Communion Of Dreams

Gets better and better.
November 16, 2010, 12:39 pm
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Failure, Government, Predictions, Privacy, Society, Travel

I haven’t written a lot about the most recent outrage over the “porno scanners” though it seems that my predictions almost a year ago are certainly coming true. And now the folks at Gizmodo have a nice addition to the mess:

One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans

At the heart of the controversy over “body scanners” is a promise: The images of our naked bodies will never be public. U.S. Marshals in a Florida Federal courthouse saved 35,000 images on their scanner. These are those images.

A Gizmodo investigation has revealed 100 of the photographs saved by the Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner from Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc., obtained by a FOIA request after it was recently revealed that U.S. Marshals operating the machine in the Orlando, Florida courthouse had improperly-perhaps illegally-saved images of the scans of public servants and private citizens.

* * *

Yet the leaking of these photographs demonstrates the security limitations of not just this particular machine, but millimeter wave and x-ray backscatter body scanners operated by federal employees in our courthouses and by TSA officers in airports across the country. That we can see these images today almost guarantees that others will be seeing similar images in the future. If you’re lucky, it might even be a picture of you or your family.

Something to look forward to from our fine friends at the TSA.

Jim Downey


Revenge is . . . sweet.
November 15, 2010, 1:27 pm
Filed under: Health, Humor, SCA, Survival

Sometimes hard work is more satisfying than other times:

That’s what I just did. It’s my form of getting even with the damned wood that just about killed me a year ago. Took two hours to split it all, using a maul and a star wedge. That’s not quite 5′ tall, about 10′ wide. And yeah, I hurt, and will probably hurt more later once I cool down.

But damn, that felt good.

Jim Downey

And, as an antidote…
November 12, 2010, 5:15 pm
Filed under: YouTube

…to my post earlier, here’s this:

There’s a weird Zen quality to watching it.

Jim Downey

Apprehending erotic stimulus . . . from the future!
November 12, 2010, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Augmented Reality, Predictions, Psychic abilities, Science, Science Fiction, Society

As I’ve noted recently, I’m pretty much a hard-nosed skeptic. But as I said in that post:

But I am much less willing to invest my energy into any enterprise which doesn’t seem to be well grounded in proven reality.

“Proven reality.” Well, what constitutes proof?

* * * * * * *


The term psi denotes anomalous processes of information or energy transfer that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms. Two variants of psi are precognition (conscious cognitive awareness) and premonition (affective apprehension) of a future event that could not otherwise be anticipated through any known inferential process. Precognition and premonition are themselves special cases of a more general phenomenon: the anomalous retroactive influence of some future event on an individual’s current responses, whether those responses are conscious or nonconscious, cognitive or affective. This article reports 9 experiments, involving more than 1,000 participants, that test for retroactive influence by “timereversing” well-established psychological effects so that the individual’s responses are obtained before the putatively causal stimulus events occur. Data are presented for 4 time-reversed effects: precognitive approach to erotic stimuli and precognitive
avoidance of negative stimuli; retroactive priming; retroactive habituation; and retroactive facilitation of recall. All but one of the experiments yielded statistically significant results; and, across all 9 experiments, Stouffer’s z = 6.66, p = 1.34 × 10-11 with a mean effect size (d) of 0.22. The individual-difference variable of stimulus seeking, a component of extraversion, was significantly correlated with psi performance in 5 of the experiments, with participants who scored above the midpoint on a scale of stimulus seeking achieving a mean effect size of 0.43. Skepticism about psi, issues of replication, and theories of psi are also discussed.

* * * * * * *

Communion of Dreams
is about a re-evaluation of reality. As I note on the homepage for the book, a dust jacket blurb could read in part:

When an independent prospector on Titan discovers an alien artifact, assumptions based on the lack of evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence are called into question. Knowing that news of such a discovery could prompt chaos on Earth, a small team is sent to investigate and hopefully manage the situation. What they find is that there’s more to human history, and human abilities, than any of them ever imagined. And that they will need all those insights, and all those abilities, to face the greatest threat yet to human survival.

* * * * * * *

That .pdf above comes from the site of DARYL J. BEM, Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. His work is starting to get some real notice. Why? Well, here’s a nice summation:

Dr. Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, conducted a series of studies that will soon be published in one of the most prestigious psychology journals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). Across nine experiments, Bem examined the idea that our brain has the ability to not only reflect on past experiences, but also anticipate future experiences. This ability for the brain to “see into the future” is often referred to as psi phenomena.

Although prior research has been conducted on the psi phenomena – we have all seen those movie images of people staring at Zener cards with a star or wavy lines on them – such studies often fail to meet the threshold of “scientific investigation.” However, Bem’s studies are unique in that they represent standard scientific methods and rely on well-established principles in psychology. Essentially, he took effects that are considered valid and reliable in psychology – studying improves memory, priming facilitates response times – and simply reversed their chronological order.

And a very good description of one of the specific experiments:

Perceiving Erotic Stimuli from the Future

The first experiment described in Bem’s new paper involves perceiving erotic stimuli from the future — specifically, perceiving whether an erotic picture is going to appear in a certain location or not.  As usual in empirical psychology, the experimental setup is a bit involved — but if you want to really appreciate the evidence for precognition that Bem has obtained, there’s no substitute for actually understanding some of the experiments he did.  So I’m going to quote Bem’s paper at some length here, regarding his first experiment.

The setup was, in Bem’s words, as follows:

One hundred Cornell undergraduates, 50 women and 50 men, were recruited for this experiment using the Psychology Department’s automated online sign-up system.  They either received one point of experimental credit in a psychology course offering that option or were paid $5 for their participation.  Both the recruiting announcement and the introductory explanation given to participants upon entering the laboratory informed them that

[t]his is an experiment that tests for ESP.  It takes about 20 minutes and is run completely by computer.  First you will answer a couple of brief questions.  Then, on each trial of the experiment, pictures of two curtains will appear on the screen side by side.  One of them has a picture behind it; the other has a blank wall behind it.  Your task is to click on the curtain that you feel has the picture behind it.  The curtain will then open, permitting you to see if you selected the correct curtain.  There will be 36 trials in all.

And the result? From the same source as above:

1.    “Across all 100 sessions, participants correctly identified the future position of the erotic pictures significantly more frequently than the 50% hit rate expected by chance: 53.1%.” (which is highly statistically significant given the number of trials involved, according to the calculations shown in the paper)
2.    “In contrast, their hit rate on the non-erotic pictures did not differ significantly from chance: 49.8.  This was true across all types of non-erotic pictures: neutral pictures, 49.6%; negative pictures, 51.3%; positive pictures, 49.4%; and romantic but non-erotic pictures, 50.2%.”

In other words the hypotheses made in advance of the experiment were solidly confirmed.  The experiment yielded highly statistically significant evidence for psychic precognition.  Much more than would be expected at random, given the number of subjects involved, the Cornell students were able to perceive the erotic stimuli from the future  —  but not, in this context, the non-erotic ones.

* * * * * * *

[Spoilers ahead.]

In Communion of Dreams the discovery is that we live in a reality which has been subject to artificial controls on our psychic abilities. Why this was done is unclear, and exactly what range of ‘natural’ psychic ability humans have isn’t known. These are things which I may explore at greater length in subsequent books (hint, hint.)

But I do find it fascinating that there are these cracks in our current perception of reality. Little glimpses into perhaps a greater understanding. There may not be a concerted effort to hide the truth from us, as in my book, but there is something going on, some way in which our scientific theories only ride along the surface of a wave without penetrating it. Perhaps we exist not in the moment, but in a moving field of possibilities, some of which are so powerful that they echo backwards in time.

It’s something to consider. Playfully.

Jim Downey

Hard choices.
November 8, 2010, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Science Fiction

Here’s a quiet little story for all my friends who have had to make hard choices: Hokkaido Green.

Very nice. Wish I had written it.

Jim Downey

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”*

Interesting. I hadn’t heard of this previously, but I really like the merger of live theatre and film:

That’s a screening they did in London this summer. Reviews here and here.

It’s an intriguing idea – not entirely new (the Rocky Horror craze of audience participation certainly presaged it), but done with a real sense of artistic reinterpretation. In many ways, it is a live action version of the internet: hyperlinked, mashed-up, recontextualized – yet all the while still paying homage to the original. In poking around YouTube I see they have done a number of other reinterpretations such as Alien, Bugsy Malone, Ghost Busters and The Warriors. In each case it’s more than just a few people with props; the organizers seem to really go out of their way to make the whole production an event.

And I respect that. Next time I’m in London . . .

Jim Downey

*Roy, of course. Via MeFi.

Oh, eff it.
November 7, 2010, 11:34 am
Filed under: Art, Babylon 5, Gardening, General Musings, Music, Science Fiction


There is nothing wrong with referring at this point to the ineffable. The mistake is to describe it. Jankélévitch is right about music. He is right that something can be meaningful, even though its meaning eludes all attempts to put it into words. Fauré’s F sharp Ballade is an example: so is the smile on the face of the Mona Lisa; so is the evening sunlight on the hill behind my house. Wordsworth would describe such experiences as “intimations,” which is fair enough, provided you don’t add (as he did) further and better particulars. Anybody who goes through life with open mind and open heart will encounter these moments of revelation, moments that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words. These moments are precious to us. When they occur it is as though, on the winding ill-lit stairway of our life, we suddenly come across a window, through which we catch sight of another and brighter world — a world to which we belong but which we cannot enter.

I’m reminded of a post from three years ago, and the words of a friend in it:

“Yeah, but it’s like the way that the people involved in your book – the characters – are all struggling to understand this new thing, this new artifact, this unexpected visitor. And I like the way that they don’t just figure it out instantly – the way each one of them tries to fit it into their own expectations about the world, and what it means. They struggle with it, they have to keep learning and investigating and working at it, before they finally come to an understanding.” He looked at me as we got back in the car. “Transitions.”

Gives me something to think about as I put the garden to bed this morning.

Jim Downey