Mythonauts

Anyone who thinks mythology doesn’t matter hasn’t been paying attention for…oh…five thousand years. Mythology is both the secret language of the unconscious mind and the code that rewrites the physical world around us.  Mythology shapes the psyche, and through it the lives of people who engage with it.  It defines politics – wave at every successful politician from JFK to Obama.  It shapes business, brands, actors, musicians, culture, artists, movements.

If you want success, find the door to mythology.  Leave the mundane world behind.  Find the mythology for your sense of place – the deep south of the Blues musicians, Haight-Ashbury for the sixties counterculture, Scotland for Nicola Sturgeon.  Find that mythological superstructure for your own ego.  You are not normal.  No one is.  You exist in a world beyond this.

Cut the ties that bind.  Explore.

Scientists Conduct First Successful Time Travel Experiment

Turns out it wasn’t 88mph after all. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has completed a successful experiment with quantum time travel.

Seth Lloyd and his collaborators “have identified a new approach to the problem that opens up the strange world of time travel to experiments,” according to a report in New Scientist magazine.

What is so tantalising about time travel is that there seems to be nothing to prevent it. As far as the laws of physics are concerned, time can run forwards or backwards. But time travel of the kind that Marty McFly gets up to in the movie Back to the Future is a different kettle of fish. It requires an object to go back in time while everything else keeps creeping forward. Still, there is no shortage of ideas about how this might happen.

Even more fascinating, the MiT team sent a photon back to “kill” itself.

The magazine says, ‘When this experiment is done, something interesting happens: every single time the time travel works, the gun fails to go off. And when time travel fails, the gun works. To put this in the language of the grandfather paradox, as long as there is some chance of your gun misfiring and the assassination failing, time travel may work. “You can point the gun but you can’t pull the trigger,” says Lloyd.’

We Can Predict The Future

A major scientific journal is about to publish a peer-reviewed paper that may have staggering implications.

“Extraordinary claims don’t come much more extraordinary than this: events that haven’t yet happened can influence our behaviour.:

In other words, we have instinctive precognition, if the evidence presented in the paper holds up. The study has already been examined by sceptical psychologists who can’t find any flaws.

Cautious scientists don’t get to extrapolate from this. Everyone else can have a lot of fun. And there are *many* potential repercussions.

Lost Finale

A few first spoiler-free thoughts on the final episode of Lost…

The series has had its critics. I think most of them are unfair – whatever you think about the nuts and bolts mechanics of the show, there is very little in the TV medium with such a weight of ideas. Some people seem stuck in a binary way of thinking – that there is only weighty high-brow or mass-market low-brow.

But several series coming out of the US (and maybe one or two from the UK) show that it’s possible to communicate on two different levels: a mainstream plot that touches many of the usual drama beats, and a deeper level of reflection on big issues that some viewers can ruminate over if they so wish. You can buy into one or the other, or both.

There is a great deal going on beneath the surface in Lost – more than a superficial glance would ever suggest – and the show’s creators have clearly put in some heavy thinking, all of which became apparent – again, in the background – in today’s finale.

I have said before that reviews are more about the reviewer than about the subject of the review. It’s the same with opinions on the finale of Lost (and of BSG before it). The way you view life and the world will impact on your view of the story’s ending. (And the degree of cognitive dissonance that inflicts you will mark the vehemence of your response.)

I found the ending wholly satisfying. I like stories where the creators give you all the information you need, but expect you to do some of the piecing together. Some people don’t. They get very angry if things aren’t spelled out. Nothing wrong with either response – it all depends on your psychology.

Without giving any spoilers away at this stage, the end of the six-season series appeared almost childishly simple and easy to criticise. Like every other aspect of the show, it was anything but. Everything you needed to make sense of it was there, but appreciation really depended on how much you put in.

But like all the best TV, it bears repeated viewings which only reveal new layers of meanings. It operates on three levels – what appears to be happening, what may well be happening, and a symbolic level that comments on very deep issues.

And in this it echoes another piece of classic TV art – the 60s version of The Prisoner. Here we have: a spy who has been kidnapped by powers unknown to discover what he knows; a spy who has been killed in the opening credits and is working through his life’s issues before moving on (the only reading that fully explains the final episode); and a symbolic examination of the individual’s place in society.

It’s certainly worth a deeper reflection on the relationship between Lost and the recently-finished and equally good Ashes to Ashes, and relating both of those to The Prisoner. Something is in the air, maybe.

In the end, Lost was deeply affecting. It will upset many people because it says quite firmly that all the things you thought mattered, aren’t important at all. In the end, like all the best stories, it’s about what it means to be human.

Life On Mars Staring Us In The Face?

A report in New Scientist suggests the evidence for life on the Red Planet could be as plain as those lumps of rocks that scatter the landscape in all the photos we’ve seen a thousand times.

There’s never been any sign of complex carbon-based molecules on Mars, but sulphur is all over the place, more than on earth. Some microbes in our own backyard convert sulphates to sulphides as a by-product of their activity. Intriguing evidence of this microbial work has been found at crater sites – and similar tests could be carried on Mars relatively easily.

All we need is a Mars Lander fitted with the right tools. Oh, one’s already planned? When’s it hitting the red dust?

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover will land on the Martian surface in 2012. It will carry a mass spectrometer that should be sensitive enough to see variations as small as 2 per cent in sulphur isotope abundances, says John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the lead scientist for the mission.

Evolving

Changing the world is one of those concepts that divides society. Your views on it characterise you as a naive, woolly-thinker or a hard-nosed, selfish cynic, depending on who is pointing the finger.

It’s a topic that most writers are interested in, whether they admit it or not. Stories have always changed the world. They transmit ideas or information that infect other minds and are then passed on virally. That was the whole point of stories in the earliest days of humanity.

I’ve written here a few times about the 2012 meme – not in any literal sense, that ancient prophecies have somehow signalled the end of the world a few months down the road. I’m interested in it more in the abstract sense – how, when a lot of people start to believe a great change is coming, they bring about that change by altering their patterns of behaviour.

I’ve been looking recently at how various 2012 groups have been springing up all over the world – getting involved in environmental issues, or tackling poverty or community problems. This appears to be gathering speed.

But today I want to draw your attention to evolver.net, which describes itself as “a new social network for conscious collaboration. It provides a platform for individuals, communities, and organizations to discover and share the new tools, initiatives, and ideas that will improve our lives and change the world.”

It’s there for creative collaboration as much as the whole world-changing thing. It’s not a place for cynics. Don’t go there. It is about the future, and it is unmistakably utopian. But then a lot of writers are utopian too, even when they’re writing about the most miserable, darkest visions imaginable.

Earth Calling All Aliens

After futile decades of listening for any signs of a civilisation beyond Earth, SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – is considering broadcasting our own message to the stars.

New Scientist reports that a meeting will be held in Texas in June to discuss if, and how, and in what form, such an attempt at communication should be made.

There is opposition. Our oldest stories tell us that it’s not always wise to let the gods notice you, which is what’s on the mind of SF author David Brin. He resigned from a SETI panel because he felt there wasn’t enough discussion of the potential repercussions from such a broadcast. He says: “I dislike seeing my children’s destiny being gambled with by a couple of dozen arrogant people who cling to one image of the alien”

Crop Circles – New Swirled Order

A friend, the artist Frank Mafrici pointed my attention to a great German documentary on crop circles (with English voiceover).

I’ve always been extremely sceptical about wilder claims for the origins of crop circles. They appear manmade, albeit fantastic examples of landscape art, especially some of the most recent examples. However, I was always slightly troubled by one aspect – I haven’t come across any great art where the artist hasn’t eventually taken credit for it.

Whatever your thoughts, the documentary makes fascinating viewing. It includes details of research by scientists – physicists, chemists, mathematicians – and specifically signs that the crops have been damaged by electro-magnetic radiation. Some stems are blown out at the nodes by escaping steam. There are also changes to the soil, with molten particles a regular feature.

Despite all the received knowledge (groups of hoaxers using planks to flatten the corn at night), one local witness revealed a crop circle wasn’t in the field at 5.30am, but appeared later that day.

And if there are artists at work – using EMF pulse machines – I applaud their attention to cultural memes. One of the crop circles is in the shape of the Mayan calendar, and another shows the position of the planets in the solar system at the end of 2012. Hugely entertaining. Take a look.

What Happens When We Die?

“Traditionally, many of the major questions that mankind has faced have been tackled by philosophy or theology. However, in the last few centuries, science has gradually begun to seek, and has been able to provide to a certain extent, answers to such questions. One of the areas still eluding science’s grasp has been the question of what happens when we die, as well as the nature of the human mind and consciousness and their relationship with the brain.”

A research project at medical centres across the UK, US and Europe is examining what happens to consciousness after we “die” (in inverted commas because death is measured by a sliding scale and it’s possible to be brought back, sometimes up to an hour after the heart stops beating). It’s arisen out of numerous reports of Near-Death Experiences, as well as a study that shows 20% of people who have a flatline brain state and are resuscitated, still have lucid memories of what happened around them. Obviously, a lack of brain activity suggests that shouldn’t be the case.

The study could release its findings as early as 2012.

Meanwhile, Critical Care Doctors at the George Washington University Medical Faculty have released a new report which shows that patients “experienced a sudden electrical ‘alertness’ or spike in brain waves in the moments before they died. The spikes came in the same moments just before each patient’s death. They rose to comparable levels and were consistent in duration.”.

Researchers suggest this may be the first scientifically recorded sign of the near-death experience.

“The Universe Knows It Is Being Watched”

University of Vienna Professor of Physics Anton Zeilinger is working on quantum experiments that demonstrate the influence of observers in shaping reality. He believes physicists have only scratched the surface of something much bigger and says, “Maybe the real breakthrough will come when we start to realise the connections between reality, knowledge and our actions.”

Zeilinger and others working in the field have shown that widely separated particles can somehow have quantum states that are linked: by observing one, the outcome of the other is affected. But as New Scientist magazine says, “No one has yet fathomed how the universe seems to know when it is being watched.”

Read the full account of questions that keep physicists up at night at the New Scientist site.