Saturday, December 13, 2014

Science roundup: Ocean fertilization, uplift, and indoor tropics

Science & Tech - glimmers of hope?

We'll start with one of my own special interests. At last, quietly, we are starting to see real science devoted to the possibility of using ocean fertilization to remove atmospheric carbon. 

I never claimed this to be a panacea.  But to ignore even the possibility of a win-win? Turning some of the vast desert areas of the sea, where almost nothing lives, into “irrigated” fisheries that would both feed the world and reduce greenhouse gases?  Is that not worth at least a little probing? 

(I portray tide-driven systems stirring bottom mud to create vast fisheries, in EARTH. Mimicking precisely what nature herself does, off Chile and the Grand Banks.)

Despite reflexive and ill-thought-out political resistance, some research in this area has proceeded. This recent paper suggests that we might do well to invest a little attention to the possibility.  Says one cautious scientist: “I still expect that increases in the iron supply to areas like the Southern Ocean will increase the biological pump and removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.”

It would, of course, be no substitute for the real solution of ever-increasing energy efficiency.  

Speaking of which… wow.  Solar panels reach 40% efficiency. But it shows that there are plenty of options and opportunities for win-win progress, if only the entrenched and reflexive political "sides" would grow up and accept a little something called negotiation.

Now to the ultimate recycling… of a building. SciFi author Charles Stross shows us an indoor tropical resort that has been built within a former dirigible hanger, east of Berlin. Again, wow.   

== Can humans be replaced on Earth? ==

On the show “Life After People” I pondered not only how and why Homo sapiens might vanish from the planet, but also who might replace us.  I’ve also pondered animal intelligence in a few novels

Now, see the possibility demonstrated in this video: Bonobo builds a fire and toasts marshmallows! Indeed, it seems we can be replaced.  Okay... if Jane Goodall had seen this among the wild troops, I'd be  more impressed! In fact? 

Well... I am still impressed! And - if you ever read Boule's Planet of the Apes
or Poul Anderson's Brainwave - just a bit disturbed.  Ah, but as I recall, other authors have been more optimistic about the potential for  chimps to... well... do our stuff. It’s a brief must-watch.

Addendum: see how chimps in the wild are apparently calm and knowing about fire... they even dance! (Shoulda included this in The Uplift War!)

And now….  another experiment proved several things. Mice have been created whose brains are half human. As a result, the animals are smarter than their siblings.” The altered mice still have mouse neurons – the "thinking" cells that make up around half of all their brain cells. But practically all the glial cells in their brains, the ones that support the neurons, are human.”

Beyond the “uplift” related implications… (contain these buggers carefully!)… it also proves something I have long contended, but which singularity hyper-optimists like Ray Kurzweil denied… that there is clearly more to the computational power of our brains than the mere flashing of neurons. Stuff is going on elsewhere!  Perhaps “intracellular computing” in which a myriad non-linear “calculations” take place within those aqueous bags, for every sparkle where axon meets dendrite. And now possible “calculations” from surrounding glial cells? If this is true, then we are even more marvelous than we thought…

…but his also means it will take many more Moore’s Law doublings than Ray figured, before a box can begin to emulate a human brain.

From the paper: Human astrocytes are 10 to 20 times the size of mouse astrocytes and carry 100 times as many tendrils. This means they can coordinate all the neural signals in an area far more adeptly than mouse astrocytes can.”  This also provides a mouse analogue in which detailed studies of human cells can take place.  One researcher asks: "If you make animals more human-like, where do you stop?"  Um…. Indeed. I think let’s discuss this.

Again, re Uplift… Lassie Text Home: Dogs get wired for technology in the FIDO project (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations).

See this video of dolphins apparently entranced by human dance!   Cool!  Whenever I despair about humanity, I remind myself... dolphins seem to genuinely like us! That mean we can't be too bad.  Overall.

== From the Kurzweil Files ==

An EEG-based BCI (brain-controlled interface) would detect the patient’s related brainwave patterns, which would be used to trigger a gene switch that would modulate the creation of certain chemical agents (such a drugs): Mind-controlled transgeneexpression by a wireless-powered optogenetic designer cell implant. 

Researchers have identified a molecule that improves brain function and memory recall is improved. “Limitless” anyone? 

Ah, but given how deeply our fellow citizens have bought into the lobotoimizing so-called “left-right axis,” and other self-crippling "duh" metaphors, it seems clear that we desperately could use an IQ-boosting pill! 

Oh but this is cool. Researchers have developed a method for using ultrasound to generate a 3D haptic shape that can be added to 3D displays so that invisible images can be felt in mid-air. “In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable.” Kind of like Vernor Vinge portrays in RAINBOW’S END… but suddenly I recall the “holistank” used by my characters to feel data with their hands, in “The Crystal Spheres! 

And… answering a question about whether technology will advantage elites, Ray K turns on his optimistic interpreting genius. “Technology starts out affordable only by the rich at a point where it does not work very well. (e.g. early/expensive cell phones or home computers.) By the time a technology is perfected it is almost free. Even physical devices will become almost free with the advent of 3D printing.” Huzzah for optimism!

Yes, but elites have seen this happen and might make other plans.  I portray both imperatives at work… in Existence.



60 comments:

Robert said...

Actually, when you look at the decline in middle class income and then look at the decline in the prices of electronics and other high-technology devices, you see something interesting - the devices have gotten cheaper and remain affordable despite the fact the middle class is losing income compared to the rich.

In essence, the ultra-rich are getting more and more money which can be used to buy those items that do NOT go down in price (medical care, property, politicians, etc.) while the visible items that everyone wants because it's cool and does neat things? Remains affordable.

The problem lies with the fact that essentials are not declining in price and thus eventually the middle class will no longer be able to own property, have access to medical care, or the like. And the politicians will all belong to the rich, and thus there will be only two solutions: the rich either have to give more to support essentials for the poor... or a revolution will happen and the politicians and rich will lose everything.

Rob H.

ZarPaulus said...

Raw materials haven't particularly decreased in price either. Especially the few that can be used in a 3-D printer. It'll take a while to miniaturize ore refineries or recycling centers, it might take nanotechnology to make them available to the general consumer.

Alex Tolley said...

"but his also means it will take many more Moore’s Law doublings than Ray figured"

I'm not seeing that. If there are 10 glial cells per neuron and the number of connections is of the same order, then it is no more than 4 doublings (16x - i.e. <8 years) to encompass that extra information. Only if you posit all that extra computation does that idea hold.

What was the context around those Bonobos? I doubt is was all self actualized, just some clever juxtaposition of clips. Otherwise it would be "disturbing".

I and far less sanguine about the algal fertilization experiment. It is valuable, but I don't see it as having much impact. Better for some fisheries perhaps. What would make a difference in the open ocean are floating structures. These could give fish shelter, create feeding station (possibly with algae) and also have pens to protect the fish from predators and to capture schools when mature. Now how could we do that cheaply?

What if FXR1P is needed to limit memories from becoming overwhelming? Perfect recall is not all that desirable based on people that have it.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

"Ah, but given how deeply our fellow citizens have bought into the lobotoimizing so-called “left-right axis,” and other self-crippling "duh" metaphors, it seems clear that we desperately could use an IQ-boosting "

I'm not sure that boosting intelligence will solve this problem. As Steven Novella has noted, most people make decisions with their limbic systems - the emotional part of the brain - then use their frontal lobes to justify the decisions they make. Smart people don't necessarily make better choices, they just do a better job of rationalizing them. Even Einstein made that mistake, though he was grown up enough to admit it eventually.

Maybe our increasingly polarized society relates to fact that IQ scores have been rising steadily since the end of WW2. As people get smarter (mostly a result of more consistent education once a majority of Americans moved off the farms and into the cities) they would tend to be more convinced of the correctness of their opinions. This explanation might cover some people, but I have known some pretty strident people who were thick as bricks.

Glial cells make up 90% of a human brain. Back when the only technology that could be used to peer into our heads was the Electro-Encephalograph, they could only detect neurons. That is where the myth that we only use 10% of our brains came from. (When the minister at my wife's church insisted he could teach everyone in the congregation to use the other 90% of their brains, I stopped going.) Astrocytes help direct the flow of information, and oligodendrocytes choose which neural pathways will be maintained and reinforced with myelin sheaths. Much of learning is convincing those oligodendrocytes what is worth remembering, so those electric nerve cells are not the whole story.

On dolphins and human dance, I just never got dance, at all. But I would agree with them that humans aren't all bad - most of them, anyway.

Happy cogitation!

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Oh, Alex, I forgot to mention, I love the idea of the open-ocean floating structures! If they included transparent components, they could potentially become floating coral colonies, oxygenating the Blue Deserts and providing micro-habitats where ocean ecosystems might be preserved - assuming our atmospheric carbon alters ocean chemistry less than our more dire predictions.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"What was the context around those Bonobos? I doubt is was all self actualized, just some clever juxtaposition of clips."

No, there are other clips of Kanzi building fires, as well as other similar feats. (31yr old Kanzi is considered the genius-in-residence at Iowa's Great Ape Trust.) In this case, he apparently learnt it by observing the keepers, not direct training of steps that are individually meaningless to the animal in order to produce a mock-human mimic behaviour (as you might train a dog). Although, I get the impression (from other clips), that it's still a bit like making a camp-fire with a clever 4yr old human child. "What do we do now? You're getting the sticks, okay. And now what?" The fire-making is encouraged by researchers at GAT because of the obvious symbolic interest to human evolution. Language/tool-use/fire. The holy trinity.

[Given how trainable/handleable even mature male bonobos are, bonobos would clearly make a better starting stock for uplift than Pan Trog. Shame we've nearly killed them all. After we uplift them, perhaps we could ask them nicely to uplift us.]

Alex Tolley/Paul Shen-Brown,
Re: Repeatability of oil deposits for the next civilisation, from the last two threads.

Thank you both. Apparently my half-remembered one-off geo-formation story was about the main coal deposits, not oil deposits.

locumranch said...



I agree that ocean fertilization and solar PV improvements are cause for cautious optimism as long as we remind ourselves that their adoption must be preceded by the usurpation (and/or destruction) of the current energy & environmental paradigms.

Like the 19th Century Whale Oil industry, our current reliance on fossil fuels represents a market bubble that must burst (bust) prior to the concerted adoption of alternative energy sources, and like the 19th Century Whale Oil industry AND the 21st Century Fossil Fuel industry, the complete exhaustion of that particular resource was preceded by a transient over-supply due to the adoption of increasingly aggressive harvesting techniques.

We commit this progressive (incremental) error over & over, mistaking inflation for an infinite & never-ending trend in the fanciful hope that what goes up will never come down, so much so that almost every contemporary trend from the sociopolitical to the spiritual to the technical reveals itself to be an eminently burstable bubble.

This is why I reject many climate change projections because a bubble is not a trend. Pinker makes the identical error, mistaking a social prelude (the calm before the storm) for the main event (the storm which is a-coming) and, despite severe depletion and pending collapse, the global fishery production 'trend' has never ever been higher which suggests an infinite supply of fish (??).

Pop.

And, then we build a better bubble.


Best

locumranch said...


The Flynn Effect? Overpopulation? Higher Education? The Feminine Imperative? The Triumph of Capitalism?

Pop! Pop! Pop!

David Brin said...

Welcome back, cogent Locumranch! We've missed you! Please try to offer us a higher ratio of these well-written, well-parsed assertions that aren't aimed at hallucinatory strawmen.

Though, in fact I disagree 100% with all that you said, this round. Whale oil disappeared because (1) whales declined in numbers. But also (2) the substitute was technologically ready and already starting to undermine the whale oil industry.

Fossil fuels will decline for the same reasons, but new discoveries mean Peak Oil will not be the prime cause. Rather, technology will do it.

Tacitus2 said...

David

Disagreeing 100% with locum is going a bit far. The interplay between technology that exists and technology that can be implemented on a large scale is complex. (And very germane to our times!).

For instance: The Romans knew you could burn petroleum products. The various Perpetual Flames of the ancient world were just natural gas leaks after all. But they lacked the means to make this fact anything more than a curiosity. They had the technology (amphorae, coastal shipping) to burn vegetable oils for light. So they did.

Likewise of course the pre and early industrial societies that burned whale oil. They had improved ship building and navigational aids that made it possible to chase whales around the world. So they did.

To put kerosene into a whole bunch of lanterns you needed the metallurgy and steam power of the Industrial Revolution. No doubt spurred on by dwindling whale populations (and wood supplies ) we forged drill bits and locomotives and were able to run on dinosaur juice. And so we did.

I fervently hope that our current situation resembles the early 19th century where one technology is waning as others rise. We humans have a long track record of cleverly pulling this off. Here's to hoping.

Tacitus

Alex Tolley said...

@Tacitus2 I fervently hope that our current situation resembles the early 19th century where one technology is waning as others rise.

We cannot afford that, as cumulative CO2 emissions will heat the planet too much, unless we get clever with geo-engineering. MIT Tech Review had a report of a Canadian coal plant with CO2 sequestration. It relied on favorable geology and energy costs were higher than renewable alternatives. A well funded fossil fuel industry will try to extract as much recoverable reserves as possible, but this cannot be allowed to happen.

I was a little surprised to read recently that planting boreal forest could make things worse, as it reduces albedo more than offsetting the CO2 consumption. So we really do need non-fossil fuel energy systems to power our expanding civilization without the consequences of heating the planet.

As the oceans have low albedo at the tropics, I'm wondering if what we should do is find a way to make micro organisms bloom that enhance this albedo. Of course it might be simpler to just cover these non-productive oceanic areas with reflective structures, or high altitude reflective clouds.

@locum - why is the Flynn effect a bubble? It doesn't involve any depletion of a resource.
Similarly, climate change isn't a bubble, it is te direct consequence of CO2 emissions. Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions today, the store of CO2 in the oceans guarantees a temperature rise as it escapes into the atmosphere. It will take thousands of years to reverse. That is one long time for a bubble to burst.
We are being driven to geo-engineering solutions simply to reduce insolation to reduce temperature increases. Unfortunately ocean acidification will not be solved via this approach. We need to find a way to reduce ocean acidification as well, and so far the best way is to reduce CO2 emissions.

Jumper said...

There are complex chemical networks that are multiplicative with neural logic capabilities. Doublings of neurons (bits in a computer) might not produce what we are looking for in AI.

locumranch said...


Google these items if you so desire:

Higher Education is a bubble.

Fossil Fuels are a bubble.

The Green Revolution is fossil-fuel dependent & represents 30% of our fossil-fuel usage; ergo, it is a bubble.

Ditto for Climate Change, and the diet of our current population, assuming both are driven by fossil-fuel dependence.

The Baby Boom (to be followed by the Baby Bust) is a bubble.

The 'Triumph of Capitalism' (which was driven by the Baby Bubble Boom) is also a bubble.

And, the Flynn Effect, being driven by the educational push to 'teach the test', is therefore artificial and most likely 'a bubble'.

Double, bubble toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble...
and by the pricking of my thumbs,
something wicked this way comes.

Best

Robert said...

Obviously coherent comments from Locu also is a bubble.

Alex Tolley said...

The Green Revolution is fossil-fuel dependent & represents 30% of our fossil-fuel usage; ergo, it is a bubble.

That is not the definition of a bubble. Dictionary.com definition:- an inflated speculation, especially if fraudulent: The real-estate bubble ruined many investors.

Since N2 fertilizer requires energy, but not specifically finite fossil fuel use, we can switch to other energy sources which are sustainable.

The baby boom is not a bubble because people were not having more children in response to some perceived advantage of having more children. It was the result of the reduced births in the population during WWII.
The baby bust is due to a number of factors including the increased cost of rearing children. Historically, the number of children was influenced by the economy's impact on the age of marriage. These are not bubbles.

The Flynn Effect has been known for decades, well before the 'teach the test' changes with "No Child Left Behind".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect
It is most likely to reach an upper asymptote, rather than pop and decline. Again therefore, not a bubble.

Tim H. said...

Whale oil trivia, in the appendices of Sir Ernest Shackleton's "South" whale hunting statistics are listed and the author expressed concern over declining catches, suggesting that some regulation might be needed.
Whale oil continued to be used for other things, it was in the original formulation of DEXRON automatic transmission fluid. DEXRON 2, and all succeeding fluids have no whale oil.

David Brin said...

...Cynicism is a bubble...

locumranch said...

As is optimism.

The noun 'bubble' (in the sense which I am using it) is defined as something insubstantial, hollow, empty, inflated, ephemeral, temporary, transient, fanciful, fantastic, illusory or impracticable.

"A Bubble Economy is an economy in which trade takes place in large volumes with a discrepancy between the price and the intrinsic value of the product. The intrinsic value reflects the fair value, which takes into account the hypothetical calculation of the risks and future returns. The prices in economic bubble waver easily and cannot be calculated only in terms of demand and supply. The economic bubble is normally followed by a period of deterioration of prices".

The Flynn Effect is a 'bubble' in this sense because the so-called 'trend' of an increasing IQ is not innate, permanent, substantial or irrevocable but entirely dependent on educational modalities developed & refined for the express purpose of 'education', aka 'the act or process of imparting knowledge (in order to develop) the powers of reasoning, judgment and intelligence', which is a circular argument, the equivalent of saying that education (and/or intelligence) correlates well with itself.

And, it is this circular argument, a specious one that attributes irrational significance to 'things that correlate well with themselves', which proves itself hollow, empty and ephemeral. Bubbliciously so.

Best

Robert said...

‘Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get better. In fact these days, cynicism is obedience’ - Alex Steffen

locumranch said...


Good point, but notice how that quote still makes perfect sense when we swap out cynicism for optimism:

'Cynicism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get worse. In fact these days, optimism is obedience’.

Both extremes lend themselves to bubble formation, a bubble being the discrepancy between assigned and intrinsic value, excepting that optimism lends itself to positive bubbles while cynicism lends itself to negative ones (shown below), the trick being moderation & the happy medium.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/17/us-oil-prices-kemp-idUSKCN0J115A20141117


Peace Out.

LR said...


Forgot to mention that cynicism and/or optimism are philosophies, outlooks, perspectives. They do not 'equal' obedience. This is a false equivalence. Obedience is as obedience does.

Best

Mike G. said...

Whenever I despair about humanity, I remind myself... dolphins seem to genuinely like us! That mean we can't be too bad. Overall.

A contrary view, with AI thrown in:

http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1780

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I recall a character from an old British sci-fi show once saying that "Pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist." From the viewpoint of an optimist, both realists and pessimists are the same, and vice versa. While there is a part of me that would like to think that I am the realist here, another voices whispers /arrogance/ in my ear. Probably only a true realist can judge fairly, but most extremists think they are the realists. I'm sure that if you ask any one person what they think of this, that or the other, you will find them optimistic about some things, pessimistic about others. Probably they are only truly realistic when they are willing to recognize both the complexities of any issues you raise, and the complexity of our own minds. But human minds have a strong tendency to overgeneralize, and we even stereotype ourselves. That path represents lazy thinking, not deeper understanding (if I can speak in vague generalizations {irony intended}).

Anyone remember the ending of "Amadeus?" Salieri being wheeled off to the W.C. in the asylum, chanting "Mediocrity! Mediocrity! I absolve you!" I might be inclined to say that our whole world is looking a bit like that asylum, with extremists dominating each side of every fence. But we all have this inner extremist within. We can only try our best to keep it from guiding our paths.

Btw, bubbles are things that have much more volume than substance, and are therefore expected to pop. However, the bursting of some bubbles can have pretty dire consequences. Financial bubbles take careers and livelihoods, the victims sometimes never fully recovering. When a population bubble explodes, it's a demographic catastrophe, sometimes accompanied by the collapse of a civilization. Perhaps it is not better bubbles we need to build. As a species we are wise enough to at least contemplate the possibility of building bubble-proof institutions.

Happy cogitations!

Tony Fisk said...

Good point, but notice how that quote still makes perfect sense when we swap out cynicism for optimism:

No it doesn't because optimism is not the antonym for cynicism (that would be pessimism).

Cynicism falls in the middle, being the worldview that nothing changes so there's really no point trying. Steffen is merely observing that cynics will allow people who benefit from the status quo to perpetuate it, regardless of consequences. Would an optimist do that?

Alex Tolley said...

@locum The Flynn Effect is a 'bubble' in this sense because the so-called 'trend' of an increasing IQ is not innate, permanent, substantial or irrevocable but entirely dependent on educational modalities developed & refined for the express purpose of 'education', aka 'the act or process of imparting knowledge (in order to develop) the powers of reasoning, judgment and intelligence', which is a circular argument, the equivalent of saying that education (and/or intelligence) correlates well with itself.

There is no inherent reason why that modality needs to change. It isn't as though education is a finite resource that will be used up and therefore unable to sustain the Flynn effect. Sure, you could remove education, or completely change the IQ tests apparently reversing the Flynn effect, but that doesn't make it a bubble.

Let's be clear. Financial bubbles occur because rising prices attract more capital that sustains those prices. At some point all the capital available is used up, rising prices cannot be sustained, capital is withdrawn and the bubble collapses, destroying paper profits and real capital. This is a bubble because the prices have little connection with value and capital is finite.

The Flynn effect doesn't have the same finite resource driver. Arguing that it will is arguing that education is a fad that will be abandoned. If we changed the content of IQ tests, all that would happen is that those tested would succeed at the new tests at a rate that is determined by the take up of the new education to meet those tests.

Jumper said...

Education is definitely not a bubble. The cost of text has come down incredibly. I am much smarter with the internet than before it; I can read factual history and research results much easier than before, using card catalogs. Plus travel time to university libraries.
Schoolteachers from 1950 would weep with gratitude to see what we have available - resources unimaginable to poor school districts then, and even lower in cost.

raito said...

I really need to keep track of things I've read better (especially if I'm going to comment here)...

Robert,

I recall reading in the last couple years an analysis of those in the US Congress and the state legislatures. Using some particular values for life expectancy, it analyzed how many lawmakers could, if all other means of support were withdrawn other than their current cash value, live for the rest of their lives without ever having to work. It was something like 80%. I do not recall how many were determined to have never had to work in their entire lives, but it was a non-trivial percentage.

You can't expect someone with that sort of silver spoon to really comprehend the common man. The best you're going to get is sympathy.

Also, I've also been found pessimistic for the view that things could be better. It's often taking as saying that the current state is poor (though it often is), or that things are not improving (which they often are). In short, having a view to the future is often found to be a negative personality characteristic.

David Brin said...

Wow, Locumranch is at his best right now. Keep it up, lad. I do disagree of course. Cynicism is a personality trait, not a philosophical stance. The benefits of cynicism can be achieved far better through COMPETITIVENESS, under which people leap upon and expose each others' errors. You do not need cynicism to be competitively critical and thus help catch errors.

WHile extreme pollyanna optimism can be a mental illness, general, contingent optimism should be the baseline human condition because it enables us to solve problems. Mild cynicism is good at providing one thing... entertainment and rich sarcasm... and Meat Loaf songs. (Love em!)

But in general, cynicism is simply sickness.

David Brin said...

Mikle G, that comic strip is great! It takes on several deep topics with humor… all of them topics I’ve covered in stories. About whether AIs might like us… and whether dolphins may be a bit too horny.

http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1780

See especially (re dolphins) : http://www.davidbrin.com/temptation1.html

Re “friendly” AI? See Existence.

===

Tony Fisk said...

It prompts one to wonder what species actually spawned the 'friendly' AI mentioned?

David Brin said...

Has anyone else notice how the last few weeks everything seems to be getting worse on computers? This blogger interface, now it demands CAPTCHA and asks "are you sure you want to leave this page?" when I press refresh. Argh.

It now takes two or three clicks to get my Mac to recognize that I want to use a window on my other monitor. I used to just be able to move my mouse and click on the window once.

I double click on a Word or Text doc's icon... I can see graphically that it has opened... at the BOTTOM of all currently opened windows, instead of on top, where they always used to appear, till recently. (WHY?????)

Now when I type a set of words in the little Firefox Google window, they add "definition" to what I typed, as if insisting that I want the words defined, instead of searched for. These are all little irritants, but there's a mini tsunami of them, in a dozen different interfeces and programs, all at (roughly) once! Yes, I meant "interfeces."

Are meddling aliens getting a kick out of raising my blood pressure? Of have some of you noticed it, too?

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

I recall a character from an old British sci-fi show once saying that "Pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist." From the viewpoint of an optimist, both realists and pessimists are the same, and vice versa.


My dad used to say:
"The optimist says 'This is the best of all possible worlds!', and the pessimist, sadly, agrees with him."

Larry C. Lyons said...

Well Dr. Brin are you willing to dive into X-Windows to tweak your interface. But it involves some pretty low level 'Nix hacks. If not have a look at this site:
http://www.machacks.com/

It has some pretty sweet hacks for the Mac.

Interesting reading that article on controlling genes etc via EEG. I've been playing around with the exact same EEG system. For $100 you get a fairly decent single channel system. I shudder to think how much the EEG system I used for my dissertation cost. But it was barely more capable than this thing for thousands more. And FWIW for those who want to play with it, you can get some fairly sophisticated data streaming Java objects for it now. They allow the user to broadcast the EEG to the website of the person's choice as JSON (a common data transfer protocol that's used for modern web interfaces). It well worth playing with.
http://eric-blue.com/2011/07/24/mindstream-neurosky-eeg-data-streamer/

Finally I have to disagree with you about ocean seeding. We do not know enough about the dynamics of the oceans and their ecology. Talking with friends in BC who are with Environment Canada, they've been worried about the iron oxide release in that one seeding attempt a few years ago. It appears that the law of unintended consequences is in full force.

Jumper said...

I have been relieved of Capcha recently and the "are you sure?" has been going on for months.

Also, here's a story I never heard, although apparently Ed Harris did a movie on him:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_%28filibuster%29

Alfred Differ said...

Locumranch strikes me more as an existentialist than as a cynic. On a high level they sound about the same, but I look at it as a philosophy that often draws a personality type. Not all existentialists are cynics, though.

I'll have to disagree on much of our world being a series of bubbles. We certainly could be living a series bubbles, but if the popping of one doesn't cause major trauma I tend to discount it and think of it more as a wave. Since all species ride a wave to their peak and then decline into extinction, I get the bubble analogy. It's just that it strikes me as existential silliness. Of course all things end. So what. Where is my surfboard?

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hi Larry Hart, was your dad in the habit of reading Voltaire? This sounds like it could have come right out of Candide, though I haven't read the book in centuries. I enjoyed that one so much I started slipping Voltaire references in my own stories, way back in the Mesozoic when I had time to write for fun.

Other Larry, I agree with you about the ocean seeding. Ecologies are complex things to tamper with. Although our fossil fuel burning experiment is just that sort of tampering (though unintended), the law of unintended consequences always applies, and the bigger the scale, the deadlier the blunder. It looks promising, but we will have to take things like this slow.

Alfred, do you know any good places we can learn to surf? Most people seem to be bobbing in the wave head-down...

We also need to be careful about using the optimism/pessimism scale as if it were a simple dichotomy, as I said before. It is a continuous variable, placing this in the realm of fallacious arguments.

Self-identifying pessimists I have known claim that by being pessimistic they avoid being ripped off, but if you read the literature on stress you find that they pay a high price for it. Having a negative outlook causes your endocrine system to release cortisol and a host of other stress-related hormones (as does insufficient sleep). This chronic release has some serious side-effects, including the shrinking of the hippocampus. Anyone who wishes to know their enemy needs to accept that their own body can be one of their worst. Grumpy old men trap themselves in a feedback loop of hypochondria and failing mental health. Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford makes the point that thinking positive thoughts all by itself cuts off these stress hormones and releases others that have more beneficial health effects. Optimists might get cheated once in awhile, but they tend to live longer and happier lives.

Here's the Amazon link to his most well-known book:
http://www.amazon.com/Why-Zebras-Dont-Ulcers-Stress-Related-ebook/dp/B0037NX018/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418731922&sr=1-1&keywords=robert+sapolsky

Happy cogitation!

David Brin said...

Regarding optimism and trying to see the bright side... excellent thoughts and I shall quote you! In fact, here is a passage clipped from the ongoing sci fi comedy I've been writing...

"They take this trait very seriously at the Academy, testing for it rigorously, by hooking candidates up to a Voltaire meter. In order to be accepted for advisor-training, you must view reality through rose-colored VR specs. Taste life’s candide-coating. Perceive this as the best of all possible universes."

Tacitus2 said...

So, does the Academy recruit entirely from the Panglossphere?

Tacitus

matthew said...

What are your thoughts on the increased levels of methane that Curiosity has recently detected? See: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/12/15/science.1261713.abstract?keytype=ref&siteid=sci&ijkey=wh80Qt3dcQZKw

First sentence from the abstract is great " Reports of plumes or patches of methane in the Martian atmosphere that vary over monthly timescales have defied explanation to date."

matthew said...

I personally think that Mars is really a sooner colony and there are Traeki hiding under the rocks and dirt. Silly humans didn't send a microphone on Curiosity to hear the gentle farts of Traeki giggling at winning their eons-long game of hide and seek.

sociotard said...

Regarding the mention of scifi flicks in 2015, I am unsure of "the Martian".

It strikes me as being like "World War Z". Hollywood may like the fact that the book has name recognition, but it is essentially unfilmable. Ergo, keep the name, completely change the story.

The book is great for people who love technical details. Especially when they're accurate! It relies on those to build suspense. (the scenes where he flashed back to the creation and inspection of one piece of canvas were perfect. You immediately knew that canvas was going to do something bad, and he just kept dragging it on in delicious suspense. Can a movie do that? I say it cannot.

If they try to film the book, it will be lousy. If they make a good movie, it will not be recognizable from the book.

Alex Tolley said...

@sociotard. I don't see that at all. They may change it not because it is unfilmable (I don't think that is true at all) but because the audience wants something else.

The sandstorm will likely be much more apparent than the subtle book version with its clever use of "sensors".

And the ending is very much "Red Planet". Will Jessica Chastain channel Carrie Moss?

I hope the humor comes through - Matt Damon has his work cut out for him.

Alex Tolley said...

So, does the Academy recruit entirely from the Panglossphere?

Nice.

David Brin said...

Wife just finished The Martian and I helped. I've seen it called "competence porn!" Terrific. I think they will do it faithfully. Robert Redford's "All is lost" showed the way.

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

Hi Larry Hart, was your dad in the habit of reading Voltaire?


Can't say I remember him reading Voltaire in particular, but he was quite well-read, and IIRC, he had read "Cyrano deBergerac" in the original French. So it's not out of the question.

As a young lad in the 1930s and 40s, my dad worked in a library and learned to love books. Which must be where I get that from.


Self-identifying pessimists I have known claim that by being pessimistic they avoid being ripped off, but if you read the literature on stress you find that they pay a high price for it.
...
Optimists might get cheated once in awhile, but they tend to live longer and happier lives.


Another way of saying "A coward dies a thousand deaths." The pessimist might see himself as prepared for the worst, but if that amounts to suffering the worst that might happen, where's the gain?

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

We certainly could be living a series bubbles, but if the popping of one doesn't cause major trauma I tend to discount it and think of it more as a wave. Since all species ride a wave to their peak and then decline into extinction, I get the bubble analogy. It's just that it strikes me as existential silliness. Of course all things end. So what. Where is my surfboard?


As Paul Krugman often points out, "In the long run, we're all dead." That doesn't mean that there's no difference between the different paths we take to get there.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

"They take this trait very seriously at the Academy, testing for it rigorously, by hooking candidates up to a Voltaire meter. In order to be accepted for advisor-training, you must view reality through rose-colored VR specs. Taste life’s candide-coating. Perceive this as the best of all possible universes."


But...but...the pessimist perceives that too.

(Ok, that passage is funny in any case--somewhat Shakesperian, even)

Tony Fisk said...

Voltaire would have known full well what the pessimist perceived.

Jumper said...

Talk of the demise of the dinosaurs must amuse the birds.

greg byshenk said...

It's not exactly optimism v pessimism, but the discussion makes me think of XKCD on nihilism.

sociotard said...

LA to buy 7000 body cameras. We in Portland OR don't even have squad car cameras.

http://theweek.com/speedreads/index/273801/speedreads-los-angeles-to-buy-7000-body-cameras-for-police-officers

Although, that New York choking case showed that sometimes video, even when the officers know it is there, doesn't fix anything.

Tim H. said...

Have a look at "www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/dr-pournelle-health-report/"
It says Jerry Pournelle had a small stroke yesterday.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr. Brin, you said, " and I shall quote you!"
Does that mean I'm going to become a fictional character? That would be great, then I can be a figment of someone else's imagination, not just my own. Maybe you could make me an aardvark.

"They take this trait very seriously at the Academy, testing for it rigorously, by hooking candidates up to a Voltaire meter. In order to be accepted for advisor-training, you must view reality through rose-colored VR specs. Taste life’s candide-coating. Perceive this as the best of all possible universes."

This would be the Pangloss Academy, the Best of All Universities? If I had your temporal lobes...!

locumranch said...


Nice thread and I agree with much excepting that education (which operates under the assumption that everyone can become management) has definitely become over-valued, a fad and a bubble:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303933104579302951214561682

Of course, you are free to disagree with my intellectual conclusions (and those of an increasing number of economists) and do what I do:

Reconcile societal contradictions through the use of dark humour.


Best

Alex Tolley said...

@sociotard - the NYPD officer choking Garner to death in video and still nothing is done is exhibit A in why there are protests going around the nation. Unlike Michael Brown in Ferguson there is no dispute in what happened. And still a Grand Jury sees no problem with this.

If this doesn't send a message that the police can do almost anything they want and get away with it, I don't know what does. Some people are in serious denial.

Alex Tolley said...

Speaking of changes, is it just me or has [re]Captcha suddenly got very easy? A short while ago I needed several tries to get through the test, now it just offers a single easy word or number recognition.

David Brin said...

Alaex, cop cams are no panacea. But they MOVE THE BASELINE. They will mean that internal affairs divisions in police departments become much much more powerful. They mean the avergae cop will be more worried about his uncontrollable partner..

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

has [re]Captcha suddenly got very easy? A short while ago I needed several tries to get through the test, now it just offers a single easy word or number recognition.


Reminds me of an old "Simpsons" episode where Bart opens a "Where's Waldo?" book, and there's a blank white page with just the one Waldo figure in the middle. And Bart says, "He's not even tryin' any more."

David Brin said...

onward

Tony Fisk said...

I'll leave the final word on (re)capcha's filter to a vintage Gunnerkrigg page