Sunday, December 16, 2007

Earth's "foreign policy"

Here is a remise of one of my many distracting side ventures...

For those of you who haven't been following... the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has taken a strange veer, of late. So here's another informative little rant about the kind of topic that calls for a far more intelligent and far-seeing leadership class -- if we are to deal with a bewildering array of 21st Century quandaries.

SHOULD HUMANITY ANNOUNCE ITS PRESENCE TO THE COSMOS? 

ShoutingCosmosFor you neos in this topic, you might want to start elsewhere then come back here. My own expose on this topic (ignore the lurid illustrations), can be found at:
http://lifeboat.com/ex/shouting.at.the.cosmos

One person who has expressed views on this is Britain's own prominent astronomer David Whitehouse.


THE LATEST SALVO

Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute recently posted a short essay, once again laying down what should be called the “Standard SETI position” on the likelihood of interstellar travel... and hence any conceivable physical danger that might arise from first contact with Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent Civilizations (ETICs). I invite you all to have a look, hear him out, then come back here.

Essentially, Shostak seeks to dismiss the notion that interstellar contact can occur in any way that might prove dangerous to either side of such an encounter. This need has grown more pressing, as some members of the SETI community, in Russia and Argentina and Canada, for example, have sought to expand the process, from its traditional mode of passive listening or “searching” for ETI to a far more assertive program of actively transmitting Yoohoo Calls into the cosmos, multiplying Earth’s radio detectability signature by many orders of magnitude in “METI” or “Message to ETI”. Also called “Active SETI.”

Those who have been pushing this new approach (once dismissed as unwise, even by SETI pioneers Frank Drake and Carl Sagan) have been doing so without ever consulting the wider scientific community, or even their own governments, seeking to create a fait accompli that might suddenly and irrevocably alter human destiny, based upon a series of unproved assumptions.

bSYTjSYU_qj9n9iTPdN66jl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVaiQDB_Rd1H6kmuBWtceBJWhat assumptions? Elsewhere, one finds a pervasive and almost religious belief that advanced alien civilizations must automatically and by-definition be peaceful/altruistic. Even though true altruism, in nature, appears to be about as rare as hens’ teeth. (Under Stalinist Lysenkoism, this notion of universal altruism was also tied to an expectation that all advanced life forms would be socialist! A dogmatic element that no longer seems to be part of the standard catechism.)

But Shostak and the Silicon Valley based SETI Institute -- managers of the new Paul Allen radio telescope listening array -- do not appeal to this fundamental underpinning of METI. In this essay, he instead begs the other one. The article of faith that interstellar travel is virtually impossible. And, therefore, there is virtually no chance at all, of deleterious consequences from drawing attention to ourselves

(For the sake of argument, we’ll put aside the large variety of conceivable danger modes -- however far-fetched -- that might arise from purely remote contact, involving no physical interaction at all. Even if we accepted the no travel premise, there are things to worry about. But another time. For broader discussion see: http://lifeboat.com/ex/shouting.at.the.cosmos)

For now, let us stay focused on Shostak’s essay contending that interstellar physical contact between cultures has to be negligible. He goes farther, by using polemical tricks to plant a further assumption -- that any conceivable physical harm from contact must come from a cliched strawman -- invasion and conquest by a cohesive and aggressive galactic empire.

Let’s take these one at a time.


THE (KNOWN) OBSTACLES TO INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL

CrystalSpheresNewestLet's put aside fanciful ones, like my "Crystal Spheres." The list of known impediments is pretty tough.

1. Interstellar Travel - and hence physical contact - can’t happen.

There is a vast literature on this. The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society has been the principal locale for much of it, across the last thirty years. If you live near a university library that has it... or if they've digitized... the topic is fascinating! And, without a doubt, the prospect is a daunting challenge, at best. Essentially, there are three demons blocking us from the stars, and Seth only mentions one of them.

1a) The vast distances involved. In some ways, this one is actually the simplest to overcome. I’ll get back to it.

The other two are:

1b) The Rocket Equation - which shows that you must carry fuel to accelerate the mass of more fuel, just to carry enough fuel to accelerate your cargo, an especially burdensome fact when you figure you need to carry fuel to decelerate, as well. It’s non-linear and really harsh. But --

I once saw the late Barney Oliver (a fierce partisan of the Standard SETI Model) try to use the Rocket Equation to "prove" that interstellar flight - even with perfect antimatter engines - would be prohibitively costly, effectively bankrupting even a wealthy home civilization that tried to send such an expedition. He did this at a conference in Brighton, England in 1987. Oliver started by assuming that the vehicle must carry all the fuel needed to accelerate away from home, then decelerate to its destination... then to accelerate and decelerate home again.

Robert Forward, in the audience, stood up, incensed at this example of put-up, tendentious reasoning, pointing out the obvious. That the fuel for the return trip would be made at the destination site and not have to be carried there. And, since all that return trip fuel didn’t have to be transported on the FIRST leg, that leg would need a couple of orders of magnitude less fuel to start with. With just a little common sense, the rocket equation then appears much friendlier.

As it does if you ponder a myriad alternatives like "star-wisp" self-replicators that could mass very little, require little fuel, yet make copies of themselves -- or anything else -- upon reaching their destination. Such things could easily have pervaded the galaxy, by now. At least with tiny observers.

The important point here is not only that a wealthy, solar-system-wide civilization could easily afford such expeditions, but an even more important lesson -- that intellectual tendentiousness can make liars of any of us. Because of inherent human self-deception, reciprocal criticism is key! And you’ll only get that in an eclectic and open discussion, not a closed-access circle jerk among like-minded True Believers.


Davies+-+The+Eerie+Silencec) The relativistic mass effect -- where the faster you go - in effect - the more you weigh and the harder it is to accelerate faster-still. This last problem only becomes important if you get past 50% of c. Above 0.9 c it really hurts. (Alas, that is the realm where you start to benefit from time dilation.) The crux? We are behooved to try and see if travel at below half of light speed can do the job.

Those are the three classic “demons of relativistic starflight.” Though, striving for honesty, I’d have to add a fourth.

d) Radiation shielding. It is possible that travelling at high speeds through interstellar space is really tough on you and your ship, if you hit anything at all, along the way, even cosmic gas. You may need a bulky arrangement of mass in front of you, to absorb the punishment or turn particles into harmless scatter. That will be a burden, all right... though our back-of-the-envelope calculations don’t seem impossible.

Note, all of this assumes we don’t get hyperdrive or other sci fi marvels. For reasons seen below, I have to doubt such is possible, since it would worsen, not solve, the Fermi Paradox. (And this from the sci fi author who included DOZENS of such drives in the Uplift Universe! Hey. What I find plausible is one thing. Imagination and fun are another matter. ;-)

Working through it all, here are some basic responses:

1) The distances involved are (strangely) the part that worries me the least! They are only daunting if you figure you have to stay awake -- or alive -- in transit. Or if you ever want to come home again. Assuming you can go frozen, or as downloadable code stored by a loyal contstructor probe, or if you go AS a self-replicating probe, or any of a dozen variations, and you aren't in a hurry, then distance is not the worst part...

...so long as you can feed the rocket equation enough to coast at 10% to 50% of c.

Yes! Those possible methods of ignoring time and distance are in no way yet proved. But the sheer number of them suggest that travel should not be dismissed. (Note, even if humans cannot hibernate or code-replicate, it seems incredible to say that some other species out there wouldn’t be able to.)

2) The rocket equation is a bitch. But if you only accelerate and then decelerate once, an antimatter-fueled vessel should be able to leave the solar system, coast at quarter of c, and arrive at another star without bankrupting the home economy. Wish I had the papers at hand for you. Look up Robert Forward. Or the first half of Barney Oliver's paper, not the egregious second half. (Alas, both have passed away.)

Indeed, though, light sails are the thing! Especially if the home system can be counted on to beam laser or microwave impulses at you for a long time. Then you totally evade the cruel Rocket Equation. (Jim and Greg Benford are actually experts on this.) Yes, without this push, the time scales are slow. But either way, you can get there. And those that do it, and make copies, and do it again, will inherit the galaxy. (Note, by that time they may have lost all interest in planets! So it may even have happened. Except we haven't seen the lasers. Is this getting complicated enough?)

Note that long ago, at a conference I attended in Los Alamos, Jones and Finney calculated that a 10% c ship speed, combined with colonization and needing three generations to send more ships, would still let an assertively expanding race fill the galaxy in just 60 million years. If it were done by Von Neumann probes, who can set right to work making more probes out of asteroidal material, then the figure is three million years. Just three million, with a ship speed of 0.1 c.

(See “Lungfish” at: http://www.davidbrin.com/shortstories.html)

No, this is not a classic "empire". No coordinated fleets bearing down on this or that enemy world! (The absurd strawman erected by Seth Shostak, in order to “prove” his point.)

Imagine a diffusion that’s much more like rabbits, spreading through Australia. Ask the farmers down there if they are enjoying that First Contact. Ask the wallabies.

IS INTERSTELLAR POSSIBLE?

Frankly, I find all four impediments to interstellar travel to be daunting, with a possibility that one or all of them might -- despite current calculations -- finally turn out to be prohibitive.

But so far, there is nothing to convincingly force us to pre-conclude they are prohibitive. Moreover, to do so, without exposing the subject to eclectic enquiry, is simply the height of dishonesty.

No, the thing that makes me start to doubt Interstellar Travel is not derived from any of Seth's arguments, but rather the current condition of the solar system, with our asteroids apparently never touched, and the Earth, with only one episode of sudden life change etched into the rocks. (The eukariotic boom), across the vast two billion year epoch when our planet was “prime real estate.”

The Earth has been a photographic plate, a SETI instrument. And it seems to have detected nothing. Nor have the asteroids been extensively exploited by some voracious wave of self-replication or industry. That certainly puts a real burden on the travel-is-possible guys. Oh, it can be overcome in any number of ways. But it is a worse burden than any of the nonsense Seth Shostak keeps raising. (He is welcome to switch to this track, instead. It is far more logical.)


AM I REALLY AFRAID OF FIRST CONTACT?

setisearchDo I think that METI will bring down some horrid devastation upon us? Not really. At least I think the odds are low.

But I do think it is time for us to start applying good habits to low-probability events that might have devastating outcomes. There are a great many of these, apparently, in the pipeline. Smart guys like Bill Joy and Michael Crichton and Jared Diamond are already out there, calling for renunciation and paternalistic control, in order to evade these catastrophes.

In fact, I share the renunciators’ worries... while disliking their proposed methodology. Given that paternalism has seldom worked, or delivered wisdom, in the human past. Like most of my fellow catastrophe specialists, at the Lifeboat Foundation, I prefer enlightenment processes of discovery, debate, reciprocal criticism and deliberation/negotiation. (The one process that Michael Crichton never portrays as even possible, let alone happening, in any of his plot scenarios.)

Which is why I find Seth SHostak's unwillingness to discuss any of this collegially, in open fora, deeply disturbing. It has riled up the contrarian in me. (And others.) Even if I accept that the odds of harm from First Contact are low, I want to see this thrashed in the open. And so do a growing number of dissenters.


A LIKELY SCENARIO

singularityWhat do I REALLY believe? Of all the Fermi theories I've catalogued, the one I like best is (naturally) my own. It is based on the one clear trait of our planet that violates the Copernican mediocrity principle... the fact that Earth skates the very inner edge of the sun's continuously habitable zone or chz.

(If Mars had been much larger, say Earth size, it would likely have had vast oceans, kept in Gaia-balance by a dense CO2 atmosphere.)

Because of this anomalous trait, Earth is probably very unusual for a life world. The need to bleed off almost all of its incoming solar heat has necessitated an almost negligible greenhouse effect, with only trace amounts of C02. Hence making us especially fragile to the slightest manmade increase.

Does this translate into an abnormally rich Oxygen content and perhaps more land surface than most life-worlds? Unclear. But if one result were an Earth with exceptionally large continents and energetic air, then the implied galactic situation would be amazing! There might be intelligence elsewhere, but vigorous, fire-using land creatures would be rare.

Hence most ETICS could be sea beings, perhaps smart, even great artists and philosophers... but inherently unable to build starships or radio telescopes. Isolated on their ocean worlds, they all could be waiting for someone like us to bring the first starships. To give them the gift of contact. And then to learn from their minds.

And, here’s the crux: it would pretty much have to be done physically. In person. A sudden switch from one steady state -- isolation -- to a new equilibrium of chatter and trade. What a terrifically optimistic explanation for the Great Silence.

That is, optimistic compared to most of the others. It still depends on one thing. Us, getting our act together.

I like this theory for another reason. It offers, by far, the nicest potential destiny for our descendants. We'll be the postmen, the envoys, the ship captains, the explorers... the cops. With plenty of others to befriend, but nobody to push us around.

It also offers a way for the galaxy to seem so empty, without actually being so.

Oh, if only...



See more articles on SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

62 comments:

bytehead said...

Aside from how disruptive a first contact would be.

Once contact is established, I could see the other end sending us plans for what essentially would be a 3d printer, and then plans for the printer to create. A simple 3d printer that would then create the parts and pieces for another, more detailed and capable printer. Reiterate as needed. Now we've got a machine that spits out individuals of the other side. It's a transporter beam, but without destroying the item at the source. And of course now we will have built a scanner to scan our people and send copies of those people to go to where ever this ET is at.

One would hope that if a society is able to build whatever they want with such a system, that they would be benevolent.

David Brin said...

That is the basis for the sci-fi horror series SPECIES. The first - and more thoughtful - incarnation was a fine Fred Hoyle novel in the 1960s called A FOR ANDROMEDA.

Speaking of multiple incarnations... is the new version of I AM LEGEND closer the Matheson's original? No spoilers!

Stefan Jones said...

No spoilers:

The night dwelling plague survivors are animalistic quasi-zombies in this one. So, the neat twist that comes from the sole fully human survivor being a legend isn't present.

That said, it's a pretty good thriller.

The wrecked and abandoned Manhattan is very convincing.

Will Smith does a wonderful job of portraying the lonely and guilt-ridden scientist.

Abbey the German shepherd does a wonderful job portraying his dog.

It is pretty emotionally wrenching at times.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again)

There's an article about this very subject in today's Sunday Times.

So at least the issue's getting publicity. That said, it's impossible to believe that ravening hordes of 9-eyed tentacled aliens stealing our nubile young women represent a significant problem compared to:
Peak Oil, global warming, the drift of America toward fascism, the New Medievalism, the war against rationality, the rejection of science throughout American society, radical hate groups armed with DNA synthesizers and a map of the human genome, and nuclear proliferation in unstable states like Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

You might want to consider another explanation for the sudden change in outlook at the SETI Institute, and the withdrawn, furtive behavior you've described occurring there recently.

It's the explanation that ends with a powerful active transmission that, decoded, says: "Have arrived at target. Local technological civilization. Easily influenced. Not a threat. Planet is suitable for colonization."

Pat said...

I would dearly love to get an opinion on SETI from the some of the Navajos, the 19 Pueblos, some Pacific Islanders, and some Inuit; insert other indigenous nations at will.

Mark said...

This is off today's topic, but did you see David Frum's editorial today? Most days, this would be right on topic:

And yet it also has to be admitted: Many of us on the conservative side have fed this monster. (Rightly) aghast at the abuse of expertise by liberal judges, liberal bureaucrats and liberal academics, we have sometimes over-reacted by denying the importance of expertise altogether.

Marc said...

>> I vote NO on broadcasting our presence.
First, I do think that most alien races that get beyond our stage of development, and can actually travel between stars would NOT need to invade us. Still, if you have races a bit more advanced than ours and paranoid -- they can build Von Neumann machines, in the idea that once they start functioning, it is pretty cost-effective to send them out to get rid of the competition. Or perhaps you have some religious cult that is intent on "spreading it's seed" as far and wide as possible. Think of intergalactic Kudzu.

The downside is total extinction -- the upside is debatable. So why risk it?

The only reason to shout our presence is if the oceans are dying and we are in trouble -- of course, it would probably arrive TOO late to do any good.

>> I already think we have aliens that have visited and meddle with humanity. It would explain the suicidal recklessness of the banker class -- otherwise, a diabolical plan to use up resources and sell fresh water like it is gold would depend upon starving billions of people and remaining alive to control the mayhem. I'll have to think about this.

>> The "rocket" problem can be solved with a new source of propulsion and/or energy. Null space may provide energy, and their is some hope from "quantum effects" of propulsion based upon the "noise" at microscopic levels.

The "shielding issue" isn't that big a deal if you are using massive amounts of fuel. You ride behind the liquid fuel. I prefer to travel frozen in a gelatin laced with graphite myself.

>> I'm pretty sure that FTL is possible. So far the physics discoveries I'm reading about are along the lines of a vacuum standing-wave particles in an aether type Universe I've dreamt about since I was 12. In this type of Universe, there is no such thing as time, but you can "punch" through the universe. The quantum entanglement of particles that are at a distance suggests that space/time is more of a property of matter. I've long thought that photons travel just as radio waves, but collapse to points as soon as they are "defined" by probability when they "bounce" or re-propagate -- that means FTL along the circumference of the wave. Time and distance are "created" by interactions in this Universe and a property of things existing. However, this allows for something like a "pocket universe" -- a self-balanced enclosed system. So it's reference point in location to the Universe is defined, it's time/energy debt however, would have to be dealt with in any new system (higher gravity well or accelerated matter requires more energy, while a lower one would shed energy -- these differences in energy potential appear as time). That WOULD make empty space to empty space travel a simpler affair -- many Sci-Fi shows address ships needing to get out of gravity wells.

Black Holes and Quasars are energy transfer points that have punched through the Universe -- however, you'd have a rough transit. I'm pretty sure the black hole is an accelerated proton, and the Quasar is an electron, due to conservation of energy as matter is pushed to the light speed limit. Einstein theorized that a particle would inflate if it tried to go light speed -- well, it can get pretty darn big before it rips through space/time. The rest of the energy is blown off in neutrinos.

Anywho, it all makes sense to me. So trust me -- the Universe will not be a forever commute of loneliness.

Also, the Universe will not end in a diffuse deep freeze or with a bang. It will start to oscillate at a specific frequency (the sum mean of random noise in the Universe--like a super fluid), and the singularity of space/time inverting will happen everywhere all at once. At least I predicted that the expansion would speed up -- little old me -- way before all the string theory (bunk) physicists. Remember, the big bang happened everywhere all at once -- and space/time has been created BETWEEN all matter and energy ever since -- but this is only a property INSIDE this universe. Outside the Universe, it is only a point in non-space. At the end, the inside will become the outside and vice-versa.

>> I'm absolutely positive that nobody will believe me. ;-)
Rantings of a fool.

David Brin said...

Zorgon, the METI imbroglio illustrates many of the shortsighted and infantile traits that have brought us to the brink re climate change, peak oil, proliferation, etc. Our inherent human proclivities toward self-righteous certainty, for example. The tendency to cluster in small, self-referential and reassuring groups of like-minded people, while avoiding the wide open tussle of opposing viewpoints that might catch our errors... or allow us to improve our already-marvelous plans.

I do not claim that the SETI folk are wrong, in their belief that the cosmos is probably benign. Or, harmless. What I object to is their blithe willingness to bet our posterity on a smug assumption, while doing everything in their power to avoid even a discussion about these matters, with some of the best minds on the planet.

Now THAT is alien to me. To avoid all chance of discussing such a wondrously interesting topic with top minds... even if they disagree? That’s the stuff I live for! But then, I am “contrarian” down to my toes. And fanatically loyal to the only civilization that ever valued that trait. Oh, what justice it would be, if they made contact, and it turned out that the bright civilizations out there were contrarians’ too!

Heh... yes, the sudden shift of SETI policy does seem to resemble the pod-people theory... that they already have heard a message and it hyp-mo-tized them into eagerly transforming us into a beacon target.

Sure we should include a wide variety of cultures in the discussion. But, speaking of pueblos... Poul Anderson had a story in which aliens HAD been in contact for millennia, with just one human culture. The Hopi. Buried under every kiva was a secret room with flat screen TV and tons of cool ET videos....

David Brin said...

Mark: I suppose we should be thankful to get anything sensible from David Frum. With cautious gladness, I welcome him into the camp of “ostriches” -- those conservatives who are gradually, grudgingly lifting their heads and recognizing the train wreck that their movement has become -- while Barry Goldwater spins in his grave.

Though, oh, how Frum squirms and tries to rationalize! Falling back upon nostrums like the hoary old chestnut “liberals are just as bad or worse” and even “liberals made us do this.”

Oh, sure, some of his nostrum-accusations, like over-reaching liberal judicial activism, used to have some merit. I liked Goldwater, you’ll recall. (Ah, but Barry was collaborating on a book with John Dean, on the Betrayal of Conservatism, when he died.)

Alas, while Frum and his ilk try to rationalize that the monstrousness of Bushism isn’t really all that much worse than liberalism, they keep ignoring a core and glaring fact. That liberalism has one major justification that conservatism cannot cite. With the exception of Welfare, it has simply proved CORRECT in most of its causes, over the last century. From progressive-era food inspection reform, to trust busting, to labor rights, to civil rights, to womens’ rights, to fighting fascism and communism, to building national infrastructure... these are all things that non-loony (NL) conservatives now embrace, trying to act as if they were “for it, all along.”

Many of them even hang pictures of ML King on their walls, for heaven’s sake. Make your own list of things that are now consensus-centrist values that NL conservatives now wholly accept... after having fought against every single one of those things, tooth and nail, along the way.

As they have fought environmentalism and the blatantly-necessary quest to speedily learn whatever we must, in order to be skilled planetary managers. As they first denied there was any such thing as global warming, then admitted it, but attributed it to the Sun. Then were forced to admit it’s human-generated, but now claim that it is too late to do anything about it.

Now Frum says: ”And yet it also has to be admitted: Many of us on the conservative side have fed this monster. (Rightly) aghast at the abuse of expertise by liberal judges, liberal bureaucrats and liberal academics, we have sometimes over-reacted by denying the importance of expertise altogether.”

Sometimes? Sometimes? Mr. Frum, J’accuse. I put it to you, sir, that your “side” has not just dipped its toe into populism, as you assert, but has gone stark raving mad. And you and the other NLs are betraying conservatism, by underplaying the depth of its fever. By refusing to admit your duty, to fight for what is left of its soul, before it’s too late.

Populism? That’s the extent of your mea culpa? The GOP engaged in a little too much populism? Oh, how typically snooty. Except, it is not just the mob that you have catered to, sir, but forces far darker and more powerful. The whole dark side of the aristocracy. The side that does not “get” how fun it can be to be a billionaire in a fast-rising and confident modernist civilization. (All of those billionaires are now democrats, sir.)

No, face it,, the GOP has sold its soul to this generation’s bona fide robber-plutocrats. Those who (for example) encouraged an administration of supposedly “free market conservatives” to declare emergency rule and thereupon virtually banish competitive bidding from the wartime government contract-vetting process, allowing them to hand out billions in largesse -- even vast amounts of unaccounted cash -- to cronies without even a figleaf of market rivalry.

(A question, sir: what would Adam Smith have made of this? In your obsession with socialism (with what?) you ignore the fact that Smith denounced top-tier cronyism as a far worse enemy of enterprise!)

There is no longer a scintilla of substance to the claim that Republicans favor the market more than Democrats, just as the GOP has lost any trace of fiscal restraint, international prudence, or even devotion to national defense, having largely destroyed the US Army and our state of military readiness. Sir, there are no bases whatsoever for your continued, delusional rationalizations. Conservatism has not simply given in to a little sinful populism. It has been hijacked by monsters who have diametrically reversed nearly all of its principles.

And note this. Not one of my denunciations has been in “liberal” terms. Every j’accuse accusation deals with a betrayal of conservative values!

...”sometimes over-reacted by denying the importance of expertise altogether.”

Sometimes??? Today’s conservatism has one cornerstone policy, above all others. To directly assault, repudiate, bully, harass, reject, quash, eviscerate and geld the skilled professionals of the United States of America, especially those working in the civil service, the law and intelligence communities, and the US officer corps. And scientists. The 21st Century’s Know Nothing Party despises all those pointy-heads, above all.

In just 15 years, the GOP has gone from two year average education advantage over the Democrats to something like the same sized disadvantage! And this, despite the Dems still being the party favored by the poor! You cannot paper this over, sir. It isn’t just some point-headed elitists who are turning their backs on you. It is nearly all of those with brains and education and skill and knowledge about how the universe works.

In squirming, and trying to minimize the magnitude of your movement’s sickness, you are doing it no service. No, there is only one solution. You must be among the Ostriches who wake up fully, and start getting organized to fight. Not against liberals, to whom you must entrust the short-term salvation of this country, like it or not. But to wage bitter war against the monsters who have hijacked and ruined conservatism...

...then using your coming, well-deserved, time in the wilderness to rebuild. Reclaiming something that Barry Goldwater might recognize. Something honorable that America might recognize. Something worthy of a confident, enlightened, open (and, yes, scientific) civilization.

Michael said...

Marc: Without numbers explaining what you mean by "the black hole is an accelerated proton, and the Quasar is an electron", I'm going to have to call nonsense.


Also, radio waves ARE photons. Photons are simply the 'particle' that carries electromagnetic radiation. When at the energy level of radio, they behave primarily in a wavelike fashion, but they're still fundamentally the same photons you get at the visible range.

praxcelis said...

Discussions of the Von Neumann hypothesis always seem to focus on Saberhagen-style self-replicating machines wandering from place to place building more of themselves for whatever motive advances the plot.

Whoever said it had to be done via hardware? My guess would be that it's cheaper and easier to beam information that would self-replicate when received on a compatible system. It would even explain (in an admittedly tinfoil-hat sort of way) the "pod-people" theory put forth a bit earlier; after all, when you click on that attachment what does it do? Convinces your computer to replicate it and broadcast it back out... (at the risk of burying any remaining serious credibility here, Warren Ellis did do a fine job of describing this in the late lamented "Global Frequency", with the idea that ETI transmitted itself via an active meme which copied itself into the brains of any sentient exposed to it.)

That being said, I think they're all barking up the wrong tree anyhow. On a galactic scale, radio seems about as useful as "bang the rocks together, guys". One of my pet fantasies involves the quantum entanglement guys making this huge breakthrough with instantaneous transmission--and finding that the bandwidth is already heavily in use...

Scor said...

David Brin Said: "I prefer enlightenment processes of discovery, debate, reciprocal criticism and deliberation/negotiation. (The one process that Michael Crichton never portrays as even possible, let alone happening, in any of his plot scenarios.)"

I don’t think you should rely on Crichton’s plot scenarios to determine his views. His plots reflect his commercial sense more than they represent what he actually believes. For example, in a speech to the AAAS he talked about what makes a good movie and what does not. As it happens, the scientific method does not (he was responding to complaints by scientists that movies never portray science or scientists accurately).

Also in an interview with Charlie Rose, Rose commented that Crichton’s novel Timeline was just like Jurassic Park. Even though it was about traveling back in time and fighting knights, it was essentially the same form. And if you read his novel Prey, it’s Jurassic Park yet again, except with nanobots. In the same interview Crichton said that if you abstract stories enough you get one essential form.

You’re a novelist; I wonder what you think of this?

The bottom line is, Crichton knows that disaster stories sell. His commercial instincts guide his fiction. If you want to know what he really believes I find his essays and speeches more helpful, all of which are available on his website. After reading “Environmentalism as Religion” he strikes me as a contrarian himself. There are passages in there you could have written. As far as the “enlightenment processes of discovery, debate, reciprocal criticism and deliberation/negotiation” are concerned, Crichton seems to be in favour of all of them in a speech entitled “Science Policy in the 21st Century.”

Mark said...

Whenever people, even really smart scientists, discuss FTL travel they always seem to do it from the prospective of someone watching from the home planet.

But from the point of view of travelers on the ship, everything looks completely different. The ship does not get heavier, the rest of the universe does. And there is this wonderful little thing called length contraction: the closer you get to the speed of light, the shorter the distance you need to travel becomes.

The bottom line is you can completely ignore Relativity from the point of view of the space ship. Plane ol' classical mechanics will produce the correct estimated time of arrival.

David Brin said...

scor... I was in the audience, during Michael Crichton’s infamous AAAS speech, and I read carefully the one he later gave at my alma mater, Caltech. And, I must tell you, those speeches contained plenty of stuff you seem not to have noticed.

Look, I concede MC is better at manipulating mass/lowest cheap thrills than I am. I’m comfy, he’s filthy rich. Either way, a satiated man writes what he WANTS to write. And it reflects what he believes. And, having watched him spend an hour at the AAAS repeating over and over “I do NOT hate science!” I have to tell you that I have seldom seen a better example of an educated man who deeply, deeply hates and fears and misunderstands science.

His rants about global warming? OMG. Actually positing that it is all a scam by piddling do-gooder groups and companies who stand to make...er... MILLIONS off of eco/sustainable technologies! While those making TRILLIONS off a deadly status quo are somehow innocent victims. What a storyteller, to milk that particular manipulation of SOA! (Suspicion of Authority.)

Look at almost any of his scenarios, which nearly always (1) preach “man was never meant to do this” (2) leave a lot of corpses and (3) finally put everything back exactly the way things were (except for the dead)! Never, ever, does he do the SFnal thing of trying the gedankenexperiment: “now that this change has happened, we're in a new world, a new society. Let’s see how people make the best of the altered world that results.” Never.

The moral lesson is ALWAYS “ambition bad... change bad... put things back the way they were!”

And always ignored is this basic, ongoing thread... that almost always the bad stuff in his stories actually happens because arrogant elites tried to do the new-ambitious thing... in secret! Never, ever, does he even discuss the possibility that the good aspects (make brontosauruses) could have been had without the bad stuff (uh... velociraptors?) ... if only the process had been in the open, subject to public scrutiny and criticism. (Hey, doofus! Make the herbivores first!)

Instead, Crichton has become a principal proponent of renunciatory elitism, the notion that platonic philosopher kings... or aristocrats... *should* make decisions out of the public view. Exactly the failure mode that always drives his scenarios. Oooooog

(Yes... a driving plot demands mistakes be made, in order to put the heroes in jeopardy. But it is possible to posit mistakes made DESPITE living in a society where people act more mature than preschoolers.)

Still, let me add this. I’ve met Michael and he sure seemed to be a really nice guy. And I have nothing against the fellow, personally. And I’ve enjoyed the guilty pleasure of his lovely/silly tales. And I am open to disproof of any of this.

But the pattern is just... so... consistent.

-------

Sorry, Mark, but it just ain’t so. You cannot ignore relativity. Mass inflation DOES affect how severely the rocket equation affects your ability to accelerate.

Yes, you perceive an even tradeoff of non-linear length-time contractions and non-linear mass-inflation. But it isn’t so. Einstein settled that in GENERAL relativity, which deals with accelerations, which is what the rocket equation is all about. And the reference frame of someone who is trying to accelerate is not neutral, the way it is for simple, steady velocity.

Acceleration does become harder, much harder, as you approach c... and then harder still. It is a bitch, all right.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe we will ever be able to create a self sustaining environment? 100% independence is obviously an unlikely thing to get. But virtual biological sustainment such that you only need to “Stop for gas.” every few hundred years.

I always imagined that the first colony ships we sent out would be those where the Nth Generation actually landed on the planet. I’d guess that initially the great challenge will be trying to deal with human factor. With limited resources, man makes war to get their “fair” share.

Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 Light years distance from Earth isn’t it? If we could go at 1/10th the speed of Light, couldn’t we get there in 40 years or 1.5 generations? That would be great as there would be not have to be multiple if any changes in leadership. If we could go 1/100th the speed of light (3 million meters a second) it could take 15 generations and that’s just scary.

Welcome Logan’s Run. I’m sorry you’ve out your “good” years and its time for you to die to make room for others. Our bubble (ship) can only hold so many you know…

Personally, I’ll be very happy when we have the technology for a Self sustaining Environment. It “should” mean that our race can survive most of the doomsday scenarios on our own planet by turtling until things get better.

Anonymous said...

I love to hear ya bash on MC a bit. State of Fear is a book which completely turned me off towards him. He has one great point at the center of the work. "Do your research" It is true that most people rely on hearsay and feelings for most of their opinions, much less trying to find a single source. But the way he presented it will lead a bunch of idiots to fall into that exact trap. Using a fiction as sufficient evidence to not bother themselves with the subject. He HAD to know this is how it would be taken as it was the underlining principle of the work.

People are all too willing to base opinions off of little evidence. I feel that his book would people who were already so inclined to shun environmentalism. Worse it will lead those who do care to ignore the issue because they can't be sure who to trust and don't have time to do their own research.

SteveO said...

Relating to transparency (or the lack thereof with this Administration)...

What do you get when you appoint cronies and hacks as IGs? This article in The New Republic is telling...

Look Who's Not Looking by Joshua Kurlantzick
The demise of the inspectors general program.
Post Date Friday, December 14, 2007

Scor said...

David Brin Said: “I have to tell you that I have seldom seen a better example of an educated man who deeply, deeply hates and fears and misunderstands science.”

Ouch! But when Crichton says things like “Science is the most exciting and sustained enterprise of discovery in the history of our species. It is the great adventure of our time. We live today in an era of discovery that far outshadows the discoveries of the New World five hundred years ago.” it’s hard to see him as a man who fears and hates science. Then again you’ve met him and I haven’t. Perhaps you understand and know him better than I do.

Let me raise two points anyway.


First, as you said, Crichton’s disaster scenarios are driven by an arrogant elite who embark on some ambitious project in secret. Can’t we then agree that the real boogey man in Crichton’s work is actually doing things in secret without accountability and criticism, and not science?

Also, You said that “Instead, Crichton has become a principal proponent of renunciatory elitism, the notion that platonic philosopher kings... or aristocrats... *should* make decisions out of the public view.”

Just what has he said that makes him a proponent of renunciatory elitism?

In an interview he said this “Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, science is too important to be left to the scientists. But in recent years so-called humanistic criticism has been incredibly ill-informed and, frankly, rather fantastical. (I am speaking particularly of post-modern criticism.) Scientists aren't going to listen to people who have no idea what they are actually doing, or to those who scare the public with absurd risks.

As for science changing the definition of humanity, that horse left the barn long ago.”

Just that one quote tells me that he prefers scientific issues be discussed out in the open, that people who scare the public with absurd risks have no credibility (granted he does this in his thrillers but as I said I think that’s more about popcorn entertainment then a fear of science), and finally, that last line about the definition of humanity doesn’t make him sound like someone who fears change.

And just to beat to death my contention that you take Crichton’s plots more seriously then he does, here’s a quote from that AAAS speech: “So I suggest to you there is essentially no correspondence between social reality and movie reality. None at all. And hence no point in worrying about movie portrayals.”


Secondly, you said that Crichton’s novels “put everything back exactly the way things were” I thought that this was a literary device on his part.

As you know Crichton employs a flat journalistic prose to give you the impression that he’s merely reporting things that actually happened. He even fabricates realistic looking documents and uses footnotes (referencing real and fabricated sources) to give the impression of reality. His stated goal with Jurassic Park was to see if he could make the reader believe that dinosaurs actually existed for a couple of hours. And I must say, towards the end of that novel I was quite ready to believe that there were dinosaurs running around on some island of the coast of Costa Rica.:)

Since Crichton is not presenting scenarios in the future but is merely “reporting” something that has already happened he has to say that the whole thing was covered up, otherwise why haven’t we heard about it on CNN? So the point of the coverup is simply to make the illusion more convincing.

But here’s the other thing, I’m not entirely convinced that things do return to business as usual. It oftens seems that at the end of his novels, take Prey for an example, Crichton is telling us “these are the potential dangers we face as a consequence of this technology. What should we do about it?” So the novel provides an impulse to think about this new technology, it reminds us that the world is changing and awesome new things are possible. He doesn’t deal with how a society will respond to some great change but throws the problem in the lap of the reader to think about. The reason is that Crichton's stories are happening in our world (the "real" world) and we are the society that now has to deal with the new challenge. In other words we have to finish the story

There…I’ve gone on longer than I intended, and I might have thrown in too many quotes but after reading Crichton’s novels, speeches, and essays I just don’t seem to share your conclusions about him.

Tony Fisk said...

Ouch!

Pay no attention to political analysts who say 'people only care about the economy'. If that's true, then why was the *very first act* of the Victorian Labor Government to reinstate the office of auditor-general (which had been privatised and contracted out)?

Joe Citizen groks the need for an independent auditor, that does not have any reason to be beholden to the departments being auditted.

----

Which Anderson story had Hopi-ET relations, David?

I remember reading another Anderson tale: 'The Enemy Stars' (I think) about STL interstellar probes manned over centuries by shift crews that could teleport to work. Recent developments in quantum entanglement make this idea a little less whimsical.

----

A little twist to MCs romantic ways...

In a minor scene in 3001, Clarke turned 'bad' velociraptors into 'good', pointing out that intelligent carnivores made exceptionally good pets, when domesticated. (although I don't think Frank Poole was convinced!)

I'd love to know what the plot to the rumoured JP IV is... I have my own ideas.

Stefan Jones said...

By the time we're ready to launch interstellar probes, I suspect that "generation ships" will look as quaint as George O. Smith's interplanetary radio-repeater stations . . . which used titanic vacuum tubes to amplify incoming signals.

Mark said...

Einstein settled that in GENERAL relativity, which deals with accelerations, which is what the rocket equation is all about. And the reference frame of someone who is trying to accelerate is not neutral, the way it is for simple, steady velocity.

Acceleration does become harder, much harder, as you approach c...



I must admit I never got to general relativity, so I'll take your word for it this is correct. Still, I would have expected 1G = 1G = 1G, regardless of the speed of the stars zooming by. Oh well.

I always figured the first star craft made for humans would accelerate at a constant 1G to provide a reasonable gravity, rotate at the half way point, and then slow down at 1G.

Mark said...

Alright, with the power of Google and the collective human online brain, I found an article on the relativistic rocket. They even use the same 1G acceleration scenario I mentioned.

It turns out I was partially correct, length contraction helps a lot; more than I realized in fact, as it doesn't cancel with other terms like I remembered. In theory it takes only 28 years to reach the Andromeda galaxy at 1G and come to a stop.

But there are also mass issues with fuel. The galactic trip would require 4.2 thousand million tonnes of fuel for each kg of non-fuel. That is assuming 100% efficiency.

But if you just want to send a weapon, meaning you don't have to slow down (heck, at that speed the weapon could just be a rock) it would take only a 10-1 ratio to travel to the nearest star. That is something to worry about.

It certainly looks like if you can solve the problem of taking the energy with you (convert dark matter to energy? borrow it from the universe?) the times aren't bad at all at 1G. Time dilation means you can never go home, but that was true for most every other colonizer in history.

David Brin said...

scor said: But when Crichton says things like “Science is the most exciting and sustained enterprise of discovery in the history of our species. It is the great adventure of our time. We live today in an era of discovery that far outshadows the discoveries of the New World five hundred years ago.” it’s hard to see him as a man who fears and hates science.”

Indeed. But then, listen to George W. Bush talk about Freedom and you’d think he loved it. Or the neocons waxing lyrical about competitive free enterprise. Or Rumsfeld about national defense, all of which have been devastated by men who cannot tell the difference between lip service and understanding.

”First, as you said, Crichton’s disaster scenarios are driven by an arrogant elite who embark on some ambitious project in secret. Can’t we then agree that the real boogey man in Crichton’s work is actually doing things in secret without accountability and criticism, and not science?”

Good point! But I must answer as I did when my opponents made a similar defense of George Lucas, in STAR WARS ON TRIAL. Semi-quoth they “Yes, Yoda is horrible and the Jedi do terrible harm while undermining democracy and all that! So? That’s George’s POINT! Not to trust snobbish elites, even good ones.”

Well... they didn’t quite admit that much. But, cornered, that’s the essence of their fallback position. I was stunned.

Answer I, in both cases. “Then, why does the author never mention this point? Instead of going on and on about other things, like mystical mutant force or (in MC’s case) mankind foolishly sticking his curiosity where it never belonged? If the bad effects of secrecy were his key point, why does nobody remember the point?”

”In an interview he said this “Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, science is too important to be left to the scientists.”

Whaaaa? You say this is preaching for openness? Try again. Have you no idea what this is code for? It translates as: “science should never try to tell the mighty, or the rich, or policy makers what to do.”

Seriously, in Britain, the tradition was long to divide into two cultures. English or history or classics majors would go into government and decide policy, while “boffins” stayed in the lab, shut up and did what they were told. This is precisely what Crichton supports. Parse it out! Centrally, Crichton derides “consensus” as a meaningless term, in science. Thus, if 90%+ of the top atmospheric researchers agree on global climate change, that is still “consensus” and automatically invalid!

What the heck is he saying? Essentially that scientists can NEVER give us a best estimate path into an uncertain future. Not even when a large majority of them are sincerely convinced by copious evidence. And this guy is supposed to admire... or even understand... science?

Meanwhile, a small cabal of trog-billionaires and politicians elected by a MINORITY of the people have a perfect right to twist and manipulate policy in secret and send us down paths that are vastly less well-informed, detached or honest than the scientists’ consensus. Or, indeed, the com,bined weight of scientific and public opinion.

“So I suggest to you there is essentially no correspondence between social reality and movie reality. None at all. And hence no point in worrying about movie portrayals.”

Oh, what a royal cop-out! Millions of people adsorb values, trends and even ‘facts” through art. Even taken at face value, what he’s saying is “I can’t be both true to art and true to an honest portrayal of the cosmos at the same time.” Oh drivel. I LOVE the challenge of entertaining WHILE exploring serious implications.

“So the novel provides an impulse to think about this new technology, it reminds us that the world is changing and awesome new things are possible. He doesn’t deal with how a society will respond to some great change but throws the problem in the lap of the reader to think about.”

What’s to ponder? The deck is stacked! The arrogant ambition and “progress” did only harmful things. There is no exploration of what good or partial compromises might be made. Never, ever, a portrayal of people coping and adapting to the new thing, as they have adapted to so many new things in the past.

The lesson is always - “Turn away from this noxious ambition, lest it eat you!” (As a member of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, I am involved in trying to help the public make informed decisions. The awful, awful science in PREY did not help a bit.)

And that’s what ultimately is so unsatisfying, too. Eventually, the people in the world of WESTWORLD or Jurassic Park, or any of the others WILL start using these innovations. The cat is out of the bag. (Except in SPHERE which has the ultimate Crichtonian put-everything-back ending!) How much more fascinating to see what people make of a world with humanoid robots, or dinosaurs, or what-have-you in it!

The great Spielberg does hint at this, at the end of JP-III!

But the dire KEEP AWAY warning is all MC ever gives us. Alas. It saddens me, because many good ingredients are there. A potential never achieved.

Citizen James said...

Stepping back a little to earlier themes in this thread...

I find myself wondering if part of the Fermi Paradox might not come from this variation of Pascal's wager (Fermi's wager?) Make one choice, and there is an unknown chance that something very bad might happen, make another - and the chance of the very bad thing decreases.

Could other civs have taken a similar view, remaining quiet and choosing to avoid risk? Besides, universal broadcasting uses large amounts of energy and tails off at an x^2 rate. Should such alien civs exist, wouldn't it be more efficient for them to communicate with each other through far more narrowly directed bands.

Of course, I'm probably stating the obvious here - but I didn't see it so I figured I'd chime in on the discussion.

David Brin said...

James hits upon one of the recent rationalizations for METI. The top shouter on planet Earth, Alexander Zaitsev of the Evpatoria radio observatory in Crimea, has done the biggest METI beamings in recent years.

He seems a nice fellow and he is NOT opposed to international discussions in open fora, the way the SETI Institute guys have weirdly chosen to be... but he still offers incredibly weird excuses for why aliens can be simultaneously:

1) vastly more advanced
2) inherently peaceful and altruistic
and
3) shy/cowardly about doing the great big helpful beacons that Sagan and Drake expected.

Yes, he combines all of the above, and concludes that it is behooved upon the NEWEST species to boldly shout a call to those reticent and cowardly elders.

To be honest, there must be some kind of linguistic problem, because I have not been able to parse this logic. There must be some aspect that I've missed. It seems pretty alien to me.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again)

Well, of course there is another explanation for the sudden change in the SETI group's behavior -- crystal transistor assemblies implanted in their brainstems courtesy of interstellar nanomachine probes. Zaitsev & co. are secretly broadcasting FOUND NEW FOOD SOURCE to their alien masters.

There is a precedent for this in nature. A certain type of parasite invades snails and causes changes in their brain which force them to avoid cover. Birds eat the snails, and the droppings then spread the parasites' eggs to new hosts. This would be the interstellar version.

Still scared of aliens? Read this:
Global biological apocalypse narrowly averted -- this time.

praxcelis said...

Then again, maybe Fermi was right.

Galaxy fires particle beam at neighbor

"I hate to say atojiso, Enrico, but atojiso."

Scor said...

Well, I still see two different messages from Crichton (if I accept your reading of his novels). His novels tell us to fear science while his essays, speeches, and interviews suggest the opposite. This raises an obvious question but before I present it let me first offer an admission.

The more I’ve thought about my own argument the less convinced of it I've become. Thinking back to when I first read MC’s novels it did occur to me that they always ended in disaster, but after reading his nonfiction stuff where he came across as pro-science and pro-progress I figured: “well the stuff in his novel, that’s “just a story” but in “real” life he’s actually pro-science so everything is okay.”

And it seems ever since I took that thought on faith. Maybe for some reason I just wanted to believe that and conveniently filtered out any evidence to the contrary, I guess it kind of became a dogma with me, or something. This discussion is the first time I’ve had to seriously question it.

However, in my own defense let me say this: I did not present the quote about movies not representing reality in it’s entirety because I only wanted to demonstrate that Crichton didn’t take his novels and movies seriously. Here’s that same quote with the preceding passage included.
“ But wait, you may be thinking. Don't these movie images provide some insight into the attitudes of the wider society? Don't they reflect the society in some way? No, they do not: for proof of that, you need only look at images of women in the last 50 years. Fifty years ago, movies were characterized by strong women—Crawford and Stanwyck and Bette Davis. Women of intelligence and substance, women to be reckoned with. Since then, during a time of dramatic change for women in society, the movies have portrayed women primarily as giggling idiots or prostitutes.

So I suggest to you there is essentially no correspondence between social reality and movie reality. None at all. And hence no point in worrying about movie portrayals.”

So you see after reading passages like this I was convinced that Crichton’s plots were not a way of knowing what he really believed. If you were to take Crichton to task personally over the message of his plots I bet he’d say “aww come on, it’s just a novel/movie don’t take it so seriously/literally.”

So now let me raise the question about Crichton’s message: Which is the authentic Crichton? Is he expressing what he truly believes in his speeches and interviews or in his novels and movies? Which one should we believe and why?

Oh and look what else I found in the same speech:


“ three. Why are the stories about science always so negative? We've already discussed that characters in every profession are shown negatively. But what about the stories themselves: why can't we have positive stories?

One answer is that people like scary movies. They enjoy being frightened. But the more important answer is that we live in a culture of relentless, round-the-clock boosterism for science and technology. With each new discovery and invention, the virtues are always oversold, the drawbacks understated. Who can forget the freely mobile society of the automobile, the friendly atom, the paperless office, the impending crisis of too much leisure time, or the era of universal education ushered in by television? We now hear the same utopian claims about the Internet. But everyone knows science and technology are inevitably a mixed blessing. How then will the fears, the concerns, the downside of technology be expressed? Because it has to appear somewhere. So it appears in movies, in stories—which I would argue is a good place for it to appear.

And let's remember there is genuine reason for concern. As Paul Valery put it, "The whole question comes down to this: can the human mind master what the human mind has made?" That's the question that troubled Oppenheimer. It troubled the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It troubles many scientists now. And it should.

Finally, our society is now dependent on technology, and dependent on science. With so much power, science will inevitably receive strong criticism. It comes with success. It's entirely appropriate. Take it as a compliment. And get over it.”

Looks like he’s addressing your very point in this one. And it seems to me that he is proceeding from different assumptions than you are. He believes that science is dominant and criticism of it in the movies is no big deal. He even suggests it should be taken as a compliment! I know you believe that the enlightenment is under serious threat and needs defending. Could this be the root of your disagreement? He believes science is dominant and here to say, while you believe that to be highly questionable?

Anyhow, the point is I’m willing to reconsider what I’ve argued so far, if you or anyone else can provide a compelling reason to believe his plots represent his true beliefs and not his speeches and interviews. As far as global warming is concerned, I’m not going to defend him on that, accept to say that I think his rant about consensus science was fueled by annoyance with people who say “well the majority believe this, so it must be true.” While he was wrong to have said it, I can sympathize with the irritation that might have precipitated it.

David Brin said...

Scor said...
”Well, I still see two different messages from Crichton (if I accept your reading of his novels). His novels tell us to fear science while his essays, speeches, and interviews suggest the opposite.”

Well alas, I just don’t see the latter. Hence, I see him as wholly consistent.

MC’s repeated plaints that “I love science!” sound hollow when his speeches are filled with messages aiming to undermine it at every turn. His relentless campaign to discredit scientific consensus and to remove scientists from involvement in the creation of informed public policy is infamous among actual, working scientists.

You quote MC: ”Women of intelligence and substance, women to be reckoned with. Since then, during a time of dramatic change for women in society, the movies have portrayed women primarily as giggling idiots or prostitutes.”

This would be an interesting observation... if it were even remotely true. If it weren’t, in fact, diametrically opposite to any overlap to the actual society and history that we live in.

In fact, Stanwick’s roles stand out in the mind because they were revolutionary then. But even then, none of them picked up a pistola and gunned down or beat up their oppressors, like Geena David and Jodie Foster and Angelina Jolie and Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz and... In fact, can you name a young starlet who CAN’T do a leaping decapitation karate kick? Go on. I’ll wait.

(The thing about dealing with diametric Big Lies - like everything said by MC’s Bushite pals, is that they are said with such blithe “of course” shrugs that you have to pause and say.... “Wait a minute!”)

Again, there is no inconsistency. He fears and loathes change and science in BOTH fiction and real life. The man is no hypocrite.

Why no “positive” stories? Hey, I have written about the “idiot plot.” You need heroes in dire jeopardy! I have nothing against that. I do it myself. And techno mistakes are one way to get there.
But does it have to always be a tiresome, one-sided rant? Do the tech-driven terror plots always have to be based upon the same tedious secrecy/arrogance/hubris scenario, accompanied by the same “man was never meant to...” lecture?

Are we NEVER to see MC explore the year or decade after his scenario? When society shrugs off its shock and then ADAPTS to a world with dinosaurs or robots in it. Would not some of that nuanced tradeoff-rich world be, well, interesting? (For all its faults, the Will Smith iRobot had this.) Oppenheimer discussed tradeoffs, so don't oversimplify him. Crichton never does. Tech-change is simply and uniformly loathed and ranted against. Find me the exception.

”I think his rant about consensus science was fueled by annoyance with people who say “well the majority believe this, so it must be true.” While he was wrong to have said it, I can sympathize with the irritation that might have precipitated it.”

Except that his campaign was relentless, driven, polemical, political, and in perfect timing with the Republican War on Science. The example he chose was one in which it was no mere majority, but an overwhelming consensus of 90%+ of prestigious climatologists... opposed by MC’s Exxon pals. It isn’t “majority voting” that irritated MC, but the possibility that the boffins that he fears might actually influence policy! Hence he attacks the VERY IDEA of scientific consensus.

Think. Even if 99% of boffins agree on a consensus, MC derides any thought of that consensus influencing public policy... while a few dozen ignorant oilco execs MAY twist that policy, just fine.

Oh, I give up. All I can tell you is that I stood there, during his AAAS speech, and could not believe my ears. I may get fewer movies. But at least I am grateful and loyal to a civilization that's been nice to me. I don't spit in the face of a scientific-technological renaissance that gave me everything.

Scor said...

I'd just like to make a clarification...the AAAS speech that I am refering to is the one posted on his website entitled "Ritual Abuse, Hot Air, and Missed Opportunities: Science Views Media" and was given in Anaheim on January 25 1999. Here's the URL:
http://www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-scienceviewsmedia.html

I have a sneaking suspicion we're not refering to the same speech.

David Brin said...

I was there. Then. In the room. Everyone in the back agreed on what we were hearing.

"I love science! Really I do! Leave me alone and stop saying I don't! All right, I always show science as being dumb and vile and I rant against technological progress, but it's just a story! All right, LOTS of stories, all exactly the same, expressing fear and loathing of tech-progress and totally misunderstanding every piece of science that I go on and on and on about in endless lectures. But it's just stories!

"Do people draw opinions and even "factual knowledge" from stories? Well, yeah. An yes, I lecture and sermonize and sure act like someone who wants to teach millions of people a point of view. But ignore all that because they're just stories! And if millions do draw conclusions about the real world, then they are just fools, and so are you, for believing that it matters...

"...because they are JUST STORIES!"

Look, I been hard on George Lucas for making the same lame excuse, after preaching to us endlessly for decades. But, at least George L doesn't then turn around and help the neocons proto-lords rationalize horrific policies that set us down a destructive course worthy of... well... a Michael Crichton plot.

Oh, if only he had written a thriller called EXHAUST PIPE. In which foolish, secretive elites meddle in human affairs, so sure that their oil-burning could not possibly cause harm....

atolley said...

While I share Dr. Brin's concern that there is insufficient discussion about whether we should or should not beam messages into space, I think that the probability of some sort of harm from that is incredibly low.

Firstly, the messages will only go out at the speed of light (unless our physics is wrong and some sort of FTL transmission also occurs). Thus it will likely be beyond the age of our human civilization before it reaches any of the likely scattered advanced civilizations.

If an advanced civilization has populated our local galaxy, then they have done it without leaving obvious traces and they could well have been monitoring our radio transmissions from close by. So why haven't they revealed themselves to us?

If there are advanced civilizations thinly scattered in space, they will be so advanced that they would no more want to enslave us that we would an ant colony [oops hold that thought, bee colonies?. Nah, couldn't be]. Of course that also suggests that they probably won't be responding to our signals either, any more than we try to respond to ant pheromones, or bee dances.

Exciting as I think any SETI or METI discovery would be, the probability of success is extremely low and the risks similarly very low.

By all means talk about it, but let's not stop doing something simply because of some fears about low probability events.

BTW - shouldn't we use the same arguments against praying, just in case GOD comes answering...?

David Brin said...

A fundamental point. Nearly all "first contacts" between human species (e.g. when panama linked S and N America) resulted in countless losers and extinctions.

Likewise nearly every first contact between human societies.

Yes, altruism is possible. But the METI folk posit that altruism is automatically universal in the cosmos!

It is one thing to hope it is so. I sure do. It is another to assume that something that's nearly universal on Earth and in our experience (predation) CANNOT EVER HAPPEN in space. Where is the logic in that?

Zechariah said...

In fact, can you name a young starlet who CAN’T do a leaping decapitation karate kick? Go on. I’ll wait.

Okay. Lets restrict this to Action movies.

Casino Royale. Eva Green's character just kind of hovers around the edges during the only fight when she's present. Then she sits in a shower and cries about the blood she can't wash off.

Several movies where the sole role of the female is to get kidnapped. "Live Free or Die Hard" comes to mind. oh daddy come save me cause now I don't hate you.

I don't know that women are portrayed as weaker in modern films. I just know that they have been known to be weak.

By the Way, did you see the giant rat they discovered. It's a whole new species, apparently.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22290101/

Zechariah said...

Known to be weak in films, I mean. That sounded completely wrong, sorry. Women in modern films are sometimes portrayed as being weak.

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again)

Just to be contrarian -- Dr. Brin mentioned that in human history, just about every first contact situation produced lots of extinctions. This may be true for earth species, but it's mainly been because of germs (as Jared Diamond explained in "Guns, Germs and Steel."). The Inca empire collapsed mainly because they had no resistance to European diseases.

But between different species it's highly unlikely that alien germs would prove infectious. Most dog germs can't infect humans; feline leukemia doesn't harm humans...and so on. Contrariwise, HIV is fatal to humans but harmless to apes. And these are very similar species, relatively speaking. How likely is it that a species from anther planet would carry germs that could infect us? We don't even know if they'd use 2-stranded DNA. Right now, we have no idea whether DNA/RNA are universal building blocks of life, or a peculiar solution unique to this planet. I'd bet on the former, but the point is, we have no hard data either way.

Let's leave aside the possibility that aliens would carry something like rabbits to earth (think Australia) and introduce 'em here. We'd be stupid to allow any alien lifeform to run around free on this planet. Think of kudzu. So that's a non-issue, humans would never be dumb enough to say, "Yeah, sure, let your weird little pet critters run around on earth and reproduce, what could go wrong?"

So the primary issues with first contact involve alien germs...and alien tech. However, if you think about it, the aliens don't need to show up in person to wreck our civilization with superior tech. They can do it with a message.

To be even more contrarian: isn't it just as dangerous merely to listen for ET messages? Suppose the first message we receive contains blueprints for a machine that allows total conversion of matter to energy.

I contend that within 6 months after receiving and decoding such a message, the earth would be a white-hot ball of lifeless molten rock. Some idiot would use it as a weapon and that would be it. GAME OVER.

Zechariah said...

Er, Feline Leukemia doesn't hurt other cats. It's non-communicable.

As for other species, you're part right. it takes a while for their bugs to jump on to us, depending on degree of interaction and similarity of body chemistry conditions. Even so, most of the nastier bugs we know came from animals. Smallpox came from horses. Syphilis came from sheep (which is nasty).

Fortunately, BEMs probably have exceptionally different body chemistries, so I would still say the chance of their infection is low.

atolley said...

DB: "A fundamental point. Nearly all "first contacts" between human species (e.g. when panama linked S and N America) resulted in countless losers and extinctions."

Alien species will be too dissimilar biologically to interact with our planet's biota UNLESS they are engineered to do so. That would presuppose aggressive intent, not some accidental result of contact.

Michael said...

Points about germs:

First: The vast majority of germs that can survive in a given location do not proliferate to the detriment of the environment provided by the location. This applies equally well to the human body.

Second: The exceptions are virtually universally the recent ones - virulence is primarily selected against, but only when immunity has started to crop up, and only when the germs are close to a saturation point; all of this means that a germ that jumps to a new species is liable to be highly virulent, since whatever factors might control its growth in its native habitat most likely do not apply, and as it won't be competing with other versions of itself, virulence will increase at first, before it starts to go down.


All that said, that still requires said bugs to be ABLE to make the hop - which means if any alien bugs CAN infect humans, the odds are that it would be primarily incidental. (IE, they might steal some of an infected individual's nutrition, but are unlikely to actually infect cells or the like.



Also, I strongly question the feasibility of memetic weaponry, gray goo scenarios, mind-control nanotech, and many other "dangers of listening" scenarios.

That said, plans for a m->e conversion device are far more feasible than most of the rest.

Genius said...

I am inclined to think that even a sea creature would have to be able to manipulate it's environment to become intelligent and as long as they could do that they would at some point (even if much slower than humans) would be able to build some sort of probe that could leave the sea - and later one that could leave the planet.

If they contacted other life forms I would expect them to see that as a survival necessity – since any life form should have experience of the need to be able to at least make a plausible defense and retaliation (amongst other things) even if one hopes never to use it. Only the belief that no one else exists would seem to prevent that requirement.

I don't think there is a way around the fact that intelligent life is either expanding somewhat aggressively (at least ensuring no threat within it's 'sphere' of influence) or just does not exist at a very high level - at least not one we could not bully once we got there.

Marc said...

Crichton is a good writer, but about as sci-fi as magic lightning making Frankenstein, and his novels are all short stories -- man has hubris, messes with God's domain, lesson learned -- the end.

I loved Sphere however, but it was a psychological thriller, set with blinking lights. I totally disagree that GOOD science fiction can't involve discussions of science and thoughtful debate and conflict resolution. When I was growing up, the scientists were heros. It was only later that ANYONE trying to figure something out -- the smart guy, was always portrayed as being tempted with the power of the gods and was un-done by the simple yet heroic man with a clenched jaw and a bigger gun. Joe Sixpack to the rescue.

These Westerns like Star Wars recast as sci-fi are NOT he fair of people who like to wonder. I enjoyed the hell out of star wars, but I was never enjoying it as science fiction -- get real.

2001, a space Odyssey, was almost a science fiction movie. It didn't really deal

"
Michael said...
Marc: Without numbers explaining what you mean by "the black hole is an accelerated proton, and the Quasar is an electron", I'm going to have to call nonsense.
"
>> Um, if I could give you the math, I'd be a world-famous Physicist, since I can't I'm at least a dreamer or a science fiction writer. I just said; "trust me." It's a joke. However, if I'm going to get into "babble" then let me just explain the simple physics that should make a better case.

Stars seem to have a maximum size -- too much matter and it is blown off, or it collapses into a black hole. I think there is also a maximum amount of matter that can exist in a galaxy, because gravity essentially IS acceleration. Though a heavier gravity field can allow for MORE acceleration (mass x speed) through relativistic drag, at some point, just a particle sitting in such a mass will get closer and closer to relativistic boundaries. My own "theory" of gravity is that it can be expressed as a flow through the aether of the collapsing soliton that we seem to think are fundamental particles. So there is actually an outward pressure on matter, but as an opposite to the photon in a sense.

Just as a planet of a certain size has an escape velocity, so too does the Universe. It's higher when there is a depressed gravity well. If a very large star is collapsing and then exploding, at some point a lot of particles are going to be pushed towards that "escape velocity." They never achieve relativistic speed in this universe, but with gravity and speed they punch through the fabric of it and "stay up high" -- a black hole is pretty much going to stay outside the universe, like a satellite orbiting a planet -- it just keeps falling in an arc around the planet--in this case it's sort of a "pocket universe" and the orbiting is internal, but space/time is only created INSIDE the universe -- I could explain all of this, but it takes a LOT of time, it's one thing to imagine how it all connects, but another to explain it.

Anyway, Electrons and protons expand when they are accelerated to relativistic speeds. In my particular theory, everything is really just sort of a vortex -- there are no particles. But due to how things appear to be quantum (or exchanged in discrete packets) - that really comes about because of geometry and harmonics. The standing wave can ONLY interact at discrete distances around an atom, so the movement of the electron shell to give off a photon is only at specific intervals and amounts of energy -- BECAUSE only the peaks can be detected or interacted with. Both viewer and view-ee are standing waves on a medium -- an aether if you will.

following to your comment;
"
Also, radio waves ARE photons. Photons are simply the 'particle' that carries electromagnetic radiation. When at the energy level of radio, they behave primarily in a wavelike fashion, but they're still fundamentally the same photons you get at the visible range.
"
>> Sure. That's my point. If the photon WERE a particle -- how do radio waves act just like ripples on a pond? It's just a difference of energy levels that somehow makes the photon interact at discrete points -- it appears like a particle, because the ripple that propagates light is only resolved on other matter or fields at discrete points --- yet, in the basic double-slit tests, a single photon can interfere with itself JUST like it does when there are two photons. The photon doesn't KNOW that there is another slit (which is the total basis for much new age gobble-de-gook, the wave that carries it travels through both slits and only ONE slit can pass the energy. The whole Shroedenger's cat thing, the observer affecting the observed, is because we are trying to SEE particles by throwing sledge hammers at them. We can ONLY see the results of the wave, not the medium it is on. We are standing up stream in a current, and dazzled by the rapids, because only there do we notice the resistance of the rock against the moving water.

I'm sorry if I have to gloss over a huge amount of physics. Hey, I'm just a computer graphics guy for a living.

Anyway, I've come up with a lot of testable hypothesis, and made a few predictions. So far, many of the discoveries in physics are going my way. I decided when I was 14 that string theory would fall apart. Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle is not a rule of the universe but a problem with 5 blind men describing an elephant -- or the metaphor of only being able to see the rapids in a stream. We are all standing in that same stream -- we are not looking at single photons or particles. Atom smashers will find that they can find infinitely smaller particles. There is something like a quark, but it's really just three loops of space time, chasing each other in both the proton and electron. The electron is positive in energy because it is slightly in a future energy state, the proton is in the past. The electron is smaller and less "heavy" because it ahead of it's time debt. Kind of like a stone rolling down a hill ahead of another stone is "ahead" -- it has spent more of it's potential energy. To make it a little more strange, the loops that make up the electron are PROBABLY, the potential future of the loops making up the Proton. When the probability is certain, due to the fixing of the boundary layer of the space/time loops in a gravity well -- you get a lot of energy, neutrinos and a Neutron.

I'll admit all this is a guess. But to me at least, it's solved the whole problem of "something from nothing," how everything actually is, and how you get a big bang and then an resonating inversion and the same thing over again.

I'll predict something that is just around the corner; Dark Matter will be proven to be a phenomenon of "parallel" Universes -- a bleed through of gravity from the AVERAGE position of other masses. But it's a bit more "different" than that, because I'm not relying on different dimensions for this -- just that it's better to visualize all these Universes as like bubbles in suds in a tub. The "overlap" of gravity is that there is no distance outside the bubbles, and since distance is only INSIDE each of these disparate bubbles, they have coincident points of dimensional space. But it doesn't really matter -- it's just that you don't have to have all these things moving in and out of each other, all the properties of this Universe can be understood with our normal understanding of 4 dimensions. Every time someone wants to explain some weird phenomenon, they add another dimension. It's all just a model anyway to understand things.

>> People can try and understand what I'm saying or just move on. I could take a while and explain how gravity can be influenced by light and vise-versa, but someone else would need to come up with the math. I just "see" how things work, and then try to describe it. Not having the ability to complete these things -- I've grown accustomed to, I have a steamer trunk full of old sketches of things other people have since invented like CD-Roms, endoscopic surgery, the idea of noise-canceling by equal and opposite sound, fiber-optic light pipes for homes, etc. But it's a HUGE leap from just having an idea like using interferometers to story thousands of more data points per "dimple" on a CD and having the material science background to make it happen.

I just don't have many things that were idiotic guesses. Things like this either create a mad fool, or someone who makes great stories. Most any great invention was preceded by a fantasy put to ink by a writer. In my case, I have a lot of ideas that I haven't heard from anyone else -- so at least my fantasy would be original.

Marc said...

"
david brin said...
Zorgon, the METI imbroglio illustrates many of the shortsighted and infantile traits that have brought us to the brink re climate change, peak oil, proliferation, etc. Our inherent human proclivities toward self-righteous certainty, for example. The tendency to cluster in small, self-referential and reassuring groups of like-minded people, while avoiding the wide open tussle of opposing viewpoints that might catch our errors... or allow us to improve our already-marvelous plans.
"
>> I'd have to agree somewhat -- but I think this is just the problems with our social "human" nature and groups too large to relate to. I've always been rebelling against the silliness of my peers -- but that's either a factor of being in the 1% high end of the intelligence curve (well, intelligence as it's measured, I'm not a big fan of most measures of IQ because they only measure skills that SOME people think are important -- I just learned some efficient tricks to make my learning disabilities work for me), or just a factor that for the sake of survival of any species, SOMEONE has to take the contrarion role and be a pain in everyone's ass.

More simply put; "people just want to be accepted and liked, and to hell with what people are actually thinking." Men will wear flowered shirts if it will consistently get them laid. They would wear bells, or pumpkins on their heads for status.

The important trend I see is the water cooler. The philosophy that gets one accepted by the executive, tends to be spoken more loudly in mixed company. The concepts that you might already believe, or have a comfort with, will be spoken amongst smaller groups of people who think like you. It's less effort to find like-minded people than to change yourself, and you make more friends if you echo what someone else believes. At least down here in Georgia, that is. I think in New York, where I grew up, people don't trust you if you are TOO agreeable.

I learned a few years ago, that girls don't particularly care if you are telling them the truth or not -- they just want to know if you think that they are important enough to make up an elaborate lie. This finally explained how so often, girls were talking about morals, and church, and then pretending to get drunk and have their brains screwed out in college. I would always answer such tests with an honest answer, and would NOT get the great sex that someone who I KNEW was lying would get.

It had nothing to do with how I looked. I was just stupidly honest and looking for some kind of truth. I didn't realize that society, in general, does not care at all for the truth, or would recognize it if a burning chunk of it fell on them from the sky. When people say; "truth" they mean; do you care enough to adopt this consensus reality we have agreed upon? Of course, I wasn't around to vote on whatever this reality thing was supposed to be. Someone just handed me "Reagonomics" and said; "Here, this is what everyone knows to be true." Now they call it "Fair Tax." OK, yeah, I suppose I'll just have to hire a small army of large-breasted women to go around and say; "We need to go back to tariffs, don't you think?"

Marc said...

I was listening to a favorite Podcast today; This Week In Tech (TWIT) with Leo Laporte. They were joking a bit about the man who was taking it upon himself to start actively trying to send messages to the stars (thanks, jerk, let EVERYONE know we can't coordinate an effort).

I thought they had a brilliant notion for a comic short story; what if we contacted aliens, and, due to the vast distances and delays, all the points made would be of no use, and it would descend into slow-motion instant messaging blog. With aliens just passing along the best joke they'd heard from ten other alien races -- and of course, they'd be two centuries old by then.

What if aliens were just really, really boring; "We like blue -- do you have that where you are at?" Billions of dollars and thousands of man-hours spent hovering over every bleep and pop, to decipher the most banal of data. What would we reply after the requisite world excitement died down and a committee of well-vetted people responded? "Yes, blue is nice." Then, of course, there would be all the contrarians, assorted cultists, and just plain anti-blue message groups who would also try and push out their messages; "What do you mean?" "Is blue God?" "We prefer Yellow." I'm sure a few people would actually get blown up over that last one.

I could imagine a trip of one-way volunteers who subject themselves to a frozen trip and a goodbye to everything they knew. Just to end up on a world about as provincial and boring as could be imagined. "Nice weather today.... yup." The crew of well-trained scientists would devolve into "lord of the flies" as they experimented with every drug on the planet trying to make the boredom go away.

Marc said...

"
michael said...
Points about germs:

First: The vast majority of germs that can survive in a given location do not proliferate to the detriment of the environment provided by the location. This applies equally well to the human body.

Second: The exceptions are virtually universally the recent ones - virulence is primarily selected against, but only when immunity has started to crop up, and only when the germs are close to a saturation point; all of this means that a germ that jumps to a new species is liable to be highly virulent, since whatever factors might control its growth in its native habitat most likely do not apply, and as it won't be competing with other versions of itself, virulence will increase at first, before it starts to go down.
"
>> Two very good points. But you missed an important THIRD type of infection; where there is a host and a human vector as a transmission agent. In the case of Malaria, mosquitoes are really the host, and humans and other animals are just a convenient vector from one mosquito to the next. That is why, despite millions of deaths over many years, Malaria is not subsiding into a symbiotic relationship as is often the case.

And history proves a few dooms-day scenarios. When cyanobacteria proliferated in the early earth oceans, it was one of the first organisms to release oxygen as a waste product. Not only was this a toxic waste -- destroying other creatures kept increasing the habitat for the organism. Something more than 95% of the worlds life and species were wiped out, and the atmosphere permanently changed. The early ammonia and methane atmosphere was replaced by a lot of oxygen, which served to reduce the blanketing affect of much of the greenhouse gases in the air.

The earth plunged to something approaching -40 below around much of the globe. Perhaps we were saved only by pockets of life around volcanic up-wellings, and perhaps the freezing temperatures wiped out most of the cyano-bacteria long enough for other life to get a foothold and release enough carbon dioxide to warm the air. Suffice to say, in this case, there was nothing to stop the success of a lifeform until it was too late.

Perhaps some die-off of dinosaurs was caused by the large super-continent of the time (was that Pangea?), and the success of the Stegosaurus. One ubiquitous host and one large territory could create a plague environment.

>> The push in general for life to leave a planet has to be great and a result of normal evolving environments. Planets that are TOO stable, probably don't create enough challenge to creatures therein. It's kind of like many experiences of peaceful tribes that lived in Australia when the aggressive Europeans "moved in." They just weren't ready.

TOO many large impacts and catastrophes can wipe out life.

It's probably in our best interest to colonize other planets, because a civilization destroying calamity approaches 1 over time in any environment dynamic enough to create life. It's a good thing we've had a steady diet of "big events", otherwise we would be caught flat-footed by the rare calamity. It's this response to disaster that probably provides good hope for the resilience of life on this planet when threatened by Human activity.

Marc said...

Brin said;
"
Good point! But I must answer as I did when my opponents made a similar defense of George Lucas, in STAR WARS ON TRIAL. Semi-quoth they “Yes, Yoda is horrible and the Jedi do terrible harm while undermining democracy and all that! So? That’s George’s POINT! Not to trust snobbish elites, even good ones.” 



Well... they didn’t quite admit that much. But, cornered, that’s the essence of their fallback position. I was stunned.



Answer I, in both cases. “Then, why does the author never mention this point? Instead of going on and on about other things, like mystical mutant force or (in MC’s case) mankind foolishly sticking his curiosity where it never belonged? If the bad effects of secrecy were his key point, why does nobody remember the point?
"

>> OK, I have to disagree here. What is lost in all the really cool battles between Jedi and Syth, and they duped armies of the Empire (chasing down other duped rebels used to create false-flag events), it couldn't be MORE clear that the message of the movie is that chasing down enemies at all costs is the problem. The stuffy elite Jedi were too involved in maintaining order until it was too late. The 4 most important turning-points in the whole movie for me were; the adoption of the young Anikin into the Jedi order without helping his mother out due to their adherence to rules and not love.

The final corruption of Anakin (forget is original name at the moment), by choosing to betray principle for his selfish love of his girl and his fear of losing this relationship which leads to Anikin mass-murdering young kids. In the early part, all of the further failures of peace are created by relentless destruction of some enemy.


In episode IV, a New Hope -- the good guys actually got on the path to win when Obi Wan sacrificed his life to let his comrades escape. After that, he was the helpful spirit that allowed Luke Skywalker to take out the Death Star (which, admittedly WAS a violent act). But the FINAL defeat of the emperor and the empire was by Luke Skywalker refusing to fight, and redemption of his very, very evil father at the end.

Moral; When we let alliances overcome principle, and the fear of losing power overcome love, we get into trouble. Only in choosing NOT TO GIVE UP, and NOT TO FEAR, can we overcome true evil, and then only by embracing those that we love. The massive armies and ships were mere backdrops for the real turning point in just making Luke Skywalker a more moral man than his father. Anikin fell because he FEARED the loss of love, and Luke won because he learned to love that which he once feared.

The chasing of shadow enemies while becoming corrupted, couldn't have been more pointed at the Bush administration in episode 3 if you had emblazoned "NeoCons suck" on the side of R2D2.

David Brin said...

Sorry, but blithely assuming perfect protection by the immune system is just nuts. Yes, the immune system is powerful against viruses, which must adapt themselves very closely to a host species, in order to hijack cells and replicate. Hence, we tend to get crossover from related species. But not always...

But bacteria are something else. They can enter your body and simply start chomping away. In which case the onus is upon us7 to adapt and attack them at THEIR weak points. And when we cannot find those weak points, the bacteria can just keep on chomping. Flesh-eating and all that. Hence, an alien bancterium that does like all our amino acids (an assumption but not unreasonable) could hit Earth life like a veritable nova.

Want some fun alternate views on reasons aliens might have, to lurk and steal our culture? http://ieti.org/articles/brin.htm

Marc, I agree that in RETROSPECT it is clear that the Jedi were a bunch of horrid, snooty, jerk-assholes, barely better than the Sith. But that’s not the issue. The issue is DID GEORGE LUCAS MEAN TO PREACH THIS, AND SAY “STAND ON YOUR OWN TWO FEET”?

Or is it just a recent excuse that this was his lesson? I go into this in HUGE detail, while slugging it out with his appointed “defense attorney” in STAR WARS ON TRIAL. And no better proof comes out of GL’s own mouth, as he praises mysterious leadership by born masters and denounces democracy.

I got no problems with Luke. Dumb but okay and not snooty at all. HIS Jedi order may open karate-like studios in every planet and encourage average folks to rule themselves. But Yoda? A viule horrid figure. Distilled evil. And if GL meant us to know this, he’d have said something when “Jedi” became the fastest-growing religion in Britain.

Yes, at least GL fights against Neocons. Yippee. While Crichton helps our modern day Sith.

Neither of them have a scintilla of gratitude toward the Enlightenment, or a modernist democracy that gave them everything.

Mark said...

But, but... David, GL made Queen Amidala an elected politician! At age 14! Clearly, GL loves democracy!!

Ok, I don't get it either. I have no clue what Lucas was doing, there.

David Brin said...

Simple. After Phantom Menace, I -- and some others -- tweaked about his royalty fetish and anti-democracy statements. So he "fixed it" by making her "elected."

Tony Fisk said...

Flesh-eating xeno bugs aren't the only possibility. Things could be a lot more benign, and unfortunate.

Consider the effect an alien cyanobacterium with incompatible amino acids could have. With no effective predators to keep it in check, it could turn the oceans into 'green goo' duckponds in months, and push out everything else.

(Hoyle used something similar in the sequel 'Andromeda Breakthrough'.. although it all got 'put right', from vague memory)

Inspired by our host, but a little late to be topical, I nonetheless had a little go at salvaging Anakin for the enlightenment.

The interesting thing is how little tinkering was required with the storyline of ROTS. I think that is a telling point on its own.

As to what will be revealed in the TV series...

Tvindy said...

David Brin said...

Simple. After Phantom Menace, I -- and some others -- tweaked about his royalty fetish and anti-democracy statements. So he "fixed it" by making her "elected."

Yes, I laughed out loud when Amidala's elected status was revealed in the Episode 2 and wondered if it was due to Brin's criticisms.

Also, the lightsaber fight between Yoda and Palpatine was also probably Brin's doing:

Now here's a thought. How come we never see Yoda take on an enemy with a light saber? Come on master, fire it up and battle a Sith Lord! That's a battle I'd pay to see!

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon again)

New nanowire battery holds 10 times the charge of existing ones.
Someone mentioned unforeseen breakthroughs as a big wild card in the near future and I'd have to agree.

However, the "breakthroughs" usually
mentioned seem like pipe dreams. AI, Drexler-style assembler nanotech, mind uploading, fusion power and humanoid robots have all stalled out with no sign of meaningful progress for 40 years. These fantasies belong to the same category as flying cars and alchemy...fun to imagine, but given the lack of progress in the last 2 generations, not credible in reality.

However, something as simple as a huge extension in battery life could have enormous repercussions in our society in every realm from electric cars to autonomous robots. Viz., Robert Heinlein's Shipstone device from Friday. The Stanford breakthrough is a long way from a Shipstone...still, a significant step in that direction.

Stefan Jones said...

Really good batteries could also be used to more effectively store electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels, so that a steady supply is available during slack periods.

I would love to see a more decentralized and survivable power grid.

David Brin said...

My own heretical Anekin theory -- or suggestion how to make the story at least slightly more satisfying and logical -- is simple. Anakin sees inexorable destiny rolling over them all. Because of pent-up darkside force, it is either let Palpatine rule for a while to use some of it up... or thwart him and let it REALLY explode in devastation, only a little while later.

So Anekin pretends to let Palpatine apprentice him. And the pretense has to be realistic to a guy who reads minds. So Anekin hides his real self inside the burgeoning Darth Vader, promising to find the strength to occasionally emerge to restore balance when he will:

use his influence to ensure a really stupid flaw in Deathstar designs replicates his first victory over the Trade Federation ship...

leak deathstar plans
help Leia and Luke escape from the DS

later tell the DS anti aircraft guns to shut down
tell the tie fighters to back off so "I can take care of this one"
Give the silly little twit every chance to get his shot off...

then manage to be the only DS survivor... and so on.

Obiwan has to be in on it. Else why "hide" Luke on anekin's home planet, in his very own home town. Nobody would do something so cosmically stupid unless it were a necessary part of a plan!

Finally, off the nasty oven mitt before Yoda can mess things up again... then encourage Luke to re-introduce a version of Jedihood that leaves people alone and doesn't stifle or lead to smug demigods who are stupider than a slime-mold.

And now Vader's final epiphany and redemption constitute something more than just saving you're own son on an impulse.

That corrects about 1/4 of the loony logical flaws.

And 1/4 would be great.

Know what's sad? Lucas could do this! A few "directors' cut" tweaks of EpVI ROTJ, offering some flashbacks and a little upgraded dialogue, and SW fans would go "Aha! I KNEW there had to be more to Vader-Anekin! It all makes sense! George!"

Alas.

David Brin said...

BTW, my little idea would also let GL keep his "balance" promise, which is presently betrayed and a total let-down.

Anonymous said...

What if prophecy was Anekin's goal? Bringing Balance to the Force could simply have been about reducing numbers.

N Jedi
1 Sith

Ok, first Anekin becomes a Sith.

N Jedi
2 Sith

Now slaughter Jedi until there are only 2.

2 Jedi (O and Y)
2 Sith (P and A)

Along comes the balance breaker Luke.

3 Jedi
2 Sith

Vader kills O.

2 Jedi
2 Sith

Yoda croaks.

1 Jedi
2 Sith

Gotta kill P now.

1 Jedi
1 Sith

At this point, hes generally bored with the game and decides to pass on himself.

Laurence said...

Sorry to be off-topicbut I just saw this:

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2007/12/15/control_sought_on_military_lawyers/

Thought you might want to see this.

ERic said...

Have no idea if there is a topic anymore. Just barging in to share this interview with Kim Stanley Robinson.

Figured that some folks here might find it interesting.

David Brin said...

Thanks Laurence. I'll cite that one in a soon political posting.

Anonymous, can't you take credit for the "balance" riff? I guffawed out loud!

Of course, then there is Jar Jar... a proto Sith if I ever saw one.

Hawker Hurricane said...

The theory running around my Science Fiction Fanatic Friends (SFFF's) is that the *Prophecy* was fulfilled by Anakin/DV. The novelization of SW3:RotS reveals some of Yoda's thoughts; that they had spent a thousand years preparing to re-fight the Jedi-Sith war. The Jedi were stifling the Force! They had to be eliminated to bring "balance". The second half of the prophecy (destroy the Sith) was also required; for the Sith would stifle the force in a different way... So, Anakin fufills the prophecy (though it takes him a while) of "Destroying the Sith and restoring balance to the Force", just not in that order. This makes him a helpless prisoner of events, a pawn of the "Living Force" itself. It will take generations before Luke's restored Jedi Order reaches the numbers and strength to 'stifle' the Force again; hopefully they'll recognize the signs this time (and properly analize the Delphic style prophecy).

On a related note, I picked up "Star Wars On Trial" today, a signed copy (thanks Dr. Brin!) from "Mysterious Galaxies Books". The store clerk asked me to relay a message: stop blogging and start novelizing.

HH, SM1(SW) USN (ret)

Anonymous said...

The man lost his faith in humanity.

Watch the unedited episode 4.

You give a damn about Biggs and Wedge - sure, they aren't fully developed characters, but you certainly care if they live or die.

Even the offhand "many Bothans died.."...

You're absolutetly given the overall impression that millions of brave, ordinary people are in this fight, and it's going to take all of them to win it.

But, episode 3? The moment I knew Brin was spot on was when the young Jedi on the bridge valiantly covered the retreat of Padmai and her security officer to their escape craft, and went down facing a horde of clones.

No one said anything. No one commented. Just an 'effin backdrop for the people who "mattered".

I think something really broke inside of Lucas when his wife left him.

I've been there too...but I got over it in a decade.

False Data said...

As Bytehead pointed out, photons neatly avoid the whole rocket equation problem altogether. So if we're imagining doomsday scenarios, the simplest be "hey guys, here are some nifty-cool plans for you to build." Said nifty-cool plans result in a very useful, but trojaned, device. For example, the trojan might (a) relay all technological discoveries it can collect back towards the source civilization, (b) scan for beacons from other star systems, and (c) send them a message saying "hey guys, here are some nifty-cool plans for you to build." It might also be rather resistant to being shut down (or tapped into) once we discovered it. And as DB pointed out, the fast-forward technical advances that come from contact with even a benevolent society might easily outstrip our collective wisdom in using them appropriately.

Second thought: if we're listening, we can pick and choose the conversation. If we're broadcasting, the listeners get to do the picking and choosing. If most super-advanced civilizations are benign but there's one bad apple in the bunch, the former scenario is a much happier one for us than the latter.

Third thought: Not worrying about someone coming here and doing nasty stuff because interstellar travel times are longer than a civilization's lifespan seems somewhat short-sighted. Like burying nuclear waste in a place where it won't contaminate the environment for at least 1,000 years. We might not be around (modulo advances in medical science), but our descendants might well be.

Final thought: when I listen to technical projections of why interstellar travel is so difficult as to be near impossible, I'm reminded of technical projections from a century or more ago explaining that orbit would be nearly impossible to achieve--mostly because the explainers neglected to consider the possibility of multi-stage rockets. I don't know how we will overcome the obstacles, but I have great faith that we will either overcome them or render them irrelevant.