Day: May 4, 2003

Old Man of the Mountain Collapses:

//www.nhparks.state.nh.us/ParksPages/franconianotch/oldman.JPG' cannot be displayed]“(Concord, NH) The Old Man of the Mountain, the enduring symbol of New Hampshire is no more. Sometime between Friday evening and Saturday morning the stone profile that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, collapsed. On Saturday, May 3 at approximately 7:30am, two Franconia Notch State Park employees noticed that the Old Man of the Mountain had collapsed. At this time it appears as though the forehead and the nose are missing.” NH Parks & Recreation


Grieving for the passing of the Old Man is widespread. Concord (NH) Monitor. Some point out, rightly, that we should take it as an object lesson in the mutability of the natural grandeur we too easily take for granted. The rock had been rotten and shored up with cables and netting to hold its familiar profile intact for a long time; while some are surprised it crumbled, it was an accident waiting to happen. There is talk about rebuilding it, which I think would be a profanity. Instead, go deep into the mountains and, if you must, find other ‘rock faces’ with whose visages you can commune as intently. They are out there…

In a related vein, does anyone else know and delight in the “Simulacra Corner” feature of Fortean Times? Readers regularly send in photos of natural features that resemble faces, beings, etc. Spirits surely move across the face of the wild…

And: The Folklorist’s Pareidolia Collection: “I have recently uploaded my collection of hundreds of pareidolic images (pareidolia / simulacra) for everyone to view. The data includes images, articles, bibliographic information and other articles and links that I have found relevant to the study of this phenomena. [ Pareidolia: Misperception of an ambiguous stimulus as something specific (e.g.- seeing Jesus in the burn marks of a tortilla, or the face of Satan in the World Trade Center smoke)].”

Related to pareidolia is the concept of apophenia:

Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena. The term was coined by K. Conrad in 1958 (Brugger).

Peter Brugger of the Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Zurich, gives examples of apophenia from August Strindberg’s Occult Diary, the playwright’s own account of his psychotic break:

He saw “two insignia of witches, the goat’s horn and the besom” in a rock and wondered “what demon it was who had put [them] … just there and in my way on this particular morning.” A building then looked like an oven and he thought of Dante’s Inferno.

He sees sticks on the ground and sees them as forming Greek letters which he interprets to be the abbreviation of a man’s name and feels he now knows that this man is the one who is persecuting him. He sees sticks on the bottom of a chest and is sure they form a pentagram.

He sees tiny hands in prayer when he looks at a walnut under a microscope and it “filled me with horror.”

His crumpled pillow looks “like a marble head in the style of Michaelangelo.” Strindberg comments that “these occurrences could not be regarded as accidental, for on some days the pillow presented the appearance of horrible monsters, of gothic gargoyles, of dragons, and one night … I was greeted by the Evil One himself….”

According to Brugger, “The propensity to see connections between seemingly unrelated objects or ideas most closely links psychosis to creativity … apophenia and creativity may even be seen as two sides of the same coin.” Some of the most creative people in the world, then, must be psychoanalysts and therapists who use projective tests like the Rorschach test or who see patterns of child abuse behind every emotional problem. Brugger notes that one analyst thought he had support for the penis envy theory because more females than males failed to return their pencils after a test. Another spent nine pages in a prestigious journal describing how sidewalk cracks are vaginas and feet are penises, and the old saw about not stepping on cracks is actually a warning to stay away from the female sex organ.

Brugger’s research indicates that high levels of dopamine affect the propensity to find meaning, patterns, and significance where there is none, and that this propensity is related to a tendency to believe in the paranormal. New Scientist

In statistics, apophenia is called a Type I error, seeing patterns where none, in fact, exist. It is highly probable that the apparent significance of many unusual experiences and phenomena are due to apophenia, e.g., EVP, numerology, the Bible code, anomalous cognition, ganzfeld “hits”, most forms of divination, the prophecies of Nostradamus, remote viewing, and a host of other paranormal and supernatural experiences and phenomena. SkepDic

And so to William Gibson:

“…(He) had treated paranoia as though it were something to be domesticated and trained. Like someone who’d learned how best to cope with chronic illness, he never allowed himself to think of his paranoia as an aspect of self. It was there, constantly and intimately, and he relied on it professionally, but he wouldn’t allow it to spread, become jungle. He cultivated it on its own special plot, and checked it daily for news it might bring: hunches, lateralisms, frank anomalies.


Is (this) a frank anomaly?


Only, she decides, if she thinks of herself as the center, the focal point of something she doesn’t, can’t understand. That had always been (his) first line of defense, within himself: to recognize that he was only a part of something larger. Paranoia, he said, was fundamentally egocentric, and every conspiracy theory served in some way to aggrandize the believer.


But he was also fond of saying, at other times, that even paranoid schizophrenics have enemies.


The danger, she supposes, is a species of apophenia…”


— William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Gibson is fond of the concept, as a Google search reveals.


Related:

Counselling and Help for People with Unusual Experiences, Dr. Martina Belz-Merk, Outpatient Clinic (Ambulanz) of the Psychological Institute at the University of Freiburg

A review: Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, James Houran & Rense Lange, (eds.), Macfarlane & Co, 2001, ISBN 0 7864 0984 3.

In this meaty tome, 19 writers – some accepting the existence of the paranormal, others denying it – approach the subject of hauntings and poltergeists from the points of view of physics, physiology, psychology, sociology, history and cultural studies. John Beloff in his Forword quotes from Gauld and Cornell’s 1979 work, Poltergeists, and the quotation deserves to be repeated here more fully:

“One cannot deny that, logically speaking, undetected trickery, undetected natural causes, undetected malobservation and undetected lying may lie behind all reports of poltergeist phenomena. But to assume without supporting evidence, and despite numerous considerations [..] to the contrary, that they do lie behind them, is to insulate one’s beliefs in this sphere from all possibility of modification from the cold contact of chastening facts. It is to adopt the paranoid stance of the flat-earther or the religious fanatic, who can ‘explain away’ all the awkward facts which threaten his system of delusions.”

Fortean Times

Bush’s "Christian" Blood Cult

Bush’s self-proclaimed adherence to Christianity (during one of the presidential debates he said Jesus Christ was his favorite “philosopher”) and his constant reference to a new international structure bypassing the United Nations system and long-standing international treaties are worrying the top leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. Well-informed sources close to the Vatican report that Pope John Paul II is growing increasingly concerned about Bush’s ultimate intentions. The Pope has had experience with Bush’s death fetish. Bush ignored the Pope’s plea to spare the life of Karla Faye Tucker. To show that he was similarly ignorant of the world’s mainstream religions, Bush also rejected an appeal to spare Tucker from the World Council of Churches – an organization that represents over 350 of the world’s Protestant and Orthodox Churches. It did not matter that Bush’s own Methodist Church and his parents’ Episcopal Church are members of the World Council.


Bush’s blood lust, his repeated commitment to Christian beliefs, and his constant references to “evil doers,” in the eyes of many devout Catholic leaders, bear all the hallmarks of the one warned about in the Book of Revelations – the anti-Christ. People close to the Pope claim that amid these concerns, the Pontiff wishes he was younger and in better health to confront the possibility that Bush may represent the person prophesized in Revelations. John Paul II has always believed the world was on the precipice of the final confrontation between Good and Evil as foretold in the New Testament. Before he became Pope, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla said, “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel.” The Pope, who grew up facing the evils of Hitler and Stalin, knows evil when he sees it. — Wayne Madsen, CounterPunch [via walker]

Dueling columns on journalists’ right to blog:

The Hartford Courant‘s recent move ordering a reporter to shut down his independent Weblog has stirred up a heated debate over how much control a media organization should have over its employees’ outside activities In a pair of point-counterpoint essays for CyberJournalist.net (springing in part from a discussion on Poynter’s Online-News e-mail list), blogger and online journalism columnist J.D. Lasica argues that The Courant’s decision was unfair, while University of Illinois journalism professor Eric Meyer defends The Courant’s actions.”

Pinned Climber Cuts Off Arm to Get Free

Pinned for five days by 1,000-lb. boulder, 48 hrs. after running out of water and determining he would die if he remained where he was, the 27-year-old hiker used a pocket knife to cut his arm off below the elbow, applied a tourniquet, rappelled 60 ft. to the bottom of the canyon, and was discovered while hiking out. He remained in serious condition at a Grand Junction hospital. NY Times One wonders whether the arm was irreparably injured already; whether he was able to feel pain by the time he did it; indeed, whether it was a rational decision or one made in inanition (and whether there is any point in asking these questions). [thanks, abby]

MSN goes down the pan:

Computing in the Real World, i.e. in the loo: visitors to portapotties at the Glastonbury (UK) festival this summer will be treated to broadband access and six-channel surround sound via a wireless waterproof keyboard and adjustable plasma screen, all courtesy of Microsoft. The duration of visits to the WC might be expected to grow, with a proportional expansion of the lengths of the lines for the potties. But never fear, there will be Internet terminals outside as well. PC Pro

The Thinkable:

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“The administration is clearly right that a new arms control cannot rest entirely on the illusory safety of talks and treaties and U.N. resolutions“, says Bill Keller. “The autocrats most likely to be dangerous to us if they get nuclear weapons are the leaders least likely to care about staying in the good graces of the ”international community,” whatever that is. A new arms-control regime should distinguish among threats and offer a menu of options appropriate to the danger, from inspection to coercion. It would draw on military pressure and economic sanctions, along with the softer diplomacy that the counterproliferators scorn. It would not disdain international agreements but would demand smarter treaties, backed by intrusive inspections and rigorous enforcement.


And it would accept the solemn responsibility — a particularly American responsibility — to restore the special stigma of nuclear explosives. The destructive power of these weapons is unique and breathtaking, and almost impossible to confine to military targets. Chemical and biological weapons, horrible as they are, cannot match them as agents of catastrophe. A strategy that focuses exclusively on regimes and not on weapons themselves has several flaws, and the most obvious one is this: when regimes change, weapons remain.” NY Times Magazine. Adorned with three pictures of mushroom clouds from U.S. above-ground nuclear tests (before they were banned) of an obscene beauty that provides a visceral analogue of the seductive appeal these unholy armaments offer.

What Your Genes Want You to Eat:

“This, then, is the promise — and the hype — of nutritional genomics, the second wave of personalized medicine to come rolling out of the Human Genome Project (after pharmacogenomics, or designer drugs). The premise is simple: diet is a big factor in chronic disease, responsible, some say, for a third of most types of cancer. Dietary chemicals change the expression of one’s genes and even the genome itself. And — here’s the key — the influence of diet on health depends on an individual’s genetic makeup.” NY Times

Stalin to Saddam: So Much for the Madman Theory –

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Two researchers, Jerrold M. Post and Amatzia Baram, concluded in a psychological profile of Mr. Hussein that he was more accurately described as a malignant narcissist, a label that has also been applied to Stalin and Hitler. Dr. Post, a psychiatrist at George Washington University, and Dr. Baram, an expert on Iraq at the University of Haifa in Israel, wrote the profile for the United States Air Force Counterproliferation Center. Dr. Post was also the founding director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s political profiling program.


Malignant narcissism, as defined by psychiatrists, is a severe form of narcissistic personality disorder. Like classic narcissists, malignant narcissists are grandiose, self-centered, oversensitive to criticism and unable to feel empathy for others. They cover over deep insecurities with an inflated self-image.


But malignant narcissists also tend to paranoia and aggression, and share some features of the antisocial personality, including the absence of moral or ethical judgment, said Dr. Otto Kernberg, a psychiatry professor at Cornell University and an expert on personality disorders.


Far from being psychotic, malignant narcissists are adept at charming and manipulating those around them. Political leaders with this personality, Dr. Kernberg said, are able to take control “because their inordinate narcissism is expressed in grandiosity, a confidence in themselves and the assurance that they know what the world needs.” NY Times