific rigor equates to a lack of capacity for wonder and curiosity, as well as an absolute faith in the completeness of scientific knowledge.

Since no one can investigate every single thing that happens to them in their lives, a certain acceptance of authority is necessary to survive. But with that comes discernment, which is where the tricky bit begins. One discerns by tested versus untested claims, how much the claimant stands to gain or lose, how often they've been right before, so forth, and then decides where the burden of proof lies. It's not a question of thinking science knows everything: it's a question of deciding how firm the principles being challenged are versus how firm the contrary evidence is. For example, I'm much more willing to revise my thinking of how personality is formed , because most of what's there is tentative theory, than I am the laws of thermodynamics, which have so much weight of evidence behind them they're the next best thing to the legendary Immovable Object.

I tend to restrict my personal investigations to those fields in which I have invested knowledge, experience, and interest. Therefore I largely shrug and wait for new input when it comes to things like UFOs, and creationists are my mortal intellectual foes. (And no, I absolutely will not discuss or debate it here. Far too little space.) Most do about the same; deciding where to draw your lines is a careful balance between credulity and hubris.

Posted by: LabRat on June 13, 2003 12:44 PM

::::beep beep beep FLASH beep beep beep::::
The guy who wrote the Chaos book and a book on Feynman, has a book out on Newton... I haven't read it yet, but since it may appeal to folks here I suggest it to you,especially if you enjoyed his previous work. This is not a commercial, go borrow it from the library. "Isaac Newton" by James Gleick.

My favorite book on Newton thus far is:
Isaac Newton and the Scientific Revolution by Gale E. Christianson

:::I return you to your regularly scheduled thread now:::::

Posted by: EB on June 13, 2003 01:43 PM

LabRat,
Your comment is why I specifically labeled my ramblings as "tangential thinking" aka "speculation" aka "this is a guess as to perhaps why people get so irate when a scientific explanation makes their fantasies go away". Nothing more than that. It was an apparently vain attempt to answer an implied question, not a statement of my own personal assertions.

I believe a sense of wonder is fostered and nourished through exploration and inquiry, specifically in the scientific realm. In a way, scientific research and a sense of wonder feed each other, in my eyes. No, I also do not have time, effort, or energy to investigate every single item of curiosity, so I also rely upon authoritative research to draw my conclusions on. No need to reinvent the wheel.

*back to lurking*

Posted by: rae on June 13, 2003 04:18 PM

Your "implied question" had been answered in the comments thread repeatedly. Given that I wondered why you still felt the need to answer it, that's all.

Posted by: LabRat on June 13, 2003 04:27 PM

Formerly Dave and Silverback,

The Nicherin Buddhists (yup, I was practicing for about two years back in my "wonder years" [college]) have a story they like to tell about General Stonetiger. He was a General who shot an arrow into a rock because he was so convinced that it was the tiger that had killed his son.

Now, they really believe that this sort of thing is possible. Eventually, I started to doubt it, insisting that it was a parable.
"No, no!" they said. When your belief is that strong, it can change the nature of the physical world."
"So, if I am absolutely convinced that a rock is vicious tiger I can pierce it with an arrow?" I asked. "Yes!" they insisted, eager to keep me enlightened.
"Have you ever KNOWN that the way was clear, and then stubbed your toe?" I asked. I could see the wheels were spinning. After five seconds of silence I could see it in their faces that they knew I wasn't having any more of the General Stonetiger story (except, of course, as a parable describing the benefit of optimism and determination).

Rae,
I agree about a combination of wonder and skepticism, as Bill was writing about with the story of the watchmaker in 1903 examining a 2003 digital watch. To think that we know enough to rule out all possibilities would be somewhat arrogant.
I vaguely remember a scene in an episode of Star Trek Voyager where, on some planet, some guy (perhaps a doctor...or "medicine man") was applying superstition and faith healing and other such methods to an injured local. Janeway tried to convince the guy that it was nonsense and that they should either move the patient to Sick Bay or have medics beam down and treat the patient.
"So," he said, "you believe that all the world's secrets can be explained through scientific analysis?" "Yes, I do" she answered. "Well," he said, "that's a Leap of Faith if I've ever heard one!"

Still, absent any credible evidence of paranormal events (telepathy, telekinesis, etc), I'll have to agree with Captain Janeway.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 13, 2003 04:51 PM

There's a subtle strain of misunderstanding I think I might be hearing in some posts (but it wouldn't do to go back and find this, that or another post where it occurs). But it is worth mentioning since this particular misunderstanding would seem to imply that some readers have missed the central thesis of Bill's essay about Magical thinking and Scientific thinking, at least as far as I understand it.

Scientific thinking, such as it is, requires only a couple things: repeatable results, a theory which explains those results, and further, different experiments to see if that theory holds across the board. That's it. Scientific thinking doesn't per se say that there are not Leprechauns or Warp Travel or ESP. Scientific thinking merely states that we've:

a) No theory
b) No repeatable results, and/or
c) No other experiments that can be used to either prove or disprove the theory in question

Now, speaking in reference to the 'Invisible Dragon' case mentioned by Dr. Sagan, Bill highlights one of the finer points of the scientific method. Theories, on some level, have to be useful in either a predictive or practical sense. I might suggest the theory that I, sitting by this keyboard, am the entire consciousness of the universe. You then might ask me questions or request that I perform certain feats. I might then reply that as the consciousness of the universe, I simply choose to act as a normal human. At this point, there is no experimental way to determine if my theory (I am the consciousness of the universe) or your theory (that I am a fool-hardy blowhard). If there is no way to distinguish between the two theories, then we can treat the question as moot, since use of either theory can be used to give equally satisfactory results.

The problem with misunderstanding scientific thinking is that it leads to a couple of common errors. First, and perhaps one of the most common, is that people tend to take absence of disproof as evidence of proof. Which is just dumb. I can't disprove that you, the reader, are wearing a beagle on your head. But that doesn't mean the same thing as proving there is a beagle on your head. Secondly, there is a common tendency to say, "There's a lot that science doesn't know yet." as some sort of defense of an otherwise indefensible argument. Similarly, there may indeed be a dachshund on your head. The inability of the rest of the readers to observe this dachshund doesn't mean that there is or isn't a dachshund. All the rest of us can do is simply note that whether or not you have a dachshund doesn't matter for our purposes and until it a) does matter, or b) we find out some other way, the whole dachshund perched on your dome issue is pointless. Third, is the assumption that one data point makes a trend. In cases like UFOs many of the people who have "seen" a UFO often make statements to the effect that they didn't believe in UFOs until they saw one with their own eyes. Remember the whole repeatability and experimental verification of theories bit earlier? In this case assuming that there are UFOs because we thought we saw one with our own eyes is like assuming that a chihuahua is sitting on your head. Some time ago, you were sitting down and happened to glance in a mirror. Much to your great surprise, you saw a chihuahua sitting on your head in your reflection. Since then, you've drawn the conclusion that there are a race of head-sitting chihuahuas that perch on people's noggins. You saw it, and based on the one data point, assume the entire remainder of the story. Maybe somebody was lowering an ordinary, unwilling chihuahua on to your head. Maybe someone was standing behind you and holding a chihuahua in such a fashion that it appeared to be on your head. And maybe, just maybe there is a breed of head-sitting chihuahuas. I don’t know – beats me. But, I am not willing to agree that such a breed exists without a little more evidence than an anecdotal, unrecorded chihuahua sighting.

In closing, saying that the scientific thinking somehow “takes away” from the sense of wonder that goes with magical thinking is just not accurate. The argument is almost as if one were arguing that the true love of a couple happily married for fifty years takes away from the romance of a crush between two 12 year olds. One lasts, the other is built on illusion and bound to disappoint in the long run.

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation on June 13, 2003 05:13 PM

Somewhere in MA there are people gathered around a hospital, praying. I just saw the footage. When they look up at a window on the 3rd floor they see the Virgin Mary looking down at them. It's actually a trick of light playing on the condensation forming between two panes of glass, it's a religious rorschach test. Someone undoubtedly will come by and repair the window and take their magic away, but I'm happy to let them believe it all they want. (My trouble is when they attempt to make ME believe in it.) But so long as they are happy and enjoy it, I think that's fine. And that's how I am with UFO's and all that stuff, too.

Posted by: EB on June 13, 2003 05:43 PM

I subscribe to the view---and always have--- that the universe with all its evidence of 15 billion years of history, including the Earth with its bothersomely incomplete fossil record, and all the other myriad details of our lives and memories, were miraculously created entire last night.

Of course, that universe necessarily includes and is based on all the physical laws, Robert’s rules of order, and the immutably rational logic that scientists put so much stock in.

It’s just a little disconcerting that it seems to keep happening every night, like clockwork.

In which case...

Couldn’t the Almighty just ONCE create the universe so that my bank account has a few more places to the left of the decimal point?

Or with me being really trim and athletic with a wizard’s staff of sufficient proportions to charm the ladies?

David March
animator & fiddler
www.davidmarch.net

Posted by: David March on June 13, 2003 06:47 PM

Dave, we're talkin' magic, not miracles... :P

Russ Fletcher, earlier in the thread, addressed something that I've thinking about; What "magical thinking" means in terms of politics.

Bill started out by talking about fantasy, delusion and wishful thinking vs science and intellectual honesty.
Then went on to address magicians (and politicians and opinion makers) and their method of misdirection in order to render false or misleading arguement. And, finally, talked about how "magical thinking" influences our stand on various political issues.

It seems to me that our positions/beliefs on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, welfare, socialism, capitalism, laizze faire, tax cuts/hikes etc can't be tested, and are formed less by fact-based rationality than by personal attitudes about individual rights and responsibilities to others.

Regardless of where those kind of convictions come from, and "nature vs nurture", and debates of intellectual/emotional laziness and/or rigor aside; I think the real "magic" is that we consider these things at all.

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 13, 2003 07:34 PM

Just a quick post to add to GHS's comments on Firewalking. I'm a Millwright, by choice and education (4 1/2 years of College for the Mech. Eng. Degree, plus about 3 years of taking courses I wanted to take), and, occasionally, I need to locate an underground Pipe. No problem, I pick up a Coat Hanger, or, a Stainless Welding Rod, do a little bending, and, go dowse for it.

Invariably, I'll find myself surrounded by a group of curious people, and, as always, the majority will be skeptics. One of the first things I learned about Dowsing, is that skeptics make the best Dowsers. It's a waste of time trying to convince someone that there is a real 'force' involved (and, we don't know what force), so, you turn around, hand them the Rod, tell them to hold it out ahead of them, grip the handles firmly, and, start walking a pattern.

I've never had a skeptic (or, really anyone) take the Rod that didn't find the first Pipe he/she walked over, and, could repeat it endlessly, marking out the whole length of the Pipe, and, even as neophytes, give you some idea of its depth. They can even tell when they hit a different Pipe.

I found a pipe in Del Valley, Texas, for my boss, that was "...a little less than 30 feet down, beginning here...and, is about four feet down where it ties into the Tank." I staked the entire length of the Pipe, through two 90's and a 'Y', then shot grade for the Backhoe that dug it up (for a tie-in). It was 28 feet down, at the point I first marked.

It's not even a matter of faith, just something that works and blows skeptics away when they do it themselves...like Firewalking.

Do I have an explanaition for why it works? No. I'm not even sure why I tried it to begin with, but, when it worked, and, made my job a little simpler/easier/faster, I kept doing it. I can't teach you how to dowse, its just something that works anyway. I can show you how to hold the Rod, but, I have no idea what causes it to pull down with a force that will put a permanent bend in a Coat Hanger.

Try it.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 13, 2003 08:21 PM

Addendum: The easiest Rod to make, is to bend a 90 in a Stainless Welding Rod, hold them with the handle vertical, pointed straight ahead and parallel. When you cross the Pipe, they will rotate toward each other. They'll cross and wind up parallel pointing at your hands (90 degrees to their original orientation), which means you are directly over the Pipe at that point.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 13, 2003 08:36 PM

Gordon,

What if it's raining? My sticks and steel pipes should be flying all over the place, no?

Posted by: Tuning Spork on June 13, 2003 08:46 PM

That's a good case in point there, Mr. DeSpain.

Someone introduced me to crystal pendulums about 12 years back. Gave me this whole freaky pseudo-science shpiel about how the natural vibratory characteristics of quartz (that's not the pseudo-science part), when immersed in the "radiative energy" of the chakras of the human body (as in suspended in front of one of those "energy points"), can resonate with a harmonious vibration that will set the crystal pendulum swinging in the energy current. This, in turn, can be manipulated by your guides (your "guardian angels"), such that they can direct the flow and make the crystal swing in whatever direction they want... a form of direct communication! Make the crystal circle in a clockwise direction, that means "no." Counter-clockwise means "yes." Or maybe it's swing right-left for "yes," in and out for "no." Whatever. The point is, you can now ask your guides yes/no questions, and they can answer you! Like a sparkly little Ouija board!

I stood there with my mouth hanging open, with that pendulum pinched between my fingertips like a piece of used toilet paper. What the hell were they talking about? Guides? Chakras? Consciously manipulated energy currents? Wha'?

"Just try it," they said. So I did. I "asked it" what direction it would move to say "yes," and damned if it didn't start circling, on its own, in a clockwise direction. "Which way for no?" I asked. And that danged thing abruptly slowed and reversed itself right there in my hand, cranking itself back around in a counter-clockwise direction.

Well, I still didn't know about all that guide and chakra stuff, but, much like a Ouija board, what a cool little "toy."

I showed it to others, and got all kinds of reactions to it, from giggling-and-inspecting-it-for-control-wires to flipping-it-out-of-their-hands-like-it-was-burning-their-fingers. But it always worked, though the directions it would move varied from person to person, and theoretically, from guide to guide. It moved only when suspended in front of a chakra (typically in the area of the diaphragm), it moved only in response to a question, and it was capable of reversing itself in the middle of a vigorous rotation. Impressive to watch, if nothing else.

I showed it to my arch-skeptical scientist father a few weeks later. Needless to say, he scoffed at the very idea. Naturally. Still he was impressed with the observable data. He tried it himself, and skeptical or not, it worked for him too.

The next night, he invited over a half dozen of his fellow professor buddies from the University of Miami, and for two hours we all sat around his dining room table, sipping wine and passing around this little novelty item. Again the reactions and the results varied, and critical thought was bandied back and forth. Nobody... and I mean nobody... bought the chakra and guide story (at least not publicly), but all were admittedly stymied as to what the alternative explanation might be.

That didn't mean there wasn't one. It didn't mean there never would be one. It didn't mean that this gaggle of scientists from all these varied disciplines (none of which included chakras and guides) were the ideal research team, nor that their testing conditions were ideal. They just had fun with it, conjectured over what was "really" going on, laughed and argued and finally left before they were too drunk to drive.

What's the point? The same one you just made, Gordon. Evidence was in hand. Better educated people than me were there to dissect it. No conclusions were drawn, no better explanations were suggested. They could do nothing more than shrug their shoulders and keep fiddling with it.

My Dad, by then in the first days of his retirement and with way too much free time on his hands, ultimately went out and got one of his own. And he'd sit there for hours on end, over several days straight, with a pad and pencil at his elbow, asking it question after question after question, milking it for all it was worth.

In the course of that exhaustive investigation, he covered all sorts of New Age and general occult related subjects over which he and I had argued in the past, and made one or two bizarre discoveries that he was later able to historically verify (about B-29s flying out of Iwo Jima in World War II, and a tactic that Japanese pilots had developed for combating those awesome machines that involved flying over their formations and dropping incendiary bombs on them from above).

It was a long sequence of questions, and went off along some pretty odd tangents. But the point is that it turned up information he hadn't known himself (which he didn't believe when he first got it), but which he later researched at the library and found to be true.

The point is, no hard-science explanation has yet come forward for it, yet the evidence is there, and is repeatable and reliable for anyone, cynic, skeptic or sucker, to see for themselves.

And to Lab-Rabid... er, excuse me, LabRat... I haven't read much in here from anyone claiming that the scientifically inclined lack curiosity or a sense of wonder. What has been noted however, is the intolerance and impatience for anyone who dares draw a conclusion contrary to their own from the only evidence and information at their disposal.

The only thing I know about the "Laws of Thermodynamics" is how to spell it. Bill (yes, the same one who reigneth over this blog) elucidated a few of their relevant principles for me a few years back while masterfully shooting down a science fiction premise I'd proposed. And along the way, he managed to enlighten me without focusing on what an appalling dunce I was. I learned something. I'm better off for it. Thank you, Bill.

As I've said before, Bill knows more ABOUT more than anyone I've ever known. And his reasoning, and his capacity to express it clearly and convincingly, makes him a Voice of Authority for me on many subjects. He could devastate me with a dazzling treatise on how the famous Singapore Paradigm, as it relates to the carbonkulation of Chilean sea mollusks in a framazam pressure vessel, clearly PROVES that Martha Stewart is a man. And I couldn't argue with him. And if he employed both his "authoritative voice" and a straight face, I'd be inclined to believe him... just because history has proven him to be too smart for his own good too many times, and I would do well to trust him.

I could do the same to him with small unit military tactics, air traffic control related subjects, and how best to ignore all dietary advice and become a Great Hairy Silverback himself. And in those areas, he would be wise to trust me.

It might have occurred to YOU, had you been there for the firewalk yourself, that there were more than likely some Laws of Thermodynamics that applied there. As for me, I'd never heard of those laws. I just knew what I'd seen, felt, experienced, and been told by a well published Voice of Authority on the subject. And in the absence of a better explanation, I accepted it and moved on. I think I should be allowed to do that without being considered an idiotarian, or "lazy" because I didn't immediately assault the library to research all the available scientific data on heat dispersal, skin tolerances, and melting hands. Because even then, I'd better make sure that the source of THAT data wasn't considered a crackpot by all the other guys in the scientist fraternity.

So let's just debate the issues, and not the galling intellectual weakness of the debaters. 'Cause I'm a lot smarter than I sound.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 14, 2003 05:23 AM

I thought that was what I was doing. I honestly meant no offense to you, GHS; I hadn't percieved you as intellectually weak in the least. I do see the same "but science doesn't know EVERYTHING" statement come up over and over again, and I still wonder why it does.

The firewalking thing seemed like a legitimate question, and at no point did I see you as a starry-eyed and closed-minded "BELIEVE!" sort. Was I not supposed to try and come up with a more complete answer with the question sitting there? Looking for answers, after all, the unifying theme of the thread.

*shrug* Perhaps I have outlived my usefulness on this topic.

Posted by: LabRat on June 14, 2003 05:44 AM

To LabRat...

Well, if I perceived a hostility that wasn't actually there, then the bad is mine, and for that I apologize. I know that so much of what I write to others comes across as impassioned and even angry when no such emotion existed at the time of writing, and so I've taken to throwing in flagrant humor just to make it obvious that I'm not actually angry.

As such, I accept that I'm the one who misinterpreted this one, and will shut the hell up now.

I talk too much anyway.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 14, 2003 05:55 AM

Hey Gordon,

About the dowsing with welding rod...
Does it make any difference if you're using 5P or 7018, or can you use that funny little wire that comes out of the TIG machines?

Seriously, I thought the flinty-eyed lantern-jawed deacons from New Hampshire could dowse for water with a cleft hazel branch. That suggests it's not dependent on some subtle interaction of the metal welding rod with an electromagnetic field...

Dang. I guess it's "back to the web" for more searches into the Akashic records.

Does anyone remember books?

David March

Posted by: David March on June 14, 2003 07:54 AM

GHS: I can relate. I tend to be so blunt that people think I'm being passive-aggressive or hostile when there's little to no emotion at all in my writing. (Or in my speech. I'm one of those deadpan sorts that seems to unnerve people.)

Apology accepted, in other words.

Posted by: LabRat on June 14, 2003 09:28 AM

Whew! Glad you're back, LabRat.

I'd just finished re-reading all the comment posts again, looking specifically for those things that I'd taken to be hostile in tone. And discovered, much to my chagrin, that taken in a non-prejudicial light, there was nothing that was directed as a personal attack on anyone in there.

Stung by my own preconceptions in the middle of all my preaching against it.

So THAT'S what an idiotarian is.

Again, sorry about that. Bill, feel free to delete my offending post. And LabRat, keep up the good work.

(NOTE: I'm writing these at work, where I'm both frustrated and bored, and it was way too early in the morning when I wrote that. Note to self: wait for coffee to take hold before writing anything)

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 14, 2003 09:54 AM

People who lay into people early in the morning before they are fully awake SUCK! I hate those stupid f*ckin' MORONS! F*CK 'EM! Take 'em out and shoot the sons of bitches!!

Posted by: Bill Whittle on June 14, 2003 12:15 PM

Every one of 'em!

F*ck me! I can just go to hell!

See you in LA in a month, dude.

Steve
a.k.a. GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 14, 2003 01:40 PM

Hi GHS,

Enjoyed the response, and, it feathered out the point I was 'trying' to make. It reaches back in time to a quote from a great Scientist (and, I can't remember which one, just connected to the development of the first Atomic Weapon): "Every question answered, squares the number remaining."

Actually, I could add to that with a quote from another Scientist associated with the same project (Einstein? Fermi?) (paraphrase): "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I really know."

Durn, I never can remember who said what. Shouldn't do quotes at all unless I have the original source in front of me.

But, I wrote the following a couple of years ago, while studying the Anunnaki/Sumerian/Chaldean/Hindu/Bhudist concept of Reality, and, Infinity (simply stated, "Nothing so small it is not composed of something smaller, nor, so large it is not a part of something larger), which manifested in their Art and Art Forms.

Wheels within wheels, circles without ending,
up extends in all directions, down is equal, opposite, the same.
Time flows in all directions, neither ending nor beginning,
the Eternal Now does not exist, it simply IS.
Space/Time, Creation, Evolution, Intelligence, Infinity.

The target of my studies (note - The Eternal Now, is the point between past and future, and, cannot be measured because it has no dimensions).

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 14, 2003 08:33 PM

David March,

Actually, I've never thought about it, but, I prefer 316 Stainless, because, invariably someone will make a comment about a Magnetic Anomaly, and, it won't fly.

I've burned a lot of 5P, and, 7018 is my favorite all around structural Rod, but, I seldom used a Carbon Steel Rod for dowsing, prejudice, I guess.

I've used Willow Rods, Ash, and, several others (playing around), even a branch I picked up off the ground, but, I've never dowsed in the Rain, so I don't know what effect it would have. I've also never used dowsing to look for anything except Pipes, but, it is reputed to be the best method for finding Water, so I might try that sometime. Might even research it a bit, to see which Rods are best for the intended target (turned up several thousand hits in a Google search, a couple of years back).

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 14, 2003 08:46 PM

Great Hairy Silverback,

Regarding the firewalk/firecartwheel thing: I believe you mentioned that one of the instructors performed a cartwheel without injury. A fellow instructee performed a cartwheel and received a couple of char-broiled hand-burgers for his trouble.

I checked out the URL that LabRat posted. It appears that firewalking does not require a specific state of mind for success. I am skeptical of the idea that firecartwheeling DOES require a specific mind-set, (the explaination of events from the instructor, if I'm remembering your posts correctly) when firewalking does not.

I think that the difference in outcome for the two 'wheelers is more likely ascribed to technique and experience. When most people walk, their foot strikes heel first and "rolls" towards their toes as they propel themselves forward. For firewalking, this appears to minimize the amount of time any one part of the foot spends in direct, pressured, contact with the coals. If a firecartwheeler used a similar technique to a)"roll" their weight from the heel of their hand to their finger tips, b) "step" from the first hand to the second using a transfer of weight that approximated a footstep, and c)"walked" out of the cartwheel with the weight transferred from the second hand to the first foot in a similiar fashion, I don't think there would be a significant difference in effect between this firecartwheel and a firewalk. I think a practiced, limber expert could do this without burn damage to the hand and without the aid of any specific mindset. An expert can make the difficult appear easy.

The neophyte lacks the experience and expertise of the instructor. Poor technique, incorrect pace, lack of physical flexibility and you too can become your own finger-kabob. :-)

A possibility? Yes. Correct? Don't know. I am unwilling to attempt any experiments to confirm or discard this theory. My only experience with cartwheels was causing them to occur (twenty-odd years ago) to those attempting a slant pattern across the middle. I also have no experience with firewalking. (Unless having a four-year-old with a new set of Lego's counts...)

On a tangent, are you currently a controller? I work in the tower at PHX. I have to agree with your statement about ATC depictions in the movies. I was in OKC at the academy when "Die Hard II" came out. We made it our class outing one Friday night. The vast chasm between reality and what was portrayed on the screen turned it into an MST3000 evening, and we were our own 'bots. That was the closest I ever came to getting kicked out of a theater. Abysmally inaccurate, but still not as bad as Kiefer Sutherland's "Ground Control". (Movie tagline: "We didn't bother with a technical advisor and passed the savings on to you!)

Bill,

Thanks for the great essays. It's been a pleasure to read such well-crafted work.


Rick

Posted by: Rick on June 15, 2003 12:24 AM

In addition to the info at labrat's link on firewalking, I have also heard that part of what makes firewalking possible is that sweat is vaporized as you walk, creating another insulating barrier of steam as well as diverting some of the heat of the coals by the vaporization.

My high school physics teacher demonstrated the principle by dipping his hand in water and then dunking it into a pot of molten lead. His hand came out fine, but he splattered some lead on his arm, which blistered up nicely.

Posted by: mike p on June 15, 2003 08:54 AM

To Rick;

Thanks for the comments and the ideas. I've also seen a TLC (Learning Channel) thingy which, among several other similar articles, "examined" a group of Samoan firewalkers who walked the coals regularly, both for their own religious rites and for cash, at parties and exhibitions. And, if I recall (again, it's been a while) the conclusion their on-camera "expert" came up with had something to do with the insulating qualities of the accumulated coal dust on the walkers' feet (they even held one blackened foot up to the camera so you could see what coal dust looks like), much as "EB" suggested back somewhere around halfway through these comments. And as I mentioned there, that didn't explain the unburned state of the TOPS of those feet that WADED through the coals, as mine did on my third and last time through... although admittedly, no coals "lingered" on the tops of my feet, but tumbled off as fast as they tumbled on, and with no weight applied. The course instructor gave several other little "displays" as well, in addition to the cartwheeling thing, including "dancing" in the coals. But even then I'd wondered why she didn't just STAND in the middle of the coals. She should've been able to just stand in the coals, instead of off to the side, while the rest of us did our runs.

I don't know. Sounds as good as any other AS YET unsubstantiated idea though. I'm just looking for the hard data, and better yet, some video of the scientist who gathers that data strolling through the coal him or herself. That would be nice. Prove to me how natural it is for bare feet to do that without any other outside influence, and I'll abandon all other precepts on the spot.

As for the evaporating sweat concept that "mike p" proffered above... I have a hard time picturing my feet sweating sufficiently to fend off 800 degrees of heat for the 5 or 6 seconds it took to cross the coals, especially after standing around barefoot on a brisk German night (I did this while I was stationed over there with the Air Force). But who knows? I have to admit... I didn't check my feet for pre-walk sweat. They coulda' been downright slick, for all I know.

And in answer to "Rick's" follow-up question: no, I've been out of ATC for as long as I was in. Gawd, I can't believe it either... 12-and-a-half friggin' years (12 with the Air Force, 6 months with the FAA immediately following the '81 PATCO strike). And you managed to choose 2 of my Big Three most-despised air traffic control related movies of all time: the appalling "Die Hard II," the wretchedly pathetic "Ground Control," and my third and most recent nominee, "Pushing Tin." To date, the ONLY movie I've ever seen that ever got it right was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (uh-oh, another UFO reference), in that opening sequence shot in the Indianapolis Center.

But I digress (again), and on someone else's bandwidth. If you wanna' talk some more on it, just click on my highlighed "GreatHairySilverback" title line, and e-mail me at home.

In the meantime, everybody keep talking. I'm still listening.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 15, 2003 10:12 AM

GHS: In the amount of time it took you to write all your comments here, you could have done that very experiment yourself. :^)

Get some of the thermometer probes (I have one for roasts, but it probably doesn't go high enough for you, but I am sure someone makes one) and place the probe pointing down between your toes, or several probes so you can average the temps. Then set up a web cam and put the experiment and results on your web site. I am sure lots of folks would like to see it, just going by the comments here.

For the record, when the coal fell out of the charcoal grill I mentioned before, the coal fell onto the top of my bare foot (I wasn't sweating on the top of my foot I don't think) and it stayed there for a second or two, I had time to look at it and wonder why it didn't burn me, and then I flicked my foot to get it off.... I should have counted to ten or something and seen how long I could go before it burnt me, in the name of science and all. But I didn't, sorry.

Maybe when you go visit Bill you guys can come up with a webcast of your experiment and make a quicktime movie of it and post it here.

Posted by: EB on June 15, 2003 12:45 PM

A short list of "rational" explanations for firewalker's untoasted toes:
A. Conversion of perspiration to water vapor, which has at least four possible results:
1. Thermal energy bound up in latent heat of the steam as quickly as it arrives, before it is absorbed by flesh.
2. Water vapor provides some insulation barrier to heat conduction.
3. Water vapor cools surface of coals by
a. heat transport AND
b. by crowding out the locally available oxygen for combustion.
B. Each lifting of the foot from among the coals allows for radiative AND convective cooling of the skin as it moves through the (relatively) cooler air, assuming the feet are lifted with each step, not shuffled!
C. Possibly increased blood circulation would convey heat from the foot.
D. Insulation by the ash (Is that what people mean by “coal dust?”)

Are there others? Energy loss through increased radiation of neutrinos? Heat bound up in increased storage of Adenosine TriPhosphate? Sudden multiplication of mitochondria? Heat used to increase Leukocyte meiosis?

I had a friend once who figured that our mammalian cerebral cortex was evolved for no other reason than as a cooling system for our lizard brain. Hmmmm. Wonder if that could be involved here.

I’m not convincing myself here, though. That’s a pretty darn steep temperature gradient from the heat of the burning coals (which HAS to be greater than 800 degrees Fahrenheit!) to the temperature at which human skin layers begin to delaminate. But I would expect that to stand in one place on the bed of coals for any prolonged period eliminates any possibility of letting the foot RADIATE AWAY any excess heat AND overwhelms any of the other mechanisms.

We KNOW people can do this. I’m personally acquainted with fairly reliable people who tell me they’ve done it. My wife is a professional firefighter, and SHE’s walked on coals and bent re-bar against her larynx (don’t even ask me how THAT works) But she hasn’t been able to make this skill available to her fellow firefighters for practical application to their daily challenges.

I hate even having to walk barefoot on a hot sandy beach, or a tarmac that’s been heated by the morning sun. Classic tenderfoot. My wife walks barefoot all the time (except on duty) and doesn’t even have particularly callused feet.

David the Perpetually Bewildered

Posted by: David March on June 15, 2003 12:58 PM

Bill Whittle writes: "But when magical ideologies are put forward as political positions of equal weight and value, as a chart to sail the ship of state, when assertion carries the same weight as proof, we will surely lose our way."

The most perfect description of Bush's justification for invading Iraq I've yet read. Good show, Bill!

Posted by: gary becker on June 15, 2003 02:54 PM

To quote George Patton, "God help me, I do love it so." (at least that's what he said in the movie, and if you can't trust that as a resource, what can you trust?)

This comment section is awesome. Great stuff EB. You too, Sir March. And the fact is, that as I was out mowing my yard this afternoon ("lowering my dog toilet," as I call it), a very similar idea to what EB just suggested came to mind... only a little different. Bear with me here.

It occurred to me to use Bill's most tried and true weapon of debate... granting the premise. So let's do that.

Let's accept outright that all that mental focusing and chanting and holding hands around the bonfire crap was just so much mystical hooey, and that, regardless of whether or not we can recite the specific thermodynamic law that applied (or was violated) that night at the firewalk, and regardless of whether or not anyone here can present any kind of hard case study results or proofs or even popular scientific conjecture that can refute all that New Age silliness, we JUST KNOW there's some completely unassailable hard data out there somewhere, and that's good enough. Let's "grant that premise." Let's quit haggling over what it "could have been," or what it "might be," and just state, for the sake of the argument, that such irrefutable proof and data does exist out there somewhere, and we need look no further.

Done. We're all on the same page now. Whether it was the insulating properties of coal dust, sweat boiling off our feet, or just an out and out lie (let's call it an exaggeration) by the course instructor about the real temperature of those coals, let's just presume that all the group visualizations and chanting and borderline self-hypnosis were all unnecessary window dressing for a phenomenon that was perfectly explainable, natural, and inevitable, a result of fundamental inviolable laws that will work the same every time, whether you're mentally prepared or not.

Good.

Now, since we did no other form of physical preparation for the firewalk (except for taking our shoes off), and since we just determined that all our psychic and courage-building exercises were irrelevant to the outcome, that means that no preparation of any kind is necessary for these hard science principles to work. Anyone walking down the street, who spots a bed of glowing coals in a field nearby, should be able to just pop their shoes off, take a casual (but appropriately brisk) stroll through the coals, then continue on their way, their feet unscathed... because whatever law(s) of thermodynamics, or coal dust insulation, or heat dissipation through sweating, or "radiative and convective cooling of the skin" principles apply should, by definition, work just as well for a casual and completely unprepared passerby as for a chanting student of holistic teachings. Right?

Amen to that. We don't even have to identify the laws at work here. It doesn't matter. They are a natural function of the very nature of the measurable physical universe, so they'll work every time. They have to.

Okay, who's the first volunteer to prove my theory? I've already taken MY leap of faith. It took all the "psychically bolstered" courage I could muster (plus watching everyone else in my class go before me) to stride across those coals myself. But we've already accepted that none of that was necessary. The principles that protected my feet had nothing to do with my mental calisthenics. It was just natural law in action. So everybody's safe! Your feet HAVE to be protected, thanks to whatever that physical law was that was in play at the time.

So... who's first?

I agree with EB 100%. Somebody SHOULD make a video about an "unassisted" firewalk. It just won't be me. I ain't got THAT much faith.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 15, 2003 06:46 PM

I'd actually be happy to- there are plenty of accounts of skeptics doing so successfully, and coals being very poor at transferring heat makes chemical sense- but the county of Los Alamos would hit me with a bill for a cool grand if they caught me setting up a bed of coals in this dry weather. (The last fire was quite enough for them.)

I figure, if a bunch of data entry technicians on a corporate retreat can pull it off, so can I.

Posted by: LabRat on June 15, 2003 07:29 PM

It's not video, but here's a paper from someone in the Norwegian Skeptics' Society that was presented at a physics conference. On his second walk he used infrared photography.

http://www.skepsis.no/english/subject/firewalk/kpreemp1/

Posted by: LabRat on June 15, 2003 07:38 PM

Excellent! A doughty volunteer (although we might have to arrange it for another county... actually we had the same problem in Germany in getting the permits). That's better than that TLC show on the subject, in which their experts didn't seem willing to prove their own assertions that way. Mui cool.

Remember, all we need is video, folks. Show me an unprepared human volunteer just whipping their shoes and socks off, smiling for the camera, and taking a casual stroll or two through the coals without pain or foot damage, and BAM! (sound of auctioneer's gavel) I am sold!

From what I've read here, it wouldn't surprise me at all to find a "perfectly rational" explanation for how it works, or see a demonstration of how bare feet + "800-degree coals" = No Big Deal. And just like that, a whole new Truth in my universe.

But it ain'ta gonna' be me what does it.

Good night all. Looking forward to seeing TRINITY tomorrow.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 15, 2003 07:52 PM

Oops, you snuck another one in on me while I was typing. I shall check out that sight (although it's almost 11:00 pm here in Orlando).

Thanks LabRat.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 15, 2003 07:55 PM

Well, I just checked out that website you listed, LabRat, and though, at best, even by the author's own admission, it was scientifically inconclusive, it was at least interesting, if for no other reason than because he and several others with him all made the firewalk several times without negative effect (though he also admitted that it took some real "nerving up" to confront the fierce heat coming off that coal bed). And ultimately, since the course I took was all about "facing your fears" and demonstrating that your fears are only as real as you make them, then I suppose all the chanting and all the mental exercises in self-reassurance could be accepted as merely the tools of conquering that terror of walking into a bubble of heat so intense you can hardly even open your eyes.

Okay, good enough for me.

Interesting also that the "Leidenfrost Effect" he mentioned (in which a gaseous layer of low thermal conductivity is created by the something-something-whatcha-whatever... man, my eyes are so fried, I'm afraid to open them for fear of bleeding to death) played no appreciable role whatsoever in his results, and that the overall temperature of the coals ("which was difficult to measure because it was inhomogenous" in its dispersal of heat) averaged out to be just 250 degrees celsius. Anybody know what that converts to in Fahrenheit? Probably a lot less than 800 degrees, I bet.

Veddy interestink.

And enough from me on this battered subject. I'm a convert. I've got new evidence, a whole new outlook, and by God, I'm sold.

Thanks to all, and goodnight from Orlando.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 15, 2003 08:38 PM

>Posted by gary becker on June 15, 2003 02:54 PM:

>Bill Whittle writes: "But when magical ideologies are put forward as political positions of equal weight and value, as a chart to sail the ship of state, when assertion carries the same weight as proof, we will surely lose our way."

>The most perfect description of Bush's justification for invading Iraq I've yet read. Good show, Bill!

Sunday night 15 June 2003

Dear Mister Becker,

You will find that people on this blog/comment/site are reasonably civilized about their debating, even though they are frequently fairly passionate about issues.

Your post indicates you're not convinced that any significant confirmation has been found in Iraq of weapons or manufacturing capability sufficient to justify the coalition's attack.

You might have observed that many of the preceding comments have centered on the phenomenon of "fire walking," i.e., walking barefoot on hot coals. This may seem to be a departure from the essay, and from the general themes of much of Mr. Whittle's writing. But when you apply the arguments, there are some connections. In this case, the link is that you seem to be willing to take a risk that other people regard as utterly unacceptable, that Saddam and his associates could and would use Weapons of Mass Destruction against the United States or its allies.

That designation is actually absurd. It is not necessary to produce "mass destruction" to accomplish terror, and wide-spread crippling effects. Let's call the weapons in question "un-conventional terror devices."

Consider the nuclear facility which various news organizations have reported being looted by civilians, nor the mobile biological agent manufacturing labs, are not sufficient causes for us to have deposed S. Hussein. But consider: the independent news organization reports have consistently indicated that the civilians who have handled and taken home the containers that held the nuclear materials have been suffering from radiation poisoning, some cases being very severe.

Two incidents come to mind to illustrate the danger: In the late 1980's, an abandoned Brazilian clinic's therapeutic Gamma-ray unit which used powdered Cesium (Ce-137) Chloride as the radiation source (see URL: http://www.physics.umd.edu/ripe/icpe/newsletters/n35/) was taken home and there broken into by junk collectors. They tore the unit open, and fascinated by the powder that spilled onto the rug (evidently it does glow in the dark,) handled and pocketed some, and took a bunch home. In a few days, they began to show the signs of acute radiation exposure, developed open ulcers where the radioactive matter had been carried in their pockets or rubbed directly on their skin. In just days, five people died. Of 111,800 people in the area who were tested, over 249 were determined to have been contaminated, 49 needing hospitalization. Something like 600 hundred people needed years of follow-up treatment and monitoring.

We are talking about amounts of radioactive material measurable in GRAMS, mister, that killed five people immediately, and contaminated hundreds of others for years after.

Several years earlier, a similar incident in Ciudad Juarez led to the largest peacetime contamination of people outside of the Chernobyl incident. This also was the result of vandalism/theft of an improperly handled medical radiation therapy device, which released radioactive pellets containing Cobalt-60. In addition to exposing local residents, the spill of these pellets resulted in their being mixed in with scrap steel that later was used to manufacture widely distributed restaurant table legs, and construction rebar, both distributed all over North America. (See URL: http://www.window.state.tx.us/border/ch09/cobalto.html)

(I've included the websites which I found tonight, but I read about it in several popular magazines some years ago, including Discover.)

In the course of my operating a small animation studio in Virginia in the 1970's and 1980's I had occasion to do some work for FEMA, re-casting the so-called "doomsday" tapes. Those are civil defense information for the general population to be broadcast if a nuclear attack seems imminent. Subjects included medical effects of ionizing radiation, proper use and interpretation of radiation dosimeters and counters, design principles and construction of various sorts of radiation fallout shelters, and so on. In the course of producing these and several other technical programs, I had the benefit of long conversations with an epidemiologist, several nuclear experts and technicians, and engineering consultants, to help me understand and absorb the information I was expected to translate into animated programs for (usually) a general audience.

After some fairly concentrated reading of manuals and texts on radiation for medical technicians, and through my own general interest in astronomy, physics, chemistry, etc. I'm satisfied that a "dirty bomb" could be constructed from easily acquired radioactives, brought un-detected into a major city, and detonated so as to expose an enormous population to dangerous levels of radiation, with unimaginable consequences. This does not require massive destruction of buildings, or disruption of facilities by blast effects. The medical consequences, and panic would be enough.

So my point to you Mister Becker, is that I think you are SERIOUSLY underestimating the consequences of terrorist attacks using unconventional weapons, which do not necessarily show up on a landscape as do, say, fleets of aircraft, or bomb dumps, or naval vessels, or tube artillery. Remember Oklahoma City? A 50-pound bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer can destroy a troublesome tree stump with the proper detonator. Or it could be used as a terror device.

I'm not proposing we send phalanxes of cruise missiles then, to destroy fertilizer factories the way Clinton ordered a hundred missiles to blow up undefended villages in the Sudan, along with a pharmaceutical factory and one hapless watchman toiling through the night to feed his family. But Saddam Hussein had already clearly demonstrated his willingness to manufacture terror weapons against any who oppose him, and has been clearly shown to have harbored, paid, rewarded, and worked with terrorist organizations. The search may go on for a long time to find more substantial intact WMDs, but it has already more than satisfied me. I would like to know what you WOULD consider sufficient justification for proceeding with the enforcement of the repeatedly stated will of the United Nations Security Council.

Thanks for your patience in plowing through all this.

David March
animator & fiddler

Posted by: David March on June 16, 2003 12:24 AM

See, with guys like Dave on duty, I can actually sleep nights.

Posted by: Bill Whittle on June 16, 2003 12:33 AM

Woops.
the fifth paragraph of my post above should have begun as follows:

“You seem to regard the nuclear facility which various news organizations have reported being looted by civilians, nor the mobile biological agent manufacturing labs, as insufficient causes for us to have deposed S. Hussein. ...”

I grovel with embarrassment.

David March

Posted by: David March on June 16, 2003 12:38 AM

To Davde: Minor (nitpicky) comment - we hit only one site in the Sudan during that particular round of raids.

Firewalkers: has anybody ever tried this with other heat sources. If, for sake of argument, that there is some hyper-funky-mystical thingamajig behind firewalking, then shouldn't it work if one walks across hot steel or over gas burners?

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation on June 16, 2003 11:00 AM

Yes, one would think that a psychic application of an energy barrier of some kind would work against a wide range of heat sources and intensities, as well as covering every inch of the body, including clothing. And if that were the case, then there'd really be no reason to even wait for the bonfire to burn down to a bed of hot coals... one could just walk through the roaring bonfire itself, and get the course over with in an hour or two rather than eight.

But as mentioned earlier, the course was not about "letting the force be with us," or even teaching us to be masters over fire. It wasn't mind over matter so much as it was mastery over fear. And, as such (as I'm only realizing now, after having re-read all my own commentary on the subject), the quasi-mystical mumbo-jumbo was never about calling on mighty internal powers or making oneself impervious to flame, but about simply quelling the very natural fear of burning. The chanting was just for the calmative effect, as was the psychological reassurance of the joined circle before the start of the walk, and the constant private recitation of the nerve-steadying mantra, "I will feel the heat, but I will not burn."

Funny. I guess that says something about my own anti-spiritual biases at the time (when I was so hell-bent on being openminded and trying everything at least once). I'm beginning to think now that there never was a real "mystical" element to it at all... just a lot of techniques for pushing past the fear... and I just read the New Age-iness into it myself, since the instructor was the same woman who had just previously taught me the VERY New Agey hands-on healing stuff (and no, I'm not sucking down any more of Bill's bandwidth to discuss that here).

Hmmm. Learnin', learnin', learnin'.

Self-evaluation sucks.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 16, 2003 11:50 AM

But its the self-evaluation that separates the scientific from the magical - and that's why I'm still here, reading your comments. The Great Hairy Silverback has the great hairy ones necessary for self-evaluation.

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation on June 16, 2003 12:52 PM

I've decided that I like Anticipatory Retaliation.

Wait a minute. That doesn't sound right.

But then neither does liking Great Hairy ones either, I suppose.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 16, 2003 05:34 PM

... And now we have a new device to replace the Democratic system, to replace the legal system and to give us direction and meaning. It costs $50.99 and is available in red and green, on the inside is a crystal which not only gives advice and tells of the truth in all matters, but may be used to find your true love, YES only $50.99, at a store near you.

When GB mentioned WMD, he was refering to With My Device... You too can have one!

Order today and get a free spiritual experience, change your mindset and enhance your mind power, walk on coals for free... as an added bonus if you take the crystals on your walk it will not only melt, but will show you exactly which coals to miss in your slow trot.

Only $50.99

Posted by: Leron on June 17, 2003 04:18 AM

Mine was only $19.95 with a coupon. It also came with a sparkly little stained glass dragonfly on the other end of the chain.

P.S.- it also reduced the size of the cyst on my back, told me I'd had 856 past lives, and did a fair job of dowsing for the leak in my sprinkler pipes.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 17, 2003 05:13 AM

I guess we're all exhausted.

This site has become, if you hadn't checked the actual URL lately, the official website of the Ministry of Silly Posts.

I hope none of you are casting aspersions on my little 8-ball know-all, which has guided my decisions for lo, these many years. God knows, I wish I'd paid more attention to its wisdom.

David the seriously annoyed fiddler
www.davidmarch.net

p.s. I'm going to go to the library, where they have time limits on access to the web.

p.p.s. Is there a 12-step program for Whittlers?

Posted by: David March on June 17, 2003 12:59 PM

David-

"p.p.s. Is there a 12-step program for Whittlers?"

I sincerely hope not. I would not like to be cured of my Whittleism. Nor would I like to be cured of my Whittle Commenterism.

Someone mentioned far, far above that these posts and comments have taught them more about various subjects, (too exhausted to read these all again right now) than they received in higher education, and I have also mentioned that finding this site was worth more than any college I paid for in the past. (although I didn't say it quite like that..)

The point is, what I have learned here and what these posts and comments have done for me is spark this uncontrollable urge to quench my immense thirst for more knowledge. I have only become better for it and would not like to ever celebrate an anniversary that started, "x year free of Whittle and his Comments section".

I'm an addict and I fully intend on staying that way.

Biggest gratitude to Bill Whittle and a thank you to all who comment here. You all do it for fun but you have made a huge impact and difference in this person's life.

(p.s. still curious how I can get an autographed copy of the, to-be released, Bill Whittle book.)

Posted by: serenity on June 17, 2003 10:32 PM

Hi GHS,

I've used many things to substitute for a Crystal, and, as long as I establish a 'Yes' and 'No' direction, almost anything works for me (even a piece of string with a hexnut tied on it). Although, I don't believe my questions were as thought provoking as yours...quite often they're more on the level of "Should I go to work today?"

I've played with Crystals off and on for years (but, never bought one...gifts from family and friends) that I used more or less as 'Pondering Stones'. And, I could have used one tonight. Its been raining for about 2 hours now, and, I do my best thinking in wet weather.

But, mostly, tonight I've been working my way through the MER Images (Mars Exploring Rover) in "Bullitts" (Keith Laney's) collection on the Marsoweb (NASA/Ames Research) website (click on the link to see the images). An amazing collection that, with lots of what we call "Jackson Pollock" Images, a few Fungal Chaos, one "Not-Craters" image, and, some that defy categorizing, except...they ain't natural. Almost every one I've looked at had something that defied the description of natural geological formation (including the Pictographic Hebrew "Wavy Line" that evolved into our 'W' [found dozens of 'W's], and, both were used historically to symbolize "Water"). I've also found several that appeared to have examples of Proto Greek, and, other Glyph type characters in them.

Which brings me to my pondering point for tonight: What's with the governments passion for secrecy where Planetary objects are concerned? Why would they believe that it would bother our little minds if there is life on other Planets, their Moons, our Moon, or, even the Asteroids? Further, why would Scientists blind themselves to their own data, things in their own images and tests, simply because of "long-held-beliefs," or, "common knowledge?" Would it change our lives, possibly drive us to rebellion and the end of civilization, if they suddenly admitted there is life on other Planets in the Solar System? The Universe? ...That UFO's are real...and, we don't know everything? ...Yet.

And, why would they consider that premise to be a threat to the future of the Space Program? Personally, the idea that there is life out there, waiting to be found and possibly contacted, excites me a lot more than finding a new life form on earth...even one we might be able to communicate with. However, I'm pretty much a Luddite where "AI" (Artificial Intelligence) and Robotics is concerned. The possibility that we might accidentally create our own successors (ala "Terminator") bothers me a bit.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 18, 2003 09:11 PM

Incidentally, my buddy Bullitt (aka - Keith Laney) made the cover of "Sky and Telescope's" June Issue (and the cover story), with an image called, "Bullitts Favorite Splat," (a story on the MOC MER Images).

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 18, 2003 09:19 PM

Also, flipping between MOC MER Images, and, reading, "Beyond the Slippery Slope," by Eugene Volokh. Anyone interested in Gun Rights should memorize this.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 18, 2003 10:14 PM

(WARNING: It is once again morning, the coffee machine is down, and I'm back at my crappy job as I'm writing this. Some bluntness may follow)

Good morning, Gordon;

First topic first (about the crystals): I too found that once I (or "my guides") had gotten good at the crystal pendulum thing, I could use just about any form of weighted string to get a response. I was given a steel cone-shaped weight once, on a small two-inch-long chain (like a plumb-bob), and it worked fine, as did my military dogtags for that matter. I'm still not convinced about just what the real "source" of my "answers" is though. I'm 95% sure it's not just me, since I regularly get answers I don't expect, don't want, and didn't know beforehand. "It" also has one direction of motion that is neutral, as in "I won't/can't answer that," and that has proven to be a bit of a frustration on occasion. But, since I find it hard to believe that every metaphysical practice and "New Age mystical" principle is bogus EXCEPT FOR THIS ONE, then I'm forced to draw a line somewhere... either this is crap because ALL non-scientific hocus-pocus is crap (in which case, I don't know WHAT is going on when this crystal/plumb-bob/dogtag thing is working), or any non-scientific hocus-pocus COULD BE valid because THIS appears to be valid. So I'm still a bit uncommitted on the subject at this time.

As for why "the government" feels compelled to conceal evidence from the public: (A) I'm not convinced it DOES (certainly not with the frequency that conspiracy theorists would imply), (B) I suspect that, for all the reasons we've heard throughout these comments, "the government's" analysis dudes just aren't seeing anything there that they'd consider suspicious (they've got other non-alien-intervention likelihoods in mind), and (C) even if they WERE seeing something extraterrestrially "suspicious" out there, there's probably a real reluctance to be the first guy out the door to announce it (scientific credibility be damned... as a government employee, such a suggestion would be career suicide... I've known both pilots and air traffic controllers who have witnessed some pretty compelling things, but swore me to a blood oath before they were willing to speak of it, and vowed to club me to death like a baby seal if I ever made mention of it to any higher command authority).

However, personally, I just don't buy it. Not the alien evidence OR the government cover-ups (nor, for that matter, the government's CAPACITY to sustain such a cover-up). Consequently, with that as MY bias, I am admittedly not well informed on the subject, because I just don't give it enough credence to read up on it. Sorry.

As for what kind of panicky reaction "they're" expecting from the general populace if such information were acknowledged and widely disseminated, well... I think back to the Planetary Conjunction of 1984 (I shall leave Y2K alone for today).

I can remember all the dread and forboding going on over the fact that that year, all 9 of the planets in our solar system were going to be on the same side of the sun at the same time. The combined gravitational stress on the sun would supposedly be so strong and lopsided that solar flare activity would go off the charts, thereby disrupting the Earth's electromagnetic sphere to such an extent that we'd be facing worldwide weather and power grid calamities for months on end. My Dad was even interviewed on the local Miami PBS station about it, and he roundly debunked the whole silly concept... months before the big fat nothing-at-all happened. But in the meantime, an awful lot of people had to sheepishly return from their mountaintop redoubts to the jobs and homes they'd abandoned in order to survive the catastrophe.

Then there's good old "Y2K"... no, I said I wouldn't talk about it, and I won't.

Anyway, that's the kind of "panic" I can easily see happening if "conclusive evidence" was ever publicized about a looming alien presence right in our own back yard. It might not unnerve you or me, but there's a vast herd out there that's always on the verge of stampeding at the first sign of lightning.

And finally, a personal aside: when I was 10 years old, and a Cub Scout living in Australia, I went on a field trip to Sydney. We toured the brand new Sydney Opera House (which was still under construction at the time), the Sydney Zoo, and rode to the top of Sydney's tallest skyscraper to take pictures. And I took a picture, with my very own 1967-vintage piece-o-crap plastic camera, of a park far below me, a couple of blocks from the foot of our high-rise. In it, you can clearly see the curved, silvery metal surface of a disk-shaped object parked near some trees, and the shadow it cast across the ground (you could also see a bunch of completely disinterested passersby, which you'd think would have been clue #1 that nothing out of the ordinary was happening there).

I hadn't really noticed it myself, until, as I was showing off my pictures to my Cub Scout buddies back in Canberra, THEY pointed it out to ME. Wow! How had I missed THAT? A flying saucer idling in the public park, in broad daylight, in downtown Sydney?

I'd "missed it" because I was there... and I'd already mentally catalogued that the park had a pretty little lake in the middle of it, which, with the early afternoon sun angled where it was, relative to that pond and my position, took on a bit of a silvery sheen... and right next to that, on the side nearest me (the "UFO's shadow" side) was some stylishly sculpted landscaping that formed a dark crescent (the "shadow" itself), and just happened to be aligned "just right."

In other words, photographic evidence means one thing to an "open minded" person who is so ready and eager to see something exotic, something else entirely to someone who actually knows what they're looking at.

And I'm inclined to believe that NASA scientists and analysts and observers simply have a lot more "realistic" explanations for such things as mountain-sized human faces on the surface of Mars, and "W-like" formations among the canyons.

Again though, I don't know. I just don't keep up with that kind of stuff enough.

I must get back now to pretending that I actually do something to earn my slave wages.

Later.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 19, 2003 07:51 AM

P.S.-- Here at work, the powers that be have installed roadblocks, firewalls, and filters to restrict our internet usage to job-related genres only (although I find it odd that, as a CAD operator for a tradeshow company, I can't search for any hotel or convention center floorplans when I need them, because they're blocked by the "Travel" filter). Yet the filters will allow me to come here, to "ejectejecteject.com," without obstruction. They WON'T let me follow any of Bill's links to anywhere else, like "USS Clueless," because that falls under "Message Boards and Clubs," but Ejectejecteject.com is okay. Obviously. 'Cause here I am.

Hmmm. What are the "higher powers" trying to say here? That I'm wasting company and internet time on any site BUT Ejectejecteject.com? And why do they want me to read THAT? What's so special about THIS site? Hmmm.

I think I smell a conspiracy here. This reeks of pro-American, pro-thinking brainwashing! And they're not going to get away with it! No sir! I'm taking this to the highest authorities! And if they think they can stop me, they've got anoth

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 19, 2003 08:56 AM

It would be the most wonderful, fabulous, glorious event ever for any scientist to walk out in front of a roomful of reporters and announce that he had irrefutable proof of life beyond the bounds of the Earth.

If he were right.

If that scientist is later proven wrong, he loses credibility, whoever he works for loses credibility, and potentially (and to a lesser extent) his entire profession loses credibility. We only get one chance to get this right. If we wind up crying wolf, everything science does afterward will be vulnerable to criticism in a way it isn't now. We're not just wrong, we're making stuff up, polluted by pop culture.

For analogy, consider the black eye that energy physics took with the whole cold fusion fiasco.

The only way to be sure that what you're seeing is evidence of extraterrestrial life or intelligence is to operate under the assumption that it isn't. Skepticism keeps you honest. It prevents you from ignoring that one pesky detail that derails an otherwise lovely argument.

Alien life is such an extraordinary claim that we don't dare jump to that conclusion unless all other possibilities have been exhausted, up to and including random convergence. That's why the Face on Mars won't be compelling until someone can photograph tool marks.

As to the divining crystals: you have to hold the top end of the string it's suspended from, yes? You can't just hang it from something, let it settle down, and then ask questions, right? If so, then the motive force must come from the person, in the form of minor muscular tremors, probably smaller than a person can notice. At this point, most people would say that the crystal's user is directing the swing of the pendulum, perhaps subconsciously. I'm not going to do that, because it still doesn't explain where the answers come from if the user doesn't already know it.

An interesting experiment would be to have one person ask the questions while another person holds the crystal in front of the first person. Put earplugs in the holder so he can't hear the questions, and place a visual barrier so he can't see the asker's face. Then see if there's any intelligible response.

Frankly, if the Air Force were to hold a press conference tomorrow and announce that the US government had, in fact, been in possession of alien corpses and technology since 1947, and we now had a successful reverse-engineered anti-gravity flying saucer of our own, which leaves for Tau Ceti on Tuesday, I think there would be cheers for about a day and a half from the general populace, about a week of hand-wringing from the philosophers, pundits, and other professional thinking persons, and then we'd all go back to our regular daily business.

Posted by: Formerly David on June 19, 2003 09:31 AM

Hi GHS, David,

Good answers by both of you, but, I disagree simply because I've been fighting this battle for more than 50 years, and, studying it in great detail is the best defense.

Consider this: "What is this?" I don't know, but, it looks very much alive...ecstatic, even, and, it's in the next to last picture taken by the little NEAR/Shoemaker Spacecraft just seconds before touchdown on the Asteroid Eros.

GHS, as I understand it, you do not have Web Access off the job. But, I would hope that some of you took the Links to Bullitts MER Image Archives on the NASA/Ames "Marsoweb" website. At least, we could have an intelligent conversation, allowing for the possibility that we know next to nothing about life and its distribution or mobility in this Solar System or the Universe.

My experience with UFO's is governed as much by my status as ex-King of the Punching Bag at Gilley's, as it is by rational thought. Otherwise, I probably could have saved myself some Blackeyes, Bloody Noses, Cuts, Abrasions, Bruises, and, Shoulders and Ankles out of joint, on waking up, with nothing in the previous nights known events that would account for the above. I'm not a good Lab Rat.

Bill made a comment about the look on Jesse Marcell's face, as he held the debris of a Weather Balloon in his hands...for the photographers. After his retirement from a long career in the intelligence department of the Army and Air Force, assigned to very high priority projects, and, being promoted all the way up to General, he made some cogent remarks about that event: He assembled Weather Balloons virtually every morning, he launched Weather Balloons virtually every morning, and, helped recover those that crashed near the base, occasionally. And, General Ramey and the USAAF wanted him to tell the world that he made a mistake...he recovered the debris of a Balloon [*that could only have been launched from Roswell, possibly, one he launched], and, mistook it for a UFO. [*comment in brackets by me]

These were the things that were rolling around in his head as he squatted on that tiny stage, in front of the world, preparing to follow General Ramey's direct orders, and, identify the debris of a Weather Balloon as the wreckage he had recovered.

Considering his subsequent career, his assignments to very sensitive projects, the level of his final Rank, and, the fact that he was never censured, never reprimanded, with absolutely no black marks on his record, is it possible he made no mistake? And, this fact is evident in his blemishless career records...before and after?

Could there be a Conspiracy of Silence concerning UFO's and life beyond the bounds of Earth? Could Eros as well as Mars have life, intelligent beings, on them? I think so. I believe...so.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 19, 2003 05:47 PM

If you'd like to see things in shadows, this is closer:

Hospital covers image of Virgin Mary

BOSTON, June 19 (Reuters) - Faced with a rush of pilgrims, a Massachusetts hospital on Thursday said it would cover a shimmering image of the Virgin Mary in the window of an office building for most of the day to avoid further disruption.

On Wednesday evening hospital staffers lowered a weighted tarp from the roof over the window where believers say the mother of Jesus Christ gazes down on them. The image was first seen last week.

"We asked people to visit the window only between 5:30 and 8:30 in the evening so that the crowds won't interfere with hospital activities. But that wasn't working and so we made the decision to uncover the window only during those hours," said Susan Schepici, a spokeswoman at Milton Hospital.

Still people are flocking to the community hospital at all hours, Schepici said, counting about 30 people staring at the covered window this morning.

"It doesn't seem to matter if it is covered or not. We have had a steady stream of between 50 and 100 people during the last few days and the crowd grows to about 200 at night. People bring flashlights to see the image," she said.

The Boston Globe reported on Tuesday that hospital officials say the image is made by a chemical deposit inside the window, but Schepici said the hospital has "no official position with respect to the issue of an apparition."

Last weekend after the image was first discovered, roughly 25,000 visited the hospital, 10 miles (16 km) south of Boston and hospital staffers expected another flood of visitors this weekend.

Posted by: EB on June 19, 2003 06:03 PM

Hi EB,

Yep, it's a matter of faith, and, I can't personally relate to the event, because my faith has been shaken too many times in my life. However, who am I to tell the Lord, or, Lady, by whatever name, how he/she is allowed to communicate with those of faith.

I've had events in my life that defy rational description, except, that they point to a world and a Universe beyond our powers of perception. Space Daily.com has an article on page 1 today, dealing with Quark-Gluon Plasma ("Deuteron-Gold Collisions Intensify Search For New Form Of Matter"...previously beyond our perception), which, if confirmed will open the door to study of a new form of Matter.

The discovery that the "Higgs-Boson" ("A Matter of Inertia" - Space Daily.com) may in fact be the mechanism that creates Inertia, is another story I'm interested in. Because, if they prove this 'virtual' particle actually 'is' inertia, the probability exists that they can learn to control it, or, even flip the sign. Think about that...if you can control or flip the sign of Inertia in a local area, light speed, or beyond is a possibility. Instead of requiring Energy to accelerate a body from a state of rest, it would require vast amounts of energy to maintain a state of rest (anything within the field would almost instantly accelerate to Light Speed or beyond in the absence of a force holding it at rest, with none of the affects of acceleration).

THIS, I have faith in...we can do it, but, how long will it take to reach the point where we can control and manipulate the effect of the "Higgs Boson," and, has someone (or, possibly half the intelligent species in the Universe) already beaten us to it?

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 19, 2003 08:39 PM

Okay, listen up, 'cause it's coming real fast:

1) The thing in the image is dessicated poop, or a bit of impact-fused rock, or a dirt-eating sand slug, or it dropped out of a martian's nose. AT LEAST it's clearly not an artifact of any conscious manufacturing process, unless it's one so utterly sophisticated and advanced beyond our primitive fascination with machined surfaces as to be unrecognizable in form, function utility or purpose. Art. It has to be ART.

2) As anyone who works with computer video & animation knows, "Cold Fusion" has been co-opted into a slick editing/effects software package. I don't understand the physics of it, but it seems to work. I think the people who invented "cold fusion" found the best use for it, applying it to making further illusions. Hey, a great marketing gimmick, right?

3) The "Higgs Bosun" is the sailor that pipes the arriving admirals onto Naval vessels, so if anything happened to him, a whole lot of military tradition and INERTIA just disappear, like Gordon said. By contrast, the "Gigs Bosun" is the one who steers the Capn's Gig, which is the whaleboat they ride back and forth to pick up the beer and geedunks. Geedunks are a whole nother class of matter beyond plasma, which science has not yet dared to investigate.

Is anyone writing this down?

David March
the mad fiddler
www.davidmarch.net

Posted by: David March on June 20, 2003 12:30 AM

Oo, you had me going for a second there, Gordon. At first glance, I saw pictures comin' up, something highlighted, and some large text that said "WHAT IS THIS?" And I thought, "Oh cool! Something compelling to look at!" On second glance, however, I found that I was wrong.

I'm sorry, but from where I'm standing, it takes a hell of a lot of willing (and biased) imagination to see anything of interest in that picture besides JAL ("Just Another Lump"). It might be a turd, for all I can tell... though, because it IS on Mars, it would indeed be a MARTIAN turd.

There's another feature in that picture, just to the left of the word "WHAT," that is more intriguing to me than the one that's been highlighted. It's at least fairly symmetrical, and, with yet another extreme stretch of the imagination, it could possibly be construed as having been manually "stacked" (although I wouldn't buy that either).

As for the highlighted feature though... even after having it pointed out to me... even after trying to mentally FORCE some kind of artificial structure onto it... even after trying to project the wrinkles and form of some kind of fictional Martian "worm" onto it... I STILL don't see it. It looks like just another lumpy ridgeline to me... a sand ripple, an impact divot from a tumbling stone (or boulder, depending on the scale of the image) or something... in other words, nothing out of the ordinary.

And I have a feeling that this image was selected as an example because there was something extraordinary about it.

As I mentioned way back in these comments, I used to work (with Bill) at the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, and we ran some pretty well researched shows on this very subject. I was working there when the Viking Lander touched down during the bicentennial year. Our boss --- the infamous Jack Horkheimer --- was present at JPL during the landing. I've seen reams of JPL images from Mars. And I'm sorry, hoss, but unless there's someone in the room actively TRYING to read extraterrestrial anomalies into everything, it never even crosses anybody's mind that they're seeing anything that isn't entirely explainable by the fundamentals of vulcanism, tectonics, Coriolis effects, or any other completely normal forms of geological evolution.

I'll believe you if you tell me there are more compelling images than that one, but until I see them (and I'll have to check it at home, since this seems to be the only outside web address that my workplace will let me access), my opinion remains unchanged (vague as it is).

As for the "Higgs-Boson" thing... I don't know anything about it, but it SOUNDS cool as hell. I hope it DOES turn out to be the breakthrough discovery of the epoch. I'll have to read up on that post-haste. But even if that does turn out to be the very key to interstellar travel, one that could be reasonably presumed to have been mastered by another starfaring race before us, there are still just too many other factors working against the premise that there have been recent ET visitations... not the least of which is the timing.

The alien race involved here would have had to have been spawned from a planetary system that evolved to life-supporting conditions at just the right number of centuries before WE came along. They would have had to evolve --- physically, socially, and technologically --- at just the right rate to have achieved their star traveling capabilities just in time to reach us here, just NOW ("now" meaning "within a few centuries of this moment"). And in geological and astronomical terms, that's practically the same instant in time. We'd have had to have developed (they and us) in almost perfect simultaneity, give or take an insignificant century or two. And that's just a tad too unlikely for me. Granted, this would not prevent an eons-old techno-race from making millenial return trips for as long as they wanted (or lasted), but if that were the case, I'd think that by now they'd no longer need to practically land right on top of us to see what we look like.

But, be that as it may...

Considering the size and the age of the known universe, the odds are FAR more likely that, if such a species did evolve somewhere else, (A) it was probably far enough away that we're kinda' low on their exploration priority list (there being several tens and even hundreds of thousands of closer stellar systems to them), and (B)it did so centuries, millenia, EPOCHS ago... or will do so centuries, millenia, or epochs FROM NOW. And that if our paths ever did cross, it's more likely they did so when we were but mere salamanders scampering up onto the shore to get away from the primordial catfish (so to speak).

I'm rambling again, and I'm starting to draw some ugly stares here in my cubicle. So I must desist. Please understand though, that just as others have said here before me, I want nothing more than to find definitive evidence of another extraterrestrial race. I love the idea. But in order to even catch my interest, it's going to have to come in the form of something more compelling than a lumpy ridge-shape in the middle of a FIELD of lumpy ridge-shapes. It's going to have to be more intriguing than a bunch of unexplained lights, a roughly circular depression on the floor of a marsh, or a bunch of shadows that just happen to resemble a human face. There are crater patterns on the moon that once created a popular image known as "The Man in the Moon." That doesn't mean they were maneuvered there by an alien intelligence. Besides, I bet if you studied orbital photos of the Himalayas for long enough, taken at different times of day, with different angles and lengths of shadows, you could eventually find even better patterns than the Martian ones highlighted here.

And nowadays, you can't even trust the photos to be untampered.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 20, 2003 06:53 AM

to Formerly David (a quickie this time, I promise)

Regarding the suggested experiments for the crystal pendulum... on that occasion (mentioned in an earlier comment posting) in which I brought it down to Miami and showed it to my father (and his professor buddies), we went through a whole bunch of trials and experiments similar to what you suggested.

In one instance, we taped one end of the chain to the back of a chair. In another, we hung it from a door knob. In both cases, it was awkward trying to bring my "solar plexus chakra" into close enough proximity to influence its motion, but even when we did, its movement was nowhere near as aggressive or definitive as it was when it was pinched between my fingers.

We did one where I held it like normal, except that I kept my eyes closed while I asked it questions, and my Dad tabulated the "answers"... which, again, were kinda' indecisive, and derived from far less profound motion.

Our conclusion then was that the person "operating" it does provide a significant portion of its motive influence (oo, I sound so technical), but, as you said, that didn't explain the unexpected or unknown answers that were received and then later borne out through research.

I also tried intentionally, physically moving the thing, just to see how different it would look when clearly instigated by my inputs, and found that I could not make it reverse direction without being blatantly obvious about it. And even once I'd mastered some subtler skills, it still did not behave anything like how it did when left to "its own devices" (so to speak).

There's also one other way of using it that I found especially intriguing. If you have a multiple choice question for it, you can draw up a little half-pie chart (hemispherical in shape, rather than circular) with all your optional answers written in the individual slices. Then you position the chart at the edge of a table or bar, move your "solar plexus chakra" up against it (so that the answers radiate out away from you), and run the crystal like normal... and it will swing up and down the relevant pie slice, regardless of the slice's angle. Even if you make up a different pie chart (or rotate the one you just used) with the "correct" answer in a different position.

Truth be told, I just don't know what to think about it... only that it behaves consistently, and whether ye be a believer or not, it works.

Enough of that. The rest of the office is back from lunch.

Must look productive now.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 20, 2003 11:10 AM

"this 'virtual' particle actually 'is' inertia..."

Heyyyy.... wait one minute! A body at rest tends to stay at rest, ... THAT'S MY GIG!
:^)

Actually I'd rather they work on the thing where I run my car on the energy found in a teaspoon of water before they mess around with the traveling at the speed of light thing. They can do it in any order they want to, so long as they hurry up about it. I am impatient waiting for the future.

Posted by: EB on June 20, 2003 04:14 PM

GHS,

This is my third try at posting this. My Computer decided to turn itself off, twice, when I typed my name, and, hit the "Preview Button." In order to post it, I had to disconnect from the Internet, write it in MS Word, reboot, clean out all copies of "Data Miner," and, copy/paste it into the message box, and, hit post.

Your response tells me you looked at the 'pitchers', passed on the text, and, based your reply on the assumption you knew where that picture came from.

Well…you missed it by a couple of million miles, the image was not a picture of Mars. It is the next-to-last picture taken by the little Shoemaker Spacecraft, from 250 meters above the surface of the little Asteroid Eros, seconds before touchdown on the surface. The spy camera that took that picture could probably resolve individual grains of sand at that distance (273.4 yds).

Whatever's in that picture, it's not a huge Ridge on Mars. The data for the image reveals that the circle of rocks that surrounds the hole it's in (assuming it 'is' an 'it'), is approximately 5 feet in diameter, and, its Head is between 6 and 8 inches in diameter. Pretty close to Human size.

However, confirming evidence is in short supply. The only possible corroboration, is in the very last image, taken from 120 Meters, and, it consists of an "art form"…Rock Carving (transmission truncated by touchdown. I cropped the 'missing data' bars off the lower edge, and, enlarged the colorized enhancement about 10%):

Considering the things I've been interested in, most of my life: I've been tested for everything imaginable, and, all it revealed is that I have a propensity for "Spatial Relations," I've got almost perfect visual acuity (that I enhance by using Magnifying Reading Glasses when looking at images), and, I'm a type A personality/non-linear thinker. IOW's: I see things that others can't; I'm able to picture a complete object by looking at the pieces (trained); I see it with greater detail than those with less perfect vision; and, I connect Dots, make connections, that no-one else realizes are there. Considering the 'forced' IQ tests I've taken, I've got an IQ somewhere North of 150 (won't say how much). But, other'n that, I'm just an average old Cowboy, who used to drink, dance, fight and punch a Bag a lot (born competitor), shoot professional Archery, race Motorcycles, chase a lot of women, and, study weird things that nobody understood (…"I think we need to test him…for somethin'.").

The above images are something 'I've' been studying for a long…long time.
Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 20, 2003 06:28 PM

Oo, ya' got me there, Gordon. I had to go back and re-read your previous photo-post, but sure enough, you had specifically stated that that was an image from the Asteroid Eros. My bad. What a fool am I.

Not that that makes it any more of a plausible argument... in fact, to me, that makes it worse, since I find it far LESS likely that a wandering, collision-prone, micro-gravity worldlet, far from Earth, with temperatures on its constantly shifting darkside near absolute-zero, and its surface exposed to the vacuum of space, would be a preferred site for an alien "base" (in lieu of the closer {to Earth}, and marginally more convenient, stable, and relatively "adaptable" environs of, say, Mars for instance), and next to IMPOSSIBLE that it would be the host of any kind of INDIGENOUS life form. There was at least a little more room for consideration when I thought it was a shot from Mars.

Of course, as we've all agreed, the mere unlikelihood of it doesn't mean it isn't possible. I sure as hell can't PROVE (right now) that there's nothing of consequence up there on that rock. But based on what you've shown me here, I'm more CERTAIN of it now than ever.

When this second set of images came up on my screen, I covered up the lower (highlighted) shot with my hand, and called over two of my Saturday co-workers to check it out. I made sure to keep any obvious bias out of my voice as I said, "Hey guys, check this out. Look what we've found on Eros!"

"What? It's a rock."

"No look. There. Don't you see it? Isn't that awesome?"

"What are you talking about, man?"

"Exactly."

Granted, no 150+ IQs here, including me apparently. I've never taken a formal IQ test, so I don't know where I officially stand. But one of my fellow cube-mates here showed me a website where I could take a quick 40-question Mensa test, and I took it right before I started writing this comment. According to that thing, I'm a 123 (high-average). Whoop-de-doo. Glad we got THAT out of the way.

In the meantime, even after I revealed the highlighted image to them, and everyone had a chance to thoroughly peruse your "alien carving," the common concensus, after much consideration and debate, was (and here I quote), "That's a fuckin' rock."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

So again I say, "sorry hoss." But you've got to really be TRYING to find something out of the ordinary in that shot. In ANY of those shots. I have to take your word for it that those are even "Shoemaker" shots, because for all I can tell, those could either be black-and-white orbital shots of Ayer's Rock in Australia, or close-ups of a dirt clod stuck between the treads of my shoe. And either way, whichever one it is, I'm not seeing anything there that I couldn't see just by kicking over a rock in the driveway. If you've never seen anomolous shapes and textures in common garden stones or roadside boulders, then you need to get out more often, because that's just what these look like.

People see Elvis in the deformities of a potato chip, if they really want to. And I can usually see the resemblance when they point it out to me. But looking at these entirely unremarkable images, I'm having a hard time even fabricating a completely fictional anomoly out of them.

I do believe you when you say you "see things that others don't." That's quite apparent. I'm just not sure that's something I'd advertise on my resume.

As for the rest of it... I too am just a regular old cowboy (well, except for the "cowboy" part). I've lived in four different countries around the world, spent a year-and-a-half in the "special forces" shootin', chutin', and lootin'... I've sky- and scuba-dived, and raced motorcycles (amateur only)... I play 3 different instruments, recorded an album (an engineering disaster), and toured the world as the keyboard player and band leader of the "Air Force's premier touring band, Tops in Blue," back in 1984, culminating with a spot centerstage in the halftime show for Superbowl XIX (the one where the 49ers handed the Dolphins their ass out in Palo Alto... we had a real NASA test pilot fly a real compressed nitrogen jetpack around the field as part of the show)... and with the exception of a brief stint as a produce truck driver, and another as a chauffeur, all my jobs have been technical ones, starting with the Planetarium in Miami at age 16, including 12 years as an air traffic controller, and devolving into this crap job as a CAD operator for a tradeshow company.

And you know what? After all that... after reading through all of that last bloated paragraph... I see that all that background is just as irrelevant to MY point as yours was to yours.

Bottom line... after applying all 123 IQ points of my brain power, along with a fairly broad and well-tested imagination, to the task of finding anything even remotely questionable in any of those images of yours, I feel confident in saying "there's nothing there." Even the colored highlights just look like half of a Rorschach test to me. Hmmm, I wonder what that means.

Maybe we should do it this way... does ANYBODY else out there see anything in these "pitchers?" Hello? Am I the only one who's missing something obvious here? I may not be the best judge of (A) alien footprints, (B) alien bunkers, (C) alien art/carvings, or (D) micro-meteorite erosion patterns here.

Please. Somebody save me from my ignorance!

Damn. I did it again. Saturday morning, at work, and I wrote right through my coffee break.

You'd think I'd learn.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 21, 2003 06:15 AM

Hi GHS,

"Granted, no 150+ IQs here, including me apparently. I've never taken a formal IQ test, so I don't know where I officially stand. But one of my fellow cube-mates here showed me a website where I could take a quick 40-question Mensa test, and I took it right before I started writing this comment. According to that thing, I'm a 123 (high-average). Whoop-de-doo. Glad we got THAT out of the way."

My point exactly, GHS, you can't imagine my contempt for IQ tests, and, the idea that they prove you're smarter or more 'authoritative' than the other man. You can be the smartest person on Earth, or even this Solar System, but without the accumulated knowledge to go with it...?

Without going out there and studying the things you intend to expound upon, you're still just another Cowboy chasin' dreams. Firewalking, Crystals, Dowsing, UFO's, and, Life on other worlds are examples of things that people have opinions on, without the experience based knowledge and study to back it up.

Without the impirical evidence, you must fall back on an accumulation of "preponderence of evidence" (however tenuous) which few ever look at closely enough to determine whether it has some basis in reality or not. Usually, they'll quote a hundred sources without wondering if there might be an agenda or motive behind the organization, presentation, or, even existence of the evidence. The point is, don't blind yourself to the evidence, such that you cannot see at all.

The two little pictures presented are a case in point, proving only that we know next-to-nothing about life beyond the boundaries of the Earths atmosphere. If you study them from my perspective, they're a case in point (with an unknown number of zero's following the decimal point) for the Anunnaki/Summerian "Wheels within wheels, circles without ending" artform 'expression of infinity', and, the abundance of life in the Universe.

We just don't know. Your opinion, my opinion, no-ones is based on personal experience, just a preponderence of evidence steadily pointing in the direction of life being ubiquitous to the Universe...it's everywhere, everywhere.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 21, 2003 11:25 AM

Excuse the Itallics, my computer is blocking the Preview Pane, such that I can't see what it looks like before I post. They should have only highlighted the quote..set it apart.

Gotta go, time to get up and move...burn off some hyperactive energy.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 21, 2003 11:33 AM

Maybe if we ignore him, he will go away!

Posted by: Leron on June 23, 2003 02:23 AM

"Maybe we should do it this way... does ANYBODY else out there see anything in these "pitchers?" Hello? Am I the only one who's missing something obvious here? I may not be the best judge of (A) alien footprints, (B) alien bunkers, (C) alien art/carvings, or (D) micro-meteorite erosion patterns here."


Well, I can see how the image may look like Winnie the Pooh but it doesn't convince me that it was carved by an alien life form anymore than Lincoln Rock in WA state would convince me of that.

You can also find images in clouds...I guess I'm not getting your point, Gordon.

Sometimes, these things just happen.

Posted by: serenity on June 24, 2003 01:00 AM

oops, sorry, thought I had closed the italics

Posted by: serenity on June 24, 2003 01:01 AM

[/i] I don't see anything either, and I'm pretty sure that it's not so much that my vision sucks as that rocks come in a lot of weird shapes and sizes; I've spent enough time in the Southwest to know THAT much.

I've quite cheerfully conceded that I believe in the probability of life elsewhere in the universe, perhaps a great deal of it. But I *don't* believe that it is probable that it has visited and is visiting us; individual reported incidents aside (the investigation of which I leave to others, as I have neither the time nor the passion), it doesn't really add up, especially if there WAS a conspiracy. If our government knew of even the possibility of alien encounters in the fifties, how would they have reacted? At the height of Cold War paranoia, I find it extremely difficult to believe they would not have reacted at ALL; all our attention and all our defenses were centered on earthly threats and potential threats. I also find broad affliction with total incuriosity and amnesia for all save a small few who can't seem to provide and publicize documentation very difficult to swallow regarding supposed widely seen "encounters". It's not as though there's a lack of curiosity *now*. Basically, I continue to be skeptical because acceptance of this "unknown" requires me to also accept highly anomalous behavior within something about which a LOT is known- human nature. The alternative explanation- that this is crank science- fits very well with what I already know about pseudoscience; that it provides lots of details with little to no documentation, and that its adherents love conspiracies. I could of course still be dead wrong, but I don't have a compelling reason to believe I am.

http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/PSEUDOSC/BADDATA.HTM

This is a good, and pertinent, essay. I also invite you to follow the link back to the author's main site on psuedoscience and rationality, which is excellent.

Posted by: LabRat on June 24, 2003 11:32 AM

Hi Serenity, Labrat,

Been working a lot of overtime, and, I've had little time to respond to anyone. If these were the only things I'd found on Eros, or, anywhere else, I'd ignore them as well. But, there are more astounding things out there, and, all of them point to an intelligent presence in the Solar System, other than us, whether extant or distant past.

One of the things I found a couple of years ago, in the first release of MOC images on the MSSS website was M0403440. I picked the image at random, just wandering across the Map of Arabia Terre looking for more images with the Water Streaks that we were finding all over Mars, at all Latitudes, and, facing all directions (in contradiction to Michael Malin and Ken Edgetts claims). The link indicated that I needed to choose between overlapping images, I picked the bottom one, and, opened a normal appearing , "Death Valley" image. Scanning slowly down (it's a big image) and back up, I stopped for a second to rest my Eyes, and, focused casually on a couple of Black Spots in the middle of the Image. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I was looking at a pair of Eyes. Question: "What's a Cartoon doing on the surface of Mars...in Henry Crater?

(Raw Crop) Colorized

But, this is not all that was in that picture, just the most startling thing. Look at the Marain around the figures, there are things suggesting Egyptian ties.

Artistically, it's carved 'into' the ground, like a footprint, not 'out' of it, like Mt. Rushmore, and, there are things around and above it that reinforce the idea that it's really there, and, totally Anomalous. There are lots of MOC Images that contain 'themes' and, racial and cultural artform characteristics in local areas, such as Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, and, Mesoamerican.

What am I to believe...Nature does themes?

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 24, 2003 06:34 PM

Ah, Labrat,

Just finished watching the Sci-Fi Channels special on UFO's (thank god, for once I didn't pass on it), with Edwin Aldren, Gordon Cooper, Physicist Brian Green and others from the "Advanced Propulsions Project," among others of equally impressive standing in the world of Science, Government, and, Nations, including the French, Belgian, and Russian agencies devoted to this subject. Whom all agree, "They do exist, they're coming here, and, they pose a threat to the world," for those reasons alone (what we don't know 'can' hurt us).

Wow...somebody finally got it right. What we believe has little to do with reality, because, it's generally based on someone elses biased opinion, or (as Sci-Fi may have proved), a government agency whose only purpose is to convince us there's nothing to investigate. An agency peopled by employees with Security Clearances that no-one is cleared to bestow or know exist. Nor, do we even know who they report to, or, who pays them.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 24, 2003 08:40 PM

Ach, wow, you mean I'm the one who was causing all posts to be in Italics? On the off chance it might be my Computer, I led the previous post with , and, it worked.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 24, 2003 08:43 PM

Gordon-

I'm trying really hard to see what you are seeing in that last set of images. If I squint, I can see a face. However, again, it doesn't convince me that it's not natural.

You asked, "what am I to believe--nature does themes?"

Sure, why not? Someone earlier had mentioned the Man in the Moon.

There's also an Indian, (Native American...?) legend that goes something like this:

Two members of a tribe were attempting to become God of the Sun. Their test was to stand in a fire. Whomever outlasted the other, would become the Sun God. The first guy tried and failed, whereby he was sent up to the moon to become the Moon God. The other guy, obviously, became Sun God as he did pass the test.

The legend states that the Moon God, the guy who didn't make it, resembled a coward, their animal for that was the rabbit. They say that explains why you can see a rabbit shape in the moon.

Which, yes, I can. Do I believe this legend? No offense to Native Americans but no, I do not. I believe the shape on the face of the moon is natural.

(Please forgive me for doing that legend little service and for not providing a link. I learned this back in High School and do not recall the source. I do remember the story however because I was really into astronomy at the time and it, as you must imagine, completely fascinated me.)

The point is, I'm still not seeing how these images remotely prove they were carved by something other than nature.

Posted by: serenity on June 24, 2003 09:43 PM

"Does nature do themes?"

No, but people do. In fact, people can see anything they want to see in anything they choose to look at. And this is not a criticism: we all do it. The fact that we find common ground at all is more the miracle to me.

To me, there's much more "artistic influence" visible in the windswept dunes of the Sahara (as seen from high altitude or orbit), the salt flats in Utah, the vast crevasses and contortions of any glacier on the planet, and the arcs and crescents of the atoll chains of the Pacific and Indian Oceans than there is in any of these pictures. And it takes less of a stretch of my imagination to find patterns and order among these more earthly features. But even having found them, that still does not indicate any kind of artifice in their creation.

Nature doesn't do themes, but it does crank out some awesome, random, and utterly natural patterns. Serenity's earlier comment about faces and shapes in the clouds is a perfect case in point. Not only is there clearly no human hand involved in their making, but it's tough to find two people who'll even agree on what images those perfectly natural contours are forming.

So... again... sorry. I spent a lot of time on these last pictures you submitted, turning my head this way and that, looking for anything. And I am just not seeing it. I'm not seeing anything that doesn't just look like wind- and/or water-eroded crags, like the Badlands of South Dakota (or is it North Dakota?), which I'm fairly confident had little or no extraterrestrial influence in their creation.

But even if there WAS something "anomolous" down there... even if that COLORATION was natural... I still wouldn't make the connection that somehow links this with alien intervention. Ignoring the fact that I can't see what function is being served by "carving" vast multi-square-mile likenesses of "little human girls looking up at hooded human adults carrying bags of groceries" into the terrain of a completely separate world (not to mention how unimpressed I am with both the quality of their "art" and the medium they chose)--- I mean, what's the point? --- I still don't really understand WHY you'd even suspect an otherworldly involvement.

I've heard "religious folk" say things like, "Look at that glorious sunset. Who do you think did that?" And my first response (naturally) is always, "Why do you even think there's a "who" involved?" That's just the preconception they start with... God did it, and that's that.

And I can't help but sense that same thing here, with these pictures... because it sounds to me like you're STARTING with the presumption of alien visitations being a given... now your mission is just to find traces of that presumed existence. And I think it should be done the other way around... presume no such thing, until you find an actual abandoned cityscape somewhere... or a vehicle, or a corpse, or a big fat blinking neon sign. Whatever. THEN you've got a REASON to suspect.

Until then, I guess this is as close as you and I are ever going to get to "common ground" on this.

Don't stop on MY account though.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 25, 2003 06:47 AM

Oh, it's a girl looking up at a hooded figure. I see it now.

All I was seeing was the sideways cat face in the exact middle of the picture. One of those fat, longhaired cats that sleep on the couch all day and shed their weight in hair every week.

Maybe the aliens were fond of cat pictures?

Posted by: Formerly David on June 25, 2003 07:21 AM

To "Formerly David":

BAH-HAH-hah-hahahahahahaha!

Good one.

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 25, 2003 07:37 AM

Hi Serenity,

Well, being 1/8 Comanche (Mothers side), and, from a family that fought Comanches (Great-Grandmother Elizabeth Arnold-DeSpain and Children), I've heard a lot of their Mythology, but, not that one, and, I don't believe I've seen a Rabbit on the Moon (not doubting you, simply never looked for one). However, I can pick out the "Man in the Moon," and, that ties to a Sumerian Legend that the god "En.Ki" (Sumerian = "Lord Earth," according to the Babylonian "Enuma Elish") explored the Moon, and, left his mark upon it.

I don't believe I'd have been able to pick out the figures in M0403440, except by accident. However, once found, the Eyes have a 'Point of Focus' which points to, and, is exactly Eye-to-Eye with two young Men looking back at her. There is an older Man behind her back, giving the universal sign for, "Shhhhhh!"

The point here (in the image above), is that there seems to be a message in the fact that she is obviously pregnant, and, one of the young men is wearing a huge Smile. The other looks like someone has ripped out the 'Family Jewels'...which may be what she's holding in her left hand. She's holding an object, as we would hold a Kitten, by the scruff of the neck (if you look closely, you can see the Fingers of her left hand), against her Pregnant Belly. The older man seems to believe we should be able to guess the story and keep quiet about it. There is at least one other Phallic Symbol on her person, and, one symbol of the incredibly ancient Womens Society (Temple of Diana/Vestal Virgins, etc.) apparently tattoed on her right Cheek...the Egyptian symbol for life, the "Umbillical Cutter."

A cartoon, with a message, on the surface of Mars...now, that's weird, but, fits nicely with the thousands of other markers we've found on Mars (The Anomaly Hunters).

But, I don't tell Nature how to conduct business, nor tell God how to build a Universe, or, when or where to create living, intelligent creatures. On this, I agree with Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens...paraphrase), "It is the heighth of arrogant egotism to assume that God would create something as vast and wonderful as the Universe, for the visual edification of a small band of ignorant savages struggling to survive on a speck of dust, circling a grain of sand, in a backwater corner of His masterpiece."

Meanwhile, I'll continue to believe that Creation has not even noticed us, yet...while those around me seem convinced that without us, none of this could even exist.

Nin.Mah (Sumerian = "Lady Mother"...according to the "Enuma Elish," surrogate mother of Adam. Co-creator of the Human Race, with her half-brother, En.Ki)

in "Oudemans Crater," on the surface of Mars.
(Note - open Ceasarian Section on lower part of Abdomen,
with face just below and another emerging, when enlarged slightly)

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 25, 2003 03:55 PM

Hi GHS,

Well, I've seen the Sahara from high altitude, the Arabian and Syrian Deserts, as well, and, I've never seen anything but Dunes (got a thriving hate for Dunes). I've walked, been stuck, and, dug my way out of a lot of them...don't like Dunes (two-wheel drive, I'm OK...stick me in a 4-Wheel Drive, and, I'll bury it to the Door Handles first time I slow down).

"I still wouldn't make the connection that somehow links this with alien intervention. Ignoring the fact that I can't see what function is being served by "carving" vast multi-square-mile likenesses of "little human girls looking up at hooded human adults carrying bags of groceries" into the terrain of a completely separate world (not to mention how unimpressed I am with both the quality of their "art" and the medium they chose)--- I mean, what's the point? --- I still don't really understand WHY you'd even suspect an otherworldly involvement.


Carrying Groceries? Well, you saw something I didn't, and, still don't...durn, I hate it when that happens...:) However, I guess my perceptions are colored by my study of ancient civilizations, and, continued wonder at all we seem to be missing.

Ah...incidentally, the ancient gods of Sumeria, "...withdrew from the sight of Man" (per Old Testament Documents/Tablets), and, said they were going to Lahmu (according to earlier documents), which translates from Anunnaki/Sumerian, as Mars. And, in a strange series of coincidences, several vibrant, viable civilizations simply vanished from the Earth, at approximately the same time, 4,000 years ago. In fact, even the Olmecs Gene-pool vanished, from the Americas (oldest known claimed, but, not accepted date for presence in Central America/Carribean, 3025 BCE). There is absolutely no evidence that anyone died in the catastrophy that destroyed Santorini when the Volcano Thera erupted, yet they vanished in 1729 BCE, leaving no casualties.

Also, the National Geographic Society claims there are over 575 abandonned, underground Cities along the foothills of the Himalayas...abandonned in a single day (extant and abandonned at same time as Santorini, parent of Minoan Civilization), with no Necropolises (Cemetaries) found around any of them, or, on Santorini (which contains exactly the same type and subject Wall and Floor murals as the underground Cities explored [4?], with the total stretching from Turkey to India).

Have I seen the images of Earth taken from Space? Yeah, probably a majority of the ones published, online or in print. Have I seen anything unusual?

Well, how about a picture of the East Coast of the Persian Gulf, pretty close to straight across from Bahrain (and, straight across from where I worked at "Shedgum," in Saudi):

Note that this Shuttle Hand-held camera image contains a carefully constructed ground carving, in the Anunnaki/Sumerian/Akkadian "Wheels-within-wheels" style. The leg he is standing on (left) is partially made up of an Assyrian Owl (his Shin), like decoration on Armor. The right leg, perched on something in front of him, is composed of a Face (his Calf) wearing an Assyrian Crown (his Knee/Thigh).

Therefore, hmmmmmmm?...I suspect this may have been carved by Assyrians, but, I'm unaware of their having asserted a presence on the East side of the Persian/Arabian Gulf, or working on such a scale...I'll have to check that out. There would probably have been a clash with the Indo/Aryans, who originated S/E of the Caspian Sea almost directly north of the Persian Gulf, but, exploded out of their Homeland in a gathering rush, along about the same time as the other abandonments, and, never looked back (rolling over the Indian Sub-continent, and, into China).

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 25, 2003 05:18 PM

Well Gordon...

I think I can safely say that we've finally reached the wall --- or the chasm --- that ultimately divides us, and neither one of us is going to get past it any time soon. Not only that, but now we're just flogging the same horses that died getting us here. So I think it's time to just let this one go, bid our fond adieus, and move on.

I used to "teach astronomy" (which is to say, I narrated a comfy little layman-level "show" about the sun, the planet's in our solar system, the major constellations, and a highly generalized overview of the Milky Way) at the planetarium in Miami. And I had to first be taught what the official star patterns were, because, quite frankly, I didn't see them myself. I saw a spectacularly random and varied amphitheater of distant suns, related to each other only by gravitational effect. Someone else saw zodiacal relationships that somehow had a direct determining influence on the nature and character of every human infant born under those "signs." Okay. How? Why? Whatever. I could see a rough square-shape of slightly brighter stars in one area, and someone else would tell me that was "Pegasus," the winged horse. Alrighty then. And that rectangle with the band of smaller stars across the middle was a hunter named "Orion," that V-shape was "Taurus," and that J-shape was "Scorpio." Fine. If those were the official designations, then that's what I'd "teach." But I never would have seen a horse or a hunter or a bull or a scorpion up there if someone hadn't connected the dots for me first. And if I'd never been "educated" on the names and natures of those patterns, but had instead been asked to look up there and invent my own, I can guarantee you that nothing I would have invented would have matched the official party line. Because the patterns are entirely arbitrary, and vary between the cultures and the eras in which they were created. They don't actually exist in nature, and no one --- human, alien, god or goddess --- moved them there. And I am at peace with that.

So, you can keep on submitting colorized samples of perfectly natural terrain features, highlighting obscure formations of crags, ridges, and shadows that supposedly form mega-renderings of "little girls" and "Winnie-the-Pooh dolls" and "pregnant human women downloading newborn infants through Caesarian incisions" (without ever explaining how, or more importantly, WHY an alien starship captain would choose to do such a thing, particularly on uninhabited outworlds and asteroids, and on canvases so convoluted with complex topography that his artistic endeavors are practically invisible to all but the most imaginative eye)... and I will continue to stare at what, to me, are completely unremarkable pictures of entirely normal mountain ranges, canyons, and wind-eroded sand rills, and keep saying, "Sorry hoss, but..." And in the meantime, Bill's bandwidth costs will jump into the triple digits per month.

So... let's just agree to disagree on this one and move on. You're clearly an intelligent, educated person, well versed on this and many other subjects as well, and I've seen and read a couple of things in my time too, so I don't see a whole lot of "backing down" happening any time soon. And we've flayed this dead horse right down to the bone.

Meet you in the comment section of Bill's NEXT posting.

GHS

Posted by: GreatHairySilverback on June 26, 2003 05:55 AM

Hey! I really liked the solution to the italics problem. That was a puzzler. As for the pitchers, I am on a lowly dialup connection.... compression people, compression!

Posted by: EB on June 26, 2003 11:48 AM

Hi GHS,

Well, I agree on "letting it go (you're obviously not ready for it), but, I'd like to point out that you seem to have missed something in my post...that's a picture of the Persian Gulf Coast of Iran, on the good planet Earth. It's not out there on some distant Planet, and, the Assyrians (Akkadians) have a history of stunning, monumental Sculpture, in amazing places. The only thing is we've never been in a position before to look for things carved flat on the ground that can only be seen from far above...only on Cliffs and Mountainsides.

The important thing to the Assyrians, was that (according to them, the Sumerians, Chaldeans and ancient Hebrews) their gods were not 'from' here, and, their writings say that they flew overhead, religiously. It would be natural for them to carve things that could be seen from the sky or space. They called them, generically, Elohim, and, this translates as "those who from Heaven to Earth came." The other, and, more common name, is "Anunnaki," and, this simply means "Children of Anu," who was the King and ruler of Niburu, the Planet the ancients claimed was the original home of the goddeses and gods.

When I found this, it suddenly occurred to me that we haven't been looking for things sculpted-on-the-ground by the ancient races, and, I really can't understand why not, given the fact that they left such stunning carvings on Cliffs and Mountainsides, all the way from Africa to China, North into the Caucasus, and, south, as far as southern Africa. If they were trying to catch the attention of their flying gods, where else should we expect it?

Hathor, "The Golden Calf," and Horus were worshipped at Dendera, Egypt (Horus as the "Cow Headed God") and, this tiny Temple was supposed to be the storage place of his Flying Boat, named, "The Ship of Millions of Years." However, it was destroyed in his aerial battle with the Moon God, "Sin," who murdered and dismembered Horus's father, Osiris...strangely, Horus was not his son, but, cloned from the "distilled essence" of the dead Osiris...by En.Ki.

Why would the Assyrian/Akkadians, and others, not carve things upon the ground to draw the attention of their gods? Maybe, we oughta take a look, and, try to find more of these ancient carvings...I suspect they're there, possibly extremely eroded, but, numerous.

Gordon

Posted by: Gordon DeSpain on June 26, 2003 05:47 PM

Wow. Can I pass out now?

Posted by: Tuning Spork on July 9, 2003 10:00 PM

I love this site. Reading Bill's essays is a great way to pass some time. I especially love the Magic essay and its approach to rational thinking, something people do very little of today.

I have this to say about UFO photos: if you have a case where a UFO appeared over a stadium with tens of thousands of spectators, why are there only a couple photos? There would be thousands from thousands of angles. The answer is simple: the photos are fake. Take a photo of people looking up at a fly ball or maybe the Goodyear Blimp, then replace said object with a fake picture of a UFO. I have seen several programs on UFO photos, and out of hundreds of different photos, nearly all are blatant fakes, and a slim few can't be determined one way or the other. They are of too poor a quality to figure out if they are fake or not. One or two questionable photos does not constitute proof.

As to physics, physicists forgot that what they were doing was making MODELS of how physical processes worked. They started to believe that the models actually explained the way nature worked. Einstein is a good example. His theories of relativity were just models that he himself didn't trust fully. It was only later that people invested in his ideas tried to indoctrinate people in the idea that they actually described the world. Well, hate to burst any bubbles, but the Theory of Relativity was proven wrong years ago. In Relativity, there is no basis for distinguishing inertial frames. It is a prime part of the theory. Then why does the Earth have an equatorial bulge? The Earth would have to be rotating with respect to an external frame of reference for such a thing to occur. Remember the old example used in physics class with the person free falling in the elevator? How all frames of reference were equal and that there was no way to prove he was free falling versus being in space? Turns out that wasn't a good example after all. It only works if the body in the elevator is not electrically charged. Place a charged body in the elevator and all claims of equivalence go right out the window. This was known as far back as 1961. For a theory to represent nature itself, it has to cover all cases all the time. While E=mc^2 was a milestone, it can be derived in other ways. It doesn't rely on relativity to be true.

You want invisible dragons? I give you the neutrino. This particle was invented for the sole purpose of balancing energy equations. The formula for solar fusion doesn't match observation? Ah, well, the extra energy is carried off by massless (not considered massless anymore) undetectable particles. Yeah, that's the ticket! We'll call them neutrinos! It can't be that our equations are wrong - they describe nature itself!

But didn't the Japanese experiment show that a few faint flashes of light in a tank containing 50,000 tons of ultrapure water 1000 meters below ground revealed that the neutrino has a mass of 0.07 electron volts? What happens if a particle and its antiparticle are annihilated and the particle pair is then recreated from the resultant energy at some other place, the kind of event we associate with quantum-electrodynamics? This event will shed an energy quantum 3kT and leave the recovery at particle recreation to a non-quantum process. Given that Boltzmann's constant has the value 1.38x10-23 joule/oK and that underground water tank used in the neutrino tests can only have a temperature T a little above 273 Kelvin, 3kT is 1.13x10-20 joule; given 1 electron-volt is 1.6x10-19 joule, this corresponds to 0.07 electron-volts, exactly the value reported by the Japanese tests.

So, do virtually massless invisible particles invented to fudge equations to fit data really exist, or did the Japanese simply prove that virtual particles are sometimes created and destroyed?

Modern physics needs to take a good hard look at itself. I leave you with a few words from John Gribbin's "In Search of Schrodinger's Cat."

"In the world of quantum mechanics, the laws of physics that are familiar from the the everyday world no longer work."

"Theorists who accept the pure version of quantum mechanics say that the cat exists in some indeterminate state, neither dead nor alive, until an observer looks into the box to see how things are getting on. Nothing is real unless it is observed."

Excuse me? Nothing is real unless it is observed? I'm an engineer. I'll take the real world, thank you. There are other theories which fit the observed data just as well or better which do not require one to toss out all logic and believe the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.

Posted by: Joe Fenton on August 30, 2003 06:30 PM

It is useful (for instance) that Gordon is patently a faith-vehicle, it is useful, for the 'opposing' side to gather 'proof' that there are a world of 'communists' out there that believe in UFOS etc. This belief is the same thinking that Gordon uses. Paradoxically.

The truth is more closely observed in that we are all individuals and 'they' can be blamed for everything. The truth is that 'they' are essentially the same product whichever side of the political spectrum. 'They'. Those who need to blame other's in order to gain power or disclaim culpability. Whether Socialist or Capitalist, there will always be a 'they' who is/are an anti-ideological representative. An antithesis progress.

I see no equivalence, only either cursing the darkness or lighting a candle. The cursing IS the darkness.

Personal gain is not the highest cause. Societal servitude is not the highest cause.
Laying blame is not the highest cause.

The highest causes are responsibility, respectfulness and ingenuity.

In politics there is a high incidence of arrogance, populism, self-interest (whether 'left' or 'right'), fundamentalism, and corruption. So many 'magical' operatives telling us that right is wrong and black is white, and the magic dollars keep going back in to the top hat.

Posted by: Bucketspoon on November 9, 2003 09:29 AM
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