AuthorBill Whitcomb

Gareth Branwyn Reviews Master of the Mysteries

Gareth Branwyn, contributing editor at Maker Media and current guest blogger for Boing Boing, reviews Louis Sahaguin’s biography Master of the Mysteries: The Life of Manly Palmer Hall.

Manly Palmer Hall has been called the America Madame Blavatsky, which probably isn’t far from the truth. Like the controversial Russian-born founder of Theosophy, Hall seemed dedicated to quantity over quality in his writing (authoring more than 50 books on esoterica and self-help), and like Helena, the troubling smell of snake oil swirled in his rotund wake. Manly P Hall is one of the people principally responsible for the birth of the New Age religious movement in the United States, first in LA, starting in the ’20s, and then beyond, through his writings and endless lecturing. While some of his lesser works, like Questions Answered on the Problems of Life by Manly P Hall, Philosopher, may have proven less than influential, his occult encyclopedia The Secret Teachings of All Ages was a bedrock influence on New Age thought then, and to some extent, remains so today (Secret Teachings still sells well, as is now in its 16th edition).

The rest of the review can be found here.

Oliver Sacks Discusses Hallucination

Oliver Sacks Sees Things Differently Now

As part of their “TED Q & A” series, Wired published an interview with Neurologist Oliver Sacks where he discusses visual hallucination and his experiences after losing central vision in his right eye.

To compensate for the missing visual data once supplied by his right eye, his brain has projected hallucinations and patterns onto the dark stage -– a phenomenon common to people who have lost their sight. Ever curious about the mind’s varied responses to disease, Sacks has chronicled it all in a series of unpublished journals containing drawings and writings.

Last year at the Technology Entertainment and Design conference, one of the most popular talks was given by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who described what occurred in her mind and body as she experienced a stroke. On Thursday, Sacks will speak at TED about the mysteries of perception and what occurs in the mind when the body loses its senses. He spoke with about how the mind sometimes plays tricks on what we see and what it has meant to lose part of his vision.

The complete article can be found here.

Red and Blue Brain States


It’s long been known that color has powerful effects.  Red light measurably raises metabolism and increases grip strength.  Blue calms and cools.  In advertising, blue corporate logos are generally used to convey stability and trustworthiness, while red is used to convey energy and power.

A new study from the University of British Columbia now finds that blue promotes creativity and red aids attention to detail.

To test alternative explanations for the findings, Zhu’s team showed that neither red nor blue influenced mood. Test subjects also spent the same amount of time on their tasks, suggesting that neither color affected their motivation.

The colors appeared to enhance performance, but not to impair it. Red- and white-primed students had similar creativity scores, while blue- and white-primed students were equal on attention tasks.

Asked about the implications, Zhu suggested that people engaged in creative tasks surround themselves with blue, and with red when trying to focus.

An article in Wired by Brandon Keim can be found here.  The results are published in the current issue of Science:  “Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances.” By Ravi Mehta and Juliet Zhu. Science, Vol. 324, Issue 5915, Feb. 5, 2009.


Ant Nest Metropolis

As part of the documentary Ants! Nature’s Secret Power, cement was poured into an ant colony, allowed to harden, and then excavated to reveal an amazing metropolis:

Design by Superorganism

Check out the end of the video for to reveal an ant project equivalent to the Great Wall of China.   Could this be a model for producing emergent structures with nanotechnology?

I’ve got to admit, though, as more than one person has commented on various blogs, what they did in this video really sucks for the ants.Sorta like if giant aliens filled all the buildings in Manhattan with super alien epoxy and made a mold while recording the whole thing…which could make a great movie!! Mutual of Alpha Centauri’s Wild Kingdom. “Now, as you can see when we move in among these structures, these small creatures begin moving in all directions, probably as a strategy to confuse predators. My assistant, Snrblxx, will now start pumping in the quick setting polymer gel.”

Don’t Do This

Programmable Signs Provide Important Warnings

Ever wondered about those ADDCO portable signs you see flashing road conditions or other important information by the side of the road?  While Technoccult and its associates certainly do not approve of any illegal actions and you should never, ever tamper with these signs, the folks over at have provided a detailed set of instructions here, just in case you needed to determine WHAT NOT TO DO.

New Ads Watch You Watching Them

Increasingly, small cameras are being embedded in video screens in malls, health clubs, and grocery stores both to determine who is watching and to customize what is displayed to the audience.

Small cameras can now be embedded in the screen or hidden around it, tracking who looks at the screen and for how long. The makers of the tracking systems say the software can determine the viewer’s gender, approximate age range and, in some cases, ethnicity — and can change the ads accordingly.

That could mean razor ads for men, cosmetics ads for women and video-game ads for teens.

And even if the ads don’t shift based on which people are watching, the technology’s ability to determine the viewers’ demographics is golden for advertisers who want to know how effectively they’re reaching their target audience.

While the technology remains in limited use for now, advertising industry analysts say it is finally beginning to live up to its promise. The manufacturers say their systems can accurately determine gender 85 to 90 percent of the time, while accuracy for the other measures continues to be refined.

The full article can be found here, but I was most interested by the links at the bottom of the article showing the players in this area:


TruMedia Technologies:

Studio IMC:

Reading Changes Brain as Well as Mind

Brains scans show activation during narrative.

An article by Gerry Everding from discusses reseach demonstrating that various regions of the brain are activated by reading fiction.

A new brain-imaging study is shedding light on what it means to “get lost” in a good book — suggesting that readers create vivid mental simulations of the sounds, sights, tastes and movements described in a textual narrative while simultaneously activating brain regions used to process similar experiences in real life.

“Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that when we read a story and really understand it, we create a mental simulation of the events described by the story,” says Jeffrey M. Zacks, study co-author and director of the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, is one of a series in which Zacks and colleagues use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track real-time brain activity as study participants read and process individual words and short stories.

Hey, pathworking and other forms of guided imagery actually do something measurable!  Why, that means that role-playing games…umh…uh, oh.

Statue Unveiled In Honor of Bush Shoe Throw

The unveiling of the sculpture took place on Thursday






A sculpture of an enormous bronze-coloured shoe has been erected in Iraq to honour the journalist who threw his shoes at ex-US President George W Bush.

The sofa-sized artwork was formally unveiled in Tikrit, hometown of late Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.  The report from BBC News can be found here.

According to Forbes Magazine, the incident has been a gold-mine for the Turkish shoemaker, Ramazan Baydan, who claims to have made the shoe thrown at the now ex-President, now renamed the Bush Shoe.

 “People are calling from all over the world to order this shoe I designed a decade ago. We have so far 370,000 new orders from Europe, the Middle East and the United States compared to only 40,000 orders of this particular model in December last year,” Baydan told during a phone interview through an interpreter.

At least Bush sparked an economic recovery for somebody.  The full article in Forbes can be seen here.

Witches Survive Attempt to Cleanse Washington

Starhawk, along with other members of the group Code Pink, held a ritual to “cleanse the Whitehouse” on Bush’s last day in office.  Video of the event can be found here: Witches Sweep Clean for Obama.

Of course, much is being made of this on conservative blogs.   At, the article on the event was accompanied by keywords such as “religiousleft”, “antichristian”, and “dementedwomen”. added the commentary:

We knew it would happen: Full bore weirdness! The Messiah ushers in
pagan superstition along with his Czars, totalitarianism and an
incredible uptick in demonic fury—to be vented mindlessly upon all available

Welcome to the Utopia of Weird.

They added:

Besides invoking witchcraft against the United States, Code Pink also works with state sponsors of terrorism and the terrorists in Iraq to undermine America in the war on terror. And Code Pink works with President Obama.

There is definitely some rage and desperation out there.  If anyone needs more adrenaline than their coffee can provide this morning, has contains some high-grade racism, sexism, and some seriously irrational frothing-at-the-mouth.

More on the Holographic Universe

Our World May be a Giant Hologram, an article by Marcus Chown in the January 15 2009 issue of The New Scientist, discusses recent discoveries that may well confirm the idea of a holographic universe.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If nothing else, they may have discovered the pixel-size of the cosmos.

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