Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Television Signals and Wormholes

It is not very often that I go off-topic here, but today is one of those rare occasions. I am going to veer off-topic for this post, and pen an article that is not directly related to zoology, but, instead, physics.

In the past few months, I have been researching wormholes: those connections between different regions of spacetime that are predicted to exist according to some solutions of Einstein's equations of general relativity. Wormholes have become a fixture in popular culture, with their potential use as devices for spacefaring across vast regions of space to faraway galaxies, as well as for travel between parallel universes and for time travel, having gained a firm foothold in at least some quarters of the general public. It is this last potential aspect of wormholes, travel through time (besides the normal time travel that everyone is constantly doing of going to the future at the rate of, within one particular relativistic frame of reference, one second per second), that will constitute the primary focus of this present article.

First, it shall be useful to elucidate what, exactly, a wormhole is, and how they probably come about. For this, it shall be necessary to turn to an explanation of the theory of general relativity, popularized by Albert Einstein. According to general relativity, space and time are melded together into a single entity known as spacetime, and the existence of matter, by necessity, warps and bends the spacetime it inhabits to some degree, which leads to the phenomenon of gravity. When an object is attracted by a larger object's gravitational pull, according to general relativity, it would be falling into the dip, or dent, in spacetime created by the larger object's mass. A useful analogy would be to imagine spacetime as being a blanket. If a ball were to be placed in the center of the blanket, it would cause the fabric of said blanket to dip downwards in the middle. Now imagine if something of sufficient mass was placed in the center of the blanket to cause such a large dip that the two ends of the blanket now rise up and meet, forming a connection between them.
This is how wormholes are probably formed. When something of sufficient mass exists in the fabric of spacetime, it creates such a strong gravitational force that it bends the fabric of spacetime, causing two distant regions of spacetime to come together and meet, thereby forming a connection, or a shortcut, between them. This connection is what is referred to as a wormhole.

Physicist John Archibald Wheeler, about sixty years ago, was the first to hypothesize that spacetime, at the smallest scales, became a chaotic mess of wormholes, black holes, and a variety of other such phenomena, constantly popping into and out of existence. Spacetime was predicted to take on such a structure at the Planck scale, the smallest scale known to physics, far smaller than an atom. This structure is known as quantum foam, and, according to Barry R. Parker, Ph.D., the vast majority of physicists are now convinced that quantum foam exists, and that it is full of very small wormholes. It was predicted that, at such a tiny scale, the normal laws of physics would break down, causing the very structure of spacetime itself to turn into a chaotic, foamy mess. Spacetime would curve in on itself in many regions, temporarily forming connections between different regions of spacetime, i.e., wormholes.

Now that we have an explanation as to what wormholes are, how they presumably come about, and why microscopic versions of them are predicted by physicists to exist at the smallest known scales in the universe, we can now delve into the real gist, the real meat and potatoes, of this article. And that is the phenomenon of people reporting seeing television series long before they actually aired, or were even produced, commonly associated with the phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect, which has been gaining attention in recent years, and how these microscopic wormholes might offer an explanation for this phenomenon.

The Mandela Effect is a term coined by writer Fiona Broome about six years ago to describe a phenomenon she, and many others, experienced, of remembering the death of famed South African reformer, anti-apartheid activist, and politician Nelson Mandela while he was in prison in the Gregorian calendar decade of the 1980's, while, in reality, it is known that Mandela passed away on the (Gregorian calendar, base-ten) date Thursday, December 5, 2013. There are numerous other examples, perhaps one of the most widely-known being the tendency of a plethora of people to remember the title of the popular book series The Berensta/ein Bears being spelled "Berenstein", with a third "e", while the correct spelling is actually "Berenstain", with an "a" in place of that third "e".

Some cases of the Mandela Effect I could find related to people claiming to have seen programming on television, including events on the news that had not yet happened, long before they aired, ranging from the aforementioned death of Nelson Mandela, whose funeral many people claim to have seen on television in the Gregorian calendar's 1980's decade, to television coverage of the death and funeral of noted evangelical preacher Billy Graham, whom, as of this writing, is still alive, to someone who claimed to have watched Leonardo DiCaprio win an award on television a week before he actually won said award.

What really intrigued me about the Billy Graham case was this: I could find three different people saying they watched news coverage of his death and funeral on television at at least three different times. One reported seeing it around Gregorian calendar base-ten year 2009, around the time of Senator Ted Kennedy's death, while another reported seeing it a few months before the death of Ronald Reagan, which would place it circa Gregorian base-ten year 2004, while another reported seeing it in Gregorian calendar base-ten year 2000. And all three of them gave a description that was startlingly, even eerily, similar; that they saw Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presenting their condolences at Graham's funeral. It really did seem like these three different people, despite having reportedly watched this programming at different times, were describing the same television programme.

Meanwhile, on Reddit, I was able to find a post from someone stating that they remembered watching an episode titled "And Then" of a TV series titled "Medium" in Gregorian base-ten year 2003, when they stated that they were ten years old, while, in reality, that series did not premiere on television until Gregorian base-ten year 2005, and that particular episode did not premiere on television until Gregorian base-ten year 2008, when they stated that they were fifteen years old. According to the poster, they remembered they saw the episode while they were sitting on the recliner in what was, at the time, the room in their house reserved for television. The poster says that, in 2004, the room was turned into a bedroom for their mother, and, by 2008, not only was that room no longer the TV room, but the recliner in that room was long gone. Always making sure to be critical and skeptical of all claims, with there always being a possibility that someone is just making up this story and attempting to pass it off as genuine, I looked through this Reddit user's other posts to try to gauge if their pattern of posting could be indicative of deception. I did not find any indication of this. On the contrary, I even found that they had started a thread in which they intended to critically investigate common urban legends, and, in this thread, this user even wrote a post debunking one such legend, about insects, common in their area. So this person not only appears completely honest, but also appears to be in possession of a critical, skeptical mindset. Not the kind of person easily given over to either hoaxing or credulous acceptance of the extraordinary as an explication for the mundane.

I have devised a hypothesis, involving the tiny, sub-microscopic wormholes thought to exist by physics, to explain these seemingly anomalous occurrences of people reportedly seeing television series long before they officially aired. This hypothesis is that, while a television program is officially airing, and the television signal is travelling through the air and through cables to reach television sets around the world, some of the signal passes through these tiny wormholes, managing to make its way into different time periods through them. The reason why a television signal would be able to pass through these tiny wormholes, while a larger object would not, is simply due to the miniscule size of these wormholes. As they are vastly smaller than an atom, or even most subatomic particles, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for anything made of matter to pass through them. Meanwhile, a television signal is a massless wave, made up only of energy, so it would not have a problem navigating its way through these infinitesimally small rifts in spacetime.

Although I have yet to encounter anyone else devising such a hypothesis with regard to television signals, in particular, I have come across an article by British astrophysicist John Gribbin, published in the base-ten Gregorian calendar month of January 2013, in which he writes about these tiny wormholes, and speculates that, although they are far too small for any matter to go through, perhaps information, such as signals transmitted between particles conveying how they are supposed to behave according to the laws of physics, could be constantly passing through these wormholes, which could provide an explanation as to how the entire universe, all known areas of space and time, seem to follow the same laws of physics. Gribbin ends his article by musing, "And there you have the ultimate paradox. It may be that we only actually have universal laws of physics because time travel is possible. In which case, it is hardly surprising that the laws of physics permit time travel."

This is the sentiment by which I would like to conclude this foray into the realm of quantum physics and anomalous television programmes on a zoological blog -- which, in my view, constitutes an anomalous occurrence, in and of itself.


Broome, Fiona. "Nelson Mandela Died in Prison?" Mandela Effect. 9 September 2010. Web. Accessed 27 December 2016. (http://www.mandelaeffect.com/nelson-mandela-died-in-prison/)

Gribbin, John. "How to build a time machine." John Gribbin Science. 15 January 2013. Web. Accessed 27 December 2016. (https://www.johngribbinscience.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/how-to-build-a-time-machine/amp/)

Parker, Barry R. (1991). "Cosmic Time Travel: A Scientific Odyssey." Plenum US/Springer Science+Media, LLC. Page 234. Print.

Broome, Fiona. "Nelson Mandela – The Memories, So Far." Mandela Effect. 11 February 2013. Web. Accessed 27 December 2016. (http://www.mandelaeffect.com/nelson-mandela-the-memories-so-far/)

Broome, Fiona. "Billy Graham's Funeral on TV." Mandela Effect. 25 April 2013. Web. Accessed 27 December 2016. (http://www.mandelaeffect.com/billy-grahams-funeral-on-tv/)

"Not_Really_A_Name". "Saw an episode of a TV show 5 years before it aired." Reddit. 13 September 2016. Web. Accessed 27 December 2016. (https://www.reddit.com/r/Glitch_in_the_Matrix/comments/52lbij/saw_an_episode_of_a_tv_show_5_years_before_it/?utm_source=amp&utm_medium=comment_list)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Thomas Henry Huxley and the Dinosarian Affinities of Birds – A Response to Brian Switek

While browsing the paleontology blogosphere, I came across an article on Brian Switek's blog Laelaps in which he proclaimed that the view that Victorian Era naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley, known as Darwin's Bulldog, arrived at the conclusion that birds had evolved from dinosaurs, and, therefore, are dinosaurs, is a misinterpretation of Huxley's true views. According to Switek, Huxley thought that dinosaurs closely resembled, in anatomical form and structure, to those animals which he deemed as the actual ancestors of birds, which Huxley said had yet to be discovered at the time. Curious, I subsequently read much of Huxley's writings on this topic, and, with all due respect to Mr. Switek, who I have to commend in the highest for his wonderful contributions to paleontology, I am afraid that it is Mr. Switek who has misinterpreted (or rather, more precisely, overlooked) some of Huxley's work. Huxley had used the phrase "intercalary type" to refer to an organism that approximated the form that the ancestor of another species took, but was not actually the direct ancestor, while he used the phrase "linear type" to refer to those organisms that, in his view, represented the actual ancestors of another species.

I reproduce the following excerpt from one of Huxley's works, which Brian Switek had used in his article to show that Huxley did not think that dinosaurs had actually evolved into birds (Ornithoscelida is a broader grouping encompassing the Dinosauria which Huxley utilized at the time; I have intentionally bolded one portion to add emphasis to it):

 "When I addressed you in 1862, I should have been bold indeed had I suggested that palæontology would before long show us the possibility of a direct transition from the type of the lizard to that of the ostrich. At the present we have, in the Ornithoscelida, the intercalary type, which proves that transition to be something more than a possibility; but it is very doubtful whether any of the genera of Ornithoscelida with which we are at present acquainted are the actual linear types by which the transition from the lizard to the bird was effected. These, very probably, are still hidden from us in the older formations."

In this statement, Huxley is merely saying that none of the specific genera of dinosaurs that were known at the time was the direct ancestor of birds. He is not saying, by any means, that dinosaurs in general were not the direct ancestor of birds.

In fact, another excerpt from a September 20, 1876 lecture by Huxley demonstrates that Huxley did, indeed, consider dinosaurs (again, referred to as Ornithoscelidans) to be the direct ancestors of birds (parts that are in bold, are, again, intentionally bolded by me to furnish emphasis):

"I conceive that such linear forms, constituting a series of natural gradations between the reptile and the bird, and enabling us to understand the manner in which the reptilian has been metamorphosed into the bird type, are really to be found among a group of ancient and extinct terrestrial reptiles known as the Ornithoscelida. The remains of these animals occur throughout the series of mesozoic formations, from the Trias to the chalk, and there are indications of their existence even in the later Palæozoic strata."

So Huxley did, indeed, consider dinosaurs to be directly ancestral to birds. He just thought that none of the specific genera of dinosaurs that were currently known at the time were directly ancestral to birds. And, in that respect, he was, of course, correct. It is imperative that Huxley's research and writings be recognized for their several crowning achievements, this being but one of the most notable (another was his proposal that pterosaurs were endothermic, but that's a story for another day).

The Roots of Speculative Evolution: An Addendum

I mentioned in my last article that speculative evolution dates back to 1915, when William Beebe came up with the idea of the Tetrapteryx. However, it turns out that even this was not the first creature of speculative evolution to find its way to fruition. Soon after publishing my previous article, I remembered that Antoon Cornelis Oudemans, in his 1892 book The Great Sea Serpent, devised a speculative unknown species of gigantic long-necked, long-tailed pinniped, which he christened Megophias megophias. I cannot believe I had forgotten it about it at the time. Megophias represents an example of a speculative cryptozoological creature, in the vein of such modern books as The Cryptozoologicon (2013). So not just speculative zoology, but speculative cryptozoology, at that, dates back to at least 1892.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Feathered Dinosaurs and Speculative Evolution Date Back Far, Far Earlier Than You Probably Think

This article covers three topics that may seem disparate, but are actually intertwined. These three topics are feathered non-avialan dinosaurs, the possibly non-avialan dinosaurian nature of Archaeopteryx, and speculative evolution. I will cover the early histories of all three topics, and show that all three actually date back far earlier than is commonly thought.

It is widely-known among paleontologists and paleontology aficionados that a close evolutionary relationship between birds and the, then-newly discovered, dinosaurs was proposed by English naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley (nicknamed "Darwin's Bulldog" due to his tenacious support of the latter's theory of evolution by natural selection) in the mid-19th century. No doubt bolstered by the discovery of a highly unusual animal in fossil form in Germany in 1861, just two years after the publication of Darwin's scientific manifesto, outlining his views on evolution, On the Origin of Species, which was christened Archaeopteryx lithographica, Huxley began to be struck by the staggering amount of similarities that existed between the two groups. The significance of Archaeopteryx was, of course, that its fossil appeared to preserve evidence that the animal was coated by a feathery plumage in life, while the skeleton displayed copious hallmarks of close affinity with members of the taxonomic Class Reptilia. If not for the presence of impressions indicative of the existence of a feathered integumentary system in the animal's fossil, it would undoubtedly have been classified as a small predatory dinosaur upon its discovery. It is quite telling that at least one specimen of Archaeopteryx was actually misidentified as a specimen of the contemporaneous small-bodied theropod dinosaur Compsognathus for many years. It is not for want of good reason that I make mention of Compsognathus at this juncture, for I will now initiate a discussion of this diminutive dinosaur, which, indeed, will allow me to segue into discussion of what constitutes the gist of this article.

While I mentioned at the start that Huxley's proposal that birds are descendants of dinosaurs is well-known among paleontologists and paleontology aficionados, there exists another contribution by Huxley to the then-nascent study of dinosaur paleontology that is much less widely-known, but nevertheless, the implications of which for the history of dinosaur paleontology are equally as staggering, if not more so. In the 19th century, Thomas Henry Huxley speculated that the aforementioned small theropod dinosaur Compsognathus might have been feathered, and reflected that, if it was, it would be difficult to decide whether it ought to be deemed a bird-like reptile or a reptile-like bird.

Yup. That's right. Indubitably talented researchers and paleo-artists such as Robert T. Bakker, Gregory S. Paul, Mike Hallett, and Sarah Landry might have speculated about and drawn feathered non-avian dinosaurs in the 1970s and 1980s, but by no means were they the first to do so. Unless a still earlier example is found, for now, that distinction goes to Huxley, who formulated the idea of a feathered Compsognathus more than a century prior to those aforementioned paleo-artists. But it wasn't just the concept of feathered non-avialan dinosaurs that dates back to far earlier than is conventionally assumed; so, too, does the concept of four-winged arboreal feathered reptiles lying close to the origin of birds, and, by extension, the field/genre of speculative evolution.

In 1915, American naturalist William Beebe wrote an article in the scientific journal Zoologica in which he proposed the possible existence of a highly bizarre animal that he termed the Tetrapteryx, so named due to the fact that it was a creature on the cusp between reptiles and birds, much like Archaeopteryx, albeit with one exquisite twist: it found  itself in possession of, not two, but four wings composed of feathers, a pair on the hind limbs, as well as on the front limbs. If this description is ringing a bell, there's a mighty good reason for that; the discovery of the four-winged dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur Microraptor in 2003 showed that Beebe's speculative Tetrapteryx was presciently on-the-ball, and that it had been an unwise decision by mainstream science to shun his hypothesis for so long. Not only did Beebe successfully presage the discovery of a four-winged feathered dinosaur 88 years later, he even drew a picture of his speculative beast, which was published in his 1915 paper. If Beebe intended for his Tetrapteryx to be dinosaurian, which I cannot ascertain definitively from his writing, then his drawing would hold the distinction of being the first known depiction ever drawn of a feathered non-avialan dinosaur. But it doesn't even end there. There's more.

William Beebe's Tetrapteryx is undoubtedly a product of speculative evolution, thereby invalidating the commonly-held notion among those involved in the field that Dougal Dixon "created" the field of speculative evolution in 1981 with the publication of his book After Man: A Zoology of the Future. Even without mentioning Beebe's Tetrapteryx at all, the publication of Gerolf Steiner's book The Life and Times of the Rhinogrades in 1961, in which an entire speculative order of mammals, Rhinogradentia, was envisioned is undoubtedly a work of speculative evolution, and it was published 20 years before Dixon's book. So the notion that Dougal Dixon "created" speculative evolution in 1981 is already known to be false due to the 1961 introduction of the Rhinogradentia. The 1915 introduction of the Tetrapteryx merely serves to push it further back still by 46 years. Speculative evolution, just like feathered non-avialan dinosaurs, likewise dates back to far earlier than is often assumed.

As if that wasn't enough, there's still more. Even if Huxley might have speculated about the existence of feathered non-avialan dinosaurs in the 19th century, surely, it doesn't mean anything if no fossils of feathered non-avialan dinosaurs were known, right? Well, think again. First of all, as demonstrated by the successful prediction of the eventual discovery of Microraptor by the Tetrapteryx, speculation plays an important role in paleontology. There was also another case of a speculative anomalocarid presaging the eventual discovery of the fossil of a real one that resembled it greatly, and was, in fact, therefore named after the speculative creature. Even so, if it turns out that Archaeopteryx was, in fact, a non-avialan dinosaur, rather than a bird (as some paleontologists nowadays are starting to classify it as), then the first fossil of a feathered non-avialan dinosaur would have been unearthed back in 1861. But still, it wouldn't have been recognized as non-avialan until recently, right? Wrong. Back in 1935, a scientific paper appeared, written by Lowe et al., in which it is stated that the Archaeopteryx fossil shows almost no uniquely avian autapomorphies with the exception of its feathers, and that it could very well be regarded as an example of a small feathered non-avialan dinosaur. So if Lowe's views end up being vindicated by future science, then the first feathered non-avialan dinosaur to be discovered would have been discovered in 1861, and recognized for its non-avialan nature in 1935. The discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in China in the 1990s, widely hailed at the time, would no longer be so significant.

By no means do I intend to diminish the research and work of Bakker, Paul, Hallett, Landry, et al. with regard to their research into and artistic depictions of feathered non-avialan dinosaurs, and Dixon with regard to his research into and artistic depictions of speculatively-evolved animals. These people have made great strides in advancing the concept of feathered non-avialan dinosaurs and speculative evolution, respectively, and should be commended in the highest for their valiant efforts to advance these areas of science. However, it should not be forgotten that Thomas Henry Huxley proposed the possibility of feathered non-avialan dinosaurs in the mid-19th century, that William Beebe possibly drew the first depiction of a feathered dinosaur, as well as the first example of a creature of speculative evolution, in the early 20th century, and that Lowe et al. genuinely entertained the notion that Archaeopteryx was a non-avialan feathered dinosaur, also in the early 20th century. It would be wise to repeat the words of George Santayana, which ring as true for paleontology and zoology as for any other disciplines: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It is highly beneficial to the future of paleontology and zoology that Huxley, Beebe, and Lowe be given recognition for being the first to conceptualize feathered non-avialan dinosaurs, speculative evolution, and the possible non-avialan dinosaurian affinities of Archaeopteryx, respectively, the first two over a century ago, and the third over eighty years ago. Let's give these three great men their due so that we do not forget where our ideas came from, so that we can have a less nebulous idea of where to take them in the future.