Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Tahoe Lake Monster - Tessie, To His Friends

A recent ski trip to Tahoe (yes, skiing in May - strange but true) piqued my interest in that vast, beautiful lake and the wildlife beneath its waters - particularly its fish, since I'm a pretty avid fisherman when I can escape my computer. So when I returned home to Oakland, I did a little online research into the Tahoe ecosystem. What I discovered, in addition to the fact that Tahoe is 1645 feet deep and harbors fish species including rainbow, lake, and brown trout, is that the lake may (or may not) be home to a Nessie-esque lake monster, nicknamed, surprise, Tessie.

Tessie is purportedly a long, serpentine beast who's spotted from time to time breaking the surface to breathe and paddling around leaving mysterious v-shaped wakes in the lake. One witness quoted in this article
about Tessie observed that the creature "seemed very lethargic." Perhaps he'd had a few too many trout that day.

On another occasion Tessie, perhaps yearning for a screen career, interrupted the filming of a TV commercial being shot on the shores of Tahoe. Unfortunately the footage taken that day was destroyed under mysterious circumstances. If it ever existed at all.

As with all alleged monsters, there is no shortage of sensible, level-headed explanations for what's really going on. Tessie could be a beaver, or a sturgeon, or a log, or...anything but a giant landlocked lake serpent from the age of the dinosaurs. And as usual, such explanations are a total joykill, so they're best ignored.

If you're ever in the Tahoe region and want to experience the Tessie phenomenon for yourself, stop in at Tahoe Tessie's Lake Tahoe Monster Museum
in Kings Beach, a town on the north shore of the lake. Here you'll find everything you'd want to know about Tessie - well, except for a physical specimen of the beast. For that, you'll have to mount your own expedition into Tahoe's depths. If you ever put one together, let me know...I'll bring the beer.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Bigfoot Speaks

For all the cryptozoologists out there (and all you kids aspiring to this lucrative and prestigious field) may I recommend the funniest book I've read this year - possibly this decade, in fact: In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot.

In this illustrated memoir sasquatch describes his loathing for Chewbacca, his longing for the girl who ditched him on prom night, his short-lived grunge rock and screenwriting careers, his troubled friendship with Koko, celebrity gorilla and cat fetishist, and his problems with his own cat Craig. I was particularly moved by his memories of childhood, when he had a hard time making friends because the other kids "say I too rough. Say I kill too much. Who make them judge and jury?"

And then there are the chapters titled simply "I You Private Dancer" and "I Feel Pretty" which I shall not describe here, since they really must be seen to be appreciated.

The fellow responsible, one Graham Roumieu, has another volume out entitled
A Really Super Book About Squirrels. If his bigfoot book is anything to go by, it's probably...well...super.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Isolation Tanks and Altered States

When I was 11 or 12 I happened to see the movie "Altered States" on TV and it made a big, weird impression on me. It was directed by the director Ken Russell, known for such freaky fare as The Who's "Tommy" and "Lisztomania". William Hurt plays a Harvard scientist who begins investigating the outer limits of consciousness by floating in an isolation tank, a water-filled box used to create nearly total sensory deprivation. Hurt's character, Dr. Eddie Jessup, discovers that lying in the isolation tank produces hallucinatory visions that seem to reach beyond conventional reality into other, more mystical dimensions of being. When he starts taking a potent hallucinogenic drug (something akin to yaje or peyote) before these "tank trips," things get far stranger, with the help of some cool, 2001-esque special effects; while regressing psychically to a state of primordial awareness, Jessup begins to regress physically as well, eventually taking on the form of an early hominid, busting out of the isolation tank, and going rampaging around the local zoo. Good stuff.

Upon discovering that the movie was based on a book of the same name by Paddy Chayefsky, I scampered to the library and checked it out. It proved to be a fine and fast read, and filled in many of the details that the movie, being a movie, couldn't really go into. It also made me want an isolation tank of my very own - yes, they're commercially available - but my parents weren't about to shell out for one.

In the 1950s and 60s a series of pioneering isolation tank experiments were conducted by John C. Lilly at the National Institutes of Health. Chayefsky clearly based much of "Altered States" on Lilly's accounts of these experiments, which you can read online and in his book "Tanks for the Memories" (oh, what a title). Like the fictional Dr. Jessup, Lilly used a hallucinogen (LSD) during a "tank trip"; here's how he described it: "That's when I learned that fear can propel you in a rocketship to far out places. That first trip was a propulsion into domains and realities that I couldn't even recount when I came back. But I knew that I had expanded way beyond anything I had ever experienced before, and as I was squeezed back into the human frame, I cried." A common theme in many tank experiences seems to be this sense of leaving the body behind and entering a vast metaphysical space where truths obscured by earthbound reality are revealed.

While Lilly never actually changed his physical form in a tank, he did recount the following anecdote about a colleague of his, Dr. Craig Enright: "While taking a trip with me here by the isolation tank, [he] suddenly 'became' a chimp, jumping up and down and hollering for twenty-five minutes. Watching him, I was frightened. I asked him later, 'Where the hell were you?' He said, 'I became a pre-hominid, and I was in a tree. A leopard was trying to get me. So I was trying to scare him away.'"

So if you ever invest in a tank of your own, remember to watch out for leopards.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Psi Captured on EEG? The Research of Jacobo Grinberg-Zylberbaum

Along with the Ganzeld experiments discussed in this post, one of the most intriguing areas of psi research involves the use of EEG (electroencephalogram) readings to monitor the brain wave activity of a sender and receiver for telepathic functioning. This research was pioneered by Dr. Jacobo Grinberg-Zylberbaum at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and was originally reported in the journal Physics Essays (Volume 7, pages 422-428, 1994). The results are summarized by Grinberg in his article "Brain to Brain Interactions and the Interpretation of Reality":

"We have found that when two subjects interact and later on are separated inside two isolated Faraday cages, and when one of the subjects is stimulated and his brain responds with a clearly evoked potential, the other brain is also activated and responds with what I have called a 'transferred potential'."

The evoked potential Grinberg refers to was generated with a strobe light flashed into the subject's eyes, producing a distinctive brain wave pattern on the EEG. When the receiver's brain waves were measured by EEG, the same pattern was detected at the same point in time that the sender had seen the strobe flashes. This correlation of patterns did not occur when no stimulus was provided to the sender. In addition, increases in distance did not present any barrier to transmission between brains. A more detailed introduction to the procedure can be found in this description by Dr. Amit Goswani.

What does it all mean? If the results are accurate, they point to the existence of some form of nonlocal, instantaneous connection between human brains. The phenomena of nonlocality and quantum entanglement -- what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance" -- are often cited as possible factors in the underlying mechanism of transmission.

In a strange footnote to this scientific saga, Grinberg-Zylberbaum disappeared in late 1994, not longer after this research was published. He hasn't been seen since, and theories abound as to what might have happened to him.

Monday, May 09, 2005

More Solar Dieting...

Following up on our April 26 post about Hira Manek's purported sunlight diet...Ananova now reports that a German scientist, Dr. Michael Werner, has subsisted for four years solely on sunlight and water mixed with a little fruit juice. He claims to have even gained weight on this remarkable regimen.

Dr. Werner's also got a book out on the subject, entitled "Living through the Energy of Light" (looked for it on Amazon, no luck). While no scientific explanation is yet available, German scientists are on the case and perhaps one will be forthcoming. For his part, Dr. Werner suggests "just a little bit of faith" is a factor in his (non)diet's success.

The Werner and Manek cases both recall earlier accounts of people who had learned to live without food. For instance, in "Autobiography of a Yogi" the author Paramahansa Yogananda describes a female Indian yogi, Gira Bala, who had not eaten in over 50 years. Yogananda wrote that her "nourishment is derived from the finer energies of the air and sunlight, and from the cosmic power that recharges [her] body through the medulla oblangata."

When asked why she didn't share her miraculous dietary secret with the world, Gira Bala replied, "I was strictly commanded by my guru not to divulge my secret. It is not his wish to tamper with God's drama of creation. The farmers would not thank me if I taught many people to live without eating! The luscious fruits would lie uselessly on the ground."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Does Psi Exist?

A topic that's interested me since my first eager perusal of the "Encyclopedia of the Occult" in my junior high library is the existence or non-existence of the phenomenon variously known as telepathy, precognition, ESP, and psi. Essentially, this is the ability to accurately perceive locations, images, thoughts, and objects without the involvement of the known senses. While this purported ability has been the subject of much controversy, and is looked upon with scorn in many academic circles, a substantial body of work has accumulated over the past several decades suggesting that it may in fact be real.

Perhaps the most persuasive studies are those using the Ganzfeld technique, a method for achieving nearly total sensory isolation of the individual attempting to demonstrate psi abilities. In a Ganzfeld experiment, a sender attempts to transmit an image to a receiver in sensory isolation; following the sending period, the receiver attempts to pick the correct image from a selection of candidates, generally four, one of which is the target.

According to Daryl Bem of Cornell University, results achieved across a number of Ganzfeld trials yielded a hit rate of around 35%, when random guessing ought to have produced results in the 25% range. In Bem's article on the subject, he notes that the odds of achieving a 35% hit rate at random are over 1 billion to one. Remarkably, a group of artistically-gifted receivers recruited from the Juilliard School achieved a hit rate of 50%, suggesting that psi abilities might be closely linked to creativity.

Needless to say, Ganzfeld research has provoked quite a bit of controversy and skeptical rejoinders, which are nicely encapsulated in this article. Its defenders, however, have pointed out that continued Ganzfeld experiments have consistently yielded results that deviate significantly from chance. Dean Radin's article "Thinking About Telepathy" does a good job of summing up the evidence in favor of psi, and pointing the way towards possible explanations - for instance, in the phenomena of non-locality found in quantum physics. But all that's beyond the scope of this little blog entry - if you're interested in this sort of strangeness, there's no shortage of online material on the subject to help you reach your own conclusions.