Bringing “Paranormal” Research into the 21st Century with Penny Royal
Now, more than ever, people are questioning the nature of reality in a way that was unthinkable in the past. Unreal shows like The OA have continued the conversation from The Matrix like simulation theory to what it may all mean to be in a simulation in the first place. During our investigation of “the mystery”, an investigation that became legendary for high strangeness before it was even fully underway, we dug deep into information science and big data to try to understand the avalanche of synchronicities that we were experiencing.
Penny Royal in a Nutshell
Penny Royal started with an investigation into rumors of a local cult which may or may not have been abducting young women and using them in sex magic ceremonies in a remote part of Pulaski County, Kentucky. It was more or less an investigation of curiosity, at the beginning, leading from local folklore to actual, verified stories of prostitution rings involving teenagers from the area all the way back in the 1940s and 1950s. We uncovered actual news stories of a “witch cult” operating in the tunnels of a local mental health facility in the 1970s, which through the use of drugs and ritual were channeling “alien intelligences” through the host bodies of patients. That led us to discovering that the location where people were reporting the ritualistic sex abuse cases was owned by a man whom the New York Times deemed Mr. X, a man so mysterious that nearly nothing is known about his actual history, who was connected to everything from the infamous Desert Inn in Las Vegas to the JFK assassination. Then things got very weird.
Our investigation intersected with a well known paranormal investigation known as Hellier about rumors of goblins in Kentucky cave systems. Hellier was not related to our research, on the surface, but something had brought them to our town and we ended up speaking to them about our own investigation. Upon hearing what we were doing, they told us they had been brought to Somerset based on a witness to the cult activity happening in the area. The actual moment of this realization is recorded on film in Season 2 of Hellier. The full story is too elaborate to tell here but the Penny Royal podcast outlines the vast scope of the first part of our investigation. As we became increasingly entangled in a set of events so baffling that they are virtually impossible to believe happening by chance, we began asking deeper questions about the nature of reality and started to build out tech tools to help us figure it out.
Some people experience an event so profoundly strange in their lives that it leaves them with the deep and profound realization that nothing is really what it seems. Here’s a good example from my own personal past but, individually and as a team, we have dozens of these stories, a few of which involve webs of synchronicities so elaborate they have affected the lives of people across the country for a couple of decades.
I grew up in remote McCreary County, Kentucky which is generally ranked as either the very poorest county in the United States or within the top 10 depending on yearly data. When I was around 10 years old, my uncle and father took us to hunt for deer on Peter’s Mountain, one of the most remote places in the Eastern US, buried deep in the Big South Fork. My uncle drove us home after hunting and looked up at the full moon, commenting on how lit up the gravel roads were on the way home. He then told me the following story about his own childhood in New Mexico.
When he was little, growing up around Taos, his father wanted to hunt on some land which happened to be on an Indian reservation so he went to ask the tribal authorities for permission. They said they did not want him to hunt on the land so he turned around, with my uncles in tow, walking down a dirt road under a full moon. While walking, they came upon three wildcats (my uncle called them bobcats) lying down in the road and they managed to catch one, returned to the tribal authorities and offered them the animal. In return, they were allowed to hunt on the land.
As my uncle told the story, there was a definite spookiness to the moment, which I believe to be important to understanding these events. It is almost a palpable, hairs standing on end, visceral feeling that precedes all of these stories. He continued by saying “Can you even imagine seeing three bobcats at the same time? You never see them together!”. As he finished that sentence, we turned a curve and there were three bobcats lying down in the road under the full moon.
This is a classic example of a story so impossible that its impossibility needs to be properly comprehended. If you were to ask a thousand people, even people living in the remotest parts of the country, how many bobcats they had ever seen, the number would be astonishingly low. I have spent thousands of hours in the woods and I believe seeing those three that night is the only time I have ever seen one in the wild. Of the set of people who have seen three bobcats at once, how many were under a full moon? Of that set of people, how many would be reminded of the story seconds before seeing three bobcats under a full moon AGAIN. When you do all of these calculations, you will find that the set of all people who have had this experience is a set of one, namely my uncle. This is emblematic of “the mystery”.
It’s All About Data
Nathan Isaac, the host of Penny Royal, and I have worked together at various startups and consulting gigs, working mostly in app development and data science. We both have backgrounds in literature and philosophy but have worked in various technical areas for quite some time. This background in data science, which sometimes involved sentiment analysis, vast data sets, web-scraping, computational genomic programming and financial forecasting, gave us a set of tools and perspective not generally found in the “paranormal” world.
We understood early on that there must be a symbolic layer of connectivity not currently being researched. What I mean by this is that, from the bottom up perspective of traditional science in which causality trickles upward from the atomic to the biological to the neurological to the psychological, none of this makes any sense at all. If there is no causal connection between bobcats in Arizona and bobcats in Kentucky, then it is difficult to explain the occurrence at all. If you start with a top-down approach, exploring the connection of emergent meanings, you will get much further. This led us to throw out all of the useless explanations and focus on identifying other models more appropriate to understanding the mystery.
It’s All About Perspective
When you start with zero assumptions, you can go down many roads. A good example I often use is the following one, involving an, as of now, fictional game called Grand Theft Auto 20. It is more of a philosophical problem involving simulation theory than anything else.
Let’s assume that this game is so elaborate and convincing that, were you to wake up in your haptic VR setup, you would not realize you were in a virtual world. Now let’s assume you wake up in such a world with a group of five people. Let’s give them qualities such as scientist, banker, schizophrenic, literary critic and chef. Of these people, who is most likely to realize they are in a simulation and who is least likely?
I argue that the limited parameters of scientific reason are merely a mechanism of discovering truth about the world-system you are currently in. I do not believe they uncover truths about the information supersystem as a whole. Understanding the atomic layer, which is projected from the digital layer, would be of nearly no utility to escaping the simulation. In fact, it only solidifies the status quo of ignorance regarding the simulation by focusing relentlessly on the manifest physical layer.
The first person to notice something strange would be the schizophrenic who is not bound by causal blindness to connections between objects in the game which exist on a symbolic layer. (As an aside, the association with schizophrenia, the occult and culture is something we dive into deeply). They might see that a red car, a different red car, always crosses the same intersection at exactly the same time every day. The literary critic may be most apt for discovering more meaning in these connections, able to understand the narrative quality of reality without being bound by the noise of the system within which it exists, the labyrinth of science. This is more important to understand than ever as the materialistic enlightenment perspective starts to give way to the neo-religious faith in superhuman AI. Already, in most machine learning competitions, the best performing models nearly never expose simple truths. These black box minds, which perform better at specific tasks than infinite humans, can only be trusted without even offering an explanation as to how or why. Science will be superseded by mathematics in the end.
It’s All About Transparency
In the Paranormal/Fortean world, there is an incredible amount of hype which chokes out much of a chance of understanding anything. It is full of people with agendas and big egos trying to sell books or talks or hastily informed television series. With Penny Royal, we did not need any proof for the strangeness. It still swirls around us in ways that would scare most people away. We do not care about proving that something is happening to us because we know that it is. We only care about understanding what is happening and how that might be intersecting with the physical universe we perceive around us.
We started to realize that our own biases could impact the direction of our investigation and, also, that we could not read enough to properly connect everything together mentally. This led us to building out a tool, that we are publishing soon, called Knotilus, which allows us to throw in as much text as we want and it will extract all of the people, places, events, dates, names, etc, map them out in network diagrams and timelines, connecting them by textual proximity, allowing us to nearly instantaneously see a level of connection between these things that would normally take someone months of reading and meticulous memory.
We were also interested in how this may intersect with numinous communication such as channeling, due to a number of strange connections between our investigation and the channeling of “alien intelligences”. This led us to build out something called ChannelBot which uses randomness sources such as quantum computers, atmospheric data and even social media, monitoring them for entropic fluctuations, which in turn, select words from a text, creating the possibility of channeling messages, almost like a quantum Ouija board. We are taking that even further by applying natural language processing tools to better filter out the noise. We are currently testing ChannelBot with members of the Liminal Lodge.
Because Penny Royal exists as the product of a local hippie/music/art scene which may be hard to understand in other places, in a micro-culture of a local spiritual Renaissance within the largely spiritual desert of the upper South, it was important to us to keep it honest to what we believe, removing as much ego as we could and sticking to the validity of our experiences and thoughts. We are approaching the “paranormal”, a word too narrow to encompass what we are conveying, from the perspective of a startup. Our investigation is now live-streamed, weekly, with no hype. We dig as deep as we can into uncovering the mechanisms of the system within which all our lives play out and we show that research, unvarnished, weekly as we approach the universe with a set of tools nobody has ever brought to bear on its understanding before. We are now in the stages of planning our first hardware projects which will allow us to take all of the benefits of the Maker community and open source hardware to create tools for researchers which are vastly superior to anything currently on the market. We want to help pave the way for a future of genuine, data driven research in an area that has been plagued by noise and misinformation and we think we are doing that with Penny Royal.
For more information about Penny Royal, you can find us here.