Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is climate change good for cryptozoology?

We passed a climate change landmark on November 11th.

See here: http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/11/november-11-2015-the-last-day-of/417378/

On that day, the CO2 content of the atmosphere reached 401.64 parts per million. That's the highest amount of CO2 we have had in a million years. You know CO2. It traps heat, raises temperatures, melts ice, acidifies the oceans, and screws up the weather. 

But there is a plus side! And not just for Republicans dedicated to wiping out entire species (oh have I exposed your deepest penetralia?) For example, as the ice of Antarctica has melted researchers have been able to catalog hundreds of hitherto unseen wildlife.


New species of shrimp, jellyfish, sea anemone, and all kinds of cool finds to excite the biologist in your life. I conjecture from this that there may be other parties excited for similar reasons: cryptozoologists.

As the climate changes and habitats are gradually erased, it may get harder for cryptids to hide. I mean, you would think that between deforestation and encroachment of civilization, we would have conclusively come upon Bigfoot by now. Doesn't bode well for cryptids. Then again, maybe drought will alter the Congo and we'll find the purported dinosaur, Mokele Membe.

I don't know what to tell you about sea monsters.

Unfortunately, the converse is probably true. We will find even less reason to believe in such creatures. The good news is that we might find whole new, exotic cryptids instead.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Transhuman predictions

Proponents of transhumanism et. al., I apologize.

My posts will be brief this week. True, I have the days off but there's no shortage of things to do. I'm also making my entries on the Blogger app. As such, I can't find a way to add hyperlinks. So you'll just get...well...links. Here's one:


It's a sort of primer article on transhumanism focused on Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil has made several bold predictions. They aren't exactly new. Many of them are covered in his books, The Singularity is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines. Here are a few of those predictions.

-Nanobots will connect our brains directly to cloud computing. I love talking with my students about this concept. Nanobots adhered cybernetically to the nervous system, allowing us "complete and immersive access" to virtual reality. Why would anyone want to leave?

-Nanobots will be key in life extension. Bolster that immune system by swarming and killing invaders and irregular cell growth.

-We can 3D print anything. Lungs, rib cages, suspension bridges, and...all manner of stuff.

-We will recreate the deceased via AI. This is certainly one of Kurzweil's boldest...and most controversial...predictions. Through a DNA sample, Nanobots will extract memories and recreate the person as an artificial intelligence. Chew that one over for a little while.

-After the Singularity, we upload. Once fully merged with machines, human consciousness itself may be uploaded to brain-based computers but with a billion times the computing power of the human brain.

-Virtual bodies. I've often wondered about the mind/body conundrum when it comes to uploaded human consciousness. Our minds need a body because we are just wired that way after millions of years of evolution. Kurzweil's theory is that transhumanism will allow us to have virtual bodies that are completely customizable.

-The Singularity will make us funnier. Now that's an interesting assertion. How you might ask? To hear Kurzweil say it, Nanobot-enhanced intelligence will allow us to be more creative and even for different modes of expression. Splendeferous! Well, for me, anyway.

If you want to disagree with Kurzweil, that's fine. God knows many people do. Two things you may wish to consider however. One, Kurzweil bases his predictions on the Law of Accelerating Returns. Look it up. Two, transhumanism isn't really a new concept. There's evidence of prosthetic developments since ancient Egypt and the 16th Century:


Are Kurzweil's predictions merely logical extensions?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wild Palms

I remember Dorkland telling me about it, but I never watched it.

"It's cyberpunk," he told me.

Truth be told, I had forgotten all about it up until just recently when someone on Twitter referenced it. Looking into it more, Don't know why I never made a point to see it when it first ran. It's got all the hallmarks of a winner. Maybe it's because I had just graduated college, left my favorite place on Earth, and had absolutely no idea where I was going or what I would do.

That tends to distract you.

Anyway, Wild Palms was a miniseries that aired on ABC in 1993. It was produced by Oliver Stone and jam-packed with stars like Jim Belushi, Dana Delaney, and Bebe Neuwirth, and directors like Kathryn Bigelow and Phil Joanou (Rattle and Hum). The miniseries was based on a comic strip that ran in Details magazine, thus making it all the stranger that I didn't watch  as I used to read Details religiously.

The story itself was about what happens when the politically powerful can employ mass media technology, especially virtual reality, to manipulate the populace. What's scary is that this 1993 miniseries is set in the year 2007 and in more than a few ways it predicts the social realities of that year...and now. There are camps of far right-wingers calling themselves the "Fathers" who are opposed by Libertarian-types carrying the moniker of "Friends." The battleground is the mass media. Tossed into this mix are plots to become living holograms and a cult-like religion called Syntheiotics that is most unambiguously based on Scientology, promising empyreal dreams to the wealthy and gullible. Oh and vicious, sociopathic child TV stars.

Want to know what makes my missing it all the more mind-boggling? There's a cameo by William Gibson. Here it is:

"And they won't let me forget it."

Best of all is Belushi's line in reaction to Syntheiotics: "I don't dig bad science fiction."

I'm going through other YouTube clips of the miniseries as I can't seem to find Wild Palms on Netflix or anywhere else for that matter. There are scenes of Ben Savage giving a positively chilling performance as a psychotic child star. Indeed it seems that this owes more to works of David Lynch such as Twin Peaks than sci-fi proper. That's not a bad thing if the weirdness is delicious.

If somebody can locate me a full version of Wild Palms online, hit me up.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

UFO language

This is a continuation of my look at the ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) for UFO phenomenon (click here for more on my modus operandi for doing so.) In this post I ask: what is the written/spoken language for UFO occupants?

Language is sort of my thing. Not only as a writer, but as an educator in the discipline of composition. I also have a sizable interest in linguistics, in where language comes from and how it develops. That said, it's only natural for me to wonder what an alien language would be like. Or...would they even need one?

My first introduction to what alien writing might look like came while reading about the Roswell UFO crash. Among the debris Jesse Marcel allegedly handled was something that looked like an i-beam. On this beam were markings that can best be described as hieroglyphics. Marcel reproduced these markings from childhood memory. While I certainly have no true frame of reference from which to make a judgment, I could never quite bring myself to accept that I was looking at an alien language. It just looked too much like something we would do.

Then I came across this collection of symbols often seen on UFOs. There are a few similarities with what was said to have been found amidst the Roswell wreckage, but there are differences as well. Look at all of the angular lines, the triangle-based forms, and the squiggles. I'm particularly intrigued by the series of depictions of symbols seen on UFOs in Brazil, the US, and Spain in 1959, 1964, and 1967 respectively. They just look like what science fiction has indoctrinated us to expect when we hear the phrase "alien language." Your skepticism meter should therefore be swinging towards the red. Also on the same page is the arrow/inverted "V" symbol that police officer Lonnie Zamora saw on the side of a craft in his famous UFO sighting outside of Socorro, New Mexico. I can't help but notice the similarity between that symbol and insignia that have been floated around as allegedly being stenciled onto doors and vehicles at Dulce Base. My skepticism meter is moving even more towards the red but that's for whole other reasons that I don't have room to get into in this post.

Of course if we're talking skepticism, scroll all the way towards the bottom of that last link and you'll see a symbol that is remarkably similar to the one worn by comic book and TV hero, The Flash. But I digress...

Finally, there are those who claim that any form of written communication done by aliens is more or less for our own benefit. Aliens communicate telepathically. They don't need written or spoken language. Sometimes humans receive telepathic messages from aliens and then express those messages through crop circles or automatic writing. That is part of the contention of Nancy du Terte, a woman who calls herself a "skeptical psychic" and a researcher in the field of "exo-linguistics," attempting to put together a sort of Rosetta Stone for alien languages.

That just sounds like something I absolutely must get in on. But I digress.

Why study exo-linguistics? Besides it being a really cool name for a discipline? Nancy du Terte provides the following rationale on her website:

          1. Aliens are able to shut down and restart nuclear missile defense stations in the United States and Russia,  creating a threat to our international security.

          2. Aliens are able to violate our commercial and military airspace with impunity, and often avoid radar detection,  creating a threat to our civilian and military air travel.

          3. Aliens are able to abduct people from their beds and perform genetic experiments on them at will,  creating a threat to our public health and security.

          4. Aliens have demonstrated familiarity with advanced technologies and evolved mind control techniques far beyond our current scientific knowledge, which would be useful to know.


Her website features a gallery of "channeled communication" from aliens rendered in written form. Whether or not they are genuine does not detract from the fact that they are fascinating to look at.

Language often tends to head towards expediency. What is the quickest, most efficient way to say something? Much as I might detest it, that's exactly the effect that "textspeak" is having on our language. As we become more and more of a visually-oriented society (certainly frightening for myself as a writer), would something like a line of hieroglyphics make for maximum efficiency? If I weren't such a slugabed, I would race off right now to study the intricacies of such a language, but...

I just keep coming back to efficiency. It would seem to me that such an attribute would be a hallmark of any race capable of practical interstellar travel. The symbols I've been looking at however, seem to have far more of ourselves projected upon them.

That doesn't do much for my skepticism.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Real cyborgs"

Today, I gave my annual lecture on transhumanism to the freshmen.

In addition to giving me the chance to extol William Gibson (as anyone rightly should), I peppered the presentation with examples of people who have already become "real cyborgs." I'm talking about Nigel Auckland, Johnny Methany, and the like who already have implants or full prosthetic devices, but what I neglected to find in time was this gallery posted at CNN of other people who have connected their bodies to technology. Among them are:

-Neil Harbisson had an antenna implanted at the top of his skull. To hear him describe it, the implanted device allows him to experience synesthesia. For example, he can "hear colors." Blue apparently sounds like a C sharp.

-"We are not the endpoint of evolution. We should enhance ourselves." Truer words were never spoken. They were said by Dr. Andrew Vladimirov. He is conducting experiments on consciousness and brainwaves by bombarding his prefrontal cortex with infrared lasers.

-I showed a slide of students and faculty at the University of Minnesota controlling a drone by thoughts. That's old news, really, and the technology involved has come a long way in a short time. The CNN gallery shows startup founder, Tiana Sinclair operating her own drone through bio-interface. The drone is "like a huge biosensor" or "EEG device" that senses alpha and beta brainwaves. "I'm kind of a big believer that the world is broken and we can solve its problems with technology," says Sinclair.

I know that I seem to forever be harping on what transhumanism is going to do for us. It gives me at least a bit of hope for the World of Tomorrow. Today after lecture however, I just felt sort of...I don't know...flat. Maybe it's the news, maybe it's other things I have going on, but I just can't help but feel that transhumanism is gradually being co-opted into the realms of the said same all-too human failings that we've been trying to overcome. The current zeitgeist of transhumanism is politically charged. "Who speaks for us?" "I don't like who's running for the Transhumanist Party." Human beings are political animals so I really shouldn't be surprised, but...somehow I was hoping we'd rise above it. Stop arguing! Go back to developing my AI personal assistant that speaks with a hot female voice! Better yet, those cybernetic replacements that will do away with all of my frailties.

Do I sound like a fundamentalist awaiting rapture? Probably. Maybe this is just reality and logic intruding on my formerly Panglossian thinking.

I'm also a bit soured on the nature of the discourse. Look at that CNN article again and the language it uses. "Human cyborg?" By definition, doesn't a cyborg have to be at least partly human? Redundant. I know it's a "lamestream" media source (geez, did I just write that?) but does no one consider what they're writing? Or was this done by a "techno-pundit" thinking they were helping CNN "surf ahead of the zeitgeist"?

Or maybe they just don't know what they're talking about.

Then again, it could be my recent reading habits. In order to set the spirit and "get the feel" of writing literary journalism/nonfiction for my Dulce book, I've been poring over Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, and Norman Mailer. A lot of Norman Mailer. This is writing that is grounded deeply in reality and not speculation. I am hoping to bring that sensibility to the subject of Dulce Base. Through that effort, the same point of view may be bleeding over into my other interests.

I probably just need to eat. I'm thinking fish and chips.

Of course if I were transhuman, I would crave not such things.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

"Alien artifact" to pass Earth in 2017

Although this one isn't getting as much attention as the last one, there is an object in space that has aroused much curiosity.

It was first discovered in 1991 by an astronomer named James Scotti, who initially thought it to be just another asteroid of about 10 meters in width. But he soon found that the object, afterwards named 1991 VG, had several anomalies. It has a peculiar rate of rotation as well as fluctuations in speed and brightness. It was also in a heliocentric orbit similar to that of Earth. As soon as more data was gathered on 1991 VG, two things became clear: it had passed by the Earth once before in 1975 and would do so again in 2017.

A small asteroid passing by the Earth is by no means unusual, but they don't often make return trips. They get pulled in by the Earth and incinerated in the atmosphere, the Earth's gravity kicks them into a different trajectory, or they collide with another body in space. They don't usually keep coming back. That, combined with the other anomalous qualities of the object, had astronomers wondering if 1991 VG was a fragment of human-made space junk. Was it part of a rocket booster or something. There were possible candidates, but they were soon eliminated. Then in 1995, astronomer Duncan Steel made this astonishing assertion:

  “...none of the handful of man-made rocket bodies left in heliocentric orbits during the space age have purely gravitational orbits returning to the Earth [in November of 1991]...it might be argued that 1991 VG is a candidate as an alien probe observed in the vicinity of our planet.”

Turns out that Steel was raising this explanation only to debunk it, but he does think that we should  "take seriously the possibility that there are alien artefacts in the solar system, although I very much doubt that there are any, based on what we know so far." Despite this quite likely assessment, the phrase "alien probe" did garner attention from proponents of SETA...Search for ExtraTerrestrial Artifacts (a hortatory of which can be read here)

This is a notion that I've heard of, but had not looked into with any real amount of depth. I must say it's a fascinating concept. The idea is to not simply look for signals from or external indications of alien civilizations, but look for artifacts that they might have left behind in our own solar system. The argument for this approach is partly based on human activity. We send probes to collect data about our end of the universe, why wouldn't other civilizations do the same? It's a logical and expedient means of exploration. Another quite captivating notion is we might find archaeological fragments of other civilizations. Maybe they have already visited our solar system and left something behind? If a civilization has been destroyed or let its refuse out into space (much as we have in several ways), might the remains reach us one day? Imagine finding the alien equivalent of a Greek vase or a Roman statue floating in space,

As for the true nature of 1991 VG, we might get our answer in 2017.

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