Category Archives: evolution

Year Six, and the Future

As this blog enters its sixth anniversary this month, I have never given much thought of it lasting this long. In fact, it almost ended last year when I took a long hiatus due to health issues; both for myself and my wife.

But as time went on and both my wife and I slowly recovered, I discovered I still had some things to say. And I realized the world never stopped turning in the meanwhile.

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As I started to post again, the personal site Facebook became a semi-intelligent force unto itself. I say ‘semi-intelligent’ because it is spreading exponentially due to its posting of its games and constant proliferation of personal info unannounced and unapproved by individuals. And people, especially young folks don’t care this happens.

Distributed networks, mainly Facebook, Google and the World Wide Web in general are forms of distributed Artificial Intelligence. Does that mean we are in the early throes of the Technological Singularity?

I think we are IMO.

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And if we are in the early upward curve of the Technological Singularity, how would that affect our theories of ancient intelligence in the Universe?

Well, I think we should seriously rethink our theories and consider how the Fermi Paradox might figure into this. Thinkers such as George Dyvorsky have written a few treatises on the subject and I believe they should be given due consideration by mainstream science. (The Fermi Paradox: Back With a Vengeance).

Speaking of mainstream science, it is slowly, but surely accepting the fact the Universe is filled with ancient stars and worlds. And if there’s a possibility the Universe has ancient worlds, there’s a chance there might be anicent Intelligences inhabiting these worlds:

Ancient-world

The announcement of a pair of planets orbiting a 12.5 billion-year old star flies in the face of conventional wisdom that the earliest stars to be born in the Universe shouldn’t possess planets at all.

12.5 billion years ago, the primeval universe was just beginning to make heavier elements beyond hydrogen and helium, in the fusion furnace cores of the first stars. It follows that there was very little if any material for fabricating terrestrial worlds or the rocky seed cores of gas giant planets.

ANALYSIS: Most Ancient, ‘Impossible’ Alien Worlds Discovered

This argument has been used to automatically rule out the ancient and majestic globular star clusters that orbit our galaxy as intriguing homes for extraterrestrials.

The star that was announced to have two planets is not in a globular cluster (it lives inside the Milky Way, although it was most likely a part of a globular cluster that was cannibalized by our galaxy), but it is similarly anemic as the globular cluster stars because it is so old.

This discovery dovetails nicely with last year’s announcement of carbon found in a distant, ancient radio galaxy. These findings both suggest that there were enough heavy elements in the early universe to make planets around stars, and therefore life.

Sweeps

PHOTOS: Top Exoplanets for Alien Life

However, a Hubble Space Telescope search for planets in the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae in 1999 came up empty-handed. Hubble astronomers monitored 34,000 stars over a period of eight days. The prediction was that some fraction of these stars should have “hot Jupiters” that whirl around their star over a period of days (pictured here in an artist’s rendition). They would be detected if their orbits were tilted edge-on to Earth so the stars would briefly grow dimmer during each transit of a planet.

A similar survey of the galactic center by Hubble in 2006 came up with 16 hot Jupiter planet candidates. This discovery was proof of concept and helped pave the way for the Kepler space telescope planet-hunting mission.

Why no planets in a globular cluster? For a start, globular clusters are more crowded with stars than our Milky Way — as is evident in the observation of the dwarf galaxy M9 below. “It may be that the environment in a globular was too harsh for planets to form,” said Harvey Richer of the University of British Columbia. “Planetary disks are pretty fragile things and could be easily disrupted in such an environment with a high stellar density.”

ANALYSIS: Many Dwarfs Died In the Making of This Galaxy

However, in 2007 Hubble found a 2.7 Jupiter mass planet inside the globular cluster M4. The planet is in a very distant orbit around a pulsar and a white dwarf. This could really be a post-apocalypse planet that formed much later in a disk of debris that followed the collapse of the companion star into a white dwarf, or the supernova explosion itself.

M9

Hubble is now being used to look for the infrared glow of protoplanetary disks in 47 Tucanae. The disks would be so faint that the infrared sensitivity of the planned James Webb Space Telescope would be needed to carry out a more robust survey.

If planets did form in the very early in the universe, life would have made use of carbon and other common elements as it did on Earth billions of years ago. Life around a solar-type star, or better yet a red dwarf, would have a huge jump-start on Earth’s biological evolution. The earliest life forms would have had the opportunity to evolve for billions of years longer than us.

This inevitably leads to speculation that there should be super-aliens who are vastly more evolved than us. So… where are they? My guess is that if they existed, they evolved to the point where they abandoned bodies of flesh and blood and transformed themselves into something else — be it a machine or something wildly unimaginable.

However, it’s clear that despite (or, because of) their super-intelligence, they have not done anything to draw attention to themselves. The absence of evidence may set an upper limit on just how far advanced a technological civilization may progress — even over billions of years.

Keep in mind that most of the universe would be hidden from beings living inside of a globular star cluster. The sky would be ablaze with so many stars that it would take a long time for alien astronomers to simply stumble across the universe of external galaxies — including our Milky Way.

There will be other searches for planets in globular clusters. But our present understanding makes the question of a Methuselah civilization even more perplexing. If the universe made carbon so early, then ancient minds should be out there, somewhere.

Methuselah civilizations eh?

Sure. If there are such civilizations out there, it is because they wish to remain in the physical realm and not cross over to the inner places of shear mental and god-like powers.

The problem is; are they altruistic like Iain Banks’ “Culture” or are they like civilizations Dr. Stephen Hawking warned us about?

As with all things ‘Future’, the answer could come crashing down upon us faster than we are prepared for.

Could Ancient Aliens Live On Methuselah Planets?

As usual, thanks to the Daily Grail.

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Ancient Australians and the Americas

There has been a theory during the past decade that stated that the ancient Olmecs of Mexico were descended from Africans or Australians because of statuary that was left over from their civilization.

Now there has been a discovery of a skeleton of an ancient woman that may provide an important link to the puzzle:

Cranial features distinctive to Australian Aborigines are present in hundreds of skulls that have been uncovered in Central and South America, some dating back to over 11,000 years ago.

Evolutionary biologist Walter Neves of the University of São Paulo, whose findings are reported in a cover story in the latest issue of Cosmos magazine, has examined these skeletons and recovered others, and argues that there is now a mass of evidence indicating that at least two different populations colonised the Americas.

He and colleagues in the United States, Germany and Chile argue that first population was closely related to the Australian Aborigines and arrived more than 11,000 years ago.

Cranial morphology

The second population to arrive was of humans of ‘Mongoloid’ appearance – a cranial morphology distinctive of people of East and North Asian origin – who entered the Americas from Siberia and founded most (if not all) modern Native American populations, he argues.

“The results suggest a clear biological affinity between the early South Americans and the South Pacific population. This association allowed for the conclusion that the Americas were occupied before the spreading of the classical Mongoloid morphology in Asia,” Neves says.

Until about a decade ago, the dominant theory in American archaeology circles was that the ‘Clovis people’ – whose culture is defined by the stone tools they used to kill megafauna such as mammoths – was the first population to arrive in the Americas.

Clovis culture

They were thought to have crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into Alaska at the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 or so years ago, following herds of megafauna across a land bridge created as water was locked up in glaciers and ice sheets.

But in the late 1990s, Neves and his colleagues re-examined a female skeleton that had been excavated in the 1970s in an extensive cave system in Central Brazil known as Lapa Vermelha.

The skeleton – along with a treasure trove of other finds – had been first unearthed by a Brazilian-French archaeological team that disbanded shortly after its leader, Annette Laming-Emperare, died suddenly. A dispute between participants kept the find barely examined for more than a decade.

The oldest female skeleton, dubbed Luzia, is between 11,000 and 11,400 years old. The dating is not exact because the material in the bones used for dating – collagen – has long since degraded; hence, only the layers of charcoal or sediment above and below the skeleton could be dated.

“We believe she is the oldest skeleton in the Americas,” Neves said.

Luzia has a very projected face; her chin sits out further than her forehead, and she has a long, narrow brain case, measured from the eyes to the back of the skull; as well as a low nose and low orbits, the space where the eyes sit.

These facial features are indicative of what Neves calls the ‘generalised cranial morphology’ – the morphology of anatomically modern humans, who first migrated out of Africa more than 100,000 years ago, and made it as far as Australia some 50,000 years ago, and Melanesia 40,000 years ago.

New finds in seven sites

When Neves first announced his discovery of Luzia in the late 1990s, he faced criticism from a number of archaeologists, who claimed the dating was not accurate. He has since returned to excavate four other sites, and is still cataloguing skeletons from the most recent dig.

In total, there are now hundreds of skeletons with the cranial morphology similar to Australian Aborigines, found in seven sites – as far north as Florida in the United States to Palli Aike in southern Chile.

In 2005, he published a paper in the U.S journal,Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysing the characteristics of a further 81 skeletons he recovered from one of four sites, in which he said strengthened his argument that there were migrations to the Americas from at least two major populations.

Not related to Native Americans

In June 2010 in the journal PLoS ONE, Neves and colleagues Mark Hubbe of Chile’s Northern Catholic University and Katerina Harvati from Germany’s University of Tübingen, showed that it was not possible for the Aborigine-like skeletons to be the direct ancestors of the Native Americans.

Nor was it possible for the two populations to share a last common ancestor at the time of the first entrance into the continent, they argued, based on the 57 cranial measurements that can be made on a skull.

So far, almost all DNA studies of Native Americans points to a single entry from Siberia. This may mean that the original population died out, or simply that DNA studies have been too narrow, argue a number of archaeologists.

I’m also curious as to why DNA studies have failed to trace the genetic ancestry of some of these tribes. Perhaps they have been too narrow in scope.

After all, to find otherwise would upset the known paradigm.

Did Australian Aborigines reach America first?

hat tip

Interstellar Red Rain

Red Rain is a phenomenon that seems to be rare and has strange properties. Many papers have been written and this one in 2001 by Rajkumar Gangappa, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Milton Wainwright, A. Santhosh Kumar and Godfrey Louis theorize that Red Rain cells when nurtured and incubated actually start to grow.
This is interesting since they also theorize that Red Rain has an interstellar origin:
Following incubation at 121oC for 1 hour and longer, a marked change occurs in the internal appearance of the Red Rain cells (Fig.4 c (i) and d (i)), as small cells appear in the original larger cells. These small cells can be regarded as “daughter cells” having the same morphology as their “mother cells”. The size of the daughter cells ,after 1h exposure to 121oC, ranges from 30 nm to 120 nm in size (Fig 4 c (i), (ii) and b (i), (ii)). The cell wall of these daughter cells is seen to thicken following incubation for 2hours (Fig.5 (i) and (ii)).
In conclusion, the results of the present study clearly establishes that red cells discovered in the Kerala rain, replicate at 121oC and that there is a significant increase in the number of cells after incubation at 121oC. Furthermore, optical microscopy and electron microscopy of post-incubated red cells confirms that these cells are hyperthermophiles. The formation of daughter cells having the same morphology as the mother cells clearly shows that Red Rain Cells are not single endospores, such as those seen in bacteria, such as species of Bacillus and Clostridium.
The optimum growth conditions and upper temperature limit of these cells is yet to be determined. Although autoclaving at 121oC for 20 mins kills most microorganims, some spores of Bacillus and Clsotridium species can resist this treatment and germinate to form vegetative cells when incubated at lower temperatures (Hyum et al,1983,Vessoni,et al.1996). Here, however, we have shown that, unlike heat resistant bacterial spores, Red Rain cells grow and produce daughter calls when incubated at 121oC for 2 hours. The results of these experiments show the remarkable ability of Red Rain cells to grow and replicate at 121oC and thereby supports the hyperthermostability of red cells, as reported by Louis and Kumar (2003); no attempt however, was made to confirm their claims that Red Rain cells grow at 300oC.
The origin of Red Rain, and the cells that it contains, has yet to be discovered, although the results of this study suggest that, since such cells are adapted to growth and reproduction at high temperatures, they likely originate in an extreme environment which is at times exposed to high temperatures; whether such environments occur on Earth, or elsewhere, has yet to be determined. (Emphasis mine).
[…]
While the origin of the red rain cells remains uncertain, the possibility of their astronomical relevance has been suggested in several papers (Louis and Kumar, 2003, 2006). In this connection, the hyperthermophile properties discussed in the present paper and the unusual fluorescence behaviour are worthy of note.
We conclude this section by comparing spectra in Fig 7 with astronomical spectra of a fluorescnence phenomenon (ERE emission) for which no convincing abiotic model is still available, Fig 9 shows normalised ERE emission in several astronomical objects and Fig 10 shows the same emission in the famous Red Rectangle, a nebulosity associated with a planetary nebula (Witt and Boronson, 1990; Furton and Witt, 1992, Perrin et al, 1995, Hoyle and Wickramsinghe, 1996). Although non-biological PAH explanations are still being attempted their success has so far been minimal.
[…]
A spectrum of starlight from a blue star could provide the range of excitaton wavelengths that corresponds to those involved in Fig. [7]. The correspondence of profile and peak fluorescence wavelength between the red rain spectra and the ERE spectrum of the red rectangle is impressive. We conclude this paper with a recollection of an earlier comment published by Hoyle and Wickramasinghe:
“Once again the Universe gives the appearance of being biologically constructed, and on this occasion on a truly vast scale. Once again those who consider such thoughts to be too outlandish to be taken seriously will continue to do so. While we ourselves shall continue to take the view that those who believe they can match the complexities of the Universe by simple experiments in their laboratories will continue to be disappointed.” (Emphasis mine).
Very interesting indeed. Red cells from interstellar space that resemble red blood cells ?
Do we live in a biological Universe where Panspermia runs wild?
Or are we reading the signs wrong?



Constellation Project’s Expensive Funeral / Shrimp, Jellyfish Under Ice

In the NASA FY2011 Budget, there is $2.5 billion $macker$ assigned to the closure of Constellation Program contracts.

Au contrare says Elizabeth Robinson, the former Office of Management and Budget career official appointed by President Barack Obama as the space agency’s chief financial officer:

[…]

the funds are not intended to cover contract termination liability — the cost to a contractor and NASA of shutting down contractor facilities, terminating leases and the like.

Instead, they will go for the cost to the government of pulling Constellation equipment out of its own facilities, environmental remediation at those facilities, and keeping civil servants on the payroll until new work can be found for them, Robinson said.

“The program termination costs and the civilian transition costs are the primary things in the $2.5 billion,” she said.

NASA has spent about $9 billion on Constellation to date — largely to develop the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Orion crew exploration vehicle just completing preliminary design review. The Fiscal 2011 budget includes $1.9 billion in Fiscal 2011 and $600 million in Fiscal 2012 for the program termination and civilian transition costs associated with stopping it.

Robinson said NASA is developing a plan for managing the requested funds and handling the additional contract termination liability. She conceded the $2.5 billion has quickly become a potential cash cow within the agency as NASA struggles to change direction in human access to orbit from Constellation vehicles to a purely commercial approach.

“Everyone says that line will take care of it,” she said. “I think it will be oversubscribed.”

Boy, even in dying the Constellation Program is going to end up being a pig roast. The tax-payers really took it up the…well, we’ll leave it to your imagination.

NASA: Ending Constellation Will Cost More

Life on ice?

How about under it?

Like 600 feet:

In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

Six hundred feet below the ice where no light shines, scientists had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.

That’s why a NASA team was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica. A curious shrimp-like creature came swimming by and then parked itself on the camera’s cable. Scientists also pulled up a tentacle they believe came from a foot-long jellyfish.

“We were operating on the presumption that nothing’s there,” said NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler, who will be presenting the initial findings and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting Wednesday. “It was a shrimp you’d enjoy having on your plate.”

Cool. Like really cool.

This looks like the chances of finding life under the ice sheets of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus has increased dramatically.

All we need are money and a way to melt through their ice.

NASA Finds Shrimp-Like Creature, Jellyfish Under Antarctic Ice

Real Telepathy and Homo Erectus the Sailor

In the UK, a professor at Southampton has invented a real telepathy machine:

We are about to make history. As long as these electrodes don’t electrocute me first, I am seconds away from becoming the first journalist in the universe to try the professor’s telepathy machine.

He doesn’t call it a telepathy machine, of course. He’s a scientist so it’s called the brain-to-brain communication experiment, or B2B. Still, my brain is about to read his daughter’s brain. Gwyneth and I will communicate solely by brain wave. Which, in my unscientific book, is telepathy.

The “professor” is actually Dr Christopher James, a pioneering biomedical engineer at Southampton University, and his invention makes fact out of science fiction. Decades from now we won’t be phoning home to say the train’s late. We’ll be thinking it. Soldiers will take orders from their commanding officers cerebrally and minds imprisoned in disabled bodies will be free to communicate with others via cyberspace. Centuries from now, one evil dictator will misappropriate the brain-to-brain technology, take over all our minds and destroy us.

Right now we’re at the very beginning of this revolutionary journey. I’m at one end of an anonymous office on the university campus with two electrodes stuck to the back of my head (and one, alarmingly, on the front “for grounding”). Gwyneth is sitting at the other end thinking either “left” or “right”. Two electrodes are connecting her to a computer that can tell, from her brain waves, what she is thinking.

It then passes this information, via the internet, to my computer, which flashes a series of lights at me. I can’t tell the difference — it’s all far too quick — but my brain can. My electrodes detect the same sequence of lefts and rights that Gwyneth is thinking. In short, my brain has read her brain. Eureka.

James is keen to point out his invention’s limitations. If his 11-year-old daughter thought of a cat or Venezuela or how she’d much rather be out tobogganing than sitting here thinking of left and right, I wouldn’t know it. We can only do lefts and rights. Nevertheless, non-verbal communication has arrived.

“These are the very first baby steps towards communication by thought,” James explains. “It is not impossible to imagine a future where this direct brain-to-brain interaction is commonplace. But we have a long way to go in terms of the speed, accuracy and robustness of the technology.”

He likens the thought processes of a brain to a cocktail party. Except that it’s a cocktail party attended by 100 billion guests and they’re all jabbering away noisily at the same time: “What we’re trying to do is eavesdrop on individual conversations at that cocktail party but we’re trying to do it from outside the building. Currently, the eavesdropping is fairly crude.”

The external sensors that James uses to measure the tiny electrical currents generated when we think are haphazard. They pick up interference, they mix up signals and, frequently, James has to glue them back on when they fall off. New ones are being developed but, says James, “the point where we can measure hundreds of thought waves in isolation is still a long way off”.

The alternative is to ditch the sensors and bury electrodes directly in the brain. Invasive brain-computer interfacing is far more controversial but also far more accurate and it has already been tested in America. In 2005 Matt Nagle, a college football star left tetraplegic after a stabbing, became the first person to control an artificial hand through thought. He had a 96-electrode chip implanted on the surface of his brain. A computer was then programmed to recognise Nagle’s thought patterns, enabling him to operate the robot hand.

“I can’t put it into words,” said Nagle during the trial. “It’s just — I use my brain. I just thought it. It will give me a sense of independence.”

James believes the non-invasive route to brain-computer interaction is a more feasible one. He speculates that the holy grail of full thought-controlled navigation — a life-changing concept for the severely physically disabled — could be achieved in decades.

The next watershed is when computers become faster at reacting to our thoughts than our own bodies, when a tiny chip in your glasses can understand millions of brain waves in millionths of seconds. It is still a long way off but is by no means unimaginable.

Full brain-to-brain communication is certainly further off and faces significant hurdles. While progress in reading thoughts is rapid, passing those thoughts to another human being is fraught with both scientific and ethical problems. Since announcing his breakthrough in direct communication, James has received letters imploring him to desist in his mad science. People are gravely concerned that his team’s work will lead to an underclass of zombies controlled by the scientists of tomorrow.

I wouldn’t worry. Quite apart from the sheer complexity of reproducing the exact electrical and magnetic stimuli to precise areas of the brain that trigger thoughts and movements, the amount of electrodes (and accompanied drilling) that would be required is something of a stumbling block.

Back in the office I have swapped places with Gwyneth. I’m thinking left, right, left, left but the computer claimed that I had thought four lefts in a row. If I was in a thought-controlled wheelchair I would have shot down the stairs by now. The computer needs time to learn my brain waves. I need time to learn how to imagine right and left clearly enough for the computer to understand.

Frankly, I’d rather be out tobogganing as well. And even though it is conceivable that James’s invention will one day be viewed with the same breathlessness as Archimedes’s momentous night in his hot tub, right now I can’t help thinking it’s simply good to talk.

I’ve used the telepathic soldier concept myself in my Lamont science-fiction. I think it’ll be practical in ten years.
Homo Erectus the Sailor?
Human ancestors that left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago to see the rest of the world were no landlubbers. Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homospecies — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe.

Until now, the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. Traditional theories hold that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East first navigated vessels to Crete and other Mediterranean islands at that time.

“We’re just going to have to accept that, as soon as hominids left Africa, they were long-distance seafarers and rapidly spread all over the place,” Strasser says. The traditional view has been that hominids (specifically, H. erectus) left Africa via land routes that ran from the Middle East to Europe and Asia. Other researchers have controversially suggested that H. erectus navigated rafts across short stretches of sea in Indonesia around 800,000 years ago and that Neandertals crossed the Strait of Gibraltar perhaps 60,000 years ago.

Questions remain about whether African hominids used Crete as a stepping stone to reach Europe or, in a Stone Age Gilligan’s Island scenario, accidentally ended up on Crete from time to time when close-to-shore rafts were blown out to sea, remarks archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Only in the past decade have researchers established that people reached Crete before 6,000 years ago, Tykot says.

Strasser’s team cannot yet say precisely when or for what reason hominids traveled to Crete. Large sets of hand axes found on the island suggest a fairly substantial population size, downplaying the possibility of a Gilligan Island’s scenario, in Strasser’s view.

In excavations conducted near Crete’s southwestern coast during 2008 and 2009, Strasser’s team unearthed hand axes at caves and rock shelters. Most of these sites were situated in an area called Preveli Gorge, where a river has gouged through many layers of rocky sediment.

At Preveli Gorge, Stone Age artifacts were excavated from four terraces along a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Tectonic activity has pushed older sediment above younger sediment on Crete, so 130,000-year-old artifacts emerged from the uppermost terrace. Other terraces received age estimates of 110,000 years, 80,000 years and 45,000 years.

These minimum age estimates relied on comparisons of artifact-bearing sediment to sediment from sea cores with known ages. Geologists are now assessing whether absolute dating techniques can be applied to Crete’s Stone Age sites, Strasser says.

Intriguingly, he notes, hand axes found on Crete were made from local quartz but display a style typical of ancient African artifacts.

“Hominids adapted to whatever material was available on the island for tool making,” Strasser proposes. “There could be tools made from different types of stone in other parts of Crete.”

Strasser has conducted excavations on Crete for the past 20 years. He had been searching for relatively small implements that would have been made from chunks of chert no more than 11,000 years ago. But a current team member, archaeologist Curtis Runnels of Boston University, pointed out that Stone Age folk would likely have favored quartz for their larger implements. “Once we started looking for quartz tools, everything changed,” Strasser says.

Ancient Hominids May Have Been Sea-Farers

Today’s hat tip

The Human Ancestor From the Future

Some things are just so damn strange even the mainstream can’t ignore it:

The Boskops had big eyes, child-like faces, and an average intelligence of around 150, making them geniuses among Homo sapiens.

In the autumn of 1913, two farmers were arguing about hominid skull fragments they had uncovered while digging a drainage ditch. The location was Boskop, a small town about 200 miles inland from the east coast of South Africa.

These Afrikaner farmers, to their lasting credit, had the presence of mind to notice that there was something distinctly odd about the bones. They brought the find to Frederick W. Fitz Simons, director of the Port Elizabeth Museum, in a small town at the tip of South Africa. The scientific community of South Africa was small, and before long the skull came to the attention of S. H. Haughton, one of the country’s few formally trained paleontologists. He reported his findings at a 1915 meeting of the Royal Society of South Africa. “The cranial capacity must have been very large,” he said, and “calculation by the method of Broca gives a minimum figure of 1,832 cc [cubic centimeters].” The Boskop skull, it would seem, housed a brain perhaps 25 percent or more larger than our own.

The idea that giant-brained people were not so long ago walking the dusty plains of South Africa was sufficiently shocking to draw in the luminaries back in England. Two of the most prominent anatomists of the day, both experts in the reconstruction of skulls, weighed in with opinions generally supportive of Haughton’s conclusions.

The Scottish scientist Robert Broom reported that “we get for the corrected cranial capacity of the Boskop skull the very remarkable figure of 1,980 cc.” Remarkable indeed: These measures say that the distance from Boskop to humans is greater than the distance between humans and their Homo erectus predecessors.

Might the very large Boskop skull be an aberration? Might it have been caused by hydrocephalus or some other disease? These questions were quickly preempted by new discoveries of more of these skulls.

As if the Boskop story were not already strange enough, the accumulation of additional remains revealed another bizarre feature: These people had small, childlike faces. Physical anthropologists use the term pedomorphosis to describe the retention of juvenile features into adulthood. This phenomenon is sometimes used to explain rapid evolutionary changes. For example, certain amphibians retain fishlike gills even when fully mature and past their water-inhabiting period. Humans are said by some to be pedomorphic compared with other primates.Our facial structure bears some resemblance to that of an immature ape. Boskop’s appearance may be described in terms of this trait. A typical current European adult, for instance, has a face that takes up roughly one-third of his overall cranium size. Boskop has a face that takes up only about one-fifth of his cranium size, closer to the proportions of a child. Examination of individual bones confirmed that the nose, cheeks, and jaw were all childlike.

The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to “alien abductors” in movies. The naturalist Loren Eiseley made exactly this point in a lyrical and chilling passage from his popular book, The Immense Journey, describing a Boskop fossil:

“There’s just one thing we haven’t quite dared to mention. It’s this, and you won’t believe it. It’s all happened already. Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain. His face was straight and small, almost a child’s face.”

Boskops, then, were much talked and written about, by many of the most prominent figures in the fields of paleontology and anthropology.

Yet today, although Neanderthals and Homo erectus are widely known, Boskops are almost entirely forgotten. Some of our ancestors are clearly inferior to us, with smaller brains and apelike countenances. They’re easy to make fun of and easy to accept as our precursors. In contrast, the very fact of an ancient ancestor like Boskop, who appears un-apelike and in fact in most ways seems to have had characteristics superior to ours, was destined never to be popular.

Sometimes evolution doesn’t reward the quickest, prettiest or smartest with another chance to breed.

Sometimes it’s the species with the most cunning and guile.

What Happened To The Hominids Who Were Smarter Than Us?

hat tip

The Vatican, Alien Life and UFOs

As the discovery of the number of planets outside of our little Solar System increases (the count is now 400), the possibility of discovering earth-type planets (or moons) increases also.

There’s a theory that 10% of the estimated total of earth-type planets in the whole galaxy could approximately be at least 10 Billion . And of them,  10% could harbor intelligent entities (see Drake Equation calculator).

The implications for the world’s religious communities would be manifold to be sure and there could possibly be chaos, destruction and various social mayhem.

Now the Vatican, the center of the Western Catholic religion, is taking some preemptive action by acknowledging the possibility of discovering intelligent beings on exoplanets:

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding a conference on astrobiology, the study of life beyond Earth, with scientists and religious leaders gathering in Rome this week.

For centuries, theologians have argued over what the existence of life elsewhere in the universe would mean for the Church: at least since Giordano Bruno, an Italian monk, was put to death by the Inquisition in 1600 for claiming that other worlds exist.

Among other things, extremely alien-looking aliens would be hard to fit with the idea that God “made man in his own image”.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ’s role as saviour would be confused: would other worlds have their own, tentacled Christ-figures, or would Earth’s Christ be universal?

However, just as the Church eventually made accommodations after Copernicus and Galileo showed that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, and when it belatedly accepted the truth of Darwin’s theory of evolution, Catholic leaders say that alien life can be aligned with the Bible’s teachings.

Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and one of the organisers of the conference, said: “As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God.

“This does not conflict with our faith, because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God.”

Not everyone agrees. Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and author of The Goldilocks Enigma, told The Washington Post that the threat to Christianity is “being downplayed” by Church leaders. He said: “I think the discovery of a second genesis would be of enormous spiritual significance.

“The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they’re in this horrible bind.

“They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets.”

The Academy conference will include presentations from scientists – by no means all of them Christians – on the discovery of planets outside our solar system, the geological record of early life on Earth, how life might have started on Earth, and whether “alien” life of a different biochemistry to our own might exist here without our knowing, among many other things.

There has been many rumors in the past the Catholic Church has already been privy to the knowledge of intelligent ETs and have been part of a cover-up to keep a lid on things until the world is ready for such information.

These rumors could be just so much tinfoil, but what if it is true?

It would give much credence to the extraterrestrial theory of UFOs, cattle mutilations and abduction of people against their will.

Although I’m not going to hold my breath any time soon about ‘disclosure’.

The Vatican joins the search for alien life

DARPA: Militaristic Transhumanism

The blogger IIB has long posted about DARPA and its involvement with Google and its founders to bring about a self-sustained distributed artificial intelligence in order to trigger a Technological Singularity.

I used to be a supporter of a Singularity, until I realised that it could make the human species extinct, of which I’m no fan. And creating machines that are conscious like humans is a tall order, maybe impossible to build.

But that doesn’t mean the possibility of the event occurring is diminished, one has to take into account the power of intent.

And no one entity is more intent than the US Government’s DARPA:

The idea behind Darpa’s latest venture, called “Physical Intelligence” (PI) is to prove, mathematically, that the human mind is nothing more than parts and energy. In other words, all brain activities — reasoning, emoting, processing sights and smells — derive from physical mechanisms at work, acting according to the principles of “thermodynamics in open systems.” Thermodynamics is founded on the conversion of energy into work and heat within a system (which could be anything from a test-tube solution to a planet). The processes can be summed up in formalized equations and laws, which are then used to describe how systems react to changes in their surroundings.

brain.DARPA.52009

Now, the military wants a new equation: one that explains the human mind as a thermodynamic system. Once that’s done, they’re asking for “abiotic, self-organizing electronic and chemical systems” that display the PI principles. More than just computers that think, Darpa wants to re-envision how thought works — and then design computers whose thought processes are governed by the same laws as our own.

Over the centuries up until the present times, mankind’s intelligence has been attributed to something “outside” of our physicality, the ‘soul’, cosmic awareness, doppelganger, astral body and ‘consciousness.’

Empirical science with it’s “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist” approach has worked fine in a lot of discoveries over the past 300 some-odd years since the “Enlightenment” era and I can’t bitch too hard about it.

Without it, I wouldn’t be here today to discuss this topic.

But I have also found during the past two years that reality has more subtlety than what is quantified by empiricism, or what limitations our instruments currently have in measuring ‘reality.’

And what accounts for mankind’s awareness has been a huge bug-a-boo for science to get a handle on, since so many people in this day and age take it on faith alone that we exist after physical death.

DARPA must have an abundance of transhumanists and singularitarians working for them because that is a basic tenet of their philosophy; human beings are ‘meat’ or wetware holding intelligence or ‘consciousness’ that can be measured and ‘downloaded’ into immortal hardware, or another computational medium.

Here we have an example of the attempt to build consciousness from scratch, either through some enhanced biological medium, or non-biological forms. Perhaps a bit of both.

I’m not sure it’s possible to do this, if it is just a matter of recreating the human brain, I think we would’ve done it already, if we’re just ‘meat.’

I’m reminded of my first psychology professor years ago who taught that “human beings are greater than the sum of their parts, a gestalt, if you will.”

Basic, but I still remember it to this day. Probably because there is a simple wisdom to it.

Perhaps some good will come from this research; the development of artificial brains would be beneficial to brain accident victims, Parkinson’s disease and even Alzheimer’s patients.

Unfortunately, DARPA is a military research organisation first and foremost. As the article indicates, the first recipients in these experiments are to be autonomons used as cannon fodder, or severely brain damaged soldiers augmented and sent back into the field. Again as cannon fodder.

What will happen if these beings do turn out to be “conscious?”

Will human-rights organisations speak up for these first true transhumans?

Better yet, will self proclaimed transhumanist organisations speak up for them?

Darpa: Heat + Energy = Brains. Now Make Us Some

Hat Tip

Human Anomalies and Earth-like Planets

Kiiriq recalled that elders would call them Tunnit or Inukpasuit, the giants. They were treated as fearsome coastal dwellers and were considered enemies of Inuit. They spoke an Inuit language of an archaic type understandable to our ancestors.

Kiiriq would continue his tale and describe how Inupasuit were viewed as unkempt and unclean by Inuit standards. They were considered a danger to Inuit because they at times waylaid and captured unwary hunters.

Being smaller then them, our ancestors were considered a delectable prey. Once captured, they would be cooked and eaten with relish. Thus Inuit feared these giant beings and would attempt to wipe them out if they could. They were considered slow of thought but clever in their means of pursuit of game.  Inuit were ever moving eastward and the Inupasuit soon fell into the lot of myths and legends in our great grandparents’ time.

My research led me to Farley Mowat, author of Westviking, who includes descriptive appendices called “The Vanished Dorset”.

Mowat provides a description by the Norse who encountered the Dorset (Tunnit) around A.D.1000 as being swarthy and ill looking with remarkable eyes.

The “giants in the earth” mythos is common in Northern Native American cultures too it seems.

I read an article in a magazine a few years back about a tribe of Native Americans living around Hudson Bay that curiously have Northern European genetic markers.

And no-one knows why.

Inukpasuit, Inuit and Viking contact in ancient times

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Earth-like planets with life-sustaining conditions are spinning around stars in our galactic neighborhood, US astrophysicists say. They just haven’t been found yet.

“There are something like a few dozen solar-type stars within something like 30 light years of the sun, and I would think that a good number of those — perhaps half of them have Earth-like planets,” Alan Boss told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AASS).

“So I think there is a very good chance that we will find some Earth-like planets within 10, 20 or 30 light years of the Sun,” the astrophysicist from the Carnegie Institution for Science told his AAAS colleagues meeting here since Thursday.

By “Earth-like”, they mean a rocky world that’s Mars-size to something five times the Earth’s mass, but less than the mass of a Neptunian world.

That leaves plenty of wriggle-room for interpretation.

Earth-like worlds in our galactic neighborhood

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75,000 years ago early humans built a stone calendar that predates all other man-made structures found to date. This ‘African Stonehenge’ has for the first time created a link to the countless other stone ruins in southern Africa and suggests that these ruins are much older than we thought. The complex that links Waterval Boven, Machadodorp, Carolina and Dullstroom, covers an area larger then modern-day Johannesburg.
Six years of research by a group of independent scientists and explorers has delivered what may be the crucial missing elements in our understanding of the lives and development of early modern humans. Their discovery has been released in a book they call Adam’s Calendar. But the research has also shown that these stone settlements represent the most mysterious and misunderstood structures found to date. It points to a civilisation that lived and dug for gold in this part of the world for thousands of years. And if this is in fact the cradle of humankind, we may be looking at the activities of the oldest civilisation on Earth.

I wonder if those ruins have any relationship to these in South America?

Maybe Michael Cremo isn’t so crazy after all?

Discovering the oldest man-made structures on Earth

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Great Balls of Fire, more Cryptoterrestrials and the Threshold of SETA

What looked like a fireball streaked across the Texas sky on Sunday morning, leading many people to call authorities to report seeing falling debris.

“We don’t know what it was,” said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Roland Herwig.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office used a helicopter to search after callers said they thought they saw a plane crashing, a spokesman said.

“We don’t doubt what people saw” but authorities found nothing, said spokesman John Foster.

There’s speculation the event might be tied to the recent Russian/American satellite collision.

The military denies it of course.

Mystery fireball streaks across Texas sky

Military denies link to ‘fireball’ reports, satellite collision

Hat tip to The Anomalist

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Here’s one for you Mac Tonnies ‘cryptoterrestrial’ supporters out there:

Davies will challenge the orthodox view that there is only one form of life in a lecture titled “Shadow Life: Life As We Don’t Yet Know It” on Feb. 15 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His presentation is part of the symposium “Weird Life.”

“Life as we know it appears to have had a single common ancestor, yet, could life on Earth have started many times? Might it exist on Earth today in extreme environments and remain undetected because our techniques are customized to the biochemistry of known life?” asks Davies, who also is the director of the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

It begs the question of how many catastrophes has occurred to the Earth over the billions of years and how other planets in different solar systems form and develop their own biologies, if any.

Cosmologist Explores Notion of ‘Alien’ Life On Earth

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In the fall of 2005, the TV show “Threshold” was broadcast on CBS. It was a contemporary time, sci-fi show like “Stargate SG1” (meaning the time is the present, not the future) that posited an alien invasion from space (or the future possibly). In the premier episode, an alien “probe”, which was simultaneouly existing in multiple dimensions, appeared over a Navy research ship and broadcasted a signal that killed most of the crew, but the survivors’ DNA was altered in such a way as to describe them as “alien.”

The show only lasted 9 episodes on network TV, then the show’s entire 13 episodes were shown on the Sci-Fi channel in 2006. It was released on DVD about then too.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because I happened to rent the whole series at a local video store over the weekend and after watching it I was amazed at the good quality of it! The last few shows were showing signs of drifting away from the premise, but overall, I thought the series was good and that it died a premature death.

The science was cutting edge, with multiple dimension theory and using automated, artificial intelligent probes to carry encoded copies of the invader’s DNA to convert (subvert?) the indigenous population’s, modeling methods that we might carry out on interstellar colonizations (invasions?).

Alas, as always on network TV, if one doesn’t capture the all important 18-39 year-old demographic within two weeks, a show dies an ignoble death.

Especially if it’s sci-fi.

Threshold at Episodeworld.com

The Search For Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA)

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