Antimatter: Better Brains, Demon Detectors and Mystical Neanderthals

Cataloging the weird, the shocking, and the fringe

The following is another issue of my somewhat regular tribute to the cool stuff that used to appear in Omni Magazine’s Antimatter column. In this issue, we have stories about billionaires building brains, Neanderthals who may have been religious, showing ghosts the door, and more...

This Is Your Brain on Computers

A businessman is betting on a building a better brain. Bryan Johnson, who founded the web and mobile payment company Braintree, is branching off into other investments. Johnson is investing $100 million in a company that he believes can augment the human brain, according to TechCrunch.com.

While most schemes for intelligence augmentation require the none too pleasant idea of someone boring into your skull and depositing electronics in your brain, this technology developed by Kernel may not need to be implanted. Instead, the device boosts interactions between brain cells. It hacks the neural code, in other words. If it works, the device could be used to correct that brain when it goes out of whack. For instance, when the brain suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Johnson says that technique isn’t without precedence in science.

“We have done this before with biology and genomics,” explains Johnson. “We can program yeast to do a specific function. We can expect the same path with neural code."

Ghost-Be-Gone

It’s bad enough that automation and artificial intelligence is threatening jobs and careers, now a Thai company is creating a machine that could put ghostbusters out of work. Super Boondee has developed an electronic ghost repellent that can rid your home of unwanted spirits.

The para-engineers says it’s a high tech solution, which they call Trisaksri Ghost Repellent, is based on a pretty simple idea, supernaturally speaking. The device uses a condenser microphone -- phenomenon receptor -- to detect any supernatural goings-on and, if it does sense a spirit, it shoots a blast of radio waves at the poor dead entity. (An aside: I had a similar idea to drive neighborhood goons off my sidewalk by blasting the Carpenters back in the day.)

Some ghosts can be persistent, haunting buildings for hundreds of years. Fortunately, the ghost repellent will keep driving spirits away as long as it is plugged in, the company says.

Did Neanderthals Go To Church?

You may need to dig a little deeper for an insult the next time you yell out "Neanderthal" to that big lunk driving a pickup truck with a wheelbase that straddles two area codes who just cut you off in traffic. Based on recent discoveries at Neanderthal grave sites, some researchers are suggesting that these relatives of modern humans may have considered the possibility of an afterlife, which could demonstrate the rudiments of a religious system.

Barbara J. King, a retired professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, told NPR that one grave seems to show that a young Neanderthal child was buried with animal bones and Rhinoceros horns. For researchers, this suggests a few possibilities about Neanderthals, who -- except possibly for that guy in the pickup -- went extinct about 40,000 years ago.

“One is that the Neanderthals, who we know were very cognitively advanced with big brains, were the first to figure out that if you bury bodies, both predators and disease are more likely to be avoided,” says King “Secondly, perhaps these graves are marked and even lovingly cared for because Neanderthals felt emotions and they wanted to respect and give tribute to companions and loved ones. So their ancestors could perhaps be venerated, but not in a religious context. The most fascinating hypothesis is that the Neanderthals had some notion of an afterlife and wanted to send off their dead companions in some kind of ceremony.”

Shields Up!

If Rogue One is any indication, the universe is full of danger and conflict -- and marketing stunts. While researchers say it would be almost impossible to spot intelligent marketing behavior in the universe, a better way to spot alien civilizations would be to find their defense systems.

A paper in the journal Acta Astronautica suggests that advanced aliens might build shields to protect their worlds from gamma rays and supernova explosions. Although it may sound pretty, well, advanced, the researchers -- Milan Cirkovic, senior research associate at the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade and assistant professor of physics at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia and Montenegro, and Branislav Vukotic, of the International Astronomical Union -- say that an alien civilization would only need to be a few decades more advanced than our own on earth to engineer such projects.

The researchers indicate a space telescope -- something like a Kepler -- could note small dips in starlight intensity that could indicate either an object has passed in front of it, or that the star system has defensive shield equipment. If anything, this work is just another indication that instead of waiting for a radio signal, or for a spaceship to land on the White House lawn, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) experts are saying a better bet is to look for signs of alien engineering.


Matt Swayne
Matt Swayne

I'm a science and research writer with an interest in future and fringe technologies. 

Reformed journalist and marketer.

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Antimatter: Better Brains, Demon Detectors and Mystical Neanderthals