MonthMay 2008

Neuroscientists Take Important Step toward Mind Reading

Legions of science-fiction authors have imagined a future that includes mind-reading technology. Although the ability to play back memories like a movie remains a distant dream, a new study has taken a provocative step in that direction by decoding neural signals for images.

Neuroscientist Kendrick Kay and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, were able to successfully determine which of a large group of never-before-seen photographs a subject was viewing based purely on functional MRI data. By analyzing fMRI scans of viewers as they looked at thousands of images, Kay’s team created a computer model that uses picture elements such as angles and brightness to predict the neural activity elicited by a novel black-and-white photograph. Then the researchers scanned subjects while showing them new snapshots. Most of the time Kay’s model could single out which image the subject was viewing by matching its prediction of brain activity to the actual activity measured by the fMRI scanner, although very similar pictures tended to baffle the program.

Full Story: Scientific American

(via Tomorrow Museum)

Company claims they’re able to make cost-competitive algae gasoline

A San Diego start-up says it is using algae to make oil that can be refined into gasoline and other fuels that are both renewable and carbon-neutral, and it plans to produce 10,000 barrels a day within five years.

That’s a fraction of the 20 million or so barrels of petroleum the United States consumes each day, but Sapphire Energy says “green crude” production could ramp up to a level sufficient to ease our dependence on foreign oil, if not end it altogether.


He wouldn’t disclose how the process works or what it costs but said it is competitive with deep-water oil drilling and extracting petroleum from tar sands.

Full Story: Wired

I file this under “If it sounds too good to be true…”

Chemical Wedding: So bad it will be an Occult Classic

Chemical Wedding

“Fans of terrible movies shouldn’t miss Chemical Wedding, which contains so many wooden performances it should really have been thinned before release by the forestry commission. Director Julian Doyle shoots the whole thing as though it is a Hammer horror film, and most of the actresses have the Hammer hallmark of being extraordinarily unfit for acting. Most of the cast underact. The one, big – and I do mean big – exception is Simon Callow, who appears to have been taking acting lessons from Brian Blessed and, possibly as a result, gone stark staring bonkers.

Callow is at his exuberant worst as a stuttering Cambridge academic who – because of some incomprehensible scientific experiment that goes wrong – is taken over by the spirit of Aleister Crowley.”

(via The Daily Mail)

(Related: “Aleister Crowley movie, The Chemical Wedding, trailer”)

Mindfulness Meditation: Lotus Therapy

“The patient sat with his eyes closed, submerged in the rhythm of his own breathing, and after a while noticed that he was thinking about his troubled relationship with his father. “I was able to be there, present for the pain,” he said, when the meditation session ended. “To just let it be what it was, without thinking it through.” The therapist nodded. “Acceptance is what it was,” he continued. “Just letting it be. Not trying to change anything.” “That’s it,” the therapist said. “That’s it, and that’s big.”

This exercise in focused awareness and mental catch-and-release of emotions has become perhaps the most popular new psychotherapy technique of the past decade. Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century BC Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha. It is catching the attention of talk therapists of all stripes, including academic researchers, Freudian analysts in private practice and skeptics who see all the hallmarks of another fad.

For years, psychotherapists have worked to relieve suffering by reframing the content of patients’ thoughts, directly altering behavior or helping people gain insight into the subconscious sources of their despair and anxiety. The promise of mindfulness meditation is that it can help patients endure flash floods of emotion during the therapeutic process – and ultimately alter reactions to daily experience at a level that words cannot reach. “The interest in this has just taken off,” said Zindel Segal, a psychologist at the Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, where the above group therapy session was taped. “And I think a big part of it is that more and more therapists are practicing some form of contemplation themselves and want to bring that into therapy.”

(via The International Herald Tribune)

(Related: “Sit down, shut up, breathe:Can meditation make you a calmer, more compassionate person?” via The SF Gate)

Integral “Third Way” Politics

“This new video is showing up everywhere on the internet, but we thought we had to post it after watching it closely ourselves – as Ken Wilber’s passion for major political issues, and the clarity with which he deploys applied integral theory (at least in terms of AQAL) is something to behold.

Whatever your opinion of this integral-type theorizing (and jargon), this 30 minute video demonstrates just how accurate and useful a calibrated integral framework can be when we attempt to understand the broad currents of cultural and development change.”

(via Integral Praxis. For those unfamiliar with Wilber’s Integral Theory, Dedroidify has a good summary)

Dunkin’ Donuts pulls Rachael Ray ad

rachael ray dunkin donuts ad

I never thought I’d be defending Rachel Ray, but… C’MON:

Dunkin’ Donuts has pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.


Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin complained that the scarf wrapped around her looked like a kaffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress. ”The kaffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad,” Malkin wrote in her syndicated column.

“Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons,” she said.


Amahl Bishara, an anthropology lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in media matters relating to the Middle East, said complaints about the scarf’s use in the ad demonstrate misunderstandings of Arab culture and the multiple meanings that symbols can take on depending on someone’s perspective.

“I think that a right-wing blogger making an association between a kaffiyeh and terrorism is just an example of how so much of the complexity of Arab culture has been reduced to a very narrow vision of the Arab world on the part of some people in the U.S.,”

No, it’s not a case of Arab culture being reduced to a very narrow vision, it’s a case of a belligerent right wing commentator complaining about absolutely nothing and a clueless company taking her seriously. The correct response is to mock Dunkin’ Donuts for their stupidity.

Full Story: CNN

(Thanks Bill)

School accused of firing man for wizardry hires stage magician, plus: dismissal documents

So it turns out that Tampa Bay’s 10, who’s reporting caused quite a stir on the blogosphere and was mentioned on the cable news program Countdown with Keith Olbermann, did do some follow-up reporting on the case. They report:

The same school district that allegedly fired a substitute teacher after he performed a magic trick in class has paid a Largo man to perform magic tricks at a summer program for years.

Windy Douton, who’s been a magician for 54 years, says he’s worked with the PLACE Program for the last few years and is scheduled to perform magic shows this summer.

Full Story:

They also provide the following documents:

Dismissal form

Dismissal letter

I just got off the phone with Pasco County school district’s director of human resources Dr. Renee Sedlack. She confirms that the term “wizardry” was used in the conference with Piculus, but says it was not used as a reason for his dismissal. She says magic trick was brought up as an example of him not following lesson plans, not as a reason for dismissal in and of itself.

Previous coverage on Technoccult:

Update in Florida ‘wizardry’ fiasco – school administrator denies accusations

Florida substitute teacher fired for wizardry

Esoteric Agenda

“There is an Esoteric Agenda behind every facet of life that was once believed to be disconnected. There is an Elite faction guiding most every Political, Economic, Social, Corporate, some Non-Governmental or even Anti-Establishment Organizations. This film uses the hard work and research of professionals in every field helping to expose this agenda put the future of this planet back into the hands of the people.”

(via Google video)

Did Bush Sip Moon’s ‘Holy Wine’?

“Let me state at the beginning that I am agnostic as to whether former President Bush drank the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s “holy wine.” But history is filled with religious stories that, even if not true, deliver lessons. Lesson later. Story now.

The Rev. Michael Jenkins, president of Moon’s Unification Church in the United States, says Bush did drink the wine. Bush’s spokesmen neither confirm nor deny the story. One told John Gorenfeld, author of the recent book Bad Moon Rising, that he would not dignify the question by answering it. Another, Jim McGrath, didn’t deny it to me, but he did point out an apparent error in Jenkins’ account.

That entertaining account can be found at [..] In the video, Jenkins begins by mentioning that Bush, despite objections by his advisers, praised Moon last year at a Washington gala for the Washington Times, the conservative newspaper founded, subsidized and owned by Moon. Jenkins says the praise was quoted in the Times. It wasn’t.

Then Jenkins moves into the more interesting part. He recounts with the cadence and hand gestures of a veteran preacher a meeting at the Bush Library at College Station between Bush and members of a Moonie group called the Women’s Federation for World Peace and high-ranking members of other Moon organizations.”

(via Houston Chronicle. Picture: American Politics Journal)

(Related: Bad Moon Rising-“King of America”)

Monkeys control robots with their minds

monkeys control robots with their minds

Scientists have trained a group of monkeys to feed themselves marshmallows using a robot arm controlled by sensors implanted in their brains, a feat that could one day help paralyzed people operate prosthetic limbs on their own, according to a study out Thursday.

Lead researcher Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh said he believes it won’t be long before the technology is tested in humans, although he predicts it will be longer before the devices are used in actual patients with disabilities.

Full Story: CNN

(Thanks Bill!)

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