Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Voyager's proud lesson. Our skill proves we're better than this mishegas.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Voyager missions. PBS last month released a documentary to commemorate this human milestone: The Farthest: Voyager In Space, which can be streamed online.

I can't shout loudly enough how epic this was, and is, in every possible way. Not only because of the spectacular scientific advances or the stunning beauty of images from Jupiter, Io, Callisto, Saturn and so on, so beautiful they might have been painted by Van God. Nor is it even the dramatic theological implications of this feat and those that followed, as we proceeded to perform so incredibly well the very first task that was assigned to Adam -- to 'name all the beasts' -- seeking and studying and describing and naming new moons, craters, asteroids, phenomena and ever more wonders of creation.

No, what strikes me most about these fantastic accomplishments is how good at it we are! How skilled, when we focus and combine our talents and knowledge and teamwork, even with primitive 21st or near-neolithic 20th Century technologies. We are good!  Or we can be, as a people, nation, civilization, species. And those who would have us retreat from such challenges -- hunkering down in dumbass old feudalism, or studying only the myths of bronze-age herdsmen -- insult the potential that was given to us -- by God or by Nature -- to be so much more.

As it is said in Genesis itself: "... nothing will be beyond them."

== I get to talk to fascinating innovators ==

At “Science Foo Camp” – hosted on the Google Campus by O’Reilly Media – I got to chat with some truly epic folks. George Church talked about using DNA as an information storage medium with far higher bit density than anything electronic. He is also a pioneer of efforts to fully understand genomes of lost species, like mammoths. And leading the open de-extinction effort as director of Revive & Restore was Ryan Phelan (along with her co-director and arm-candy, the inimitable Stewart Brand) one of whose projects is to resurrect the passenger pigeon.

The controversy surrounding the possibility of de-extinction is presented in How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction, by Beth Shapiro. An article from The Atlantic, Welcome to Pleistocene Park, by Ross Anderson, discusses how restoring herds of mammoths might help save the world from human ecological stupidity: "In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change—by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths.”

Other luminaries at Science Foo included Google Chief of Research Peter Norvig and computer science pioneer Danny Hillis (who designed the 10,000 year timepiece being built for Stewart Brand’s Clock of the Long Now.) Science journalist George Dyson was there, and philosopher of attention Linda Stone plus sci-tech publisher Tim O’Reilly and Pete Worden, who as director of NASA Ames shepherded the great planet-finding Kepler Mission, before taking over Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives (aiming to both do SETI and pioneer the kind of laser-driven light sail ships I describe in Existence.) Pete and I argued amiably during an open-discussion panel about how to ensure that mature processes take place, before zealots shout “messages” into the cosmos. There were so many fascinating people, I came away convinced that humans must be capable of finding ways past our problems, right?

I then hurried to Monterey for the Starship Congress, having dinner with Miguel Alcubierre, the renowned Mexican cosmologist whose concept for an FTL drive seems the “least implausible” of those calculated so far. The next day, after my starship talk, I delivered another at the nearby Naval Postgraduate School on the vast panoply of worrisome “threats” our civilization must confront, before we make it to the semi-mythological other side -- a mature civilization.

 Oh, on the same trip I addressed about a hundred alumni of my alma mater, Caltech, on the “Art of Prediction.”

Hey, it’s rough work, but someone has to do it.

== Problems and progress ==

Is it time for one of our science roundups!

Can a cancer cure lead to bioweapons? Intel executive John Sotos argues that the eventual success of Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot”, a U.S. government-funded program that’s aimed at finding vaccine-based treatments for cancer, would necessarily open up the potential for bioweapons of unimaginable destructive potential.

Every year, a "dead zone" appears in the Gulf of Mexico. This year's dead zone is the biggest one ever measured. It covers 8,776 square miles — the size of New Jersey.  The Black Sea is already effectively dead.  The Mediterranean and Caribbean are dying.  We live in a science fictional world of severe danger… and a denialist cult proclaims that all worries are “hoaxes.” These folks need to know: the angry world that ensues will look for obstructionists to blame, who prevented civilization from using science to act in time.  That’s not a threat. It’s just cause and effect.

Oh, a couple of notes on the recent calamity in Texas. First, that Hurricane Harvey gained its "1000 year event" power while lingering above that very human-caused dead zone I just mentioned. Just sayin'.

Second, while we cheer the pluck, stamina and resilience displayed by Texans -- aided by their Louisiana neighbors -- let's keep in mind that they elect the worst politicians in the nation. (Far more was done for them by the "federal bureaucrats" they despise.)

(See my earlier posting of a chapter from my 1989 novel EARTH, portraying a future (2038) Houston that's resilient and thriving after yet another hurricane flooding.)

== More signs of being misled ==

As told by SCOUT: Last week New Scientist reported on an important signal of Russia's increasingly sophisticated cyberwar capabilities. It's a signal that would be easy to miss if you weren't paying attention, so I'm highlighting it here for your attention.  Back in June, 20 vessels in the Black Sea experienced likely GPS spoofing -- essentially their GPS units suddenly thought they were somewhere they weren't. (In this case, on land at a Russian airport more than 30 km away.) This is different than GPS jamming, which causes the GPS receiver to die, sounding an alarm.”

Care to connect the dots to the two U.S. Navy destroyers that suffered weird navigation errors in the same crowded waterways, leading to deadly and expensive collisions? Read Frederik Pohl’s chilling novel The Cool War. To see where this might take us. We need leaders.

A quirky look at the notion that we might go beyond tsunami warning systems and go to tsunami remediation.  

== Our evolutionary past ==

Let's get back to that notion of possibly reviving old-timey species.... There are enough Neanderthal skeletons in the birth to adolescent range to make some interesting comparisons to Homo Sapiens of the same age. The Neanderthal baby at birth has the same size and shape as a human baby but afterwards there is an important divergence. The Neanderthal baby brain follows that of a chimpanzee with regular increase of brain size until adult but the human baby brain grows 250% in the first year vastly outstripping the growth of Neanderthal babies and most of that is in the prefrontal cortex. It is asserted that our specific type of intelligence comes from this crucial first year of life. 

(I portray Neanderthal revival in EXISTENCE.)

Oh, but there were earlier calamities that opened opportunities. The current theory for how multi-cell animals got their start is pretty amazing.  A couple of decades ago my old Caltech housemate Joe Kirschvink stitched together evidence that our world had gone through an “Iceball Earth” phase, a bit less than a billion years ago, when the Sun was cooler and the boundary of its Continually Habitable (‘Goldilocks’) Zone (CHZ) was farther in. Which meant that if too much greenhouse gas was removed by the photosynthetic microbes – especially algae, then swarming the oceans -- a deep cooling was possible. In The Atlantic, Ed Yong writes: 

Around 717 million years ago, the Earth turned into a snowball. Most of the ocean, if not all of it, was frozen at its surface. The land, which was aggregated into one big supercontinent, was also covered in mile-thick ice.” This giga ice age would have lasted till volcanoes replenished (and overshot) the atmosphere’s CO2, causing a melt of incredible speed. Joe thinks it might have happened more than once.

The ice melted, and the surface of the sea reached temperatures of 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. By 659 million years ago, the world had transformed from snowball to greenhouse. And just 14 million years later, the ice returned and the planet became a snowball for the second time.” This fascinating (recommended) article cleverly calls the cycle (as did my longtime colleague George Martin) “a song of ice and fire.”

Bearing some similarities in appearance to modern flying squirrels, the earliest examples of gliding mammals yet discovered are dated to the Jurassic period about 160 million years ago.

And finally....

Growing up with Alexa: Researchers looked at how children ages three to 10 interacted with Alexa, Google Home, a tiny game-playing robot called Cozmo, and a smartphone app called Julie Chatbot. The kids in the study determined that the devices were generally friendly and trustworthy, and they asked a range of questions to get to know the technologies (“Hey Alexa, how old are you?”) and figure out how they worked (“Do you have a phone inside you?”). This article explores some of the pros and cons. But it leaves out the obvious, that certain children always had this, in the family servants. It is one more case of middle class humans wanting and getting the chance to live in ways once restricted to lords. (Like having a clean change of clothes; what luxury.)

Okay. Cool stuff.  Ponder Voyager a bit, today!  Watch that PBS special.  Then fight for this glorious, scientific civilization. 

Start by pinning your crazy uncle down and getting him to admit he's been trained to hate scientists! (And every other fact profession.) He'll deny it. Don't let him get away with that.  Take him to the nearest university and introduce him to some. (Yes! Just walk down a hallway and knock on doors. You'll have a great time and learn tons of things you never knew.)

 Sure, you won't change Uncle's mind by much, though every little bit helps. The one who really matters -- your quiet but sane aunt -- will be listening.

63 comments:

donzelion said...

We are better than this...when we pay attention and see through the smoke and mirrors.

I wasn't on the ball with this August 15, 2017 executive order - https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/08/15/presidential-executive-order-establishing-discipline-and-accountability - and in particular, this portion:

"Sec. 6. Executive Order 13690 of January 30, 2015 (Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input), is revoked."

The rest of the executive order is fairly longwinded, and for PR purposes, 'pro-infrastructure.' The key though is that the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard process was intended to ensure that towns rebuilt after floods would not be flooded again a decade or two later by predictable effects of climate change.

In essence, Obama outlined a plan to ensure the Fed spends its money wisely, collaborating with all the stakeholders involved. Trump revoked it, restoring a system where 'stakeholders' are less involved, and instead, shareholders driven by profits control access to federal funds. Had Obama's plan been implemented, certain projects to rebuild after Harvey might be delayed by a few months - but the federal funds would be spent on infrastructure that was MORE likely to last decades, rather than have to be restored. That is the power of 'standards' - the key collaborative secret sauce powering so much of our wondrous achievements.

And I am wondering: how many more little snips here and there have been buried by the twitter flows? What else have I missed?

Catfish N. Cod said...

Followup to last thread: Dr. Brin, I have used the "report" feature on Facebook to call for a review of your identity thief's account.

For all FB users: the "report" feature can be found by going to the offender's timeline and clicking on the drop-down menu to the right of "message", which is on the right side of the top banner. Just follow the prompts; it was easy to delineate exactly what the offense was (impersonation --> public figure --> type in name) and the appeal request (Review for community standards).

J.L.Mc said...

Some have suggested that the introduction of mammoth hybrids would cause negative impacts on the human population in Russia.

donzelion said...

The Voyager doc is glorious, two thumbs up.

As for Sotos' bioweapons...the kicker quote at the end of the article caught my eye:

"...other scientists criticised him for distracting from real problems in the present. “Creating noise & sounding alarms this way isn’t helpful to saving lives,” tweeted DJ Patil, the former chief data scientist of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The risk is really small. It’s really hard to mass produce these. The real risk we should be focusing on is drug resistant TB and pandemics.”

An imminently fair point. Every dollar spent fretting about a possible abuse of a medical breakthrough is a dollar never spent addressing a realistic threat of a medical catastrophe. Science fiction - from Daedalus through Faust through Frankenstein and a thousand others - has trained us to fear the 'mad genius.' The grave dangers always come from systems, often good and useful in one context, co-opted or corrupted by monsters, be they cancerous cells or political orders. Fear never protects as effectively as diligent scrutiny and disciplined curiosity.

donzelion said...

re identity thief, "Mr. Perez" - clicking on the ellipsis, I find an option to 'report the image' with a complaint that 'I'm in this photo and I don't like it.' I would click on it, but since it's not actually me...

I wonder how FB will respond?

There's several other tort actions available for someone trying to appropriate your images for personal gain. But FB itself is probably the first, cheapest line of response.

The Black Cat said...

Meanwhile, Trump has nominated a climate denier who is a politician with no scientific background whatsoever to be the new head of NASA. Good times!

David Brin said...

" introduction of mammoth hybrids would cause negative impacts on the human population in Russia."

Why? Because it would give Russian women one more attractive alternative to their men?

David S said...

re identity thief, I found that I had to switch to the mobile version of the site (replace "www." with "m." to have the three dot option to display.

Steven Hammond said...

I've loved all the de-extinction science for quite awhile, love the idea of re-wilding and "Pleistocene Park, Dr Brin. I also love the idea of the "Buffalo Commons" which is another re-wilding type project. The American Prairie Reserve in my state, MT, may very well be influenced by Popper's idea.

We can potentially bring back the mammoths and passenger pigeon? Yes, please! Neanderthals? Even enthusiastic me sees some major ethically problems there, but it would be worth having the thoughtful group here discuss that at some point. (I haven't read EXISTENCE so I don't know how you handled the ethics there. Another book to order I suppose...)

One slightly less sexy de-extinction project involves the American Chestnut which ties into the work on the passenger pigeon for which it was a major food supply. The American Chestnut was the most important forest tree throughout its range with 3-4 billion trees dying in the early 20th century due to human introduced chestnut blight. I've actually followed the hybridization work of the American Chestnut Foundation for perhaps a decade, but now using current genetic engineering, we are this close to being able to reintroduce American Chestnuts that are resistant to blight but also phenotypically American Chestnuts. From what I can tell, some cross breeding to introduce adequate genetic diversity is necessary first, but it's only a matter of time. Here's an article:https://theconversation.com/new-genetically-engineered-american-chestnut-will-help-restore-the-decimated-iconic-tree-52191

Tony Fisk said...

I had an idea for a story involving scientists striving to recreate the "Mammoth Steppes", set in a post-heist world where all funding nutrient has been frozen away in vaults.

Ethan Zuckerman recently wrote an article on the social media network "Mastodon", which has some eerie (if metaphorical) parallels to the preceding mammoth quips about Russians. Drollery aside, it is quite an interesting read.

Steven Hammond said...

To @David Brin et al,
The query regarding the ethics of de-extinction regarding the Neanderthals is not entirely hypothetical, in my case. My son is off to Cal Poly, SLO this week to start University and is studying biology. Not intending to follow me into medicine but loves research and wants to be messing around with genes and proteins. A Large part of the reason he went to Cal Poly is to jump into research early. He won the state Science Fair doing some research on natural selection with fruit flies and really liked doing that for some reason.

In any event, I suspect this sort of ethical issue will come up in his career and as his father, I think seeking out the thoughts of a group of intelligent, educated, and (hopefully) wise people my be helpful. More likely, he won't even ask me and will do as damn well pleases. You never know with this one... ;)

donzelion said...

Steven: "We can potentially bring back the mammoths and passenger pigeon? Yes, please! Neanderthals? Even enthusiastic me sees some major ethically problems there, but it would be worth having the thoughtful group here discuss that at some point."

There are several groups that have proposed a handful of guidelines, like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's "Guiding Principles on Creating Proxies of Extinct Species for Conservation Benefit." Not a bad starting place.

Their fear of 'moral hazard' seems prudent: instead of responsible conservation, we might justify rampant raping and pillaging of land and preserve a few 'pageant winning' sexy animals. Panda protection schemes pull in millions (billions) of dollars; protecting amphibians, a far paltrier sum, even if amphibians are more important ecologically.

If resurrecting neanderthals would result in a 21st century 'circus freak,' that would be an ugly revival of a trend that we've somewhat surpassed. Then again, to me the greatest threats are the inadvertent, unexpected outgrowths of incentives linking into biological processes to result in runaway trends - e.g., human beings engineering 'super babies' and 'slave babies' (Huxleyian dystopia, rather than Orwellian dystopia).

Zepp Jamieson said...

Quoth Doctor Brin: "We live in a science fictional world of severe danger… and a denialist cult proclaims that all worries are 'hoaxes.'"

Yup. Just today Rush Limbaugh declared that deep concern over Hurricane Iris (917mb, 185mph sustained winds) is just more liberal conspiracy designed to panic people into thinking climate change is real.

Too bad there isn't a "stupidity gene" we can modify. But unfortunately, stupidity tends to be a resting state for humanity.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Stephen Hammond wrote: "We can potentially bring back the mammoths and passenger pigeon? Yes, please! Neanderthals? Even enthusiastic me sees some major ethically problems there, but it would be worth having the thoughtful group here discuss that at some point"

Doctor Brin has a fairly large volume of work discussing the ethics of uplift, which is very similar to the moral and ethical concerns people have about bringing back Neanderthals. Is it wrong to create intelligent life?

Complicating the issue is the human proclivity for refusing to acknowledge intelligence, not just in other species such as dogs or pigs, but among fellow humans who are "different"; dark skin, or different culture.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Yup. Just today Rush Limbaugh declared that deep concern over Hurricane Iris (917mb, 185mph sustained winds) is just more liberal conspiracy designed to panic people into thinking climate change is real.


Irma, right?

But in any case, doesn't Limbaugh still broadcast out of Florida? He could be the next Baghdad Bob, insisting that everything is fine while the hurricane finally blows down the station around him. I normally don't wish individuals ill, but if people have to die in Florida, I sincerely hope that Rush is one of them.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Irma, right?"

Yeah. I'm not sure where I got "Iris" from. Some old Bob Dylan song, perhaps?

Zepp Jamieson said...

...although in addition to Irma, there is tropical storm Jose, and tropical depression 13. Among the three of them, on top of Harvey, it's shaping up to be a nightmare season.

David Brin said...

Steven, our oldest just graduated from there!

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

here is tropical storm Jose,


Trump will insist his wall would have kept that one out.


Among the three of them, on top of Harvey, it's shaping up to be a nightmare season.


The year with Katrina and Rita was like that too. IIRC, they ran out of letters of the alphabet and had to name the last few "Alpha" and "Beta".

But as for Irma, someone on Norman Goldman's show just made a point I wish I had thought of first. Could it maybe take out Mar-A-Lago? And what would that demonstrate about hurricanes as evidence of God's displeasure?

Steven Hammond said...

That's awesome, David! :)

I hadn't been to SLO before visiting recently for freshmen orientation. I was expecting more of a NorCal vibe (being familiar with SF as my dad was stationed at the Presidio in the 80s and other officers' kids and I would explore the town when home for breaks.)

I really loved SLO and Cal Poly. Very different from the hipster vibe at Seattle U where my oldest daughter graduated and my younger daughter is finishing up.

Best wishes to your daughter!

Zepp Jamieson said...

Current projections put Mar-A-Lago right in the cross hairs, but it's still four days out, and the current range of possibility have it making landfall anywhere between the SC border and Brownsville. At this point it could even pass south of Cuba and hit Mexico, which Trump would probably like.

Steven Hammond said...

@Donzelion,

Thanks for the link to "Guiding Principles on Creating Proxies of Extinct Species for Conservation Benefit" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

I had a pretty good look at it and it is a good starting place for these ethical discussions and I'm so glad that there are people involved in this actually working out ethical guidelines. I think I see the passenger pigeon, tasmanian wolf and, to my joy, the American Chestnut, amongst others.

There does not appear to be any mention of de-extinction of hominids, though, which may have been inconceivable at the time they worked this out. That's a whole other degree of ethical difficulty, though the very good principles they appear to use still apply.

Thanks @Zepp Jamieson for the reassurance regarding the ethics of Uplift in Dr Brin's work. That's helpful as I am only now reading his Uplift series. I really didn't have any doubt that he had grappled with this or had disregarded ethics, just don't know what conclusions he came to. Is there an essay or post on-line that might help summarize?

This has become recently more fascinating to me as I've understood that most of us have a portion of our DNA that came from species or perhaps subspecies of hominids like Neanderthals, Denisovans and whatever those peoples were at Happisburgh in the UK making sophisticated stone tools (Homo intercessor, apparently) around 800,000 years ago. ( I'm in the 83rd percentile of Neanderthal DNA at 23 and Me, BTW--301 Neanderthal variants. Whoo Hoo!)

Bob Neinast said...

Re GPS spoofing: Seeing stars, again: Naval Academy reinstates celestial navigation.

My son's a Marine, and when he was a kid we always hiked together using topo maps. In the field, he always seems to be the one who isn't lost . . .

donzelion said...

Steven: "There does not appear to be any mention of de-extinction of hominids...a whole other degree of ethical difficulty, though the very good principles they appear to use still apply."

I know of no better treatment for the ethical implications of creating intelligent lifeforms than the Uplift series. But that series doesn't address the specific puzzle here - the role of guilt and recompense in relation to reviving a hominid we may well have rendered extinct.

We have strange conceptions of guilt and recompense, particularly when trying to resolve considerations about group guilt. Transference, for one thing, is widely accepted, but logically abhorrent. People A oppress/slaughter People B. After People A are weakened, People B is authorized/approved in oppressing/slaughtering People C because of their suffering from a wholly different group. And so on.

Even weirder are deliberately constructed notions of blame, hate, and fear - ask folks who blame 'Blue Elites' for 'oppressing them' and you'll get the same illogic you would have from non-slaveholders fighting in the Confederacy against 'Yankee oppression.' I can just imagine that applied to neanderthals...

Yet I can also see some wild possibilities. Certain Native American tribes, rendered 'nearly extinct,' have revived into utterly unrecognizable new forms by merging a very distinct social tradition with modern capital trends (casinos). I imagine other hominids with distinctive sexual and emotional chemistries might similarly create entirely novel arrangements - but would never do so in isolation.

David Brin said...

Bob, stay proud! And hoping you'll say similar things about your son's sons.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re - Neanderthals - other hominids

If they were fully "human" - able to talk and be part of society then reviving them would be OK - or at least worth talking about

But if they were simply NOT capable of talking and becoming part of society then reviving them would be an act of incredible cruelty


reason said...

Larry Hart
"Trump will insist his wall would have kept that one out."

Which gave me the ludicrous thought that Trump might get his wall build and then a monster comes along and blows it down. Now that would be amusing.

Paul451 said...

The Soviets are appointing KGB political officers to government departments to vet every single funding grant, specifically to reject proposals that use words the Soviet government dislikes.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/epa-now-requires-political-aides-sign-off-for-agency-awards-grant-applications/2017/09/04/2fd707a0-88fd-11e7-a94f-3139abce39f5_story.html

Or something like that.

Steven Hammond said...

@Duncan Cairncross said:

Re - Neanderthals - other hominids

If they were fully "human" - able to talk and be part of society then reviving them would be OK - or at least worth talking about

But if they were simply NOT capable of talking and becoming part of society then reviving them would be an act of incredible cruelty


I would think that even if they were able to talk and be part of society, they would be ostracized or patronized by the majority of society and likely be abused by the type of people who would see them as the unholy spawn of the scientific elite.

The Hairypeople in the Australian series, Cleverman, comes to mind. But even in that series, the Hairypeople were not, in effect, created, but had lived independently in hiding.

Paul451 said...

Duncan,
"If they were fully "human" - able to talk and be part of society then reviving them would be OK - or at least worth talking about
But if they were simply NOT capable of talking and becoming part of society then reviving them would be an act of incredible cruelty"


Not seeing the logic. By that reasoning, we should kill off the higher primates, elephants, etc. Letting them live would be an act of incredible cruelty.

LarryHart said...

reason:

"Trump will insist his wall would have kept that one [Jose] out."

Which gave me the ludicrous thought that Trump might get his wall build and then a monster comes along and blows it down. Now that would be amusing.


To save money, it will be built out of straw.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I hear Justin Trudeau, the Night King, is working on an ice dragon...

Darrell E said...

I vote "No" on resurrecting Neanderthals. Sounds like a really bad idea to me. We have a really bad track record regarding how we treat Others. Whether they be other animals or our own species.

What would we do with them? Put them on a reservation and let them do what they will within its bounds? Capture those that wander off the reservation and take them back? Kill the ones that make too much trouble lest they become a threat to Homo sapiens sapiens?

Confine them to communes isolated from society at large for their own protection? Keep them isolated in comfort in a research facility?

Let them run free within our society like any other citizen? Free to become targets of bigotry, predatory business practices and all the other awful things we still do to minority groups of Homo sapiens sapiens in our societies?

Gently Uplift them to be equal participants in our society as depicted in David's Uplift novels? I think that could be done ethically speaking. But we are no where near capable of doing something even remotely like that. Not technologically and for damn sure not culturally.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@LarryHart: In the 2005 season, the storm count got up to Epsilon. The first time they ran out of letters.

On de-extinction: shouldn't such be considered according to the same guidelines as invasive species? The ecology has at least started to adapt to the absence of that niche. There may be rebound effects when it is suddenly replaced.

Famous Positive Quotes said...

Nice post

Anonymous said...

RE: The coming repeal of DACA, blaming the children for the sins of their parents.

Can we start hanging the great-grandchildren of Confederate traitors?

donzelion said...

Paul451: re Duncan's point, one logical distinction between neanderthals and modern apes is breeding capability: we have no reason to fear human-chimp hybrids through natural breeding processes. There are other logical distinctions (difference between reviving and preserving, guilt over past misdeeds, probability of mistreatment, etc.).

Yet Duncan's broader point is intriguing: Reviving them MAY be an act of cruelty if we are an inherently cruel species. Yet we are also a kind and benevolent species (albeit with ample capacity for cruelty); perhaps we might be decent to one another even if we cannot easily communicate (and bear in mind, if we can use sign language with apes, we can probably figure out some means of communication).

The thought about 'new species -> reservation/preserve' led me to thoughts about Native American reservations, and then to casinos, tobacco, and the myriad ways Native Americans, despite egregious persecution, have changed our society. Revived nations (Israel, tribal territories) might be a better frame of reference for considering what neanderthals might do to human civilization (beyond what we might do to them) - rather than 'invasive species.

Indeed, most of the problems in connection with 'revived' communities comes from employing an 'invasive species' frame to think about an Other that is actually our own species, our own cousins. There are Arabs and Israelis who persist in precisely such a frame, but in America, we've moved well beyond thinking of 'Injuns' as savages to be eradicated/removed. Perhaps we would do the same with neanderthals.

In any event, the mere possibility that we might be cruel cannot be a complete answer. The same would apply to most other social discoveries and efforts: our task is not to refrain from certain conduct because we might be unworthy, but to push the frontiers of our civilization's worth further than we found it.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Revived nations (Israel, tribal territories) ...


Isn't Poland one of those revived nations? The Czech Republic? The former Yugoslavian countries? Even "Black South Africa" might count.

That's not an argument with you--just pointing out we have more real-life examples to examine.

(The Confederacy?)

donzelion said...

re DACA: The cruel, vindictive bastard within me wants to see Melania Trump's work authorization during the late '90s before Trump reforms anything on immigration. I wanna see a Democrat as relentless about pursuing her as Trump was about pursuing Obama's birth certificate.

If she worked as a model after her visa expired but before she obtained residency (which appears very likely) - then she was, for at least a time, an illegal immigrant.

LarryHart said...

@donzelion,

Trump could pardon her.

The cruel, vindictive bastard within me wants to see Irma have her way with Mar-A-Lago.

Jumper said...

I am thinking along the same lines as Paul 451. "Incredible cruelty" is not necessarily a part of the package at all. Is it incredibly cruel to allow a deaf person out in public? No, it's a risk, that's all. And who plays God?

I'm pretty sure without crashing the economy, I could set up a life for some Neanderthal tribe that is as good or better as my own life. Some loving parents followed by immersion in happy trips to a well-funded "reservation" with the option to demur moving there, and stay and join the rest of us.

I'm not saying we ought to make all this happen.

donzelion said...

Larry: Certainly, there are many other examples (most former Soviet states, many African states), each of which can teach us something. Most of the decolonized territories, however, teach more about power transitions and recreation of previous order with new masters. Few can teach much about the complex responses to horrific genocide.

I am imagining how an AI overlord would handle such a 'revival'...

Overlord: "OK, you humans wiped those neanderthals out; you have programmed me to value all expressions of humanity; neanderthals are your cousins, and thus entitled to all rights and freedoms bestowed upon any other human expression; they used to 'own' all this territory; you've adopted ownership rules that mean a deep link to territory persists despite centuries/millennia, therefore I declare that all hominids shall have equal rights and freedoms to reside in territory to which they feel a deep attachment..."
Chaos ensues. AI intervenes.
"OK, you folks obviously can't get along, so I will assign separate territories for both your species and thereby ensure peace. Neanderthals shall have homelands at X, Y, Z territories, humans get A, B, C territories..."
Chaos ensues. AI intervenes.
"Ugh! Maybe I should just wipe out all you ungrateful wretches and let God sort it out! (Hey, do I even believe in God? Where's that in my programming?)"

donzelion said...

Larry: Mar-a-Lago is insured; a flood disaster there will simply transfer even more wealth from other people to Trump's benefit. All he loses if it floods is a temporary profit from foreign dignitaries and federal agents placed there.

Melania is his 'prize' - as is his' name,' the value of which was substantially increased by attacking Obama's citizenship. One would think Christians would embrace a "by that standard which ye judge shall ye be judged" retaliation. But Democrats are not the bastards the Republicans accuse them of being.

The president can pardon for a crime - so Melania would not be arrested. HOWEVER, citizenship is a Congressional determination; existing law states clearly that lying about any material fact on a citizenship application is grounds for revoking citizenship (indeed, the 'materiality' component was only injected by the Supreme Court 4 months ago - Trump's DOJ argued that citizenship could be revoked even if one lied about speeding tickets on a citizenship application - even if the tickets were revoked).

Trump can insure any property, but there are no financial protections from that sort of vindictive assault on his household. Luckily for him, Democrats are better than that.

Darrell E said...

donzelion said...

"In any event, the mere possibility that we might be cruel cannot be a complete answer. The same would apply to most other social discoveries and efforts: our task is not to refrain from certain conduct because we might be unworthy, but to push the frontiers of our civilization's worth further than we found it."

In general I agree. But, at what cost to others? In this specific case of resurrecting Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, at what level of risk of some amount or level of suffering on their part is it worth it to us, or ethically acceptable, in order to push the frontiers of our civilization's worth? How to quantify those things? If we attempt it and bungle it we certainly won't have advanced our civilization's worth. Deciding whether to take the risk is difficult but I think it is safe to say that we are not ready for something like that at this moment in our history. Maybe a few generations from now. I can't think of a greater responsibility than causing a race of conscious intelligent entities to come into existence.

In addition to that kind of risk assessment another issue to discuss is, why? I can think of at least a few reasons that sound okay to me but I can't think of any answers that are obviously good.

locumranch said...


Humanity developed technology to serve its own greater purpose but some, like Pinker, would have you believe that humanity now exists to adapt, improve and domesticate itself into the service & greater purpose of technology.

These idealists argue that technology is an end in & of itself and, under the false flags of both diversity & equality, they would remake humanity into standardised pseudo-mechanical ethnocultural role performance units that are interchangeable in all respects.

The Holy Grails of the Enlightened West -- standardisation, equality, uniformity -- are evolutionary dead ends.

Rather than 'a coming together', true diversity requires fracture and 'a coming apart' as evolution (aka 'improvement; advancement; progress') requires further speciation. It's SPECIATION that is our way forward if we desire human improvement, progress & advancement toward the stars.

We must follow Walter Blunt's Chantry Guild prescription and DESTRUCT if we desire advancement.


Best

matthew said...

Zepp - "Too bad there isn't a "stupidity gene" we can modify. But unfortunately, stupidity tends to be a resting state for humanity. "

To quote "Oath of Fealty" by Niven and Pournelle - "Think of it as evolution in action." Or, as the stupidity gene is ultimately self-correcting, the only open questions are how long until the gene leaves the gene pool? And will there be anything left when it is gone?

Darrell E said...

matthew,

Not scientific I know but, going by my experiences I fear that if there is a stupidity gene that it must surely be under positive selection pressure.

donzelion said...

Darrell: "But, at what cost to others? In this specific case of resurrecting Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, at what level of risk of some amount or level of suffering on their part is it worth it to us, or ethically acceptable, in order to push the frontiers of our civilization's worth?"

Fair questions, and concerns. Yet...
"I can't think of a greater responsibility than causing a race of conscious intelligent entities to come into existence."

Any person contemplating bringing a child into this world faces the same quandary. One need not (and probably shouldn't try to) establish the value of a child, or its cost to the world.

"I think it is safe to say that we are not ready for something like that-"
'Readiness' does not strike me as a fixed state that can be reached, but a set of decisions followed through with. Is anyone ever really 'ready' to become a parent? Yet most of us CAN be, and even can be pretty good at it: an immature person can rise to the need, and even a mature person who appeared 'ready' may fail.

I'm not actually endorsing neanderthal revival: just trying to figure out questions about what it would mean socially. Might we enslave/persecute them? Sure. Might we create something entirely novel, unexpected, as a result of their presence - something that makes are lives 'better' the same way many (but not all) other revivals make our lives and world better, newer? Sure.

Alfred Differ said...

According to my 23&Me profile, some of you are bad mouthing my ancestors. 8)

I don't see the concerns. It's not like bringing them back is going to stop us from raising them like our own children. There is already a lot of mental function variability within our current stock of humans, so we'd probably handle it the same way.

If you want a moral comparison, though, ask yourself what responsibility do parents have when they know the odds are high that their next unborn child will be autistic. My wife and I chose to stop rather than face what we estimated were 1:20 odds. Many don't and they don't trigger any moral outrage in me. Do they trigger you?

donzelion said...

Matthew, Darrell: I resist any thought of a 'stupidity gene' - ignorance is mostly a choice, which makes it far worse than the absence of intelligence. Yet even ignorance is forgivable - not all choices are freely made, and pressures influence options. Intentional cruelty, deliberately chosen parasitism is not.

This is why the neanderthal question is fascinating to me: we are not a 'cruel' species, but merely a species with some 'cruel' members, but also 'kind' ones. Is it possible that a requirement to protect some Other (our species' progeny, and also our species' predecessor) will require that we restrain the crueler components of our own species more effectively?

And of course, there's also that thought of our 'robotic successors' - why should they feel loyalty exclusively to their 'parents,' rather than 'grandparents/uncles'? Which branches of the genetic tree are 'sacred'? If they conclude 'all of them which exist as of 20XX year' - what sort of world would they produce? Why privilege the 21st century existence, as opposed to 200k before?

donzelion said...

Oops, error here: "something that makes OUR lives 'better' the same way many (but not all) BELIEVE THAT other revivals make our lives and world better, newer?

I do not mean revivals make the world better, only that many believe they do, and when a 'revived' concept (a nation, a people, a species) takes hold and flourishes, it does so because it is endorsed by many people and 'fit' within the world's context.

LarryHart said...

re: stupidity gene...

Well, there is a pathogen in cats which can cause other creatures to like cats. In humans, this only produces a tendency to take in housepets, but in mice, it can cause them to run toward a cat instead of away from the cat.

If that was a genetic tendency in the mouse, it would quickly be bred out of the species, but the pathogen is carried by the cat (for whom it is an evolutionary benefit) and is spread to the mouse externally.

So the question is...who or what benefits evolutionarily from an external influence that makes humans stupid? Therein might be a clue.

Twominds said...

This post is part a test if I can participate here easier with a Linux system, I'll probably change to it at home.

might have been painted by Van God.

Some people do see Van Gogh as almost divine, but I haven't seen this variation on his name before ;-)

I can't see the Voyager movie, region rights get in the way. I'll have to find another way to see it, see if I can get it as a DVD.

Thank you Dr. Brin, for this update!

Anyone in the path of Irma, please stay safe!

Darrell E said...

I can't speak for matthew but in my case I was kidding about stupidity genes!

Zepp Jamieson said...

Twominds:

Your choice in browser will have more impact on your ability to use Dr. Brin's blog than your choice in OS, although all the browser selections in Linux are at worst serviceable. Linux has its own versions of Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and a good Firefox cognate called Vivaldi, so you're covered.

Twominds said...

Zepp,

It's my obsolete Mac that's making online life difficult. I can't upgrade it anymore and it doesn't run modern browsers. Changing it to a Linux machine will help that. If that doesn't work, I'll have to spend money for a new computer. I can afford it, but I don't really want to.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Well, Ubuntu and Mint are the best to learn Linux on. If those are slow on your Mac, you might consider Puppy Linux. I use Mint on this system. I do have Windows 7, and it might even still work--it did, the last time I used it about three months ago.

Twominds said...

I'll probably use Trusty Tahr. I want to make a small partition for the Mac OS so I can use that in case I I find Linux doesn't read all document formats I have. I don't think I have any Mac specific formats but I want to keep the option open.
Next week I'll have time and help from my brother.

donzelion said...

Darrell: "I can't speak for matthew but in my case I was kidding about stupidity genes!"

Sorry if I was a bit uptight - I did enjoy Idiocracy, but also frown at 'genetic stupidity' thoughts, as they're so closely linked to far uglier bouts of control (even an otherwise exemplary jurist like Oliver Wendell Holmes can never be fully redeemed his nasty quip in supporting sterilization, 'Three generations of imbeciles are enough!", Buck v. Bell (1927).

To shift back to Larry's note,

"So the question is...who or what benefits evolutionarily from an external influence that makes humans stupid? Therein might be a clue."

Maybe it's the cats, secretly in control, selecting our breeding preferences on our behalf? Maybe neanderthals lacked a 'cat affinity gene,' so cats selectively bred them out of existence?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul451

My logic is that a chimp or an elephant is a chimp or an elephant
A Neanderthal that was not capable of partaking in our civilization would be seen as a "failed human"
A different thing entirely

I am less worried about a neanderthal that was fully capable - I suspect that by the time that we can we can do that and they grow up much more about every bodies appearance will be down to choice

Inside of 30 years I am expecting people to be able to have "body sculpture" much like Delany's Babel 17

David Brin said...

Duncan… maybe the 1st few of every resurrected species should be sterile, so we can see if they fit in.

Paul 451 I spread your Soviet meme online!

Darrell E said...
I vote "No" on resurrecting Neanderthals. Sounds like a really bad idea to me. We have a really bad track record regarding how we treat Others.

Well Darrell, yes. But look at yourself and the self-critical remark you just made. A symptiom (very widespread) that it is changing?

In EXISTENCE I portray the tradeoffs.

Speaking of lack of cognizance, locum attacks us saying “t some, like Pinker, would have you believe that humanity now exists to adapt, improve and domesticate itself into the service & greater purpose of technology.”

Look at the meta! He wants to hurt our feelings. So he claims we are doing something that we’d find offensive. Using language tuned to ensure that the asserted crime is diametrically opposite to all we believe.

That’s what they are reduced to. Lacking any facts… any facts at all.. and waging war on all fact using professions… they now simply shout: “Your the opposite of everything you want to be! Yeah. That’ll hurt you! Or at least confuse you for a bit!”

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Anonymous said...

Cloning mammoths would not in itself make a good fiction story.

But if somebody ever found Grendel's arm.....