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Strange Science
A review of the topics on The Learning Channel's "Strange Science Week," which covered everything from the Loch Ness Monster to weeping religious icons to scientific levitation.

Loch Ness / Religious Mysteries

  • Loch Ness. The segment on the Loch Ness monster did not provide any new information, but neither did it whitewash the "evidence" that we've all seen a hundred times. There were some interesting interviews with eyewitnesses dating back to the '50s or '60s, and there was good coverage of the various scientific attempts to find Nessie, including Dr. Robert Rines' interesting photo of what looks like a flipper, and the ambitious Operation Deep Scan, which failed to echolocate the creature. If nothing else, the show pointed out that there really isn't much in the way of proof that a creature such as a surviving plesiosaur inhabits the loch; most of the photos are questionable and virtually all of the video can be interpreted in other ways. What we're left with are the eyewitness accounts, and the program demonstrated how easy it is for them to mistake waves and wakes on the lake's surface for a large, moving creature.
  • The "Religious Mysteries" segment focused on statues and icons that weep water, oil, or blood, or in the case of the Hindu statues, drink milk. The show was only somewhat probing into the scientific explanations for these phenomena. It suggested that a weeping Madonna's tears might only be condensation, that blood flowing from a statue's eyes might just be melting glue, and that the Hindu statues are often made of a moisture-absorbent material. The show was careful not to step too firmly on anyone's toes, however, repeating over and over that these things, for most people, come down to a matter of faith. They believe what they want to believe, as exemplified by the woman who falls into an ecstatic state after seeing polarized reflections in an office building's windows that create an outline that vaguely looks like that of the Virgin Mary.

Bizarre Phenomena

  • Shroud of Turin. The "Religious Mysteries" segment above ended with a piece on the Shroud of Turin. This program began with a segment on the shroud, taking up where the other left off, and being somewhat better in that it provided some new information (it was new to me, anyway). One interesting interview called into question the conclusions drawn from separate scientific analyses conducted in 1994 that dated the shroud to the 14th century. The pieces of the shroud analyzed, they said, could have been taken from an area of the shroud that was patched onto the original shroud in the 14th century to repair damage from a fire that nearly destroyed it. The most fascinating new evidence was a computer enhancement of the eyes of the figure on the shroud which seemed to show quite clearly that placed on the eyes were Roman coins from the period Jesus is said to have lived.
  • Ogopogo. The Ogopogo monster is said to inhabit Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. Almost no evidence was provided, however.
  • Mechanical psychokinesis. The most riveting segment by far was that on John Hutchison, an amateur physicist who, furthering some of Nikola Tesla's work, claims to have discovered a phenomenon he has termed "The Hutchison Effect." With a lot of high-powered equipment he salvaged from old Navy ships, Hutchison demonstrated that he could levitate virtually anything: chunks of metal and wood, plastic bottles, cups of water, brooms, and more. There was plenty of video that Hutchison took of the experiments, and he says that several scientific labs and the military (of course) are interested in his work. The video of these things flying around is eerie and baffling, and a couple of physicists interviewed for the show expressed their curiosity -- even astonishment. Is Hutchison just a clever trickster, however? The program admitted that under controlled circumstances and objective witnesses, Hutchison was unable to duplicate his experiments. That always raises a red flag.
  • The two remaining segments were less interesting. The one on the causes of criminal behavior - genes or environment? - had only one fact that caught my attention: that criminal types often have a relatively low heart rate, and that they may seek out the thrills of crime to get their blood pumping. The final segment profiled a few "medical intuitives," people who, without medical training, say they can psychically diagnose illnesses. The show gave an overall positive profile of one medical intuitive named Rhonda Lenair, even though she failed a test conducted by an identified skeptic brought in by the producers.

Weird Places

  • Stonehenge. Not surprisingly, Stonehenge was the first weird place the show visited, a place that continues to mystify and inspire everyone who sees it. Stonehenge still is a mystery since no one is quite certain who built it or why. Interviewed authorities on Britain's stone circles also pointed out the unexplained magnetic anomalies almost always found at these sites, and the evidence of much older monuments beneath the circles.
  • Old Faithful geyser. It seems that the geyser is also a predictor of earthquakes: its intervals of eruptions increase before an earthquake strikes within a 200 to 300-mile radius. Nor paranormal, but interesting.
  • Lourdes. Thousands of people flock to Lourdes every year in hopes of miraculous cures. As the show pointed out, however, of all those thousands, only 65 cases have been officially recognized as "miraculous" by the church. A related miracle is that of St. Bernadette herself (the girl to whom the Blessed Mother appeared at Lourdes), whose body is "incorruptible".
  • The Oregon Vortex - a place where some believe the laws of physics and gravity go haywire. The program demonstrated, however, that nothing paranormal is taking place here or at other so-called "mystery sites" - they are just amazing optical illusions.
  • Killer lake. A "killer lake" in Cameroon actually erupted with massive amounts or carbon dioxide, killing more than 1,800 people.

Mysterious Skies

  • Rods. This episode opened with the baffling "rods" discovered by José Escamillo -- strange, undulating "creatures" flitting through the air so quickly that they cannot be detected with the naked eye. But they have been captured on video by Escamillo and others all over the world. And they are a true mystery. The still photos are available at Escamillo's Web site, but the video presented on the program was much more impressive, showing these things moving in three dimensions. They are amazing!
  • The moon. The next segment on the moon merely asked where it came from. One theory says it was once part of the Earth, and was knocked into space by an immense impact, but the moon's rocks are unlike Earth's. Another mystery is the moon's craters. Although some were created by ancient volcanoes, many more were created by meteor impacts, yet no meteorites have ever been detected or found there by the Apollo astronauts. Disappointingly, no mention was made of the many lunar anomalies that have cropped up in several photos.
  • Lightning. Apparently, scientists still aren't exactly sure how it is generated within clouds. More mysterious still are the colorful jets and sprites that shoot out from thunderstorms into space.
  • Meteors. No earth-shattering news here, except that those Mars rocks thought to contain fossils of Martian microbial life are far from being proved.
  • Rainbows. Nothing paranormal here, but there was a very good explanation of how rainbows are formed and seen. Also, some cool mirages.

Unusual People

  • Spontaneous human combustion. Despite a lot of new theories, including one called "the wick effect," SHC still remains a mystery. Most compelling was the testimony of a young housewife - still alive - whose back started smoldering while she was doing laundry. Her husband was a witness. They ripped off her shirt and saw smoke rising from the hot skin of her back! Fortunately, she did not catch fire. Weird!
  • Savants. A very interesting segment on "mentally impaired" people who can play music, create art, or other right-brained activities with incredible talent and skill. How they do it is still not understood.
  • Stigmata. More than 300 people claim to have suffered the stigmata -- the wounds on the hands and feet Jesus is said to have endured during his crucifixion -- including one modern-day evangelist. A psychologist offered the counterexplanation of a psychogenic phenomenon or outright hoax. It's interesting that nearly all stigmata cases are on the palms of the hands only.
  • Master Zhou. The interesting case of an Asian master of the "chi" energy who can work what seem to be superhuman feats: walk on glass, get run over by trucks, bend steel, even generate enough heat with his bare hands to heal others or start a fire! Either he knows something we don't or he's a clever magician.
  • Portraits from beyond. Profiles of some "psychic artists" who can draw fairly accurate portraits of people's diseased relatives just by speaking with the relatives. Some of the pictures were more convincing than others. But beyond the psychics' explanation that they were channeling the dead people, no other theories were seriously discussed.

Odd Sounds

  • Glassolalia. Otherwise known as "speaking in tongues," people with this gift seem to speak in a weird language during episodes of religious ecstasy or inspiration. They call it God's language, and linguistic experts say it is no known language and corresponds with no known rhythms of human speech. The show never raised the idea that it is even more difficult to understand is why God would choose to do this strange trick through people in the first place.
  • Ringing rocks. When struck with a hammer or other hard object, these rocks actually ring due to their unique mineral makeup.

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