The Victorian Game of Gobolinks

Many of you are probably at least somewhat aware of the power of inkblots and the human mind. Or, at least, the implied power of them as set up by Hermann Rorschach, who created the inkblot test in 1921. However, there was a victorian precursor to this practice of interpreting inkblots: Gobolinks.

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As defined by a book on the subject, titled "Gobolinks, or Shadow Pictures," Gobolinks are a "veritable goblin of the ink-bottle". Although this book wasn't published until 1896, the idea of Gobolinks had been popular since the 1700s, when it was originally known as klecksography (a fancy word for inkblot art). These once sloppy drip-marks began to become art work in and of themselves and made famous by artists like Justinus Kerner (who was also a physician). 

These goblins of the ink bottles became unique creatures - not purposefully made by the artist but willed into the world through the ink itself, but still abled to be interpreted. The Gobolinks book also made this artform into a game. 

Here's how it works:

1) Players have to 'create' ink blots

2) The paper with the blot would then be folded in half, to create a symmetrical image.

3) Players than have to write a rhyme based on the image

4) The chosen judge then asses which blobs are the best, the winning blob is then declared a "booby".

As this game was popular at parties, the writers of the book suggested that people should wear outfits that are as symmetrical as possible, to mimics the in blots they'd make.

Gobolink Examples:

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Gobolinks also have a bit of a strange, creepy side. Perhaps it is how symetrical the blots are that make people just a hair uncomfortable...but a follow-up book by different authors in 1907, Blottentots, was written and seemed to, as Atlas Obscura notes "embrace the inherently shadowy, otherworldly look of inkblot creations."

Blottentot Example:

So how did ink blots go from accidental artwork to a party game to physiological test? In 1921, not long after the popularity of gobolinks and inkblot games had ebbed away, Herman Rorschac published "Psychodiagnostics." Rorschach believed that what people perceived in strange, ambiguous inkblots could have the potential reveal differences in their basic personality structure.

Instead of the ink blot game that asks players to come up with an imaginative poem or rhyme based on the blot, Rorschac asked "What might this be." Based on their answers, he believed he could learn, psychologically, more about people.

For example, if a patient repeatedly sees fighting/violence in the inkblots they likely have a very different mind from someone who sees dancing/athletic activity in the same inkblots. Based on this, he set out to devise a precise system for scoring his test, like whether the test subject was interpreting color, form, or movement. The product of this final test was the previously mentioned Psychodiagnostics, in which he studied 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects.

Inkblot Test:

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And that is how have inkblots have remained in culture for over 300 years. From art to games to psychological tests. Although, I have to say, Gobolinks might be my favorite incarnation of the inkblot.

 

All the images are public domain, provided by the Archive:

Gobolinks

Blottentots

Inkblot Test

Squids Speak Alphabets...but Without using their Mouths

Squids are some of the most amazing creatures on our planet, and I feel like scientists are always finding out new and interesting facts about these strange, alien-like animals. Recently, the Journal of Neuroscience published a piece that gave us even more insight into squids. What exactly did Taiwanese neuroscientists Tsung-Han Liu and Chuan-Chin Chiao discover and publish? Well, squids might be able to "speak". 

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Squids are able to change colors at a moment's notice - whether it be their whole bodies, parts of their body, or even creating patterns of shifting colors. As part of their experiment Chiao and Liu wanted to see how, and potentially why, squids changed colors. 

To do this, they placed electrodes in different part of the squid's optic lobe in their brains. According to the scientists, when they stimulated different spots on the lobe, the squid changed colors in the same body part. This then made Chiao think that the optic lobe may control the muscles that manipulate the squid's pigment cells.

Wired did a wonderful report on this strange case, in which they noted Chiao's surprise at how the experiment went. "When Chiao started out, he thought the optic lobe would be organized like the human cortex, with the pigment on different body parts correlating with different locations in the brain: a squidunculus. Not so."

Unlike a human's, it seemed that the squid's body parts weren't singularly represented. In fact, their body parts could be represented, and affected, in more than one spot in the optic lobe. This has some seriously interesting consequences for how we not only understand squids biology, but how we might be better able to understand their communication and what the changes to their skin colors might mean.

According to Chicao, "It’s like the squid has an alphabet of patterns—14 by Chiao’s count—which repeat in a mosaic within the optic lobe. It’s like if your keyboard had hundreds of keys, but still only 26 letters."

But, studying squids brains is difficult because they are so drastically different from our own. What does these 14 color changes communicate to other squids? Why have the set of 14? What can we learn by studying their behavior? How closely related are their communication patterns to humans or other animals?

Right now, Chiao and his team are trying to record and better capture the different combinations of pigment patterns and what they might mean to another squid. Are they having complex conversations? Are they trying to figure out how best to mate? Are they gearing up to fight? Hopefully, in a few more years we'll better understand this strange creature and the power, and potential depth, behind its communication patterns. 

 

This above image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.    Attribution: © Hans Hillewaert. Common squid from the Belgian continental shelf. Picture taken in the lab on board of the RV Belgica, of a live specimen to preserve colour and structure of chromophores.

What is Sleep Paralysis?

Astonishing Legends has touched on the terrifying expereince of sleep paralysis in a number of our episodes. Today, I wanted to dig in a little more deeply into the phenomena of sleep paralysis in order to gain a better understanding of what causes it, what happens, and how to deal with it.

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Sleep paralysis seems quite astonishing in nature. In fact, many people report seeing shadow people, hags, demons, ghostly visitations, unexplainable creatures, and even alien abductions. Although these beings are linked to the paranormal, they also frequently appear during sleep paralysis episodes.

First and foremost, it is a sleeping disorder. Sleep paralysis consists, generally, of the feeling of being conscious but being completely unable to move, which can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Often times the vision of some kind of presence will be 'seen' by the victim, although what is seen changes on a case-by-case basis. Some who suffer from sleep paralysis also note physical pressure and even a sense of choking that accompanies a sleep paralysis episode. 

Oh, and sleep paralysis isn't new. In fact, it was recognized in the scientific world by a psychologist, Weir Mitchell, in 1876. In his own words he describes sleep paralysis as:  “The subject awakes to consciousness of his environment but is incapable of moving a muscle; lying to all appearance still asleep. He is really engaged in a struggle for movement fraught with acute mental distress; could he but manage to stir, the spell would vanish instantly.”

So, when does it happen? Well, sleep paralysis happens when a person wakes up BEFORE REM is finished. Thus, giving the sense of not being able to move. Basically, your body's ability to move hasn't been "turned on" yet.

Another thing most people don't know is that there are different kinds of sleep paralysis. There is hypnagogic sleep paralysis, which is what it is called when sleep paralysis occurs as you are falling asleep. Hypnopompic sleep paralysis happens as you are waking up.

Now that we know a little more about what sleep paralysis is, let's dive into what can cause sleep paralysis. It does not appear that sleep paralysis has one "point of origin", as far as stressors go. In fact, several seemingly common things can bring on an episode of sleep paralysis. For example:

  • Medications
  • Other sleep disorders (like seep apnea or narcolepsy)
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Jet Lag
  • Caffeine 
  • Alcohol
  • Falling asleep too fast (literally - its skipping your REM/bypassing parts of your REM cycle that can trigger an episode) 

The above list is not conclusive by any means. Not to mention, you can expereince reoccurring sleep paralysis or one-off episodes...potentially caused by different stressors.

So, how did the paranormal enter the realm of sleep? Well, in the narrative and mythology of sleep paralysis, it was believed that demons or otherwise evil beings caused sleep paralysis by literally holding people down to their beds, rendering them unable to move or even sitting on their chests - which could further explain why people feel short of breath or pressure.

Additionally, hallucinations are very common during sleep paralysis, causing people to see strange and surreal creatures because during sleep paralysis the brain is still in 'dream mode', and has the ability to conjure up these images. 

So, how can you guard against sleep paralysis? Sadly, there is no set treatment for combatting sleep paralysis. Often, the best way to fight against sleep paralysis is by treating underlying causes, like those from the list above.

If you have only had one or two attacks, taking care of your sleep hygiene could be a potential fix to the issue. However, if you have continuous, reoccurring attacks you might want to visit a sleep specialist (yes, that is totally a thing)!

If you do have an attack...there isn't much you can do to stop it in the moment. Just remind yourself that this is only temporary and soon you feel much better.

The image above is from Flickr user Matt Anderson and is liscensed under creative commons 2.0.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

One thing I love writing about on the blog are stories of haunted America. Why? Well, because usually at least 1 or 2 listeners have been to these infamous places and have a story or a picture to share, so if you ever have one share them below or send to astonishingcontact@gmail.com! Now, on with the show.

Today, I wanted to talk about the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (I know Lunatic is NOT a PC word, but that is what it is called. Please do not think the name reflects AL's thoughts on the victims on this Asylum).

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Like many intriguing and infamous buildings,  the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is hidden in the mountains. In particular, Weston, West Virginia. The building itself is formidable - and that isn't an exaggeration. In fact, this Asylum is America's largest hand-cut masonry building. It operated as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum for over 100 years, 1864-1994.

Not only would this building soon be home to less than savory practices to help those with mental illnesses, but it was built largely by prison labor, beginning in 1858. The Civil War interrupted construction, and the first patients were admitted in 1864, when the hospital was referred to as West Virginia Hospital for the Insane. However, construction continued through 1880. 

Oh, and for those who like an extra added spooky-factor...when completed, the land and buildings comprised of 666 acres.

Despite its massive size, it was really only designed to hold about 250 patients. However, this building did not become one of America's most infamous hauntings because it was a well run asylum. By 1880, right before construction was finished, it already housed about 715 patients. The number continued to grow and doubled in the 1930s. At its peak in the 1950s the facility housed roughly 2,400 patients which far exceeded the limit. The population size lead to mass mismanagement and mistreatment of the patients. Soon enough, gossip and reports began pouring out of the asylum of increasing violence.

The overcrowding, which at this point, had been a decades-long issue, naturally lead to a whole host issues leading to substandard care and conditions. In 1949, the problems became so notorious that the The Charleston Gazette did an entire series of articles exposing the gruesome conditions. These issues included the usual suspects like sanitation issues, broken/not enough furniture, heating issues, and even a lack of light.

However, this expose did not bring the institution down and it continued to operate until 1994. Although the population significant decreased by the mid 1980s, this did not improve conditions. In fact, they had stayed the same or in some cases even gotten worse. For example, patients who could not be controlled appropriately spent inordinate amounts of time literally locked in cages.

One of the most horrifying procedures regularly carried out were transorbital lobotomies, also known as ice-pick lobotomies. The procedure was when a sharp, pronged device was driven through the orbital socket. This caused permanent damage, however it was seemed to 'alleviate' many of the symptoms. These were so popular that one doctor allegedly performed over 225 lobotomies in one week. Dr. Walter Freeman, who helped pioneer this practice in the early '50s, was one of the most notorious doctors of the Asylum.

The final death throes of the building began in the 1990s. In 1992 the Charleston Gazette published another article describing in detail horrendous conditions inside of the asylum. In this year,  George Edward Bodie died after a fight with another patient named David Michael Mason. Furthermore, a patient named Brian Scott Bee, committed suicide and his badly decomposing body was not found for over a week.

Surprisingly enough, the building was named as a National Historic Landmark. The current owners of the building even offer historic daytime tours and paranormal tours six days a week, and even Ghost Tours and Ghost Hunts on weekend nights.

The terrors of the asylum didn't vanish when the hospital went out of official commission. Those who visit the building today regularly report seeing apparitions of nurses, doctors, and even patients roaming down the hallways. There is also an auditory element as well, with many reports of hearing anguished cries echoing through the hallways.

The most infamous haunting is the young ghost of Lily. Lily apparently spent most of her short life inside the walls of the asylum. She was believed to be the daughter of a previous patient, Gladys Ravensfield who was admitted to the asylum after being attacked and raped by soldiers during the civil war. Although some believe she was an orphan left at the steps of the main building. However, sticking to the Ravensfield theory, it was believed she gave birth in 1863 to the baby who was named Lily by the staff. Gladys never fully recovered and eventually descended deeper and deeper into madness due to the horrible expereince and the general unpleasantness of life in the asylum. 

She died in childhood, but the staff memorialized her with a room filled with toys that she was known to interact with, as well as candy. The most popular area on the first floor is Lily’s Room, located in the eastern corner of Ward Four, a “step” between Ward One and the older Civil War section. Lily is known to tug on the clothes of people who she takes a liking to and sometimes even slips her ghostly hand into the hand of female visitors.

 

This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID "highsm.31656". 

Are You Being Watched?

The Science of Us recently did a great article on the Psychology of Being watched that caught my eye. I'm not sure if it's because I live alone in a big city (even though I have friends in and on the same floor of my apartment building) but..I often get that creeping feeing. The hair on the back of my neck stands up, my voice gets caught in my throat, and I am unable to breathe. But, then it is all over. I am un-paralyzed, look around, and feel self-assured that I'm all alone or that no, no one in the metro car was staring at me or following me home as I walked. But why do I so physically and mentally react to the idea of being watched at seemingly random times?

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 Well, first of all - it's because people often wrongly assumed we're being looked at. As unselfish as we may be in our actions, we are all at the center of our universe. We can't help it. When someone's eyes are covered, like by sunglasses or the brim of hat, it is easy to assume that we are the targets. Or, someone staring off into space in our direction...well, that definitely means s/he is up to something. As the article says, "The feeling of being watched may become a self-fulfilling prophecy: When you think someone is staring at you from behind, you might turn around suddenly to face them, causing that person look in your direction." Thus, confirming our own belief that yes, we were being watched...sort of.

However, it isn't just that we're self-centered that we think we're being watched all the time. In fact, sometimes we feel that way because our eyes pick up more than we know. In fact, our brains work overtime compared to what we are consciously gazing at. So, if you're in your house and you think you're being watched, or you're walking down the street, or you're picking up coffee and get that tingly feeling? Well, there's a chance you visually picked up on other cues that are outside of your direct field of vision that you don't as consciously notice.

Don't believe me? Well, luckily science can back me up! In both the "The Science of Us" and "Science Alert" articles, several studies are mentioned discussing what our eyes can pick up that we don't consciously realize.  In fact, research has shown that the our eyes take in, analyze, and react to information "beyond what's processed by our visual cortex - that part of the brain responsible for conscious vision and mapping out our view of the world."

For example, there was a study published in 2013 which looked at a male individual, referred to as "TN". TN was cortically blind. What's this mean? Well, his eyes were in technical working order, but his visual cortex had been damaged, so it can't provide 'sight', at least not in the traditional sense. Although someone who has this condition cannot see what's around them, their brain is still receiving information from their eyes - so, even though he can't see like someone who has fully intact eyes, his brain can still act on information received from his brain.

The study itself tested TN's ability to perceive the world. So, he was shown pictures and his brain activity was recorded. These scientists noticed that there was increased activity in his amygdala "when people in the pictures were looking directly at him."

See, I don't know about you but for some reason...that gives me the heebie jeebies.

According to ScienceAlert, "The amygdala is the part of the brain that prompts our sense of fear and other emotions, and handles facial recognition." And, the article aptly questions "Could it be that our brains are trained to subconsciously recognize someone staring at us, even if it's only in our peripheral vision?"

So, maybe sometimes it is our feeling that we believe we're being watched because, well, humans are self-centric...but could it also be because our eyes are alerting us that there is more than meets our conscious eye? 

What do you think about this feeling? Have you ever felt like this? 

 

The above image is from Flickr user Axel Naud and is liscensed under creative commons.

Ghosts go APA Style

Listeners of the show, and readers of this blog, you might appreciate this little story on how to "Cite Works from the Spirit World." I'm not sure how many of you are still in college, or are active journalists, but who knows - this could be of use to you someday. This particular post was suggested via our new Facebook Group from listener Jen K! 

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We've discussed spirit communication and the craze of interacting with spirits that happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s a few times on the blog (here and here), but never in the realm of publishing before. In fact, spirit dictation was quite common and many people have published on it, both of their own experiences and academically. 

Luckily, the internet is chock full of stories that you might otherwise not ever seen. But, it isn't just stories that create interest...it's the questions. On the American Psychological Website there is a Q&A section where members of the site can ask questions to the Style Experts on the website for answers about their toughest APA Style questions.

One user, in particular, wrote in something very interesting. Spooked in Spokane asks...

"I need to cite a book that was dictated by a spirit to a medium. Who’s the author here? I was thinking it would be the spirit, but now that I’ve put it into my reference list, it looks kind of weird."

Jeff Hume-Pratuch, one of the aforementioned style experts, approached this question as if it wasn't a strange thing at all to ask. In fact, he even acknowledges that...

"Noncorporeal beings have dictated a number of bestsellers, yet they never seem to cash their own royalty checks."

He then proceeds with a very simple answer based on the above sentence. For bibliographic purposes, the author is the person who entered the work IN the corporeal realm. But to me, this opens up some questions. Do spirits have no publishing rights? So that means beings that aren't in our "realm" get absolutely no royalties and no benefits except some name recognition.  Well...I guess it makes some sense, since we don't know the currency exchange rate for Earth dollars in the spirit world.

It should be noted that not all spiritual communication is non-fiction, in the sense that it is a spirit dictating to a medium or person in the corporeal being quotes, events of their life and death, and other historical "facts" and stories. In fact, there are a few cases of ACTUAL ghost-writing...as in works of fiction dictated by ghosts to those in the corporeal world.

One of the most notorious cases of this strange, literal ghost writing is "Jap Herron: A Novel Written from the Ouija Board", published in 1917. Emily Grant Hutchings was the writer and claimed that this novel had been dictated to her via the ghost of Mark Twain, who had died over 5 years earlier. Sadly, this might have been a bit of a hoax due to the book's poor literary quality, propped up by rejections from Twain's published and estate. It was swiftly put out of print, and most copies were destroyed. 

However, not all of this purported ghost writing was a total flop. In fact, a young woman named Pearl Lenore Curran garnered acclaim from The New York Times, and several other notable literary organizations. Curran, like Grant Hutchings, was dictating for a deceased woman named Patience Worth. Curran communicated with Worth via a ouija board and her life story was a sad one - she had set off from England to America in the latter half of the 1600s only to be quickly killed by Native Americans.  However, Patience didn't just share her actual life story with Curran. She also shared stories and poetry. To this day, no one has definitively debunked the existence of an actual Patience Worth. 

If you're interested in reading more books by ghosts and spirits, you can check out Bustle's list of the 5 Best Books written by ghosts, or click on the source links above!

Oh, and if you're wondering...citing a ghost looks something like this:

"Curran, P. (1917). The sorry tale: A story of the time of Christ. New
     York, NY: Holt. Retrieved from..."

Thanks again for listener and FB group member Jen K for sharing the initial source that inspired this post! 

The above image is unrelated to the story and is from Flickr user Frederick Rubensson and is liscensed under Creative Commons.

 

 

 

 

Biology vs. Physics

Now, I'm usually not one to pit the sciences against each other...but something new has recently come to light. Many of us have believed that it was a fluke of biology that life came into existence, but biophysicist Jeremy England, and those who have studied his work, argue that another branch of science might just be responsible: physics. 

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Boiled down as succinctly as possible. Dr. England posits that the inevitable outcome of thermodynamics was the creation of life.

Diving in a bit deeper, this can be understood if we take everything back to the atom. Groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves in order to burn more and more energy. This burn facilitates the "incessant dispersal of energy and rise of entropy or disorder in the universe." According to Dr. England, this constant and growing restructuring effect will eventually foster the growth of more and more complex structures, including life.

Dr. England has been working on proving and further detailing this theory since 2013. Earlier this summer, he had two very important publications in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" and "Physical Review Letters". These publications bring to light some of the most persuasive evidence for his theory that has existed to date.

However, these findings do not yet solidify Dr. England's story, in fact this theory is quite controversial within the scholarly landscape. 

Dr. Eugene Shakhnovich, a former professor of Dr. England's acknowledges England's intellect and capability in the field, but disagrees. Dr. Shakhnovich goes as far as saying that Dr. England's linkages to his work in the lab and the theory of life are “pure and shameless speculations.” He, instead, says that Dr. England's work shows us something concrete...but not necessarily how life evolved. "What Jeremy is showing is that as long as you can harvest energy from your environment, order will spontaneously arise and self-tune.” But, perhaps this order was a necessary step to the creation of life. 

Dr. Sara Walker, a theoretical physicst who is also an "origins of life" specialist further poked at Dr. England's theory saying, that life is more distinguished and “requires some explicit notion of information that takes it beyond the non-equilibrium dissipative structures-type process.” For example, Dr. Walker says that the ability to respond to information is an integral part of life: “We need chemical reaction networks that can get up and walk away from the environment where they originated.”

In light of this criticism, according to Wired.com, it appears that Dr. England is wary of conclusions being jumped to. Dr. England says in regards to his recent findings that “In the short term, I’m not saying this tells me a lot about what’s going in a biological system, nor even claiming that this is necessarily telling us where life as we know it came from.”

But notice that he says "in the short term", which seems to suggest with further research he might just be able to prove his theory after-all.

 

The above image is liscensed under creative commons 2.0 and comes from Flickr user Feline DaCat.

Sick Outfit, Girl!

Have you ever heard of tuberculosis? Let me jog your memory. Tuberculosis, also known as TB today, is a bacteria that is spread through the air by someone coughing, sneezing, or....spitting (yuck). TB begins mildly enough, common symptoms include cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss and could remain mild for many months. This, of course, leads to delays in awareness knowing you're sick which delays treatment and means you're out in the world infecting more people. This will later lead to more severe chest pain and a prolonged cough producing...sputum, and coughing up blood. Throughout the disease it attacks the lungs and also damages other organs, until victims finally waste away. During the 1800s TB began to reach epidemic levels throughout Europe, at this time it was known as "consumption".  Long story short, it isn't pretty...unless you're a fashionista. 

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Why mention fashion? Well, TB had a long history at the forefront of culture in the Victorian age. As we know, the Victorians could get a little...morbid. So, it is no surprise that they romanticized this slow, all-consuming disease that paled the victim and rouged their cheeks and lips.

Carolyn Day noticed the importance of TB in Victorian fashion so much she literally wrote the book on it, "Consumptive Chic: A History of Fashion, Beauty and Disease. “Between 1780 and 1850, there is an increasing aestheticization of tuberculosis that becomes entwined with feminine beauty.”  Day surmises that TB, or consumption, was adopted into Victorian fashion because it "enhances those things that are already established as beautiful in women.” The thinness, rosy lips and cheeks, pale skin, and the overall appearance of delicacy. Thus, the popular way to do your make-up was to lighten your skin, redden your lips and color your cheeks pink.

TB didn't just influence makeup and what was currently considered in-vogue appearance wise, it also changed what women wore. For example, tight corsets with voluminous skirts especially made to emphasize how waifish women's waists were (try saying that 3x fast).

But in the later 1800s, germ theory came to the forefront and the way TB was viewed was changing...and so was the fashion. In fact, in America and Europe alike many of the campaigns aimed at reducing disease were targeted to women's fashion. Doctors went as far as to decry long, trailing skirts as spreaders of the disease. Medical professional warned that voluminous skirts, so recently in fashion, were capable of sweeping up germs on the street and bringing the disease into the home. So, the voluminous skirts of the earlier half of the century began falling out of favor. That wasn't all that was lost - corsets also fell out of favor because of their restrictive nature and the idea that they could hamper blood circulation. 

We even see a few, lingering effects of TB fashion today. A common way to cure or improve health was to sunbathe for a few hours a week, which lead to being tan to being in-vogue. Additionally, after women lost their trailing skirts and hemlines were raised, shoes became much more of a fashion statement since they were almost always visible. 

And so ends the abridged version of how tuberculosis influenced American and European fashion...even to today!

The above image is liscensed under Public Domain. 
 

300,000 Year-Old Homo Sapien fossils Discovered

In early June paleoanthropologists (yes - an even cooler title than plain old paleontologist!) re-dated and realized some of the oldest Homo sapien fossils ever found had been discovered in the 1960s in Jebel Irhoud.

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The fossils, as well as some artifacts, have been dated to around 300,000 years old and were discovered in Morocco. Why is this important? Well it could push the inception of our species back an extra 100,000 years earlier than originally thought. According to leading experts and discoveries made in the field, modern humans as we know them evolved around 200,000 years ago. But the new fossils shift that window in back to 300,000 years.

Let's go back to that cool word I mentioned in the first sentence...paleoanthropologists. What is a paleoanthropologist? And how are they different from a paleontologist? Well paleoanthropology is the study of the formation and the development of the specific characteristics of humans. It dates back to the 18th century, but has begun playing a more and more major role in our understanding of us in recent years, especially with the advent of more effective technology and dating techniques. 

Let's talk about where these beings were found. They were found in Jebel Irhoud. Jebel Irhoud was not a novel place to find remains, in fact some bodies were originally discovered by miners in the 1960s, but were (as we know now) incorrectly identified as 40,000 year-old Neanderthals.

But...Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute, wasn't quite satisfied with this conclusion. In fact, he believed the skull shapes were all wrong for Neanderthals and actually more closely resembled early humans from abut 150,000 years ago. 

This was the beginning of a long road for Hublin though. At the time conventional wisdom in the field held that early humans evolved in East Africa. With that fact understood, it would make no sense that an even earlier human could be found in North Africa.

This started in the 1980s...and he didn't let go of it for decades. Finally, in 2004, he was able to find 5 different Homo sapiens were found: 3 adults, 1 adolescent, and 1 child, preserved in clay. He got lucky again because the remains were burned. Now, you might think damaged remains would be a bad thing, right? Well, not when it comes to dating. The burn allowed for thermoluminescence dating. Long story short, this technique is able to test to see how much  radiation an object has absorbed since it was last heated, thus providing a strong baseline for dating.

The ability to use thermoluminescence dating, which were backed up further by electron spin resonance dating (from the remaining teeth enamel) confirmed Hublin's original theory: the specimens were early humans dating back to 300,000 years ago. 

Hublin and his team began calling these remains  "early Homo sapiens." In an e-mail to Ars Technia, Hublin clarified that they aren't modern humans, but instead "representative of populations directly ancestral to us."

According to Richard Potts, who directs the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program, in an email to the Washington Post he described the new findings to have “small faces shaped distinctively like modern humans, although the brain pans fall outside the range of humans alive today." But, he added, this isn't a big deal “so do several other clearly fossil Homo sapiens from Africa and Europe,” he said.  Comparing these with facial position on known human skulls from Ethiopia, Potts said, “I think we have a good instance of early Homo sapiens from Irhoud.” Additionally, a similar jaw and "modern chin" that all modern humans share are found in this. They also found proof of use of tools and other artifacts. 

The above image is of Jean-Jacques Hublin at Jebel Irhoud and is liscensed under creative commons and wikimedia commons. The image was taken by Shannon McPherron, MPI EVA Leipzig.

A Frightening Haul

A faceless fish, zombie worms, and flesh-eating crustaceans - oh my! All these and more were recently pulled up from the depths of the abyss...and by abyss, I mean some of the deepest parts of the oceans humans have explored so far.

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The mission itself was called 'Sampling the Abyss'. This mission was headed up by a joint effort between Australia's 'Museums of Victoria' and the 'Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation'. 

The goal of 'Sampling the Abyss' was to explore Australia's easern abyss which is roughly 2.5 miles below the surface of the ocean. Why? Well, this patch of ocean is one of the least explored parts of the entire planet and it is believed that discoveries and research there will further help scientists to understand biodiversity, and maybe even how to best protect it.

The team comprised of 40 international scientists that lasted roughly a month.  The entire month was spent on the  research vessel, aptly named 'Investigator.' The Chief Scientist on this pioneering voyage into the deep is Dr Tim O’Hara. Dr. O'Hara is the deputy head of the Museums of Victoria and hopes to find and collect new specimens with the help of specially created nets and other fishing gear.

One of my favorite finds was the Coffinfish. Although Coffinfish have been documented for quite some time, the ones they discovered were quite interesting looking (if you want to see pics head over here). One interesting things about coffinfish is, well, they aren't fish at all. In fact, their in the sea toad family. 

O'Hara has said about the mission, “We know that abyssal animals have been around for at least 40 million years, but until recently only a handful of samples had been collected from Australia’s abyss,”

The above image is from Flickr user Paramita and is liscensed under creative commons. 

Ouija: A History

Ouija boards have been around for decades and decades, even Hasbro has gotten in on the Ouija-Board, creating a speciality toy and boxset for the strange, alleged portal to the dead. But, Ouija's didn't just appear out of the ether one day...so how did they rise to such an intense popularity and cultural awareness?

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First, for the uninitiated, a ouija board is a flat board (not dissimilar to an actual board of a board game) made of wood or, in toy reproductions, some kind of cardboard-like material. At the top of the board are "Yes" and "No" in the corner, underneath in a curved half-circle are the numbers 0-9, underneath the full alphabet, and, finally, 'goodbye' printed at a bottom. The board also has a 'planchette' which is a teardrop-shaped item with a small window in the point to view the letters/numbers/words. This is what the spirt uses to communicate with the users. It is used by two or more people who place their fingertips lightly on the planchette, ask questions, and allow the planchette to move freely across the board.

There were some pre-cursors to the actual Oujia board - people had been wanting to communicate with the dead for a long time. The most common way was to call out of the alphabet over and over again and wait for a knock or bang on the letter. This was tedious, took a long time, and, well...it was boring.

Kennard Novelty Company wanted to changed that. Although the board may appear ancient in origin to some, it likely was invented during the 19th century craze surrounding spiritualism. In fact, the board DID appear to come straight out of the ether. Or, well, he Kennard Novelty Company. This company was the first to produce the Ouija board, at least that historians know of.

But how did the company choose such a strange name? Well, the creator's sister-in-law was a known, powerful medium and she said the name "came to her" thus, history was made. Although I have to admit that the popular explanation that it is a mash-up of the French (Oui) and German (Ja) words for "yes" is more interesting.

So, from the 1860s on it enjoyed an interesting importance in American spiritualism as a way to communicate with death. There were few negative associations of it and only a few horrifying accounts of use. That is, until, The Exorcist (1973) and following movies brought it to the culture icon of fear, wonderment, and a door to our world for the dead that we know it to be today.

The above image is from NY Public Library's public domain project

The (True-ish) Stories Behind Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary

When you were growing up, it is likely that you dared (or dared a friend) to go into a locked bathroom and whisper "Bloody Mary" in the dark to the mirror 3-times. The legend was, if done correctly, Bloody Mary herself would appear in the mirror. But where did this strange legend come from in the first place?

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The origin of this strange legend are many, and musings like: it  was inspired by the initiation of a girl's period, a ghost that can show you your future husband (or your dead body, should you be destined to die before you marry), Elizabeth Bathory, and even a witch from the Salem trials. But, let's start with my favorite 'true story' behind the legend is that of the English Bloody Mary...Mary Tudor. 

Mary, sadly, for most of her life was starved for love. She began as the only daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine - unwanted due to her status as female and her mother's inability to produce a male heir. Mary was often separated from her mother and any connection that would provide her with a sense of love and belonging. That mixed with her father's insatiable need for a son put her in direct competition with her future siblings. However, one day, she took the throne. She was married to her suitor of choice, a man 10 years her junior, who was not interested in her.

Her time as Queen and as a newly married woman should have been some of the best of her life. However, her devout Catholic beliefs, numerous fertility issues, depression, and sometimes nasty habits and reactions made her an evil-hag in the eyes of her own people. Oh, and not to mention her intense persecution habits.

That matched with a year-long of pregnancy rumors and mild proof continued Mary's intense depression and, likely, the ultimate feeling of failure to produce an heir and serve England effectively.

This is why some traditions of Bloody Mary have the sayer taunt the mirror to bring her to light by saying "I stole your baby" or, even more gruesome, "I killed your baby".

As a Refinery29 article says, "While her sister became the gilded legend, she became the myth, the witch in the mirror, her arms forever outstretched and empty."

Buuut, we're not even close to done. The thing about Mary is...it's a super common name. And, because of this and the mirror's general sense of dread and tragedy, many 'real' marys can fit this horrifying tableau. 

Take Mary Worth, for example. Fast forward a few hundred years from Mary Tudor and switch to the USA and you'll find her story. She infamously lived on Old Wagon Road in Chicago during the Civil War, slightly outside of the main part of town. She kidnapped children, runaways, and escaped slaves and performed all sorts of rituals and harvested their bodies for her spells - you know, typical witch things. She was later burned at the stake by the townspeople and buried on unconsecrated ground.

As luck would have it her burial place became a farm many years later and no one thought to warn the buyers. A stone, meant to mark her burial, was dug up when creating an oat field. The farmer, thinking it would be a good front door step, unearthed the stone and put it on his front stoop. However, poltergeist-like activity began infiltrating the home and an apparition was seen by their young daughter in the mirror. It appeared as if Mary Worth, her resting place disturbed, had come back to seek revenge.

Although the new owner and his family tried to find the original place where the stone was unearthed, they never could put Mary back to rest and the house eventually burned down. So, Mary Worth is doomed to be called upon incessantly as she has no resting place.

Going back to the past, let's talk a little bit about Elizabeth Bathory, infamous Blood Countess, potential witch, and Hungarian noblewoman who lived in the late 15th and early 16th century. It was said she killed over 600 people - mainly for blood - to stay young and and beautiful forever. People think she is behind Bloody Mary as a way to continue getting young girl's blood to maintain her beauty...even in the afterlife.

All the above are fun explanations for an enduring myth that no one is quite sure its true origin. However, the focus on a mirror is a bit easier to track. Catoptromancy is the practice of divination through mirrors or crystal gazing and it has its origins in ancient Greece. Additionally, it is noted that staring too long at a reflective surface, like a mirror or a crystal, in a dimly lit room could lead to hallucination, visual distortion, and, in laymens terms, your eyes playing tricks on you.

Have you heard any other Bloody Mary origin stories? Share them below! 

The above image is from Flickr user John Brucato and is liscensed under  CC 2.0. 

 

This Is Your Brain on Horror Movies

Sadly this weekend I was horribly ill. Not-so-sadly I spent the entire weekend on the couch, watching a slightly mind-numbing amount of horror movies. Now that the sniffles have subsided and I feel a bit more myself I have a question: why horror? At my sickest and most vulnerable...why did I reach for some of the most shocking and terrifying material I could get my hands on? Well, this post seeks to answer that question.

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Let's start with a professor's point of view, shall we? Professor Fischoff, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA says, "We know that, in an hour or two, we’re going to walk out whole,” says Fischoff. “We’re not going to have any holes in our head, and our hearts will still be in our bodies.” If this is true, was I watching horror because my sickness reminded me of my mortality and I needed to see how others death with death? Perhaps the people on screen were somehow more "mortal" than i was because I wasn't dying. They lived and died, I lived and turned on the next movie.

Is there a power move at play when it comes to watching horror movies? Is it a way for us to confront mortality comfortably - approaching death and dying with a can-do attitude? I couldn't run away from a killer or monster, but at least my heart got pounding and I learned a little bit about how to potentially escape a killer. Or, at the very least, I yelled when characters, decidedly ignorant, chose exactly the wrong option...leading to their death.

Benjamin Bailey, a writer for Nerdist, seems to agree. He writes, "Our cultural love of horror is directly related to the reason people get Grim Reaper tattoos or wear t-shirts with skulls on them. We want to show everyone that death is in our control, not the other way around. It’s a way to give order to the universe, to reign in chaos." And, I quite liked this answer. Like I said above, horror movies in particular allow us to deal with death on-screen with a can-do attitude. We often put ourselves in those situations - what would we do? what could the characters have done better? and, even further, thinking about death as meaningful (or, not meaningful) or as an inevitable that isn't necessarily a bad thing...just a plot point.

Bailey continues, "Horror puts a face on something that is otherwise faceless." And, perhaps, when you're sick with some kind of bug or cold or flu...it's nice to put a face on things that are seemingly out of your control. So, I don't think watching horror movies means you want to see blood, guts, and destruction...but that you want to feel in control of the uncontrollable. Perhaps, in my weakened state, I wanted to feel like I could confront something - even if that something was Krampus (a surprisingly good flick - not a lot of CGI and great use of puppets!).

On top of the whole control thing...there's also something called the "catharsis theory" . The Catharsis Theory, when applied to our enjoyment of horror movies, posits we like watching horror movies because we feel better at the end of them. Now, the reasons for feeling 'better' at the end of the movies are all different. For example, sometimes we are happy the "hero" or "protagonist" of the story, someone we likely related to since they were given the most interiority, comes out on top. Other times we may feel vindicated because we "guessed" the ending or a twist, or even that the movie just stuck to the stereotypical plot we expected, thus confirming order in the world. But maybe we're just be happy that the horror is over and that we made it through.

I'd like to hear YOUR thoughts - why do we enjoy horror movies, especially if and when we're stuck on the couch?

The above image is unrelated to the story and is from Flickr user Josef.Stuefer and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). 

Why Mummies Fascinate Us

"The Mummy" has survived several iterations - ranging from bad to good throughout cinematic history. But what is it that has kept mummies in the forefront of our minds for so many decades?

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First - what is a mummy? Well, mummies began in Egypt from natural causes, but these natural mummifications soon became purposeful and religious rites. Egyptians saw death, and the corpse, as important steps on the road to the afterlife. The first step is to halt, as much as possible, the typical process of decomposition. This was done by removing the organs and treating the now-emptier body with palm wine and spices. However, the heart was left - as it was necessary to the afterlife. Once all this had been done, the now-hollow body was left out in the sun to dry for about 40 days. The body was then wrapped in layer after layer of linen, interwoven with little amulets. Finally, the body was coated in resin and sealed in its tomb.

Okay, so now that we roughly know what an Egyptian mummy is and the process we can begin to figure out why they are exactly so important to horror-culture.

The infatuation first began when English archaeologists began uncovering them in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, the discovery of mummies and Egyptian culture during the time of mummies created a bit of a mania, specifically Egyptomania, in England and surrounding countries who were hungry for a piece of the lore.

One of the reasons could be very simple - mummies are real. While the curses and re-animation part may be an invention, mummies are very real artifacts. We cannot hide from them, claim to know their power, and we don't even totally know how they were created in the first place. They hold a certain horror that only physical objects can claim.

Not to mention, there appears to be a loose 'proof' of a curse related to disturbing the tombs of great mummies. Take, for example, the entering of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922. Those associated with the tomb would die in grisly ways. After the tomb was discovered, opened, and infiltrated Lord Carnarvon, who was Howard Carter's main backer died. George J Gould, who toured the tomb, got a fever whilst exploring it and died. Oh, but that's not it. The trail grows longer. In fact, it might have survived decades. The airplane crew that transported the treasures taken from the tomb to the British Museum in 1972 perished. However, Carter himself died of natural causes at a relatively decent age (64). But still, the rash of deaths associated with the tomb are tough to forget. Not to mention, it wasn't only Tut's tomb that carried curses.

The mummy also acts as a go-between for the living and the dead. And, as we know, re-animation of the dead is one of humans most feared components when it comes to creating a really scary monster.

 

The above image is a Mummy of an upper-class Egyptian male from the Saite period, taken by Keith Schengili-Roberts. It is liscensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike. 

The Hinsdale House

Have you ever heard of the Hinsdale house? I hadn't until very recently. Things began going wrong long before the Dandy family moved into a century-old townhouse in Hinsdale, NY during the 1970s...but why not start at the apex?

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Like many families who buy a house - Clara and Phil were excited and caught up with the flurry of excitement that comes with moving. However, the honeymoon glow of the new house only took a few days to begin wearing off. Soon, the family began experiencing some very unexplainable phenomena. 

It started off semi-innouncously - almost instances which could just be brushed off. Things like phone calls from unknown callers and various acts of minor vandalism (think cabinet doors from Paranormal Activity) that is typically linked to poltergeists. The only frightening unexplainable occurrence at the beginning? Sometimes, soft chanting could be heard at the edge of the woods surrounding their home.

One night, the family even reported that a crop of "strange faces" were watching them through their windows. Mr. Dandy, like any good guy, ran outside to confront the trespassers. But, by the time they got their the faces had somehow reversed and now appeared as if they were inside the house looking at him.

Then, soon things began to escalate. They started to see things. What kind of things? The most prevalent seemed to a full-bodied woman in white. However, other apparitions plagued the family like half-animal human hybrids and even slightly indescribable demonic-like beings.

The hauntings soon became more and more violent. In one incident, a lamp was thrown directly at one of the Dandy daughters. Objects often flew around the room, aiming for a human target. 

Driven to desperation in just a few short months, the Dandy's sought out the help of the church. Father Alphonsus was assigned to help the family. A team of paranormal investigators also trekked out to give their assistance to the family. There doesn't seem to be a lot of specific accounts of the exorcism, so it is safe to assume it went...as par for the course as an exorcism can go.

After a few days of cherished calm, the madness and evil began again. The exorcism failed. The activity returned to a heartbreaking fervor, finally forcing the Dandy's to flee the premise and leave the house. They lived in the house from July 1973 - October 1974.

The Hinsdale House is also slightly notorious for another reason: it is responsible for one of the scariest and most watched episodes of Paranormal Lockdown. Nick Groff and Katrina Weidman spent a grueling 72 hours inside the house. The experience included chanting, banging, and an overwhelming sense of confusion. You can watch some clips here.

What is the fate of the house now? Paranormal investigator Dan Klaes bought the property in 2015, and he hosts a variety of paranormal teams, researchers, and investigators at the property. 

The above image is not a picture of the house and is by flickr user Bodomi. It is liscensed under Creative Commons. 

 

Why Do Some People Get Attacked By Mosquitos More Than Others?

Living in D.C. means I'm highly subject to mosquitos because of the warm and humid climate. After living in a sometimes swamp-esque place, I've noticed some of my friends get bit more frequently than others. Even if we're in the same place, a few of us always come out with more bites than others. Why is that?

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Lab studies show that roughly 20% of people are yummier than others, at least for mosquitos. In particular, those with higher metabolic rates produce more carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide is what attracts mosquitos in the first place. Not to mention, Lactic acid (which is produced when you exercise), acetone (a chemical released in via breath), and estradiol (product of estrogen). People who produce a lot of these, for example pregnant women, are more likely to get bitten.

Additionally, it is important to note that mosquitos are surprisingly visual creatures. Mosquitos typically choose their victims based on sight first. If you're looking to escape the outdoors unscathed, try to avoid wearing dark colors like black, navy blue, red stand out. 

Blood type also plays a big part in what can attract mosquitos to you. Mosquitos do not eat blood for sustenance, but rather for a protein the females need to develop their eggs. In one study, mosquitoes landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. 

Bacteria can also be tantalizing to certain mosquitos. Scientists have found that having large amounts of a few types of bacteria made skin more appealing to mosquitoes. This is why you so often get bites around your feet and ankles - they find your foot bacteria yummy.

I also have some bad news for those who like having a drink outside. Having a 12-ounce beer can make you more delectable. However, it's a bit of a mystery why it attracts mosquitos more , though. Researchers once thought it was because it raised body heat or made the body secrete ethanol. However, it was discovered that neither of these correlated.

Recent studies also seem to suggest that what compels mosquitos might not be as lucrative as finding out what repels them. For example, perhaps people who receive less bites produce chemicals on their skin that make them more repellant, or even cover up smells that mosquitoes might normally find attractive. Figuring out this could mean less bites for everyone.

The above image is from wikimedia commons and was created by 根川大橋 it is liscensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Paranormal Ectoplasm

If you're a lover of the paranormal, you've probably heard about ectoplasm. And, if you haven't, it was created long before Ghostbusters ever made it famous. There have been famous photos, especially at the turn of the last century, that depict a strange substance coming out of people in spirit photography. You can see some of those images here

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Although it wasn't quite understood what it was, many believe it is either materialization of  the spirit itself, or a substance inherent in the human body, but was excited or coaxed out by the experience of a séance.

This substance was also seriously investigated by several well-known, and respected, scientists at the time. The study of ectoplasm was spearheaded by a study, and paper, conducted in 1890 by Charles Robert Richet.

Richet was incredibly respected, and even won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1913 for his research on anaphylaxis. In addition to finding out some life-saving things about anaphylaxis, Richet also coined the term ectoplasm in the aforementioned study.

Ectoplasm is typically described gelatinous-appearing substance that seeps from mediums while they performed séances, and it was often believed to be the materialization of spirits. 

In his own words, Richet described ectoplasm occurring in a medium, “In the early stages there are always white veils and milky patches and the faces, fingers, and drawings are formed little by little in the midst of this kind of gelatinous paste that resembles moist and sticky muslin.”

Despite a hefty amount of research during this time period, anyone who studies contemporary paranormal news will notice that ectoplasm rarely makes headlines anymore. So, was it all a hoax? Were great minds fooled by clever party tricks? Or, was it something else?

Well, it was found that these were actually a parlor trick of the highest degree. One of the reasons so many prominent scientists dedicated their time and talents studying this faux-phenomena was because of a new scientific study which proved the existence of another kind of plasm. 

In the mid-1800s, scientists discovered a gelatinous substance, also known as “plasm”, inside both plant and animal cells. At the time, they believed to be the basis for all life on Earth. So, by the turn of the 19th century the idea of plasm, and of plasm existing in cells, was pretty common and well-studied. Thus, they thought they could link the extrusion of plasm, aka ectoplasm, from the body during extreme human experiences, like a seance. 

Later, with the emergence of molecular biology it was revealed that heredity is stored not in a cell’s jiggly plasm...but in the acids of its nucleus. And, with that discovery, the menion of ectoplasm slowly disappeared.

 

The above image depicts a séance with ectoplasm present. It is liscensed under Flickr's The Commons. The image can also be found on Wikimedia Commons.

Google's AI Remains Undefeated

AlphaGo is a "narrow AI" developed by Google's DeepMind to specifically play the ancient game "Go." In October 2015 it made history for the first time by being the first and only computer program to beat a human at the game Go. Go is an "abstract strategy board game" with two players and is roughly 2,500 years old. Why pick Go? Well, despite its seemingly simple appearance it is more complicated than chess and has more possibilities than the total number of atoms in the universe. So, you can see why it is the perfect test for an AI. 

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Well, AlphaGo recently made history again! Just last week, May 2017, AlphaGo won its second game against a human - Ke Jie, a 19 year-old Chinese man. He lost a three game match with AlphaGo. According to the developers at DeepMind, who watched the match with great scrutiny, Ke Jie came the closest anybody has to beating AlphaGo. In fact, his first 50 or so moves were almost perfect!

Demis Hassabis went as far as tweeting "What an amazing and complex game! Ke Jie pushed AlphaGo right to the limit."

Ke narrowly lost the first match and was even a little shaken up about the loss. However, by the second game onlookers noticed he had loosened up a bit, although he still seemed wary of the machine which he described as "godlike" in its game playing abilities.

AlphaGo, with this victory, continues its legacy as the best Go player in the world. No one to challenge it, even the champions of the game, have been able to beat it. 

This isn't the end of testing AlphaGo, though. Later on it will be tested as part of a human team against two other Go players, having to work in tandem with its human teammate. This will be done in an effort to teach AlphaGo how to better work with humans, as well as understand their decision making in the realm of Go.

What does this mean for the future of AI? Clearly, all this time, money, and news coverage aren't just for technology that is better than humans at board games. It is important to note how powerful AlphaGo is. In fact many in the AI industry believed that a "Go program as powerful as AlphaGo was at least five years away." This shows us that AI technology is progressing at a faster rate than previously thought possible. The development, programming, and team behind AlphaGo show just how intensive and powerful the field of AI is.

It's also important to understand that while this is impressive, AlphaGo can only play Go and does not have general purpose intelligence. It doesn't have common sense or autonomy or, well, will. AlphaGo is completely under human control and has no capabilities of defecting to a different purpose. So, there is no need to be scared yet...just remember to stay informed.

 

The above image was taken by wikimedia user Donarreiskoffer and is liscensed Creative Commons 3.0

One of Sweden's Most Infamous Unsolved Murders was Probably Committed by a Vampire

Okay, okay..."probably" might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was one of the top theories. In Sweden, it is known as the "Atlas Vampire Murder", named for the neighborhood in Stockholm where it took place in 1932. Even today, over 50 years later, the case is still as cold, and enthralling, as it was in the 1930s.

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Lily Lindstöm was the victim of this killer. She was a thirty-two year old prostitute that often entertained guests in the comfort (and likely safety) of her own home. While, at first, it may seem strange that she invited men up to her apartment, it does make a little sense -- home field advantage. She might have even had friends or neighbors in the building that would have helped her, should one of her johns make a bad move.

In fact, one of her friends and downstairs neighbor, was the last to see her alive. Minnie Jansson was also a sex-worker and saw her just days before her body was found. According to Minnie, Lily had knocked on her dorm to get some condoms. When her friend didn't visit the next day, Minnie began to get nervous as the two talked quite often. She called the Stockholm police and they made a visit to Lily's apartment a few days later.

On May 4th they entered her apartment and the Stockholm police beheld a horrific scene. To avoid being too graphic, you can read all the grisly details here. But, in summary - Lily was face-down on her bed. She was not wearing any clothes, and, instead, they were neatly folded on a chair near her bed. According to the police, it appeared she had been dead for roughly 2-3 days. There was also proof she had sexual contact shortly before death. The cause of death were repeated blows from a blunt object to her head.

I'm sure you are wondering, a little, where exactly the "vampire" part of this unsolved crime comes into play. Well, in addition to the horrific way Lily met her end, it was determined that most (if not all) of Lily's blood had been completely drained. Furthermore, saliva was found on her neck. And, after further investigation of the crime scene, a blood-stained gravy ladle may have been used to consume her blood.

Thus this haunting murder was more than just a tragedy - it may have been committed by a true monster (or, at the very least, a seriously deranged person who believed they were a monster.)

No one was ever charged for death. It was believed her last customer was the perpetrator, but after interviewing many of her regulars the police came up empty. And they also had another lingering question - where did all her blood go? Because it wasn't in the apartment.

Over the years, many different theories have come forth. Some are more realistic than others. For example, some believed it was a police officer who was able to throw the others off his tracks by creating an elborately weird crime scene. However, the little evidence found does not seem to wholly support this theory.

This remains one of the creepiest, and truly most bizarre unsolved cases, that Stockholm has ever seen. It continues to grip many people to this day and you can even see some of the evidence, which remains on display. You can see the picture here.

The above picture is from the early Gothic vampire novel, "Carmilla". It is liscensed under public domain and is unrelated to the above story.

Have You Ever Heard Of Panpsychism?

What do you think of the idea that all matter AND all energy is sentient? Sentient meaning able to both perceive and/or feel things. Well, what you think of that might influence your idea of panpsychism. Panpsychism is a philosophical view with its roots deep in ancient thinkers, in fact, many believe that its earliest followers were actually pre-Socratic. This philosophy hold that consciousness (and even souls) are a universal and primordial feature of all things - from leaves to energy to people and air. 

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Let's break it down even more - the word "Pan" means everywhere, and the word "Psyche" is the soul/mind. Put these two together and you have Panpsychism: the belief that the soul is everywhere. 

Panpsychism also seeks to explain how life can result from decidedly nonliving mater, as well as how consciousness can result from non-conscious matter. In fact, it makes short work of this dilemma with its conclusion: all things have consciousness. 

Now, you might be thinking...Tess, what is this hippie nonsense? And, I agree - to an extent. But one interesting feature of this blog is the ability to dive deeper into new ideas, and I found this one particularly enamoring. But, to soothe the skeptics I will let you in on a little secret: Panpsychism has two major flaws.

1. "The Problem of Aggregates" - This is the idea that consciousness cannot spread over the universe, as John Searle, a UCB philosopher puts it "like a thin veneer of jam...there has to be a point where my consciousness ends and yours begins." 

2.  The second point following the problem of aggregates is: if consciousness is everywhere...why doesn't it animate every.single.leaf in visible ways? Or hey, why not the ladder in your garage? Or why does dead matter not have consciousness or if you take a brain and step on it, despite being the hub of consciousness, there is no longer consciousness?

But contemporary thinkers are trying to suss out these problems, particularly psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi. He has created the idea of "Integrated Panpsychism" which posits that consciousness depends on a "physical substrate but is not reducible to it." While our expereince are linked to our brains...but is different from our brains. Thus any system that has a level of integrated information above zero...likely has "a very minute conscious expereince" 

There are two principled assumptions: 

1. Conscious states are highly differentiated and informationally, very rich. 

2. Each of these experiences are highly integrated. Chistof Knoch, the author of the Scientific American linked above, makes a great point, " You cannot force yourself to see the world in black and white; its color is an integrated part of your view. Whatever information you are conscious of is wholly and completely presented to your mind; it cannot be subdivided."

With these assumptions we can come to the conclusion that in order to be conscious requires a two things: 1) You need to be a single, integrated entity and two 2) You must have a  large repertoire of highly differentiated states. 

Thus, a bunch of disconnected items like the photos in your grandmother's photo album, beads on a necklace, or books on a shelf are not integrated They lack consciousness and do not have the appropriate mental properties to meet the above 2 requirements of consciousness. 

However, others say that all of the above positing and rules and stipulations are...to complicated.

For example, Seattle University professor Dnaiel Dombrowksi writes: "[Panpsychism] “suggests that every instance of reality is mind-like or at least exhibits some slight ability to feel the difference between itself and the rest of what is." If we can imagine that a human has consciousness why can't a dog or an insect or a tree branch. We're all made up of atoms and individuals cells and mater, right?

So why study this at all? What caught my eye about this complicated, zany, out-there theory? I was reading an article on JStor Daily about it, while looking for ideas about how the universe is growing - as space is a popular topic on the blog. And, I found this quote in the article (linked above), "If panpsychism is true, and if, as postulated by some contemporary physicists, the cosmos is expanding, might we not think of the universe as literally a mind expanding, a world soul growing up?" Benjamin Winterhalter, the author of this Jstor Daily article, wrote these words and I just had to share the whole idea with you! Because, well, thinking of the universe as a mind expanding and a soul growing up is a whole lot more comforting than many of the other theories I've heard. 

The above image is from Flickr User Ivan and it is of a brain nebula. It is liscensed under creative commons 2.0 generic!