Fair Use Notice




This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. we believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates
FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates

All Blogs licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Psychiatrist, the Aliens, and “Going Native”


In 1994, after years of working with troubled individuals claiming to have been abducted by extraterrestrials—so-called experiencers—Harvard University Professor of Psychiatry John Mack (1929-2004) published one of the most controversial books in the recent history of psychiatry. Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens1 chronicles Mack’s therapeutic work with scores of men, women, and children with “conscious recall or recall with the help of hypnosis, of being taken by alien beings into a strange craft, reported with emotion appropriate to the experience being described and no apparent mental condition that could account for the story.” What made the book and Mack himself so controversial was the fact that he had come to accept that the stories his clients were recounting were an accurate description of real events. As he put it:
What the abduction phenomenon has led me (I would say now inevitably) to see is that we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off, having lost the senses by which we might know them. It has become clear to me also that our restricted worldview or paradigm lies behind most of the major destructive patterns that threaten the human future—mindless corporate acquisitiveness that perpetuates vast differences between rich and poor and contributes to hunger and disease; ethnonational violence resulting in mass killing which could grow into nuclear holocaust; and ecological destruction on a scale that threatens the survival of the earth’s living systems.

Niall Boyce, editor of The Lancet Psychiatry, noted that the reaction of Mack’s colleagues was decidedly negative, with many puzzled by the fact that someone they considered intelligent, affable, and so eminently reasonable could go down the proverbial rabbit hole. Boyce, however, has tried to understand Mack’s turn more sympathetically than critics, dubbing him “the psychiatrist who wanted to believe.” “The book [Abduction],” Boyce argues, “speaks of a man easily touched by others’ emotions—indeed, a man whose perception of others’ emotional sincerity led to a belief in the reality of the experiences they described.” Mack was, therefore, “wrong for the best of reasons, and with the best of intentions.” Mack’s tragic flaw then, according to Boyce, was his failure to effectively navigate the boundaries separating the sympathetic from the critical facets of the therapeutic relationship.2
Boyce is correct that Mack’s “going native” exposed the tension between, on the one hand, the healer’s desire and need to provide comfort and, on the other, the importance of providing a critical voice and expert counterweight. It could be argued that this tension has only grown more recently as clinicians’ methods have become more firmly tied to scientific data.
That said, the question of just how far “native”—and here I use the term adjectivally, synonymous with the term “indigenous”—one may acceptably go as a professional scholar, teacher, or counselor is hardly unique to psychiatry and psychotherapy. Similar to Mack, for instance, former Temple University Professor of History David Jacobs, after writing a well-received book on the history of the UFO phenomenon in the US,3 eventually came to the view that extraterrestrials were in fact kidnapping human beings as part of a plot to breed human-alien hybrids and became a hypnotherapist and advocate for self-identified abductees.4
The issue of how far a professional may legitimately go in allying and empathizing with his or her subjects extends well beyond UFOs and aliens. Sociologist Erich Goode, for instance, has chronicled prominent cases—controversially including his own—in which social scientists have had sexual relations with informants.5 And, anthropologists widely rejected the work of Carlos Castaneda, a PhD in anthropology, after he adopted and became a vocal advocate for a form of Yaqui Indian shamanism.6
In fact, especially over the past 2 decades, anthropologists have dedicated significant time and space debating the proper limits of “going native.” Ethnography’s laudable insistence on seeing the world through the eyes of informants has historically led anthropologists to require that researchers live within the communities being studied and to learn and adopt members’ lifestyles.7 Scholars, however, have warned that if taken too far, “engaged anthropology” can help perpetuate stereotypes and trivialize indigenous lifeways and may give the researcher the false impression that he has fully captured the authentic experience of the other.8,9 Rather than attempting to know and represent some imaginary pristine, authentic way of life, critics suggest that anthropologists would be better served aspiring to sincerity—ie, acting in good faith to establish a rapport with their subjects while acknowledging their different respective positions.
Seen from the perspective of anthropology, it is possible to understand Mack’s instance of “going native” along lines that expand on the argument of Niall Boyce. It was not simply that Mack sympathized too deeply with his patients’ suffering. If we take him literally at his word, Mack’s well-intentioned desire to listen sincerely to his patients eventually led him to see in their experiences a form of lost authenticity, one he believed capable and worthy of capturing. His deeply held belief that the modern world was fraught with lethally destructive and self-destructive impulses that might be eradicated by redemptive extraterrestrial intelligences was one shared by a great many of those historically involved in the UFO and alien contact communities.10 His involvement with self-identifying alien abductees, therefore, was about more than the force of his professional concerns about his patients; it was also about the force of his political convictions—convictions he had in common with those he hoped to help.


Dr Eghigian is the History of Psychiatry Section Editor for Psychiatric Times. His full bio can found here.


1. Mack JE. Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; 1994.
2. Boyce N. The psychiatrist who wanted to believe. Lancet. 2012;380:1140-1141.
3. Jacobs DM. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; 1975.
4. Jacobs DM. Secret Life: Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions. New York: Fireside; 1993.
5. Goode E. Sex with informants as deviant behavior: an account and commentary. Deviant Behav. 1999;20:301-324.
6. Lindquist G. Travelling by the others’ cognitive maps or going native and coming back. Ethnos. 1995;60:5-40.
7. Turner E. The reality of spirits: a tabooed or permitted field of study? Anthropol Conscious. 1993;4:9-12.
8. Marker M. Going native in the academy: choosing the exotic over the critical. Anthropol Educ Q. 1998;29:473-480.
9. Jackson JL Jr. Engaged anthropology: diversity and dilemmas. Curr Anthropol. 2010;51(suppl 2):S279-S287.
10. Eghigian G. A transatlantic buzz: flying saucers, extraterrestrials, and America in postwar Germany. J Transatlantic Stud. 2014;12:282-303.
- See more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blogs/history-psychiatry/psychiatrist-aliens-and-going-native?GUID=B66EA76C-8F7A-468B-9352-E5B3EEB4D15B&rememberme=1&ts=05112015#sthash.YhmprWYU.dpuf

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NASA's Bold New NExSS Initiative Will Search For Signs Of Life On Other Planets

The Huffington Post

NASA's Bold New NExSS Initiative Will Search For Signs Of Life On Other Planets

 |  By

Posted: Updated: 


NASA is taking the hunt for life on other worlds to the next level.

The space agency has assembled a team of experts from across scientific fields at some of the nation's leading universities and research institutes to see if any of the more than 1,000 planets discovered outside our solar system may be habitable.

The initiative is called Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), and it brings together earth scientists, planetary scientists, heliophysicists and astrophysicists.

“This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, said in a news release. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”

The move comes just weeks after NASA's top scientist predicted that mankind will soon find indications of life outside of Earth.

"I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years," NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan said.

The team will include scientists from 10 universities including Stanford, the University of California, Berkeley, Yale, Penn State and Arizona State as well as two research institutes and three organizations within NASA: the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The excitement is palpable,” Steve Desch of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration told the Arizona Daily Star. “We are really poised to answer the question of life elsewhere.”

Desch's team will study chemicals that have been detected on other worlds, such as oxygen and methane, to see if they were produced by biology, the Star reported.

“We really have to look for a chemical biosignature because we’re never going to be able to measure little green men running around on the surface of a planet,” ASU's Tom Zega told the newspaper.
A group of climatologists will use the light passing through the atmospheres of these exoplanets to see if they can find the conditions for harboring life.

We have to start thinking about these things as more than planetary objects,” Anthony Del Genio, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies told Nature. “All of a sudden, this has become a topic not just for astronomers, but for planetary scientists and now climate scientists.”

The team from Yale University will design new spectrometers that could be used to examine the planets around nearby stars. In addition, they will work on a new interface for the Planet Hunters website, which will allow "citizen scientists" from around the world to search for planets using data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft.

Kepler, launched in 2009, contains equipment for detecting signs of planets around other stars. Of the 1,830 planets detected outside our solar system, more than 1,000 were found by Kepleras well as more than 4,000 other candidates.

So far, citizen scientists have found more than 100 planets, including many that are within the habitable zones of their host stars, NASA said.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Alien Supercivilizations Absent from 100,000 Nearby Galaxies



Alien Supercivilizations Absent from 100,000 Nearby Galaxies

The most far-seeing search ever performed for “Dyson spheres” and other artifacts of “astroengineering” comes up empty. Where is everybody? 

A mid-infrared image of the Andromeda Galaxy

Orange whorls of star-warmed dust fill the Andromeda galaxy's spiral arms in this false-color mid-infrared image from NASA's WISE space telescope. Such images could also potentially reveal the waste heat from galaxy-spanning advanced civilizations.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team

More on this Topic

Astrobiology—the study of extraterrestrial life—has made great strides since its 1960s origins, when the evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson derided it as “a science without a subject.” Today it is booming as never before, driven by perennially high public interest and steadily growing scientific respectability.

In a press conference last week two senior NASA officials—Ellen Stofan, the agency’s chief scientist, and John Grunsfeld, the former astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s science programs—predicted that astrobiologists would at last find their elusive alien subjects within only a decade or two. Not long ago the prediction would have been bold but now it seems almost passé, as more evidence mounts that the warm, wet conditions for life as we know it prevail throughout the cosmos. Surely simple, single-celled life should be common out there, waiting to be found by a rover in subsurface brines on Mars or by a mission sent to probe the oceans of the icy moons Europa or even via space telescopes gazing at Earth-like planets orbiting faraway stars. NASA generously funds all these efforts.

The possible existence of intelligent aliens and extraterrestrial civilizations, on the other hand, remains much more controversial and is scarcely funded at all. Even so, for more than a half-century a small, scattered contingent of astronomers has gone against the grain, engaging in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). SETI chiefly looks for chatty cosmic cultures that might be beaming messages around our region of the galaxy using radio waves or laser pulses. But its interstellar eavesdropping has yet to detect any signals that withstand close scrutiny. Even if brimming with life, to us, the galaxy seems to be a very quiet, rather lonely place.

Now, new results suggest this loneliness may extend out into the universe far beyond our galaxy or, instead, that some of our preconceptions about the behaviors of alien civilizations are deeply flawed. After examining some 100,000 nearby large galaxies a team of researchers lead by The Pennsylvania State University astronomer Jason Wright has concluded that none of them contain any obvious signs of highly advanced technological civilizations. Published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, it is by far the largest of study of its kind to date—earlier research had only cursorily investigated about a hundred galaxies.

More heat than light
Unlike traditional SETI surveys, Wright and his team did not seek messages from the stars. Instead, they looked for the thermodynamic consequences of galactic-scale colonization, based on an idea put forth in 1960 by the physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson postulated that a growing technological culture would ultimately be limited by access to energy, and that advanced, energy-hungry civilizations would be driven to harvest all the available light from their stars. To do that, they might dismantle a planet or two as feedstock for building star-enveloping swarms of solar collectors. A star’s light would fade as it was encased in such a “Dyson sphere,” but Dyson noted the constructions could be detected by the mid-infrared glow of their radiated waste heat—essentially the same phenomenon that causes your computer to warm up when it’s running. In 1963 the Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev extended these ideas by developing a tripartite classification system for a civilization’s energy use. A “type 1” civilization would harness all the energy of its home planet whereas a type 2 uses all the energy of its star, perhaps by building a Dyson sphere around it. A type 3 civilization would be capable of using all the energy of its galaxy, presumably by encasing all its stars in Dyson spheres.

Unable to secure funding from standard sources such as NASA or the National Science Foundation, Wright’s group instead turned to the Templeton Foundation, a private organization with a history of supporting controversial and speculative research. With that funding the team searched for type 3 civilizations in an all-sky catalogue from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). They looked for objects that were optically dim but bright in the mid-infrared—the expected signature of a galaxy filled with starlight-absorbing, heat-emitting Dyson spheres. After using software to automatically sift through some 100 million objects in the WISE catalogue, Wright’s student Roger Griffith examined the remaining candidates by hand, culling those that weren’t galaxies or that were obvious instrumental artifacts.

The result was about 100,000 galaxies, with about 50 in particular that emitted much more heat than light. Jessica Maldonado, a student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, then scoured the astronomical literature to determine what was already known about those top candidates. Many of them were well studied, and can be explained as pairs of galaxies in the process of merging or as isolated “starburst” galaxies—two processes that can heat galactic quantities of light-blocking dust to generate powerful infrared glows. According to the researchers, an additional 90 galaxies with less extreme heat-to-light ratios warrant further study but, by and large, the results are null. “On Kardashev’s scale, a type 3 civilization uses energy equal to all the starlight produced by one galaxy,” Wright says. That would equate to an infrared-bright galaxy seemingly bereft of stars. “We looked at the nearest, largest 100,000 galaxies we could find in the WISE catalogue and we never saw that. One hundred thousand galaxies and not one had that signature. We didn’t find any type 3s in our sample because there aren’t any.”

Even if advanced civilizations do not build Dyson spheres, Wright’s null result also applies to any other energy-intensive “astroengineering” taking place at galactic scales. “Looking for the absence of light as well as the waste heat like Wright and his colleagues have done is really cool,” says James Annis, an astrophysicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory who in the late 1990s used different methods to survey more than a hundred nearby galaxies for type 3s. “In some sense it doesn’t matter how a galactic civilization gets or uses its power because the second law of thermodynamics makes energy use hard to hide. They could construct Dyson spheres, they could get power from rotating black holes, they could build giant computer networks in the cold outskirts of galaxies, and all of that would produce waste heat. Wright’s team went right to the peak of the curve for where you’d expect to see any sort of waste heat, and they’re just not seeing anything obvious.”

Against the empire
The idea that there may be galactic empires out there to find at all comes from seemingly reasonable extrapolations of our own situation here on Earth.

We know that on at least one planet microbial life emerged, and that life then ascended the evolutionary ladder to build large bodies, brains, societies and eventually technologies that could take it to other planets—maybe even other stars. If it happened here, why not on any of the billions of other habitable planets astronomers now estimate fill each galaxy? “Life, once it becomes spacefaring, looks like it could cross a galaxy in as little as 50 million years,” Annis says. “And 50 million years is a very short time compared to the billion-year timescales of planets and galaxies. You would expect life to crisscross a galaxy many times in the nearly 14 billion years the universe has been around. Maybe spacefaring civilizations are rare and isolated, but it only takes just one to want and be able to modify its galaxy for you to be able to see it. If you look at enough galaxies, you should eventually see something obviously artificial. That’s why it’s so uncomfortable that the more we look, the more natural everything appears.”

Over the years, researchers have created a vast assemblage of possible explanations for SETI’s failure to find any aliens. Perhaps we are alone or some restriction imposed by astrophysics and biology makes intelligent life vanishingly rare or technological civilizations always self-destruct or interstellar travel is simply too hard, too slow or too boring. Annis suspects galaxy-sterilizing astrophysical explosions called gamma-ray bursts, which were more frequent in the cosmic past, until recently suppressed the rise of advanced civilizations and that we inhabit “the beginning of history.”

But as rich as the scientific literature is with ideas, some of the most fascinating ones come instead from science fiction. Drawing from Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quip that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” in 2011 the science fiction author Karl Schroeder coined an all-too-plausible reason for the apparent absence of aliens: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.” In this view the future of technology would not consist of star-hopping civilizations spreading like wildfire through galaxies, disassembling planets and smothering suns, but rather of slow-growing cultures becoming more and more integrated with their natural environments, striving for ever-greater efficiencies and coming ever-closer to thermodynamic equilibrium. Simply put, profligate galaxy-spanning empires are unsustainable and therefore we do not see them. “SETI is essentially a search for technological waste products,” Schroeder has written. “Waste heat, waste light, waste electromagnetic signals—we merely have to posit that successful civilizations don’t produce such waste, and the failure of SETI is explained.”

According to David Brin, an astrophysicist who also authors best-selling works of science fiction contemplating the “Great Silence” of the universe, Wright’s expansive study leaves the possibility of Dyson spheres open but may be the nail in the coffin for antiquated notions of all-encompassing empires that tap entire galaxies for energy. “Why would advanced beings need or want that?” Brin asks. “Only a stunningly vast project would justify such greed…. There would be no more gentle, welcoming systems like ours; all would be converted to industrial use. It’s the trait of rapacious users who either have a big reason or a big insatiability.”

Things to come
In 1973 Carl Sagan devised a more empirical formula for Kardashev’s scale that allowed for finer gradations. Our current planetbound civilization, he calculated, rated as a type 0.7 and would reach type 1, given a few more centuries of sustained growth in energy use, which for the past few centuries has increased by about 3 percent per year. To sustain that trend, humanity would need to build a Dyson sphere of our own within about a millennium, becoming a type 2, and would need to encase most of the Milky Way’s stars in Dyson spheres a millennium after that, becoming a type 3.

The implications are clear: Within the span of relatively few generations—a brief moment in comparison with all of human history—either we must rework the solar system and then a great deal of the galaxy itself or our civilization must shift to a radically different, less energy-intensive trend of growth. In the 1960s, during the dizzying early days of the space age, it was easier to believe the former was more likely; today, calamities both ecological and economical make the latter seem more certain. This numerical prophecy of quieter, slower growth, even stasis, is consistent with the null results from traditional SETI searches as well as the rare, unorthodox Dysonian searches of Wright, Annis and a few others.

Provided he can get more funding, Wright intends to perform follow-up work investigating some of his survey’s strangest galaxies, looking for civilizations further down the Kardashev scale. He also hopes to examine a curious cluster of optically dark point sources just outside the Milky Way’s galactic plane that his team discovered by their infrared glows in the WISE data. The cluster is probably a previously unknown giant molecular cloud, an unmapped stellar nursery filled with protostars, Wright says. But “it’s also almost exactly what you’d expect a cluster of Dyson Spheres to look like.” It seems Dyson’s dream is still alive.

Dyson, now 91 but still eager to talk about SETI from his office at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., says the null results aren’t surprising but shouldn’t be discouraging. “Our imaginings about the ways that aliens might make themselves detectable are always like stories of black cats in a dark room,” Dyson says. “If there are any real aliens, they are likely to behave in ways that we never imagined. The WISE result shows that the aliens did not follow one particular path. That is good to know. But it still leaves a huge variety of other paths open. The failure of one guess does not mean that we should stop looking for aliens.”

Rights & Permissions