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Psychedelics in Antiquity / Exoplanets & Human Struggle

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Date Host George Knapp
Guests Brian Muraresku, Sara Seager

Brian Muraresku practices international law while maintaining an obsession with the mysterious spiritual foundations of Western Civilization. In the first half, he discussed his exploration of hidden collections in the Louvre Museum, secret archives of the Vatican, and other sources, in which he unearthed evidence for ritualistic/religious use of psychedelic drugs by the ancient Greeks and possibly some of the earliest Christians. He delved into the Eleusinian Mysteries, held in Greece for nearly 2,000 years (from around 1500 BC to 400 AD). It was a pilgrimage, he explained, where people were initiated into a secret religion by drinking a special barley elixir known as kykeon, after which they'd have a vision of a goddess and were then said to be guaranteed of an afterlife.

Prof. Carl Rucker was one of the first to propose that the barley in the initiates' drink may have been infected with ergot, a naturally occurring fungus with LSD-type effects. Muraresku followed up on this, studying archaeo-botany, and the testing of ancient samples, which indicated that wines and beers may have been spiked with psychedelic or mind-altering ingredients. In the ancient manuscript from the first century AD, De Materia Medica, 56 different recipes for spiking wine were listed. One scientist, he reported, found evidence of ancient beer at Gobekli Tepe, dating back some 12,000 years. Jesus could be thought of like the second coming of the Dionysus, Muraresku proposed. "And," he added, "there's the intriguing possibility that maybe some of this spiked wine from the pagan antique world found in its way" into early Greek Christian communities who used it as their initial version of the Eucharist.

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Pioneering planetary scientist Sara Seager searches for exoplanets, especially for distant, elusive worlds that could sustain life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, her life's purpose became clouded. In the latter half, she spoke about her struggles to navigate the loss and the solace found in exoplanets' alien beauty and the challenges of their exploration. Most of the thousands of exoplanets have been discovered by indirect means, she explained, deducing the qualities of their existence through atmospheric signals as they transit in front of their stars. Small rocky planets appear to be very common, she noted, and have better chances for containing life than larger gas giants (like Jupiter) that have no surface and are too hot under their atmospheres.

Seager was part of the team that made recent discoveries about Venus, where it is now thought to possibly contain the right conditions for small, microbe-like life in the clouds above its hot surface. She reported that rogue planets (slung out of their solar systems) might be as common as stars. Because it can be challenging to get time on in-demand telescopes like Hubble, Seager pioneered using small satellite telescopes called CubeSat to look at exoplanets. She also described an intriguing technology in the works called starshade that employs a huge flower-shaped screen in space, which blocks starlight so it can detect the presence of exoplanets.

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Bumper Music:

Bumper music from Sunday October 18, 2020

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