Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Queries on Quora... and track the comet landing!

Woo-hoo! The Philae Lander is on the comet! On the NASA Channel, I see big smiles as humanity's little lander has made it. Be proud! How impoverished are those who cannot feel thrill as we explore the solar system. Kudos to the European Space Agency for the Rosetta mission’s successful docking of the Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  

Be sure to follow this epic event! 

There will be live coverage on the science channel.  Yay ESA! And hurrah for us and for a scientific - ambitious civilization.

questions-quora== Questions!  More Questions! ==

I occasionally answer questions on Quora -- the open-query-and-answer website. Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits.

* What are the most interesting questions where the answer is zero?

How many other sapient species do we know of, in this vast cosmos?

      See more on SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Aside from religion, what can actually stop scientific progress?
Better to ask what retarded scientific progress across 6000 years of feudal societies, featuring pyramidal power structures, with a few lording it over ignorant masses.  The priesthoods in those societies (often) did repress questions and defended rigid dogmas.  But mostly in service of that lordly caste.

In both Rome and the American south, new technologies were repressed that might have made slavery uneconomical. Education for the masses, recommended by Adam Smith, only started once the top layers of nobility were removed, both in Periclean Athens and in the early US.

Today, we face multiple threats and I am libertarian enough to admit that stifling government bureaucracies can be one kind! But we are seeing that the greatest threat to modern science, education, calm problem-solving and (yes) democracy is a return to the same enemy that crushed all of those good things, across the millennia -- oligarchy, accompanied by relentless anti-scientific propaganda.

The ultimate question is why God doesn't just open up the sky and speak, like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I mean, wouldn't that be the fair thing to do?  Instead of leaving religious "truth" in a myriad variants for misguided parents to inculcate in naive kids? For the simple reason that their parents had taught them the same things? Should children on one continent, who happened to listen to one set of stories, go to hell because they never heard the alternative stories that are "true," told 5000 miles away?

No, if God is fiercely judgmental, then the fair thing is to simply part the clouds once, with all our cameras rolling, and explain it all clearly. Then, any folks who refuse to toe the line -- (and I do not promise in advance not to be one of them!) -- can do so with genuine free will.

There is an alternative... that His refusal to do that simple thing has a fair reason. It is the Great Sermon: "Figure it all out for yourselves!"  And if so, then fair enough! But it means no one is punished simply for believing their parents.

Note how this quandary allegorically fits everything I've said in The Transparent Society.  The one tool for justice (and the Bible says it too!) ... is light.

Why did Albert Einstein say that the one who is sucked into a black hole sees time slow down and one who is standing outside sees things move fast?

We humans tend to assume that time is the background phenomenon that is steady, constant and unchanging, the same everywhere, because that seems to be the case in our mid-scale, human-level world. 

But it is not so. The variability of time was very very difficult for physicists to grapple with, almost exactly a century ago, when they realized that the invariant thing is the speed of light!  THAT is the thing that remains constant in all frames of reference, not time.

As for a black hole, consider this: A speed relates SPACE to TIME. When it comes to light, that speed is invariant. Hence, in a black hole, where space has been compacted very tightly, so is time, in order to maintain that same ratio.  Get it?

Of course there are equations....

 when a human reaches the speed of light?

You become a singularity and perhaps a new universe.  Because at that point you are infinitely massive.

Sorry, that is WAY oversimplifying... oh, and it can't happen... but it is true enough -- in a way -- to come out sounding so... so cool.

What were the most accurate predictions of all time?

"As a mental experiment, let’s go along with FBI director Freeh and try to envisage what might  happen if - say - bombers actually succeeded in toppling both towers of New York’s World Trade Center, killing tens of thousands.  Or imagine that nuclear, or bio-plague terrorists someday devastate a city.  Now picture the public reaction if the FBI ever managed to show real (or exaggerated) evidence that they were impeded in preventing the disaster by an inability to tap coded transmissions sent by the conspirators. They would follow this proof with a petition for new powers, to prevent the same thing from happening again.

"Such requests might be refused nine times in a row, before finally being granted the tenth.  The important point is that, once the bureaucracy gets a new prerogative of surveillance, it is unlikely ever after to give it up again.  The effect is like a ratchet that will creep relentlessly toward one kind of transparency..."

This discussion, which then predicts the Patriot Act, in detail, is from page 206 of The Transparent Society -- published in 1997. Judge for yourselves whether that is a creepy level of on-target prognostication.

 I have a well-followed track record but that's one I wish had been wrong.

Elon Musk wants to send one million people to Mars. Can he do it?

There are a dozen truly major technologies that must be developed, first.  Elon is doing great at pushing chemical lift-rockets to far greater efficiency. But someone also must develop cheap sail-or-ion propelled freighters, automated Mars water drill-distillers, in-situ propellant production, closed cycle processes for turning local ores into advanced machinery, and above all - advanced and reliable closed cycle life support. 

And we at NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts group have been funding some interesting additional ideas... like finding and exploring lava tubes for habitats. And developing hibernation/torpor for long duration spaceflight. Or better radiation shielding.  Cool stuff, much of it needed for us to develop the solar system.

None of these are impossible and we are making great strides! We'll do it all... but we need maybe five more Elons.

Oh and psych.  We need better understanding of human beings.  Small order!

Here's a stab at it.
historical figureCrassus -- and earlier Marius and Sulla -- helped destroy the Roman Assemblies, which till then had balanced the Patrician Senate, keeping Rome a vibrant and middle class society. He also crushed Spartacus, instead of reforming slavery, which would have ended the revolt.
La Malinche is well-known down south but most Anglos are unaware of how many native Americans died because she helped Cortez.
In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. He had been a Chinese exception, outward-looking and progressive, he supported the ambitious voyages of Admiral Zheng He. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1424–1425), stopped those voyages which, if they had continued, might have sailed into Lisbon Harbor while Prince Henry the Navigator was in knee pants. We'd all be speaking Chinese right now.
Andrew Jackson is on our $20 bill. He managed to delay the Civil War by 30 years and that makes up for the fact that he was a wretched man who did terrible harm to U.S. governance and betrayed his Cherokee friends.
Some good and competent people wrought great harm.  Like the Polynesian navigator who guided  colonists to New Zealand.  Had he failed, we might have Great Auks and other wonders, today. Or the leaders of the migrations over the ice age land bridge into the Americas. Or... I'd include Columbus but he's so over-rated.  Someone would have made the same journey within 10 years.  It was time.

I could go on.

Some of the other questions are good, and thought provoking! See also... my other answers on Quora.
The main thing is to stay curious. Perhaps our greatest gift... after love.


Anonymous said...

Another question is why the right believes that eliminating the middle class would bring them greater prosperity. The working classes only own maybe 25% of the total wealth in america. Is slavery that profitable? Are we not a market? Is replacing a worker that falls ill that much cheaper than trying to salvage some one that is already trained?

sgs said...

A million people on Mars? Logistically impossible.

To start with, there are just too many "unknown unknowns". IMHO, Mars is "a bridge too far"; there need to be a lot of stepping stones on the way before we can even discuss the subject sensibly.

Then there's the Government. Any "colony" will be organized like a military unit and dedicated to Political Correctness (exactly what that means depends on which government).

Does this mean that it's not a worthwhile effort? Certainly not! Even trying to do things like this is guaranteed to produce a vast number of very interesting byproducts. Go Elon!

David Brin said...

The will to be a dominant lord in a poor society is stronger than being merely rich in a flat egalitarian one. To me, the Koch-Murdoch-Saudi attempted putsch is not surprising. I am amazed and encouraged how many rich folk are loyal to the enlightenment diamond.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Is slavery that profitable?"

It's not that slavery is profitable, it's that rigid hereditary social hierarchies are meant ensure that the (legitimate) children of upper-class-men remain on top of the food chain regardless of their actual talent by virtue of being the only ones with a modicum of erudition.

Also there's the perverse kick of making sure that people living on your manor's land know that they are nothing but cattle and potential fucktoys who are at your the mercy of your whims.

Midboss said...

Personally, I'm all for colonizing other worlds. After all, at the speed we're wrecking this planet, we're going to need a spare soon.

Sounds like Elon Musk played too much Alpha Centaury and Civ: Beyond Earth and wants to make them non fictional. Which is good. After all, mobile phones were designed by nerds wanting to recreate the Star Trek comms. What I worry more however is that our leaders have also played these games and also want to help in their own way by creating the Great Mistake that made space colonization such an emergency in the game in the first place.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Whenever I hear people talking about colonizing space, Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's old novel "The Mote in God's Eye" surfaces in my synapses. It's not that I think colonization is a bad thing - it's inevitable - but that if it is to be anything other than a repeat of every other brutal, exploitative colonization effort in history, we are going to have to address some serious issues of human nature. The most obvious of these, given the book I mentioned, is the human propensity toward Malthusian overproduction (as well as other psychological issues Dr. Brin hinted at, like our distaste for being locked up in a tin can for months at a time).

This propensity may also play a role in what Laurent and our anonymous contributor are discussing about slavery. Humans have the cleverness to invent hoards of labor-saving devices, which is wonderful except for one thing: what do you do with the products of ubiquitous human reproduction? In market-based economies, all things inevitably become commodities, including people. The law of supply and demand says that the more there is of something, the cheaper it becomes. As human population continues to double at an accelerating rate, a return to slavery seems inevitable, assuming we do not undergo a Malthusian population crash first.

An aside on religion: when speaking of it, we tend to assume that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition represents the nature of religion generally (viz. that it's all about big angry God and His divine will), but there is a major religious tradition practiced by hundreds of millions of people around the world that has a very different perspective. To Buddhists, gods exist, but they are only temporarily gods, inevitably using up their merits and being demoted to a lower status. Following the word of any god is therefore a waste of time and effort. None of the gods know the true path to enlightenment. So, from their perspective, waiting for God to show up on camera still doesn't do the trick. He's just one in a long succession of misguided, egomaniacal divinities who can't get you anywhere except to serve His own purposes. This is a very different perspective, but then, the Buddhists I have known tend to treat the Buddhas & their saints as if they were gods.

Happy cogitation!

Laurent Weppe said...

"As human population continues to double at an accelerating rate, a return to slavery seems inevitable, assuming we do not undergo a Malthusian population crash first."

It took 47 years to go from 2 to 4 billions, 49 years to go from 3 to 6 billion, and if growth continue to the current trend, it will take 51 years to go from 4 to 8 billion and 96 years to go from 5 to 10 billion. demographic transition is happening, so right now the two likeliest scenarios are either a stabilization of human population or the degradation of the food production/distribution infrastructure leading to a catastrophic demographic collapse. But even in the worst case scenario, it won't happen as a result of excessive population growth but because the owner class will have foolishly refused to fund the very infrastructures which keeps everyone -themselves included- fed and alive.

Daniel Friend said...

One of the things I love about being Mormon is that we have an answer to your "Ultimate Question." You asked, "Why doesn't God just open up the sky and speak like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail?" Well, he does . . . to prophets. Abraham, Moses, and so on, down to Peter and Paul, and in our belief, to Joseph Smith and down to Thomas S. Monson. God doesn't, however, reveal himself to everybody all at once. Such a thing would do us no good in God's long-term plan.

In Mormon theology, we all lived with God before we came to this world. We all proved there that we would follow him when we knew him perfectly and he was present. Because we passed that test, we were sent here for the next step in our growth as independently thinking beings: to see if we would still choose to follow God when we couldn't see him--to see if we would be able to develop faith. If God revealed himself to all the world at once, this test would be null.

But this does not make God unjust. Because we can't see him, he will judge us only by the knowledge we did have here on Earth. Thus, no child will ever go to hell (or anywhere else) for simply believing what his parents taught. He will only be judged by what he did in this life with the knowledge he had. Mormons also believe that after this life, but before the resurrection, everyone will be taught the true religion (which, yes, we believe is ours) and have the chance to accept or reject it according to their own "genuine free will," as David put it. Thus, everyone will have an opportunity to choose, of their own free will, to obey God and develop faith (or not) no matter what their earthly circumstances were.

So the answer to the Ultimate Question is that God does not reveal himself to all at once because he wants us to develop faith of our own free will. His Plan of Salvation guarantees that every single person who will ever live on Earth will have an opportunity to do this.

Feel free to disagree with me (I hope respectfully) about this answer. But know that there is at least one Christian religion that offers an answer to all the points of this question. We can certainly agree that light yields justice--as a Mormon scripture says, "The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth." (D&C 93:36)

Tacitus2 said...

Comet Touchdown !


David Brin said...

Daniel F, with all due ecumenical respect, I find it deeply sad that you find your explanation adequate to forgive the intolerably unjust situation of millions of humans being down-judged for believing the doctrines that their parents taught them. As YOU fervently believe doctrines that your parents taught you... that might very well (according to millions of others) delusionally consign you to damnation.

The criterion deciding which prophets you believe - and which neighbors are damned - is which people were your parents. If you cannot see that as unfair, then that stands as proof that your theology is flawed.

Susan Watson said...

re a million people on Mars

The point of going there is not to absorb population volumes or to solve any practical problem in the next tens of millions of years. Even then we are unlikely to ever totally evacuate Earth.

Exploration will go on for its own excellent reasons but as long as new territory is finite we still have to find a sustainable balance back here.

On the global warming silver lining front, we may finally get to colonize Greenland and Baffin Island. The Laurentide ice sheet was 2 miles thick less than 15 thousand years ago. Now we have Canada and Vermont.

David Brin said...

Susan, the "new lands" rationalization is silly. There is no topsoil in the Taiga or on Baffin or Greenland. None at all. That takes half a million years to build, at best. Maybe many millions.

Also, we are trading lands that now have SEVERAL growing seasons, doomed to become jungle or desert, in exchange for mosquito plagued single short hot summer lands up north that will still be unusable for 2/3 of the year as way too dark.

Such rationalizations are spread by a cult of denialism. Let's save the holocene era that gave us civilization.

Daniel Friend said...

David, you're right that people being judged by others for their beliefs is intolerable and unjust. "Judge not, that ye be not judged" is a commandment that many people, Mormons included, do not live as well as they ought to. I sincerely wish that people of all faiths would live it better. I grew up in staunchly Southern Baptist Texas--believe me, I know how it feels to be told that I'm going to hell. I try not to tell other people where I might think they're going; that's not for me to decide anyway.

One other note that may help in understanding my position: while it's true that my parents did teach me my beliefs, I don't choose which prophets to believe just because of them. I choose to believe in my church because I prayed to God myself and received my own personal spiritual confirmation that this was true. It is a tenant of Mormon doctrine that every individual can and should receive his or her own individual confirmation of the truth of the church through prayer and personal revelation and NOT simply rely on the teachings of parents. Not every Mormon has kept this commandment either, but the church does actively endorse individual religious testimony over the traditions of one's parents. I don't know of any other religion that does this, but I'd love to hear from others who might know of one.

Alex Tolley said...

Such rationalizations are spread by a cult of denialism. Let's save the holocene era that gave us civilization.

Absolutely agree. Even if the new lands in the north take much less than 100's of thousands of years to acquire topsoil naturally - say 1000, or we use technology to replace nature, the conditions would be so different as to make it far less useful than our current agricultural lands. And let's no forget the oceans too.

BTW, very little of Canada is farmed and most of the population live within 25 miles of the US border. If you have ever traveled north from Toronto, it is plain that the geography is not suited to agriculture, and certainly not within the time span of AGW impacts.

I see that the Republicans are already stating that they will undermine even the tepid emissions deal that the US and China just announced. The rhetoric behind their reasoning is disinformational to say the least.

Alex Tolley said...

"It is a tenant of Mormon doctrine that every individual can and should receive his or her own individual confirmation of the truth of the church through prayer and personal revelation and NOT simply rely on the teachings of parents. "

And there lies the huge gulf between finding the truth by the scientific method and trying to find it by subjective means not subject to test. BTW, does Joseph Smith's founding story not engender even the tiniest skepticism at all?

Anonymous said...

Dr Brin, just a gentle correction..great auks wherein the North Atlantic, moas were the New Zeland birds eaten to extinction by the Maori people.

Jeff B. said...

Re: changes wrought by migrating peoples, I think in almost all instances these were "group efforts", and all the more poignant and tragic because they were probably unavoidable. If that unnamed Polynesian(s) had missed New Zealand, their culture was such that it was inevitable.

I cannot think of a single instance prior to the rescue of the bison in which damage was halted before extirpation. We've become more knowledgeable since then, but still threaten because our culture and livelihood is entangled in the use of natural resources. Maine fishermen might understand that cod populations are crashing, but have difficulty facing that fisheries have to close or else be destroyed. Culture is the driver.

BTW, minor quibble: the Great Auk inhabited the North Atlantic until c.1844, not New Zealand. I think you meant the moas. Personally I'd've liked to have seen the 3m wingspan giant eagle that preyed on them- and maybe the 1st Polynesians as well.

Jumper said...

What the heck does "staunch" mean?

Jumper said...

Gnosis only if and when the Elders allow it! All gnosis is subject to the approval of same, or alternatively, may cause possibility of banishment.

Selective gnosis.

Anonymous said...

A million people on Mars mostly just takes will, money and time, applied to a strategy of building outward to keep reducing costs. We have to move past only doing one-shot science robots and national pride missions.

(Orbital fuel depots are the next build-outwards step, once Musk gets the cost to orbit low enough to create sufficient trans-orbital traffic to justify the depots.)

But the one real problem we MUST solve, is cancer. To make living beyond Earth acceptable, people have to have confidence that if/when they get cancer due to elevated radiation exposure, they'll almost certainly survive.

Sure, we can live in outer-space fall-out shelters, and only go out on the surface rarely. But a million people won't go to or be born on Mars (or Luna or an asteroid), without solving cancer.

All the technical issues are pretty much "just engineering" - we know how to do them (in theory), we just need to apply the money and time to make them practical, reliable, etc.

Alex Tolley said...

All the technical issues are pretty much "just engineering" - we know how to do them (in theory), we just need to apply the money and time to make them practical, reliable, etc.

The issues are economic - i.e. what is the justification for going. Setting up a colony that is economically isolated and dependent on supplies from Earth is just a huge sink that will fail. So far I have seen no rationale for spending such capital.

David Brin said...

Daniel F. I truly respect your passion and faith. However, you'll note that you do not mention the simple fact that members of other faiths also pray. And that majorities of them report receiving personal and passionately connecting senses of validation from their own prayers, in by far most cases validating the stories that their parents told them.

This has been reported as far back as William James. The reflex to call THEIR religious experiences invalid, but your own to be True, is the all-too human response. Though it is kind of a sad and self-serving and incurious one.

I suggest other theories should be considered. Paramount would be that God does NOT consign people to hell (or privilege) just because they believe different things their parents told them.

David Brin said...

Just saw INTERSTELLAR in an IMAX theater. It was worth it.

I could concoct a hundred quibbles. Maybe I will, someday. But it is the best movie I have seen in this century.

Anonymous said...

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Tim H. said...

My understanding is that philae is tenuously on the comet, after bouncing, still, a wonderful performance by a device in cold and vacuum for a decade. This needs to be repeated with updated probes, to different comets, hopefully including some on their first descent from the Oort cloud, so we get some notion of what a typical comet is.

sociotard said...

Well, once they were settled, they used screws on the feet to attach to the comet. It should stay on until the sun causes enough melting/sublimation/gas bursting to dislodge it.

Paul451 said...

"The working classes only own maybe 25% of the total wealth in america."

{laughs} Oh if only the working class owned 25% of the total wealth in America, what wonders we would see.

In the real world, the bottom 80% of Americans own less than 20% of US wealth. The bottom 60% owns around 5%. The bottom 40% is in net debt.

Alex Tolley,
"what is the justification for going. Setting up a colony that is economically isolated and dependent on supplies from Earth is just a huge sink that will fail. So far I have seen no rationale for spending such capital."

And that's something so many advocates forget. They see Mars as some kind of "virgin Earth" minus {shrug} something {handwave} we can work around. They don't recognise that Mars lacks everything that makes Earth "Earth" except the part about being round and having a solid surface.

Worse are the terraforming advocates, who are the "underpants gnomes" of space advocacy. (1. Send a handful of missions to Mars. 2 ?? 3. Terraforming 4. Second Earth.) Interestingly, most methods for significant terraforming require very little contribution from any Martian colonists, but enormous amounts of non-Mars resources (nitrogen from Titan or Triton, comets or Saturnian ring-ice for water) and major in-space construction (planet-scale solar reflectors), so if you wanted to terraform Mars, the last thing you should do is support missions to Mars. Any settlers on Mars would be not just a worthless waste of resources, but probably in the way.

raito said...

The top 1% of households by income in the US has a lower limit of $394,000 per year.

The top 10% has a lower limit of around $145,000 per year.

There's poor deluded souls out there who believe that the middle class extends up to $250,000 a year. We elected those guys.

I used to think I was middle class, but I was wrong. Our household is in the upper 10%.

The reason for thinking this is that even with a good income, there's no financial security.

It's not all about profit. A good portion of it is about power.

But back to the comet. That stuff is really, really cool. The idea of being able to send something on a 4 billion mile trip to rendezvous with something 400 million miles away travelling at 80,000 miles an hour that's 2.5 miles across is pretty heady stuff.

Tony Fisk said...

Power, profit...

8 of Philae's 10 instruments seem to be functional. ESA is being very ginger with the other two since they involve moving parts and they don't want to risk dislodging Philae from where it is. The ice screws didn't work either*. This is probably because the harpoons failed, and the craft bounced a couple of times before fetching up against a cliff. While cliff is currently cutting off a lot of sunlight and limiting power, this may change over time. I also suspect it will eventually be found to have stopped Philae from sliding off the head entirely.

*Someone's suggested using the ice screws to hop around. I don't think they'll be doing that anytime soon. (Also, power)

Anonymous said...

@Alex Tolley/Paul451:

Instead of assuming space/Mars advocates must be deluded fools who "forget" obvious issues, you might ask yourself whether they might have seen the same issues, but were motivated to think of ways around some of them.

For example, we're already seeing new technologies that can help reduce the mass that must be shipped from Earth to bootstrap and support a colony. We'll have a lot more and better production tools by the time we are ready to colonize Mars.

Getting to the point of bootstrapping a Mars colony is a matter of a long process of breaking space expansion into development steps that are each economically justified.

The key to economic justification is to forget the idea of trade with Earth, and recognize that we already have strong economic motivations in space. There are many things we want to do in space (science, satellites), which could become a lot cheaper with incremental space infrastructure investment.

Anything that makes it substantially cheaper to get stuff "out there" will in turn allow us to do more, justifying further investment to lower costs further.

It's not a recipe for "instant Mars colony, just add water" - but it can work, given time.

Tony Fisk said...

Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla has a Philae status update here

Alfred Differ said...

Trade aimed at space projects near Earth is trade with Earth.

Ignoring trade with Earth is to ignore how every other human migration in our history has succeeded. We don't actually go all that far from our available markets and then we return occasionally and sell or trade stuff. Bringing stuff back is done if the trade value is high enough. That is why Mars colonists must be involved in trade related to space projects. That is where the value will be.

Nicholas MacDonald-Wu said...

"I could concoct a hundred quibbles. Maybe I will, someday. But it is the best movie I have seen in this century."

I feel the same way about it that I feel about Existence: There are a hundred things wrong with it. But there are a hundred things RIGHT with it too! And the latter outweighs the former, doesn't it?

Tony Fisk said...

'A hundred tribbles?' (See how long that limit stays ;-)

On reflection, biggest one, for me, is why the wormhole was where it was.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dear Laurent,

Sorry it took me awhile to get back - work has been busy. I would like to look at the demographic data again, but the difference between 47 and 49 years might not be significant. If you look at the curve starting from the end of the Pleistocene, it is very obviously exponential (though with a noticeable dip during the Age of Faith, but that dip was more than recovered by the 18th Century). It may just be a matter of scale. Any curve looks smooth if you look at it over a long enough range, but gets more jagged or lumpy when you zoom in.

However, if this is a real trend and not just a short-term phenomenon, there are a couple thing sit could indicate. One is that we are nearing carrying capacity and that exponential J-curve is turning into a logistic S-curve. In other words, our population is beginning to level off as we reach the limits of what the world can support. That transition is not always smooth, though. There are often short periods of time when the population goes above K temporarily, then quickly swings back down below the K line.

The more frightening possibility is that we overshoot K by so much that we degrade the environment to the point of reducing the carrying capacity of the land itself, leading to a catastrophic population crash. The Demographic Transition might be just the thing, or it might be a day late and a dollar short.

The problem with making predictions is that humans have the capacity to increase K through technological change (from hunting to farming, later to industrial farming). I remember 2 years ago hydrologists were saying that the human population had already exceeding the capacity of the water cycle to produce sufficient fresh water - a major source of stress leading to violent conflicts especially in the drier parts of the world. We have a technology to deal with this, but right now reverse osmosis is extremely expensive and uses a lot of energy, so it will only save the anatomy of the wealthy. But you never know when some bright souls will come up with something better.

As to the elite classes who so often make such foolish choices, they are clearly a huge part of the problem (as are the fools who vote for them, if they even have that choice). I get the impression that you would find much to agree with in Thorstein Veblen's analysis of the parasitical nature of the wealthy classes.

Robert said...

Going more into politics, here is a rather stark look at the Republican options for 2016 and reasoning why the 2014 election was a death knell for the Republican Party. This was written BY a Republican, mind you, and is a rather cautionary tale. Sadly, I doubt the firebrand Republicans will listen to it, which is a shame. Because it would be nice to see Republicans embrace sanity... and see if it's contagious.

Rob H.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Robert, thanks for that glimmer of hope. The weather has turned bleak of late and my serotonin levels were getting pretty low. Personally I would be happy to see these carnosaurs go extinct, nut I have argued before that America needs more political parties. The idea of there being only one party sounds just a little too Soviet for comfort.

Anonymous said...

@Alfred Differ
Let me clarify - by "trade" I was referring to conventional movement of conventional physical goods. But yes, there's a broader sense of the term, by which the sort of services I described could be considered "trade with Earth".

About the only thing that might have high enough value to bring back from Mars, is scientific rock samples. And after a first few batches, the value of those will fall radically (we didn't keep going back for more moon rocks). What's more, it'd clearly be far cheaper to send a robotic sample return mission.

The best case, for having humans on Mars that physically ship stuff to Earth to justify the expense of their mission, would be finding fossils. If we find actual life, we might be even more willing to send people to study it - but slower to bring it back to Earth, so again the physical shipment of "stuff" from Mars would be smaller.

And again - we won't keep humans on Mars long, if they can't become almost entirely self-sufficient. A decade of sending supplies and replacement scientists is the best we might hope for with current costs, even with the whole world cooperating. Slash the cost of resupply by a factor of 100, and a small permanent station with permanent residents might be possible.

matthew said...

Robert, that link was pure gold.

Anyone else think that the President's movement on immigration reform is basically a dare to Republican Congress to try impeachment? I smell some rope-a-dope going on there. It looks like McConnell is going to try filing a lawsuit on executive orders on immigration to throw some meat to the Red base. Any takers on a bet that it will not suffice? Will we then get impeachment, government shutdown, or both?

David Brin said...

Paul S-B we received your package and your daughter's wonderfully done tableau. Terrific! We'll take a picture soon and post it online.

Jumper said...

matthew, I predict something such as this:\https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUHk2RSMCS8

Robert said...

I'm waiting for the Facebook comments to start. I've an article with links to each Republican President since Carter lost and the executive actions they did for immigration reform and the like. That being Ronald Reagan, who when Congress couldn't pass a fix to immigration reform went and did an executive action doing just that... and both Bushes. Or in other words: precedent.

Rob H.

David Brin said...


Paul451 said...

"Instead of assuming space/Mars advocates must be deluded fools who "forget" obvious issues, you might ask yourself whether they might have seen the same issues, but were motivated to think of ways around some of them."

How about not assuming that I've not been following this issue for at least 3 decades and aren't well aware of the plans offered by advocates.