The Light Ship Has Arrived….Well Almost

14 10 2008

Well it is October the 14th and as of yet there is no sign of the UFO that psychic Blossum Goodchild predicted as visiting earth. Goodchild’s channelled a message that a UFO would appear in the sky and remain for three days has provided an interesting blend of psychic ability and UFO’s. Apparently the aliens have come to “give us hope” and currently there are many bankers and employees of financial institutions who are hoping that this will come true. Judging by today’s rebound on the stock markets perhaps that they have arrived, but not revealed themselves yet.

For reasons unknown this prediction has whipped up some fervour among UFO believers and psychics alike (and the tongue in cheek reports in the main stream media probably are not helping). Some people who on the face of it have reality impairments have incorporated additional conspiracies like this cracker on an associated blog that says:

Some people have been emailing me wondering when the light ship will show up. It will show up tomorrow, the 14th within the North American time frame. The goal of this sighting is to have the light ship present themselves to the United States as they are the central area of the Illuminati.

Of course…it all makes sense to me now! What I am looking forward to is Goodchild’s revised explanation that will come out over the next few days when the UFO fails to materialise. My prediction is that the time was not right and a new date will be announced. It is a common ploy with the various religious dooms dayers, but unfortunately the true believers will continue to believe the various predictions (Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are a good examples, they have both previously predicted dates for the end times which have come and gone, and they have successfully rationalised the failures).

On a more serious note, is that it is quite fascinating how people find themselves in the position of having such beliefs. While mental illness can account for a small proportion there are many people who are of a sound mind and yet will believe the likes of Goodchilds channelling. They do not believe things on a whim either as they will base their decisions to believe in things on some type of evidence. However, it is the quality of the evidence that is important.

When making the decision about whether to believe any proposition, evidence always plays a role. For a ‘believer’ in a particular idea the form that the evidence takes is going to be very relevant.

If you are prepared to accept as evidence what you personally observe and experience (anecdotal evidence) then it does open up many doors for a range of things whether it be channelling, psychic abilities, psychic healing, remote viewing, homeopathy, or UFO’s. The amount of weight you place on anecdotal evidence appears to dictate how much something throws themselves into the realms of belief of a particular phenomenon.

However in determining something as important as say psychic belief, my position is that anecdotal evidence is insufficient, there needs to be a systematic approach to its examination to determine whether there is a basis to this particular claim. Furthermore, if there is a basis then further research needs to be examined to establish what the underlying processes are that cause the phenomena (as it is one thing to observe psychic ability, but it is another to explain how it happens)

To reach a scientific level of ‘proof’ (which in science you never actually prove anything, but I am using the term in an every day sense) for a phenomena, then for me personally, anecdotal evidence is not enough as there are to many alternative explanations and variables that may impact upon the senses to make it reliable. This is why for subjects where a scientific basis is lacking I am sceptical of its existence or claims. This does not mean that I can rule it out (although there are some concepts where it is reasonable to rule them out due to their flawed underpinnings or outlandish claims – chemtrail conspiracies spring to mind), but take the position that until the scientific evidence is available then I would not commit to a particular belief.

It is interesting that some people can also be sceptical of science itself and it can and has been accused of a range of things including elitism and dogmatic. However, these are actually criticisms of the scientific community, not the process of scientific investigation, which has proven to be robust and an incredibly effective tool in the advancement of our knowledge and technology.

Anyway, with that said, lets bring on the alien visitation!

Astronaut Edgar Mitchell on Campbell Live

9 08 2008

Recently Edgar Mitchell has returned to the public eye 37 years after setting the current record for the longest moon walk. Mr Mitchell is one of the privileged few who has had such an opportunity, but his most recent public statements risk over shadowing his important space exploration legacy.

On the 8th of August 2008 he appeared on TV3’s Campbell Live to discuss his belief that the Roswell UFO incident occurred. Coincidentally he lived in Roswell at the time of the alleged UFO crash that occurred in 1947 and he commented that he did not think much of it at the time.

The reason he did not think much of it was because no one did think much of it, the mythology that surrounds the Roswell UFO incident did not enter the public consciousness until the publication of The Roswell Incident in 1980 by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore where it was contended that a UFO had crashed and the military had covered it up. The 1990’s saw a flurry of books being published that expanded the mythology even further and the idea that alien bodies were recovered from the wreckage was introduced.

Mr Mitchell told John Campbell that he was privy to information from ‘old timers’ who told him that alien bodies had been recovered from the site, and that a fourth alien was alive and subsequently assisted the US authorities. He has refused to disclose who these ‘old timers’ are during other interviews. This is unsatisfactory in determining whether his position is based upon a solid foundation.

The evidence for the Roswell incident is weak. The books tend to be based upon witness testimony obtained some 30 to 40 years after the events. This in it self presents its own problems due to the well understood problems that arise out of relying upon memory. Furthermore, very few of the people interviewed were eyewitnesses, rather they were reporting hearsay evidence, which weakens the strength of the evidence even further. Other witnesses have been shown to intentionally or unintentionally inflate or fabricate testimony about what they did see in 1947.

Supporters of the Roswell incident point to the cover up carried out by the air force as evidence to support an alien crash. They are correct that there was a cover up, but for a much more earthly reason. The item that crashed was a high altitude balloon that carried experimental top secret equipment that the air force hoped would detect Soviet nuclear tests. In the increasingly tense years after the Second World War, it is not surprising that the air force would move quickly to clean up the crash site and release a cover story that it was a weather balloon.

Perhaps Mr Mitchell could be forgiven for having one errant belief that he has reluctantly made public – as he said to John Campbell, he has been recounting his belief in aliens at Roswell to many people for the last 10 years, but it has only recently come to the attention of the mainstream media. However, in the years after his tenure as an astronaut he set up the Institute for Noetic Science that investigates the powers of consciousness, including areas that do not fit into the conventional scientific methods – in other words such questionable things like psychic abilities, consciousness surviving death, and alternative medicines, just to name a few.

Given his apparent belief in many alternative ideas and the conspiracy around the Roswell incident, I am surprised that he has not jumped on the bandwagon and stated that the moon landings were false as well.

It’s Time to Hang up that Tin Foil Hat

23 07 2008

Are you concerned about being abducted by aliens? Do you stay up at night worried about alien telepathy? Then you need the Thought Screen Helmet. For less than US$35 you can sleep at night or drive into secluded areas without a worry in the world – except that of course you are far more likely to be killed in a car accident than to have your mind controlled by beings from another world.

There has been a major development in the technology involving the manufacturing of tin foil hats. Michael Menkin runs the Stop Alien Abduction website and he has instructions on how to make your very own hat (made from a plastic resin rather than tin) that he claims that it will prevent the aliens from being able to communicate with people telepathically, which in turn will mean that potential abductees cannot be immobilised in order to be taken away for a probing.

Essentially to construct this amazing device, you take one standard hat and you stuff as many layers of Velostat into it as possible.

He has truly inspirational testimonials on the website such as:

“Since trying Michael Menkin’s Helmet, I have not been bothered by alien mind control. Now my thoughts are my own. I have achieved meaningful work and am contributing to society.

My life is better than ever before. Thank you Michael for the work you are doing to save all humanity.”

It truly requires an extraordinary worldview that is based upon either an incredibly strong personal experience (which is most likely to be explained through psychological explanations) or the reliance on a huge amount of flimsy evidence. The underlying assumptions of this technology include:

  • That there are intelligent aliens (which is in my view is quite possible)
  • That these aliens can travel vast distances
  • That these aliens visit the earth
  • That they can communicate telepathically
  • The aliens can immobilise you telepathically
  • That Velostat, a plastic resin, will prevent such communication.

The evidence supplied for the effectiveness of the hats is that:

“From 1999 to 2008 over 100 people abducted by aliens have reported using thought screen helmets and hats made with Velostat. Since 1999 only two abductees were taken when they wore thought screen helmets with Velostat. Most of the other abductees using thought screen helmets reported success. Some abductees could not be reached after they tried their thought screen helmets.”

So they were still abducted when they wore the hats, but then they were not abducted. It does not make sense.

However Menkin and his tin foiled collaborators appear to be a fringe group within a fringe group, UFOlogists have distanced themselves from these claims and have described the hats as ridiculous (see here). If only the UFOlogists could turn some of that skepticism onto some of their own claims.

How Perception can be Biased

10 07 2008

Perception Experiment

There has been new publication reported at Science Daily where researchers at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee have found that mental images can subsequently effect a person’s perception. The example provided in the news report was that when people see a mouse, they may continue to catch glimpses of imaginary mice for some time afterwards:

“…imagery, in the absence of any incoming visual signals, leads to the formation of a short-term sensory trace that can bias future perception, suggesting a means by which high-level processes that support imagination and memory retrieval may shape low-level sensory representations.” – Abstract

Such research into perception can be applied to some of the more bizarre things observed by people. If a person has an event that they interpret as paranormal or unusual such as a moving shadow or a UFO, the imagery of this event may subsequently cause them to reinterpret or alter any subsequent perception they may have in a similar environment. This could provide some explanations why some people may experience a number of similar paranormal or unusual incidents.

The study did find considerable variability in how it affects different people over time, so there will be underlying psychological characteristics that influence how people perceive images and interpret them. Some people will be more predisposed to the imagery influencing their perception than others and it would be interesting to for a study to look at people who regularly experience minor incidents of the paranormal to see if they are more predisposed to such a psychological phenomenon.

100 Years Since Tunguska Blast

3 07 2008

Photograph from the Soviet Academy of Science 1927 expedition led by Leonid Kulik.The 30th of June saw the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska Event in Russia.

For those of you not familiar with this event it was a massive explosion near the Stony Tunguska River in Siberia that knocked down 80 million trees in a 2,000 square kilometer area and it triggered seismographs around the world.

Over the years many wacky explanations have been put forward to explain it including a small black hole passing through the Earth, antimatter striking the Earth, and of course a UFO that crashed. Imagine that, navigating your way for hundreds, possibly thousands of light years, only to make some error or have a catastrophic mechanical failure right at the last moment…bugger!

The most likely explanation for this event is still something that is very cool and a phenomenon that one day may have a massive impact (mind the pun) on human civilization. In this case a meteor a few tens of metres across exploded in the atmosphere 6 to 10 km above the Earth’s surface with an explosion of about 15 megatons. Speculation about what it could be was driven by the a lack of understanding about meteors in the early part of last century and an apparent lack of a crater that would have provided an immediate indication that it was an object that had fallen from the heavens.

So then, what evidence is there to support that it was a meteor? Well to summarise:

  • Witnesses observed a bright object moving across the sky prior to the explosion, one witness said they watched it descend for 10 minutes.
  • Meteorites usually contain large amounts of nickel and studies of the trees in the vicinity of the explosion were found large amounts of nickel relative to iron. Other studies found that they also had other unusual ratios of metals when compared with samples taken from outside of the blast area that were consistent with meteorites.
  • When the 1908 layers in the bogs were examined in the blast area they were found to contain a number of elements whose isotopic signature did not match the normal decay of elements found elsewhere on Earth.
  • This layer was also found to contain the rare element iridium and similarities were noted with the K-T boundary at the dinosaurs extinction.
  • The ongoing monitoring of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere has determined that airbursts are a common occurrence.

So in all likelihood rather than it being little green men who have fallen asleep at the wheel after a long trip, a meteor is a more likely explanation. Tunguska is another excellent example of a mystery that with time and careful study it can be explained.