Lazy Guide to Net Culture: Weird Science
If you want to appear like you’re at the cutting edge of net culture but can’t be bothered to spend hours online, then never fear. Scotsman.com’s pathetic team of geeks, freaks and gimps will do the hard work for you. While you sip wine, read a book or engage in normal social interaction, they will burn out their retinas staring at badly designed web pages and dodge creeps in chatrooms to prepare for you: Scotsman.com’s lazy guide to net culture.
In the mid-80s much of what we now know as the internet would have struck most people as science fiction: "letters" that can be delivered to the other side of the world in seconds; "faxes" with photographs and entire documents attached to them; an instantly accessible free reference tool stacked with billions of pages (even though too many of them have to do with Star Trek or pornography).
Now all these wonders are real and used by us every day, it's not surprising that "weird science" has a particular place in the heart of the collective consciouness of the internet - alongside pictures of naked people (mostly people) and disturbingly in-depth biographies of Captain James T Kirk. (Did you know he was an Aries?)
While most of the topics covered would not make it into Nature, some areas of research considered weird are actually terribly respectable.
Take for instance parapsychology, what could loosely be described as the scientific study of ESP. At moebius.psy.ed.ac.uk, you can browse the work of the respected Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University.
Several pieces of research are online and you can even take part in some online experiments, including the famous trial where you try to indentify which symbol from a set or five has been chosen by the person (in this case a computer) running the experiment.
I'd always been told that a relative of my mine had the second sight so I half wondered if I might discover hidden depths.
Here are my results: "Well, Stewart, you got 4 / 25 correct (16%). By chance we would expect 5 / 25 correct guesses (20%). For 25 trials, a score of 9 or above would be statistically significant."
In short, I'm about as psychic as a bucket of ten-day-old lard.
An experiment that everyone can take part in but few would want to can be found at necronauts.org, the online home of the International Necronautical Society.
Its mission statement is this: "Our ultimate aim shall be the construction of a craft that will convey us into death in such a way that we may, if not live, then at least persist. With famine, war, disease and asteroid impact threatening to greatly speed up the universal passage towards oblivion, mankind's sole chance of survival lies in its ability, as yet unsynthesised, to die in new, imaginative ways. Let us deliver ourselves over utterly to death, not in desperation but rigorously, creatively, eyes and mouths wide open so that they may be filled from the deep wells of the Unknown."
Its members want to journey into the realm of death. May I be the first to say: "After you."
Slightly less frightening but equally unlikely travels can be considered at timetravelinstitute.com. Given that the institute's chief of research is a fictional character, you might want to visit science.howstuffworks.com's guide to the fourth dimension, which is soundly rooted in proper science.
The poster boy of weird science is Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American inventor who died in 1943. Among the many gizmos to spring from his extremely unusual brain were a death ray, an earthquake machine and wirless energy transmission.
Before you write him off as a latter-day Dr Frankenstein, it is worth noting that he also gave the world alternating current, patented radio in 1897 (his US patent was accepted in 1900, Marconi's was turned down) and made significant developments in the fields of remote control, fluorescent lighting and VTOL aircraft.
After his death, the FBI raided his flat and removed all his papers. You can read a memo about this on the FBI's freedom of information act site at foia.fbi.gov/tesla.htm.
One of Tesla's most disturbing ideas revolved around weather control.
Surely that's too wacky for anyone to try to put into practice?
Well, that depends on who you talk to. There is a US Department of Defence project called HAARP (High frequency Active Auroral Research Program) which blasts the ionosphere with large amounts of energy to see what happens.
A fact sheet on the project on the University of Alaska site at haarp.alaska.edu/haarp/haarpFactSheet.html is very reassuring and emphasises the communications benefits of the project.
However, those who oppose HAARP, like the people behind haarp.net, claim to have discovered patents connected with a company involved in some aspects of the project that covered disruption of enemy communication, missile shields and, you guessed it, weather modification.
It's no wonder that conspire.com indentified HAARP as one of the greatest conspiracies of all time. It doesn't mean it's true though - but it doesn't mean it's false.
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