Back to: Project Stargate | Forward to: The jet lag game

The World Shrinks Under The Weight of Madness

In my previous post, I mentioned Drs. Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, who in the 1970s claimed to study, and establish the existence of, psychic phenomena. Ever since reading their account of that work at the Stanford Research Institute my fringe-science Spidey-sense has become attuned to references to Puthoff and Targ. And they show up quite frequently, in some of the most unexpected places. (Or perhaps not so surprising if, like me, you happen to enjoy reading poorly edited works of crackpot science. What can I say? It's a hobby.)

I do feel compelled to mention that both men do have bona fide science and engineering credentials, even though (in my personal opinion) it is difficult to reconcile those with the Uri Geller/Stargate debacle. Prior to his work at SRI, Puthoff had done work on tunable IR lasers. Targ has also worked on laser applications, and as recently as the 90s was publishing research on wind-shear detection using LIDAR.

But the first place I encountered any mention of Puthoff outside his remote viewing work was in Nick Cook's book The Hunt for Zero Point. Cook was a former aviation editor and military-affairs journalist for Jane's Defense Weekly. For that 2002 book he investigated claims that several major US and British aerospace firms had invested heavily in "gravity engine" (aka antigravity) technology during the 1950s. The trail leads to all manner of strangeness including, as is practically required, Operation Paperclip, Nazi flying discs, and Viktor Schauberger. (Google "Schauberger's Bell" if you're unfamiliar with that last fellow and feel the need to read up on some good old-fashioned Nazi UFO and/or Nazi time machine conspiracy theories.) While trying to investigate what is a very speculative field of physics, Cook realizes he needs an expert guide to help him evaluate the technical merits of the information he uncovers. A very reasonable decision.

But to whom does he turn? None other than Hal Puthoff. The connection comes about because for many years Puthoff has researched gravitation and "zero-point energy" at the Institute for Advanced Studies. (That is, the outfit he founded in Austin, TX-- not to be confused with the considerably more noteworthy Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ). ZPE is floated in Cook's book as one of the means by which antigravity technology might be powered. While ZPE might be a real phenomenon, it is so poorly understood at present that it has become fodder for no end of bizarre claims that, out in the fringes, tend to overlap with parapsychology. Which of course brings us back to Puthoff.

Though it does eventually (perhaps inevitably) go off the rails, Cook's investigation is nothing if not entertaining. At least he attempts to proceed carefully, and while I'm not necessarily swayed by the arguments, he does make his case in a clear and straightforward fashion. The same cannot be said for other writers who have pointed to Puthoff as a source of validation. In his book Reich of the Black Sun, Joseph Farrell points to some of Puthoff's later work to bolster his own more extravagant claims about Nazi secret weapon development during WWII. (That book begins with the claim that Germany and Japan both completed and successfully tested their own atomic bomb research prior to the Manhattan Project, though he doesn't appeal to Puthoff on that front. That's Farrell's measured and restrained starting point, before delving into the really weird stuff.) It should be noted that Farrell has also written a book purporting a relationship between Schauberger's Bell and the apocryphal Philadelphia Experiment, and another asserting that the Great Pyramid of Giza was actually an energy beam weapon. So, you know. Take that as you will.

Russell Targ also gets around. He even crept up on me when I watched Bobby Fischer Against the World, a documentary about the late and very troubled world chess champion. How? He married Fischer's sister, Joan. She passed away in the 90s, but as Bobby Fischer's brother-in-law, Targ is interviewed in the documentary. (I just about fell out of my chair when his name popped up on the screen.) I'm told that Targ's autobiography makes an interesting read. Apparently he was a regular member of Ayn Rand's salon, and attended some of the same meetings with Alan Greenspan.

So now you'll know the answer should anybody ever ask you what Uri Geller, Bobby Fischer, Ayn Rand, Viktor Schauberger, and Alan Greenspan have in common.

106 Comments

1:

... Apeart from being totally, utterly Upney, you mean ... or quite possibly Upminster Bridge.

NOTE: To non-English, or even non-London readers, you are invited to consult a London Tube map, & proceed Eastwards along the Drastic, oops "District" line (the one colured Green) and read off the station names! ]

Still, at least Immanuel Velikovsky hasn't got a look in yet, or Dinesh De Sewer ( erm, de Souza?)

Sorry, I'm going to quote from an essay I worte some years back ... the header for this section was "proposition #4 Prayer has no effect on Third Parties" ... after a para. or two, I came up with a corollry of that, namely:
[BEGIN quote There is no such thing as "Psi".
Similarly, any so-called "Psi" forces and supernatural powers have no real effect, or existence.
If these had any reality whatsoever, consider the enormous evolutionary advantage that such a talent, skill, or ability would give to any person, or any other animal, so endowed. No such advantage has ever been seen, or noted. The simple reason is that "Psi" is not merely a myth, but a possibly comforting lie. It is also a source of great exploitation of the gullible by stage magicians and unscrupulous fraudsters.
END quote]

Next question, how much & of what substances have the inhabitants of Boskone been ibibing or smoking to produce this level of loopiness?

2:

Hey, whatever sells books. What I want to know is whether this silliness sells better on the SFF shelves, or in the "True Science" section of a big box bookstore? I'm guessing the former, but it is hard to tell.

3:

I don't know, either, but there is definitely a component of the crackpot science/fringe archeology set that is very vocal about trying to assert their claims are totally real and not at all fictional.

4:

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Immanuel "cosmic billiards" Velikovsky gets name checked in the works about the Great Giza Death Ray Conspiracy.

5:

The pyramids are for death rays? I hadn't come across that one. I've seen most of the others though.

There's a blog called "Bad Archaeology"; they had a post on the Piri Reis map recently, and have taken on lunatics in the past.

6:

Zero point energy is a real thing with demonstrated experimental effects. Unfortunately, as far as we know the quantum field is uniform. In the absence of any gradient, the theoretical Carnot efficiency of any ZPE-powered engine is zero.

7:

Hey, cranks are ubiquitous.

(Just go read Archimedes Plutonium's website if you want some supporting evidence. Or google for Doctress Neutopia and marvel at the rants of Francis E. Dec.)

The only difference here is that these folks got funding.

8:

And as a possible explanation of how they got funding, I recommend Strange Days Indeed, a book on just how insane the 70s were from the very top down (link is to the Guardian review).

9:

Good ol' Archimedes Plutonium. Those were the days, back on Usenet.

I was always a fan of the Kooks Museum, which is where I learned of the ET Corn Gods.

10:

Charlie:
Hey, cranks are ubiquitous.

And yet, you haven't written any of those into your books yet, unless I missed it...

The lesser kooks in Singularity Sky was quite an amusing easter egg.

11:

Well, I'm glad to see you add some credibility to Ayn Rand, and Alan Greenspan. Educational link, that.

12:

It's too damned easy to take cheap shots at kooks in fiction. And a bit pitiful; they can't shoot back effectively.

(I prefer not to point and mock at targets who can't stand up to me. I don't want to see myself as a bully.)

13:

I doubt there's much anyone else can do in the universe to affect Neutropia or Archimedes' perceptions and worldviews, however, I do understand the moral distinction and decision. Those lampooned in Singularity Sky were certainly capable of standing up for themselves.

14:

Some characters of "Jennifer Morgue" or "The Apocalyps Codex" are cranks that happen to be right in a different way than what they think. I find that more amusing than giving the reader high expectations that end up being complete red herrings; that works quite well in role-playing game, but mostly because you can take a break to laugh about it, and because there are other players to find it amusing and to bring it up again later.

15:
consider the enormous evolutionary advantage that such a talent, skill, or ability would give

Larry Niven explored that in World of Ptavvs, the Thrint were telepathic: On their homeworld natural selection and competition meant their power was just good enough to nudge an animal closer to a watering hole. Then an alien starship lands and the aliens, completely lacking defenses are taken over by the natives who go from hunter gatherers to galactic empire in one jump. He never explains why this doesn't apply in other worlds despite having humans and other aliens with psi powers though.

It's funny how prevalent psi was in classic science fiction, I guesss all those parapsychology departments made it look sort of respectable

16:

Nestor
I had had a copy of "World of Ptavvs" on my sheleves for some time already, when I wrote that essay.
It is entirely possible that I had remembered that, at the time.

However, if you look at *old* erm, "popular" natural history texts (I have a late C19th one somewher ...) you will find a lot fo references to other animals "mystical" (meaning "we don't understand how they do it") powers of, usually hunting.
Even H G Wells fell for that one on one occasion, IIRC.

Now we have better detectors & sensors & understanding of neurolugy & signal-processing, you don't see any of this stuff, I wonder why, hmmm?

The original point remains, however - it would give a huge evolutionary advantage. Niven brought it up again, if you had forgotten: "Plateau Eyes" in "A Gift from Earth"

17:


Oviously, psi talent renders you deeply unattractive to the opposite sex so there's no evolutionary advantage.


18:

Actually yes, the aforementioned plateau eyes did kind of do that. It was a form of unconscious psi camouflage that could be triggered by stress, so when the protagonist tried to approach an attractive girl it would activate and she would ignore him.

19:

Unless you learn to get a handle on it, as happened in the Niven story ....

20:

"While ZPE might be a real phenomenon, it is so poorly understood at present " Very interesting stuff being done along those lines. Saw an article in New Scientist about a scientist who thinks he can explain inertia (which, unlike Einstein, he separates from gravity) as a sort of drag from the quantum foam, as best I understand it. There's an experiment planned using the dwarf planet Eris. The ideas could be projected, by the imaginative, to lead to inertial damper fields (though not, intrinsically, antigravity). What the cranks do wrong is put the applications before the theory.

21:

(I prefer not to point and mock at targets who can't stand up to me. I don't want to see myself as a bully.)

I guess that explains why I thought you took it easy on New Life Church in "The Apocalypse Codex". They were potential victims, rather than the source of evil.

22:

For kook references without the risk of having my brain melt, my primary books are Ted Schultz's "The Fringes of Reason" and Ken Hite's collected Suppressed Transmissions columns. Just scanning the Francis Dec fan site hurt my head.

23:

My uncle, Glen Densmore, was an executive at SRI for years. He used to consult to install mainframes in multinational banks back in the 70s amongst other projects. His background goes to the beginng of computers. He helped design and build the first computer for the US Navy.

I asked him about the occasional research at SRI into paranormal activity. And he pretty much told me that most people at SRI considered those doing the research to be crackpots.

24:

I think John Campbell had a lot to do with the prevalence of psionics, since he was a believer in the stuff.

As for the biological basis for psychic talents, I put most of it down to a series of illusions. One is post-hoc sampling: if you make enough prophecies, a few will be correct. Done properly, this looks like precognition or prophecy. Astrology works this way, as do some types of mediums and shamans.

As for telepathy, humans do that anyway, using mirror neurons to model other peoples' mental states. It's possible that, in people who claim telepathy or empathy, their brains are set up slightly differently, so that ideas about what other people are thinking "just come to them," where other people are more conscious of thinking about what other people are thinking. Also you can find all sorts of books on how to do "hot-reading" and "cold-reading" for mentalist acts, and many honest psychics unconsciously use these techniques.

As for ESP, I did that in tai chi class for years. It literally is "extra-sensory perception," because the trick is simply to pay more attention to what you feel. Your brain throws out a lot of sensory data, and you can access many of those data with practice. Tai chi's value is chiefly in teaching people to listen to their bodies (which helps with healing themselves) and the bodies of others (which helps with martial arts and healing others), and to become sophisticated in moving all the bits together in efficient ways. To pick one ESP example used in tai chi, it's fairly easy to "feel someone's aura," because everyone tends to have a boundary layer of warmer air near their skin. If your hands are at all sensitive, you feel that heat several inches away from their bodies. You can test this simply by rubbing your palms briskly to warm them up, then moving your palms towards each other from several feet away. Depending on conditions, you can feel the other hand from up to a foot away, and most people can feel them an inch away. The thing to realize is that this is "ESP" because you aren't using a new sense, you are simply paying more attention to bodily senses you usually ignore. The ESP happens in your head.

25:

hetoromeles@24
Just because there are explanations for many instances of the "paranormal", and because outrageous claims have been made, doesn't mean that there aren't unusual phenomena that need explanation. Edgar Cayce for instance. Obviously wrong a lot, but often spooky.

My idea (I won't call it a theory) is that there are plenty of random events in the brain, and some brains are structured to magnify the effects of that randomness. So perhaps if there is something unexplained going on it is something that affects random events generally. But it would be something external that people sometimes interact with, not some internal power that comes from special people.
Because that would just be another turtle.

Just as bad as claiming the validity of pseudoscience is to prove the negative and dismiss anything that doesn't lend itself to experimentation yet. Anyone reasonable must admit that some things could exist that are simply hard to grasp with science. How mystical is it to assume that a method will always apply just because it usually does? Saying everything real can be understood by science and if it can't be addressed by science it can't be real is like someone in the 19th century saying the composition of the interior of the earth is impossible to determine because light doesn't penetrate there. Assertions of "paranormal" phenomena do not deserve scientific status, especially the offered explanations, but scorning the very possibility of something going on may be to discard something of value. You cannot distinguish a picture of the interior of the Earth--perhaps obtained by seismography-- by the name "photograph", but you should not dismiss it as worthless either.

So, now you will ask me to show you this supposed photograph of the mantle. There is currently no scientifically acceptable detection equipment, and may never be, but dismissing the possibility ensures there never will be. Ernst Mach didn't believe in atoms because they are too small to see. Oops.

26:

Oh, I agree. I've had plenty of weird stuff happen to me, much of which seemed psychic. Trouble is, it happens once, not repeatably. I've had some spookily accurate precognitions, but I've had so many more dud predictions that I don't label myself a prophet. My guess (and people can verify this) is that most people have had similar experiences: correct precognitions, ghosts, hints of telekinetic activity, weird synchronicities, the works.

I don't object to people studying traditional magic, chi, or religion. It's not because I think that these things are objectively real (although I once did). Rather it's because I've come to the conclusion that this is the way a number of people (including myself) perceive the world, like it or not, and it's best to learn to live with it, rather than conforming to what other people tell you is the only objective reality. For example, if you're one of those people who talks to God, you've got a couple of choices. You can tear yourself apart trying to prove that your subjective experience is objectively real. You can also try to use your special circumstance to make your life and the lives of others better, without worrying so much about where the experience comes from. In the later case, checking what God says against reality is always a good idea.

Similarly, chi happens. If you do what the chi dudes tell you to do, you get real feelings in your body. Your heart does change its rhythm with your emotions, for example, whether you believe you think with your heart or your brain, and whether you believe in "heart chi" or not. Therefore, it might make a lot of sense to pay attention to what your heart feels, as a way to consciously perceive the way your emotions change your body.

To pick another example: you may or may not buy the idea that overusing your eyes stresses your liver chi (associated with rage), then overstimulates your kidney chi (associated with depression), so that you get alternating waves of anger and depression if you spend too much time overstressing your eyes. However, if you pay attention to your body, you may well notice such up/down cycles when you spend a lot of screen time. You may also notice that spending less time at the computer, while relaxing and stretching the torso, neck, and face muscles associated with the liver and kidney meridians gets you away from the anger/depression cycle. If so, does it matter that acupuncture meridians have no physical basis in medical science, and neither does chi? Not really.

Think of all this stuff as your brain's operating system, not a physical reality. If you're theorizing about the objective reality of anything paranormal, you have to be careful. No one's ever developed a working chi meter, and I'm willing to bet that no one ever will. This shouldn't stop you from feeling the chi in your body, especially if it makes you healthier and happier.

Here's a computer analogy: the "trash can" on my computer desktop is not a tiny physical bin that holds physical bits. It's a bunch of pixels (as is the computer desktop) that's part of the graphical user interface of my computer's operating system, used to help me delete unwanted files, and useful because I can't directly interact with the electrons in the chips to tell them which memory register to zero out. It's simple (and scientific) to hypothesize that said trash can represents something that physically exists, but no matter how many computers you dissect down to the atomic level, you'll never find that physical trash can. It's then quite possible to hypothesize that the trash can is an unscientific lie, because it doesn't physically exist, and then ignore it. But it's far simpler to just use the thing if you can't get your delete key to work properly.

27:

Psi powers doesn't work because we're between mana patches. No mana, no psi powers. Sure there are little dribblets here or there, but because they're randomly distributed in space and time and currently we have no way of detecting mana, experimental probing of psi phenomena are - at best - inconclusive.

28:

Psi powers doesn't work because we're between mana patches. No mana, no psi powers.

If I was looking for a premise for a "hard fantasy" story I'd run with this. Mana is dark energy, the distribution of which in space is a bit lumpy; the solar system is currently passing through a dark energy free bubble in space, which it entered circa 100AD (hence the lack of verifiable miracles, gods, and sorcerers since then) and the instant we enter the next "wall" of dark energy we'll get them back.

(See also "Brain Wave" by Poul Anderson. Or even "A Fire Upon the Deep" by Vernor Vinge.)

29:

Hell, it might even be true.[1] As a metaphor, think about creatures developing 'sight' on a sunless world - far from impossible, given what we know about photo- and biochemistry and evolution. Of course, their 'psi power' only works during random flashes of lightning, say, or when volcanoes spew red-hot (or possibly infrared-hot) lava . . . Niven used this idea, of course, but the trope has been used surprising often, for example in Rucker's 'Freck and the Elixir' or Attanasio's 'Radix'. It's a good trope - file it under 'how do you know it ain't so' ;-)


[1]The point I was trying to make here and on the other thread is that the best summation of the state of Psi you can come up with is not 'disproven' but your Scottish 'not proven'.

30:

A postscript on that last comment: You've got to be very careful here not to abuse the terminology. Saying that psi powers haven't been 'disproven' is true as insofar as it goes. But this is exactly the same sort of rhetorical peg as the oft-used 'evolution is only a theory'. Which is also true. Insofar as it goes ;-)

31:

My memory of Hunt for Zero-Point was that Cook came to the conclusion that a number of anti-gravity/possibly-ZPE-powered research programs went dark in a way very similar to what he'd seen happen with Shiva Star, a program which, as far as he could tell, had been successful.

There are a lot of reasons not to jump from there to '...and that means antigravity/useable-ZPE is real and the government is hiding it from us' and I don't remember (it's been eight or nine years since I read it, so take this with a grain of salt) him pushing the reader to do so at the end of the book.

I basically came away from an entertaining narrative with three things I already knew reinforced:
1) people can be very smart and very crazy at the same time, and most Free Energy research happens up near where those curves cross,
2) there are lots of forgotten backwaters in physics which would be interesting to take a closer look at,
3) Jesus. Fucking. Christ., but were the SS some evil motherfucking bastards, or what?

32:

I'm not sure that bolstering the credibility was my goal, but hey! It's an interesting connection nonetheless.

@20: I can't remember the fellow's name, and don't have the paper at hand right now, but I know there's somebody trying to develop a method of propulsion based entirely on a unique interpretation of Mach's principle. Perhaps this is the same person-- I'll see if I can dig that out from New Scientist.

@23: I'm not surprised at all. It was always a bit difficult for me to reconcile the "psi" research at SRI with the other work done there.

@31: That's exactly the conclusion he comes to at the end of The Hunt for Zero Point. There's even a bit considering whether the Stealth Bomber might have a secret "G-engine" providing extra lift. Your take-away messages from that book are much the same as my own.

33:

It's possible, although as you point out, it's been done.

I had a lot of fun with a time travel many-worlds story where dark energy and dark matter were conserved, while bright energy and bright matter were not. This limited the number of bifurcations in Earth's time-tree, because at each fork, dark energy and dark matter were halved, and they are responsible for various and non-subtle probability warping things like time travel and "magic." This also explained why visitors from another planet have never contacted us--can you imagine the chaos when branches of the time-trees of different worlds start interacting? It also explained why the past was a more magical place than the present, and why brain size increased over evolutionary time (less magic needs more brains, of course). Oh yeah, the planet-wide bifurcation points are marked by mass extinctions, for the same reason that most divorces are messy. Local and temporary bifurcations happen all the time, which is why you can put your glasses down on the table, notice they aren't there a moment later, and then find them an hour afterwards, right where you put them.

Anyway, yes, I like calling dark energy chi, because why not? The whole dark mass/energy universe really should have a "here be dragons" sticker plastered on it, at least until someone gets around to figuring out what all that stuff is. Given that the observable universe is theoretically about 4% of stuff, there's room for a lot of alternate dimensions and hidden worlds out there in the darkness. Of course, most of these fantasies will become dated the moment someone figures out what dark matter is, but it's the biggest blank area on the map we've got at the moment.

35:

You may have trumped my personal favorite connection: Jack Parsons is the handshake connecting L. Ron Hubbard to Aleister Crowley . . .

36:

File this under math is depressing. I just checked the speed at which the Earth is moving relative to the cosmic background radiation, which is around 2.1 million km/hr, or 583333 m/sec. Now we all know time travel is strictly speaking four dimensional, because the Earth is moving quite rapidly. The annoying thing is that, if you calculate this out, the Earth moves on order of 2000 light years every million years, ignoring various loops and such. That's a hell of a long way to travel to go a million years into the past.

Unfortunately, I think Charlie was right in Palimpsest. We'd need wormholes or jump drives to cover that kind of distance. Even a vehicle without reaction mass (say a car pushing against the time continuum) would run out of fuel at those distances. Phooey.

37:

People who habitually read the comments will notice, under that article, someone who looks suspiciously like a cosmology crank.
This does not surprise me. Cranks are everywhere.

I'm just lucky - there aren't many chemistry cranks.

38:

Well, that's total distance. There's nothing in SR that says you can't travel no more than five light-years, then come back to repeat the process.

Concerning MWI and psychic experiences: there's nothing that says that bifurcations can't merge as well as split (and indeed, depending upon cosmological conditions, will merge more and more often as time goes on. State space is big, but not infinite.); in fact, this is exactly equivalent good old-fashioned entropy in a slightly more up-to-date guise.

But again, if you're going to write a story that incorporates psychic powers, appeals to real-world physical processes wouldn't be something I'd waste a lot of what is after all a rather small supply of words on.

39:

You might be interested in Leiber's 'Our Lady of Darkness'. I think the connections between Jack London, Clark Ashton Smith, et. al. are historically accurate.

40:

Love the dark energy = mana theory (one of my pet theories also) and these new guest posts. As long as we're indulging in these kinds of speculations, I might as well mention a similar crackpot theory of mine:

Suppose there is something in the terrestrial environment -- gravity, magnetic field, etc. -- that is suppressing our natural psychic abilities, sensitivity to dark energy/the Force/whatever. If and when humans venture into deep space, this latent ability will become the basis for a new kind of cosmic mysticism or space religion. One can imagine a new impetus for manned spaceflight, a "space Mohammed" appearing in the asteroid colonies, dark/light mytic schools which are something like Lovecraftians/Saganites or Sith/Jedi, etc.

Google Edgar Mitchell and the Overview Effect for some anecdotal evidence about the effect of spaceflight on human consciousness. Some see God, some experience Nirvana, others see Azathoth and still others see an infinite abyss, but none are unaffected...

41:

Remember that Randi and co revealed Project Alpha circa 1979. In the 1960s and 1970s psi was a piece of trendy fringe science which authors could use as a respectable excuse for impossible things. And aside from Campbell, a lot of Golden Age and Silver Age authors like Heinlein dabbled in such things ...

42:

One thing that we see in popular science in TV is a suggestion that life is special because it organises stuff. We don't get much explanation of how life is organising by increasing the entropy elsewhere.

Maybe there's something in that which could define Gods, and distinguish them from illusions.

43:

There's even a bit considering whether the Stealth Bomber might have a secret "G-engine" providing extra lift.

And we all know that those 1000s of mechanics trained in working on the thing can keep a secret.

44:

Actually, I'm not that interested in psychic powers. It's rather old hat these days. Besides, good old chinese qigong (apparently in its modern form since the 1950s, give or take...ahem) is much more colorful and magical sounding, even if it covers much the same ground. That's why I use chi rather than mana, although as I understand it, mana is closer to shen than chi, once you get down to cases.

As for temporal bifurcations merging, yep, that's what I had the cops doing to catch intruders. Or rather, one fork tended to disappear into the other, so that there was only one history, and it was the one where the time travelers didn't show up. I actually wrote that book a couple of years ago. The real issue is that writing a plot in a universe where causality doesn't exist is a real pain in the neck. I don't think I'm going to do that one again any time soon.

45:

memonancer @ 40
Similar to Niven's idea (again!) that Mana is a limited natural resource, but off-Earth, there is plenty ....

46:

guthrie@37:If you want to find chemistry cranks, just add a small syllable to your search--try alchemistry and you will find yourself all of the cranks you could ever want. :-)

47:

I just wanted to mention how cool this blog post title is. You should recycle it for a short story or Heavy Metal song...

48:

Yeah, that article had the part about the experiment. An article a couple of issues earlier had the equivalence stuff. It's easy to confuse the dots.

Mana accrues wherever events are crucial to the future. It's related to destiny.

49:

Yes, but the weird thing about Ormus types and the alchemical sorts is that I just don't see them out and about trying to prove that modern chemistry is wrong - they've ghettoised themselves as part of the alternatives crowd and are entirely happy there.

50:

In deference to Charlie's policies on libel I won't call these guys "chemistry cranks", but I submit for your consideration:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackLight_Power

51:

That's true. Perhaps the various pseudo-medical claim sites are more in line. Many are along the lines of (New!) chemical/herb -> pseudo-science -> cure!

52:

Funny you should mention Parsons. I just read one of his biographies (Strange Angel) very recently, and was amazed by those connections. Parsons, Crowley, Hubbard, Jack Williamson... Fascinating stuff.

@43: Yes. Strangely, Cook never considers that. I find it a little bit disappointing to think that the government (or the Nazis, or the Illuminati, or Big Aerospace, or whoever) secretly mastered antigravity technology decades ago but is only using it to provide extra lifting power to conventional aircraft. What a failure of imagination.

53:

Well, it depends on what you can use antigravity technology for, what it's operational envelope is. Is an a-grav vehicle better than a helicopter for things like hovering, shifting to high speed flight (over 0.5 mach), and flying more than a few hundred miles? How far can it fly on one "tank" of fuel, and can it be refueled in mid-air? If it can move a plane faster than a jet can, can it operate at very high temperatures and altitudes, as the SR-71 does?

That's the rub. If antigravity can't replace a copter (perhaps because the radiation from the lifters messes up everything below it or is easy to spot on radar), can't readily be refueled (perhaps because it's electric), and can't beat a jet on things like range, altitude, or speed, then it's simply not good enough to replace the tech we already have. If working lifters do exist, though, we may seem them start popping up as oil gets more scarce and jets and turbofans become prohibitively expensive.

There's actually another possibility: anti-gravity exists, but is too precious to use except in extreme events. The Pentagon and CIA reportedly has a number of stealth helicopters, of which the one that crashed in Pakistan getting OBL was a fairly primitive (90s tech) model (see this blog entry on the semi-stealthy "Fish Food Express" copter that carried OBL's body to the carrier). Some of these copters are derided as "Pearls too expensive to wear" by Pentagon insiders, meaning they don't get used in normal spec ops like hunting OBL, because the Pentagon doesn't want another Blackhawk Down or Operation Eagle Claw to dump all their secrets where the Chinese can get them. Since one stealth copter did crash in Abbottabad, the Pentagon was entirely right in worrying about losing their machines.

Therefore, I'd say it's probable that there are a bunch of bleeding-edge stealth and high performance aircraft lurking here and there, being saved for something like a tactical anti-nuke strike in Iran or North Korea, or the opening salvo of WW3. Whether any of these employ anti-gravity is anyone's guess, but I suspect that, if the technology works and is better than a jet or propeller, we probably would have seen it by now.

54:

I've heard that the American military cultivates a number of "silver bullets", technologies that could be used to surprise an enemy if the conditions are right. Stealth aircraft are an example. When Saddam showed off his spiffy Soviet anti-aircraft system in 1991, he didn't know we had stealth aircraft available, and it cost him. It didn't cost him the use of his radar (which turned out to be as crappy as most late Soviet products) so much as it cost him the deterrent value of his radar (which we didn't know at the time was ineffective, and we would have been reluctant to target by air if we didn't have stealth).

55:

Actually the command-and-control system Saddam Hussein had in 1991 was called KARI, and was designed by the French, even if the constituent radars and SAMs were Soviet

yes the French http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Op%C3%A9ration_Daguet ;)

the F-117s played a negligible role in the degradation of this system - with lesser known acronyms like TALD, HARM and STARM doing the hard work

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADM-141_TALD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AGM-88_HARM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AGM-78

Hussein would/should have known about the F-117 after its publicized combat debut in Panama in December '89.

Even while KARI was still partially in operation, the F-117 was the only manned platform used to attack targets in Baghdad, and then only at night and alongside a blizzard of US ECM and ECCM.

56:

Yes Jack Parsons' life sounds like it came straight out of a comic book. A rocket scientist whom von Braun called the real father of the American space program, a black magician who was Crowley's main man in the USA, tried to invoke an apocalypse in the Nevada desert (shortly before the post-war UFO sightings in the area), connections to L. Ron Hubbard, poet, blew himself up at the age of 37, etc. Why hasn't there been a movie about this strange and fascinating character? Maybe this is something to consider for your next book?

57:

> I've heard that the American military cultivates a number of "silver bullets", technologies that could be used to surprise an enemy if the conditions are right.

Yes, kinda. Such "war reserve capabilities" tend to be additional modes of existing systems, not totally new things. But, especially in the C3 area, there are some surprises kept in waiting. I expect that other countries do the same.

58:

I'm always extremely skeptical when people start talking about 'bleeding-edge' military tech.

In a different life I designed stuff for an Avionics company providing kit for the MoD, I often struggled to spec the parts I wanted to use in this gear because far from being on the bleeding edge, stuff I was allowed to spec was about a year behind the state of the art, while it waited for a mil-spec version to be qualified.

It was a really conservative sector trailing behind cutting edge commercial stuff.

I'm pretty certain Nelson's spare hat was still a current item in the NATO Stock Number catalogue.

I'm not saying there aren't clever spods tucked away in military funded labs here and there, but in my experience there are equally clever spods in big high tech company R&D departments.

59:

Erm, have you looked at the difference between military/government drones and civilian drones in the US? Just as one example? In some important areas like aviation, the military is far ahead of the civilian sector, and for very good reason.

In the US, at least, the Military-Industrial Complex means that there's little point distinguishing between corporate R&D and military R&D. They work hand-in-hand, and have for at least 50 years.

Note that this was originally about whether the US has operational anti-gravity thrusters as predicted back in the 50s and 60s. I tend to think that, in the unlikely case such things do exist, they're only useful in exotic applications that are kept around as "silver bullets" for extreme black ops.

60:

Erm, have you looked at the difference between military/government drones and civilian drones in the US? Just as one example? In some important areas like aviation, the military is far ahead of the civilian sector, and for very good reason.

Basically when throwing money at an issue can get results the military has better stuff. When the underlying tech is available to everyone (Intel or ARM chips) then the military tech tends to lag behind.

The recent PBS (US) special on the start of Silicon Valley talked about the first transistors made by Fairchild being sold to IBM for $150 each (ABICR). 100 of them. They were for use in the flight control system of the XB-70 Mach 3 bomber flight control systems. In 1958. Which would translate to over $1100 today. For just the transistors.

61:

There are some industrial sectors where civilian equivalents just don't exist. Submarines, aircraft carriers, munitions, and similar can have a lot of fairly whizzy tech. I've even seen some interesting demonstrations using repurposed civilian electronics. Is it neater than an iPhone? Not really, just more secret, because it's more useful if potential enemies don't know about it.

OTOH, having spent a few years at US Army labs, I can say that the expenditure to whizzy tech ratio is pretty damn low. There's a lot of waste for various institutional reasons. But when you spend billions on research every year for decades, eventually you get some neat stuff.

62:

You've pretty much described Alexander P. De Seversky's ion engines. Or a black project super-developed version of those 1960s engines.

It took extremely high voltages to run them so you'd spend a fortune for lightweight generators feeding all that power to the ion engines. Those extremely high voltages are dangerous so no civilian operator would want that kind of engine, even if the cost of generating the electricity somehow came down.

And then there's the "poison" aspect you touched on. The ion engines don't generate poison themselves (you could of course run their electricity generators on hydrazine and that would be fun) but they do generate large amounts of ionized air and if you breathe it all in while the craft is hovering over you then you're dead.

Everything about the first models was in a Popular Mechanics article of August 1964. I found it complete on Google Books:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=ROMDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=deseversky+ion+engine+popular+mechanics&source=bl&ots=aezHDf556t&sig=QCagUHk-rYF5bt-ymvyKeKZtM28&hl=en&sa=X&ei=30MkUcTEHPS90QHWkIHgAQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=deseversky%20ion%20engine%20popular%20mechanics&f=false

There's also a video of one of the early models on YouTube.

63:

It was a really conservative sector trailing behind cutting edge commercial stuff.

Maybe now, post-Cold-War, but it wasn't always.

My first job out of University in the late 1980s was working on fighter aircraft radars; I turned up to a project where they'd only just stopped having to hand-select parts off the production line to meet the clock specification - and a couple of years later, worked on a project where the silicon foundries couldn't make ASICs big enough for our needs (we had to wait six months).

There weren't any commercially-available RTOS, so we had to write our own. There weren't any commercially-available backplanes that could cope with our data rates, so we had to build our own. The manufacturing tolerances for the antenna, the motors to point it, the DCRSi data recorders we used, all cutting-edge stuff.

Where it all looks a tad tired is once it enters service. It may be cutting edge when the development contract is signed, but it's a couple of years from "design freeze" to "fully in-service", and it can be another decade or two before it leaves service; for instance, the average age of a US fighter aircraft is over 20; their tankers and training aircraft are over 40... (peek at F-15, KC-135, T-38 in-service dates).

64:

@ 62
I don't know if "American Antigravity" are still actrie as a web-site, but they used to have (& you should still be able to find cached stuff) of a lot of this sort of thing.
People were making hand-built small models of this stuff, back about 2002-4, powered by commercial HV packs - running on tethers, of course - for fun, running @ ~20kV with tiny currents.
Made of balsa-wood & aluminium foil

65:

NASA is still working on these, I hear. The thrust is low but the exhaust velocity is huge, which makes them very efficient as measured per kg of propellant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_thruster

66:

It's not just NASA working on ion thrusters. ESA and JAXA also work on them. And all three of them have used practical ion thrusters on spacecraft in the last years.

But in contrast ion thrusters disappeared completely for all aircraft projects, several decades ago.

67:

I guess I get to be the pedantic one and point out that the ion thrusters like NASA is working on are very different from de Seversky's.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionocraft

68:

Where it all looks a tad tired is once it enters service. It may be cutting edge when the development contract is signed, but it's a couple of years from "design freeze" to "fully in-service", and it can be another decade or two before it leaves service;

More like decade or 4 or 5 or more before it leaves service. Most of the US combat aircraft designs were on the order of 4 or more decades old till the Navy got their new F18s. (I'm calling the new F18s a new design to be generous.)

And since it now costs so frigging much to design and build a new airframe (after all it has to cruise at Mach 5 while getting 100 miles to the gallon, be invisible to radar, have a operational altitude of 300K feet, land in 3 feet of water, ....) that periodically these custom systems get (have) to be replaced with new designs in crash programs costings another gazillion dollars.

A crash program because Congress will not fund it until spares run out due to the myth of it will be retired "soon" when the new more cost efficient model is designed and procured "soon". And a non trivial part of that money goes to all the engineers figuring out how exactly the old system worked as most of the people on the original project are retired or dead. And even with good documentation there just aren't many people around who understand the "obsolete" tech.

For a long time now wreaked or retired aircraft are not scraped in the traditional sense. They wind up at one of a few specialized depots so they can be dismantled for spare parts.

69:

And I am sure that is part of why we have such bizarre choices made in defence procurement, here in the UK.

One of the conceits I have in my writing is that the "hero country" doesn't make some of the big mistakes. It doesn't need fancy science, they just take the trouble to test things properly. Costs a bit more, but their standard torpedo runs at the intended depth, and the pistol works.

I sort of like the label "hero country". It sums up the sort of unreality there can be in fiction, without pointing the finger at any particular country or author. Man or state, the hero can sometimes seem implausibly lucky.

70:

Given the possibility of creating a Matrix-like simulation indistinguishable from hard reality, and given all this talk on this thread about magic, psi, etc:

Would anyone here want to vist or prefer to live in an artificial reality where fantasy genre magic and/or comic book super powers exist?

Would anyone here prefer to live in Middle Earth or Gotham City?

71:

If the world is a simulation, perhaps it is inevitable that we will each be offered what I call "the trip to Elba."

What I mean is, we will have the option of living in a Massively Multiplayer world in which other real minds are behind the "people" you see, peer humanlike "programs," OR
living in a simulated world, just as convincing, but tailored only to your wishes, not to the shared needs of many others. You get to be like Napoleon as King of Elba, a tiny island. Is it really enough to be king of something insignificant but totally comfortable, or wouldn't you rather go into the larger world, where you will have to deal with your peers, and maybe face challenges and even defeat, but have a chance, thereby, of being somehow more real and significant.

Give me the "real" world.

72:

I think you underestimate how incredibly addictive it would be to live in a world where you get to be Superman, defeat Sauron, slay dragons and get the girl (preferably a supermodel).

It would be more addictive than crack and meth combined.

However, to keep it from getting boring, the danger has to be real. Just like in real dangerous extreme sports like bungee juming, sky diving, indy car racing, etc. So if simulated Lex Luthor zaps you with a kryptonite ray you really do die (your life support is cut off).

But unless that happens you really get to leap (simulated) building in a single bound, you really are more powerful than a (simulated) locomotive and (simulated) bullets bounce off of you.

So certain legal protocols would have to be put in place, waivers signed, etc.

I think it would be incredibly popular.

73:

You have to take the claims of some of these advanced engine designs with a grain of salt.

For example, VASIMR (which is actually a very cool design concept) supposedly could make the journey to Mars in only a few weeks. A shorter trip to Mars avoids a lot of the factors that negatively impact a human crew (exposure to cosmic rays and background radiation once outside of the Earth's protective magnetic field, muscle degeneration from prolonged weightlessness, boredom from a long journey, logistical costs of food and water for the journey, etc.)

Sounds great, right?

What they don't tell you is that VASIMR's acceleration is so low that you have to spend months in Earth orbit accelerating to this top speed before heading to Mars and then declerating for as many months once you arrive.

The overall trip still takes months.

74:

"Unfortunately, I think Charlie was right in Palimpsest. We'd need wormholes or jump drives to cover that kind of distance."

Gotcha covered, courtesy of an under appreciated science anthology "Future Fantastic" hosted by X-Files' Gillian Anderson.

(Quoting someone else from Yahoo Answers, who gives a good summary of the method:)

Here is how you make a portal, or stargate using wormholes. First, build 2 gigantic metal plates on Earth and charge them with fantastic energy.

Second, build carbon copies to the metal plates right next to the first ones and charge them with fantastic energy. This will then form the Casimir effect.

Third, place the carbon copies onto a rocket ship and send it off at the speed of light. This will form a wormhole between the 2 plates.

Fourth, jump through the first set of parallel plates and you will be instantly "sucked" into the wormhole and will emerge on the other side on the ship in a different point in space and a different point in time.

Repeat steps 1 through 4, place the second set of metal plates on another planet, and the second carbon copy on the same ship as the first set, and make sure they are directly in line.

This will allow you to pass through the first set of plates, and emerge on another planet with the second set of plates.

This also allows time travel, if one of the plate pairs is stationary and the other is orbiting a star at nearly the speed of light. Suppose the orbiting plates reach near light speed on January 1, 2015. At near light spead, the time at the wormhole's orbiting exit remains always at 1/1/2015.

Future spaceships entering the stationairy plates wormhole entrance hundreds or thousands of years in the future (say in the year 2525) can emerge at the other end in the distant past of 2015.

Two caveats. First, the time machine cannot go further back in time than the moment it was turned on (1/1/2015) so that limits how far back in time you can go. Second, the whole system needs the continous energy equivalent of an exploding star every second.

Details, details...

75:

As a follow up, such a Casimir effect wormhole time machine makes it possible to create a vast galactic civilization in real time using spaceships slower than light(no FTL or hypespace.

The Galactic Empire (or Federation if they are nice)constructs wormhole time machines in orbit around its Homeworld's sun.

It then sends out fleets of spacecraft traveling at a small fraction of the speed of light on missions of conquest, exploration and colonization. Each ship takes with it a copy of the other pair of Casimir plates. Each crew is in hibernation or consists of frozen embryos, or a generation ship, or whatever - just so they can make the journey alive.

Each journey lasts 10,000s of years. Upon arrival, after each mission is succcessfully concluded, the ship sets up its end of the wormhole.

They then enter their newly activated end of the wormhole and return to Homeworld on the day of their launch (perhaps even minutes after they had left) to report a succesful mission to a far away star.

76:

Oops, major clarification.

If the wormhole entrances can orbit Homeworld's star at near light speed, then the ships of the galactic armada can travel at near C as well.

So for most of the journey, the two ends of the wormhole are in synch. The crew can then enjoy the effects of time dilation and the trip from their point of view only takes a few days. Only after being set up in a stationary (or slow orbiting) location does the time at either end of the wormhole become different.

Still a pretty cool concept.

77:

Time dilation by itself would do. I mean if you could figure out how to maintain constant acceleration at 1 G it would take about a year to get to the speed of light, and another year to decelerate. If you expelled reaction mass straight back at NLS for one hundred percent efficiency you could start at only four times your payload weight. The empty liquid hydrogen tanks would give you plenty of room to expand into for more roomy quarters. The only thing it takes is a very compact energy source (a special "field" that converts matter into antimatter allowing essentially one hundred percent conversion of matter into energy would do nicely) and a very efficient proton beam/rocket. Oh, and about 5 meters of ice all around the crew against radiation. Since the skin thickness is constant, efficiency scales up with size. You'd want your starships to be huge.

So, it's a two year subjective trip everywhere and anywhere. And that's in a world with probably indefinite lifespans. With changes to the descendants of humanity the 1 G wouldn't be a limit, but still, what kind of galactic empire would that allow? You'd want to start dismantling stars for the matter--all that spewing energy out into space is pointless, and why collect fusion products with a dyson sphere when you can just burn matter directly?
So it would be just swarms eventually, no more stars.

78:

Nice try, but you can't reach lightspeed no matter how much you accelerate. Force equals change in momentum with time. At low velocities that means F=ma, mass is constant, and force produces acceleration. As you approach lightspeed, extra force produces very little acceleration but a corresponding increase in mass.

79:

If the equivalence principle is true and inertial mass is the same as gravitational mass. But if inertia results from Unruh radiation that just coincidentally acts exactly almost exactly like gravity then maybe not. Or maybe gravity affects the unruh radiation, causing it to follow it, but even then you could speculatively block it. Even then, you could have the issue, as you got closer to the speed of light, that it would take you an increasing amount of time to accelerate to a higher speed.

Based on my quite ignorant grasp of it all: from within the rocket, the reaction mass isn't any more massive. The mass dilation might be subjective as well, so that it would indeed take infinite energy to accelerate something all the way to the speed of light by applying force to it from outside, but perhaps it's different when the force comes from within, as in a rocket. It's all about relative frames after all, right? Decoupling the mass part may make the whole thing less compelling, but does it make it less possible?

Also, simply getting close is enough. Just approximating.

80:

JPR @ 67
Thanks, the ionocraft you refer to are the same types as American Antigravity used to play with (The Biefeld-Brown effect is relevant here)
Mind you they also had all sorts of “kooky” stuff as well, including ZPE ramblings….

81:

Would anyone here want to vist or prefer to live in an artificial reality where fantasy genre magic and/or comic book super powers exist?

Wrong question. Let me re-frame it:

Would anyone here want to vist or prefer to live in an artificial reality where fantasy genre magic and/or comic book super powers exist but where you are not one of the gifted, and live within your normal constraints?

(A reality in which everyone gets superpowers is functionally equivalent to our own reality -- after all, from the PoV of a mediaeval peasant, we've all got magic, in the shape of light switches and automobiles! So for there to be an appreciable difference, there needs to be a non-uniform distribution of super-powers. And, per distributive justice, you should assess the merits of such a proposition on the basis that you are one of the least advantaged in such a society.)

82:

* Clutches head at wrongness of this description *

Look, please, just stop.

Then go get yourself a grounding in the basics of rocketry, the rocket equation, etc etc. And read up on VASIMR -- not in the daily comics/newspapers, but in just slightly more science-literate publications.

(The clue is in the name: Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket. And the gotcha right now seems to be in efficiency -- it works okay, but it creates a lot of waste heat, and dumping heat in a vacuum is rather difficult.)

83:

The main VASMIR drawback is needing a near-magic density power source to make the VASMIR thrust levels anything useful.

It's flexible in useful ways - if you want more thrust now but higher specific impulse later, or visa versa, you can do without pairing an arcjet (high thrust low Isp) with a Xenon Ion Thruster (high Isp low thrust) and switching between them.

It may possibly be more flexible in ways that win out over those combos. Same engine for rapidly departing the near vicinity of a planet, say, then higher Isp for the interplanetary transfer trajectory.

If it works in a real vacuum.

And if you either get a nuclear reactor, or a magic high-specific-output-power lightweight solar electric power generation panel and arm on the craft.

What it is not, is magic.

84:

@53:
Well, it depends on what you can use antigravity technology for,
---
Harry Stine (writing as "Lee Correy") wrote a novel where the first practical application was a "sky hook"; basically a point fixed in space that you could attach things to. The developers marketed them to miners and construction companies for use with lifting gear.

A big construction crane rents for over $10,000 per day. I've been told (though I still don't quite believe it) that the big cranes used to assembling container ship sections rent for about $100,000 per day.

A side track Harry didn't explore was if the point was only fixed in height instead of in three dimensions, you could create it at whatever height you wanted and slide freight or passengers around without need for roads, tracks, or docks. If the energy requirements were reasonable, of course.

The point being that there are other uses for antigravity besides superhero suits and starships.

85:

At the risk of letting this layman upset you further ....

With a thrust of only 5 N and a reasonably sized spacecraft (say a payload/crew quarters of 1000 metric tons, about twice that of the ISS) AND the need for a massive nuclear reactor, VASIMR is going to take a very long time to achieve final velocity from earth orbit, coast to Mars and then have to decelarate for about the same period of time to Mars orbit. Increase the mass ratio to acieve a greater final velocity and that measly 5 N thrust will take even longer to achieve it.

At an average Earth-Mars distance of 228 million kM I'm just not seeing "39 day to Mars" as claimed in Ad Astra's advertizing.

86:

"but where you are not one of the gifted, and live within your normal constraints?"

Only if I get to be Batman.

No superpowers.

Kicks everyone's ass.

87:

I'm thinking more of the instantaneous travel between Homeworld and its farthest colonies by means of the Casimir wormholes.

However, Homeworld and its colonies would exist at different times. Each province/colony of the galactic empire/federation exists in a different real year (depending on how many light years they are from Homeworld). A few colonies are only a decades different in time. Others centuries or millenia. Further colonies could exist 100,000 years into Homeworld's future. So if the date on Homeworld is the year 3000, the actual year on its farthest colony 150,000 light years away would be the year 153000.

But the colonists at Far Colony are in instantaneous communication/contact with a Homeworld that exists 150,000 years in their colony's past.

Which becomes really wierd if Homeworld's sun goes nova in the year 140000. Out on Far Colony, the Homeworld has been dead (in real time) for 13,000 years, but that hasn't happened yet on the Homeworld that they communicate with via the Casimir wormholes.

88:

TRX @ 84
But Harry Stine was a Fderation agent & superb crafstman/engineer in H. Beam Piper's "Fuzzy" stories!
Shome mishtake shurely?

89:

TRX @84: I haven't read the book you refer to, but what does a Skyhook have to do with 'Antigravity'?
The idea of a Skyhook is based in physics, not woo.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyhook_(structure)


daniel.duffy20 @85: VASIMR is going to take a very long time to achieve final velocity from earth orbit, coast to Mars

The point of using Ion thrusters to Mars (or anywhere else) is that you don't coast (or don't need to). You use constant acceleration, until you reach the point where you need to begin your braking maneuvers.

90:

To be physically plausible, a skyhook has to bring down about about as much as it lifts. This is a potentially serious economic problem for skyhooks. Antigravity would remove that constraint (magical solutions are wonderful that way).

91:

So you're rooting for Syndrome :-) Snow day here, no school.

92:

That's a hard one, a lot of fiction is set during "interesting times" so it's not so nice to be an ordinary person. Most fantasy is medieval enough that being ordinary is right out. Some sci fi universes are rather cushy for the ordinary joe: The culture, known space once you're past the organlegging era.

Comic book universes are really big on bodycounts lately (Batman comics slid into being straight horror so gradually it's sometimes shocking) and even stuff like Pixar's settings can be rather disturbing if you consider the ramifications.

freefall's universe seems pleasant enough despite the AI slavery as does Questionable content's apparent tutored post singularity.

So I guess if I had to pick I'd try to land in a comedy or a sitcom reality...

93:

Well, okay. But if you could have actual anti-gravity devices, why would you need a skyhook?

94:

Here's another idea of magic, science fiction, and interesting times.

The background is that I recently read Oliver Sack's recent book Hallucinations. Sacks is, of course, a well-known neurologist, so the book is a fairly thorough and compassionate tour through various types of hallucinations, from drugs to delirium tremens to Parkinsonian hallucinations.

As I was reading it, I started thinking of Ye Olde Days, particularly in the deep-ish past, when there was little good medical care. This would, of course, be a time when "cognitive relativism" (the neurological equivalent of moral relativism) made more sense. After all, if people routinely hallucinated either by accident (due to physical disease, injury, untreated mental disease, old age) or on purpose (drugs, alcohol, sensory deprivation), there's no reason *not* to believe in an otherworld. Similarly, the treatment of many of these issues are a combination of herbal remedies, physical manipulation (massage, acupressure), placebos, nocebos, and all sorts of talk therapy. Stop me when this starts sounding like magic. It is, of course, and the witch doctor's standard tricks are simply a good way of capturing a patient's attention. In the most extreme cases (either due to privation or pervasive hallucinogen use), I'm not sure a consensus reality even existed within a culture, and if it did, it may have been very strange.

The point of all this is that you can make a phantasmagoric magical world by doing away with the modern world, along with things like science (which gives us the idea of an objective reality against which to measure perceptions), medicine, and public health.

Bit of a gruesome image, isn't it? To carry it one step further, it's a great way to instantiate magic on an alien world colonized by humans. Do away with the technology, and magic blooms in its place. Painfully

It might not be as fun as waving wands, but the nice thing about Sacks' book is that it makes such realities more comprehensible. It also made me realize how good we've got it now.

95:

jamespadraic@93
Fictionally speaking, perhaps the antigravity is very energy costly and you don't have a magic energy source, so you need the sky hook for low priority cargo. Antigravity is reserved for special purposes, such as difficult construction situations where it's more economical than the alternatives, military applications, or emergencies. Or the convenience of the profligately wealthy.

heteromeles@ 94
Reminds me of The Politics of Experience by R.D. Laing. Madness is sometimes the sanest thing.

If everybody hallucinated, then perhaps the magic would be in control of the hallucinations of others, or at least in resistance to such control. There might be a hierarchy of magical resistance. At the top would be lords who could project anything in high fidelity, even to large crowds. Lower down would be those who could see through it and send small stuff to the unwary. And at the bottom would be a lower class who would never know what was real and who would have no power to impose on anyone.

96:

"And when everyone's special ... no one is."

As much as we're supposed to be rooting for the "Supers", did anyone else feel that this was just one of many subtle jibes at the super-hero genre (and its implied assumptions) in that movie?

97:

Our world is already pretty much like you described. Our form of this magic requires "cameras", "screens", and "spokespeople", but those are just details of implementation.

98:

If everybody hallucinated, then perhaps the magic would be in control of the hallucinations of others, or at least in resistance to such control. There might be a hierarchy of magical resistance. At the top would be lords who could project anything in high fidelity, even to large crowds. Lower down would be those who could see through it and send small stuff to the unwary. And at the bottom would be a lower class who would never know what was real and who would have no power to impose on anyone.

This magic exists, it's called propaganda.

99:

Beat me to it. I'd add that rituals and traditional education work much the same way. Belief is quite powerful.

100:

Talking of madness & "departing" into make-believe/imagined/virtual worlds ....
One problem - you'd spot you were in an artifical set-up very quickly.
Why?
Because truth is so much stranger than any fiction one could imagine - I mean ... look at the Oscar Pistorius case where even Tom Sharpe's brilliant satires just don't match up to the insanities of reality.

101:

Ryan @ 98
This magic exists, it's called propaganda.
A word invented by the catholic church, indeed!
Tells you something, doesn't it?

102:
I can't remember the fellow's name, and don't have the paper at hand right now, but I know there's somebody trying to develop a method of propulsion based entirely on a unique interpretation of Mach's principle.

J.F. Woodward.

103:

Yep! I've just now dug up the reference I had in mind--

http://physics.fullerton.edu/~jimw/staif2000.pdf

104:

Anybody who is interested in and/or skeptical of "exotic propulsion technologies" should look up the Biefeld-Brown effect, otherwise known as ionic wind, demonstrated by a funky type of contraption called a "lifter." If memory serves, Nick Cook talks about this well-established phenomenon in his book.

With this in mind, I've often wondered what would happen if you were to construct a really big "lifter" that had a small nuclear reactor onboard, or other very powerful electrical generator.

Would you, say, be able to add a "not really a g-drive" kind of thing to a stealth bomber, giving it maybe slightly better flight characteristics? We know for a fact that some stealth aircraft, including the B2, do in fact use the generation of ions to improve the stealthiness of their signatures. Maybe there are other useful aspects of these systems that are "black," and have been covered up to a degree with phrases such as "g-drives?"

I've also wondered about some of the "large silent triangular craft" that have been spotted for years, which by some witnesses have been said to move slowly and then very suddenly speed up. Maybe they are military airships, that also have the quality of ionic-wind propulsion systems? Some well-documented UFO sightings include "military helicopters" escorting what seem to be damaged UFO aircraft, and nuclear fallout seems to be emanating from the UFO. Secret military airship w/ Biefield Brown ionic wind-generating nuclear reactor that went awry, perhaps?

Anyway, it's fun to think about, and might make a fun plot point in a novel

105:

Biefeld-Brown has exactly the same problems, on any sensible scale, as the other ion drive mentioned by OGH some way up.
You really, really don't want to be standing anywhere remotely near underneath on of those things, because the ions will fry your lungs & possibly your eyes as well ......

106:

However, what if the craft had to be already airborn at a certain altitude, before the "Biefield-Brown ionic wind drive" could be safely activated? Surely at a certain altitude, the risks of the ejected ions would be relatively minimal. A blimp/airship design could easily use standard tech to get aloft, and then kick in the ion drive to improve its flight characteristics.

Specials

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ian Tregillis published on February 17, 2013 9:56 PM.

Project Stargate was the previous entry in this blog.

The jet lag game is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda