Tuesday, April 30, 2013

WEIRD OR WHAT - Life After Death

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/30/13

The first story is of a man who has strange emotions while visiting the battlefield of Antietam (US Civil War).  Later, a palm reader told him he had those feelings because he was the reincarnation of a soldier that died there.  Intriguingly, the man discovers that he resembles General John B. Gordon, and believes there are other parallels in their lives as well.  Dr. Cynthia Meyersburg (Harvard) believes that reincarnation is a phenomena of the way we deal with memories (and create false memories).  Lab tests have shown that past life believers have increased vulnerability to creating false memories.  A hypnotist specializing in Past Life Regression believes reincarnation is true, and he takes people to them hypnotically.  One scientist believes that our memories/souls are contained in quantum level energy and can return into a human embryo.  But of all these stories, only Dr. Meyersburg's hypothesis seems testable.

In 1993 researchers in Scole, England, held a series of seances to "prove" there is life after death.  The so-called "Scole Experiment" participants witnessed events the show describes as "baffling to science" and held in an "impenetrable" cellar room.  The experimenters claimed to see spirit lights, hear spirit voices, and be "touched" by spirit people.  (Where's the video?)  There were materialization of things falling out of the air, and spirit photographs "appeared" on a roll of film in a security box.  (Me, I'd be more impressed with IR video of these supposed events).  Supposedly the resulting photos show the afterlife -- and a mysterious "woman."  (Are you crying "Bullshit!" yet?  I am.)  Scientist Brian Dunning thinks the events of Scole are merely an illusion, based on a series of 200-year old magic tricks -- in essence  performance art.  Naturally, all this took place in the pitch dark.

Re-creating the seance with a professional magician and an IR camera easily fools the test subjects.  As Dunning points out, at Scole "no controls were applied."  (Too bad Houdini isn't still around debunking this shit.)  A photographic expert believes most of the effects can be explained by developing process distortion.  He also believes the faces are from a previous exposure of the film, which was then wound back and represented as "new."

A Haitian man dies of a mysterious illness, only to return 18 years later.  Was he a zombie? Scientists theorize that certain injuries or illnesses to the brain might give a zombie-like demeanor.  Puffer fish toxin can also make people appear dead, only to be "revived" later.  Meanwhile, the show looks at a cryogenic facility, and ponders whether it can really work, to be frozen and then revived later.

"Is life after death really life at all?" Shatner ponders, wondering about zombies and frozen people.  The show can't say for sure, but at least there's some science here -- and pretty good science at that -- along with the usual supernatural hokum.

WEIRD OF WHAT: Alien Encounters

SyFy - Original Air Date: 4/30/13

This new series features William (Star Trek, Boston Legal) Shatner as the host looking into strange phenomena.  This episode starts with cattle mutilations, and people worrying that it's being done by aliens.  Expert researchers, though, have shown that such effects occur by natural processes -- including carrion-eating flies.  Rather than (sensibly) stopping there, the show then presents a man who believes the cows are being mutilated in a government conspiracy to cover up (or control) mad cow disease, and another who actually believes aliens are taking them.

Next up: Alien abductions, people who believe they are being taken by aliens (often in the middle of the night) for experiments.  But Dr. Susan Clancy believes that these episodes are easily explained by backfiring sleep paralysis (which affects 1 in 5 Americans), linked to dream-fantasies when the brain wakes up before the body.  Essentially, the body is still dreaming while the brain believes itself to be awake; dreams and waking overlap.  Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Persinger believes the phenomenon can be explained by the brain reacting to electromagnetic pulses (from natural and other sources), and experiments with a special helmet he's designed seem to produce the same results.  Despite all this, though, a researcher at Temple University believes that so many people believe they've been abducted, that it must be real.  (A logical fallacy  BTW.)  He also believes that aliens are breeding alien-human hybrids from these experiments.  (Yeah, right.)

Finally, the show looks at the "Wow!" signal where, once several decades ago, a radio telescope seemed to pick up an alien transmission from outer space -- but only once.  Two theories explain this: one is that the instrument could have picked up a "sideways" signal from Earth (or a satellite passing overhead -- which the radio-telescope team denies).  The second is that it was a "burp" (radio energy burst) from a black hole.

I hadn't intended to do a full review of this show (or series), but the combination of irrational theories and rational explanations made it intriguing, and a cut above the other supernatural "reality" shows on SyFy and other channels.  This, at least, explains the rational side.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

FINDING BIGFOOT: Heart of Squatchness

Animal Planet - Original Air Date 3/31/2013

The team goes to Vietnam to look for small squatches (5'-7' tall) and do their usual routine - though they skip the bad "real" video and go straight to local experts.  Then they do night investigations, a local "town hall" meeting, and investigate stories -- as usual.  Cliff does a camp out, and they find nothing in their second night investigation.

And, since this seems to be either a season break, or a mid-season break, I have to wonder whether it's worthwhile to continue these reviews.  After all, the videos (and such) they've been investigating have gotten steadily more bogus looking, and the show follows the same formula every week -- and like the Ghost Hunters, they never actually find anything.

So, while I like the crew, especially Ranae, I'm not sure this is worth my while to write about, or your time to read.  Maybe, if they have a great breakthrough, I'll review it.  Until then, just figure it's "more of the same."