Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

Quinn Looks Forward to Dune Graphic Novel

January 27, 2020

And now – more SF! This is a very short video from the Quinn’s Ideas channel on YouTube. Quinn is another vlogger on science fiction, and particularly Frank Herbert’s Dune. Denis Villeneuve, the French Canadian director of Blade Runner 2049, is currently making a Dune movie that promises to be very faithful to the book, and a new Dune graphic novel is also coming out. It’s been welcomed by Brian Herbert, Frank’s son, who has also written a series of prequels for the Dune saga expanding its fictional universe.

Quinn says he’s looking forward to the graphic novel because, while the Dune books are very concerned with explaining the philosophy, there is very little description of what things actually look like – the thopters, shields and so on. This is why all the adaptations so far – David Lynch’s 1984 version, and the Dune 2000 mini-series, look very different. Quinn states that his idea of what a graphic novel could do was revolutionised by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The medium is ideally suited to portray scenes that would be difficult for films, and are suitable for any subject.

Although the video says that it has the first images from the graphic novel, these are among other paintings and drawings of Dune drawn for places like Deviantart, so that it’s not exactly clear which are the graphic novel’s and which are those of other artists. He also says remarkably little about it, except that it’s also faithful to the book, urges viewers to look at an article published elsewhere on the web, for which he provides a link.

This is still a fascinating look at what the graphic novel may be like, and features some superb art from elsewhere.

English History through the Broadside Ballad

December 24, 2019

A Ballad History of England: From 1588 to the Present Day, by Roy Palmer (London: BT Batsford 1979).

From the 16th century to the 20th, the broadside ballad was part of the popular music of British working people. They were written on important topics of the day, and printed and published for ordinary people. They would be sung by the ballad sellers themselves while hawking their wares. This book is a collection of popular ballads, assembled and with introductory notes by the folklorist Roy Palmer. It begins with the song ‘A Ioyful New Ballad’ from 1588 about the Armada, and ends with ‘The Men Who Make The Steel’ from 1973 about the steelworkers’ strike. Unlike the earlier songs, it was issued as a record with three other songs in 1975. The ballads’ texts are accompanied by sheet music of the tunes to which they were sung. Quite often the tunes used were well-known existing melodies, so the audience were already familiar with the music, though not the new words which had been fitted to them.

The ballads cover such important events in English and wider British history as a Lincolnshire witch trial; the draining of the fens; the Diggers, a Communist sect in the British Civil War; Oak Apple Day, celebrating the narrow escape of Charles II from the Parliamentarians in 1660; the defeat of the Monmouth Rebellion; the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1715; the South Sea Bubble; Dick Turpin, the highwayman; the Scots defeat at Culloden; emigration to Nova Scotia in Canada; Wolfe’s capture of Quebec; the enclosures; the Birmingham and Worcester Canal; the 18th century radical and advocate for democracy, Tom Paine; the mechanisation of the silk industry; the establishment of income tax; the death of Nelson; the introduction of the treadmill in prison; the Peterloo Massacre and bitter polemical attacks against Lord Castlereagh; Peel’s establishment of the police; body snatching; the 1834 New Poor Law, which introduced the workhouse system; poaching; the 1839 Chartist meeting at Newport; Queen Victoria’s marriage to Albert; Richard Oastler and the factory acts; the repeal of the Corn Laws; Bloomers; the construction of the Oxford railway; Charles Dickens visit to Coketown; the Liverpool Master Builders’ strike of 1866; agitating for the National Agricultural Union of farmworkers; the introduction of the Plimsoll line on ships; an explosion at Trimdon Grange colliery in County Durham; a 19th century socialist song by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the William Morris’ Socialist League and then the ILP; the Suffragettes; soldiers’ songs from the Boer War and the First World War; unemployed ex-servicemen after the War; the defeat of the General Strike; the Blitz; Ban the Bomb from 1958; and the Great Train Robbery. 

It also includes many other songs from servicemen down the centuries commemorating the deaths of great heroes and victories; and by soldiers, sailors and working people on land protesting against working conditions, tax, and economic recessions and exorbitant speculation on the stock markets. Some are just on the changes to roads, as well as local disasters.

This is a kind of social history, a history of England from below, apart from the conventional point of view of the upper or upper middle class historians, and shows how these events were viewed by tradesmen and working people. Not all the songs by any means are from a radical or socialist viewpoint. The ballad about Tom Paine is written against him, though he was a popular hero and there were also tunes, like the ‘Rights of Man’ named after his most famous book, celebrating him. But nevertheless, these songs show history as it was seen by England’s ordinary people, the people who fought in the navy and army, and toiled in the fields and workshops. These songs are a balance to the kind of history Michael Gove wished to bring in a few years ago when he railed against children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War. He’d like people to be taught a suitably Tory version of history, a kind of ‘merrie England’ in which Britain is always great and the British people content with their lot under the benign rule of people like David Cameron, Tweezer and Boris. The ballads collected here offer a different, complementary view.

Private Clinics Are Not Better Than Those Run by the State

December 17, 2019

Here’s another vital little snippet on the failure of private healthcare to give adequate provision to society generally from the book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, by Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, eds. This discusses the Canadian experiment in expanding healthcare provision by including private clinics. It states

Advocates for private clinics argue that they enhance access and supplement an over-strained public system. The evidence for such claims is mixed to dubious; they tend to reduce to ‘more is always better’. If government cannot or will not pay for more, then private individuals must. Our concern here, however, is to emphasize that whatever the effects of ‘more’ on the health of Canadians, all the privatization initiatives and supporting arguments involve a transfer of income, through higher prices as well as higher volumes of care, from payers to providers. But even if there were no restrictions on extra billing or private facilities, there are likely to be limits on ‘what the market will bear’ in private charges, particularly in the presence of a free public system. Denigrating or inhibiting access to that system can assist in recruiting private patients, but could also trigger a political backlash if people begin to see ‘their system’ as being sabotaged. (p. 38).

Blair wanted to expand the NHS through the construction of health centres or polyclinics, which would be privately run. And the Tories are running down the NHS in order to privatise services at one level and encourage more people to go private at another. Hence Boris Johnson’s 2002 speech lamenting that 200,000 people had given up their private health insurance because Gordon Brown had ended tax exemption for it, in which he angrily denounced the ‘monolithic’ NHS and called for its abolition.

But the next sentence in that paragraph states very clearly that for private clinics to function properly, it has to be accompanied by private health insurance.

For really significant increases in total system costs and incomes, it is probably necessary to introduce private health insurance…. out of pocket charges provide something for private insurers to cover, and that coverage permits increase in the level of such charges. Private medicine and private insurance are symbiotic. (My emphasis).

Don’t be misled by the Tories or Blairites. The inclusion of the private sector in NHS provision will lead to its total privatisation and an insurance-based system like the US.

Don’t allow it.

NAFTA, and Boris Johnson’s Trade Agreement with Trump Are Threats to State Healthcare

December 16, 2019

One of the chapters in the book Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, edited by Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, is by Barry Appleton, ‘International agreements and National health Plans: NAFTA’. NAFTA  is the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade zone that was set up in the 1990s which included America, Mexico and Canada. Appleton states that it is too early to fully appreciate the impact of the agreement, but states that ‘The NAFTA affects health care in two ways. first, acts as a general limitation on the ways that governments can deal with public policy. Second, the agreement acts to lock in market liberalisation in the health sector’. (p. 87). 

The treaty includes clauses like the following that prevent governments from nationalising the property of other nations:

No Party may directly or indirectly nationalize or expropriate an investment of an investor of another Party in its territory or take a measure tantamount to nationalization or expropriation of such an investment (‘expropriation’), except:

(a) for a public purpose;

(b) on a non-discriminatory basis;

(c) in accordance with due process of law and Article 1105 (1); and

(d) on payment of compensation in accordance with paragraphs 2 through 6. 

Now the renationalisation of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries taken over by the Americans would, I believe, come under ‘public purpose’, and so be permitted, but there would be objections to this. I remember at the time when the Americans were setting the system up there was real concern amongst the left that if the Americans were allowed to buy up British industries, including parts of the NHS under a NAFTA-trade deal, we would find it impossible to renationalise them.

This should still be a major concern with Boris Johnson’s negotiations with Trump, in which, despite Boris’ denials, the NHS is very much on the table. In fact Johnson, Liam Fox and Daniel Hannam set up the Institute for Free Trade in 2017 in order to push for a deal with the Americans, in which private American companies would be allowed to run British hospitals.

If this goes through, we may find it impossible under international law to get them, and other important businesses, back.

Don’t let Boris privatise the NHS.

 

NHS Privatisation Means More Expensive Bureaucracy

December 16, 2019

The Tory election victory on Thursday prompted me to buy a book, Health Reform: Public Success – Private Failure, edited by Daniel Drache and Terry Sullivan, which I had seen in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. The book was published in 1999, and examines the inclusion of the private sector in the healthcare systems of America, the UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. It isn’t necessarily against this inclusion, but does treat it critically. And one of the points it makes is that private healthcare companies are as wastefully bureaucratic as the state planning system of the former Soviet Union. And because they’re run for a profit, they’re keen to inflate prices, not keep them down. the book states

But private insurance, as the American experience shows, brings in a whole new group of very powerful income claimants – a major expansion in the Z term. Large-scale private coverage is a horrendously expensive way to pay for healthcare. A huge private bureaucracy must be established to assess risks, set premiums, design complex benefit schedules, and review and pay (or refuse) claims. A corresponding financial apparatus is then required in hospitals, nursing homes, and private practices to deal with this system, in a form of ‘administrative arms race’.

Far from trying to minimize the cost of administrative overload, and match premiums as closely as possible to benefit payments, private insurers refer to the rate of benefit payment as the ‘loss ratio’ and try to maximize the difference between premium revenue and payout. That difference is the income of the insurance sector.

Yet, as we know from the experience of the single-payer system in Canada, all this financial paper-pushing turns out to be as unnecessary and wasteful as the old Soviet planning apparatus. These are not functions that anyone needs to perform once a decision has been made to cover the whole population. In the United States, bureaucratic waste by and in response to the private insurance industry now adds more than a hundred billion dollars per year, over 10 per cent, to total health care costs.

(pp.38-9).

Yet the Tories push privatisation, including that of the NHS, as a way of reducing costs and increasing efficiency, while the opposite is true. And I know true-blue Tories, who are shocked to hear that it does. They simply accept the neoliberal doctrine that private industry is someone how more efficient and cost-effect than state provision, even when it manifestly isn’t.

This point is made by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis in their polemic against NHS privatisation, NHS – SOS, but despite the newspaper headlines about the crisis in the NHS, I don’t think it’s properly appreciated. And the Tories are determined to privatise the NHS, which is why I bought the book, so I could put up more information about the effects of the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS on this blog.

NHS privatisation and the inclusion of private healthcare means greater costs and worse healthcare for those who can’t afford it. Which means the poor, the disabled, and the old. This is what Tory health policy means. 

 

German Fossil Ape Discoveries Support Initial Bipedalism

November 8, 2019

There was a very interesting piece in yesterday’s I newspaper about the discovery of the remains of an ancient ape that lived 12 million years ago in Bavaria. According to the palaeontologists and zoologists examining the creature, its remains suggest that it could walk as well as climb trees. This seems to support the theory of initial bipedalism. This states that walking on two legs is not a trait humans acquired, but one what that apes lost.

The article by Frank Jordans, ‘Ancient walking ape takes stand against evolutionary theory’ runs

The remains of an ancient ape found in a Bavarian clay pit suggest that our ancestors began standing upright millions of years earlier than previously thought, scientists have said.

An international team of researchers said that the fossilised partial skeleton of a male ape tyhat lived almost 12 million years ago, in what is now southern Germany, bore a striking resemblance to modern human bones.

In a paper published by the journal Nature, they concluded that the previously unknown species, named Danuvius guggenmosi, could walk on two legs but also climb like an ape.

The findings “raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans”, said Madelaine Boehme of the University of Tubingen, Germany, who led the research.

Previous fossil records of apes with an upright gait dated only as far back as six million years ago.

Ms Boehme, along with researchers from Bulgaria, Germany, Canada and the US, examined more than 15,000 bones found west of Munich.

They were able to piece together primate fossils belonging to four individuals that lived 11.62 million years ago.

The most complete, an adult male looked similar to modern-day bonobo chimpanzees.

They reconstructed how Danuvius would have moved, concluding that, while it would have been able to hang from branches by its arms, it could also straighten its legs to walk upright.

“This changes our view of early human evolution which is that it all happened in Africa,” Ms Boehme told AP News.

Fred Spoor, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said that it could challenge many existing ideas about evolution.

“This is fantastic material,” said Mr Spoor, who was not involved in the study, “there undoubtedly will be a lot for people to analyse.”

Some of the fossil apes they’ve previously discovered seem to have different proportions to modern apes. Ramapithecus had arms that were proportionally more like those of humans, rather than the long arms of apes. This suggests to me that the animal was more bipedal than modern apes, which commonly walk on fours.

I first encountered the theory of initial bipedalism through articles written by the French zoologist, Dr. Francois Sarre, in the ’90s cryptozoological magazine, Animals and Men. Cryptozoology is the study of mystery animals. It covers everything from creatures that may plausibly exist, to beasts that are probably mythical like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Animals and Men was a strange mixture of the paranormal and popular articles about respectable zoological discoveries, like the fossils of various types of extinct whale. It was very much fringe literature, which is possibly the reason why Sarres’ articles were published in it. He may not have been able to publish them elsewhere. Now this discovery suggests he was right. Which also shows you shouldn’t discount everything in the paranormal press.

Canadian Space Medic Celebrates International Cooperation in Space

October 27, 2019

As I discussed in an article last week, the I carried several stories about the Asgardia conference in its edition for Wednesday, 16th October 2019. Asgardia is an international organisation dedicated to the colonisation of space, and its establishment as a new, independent nation on the High Frontier. It’s somewhat like the artificial nation created by Laibach and their parent artistic collective, NSK earlier this century. Fans of the group were encouraged to join, receiving a special passport identifying them as citizens of the new state when they did.

The organisation was founded by Igor Raufovich Ashurbekli, the former director of one of the Russian state armament companies. However, Asgardia seems to aim at the peaceful, civilian conquest of space. At the conference Ashurbekli denounced Trump’s intention of establishing a military Space Command, pointing out that this violated the 1967 international treaty against the militarisation of space.

One of the other speakers at the conference was a Canadian medical doctor and astronaut, Dr. Robert Thirsk, who had conducted research in space and hailed space research’s role in bringing people of different, competing nations together in peace. This was reported in an article by Michael Day, ‘Space has to be for everyone’, in the same edition of the newspaper. This ran

As an astronaut who s pent six months on the International Space Station, Canadian medic Dr Robert Thirsk, achieved major medical breakthroughs in zero gravity and survived the thrill of take-off and re-entry. But his greatest satisfaction was working in harmony with colleagues from states that were once Cold War foes.

“I still think that the ISS is a research platform with no earthly peer,” he told Asgardia’s Paving the Road to Living in Space Conference.

“It’s brought together former Cold War enemies to pursue a common vision of extending human capability in space and of inspiring the public to take on some of these tough social problems that we still face today.”

The Asgardia micro-nation, which aims to swell to 150 million citizens within 10 years, is committed to including all nations in the development of space. It’s leaders note that only 20 nations now have space capability.

“At the moment you either have to be a billionaire, friendly with a major space agency or you join Asgardia,” said the space nation’s parliamentary speaker, the former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik. “Space has to be for everyone.”

As a medical researcher, owrking with American, Russian, Japanese and German colleagues on the ISS, Dr Thirsk achieved breakthroughs in protein chemistry that could lead to new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and robotic advances that have helped hundreds of cancer patients.

Britain’s first female astronaut, Dr Helen Sharman, made the same comment back in the 1990s after her historic mission with the Russians to their space station, Mir. The Russian station’s name translates as ‘world’ or ‘peace’ in English. Her mission was intended to be a landmark breakthrough in international space cooperation following Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign and the attempts to end the Cold War.  In an interview following her mission, Dr Sharman drew attention to the positive benefits of space research in fostering peaceful cooperation between countries. Because of this, astronauts were the least racist people.

It’s interesting to see that Lembit Opik is now Asgardia’s parliamentary speaker. It’s fitting. Opik was not only a Lib Dem MP before losing his seat a few years ago, he’s also the grandson of an Estonian astronomer and himself has an intense interest in space. He was one of the many space experts concerned about the threat of world destruction from asteroid strikes. I met him well over a decade ago at an event on ‘Asteroid Armageddon’ at the Cheltenham Festival of science. He was part of a panel of astronomers and representatives of space corporations, who made it very plain that the threat to our world from rogue asteroids is very real. However, Opik’s justified concern was a source of amusement to the press, who naturally dubbed him ‘the minister for asteroids’. He’s clearly moved into space activism after he lost his seat. I don’t know if he’s still a member, but he’s probably better off with Asgardia than with the Lib Dems, who are now transforming themselves into the Europhile wing of the Tory party.

I also found a plea for the peaceful exploration of space as an alternative to war in a book I read on space technology years ago. This stated that space research provided an outlet for the desire for danger, competition and sacrifice without the mass carnage of conflict. This is true, and regardless of what you make of Asgardia, it has helped bring nations together, and its should be open to everyone, of all nations, in the world.

We don’t need Trump’s – or anyone else’s – dangerous and idiotic space command. We need more peaceful cooperation and the opening up of space and its immense resources and opportunities for all humanity.

Head of Asgardia Space Nation Attacks Trump’s Attempt to Set Up Space Force as Threat to Peace

October 25, 2019

One of the other stories that caught my eye last week was an article by Michael Day in the I reporting that the head of the international space nation, Asgardia, Igor Ashurbeyli, had attacked Trump’s decision to set up a military space force. Asgardia is an international organisation devoted to space colonisation. It’s intent on establishing itself as a new, internationally recognised nation out there on the High Frontier. The article in the edition for Wednesday, 16th October 2019, entitled ‘New US Space Command ‘puts the planet at risk”, runs

The billionaire head of the Asgardia “space nation” said that US President Donald Trump has effectively declared war on the 1967 Out Space Treaty, and risks creating a “Wild West” beyond Earth’s orbit.

The international agreement, banning weapons in space, was supposed to form the basis of law to guarantee peace beyond Earth’s orbit. But Igor Raufovich Ashurbeyli, told I that, in announcing a new Pentagon Space Command unit, Mr Trump has effectively torn it up – and put the planet at risk. 

“After the recent US statement that it will not respect international agreements in space, the situation is very worrying,” said Mr Ashurbeyli, the former head of a Russian state-owned defence contractor.

“In fact, the situation is worse than this, given that only 20 states on Earth have any sort of access to our space.”

Ram Jakhu, professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law, at McGill University in Canada, said the “increasing militarisation and weaponisation” in space appeared to be a prelude to serious conflict between superpowers.

“Currently, an intense race to the Moon and asteroids is going on, mainly for exploration and natural resources,” he added.

“There’s potential for geopolitical conflicts.”

Now Ashurbeyli, as the former head of a Russian arms firm, does have an interest, if only psychological, in preventing America establishing a military presence in space. But he’s right. The current treaty outlawing the militarisation of space was put in place partly to prevent the superpowers conducting nuclear tests in the Earth’s atmosphere or outer space. Tests which obviously have the potential for triggering a nuclear holocaust. The legislation has had the effect of preventing certain aspects of space research and new propulsion methods. The journey to Mars and other planets in the solar system could be cut down to a couple of months using nuclear powered rockets, but they’re illegal under the treaty. And while that’s a problem in the colonisation and commercial exploitation of space, I’m happy for it if it keeps the peace. If you want a Science Fictional illustration of the potential of the militarisation of space to create a nuclear war, see Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001. In the book and the film, the superpowers have established nuclear missile platforms in space, and the international situation between the two blocs is on the point of all-out war. The spacecraft you see gliding past before the camera fixes on the spaceplane Orion are these weapon platforms. However, it’s not obvious what they are because Kubrick didn’t want people seeing them and thinking that the movie was going to be another Cold War nuclear farce like Dr. Strangelove. In the book, but not the film, after Bowman’s journey through the stargate and his transformation into the Star Child, the crisis point has been reached and the superpowers launch their weapons. These are destroyed by the  Star Child when he re-enters Earth’s space. There is still the problem of the armed conflict, but the book concludes ‘He would think of something.’ Trump’s space command raises the spectre of such a conflict, but there would be no Star Child to save us from the resulting war.

It’s certainly possible that armed conflict could result through the competition by the space nations for the resources out there. The late NASA space scientist and advocate of space colonisation, Dr. Gerard O’Neill, believed that there could be real space pirates. These would be rogue ships seeking to steal the ores being brought back to Earth from mining the asteroids. I think we’re a few decades away from that, if not centuries, but the possibility is there nonetheless.

There have been a number of SF stories written about a possible war in space fought between the superpowers, including one by John Wyndham, the creator of the triffids. It’s certainly possible that war could break out through different nations establishing colonies on and claiming the same piece of extra-terrestrial real estate. There’s a parallel here to the wars the European nations fought against each other to claim territory in the New World. They attempted to prevent these wars coming home to Europe through an agreement that limited such conflicts to beyond the Line, the imaginary boundary marking off the Americas from the Old World. Conceivably, something like this could be put in place to stop wars on the Moon, Mars or elsewhere, from spreading to Earth itself. But I wouldn’t like to bet on any such treaty being agreed, or even being effective if it was.

I also remember the controversy and panic there was when I was at school during the New Cold War of the 1980s, when Thatcher and Reagan seemed to be spoiling for a fight with the USSR. One wretched element of this was Reagan’s Space Defence Initiative, dubbed ‘Star Wars’. Reagan wanted to place military satellites in orbit as part of its defence programme against the Soviet military threat. Such satellites would have weapons like ‘pop-up’ lasers. The satellites would carry nuclear bombs, which would explode, destroying the satellite. However, the energy from the explosion would be channelled into the lasers they also carried to destroy an incoming Soviet nuclear missiles. But the Russians were also afraid that these satellites would also strike at Earth itself. They had their own, official disarmament magazine, Gonka Vooruzhenie, which I think translates as ‘Disarmament People’. This carried illustrations of the threats to the Russian forces and people from Reagan’s space weapons. Trump’s Space Command threatens a repeat of this same episode from the Cold War. That ended with the USSR collapsing, partly because they couldn’t afford to keep up with American arms expenditure. We cannot depend on a similar outcome this time. 

Ashurbeyli is right. Trump’s decision to militarise the High Frontier threatens us all with nuclear Armageddon once again. 

Video on Proposed Swiss Space Shuttle

October 13, 2019

This is an interesting little video from Swissinfo on YouTube about Swiss Space Systems, a company set up by engineer Pascal Jaussi, which is developing another space shuttle concept. Jaussi was inspired to become a space scientist as a child after he was given a copy of the Tintin book, Tintin on the Moon. His company’s design for the shuttle will have it taken up to 10,000 metres by a passenger jet acting as the shuttle’s first stage. The shuttle will then leave the jet, flying up to a higher altitude, where it will launch a satellite, which will then ascend to its final orbit using its own rockets. The shuttle is initially intended to be a satellite launcher, but later missions will be crewed.

Jaussi’s company does not intend to develop any new technology, but is simply trying to use and integrate already existing technology from America, France and Russia. This is aided by Switzerland’s neutral status. The American’s would understandably be extremely reluctant to give sensitive technology to the Russian the firm, which is building the engines for Jaussi’s shuttle. They’re the same as those in the Russian Soyuz rocket. The French aerospace firm Dassault is responsible for constructing the shuttle’s airframe. The company’s based in Jaussi’s home town of Payerne, in Vaud canton. He would like to build the launch complex there with another, launch complex without an accompanying crew planned for Croatia. The video also shows the shuttle’s cameras being tested in Canada. The video was posted four years ago in 2014, and states that the first test flights were planned for 2018.

This is another version of the Jet/shuttle combination initially proposed by Sanger in Germany. I’ve already blogged about British shuttle proposals using the same idea, Spacebus and Spacecab, by David Ashcroft and Patrick Collins.  The Swiss design is interesting, but 2018 was last year and the fact that we haven’t heard anything more of this fascinating project suggests that it’s experiencing difficulties. I hope that these are just a minor setback, and that we can look forward to the Swiss joining the other nations now entering a new Space Age, one that will lead to the proper exploration, industrialisation and hopefully colonisation of the solar System.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sci-Show Explains the Psychology of Alien Abductions

October 7, 2019

A week or so ago I put up a post stating that when it comes to alien abductions and entity encounters, I subscribe to the ‘psycho-social hypothesis’. Roughly stated, this considers that they are internal, psychological events which draw on the imagery of space and science fiction for their content.

This video from Sci-Show on YouTube uses the same explanation for the phenomenon. The presenter argues that it probably arises from some strange, apparently inexplicable experience. There are many of these, but one favourite of psychologists and researchers is sleep paralysis. This when someone wakes up from sleeping, but elements of the dream and sleep state still persist. They find themselves paralysed, often with feelings of dread and the sense that there is an invader in the room. Sometimes there are feelings of bliss. Looking back, they may misremember elements of the experience, drawing on others they’ve had. The presenter here takes care to state that those who claim to have abduction experiences are no less sane and able to cope with normal life than anybody else.

But they are more prone to misremember things. He goes on to argue this using an experiment in which two groups, one of people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and another, which wasn’t, were shown lists of words. They were shown lists of words and asked to remember them. Then they were shown another list of words. They were then asked to remember the words in the first list. The individuals, who believed they’d been abducted by aliens were significantly worse at remembering the words from the original list, confusing them with those in the second. It’s called a source attribution error. Psychologists believe that this is the same mechanism that explains alien abductions. People have a psychological experience, and then mix it up with things they have seen elsewhere, like a monster they saw in a movie. The presenter makes it very clear that this study is not definitive, as it’s very difficult to find groups of people, who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, who are willing to take part in psychological experiments.

This experiment is one of a number, which shows how fallible human memory is, particularly in the case of eyewitness accounts and especially if the witness is asked leading question. The presenter concludes with the statement that abduction experiences don’t have much to say about life out in space, but they do say much about life down here, in the human skull: consciousness.

Part of the problem with the abduction phenomenon is that many of the researchers do use untrustworthy techniques to try to recover what they believe is hidden or lost memories. One of these is regression hypnosis. This has been used by Bud Hopkins, Leo Sprinkle and a number of others. It was first used by Dr. Walter Benjamin on Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple, whose experience is the archetypal alien abduction. They were travelling back from a holiday in Canada, when they found themselves shadowed by a strange light, which then landed in a field. They got out to look, and then Barney screamed when he saw strange creatures in the craft. They then had an experience of missing time, getting home much later than they’d anticipated. Over the next few days they suffered from various strange psychological problems and sought help from Dr. Benjamin. Benjamin hypnotically regressed them, during which experience they remembered being taken aboard and medically examined by the aliens. Betty was shown a star map by the aliens, which supposedly showed the location of their home world. This was identified by a friend of Betty’s as Zeta Reticuli. Hence the belief in the abduction mythology that the hated and feared Greys come from this star.

With respect to the couple, sceptics have argued that this is likely to be a false memory. The aliens they described under hypnosis were very similar to an alien creature that had featured on an science fiction show a night or so before. Hypnotic regression is also certainly not a sure way to recover lost or suppressed memories. The FBI investigated the use of hypnosis back in the 1950s as a way of recovering useful details from witnesses. They abandoned it as far too unreliable. Hypnotic subjects were prone to confabulating – inventing details and memories – in response to questions from the hypnotist. Parts of the ufology milieu in 1990s, like the Magonians, were horrified at some of the tales of sadistic aliens and general hopelessness related and felt by abductees after they had been hypnotically regressed. They therefore banned its use. The Magonians went further, and savagely attacked the whole mythology of alien abductions and the culture that had grown up around it, and demanded it’s immediate stop. And with very good reason. But it seems that some UFO groups and abduction researchers are still using it.

I’m not saying the psycho-social hypothesis is a complete or the final explanation for alien encounters. There may be some accounts that are genuine experiences of encounters with paranormal entities. John Keel and Jacques Vallee in their books UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Passport to Magonia – showed how UFO encounter narratives were similar to traditional fairy lore. They weren’t UFO sceptics, however, but believed that the same phenomenon that had created fairies in the Middle Ages was now responsible for UFO experiences. It may be that UFO encounters, or some of them, are based on real encounters with such Ultraterrestrials, as Vallee calls them. But I believe that the psycho-social theory provides a sound explanation for the majority of alien encounter and abduction experiences.