MARIANO TOMATIS

WONDER INJECTOR

Italian writer and magician
working for a better Rule #34:
«If it exists, there is magic of it.
If not, let’s make it!»

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 2014 (36)

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WHAT IS SCI FOO?

Science Foo Camp (or “Sci Foo”) is an invitation-only gathering organized by Digital Science, O'Reilly Media, and Google, with support from Nature. The 9th edition of Sci Foo takes place on 8-10 August 2014 at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Lord Martin Rees has defined it as “a sort of mini Woodstock of the Mind”. Participants include researchers, writers, educators, artists, policy makers, investors, and other thought leaders, all doing groundbreaking work in diverse areas of science and technology.

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Magic & Secret Messages

A “Hey, but… it’s me!” experience for your friends

Posted on thursday 3 july 2014, 36 days before scifoo14 • Written by Mariano Tomatis

One chapter of our book L’arte di stupire (“Amaze”) is dedicated to the “Hey, but… it’s me!” experience, the short circuit you experience when you look at someone and suddenly… bam! You realize that that someone… is yourself!

There’s a “hey”, expressing the encounter with something unexpected. There is a “but”, which reveals the contrast between what seems and what really is. The ellipses highlight the time it takes to do a U-turn, shifting our point of view and questioning our own perceptions. “It’s me” is the final revelation, the moment in which everything is seen in a different light. Coming full circle is what Douglas Hofstadter calls “a strange loop.”

Fredric Brown’s “The Sentinel”

The science fiction writer Fredric Brown was a master designer of magical experiences in the short story format. His best-known story “The Sentinel” (1954) recounts the story of a man landing on a planet 5,000 light years from his home. Waiting for him were

the other intelligent race everywhere in the galaxy… cruel, repulsive, hideous creatures, horrible monsters.

He kills one, then shudders at the sight of the corpse. The story ends with the description of the horrible inhabitants of such an alien planet:

They were horrible disgusting creatures, with only two legs, two arms, two eyes, that sickening white skin and without scales.

And the spell is completed. The short circuit kicks in, and we realize that the story’s protagonist is an alien, and the monster… an earthling like us!

The two crop circles created by Francesco Grassi

In 2013 Francesco Grassi — the man who has “initiated” me to the secrets of this Magic Art — created with his team this wonderful crop circle:

Robella 2013

The work was interrupted when dawn came, the picture left incomplete and a secret message only partially encoded.

In 2014 the same circlemaker created a (double) circle with a number of similarities with the one of the year before (see it on Boing Boing):

Marocchi 2014

This second crop circle also encodes a secret message, incomplete too: as explained by its creator (in this tweet), only overimposing the two pictures the enigma can be solved!

My artwork explaining the correct link between the two crop circles

What is the complete message? Unfortunately I have no idea at all! Francesco Grassi hasn’t reavealed it yet, in order to let the researchers solve the intricate puzzle by themselves.

This challenge has a pretty funny side. Some believers argue that “Robella 2013” was not created by humans, but to explain the correlation between the two (half) messages the incredible hypotesis is that Francesco has fixed a broken alien message with a human crop circle! This is really interesting, the way how someone can push higher and higher the boundary of cognitive dissonance. Such an attitude deserves a cruel reply, so…

A “Hey, but… it’s me!” experience for your friends

Would you like to discover that the two crop circles hide… your name? Now you can gift your friends with this incredible experience, clicking this link:

ENCODE A NAME IN A CROP CIRCLE

Write here a 8 letters name (e.g. MAX MAVEN) and you will get a customized link to share with your friend: the page will be a (fake) discussion board with a post by Goldrake revealing of having discovered the name MAXMAVEN (or any other name) in the two crop circles (see here the post about MAXMAVEN).

Julian Baggini’s Mozzarella Moon

The idea of a half-human and half-alien message may sound absurd, but there is someone actually believing it. It reminds me of the wonderful The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten (2005) written by the English philosopher Julian Baggini (who will attend Science Foo 2014).

One chapter is titled “Mozzarella Moon”:

The moon is made of cheese-mozzarella, to be precise. […] «But men have walked on the moon,» you say. Wrong. It was all a fake, filmed in a studio by NASA. Haven’t you seen the movie Capricorn One? If it weren’t for lawyers, that would have been billed as a documentary. «But other non-manned trips have been made to the moon.» Most of them were fakes too. Some weren’t, and those were the ones that brought back samples proving the mozzarella theory. But of course the evidence has been suppressed.

Baggini concludes by asking: «How else would Elvis be able to stay alive up there if he didn’t have an endless supply of cheese?» His explanation of why people tend to believe weird things is one of the shortest and effective — and applies well also to the surreal theories about crop circles:

Conspiracy theories are made possible because of two limitations of knowledge formation. The first is what could be called the holistic nature of understanding: any single thing we believe is connected, web-like, to any number of other beliefs. So, for example, your belief that ice cream is fattening is connected to your belief’s about the calorific content of ice cream, the connection between fat consumption and weight-gain, the reliability of nutritional science and so on.
The second is what is rather grandly called the under-determination of theory by evidence. In plain English that means that the facts never provide enough evidence to conclusively prove one theory and one theory only. There is always a gap-the possibility that an alternative theory is true. That is why courts insist on proof only beyong “reasonable doubt”. Proof beyond all doubt is impossible.
Put these two limitations together and space opens up for even the wildest of conspiracy theories.

There is overwhelming evidence that Francesco Grassi and many other circlemakers around the world have created the best crop circles out there, «but we are not compelled by the evidence to reach this conclusion.» The evidential gaps mean that the evidence can be made consistent even with the hypotesis of a man completing an alien message:

All we need to do is rearrange all the other interconnected beliefs we have in our web of understanding so that they too fit.

Julian Baggini concludes:

For sure, what you end up with can sound pretty wild. But the crucial point is that it fits the evidence.

We have to admit it, before any attempt to reassess the human skill in modelling crop fields and the great value of Occam’s Razor.

You could be interested also in:

Re-enchanting airports with the Five Cent Koan

Magic to the People

Frederik Pohl’s Camp in a Starship

Becoming Spider-Man? Yes, in London you can