Orbs-Spiritual spheres or just dust off the mantlepiece?

Posted in Science Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2008 by redshiftblue

The phenomenon of photographic orbs has only cropped up with the introduction of digital cameras and so is the perfect bit of potential paranormal to jump on, if you’re looking for some new interests. Its also one paranormal possibility which has be investigated by qualified physicists, along with a general array enthusiasts, making it that bit more valid; a scientific curiosity rather than fanciful legend.

Experimental physicist, Klaus Heinemann, and founder of the company Eloret, began investigating orbs after attending an energy healing conference with his wife, Gundi. After examining photographs they had taken during the conference, they noticed the luminous orbs objects floating above the heads of those seated in the hall. Intrigued by their presence, Heinemann returned to the hall to find a reason for the abnormalities, and to retake a few photos. He could find no physical explanation for the presence of the orbs. He also realised that photos taken in the same environment as those previous, contained orbs also, but in different positions and sizes.

Dust?It’s the most obvious explanation. Floating particles of dust, lint or water dispersing randomly and unnoticed by the photographer could reflect light of a flash, appearing as large bright orbs on the resulting photograph. It would also explain why orbs never appear on photographs except those taken with a flash. Those arguing against the paranormal aspect of orbs will suggest that the flash is the key point. It causes an intense light of its own which leads to orbs as a result of reflection and not an independent light source. Those falling in with opposition would tell us that the orbs require the energy they absorb from the flash to emit radiation in the visible or near-infrared spectral range. Heinemann, over the course of the work carried out (and outlined in his book The Orb Project) has developed an experiment to counter the flash-argument. He used set-ups which involved a flash native to the camera (A) while actually taking the photograph from another camera (B).These experiments showed orbs, with equal probability, in camera (A) providing the flash and in the “slave” camera (B), which used the flash from the camera (A). The camera (A) was mounted several inches away and delivered essentially no light from the flash in the immediate vicinity of camera (B) to illuminate dust particles or droplets in front of it to produce false orbs.

Heinemann does concede that false orbs do occur, and that for the most part they are caused by the two things which critics of the supernatural orb theory suggest to prove that orbs are “artifactual:” These are:

(i) reflections at dust particles or water droplets that are close to the camera lens, and
(ii) internal reflections at surfaces of the various camera lenses from external reflections of image details back into the camera lens. He agrees with the research carried out in a paper by Gary Schwartz and Katherine Creath, published in J. of Scientific Exploration, 2005 where they assert that the “vast majority” (they suggest as many as 98%) of all orb pictures are artifactual. Heinemann (and other orb researchers) are just interested in the orb pictures which cannot be explained.

The majority of experiments aim to remove dust as a possible explanation for orbs. The most convincing argument was presented by Joan Ocean, who has taken orbs photographs under water and observed identical orbs to those seen in thousands of photographs under normal conditions. Any arguments regarding dust particles or reflections would have to be inherently entirely different under those conditions. And yet the orbs remained completely unaffected despite being under water. Another argument presented against the dust theory is the changing positions of orbs with time. While some would regard it quite possible that dust/water droplets positions in air could change dramatically with time, Heinemann suggests that there is no reasonable logic to uphold that in one situation there might be many dust particles or water droplets in the air, while a few seconds later there are none. He has routinely taken multiple photos from the same camera position with greatly varying results of orbs (number and position), including many cases when pictures with no orbs and pictures with many orbs alternate. He also remarks that he has recorded at numerous times orbs that are eclipsed by an object between the orb and the camera i.e. the head of a person clearly positioned between the photographed orb and the camera, making it impossible that the orb could be a dust or water particle a few inches away from the camera lens, or a stray reflection from anywhere.

The digital camera itself has been blamed for the appearance of orbs and also cited as a reason why the theory doesn’t make sense. As mentioned, orbs only began to appear with the development and commercial use of digital cameras. Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow for CSICOP puts it to the general public, that surely there were always spirits around, available to be photographed? Why would they just show up now? The varying quality of cameras could also be a reason for orbs, making them mere unwanted artifacts of photos taken with a cheap or unsophisticated camera. Heinemann will contest this point; he has seen orbs indiscriminately with expensive (4-10 megapixels) and less expensive cameras (3.3 mp was lowest I used). And so he concludes that a rationale that cheap camera lenses produce more of this effect is difficult to uphold.

Which brings us to asking, if some orbs are not the results of cheap cameras, dust/water particles, and/or the reflection of a flash on these particles, then what exactly are they? To start with the logical: they may be “electrical emissions coming out of the ground.” This is according to Robert Baker, an investigator with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Or alternatively they could be ectoplasm left behind by travelling spirits. Heinemann tells us to remember that what we can actually see and visualize only makes up a small portion of what is real and what exists. After all we cannot see the light on either end of the electromagnetic spectrum, and yet it is there. Digital cameras are more sensitive to low energy light, the light which appears at the end of the spectrum and so can capture what we cannot see. In examining orb pictures Heinemann has found that the multi-coloured spheres have interior patterns resembling computer circuit boards, and that each interior is unique.

Could they really be a unique and individual “fingerprints of a spirits caught on film”? This is the phrase used by M.F. “Chance” Wyatt, a ghost hunter from Melbourne,Florida who wrote Spirits Visit Earth: Documented and Recorded Spiritual Happenings. He believes that the spirits (orbs) we see on photographs are those who decide that they want to be photographed. In support of this, Heinemann has noted that orbs often appear if you “ask” them to, suggesting an intelligent communication which no one will argue can happen between a human and a piece of stray dust. The orbs which are observed in pictures, Wyatt says, are the result of a pure thought or consciousness. He also has an explanation for why they assume the spherical shape; “Spirits are magnetic energy fields that take on any shape they want, and a sphere is the easiest shape to attain, because it gets stronger when you apply equal pressure to all sides.”. Apparently there are differences between regular orbs and “thought projections” which can also be visualized in photographs. For e.g. an individual claims to place an intensive thought projection to the left side of his head and when the photo is taken, a bright glow of energy can be seen on the left. This is not a captured spirit but something entirely different, belonging to, and manufactured by the individual in the photograph itself.

For those looking for confirmation of the orb as a paranormal wonder, a summary of Klaus Heinemann’s findings and statements will provide more than enough support. Even if you argue with his theories, you cannot help but admire and respect his methods and his dedication. He has studied a multitude of digital photographs that contain clear and irrefutable evidence of phenomena that cannot be explained on the basis of conventional physics. His conclusions are as follows:

Orbs are not explainable with conventional physics
They are emanations from intelligent life outside of the conventional physical realm
They are abundantly around us (but we must use discernment)
They have individualistic features and may have “faces”
They have different intensities (some require digital enhancement)
They can move extremely fast (presumably at infinite speed)
They can follow instructions
They can expand (presumably to infinite size) and contract (presumably to atomic size) extremely fast
Extreme contraction at infinite speeds allows the hypothesis that they may be instrumental in certain aspects of alternative/spiritual healing
Thought projections look similar to orbs

If you really are a believer of such phenomenon as orbs you may merely suffer from “true-believer syndrome,” as developed by M Lamar Keene, who remarks that when it comes to true believers, “No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie” Then again, maybe we are too quick to dismiss a theory which cannot yet be confirmed nor denied adequately. As C.G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, influential thinker and the founder of analytical psychology said: “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.” We must be careful to keep our minds open.


The X-Files-Medical science a-head of it’s time?

Posted in THE GENE POOL:(Science&Sci-Fi) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2008 by redshiftblue

The greatly anticipated X-Files movie, is less sci-fi secrets and more medical marvels and horrors. There is no mention of the aliens planning to invade the earth, despite the fact that it is predicted a mere 4 years from now. Instead, the story revolves around the topic of stem cell research and highly unethical surgeries, whereby a dying man is kept alive by transplanting his head to a series of bodies, in the hope of finding a match with the potential of longevity. A modern day Dr. Frankenstein from Russia carries out these transplant operations without the donors consent.


It’s an interesting plot, if a little low-key. It references the crazy possibilities, which our own increasing scientific knowledge is throwing out there.  We left the TV series talking of UFO’s, abductions, government conspiracies. Challenging ethics and pushing the questions of science upon us, sounds more like the X-Files we knew first. This was an X-Files, where something strange and never seen before was at first afforded a supernatural element but rapidly realised (usually by Scully) to be actually ingrained in the biological world around us. A freakish possibility. An unlikely, if logical, scenario.


Which brings us to asking:how logical is the main premise of the movie? How much is fact, and how much is speculative? Head transplants have been carried out on dogs and monkeys, more successfully on the former. The measure of success is both the length of time the animal survives after the operation, and the extent to which cerebral function is resumed. While Charles Guthrie, the American physiologist, was the first to “create” a two-headed dog by transplantation in 1908, it was the Russian, Vladimir Demikhov in the 1950’s, who produced the two headed dog, possessed of full cerebral function. The transplanted head of Guthrie’s dog only retained the most primitive movements. The key difference between the strategies of the two doctors was the time allowed to elapse between decapitation and attachment of the donor head to the recipient body. For this time period, the head is without oxygen supply, and the neurons are at risk of dying, thus debilitating brain function. Although Demikhov’s surgery was successful, after 6 days his two-headed dog died.


Demikhov’s dog


Unnerving as the dog operations may seem, the experimental surgeries carried out by Dr. Robert White, an American World War II veteran at the County Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio raised the bar on grotesque far higher. In 1962, he achieved a world’s-first by successfully removing an animal’s brain and keeping the brain alive. In 1964, he transplanted the brain of one dog into the neck of another dog, and connected it to the recipient dog’s blood supply, monitoring the brain activity with electrodes. His aim was to successfully keep the brain alive outside of a skull, but the issue of actually proving consciousness eluded him. In 2001, it was revealed to the world that his quest had led him to transplanting the head of a monkey to another’s body, deemed successful since the transplanted head could exhibit facial movements, and react to stimuli. However it was, of course paralysed.


Sketch of White’s monkey plan


While many deemed his operation “grotesque” he maintained that the next step was to carry out the same on humans. He pointed out that in the case of person with irreparable damage to their body or organs, the replacement of their entire body would be ideal. It would offer them a means to prolong their lifespan beyond what is currently possible. The transplant would offer options to those individuals, who would rather be quadriplegic than dead.


The brain-neck experiment by Dr. White


The opposing argument was outlined by Dr Stephen Rose, director of Brain and Behavioural Research at the Open University who remarked; “This is medical technology run completely mad and out of all proportion to what’s needed”. Since the donor head is not connected to the recipient body except by blood supply, he feels it cannot be called a true transplant. There is no real interaction with the recipient body. Indeed, looking at Dr. White’s original interest in maintaining the consciousness of the brain, it would seem his surgeries are driven more by a personal ambition than a true wish to benefit the scientific community.


Basically, head transplantation remains firmly unethical and without purpose unless repair can be carried out successfully on the spinal cord, thus ensuring the individual is not condemned to quadriplegia.  If this barrier could be overcome, then, head transplantation would offer endless possibilities and opportunities. At the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of California, Irvine, spinal cords in mice have been shown to be repaired to some degree by stem cells. Mice which were partially paralysed by the spinal damage, could walk again after treatment. Many scientists, including Dr. Rose, believe we could be better served by researching stem cells (the cells which can be induced to become any cell type in the body), than by attempting large scale and complex head transplant operations. There is potential for treatment of spinal damage and muscular disabilities using stem cells. New, functioning neurons have been shown to be capable of being grown in the human hippocampus. And, in June of this year, researchers at Berkley University, California have been able revive the repair ability of muscle tissue in old mice. They achieved this by altering the biochemical pathway by which stem cells repair damaged tissue.


Quite aside from the problem of spinal cord repair, allowing a donor head to communicate effectively with the recipient body, there is the issue of transplant rejection to be considered, whereby the transplanted organ fails to be accepted by the recipient body leading to an immune attack on the organ. The extent of post operative treatment which could be required to allow an individual undergoing head transplantation to survive, may be too great to render the surgery a benefit at all.


Whether or not we agree with Dr. White’s opinions or consider all the operations carried out to date to be highly unethical, there is no doubt that the progress will continue. The medical and scientific community may condemn the activities of some of its members, but curiosity and ambition have always pushed some individuals beyond what is considered acceptable. The world’s first human head transplant is believed to have already been carried out in Chicago, Illinois. A woman suffering from multiple organ failures and with only a week to live volunteered for the controversial surgery. Perhaps we would rather head transplantation remained only the realm of movies such as The X-Files: I want to believe. I’m not sure we want to believe something like this possible or even watchable. Unfortunately the existence of YouTube means it’s not just Mulder and Scully who get the chance to be horrified.



The Unicorn- Not a uniform myth.

Posted in Science Articles, UNDER THE APPLE TREE: with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2008 by redshiftblue

How the myth of the unicorn came about, has been something of a mystery. While other mythical creatures appear to embody our fears as humans (from vampires to werewolves), the unicorn has been described as a peaceful animal, albeit with magical properties which would lead people to search the earth in the hope of finding one. Perhaps there was never anything to drive the beginning of this myth, other than a common perception of deer/horse-like animals as beautiful and noble. Maybe it just stemmed from a need for hope, the human need for the otherworldly, which gives us comfort in bad times, and allows us to believe that ordinary life is not all that there is.


The collective name for a group of unicorns is a “blessing of unicorns” so it’s likely the creature is mixed up another great source of hope, namely, religion. The single horn of a unicorn was believed to neutralize poison; it was the good to heal the bad. Another handy use for unicorns was in deducing whether a woman was a virgin or not. Only virgins could tame a unicorn (as we know virgins, and the Virgin Mary herself rate very highly in the catholic religion), and seemingly only a virgin could mount a unicorn. So if he kicked her off then you knew someone was telling porkies. Then again, perhaps this method of distinguishing virgins was about as accurate as the old floating witch trick (stick a suspected witch in a chair, put her in a lake, if she floats she’s a witch, if she doesn’t she’s normal but also sadly, recently deceased..).


According to the traditional medieval description of unicorns, they are like a horse, but sport a billy-goat beard, a erhm..lion tail and cloven hooves. And have that single horn in the centre of their forehead. However, according to Marco Polo, the famous explorer round the 13th century, unicorns were


scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boar’s… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.  (excerpt stolen from Wikipedia).


It seems Marco Polo had bumped into a few rhinos on his travels. It’s doubtful that these animals had anything to do with the unicorn myth. They are so unlike the graceful horse type creature we imagine a unicorn to be. A great deal of truth altering and creative blindness would have to be employed to turn a rhino in the classic unicorn. In the world of Harry Potter (the most recent representation of unicorns in popular culture) they are seen as pure, glowing white angel of a horse, with a noble spiraled horn and silver blood. Drinking the blood of a unicorn will prolong ones life, but it brings curse upon them (according to Hagrid). The only indication that a rhino may be the source of the myth, lies with the fact that a rhinoceros’ horn has an interesting property- it reacts with alkaloids by turning a different color .A majority of the medieval poisons were made from alkaloids (naturally occurring chemical compound which have a nitrogen containing base), which coincides with the myth that unicorn horns change color when a poison in placed within them.


As of last Wednesday (the 11th June 2008), a fresh idea has literally been born, regarding how unicorns came about. A deer with a single horn in the centre of its forehead was spotted in a nature preserve in Tuscany, Italy, much to the surprise of well..everyone. Previously, deer with one horn have been born but usually with the horn to either side of the head. The single horn is believed to be the result of a mutation, a genetic anomaly which occurred in just this deer (name Roe Deer) and not his twin i.e. it was not an inherited mutation, just one which arises as a “once-off” of sorts. A deer is a much more likely candidate to inspire a unicorn myth, being as it is like a smaller, graceful horse. If other single-horned deer were spotted back in the Middle-Ages, there’s no doubt they would have been named a unicorn and the shy, nervous and quick-to-bolt, nature of deer (when approached by humans) would have definitely fit the bill. As for Roe Deer, many have flocked to the nature preserve to catch a sight of him, but he is hard to coax into the limelight. Maybe it’s time to send in the virgin maidens?



Top 5 Sci-Fi Films

Posted in -Sci-Fi Films/Series/Books, THE RABBIT HOLE: with tags , , , , , , , on June 8, 2008 by redshiftblue

1.BLADE RUNNER: This dystopian vision of the future is by far the most favoured when it comes to sci-fi films, but Ridley Scott is the king when it comes to sending the eerie chill into our bones. Darkened alleyways, perpetual rain, and oily Chinese takeaways – it almost sounds like a typical Friday night out in Ireland but it is, in fact, the setting for Scott’s film, in which the Blade Runner (Ford) must tackle a bunch of resilient (not to mention philosophical..”tears in the rain”? What a line!) replicants.

2.GATTACA: This has a special place in my heart because it’s the only film which adequately explores the whole arena of genetic screening/designer off-spring. It is a sad, quiet ode to the nature of humanity, the strengths and weaknesses we acquire at birth and those we harbour in our soul. There is the resilient hope of one man, Vincent, who has never expected anything (as he is deemed inferior by his genes). And then there is the consuming despair of Jerome, a man who has lost everything as a result of an unforseen accident. It sounds a bit true-drama esque, but believe me its really not all that clichéd.

3.THE FIFTH ELEMENT: Luc Besson’s film is garnished with crazy costumes and features a disgruntled but amusing Bruce Willis. It’s a future I’d happily live in. Things to enjoy are Gary Oldman’s transparent half-plastic cap and Leeloo’s excellent fight scene intercut with the Diva’s operatic performance.

4.ClOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: After watching this, who hasn’t wished they could build such a monumental structure out of mere mashed potato? For me this is the film which really captures the unsettling thrill of discovering possible alien life. It’s the classic concept, full of memorable images, from the alien spacecraft to the shadowy hints of the aliens themselves. And who can forget that tune?

5.SUNSHINE: It received one hell of a mixed reaction but after watching it all I felt was an odd sense of awe at the craziness of the universe. We all know the sun is going to burn out some day, so I commend Danny Boyle for imaging how we’d solve the problem -with a giant bomb, that’s how! The film may steal aplenty from 2001: A Space Odyssey and numerous other sci-fi films, but it puts it all together nicely. Sometimes it’s good to fly so close to the sun (of copycatting) and not get completely burned.

So there’s my top 5. Many omissions but no concessions. Any additions you’d make?

Wolverine- A Frog Prince?

Posted in -Science News, UNDER THE APPLE TREE: with tags , , , on June 7, 2008 by redshiftblue

Havard biologists led by David Blackburn have discovered that Wolverine was not the only creature capable of extruding convenient claws from his body. A frog species, Trichobatrachus robustus has been observed to produce bony structures which burst from its skin in response to an outside threat. It seems that the end of the claw is attached to muscle so that a contraction of the muscle causes it to push through the frogs skin.

The mechanism cannot be understood fully, since Blackburn and his team have only studied dead specimens. The researchers, who work in the University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, speculate that the claws (which are entirely bone and not coated by the usual keratin layer), would retract upon relaxation of the muscles. Like the famous X-Man himself, one would hope that the wounds produced by the claws can heal after retraction. In fact, tissue regeneration does not seem all that unlikely, considering it has already been observed in other amphibians such as salamanders.

In addition to this strange defence mechanism, the frogs also sport a hairy exterior during breeding times.


The hairs are actually a mix of skin and arteries sprouting from the skin, possibly in order to increase surface area available for oxygen update. Or who knows, maybe it’s just that the ladies love the hirsute look. God knows it worked for Sean Connery…