Monthly Archives: July 2014

This week I learned the moon might be littered with dinosaur fossils, and more

This week I learned the moon might be
littered with dinosaur fossils, and more

By Sarah Fecht

Meteorites could carry fossils between worlds, says new research

Since 1996, scientists have debated about whether the Martian meteorite ALH84001 contains evidence that life once existed on Mars. The rock holds some microscopic wormy-looking structures that some scientists have suggested could be fossilized remains of life on Mars, whereas others say the weird shapes derive from normal geochemical processes.

There’s some evidence that microbes living inside a rock could be blasted from their home planet, travel through space, and then crash-land on a new planet relatively unscathed. Throughout the ALH84001 debate, scientists assumed fossils could also withstand the grueling journey, but it looks like nobody actually set out to test ituntil now.

In a new study, physicists at University of Kent tested the hypothesis with a big gun. More specifically, they took powdered diatoms (a type of microscopic algae with a hard silica shell), packed them inside a nylon bullet, added water, and froze the sample. Then, they loaded the bullets inside a light gas gun and fired them at a sack of water at speeds ranging between 0.25 and 3.1 miles per second.

When they looked in the water afterwards, the researchers analyzed the whole and partial remains of the little diatom fossils. They concluded that small fossils could survive a meteorite impact, and that if they exist, then it’s possible to find them inside meteorites.

But there are a few important caveats.  At impact speeds above 0.62 miles per second, none of the diatom fossils survived in one piece—they broke into tiny shards. And the faster they crashed into the water, the tinier the diatom bits became.  That’s a problem for any potential fossils that would fall to Earth from other planets, because meteoroids enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds between 6.8 and 44.7 miles per second before they hit Earth, according to the American Meteor Society.

The other important limitation is that the diatoms were shot frozen in ice, meaning they potentially behave differently during impact than they would if they were encapsulated in rock.

So the jury is definitely still out on ALH84001, and it probably will be for many years. Even if tests provide stronger evidence that fossils can travel between planetary bodies, it doesn’t necessarily mean they did.

What is pretty neat is that, because meteorite impacts tend to be slower on the Moon, it looks like fossils that have been smashed off from Earth could survive a collision with our natural satellite.  The authors conclude that the lunar surface could be a good place to scout for fossils, and those terrestrial transplants may be better preserved on the Moon than if they had remained on Earth.

No word yet on whether a dinosaur fossil could survive the impact. (Dinosaurs on the Moon? That would be crazy awesome.)

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Meet the REAL Walter White

Meet the REAL Walter White: Meth dealer with
the same name
as Breaking Bad character managed
to dodge police for years to
become one of most wanted
figures in his home state of Oklahoma


By James Gordon

Despite sharing a name and a history with methamphetamine with the protagonist
of AMC’s ‘Breaking Bad,’ Alabama’s Walter White has spent far more time in jail

The meth cook was once making thousands of dollars a day
He was wanted on $2 million bond but has now undergone faith-based ‘rehab’

‘My name is Walter White and I am a meth cook.
For ten years I had the best meth in Alabama.’

These are the words of the real-life Walter White from Bessemer, Alabama.

In 2008, even as the fictional Walter White first began to build his methamphetamine empire on AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad, a real meth chef by the same name was arrested doing something almost identical in Alabama.

Scroll down for video…

The real Walter White: In 2008, Walter White was building his meth empire in the AMC hit series Breaking Bad. That same year, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama's most successful meth cook was also making the purest meth east of the Mississippi

The real Walter White: In 2008, Walter White was building his
meth empire in the AMC hit series Breaking Bad. That same year,
Tuscaloosa County, Alabama’s most successful meth cook was
also making the purest meth east of the Mississippi

Experienced: Walter White had been making meth for ten years. He's so good that some say he should be called the 'meth chef'

Experienced: Walter White had been making meth for ten years.
He’s so good that some say he should be called the ‘meth chef’

Revealing: The meth cook exposes the secret of his legendary operation - he explained how he got started, how he made - and spent - thousands of dollars every day, how he got arrested and why his partners are now serving life sentences behind bars

Revealing: The meth cook exposes the secret of his legendary
operation – he explained how he got started, how he made – and
spent – thousands of dollars every day, how he got arrested and
why his partners are now serving life sentences behind bars

From 1988, the drug maker who shares the same name with the
main character in the ten-time Emmy award winning TV show was
cooking and selling methamphetamine across his own county.

By 2009 the show was one of the most popular in the country
and Alabama’s real Walter White and the coincidental similarities
between himself and the fictional kingpin on TV every Tuesday was big news.

In a video documentary with VICE online, White, 55, explained
the ups and downs of his adventure into drugs.

Working with a partner, like Walter White in the
show, he claims he made the purest meth around.

Real or fantasy? Bryan Cranston plays a mild-mannered chemistry
teacher who becomes a drug baron to support his family after he
discovers he has lung cancer

Parallels: The two Walter White's share a great deal in common, not least of which they were both making thousands of dollars a day trafficking and creating meth

Parallels: The two Walter White’s share a great deal in common,
not least of which they were both making thousands of dollars a
day trafficking and creating meth

White said that at the peak of his meth-making and drug-selling business, he was making several thousand dollars a day.

‘I worked every day and was a family man. It was a good time in my life. It was beautiful. We started making meth part time at first but then demand got so  high i would work during the day and make meth at night,’ White says.

‘I was making money in construction but the meth money was outweighing it by so much I decided to go down that line.’

The fictional Walter White, played by Emmy-winner Bryan Cranston, is a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who cooks meth and becomes a ruthless drug baron to help support his family after he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

The show, created by Vince Gilligan, starred Cranston alongside Aaron Paul who plays a slackers former student of White, who team up to manufacture and distribute huge quantities of the drug in New Mexico.

Life imitating art: In real-life, Walter White was alerted to the fact the authorities were onto him and watching his every move. The same is true of the the Breaking Bad character

Life imitating art: In real-life, Walter White was alerted to the
fact the authorities were onto him and watching his every move.
The same is true of the the Breaking Bad character

Recovering: White has since been sent to and graduated from a court-ordered long-term faith-based recovery program at the Foundry Rescue Mission & Recovery in Bessemer, Alabama

Recovering: White has since been sent to and graduated from
a court-ordered long-term faith-based recovery program at the
Foundry Rescue Mission & Recovery in Bessemer, Alabama

‘The sky was the limit,’ he said. ‘I bought tools, four-wheelers,
cars, trucks, you name it. I just stockpiled the money,’ White said.
‘When you make it like that, it’s easy to spend, it’s just a different
lifestyle. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that I could go
through that much money in one day.’

‘When you make it like that, it’s easy to spend, it’s just a different
lifestyle. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that I could go
through that much money in one day. Several thousand, easy.’

He would drop the drop the drugs off at a certain spot and then
come back the next day to a secluded spot in the countryside to
pick up the cash.

Unlike Walter White in the show, played by actor Bryan Cranston,
real-life White was not dying of cancer and was not chased by his
own brother in-law.

But like in the show, it was not an easy ride.

On the run: In 2012, White violated his probation in Tuscaloosa County, failed to appear in court and was put on the top of most wanted list by the sheriff there

On the run: In 2012, White violated his probation in Tuscaloosa County,
failed to appear in court and was put on the top of most wanted list by
the sheriff there

 
More money than sense: White was pulling thousands of dollars

a day and spending the cash on tools and cars

Bearing all:  Walter was known for having the purest stuff in Alabama and has been speaking about his days in the game, his way of doing things, and of course, his thoughts on the hit AMC show, Breaking Bad

Bearing all: Walter was known for having the purest stuff in
Alabama and has been speaking about his days in the game,
his way of doing things, and of course, his thoughts on the hit
AMC show, Breaking Bad

White’s wife divorced him, as he began to lose touch with his family.

His oldest son describes feeling him drift away
from the family because of the time he spent in the lab.

As in the show, his lawyer advised him to stop cooking meth
because the authorities were investigating his activity in 2008.

His partner, Sammy, continued to work and was arrested by the police several times.

White later went back into making drugs in another county until he was finally arrested.

Family values: Walter White grew apart from his family including his son, Chris, (right) but now he says he is working to repair relationships - after all, they managed to survive without him

Family values: Walter White grew apart from his family including
his son, Chris, (right) but now he says he is working to repair
relationships – after all, they managed to survive without him

Thinking about the future: Walter White knows that he could go to jail for the rest of him life when he has his trial in March 2014 but he resigns himself to the fact he will no longer be hurting anyone but himself

Thinking about the future: Walter White knows that he could
go to jail for the rest of him life when he has his trial in March 2014
but he resigns himself to the fact he will no longer be hurting anyone
but himself

White has since been sent to and graduated from a court-ordered long-term faith-based recovery program at the Foundry Rescue Mission & Recovery in Bessemer, Alabama.

White’s family and his friends say he’s a success story and has left the life of making and selling illegal drugs.

In 2012, White violated his probation in Tuscaloosa County, failed to appear in court and was put on the top of most wanted list by the sheriff there.

He was eventually caught and jailed with a $2 million bond placed on his release.

He was placed on the top of state’s Most Wanted List and now faces a criminal trial in March of next year.

If convicted of his crimes, Whtie could be put in prison for the rest of his life.

‘If i have to go to prison, I won’t be hurting anybody but myself this time.

‘It’s just me answering up to the things I’ve done.

‘My family – they’ve got jobs and lives – I won’t be hurting this time.’

UPDATE!            UPDATE!        UPDATE!           UPDATE!         UPDATE!

A US judge sentenced meth dealer Walter White to 12 years in prison, in a case of life mirroring art a few months after the end of cult TV show “Breaking Bad,” local media reported.

The real-life Montana dealer — whose TV namesake died at the climax of “Breaking Bad” in September — was shot by his own son in an argument over a drug debt, according to the Billings Gazette.

On Monday, US District Judge Donald Molloy jailed White for 12.5 years for
possessing and distributing meth and weapons charges, the newspaper reported.

“Thirty-two and a half pounds of methamphetamine coupled with guns and
violence is about as serious as you can get,” it quoted the judge as saying.

White, 53 — one year older than the “Breaking Bad” anti-hero when he died — told the court he became a drug dealer after becoming addicted to meth. When he tried to avoid selling it, suppliers threatened him, the paper said.

He was arrested in March. His son Brandon has been charged with armed assault and jailed on $150,000 bond, after telling police he shot his father in the back in January over a $10,000 debt.

 

 

Hades Isn’t for Real: The Russian Well To Hell

Hades Isn’t for Real: The Russian Well To Hell

By Katie Heaney

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It
unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.

Last week, reports of an enormous crater (a few hundred feet wide, from appearances) in northern Siberia made international news. Though it’s suspected that the crater has been there for approximately two years, it only recently came to public attention after footage taken by a helicopter flying overhead aired on Siberia’s Zvezda TV.

Speculation about the crater’s source began immediately, particularly because Russia’s Emergency Ministries ruled out the likeliest seeming possibility, a meteor strike. Some people (my people) have suggested that the smoothly spherical hole may be evidence of a UFO landing; there is precedent in Russia for the confluence of mysterious asteroid-like activity and allegations of extraterrestrial life.

It was too late to kill the rumor. American tabloids picked up the story, and gussied it up, and then the Internet arrived. By then the so-called Siberian crater had been given its catchiest name yet: the Well to Hell.

Far be it from me to untie any Earthly event from potential UFO associations, but the specific location of the new Siberian crater evokes another Russian legend: The giant hole is situated on the Yamal Peninsula, and as has been mentioned in more than a few news reports, Yamal is translated as “The End of the World.”

THE STORY BEGINS SOMETIME in the late 1980s, with a drilling expedition led by Russian engineers in an unknown location in Siberia. The team had drilled nine miles deep into the Earth’s crust when they broke through to a cavity. Surprised and excited by their discovery, the engineers dropped a variety of heat-sensitive monitors (including a microphone) down through the hole. When they pulled their devices back up, they found that temperatures inside the open well reached a searing 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

It was what the engineers found on the microphone, though, that was truly shocking: about 20 seconds’ worth of tortured, terrifying screaming.

Some of the engineers were said to be so disturbed by what they heard that they left the site immediately; the few who made the mistake of staying were visited by a gigantic, demon-shaped plume of gaseous smoke that erupted from the hole later that night. Some versions of the story held that the remaining engineers were visited soon afterward by mysterious medics who administered a drug that erased their short-term memory. (I guess in that version we’re meant to assume that one of the medics was also a whistleblower.)

The story is believed to have appeared first in a handful of Christian newsletters in 1989 and 1990. Eventually it was picked up by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest religious broadcasting network, where it was given the straightforward-enough title “Scientists Discover Hell.” Additional Christian publications picked up the story, though not all did so in good faith; Christianity Today ran a story debunking the site in 1990. For one thing, it was argued, there was no proof the hole even existed. There was a drill site in Russia, but it was on the Kola Peninsula, very far from Siberia. Scientists there had reported temperatures of 360 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still pretty hot, but there had been no note made of hellish screaming.

Still, it was too late to kill the rumor. American tabloids picked up the story, and gussied it up, and then the Internet arrived. By then the so-called Siberian crater had been given its catchiest name yet: the Well to Hell.

Early on in the saga, a Norwegian teacher named Åge Rendalen, on a visit to the United States, heard the “Scientists Discover Hell” story on Trinity Broadcast. Upon his return to Norway, he wrote TBN a letter. It stated that, although he didn’t originally believe the story, he’d returned home to research and had found additional testimony that convinced him. In this account, a bat-like apparition rose out of the well and blazed a trail across the sky.

Rendalen sent two clips of paper—the original Norwegian account along with his English translation—to the network as proof. He also provided contact information, should they be interested in fact-checking what he’d found.

TBN aired Rendalen’s addendum to the story soon after. They did not, however, check the translation; if they had, they would have discovered that the original Norwegian story was a simple, local news story about a building inspection. Nor did anyone from the network contact Rendalen for follow-up; if they had, they would have discovered that he’d sent in the clips as a deliberate hoax, meant to prove a point about mass gullibility.

And about the audio clip: stories of its existence abounded for the first several years, but no one ever actually heard it until 2002, when a correspondent to Art Bell’s radio program Coast to Coast AM emailed it into the show. He claimed he’d acquired the clip from his recently deceased uncle, who it’d been given to by a friend who worked at the BBC.

Though the Internet may have contributed to giving the Well to Hell new life, it’s also worked to (try to) take it away. In 2010, a YouTube account called “moscowjade” uploaded an analysis of the aforementioned “sounds of hell” clip, in which he pretty convincingly argues that it is not proof of hell, but rather a layered and looped snippet from 1972 horror film called Baron Blood.

“I’m a Christian,” says the video’s narrator, who, in his debunking, sounds genuinely sorry to let everyone down. “I very much believe and know that hell is real. However, this story is not.”

THE NEW SIBERIAN CRATER is smaller than everyone first thought, and less perfectly spherical. It’s more like an oval, and closer to 100 feet across than the 200-300 originally reported. Original speculation about the hole’s charred-looking perimeter had suggested meteoric (well, or UFO) activity; scientists on the scene now say it doesn’t show that at all.

They’re calling the crater the site of an “ejection of permafrost.” There is a very ordinary diagram that explains the whole thing. It’s called a “pingo,” apparently, which is only slightly less memorable than “The Crater at the End of the World.”

Consciousness After Death: Strange Tales From the Frontiers of Resuscitation Medicine

Consciousness After Death: Strange Tales
From the Frontiers of Resuscitation Medicine

By Brandon Keim

Sam Parnia practices resuscitation medicine. In other words, he helps bring people back from the dead — and some return with stories. Their tales could help save lives, and even challenge traditional scientific ideas about the nature of consciousness.

“The evidence we have so far is that human consciousness does not become annihilated,” said Parnia, a doctor at Stony Brook University Hospital and director of the school’s resuscitation research program. “It continues for a few hours after death, albeit in a hibernated state we cannot see from the outside.”

Resuscitation medicine grew out of the mid-twentieth century discovery of CPR, the medical procedure by which hearts that have stopped beating are revived. Originally effective for a few minutes after cardiac arrest, advances in CPR have pushed that time to a half-hour or more.

New techniques promise to even further extend the boundary between life and death. At the same time, experiences reported by resuscitated people sometimes defy what’s thought to be possible. They claim to have seen and heard things, though activity in their brains appears to have stopped.

It sounds supernatural, and if their memories are accurate and their brains really have stopped, it’s neurologically inexplicable, at least with what’s now known. Parnia, leader of the Human Consciousness Project’s AWARE study, which documents after-death experiences in 25 hospitals across North America and Europe, is studying the phenomenon scientifically.

Parnia discusses his work in the new book Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death. Wired talked to Parnia about resuscitation and the nature of consciousness.

Wired: In the book you say that death is not a moment in time, but a process. What do you mean by that?

Sam Parnia: There’s a point used to define death: Your heart stops beating, your brain shuts down. The moment of cardiac arrest. Until fifty years ago, when CPR was developed, when you reached this point, you couldn’t come back. That led to the perception that death is completely irreversible.

But if I were to die this instant, the cells inside my body wouldn’t have died yet. It takes time for cells to die after they’re deprived of oxygen. It doesn’t happen instantly. We have a longer period of time than people perceive. We know now that when you become a corpse, when the doctor declares you dead, there’s still a possibility, from a biological and medical perspective, of death being reversed.

Of course, if someone dies and you leave them alone long enough, the cells become damaged. There’s going to be a time when you can’t bring them back. But nobody knows exactly when that moment is. It might not just be in tens of minutes, but in over an hour. Death is really a process.

‘The idea that electrochemical processes in the brain
lead to consciousness may no longer be correct.’

Wired: How can people be brought back from death?

Parnia: Death is, essentially, the same as a stroke, and that’s especially true for the brain. A stroke is some process that stops blood flow from getting into the brain. Whether it’s because the heart stopped pumping, or there was a clot that stopped blood flow, the cells don’t care.

Brain cells can be viable for up to eight hours after blood flow stops. If doctors can learn to manipulate processes going on in cells, and slow down the rate at which cells die, we could go back and fix the problem that caused a person to die, then re-start the heart and bring them back. In a sense, death could become reversible for conditions for which treatments become available.

If someone dies of a heart attack, for example, and it can be fixed, then in principle we can protect the brain, make sure it doesn’t experience permanent cellular death, and re-start the heart. If someone dies of cancer, though, and that particular cancer is untreatable, then it’s futile.

Wired: Are you talking about bringing people to life
days or weeks or even years after they’ve died?

Parnia: No. This is not cryogenics. When you die, most of your cell death occurs through apoptosis, or programmed cell death. If your body is cold, the chemical reactions underlying apoptosis are slower. Making the body cold slows the rate at which cells decay. But we’re talking about chilling, not freezing. The process of freezing will damage cells.

Wired: You also study near-death experiences, but you have a different term for it: After-death experience.

Parnia: I decided that we should study what people have experienced when they’ve gone beyond cardiac arrest. I found that 10 percent of patients who survived cardiac arrests report these incredible accounts of seeing things.

When I looked at the cardiac arrest literature, it became clear that it’s after the heart stops and blood flow into the brain ceases. There’s no blood flow into the brain, no activity, about 10 seconds after the heart stops. When doctors start to do CPR, they still can’t get enough blood into the brain. It remains flatlined. That’s the physiology of people who’ve died or are receiving CPR.

Not just my study, but four others, all demonstrated the same thing: People have memories and recollections. Combined with anecdotal reports from all over the world, from people who see things accurately and remember them, it suggests this needs to be studied in more detail.

Wired: One of the first after-death accounts in your book involves Joe Tiralosi, who was resuscitated 40 minutes after his heart stopped. Can you tell me more about him?

Parnia: I wasn’t involved in his care when he arrived at the hospital, but I know his doctors well. We’d been working with the emergency room to make sure they knew the importance of starting to cool people down. When Tiralosi arrived, they cooled him, which helped preserve his brain cells. They found vessels blocked in his heart. That’s now treatable. By doing CPR and cooling him down, the doctors managed to fix him and ensure that he didn’t have brain damage.

When Tiralosi woke up, he told nurses that he had a profound experience and wanted to talk about it. That’s how we met. He told me that he felt incredibly peaceful, and saw this perfect being, full of love and compassion. This is not uncommon.

People tend to interpret what they see based on their background: A Hindu describes a Hindu god, an atheist doesn’t see a Hindu god or a Christian god, but some being. Different cultures see the same thing, but their interpretation depends on what they believe.

Wired: What can we learn from the fact that people report seeing the same thing?

Parnia: At the very least, it tells us that there’s this unique experience that humans have when they go through death. It’s universal. It’s described by children as young as three. And it tells us that we should not be afraid of death.

Wired: How do we know after-death experiences happen when people think they do? Maybe people misremember thoughts from just before death, or just after regaining consciousness.

Parnia: That’s a very important question. Do these memories occur when a person is truly flatlined and had no brain activity, as science suggests? Or when they’re beginning to wake up, but are still unconscious?

The point that goes against the experiences happening afterwards, or before the brain shut down, is that many people describe very specific details of what happened to them during cardiac arrest. They describe conversations people had, clothes people wore, events that went on 10 or 20 minutes into resuscitation. That is not compatible with brain activity.

It may be that some people receive better-quality resuscitation, and that — though there’s no evidence to support it — they did have brain activity. Or it could indicate that human consciousness, the psyche, the soul, the self, continued to function.

Wired: Couldn’t the experiences just reflect some extremely subtle type of brain activity?

Parnia: When you die, there’s no blood flow going into your brain. If it goes below a certain level, you can’t have electrical activity. It takes a lot of imagination to think there’s somehow a hidden area of your brain that comes into action when everything else isn’t working.

These observations raise a question about our current concept of how brain and mind interact. The historical idea is that electrochemical processes in the brain lead to consciousness. That may no longer be correct, because we can demonstrate that those processes don’t go on after death.

There may be something in the brain we haven’t discovered that accounts for consciousness, or it may be that consciousness is a separate entity from the brain.

Wired: This seems to verge on  supernatural explanations of consciousness.

Parnia: Throughout history, we try to explain things the best we can with the tools of science. But most open-minded and objective scientists recognize that we have limitations. Just because something is inexplicable with our current science doesn’t make it superstitious or wrong. When people discovered electromagnetism, forces that couldn’t then be seen or measured, a lot of scientists made fun of it.

Scientists have come to believe that the self is brain cell processes, but there’s never been an experiment to show how cells in the brain could possibly lead to human thought. If you look at a brain cell under a microscope, and I tell you, “this brain cell thinks I’m hungry,” that’s impossible.

It could be that, like electromagnetism, the human psyche and consciousness are a very subtle type of force that interacts with the brain, but are not necessarily produced by the brain. The jury is still out.

Wired: But what about all the fMRI brain imaging studies of thoughts and feelings? Or experiments in which scientists can tell what someone is seeing, or what they’re dreaming, by looking at brain activity?

Parnia: All the evidence we have shows an association between certain parts of the brain and certain mental processes. But it’s a chicken and egg question: Does cellular activity produce the mind, or does the mind produce cellular activity?

Some people have tried to conclude that what we observe indicates that cells produce thought: here’s a picture of depression, here’s a picture of happiness. But this is simply an association, not a causation. If you accept that theory, there should be no reports of people hearing or seeing things after activity in their brain has stopped. If people can have consciousness, maybe that raises the possibility that our theories are premature.

Wired: What comes next in your own research?

Parnia: In terms of resuscitation, we’re trying to non-invasively measure what happens in the brain, in real-time, using a special sensor that allows us to detect any impending danger and intervene before extensive damage is done.

On the question of consciousness, I’m interested in understanding the brain-based modulators of consciousness. What helps a person become conscious or unconscious? How can we manipulate that to help people who look like they’re unconscious? And I’m studying how consciousness can be present in people who’ve gone beyond the threshold of death. All we can say now is that the data suggests that consciousness is not annihilated.

A Most Dangerous Machine

A Most Dangerous Machine

by Sarah Perez

Facebook’s News Feed has decided that I like gruesome murders. Actually, senseless deaths and gruesome murders. I’m not exactly sure when the problem started, but I imagine it was around the time of one of the now too-common stories of mass shootings like Sandy Hook. Or at least, that’s what I like to tell myself – that surely, I was following a nationwide news story of importance rather than clicking sensational headlines that trade human tragedy in exchange for pageviews.

I’m not really sure.

But what I do know is that now any extensive visit to my Facebook News Feed has grown really depressing.

Amid tech news and baby photos, I’m now bound to come across some shared headline of something so horrific, so odd and unbelievable, that I actively have to stand up and walk away from my computer or put down my phone to keep myself from clicking. After commenting on a friend’s mobile photo upload, I scroll down to find the worst of humanity only a few items below. I don’t want to know why this man put a pig mask on his wife after stabbing her 82 times, but I’m going to click. I’m sorry, I just am. (Did you?)

And in clicking, I feed the machine. The emotionless algorithm that simply matches my interests to the stories that display. The algorithm that feels no remorse in abusing my sometimes precarious psychological state in exchange for increased time-on-site or pageviews.

Okay, I admit it. I’m human. And human curiosity can be a damning thing. I’m weak, and I’m ashamed. I am the person who is going to slow down and look at the wreck on the side of the road. And sometimes, I’m going to click the linkbait. It’s not always of the UpWorthy variety.

What is Facebook’s responsibility to stop reinforcing the worst of my online behavior? Really, how many times should the most tabloid-esque murder-du-jour story rise up to the top of my News Feed? Today alone, I’ve seen stories of a boy who choked his cheerleader girlfriend, of dismembered body parts strewn around Long Island, of a man who killed a teenaged neighbor over a lawnmower. I don’t need to know these things. They don’t improve my life or my understanding of the world in any way. They only reinforce my belief that people are horrible, and that evil is real.

Today, I unfollowed Gawker as one of my “news” sources on Facebook, which should go a long way to fixing this problem, as they seed a lot of this kind of human-death-for-content. (You can do this from the drop-down box on the post – just click the “Unfollow” option.) I hope it’s a permanent solution, but I’m still wary of loading my News Feed. What terrible thing awaits me below?

After the deed is done, Facebook asks me why did I unfollow this source? I click the link to tell it exactly why I did such a thing, but the only options are “annoying or not interesting,” “shouldn’t be on Facebook,” or “spam.”

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 4.08.41 PM

Where is the option for “it’s just too much?” Where is the option for “psychological abuse?” Where is the option for “because I can’t trust myself around linkbait?”

Oh, it’s on the next screen:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 4.13.43 PM

Let’s be fair: Facebook is not the only site that takes the personalization element to its worst possible extreme.

I read a story about a Taiwanese plane crash on Yahoo News, and my “Recommended for you” section is immediately filled with other tales of death and horror. I scroll down and see these suggestions: a man who killed a neighbor over a tree-trimming feud; a mother and daughter who die from a food truck blast; an inmate’s botched execution; a Nigerian man with Ebola; the man who shot a pregnant intruder; the father whose toddlers died when a dresser fell on them; the teen who murdered an 11-year old at a slumber party – and all that’s after just a scroll or two.

Thanks, Yahoo. I’m now hiding under my bed afraid of the world.

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I don’t want to be uniformed. I want to read the news. There are wars going on. There is political upheaval. What are we doing about the child refugees? These are things I need to know more about. These are things I should have spent my random few minutes of news browsing on, but yet I’m instead fed the “stories I like” via algorithms that have taken the place of human editors – editors who would have known not to create entire front pages filled with the faces of death.

This is not just a minor annoyance. It’s a very real concern – not only about the narrowing window I have on the news of the world, but a concern about the impacts of emotionally damaging content on unsuspecting victims. This is especially worrisome since Facebook, it seems, has no problem running psychological experiments on unwitting users. A test, which no Facebook user knew about until it wrapped and was discovered by the media, was a study that was meant to discover whether Facebook’s News Feed content could impact a user’s emotional makeup. Spoiler alert! It does.

Consider me just another data point. I read Facebook; I feel sad.

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More seriously, consider the impacts of unfeeling technology and impersonal algorithms on the vast numbers of those suffering from mental illnesses. Whether they’re browsing self-harm content on Tumblr and Instagram, or vlogging their most heinous thoughts – as did the Santa Barbara shooter who threatened to “punish” “you girls” in his YouTube videos before his terrible spree.

While our legislators argue over gun control, the U.S. is suffering from a mental health epidemic – a direct result of mental health reforms that were originally meant to stop the abuses of human rights that took place in the psych wards of the past. But now we have a system that actively prevents people from getting help.

People who suffer from distorted – and dangerous – mental states, or even with more treatable conditions like depression, are also using computers, browsing the web, and reading sites like Yahoo News and Facebook. And we don’t know the long-term impacts of them being subjected to the outright manipulations that take place when a site like Facebook decides to study them like lab rats. Nor do we fully understand the impacts to the rest of us when Facebook or some other news portal simply rolls out a new “recommendation algorithm” as part of its everyday experimentations.

When the machine over-feeds someone stories about death and violence, do they get partial credit later for their psychological break – or do they only get lauded for helping catch the killers through digital debris or uniting the victims via online support groups?

This is one of the many fallouts from our linkbait addiction – the result of a culture too overwhelmed with content to read anything at length. But to the humans building these systems, I ask you to remember this: We are an easily tricked and manipulated species. When all you count is what gets clicked, the algorithm fails. At best, a news room loses focus. At worst…well, look around.

Psychological abuseWikipedia: Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Such abuse is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships, bullying, and abuse in the workplace.

The Earth Is In The Middle Of Its Sixth Mass Extinction

In Case You Didn’t Know, The Earth Is In The Middle Of Its Sixth Mass Extinction
by Anthony Ruggiero

Don’t worry, the human population isn’t becoming extinct just yet.
But scientists can’t say the same for the insect world.

The invertebrate population, which includes butterflies, worms, beetles, and spiders, has decreased by 45% over the last 35 years, while the human population has doubled over that same time frame, reports USA Today.

The Earth is in the middle of its sixth “mass extinction” of life due to the global climate’s rapid change and the loss of animal habitat, according to Science magazine.

“We were shocked to find similar losses in invertebrates as with larger animals, as we previously thought invertebrates to be more resilient.” Ben Collen of London’s University College, author of the study, said.

While the public habitually focuses on more popular animals fighting to evade extinction, Collen’s study emphasizes the effect of insects on our planet. Insects, the lowliest members of the animal kingdom, help regulate ecosystems and keep bigger animals healthy.

The threat against insects is no joke. The study reports that 322 species have gone extinct within the last five centuries.

“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University, another of the study’s authors, said.

Researchers have some evidence that reintroducing captive animals into their native habitats may help slow their demise.

In the history of the Earth, five mass extinctions have occurred. The most famous took place 66 million years ago, bringing the end of the dinosaurs with it.

How many Greek legends were really true?

How many Greek legends were really true?

By Armand d’Angour

The culture and legends of ancient Greece have a remarkably long legacy in the modern language of education, politics, philosophy, art and science. Classical references from thousands of years ago continue to appear. But what was the origin of some of these ideas?

1. Was there ever really a Trojan Horse?

The story of the Trojan Horse is first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, an epic song committed to writing around 750BC, describing the aftermath of a war at Troy that purportedly took place around 500 years earlier.

After besieging Troy (modern-day Hisarlik in Turkey) for 10 years without success, the Greek army encamped outside the city walls made as if to sail home, leaving behind them a giant wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Athena.

The Trojans triumphantly dragged the horse within Troy, and when night fell the Greek warriors concealed inside it climbed out and destroyed the city. Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was indeed burned down; but the wooden horse is an imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire-arrows.

2. Homer is one of the great poets of ancient Greek legends. Did he actually exist?

Not only is the Trojan Horse a colourful fiction, the existence of Homer himself has sometimes been doubted. It’s generally supposed that the great epics which go under Homer’s name, the Iliad and Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing, some time in the 8th Century BC, the fruit of a tradition of oral minstrelsy stretching back for centuries.

While the ancients had no doubt that Homer was a real bard who composed the monumental epics, nothing certain is known about him. All we do know is that, even if the poems were composed without writing and orally transmitted, at some stage they were written down in Greek, because that is how they have survived.

3. Was there an individual inventor of the alphabet?Greek alphabet

The date attributed to the writing down of the Homeric epics is connected to the earliest evidence for the existence of Greek script in the 8th Century BC.

The Greeks knew that their alphabet (later borrowed by the Romans to become the western alphabet) was adapted from that of the Phoenicians, a near-eastern nation whose letter-sequence began “aleph bet”.

The fact that the adaptation was uniform throughout Greece has suggested that there was a single adapter rather than many. Greek tradition named the adapter Palamedes, which may just mean “clever man of old”. Palamedes was also said to have invented counting, currency, and board games.

The Greek letter-shapes came to differ visually from their Phoenician progenitors – with the current geometrical letter-shapes credited to the 6th Century mathematician Pythagoras.

4. Did Pythagoras invent Pythagoras’ theorem?
Or did he copy his homework from someone else?

It is doubtful whether Pythagoras (c. 570-495BC) was really a mathematician as we understand the word. Schoolchildren still learn his so-called theorem about the square on the hypotenuse (a2+b2 =c2). But the Babylonians knew this equation centuries earlier, and there is no evidence that Pythagoras either discovered or proved it.

Pythagoras

In fact, although genuine mathematical investigations were undertaken by later Pythagoreans, the evidence suggests that Pythagoras was a mystic who believed that numbers underlie everything. He worked out, for instance, that perfect musical intervals could be expressed by simple ratios.

5. What made the Greeks begin using money? Was it trade or their “psyche”?

It may seem obvious to us that commercial imperatives would have driven the invention of money. But human beings conducted trade for millennia without coinage, and it’s not certain that the first monetised economy in the world arose in ancient Greece simply in order to facilitate such transactions.

The classicist Richard Seaford has argued that the invention of money emerged from deep in the Greek psyche. It is tied to notions of reciprocal exchange and obligation which pervaded their societies; it reflects philosophical distinctions between face-value and intrinsic value; and it is a political instrument, since the state is required to act as guarantor of monetary value.

Financial instruments and institutions – coinage, mints, contracts, banking, credit and debt – were being developed in many Greek cities by the 5th Century BC, with Athens at the forefront. But one ancient state held the notion of money in deep suspicion and resisted its introduction: Sparta.

6. How spartan were the Spartans?

The legendary Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus decreed that the Spartans should use only iron as currency, making it so cumbersome that even a small amount would have to be carried by a yoke of oxen.

This story may be part of the idealisation of the ancient Spartans as a warrior society dedicated to military pre-eminence. While classical Sparta did not mint its own coins, it used foreign silver, and some Spartan leaders were notoriously prone to bribery.

Ancient Greek replica ship

However, laws may have been passed to prevent Spartans importing luxuries that might threaten to undermine their hardiness. When the Athenian playboy general Alcibiades defected to Sparta during its war with Athens in the late 5th Century, he adopted their meagre diet, tough training routines, coarse clothing, and Laconic expressions.

But eventually his passion for all things Spartan extended to the king’s wife Timaea, who became pregnant. Alcibiades returned to Athens, whence he had fled eight years earlier to avoid charges of shocking sacrilege, one of which was that he had subjected Athens’ holy Mysteries to mockery.

7. What were the secrets of the Greek Mystery Cults?

If I told you, I’d have to kill you. The secrets were fiercely guarded, and severe penalties were prescribed for anyone who divulged them or who, like Alcibiades, were thought to have profaned them. Initiates were required to undergo initiation rites which may have included transvestism and centred on secret objects (perhaps phalluses) and passwords being revealed.

The aim was to give devotees a glimpse of the “other side”, so that they could return to their lives blessed in the knowledge that when their turn came to die they could ensure the survival of their soul in the Underworld.

Excavations have uncovered tombs containing passwords and instructions written on thin gold sheets as an aide-memoire for deceased devotees. The principal Greek Mystery Cults were those of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and of Dionysus (also known as Bacchus), god of wine, ecstasy – and of theatre.

8. Who first made a drama out of a crisis? How did theaters begin?

In 5th Century Athens, theater was closely connected to the cult of Dionysus, in whose theater on the southern slopes of the Acropolis tragedies and comedies were staged at an annual festival.

But the origin of theater is a much-debated issue. One tradition tells of the actor Thespis (hence “thespian”) standing on a cart and playing a dramatic role for the first time around 532BC; another claims that drama began with ritual choruses and gradually introduced actors’ parts.

Greek theatre

Aristotle (384-322BC) supposed that the choruses of tragedy were originally ritual songs (dithyrambs) sung and danced in Dionysus’ honour, while comedy emerged out of ribald performances involving model phalluses.

As a god associated with shifting roles and appearances, Dionysus seems an apt choice of god to give rise to drama. But from the earliest extant tragedy, Aeschylus’ Persians of 472BC, few surviving tragedies have anything to do with Dionysus.

Comic drama was largely devoted to making fun of contemporary figures – including in several plays (most famously in Aristophanes’ Clouds) the philosopher Socrates.

9. What made Socrates think about becoming a philosopher?

Socrates (469-399BC) may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes’ comedy as entertaining ideas ranging from the scientifically absurd (“How do you measure a flea’s jump?”) to the socially subversive (“I can teach anyone to win any argument, even if they’re in the wrong”).

This picture is at odds with the main sources of biographical data on Socrates, the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Both the latter treat him with great respect as a moral questioner and guide, but they say almost nothing of Socrates’ earlier activities.

Socrates
In fact our first description of Socrates, dating to his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served in a military campaign in northern Greece in 432BC, and during a brutal battle he saved the life of his beloved young friend Alcibiades. Subsequently he never left Athens, and spent his time trying to get his fellow Athenians to examine their own lives and thoughts.

We might speculate that Socrates had toyed with science and politics in his youth, until a life-and-death experience in battle turned him to devoting the remainder of his life to the search for wisdom and truth.

As he wrote nothing himself, our strongest image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from the dialogues of his devoted pupil Plato, whose own pupil Aristotle was tutor of Alexander, prince of Macedon.

10. Was Alexander the Great really that great?

Alexander (356-323BC) was to become one the greatest soldier-generals the world had ever seen.

According to ancient sources, however, he was physically unprepossessing. Short and stocky, he was a hard drinker with a ruddy complexion, a rasping voice, and an impulsive temper which on one occasion led him to kill his companion Cleitus in a violent rage.

As his years progressed he became paranoid and megalomaniacal. However, in 10 short years from the age of 20 he forged a vast empire stretching from Egypt to India. Never defeated in battle, he made use of innovative siege engines every bit as as effective as the fabled Trojan Horse, and founded 20 cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in Egypt.

His military success was little short of miraculous, and in the eyes of an ancient world devoted to warfare and conquest it was only right to accord him the title of “Great”.

How Would Christianity Deal with Extraterrestrial Life?

How Would Christianity Deal with Extraterrestrial Life?

by Mark-Strauss

How would the world’s religions react to the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence? There is, of course, no single answer. But for Christians who believe in the redemption of humanity through a singular event—the Incarnation of God through Christ—the question poses an especially complex dilemma.

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To appreciate the conundrum, a good place to start is with the words of Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer and current director of the Vatican Observatory, who suggested in an interview that the possibility of “brother extraterrestrials” poses no problem for Catholic theology. “As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God,” Funes told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. “This does not conflict with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God.”

But, L’Osservatore Romano asked, what if these beings were sinners?

“Jesus became man once and for all,” Funes responded. “The Incarnation is a single and unique event. So I am sure that also they, in some way, would have the chance to enjoy God’s mercy, just as it has happened with us human beings.”

Has Christ Been to Other Planets?

It’s that phrase — “in some way” — that is the source of contention among Christian theologians. In what way? Has Christ appeared to other beings? Have there been other Incarnations, where the Son of God has taken on different forms and has had to endure, time and again, the self-sacrifice of death to remove the burden of Original Sin from God’s creations?

It’s a question that has troubled thinkers who, for centuries, have contemplated, in varying degrees, whether there other beings living on a “plurality of worlds.” When Thomas Paine studied the astronomical research of the preceding three centuries, he concluded, in the Age of Reason, that the existence of other planets revolving around other suns supported theism, but drastically altered the Christian concept of God:

From, whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest and come to die in our world because, they say, one man and one woman had eaten an apple! And, on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent, and a redeemer? In this case the person who is irreverently called the Son of God, and sometimes God himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of deaths, with scarcely a momentary interval of life.

And, as always, we can count of the wisdom of the great sage, Stephen Colbert, to get right to the heart of the matter: “If we accept that there is alien life on other planets, doesn’t that totally blow Jesus out of the water? Because he was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man, he did not become creature. Aren’t we double-booking our saviors here?”

Does God Only Care About Humans?

Underlying this theological debate is the question of whether Christianity, among other faiths, is the least resilient to the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who writes about the relationship between science and religion, argues:

Judaism and Islam do not have the problem of the Incarnation, but they do subscribe, at least traditionally, to the very special place of human beings on this particular planet, and thus might be disturbed or at least disoriented by the discovery of ETs. Many Eastern religions, by not claiming a personal God, would not be so troubled.

Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University, has expressed the view that the potential challenge to Christianity “is being downplayed” by religious leaders:

The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they’re in this horrible bind. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets.

Likewise, Gary Bates, the head of the Atlanta-based Creation Ministries International, has said, “My theological perspective is that E.T. life would actually make a mockery of the very reason Christ came to die for our sins, for our redemption.” The entire focus of creation, Bates argues, “is mankind on this Earth,” and he believes the existence of intelligent, self-aware extraterrestrial life would undermine that view.”It is a huge problem that many Christians have not really thought about.”

The Possibility of Exotheology

But, many Christians have thought about it and have rejected the idea that alien intelligence is irreconcilable with their beliefs. “What is misleading here is the assumption that the Christian religion is fragile, that it is so fixed upon its orientation to human beings centered on Earth than an experience with extraterrestrial beings would shatter it,” wrote theologian Ted Peters in the 1990s. “To the contrary, I find that when the issue of beings on other worlds has been raised it has been greeted positively…. I advocate exotheology—that is, speculation on the theological significance of extraterrestrial life.”

Kuhn, having heard multiple views, says there are only six possibilities for Christian salvation in the context of sentient life beyond Earth:

  1. Jesus’ death and resurrection on Earth covers all beings on all worlds and at all times.
  2. Jesus goes through a similar process of life, death, and resurrection on innumerable planets to save innumerable beings and creatures.
  3. Human beings, as galactic missionaries, will ultimately colonize the universe and spread the Word of God to heathen ETs.
  4. There are other mechanisms to attain salvation on other planets.
  5. Salvation is not offered to other beings and creatures on other planets.

There are no other sentient beings on other planets anywhere; humans are utterly unique.

Among these six options, theologians who believe in the possible existence of extraterrestrial intelligence find #5 the least likely (and the most offensive). Assuming other beings are self-aware and capable of free will, the very idea of denying them salvation is at odds with the concept of a God who deeply loves his creations. Thomas O’Meara, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, writes in his book, Vast Universe:

Could there not be other incarnations? Perhaps many of them, and at the same time? While the Word and Jesus are one, the life of a Jewish prophet on Earth hardly curtails the divine Word’s life. The Word loves the intelligent natures it has created, although to us they might seem strange and somewhat repellant. Incarnation is an intense way to reveal, to communicate with an intelligent animal. It is also a dramatic mode of showing love for and identification with that race. In each incarnation, the divine being communicates something from its divine life….Incarnation in a human being speaks to our race. While the possibility of extraterrestrials in the galaxies leads to possible incarnations and alternate salvation histories, incarnations would correspond to the forms of intelligent creatures with their own religious quests. Jesus of Nazareth, however, is a human being and does not move to other planets.

O’Meara, in fact, raises the possibility of a seventh option to consider, which is not on Kuhn’s list. What if Earth and humanity merited God’s unique intervention because we are the only species in the universe who actually needed redemption? There can be other worlds with other creatures—but they are not necessarily implicated in our world of sins, they would not need a savior.

“No reason compels us to extend to other worlds our own sinfulness and to think of them as caught up in evil,” wrote the theologian Joseph Pohle a century ago. Pohle wondered whether the incarnation occurred on Earth precisely because our world is weak, small, and not particularly significant. That event gave “little Earth” significance in a grander and wider cosmos. There might be greater and more impressive planets and planetary systems that need no Incarnation.

“In the hundred thousand millions of worlds dispersed over the regions of space, everything goes on by degrees,” Voltaire once wrote. “Our little terraqueous globe here is the madhouse of those hundred thousand millions of worlds.”

Zombie-Infested Virtual World Reveals Our Ethical Blind Spots

Zombie-Infested Virtual World Reveals Our Ethical Blind Spots

By Tom Jacobs

So, the world has been overrun by zombies, and to have any chance of survival, you have to kill people every now and then. Are you comfortable with that?

A new analysis of comments posted on the forum of a popular online game suggests the answer is: Not really.

When immersed in a post-apocalyptic scenario, “users regularly rob, harm, and kill,” report Quebec-based researchers Cecile Cristofari and Matthieu Guitton. However, that doesn’t mean players fully succumb to their animalistic, eat-or-be-eaten instincts.

To the contrary, “Ethical concerns nonetheless remain surprisingly important (to them),” the researchers write in the online journal PLoS One. “Much of the immediate harm done by users is prompted by panic, and immediately regretted.”

Guitton and Cristofari focused on DayZ, a “free, open world survival game” with more than 500,000 registered users. Players are the survivors of an apocalypse who “have to wrestle their surroundings to find food, weapons, or medical supplies, while their lives are under the permanent threat of zombies or other hostile survivors.”

In this virtual world (and unlike many others), death is a big deal, in which character must “start again from scratch.” To avoid this fate, users “can choose to either attack other characters, or team up with them in order to increase their own chances of survival.”

This means players must regularly make moral decisions, including whether to kill competing characters, or rob them of their supplies (which means they will, in all likelihood, die). An online forum has been established in which users “ask for or receive comments on whether their actions were justified or ethical.”

The researchers examined a series of threads posted in 2013, in which “authors acknowledged the possibility of guilt” after recounting a specific anecdote. The level of virtual harm they inflicted was noted, along with the level of guilt they expressed. In addition, 50 threads that focused on specific moral topics were examined to note commonly accepted norms of behavior.

The researchers found that “what was perceived as acceptable behavior appeared to be largely similar to real-world norms. However, we observed a clear dichotomy between actual actions (what the users did when facing the online situation) and their moral judgments (how they reflected on their own actions afterwards).”

Specifically, even in this survival-oriented virtual world, players reported feeling guilt after killing another character, and they often modified their subsequent behavior in response to these feelings. “The intensity of guilt varied with the perceived gravity of the action,” the researchers write, “and immediate consequences were associated with greater gravity in the minds of the users.”

“Even in the most drastic conditions, survivors appeared reluctant to kill another human for purely utilitarian reasons,” the researchers add. “In contrast, not directly witnessing the death of another human—even if virtual—seemed to abolish this natural inhibition, at least partially.”

So, if people’s online behavior is indicative—and the researchers believe it is—these results paint a mixed portrait of our core ethical principles. While it’s unclear whether its roots are cultural or biological, the command “Thou shalt not kill” seems to be hard-wired into our brains.

On the other hand, the results suggest we are much more comfortable with delayed destruction. Among these players, at least, guilt decreased dramatically if the deadly consequences of their actions only take shape once they had left the scene.

That indeed sounds like the real world.

We tested every ghost-hunting app in the haunted buildings of New York

We tested every ghost-hunting app in the haunted buildings of New York

By Matt Crowley

Let’s say that you’re looking to track, communicate with, and potentially even bust some ghosts. How are you, a layperson with no background in phantasmology, supposed to do such a thing?

It used to be that professional mediums had a stranglehold on the apparition market, forcing you to either pay their jacked-up prices or make do with a notoriously temperamental and vague instrument, like a Ouija board. Fortunately, our digital society has put the necessary tools in the clammy hands of the individual: There are now more than a dozen spirit-seeking applications available in the App Store.

To help inform potential ghost-hunters, I downloaded as many of these apps as I could find and set about testing them. I began at my apartment, as a sort of control, and then traveled to St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery and the so-called House of Death—two of the most haunted buildings in New York. I’ve divided the apps into those most suitable for a beginner, intermediate, and expert ghost hunter, and given a brief overview of my experience for you to peruse… if you dare.

Please, by all means, dare.

Beginner

Ghost Radar: Classic by Spud Pickles

If you’re looking for a ghost-tracking app at its most bare-bones—so to speak—you can’t do better than Ghost Radar: Classic. It’s just basic, no-frills ghost detection.

By measuring the quantum fluctuations around your device, GRC purports to determine the presence of a spirit—a green dot—and even communicate with the being.

In the above image, a ghost in my apartment is saying “push.” A ghost at the House of Death told me “equal,” while a ghost at St. Marks favored me with “planet.”

Ghost Communicator by Andrew Gronek

A variation on the same theme, Ghost Communicator also makes use of a radar-like design. The major difference is an added component of touch, requiring you to place your index finger over the fingerprint.

There’s no dot to indicate a disturbance in your area, but specters were detected, telling me “follow” at home, “bottle” at the House of Death, and “electric” at St. Mark’s. Ghost Communicator loses points for its prominent “For entertainment purposes only” disclaimer.

Ghost Detector Free by Purple Penguin.com, Inc

Though Ghost Detector Free appears essentially identical to Ghost Radar: Classic, it has a few key differences. First, by utilizing “advanced algorithms to configure your device’s sensor’s sensitivity,” it allows you to measure EVP and EMF, as opposed to Quantum Fluctuations. In addition, it boasts that it has been “used by professional paranormal investigators in Tampa, Fla.”

Perhaps as a result of these facts, the spirits I detected with this app were markedly more chatty, and weirdly specific. In the space of one minute at the House of Death, a ghost told me these words: “nervousness,” “seminary,” “palace,” and “inopportune.”



Ghost Locator
by Sebastien Mougey

Of all the apps I tested, Ghost Locator is far from the most impressive, but it may be my favorite. Simply press the “on/off” switch, and within seconds, a ghost will appear on the radar screen along with some pertinent details. You can click on the phantom for more information—Heath, for example, is 237 years old, died in 1801 at the age of 24 from drowning, and currently weighs 0 pounds (all the ghosts weigh 0 pounds, as the app dutily informed me each time).

Most intriguing, however, is a side feature of the app—the Ghost Herald, which, along with the Werewolf Herald, is a publication run by the app company. An excerpt from the July 14 edition: “It was the first full moon since the transformation from human to beast … my transformation, that is … a burst of stamina ran through my veins like a hare who had just drank [sic] a gallon of strong, black coffee.”

Also, if you enter the cheat code “666,” you can track the devil (he’s always right next to you).

Intermediate

Ghost Observer by AKEV

Now that you have a basic grounding, it’s time to take your spectral activities to the next level. Ghost Observer not only tracks spirits, but displays them on your screen.

Through this app, I learned just how ubiquitous ghosts are—I found several at St. Mark’s (above) and the House of Death, but also at my apartment, at my office, on the subway, and at a Taco Bell in Queens.

The app is free, but with a $1.99 upgrade you can access the “translate” feature and hear what I assume is a sea of spirits screaming to be heard over each other.

Ghost Recorder by MEDL Mobile, Inc.

If you’re desperate to hear ghoulies in your area but don’t want to pay a premium, check out Ghost Recorder, which “uses special technology to pick up the supernatural ghost noises that are beyond the realm of the human ear.”

Unfortunately, the app doesn’t allow you to download your recordings, but it confirmed Ghost Observer’s findings: I heard a feedback noise, wheezing laughter and, for some reason, a creaking door, at St. Marks, the House of Death, my apartment, my office, on the subway, and at a Taco Bell in Queens. Spooky stuff.

Ghost O Meter by Adrian3

The Ghost O Meter is pretty self-explanatory—it measures the presence of ghosts in your area, with higher levels of PKE making the needle jump to the right. The app costs a dollar, but it was actually one of the most intriguing I tested.

After getting no reading at my apartment, I experienced high PKE levels at the Death House, with the needle jumping more and more the closer I was to the property. I was less impressed at St. Mark’s, where the Ghost O Meter eschewed the inside of the church in favor of a bannister outside. On the other hand, who am I to say this bannister wasn’t particularly haunted?

Expert

Ghost Sonar Free by XFactor MultiMedia, LLC

Specializing in tracking EMF, Ghost Sonar Free is the only app I tested that never gave me any readings. Perversely, this makes me believe in its viability all the more—it would be pretty ballsy to release a ghost tracking program that doesn’t ever do anything.

In any case, Ghost Sonar is most suitable for the paranormal investigator with time on his hands and a lot of patience.

Ghost Hunter M2 by Michael Weber

The Cadillac of Ghost Hunting equipment, Ghost Hunter M2 costs a dollar but comes with everything you could want: audio and video analyzers, a geoscope, a special camera, and a whole slew of sensors.

On the negative side, there’s so much to sift through that it can be overwhelming, and the user interface is rather dull—each section only offers an on/off button, without any switches to flip or dials to tune.

Despite these flaws, though, Ghost Hunter M2 is the most thorough and in-depth app on the market—truly putting the “science” in pseudoscience.

Ghost Detect Pro by Perfect Reality Apps, LLC

Ghost Detect Pro is also not for neophytes: It’s chock-full of ghost-seeking technology and providing more data than you could ever hope to interpret. Just look at all that data!

Its interface is simpler and more user-friendly than Ghost Hunter M2, and it wins distinction for providing me with my most genuinely chilling moment: At the House of Death, I opened the app and spoke aloud, telling any wraiths to make themselves known (a particularly effective method, as we learned in Paranormal Activity). As soon as I finished my request, a voice emanated from my iPhone’s speaker, telling me, “Splendid.”

As you can see, it’s easier than ever to track a wide array of ghosts without ever having to leave your house or spend more than a couple bucks. Armed with this information, you’re ready to begin your paranormal investigations whenever the spirit moves you. Good luck.