Jim Mastro

Writing, and all things in between


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Surfing

As important as surfing is to me, it seems odd that I have never posted about it. Perhaps now is a good time, since it keeps me from posting about the insane political situation in this country, and I promised myself I would never post about politics on this blog.

The question is: why is surfing so important to me? It’s a difficult question to answer, although William Finnegan did a pretty good job in his memoir “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.” (Interesting point: I was surfing on Oahu at exactly the same time as Finnegan. He was over by Diamond head; I was in Ewa beach. But his experience of the surf, the island, and the culture was exactly the same as mine.) From a scientific standpoint, I can say that surfing in well-formed, big waves delivers a dose of hormones that don’t normally mix: adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. The first drives the fight-or-flight response, giving you heightened awareness and increased blood flow to the muscles. The second raises awareness and drives feelings of pleasure. The third promotes feelings of happiness and contentment. As a bonus, the intense physical effort involved in surfing big waves releases endorphins, giving you a bit of a “high.” So in effect, surfing a big wave gives you both fear and pleasure, combined with a heightened sense of awareness, a strange combination that surfers call the “stoke.” This article explains it all better than I could: “Your Brain on Surfing.”

There’s more to it than that, though. When you are out in the surf, you are essentially in the wilderness. Under your board is an ocean full of wildlife, most of which you can’t see. There is something thrilling about being immersed in untamed nature just a few meters from civilization. People walk along the beach and cars drive by, as schools of fish swarm beneath you, western grebes pop up next to you, and harbor seals jump onto your board. (Yes, this really happened — to a guy a few feet away from me.) Then you take off on a wave, shoot down the face, crank a turn, and fly along a wall of green water as it drives you toward the beach, knowing that at any moment the wave could pitch and throw you into the rinse cycle. There’s something almost spiritual in the experience. In a very real sense, you are dancing with the ocean.

It gets even better when wildlife joins in the fun. Pelicans scoot by, riding the pressure wave in front of the water wave, their wings almost brushing my hair. I’ve had bottlenosed dolphins swim beneath me, jump out of the water next to me, and surf waves right in front of me. That is real magic.

Not long ago, someone named Ioana Alcmena Curiteanu sent me an article entitled “Wildlife Encounters: The 5 Best Places on Earth to Surf with Dolphins.” Although it’s designed to promote a surf travel company, it appealed to my love of marine mammals, and especially to my joy at surfing with them. I have resolved to surf at least two of the places mentioned in the article: Sri Lanka and Costa Rica. And if dolphins join me in the lineup, so much the better.

I find as I get older that surfing is taking on an increased importance. When I was younger, it seemed like I had all the time in the world, and if I didn’t surf for a year (as was the case when I spent a year in Antarctica), it didn’t seem to matter all that much. Now I see things quite differently. My stamina isn’t what it used to be, and it takes a lot more effort to stay in shape. My days of surfing a short board in big waves are far from over (I was surfing double-overhead waves in San Diego a few months ago, when other people couldn’t even make it out, and I had some of the best rides of my life), but I can see the horizon. The yearning to be in big waves while I still can is becoming stronger every day. It is that yearning that has made me realize how important surfing is, and has always been, to me.

A friend of mine once said that every time you go in the ocean, you are baptized. I think he was right; there is an almost religious overtone to surfing, and it has nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of a supreme being. For me, surfing is life.

(No, that’s not me in the photo; I surf with my right foot forward. But I have been on waves as big and beautiful as that.)

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Is The Universe Hiding Something?

Not very long ago, astronomers and astrophysicists realized something was wrong with the Universe. The Universe is expanding, but the speed of that expansion is increasing. It shouldn’t be. The gravitational pull of the Universe’s mass should be slowing it down, or at least it should be maintaining the same speed. For it to be speeding up, something has to be accelerating it.

In addition, the stars on the outer fringes of galaxies rotate around the galactic center at a much faster rate than they should, based on the amount of matter in the galaxy (according to both classical and modern physical theory).

To explain the first of these phenomena, physicists have postulated that some sort of energy suffuses the Universe but is currently undetectable, and this energy is pushing galaxies apart at an ever increasing rate. They call it “dark energy.” To explain the second phenomenon, they postulate that there is another form of matter that is also currently undetected. This so-called “dark matter” surrounds galaxies and provides the additional mass (and gravitational influence) required to explain the curious motion of the stars.

Physicists have come up with a variety of hypothetical particles that they think could comprise dark matter. Some of it could be hot (i.e., fast moving), but if all of it were hot it wouldn’t explain the observed motion of stars and galaxies. So most dark matter theorists think at least 95% of it is cold, i.e., slow moving. Of this cold dark matter, they feel the most likely candidate is a “weakly interacting massive particle,” or WIMP. These WIMPs would rarely or never interact with regular matter, or even with other WIMPs, but they would form clouds whose gravitational attraction would form stars into galaxies and affect the stars’ rotational velocities.

Other possible dark matter particles might be self-interacting via dark electromagnetism that allows them to exchange dark photons and form dark atoms. The dark electromagnetism would not affect “normal” matter, but the dark matter would form disc-like structures alongside the disc of normal matter in galaxies, and their gravitational influence would also affect the motion of normal matter.

Several experiments are underway to try and detect at least some dark matter particles, especially WIMPs, but so far these attempts have been unsuccessful.

In reading about all this, I was struck by the idea that maybe physicists were bending over backwards to come up with increasingly complex theories to explain their observations when a simpler one might be better. In a way, it reminded me of the way astronomers in the 16th Century developed epicycles to explain the motion of planets in order to adhere to the notion that the Earth was the center of the Universe. When Copernicus showed that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around, the motion of the planets was explained much more simply and elegantly.

Some physicists have made this same comparison, though they reject it because the idea of dark matter explains observations so well. Well, so did epicycles, at the time.

I think there might be another explanation that does the job without inventing a whole menagerie of new but undetectable particles.

For some time now, physicists have entertained the idea that we might live in a multiverse. That is, in addition to the universe we inhabit and which we can observe, there might be other universes, perhaps even an infinite number of universes. What if one of those universes were right next to ours? What if both our universes occupied the same meta-space, with gravitational effects from each one leaking across the dimensional divide to affect the other?

Current astrophysical theory makes this a possibility, and it doesn’t require conjuring up what seems to be a whole menagerie of semi-mythical particles and energies.


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Have You Been Here Before?

The title of this post is a purposeful riff on the title of my previous posts that discussed the possibility that beings from another planet (or planets) visited Earth in the past. This post, however, is of a decidedly more metaphysical nature.

Every major religion (and perhaps every religion), past and present, holds as one of its central tenets that some form of consciousness survives physical death. The idea is universal enough that I don’t think I need to give any examples. For now, let’s just assume all these religions are right.

Certainly there is some anecdotal evidence to support the idea, such as the many documented cases of people reporting near-death-experiences (NDEs). (Actually, in the name of accuracy, they should be called “death experiences,” because the people are clinically dead — for a while.) Not everyone believes in their veracity, but there are enough cases where people have been revived and have related information they couldn’t possibly have known, had their consciousness not traveled to a distant location when they were dead, that it is difficult to discount the concept out of hand.

Obviously, in order for consciousness to survive death, there has to be a “soul” or “spirit” or whatever you might want to call it. The great eastern religions maintain that upon leaving the body the soul either joins the universal soul (Taoism) or else reincarnates, coming back to the world in some form time and time again (Buddhism, Hinduism). The three major monotheistic religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) maintain that you get one shot. One life, one chance to make good, then it’s heaven or hell, depending on the choices you make.

What evidence is there for that? None, really. No one has ever come back from a NDE to say “Whoa! I hooked up with Saint Peter and even though I couldn’t understand what he was saying (I think he was speaking Aramaic or something), heaven looks really awesome!” Or, “Yikes! the dude really does have horns and a forked tail! Man I am going to church from now on!” No, we simply have to take the word of the religious texts and the clergymen who interpret them for us (setting aside for now the idea that this dogma is one of the ways these religions maintain control over their adherents).

On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that we come back to this world repeatedly, living a different life in a different body each time. There are numerous anecdotal accounts of people recalling past lives under hypnosis, or having true deja vu experiences at places they’ve never been before, or waking up from a brain injury speaking a different language fluently. There are also well-documented cases of young children knowing intimate details about people they’ve never met and distant places they’ve never  even heard of, much less visited. These are things they could not possibly have known in their current lives. The evidence here is compelling, but it’s still anecdotal, and from a scientific standpoint anecdotal evidence is really no evidence at all.

Fortunately, there is actually scientific evidence (or, at least, evidence collected through the scientific method). A few decades ago, a psychologist named Helen Wambach began using past life regression as a therapeutic tool, not because she was particularly interested in it or believed it was real, but because she found it useful for helping her patients. However, she found herself intrigued by the compelling and detailed stories her patients were recounting. She also found it surprising that none of the patients she hypnotically regressed claimed to have been famous or important people. If the past life stories were fantasies, as critics claimed, Wambach expected her patients to contrive elaborate stories about being kings or otherwise historically important figures. Instead, the lives they described were mundane and unassuming. Intrigued by this, she decided to apply the scientific method to past life regression, to see if there was any truth to these stories of reincarnation.

There are certain things we know about the past, from biology, history, and archeology. We know that the ratio of men to women has remained a fairly constant 1:1 through time. We know the kinds of foods people ate in different parts of the world, and how that changed over time. We know what clothes they wore, from animal skins to rough cloth to finely woven fabrics. We know what tools they used. In the evolution of eating utensils, for instance, the fork started with two tines, went to three tines decades later, and finally to the four tines we see most often today. All of these things are verifiable.

In her study, Dr. Wambach hypnotized people not individually but in groups of ten or fifty or even a hundred. By the end of the study, she had hypnotized thousands. These were people from all walks of life and from all over America, all of them strangers to each other. And she didn’t just have them tell their past life stories. In fact, she wasn’t really interested in their stories. Instead, for each time period she took them to, she asked simple, mundane, testable questions. What is your sex? What is the color of your skin? What are you eating? What utensils are you using? What are you wearing? What kind of structure are you living in? At the end of the study she collated the data and compared them to the historical and archeological record. And they matched.

Perfectly.

In their current lives, like most of us, few of her subjects knew much, if anything, about these mundane facets of history. Who knew how the fork evolved over time? I certainly didn’t. And there was no way for all those thousands of strangers from all over the country to have colluded with each other, over the course of years, in order to provide Wambach with the exact same answers to these questions for each historical period. Nor was it possible for them to discuss their answers with each other ahead of each session, not only because they had never met, but also because no one knew what the questions would be, and no one except Dr. Wambach knew what time periods she would be researching at each session.

For me, this is compelling evidence. Intrigued by the evidence in her book, I had myself hypnotically regressed, and I experienced snippets of lives that were as real as the one I’m living now. Yes, I have come to believe that reincarnation exists.

Unfortunately, it raises an uncomfortable question: If we live multiple lives, as both men and women, at different times and places, and as members of different races, then who exactly are we?

If our consciousness does return to the physical world time and time again to inhabit different lives, does that make us extraterrestrial parasites, inhabiting and manipulating helpless humans like something out of Star Trek? Or are we symbionts that need human vitality for our existence, and in return we provide our hosts with consciousness, conscience, and motivation? Again, straight out of Star Trek.

Or are we instead part of a universal consciousness, complicit in the development and evolution of life, creating sentient life forms so we can leave the spiritual world and experience the physical?

Of these three possibilities, only the last one seems makes any sense to me. If we were parasites or symbionts, why would we enter a body (or stay in one) that was doomed to live a life of misery and pain? However, if our short physical lives are really only a small part of a much larger existence, well, it would be as though we were actors going on stage, and actors sometimes play some heart-wrenching parts. But then the question is: Why? Why do we bother?

For that, I have no answer.

For those who are interested, Dr. Wambach’s book is titled Reliving Past Lives: The Evidence Under Hypnosis. It’s long out of print, but you can still find used copies online.


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The Missing Factor

Interesting things often happen to me in the transitional phase between sleep and wakefulness. In that twilight zone where I am neither fully asleep nor fully awake, it seems that the intuitive, creative side of my brain is most active. During that time, solutions to vexing problems (usually related to a writing project) come to me, seemingly out of the blue. Other thoughts also occur to me, often regarding subjects I wasn’t even aware I was thinking about.

That happened again just the other morning. But before I reveal it, a little background.

Whether or not life is inevitable, given the right circumstances, is a problem that has vexed biologists (and philosophers) for some time. Since we only have one example – Earth – it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions. That is one reason why so much effort continues to go into searching for evidence of life beyond our planet. Much of this effort is directed at Mars right now, but there is also considerable effort to identify Earth-like planets around other stars. In addition, the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project continues its decades-long search for signs of another civilization. If any hard evidence of extraterrestrial life were to be found, even simple, unicellular life, it would change the equation dramatically.

So far, however, there has been nothing firm. So scientists are forced to base their conjectures on what can be found here, on our own planet. That evidence is certainly suggestive. Bacterial and other unicellular life has been found thriving in such unlikely places as undersea thermal vents, near-boiling hot springs, within rocks in Antarctica, in perpetually dark and frigid Antarctic lakes, and even miles underground. If life can exist in those places, it seems it can exist anywhere.

Many of these places are proposed as the place where life may have originated, since many of them mirror conditions on our planet when it was very young, with its extremes of temperature and anoxic, even toxic, environments. Other scientists propose that life originated elsewhere and the Earth was seeded by bacteria hitching rides on comets and meteors. Recent evidence that some bacteria can survive prolonged exposure to the frigid airlessness of space gives credence to that view. However, that doesn’t solve the problem of how life originated. If it didn’t evolve here but was simply introduced here, it still had to evolve somewhere. Claiming that Earth was seeded just kicks the can down the road.

Nonetheless, based on the foregoing, it seems increasingly likely that life is indeed inevitable. If and when we do discover extraterrestrial life, that argument becomes much stronger. We may be forced to conclude that the physical laws that organize our universe make it impossible for life NOT to develop.

That’s where the “missing factor” mentioned in the title of this post comes in. It was this thought that suddenly occurred to me in my half-awake state: If the physical structure of our universe does indeed make life inevitable, then physicists must take that into account. No theory meant to describe our physical universe could be considered complete without factoring in its propensity to produce life. In other words, the inevitability of life might be as fundamental to the structure of our universe – and as fundamental to the equations that describe that structure – as the relationship between matter and energy or the existence of photons and neutrinos.

I encourage physicists to develop such a theory. Like any theory, for it to be valid it must make predictions that are testable. Equations could be developed that would predict under what conditions and how frequently life would form, based on the known physical structure of the universe. We will continue to search for extraterrestrial life, and sooner or later (if our civilization survives long enough), we will either discover enough of it to confirm the theory, or we will find nothing at all and the theory will be ruled invalid.

I predict the former.


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Perfection (And: Where To Find It)

I had to re-blog this amazing, short post by James Radcliffe. He may or may not agree with me, but his conclusion is the very definition of Zen.

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I spent this weekend in the mountains.

It may sound strange but I get a lot of work done in the hills. Ideas for pieces of music and writing; revelations about love, life, truth and beauty – you name it – they all seem to come more easily than when I’m staying in the city.

I guess it could be the silence or the wide open spaces; it could be the change in environment or the result of amore primal mode of living. Hell, it could be divine intervention for all I know.

Whatever the reason, I always have a notebook ready.

This micro-blog is one of my favorite captures from my time away:

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Have They Really Been Here Before? Part 5

I thought I was finished with this subject, but then another piece of evidence suddenly came to mind. I found myself pondering why people look so different from one another. I’m not just talking about differences between races, which are significant, but also differences in height, hair color, skin tone, and facial features within races. The differences are significant enough that even wild animals can recognize individual humans.

Yet wild animals all look the same. Yes, there can be small differences in color patterns and facial features, but a lion still looks like any other lion, one impala looks like another, elephants, chimpanzees, zebra finches, grey seals, wolves, giraffes, and so on — they all look pretty much exactly the same (within species). You certainly don’t see blonde chimps, red-haired chimps, bald chimps, super-hairy chimps, tiny chimps, giant chimps, big-eared chimps, small-eared chimps, long-nosed chimps, and squash-faced chimps. All chimps look pretty much the same.

But you know which species of animals don’t all look the same? The ones we have genetically manipulated through selective breeding. Look at dogs, for example:

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Who would ever conclude that all of these creatures are the same species? Yet they are. There are other examples, too. Cats, rabbits, lab rats — pretty much every species we’ve genetically manipulated shows huge morphometric variation.

Just like humans.

One consistent meme in ancient manuscripts is that humans were altered by other beings. In the Sumerian “myths,” the Annunaki altered early humans to make them better laborers. In Genesis, the gods (yes, plural — look it up) made us “in their own image.” Could the variation among humans be evidence of such manipulation, just as the variation among domestic animal species is demonstrably due to our manipulation of them?

Since we have now sequenced the human genome, and since one group of researchers will soon attempt to recreate the human genome piece by piece through chemical synthesis, making it possible for us to directly manipulate our DNA, the idea that our ancestors were genetically manipulated is not so far-fetched.

In fact, as far as I can see it’s just one more piece of evidence indicating that we were, at one time in the distant past, not alone in the galaxy.

 

 


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Have They Really Been Here Before? Part 4

In this final installment of my four-part blog, I’ll offer some final thoughts on the possibility that our planet was visited in the past by technologically advanced beings.

For instance, I find it interesting how archaeologists will comment that ancient cave paintings and petroglyphs  are so accurate and true-to-life that the animals they represent can be identified by species:

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But at the same time, they claim images like these are purely symbolic:

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Nor can they explain why some “purely symbolic” stone carvings so accurately represent space-suited individuals:

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The fact that these petroglyphs and carvings are found all over the world, in cultures that had no contact with each other at all, makes them even more mysterious. Just as mysterious, in fact, as the similarity in megalithic structures all over the world (Middle East, Central and South America, Southeast Asia) and the precision in stone carving used to make them, even though the people who supposedly built these things, again, had no contact with each other.

There seems to be no end to the mysteries, such as these eerily accurate descriptions of apparent nuclear explosions from the ancient Indian text, the Mahabharata (a vimana is a flying machine):

“Gurkha, flying a swift and powerful vimana hurled a single projectile charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as the thousand suns rose in all its splendor […] The cloud of smoke rising after its first explosion formed into expanding round circles like the opening of giant parasols…

“It was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas…

“The corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. The hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without apparent cause, and the birds turned white. After a few hours all foodstuffs were infected…A thick gloom swiftly settled upon the Pandava hosts. All points of the compass were lost in darkness. Fierce wind began to blow upward, showering dust and gravel….

The earth shook, scorched by the terrible violent heat of this weapon. Elephants burst into flame and ran to and fro in a frenzy… over a vast area, other animals crumpled to the ground and died. From all points of the compass the arrows of flame rained continuously and fiercely.”

Recent excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in India have uncovered flattened, highly radioactive skeletons. There is no apparent cause for the sudden death visited upon these people.

Or this from Genesis 19:

And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;

And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

Recently, archaeologists have been excavating a site (Tall-el-Hammam”) they believe to be that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and their research has revealed the cities were destroyed by an intense “heat event.” Not only that, but the area apparently remained uninhabitable for 600 years.

Couple this with the abrupt disappearance of Sumerian civilization, described thusly in a Sumerian text:

On the land fell a calamity, one unknown to man;
one that had never been seen before,
one which could not be withstood.
A great storm from heaven…
A land-annihilating storm…
An evil wind, like a rushing torrent…
A battling storm joined by a scorching heat…
By day it deprived the land of the bright sun, in the evening the stars did not shine…
The people, terrified, could hardly breathe;
the evil wind clutched them, does not grant them another day…
Mouths were drenched with blood, heads wallowed in blood…
The face was made pale by the Evil Wind.
It caused cities to be desolated, houses to become desolate;
stalls to become desolate, the sheepfolds to be emptied…
Sumer’s rivers it made flow with water that is bitter;
its cultivated fields grow weeds, its pastures grow withering plants.

This reads like a textbook example of the aftermath of a nuclear explosion to the west of the city, with its resultant radiation contamination and poisoning. When you consider it in light of Sodom and Gomorrah’s heat event and the discovery early in the 20th Century of Libyan Desert Glass, it’s even more intriguing.

Libyan Desert Glass (LDG) is the name given to a mysterious layer of green glass found in the Libyan desert (west of Tall-el-Hammam). The glass was somehow formed by an intense heat source that turned the desert sand into a greenish glass. There is no sign of a meteor impact, but even if there was, it would not produce the observed structure and distribution of the LDG. However, the LDG is almost identical to the trinitite glass formed at the Alamogordo, New Mexico site where the first atomic bombs were tested.

Obviously, this could all be nothing more than wild speculation – and I’m quite certain many people will see it that way. There is certainly no shortage of websites and books “debunking”  what is affectionately called the “ancient alien theory.” Some of these criticisms are valid, but I find most of them to be unconvincing, as though the writers are really reaching, as if desperate to “prove” this ancient alien theory wrong.

Frankly, I don’t see why. I don’t see anything absurd about it. To me, it’s simply another possible explanation for the many anomalies we have found, and as such it should be open to consideration and testing. There is no convincing reason why it should be dismissed out of hand.

Now, I will readily admit it is perfectly reasonable that all the things I’ve mentioned — the pyramids, the stone carvings, the petroglyphs, the jet-like gold trinkets, the ancient descriptions, the LDG, the “heat event,” and so on — have mundane, terrestrial explanations. But sometime the explanations put forth seem outlandish all on their own, and sometimes there simply is no reasonable explanation. The pyramid builders used ramps? Where are they? The jet airplane is really a fish? The spacesuit is a shaman outfit that just looks like spacesuit? The ancient Indians and Middle Eastern tribes had such amazing imaginations that they contrived flying machines and weapons that behaved exactly like nuclear devices? Ancient people built stone structures of such amazing physical and mathematical precision using stone or bronze tools, and moved 200-ton (or larger) blocks over great distances with manpower alone?

Maybe so. I can’t say either way. Here’s the thing, though: On the one hand, each of these anomalies and mysteries requires its own, separate (often unconvincing) explanation. On the other hand, one simple explanation covers them all at once: technologically advanced beings visited our planet in the distant past.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one.

Which brings me back to my original question: Could it be that some of the events I describe in my science fiction trilogy, Children of Hathor, actually be true? I thought I was just making it all up, but now I’m beginning to wonder…