Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tales of the Raven



Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore... While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. " 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door; Only this, and nothing more."

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore. Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door. Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door, Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, "Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou," I said, "art sure no craven, Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore. Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore."
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming.And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted---nevermore!

- Excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"

Friday, October 25, 2013

Skull 5 from Dmanisi... rethinking human evolution.



After eight years spent studying a 1.8-million-year-old skull uncovered in the Republic of Georgia, scientists have made a discovery that may rewrite the evolutionary history of our human genus Homo.

It would be a simpler story with fewer ancestral species. Early, diverse fossils — those currently recognized as coming from distinct species like Homo habilis, Homo erectus and others — may actually represent variation among members of a single, evolving lineage.

In other words, just as people look different from one another today, so did early hominids look different from one another, and the dissimilarity of the bones they left behind may have fooled scientists into thinking they came from different species.

This was the conclusion reached by an international team of scientists led by David Lordkipanidze, a paleoanthropologist at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, as reported Thursday in the journal Science.

The key to this revelation was a cranium excavated in 2005 and known simply as Skull 5, which scientists described as “the world’s first completely preserved adult hominid skull” of such antiquity. Unlike other Homo fossils, it had a number of primitive features: a long, apelike face, large teeth and a tiny braincase, about one-third the size of that of a modern human being. This confirmed that, contrary to some conjecture, early hominids did not need big brains to make their way out of Africa.

The discovery of Skull 5 alongside the remains of four other hominids at Dmanisi, a site in Georgia rich in material of the earliest hominid travels into Eurasia, gave the scientists an opportunity to compare and contrast the physical traits of ancestors that apparently lived at the same location and around the same time.

Dr. Lordkipanidze and his colleagues said the differences between these fossils were no more pronounced than those between any given five modern humans or five chimpanzees. The hominids who left the fossils, they noted, were quite different from one another but still members of one species.

“Had the braincase and the face of Skull 5 been found as separate fossils at different sites in Africa, they might have been attributed to different species,” a co-author of the journal report, Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich, said in a statement. Such was often the practice of researchers, using variations in traits to define new species.

Although the Dmanisi finds look quite different from one another, Dr. Zollikofer said, the hominids who left them were living at the same time and place, and “so could, in principle, represent a single population of a single species.” He and his Zurich colleague, Marcia Ponce de León, conducted the comparative analysis of the Dmanisi specimens.

“Since we see a similar pattern and range of variation in the African fossil record,” Dr. Zollikofer continued, “it is sensible to assume that there was a single Homo species at that time in Africa.” Moreover, he added, “since the Dmanisi hominids are so similar to the African ones, we further assume that they both represent the same species.”

But what species? Some team members simply call their finds “early Homo.” Others emphasized the strong similarities to Homo erectus, which lived between two million and less than one million years ago. Tim D. White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, called it “the most primitive H. erectus yet known,” noting that “it is more similar than any other yet found to early Homo from eastern Africa,” a group of hominids estimated to have lived 2.3 million years ago.

All five of the skulls and skeletal bones were found in underground dens, suggesting grisly scenes from the perilous lives these early Homos led. They resided among carnivores, including saber-toothed cats and an extinct giant cheetah. All five of the individuals had probably been attacked and killed by the carnivores, their carcasses dragged into the dens for the after-hunt feast, with nothing left but dinner scraps for curious fossil hunters.

Dr. White and other scientists not involved in the research hailed the importance of the skull discovery and its implications for understanding early Homo evolution. In an article analyzing the report, Science quoted Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York as saying that the skull “is undoubtedly one of the most important ever discovered.”

A few scientists quibbled that the skull looks more like Homo habilis or questioned the idea that fossils in Africa all belong to Homo erectus, but there was broad recognition that the new findings were a watershed in the study of evolution. “As the most complete early Homo skull ever found,” Dr. White wrote in an e-mail, “it will become iconic for Dmanisi, for earliest Homo erectus and more broadly for how we became human.”

Dr. White, who has excavated hominid fossils in Ethiopia for years, said he was impressed with “the total evidentiary package from the site that is the really good news story here.” Further, he said, he hoped the discovery would “now focus the debate on evolutionary biology beyond the boring ‘lumpers vs. splitters' ” — a reference to the tendencies of fossil hunters to either lump new finds into existing species or split them off into new species.

In their report, the Dmanisi researchers said the Skull 5 individual “provides the first evidence that early Homo comprised adult individuals with small brains but body mass, stature and limb proportions reaching the lower range limit of modern variation.”


Skeletal bones associated with the five Dmanisi skulls show that these hominids were short in stature, but that their limbs enabled them to walk long distances as fully upright bipeds. The shape of the small braincase distinguished them from the more primitive Australopithecus genus, which preceded Homo and lived for many centuries with Homo in Africa.

By John Noble Wilford
Published: October 17, 2013 by the New York Times


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Million Mask March


Anonymous plans Million Mask March on Washington.

Demonstrators hope that one million masked activists will descend on Washington, DC next month to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with a mass rally to remind the world “That fairness, justice and freedom are more than just words.”

That’s the mission statement of the “Million Mask March,” an event scheduled for November 5 in the nation’s capital that’s being arranged by affiliates of the hacktivism movement Anonymous, an international group of activists who’ve adopted the image of the infamous Englishman who unsuccessfully plotted to blow up Parliament in the early 1600s.

The group has been circulating flyers on the Web and in Washington, where they request that a million activists disguised as Fawkes march down the National Mall on November 5 for an array of causes that have been adopted in the past by self-proclaimed actors in the movement.

According to the event’s official Facebook page, topics to be discussed during the day include government reform, the pharmaceutical industry and the use of genetically modified foods, among others. An unofficial page that has been disavowed by the creators of the Facebook event asks for members of Anonymous, participants in the Occupy movement and supporters of WikiLeaks and whistleblowing to make the trip to DC next month.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Psychedelic Diplomacy within the Plant Kingdom



What do psychedelics, environmentalism and the collective unconscious have in common? The ground-breaking book by Paul Devereux: The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia ...explores the role that (naturally occurring) psychedelics played in humanity's 10,000 year history of communion with our natural environment. The vast majority of that time-span saw humanity living in harmony with the natural world.

Through the ceremonial use of indigenous entheogens, humanity has historically communicated with nature, specifically the plant kingdom, through ingestion, revelation and interpretation, facilitated by shamanic custom. These diplomats to the plant kingdom, or shamans, delivered to their broader communities a message of planetary harmony, which, until quite recently, resulted in stable co-existence between humanity and the rest of the natural world.

What follows is an excerpt from Devereux's book...   


"Societies of the past have used the psychedelic experience to strengthen, renew and heal the spiritual underpinning of their social structures. The ever-deepening social unease that Western civilisation seems to be caught in is the real source of our 'drug problem': natural hallucinogens are not the problems in themselves, it is the context in which they are used that matters. If there were orderly and healthy structures and mechanisms for their use and the cultural absorption of the powerful experiences – and knowledge – we could separate these from the culture of crime that surrounds them now. In short, the problems are not in the psychoactive substances themselves, but in a society, which on the one hand wants to prohibit, mind-expansion altogether and on the other chooses to use mind-expanding substances in a literally mindless, hedonistic fashion.
Perhaps only a shock of some kind could break our society free from the patterns of thought and prejudices that lock it into this crisis. The desire for such a shock may be hidden within the widespread modern myth of extra-terrestrial intervention. In fact, we do not have to look to science fiction for a real otherworld contact: it already exists in the form of plant hallucinogens. If we see them in the context of a 'problem', it is only because they hold up a mirror in which we see our spiritual, social and mental condition reflected. And they hold that mirror up to us as one species to another just as surely as if they were from another planet. Indeed, that champion of the psychedelic state, the late Terence McKenna, argued that the ancestral spores of today’s hallucinogenic mushrooms may have originated on some other planet. (This is not as fringe an idea as it sounds, for even some 'hard scientists' – the late Francis Crick, co-discover of DNA, among them – have suggested that the germs of life may have had extra-terrestrial origins, brought to Earth by means of meteorites or comet dust.) The psilocybin family of hallucinogens, says McKenna, produces a "Logos-like phenomenon of an interior voice that seems to be almost a superhuman agency…an entity so far beyond the normal structure of the ego that if it is not an extraterrestrial it might as well be."
Other 'psychonauts' have emerged from the altered mind states enabled by plant substances with similar impressions. For instance, New York journalist Daniel Pinchbeck wrote about his various initiations with plant hallucinogens in his Breaking Open the Head (2002). In one ayahuasca session with Amazonian Secoya Indians he found himself wandering in a visionary space where he encountered beings that "never stopped changing" their forms. "The shaman and the elders seemed to be inhabiting this space with me… They sang, their words unintelligible, to these creatures, interacting with them… I had no more doubts that the Secoya engaged in extradimensional exploration." Or, again, two of the three molecular biologists brought to the Amazon to experience ayahuasca trances by anthropologist and writer, Jeremy Narby, felt that they had communicated with an "independent intelligence." Narby himself feels that in their ayahuasca altered states shamans plumb the molecular level of nature and that, to put Narby’s idea crudely, ayahuasca – with its trade-mark visionary snakes – has the ability to communicate information concerning the double-helix coil of DNA (The Cosmic Serpent, 1998). Indeed, to allow contact with the "mind of nature."
We have already noted that the idea that ontologically independent beings ('spirits') or intelligences are contactable through plant-induced trances is standard in most if not all shamanic tribal societies, but to posit such a thing in modern Western societies is viewed as tantamount to insanity, a nonsense notion to be dismissed out of hand. In other words, we can’t discuss it without forfeiting all credibility. This problem concerning the inability to explore certain ideas has been addressed by Oxford-based researcher, Andy Letcher. He uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to critique the models, the 'discourses' employed by the West in dealing with the content of altered mind states. These include pathological, prohibition, psychological, recreational, psychedelic, entheogenic discourses. Each has its own imposed boundaries; they are cognitive constructs. Letcher notes that some of these discourses or approaches to hallucinogenic substances ignore the subjective experience of the altered mind states involved, or else place it within an inner, psychological framework rather than it being a case of simply seeing more, of being in a wider frame of consciousness. He critiques even the entheogenic discourse as relying on a “God within” model, divine revelation that does not by any means occur in all altered states. However diverse they might be, all these discourses can be used within the norms of Western culture. Only one discourse crosses that "fundamental societal boundary," what Letcher refers to as the animistic discourse – the belief that the taking of, say, hallucinogenic mushrooms occasions actual "encounters with discarnate spirit entities." Because of the deep-rooted modern Western assumption that consciousness cannot occur in any other guise than human (the ultimate hubris of our species, perhaps) discussion of a conscious plant kingdom, or of that providing a portal through which contact with other, ontologically independent beings or intelligences can occur, is simply not possible within the mainstream culture. "It nevertheless remains a phenomenon in need of further scholarly research," Letcher rightly insists.
It is a remarkable fact that plant hallucinogens are hallucinogenic precisely because they contain the same, or effectively the same, chemicals as are found in the human brain, and so act on us as if we were indeed engaged in an interspecies communication. "The chemical structure of the hallucinogenic principles of the mushrooms was determined…and it was found that these compounds were closely related chemically to substances occurring naturally in the brain which play a major role in the regulation of psychic functions," Schultes and Hofmann have observed, for instance. This challenges the view held by many people that taking a plant hallucinogen is somehow 'unnatural'. Certainly, mind-altering plants take the brain-mind to states that are not “normal” by the standards of our culture, but the 'normal' state of Western consciousness cannot claim to be the one-and-only 'true' state of consciousness. (Indeed, judging by the mess we manage to make of our societies and of the natural world around us it may even be an aberrant or pathological state of mind that we are culturally locked into.)
"If one were to reduce to its essentials the complex chemical process that occurs when an external psychoactive drug such as psilocybin reaches the brain, it would then be said that the drug, being structurally closely related to the naturally occurring indoles in the brain, appears to interact with the latter in such a way as to lock a nonordinary or inward-directed state of consciousness temporarily into place… There are obviously wide implications, biological-evolutionary as well as philosophical, in the discovery that precisely in the chemistry of consciousness we are kin to the plant kingdom," writes Peter Furst.
These are probably the same kind of chemical changes that occur during the course of long and intensive spiritual exercises, but it takes a rare person to achieve sufficient expertise in such techniques to arrive at experiences that match those accessible through hallucinogen usage, which are certainly very 'real' in a subjective sense. It is a culturally-engineered cliché to dismiss such states as being somehow delusional. They are subjectively no more delusional than the experience of daily life. The human body is an open system, taking in material from the environment and expelling matter into it all the time, and we really shouldn’t think of taking in natural chemicals for visionary and mind-expanding functioning as any different, any less natural, than taking in gases from the air for their chemical benefits to the body, or chemicals and compounds in animal and vegetable matter to provide food, or fermented fruits and vegetable matter to provide delicious, refreshing or inebriating beverages, or vitamins to augment healthy functioning, or medicines when we are ill, or caffeinated teas and coffees when we want to be energised. "Ethnobotanists now realize that psychotropic plant species extend further than had been suspected, as though nature truly wanted the human species to get in touch with its floral neighbors," Richard Gehr muses. "As plant species die off at a furious rate, the issue is no longer what they are trying to tell us, but whether we will get the message in time."
That message may be to do with the need for us to change our minds, or, at least, to broaden our cognitive horizons. The plant kingdom could be urging us to allow the ability to 'switch channels' in consciousness terms to let them become a recognised and acceptable part of our emerging global culture. Hallucinogen-using ancient and traditional societies had and have exceptional sophistication when it comes to understanding and navigating alternate states of consciousness, whereas we are still quite primitive and inexperienced in this regard. The manual for using expanded consciousness is a textbook we have not read – or, more accurately, recalled. Not that simply widening our collective experience of consciousness will act like a magic wand and remove all problems and obstacles, but it would help us to make wiser, more whole-some decisions in coping with them. If Western civilisation is truly to advance, we surely must learn to operate within the multi-dimensional capacities of our minds, rather than using the police to conduct an indiscriminate war on the means of doing so. A workable balance has to be struck between protecting the well-being and the orderly functioning of society as a whole, and allowing the human brain-mind to explore its full potential. We are smart enough and complex enough and able enough to make it possible to do both. There are no excuses."

- from: The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia by Paul Devereux


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Treason in the GOP! op-ed vol. 2 (updated)

None Dare Call it Treason!


Although it is clear that politicians have surpassed lawyers, as being the most despised… the most loathed… (so-called) professionals on the planet today, it is even more clear that the Republican Party has sunk to a new, unconscionable low. Not only have the GOP been obstructionist, to the point of absurdity, ever since Obama was originally elected back in ’08… their most recent high-jink of knowingly shutting down the Federal Government through legislative trickery, is itself a treasonous act.

It is also abundantly clear that sending a continuing resolution (CR) to the US Senate to fund the Federal Government (even for a mere six weeks or so, until the Debt Limit Debacle kicks in) ...with a de-funding of the ACA rider attached... would not actually de-fund the ACA… or even delay it. 

The Affordable Care Act is law… get over it.

It is widely believed (by political pundits, who are themselves, suspect) that a small minority of Right-Wing Fanatics within the GOP are essentially holding the entire GOP hostage and somehow compelling them to act irresponsibly. Perhaps the word “irresponsibly” is too mild… “insane?” That would imply that they were not in control of their faculties… “obstinately?” That would imply that their actions were questionable-but-permissible. Me thinks the word we’re looking for is… treasonous.

So the question becomes… Is a small cabal of ultra-right-wing fanatics forcing the GOP controlled US House of Representatives to obstruct the Government’s due diligence... to the point of treason?

If this ideological battle continues and merges with the Debt limit Debacle… the answer is yes.

If a small band of Right-Wingers (we don’t want to name-names, but their initials are… TEA PARTY) forces the Government to default on its debts… debt that we have already accrued… money that has already been spent… monies that are legitimately owed…that act, intentional or not… whether through action or non-action… is an act of treason. 

For that matter, blame rests less on the shoulders of a small band of tea-partiers… politicians who are hoodwinked or worse... bought and sold by plutocrats… by the likes of the Koch brothers… than it rests on the shoulders of the GOP leadership.

If John Boehner doesn’t have the guts to stand up to the extreme right-wing of his own party… then he’s as guilty… if not more guilty… than the tea-partiers are.

And forget about blaming Obama for not calling Congressional leadership to his office and forcing them to resolve their differences. The simple truth is, passing a budget is the responsibility of Congress. Quit bellyaching for Big-Daddy Obama to come rescue you and do your job, Congress!

These guys are derelict in their duty to the Republic. They need to be hounded out of office! They need to be made accountable for their treasonous acts! They need to pay for their crimes against the American Public! Make the bastards pay! Death to all Fanatics!!!

And if you really want to know the truth… 

-Anonymous


We hope you have enjoyed volume 2 of our opinion-editorial (letters to the editor) feature... Keep those cards and letters coming, folks! As always, should you or any of your OP-ED force be caught or killed, the tek-gnostics blog-site will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Jim. This post will self-destruct in five seconds…