Friday, August 31, 2012

Prop 37, genetically-modified food labeling, burritos, and stir-fry

I like to make burritos -- burritos for breakfast, lunch, dinner, early morning surf trips, you name it.  Burritos can be vegetarian, with just rice and beans and salsa and lots of cilantro.  Burritos can be spicy, with Dave's Insanity Sauce (caution -- just looking at a bottle of this sauce can make your hair start to stand up and your eyes begin to water).  Burritos can be filled with leftovers and wrapped in tinfoil to take to work the next day (especially if you have a toaster-oven where you work).  And, in case I haven't said it before, burritos can be wrapped up and taken with you on the drive to the local break for an early-morning surf session (along with a big travel mug of hot black coffee).

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the Mission-style burrito (originating in the Mission district of San Francisco) is a work of art, and different taquerias have their own unique style and loyal followings.  But because I have lived all over the country -- often in places where they do not have taquerias that serve Mission burritos -- I have had to learn how to roll my own.  Once you know the proper sequence of moves, it's not difficult at all to roll a great burrito, but it helps to have the right kind of tortilla.  I've tried just about every tortilla sold in stores, and my favorites are the really big, extra-large and extra-thin tortillas that have writing in Spanish all over the packages.

However, the sad fact of the matter is that just about every tortilla you will encounter in just about every supermarket in California likely contains genetically-modified ingredients, unless you are in an organic grocery store or a Trader Joe's (which promises no GMOs in foods carried under their Trader Joe's product label).

Editor's note: what does any of this have to do with the subject matter of this blog?  It has quite a lot to do with it, because it is about looking at the evidence for yourself, analyzing the various things that people are telling you, and making your own decisions about what to believe -- doing your own "due diligence."

There are currently eight GM foods authorized for sale as human food or ingredients in human food in the US (for more discussion and links to resources about these eight crops, see this previous post): 
  • corn (a huge percentage of which is now GM in the US, as well as all the varied corn products made from GM corn, including corn syrups, corn starches, corn oils, etc)
  • soy
  • cottonseed (consumed by humans as cottonseed oil)
  • canola
  • sugarbeets (and therefore most sugar and foods containing sugar as an ingredient, unless it specifically says "cane sugar")
  • more than half of Hawaiian papaya (some sources now say 80% of it)
  • a small percentage of zucchini
  • a small percentage of yellow crookneck squash.
Try going into any of your local supermarkets and looking through every package of tortillas that they have for sale.  Every single package, from every single brand, will probably contain corn, cottonseed oil, or both.  If they are not labeled as "organic" or "contains no GMO ingredients," then you can assume that the cottonseed oil and the corn come from genetically modified plants.  Most typical supermarket chains carry several brands of tortillas, but typically not one of those brands in the store will be organic or state that its ingredients do not come from GMO sources.  

Perhaps this is just because there really isn't a market for tortillas made without genetically-modified ingredients.  Perhaps people just don't care.  After all, if people rebelled against genetically-modified tortillas on their burritos, then nobody would buy those tortillas and the stores would stop selling them, or the tortilla brands would start offering some non-GMO tortillas as an option. 

That's a great argument, but if the companies believe that people don't care about GMO ingredients, then why are so many of them spending so many millions of dollars to try to prevent the labeling of all foods that contain GMO ingredients?  If they really don't care, then adding the words, "Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering" or "May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering" should not be such a big deal to shoppers, by that argument.  More on that in a moment. 

Perhaps you do not fancy burritos to the same extent that I do, but if you head over just a few aisles to the Asian food section (where I also like to spend a lot of time), you will find a similar predicament when trying to purchase soy sauce in most grocery stores.  You will find a host of different soy sauce brands, as well as some "low-sodium" options and some "lite" options, but unless you are shopping in an organic store or other specialty grocer, you will probably not find a single soy sauce that states that it does not contain genetically-modified ingredients.  You can generally take that as a sign that the soy sauce was made with transgenic soy, at least if you are shopping in the United States, where over 90% of soy grown for human consumption is genetically modified. 

And, if you get frustrated at this dilemma, wondering how you will make your stir-fry without any soy sauce, and you decide to purchase some pre-made stir-fry sauce (maybe some General Tso's sauce, or some teriyaki or some sesame-ginger sauce or something) to use in place of soy sauce until you can get down to the organic food store or the Trader Joe's and buy some non-GMO soy sauce, good luck finding one that is not made with soy, or with high-fructose corn syrup, or with sugar.  

Since high-fructose corn syrup is made from corn, almost all of which is now genetically-engineered in the US, and since more and more sugar beets  will now be genetically-engineered, and since (as we've already seen) the vast majority of soy is GMO (and soy is an ingredient in just about every sauce product in the Asian aisle of the grocery store), you won't be able to get out the door without some GMO ingredients to add to your stir-fry, if you shop in most grocery stores in America today. 

But that's no problem, because nobody really cares about consuming GMO ingredients, right?  Again, if that's the case, why are so many powerful interests lining up to prevent the labeling of foods that might have been produced or "partially produced" with genetic engineering? 

Could it be that those powerful interests understand that the real reason most consumers don't have a hard time shopping for tortillas or soy sauce is that most consumers are completely unaware of the extent to which every product they are comparing already contains GMOs?  Labeling, such as the labeling that would be required in California if Proposition 37 passes this November, would lift the veil on this situation, and would open a lot of consumers' eyes to the fact that they are purchasing a lot more food made with genetically-engineered ingredients than they currently could imagine. 

The campaign to prevent this from happening -- to prevent consumers from being told if a product contains genetically-engineered ingredients -- is just beginning to produce advertisements, but there is little doubt that they will be ramping up in earnest over the coming weeks.  This "No on 37"  website contains links to videos, most of which contain reassuring messages from doctors (all of whom are no doubt well-intentioned and sincere in their opinion that genetically-modified foods are safe for human consumption), such as the video below:

As discussed in previous blog posts on this subject, there are many who argue that genetically-engineered foods are not harmful to humans, including the doctors in the above video.  However, what is not mentioned in these videos is the possibility that genetically-engineered foods (which almost always use genetic material from viruses and bacteria) may be harmful to the symbiotic bacteria which live inside of us and which are essential to human life and health.  There are also concerns that these modifications may be harmful to human genetic material or directly harmful to humans in other ways.  Some people may say that such fears are ridiculous, or unscientific, but shouldn't each shopper be allowed to make an informed decision on that question for himself or herself?  

The "No on 37" website where this video originated argues that such labeling would be costly and that it would raise prices for everyone without giving them any useful information.  This 52-page report, linked on the website, makes that argument.   These arguments get closer to the heart of the issue.  

Concerns over the cost of food to the consumer is a valid point, but the real issue is the cost to the producer of the food, and the cost of keeping GMO and non-GMO foods separate (if labeling is suddenly required).  The consumer is currently being asked to accept the idea that GMO foods are nothing to worry about, in order to save money for the companies involved in growing these foods.  The argument is that unless consumers accept such ingredients, it will be impossible to provide food.  

But this is a false argument.  To use an analogy from a text written long before genetically-modified foods were invented, this is like trucking companies arguing that they cannot effectively deliver goods around the country unless they are permitted to drive over the front lawns of houses when the roads are congested.  If such an assertion is accepted, and everyone allows truckers to drive their big rigs over their home's front lawn whenever they feel like it, then that system will come to be seen as inevitable.  However, if the laws protect citizens from the uncompensated intrusion of trucks on their property, then trucking companies will have to come up with systems to get goods where they need to go without driving all over people's front yards -- and what's more, trucking companies will come up with those systems!

The argument that "It's just too difficult to deliver non-GMO foods anymore" is exactly this sort of false argument, and yet it is one that will increasingly be heard as the debate over Prop 37 heats up.  Below is an example of such an argument:


This argument basically says to consumers, "GMO ingredients are everywhere, and there's no going back.  Therefore, don't ask us to label them."  This is at least a more honest approach than saying, "GMO foods are safe, and therefore we shouldn't label them."  This argument is saying that so much of our food supply now has GMO in it that it is just too hard to label it all.  

The "too hard" excuse, however, does not withstand concerted analysis, however.  The government does not seem to have any problem forcing every tobacco product to carry a label, no matter how difficult it is to do so.  The government also requires all foods to contain detailed lists of their ingredients, calories per serving, grams of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate (broken down into dietary fiber and sugars) and percentages of the USDA recommended daily allowances of a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to read between the lines, and to say that when someone argues that "GMO ingredients are everywhere -- therefore it's too hard to label them all," what they are really saying is that "GMO ingredients are everywhere -- if we labeled them all, we might cause a panic."

However, because there are alternatives available on the market, this argument also does not hold water.  Even opponents of GMO labeling admit that consumers who are concerned about genetically-modified ingredients in their food can seek out alternatives, such as organic foods (even if labeling opponents feel such concerns are misguided, since GMOs are totally safe, in their opinion).  If everything that contained genetically-modified ingredients were labeled, it is likely that the demand for such organic foods (and other alternatives that announced they did not use GMOs in their ingredients) would increase.  

Opponents of GMO labeling argue that it would be a "hidden food tax that would especially hurt seniors and low-income families who can least afford it," but the fact is that the food companies are probably enjoying the business of many "seniors and low-income families" who are currently buying GMO products (such as tortillas) because they have no idea that they are buying GMO ingredients.  In other words, the companies that sell these foods to these groups are able to sell more such foods than they might be able to sell if labeling laws were passed -- because their products would become less attractive.  

If that happened, foods with GMO ingredients might have to lower their prices in order to compete with the alternatives that they do not have to compete against right now to the same degree.  In other words, certain consumers may already be paying more for foods which enjoy less competition than they would face once those consumers learn the truth about what's in their food.

The list of donors contributing money for organizations seeking to dissuade voters from passing Prop 37 in California tends to support the conclusion that the real opposition to the labeling of GMO foods comes from companies whose businesses directly benefit from the use of GMO ingredients or the sale of GMOs themselves (the chemical companies who have patented seeds and plants containing transgenic traits).  The pie charts below show the current list of donations to both sides of Prop 37:


As of publication of this post on August 31 of 2012, the donors against who are named on the chart have contributed $25,075,009.  The largest donor is also the largest producer of genetically-modified organisms and has contributed over $4.2 million to date.  Other donors include big soda companies (which use a lot of high-fructose corn syrup in their products, as well as sugar, both of which are largely produced from crops with large percentages of GM plants, such as corn and sugar beets).

In contrast, the pie chart below shows donors who have contributed money to persuade for the labeling requirements in Prop 37, as of August 31:


The largest donor on the "yes" side, Dr. Mercola, does sell some health products, but they are primarily in areas that do not compete directly against products with GMO ingredients (the eight genetically-engineered plants listed above are not ingredients in most vitamins or supplements of the variety sold on Mercola websites).  While the next two largest "yes" donors have a more-direct competitive interest in the issue, the fourth-largest donor, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, does have a small line of all-natural snack bars, but is primarily known for selling soap and other personal-care body products, which are not in competition with food items.  Further, it is clear from the two pie charts that the amounts given by the largest donors on the "no" side dwarf the contributions of the largest donors on the "yes" side (to date, the largest "yes" donor -- -- has given $1.1 million to support the labeling initiative). 

To date, the donations to pass the labeling initiative from named entities on that website total only $3,294,326.  In other words, the "no" donations outnumber the "yes" donations by about 7.6 to 1.  This appears to be primarily due to the number of very large and well-capitalized corporations with an interest in defeating this initiative.

Strangely, none of the websites arguing against the labeling initiative voice what is perhaps the strongest argument for their position, which is the philosophical argument saying that the government should not use force to intrude upon the private property of citizens, including using force to make private companies or individuals place labels on products that they sell.  This argument would say that private citizens who produce goods for sale should be allowed to offer those to other private citizens, who can choose to buy them or not buy them.  If the buyers are concerned about the product, they can ask the maker of the product for details about it, and if they don't get an answer (or if they don't like the answer that they get), they can go elsewhere.  This argument would say that the government does not have the right to infringe on the private property of the citizen in this way, forcing the citizen to slap a label on his or her goods, and doing so at the point of a gun (or at least with the threat of jail and other sanctions, where people are kept against their will and guarded by people with guns).  

This would seem to be a very good argument indeed.  The best counter to it would be an argument from the exact same principle, stating that the current state of affairs allows unwanted violation of property (including one's own body). 

For starters, genetically-modified organisms, by their very nature, are able to reproduce and spread into other people's crops, which is a violation of property as well.  That this takes place has already been demonstrated in courts of law.  Therefore, citizens who wish to avoid GMOs by growing their own corn, soy, or canola on their own property may suddenly discover that they have some genetically-modified plants that invaded all by themselves.  

Similarly, as the speaker in the last video embedded above makes clear, it is exceedingly difficult to keep GMO and non-GMO products separate in the "food stream" that he describes, leading to the situation in which GMO foods are basically shouldering their way into places and foods that they are "not invited."  Further, because GMOs are a relatively new entrant into the food supply, it is quite possible that many consumers are not even aware that genetically-engineered ingredients are in their tortillas or their soy sauce (or a host of other products -- as many as 70% of all items on grocery shelves, according to the study linked above which was provided by the "No on 37" website and written by opponents of GMO labeling).  

Because a vast majority of consumers are probably unaware that so many of the foods they are buying now contain genetically-modified organisms (when the same products did not just ten or fifteen years ago), it could be argued that this injection of GMOs into their food (and thence into their bodies) is similar to air pollution or water pollution and thus an invasion of their property (their body being included in that description).  

Thus, while this line of argument (with some justification) says that governments should not tell companies and individuals what they can and cannot do with their property, including with products that they offer for sale, there is an obvious exception to that statement, which is that companies and individuals cannot invade the property of others in the process, which means that they cannot drive their trucks over peoples' lawns without permission, and they should not be allowed to invade their customers' bodies without their knowledge either (whether by pumping dangerous chemicals into the air their customers breathe, or by slipping potentially harmful DNA from viruses and bacteria into the corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, and sugarbeets that they eat, or that produce ingredients in other foods that they eat or drink).

There can be little doubt that if consumers knew that every tortilla and every bottle of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce in their supermarket contained genetically-engineered ingredients, some of them would seek other alternatives.  There would probably be enough demand for such alternatives that supermarkets would begin to stock non-GMO alternatives next to all the GMO products in each of the various aisles of the store.  

However, it is also clear that the truly staggering quantity of supermarket items which now contain GMO ingredients represents a new status quo that has numerous powerful defenders who will use a wide variety of methods to prevent this status quo from changing.  These interests absolutely do not want labels which would reveal to consumers the extent to which their groceries contain genetically-modified organisms.  

It will be very interesting to see how this fight turns out in California.  It may be such an important issue that it will have repercussions for the rest of the world as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Palm trees discovered in Antarctica!

Scientists drilling through thick ice in Wilkes Land, in East Antarctica (the part of Antarctica facing towards Australia) have reported evidence of "the growth of highly diverse, near-tropical forests characterized by mesothermal to megathermal floral elements including palms and Bombacoideae [a subfamily of the mallow plant or malva]" according to an article published earlier this month in the science journal Nature.  Here's another description of the discovery.

The astonishing aspect of this story is that the evidence of these ancient palms and mallows and other near-tropical flora was discovered by drilling through ice sheets ranging from 1.9 miles to 2.5 miles thick!  

That's quite a contrast in climates!  The article published in Nature by the scientists asserts that these near-tropical forests once grew on this continent that is today covered in ice and characterized by temperatures that drop well below 100° below zero (Fahrenheit -- that's colder than Celsius, which pegs its zero at 32° Fahrenheit) because somehow the global climate back then was a "greenhouse world" and "winters were extremely mild (warmer than 10° C) and essentially frost-free despite polar darkness."

They do acknowledge that this assertion about the ancient climate may require some adjustments to "climate models." 

Let's pause to think about that again.  Antarctica is so cold that no month of the year has an average temperature above 0° F.  It is located so far south that the tilt of the earth's axis plunges it into sunlessness for long months.  It is one of the driest places on earth today, with extremely low levels of precipitation (the coastlines get only 8 inches of precipitation per year, and further inland the precipitation levels are even less, with some areas receiving essentially no precipitation for thousands of years, according to scientists).  And yet scientists have discovered ancient palm trees and mallow plants under two miles of ice.

One explanation is that the world was so warm back then that Antarctica was like a tropical island, so hospitable that luxuriant forests could survive there even through sunless winter months.  This appears to be the only option discussed in the recent article.

However, this certainly is not the only explanation -- nor is it a particularly good one.  However, because most scientists are wedded to the tectonic theory, they are pretty much stuck with it, because explaining how Antarctica could have "drifted" to its current location poses some other problems, as discussed in previous posts on this topic (such as this one). 

If all of Antarctica were on a single tectonic plate, it could perhaps have drifted from a more temperate climate.  However, it would still be difficult to explain why all the palm trees and mallow plants did not decompose and rot away during such a proposed tectonic drift from the tropics (unless it was on a really fast tectonic plate that did not give the mallows time to disappear). 

The hydroplate theory of Dr. Walt Brown does not have difficulty explaining this fossil discovery -- in fact, this newest finding of sub-tropical fossils under miles of Antarctic ice accords perfectly with the timeline of events proposed by the hydroplate theory. 

According to that theory, which explains the geological evidence of our planet by a catastrophic mechanism rather than by the gradual mechanism favored by conventional tectonic theory, the continents slid one time in the distant past, as part of the events surrounding a global flood.  The violent buckling these continents underwent at the end of that rapid drifting created huge mountains and in places great thickening of the continents.  

The region of the highest mountains and greatest thickening is now the part of our planet with the highest elevations -- the Himalayas (home of Mount Everest and numerous other peaks, all the highest in the world).  The sudden creation of this region caused a major roll of the entire planet, in accordance with the known principles of physics.  Earth continued to rotate upon its axis, but the entire orientation of the planet was altered dramatically by this past event.  The roll caused by the Himalayas moved the regions of the planet that were at the poles by as much as 35° to 45°, and at the same time it moved regions down to the Antarctic and up to the Arctic that had not previously been Arctic or Antarctic at all.

Further, the aftermath of this event was characterized by very warm oceans and much colder continents than we have today, creating the conditions for heavy precipitation, much of it falling in the form of snow and creating great sheets of ice.  This was the Ice Age, which later retreated as the oceans cooled and the continents sank into the mantle in the centuries after the cataclysm.  However, the very different weather patterns following the flood could explain why Antarctica, which today receives so little precipitation, has such massive ice sheets.  The "Big Roll" of the planet also explains why scientists continue to find the remains of near-tropical flora in such an unlikely location as Wilkes Land.

Previous posts have discussed this "Big Roll" of our globe in greater detail (see "Earth's Big Roll" and "90° East Ridge" for example).  

This most recent discovery of palm trees and mallows is by no means the only discovery of distinctively non-Antarctic remains that have been found under the ice either.  Previous posts have discussed the discovery of the remains of turtles and marsupials in Antarctica, as well as the remains of Titanosaurs -- huge plant-eating dinosaurs that weighed up to 100 tons!  

The hydroplate theory may strike some as extreme, but you can decide for yourself if you believe it is more likely than the conventional arguments that want you to believe that a rainforest once grew and all these near-tropical animals (and enormous dinosaurs) once cavorted upon a warm Antarctica with mild frost-free winters.  

If an extreme event such as the "Big Roll" really did take place (and there is extensive evidence to support the conclusion that it did), then the hydroplate theory is not extreme at all, but rather the best way to understand the discovery of palm trees in Antarctica.

Monday, August 27, 2012

For sale: one ancient Whale Brain, fossilized

How's this for a want ad?
For sale: one ancient Whale Brain, fossilized (needs good home -- for a good cause).  Only one other remotely like it known to exist anywhere in the world.  Incredibly important, with enormous implications for geology, ancient history, and the entire historical-geological-biological paradigm.  Slightly used.
Here is the rest of the story.  As reported earlier this year in a story in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, this amazing fossil was found by one of two twin sisters named Pepper and Peaches, in a streambed on their family's ranch in southern San Luis Obispo County (in California, near the Pacific Coast almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles).

Pepper discovered the skull about nine years ago, and did not realize that it was a fossilized whale brain at first.  Thinking it was a common coral fossil, it appears she used it as a doorstop for several years (see this writeup from the Beatrice Daily Sun -- Beatrice being a small town in Nebraska not far from the even smaller town of Burchard, where Pepper O'Shaughnessy lives [she found the fossil in San Luis Obispo on the family property]).

Then, in the fall of last year (2011), Pepper's sister Peaches Olson -- who still lives in San Luis Obispo County -- saw a photograph online of another fossilized whale brain which had also been found in the same county.  That one was found in 1940, and it too was unknown to the world until about four years ago, when its owner Bob McGillivray of Templeton (in the northern part of San Luis Obispo County) brought it to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where paleontologists examined it and determined that it is indeed the fossilized brain of a whale.  When Peaches saw that, she told her sister, who took the fossil (now located at her home in Nebraska, where it sat on the mantle when not being used to stop doors) to a local university paleontology professor.

He recommended that Pepper take it to the specialists in Los Angeles, so she put it in a sack and flew out to her home state.  According to the story in the Beatrice paper, both she and the paleontologists in LA were in for a surprise:
“When I went to California with this brain I was just carrying it in a sack and when they picked it up, they said, ‘lady, do you know what you have here?’ and I told them I’d been using it as a door stop for nine years,” Oshaughnessy said. “The jaws dropped at that point. Brain coral is worth about $20 so I thought I would keep it as a conversation piece and when they told me what it was I about fell over.”
As senior paleontologist Howell Thomas of the Los Angeles museum explains in the same article: “It’s an amazing specimen because brains don’t fossilize because of their soft tissue.  The first thing I said when I heard about this finding was that there’s just no way. They brought it in, and sure enough, it’s the second of two fossil whale brains.”  In the video above, Howell Thomas can scarcely conceal his delight upon showing the fossilized whale brain to marine biologist Chuck Rennie, who has not yet seen the fossil at the beginning of the video.

Prior to the opening of the box containing the fossil brain, Dr. Rennie explains how amazing it is that the brain could have been fossilized, since the heat of a decaying marine mammal usually liquifies the brain quite rapidly -- so rapidly that dead whales today are rarely found with their brains intact for very long.  In fact, as Dr. Rennie says beginning at about 0:30 in the above video, "It is not common to see a reasonably intact brain in a stranded or dead marine mammal."

As both articles cited above explain, Pepper hopes to use the fossil to raise money to fund a west coast branch of the Brucker Biofeedback Center, which uses new and innovative techniques and technologies to help those with serious neurological disabilities, including victims of spinal cord injury, stroke, brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, encephalitis, myelitis, multiple sclerosis, spinal stenosis, and Bell's Palsy, among others.  Her niece, the daughter of her twin sister Peaches Olson, was a patient at the Brucker Center (located in Miami, Florida) after a car accident nine years ago.  They hope that by finding a philanthropic buyer for this extremely rare fossil, they can raise some money to "get the ball rolling" towards the creation of another Brucker Center to serve patients on the other side of the continent.

The first article cited above (from the San Luis Obispo Tribune) notes that a Tyrannosaur skeleton sold for $8.36 million in 1997, and that "There are lots of T-rex fossils, but there are only two known fossilized whale brains, and the Olsons’ specimen is the most complete."  It is hoped that the buyer would donate the fossil to a museum for further study.  The brain can enable biologists and paleontologists to study differences (and similarities) between the fossil brain and the brains of modern cetaceans.

The rarity of a soft-tissue fossil such as a brain makes this fossil incredibly valuable to science (for more on rare soft-tissue artifacts, see this previous post).  I sincerely hope that the family will find a generous philanthropic buyer who will donate it to science, and that funds will be raised for the worthy cause they are working on.

I also believe that this whale fossil may turn out to be even more valuable than anyone suspects right now!

Its value is certainly driven by its rarity, but it may be valuable in ways that go far beyond that, because this whale brain fossil may fit into a much larger picture involving other whale fossils, and point the way to a radical re-evaluation of geological theories and ancient history. 

Back in December of 2011, I wrote about the incredible plethora of fossilized whale skeletons found in the Atacama Desert of Chile, located some 20 or 25 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean (along the path of the Pan-American Highway aka Route 5), in one of the most arid deserts in the world.  I wrote then that these fossils may be best explained by the hydroplate theory of Dr. Walt Brown.  In that post, I noted that other fossil whale skeletons had been found in San Diego and also in Paso Robles, California.

While geologists operating under the conventional paradigm of gradual tectonic drift are at a loss to explain the fossil whales of the Atacama, they fit with the hydroplate theory explanation quite well.  That theory argues that the continents are not gently drifting at nearly constant rates for millions of years, but rather that they slid quite rapidly one time, in the events surrounding a catastrophic global flood.

Dr. Brown explains in his book (a version of which is available for reading online), the direction of motion was generally towards the Pacific basin.  When the sliding continents came to a halt in accordance with the principles of physics, there was violent upheaval, buckling, crumpling, and thickening of the continents, just as there would be in the hood of a truck driven into a wall, creating the terrain features we see around us on our planet today. According to that explanation, the mountains along the Pacific edge of North and South America would have been caused by this event, and as they rose up, water would have rushed violently off, generally towards the Pacific. 

At the same time that I was writing that, Dr. Brown was also writing about those amazing Atacama whale fossils in his annual Christmas letter to his readers, sent out that same month.  About the same time, he added some discussion of these important fossils in his book, which can be found in the inset box entitled "A Whale of a Tale" on this page of his online version, towards the very bottom of that particular page (scroll down almost to the end).

As Dr. Brown explains:
The rapid continental drift phase ended with the compression event, the sudden compression, crushing, and buckling of crashing hydroplates. Mountains, such as the Andes, were pushed up within minutes. Evidence of that compression event can be seen in Figure 49 on page 112, in thousands of similar places on earth, and in all the "Seashells on Mountaintops" that are explained on page 49. Not only did part of the seafloor rapidly rise to become the Andes Mountains, the overlying water rose as well. It then drained down the rising slopes and back into the sea, sweeping with it stranded sea creatures and drowned land animals. Larger animals (whales, etc.) tended to become lodged in these streams, while smaller animals (fish, etc.) were swept into and out of ponds created by large animals damming up the flow. Sediments (especially diatomaceous earth easily swept off the rising sea floor) filled these ponds, fossilizing the larger animals.  Mystery solved. 
Now, these two fossil whale brains from San Luis Obispo County -- both found many years ago but only recently coming to widespread awareness -- may fit in to this important "whale fossil pattern" that stretches all the way from the California coast to the Atacama!

Below is a Google map of San Luis Obispo County, where these two extremely improbable (from a conventional framework) fossils were discovered, showing the terrain features using Google's "terrain" option. 
ad more here:

The county is informally divided into "North County" and "South County" based on terrain, separated by the raised "cuesta" geological feature and connected by Highway 101, which runs through a gap in the cuesta known as the "Cuesta Grade" (marked by a yellow arrow in the map below).  While much of South County is nearly at sea level (or up to about 300 feet above sea level), North County is much higher, with Paso Robles sitting at about 750 feet above sea level, and the uplifted ranges in between reaching elevations of about 1,100 feet or a little higher.

You can click on the map to enlarge the image.

Note that the ranges in several places do appear to display the characteristics of a cuesta, in which the sedimentary strata have been tilted upwards, often creating long parallel ridge lines sometimes known as "hogbacks."  The hogbacks of the California coast and their relationship to the hydroplate theory were discussed extensively in this previous post.  There are also long hogbacks under the water just off the coast running all the way up the California coast, from San Luis Obispo County to Half Moon Bay and also north of San Francisco as well (these hogbacks create patterns that appear to be part of the bathymetry that makes the famous big waves at Mavericks break the way they do).  

The first fossil whale brain, found in the 1940s and now in the possession of Mr. McGillivray (he has generously placed it on loan to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for study), is from a toothed whale (perhaps a sperm whale) and was found in the North County, in the region marked with a black oval at the top of the map above.  The second fossil whale brain, sometimes called the "Olson specimen," was found in South County (probably South of the city of San Luis Obispo itself).  

The fact that these two incredibly rare soft-tissue fossils were found in relatively close proximity to one another seems very significant.  It also appears significant that there are other fossil whale skeletons found in this same county -- as mentioned in my previous post, there is even a winery called Whalebone Winery in North County's famous wine region, very close in fact to the area where the first whale brain fossil was found, so named because of the fossil whale bones found on the property.

However, the "authorities" will probably not piece together all these pieces of evidence to come up with a compelling explanation for this mystery, because they are operating under a geological paradigm which may in fact be completely incorrect.  Just as in a Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo mystery, that will require someone coming from "outside the box" and looking at the evidence from a different perspective.

Here is how I would piece together the clues in this case to form a possible narrative to explain the fossilized whale brains:

Just as described by Dr. Brown in the passage above regarding the fossil whales of the Atacama, the coastline where these brains were found experienced extreme forces that created rapid buckling and uplift.  Along much of the California coast, this buckling created long parallel "hogbacks," and in San Luis Obispo County, the Cuesta Grade runs right through a cuesta formation that is evidence of this violent upheaval.  A cuesta or hogback is formed by the sheared-off layers of tipped-up sedimentary layers -- see the drawing entitled "Monocline with hogbacks" that is the second image down in this post on hogbacks.  That drawing fits the terrain at Pillar Point north of Half Moon Bay in California, but it is also applicable to the geology found in the San Luis Obispo area as well.

You can see some evidence of hogbacks in the terrain imagery of this close up of San Luis Obispo County and south, below:

Going just a bit further south along the coast from this image, there is even more evidence of exposed sedimentary layers.  According to the hydroplate theory, these geological features are evidence of violent forces present at the end of the sliding of the continents, rather than evidence of very slow geological processes acting over millions of years the way the conventional theories currently teach.  Note that in other posts (and in the Mathisen Corollary book itself) it is shown that the ongoing alignments of very ancient human constructions such as Stonehenge, Newgrange, the megalithic temples on Malta and the Giza Pyramids provide additional evidence that the current theories of ongoing gradual tectonic drift are incorrect.

Below is one more map showing evidence of the violent buckling experienced by this leading edge of North America (according to the hydroplate theory), geological evidence that is germane to our investigation of the cause of the fossilized skulls:

The uplifted terrain caused sediment-rich water to pour violently towards the Pacific Ocean, carrying the unfortunate sea life along with it.  As Dr. Brown explains in the passage cited above, smaller fishes and sea creatures washed all the way out to the Pacific, but many large creatures including whales would not have been so successful, getting trapped along the way by their huge bulk, particularly among the maze-like patterns that are evident in the terrain of San Luis Obispo County.

In the North County, where the first fossil skull was found, there are numerous little valleys and microclimes that create a superlative wine-growing region.  The soil is also very calcareous (there is in fact a winery called Calcareous not far from the location of Whalebone Winery and not far from the North County skull fossil's discovery), conducive to growing wine grapes.  The whales that now make up the fossils in that area were probably trapped (along with tons of sediments) in this "washboard" of nooks and crannies.  The map below is a close-up of the area where the North County skull was found in the 1940s.  The San Luis Obispo Tribune story states that it was found where Halter Ranch (now a winery as well) is located today.  All three points are marked on the map below (Halter Ranch, Calcareous, and Whalebone):

Looking at the map (click to enlarge, or better yet go to Google Maps and look up Paso Robles, CA and turn on the "terrain" button and explore the wine-producing area all around it), one can easily see how whales carried along with torrents of water might have gotten trapped in the maze-like terrain and been buried in the sediments that still form much of the soil there today.  In fact, if you look at the terrain in the area of the arrows above (and zoom in on those areas using Google Maps for yourself), you may get the feeling that the entire area looks a bit like a fossilized brain, or many little fossilized brains!

According to this thesis, then, the whales were rapidly buried and preserved (this is a requisite for almost any fossil, by the way -- for more discussion see also this previous post).  Because these whales met a rather violent death, it is possible that in some cases their bodies were torn apart in the process.  In the case of these two fossils, the power of the rushing water and the violent contact with whatever terrain they ended up lodging in may have ripped open their bodies, exposing the brain and skull (the force of the water being not quite powerful enough to rip their heads clean off).  As more calcareous sediments piled up over them, the limey chalky blanket preserved and fossilized the brains.

Although this thesis may sound shockingly different from anything expected under the conventional paradigm, note that the conventional paradigm has an exceedingly hard time explaining these fossils.  Note also that the hydroplate theory neatly connects the whale-fossil evidence found in the Atacama as well as in San Luis Obispo, and that in fact the fossils are about the same distance from the coast in both cases, and on elevated terrain that is thick with calcareous sediments.  The fact that the two brains are from different types of whales (the North County specimen being a toothed whale and the South County belonging to a baleen whale) is also consistent with the Atacama mass-whale graveyard site, which contains many whales of both types, and which may be another indication of a connection between the fossil evidence in Chile and in California.

Further, note that the geological terrain of San Luis Obispo County and surrounding regions fits the hydroplate theory explanation (with its evidence of powerful upheaval, which conventional theorists attribute to slow tectonic uplift but which the hydroplate theory attributes to the same violent circumstances that led to the death and burial of the whales).  Finally, note that when Dr. Brown was developing and publishing this theory, neither the fossil whales of the Atacama nor the fossil brains of San Luis Obispo County were known -- these whale-fossil clues were found later, and they fit the theory extremely well.

In other words, it may turn out that the discovery of this second whale brain proves that the first was not just some archaeological fluke (ha ha), but a critical piece of a continent-spanning series of whale-related clues.  This evidence powerfully supports the hydroplate theory, in addition to all the other varied evidence from around the globe (and indeed from around the solar system). 

With all that in mind, it appears that Pepper O'Shaughnessy's doorstop is actually an invaluable find -- one that might help rewrite the history of our planet, and of the human race.

We should all wish her and the Olson family the very best in finding a buyer for this incredible artifact, and continued recovery and health for Tara Olson as well.  

Please share their story as widely as you possibly can.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


This is an excellent time of year to locate the constellation Aquarius, rising above the eastern horizon in the hours after nightfall.

Aquarius is an important constellation, because he is in the zodiac (the band of constellations through which the ecliptic passes), and because of the phenomenon of precession (explained in many previous blog posts and in this video, as well as in the Mathisen Corollary book itself). However, Aquarius is not the easiest of constellations to find, because he is composed of very faint stars.

To locate Aquarius, it is perhaps easiest to start by locating the two great birds winging their way towards one another in the band of the Milky Way -- the Swan and the Eagle (discussed in this blog post, with diagrams for locating those two constellations).  You may want to start at the southern edge of the Milky Way, where the Galaxy rises like a silvery trail of smoke from between the constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius: if you follow the Milky Way upwards from the southern horizon you will encounter the Eagle first and then the Swan (these directions are oriented for observers in the northern hemisphere).

The diagram above shows the view to the east after sunset (depending on the time you are looking towards the east, depending on your latitude, and depending on the terrain features that make up the horizon to the east, the horizon may be as high as the lowest star of the Great Square of Pegasus, but as the hours of the night roll past, the stars shown here will continue to make their way higher and higher above the horizon).

Once you have located the Swan and the Eagle, you can use the three bright stars of the head of the Eagle as a pointer to direct you to the little zodiac constellation of Capricorn, the Goat.  The center star of those three bright stars of the Eagle's head is Altair, which is one of the three stars of the famous Summer Triangle (discussed in that blog post about Swan and Eagle linked above -- the other two stars in the Summer Triangle are Deneb in the Swan and Vega in the Lyre).  The other two stars on either side of Altair in the bright line of three stars in the Eagle's head are Tarazed and Alshain (discussed in this previous post).  These three stars in the Eagle are very distinctive and you should be able to find them quite reliably. 

The three stars in the Eagle point towards the little tail of the constellation Capricorn, the Goat.  It is also a little line of three stars, but not nearly as bright as the three in the Eagle, and only the top two of them are really easy to see -- the third is pretty faint.  Remember that there is also one star that forms one of the wingtips of the Eagle between those three stars of the Eagle's head and the tail of Capricorn.  The diagram below shows a dotted arrow from the head of the Eagle to the tail of the Goat:

From the tail of Capricorn, you can trace your way along the back of the Goat to his head, which has a sharp horn pointing right to Aquarius (pointing to one of his feet, in fact).  Below is a diagram of Capricorn, showing all the stars of that constellation, and connecting them after the manner suggested by H.A. Rey, who not only created the beloved Curious George stories but also proposed a more intuitive way to envision the constellations (the lines for the H.A. Rey outline are in red -- you can see some of the conventional lines in green, which connect the stars of the Goat in a completely unhelpful fashion to create an amorphous shape that looks nothing like a Goat):

The easiest stars in Capricorn to see at night are those stars of the tail (by far), and then the stars at the other end of him, at the end of his horn.  In the diagram above, I have added a label for his "Horn" and his "Tail."  The two upper stars of the Tail are the brightest, followed by the two stars at the end of his Horn (labeled with a lowercase delta and a lowercase gamma in the picture).  The thicker red lines indicate the parts of Capricorn that you can trace most easily, and they are enough to give the impression of the little Goat in the night sky.  Follow his Horn towards Aquarius.

On the other side of Aquarius, the Great Square of Pegasus is another good landmark.  In the picture above (the one above the picture dedicated to Capricorn) you can see a second arrow (on the left of the diagram) running diagonally through the Great Square to point towards the head of the constellation Aquarius.  These two night-time "landmarks" help bracket the location of Aquarius for you: to one side, there is the Great Square of Pegasus, with a diagonal that points towards his head, and to the other side there is the zodiac constellation of the Goat, whose little Tail you can find by way of the Eagle, and whose Horn points towards one of the feet of Aquarius.

Staring at this region of the sky, you can begin to trace out the shape of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer.  His head is diamond-shaped, but only three of the four stars that make up the diamond are even moderately bright -- the fourth is really hard to spot.  From his head, you can trace down his body to his "hip" joint and then to his two feet (the star at his hip and the star at the base of his diamond-shaped head are his brightest).

From that bright star at the base of his head, you can trace his arm down to his water vessel, which has two streams of water flowing from it in two distinctive streams.  At the bottom of each stream are three little stars curving away (you can see them in the above diagram, although the lines representing the streams of water coming out of the water vessel do not continue through those three little stars found at the base of each stream in the above diagram, for some reason).

Once you have located Aquarius, you can contemplate the fact that the celestial mechanics of precession are inexorably causing the heliacal rise of the stars on any given day of the year (such as each equinox and each solstice) by a single degree every 72 years.  

Because the constellations are twelve in number, this means that on average, a new constellation dominates the vernal equinox every 2,160 years, as the previous zodiac constellation is delayed enough to have its preceding constellation usurp its position on that important day.  For the past two millennia, the constellation Pisces has held that position on the March equinox, but as it is delayed by precession the constellation Aquarius will take over.   This is the meaning of the "end of the Age of Pisces" and the "dawning of the Age of Aquarius."  The exact year of that transition is debatable, as it depends on where you "draw the line" between the two zodiac constellations (there being some space between the constellations themselves -- so it is a question of "whose airspace" we are in, so to speak).

Nevertheless, Aquarius is the next constellation to take over, heralding a new precessional age.  Now you know how to find it in the sky (we're discussing it now, during the months when it is rising after sunset in the night sky, rather than during the months of the year in which it rises above the horizon just before the sunrise).

It is probably difficult to think about Aquarius without the music of The 5th Dimension coming to mind.  In fact, having their famous song running through your head may be extremely helpful when attempting to locate the stars of the constellation Aquarius.

Below are some images of what apparently will take place once the precessional transition is in full effect:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Planetary proprioception

Yesterday's post examined the fascinating subject of "proprioception," a word apparently introduced in 1906 by English neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate Charles Scott Sherrington to describe the awareness of the body's position based on the feedback mechanisms of the body, and discussed some of the implications raised by a thoughtful Radiolab program which delved into the interface between brain and body (or perhaps mind and body).

That Radiolab program was all about the sense of location conveyed by the body to the brain, and issues arising from hitches or disruptions in this sense of location and body-awareness.  After continuing to think about this concept of "proprioception," it occurs to me that it might be valuable to expand the examination a little bit and think about the idea of our awareness not simply of the location and relative motion of our own body but our awareness of our position on the earth and our awareness of the motion of the earth.

In other words, how aware are we of the giant spinning ball upon which our point of consciousness is located (in its attendant body)?  How aware are we of the direction it is spinning and the way that this motion causes the objects that we see "out the window" (the sun, moon, stars, and planets, in other words) to travel past as we spin around?  How aware are we of our location on that ball and the orientation of the ball relative to the direction we are facing at any given moment?  Do different people have different levels of this awareness?  (It seems clear that they do).  Is there an inborn or innate ability of some people to perceive these things more readily than others, or is such awareness more learned than innate?   

These all seem like interesting questions that are something of an extension of the concept of bodily proprioception elucidated by Charles Sherrington and other researchers.

We might call such awareness in different individuals "planetary proprioception."

To help focus on your own "planetary proprioception" at any given moment, it is probably best to start outdoors somewhere.  Then, you can start to imagine the earth that you are standing or sitting upon turning with you on it towards the east (knowing which way is east would certainly be part of this concept of planetary proprioception, as would knowing which way is north and west and south).  So far, that's probably pretty easy and constitutes a level of proprioception that most people have most of the time (to greater or lesser degrees at different parts of the day and to greater and lesser degrees depending on whether they are in a very familiar or a very unfamiliar location).

But to really get a good feeling for the planet that we are standing or sitting upon, it is necessary to have a bit of an idea of where we are in terms of latitude north or south of the equator, and how our location impacts our mental image of the planet that is turning in space (with us on it).  

For instance, if we are located on the equator or just five or ten degrees of latitude from the equator, then our minds can think of the fact that as we orbit the sun we are standing up almost on the same plane that the earth is orbiting upon, and thus the path that the sun takes as we spin towards the east will be nearly vertical as we spin towards it in the morning and as the western horizon rises up to obscure it in the evening.   If we are located instead near the north pole or the south pole, or just five or ten degrees of latitude from it, then our "proprioception" of the planet beneath us should be very different: we then should be able to envision ourselves spinning along a little circle that sort of "skull-caps" the globe, and if we can envision that then it will help us to understand why the apparent path of the sun through the sky looks the way it does (arcing very close to the southern horizon for a viewer at the north pole, for instance).

Much of the world's population lives in the northern hemisphere in the latitudes between the tropics and the extreme arctic, and so the sense of the position on the globe must be adjusted to an awareness that is in between the above two descriptions.  One "mental image" to help those located in the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere is to imagine what the earth's turning would be like if you were standing right on the equator, and what the sun, moon, stars and planets would look like, arcing across the sky, as the earth turned with you on it towards the east.  Keeping this image going in your mind, imagine turning towards the north pole and literally reaching out with both arms to grasp the north pole (if there really were a pole there) and pulling it towards you, as the earth continues to spin, until you are standing on the spinning globe about halfway between the equator and the pole.  Now keep imagining the sun, moon, stars and planets arcing through the sky, but realize that their paths will have been altered by the shift in your latitude.

Additionally, to try to get a feel for what the globe is doing with you on it, the video above might be helpful.  Although it is discussing the impact of the tragic Japan earthquake of March 11, 2011 upon the earth's axis and rotational speed, it also contains a very helpful animation of the rotating earth (especially between 0:25 and 0:45 in the video).  If you watch the spinning earth -- tilted on its axis -- and try to see the spot where you are located on the globe and focus on that spot as it spins, it can help you to imagine what the view of the heavens from that spot should look like, and thus help you to engender a greater level of this planetary proprioception.  

For instance, if you are located somewhere on North America, you can closely watch as North America spins around, focusing on one point on North America rather than just watching the whole globe spinning.  You might even "pause" the video at about 0:28 and then think carefully about what a person on a specific point on North America should see the sun do each day, based on the angle of the axis and the rotation of the earth.  Then, press "play" again and keep thinking about it.

Another helpful tool to help develop increased planetary proprioception are the diagrams and discussion in previous blog posts about the Polynesian Voyaging Society (especially this post).   The incredible navigation accomplished by the wayfinders of the Polynesian Voyaging Society is done without modern instrumentation -- meaning that it is done by maintaining constant and very accurate "planet proprioception," based upon knowledge of the angle that the sun and stars should be rising out of the ocean and the point at which they should be rising out of the ocean based on where the ship and the wayfinder are located at any given moment.

The PVS has an excellent discussion of the motions of the heavens here, complete with circles that show the paths traced out by the stars each night, and the angles those circles would have at various latitudes where the PVS voyages.  If you can go outside and envision these circles in the sky (you can do it during the day or the night, although it might actually be easier to do at night), then this can aid you in envisioning the turning planet beneath your feet.  

If you think of the circle centered around Polaris (for those in the northern hemisphere) and then think of the arc traced out by stars further and further from Polaris (such as the arc traced out by the stars of the Scorpion, far to the south), then you can envision your latitude on the rotating, tilted planet and envision in your mind the reason that the circles are tilted the way they are tilted for an observer where you are.  From there, you can envision in your mind the rest of the spherical globe that you are standing on as it rotates towards the east.  Bingo!  Enhanced planetary proprioception!

Once you start thinking this way, you can practice focusing on your planetary proprioception at various times as you go about your daily (and nightly) activities.  It may help to enhance your awareness of the globe you are spinning upon, and eventually it may even expand your consciousness.  Perhaps analysts will do some study in the future to see how much expanded planetary proprioception can be achieved using various techniques, and whether there are any positive benefits to expanding one's awareness of the position and motion of the planet.

It may be advisable to exercise caution if you focus on the motion of the planet too intently while you are driving or operating heavy machinery. 

For more discussion of the impact of the Japan earthquake on the earth's rotational speed etc., see this previous post.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The body and the mind

Special thanks to TRB in California, who used the Mathisen Corollary Facebook page to suggest that the above episode of Radiolab -- entitled "Where am I?" -- would resonate strongly with some of the recent posts on the question of consciousness.

Radiolab showcases the curious minds and creative talents of Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich and a team of researchers and writers who orchestrate journalistic pieces of art exploring the "blur between science, philosophy, and human experience," accompanied by rich layers of sound effects and rapidly juxtaposed segments of interviews and other footage.

In the program above, the team examines a range of fascinating and unsettling aspects of the relationship between "the brain and the body," and the disorienting effect of disruptions in that relationship, which most of us take for granted.  

The show visits with various guests including doctors exploring the phenomenon of brains which still feel limbs that have been amputated ("phantom limbs"), an individual working to overcome a devastating loss of his proprioception, and military jet pilots and researchers who have been studying the incidence of out-of-body experience triggered when severe G-forces cause the blood to drain from the head and send the brain into altered states.

All of the segments resonate with the question of consciousness and the way in which the body influences what we might call "the mind" (rather than "the brain," as the show insists on doing, positing a distinction between "the brain and the body" when in fact the brain is probably more accurately described as part of the body, and the distinction being explored perhaps more precisely seen as that between body and mind, or even body and consciousness).

Most pertinent to previous posts on this blog, perhaps, is the last segment of the show, discussing out-of-body experiences described by pilots during actual high-G maneuvers and also during centrifuge training (including centrifuge training specifically designed to explore this phenomenon).  That segment begins at about the 44:20 mark in the above audio file, and you can also follow a link to that specific segment of the interview here.  

The descriptions of hallucinations and out-of-body experiences when the centrifuge causes the blood to "drain out of the head" definitely recalls the discussion of "One of the most famous NDEs ever," in which Pam Reynolds had to undergo a harrowing surgery known as a "standstill operation" in which her body temperature was deliberately lowered to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and her heart was arrested with injections of potassium chloride, and then "the head of the operating table was tilted up, the cardiopulminary bypass machine was turned off, and the blood was drained from Pam's body like oil from a car."

The interviews in the Radiolab show suggest that "out-of-body experiences" (perhaps including the one described by Pam Reynolds after that successful operation in 1991) might be caused by the disoriented brain's perception of the body's lack of responsiveness, which the mind then fills in with its "best guess" of what might be going on.  

For example, one centrifuge participant subjected to massive G-forces began to black out, and his limbs were thrashing around.  When he revived, he described an experience in which he had thought he was bass fishing on a lake -- perhaps because his brain perceived the unfamiliar flailing motion of his arms and his mind took that cue to assume it was receiving the stimuli associated with the familiar activity of fishing, which it "dreamed about" as consciousness flickered off and on.  Another centrifuge subject interpreted similar limb motions to the activity of shopping in a grocery store and reaching for tubs of ice cream in the dessert aisle, only to find that it was impossible to make his arms retrieve the ice cream (a scenario reminiscent of the sort of thing that happens in dreams sometimes as well).

In his excellent book Science and the Near-Death Experience, reviewed in this previous blog post, Chris Carter spends some time examining explanations of this sort for the phenomenon of near-death experiences, and presents some analysis suggesting that the classic near-death experience (as well as the slightly different phenomenon of the deathbed vision) probably involves something more than what is taking place in the two centrifuge examples above.

All of these examples, however, provide some valuable windows into the question of consciousness, and how it is related to the physical bodies that we inhabit, and whether it is in fact "manufactured" or "generated" by the physical material of the body (and in particular the brain) or whether it involves something more than that.  

The same Chris Carter wrote a very interesting essay on this topic entitled "Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain?" which was mentioned in the previous post on "Titanic, premonitions, and the nature of consciousness."  In that essay (and in the book linked above as well), he explores the difficulty of scientifically explaining how something called "consciousness" could be generated by the physical matter of the brain, and likewise how our mind's desire to move the body is actually translated into brain impulses that then send orders to the nerves that trigger the muscles in the desired body parts.  Scientists can study the way the brain generates those impulses, but the much more difficult question is how our mind, our consciousness, our volition if you will, get transmitted to the brain to start those chemical and neural processes in the physical world.

On page 7 of the above essay, for instance, he writes:
Strictly speaking, the most we can ever observe is concomitant variation between states of the brain and states of mind – when brain activity changes in a certain way, then consciousness changes also. The hypothesis of production, or of transmission, is something that we add to the observations of concomitant variation in order to account for it. A scientist never observes states of the brain producing states of consciousness. Indeed, it is not even clear what we could possibly mean by observing such production. 
The Radiolab piece also explores the question of how the brain makes sense of all the orders sent and reports received to and from the various parts of the body, but since it does not really distinguish between the mind and the brain, it does not explore the question of how the thoughts we have in our mind or our consciousness (our "disembodied" thought) translate into those physical and chemical orders.  Perhaps this is because its angle on the issue tends towards the position that those "thoughts" or the "mind" itself are not in any way separate from the physical matter of the brain, although as Chris Carter's essay (and his books) point out, this question is still very much open to debate (and the evidence may in fact favor the conclusion that the mind is not simply a product of the physical matter of the brain).

All of these issues seem to be very important ones, and worth a lot of contemplation by everyone possessed of a body and a mind.  There can be no doubt that the experience of inhabiting a body has a profound impact our "mind" -- and that the interaction between the body and the mind is extremely complex and fraught with potential disorientations, as the Radiolab examination so brilliantly illustrates.  

Perhaps it is appropriate to close with the fascinating quotation from Ross Hamilton in his book Mystery of the Serpent Mound (quoted previously in this blog post about the hexagon on Saturn), in which he gives his own view of the matter at hand:
each and every individual spirit owns a "mass" which, united with its native homeland, essentially becomes the spherical shape.  In the body, however, the spiritual currents of the little soul become plastic in order to fit the mold of the human being by way of the nerve fibers.  At the time of death or initiation at the hands of a competent Mastersoul, the microsoul undergoes the return, however temporarily, to its original shape, experiencing great relief and high joy.   26