Archive for October, 2009

The Paradox of Fight Club

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

It was ten years ago today that Fight Club was released. Both the film and the book by Chuck Palahniuk explored a variety of themes. Besides the intricacies of soap making, starting your own cult and the downside of consumer culture, at its heart is a story about a man with a strange condition that causes him to develop an alternate personality. In psychological parlance, that’s called dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder.

In the book and film this alternative personality resulting from this disorder was quite liberating for the main character.

Many people have asked if this is even a real condition. Prior to the 19th century people who displayed radically different personalities were assumed to be possessed. In the 19th century it was explored on somewhat more scientific, if not rigorous grounds. From Wikipedia:

These conversion disorders were found to occur in even the most resilient individuals, but with profound effect in someone with emotional instability like Louis Vivé (1863-?) who suffered a traumatic experience as a 13 year-old when he encountered a viper. Vivé was the subject of countless medical papers and became the most studied case of dissociation in the nineteenth century.

That was all it took for writers from Mary Shelley to Edgar Allen Poe to start running with the concept of one person inhabited by two or more personalities.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde explored the notion of an alter ego acting entirely on the impulses of your id.

Fight Club in many ways is a descendent of these concepts. Both Mr Hyde and Tyler Durden displayed extremely anti-social behavior – the exception being in Tyler Durden’s case, author Chuck Palahniuk created a narrative structure that made it justifiable from the assumed point of view.

Despite case studies giving some credence to the condition and the plethora of scientific rationales provided, some remained skeptical. A number of researchers who initially believed the condition to be genuine began to second guess that assumption when they paid closer attention to some of the more celebrated cases of the field’s pioneer Jean-Martin Charcot. From Wikipedia:

In the early 20th century interest in dissociation and DID waned for a number of reasons. After Charcot’s death in 1893, many of his “hysterical” patients were exposed as frauds and Janet’s association with Charcot tarnished his theories of dissociation. Sigmund Freud recanted his earlier emphasis on dissociation and childhood trauma.

Eventually the book the Many Faces of Eve published in 1957 and the film adaptation caused a resurgence in diagnosis of the condition as did the book and later film Sybil did in 1974. From Wikipedia:

Skeptics claim that people who present with the appearance of alleged multiple personality may have learned to exhibit the symptoms in return for social reinforcement. One case cited as an example for this viewpoint is the “Sybil” case, popularized by the news media. Psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel stated that “Sybil” had been provided with the idea of multiple personalities by her treating psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur, to describe states of feeling with which she was unfamiliar.

It’s particularly interesting how uniquely American this condition is (unless you buy into the premise that hyper-consumerism was the flashpoint for developing a split personality in Fight Club). From Wikipedia, figures from psychiatric populations (inpatients and outpatients) show a wide diversity from different countries putting the legitimacy of the condition under suspicion.

Despite the clinical controversy over this condition, there remains a fascination in many of us over the idea of developing a stronger personality capable of doing the things we’re unable to bring ourselves to do.

It’s that fascination with alternative personalities and the expression of free will in Fight Club that still resonates today. We know what it is, but we just don’t know how to express it. Weight loss and substance abuse treatment are billion-dollar industries because we can’t quite get our bodies and minds to agree on things.

Where Hyde and Durden were expressions of the id, self-hypnosis and pseudo-psychology like NLP offer the promise of giving you control over your id to allow your higher functioning free will the ability to overcome your animal instincts.

Is the next desired evolution in mankind, not a physical one, but the ability to actually do the things we want?

Jeckyll and Hyde was about a Victorian scientist who may have been a bit repressed. Fight Club was the story of an everyman who felt emasculated by modern civilization. For both of them, part of their expression involved extreme violence and unleashing the id. Arguably in Durden’s case the violence (in particular the destruction of private property) was a byproduct of the world not being the way he wanted it to be and not something done for the sole sake of violence.

The lesson we can learn from Fight Club (we’ll pass over its conflicted view of personal freedom and anti-Capitalist message) and Jeckyll and Hyde is that the more civilized man is, the more frustrated he is by his inability to exert complete free will over his actions. So frustrated that he’s willing to start cults that destroy individuality and embrace violence to let that inner animal out to wreak havoc.

On one level Fight Club is about setting loose our id to unleash its fury that it can’t express itself in a less id-like way. And that is what we call a paradox.

link: Dissociative identity disorder – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

PopSci: No, You Can’t Fly Straight Through Jupiter

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Killjoy Sally Younger at Popular Science says:

Despite its gusty reputation as a “gas giant,” Jupiter’s blood-red clouds hide a dense, rocky core that’s perhaps 20 times as massive as Earth. That core blocks any spacecraft’s passage through the center of the planet, but even a detour through the clouds would be a disaster.

Oh really Sally? Maybe you should try telling that to this man. He drove a car through a mountain. A mountain. Have you ever done that? Nope. Didn’t think so.

Of course Buckaroo Banzai also opened a gateway into the 8th Dimension and narrowly averted an invasion from the Lectoids of Planet X. But he fixed it! For someone that awesome, flying through Jupiter would be a cinch. We demand a retraction.

Is it Possible for a Spacecraft to Fly Straight Through Jupiter? | Popular Science

Is this the World’s Largest Haunted Place?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

What’s cooler than a giant cave? A giant haunted cave. Mammoth cave, one of the largest cave systems in the world is filled with all kinds of lore. Some say it’s the largest haunted place in the world. Prairie Ghosts has collected several stories of haunting. The spookiest ones are from the rangers and tour guides who work in the caves:

Another story, told by an experienced tour guide named Joy Lyons, tells of a tour that was taken a few years ago in the company of a large group and two guides. When they reached a point on the trail called the “Methodist Church”, they usually turned out all of the lights so that visitors could experience what the cave was like in pitch blackness. She was standing at the back of the group when the lights went out and she could hear the lead ranger talking about the experience. Then, she felt a strong shove against her shoulder. The assault was hard enough that she had to step forward to keep from falling over. She turned to another ranger, who was supposed to be standing next to her and she whispered to him to stop clowning around. A moment later, the lead ranger ignited the wick on a lantern and she saw that the other ranger, she had thought was close to her, was actually about 70 feet away. There was no way that he could have shoved her and then walked so far in complete darkness.

“There was no one near me,” she said, “but it was a playful shove. There are a number of us who feel things in various parts of the cave. It’s not frightening — but it’s something else.”

Cue the spooky music and check out this slideshow of Mammoth Cave from Flickr:

link: Mammoth Cave National Park – a set on Flickr


Live blogging a Sea Serpent Investigation in 1855!

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Sea Monsters are awesome. What’s even more awesome than that? Live blogging your investigation of said sea monster in 1855! How is that even possible? In 1855 the New York Times was on the cutting edge of tech journalism utilizing telegraphs and locomotives to report the news live from the scene:

Having received this morning very private information, a vague account of the discovery of another sea-serpent near our city, we immediately dispatched seventeen of our reporters to the spot, having first “chartered” the “exclusive” right of the telegraph, and eleven locomotives.

By securing an communications connection via telegraph, reporters were able to send back a blow-by-blow account of their investigation as it unfolded.

Two minutes past 10 o’clock A.M – Serpent’s head seen – struck at one of the party with a stick – blow missed – terrible splashing.

One o’clock P.M. – Serpent showing himself frequently; struck at by Zedekiah Hornbush; club hit Zeke Williams; fight; puddle very rily.

Two o’clock P.M. – Serpent hit by a boy with a stone; dove when hit with a triple bellow – (that sounded as if it came from a neighboring pasture,) rose to surface again; hit by Dutchman; blood flowing from Serpent’s nose; awful scene; contortions of reptile; final capture.

What was this mysterious creature that Zedekiah and Zeke fearlessly confronted with their clubs? The report doesn’t quite get into specifics other than to say it may be of the “Garter” species – which suggests that it’s what we call a Garter snake today. They point out that there is no doubt he was in some relation to the Serpent that tempted Eve, “as he looks very wicked”. Wicked indeed. Remember this was four years before Darwin published The Origin of Species.

The story is a fascinating read and well worth checking out: Sea-Serpent in Wisconsin–another Monster–Terrible… – View Article – The New York Times

Inspired by this and recent accounts of a nearby sea monster, the Weird Things staff is contemplating live blogging its own expedition to find such a creature. We’ll keep you posted.

Why are Six of the 10 Oldest People on the Planet Americans?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

With the current debate over nationalized health care a lot of facts and figures are flying fast and loose. It seems like for every point of view there’s a data set to support it. In the discussion of what the ideal system should be two facts are often overlooked. The vast differences in life expectancy from state to state (Washington DC = 72 and Hawaii = 80) and the country with the most old folks in the top ten oldest people list: The United States with 6. All are women.

Of course the United States is the 3rd most populous country (300 million), but with a global population of well over 6 billion people, all things being equal, we should only account for 1 out 20 (or just half an old person in the top 10).

So what gives?

It could be that our geriatric care is actually pretty good. But perhaps there’s something else at work. In the Robert Heinlein novel Methuselah’s Children, he described a very clever low-tech longevity project: Pay people with really old grandparents to have children. In the novel, over time this lead to a race of people that lived hundreds of years.

Has the land of opportunity created a natural program for breeding some of the oldest people? We don’t know. But asking why Americans tend to cluster at the far end of the bell curve is probably a worthwhile question.

Oldest people – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Parachuting from Space

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Ever wonder what it looks like to see a spacecraft land in the middle of a field? Wonder no more. NASA has posted a great Flickr set of photos showing the return to earth of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté and Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Michael Barratt in their Soyuz craft.

Welcome to earth.

USGS: Giant Snakes are Invading the U.S.!

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Apparently it’s snake week here at Weird Things, previously we reported on researchers discovering the stomping grounds of the largest snake ever, Titanboa. Now comes some fun news from the U.S. Geological Survey: We’re being invaded by giant snakes!

High-risk species—Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors and yellow anacondas—put larger portions of the U.S. mainland at risk

It gets better!

Two of these species are documented as reproducing in the wild in South Florida, with population estimates for Burmese pythons in the tens of thousands.

That’s right, tens of thousands.

Just how long can a Burmese python get?

According to Wikipedia: A Burmese Python at the Serpent Safari Reptile Zoo in Gurnee, Illinois , USA was billed as the heaviest living snake in captivity. In 2005, it weighed 183 kilograms (403 lb) at a length of 8.2 metres (27 ft).

Get ready for thousands and thousands of giant snakes South Florida. Sidenote: Weird Things is looking for a desert climate to relocate to.

link: Science Daily: Report Documents Risks Of Giant Invasive Snakes In The United States

link: USGS Release: Report Documents the Risks of Giant Invasive Snakes in the U.S. (10/13/2009 12:00:00 PM)

‘I Met a Zombie’

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

There’s no shortage of explanations for the demise of the newspaper industry. Could one more be the complete lack of face to face confrontation with paranormal creatures like zombies?

We at Weird Things lament the days when a brassy gal like Inez Wallace would leap feet first into adventure and track down an actual zombie and find out the supernatural and scientific explanations.

Check out these excerpts from her May 3rd, 1942 column in the Milwaukee Sentinel:

Although I rode a short distance each day into the mountains, I had practically given up hope of ever seeing a Zombie.

Then, one sultry afternoon, I was riding slowly toward Haiti’s capital when I saw HIM. Or, perhaps, I should say IT.

He was standing at a spot where a cane and a cocoa plantation met – just standing.

What did this creature look like you ask?

His face was neither the bronze of the Jamaican Negro nor the ebony black of the Haitian I had come to know in these mountains. The color was a sickly gray – like fresh Russian caviar and his skin, drawn tight over his bones, resemble old parchment.

There could only be one conclusion!

The thing before me was a ZOMBIE!

Read on for all the exhilarating details: The Milwaukee Sentinel – Google News Archive Search

Have German Scientists Found the “X” Gene?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

German researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have discovered a gene mutation in certain individuals that seems to give them enhanced mental abilities.

…people graced with this genotype showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, activity that is probably linked to metabolism of the brain chemical dopamine.

This extra dopamine may increase the reward response making people more prone to learning things quickly.

As we know from history (Marvel Comics history), it’s the X Gene that separates mankind from the next generation of super mutants. While there’s no immediate application for this discovery, other than explaining why some of us feel more like Forrest Gump than Professor Xavier, long term implications could include gene therapy – giving us all an extra boost.

The fact that German researchers discovered this should surprise no one.

link: Gene Mutation May Speed Learning – Yahoo! News

Scientists Discover the Lair of the World’s Largest Snake (extinct)

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Science Daily reports that a Smithsonian research team has uncovered the first megafossils of a neotropical rainforest.

Titanoboa, the world’s biggest snake, lived in this forest 58 million years ago at temperatures 3-5 C warmer than in rainforests today, indicating that rainforests flourished during warm periods.

While, modern day snakes have been measured over 30 feet in length, it’s been speculated that that the warmer climate contributed to Titanboa’s 42 foot length.

If 58 million years sounds like a good amount of distance to keep between you and a creature capable of swallowing you and all your friends whole, keep this in mind from a recent National Geographic article on the creature:

So could Titanoboa-size snakes return with global warming? “Maybe,” study co-author Jonathan Bloch said. “They definitely could, or maybe … the warming could happen so rapidly that [snakes] wouldn’t have time to adapt.”

Let’s hope this cooling trend continues.

link: First Neotropical Rainforest Was Home Of The Titanoboa — World’s Biggest Snake

link: VIDEO: Biggest Snake Found

How to Fake Spirit Photography on the iPhone

Monday, October 12th, 2009

What’s better than a photo? A photo of a ghost. What’s even better than that? Capturing that photo on a friend’s iPhone. Of course the problem is, ghosts are never very cooperative and not likely to show themselves on demand. That’s why we’ve created this handy tutorial for faking a ghost image on a friend’s iPhone.


Did Bigfoot Hunters Find His Nest?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Mike from the Bigfoot Discovery Project explains on his latest YouTube video an investigation into a recent sighting. Did Bigfoot make the nest they found? Or was it a homeless person?

US Funds $10 Million for Quantum Levitation

Monday, October 12th, 2009

The US Defense department has green-lit a two-year $10 million dollar program to look for practical applications of the Casimir Effect. This is a quantum of effect with potential in everything from energy to levitation.

It’s the quantum version of the attractive force that pulls two ships at sea closer together when they’re nearby. Hendrick Casimir, discoverer of the effect, speculated that two metal plates held apart from each other in a vacuum could tap into the energy in a vacuum that quantum electrodynamics predicts.

Getting actual energy from the effect has proved quite elusive. Now researchers are exploring the potential of the repulsive and attractive forces created by the Casimir effect. One possibility is levitation. From the Scientific American article, researcher Hong Tang:

Then we’re going to engineer the structure of the surface of the silicon device to get some unusual Casimir forces to produce repulsion,” he says. In theory, he adds, that could mean building a device capable of levitation.

We’re all for device capable of levitation – even on the nanometer scale.

link: Research in a Vacuum: DARPA Tries to Tap Elusive Casmir Effect for Breakthrough Technology: Scientific American

link: Casimir effect – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Experimental Evidence Supports Hypnosis

Monday, October 12th, 2009

According to Science News, hypnosis is gaining new found respect in the laboratory as experiments indicate that hypnotic suggestions actually have a measurable effect on parts of the brain.

In one experiment, suggestion of a paralyzed hand actually changed the way the brain routed instructions for motor movement differently than those with no instruction or those told to just imagine their hand was paralyzed.

The Mesmerized Mind / Science News

The Labrador Sea Monster

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Hans Rollman, professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland, writing for the Telegram has shared some details about Newfoundland sea monster lore. The best part? These are amphibious man eaters!

A sea creature of considerable ferocity is also known to the Inuit of Labrador. Nennorluk derives its name from the polar bear (Nennok, nanuk), but the Inuktitut affix “luk” indicates its evil intent. One of the earliest mentions of the Labrador Nennorluk appeared in David Crantz’s “History of Greenland.” Crantz, preserving a 1773 tradition from Nain, says that the legendary amphibious creature “hunted and devoured the seals.” Each of its ears was “large enough for the covering of a capacious tent.” Worse yet, the “beast did not scruple to eat human flesh, when he came on shore.”

link: The Telegram – St. John’s, NL: Columns | Newfoundland and Labrador sea monsters

Video of Mystery UFO Spotted over Moscow

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Check out this video that’s eerily remiscent of the 1980’s TV series V and District 9 (if the aliens spaceships were made from vaporous ice crystals and not actual technology…).

The Sun has an article here on it: Mystery UFO halo in clouds over Moscow | The Sun |News