Tag Archives: astrobiology

Awesome Source

If anyone were to ask me (they never do) what sort of sources I use on the internet as News Director for Mutiny Radio, for my own show The Stranger in a Strangeland, or just as a web surfer, blogger, podcaster or podcast-listener, I wouldn’t have had a list readily available. Modern technology, however, would allow me to whip up an answer in the form of the feed aggregators on Google Reader, Blogger and iTunes. All the same, I thought I’d have a “little” entry prepared with some words about each and why I use/enjoy them, should anyone become inquisitive in the future, or for posterity.

News Sites/Aggregators

Generally, I have a preponderance of news waiting for me to skim in my Google Reader each morning. This includes the wealth of information from the New York Times, BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and Russia Today (RT), all of whom I trust to varying degrees to deliver a broad picture of what the world looks like at the moment. I typically do not trust the NYT’s coverage of Iran (or hardly any American sources for that matter), but agencies like Al-Jazeera, RT and the Conflict Monitors of the Human Security Report Project are usually reliable for producing a look at international issues from every side. Talking Points Memo (TPM) showcases what would be considered the progressive side of the news, but often without comment, with links to entire quotes and context, and a diligent job of muckraking. Their charts and analysis are great fodder for any news feed.

To get at the real heart of matters, however, we want journalists and researchers who will more deeply cover the stories than the national conversation would normally dictate or allow. Intrepid newmen and editors from Alternet, Truth-out, Democracy Now! and the Real News Network provide hard-hitting watchdog journalism, and pose incisive questions to power. Salon is a refreshingly progressive source of news, comment, and blogs written by the likes of Glenn Greenwald and Mary Elizabeth Williams, and Truth Dig, which features progressive columnist Chris Hedges. The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur is perhaps the greatest news resource on the internet or anywhere if you want to escape the drudgery of big corporate-driven conservative media.

Regardless of politics, I choose not to read the Huffington Post due to their abysmal science reporting. Without a good sense of the scientific method, I cannot trust their standards for journalism.

For science news, there are more resources than time to read in a day, with my inbox overflowing more in this category than any other, a reminder of the rapidly developing times we live in. New Scientist (both the magazine and the site) and Physorg provide a constant stream of scientific discovery, with timely technorati Ars Technica and WIRED revealing where the state of technological advancement has us (WIRED recently broke the story of the NSA’s mega-base in the Utah desert). The Electronic Frontier Foundation combines civil libertarian advocacy work and news with parsing large amounts of technical and legal information, “defending our rights in a digital world.”

For an alternative view, Disinformation aggregates strange and conspiratorial stories from around the web, defiant of the Big Brother states that allows their continued existence.. for now.

Whereas sites like Laughing Squid, Flavorpill and Neatorama offer up pop cultural items, mashups, fun topics and much needed escapism, in other words, all things neat-o. Neat facts, and topics can be had at Mental Floss and life’s big questions at Soul Pancake (co-created by Rainn Wilson). Gizmodo’s (itself a tech news giant) sister-site io9 (as well as Syfy’s own Blastr) keeps us at the cutting edge of science-fiction, which of course could be light years ahead of science fact reporting, or as their tagline boasts “We come from the future.” Whereas Lifehacker helps you get your shit together with easy, simple fixes, showcasing shortcuts to life’s tedium.

And just as general resources go, you’ll find that Snopes has been the greatest defender against internet and urban legend chicanery for years, and that the TV Tropes wiki will help you understand how fiction, culture and memetics works a whole let better. You won’t believe they actually have names for some of these things!

Podcasts

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is hosted by Steve Novella, neurologist, professor, president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, with his panel of skeptical rogues, brothers Bob and Jay Novella, Rebecca Watson and Evan Burnstein. The interesting science topics, audio games and quirks, in-depth interviews, numerous sci-fi references, and of course the irreverent, conversational and casual wit of the skeptics makes it a welcome treat on my ipod each week. These usually go over an hour, but I consistently find myself wanting more.

Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid are a much smaller, so if you want your dose of critical thinking in a fifteen minute dose, enjoy his cool presentation of the self-researched topics ranging from Bigfoot to the Denver Airport. Now over his 300th episode, he somehow manages to uncover a seemingly endless array of new and intriguing myths, legends and misinformation.

Big Picture Science (formerly Are We Alone?) is hosted by Seth Shostak and Molly Bentley of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. With the big picture question of ‘Are We Alone’, the goofy gang of serious scientists have springboarded into the world of the atom, the future, the cell, the virus, the planets, the brain, and any other area where an inquisitive microphone can go. Ideation of this magnitude can also be found by watching Dr. Michio Kaku expound on science’s great questions on Explorations in Science.

Neuropod, hosted by neurogeek Kerri Smith, comes out once a month (with a few bonus episodes here and there), to fill you in on some of the latest discoveries in the world of Neuroscience. Not all of the aspects catch my interest, but the ones that do really do. And since it isn’t as prolific as some of the others, and the information not as time-sensitive, I can enjoy it at any pace without them piling up.

Two more that have been around for a while but I am just now beginning to check out and delve into are the BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific and the backlog of wonderful TED Talks (both audio and video).

Though I am now well-planted in the firm reality of scientific discovery, a nostalgic craving, sense of zany fun, and a smirking incredulity keep me coming back to Coast to Coast AM hosted by George Noory, with John B. Wells, George Knapp and Ian Punnett playing weekends and backup. I have been hooked on this show (along with many other listeners, of which there are now estimated 4.5 million listeners every night, making it the most listened to late night show in North America) since the mid-to-late-90’s, when Art Bell‘s grizzled tones would part the airwaves to spook us with the most arcane topics. Today’s shows are sometimes less esoteric, and the format is more formalized, but George Noory is absolutely charming in his innocent and nonjudgemental inclusion of a wide variety of topics in the realms of politics, conspiracy, the paranormal or speculations on the future.

The Psychedelic Salon with Lorenzo features lectures from some of the world’s strangest and deepest thinkers, such as Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Albert Hoffmann, Alexander Shulgin, and of course the inimitable Terence McKenna. I must admit that I skip some shows that do not feature McKenna’s brilliant form of rhetorical styling and intellectual mastery. Of late, however, I keep coming back for Lorenzo’s faithful coverage of the Occupy movement, and related audio, which I sometimes use on my own show. Another fun nugget of mind-body awakening can be found in the Alan Watts Podcast, rebroadcasting short philosophical bites from the Alan Watts Library.

The Philosopher’s Zone with Alan Saunders, whose received pronunciation may at first seem strange on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Radio National, nonetheless perfectly mixes deep, philosophical questions with silly, simple ones. Part history lesson, part mind expansion, don’t allow your own life to go unexamined without at least inspecting some of the introspections bound to arise while listening!

Similarly, philosopher Tim O’Connor‘s Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot (taken from a Carl Sagan line), raises startling, tortuous questions about God, self, reality and being with atheists, agnostics, deists, and religious scholars of every faith. The show aims to “take philosophy to the street, illustrating how conversation… can be carried out in a careful, civil, and constructive way by people who disagree.”

When I first started listening to The History of Rome, I thought I would listen through the reign of Augustus or perhaps Claudius and then get bored. Here we are near the beginning of the Dark Ages, and I’m still hanging on to Mike Duncan’s carefully researched and recited dissertation on the storied lives, politics, drama, battles and intrigue (with a little cheesy humor thrown in at times) of Rome’s expansive civilization. To jump around in time, the adorable and well-read Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey present Stuff You Missed in History Class from HowStuffWorks.com. Thrilling and yet sometimes obscure historical stories, often examining a subject from as many angles as possible, revealing personal stories from time in the process, heartbreaking, brave, humorous and epic.

The International Spy Museum SpyCast is a great bit of history and political science education if you’re into the worlds of espionage, military history (and present), and the skullduggery of terrorists and intelligentsia alike.

Even the hilarious and conversational entertainment programming I subscribe to, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s Smodcast and Ricky Gervais‘ podcast with Steven Merchant and Harvey Pilkington, present a sort of primer on critical thinking. Often revealing stories of science, religion, and history in the same casual manner as pop culture or scatalogical humor, the more skeptical Mosier often guides Kevin gently through the scientific method, whereas Ricky and Steve will taunt and ridicule Harvey’s mistaken notions of how the world works, ultimate culminating in an Idiot Abroad. Two different examples for how friends interact, and two different methods for how skeptics or atheists can talk to believers, and either way, all in good fun. The Onion adds another satirical bit of aural pleasure to your inbox, giving you some sensationally fraudulent talking points for the week.

And finally, X Minus One (X-1) has been my constant ipod companion since my first Nano. Classic tales of science fiction and horror from the 1950’s and 1960’s, the same spine-tingling diversions into space and time that probably elated my father when he was a boy.

Blogs

The frequently updated blogs on WIRED are some of my favorites, and I think I’ve been following them the longest, as they equally rate with other news in my feed. Epicenter, which puts the reader in the heart of the constantly changing world of digital media industries and business. Writers like Kim Zetter and David Kravets present absolutely essential information on Danger Room, closely following military gadgetry and national security, or Threat Level which, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, highlights the latest threats to our privacy, individual freedoms or civil liberties pertaining to technology and surveillance.

Nick Bilton, tech blogger for the New York Times’ Bits, is also the author of I Come From the Future and This is How it Works, a stunning analysis of how the shifting media and technology landscape is affecting industries, our culture, and our brains. As a blogger he is adept at finding and focusing in on lesser talked about yet important issues in technology, often raising stirring points about the trends and transactions.

Harvey Silverglate (another former guest), criminal defense civil liberties litigator, author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of of Liberty on America’s Campuses and Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, former ACLU attorney, partner of the aforementioned EFF, and co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has many articles available at Reason Magazine, which is aptly named.

Whereas Law and the Multiverse serves to illustrate how legal actions might come to be decided in the worlds of fiction; comic book superpowers, science fiction, and even AMC’s drama Breaking Bad are all made the subject of legal analysis.

Micah Allen’s Neuroconscience researches brain plasticity and cognitive neuroscience, while Mo Costandi’s Neurophilosophy deals with

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy is astronomically great, and is hosted along with several other fascinating science blogs at Discover Magazine. If you enjoy a good skeptical dose like his, I would check out the above-mentioned Dr. Steven Novella’s NeuroLogica blog, his advocacy on Science-Based Medicine, or the contributions to Skepticblog along with the likes of Brian Dunning, Micahel Shermer and others.

Illusionist/Future World Dictator Derren Brown has lots of fun updates of stunning imagery, science, magic, psychology, skepticism and the supernatural, all especially appealing to my eclectic tastes. Author, psychologist and skeptic Richard Wiseman offers up puzzles, brain teasers and illusions each week that will make you want to show someone else.

Mind Hacks keeps readers abreast of the news in neuroscience and psychology, with the bold assertion that with such understanding, such tricks will help figure out one’s own brain.

I’ve recently become addicted to the grand ideas presented at Big Think. Similar to TED, you can find great links, lectures, and interviews, but in a much more condensed and potable form. Politics, science, society, and the mind are all game to their host of editors.

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is yet another brilliantly curated web resource for intellectual pursuers with a love for art, literature, photography, biography, science, philosophy, and historical oddities. I cannot emphasize how much I love Brain Pickings!

Especially significant of late in the wave of psychopaths taking control of our democracy, the Ponerology Blog details discoveries in the science of evil, spearheaded by Andrew M. Lobaczewski, Ph.D.

I also put together a little tumblr concerning the fate of the publishing and retail book industry in this historically significant shifting media landscape, dramatically titled Likely In Store.
As for food blogs, dire decadence demands that one consume updates from Fancy Fast Food, Insanewiches, Cook to Bang, This is Why You’re Fat and the Cheese Underground.

I’ll also occasionally head over to the Brothers Brick or Brick Testament to get my LEGO on, but I do worry that this may open up into a black hole of LEGO blogs for me.

Webcomics (Bonus!)

Of course I’ve been a lifelong fan of Penny Arcade and PvP, (as long as they’ve been live), and Brian Clevinger’s spritely 8-bit Theatre back in its day, and Diesel Sweeties, the robot romance webcomic. I’m also stunned by creatively experimental and remarkably crafted works like Scott McCloud’s Zot! Online, yuumei’s Knite or Demian5’s When I Am King. Pervs will enjoy S.S. Myra or Chester 5000 XYV. And just about anything anything with art by Scott Campbell, John Allison, or Kate Beaton.

I know I just fired a lot at you, and it’s all just the tip of the iceberg! But with an overabundance of digital information, news, discovery, curiosities and entertainment, we all have to be our own curators, or as author James William Powell puts it, our own ‘SPAM filters.’ Hopefully by pointing toward some of my favorite daily, weekly or monthly sources, I can help some curious internet wanderer in the future. Of course, it may all be different by then! At the very least it stands as yet another blog time capsule to what I ‘fed’ on at this point in my life.

I’m always looking for new sources! Of course, it goes without saying that Mutiny Radio should be your source for a much more streamlined helping of these sources! And Mutiny Radio is always looking for intrepid journalists, editors, aggregators or bloggers! Get a hold of me at thestranger@earthling.net!

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Alien Intelligence

As a child and adolescent, paranormal threats would frighten and obsess me more than any ghost, vampire, or irrational phobia. The most nightmare-inducing movies for me were the Day the Earth Stood Still, Fire in the Sky, and even Mars Attacks! I was addicted to the X-Files continuity, and to books like Communion by Whitley Streiber. I kept my ear glued to Coast to Coast AM, long before the befuddled yet charming (much like my father) George Noory, during the smoky-voiced Art Bell years, managing to handle ridiculous claims and speculation with both eyebrow-raised incredulity and eager thirst for woo.

Listening to it still, but with an older more skeptical mind, it’s amazing how much hardcore paranormal believers reveal about what exactly is happening in the brain by what they say. A number of them describe alien, ghost, shadow people, and old hag encounters that, regardless of the character in place, are apt illustrations of hypnagogic dreams in action. Numerous callers, and the Mothman Prophecies author Jim Keel, claim that when supernatural forces “notice you noticed them” presumably continue to act out further for that enlightened person’s benefit. They are quite closely describing their own confirmation bias, seeing the very thing they are keyed up to look for, for that very reason. Utilising the mechanism of the brain that builds patterns out of nothing, and holding firmer to their position out of fear of their invested belief being wrong, and rewarded by the childlike part of the brain that endorses mythology, animism, imaginary friends, and religion.

Their conspiratorial-minded community reinforces that they are wiser and more enlightened for having gotten in on the secret(s). Believing their information to be factual and superior, they consider themselves the truly critical-thinking ones, because their minds are open to accept such outlandish claims. Many claim a healthy mixture of open-mindedness and skepticism, and then use this justification to heavily land in the former. Mythology is interesting stuff, and perfectly healthy to delve into, but only when recognized as perfectly false.

How can anyone really be sure that their minds, through various combinations of hypnagogic sleep states, pareidolia, or confirmation bias, aren’t fooling us into supernatural superstition no different than those in the past? Jim Kieth, himself a paranormal investigator, inadvertently revealed some of the weaknesses in his Casebook on the Men in Black, explaining how we have always had some cultural awareness of (as Terence McKenna calls it) “the Other”. Men in Black used to be iterations of Old Scratch, the devil himself, or else the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague. Greys used to be any number of various little green men, fairies, goblins, or demons. And if one doesn’t accept the more grandiose implications of a Jungian collective unconscious (used to support a metaphysically telepathic astral plane of nightmarish archetypes), but simply the deeply ingrained set of socio-psychological beliefs, then the disconnects only seem to hurt the credibility of the phenomenon being an external physical force, more than mere mental construct. One can make the argument that these phenomena actually have been observed as a constant but simply described (I would argue, widely) differently. That the inter-dimensional or mystically quantum nature of these objects and beings make them ephemeral spirits, manifesting differently. Even if this is the case, it only lends to the unfalsifiability of the whole matter.

At least with accounts of Bigfoot, the reporting and sightings throughout history are fairly consistent.

What is surprising is that even when skeptics, astronomers, astrobiologists, xenobiologists, and philosophers suppose the existence of alien intelligence, it is usually described as autocratic, organizational, and would probably have mathematically subcategorized our sector. At least partially or wholly integrated with machine, they would be cold telepathic drones, more like one giant organism than many, frightening in their passionless drive to accomplish hive goals. The commensurate measures that led to cellular life growing more diverse, apes to be social climbers, and humans to be the planet’s most winningest species, might certainly have allowed a space-faring race to survive in the perpetuity necessary for interstellar travel. Their motives would be so far removed as to seem malevolent (but in actuality no moreso than the automatic slapping of a mosquito), their technology like the ‘magic’ of Gods, their thoughts unknowable, their abilities seemingly without limit. One thing would be certain, they would have their own limits and needs, beyond our comprehension, but as important to them as ours are to us. It is frighteningly coincidental how this model fits the described greys and their behavior. Listen to any specific person on the matter, however, especially those that receive mental messages from our astrological space brethren, and you’re in for a world of intellectual hurt.

Even the Catholic Church now believes in our brothers from the stars, also saved by the Judeo-Christian God. This may not help either argument much.

The thing is, we’re all on the inside of a false centre looking out at all the things that are when we aren’t even sure what “are” means.

Ultimately, it all comes down to faith. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard believed that taking that leap of faith (be it a god or love) was ultimately scary and could prove to be wrong, and therefore should take courage. No such evidence could ever be enough to pragmatically justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway. Kierkegaard thought that to have faith is at the same time to have doubt. So, for example, for one to truly have faith in God, one would also have to doubt one’s beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person’s thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the faith would have no real substance. In essence, those who try to use science to prove their faith do not have real faith. Faith and scientific method are mutually exclusive. You cannot use phenomena to explain or justify itself, or rely on mostly unreliable witness testimony. Proponents or willing adherents to the supernatural should try like the dickens to falsify their own hypotheses.

This surely works the other way, and die-hard skeptics should explore the evidence of outlandish claims, if for no other reason than it is fun. Similar to theologian Tim Mawson’s claims that atheists should attempt prayer for some period of time, to strengthen their disbelief. Wouldn’t their logic would supersede any patterns of magical thinking? And how would one know which God to try this with? Of course many skeptics would argue that the burden of proof does not lie with those that posit something’s nonexistence.

What interests me most about all this is this; Why is it much more difficult to accept the existence of God or UFOs, than a pig (which you have seen before but are not looking at right now) or Japan (which you may have never directly observed)?

Happy Halloween, everyone!