“Sense of Wonder” Maintenance, Round 2
Every one in a while, it’s important to remind ourselves that we live in a Universe we don’t know shit about. Sure, we’ve figured out a vanishingly small percentage of what’s going on, and we’ve got all kinds of cultural systems to keep ourselves from thinking too much about How Much We Don’t Know—but if you really sit down outside and think about it, you have no idea what’s going on around you at any given second. Odds are, this will not change within your lifetime.
And it’s not like I’m trying to make you specifically feel like a moron—it’s just because you’re a human being. We’re all morons, trapped inside mental cages we can’t even see, most days. So rather than focus on the hilariously grim nightmare apocalypse meltdown that’s going on all over the Earth right now, I’d like to take this Thursday to give you a booster shot of awe, wonder, and optimism. It’s been a stressful few weeks for the American people—a number of celebrities have been going to rehab and prison, and there might be some other stuff going on, too. So let’s take a collective breather and look closely at some truly amazing stories that have passed under the radar and over our heads.
Alien Planets: No Big Deal
Here’s a crazy thought to start with: astronomers are now discovering so many alien planets it’s not even news anymore. You would think that all this new evidence of Intelligent Design would generate more headlines, but given the world-shattering events that happened recently, a lot of important news gets lost in the mix.
Take the announcement at the end of May of a massive planet, dubbed TrES-3, that zips around its star in an amazingly rapid 31 hours, giving the planet a 1.3-day year. Astronomers issued a press release, but you might not have heard about it because the discovery was so overshadowed by other planet announcements and barely received news coverage.
“It’s pretty routine now,” said Alan Boss, a planet formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “Most planets that are found are not deemed worthy of a press release because they are sort of becoming ‘one more planet.’”
The total is now more than 200 extrasolar planets confirmed. And this is the tip of the iceberg in planet finds. Astronomers have more tools than ever, and technology is so advanced that planet discovery has become almost mundane.
Best Jesus Imitiation Ever
Have you heard this one? Freddie Maguire, age 47, has a heart attack in a Dublin hospital and despite being rushed to intensive care for treatment, his heart stops, breathing ceases, and he will not respond to any efforts to save him. He gets pronounced dead and shipped down to the mortuary—it’s unclear how long he was down there for, but when he got wheeled into the freezer, he left hand started to twitch. Turned out Freddie Maguire had returned to life—on Easter, no less.
“I tell you, when I die I want to be buried with a mobile phone. And they better make sure I’m dead.”
Weirdest of all, this is not even close to a unique event. Rodney Davies has an interesting little book, appetizing titled “BURIED ALIVE,” which outlines dozens of similar cases, such as this:
“Hit by a car in 1976, George Rodonaia, a Soviet doctor, was left in a mortuary for three days. He showed obvious signs of life only after a doctor began to make an incision in his stomach as part of a postmortem examination. He claimed to be conscious for much of the experience, saying: “All about me there was darkness...I remembered Descartes’s famous line, ‘I think, therefore I am’. And it was then I knew I was still alive.”
Allison Burchell, an Australian, has been pronounced dead three times, and woken up in a mortuary twice. She suffers from a condition called narcolepsy-cataplexy, in which the heartbeat slows and breathing becomes increasingly shallow. When she came round the first time, 50 years ago at the age of 21, she scared a mortuary technician by asking to be taken to hospital
The Victorian teenager George Hayward was struck by a pitchfork while working on a farm. The wound became infected, he was pronounced dead and then buried. After the funeral two doctors decided to inspect his body—in case he had died of an infectious disease. Just before the postmortem began, Hayward opened his eyes. He made a full recovery, and lived to the age of 84”
Whales Live a Very, Very Long Time
BOSTON - A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt—more than a century ago. Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3 1/2-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale’s age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.
That came in off the AP wire just yesterday, and it’s a hell of a thought. That means that back in 1890, a man shot that animal from the deck of a whaling ship—a man who was almost certainly dead by 1960. Blacks still had to use separate water fountains and bathrooms back then. That means that 100 years after that whale got shot, I was 9 years old and reading too much Stephen King. Quite a perspective shift.
The whale, whose name was Sharkey for reasons we will never know, was shot once again in 2007, then hauled ashore with massive metal hooks, where it was skinned by humans with chainsaws. Ah, the circle of life.
Harriet died last year in a Australian prison. I mean, “zoo.” Anyways.
I mention Harriet for two reasons: first, because she was an enormous Galapagos Tortoise, and second, because she was at least 175 years old when she passed away. To further compound the timewarp headache, there’s even evidence—contested evidence—that Harriet was collected by the crew of the HMS Beagle, which was Charles Darwin’s famous expedition ship. Hilariously, “Harriet” is an amendment to “Harry”—zookeepers assumed she was a male up until 1960, when a visiting biologist correct them.
We view time the only way we can: from a very limited and purely human perspective. Most kids my age have a hard time grasping the concept that there are millions of people alive today in the United States who grew up with “Colored” bathrooms, water fountains and entrances to public spaces. “History” is by nescessity dead, and we have a hard time understanding it otherwise. The notion of a turtle—even a tremendously huge-ass turtle—meeting Charles Darwin and dying over 150 years later is not something us monkeys can really grasp.
But it’s worth trying.
To compound the headfuck, consider that Harriet wasn’t even close to being the oldest of her species. That title—so far as humans know, which is not far at all—belongs to the gentle giant Adwaita, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise from Kolkata, India. He died at 256. In other words, Adwaita reached sexual maturity before the United States of America even existed. Food for thought.
Americans: Beautifully Stupid
Yeah, speaking of Darwin...for a dead guy, he sure makes the news a lot these days. There have been a lot of polls in the past few months about scientific knowledge and religious faith, and they have been a fountain of wonderment, to me at least. Perhaps some people find this kind of information depressing, but I see it as a giant opportunity. The majority of human beings in the country I live in have been reduced to neurological Jello, with no capacity for critical thinking and less background knowledge than their own children. Needless to say, if you see me start a Church in the next few years....you’ll know exactly what I’m doing.
fewer than a third of adult Americans know that DNA is the molecule of heredity, that only 10 percent know what radiation is and that 20 percent think the Sun revolves around Earth.
That last one is the kicker, huh? (Specifically, it’s a kick in the teeth.) In March, a Newsweek poll found that 48% of the people who responded believed God created the Universe more or less in it’s present form..."within the last 10,000 years or so.”
Peace Out, Earth Humans
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