Daily Archives: August 24th, 2009

From Tin-foil to Science

Some tin-foil to science stuff: via Daily Mail:

Scientists are only months away from  creating artificial life, it was claimed yesterday.

Dr Craig Venter – one of the world’s most famous and controversial biologists – said his U.S. researchers have overcome one of the last big hurdles to making a synthetic organism.


The first artificial lifeform is likely to be a simple man-made bacterium that proves that the technology can work.

But it will be followed by more complex bacteria that turn coal into cleaner natural gas, or algae that can soak up carbon dioxide and convert it into fuels.

They could also be used to create new vaccines and antibiotics.

The prediction came after a breakthrough by the J Craig Venter Institute in Maryland.

Researchers successfully transferred
the DNA of one type of bacteria into a yeast cell, modified it and then transferred it into another bacterial cell.

The pioneering ‘gene swap’ was performed on a simple species of bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides.

Carole Lartigue and colleagues removed the bacteria’s entire genome and inserted it into the yeast – an organism that is distant from bacteria on the tree of life.

Yeast is easier to manipulate in the lab and this process allowed the team to alter the genes – in this case, deleting one gene not necessary for bacteria to live.

The cell went on to divide normally, producing a new healthy strain of the modified bacteria.

In January, the team created the entire genetic code of a new bacterium. They now hope to transfer such artificial DNA into a host cell to create a new species, the journal Science reported.

Yesterday Dr Venter said: ‘Assuming we don’t make any errors, I think it should work and we should have the first synthetic species by the end of the year.’

The team successfully transplanted the genome of one bacteria into another for the first time in 2007.

They then created the first entirely man-made genome. But previous attempts to introduce the synthetic genome into another organism and take control of the new bacteria all failed.


Man-made organisms will be created ‘with-in months.’


If one happens to believe in anthropocentric global warming, could we ‘geo-engineer our way out of it?

Via Time:

As we pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’re doing more than warming the planet and scrambling the climate. We’re also conducting what climatologist James Hansen has called a “vast uncontrolled experiment.” In effect, we’re on our way to engineering a world very different from the one we were handed. Belatedly, we’re trying to turn off the carbon spigot, hoping that by incrementally reducing the emissions we’ve spent a couple of centuries pouring into the air we can stop the climate slide before it’s too late.

But what if we can’t do that? What if it turns out that slashing carbon emissions enough to make a difference — and it seems that means cutting output at least in half by midcentury — is economically and politically impossible? Do we need a Plan B?

A small but growing number of researchers are beginning to say yes. If we geoengineered the earth into a mess with our uncontrolled appetite for fossil fuels, maybe we have to geoengineer our way out of it — in effect, directly cooling the planet via a controlled experiment to counteract our uncontrolled one. Indeed, according to a just-published paper for the Copenhagen Consensus on Climate — a think tank studying inexpensive solutions to climate change — geoengineering might not only be a good way to bring rising temperatures under short-term control while we wait for the longer-term fix of cutting carbon emissions to take hold, it might be the only way.

“The potential benefits of geoengineering are really very large,” says Lee Lane, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a co-author of the paper.

There are a number of potential approaches to geoengineering, but the most popular ones focus on controlling the amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface. Climate — in its simplest terms — is the rough relationship between the amount of solar energy that strikes the earth and the amount that is retained by the atmosphere, as opposed to being radiated or reflected back into space. In this sense, the greenhouse effect is not all bad. Without a little bit of it, the earth would be a cold, dead place, with an average temperature as low as -0.4°F. Unfortunately, by adding CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we have, in a sense, thrown another quilt on the planet when we were perfectly comfortable to begin with.


Can Geoengineering Help Slow Global Warming?

Heh, heh, Beware the Enlightened Ones!

From the Fortean Times:

DAVID HAMBLING traces the hidden history of the most notorious conspiracy of all time, while DAVID V BARRETT assesses its modern legacy.

Once, the Illuminati were barely a rumour. An ancient conspiracy manipulating humankind for their own dark purposes, they were the hidden hand behind history. They infiltrated the corridors of power via groups like the Freemasons, starting revolutions and toppling kingdoms. They gained control of the international banking system, allowing them to covertly rule the world.

In recent years, though, this blanket of secrecy has been gradually lifted. Now the secrecy has been eroded. First, in 1975, there were the three books later published as the single-volume The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson; then there was a best-selling game; these days, the Illuminati crop up in every corner of popular culture, from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons to Tomb Raider. But the truth about the Illuminati remains as elusive as ever.

As a political conspiracy, the group known as the Bavarian Illuminati was actually very short-lived. A secret society dedicated to spreading republicanism, it was founded in 1776 and outlawed in 1790, after which it ceased to function. While they caused much alarm, the Bavarian Illuminati were notably unsuccessful as revolutionaries. They may have inspired other groups, but there is little evidence that the Illumin­ati themselves endured as a political force. However, this group was the artificial creat­ion of one man – and an imitation of a far older and more influent­ial Illuminati. And to find out about them we must travel back to 16th-century Spain.

For centuries, most of Spain was under Moorish rule, with Muslims, Jews and Christians living peacefully together in what has been described as a golden age of the arts and sciences. However, by the late Middle Ages the Moorish kingdoms were falling one by one to Christian conquerors, a process known as the Reconquista. The new regime had a slogan: “One country, one faith”. Having expelled the Moors, they next decided to resolve the ‘Jewish question’.

There had been public violence against the Jews since 1391, followed by a strong pressure on them to convert. In 1492, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella issued a final edict that Jews must be bapt­ised into the Catholic Church or be expelled from Spain. Many left, but others stayed, and the many thousands of Conversos, or ‘New Christians’, now made up much of Spain’s educated urban middle class.

Ironically, then, the effect of the edict was perhaps precisely the opposite of what was intended: Converso families who had previously been shunned for their religion were now equal to their neighbours. Conversos could occupy public office, and frequently did, often rising to high position. Converso authors and poets contributed greatly to Spanish culture; even Cervantes, Spain’s greatest author, may have come from such a family. [1] And the Church now found itself faced with a new generation of young priests from Converso stock.

Prejudice dies hard, and many Old Christ­ians deeply resented their new brothers in religion. Inevitably, conspiracy theories began to surface, suggesting that the Conversos were infiltrating the state and the Church in order to take them over. The idea was popularised by Friar Alonso de Espina in a 1466 tract, Fortalitium Fidei Contra Judaeos (Fortress of Faith against the Jews).

A chronicler in Seville recorded a plot by a group of senior Conversos against the authorities in 1481. They were gathering men and arms for a revolt, and believed that they could get the people to support them. But the plotters were betrayed – the beautiful daughter of their leader was in love with a Christian – arrested, and the ringleaders publicly executed. The story provided justification for later generations who believed that the Conversos could not be trusted. It was not until the 20th century that historian Henry Kamen proved the whole thing was a complete fabrication. [2]

Laws of racial purity were passed to prevent those with Jewish blood from holding public office, and in 1478 a new organisation was set up to deal with religious subversion: the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition was zealous in following up any allegation that Conversos might be secretly following their old religion and, using torture and psychological terror, set about ensuring that nobody strayed from the true path.

Many Conversos were sincere Christians, and they brought new ideas into Christianity. In 1511, Spain saw the first stirrings of a movement whose followers were called Illuminati in Latin or Alumbrados in Spanish. In English, we might call them ‘Enlightened Ones’. Pedro Ruiz de Alcaraz preached a form of Christianity which involved contemplation to achieve the mystical experience of seeing the Light of God directly. The Alumbrados emphasised the power of God’s love and the ineffectiveness of human effort – including even that of the Church. For them, ecstatic vision and personal communion replaced ecclesiastical ritual and priestly mediation.

A few Alumbrados came from old aristo­cratic families, but the majority were Conversos. In the 1520s, the Inquisition established that the Alumbrados were heretical and set about exterminating them. The movement was forced into hiding. For curious political reasons, the Alumbrados were accused, and frequently convicted, of being Protestant Lutherans, an entirely unrelated ‘heresy’. It’s a bit like convicting Buddhists of being Hindu, and must have added a surreal (even Pythonesque) air to the trials.

Ignatius of Loyola was among those accused of being an Alumbrado. [3] Cleared, he became a priest and founded the Order of Jesus or Jesuits, which became a powerful elite acting under the direct authority of the Pope. The Jesuits also had a lasting hostility to the Inquisition, although it was Jesuit influence that helped end Illuminism in Spain; rather than opposing mysticism, they embraced it, making the Church more appealing to would-be Alumbrados. The movement didn’t completely die out, though, resurfacing in France as the Illumines. But, as a major religious movement, Illuminism had lost its momentum.

The Spanish experience contains all the elements associated with the Illuminati. A movement inspired by visionaries defies the established order; it faces a society racked by a fear of infiltration; and there is a violent reaction, driving the movement underground. The popular image of the Illuminati as we know them – a conspiracy against society, perpetrated by Jews – was born.

Where did the Alumbrado heresy come from? Mainstream Jewish thought certainly does not encourage the rejection of religious authorities in favour of a direct personal approach to a God of light. But such a belief is the hallmark of the mystical Jewish movement known as Kabbalah.

Derived from the word for ‘to receive’, Kabb­alah – also spelled Cabala or Qabbalah – is a tradition which deals with the understanding of God and personal mystical experience. The major work of the Kabbalah is the Sefer Zohar or Book of Splendour, compiled in Spain by Moses of Leon around 1280. Although he claimed the contents were derived from much earlier sources, modern scholars believe that the Zohar was Moses de Leon’s own work, a synthesis of the thinking of the time and his own new material. [3] By couching it in traditional form and writing in Aramaic, he gave the Zohar more authority and made its new ideas acceptable to his contemporary audience, thus avoiding charges of heresy from more orthodox scholars.

The Kabbalah is a theology of light in which the Universe is described in terms of 10 ‘sephiroth’ – attributes or aspects of God. These are described as spheres through which the light of God is transmitted to mankind. The sephiroth give shape to the divine light and are separate but also one with it “in the same way as the rays which proceed from the light are simply manifestations of one and the same light”.

Each of the sephiroth has its own name and qualities, including ‘Binah’ or Understanding, ‘Hokhmah’ or Wisdom and so on. Each relates to the others in particular ways  and they form a structure which is described in terms of a tree or a primordial human figure, Adam Kadmon. As the first created being and link between mankind and God, Adam Kadmon is involved in the creation and also the redemption of the world, when evil will finally be expunged. Matters then get progressively more complex: emanating from the 10 sephiroth is a second world of another 10, which is the physical world we know. There are also third and fourth worlds, occupied by hosts of named angels and demons, each with particular attributes.

Names are very important in the Kabbalah, as the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are literally the building blocks of the Universe. God created the world through the act of naming. The combinations of letters encompass everything that ever has been or will be.

This gives rise to the hermeneutical aspect of Kabbalah, a way of decoding messages concealed in the scriptures. There are three different techniques:
Temura: changing the letters of words to create other words by anagrams
Gemetria: in which letters have numerical values and can be compared with other numbers or words
Notarokon: making words from the initials of phrases (so “Ateh Gibor le-Olam Adonai” – “Thou art mighty forever, Lord” becomes AGLA).

This provided Renaissance Kabbalists with a great deal of occupation as they painstakingly shuffled words and numbers to reveal the secret truths about the Universe and to uncover the many powerful names of God. They calculated, for example, that there are exactly 301,655,172 angels in the Universe. What their modern counterparts can do with the aid of computer technology can scarcely be imagined. [4]

It is this side that gives rise to “practical Kabbalah”. The Zohar contains details of how to communicate with hidden powers, explaining how to command angels and demons to influence nature, cure disease, curse enemies, predict the future and perform other wonders. For example, a piece of Kabbalah folklore allows a married couple to predict which of them will die first, by adding the numbers of their names together and seeing if the result is odd or even.

The Alumbrados appeared in areas such as Toledo, which were previously centres for Kabbalism, and although they seem to have lacked the scholarship of the Kabbalah, the core idea of personal experience of God’s light persisted. This may be because Conversos maintained only their oral traditions after the loss of their Hebrew and Aramaic books. Interestingly, many Alumbrado leaders were women, a group which would not in any case have had access to the written component of the Kabbalah.

If the Alumbrados represented the resurfacing of an oral tradition, then the scholarly tradition of the Kabbalah also survived and thrived elsewhere. Spain was the great centre of Kabbalistic learning, and the expulsion of Jews spread Kabbalists to North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, Palestine and Italy. The latter was to prove significant, as the humanist philosopher Pico Della Mirandolla picked up the Kabbalah and Christianised it. Mirandolla explained Kabbalah as a theology which predicted Christianity and contained many of the same elements. (The Christian version is often spelled Cabbala to distinguish it from Jewish Kabbalah.)

In 1494, a leading theologian, Johannes Reuchlin wrote De verbo mirifico, in which he showed that the Biblical name of God, the Hebrew letters YHWH, could be miraculously transformed into JESUS by Cabbalistic means. Adam Kadmon was  also identified with Jesus.

The Catholic Church eventually ruled against Cabbala, concluding: “Its speculations concerning God’s nature and relation to the Universe differ materially from the teachings of Revelation.” [5] Its study was considered heretical, and practical Cabbala was a black art, driven underground once again. This did nothing to destroy its popularity, and Cabbala became a staple of Renaissance magic; it also gave rise to the word ‘Cabal’ for a group of plotters.

Cabbala has appeared either overtly or in concealed form in much occult teaching since then. It was borrowed, adapted and built upon; in modern terms, unlicensed pirate copies were in free circulation. Its ancient pedigree gives it authority, its dense scholarship lends it weight and depth, making Cabbala the ideal ingredient to add to any philosophy for an instant boost – the monosodium glutam­ate of the occult.

Scratch the surface of Freemasonry and you find the Cabbala. Rosicrucianism is rife with it. It lies at the heart of esoteric religious groups like the OTO, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley’s ‘magick’. None of this could be described as pure, but then Cabbalistic scholarship has never been pure. Since the earliest days, there have been cross-currents with other philosophies, most notably the first-century Gnostics, Hermetic philsophy, Persian Zoroastrians and the even earlier Pythagoreans. It is quite possible – and hotly debated – that the ‘original’ Kabbalah may have come from one of these sources and was only later adopted into Judaism. Adam Kadmon looks rather similar to the Persian Adam Qadmaia, the hidden Adam. There is no continuous ancient tradition, but an unceasing blending and development of ideas.

However, new developments can always do with an impressive lineage to back them up, and everyone – from the Freemasons to Moses de Leon to the first-century Kabbalists – who invoked Moses has tended to invent an ancient pedigree to support their own ideas.

The Enlightened Ones