Here are excerpts from JD Bernal's unbelievably farsighted essay -- The World, the Flesh & the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul, published (astonishingly) in 1929!
The whole thing is well worth reading, carefully, but here are some pertinent excerpts:
-- from THE WORLD
Imagine a spherical shell ten miles or so in diameter, made of the lightest materials and mostly hollow; for this purpose the new molecular materials would be admirably suited. Owing to the absence of gravitation its construction would not be an engineering feat of any magnitude. The source of the material out of which this would be made would only be in small part drawn from the earth; for the great bulk of the structure would be made out of the substance of one or more smaller asteroids, rings of Saturn or other planetary detritus. The initial stages of construction are the most difficult to imagine. They will probably consist of attaching an asteroid of some hundred years or so diameter to a space vessel, hollowing it out and using the removed material to build the first protective shell. Afterwards the shell could be re-worked, bit by bit, using elaborated and more suitable substances and at the same time increasing its size by diminishing its thickness. The globe would fulfil all the functions by which our earth manages to support life. In default of a gravitational field it has, perforce, to keep its atmosphere and the greater portion of its life inside; but as all its nourishment comes in the form of energy through its outer surface it would be forced to resemble on the whole an enormously complicated single-celled plant....
However, the essential positive activity of the globe or colony would be in the development, growth and reproduction of the globe. A globe which was merely a satisfactory way of continuing life indefinitely would barely be more than a reproduction of terrestrial conditions in a more restricted sphere....
As the globes multiplied they would undoubtedly develop very differently according to their construction and to the tendencies of their colonists, and at the same time they would compete increasingly both for the sunlight which kept them alive and for the asteroidal and meteoric matter which enabled them to grow. Sooner or later this pressure, or perhaps the knowledge of the imminent failure of the sun, would force some more adventurous colony to set out beyond the bounds of the solar system. The difficulty involved in making this jump is probably as great as that of leaving the earth itself. Interstellar distances are so large that high velocities, approaching those of light, would be necessary; and though high velocities would be easy to attain - it being merely a matter of allowing acceleration to accumulate - they would expose the space vessels to very serious dangers, particularly from dispersed meteoric bodies. A space vessel would, in fact, have to be a comet, ejecting from its anterior end a stream of gas which, meeting and vaporizing any matter in its path, would sweep it to the sides and behind in a luminous trail. Such a method would be very wasteful of matter, and one might perhaps count on some better one having been devised by that time.
Even with such velocities journeys would have to last for hundreds and thousands of years, and it would be necessary - if man remains as he is - for colonies of ancestors to start out who might expect the arrival of remote descendants. This would require a self-sacrifice and a perfection of educational method that we could hardly demand at the present. However, once acclimatized to space living, it is unlikely that man will stop until he has roamed over and colonized most of the sidereal universe, or that even this will be the end. Man will not ultimately be content to be parasitic on the stars but will invade them and organize them for his own purposes.
-- from FLESH:
If a method has been found of connecting a nerve ending in a brain directly with an electrical reactor, then the way is open for connecting it with a brain-cell of another person. Such a connection being, of course, essentially electrical, could be effected just as well through the ether as along wires. At first this would limit itself to the more perfect and economic transference of thought which would be necessary in the co-operative thinking of the future. But it cannot stop here. Connections between two or more minds would tend to become a more and more permanent condition until they functioned as a dual or multiple organism. The minds would always preserve a certain individuality, the network of cells inside a single brain being more dense than that existing between brains, each brain being chiefly occupied with its individual mental development and only communicating with the others for some common purpose.
Once the more or less permanent compound brain came into existence two of the ineluctable limitations of present existence would be surmounted. In the first place death would take on a different and far less terrible aspect. Death would still exist for the mentally-directed mechanism we have just described; it would merely be postponed for three hundred or perhaps a thousand years, as long as the brain cells could be persuaded to live in the most favorable environment, but not forever. But the multiple individual would be, barring cataclysmic accidents, immortal, the older component as they died being replaced by newer ones without losing the continuity of the self, the memories and feelings of the older member transferring themselves almost completely to the common stock before its death.
Whew! Some people are simply ahead of their times. Though it truly is noteworthy that Bernal's essay was widely published and discussed, back in the 1930s... and no, the Harry Bellafonte movie simply used the provocative title, nothing more.
A note on Bernal’s approach to interstellar travel. Of course we would recognize the overal concept as the vast community of rotating space colonies projected in the 1970s and 1980s by Gerard O’Neil -- leading eventually to some of this vast, living “cells” leaking - as if by osmosis - intothe interstellar realm. If this gradualistic approach works, then human colonies will expand outward in a natural, even organic way. And, once the first ones are established, sending further colonies onward, the pace should accelerate. Simple calculations suggest a migration rate that might fill the galaxy with our descendants within just 60 million years.
The relevance to SETI is obvious. Why haven't aliens already done this? If they had -- and even if the Earth were missed or bypassed or set aside by those predecessors... then would we not have seen or heard signs of them by now?
The World, the Flesh & the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul,” by J. D. Bernal 1929. Ninety years ago they were talking about something that seems to have slipped completely our of our own lexicon. The “rational soul.” As Ghandi might have said -- what a quaint idea!
While we’re dipping in the past...
- Look up the prescient speech by Vannevar Bush, after WWII, forecasting many of the advantages of computers and advanced communications in the coming world.
- In 1934, Belgium visionary Paul Otlet sketched out plans for the the Mundaneum - a global network of computers (or "electric telescopes") that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a "reseau," which might be translated as "network" or "web." He laid out his vision of a "mechanical, collective brain" that would house all the world's information, made readily accessible over a global telecommunications network, using telegraph messages. Like the Semantic Web, the Mundaneum aspired not just to draw static links between documents, but also to map out conceptual relationships between facts and ideas.
--- More Misc Stuff!
Spore has arrived! Well, part of it. Stefan reports: “Maxis released the first module, the Creature Creator, last week. Here is Joel Johnson's "straight" demonstration: I once joked on Slashdot that SPORE wouldn't really take off until Wright pursued the Sims demographic with the Spore Interplanetary Brothel module.”
It's two years since Wright had me and Sheldon Brown over to his Berkely shop, to show him our Exorarium Project. Sheldon and I felt flattered that Wil was even remotely worried about us! How could we know that the wonderful Spore prototype we saw that day would be delayed two years?
Oh, a cute moment came when we pointed out that - while our approach uses evolution - Wil's Spore is clearly Intelligent Design.
Another (pressure driven) hit?
Here’s an obscure one for the “predictive hits” registry. Scientists have found that the superconducting state in so-called "high temperature" superconductors can be induced by high pressure as well as low temperature.
Um... duh? I considered this to be so obvious that I made it a major plot element in my novel, EARTH. When I realized that the most common mineral state in our planet’s mantle layer -- perovskite -- happens also to be the mineral state of some of the best “high temperature superconductors.” Of course “best high temperature superconductors” in 1990 still meant only a few dozen degrees above absolute zero... and the Earth’s mantle is many thousands of degrees hot. So, the two domains should have zero overlap, right? Except for the intense pressure, down in the mantle! Should this -- might it -- result in occasional highly-conductive domains down there, deep below the surface? The mere possibility led to one of the most , well, unusual plot veers in any science fiction novel. (Or so I’m told.) It seemed reasonable (to a sci fi author) to ponder that vast, vast zone crisscrossed with conductive domains that might imprint with all of human knowledge in a very short time... bringing Earth itself to consciousness.
See an excellent article about why scientists need help from rhetoricians to foil the machinations of today’s malignant sophists.
For anyone interested in the long, long road of libertarianism, as it wrestles with its oversimplifying demons and creeps slowly toward adulthood, there is a new site.
A global effort to develop an open-source "self-replicating" machine that ‘prints’ three-dimensional objects, is celebrating after the prototype machine succeeded in making a set of its own printed parts. (I betcha they don’t include chips and print heads.)
NASA's Solar Probe+, a heat-resistant spacecraft, will plunge deep into the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, where it can sample solar wind and magnetism first hand, by 2015. Trajectory of Solar Probe+ The two mysteries prompting this mission are the high temperature of the sun's corona and the puzzling acceleration of the solar wind.
Holocene related -- Researchers conducting brain scans of people listening to multiple sounds, say that the secondary auditory cortex -- located in the temporal lobe at the side of the head -- does much of the work in filtering out a single thread of conversation from a tangle of similar background noises (the "cocktail party. And why has almost no effort been made, to provide the same services to folks online?
Botnets control just over a million hacked computers on the Internet and are capable of flooding the Internet with more than 100 billion spam messages every day.
HP has announced an under-$500 laptop computer called a "Mini-Note" that weighs less than 3 pounds, with a screen that measures 8.9 inches diagonally (prices go up for Windows Vista models with faster processors). The Mini-Note will compete primarily with Intel's Classmate PCs, Asustek's Eee PC.
Vivaty of Menlo Park, California, is creating a hybrid of conventional social networking sites such as Facebook and virtual worlds like Second Life. To be offered to Facebook users, Vivaty users will get access to a virtual room where they can adorn the walls with photos, watch a virtual television that plays YouTube, invite friends...
Astronomers have discovered a planetary system orbiting a distant star which looks much like our own. They found two planets that were close matches for Jupiter and Saturn orbiting a star about half the size of our Sun and about 5,000 light-years away.
And More (thanks to Ray Kurzweil).....
Twins' DNA can differ due to copy number variants (different number of copies of the same gene). These differences in identical twins can be used to identify genetic regions and genes that coincide with specific diseases due to copy number changes. Differences between identical...
Columbia University scientists presented evidence today that desert heat, a little water, and meteorite impacts may have been enough to cook up one of the first prerequisites for life: The dominance of left-handed amino acids, the building blocks of life on this planet. The finding suggests a higher probability that there is life somewhere similar to ours.
Now that computers can emulate many of the sequential skills of the brain's left hemisphere, Daniel Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind," argues that it's time for our imaginative right brain, which sees the entire forest all at once, to take center stage.
NASA engineers are testing out a giant, six-legged robot that could pick up and move a future Moon base thousands of kilometers across the lunar surface, allowing astronauts to explore much more than just the area around their landing...
Harvard Medical School and Boston College researchers have found that taking music lessons can strengthen connections between the two hemispheres of the brain in children, but only if they practice diligently. For the children who practiced at least 2.5 hours a week, a region of the corpus callosum that connects movement-planning regions on the...
No link necessary
85 per cent of the 4.3 billion available Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which identify devices connected to the net, are already in use. Within three years they will all be used up.
Researchers at IBM and the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin have demonstrated a prototype that integrates a water-based cooling system into 3-D chips by piping water directly between each layer in the stack. The method is one of the most promising approaches to enhancing chip performance in "3-D chip stacks" beyond its predicted limits
Decreased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin increases emotional response to a perceived unjust or unfair situation. Volunteers who had their serotonin levels temporarily lowered were much more likely to reject unfair offers in the Ultimatum Game. So, Oxytocin increases trust susceptibility and serotonin makes folks less skeptical...
As part of the push for a National Science Debate, SEA and fourteen other science organizations have come together to ask the 2008 congressional candidates seven questions on science and technology policy. There is also a handy clickable zipcode search to help you find your local Congressional candidate and to urge him/her to answer the questions. (A special hint -- they give the address of your local representative and opponent. Drop by both, and see if one of them pleases you enough to offer some help!) This is important.
Help show the politicians that a top issue is whether America will be an advanced and forward looking civilization.