Locklin on science

Malice, stupidity and brain melting microwave ray guns

Posted in Open problems, War nerding by Scott Locklin on July 19, 2021

The usual suspects are beating the tom-tom for world-war with the Rooskie, because apparently they’re “attacking” our guys with probably imaginary microwave ray guns. These are the same people who told us that Mueller was definitely going to unearth an absurd conspiracy involving the last president being blackmailed for paying hookers to piss on photographs of the preceding president and who came up with bupkis. This one is also likely to be bupkis. I’m not all that sure if there’s anything there; evil war-mongers and mass-hysteria is a perfectly adequate explanation. In particular when I read shit like this:

Or… maybe they had the fucking flu

I’m going to assume there is something there, even if it is media amplified mass hysteria. Mass hysteria at this point is so pervasive it should always be suspected first, no matter how reasonable sounding the unreliable narrators seem. The media, because they’re overt puppets of factions within the US intelligence agencies, just regurgitate it all uncritically.

One thing it almost certainly isn’t is what they’re claiming it is now; microwave weapons. I actually know something about the dielectric constant of human brain tissue; I wrote a multi-objective optimizer for translating published Cole-Cole coefficients into something you could integrate FDTD. I was involved in a project to image human brain tissue using microwaves (someone else’s crazy idea; it worked BTW). With a couple of watts from a ground penetrating radar rig you could get decent images without trying too hard. You could do neat shit like play pong by thinking about it also. Didn’t seem to have any harmful effects, other than gently raising the temperature of the subject.

Believe it or not, radar workers are exposed to many times this level of microwaves with no ill effects other than a slightly higher rate of cataracts (from the heat). Back in glorious 1950s people talked about heating people inside of houses directly using microwaves; people bring the idea  up from time to time. It’s pretty stupid as long as we have pipes with water in them. Frankly it’s just pretty stupid. But the safety profile is high enough to make it sort of reasonable; even when using microwaves deliberately tuned to dump heat energy into human flesh.

It’s possible there is some weird resonant effect being exploited here, but if there is I doubt it is using microwaves. You can detect microwaves; it’s easy. If there’s significant amounts of them, they might even arc discharge around metal, like they do when you stick your fork in the microwave. This “our dudes are being attacked” thing has been going on for a long time;  years. I would imagine most people reading about this have forgotten that …. it used to be called a “sonic attack.” I guess someone realized that sound typically follows a 1/R^2 law, and the fact that nobody standing next to the victim hears anything kind of rules that out. Sure there are sonic weapons out there; people tend to notice them. Even the NAS committee agrees with me on this.


Though by and large this report is a big basket of horse shit. They apparently googled up some old reports of Rooskies using PULSED BRAIN CONTROL DEATH RAYS (which happen to be at comparable frequencies to the ones we were using to image our dude’s cantaloupe); this is the sheerest gorp for the reasons I state above.

They did think about insecticides because they found it in people’s blood. Unfortunately insecticides have powerful lobbying groups, so this was ruled out (there were some insecticides in people’s blood; I don’t know why this is OK). They also considered mass hysteria, but as the government and most of the population is in the grips of various mass hysterias at all times, it was impossible for them to form a baseline here. They did notice that non-crazy people seemed to recover better, which is certainly indicative of something like mass hysteria.

Looking at the committee members, there are a couple of glaring absences for figuring this sort of thing out. They were long on “neuroscientists” (whatever that is; sounds like a bullshit field to me) and various kind of doctor, including shrinks. This seems fine, unless you’re looking for a physical mechanism, which they were. They had only one person resembling a physicist or engineer on this committee; some guy with ties to the military industrial complex who apparently doesn’t read IEEE spectrum.

There was already a published paper on the likely reason for all this and it apparently wasn’t considered at all by this committee. Nor was various recordings of the actual sounds heard by the US and Canadian diplomats. Why? Don’t know! Some clever electrical engineers analyzed the published recordings of the sound, and figured out it was the interplay of room occupancy sensors, pest control and possibly anti-spy equipment gear creating weird interference effects. I mean they admit they might have been wrong, but it seems worth considering. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of entering a US embassy, they all look like evil space-alien prisons, and they’re swarming with creepy, ominous anti-espionage devices. Frankly just working in one of these shit-holes would be enough to give me a headache.

Fortress of evil alien empire or US embassy in Canada? You decide

If you don’t feel like reading the (excellent) IEEE article; I’ll give it a few more words here. All embassies have both ultrasound anti-spy doodads and ultrasound motion detectors. The anti-spy doodads rely on something called intermodulation distortion to fry spy microphones; basically they turn spy doodads into electric guitar feedback loops. To complicate matters; there are probably RF versions of the same thing, probably interacting with the ultrasound ones for reasons which should be obvious. Personally this explanation seems incredibly likely to me; stupidity of USGov workers  deploying devices involving physics from 10 different government agencies seems vastly more likely than mindless malice from the rooskie  under the bed for …. unknown science fiction reasons.

Maybe if you work in this building you should examine your life choices before postulating slavic brain melting death rays


Edit Add: JASON (who unlike the NAS committee understand some physics) says it’s not microwaves: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/danvergano/havana-syndrome-jason-crickets

Open problems in Astronomy

Posted in astronomy, Corliss, Open problems by Scott Locklin on June 11, 2021

As promised, as I go through my William Corliss books (and feel like writing things down), I’ll check for anomalies which persist in being anomalous.

Globular Clusters; these are the weirdest goddamned things. While I was still in grad school, they were considered to be older than the age of the universe. Someone fiddled with a constant somewhere, and now we’re supposed to be OK with this (AOF24), but it’s really only the beginning. Other mysteries, like the galaxies themselves, these things don’t move right. I believe the present fashion is to talk about nebulous forms of matter nobody can see as being responsible for it. Corliss just says what they do; they apparently have weird velocities. Worse, they persist. These are objects nearly as old as the universe, with known, small angular momenta. You’d think they would have collapsed by now. I guess it’s magical dork matter holding them back from doing this. Except everyone says globulars are actchually missing dark matter, because reasons. Oh yeah, they also have a lower limit as to the number of stars, which is just freaking weird.  AOB3,4,8,9,17. Other of Corliss anomalies didn’t fare so well; he asserts (albeit claiming only sparse evidence AOB19) there are no globular binaries, but in fact, there are. Easy mistake to make, and the type of thing you’d expect astronomy to get better at over time as telescopes get better. FWIIW not accounting for doubles may be why they look so old. Astronomy, once you start to look into it, sure does have a shitload of assumptions baked into it.

Quantized redshift; fuck you universe, you can’t do shit like this. There are, of course, experimental error reasons this might happen, but there’s enough of these things out there it merits its own wikipedia page. I suppose it could be data artifacts; noise can look pretty weird if you stare at it long enough.AOF18, AQB1,2,6, AWB7, ATF11.

Bode’s law (and friends). ABS1 ABS6 This is one of those things you’re confronted with immediately in astronomy; not even telescope tier; stuff that Babylonians could have figured out. Why is the solar system following a power law? I mean it could be some kind of nebula thing. Could be sheerest coincidence. Could be God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom. There are all kinds of “resonances” in the solar system which defy explanation beyond “it must be a resonance.”

AU secular increase. Here’s one Corliss missed: the orbit of the planets around the sun is increasing. It could be tidal forces, as people attribute to the moon slowly moving away from the earth. People have tried to unify this with the various other anomalies we’ve seen in orbital mechanics; flyby anomalies and so on, not sure how successfully. But people are pretty sure it’s happening. Hey, I got a dumb idea; maybe it’s the same thing making galaxies spin weird and globs not collapse. Maybe … gravitomagnetics? Don’t know! Apparently there are weird things going on with Saturn as well.

Spiral persistence. AWO13. This is another one that is weird, but so old nobody really talks about it. Yeah, like so galactic angular momentum implies dork matter or whatever, why do they so often look like spirals. Worse, spirals with bars. Based on the age of galaxies and their angular momentum, and, like the Virial theorem, the spirals should have turned into pancakes by now.


Origin of Galactic rotation. AWB9. This is a peculiar one, and I sort of hesitate to include it, but it might be an important idea and it certainly bothered important people back in the day. I mean, the universe spontaneously appearing is weird enough I don’t mind it having non-zero angular momentum. The angular momentum of galaxies may have originated in some kind of tidal forces. Others suggest the universe itself rotates. I suspect there is some Kapitza-tier basic physics here that angular momentum conservers didn’t notice, but I include it here anyway as I don’t think anyone has ever talked about how it might have occurred. Corliss also talks about the existence of galaxies itself as being pretty weird (AWB17), which is probably true, but which I also don’t have a  big problem with as long as they behave themselves.

Solar wind isotope variation. ASF4. There’s huge variance in the nitrogen-14/15 isotope ratios in the lunar regolith. There’s also  variation in the solar system at large. Could be some of it is from the early solar system, could be broken solar models. Corliss calls this one a “2” -and people don’t seem to worry about it too much, but it struck me as pretty weird.

Axis of Evil. Another one Corliss couldn’t see in his day. How come cosmic background anisotropies are correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun? Was Copernicus right? Is it all some weird systematic error? I’m betting on the latter. It could be sorted out by sending a Planck style microwave space telescope into some non-earth orbit and see if it goes away or looks different. It also should give anyone trying to build new physical models based on astronomical observations pause as to the numerous things that could go wrong.

Solar magnetic cycle. ASO4 ASO5 ASO10 ASZ. First we get the sunspots, then we get the solar flares, then the magnetic field of the sun flips. And sometimes you get stuff like the Maunder minimum. Sun’s pretty weird man. It’s all very well documented; both directly and from secondary sources, and nobody has the slightest idea what’s going on -not even, really on a hand-wavey level. FWIIW solar models are the basis for an awful lot of astronomy if that makes you feel any better about astronomy.

RNA memory hypothesis

Posted in brainz, Open problems by Scott Locklin on February 3, 2021

There’s an old theory that memory is actually encoded in part in RNA. The argument is pretty simple: there’s no obvious way for all that sensory data to be captured in synapses as long term memories, yet long term memories obviously exist and are fairly reliable. RNA, unlike synapses, is energy efficient, redundant and persistent and consistent with what we observe about brains from day to day life.

You’d think with all the neuroscientists running around these days, this would have been eliminated from serious consideration by now, but the opposite is true. There’s actually been a little bit more experimental evidence indicating it might be true. People have allegedly transferred memories between snails, planaria, sea slugs, and there are accounts of people “inheriting” memories after organ transplants. It’s entirely possible that all of these are the result of poor experimental hygiene and wishful thinking, and there’s nothing really there, but they sure are evocative, and it seems like people should be interested in sorting this out, or finding simpler models which have hopes of sorting it out.

I had run across this idea again reading a Ron Maimon screed on physics stack exchange. It’s a pretty good screed worth reading (thanks Laeeth):

Highlight excerpted for the lazy:

RNA ticker tape

It is clear that there is hidden computation internal to the neurons. The source of these computations is almost certainly intracellular RNA, which is the main computational workhorse in the cell.

The RNA in a cell is the only entity which is active and carries significant bit density. It can transform by cutting and splicing, and it can double bind to identify complementary strands. These operations are very sensitive to the precise bit content, and allow rich full computation. The RNA analogous to a microprocessor.

In order to make a decent model for the brain, this RNA must be coupled to neuron level electrochemical computation directly. This requires a model in which RNA directly affects what signals come out of neurons.

I will give a model for this behavior, which is just a guess, but a reasonable one. The model is the ticker-tape. You have RNA attached to the neuron at the axon, which is read out base by base. Every time you hit a C, you fire the neuron. The recieving dendrite then writes out RNA constantly, and writes out a T every time it recieves a signal. The RNA is then read out by complementary binding at the ticker tape, and the RNA computes the rest of the thing intracellularly. If the neuron identifies the signal recieved RNA, it takes another strand of RNA and puts it on the membrane, and reads this one to give the output.

The amount of memory in the brain is then the number of bits in the RNA involved, which is about a gigabyte per cell. There are hundreds of billions of cells in the brain, which translates to hundreds of billions of gigabytes. The efficiency of memory retrieval and modification is a few ATP’s per bit, with thousands of ATP’s used for long-range neural communication only.

The brain then becomes an internet of independent computers, each neuron itself being a sizable computer itself.


This is a pretty exciting idea, and there are several near relatives. There are protein kinases involved in mRNA transcription and immunology which are candidates for memory as well. Functionally they’re all kind of similar: the idea is the long term memory is chemical and exists on the sub cellular level. 

Mechanisms are known to exist. If RNA is the persistence substrate, you’d expect there to be something like a nucleotide gated channel in the brain, so it can talk to the signal processing components of the brain. There is, starting from the olfactory system, which is known to be associated with memory. Such RNA gated channels are also important in the hippocampus; the master organ of memory in the brain.  Furthermore, it’s entirely possible that the glial cells have something to do with it; the function of these are still poorly understood. Women have more of them than men; maybe that’s why they can always remember where your keys are. There’s plenty of non-protein transcripting RNA floating around in the brain doing …. stuff, and nobody really knows what it does.

One of the cute things about it, is it is entirely possible RNA works like some kind of ticker tape for a Turing machine the way Maimon suggests above. There are a number of speculations to this effect. One can construct something that looks like logic gates or a lambda calculus through RNA editing rules; various enzymes we know about already more or less do this; weirder stuff like methylation may also play a role.

There are obvious ways of figuring all this out; people do look at RNA activities in the hippocampus for example. But because this theory is out of fashion, they attribute the activity to things other than direct RNA memory formation. Everyone more or less seems to believe in the Hebbian connectome model, despite there being little real evidence for it being the long term memory mechanism, or much understanding of what brains do at all beyond relatively simple image recognition/signal processing type stuff it is known to do. Memory is much more mysterious; seemingly a huge reservoir of super efficient data-storage.

The fact that more primitive organisms which are completely without nervous systems seem to have some kind of behavioral memory system ought to indicate there is something more than Hebbian memory. People are starting to notice. You have little single-cell critters like paramecia responding to stimuli, and acting more or less in as complex a way as larger organisms which do have some primitive nervous system. Various “microtubule” theories do not explain this (sorry Sir Roger), as disrupting them doesn’t change behavior much.

One can measure memory in some of these little beasts; the e. coli that lives in your bowels and in overhopped beers have a memory of at least 4 seconds; better than some instagram influencers. Paramecia have memories which may last their entire lifetime -if the memories are transferable via asexual reproduction (not clear they are; worth checking) that would be a couple of weeks: vastly better than most MSNBC viewers. Larger unicellular organisms like the 2mm long stentor exhibit very complex behaviors. They behave much like multicellular animals they more or less compete with. No neurons! Lots of behavior. Levels of behavior which would be very difficult to reproduce even using the latest megawatt dweeb learning atrocity that would otherwise be used to (badly) identify cat videos.

Since humans evolved from unicellular life, there should be some more primitive processing power still around, very possibly networked  and working in concert together. We already know that bacterial colonies kind of do this; even using similar electrical mechanisms to what is observed in brains. It’s completely bonkers to me that modern “neuroscientists” would abandon the idea of RNA memory when …. something is going on with small unicellular creatures. There is obviously some mechanism for the complex behaviors exhibited by unicellular life, and RNA is weird and active enough, it is a plausible mechanism. Maybe they’re not aware of this because unicellular organisms don’t have neurons? Argument for them taking a more comprehensive biology course, or, like, looking at something other than neurons through a microscope if so.

I’m not sure hyperacuity is fully understood. I’ve read things which claim that dolphin, electric eel, bat and human hyperacuity (eyeballs, or fast reflexes in video games) is  a sort of interferometry done with the rate encoding of the spikes of nervous impulses. It’s possible that this is true, but it is also possible that some extra, offloaded computational element governs this amazing phenomenon. To put a few numbers on it: bat nervous systems can echolocate on a 10 nanosecond time scale, electric eels 100nanoseconds. Biological nervous systems operate on a rate encoded sort of sub kilohertz time scale, but resolve things on a gigahertz time scale; that’s a pretty remarkable characteristic. They claim the neurons are doing some fancy interferometry on the rate encoded spikes that nervous systems are known to operate on, but there is much hand waving going on. I’ll wave my hands further and wonder if offloading some of the computation on RNA computers on the cellular level might help somehow. Certainly neural nets with memory layers are vastly more powerful than those without. Granted the thing on your video card isn’t very Hebbian either, but one can make the argument at least on the box diagram signal processing level.

There are fascinating consequences to this, I think some of which were explored by 50s and 60s science fiction authors who were aware of the then popular RNA memory hypothesis. Imagine you could learn a new language by taking an injection. Of course if such a technology were possible, absolutely horrific things are also possible, and, in fact, likely, as early technological innovations come from large, powerful institutions. 

There are various mystics who assert that humans have multiple levels of consciousness. Gurdjieff, the rug-merchant and mountebank who brought us the phrases “working on yourself” and … “consciousness,” asserted that the average human consciousness was a bunch of disconnected automatons that could occasionally could be unified into a whole, powerful being. While I think Gurdjieff mostly seemed interested in fleecing and pantsing the early 20th century equivalent of quartz-crystal clutching yoga instructors, his idea is one of the few usefully predictive hypothesis for why stuff like hypnosis and advertising (marketing hypnosis) works. Maybe he stumbled upon the multicore networked RNA memory hypothesis by accident. Maybe the ancients are right and the soul resides somewhere in the liver. Don’t laugh; people have led normal lives with giant pieces of their brain removed, but nobody has survived the death of their livers. The former fact; normal people getting by without much brain tissue, at least, ought to be the end of the argument: purely Hebbian models of the brain are obviously false.

Debate in the literature:



William R. Corliss and open problems in science

Posted in Corliss, Open problems by Scott Locklin on August 2, 2020

William Corliss was a physicist and rocket scientist from the heroic golden age of physics. He did great work in everything from nuclear engineering, to telerobotics, to neutron spectroscopy, to space flight; a real universal man in the last exciting time in science. What we know him for most these days though are his catalogs of things we don’t know. 

Looked a lot like my late pal Marty as well

He represents exactly my kind of scientist; one who is interested in the cool stuff happening in current year, and all the stuff we don’t know. You infectious human waste “who fucking love science” don’t actually. Science is about the mystery. It’s not a clerisy you can use to bludgeon  your political opponents, nor a series of facts you can feel smug about “knowing” about; it’s about appreciating the wonder of all of it. It’s insufficiently appreciated what a bunch of dumbasses humans are, and how little we actually know about matters of the utmost importance to our self understanding as human beings. Most modern clerisy “scientists” couldn’t even tell you about important open problems in their field. They’re too busy filling out forms, grubbing for money and social status, diddling their students and engaging in maoist witch hunts to bother with the reason all honest people become scientists; appreciating the wonders of nature and figuring things out.

Corliss’ work looks like it more or less wrapped up around the mid-90s; it’s truly enormous and it was almost entirely done before the internet era. He has a sensible rating system involving quality of data and extremity of anomaly. Many of the really big mysteries mentioned are still mysteries. It vast, and at this point I own enough of it I don’t have to worry about you guys cleaning up on volumes I may not have yet. Of course, most of it is not so mysterious, but it is at least noteworthy and thought provoking. Pointing out a certain kind of rock formation is weird and interesting is vastly superior to never mentioning the weird rocks.

Contemplate writing two feet worth of authoritative books on biology, astronomy, meteorology, geology and archaeology before Al Gore invented the internet, while maintaining an active career in rocket science. There’s more to it than meets the eye here; this represents the in-print stuff and a few out of print books I managed to get my hands on: there is more of his work is in out of print books, and some of it only exists in his newsletters, some of which his son has preserved online.

Most of it is taken from Science, Nature and other respectable scientific journals. People will grouse about it, because people always grouse, but he seemed to do a bang up job of picking out interesting things for which there are no reasonable explanations, and a lot more things which are merely “pretty damn weird.” Probably using stuff like index cards.

Now some of it may seem fruity to smug yutzes. Dr. Corliss has a section on the Yeti in Biological Anomalies Humans III. However most of the citations are from, as I said, Science and Nature. Should we ignore these lacunae, “fucking love science” dipshits? I think at this point where even primitive barbarians have ipotato, it’s probable there is no Yeti hominid, but Corliss’ probability of this being a big deal back in 1994 is still approximately correct as far as I can tell. Even if the Yeti is ultimately silly and wrong, his preservation of wonderful tales of the Orang Pendek (a legendary sumatran dwarf homonid race)  or the Agogwe (african mini yeti) a few pages afterwords makes it all worth while.

Since I’ve got this giant stack of books of weird lacunae in the sciences, as I thumb through them, I’ll post a few here, checked against the latest research, at least as well as the most convenient search engines go. Maybe one or two will be worth a full sperdo nerding out on. Ideally to make some of you think about something useful, but at the very least, kick his kids a few bucks by buying his books

A few tastes: 

Fat tropical animals: here’s one looking us in the face: why the fook would fat animals be happy in the tropics? It’s possibly a recent evolutionary adaptation, hippos being in the tropcs, but it’s bloody weird. Most animals, even people are well suited to the climates they live in with physical adaptations that help. BMI3

Human Mortality Correlated with Geomagnetic Activity: here’s one Corliss rated as fairly low in data quality back when he wrote about it, but top notch as an anomaly if it turns out to be true. The geomagnetic field has weird disturbances correlated with the quasiperiodic solar activity. Apparently this also causes premature death. Obviously nobody knows why, but it is fairly well documented at this point;  with the years since Corliss originally wrote about it in BHF32 (Human Anomalies II) (one of his original refs conveniently available here), it’s become fairly well known. I linked seven references above; there are probably a hundred.

Nonrandom Direction-of-Approach of Comets to the Sun: the prevailing theory of the Oort cloud is comets should approach the sun from random directions. People are fairly certain that comet approaches are non-random. Lots of evidence of it; people are more certain than ever that there is something going on here, and various ideas on galactic tidal forces have been proposed to deal with it. (ACB2 The Sun and Solar System Debris)

 Bone Caves, Bone Caches and Other Superficial Accumulations of Bones: -this used to be a trope of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs books; aka the elephant graveyard of lore. There are numerous examples of this, though Corliss kind of lumps them together in ESD1 (Neglected Geological Anomalies). Some of them are dinosaurs falling into a ravine and being pickled in the moss that eventually becomes coal. But it’s still freaking weird. Other bone caves are just insane; such things used to be considered evidence by geologists for the Great Flood back when that was the dominant paradigm (150 years ago isn’t that long). He gives this top ratings for weirdness; very strong data, very weird phenomenon. Moderns apparently just ignore it, despite the fact that Darwin himself thought it pretty peculiar.

Production-Consumption Discrepancy in Prehistoric Lake Superior Copper Mining. I bet most of you didn’t know that North America had pre-european copper mines; Indians had been mining copper there for 5000 years. Personally I consider this pretty weird in itself. It’s a fact, and it’s largely ignored. What propels it to “holy shit that’s weird” territory is nobody knows what happened to most of the copper (MSE6 “Ancient Infrastructure”). The calculation of how much copper was taken out of there is pretty straightforward, and copper doesn’t disappear easily; there are copper and bronze artifacts from the Americas (and everywhere else) from that long ago. The speculation is that, perhaps Phonecian Merchants (or Egyptians or Aliens or whatever) were trading with the Americas for much longer than we know. It is in principle a knowable thing; one can identify artifacts made with the particular chemical composition of Lake Superior Copper.  Not something likely to make you friends in the Archaeology department though.