mystery and paranormal

‘Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge, which inadequate, fragmentary, or confused ideas involve.’ –Spinoza

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Beliefs in witches and sorcerers are disturbing and calamitous. Sterility, illness, death, rainstorms, burnt-down houses, bald spots, attacks from wild animals, lost foot races, lost reindeer races, the puzzling behavior of a friend or spouse – the enigmatic, the impactful, the bothersome – all can spark suspicions of neighbors using magic and dark powers; all can precipitate violence. The suspects are sometimes normal humans, learned in dark magic, but other times, rumored to be odious and other. They devour babies, fornicate with their menstruating mothers, and use human skulls for sports. They become bats and black panthers, house pythons in their stomachs, and direct menageries of attendant nightbirds. They plot the destruction of families and then dance in orgiastic night-fests. […]

In nearly every documented society, people believe that some misfortunes are attributable to malicious group mates employing magic or supernatural powers. Here I report cross-cultural patterns in these beliefs and propose a theory to explain them.

Using the newly-created Survey of Mystical Harm, I show that several conceptions of evil, mystical practitioners recur around the world, including sorcerers (who use learned spells), possessors of the evil eye (who transmit injury through their stares and words), and witches (who possess superpowers, pose existential threats, and engage in morally abhorrent acts).

I argue that these beliefs develop from three cultural selective processes — a selection for effective-seeming magic, a selection for plausible explanations of impactful misfortune, and a selection for demonizing myths that justify mistreatment. Separately, these selective schemes produce traditions as diverse as shamanism, conspiracy theories, and campaigns against heretics — but around the world, they jointly give rise to the odious and feared witch. […]

Societally-corrosive beliefs can persist when they are intuitively appealing or serve some believers’ agendas. […]

People are more likely to attribute injury to mystical harm when they lack alternative explanations. […]

The greater the impact of the misfortune, the more likely people are to attribute it to mystical harm.

{ SocArXiv | Continue reading }

bellissima gente, musica spettacolare, emozioni indelebili

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The Beast of Gévaudan is the historical name associated with the man-eating gray wolf, dog or wolfdog that terrorized the former province of Gévaudan, in south-central France between 1764 and 1767.

The attacks, which covered an area stretching 90 by 80 kilometres (56 by 50 mi), were said to have been committed by a beast or beasts that had formidable teeth and immense tails according to contemporary eyewitnesses.

Victims were often killed by having their throats torn out. The Kingdom of France used a considerable amount of manpower and money to hunt the animals, including the resources of several nobles, soldiers, civilians, and a number of royal huntsmen.

The number of victims differs according to sources. In 1987, one study estimated there had been 210 attacks; resulting in 113 deaths and 49 injuries; 98 of the victims killed were partly eaten. However, other sources claim it killed between 60 and 100 adults and children, as well as injuring more than 30.

According to modern scholars, public hysteria at the time of the attacks contributed to widespread myths that supernatural beasts roamed Gévaudan, but deaths attributed to a beast were more likely the work of a number of wolves or packs of wolves.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

The Beast preyed almost entirely on women and children living in isolated cottages and hamlets, often as they tended animals or gathered crops in open fields. Men and cattle were not to its liking. Nor, it seemed, were sheep and goats. […]

Sometimes La Bête attacked several times in one day or on successive days, often leaving the victim uneaten. Some witnesses said that it wore an armoured hide, perhaps that of a boar. One surviving victim claimed the beast walked on two legs. Several witnesses saw a man with La Bête.

{ History Today | Continue reading }

The king sent his own gun-bearer and bodyguard, François Antoine. Along with his son and a detachment of men, Antoine traipsed around the forested countryside in search of the beast. In September 1765, he shot and killed a large wolf. He had the body sent to the court at Versailles, received a reward from Louis XV, and accepted the villagers’ gratitude

Two brief months later the attacks recommenced.

For another 18 months, something continued to stalk the villagers of Gévaudan, with a reported 30 to 35 fatalities in that period. […]

Jean Chastel was a local farmer involved in a previous hunt, and thrown in prison [with his son Antoine Chastel] by François Antoine for misleading his men into a bog.

{ Smithsonian | Continue reading }

There were no killings when Jean and Antoine Chastel were in prison. The attacks resumed when they were liberated, and stopped only when Jean Chastel killed the animal.

{ Loren Coleman/FATE | Continue reading }

A 2009 investigation uncovered a potential culprit, Jean Chastel, the man said to have killed the second beast in June 1767. The investigators wondered how Chastel, a farmer, shot La Bête dead when the region’s finest wolf hunters could not. They concluded that La Bête must have been still for sometime, when Chastel shot it. It did not run from, or at, Chastel. Was La Bête tethered? Was this man its keeper?

As for motive, some have suggested that Chastel, or one of his sons, was a serial killer, and La Bête their way of covering up the crimes. Others claim that Chastel’s son had a hyena in his menagerie and a huge red mastiff that sired the monstrous offspring with a female wolf. […]

The body of the animal Chastel shot was taken to Versailles. By the time it reached the king the carcass had rotted and was ordered to be destroyed.

{ History Today | Continue reading }

Jean Chastel’s son Antoine was said to have lived as a hermit on Mount Mouchet, with a menagerie of beasts, including a hyena. Cryptozoologists have speculated that Antoine Chastel might have used this animal to attack the young boys and girls.

{ Loren Coleman/FATE | Continue reading | Note: “Fate is a U.S. magazine about paranormal phenomena” }

acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas { Jean-Michel Basquia, Peter and the Wolf, 1985 }

‘Maybe don’t expect us to ‘just know’ what all your color-coded espresso pods mean.’ –Tim Geoghegan

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A distant galaxy that appears completely devoid of dark matter has baffled astronomers and deepened the mystery of the universe’s most elusive substance.

The absence of dark matter from a small patch of sky might appear to be a non-problem, given that astronomers have never directly observed dark matter anywhere. However, most current theories of the universe suggest that everywhere that ordinary matter is found, dark matter ought to be lurking too, making the newly observed galaxy an odd exception. […]

Paradoxically, the authors said the discovery of a galaxy without dark matter counts as evidence that it probably does exist.

{ Guardian | Continue reading }

photo { Luc Kordas }

Ho hang! Hang ho! And the clash of our cries till we spring to be free.

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Why the Victorian era saw a surge in female births and war begets boys

There is empirical evidence that heavy sexual activity increases the chances that conception will occur before the most fertile time of the female cycle, as the woman may be pregnant by then. And the data also suggest that, possibly for hormonal reasons, such conceptions are slightly more likely to be boys. “It doesn’t take much imagination to suppose that the ends of wars, with servicemen home on leave or returning home, are associated with fairly intense sex – more babies were born in the UK in 1919 than any other year in history. Put all these together and you get the conclusion – frantic fornication breeds boys.”

[…]

Which brings us back to the mysterious surge of female births in the late Victorian period. Could it be that, in the same vein in which heavy sexual activity increases the sex ratio, a  trend towards sexual inactivity lowers it? “Victorian morality” distinguished itself through a set of values that espoused sexual restraint, with an increased condemnation of masturbation and sexual activity in general, repressing any form of sexuality other than penetrative intercourse. And indeed, statistics reflect a steady decline of sexual activity throughout the Victorian period, reaching its lowest point in the year 1898. But as there was less sex going on, conception tended to occur around the most fertile time of the months, bestowing a (relative) excess of baby girls on the Victorians.

{ Rolf Degen | Continue reading }

Hypothesis 1

Up to circa two decades age, it was generally supposed – but without hard supporting evidence – that pregnant women exposed to adverse environmental circumstances were at increased risk of foetal loss, and that male foetuses were at greater risk than female foetuses; and that therefore the liveborn infants produced by stressed women contained a higher proportion of daughters. That hard evidence has now been accumulated in a series of papers by Catalano and colleagues, and others.

Using time-series analysis, it has been shown that the Sex ratios at birth (SRB) briefly declined, slightly but significantly, some three to five months after many catastrophic and other adverse events e.g. the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001; the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969–1998), the Breivik shooting in 2011 in Norway, the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 in Connecticut; the assassination of President Kennedy [though the effect in this case was more marked in non-White than White births]. […]

Thus there is overwhelming evidence that sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by maternal stress-induced selective culling of frail males in utero, resulting in a conception cohort with a low sex ratio at birth. It has also been postulated that the ratio may be skewed because of fertilization of non-optimally matured oocytes under these circumstances. Moreover, it has also been hypothesized that higher coital rates will lead to ejaculation of newly formed spermatozoa cells, possibly leading to a preponderance of Y-sperm since it is also hypothesized that X-sperm age faster and are eliminated earlier.

However, it will be appreciated that selective culling of frail males during pregnancy cannot explain some of the established variations of SRB. First, it cannot explain why some reported sex ratios are higher than prevailing norms. Second, it cannot explain why these norms almost always exceed 0.5 (equal numbers of males and females).

Hypothesis 2

It has been hypothesized that human sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by the parental hormone levels of both parents around the time of conception. Ex hypothesi, high levels of testosterone (in either parent) and/or of oestrogen (in the mother), are associated with subsequent male births. And high levels of gonadotrophins (in either parent) are associated with subsequent female births. Most of this evidence is observational and correlational, and is in accordance with the hypothesis of Trivers & Willard.

{ Early Human Development | Continue reading }

lithograph { Ellsworth Kelly, Small Blue Curve, 2013 }

What majesty should be, what duty is, Why day is day, night night, and time is time

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{ This Brooklyn Heights fake townhouse is actually a subway emergency exit }

Life offers second chances, it’s called tomorrow

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Simulation suggests 68 percent of the universe may not actually exist

According to the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (Lambda-CDM) model, which is the current accepted standard for how the universe began and evolved, the ordinary matter we encounter every day only makes up around five percent of the universe’s density, with dark matter comprising 27 percent, and the remaining 68 percent made up of dark energy, a so-far theoretical force driving the expansion of the universe. But a new study has questioned whether dark energy exists at all, citing computer simulations that found that by accounting for the changing structure of the cosmos, the gap in the theory, which dark energy was proposed to fill, vanishes.

{ New Atlas | Continue reading }

art { Portia Munson, Her Coffin, 2016 }

cloaked in the pall of the ace of spaces

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With tens or even hundreds of billions of potentially habitable planets within our galaxy, the question becomes: are we alone?

Many scientists and commentators equate “more planets” with “more E.T.s”. However, the violence and instability of the early formation and evolution of rocky planets suggests that most aliens will be extinct fossil microbes.

Just as dead dinosaurs don’t walk, talk or breathe, microbes that have been fossilised for billions of years are not easy to detect by the remote sampling of exoplanetary atmospheres.

In research published [PDF] in the journal Astrobiology, we argue that early extinction could be the cosmic default for life in the universe. This is because the earliest habitable conditions may be unstable. […] Inhabited planets may be rare in the universe, not because emergent life is rare, but because habitable environments are difficult to maintain during the first billion years.

Our suggestion that the universe is filled with dead aliens might disappoint some, but the universe is under no obligation to prevent disappointment.

{ The Conversation | Continue reading }

previously { Where is the Great Filter? Behind us, or not behind us? If the filter is in our past, there must be some extremely improbable step in the sequence of events whereby an Earth-like planet gives rise to an intelligent species comparable in its technological sophistication to our contemporary human civilization. }

still { The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951 }

‘You speak an infinite deal of nothing.’ –Shakespeare

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The present study investigated whether gut feelings — commonly reported visceral sensations that are virtually synonymous with intuitive hunches — may involve information gained by nonordinary means.

[…]

Objective: Investigate whether the gut feelings of one person, as measured with an electrogastrogram (EGG), respond to the emotions of a distant person.

[…]

This experiment suggests that some somatic feelings may be associated with perceptions transcending ordinary sensory capabilities. Of course, it would be imprudent to assume that all gut feelings necessarily contain intuitive information, as on occasion visceral sensations reflect little more than a bad burrito. But assuming that future studies can successfully replicate the present results, it may turn out that the “belly brain” is more perceptive than previously suspected, and that common reports of gut feelings having special intuitive qualities may have a basis in fact.

{ The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medecine | PDF }

image { thanks Tim }

The night that hides things from us

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Penrose and many others argue from practical considerations, Godel’s theorem, and on philosophical grounds, that consciousness or awareness is non-algorithmic and so cannot be generated by a system that can be described by classical physics, such as a conventional computer, but could perhaps be generated by a system requiring a quantum (Hilbert space) description. Penrose suspects that aspects of quantum physics not yet understood might be needed to explain consciousness. In this paper we shall see that only known quantum physics is needed to explain perception.

{ James A. Donald | Continue reading }

photo { Martin Parr }

‘The road up and the road down is one and the same.’ –Heraclitus

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Our best theories of physics imply we shouldn’t be here. The Big Bang ought to have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter particles, which would almost immediately annihilate each other, leaving nothing but light.

So the reality that we are here – and there seems to be very little antimatter around – is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in physics.

In 2001, Tanmay Vachaspati from Arizona State University offered a purely theoretical solution. Even if matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts, he suggested that as they annihilated each other, they would have briefly created monopoles and antimonopoles – hypothetical particles with just one magnetic pole, north or south.

As the monopoles and antimonopoles in turn annihilated each other, they would produce matter and antimatter. But because of a quirk in nature called CP violation, that process would be biased towards matter, leaving the matter-filled world we see today.

If that happened, Vachaspati showed that there should be a sign of it today: twisted magnetic fields permeating the universe. […] So Vachaspati and his colleagues went looking for them in data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma ray Space Telescope.

{ New Scientist | Continue reading }

related { Rogue antimatter found in thunderclouds }

And shall not Babel be with Lebab?

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Sex in reptiles and fish is determined after conception, during embryogenesis, according to ambient environmental temperature. In contrast, in mammals and birds, sex is determined at conception.

In mammals, male births invariably occur slightly in excess […] with approximately 3% more males born than females. The reason for this discrepancy is uncertain as testicles produce equal numbers of X-bearing and Y-bearing spermatozoa. […]

We have shown that M/F varies in geographical space, exhibiting a latitude gradient, and that this gradient is different in Europe and North America, with more males born towards the south of Europe, compared with the North American continent where more males are born towards the north of the continent.

Other studies have also shown that M/F may vary with time. Several authors have shown that M/F has declined over the second half of the 20th century in various industrialised countries. These include Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the United States of America, and Finland. In contrast, M/F has been noted to have risen in Ireland over the same period. A non-significant rise in M/F has also been noted in Australia and Japan.

{ J Epidemiol Community Health | Continue reading }

A wide variety of factors have been shown to influence the male to female ratio at birth, which invariably displays a male excess. […] It will be shown that stress, including stress related to political events, influences this ratio.

{ Early Human Development | Continue reading }

related { Study: ”Woman on top” is the most dangerous sex position, responsible for half of all penile fractures }

‘But as the power of Hellas grew, and the acquisition of wealth became more an objective, the revenues of the states increasing, tyrannies were established almost everywhere.’ —Thucydides

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