Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Perspectives on SETI and Aliens... and more science

Responding to Stephen Hawking's new Discovery Channel program, I debated the "alien threat" on Larry King Live with Michio Kaku, Seth Shostak, and actor Dan Aykroyd (who pushed UFOs.)

kingliveThe format - four smart. sure-of-themselves egotists, being interviewed by a fifth - made for some very short but avid sound bites. (The videos have been take down, but you can read a transcript of the show.)

In this field, as in the furor over Transparency, my attitude is one of fierce moderation. My fundamental point is that nobody knows a damned thing about aliens!  Alas, that doesn’t keep almost everybody from behaving like children, weighing in with their “of course” explanations for how advanced sapient races would “naturally” behave, or why ETs haven’t been seen, or what they would do if we encountered them.  I know a lot of very bright people who have opined in this field, and nearly all of them proceed to sigh and roll their eyes, expressing contemptuous disdain for anyone daring to have a different notion about Alien Life.

Sure, one explanation comes to mind -- any field suffering from a complete lack of data can become a mirror, in which even (especially) bright people see only a reflection of their own dreams and biases.  Still, please! Does the reflex have to be followed by everybody? Frankly, watching the same phenomenon occur over and over, I am getting fatigued.

ExtraterrestrialCivilizatoi let me try one more time, since the topic is public and hot right now. I've been at this a long time.  Back in 1983, my Great Silence paper was... and remains... the only genuine review article ever published in the SETI field. Because almost every other paper has had a particular axe to grind, I attempted to catalogue and compare 100+ theories, covering the wide range of possibilities, re alien life, thus demonstrating just how little we yet know. While suggesting some avenues for research, I concluded by pleading for a tentative, contingent, openminded attitude, of the sort we’ll desperately need, if contact ever does occur.

For a general, popularized account see "Xenology."  More recently I argued against messages” to ETI in "Shouting at the Cosmos"  and pungently suggest "what to say to an ET lurker."

But, as I just stated, it seems this topic brings out the amateur sci fi author in every person who touches it.  Hence, Stephen Hawking, Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond and Freeman Dyson... four of the very smartest human beings who ever lived... have all recommended that we not shout into the cosmos to draw attention to ourselves, because it might be dangerous -- (I agree so far) -- only then each of them goes on the fantasize some particular simplistic scenario for why aliens could be hostile or dangerous. In Hawking’s new show, for example, he posits that super-advanced civilizations might come charging in to exploit our solar system’s resources, use them up and then move on, leaving us in a trashed wasteland.

Now, at one level, Hawking’s fear is not entirely off target. I’ve pointed out elsewhere: “All living creatures inherently use resources to the limits of their ability, inventing new aims, desires and ambitions to suit their next level of power. If they wanted to use our solar system, for some super project, our complaints would be like an ant colony protesting the laying of a parking lot.”

In contrast to this trend that’s seen across nature, we now have a new, tentative value system that’s arisen in the most recent generation of the Modern West, wherein some initial signs of self-restraint and satiability have started to appear.  We relish this new trait of altruistic self-control and wishfully imagine that we’ll do even better, in our Start Trek future.  Moreover, we hope that aliens will do the same, progressing in this new direction that we dream for ourselves -- toward universal altruism. And sure, I deeply hope this will turn out to be true.

On the other hand it ain’t necessarily so. This projection of our present culture’s idealized trend onto ALL star travelling races could be viewed as incredibly arrogant cultural myopia, even chauvinism! (Will the descendants of pack carnivores or stalking predators or paranoid herd beasts view such things the same way as we descendants of gregarious apes?)  In fact, “altruism” is rare in nature, compared to Darwinistic predation or opportunism, or even quid pro quo.  Those who declare that “of course” aliens would “outgrow all that” are engaged in bizarre wish projection, without any basis at all, other than their hopes.

Davies+-+The+Eerie+SilenceOn the other hand, Hawking’s scenario isn’t just about aliens rapaciously using up solar systems. It is about us foolishly attracting aliens who thereupon do such things. And this makes no sense at all. The Earth has been prime real estate ever since it got an oxygen atmosphere, a billion years ago.  If ETs wanted a nice planet to colonize, or a system to loot, they could have come during any of that time. Paul Davies makes this point in his new book THE EERIE SILENCE: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence, as I did in my 1983 paper.

A foolish METI “yoohoo!” message from us isn’t going to make them come for resource rapine. Though, in fact, Hawking’s scenario does have some plausibility as an explanation of the Great Silence (Fermi Paradox), along a different path of logic. Ponder this; if such a wave of greedy exploitation DID once pass through our region of the galaxy, and it just happened to miss Earth, then that might explain our current loneliness... the paucity of other new races around us.  Because that prairie fire knocked down every other promising race or planet in the region, leaving Earth like an isolated oasis in a desert.  I talk about this scenario (and many others) elsewhere.

No, Hawking’s reasoning does not make sense as a reason not to shout. On the other hand, there are dozens of other possible reasons why a Yoohoo Message could be dangerous  I could go into lots of them...

... but I won’t!  Not here. Because I am NOT trying to argue that METI will cause invasion or directed havoc.  Personally, I think the odds of that outcome are low. 

S6Rbfy56lmMTi2ek1GoGMzl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVaiQDB_Rd1H6kmuBWtceBJNo, I am trying to get people to stop leaping to unjustified assumptions and conclusions and especially to stop proclaiming that things are so, just because you made a glib sounding assertion. (Isn’t that bad habit doing enough harm, in Culture War?)

For example, Paul Davies and George Dvorsky and Michio Kaku and many other smart guys have asserted “if they wanted to harm us, they would have done so by now.”

Say What?  Oh, this is just more blithe, dismissive nonsense, with so many sub-variations and counter-hypotheses to ponder you could shake a stick at them all day. Leaping to make such a generalized statement is no less than an expression of the most outrageous smugness and incuriosity, especially unworthy, coming from such smart fellows.

Just like the idiotic cliche that “I Love Lucy” has already made Earth a blaring beacon in the sky, so why bother restraining ourselves now? (Here’s an illustrative experiment: go to a lake with a rock and a laser pointer. Now drop the rock into the pond, making ripples. Then aim the laser pointer at the other shore. Which wave front will be detected on the opposite side? That is “I love Lucy” vs a high-power, colimated, coherent transmission from Arecebo.  Sure, in theory, advanced scientists on the other shore, who are passionately eager and who know where to look, might detect the rock-ripples. But Jesus, have some scale and some sense, before you blithely declare that everybody on all shores will always detect all ripples!)

 These positions are arrant nonsense and deeply illogical. (Here’s another. If we’re “already blatantly visible” out there, then what is METI trying to accomplish, by deliberately making our Earth SEVEN ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE brighter? Hm?)

I do not have time to get into this vast topic in detail.  I have spent decades on it, exploring countless ramifications like --

xenologyXenology: Why we might be alone (a popularized account):

Or, (for the real scholar) the much deeper and more scholarly 'classic' review of the field -- The Great Silence -- which appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Royal Astronomical Society, fall 1983, v.24, pp 283-309,

Or might a lurker probe already be here?

Or a sci fi novella that thoroughly explores the variants of possible Von Neumann self-replicating interstellar probes.

Or my answer to UFOs.

A collection of articles on SETI and METI.

Or a dozen other stories illustrating unusual possibilities for alien life.

thoseeyesBut the crux is this.

Stop assuming that asserting something makes it so!

It doesn’t. Nor does positing an "of course" pre-explanation of the Great Silence make you wise.

 In fact, it’s time for a much wider conversation about this, bringing together our best minds from dozens of fields and opposing viewpoints.  This is a topic where nobody is right, who blithely rolls off cliches and says “of course the answer is this."

=======

PS... re my suggestion - on Larry King - that SETI shift from one expensive and ridiculously over-specialized telescope to 10,000 net-linked backyard receivers... the SETI League is a real outfit that tries to do this. They believe the "WOW" signal would be detectable by a few thousand dollars worth of electronics attached to a 12-ft satellite dish. They're all about getting thousands of amateurs into the SETI field. While the sensitivity could never match the Allen array, the Allen array cannot hope to cover the entire sky, full time, over the entire radio spectrum. Only a large number of receivers give us any chance of detecting signals beamed our way.  (By the way, on Larry King I should have pointed out a side benefit... that such a system would also help catch Dan Ayckroyd’s UFO saucer guys!)

Finally, some of the researchers in this field have expressed deep contempt for science fiction. This ready dismissal of the entire field of gedankenexperimentation by thoughtful and scientifically deep authors is nothing but flat out - and proud - ignorance.  Such people dismiss - without having ever read them - mind-blowingly original thought experiments by the likes of Bear and Banks and Vinge (and me), which make up the only real library of what-if extrapolations that our committees could quickly turn to, in the event of a post-contact situation!  To call such explorations "simpleminded" and unimaginative and based solely on copying the human experience is to declare openly "I am satisfied that B-Movies typify 'science fiction.' I have never cracked the spine of a grownup science fiction contact scenario... nor will I, ever."

That’s just dunderheaded and closeminded and especially unworthy of people who have earned great merit in other fields. People who now propose to represent us, if and when we meet the alien.

======

WeAreNotAlone_INLINEAnd while we’re on a similar topic.... According to a new book: We Are Not Alone: Why We May Already Have Found Extraterrestrial Life, by astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and science writer David Darling, we’ve had good evidence of microbial life on Mars since NASA’s Viking missions in the late 1970s. Now, they argue, all that’s needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that we are not alone is another ambitious mission to Mars—one that, like Viking, carries a life-detection experiment.My friend Joe Miller (prof. USC) has been saying this for years... that Viking found life on Mars, back in the 1970s.) 

Solar Sails At Last? With its May 18 launch date fast approaching, Japan’s  hybrid sail mission is at last getting a bit of press attention, long overdue in my opinion. The Daily Mail, at least, has just run a  on IKAROS, which will combine two mission concepts within a single spacecraft. Its solar sail works conventionally, using the momentum of photons from the Sun to accelerate the craft. But the JAXA designers have added thin film solar cells on the sail membrane. These produce the electricity that could be used in future (and larger) iterations to drive an ion engine.

Oh and for you lazy Sci Fi fans... a Brightness Reef promo -- in case you need to be convinced to start the Second Uplift Trilogy.

==Science and Tech Miscellany==

HP Designjet 3D Printer Now On Sale, Churns Out Solid Plastic Objects From the Desktop.

Wow! “Anesthesiologist Lakhmir Chawla of George Washington University Medical Center and his colleagues recently published a retrospective analysis of brain activity in seven sedated, critically ill patients as they were removed from life support. Using EEG recordings of neural electrical activity, Chawla found a brief but significant spike at or near the time of death—despite a preceding loss of blood pressure and associated drop in brain activity....The jolts lasted 30 to 180 seconds and displayed properties that are normally associated with consciousness, such as extremely fast electrical oscillations known as gamma waves. Soon after the activity abated, the patients were pronounced dead. Chawla posits that the predeath spikes are most likely brief, “last hurrah” seizures originating in brain areas that were irritable from oxygen starvation. If these seizures were to occur in memory regions, they could explain the vivid recollections often reported by people who are resuscitated from near death, Chawla says.”

Leaking Oil Well Lacked Safeguard Device.


See a way-cool student film “preview” of Rendezvous With Rama by Athur. C. Clarke. 

Quickie T-Shirt advice for making contact with an alien.

Instead of fast food, we need fast fuel. A new time-saving recipe for bio-fuel: Make an algae soup. Heat to 300 degrees in a pressure-cooker for one hour. The result: crude bio-oil -- without waiting millions of years as in nature’s original formula. A possible replacement for today’s fossil fuels?

Did extinction events nearly wipe out humans–-causing a population bottleneck, as measured by decreased genetic diversity?  One may have occurred 1.2 million years ago, when there were only 55,000 members of genus Homo. Another - an enormous eruption 70,000 years ago near Sumatra. At these bottlenecks, genetic mutations have had a greater likelihood of being passed on…and shifting the course of human evolution.

imagesJust rediscovered a classic: Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland (1940) by physicist George Gamow. A bank clerk, Mr. Tompkins attends a lecture on relativity, falls asleep & dreams of a city where the speed of light is only 6 mph. He experiences the effects of relativity in everyday life, i.e. riding a bicycle: “if I step harder on the pedals city blocks become shorter and shorter.” Charming even if a bit dated.

A new solar driven method to de-oxidize magnesium. 

It is officially described as an orbital test vehicle. However, one of its potential uses appears to be to launch a surge of small satellites during periods of high international tension. This would enable America to have eyes and ears orbiting above any potential troublespot in the world. The X37B can stay in orbit for up to 270 days, whereas the Shuttle can last only 16 days. This will provide the US with the ability to carry out experiments for long periods, including the testing of new laser weapon systems.

Piezo-electric, shoe-based battery charger. 

Or else... an energy-harvesting device using stacked thermocouples that generates a few microwatts of electrical power from body heat or any environment where there is a temperature gradient.

The brain's power will turn out to derive from data processing within the neuron rather than activity between neurons.

A Russian company is marketing a devastating new $10-20 million cruise missile system that can be hidden inside a shipping container, giving any merchant vessel the capability to wipe out an aircraft carrier.

Everyone in America pays some sort of taxes, which may take the form of income, sales or property taxes imposed by state and local governments, in addition to federal income, payroll and excise taxes. Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) estimates that the share of total taxes (federal state and local taxes) paid by taxpayers in each income group is quite similar to the share of total income received by each income group in 2009. For example, the share of total taxes paid by the richest one percent (22.1 percent) is not dramatically different from the share of total income received by this group (20.4 percent). (Nevertheless... I feel there should be some kind of MINIMUM tax. Everfybody, even the poor, should have to fork over something... and thereupon care where it goes.  Even better, ,make it $100 when the budget is in surplus. and $300 when in deficit.  Then even the poor will want a balanced budget!)

John Peterson suggested this one:
"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." - Thomas Jefferson

Ah sci fi....

84 comments:

Newtronic said...

Great Post - one of the days I will work my way through The Great Silence.

Pat Mathews said...

"I don't have to go to outer space to find aliens. All I have to do is go to my family reunion." (Or the annual sales conference.)

Nicholas MacDonald said...

I'm starting to wonder if the alien question might not be a useful psychological/ideological litmus test of a sort. I think that different angles on this question betray different biases within a person's psyche:

"They aren't out there."- either this person is deeply cynical, or religious. I've heard some religious types speculate that a massive universe may be the requirement in order to produce one planet with sentient life (where the Messiah can incarnate, natch), just as a man's body produces millions of sperm when it only takes one to fertilize an egg. Likewise, a cynic or nihilist who sees human life as an epiphenomenon of crystallization gone out of control might just think that we're a freak accident. I've often wondered if nihilists and the very religious aren't cut from the same cloth, psychologically speaking.

"They're out there, and they're scary." Naturally a paranoid. Probably someone tending towards conservatism, or at least towards zero-sum thinking or political realism. Pessimist.

"They're out there, and they want us to join the interstellar UN." A liberal at the very least, perhaps a socialist. Thinks in positive-sum terms and probably favors liberal internationalism and free trade. Optimist.

"They're out there, but they're irrelevant." A non-radical moderate; or the sort of thinking one would see from an intelligent, well-informed but not very curious or creative sort.

"Haven't really thought about it... so, what did you watch on TV last night?" Probably an indication this person isn't worth spending a great deal of time or effort on. :)

Robert said...

@Nicholas: Actually, the person who states "They aren't out there" could also be someone who is scientifically-minded and who has looked through the various scenarios for advanced intelligent life in the universe and realized that it's entirely possible that humanity is an outlier. The universe is a hostile place, after all, and all you need is one asteroid impact or a supervolcano eruption or even a star blowing up nearby to destroy all higher life forms on a planet. This is a threat that holds true for humanity itself even now.

So humanity may just be lucky. We've managed to avoid bullets that wiped out many other potential advanced species in the past, and are looking out into the universe and going "where is everyone?"

------------

Here's an interesting article for those of you with a green mindset: Google has invested in two U.S. Wind farms; the electricity generated is not for their servers, but for commercial sale.

It appears that Google (and other investors) get a tax equity credit for this form of investment. It also makes me think that rather than pushing people toward Green power and the like, we should be using more carrots like these tax equity credits to encourage widescale increases in solar and wind power. People prefer being offered something beneficial rather than being forced with the stick.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Ilithi Dragon said...

I found that article on cell data processing to be VERY interesting, in many ways.

What if cells really are sentient lifeforms? What if our OWN cells are sentient lifeforms? As sentient and sapient, on their own level, as we are?

And what if we, as a species, manage to evolve to the point where we connect ourselves through technology, or whatever, to become a sentient, super-entity of sentient entities comprised of sentient entities... Would that entity/those entities then marvel in wonder after discovering that THEY were or might be comprised of sentient entities?

And could we all TALK to each other?

ZarPaulus said...

Incidentally [url=http://aspieplus.blogspot.com/2010/04/aliens-psychology-by-diet.html]I wrote about how aliens might interact with other species based generally on their diet[/url], the day before I heard about the SETI debate on Larry King. Though I suppose it is a bit arrogant to assume that every planet has mobile heterotrophs and sessile autotrophs as the most complex forms of life, or that only social animals can achieve space travel.

ZarPaulus said...

I hate html, the url I was trying to post:
http://aspieplus.blogspot.com/2010/04/aliens-psychology-by-diet.html

David Brin said...

". I've heard some religious types speculate that a massive universe may be the requirement in order to produce one planet with sentient life (where the Messiah can incarnate, natch)"

All of it premised on the bizarre, sicko, fantastically psychotic notion of Original Sin. As if we'd owe a thing to a deity who would impose such a system in the first place. (Fortunately, it is slander; He didn't.)

Indeed, one hears of Christians taking the OPPOSITE tack. Perhaps just as silly, but allied with us in scope and future orientation... that it is now Man's mission to set forth across the stars and spread the Good Word.

Psigh. It's like allying ourselves with lefties, now, because we have no choice, because the right is insane. I'll accept the help, but with a wary eye.

If we must befriend would-be missionaries in order to re-aim fundies toward an open-ended future, and away from Book-of-Revelations obsessions that gleefully relish gruesome-sadism and destruction of all hope... then sure. Missionaries to Mars.

Okay. You guys get a seat on the ship and a chance to convert ET.

Have at.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

@Ilithi Dragon: Madeleine L'Engle wrote of this concept in her sequel to A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door; the concept was that something was killing the mitochondria in some people. The characters through some spiritual process end up traveling into the mitochondria of one of the main characters (who was sick with the mitochondrial disease) and learning that within the mitochondria (which were sentient themselves) was another sentient organism that the mitochondria needed to survive and which was being subverted.

It's been a while since I've read that. I wonder if I have a copy in my personal library....

------------

On a somewhat more frightening note is this report on the oil field in the Gulf of Mexico where the current leak is gushing out thousands of barrels of oil a day. Florida Governor Charlie Crist described it thusly: "It's not a spill, it's a flow. Envision sort of an underground volcano of oil and it keeps spewing over 200,000 gallons every single day, if not more."

I must admit some curiosity on the oil field and on if a natural calamity could occur someday as a result of volcanic or seismic activity. If an undersea oil field were ruptured through a significant seismic event, how would we deal with it? How could we stop such an event? We're talking something that, under the right circumstances, could cause an extinction event for some of our oceans.

Hmm. I may have just come up with the next Hollywood Disaster Movie plot. ^^;;

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Rob,

Might that be a possible explanation (or partial explanation) for some of the past major extinction events?


Also, how would covering the ocean in a black, light-absorbing film affect global temperatures?

Rob Perkins said...

Speaking as a "religious type", I think both the theories offered are hooey, or at the very least, arrived through eisegesis and not at all provable.

Anonymous said...

Rob H., someone of the "drill baby drill!" camp could then use that scenario as proof that extracting the oil from the pockets that could rupture is not only economically good, it provides a valuable public service.

I'd like to install a wind generator or solar panels for my house, but the initial outlay is the killer. How many people can afford $7000+ to become more energy independent? Plus dealing with local zoning restrictions, etc. Most people I know who have that type of money are saving it in case of emergency or investing in the newly revitalized stock market, not doing home improvement unless it results in immediate tangible benefits. Shaving $100 off your electric bill isn't substantial enough for most people; the ROI is too diffuse.

hompri: galactic manifest destiny for humans -- we hope!

TheMadLibrarian
(still arguing with Blogger)

stigant said...

You know, it strikes me that the assertions that we make about ETI are very similar to religious assertions about the nature and intentions of God(s).

>> As if we'd owe a thing to a deity who would impose such a system in the first place. (Fortunately, it is slander; He didn't.) <<

While I agree with you, you seem awfully sure of yourself on that one.

>> Okay. You guys get a seat on the ship and a chance to convert ET. <<

Hopefully they'll insist on being the ones to make first contact (that went over great in Anathem)

Robert said...

@TheMadLibrarian: Actually, that was partly my point there. We might want to monitor seismically-sensitive areas to try and determine if oil pressure might be influencing the quakes, or if they might result in a release of the oil.

What's more, we also need to consider the effect of removing the oil - what if it weakens undersea regions and results in a sudden subsidence... and a tsunami on a scale not seen since we had an asteroid smack into the planet.

The most effective thing we need to do is find effective methods of dispersing large-scale leaks before they cause widescale destruction of the ecosystem; current efforts to put dispersants into the oil flow at its source are showing some promise. Doing the same at the location of a major natural leak could alleviate some of the damage caused by the disaster.

@Ilithi Dragon: The oil doesn't appear necessarily black while on the surface of water; instead, it becomes prismatic. Of course, that's with oil sheens. If it is several inches or more of oil, then the color may darken. I don't know.

I also don't know if infrared radiation is reflected or refracted from oil sheens. Thus while visible light may be scattered, it could be sucking in infrared radiation and heating the water underneath as a result. While this will have a bonus effect of increasing the evaporation of oil from the water's surface, it also will result in warmer oceans. If this supposition is in fact correct, then we may very well see a more intense hurricane season in the Gulf as a result of this oil spill.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

My cross-posting made the cover at OpenSalon
http://open.salon.com/cover.php
drop by and click to boost my ratings!

;-)

"While I agree with you, you seem awfully sure of yourself on that one."

Yeah, well, let's put it this way, nearly all societies have codes of justice and admire the calm, decent fellows who enforce codes with compassion. The codes themselves varied widely, but the TYPE of man who is called wise is often similar...

...and bears no relation to the kind of monster who blames grandchildren for an impulsive mistake made by teenage ancestors, long ago.

If that is the prime basis for all the universe... and He set it up TO be that way, in a pre-arranged plan... and so that we'd be equipped to "be like" Him in all ways, only to have all chance of achievement and hope snatched away according to some unfairly implemented and deliberately sadistic scenario...

...then all we can do is what the Gnostics did. Pray BEYOND him, to a better, higher God.

...and then prepare for a very long, but noble and determined guerilla slog out of hell.

Christopher said...

MacDonald - What is the psychology of those of us who want to know what the jungle contains, but believe that running off into the jungle while knowing nothing about it is unwise?

David Brin said...

Christopher. That's called being prudently rational.

But then... that's my "of course..." ;-)

Ian said...

"A foolish METI “yoohoo!” message from us isn’t going to make them come for resource rapine. Though, in fact, Hawking’s scenario does have some plausibility as an explanation of the Great Silence (Fermi Paradox), along a different path of logic. Ponder this; if such a wave of greedy exploitation DID once pass through our region of the galaxy, and it just happened to miss Earth, then that might explain our current loneliness... the paucity of other new races around us. Because that prairie fire knocked down every other promising race or planet in the region, leaving Earth like an isolated oasis in a desert. I talk about this scenario (and many others) elsewhere."

Or maybe this IS the burnt-out desert.

Perhaps what we from out limited perspective see as a vast wealth of resources are simply the scraps left behind as not worth harvesting.

Say, has anyone ever suggested that the Missing Matter might be ordinary old cold baryonic matter, converted into countless trillions of space habitats or computers to run the biggest MORP ever?

Ilithi Dragon said...

What about those of us who want to see how fast we can fly through the jungle on a rocket-propelled hover scooter powered by prune juice?

Gilmoure said...

Ilithi Dragon said... What if cells really are sentient lifeforms? What if our OWN cells are sentient lifeforms? As sentient and sapient, on their own level, as we are?

Man, there's some really pissed off entities from my college years.

Robert said...

By the way, Dr. Brin, thank you for sharing the link for Lungfish with us. I found the story to be moving and very powerful. While I'm not exactly sure on what Seeker's purpose was (outside of finding other life), it was Ursula's story and her discoveries that truly made the story great.

That, and I was quite tickled by the concept of raising robots as human children. I actually came up with a concept from the opposite side that has similar aspects: teaching androids on being human and then sending small crews of them out in slowships to colonize the stars... and raise a new generation of humanity. (The androids were built to look like human women, with a functional womb and mammaries so that they could give birth to human children upon reaching a planet that could be colonized, and then raising the children. Sadly, after all the hard work that went into building and teaching these androids, FTL was discovered and the androids were useless for their original function.)

The diverse nature of your Von Neumann probes was also a fascinating evolution of the old Berzerker stories. I noticed you even included the concept of Quib Quib in the story. ^^

Thank you for the story.

Rob H.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

"The universe is a hostile place, after all, and all you need is one asteroid impact or a supervolcano eruption or even a star blowing up nearby to destroy all higher life forms on a planet. This is a threat that holds true for humanity itself even now."

Well, even more than that, we still don't know how life emerges in the first place. If sentient life is only possible on watery double-planet systems (earth-moon) orbiting yellow dwarf stars, then that limits our options a bit. If we find life on Mars, even in fossilized forms, that will tell us a lot... but we still have no evidence.

As far as spacefaring goes... well, I often imagine humanity as a glass full of self-replicating scum consuming the resources within the glass. Occasionally a spore "pops" out, but the rim of the glass is too high for that spore to land anywhere else that is fertile. Eventually all the "food" is consumed, the scum begins to consume itself... and ultimately dies. I frequently wonder if we're in a universe that, while "fine-tuned" for life, isn't sufficiently fine-tuned for an "explosion of universal life" (i.e., spacefaring with some Tiplerian cosmic transformation it is destined to complete). Maybe we're just living in a seed that isn't meant to ripen.

Or maybe I'm just really, really pessmistic. :)

@David:

"All of it premised on the bizarre, sicko, fantastically psychotic notion of Original Sin. As if we'd owe a thing to a deity who would impose such a system in the first place. (Fortunately, it is slander; He didn't.)"

I got the argument from John C. Wright. I know you've worked on some projects together, but I've never heard him mentioned in your blog, strangely enough... I was extremely impressed by his "Golden Age" trilogy.

@Rob:
"Speaking as a "religious type", I think both the theories offered are hooey, or at the very least, arrived through eisegesis and not at all provable."

Probably, but again, I meant this as a psychological/personality test, not a real speculation.

@Christopher:
"What is the psychology of those of us who want to know what the jungle contains, but believe that running off into the jungle while knowing nothing about it is unwise?"

That's more or less a moderate version of the second one. Caution is the golden mean between recklessness and paranoia.

Ian Gould said...

Astronomers claim evidence for a Jovian-size planet within the Oort Cloud.

http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=33991

Ilithi Dragon said...

Fascinating...

-Insert preferred "Planet X" paranoia/conspiracy rant here-

Stuart said...

All of it premised on the bizarre, sicko, fantastically psychotic notion of Original Sin. As if we'd owe a thing to a deity who would impose such a system in the first place. (Fortunately, it is slander; He didn't.)

I used to waste countless hours on the internet advocating for the nonreligious*. I'll come out of retirement for a minute, because this is something that came up constantly.

The evangelical apology for this is that humans aren't qualified to judge the morality of God. My response is that our own standards of morality are the only ones we can use, and the only ones that matter from our perspective. And if you wouldn't burn a person forever for refusing to accept an unlikely sounding dogma, then your choices are:

1. Neither would God. (which means well-meaning people are safe)

2. By human standards, God is immoral. (which means no one is safe)

To perhaps save you guys some time, I'll share what I learned arguing religion on the internet:

1. No one is ever convinced by someone else to change their mind about religion.

2. The only thing common among all religious people is that they're religious.

* "Nonreligious": An atheist, speaking from a region where atheists are second-class citizens.

Ilithi Dragon said...

An apt quote from Roddenberry on the subject:
"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."

rewinn said...

"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."

---

My favorite articulation of this concept is from Fitzgerald's translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

"Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried---
"Who *is* the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

Another said---"Why, ne'er a peevish Boy,
"Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
"Shall He that *made* the Vessel in pure Love
"And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy?"

None answer'd this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
"They sneer at me for learning all awry;
"What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

Said one---"Folk of a surly Tapster tell
"And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
"They talk of some strict Testing of us---Pish!
"He's a Good Fellow, and 't will all be well."

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
"But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
"Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!"

Robert said...

Here's an interesting article concerning the genetics of Charles Darwin's family line, and his concerns of how inbreeding could harm his children (as Darwin married his first cousin). The article goes on to show that there are signs that Darwin was correct in his concerns, as three of his children may have been infertile, and two more died in childhood from bacterial diseases (which apparently could be because of weakened immune systems from inbreeding).

There's a bit of irony there that the more Darwin learned of heredity and the outlying aspects of genetics that he learned of the risk to his own family. I suppose it's like learning the family house is built over a fault-line that could result in an earthquake that destroys the house.

Rob H.

ppnl said...

If faster than light travel is not possible what does that do to your estimate for the danger of contacting ET?

Is it reasonable to think that FTL travel is possible?

Ilithi Dragon said...

From the perspective of risk evaluation, it would be better to assume the possibility of at least semi-practical FTL travel and be wrong than to assume FTL travel to be impossible or hopelessly impractical and discover the error when hostile aliens show up in orbit.

Robert said...

One thing also to consider is the frequency of advanced intelligent life. If it's commonplace, then we're doomed; someone will hear and undoubtedly come along, which will disrupt humanity on many levels even with the most benign of aliens. If, however, spacefaring aliens are much rarer (maybe one in 10 million stars) then the chance of one being close enough to pick up our radio signals before they fade into background static is quite small.

Another thing to consider is this: if we get off the planet and start building habitats, eventually one of the asteroid-bases will decide to leave (probably using either a huge solar sail or several ion drives). Humanity itself will become a form of Von Neumann probe, going to other stars, building new asteroid bases, and expanding from there.

A couple million years from now, we may have a dozen or so alien species going from star to star... all descended from humanity.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

"The evangelical apology for this is that humans aren't qualified to judge the morality of God."

Several answers:
1- we were expected to make informed moral choices re the Tree of Knowledge, which might easily have been kept out of reach. And each of us has moral decisions to make all the time. It is within our domain to make macro moral decisions.

2- In the story of the Tower of Babel it clearly states "they may become as us," declaring openly that humans can become godlike through processes of cooperative learning and endeavor. The tower - and that ambition - was thwarted, but without anger, death or punishment, suggesting our rise was delayed for some reason, not permanently forbidden.

In any event, this means we CAN rise to perceive godlike matters.
Inherently.

---

Right Robert.

Robert said...

Actually, you could also look at the story of the Tower of Babel as early science fiction... or even (if you take a huge leap of faith) of an early advanced civilization on Earth that was working to build a Beanstalk, which then fell and scattered the people working on it.

Of course, there's never been any adequate explanation about why no artifacts of such a civilization have ever been found. Even if this ancient civilization was ten thousand years ago, some artifacts of that civilization should have survived. (This is where having Atlantis sink into the ocean becomes so useful for these early mythmakers - obviously there are no artifacts because they're several thousand feet under the ocean's surface.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Key point. When you face biblical literalists, who say every word is true, then they have armed you! If you know some scripture.

If Babel is literally true, then there is no limit to human potential, and hence, Armageddon would be a loony cauterization of a teen's future.

Likewise, Revelations collapses if God can change his mind. If that happens, then BoR was at MOST a divinely inspired tantrum-threat fed to John of Patmos, (And more likely a schizo's ravings.) But the bible is filled with such threats, some acted upon and others pulled back or relented.

Read the Book of Jonah. It rips the props out from under nasty, horrid BoR junkies who yearn for blood to gush from the eyes of everybody except their chosen "elect."

David McCabe said...

No one is ever convinced by someone else to change their mind about religion.

Not so! I got over the religion of my upbringing, in large part, by losing argument after argument on the Internet. It took a while, though. Then again, I'd been asking uncomfortable questions from a young age, so maybe this just accelerated the process. After all, a good Christian would simply flee the Internet if they felt their faith seriously challenged.

Dr Brin, I find your biblical interpretations pretty fascinating. Do they arise from a named school of thought?

Ian said...

Not only does BoR fall apart if God changes his mind - it falls apart if Satan refuses to play his appointed role.

Assuming Satan has free will, he can effectively nullify God's claim to infallibility.

David Brin said...

Dave M... I honestly cannot recall ever seeing anyone zero in on scripture as a source of pro-enlightenment zingers against fundamentalism. I've found maybe a dozen of them, so far... and I am definitely not a biblical scholar. Indeed, this approach could make a terrific book...

... if I had the time, or help.

The great thing about Babel and "name the beasts" and Jonah are that they are so clear and unambiguous. They make powerfully unmistakable statements about the basic, basic rules of engagement. If scripture is literally perfect, then their meanings undercut the far more ambiguous lunacy of BoR.

Rob Perkins said...

David, I can think of three or four off the bat from the first three chapters of Isaiah alone. Or the call to "reason together", later on in that book.

Malachi's attachment of divine wrath for those who don't voluntarily contribute to the common weal.

Joel, who thought the least regarded members of society, namely women and children, would be sources of great wisdom.

From LDS sources, not directly useful to impugning a fundamentalist Christian, there is a passage which asserts that God made the earth with enough wealth for everyone to share, and that people who don't find ways to share are under His condemnation.

Another assertion that He's going to expect us to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause... of [one's] own free will and choice.

I could go on in that vein.

David Brin said...

Rob these are cool and wise... tho a fundie would claim he is already living by all of them...

Tony Fisk said...

It occurred to me a while ago that the original sin (eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge) could be interpreted as accepting 'facts' without question ("*How* dost thou know that thou art naked? Is it because thou art cold or because thou hast eaten an apple?").

To someone who's first injunction was to 'count the beasts', this could be viewed as 'cheating'; which would explain the somewhat peeved tone at this point of the narrative.

Had they but sought out the berries of the vine of wisdom*... but they are small and only offer their sweet reward to the diligent seeker

Hmm! Can someone please tell me when I start randomly underlining words in quotes?

* The 'truffles of wisdom' may be an apt metaphor as well, but somehow doesn't quite cut it!

Stuart said...

You could encourage discrimination between what Jesus said and what other people said. Most of the really reprehensible stuff either comes from Old Testament tribal law, as in Leviticus, or is Paul's opinion in the New Testament. Paul is, for instance, the source of the modern rule against women being ministers or speaking in church.

One zinger is that Leviticus prohibits shellfish using the same language (an abomination!) it uses to prohibit homosexuality*. Where are the protests against shellfish?

Another is that the Bible does not, at any point, prohibit abortion. The closest it comes is insisting that any man who causes a woman to miscarry by knocking into her during a fight must pay restitution. In fact, it goes on to recommend stoning disobedient children outside the gates of the city.

* On top of that, it's very specific in forbidding homosexuality only between men. I wonder if they noticed God smiting people for shellfish allergies, trichinosis, or whatever analogue to HIV existed at the time. I suppose if you think God is directly responsible every time you have bad luck, there's no difference between a health code and a moral imperative. ...or maybe they just liked hot bi babes as much as the rest of us, and so made an exception.

@David McCabe - That's fascinating! Maybe it was just that no one ever came back to the forums to say they'd changed their minds.

Stuart said...

^^ Clarification: Trichinosis because the Bible prohibits pork in the same place it prohibits shellfish and homosexuality between men.

It also prohibits clothes made from more than one material. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

Ian said...

"Another is that the Bible does not, at any point, prohibit abortion. The closest it comes is insisting that any man who causes a woman to miscarry by knocking into her during a fight must pay restitution."

It's quite explicit too that if the mother dies as a result of the miscarriage THEN the person who causes the miscarriage is guilty of murder.

It's worth noting that both Muslims and most branches of Judaism teach that the soul enters the fetus only at around the end of the trimester and that abortion prior to that time is permissible.

Another point worth pointing out about Leviticus is the intended audience: Judaism teaches that Leviticus is God telling the Levites what laws and punishments are to be applied by the Sanhedrin, the religious court attached to the Temple.

According to Jewish doctrine, the Sanhedrin was supposed to be divinely inspired in its judgments.

Other, lesser, merely human courts aren't supposed to apply the Levitical punishments because our limited human faculties are too likely to screw up.

Disclaimer: just passing on what I've been told. Personally, since I don't believe in the existence of the soul I think it's futile to speculate on when it enters the fetus and I think the Sanhedrin was no more divinely inspired than my nail clippings.

Robert said...

Here's an article that there's increased evidence that early humanity and the Neanderthals interbred. This may mean that rather than a rapacious humanity killing off the Neanderthals, instead the two species merged.

This isn't quite the convergent sentient evolution we were talking earlier (and on wars of extinction between the two), but it does put humanity in a somewhat better light. ^^

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Tony Said: It occurred to me a while ago that the original sin (eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge) could be interpreted as accepting 'facts' without question ("*How* dost thou know that thou art naked? Is it because thou art cold or because thou hast eaten an apple?").

To someone who's first injunction was to 'count the beasts', this could be viewed as 'cheating'; which would explain the somewhat peeved tone at this point of the narrative.

Heh. Though a bit of a reach.

Slight alteration: Had they but sought out the berries of the vine of wisdom*... but they are small AND HIDDEN DEEP AMID THE THORNY VINES and only offer their sweet reward to the diligent seeker

Nice metaphor.

Stuart: You could encourage discrimination between what Jesus said and what other people said.

Red-Letter Christians are doing this.

Robert said...

And another article of interest, it appears that star birth-rates is declining significantly compared to what it was ten billion years ago.

I'm halfway tempted to make a birth control quip here. ^^;;

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Spambot: "Delete my spampost, did he? I'll show him!" -spamspamspamspamspamspamspamspamspam-

Tim H. said...

Spamalot,Where they eat their bread with jam a lot..
perhaps Hormel could find a creative solution?

Robert said...

Had an interesting argument with a Libertarian yesterday. One Libertarian claimed that the 2008-09 financial crisis was caused by too much government regulation and that we should have just let the banks fold. A second piped up and stated that the natural state of finance is for 20-year-cycles of boom-bust, and that government shouldn't be interfering with this.

And I once thought being a Libertarian was a good idea? oO

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Wait a minute... The financial crisis is the Government's Fault because the Government intervened in the naturally-occurring 'bust' financial crisis...

o.O; *scratches head* Huh... Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Blame government for causing a financial crisis that you claim is naturally-occurring, by interfering with it after it started...

Somebody needs smacked upside the head with the Logic Log...

Robert said...

To be honest, the second libertarian is a very intelligent girl I know (smarter than me, and I'm not exactly a dim bulb) who just loves arguing... so her comments might have been either making fun of her friends or just arguing for argument's sake. And the argument petered out after that (partly as I went onto a tangent about Social Libertarianism - damn, I really need to build a political movement around that! Hmm, how to start...) so maybe the first Libertarian realized his argument was a tad untenable. ^^;;

It's a shame that the girl doesn't get into politics as a candidate; she's brilliant and has the ability to run rings around other people in arguments and convince them that their argument is wrong. Even if she's arguing contrary points just for the enjoyment of arguing. I just hope she retains many of her libertarian traits once she moves to that Hotbed of Liberal Looniness, California. ;)

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"... the natural state of finance is for 20-year-cycles of boom-bust..."
This is consistent with American history between the Civil War and FDR, but it's also a terribly stupid observation. By the same logic, all our problems are caused by "doctors" interfering with the natural cycle of life and death.

Boom-and-bust is a terrible way to run a civilization. There is many many many many many grounds on which to criticize FDR-style regulations but what arguing that we should return to the state of nature red-in-tooth-and-claw is at best silly. And anyone, however personable, charming and able at disputation, who lacks the real-world experience or historical knowledge to accept that should, for the sake of our civilization, stay out of politics.

Robert said...

As I mentioned above, she may have just been arguing for the sake of arguing... or torpedoing her friend's argument by pointing out the flaw of no regulation. I don't know and I didn't ask. I do know that she's that rare type of person who will alter her beliefs if she finds data proving her old beliefs wrong. The other chap though... I suspect he was angry that the big banks got a big payout after screwing up big-time. The problem with his solution (one that a number of Americans have stated should have been done) is that if we allowed these big banks to start falling, one after another, is that the end-result would have been another Great Depression. There are times when government has to act. This was, sadly, one of them.

Though I do have to agree with another comment my friend made: if we took the money that went into the bailout and instead gave it, evenly, to every single American citizen, it would have amounted to a good-sized bite of money for every person. These people would then have used this money to pay off bills and reduce their debt and even buy stuff they need... which would have given the economy a boost.

The problem is, I'm not sure if the big banks would have survived this... and if the big banks failed, even with such a large stimulus package to normal Americans, would our economy have survived or would it collapse in the sinkhole the Big Banks would have left behind them?

Rob H. (who just got "prose" as his word verification)

rewinn said...

My favorite dismissal of Bible literalism comes from 1 Corinthians 13:11:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Bible literalists are still thinking like children, or, rightly understood, people of a pre-scientific era. Clearly Corinthians is telling us to grow up, intellectually.

---

About pork v. trichanousis - it seems to me that one can always find some rationalization for every prohibition; that doesn't mean the prohibition stems from that rationalization. For a prescientific people to figure out the relation between eating pork and one-out-of-many diseases seems a bit of a stretch.

Cultures accumulate strange little habits, like eating fish on Friday or wearing tassels on a shawl. Perhaps the function is not so much the utility of fish-eating, pork-avoiding or tassel-having as it is in having something with which to distinguish yourself from others. In the days before we could all wear jerseys from our favorite professional sports teams (or propellor beanies from MidAmeriCon) perhaps funny dietary prohibitions were helpful for maintaining group solidarity. Or, like that funny groove that runs from the bottom of the nose to the top of the lip, it's just there because evolution (biological or sociological) is not about optimization, just about beating the competition.

Robert said...

Or it could be something so simple as seeing pigs "wallow" in muddy areas to cool off made early Jews consider them "unclean" and thus something that should not be eaten. The reason swine are not exactly the most healthy of animals to eat nowadays is how they are raised and the food they are fed, to the point that Germans have a method of raising swine that is free of many of the parasites that can be found in American pork. Back then? It was more a matter of "they're wading in WHAT?!? Oh, that's disgusting!"

Do note, this also explains the reason against eating shellfish: shellfish live in "mud" and the like. Thus they are "unclean" because of the environment in which they live, not because of any reasoning behind disease and the like.

Occam's Razor can be an effective tool when getting to the root of things. Sometimes. =^-^=

Rob H.

Darrell E said...

Robert said:

"Here's an article that there's increased evidence that early humanity and the Neanderthals interbred. This may mean that rather than a rapacious humanity killing off the Neanderthals, instead the two species merged.

This isn't quite the convergent sentient evolution we were talking earlier (and on wars of extinction between the two), but it does put humanity in a somewhat better light. ^^"


I am not sure about the particular article that you linked to here, I have not read it, but the information in the actual paper does not support a merging of the two species.

The data suggests that there may have been limited, in quantity and time, interbreeding between HSS and HSN. The data suggests that the HSN genes entered the HSS genome about 40k to 50k years ago and that even though HSS and HSN lived in close proximity in many areas for a further 10K to 20K years there is no indication of genetic exchange during that later more recent time frame. The paper suggests that approximately 1% to 4% of the modern HSS genome for all extant HSS groups except those of African origin is HSN.

There is also at least two other hypotheses that could account for HSN genes in the HSS genome, but the current, tentative, consensus is that interbreeding is the less complex more probable cause.

Also, this new data adds further to the debate about just how to classify HSN with regards to HSS. Currently most people would classify HSN as a subspecies, but this new data could definitely be used to support a change to classifying HSN and HSS as the SAME species, or at the least an incipient species.

Robert said...

And here's several news links (the majority of them science-based) to amuse and the like:

First, an article that goes into significant depth about the Deepwater Horizon oil leak and on some background behind this situation. One interesting fact was how the oil rig that sank had previously (and without problem) drilled an oil well at twice the depth of this current one. It's an excellent examination of the situation and some of the surrounding aspects to it, including how research into methods of stopping leaks of this scale were taken off the table as unneeded.

Also, Fox News utilizes its polling tricks to show that the vast majority of Americans are for the super-strict anti-immigration laws Arizona put in place. Among the claims are that the vast majority of Independents and Republicans are for the Arizona law, while almost half of Democrats are for it. Personally, I'm curious as to how the questions were asked, and what other questions led up to the immigration questions. Also interesting is how only 5% of voters feel immigration is the most important issue in the coming elections.

Two articles, one from Time and another from TG Daily talks about how scientists are starting to actively defend climate change research, including an open letter from 250 U.S. scientists which includes 11 Nobel laureates that defends climate change research.

And for those of us who are astronomy and space flight fans, we've an article on how Obama's reshaped spaceflight plan is gaining support in Congress as the White House and Congress hammer out details for NASA's future course, including a trip out to the L1 point for a month, another trip to an asteroid, and finally a trip to the moons of Mars. Unfortunately, there is also additional funding being added for Ares. But if funding is increased to pay for Ares separate from the other plans (and this appears to be the case), I don't see Ares as a complete loss and the extra research gained by working on Ares should be useful for when Ares is ultimately scrapped as untenable.

(part 2 to continue)

Robert said...

(continued from above)

We've another article on plans for a spare plasma rocket that was built in case there was a problem with the rocket that will be sent to the ISS. The spare VASIMR could be used on a spacecraft sent to visit an asteroid, and could be used in a robotic mission to possibly return a pristine sample of an asteroid to the Earth.

Finally, I've found a pair of articles on super-massive black holes that are of interest. First, here's an article that talks about how super-massive black holes can destroy the galaxies in which they reside, through high-energy particle emission and massive x-ray emissions that drive off the gases needed to build new stars and inhibit new star growth. Considering the previous article I linked concerning the slowing of new star growth in older galaxies, I suspect we've a good explanation on what is going on in these cases: new star growth is reduced after the central black holes grow to a large enough size to start driving off stellar gases.

Ironically enough, the opposite is also true: supernovae are starving smaller super-massive black holes of accreted gases. In short, Type 1a supernovas are creating "interstellar tsunami" that drives dust and gas out of the central bulge, keeping it away from the central black hole, and allowing further star creation. This does not hold true with the super-massive galaxies, whose central black holes are so large that their gravity overcomes the "tsunami effect" and prevents the gas from leaving.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, invite your brilliant fem-libertarian here. Alas, Carl & I have found that most "libertarians" are very shallow and poor representatives of a basically good idea.

Boom and Bust is, in fact, precisely the cycle that Marx grew up under and it fed his theories and assumptions of progressive consolidation of the capitalist bourgeoisie. The world WAS following his pattern -- which is why everybody in the first third of the 20th Century read him... till FDR came along and showed that a society can politically modify patterns that Marx assumed to be inherent.

Crap, people don't read anymore.

Yesterday's stock crash raises the question: why not a simple, very small, 0.01% (0.0001) TRADE TAX in stock markets?  That's far too little to matter to mom and pop day trading, or even to mutual fund managers.  

But it would be death to a recent-modern villainy -- coded-reflex cheat-trading by big brokers, gambling and nibbling at the margins in billions of tiny micro-trades, taking unfair advantage of their quicker access to inside information to detect clients'' buy orders and gaming the system. 

It would also help pay for the vastly increased work load at the SEC, as regulators sift for a single trade order that might have said "sell 1.6 Billion," instead of the intended Million.  This reform is obvious... and won't happen.  The Chicago School neo-classicists who caused the collapse still see a trillion efficiency angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Robert said...

I've tried getting her on here before. She has a busy life, though, and most of her internet is done via Blackberry rather than computer. So I'm doubtful she'll listen this time.

However, I'll bring it up... and mention it again after she moves to Cali and things are less hectic for her.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

1 Corinthians 13:11:"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."


Alas, while the general statement is usable for our cause, the speaker was speaking about humanity's childishness in paying attention to the material world, instead of "growing up" and devoting all attention to an immaterial promise of abstract afterlife based on forgiveness for a crime none of us ever committed.

Rob Perkins said...

the speaker was speaking about humanity's childishness in paying attention to the material world, instead of "growing up" and devoting all attention to an immaterial promise of abstract afterlife based on forgiveness for a crime none of us ever committed.

Erm... that's a quasi-Calvinist viewpoint, I guess. Maybe Catholics have a stake in it, too. But my own readings of that letter left me with the notion that what he meant by "growing up" was including the spiritual with the physical, not entirely replacing the one with the other.

LarryHart said...

David Brin said:

...instead of "growing up" and devoting all attention to an immaterial promise of abstract afterlife based on forgiveness for a crime none of us ever committed.


Hmmmm...I'm thinking on the fly here, but is this one of those "two types of people in the world..." things distinguishing Enlightenment people from Romanticists or Authoritarians or whatever you'd call the other side?

We Enlightenment "liberals" find the practice of assigning blame to individuals for "crimes" committed by ancestors to be so self-evidently wrong that it's difficult for us to remember that a large portion of our fellow citizens don't agree with our perception. It seems to me that the Authoritarian Right not only doesn't have a problem with such blame-assignment, but thinks that's exactly the way a well-ordered world should be run.

David McCabe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David McCabe said...

Billionaire Mark Cuban is advocating a $.25 per transaction trading tax.

Ian Gould said...

"Boom-and-bust is a terrible way to run a civilization. There is many many many many many grounds on which to criticize FDR-style regulations but what arguing that we should return to the state of nature red-in-tooth-and-claw is at best silly. "

People who make this argument really need to read some economic history, specifically about the Long Depression of the 1870's.

Although Von Mises has apparently attempted to argue that the Long Depression didn't really happen.

Apparently if you exclude he railway industry, the US economic was doing just fine.

Kind of like in the last few years if you exclude the car and construction industries.

Ian Gould said...

Though I do have to agree with "another comment my friend made: if we took the money that went into the bailout and instead gave it, evenly, to every single American citizen, it would have amounted to a good-sized bite of money for every person. These people would then have used this money to pay off bills and reduce their debt and even buy stuff they need... which would have given the economy a boost."

Except that without the bail-pout half the US financial system would have gone bankrupt, either requiring the Feds to pay out even more to cover federally insured deposits (and to bail out federally-insured pension funds that had invested in bank shares)- or requiring the government to formally renege on its FDIC commitments leading to all those peopel who got a $2-3,000 cheque losing their entire life savings.

And that money handed out as a direct gift to individuals would never have been recovered by the government. As things stand, the Fed has already recouped all but around $100 billion of the money spent and will probably end up making a profit once the remaining shares and bonds are sold over the next several years.

Your friend' proposal would have vastly increased public debt over current levels, produced a massive wave of bankruptcies across the real economy; resulted in not millions but tens of millions of mortgage foreclosures and sent unemployment to levels probably higher than the 25% reached at the peak of the Great Depression.

But it sounds good as a sound bite.

And as the tens of millions of homeless and unemployed people lined up for their daily soup ration before heading back to the Hoovervilles, libertarians would be telling them how their dilemma was all the fault of Big Government.

Ian Gould said...

A quick note on the modern human/ Neanderthal interbreeding.

Even if confirmed, this doesn't necessarily point to the peaceful co-existence of the two species.

Rape is, after all, a common consequence of warfare. It was also frequently part of the abuse slaves were subjected to.

Supposedly, something like 10% of all humans alive today are descended from Genghis Khan.That isn't a tribute to his gregarious outgoing nature and ability to make friends.

Nicholas MacDonald said...

Returning to our original topic, professional curmudgeon/pop math author John Derbyshire has some speculations of his own as to why the skies are silent:

"So … where are they? We've been listening for fifty years, and heard squat. There are a number of explanations:

* 1. What we think we know is all wrong. Intelligent life is so fantastically improbable, we are the only specimen, or else the nearest other specimen is a billion or so light years away.

* 2. Radio communication is a brief, transient phase in the development of civilization. Some civilizations may leapfrog it, never using radio at all.

* 3a. Civilization may be self-annihilating. Once a civilization has unlocked the secrets of the atom, it may then inevitably happen that it destroys itself, either (most popular with sci-fi writers) in a species-suicidal war …

* 3b. … or (more likely in my opinion) by prying too deep into the nature of reality, turning its planet — perhaps its entire stellar neighborhood — into subatomic trash. Curiosity killed the cat: it might kill us, and any other civilization that gets to our level. Manhattan Project physicists seriously discussed the possibility that a fission bomb might destroy the Earth's atmosphere. It didn't, of course, and they called that one correctly; but sooner or later, setting up some other experiment, we may get it wrong and turn the entire Solar System into fine dust, or Dark Matter, or nothingness.

* 4a. It may inevitably happen that technological civilization leads quickly to a Singularity, on the other side of which is a state of existence we cannot guess at, let alone understand, let alone communicate with. It may even be that …

* 4b. … this happened just once, creating a malign Power that could police the entire universe, preventing the rise of any rival Power by wiping out species that get too close to Singularity.

* 5. High intelligence is an evolutionary dead end, always and everywhere. It's just inevitably dysgenic. A creature that gets smart enough will stop reproducing and get numerically swamped by dimmer but more philoprogenitive creatures, possibly of its own species or genus. Neanderthals seem to have had brains slightly bigger than ours. Perhaps they were the smart species and we were the dumb one. Just as there's a Whig interpretation of history, so there's a Whig interpretation of evolution, assuming that there'll be creatures in a later epoch much smarter than any of the creatures of an earlier epoch. I can't think of any strong reason why this should be so. Why shouldn't a trait just max out, as size did with the dinosaurs?"

http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Opinions/Diaries/2010-04.html

Interesting thoughts. I tend towards 1 or 3a (though I suppose simply devouring all our resources and falling into a permanent dark age is more likely than nuclear annihilation), though I wish for 4a to be true.

Ian Gould said...

Two promising green energy stories:

Innovalight claims it can match the conversion efficiency of conventional crystalline solar cells using much cheaper Silicon ink in place of the crystalline Silicon wafers.

The technology is apparently compatible with existing equipment to build solar cells so this could be adopted by industry quite rapidly if it works as claimed.

http://www.energymatters.com.au/index.php?main_page=news_article&article_id=874

Alphabet Energy claims to have a new thermoelectric substance which is radically cheaper than existing materials and can generate energy at a cost of $1 per watt.

http://www.alphabetenergy.com/

Of course, you could whack a themoelectric cell on the back of a solar cell and harvest the sun's IR energy as well as the visi8ble light.

TwinBeam said...

The best three evidences for the possibility that a 'creator' is real:

1) A universe and planet capable of supporting life and development of intelligent life. Sure, sure, anthropic principle and all - but still...

2) Oil. Just Too Damn Convenient. A huge energy supply, easy to find and access with the tech we had just when we needed it to keep the industrial age rolling along. What if it had not existed, or was miles deeper? Or if it were mere feet below the surface everywhere, poisoning everything? But no, it's stored in nice deep vaults that barely leak at all.

3) If some form of FTL is possible - making it practical to expand into the universe, despite the seemingly vast distances and apparent laws of physics.

Robert said...

Actually, oil makes sense to be where it is. It is created through high pressure and heat, which is found underground. And there were regions where it was leaking to the surface, poisoning the land around it. Heck, if you want to get technical, tar pits are also petroleum deposits, which captured and killed numerous creatures who fell into them.

If the oil goes too deep, it undoubtedly gets turned into a type of rock, or eventually pulled into a field of molten rock and is broken apart. There's probably been oil (and coal) in the world for over a billion years.

No need for a divine creator to explain that. Unless you believe that this divine creator created the laws of physics so that such things as oil could actually exist.

Rob H.

matthew said...

One thought about intelligent life that is spoken aloud too infrequently is the "Matrix" solution. Assuming that intelligent life arises once AND that modeling the universe using something like quantum computing is possible - then it is a vanishingly small probability that we are NOT a computer simulation.

Which explains a lot about the Biblical God. Yes, He acts like a spoiled ten-year-old. Because He *is* a spoiled ten-year-old. And we are his fourth grade computer science project.

All hail Jehovah, young, immature, computer science whiz.


"lasest" - the best and brightest of the rave set

matthew said...

I'm going to burn in Hell for the last comment.

Good thing that Hell is buggy and has gaps in the code.

'$

Tony Fisk said...

Verily shall the blasphemers spend eternity gazing into the blue screen of death. (except it's gone black now, hasn't it?)

lamedivi: it is, a bit

David McCabe said...

Meanwhile, the no-bid contracts continue.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re- No-Bid Contracts

Reading that article I would tend to go along with the Army Commanders who don't want to change horses in mid-stream.

Saying that if I was a legislator I would be preparing some type of claw-back mechanism for after the contract was completed.

The real problem was the initial no-bid contract

Gilmoure said...

And now for something completely different:

Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten

— Eleanor of Aquitaine - The Lion in Winter

Yeah, a return to the kleptocracy would be fun!

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Robert: you were thinking of farandolae, from L'Engle's A Wind in the Door.

@matthew: All hail Jehovah, young, immature, computer science whiz.

Matthew, you really, really need to read Heinlein's Job, and the depiction of the fundamentalists' Jehovah taken to its literal and logical endpoint. It would indeed be Hell for any truly good person... except the whole is imbedded in a greater Gnosticism, the nature of which I won't spoil.

@Dr. Brin: it's fascinating how much of the Uplift Universe can be extrapolated from that one review paper. I'm fascinated. :)

Re: your mods of the Drake Equation: there's a hidden assumption built into the factors f(c) [production of a technological culture] and L [lifespan of technological culture/species]. Most analyses of intelligent species assume that the intelligence will be contained in *bodies*, similar to terrestrial vertebrates of one sort or another. A few alternate suggestions include "in-the-cloud" distributed networking supported by insects/arthropods, corals, or prokaryotes. At any rate, radio is assumed to be useful for communications because of its rapidity and low power consumption, and travel difficult because of the need to move large amounts of mass to transport biosupport.

While low power consumption is probably a universal desirable, why should rapidity be? Rapidity on human timescales is driven by our individuality and entrapped brains. With massive data loss every time a node dies, the human noosphere has been drastically inefficient so far. From the Pandoran networking to the interfacing of forests to the ubiquity of biofilms and the horizontal gene transfer of viruses, we know of myriad ways to move data between biological nodes.

Might a species that can, say *naturally* do what the Kiln People culture did shrug the idea of interstellar radio off as pointless? When you can detach part of your consciousness and send it on a ten-thousand-year trip, confident that this will only be a small part of your overall experience... what's the point?

I'm not suggesting this as a serious answer to the Great Silence question; I'm merely pointing out that we may not have broadened our thinking enough about what aliens may look like. In the last twenty years we've learned about life's history of reduction vs. oxidation, of the myriad steps required for multicellular life, of the Ediacarans and more details from the Burgess Shale period. *Everything* that is unique to our particular climb to sentience needs questioning. Might most worlds be Europas? Could nobody be trying to explore the Cosmos because most intelligences live and die never knowing about it?

David Brin said...

Good point.

Ah, but when you can bud off and deputize sub selves, then some of those WILL be interested in all sorts of things, like lower intelligences... so this is not a solution to the Great Silence, it exacerbates it.

Anonymous said...

1.2 million years ago coincides approximately with another mega-eruption: a VEI-8 at (what would one day be called) Yellowstone National Park.

David Brin said...

onward

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