Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Science Fictional concepts and the Real World

In this rapidly changing world, the phrase “science fiction” is used a lot… often pejoratively, as in: “What we’ve just accomplished is science fact, not science fiction!” (Fools. We point the way!) But just as often, "SF" is used with an ever-rising aura of respect.

Here’s a series of places where this synergy between stories and reality is being explored:

1) The new Journal of Science & Popular Culture, issue #1, features an essay of mine that could interest a few of you. But the journal’s title - by itself - says a lot. Talk to your university librarian!

2) I’ve announced this before, but it bears repeating. UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift (http://imagination.ucsd.edu), has a new project.... The TASAT site - for “There’s A Story About That” - offers a way to connect serious contemporary dilemmas with science fictional tales from across the last 75 years, that just might be pertinent to some contemporary problem

There are plausible ways that this project might someday save us all!  See my explanation of the endeavor. And yes, I plan to announce it when I speak at several Washington, D.C. agencies, in June.

3) Scifi Policy, based in the Washington, DC, area, is a small, volunteer team, that “thinks big things can come from the intersection of policy and visions of what tomorrow may bring, aiming to create a field of ‘Science Fiction Policy Studies.’” See especially their explanation

4) Then there are ventures in using science fiction gedankenexperiment/scenarios for ‘commercial purposes’:

- Ari Popper explains his company “SciFutures” that offers to build AF scenario for corporations.

- The Scout Project is run by my friends the Andersons who put out the Strategic News Service newsletter and FiRe Conferences. Their site is lively, provocative and fun.  

- Kaspersky Labs in Moscow is trying to do something similar. They contacted me recently. And there are similar efforts in Beijing, where – in part thanks to Liu Cixin winning the Hugo Award – science fiction is in a period of ascendance. (That is, till some of the mighty again notice its inherent impudence.)

Speaking of China. Former President Barack Obama met with current Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 28 at the Global Education Summit in Beijing but he also took some time out of his visit to ask award-winning science fiction author Liu Cixin for his next book!  Obama has long been a reader of sci-fi/fantasy and has publicly spoken of the vision and impact Liu’s Three-Body Problem trilogy.

Also at the Tor site, this fan’s loving remembrance of Startide Rising.

Oh. As a judge in the Raw Science Film Festival I watched dozens of indie works, short and long, fiction and nonfiction, all of them meant to shine light on some area of science. One of our favorites was “Einstein-Rosen” by Olga Osorio, about a pair of little Italian boys – brothers – who discuss Einstein-Rosen wormholes… with an amazing and hilarious outcome.  There is a Facebook page  and here is the trailer. Update: the film has just been posted on Vimeo.

== The best explanation for the Fermi paradox ==

I’ve been part of the SETI community for 35 years and for a dozen of those, part of an array of SETI mavens who have resigned from commissions in protest over METI (“Messaging” to Extraterrestrial Intelligences.)  See my extensive discourse on this debate.  Both topics got close attention in Liu Cixin’s mighty Three Body Trilogy,  the first volume of which won the Hugo for Best Novel, a couple of years ago. Now see a cogent article about how “Da Liu” has been consulting with the Chinese government about plans to use their new Super-Arecibo radio dish to participate in the search… and possibly in the “messaging.”  Though of course, he recommends against that!

Quoted from someone else, in that article: Maybe China would go public with the signal but withhold its star of origin, lest a fringe group send Earth’s first response. Maybe China would make the signal a state secret.” But later waxing eloquent, the author says: “We may be humbled to one day find ourselves joined, across the distance of stars, to a more ancient web of minds, fellow travelers in the long journey of time. We may receive from them an education in the real history of civilizations, young, old, and extinct.”

What such empathic moderns never step back to realize is that they, themselves, are a new and special phenomenon. The very same outwardness, “otherness” -- willingness to self-criticize and seek a humbling Bigger Perspective -- is in itself evidence of a culture getting ready for grand things. And this flowering might be cut short if we suddenly had to give aliens credit for “saving us” with ancient wisdom! Indeed, I can think of no greater or wiser explanation for the Fermi Paradox, than this: they may be silent in order to let us earn the highest honor of all – saving ourselves.

== On a lighter note ==

This article asked 8 sci-fi writers what Star Trek show they would write if given the chance. Refreshingly, they asked some with-it newer stars of the field! (Bypassing us old farts.)  Still may I toot a bit about this? I have a Star Trek Graphic novel “Forgiveness” that is an official part of the Paramount sanctioned canon. It tells the story of the invention of the Transporter, way back in the year 2035… and how the inventor wound up arriving… well… I’ll let you find out.  Brilliant art by Scott Hampton, who also painted the gorgeous images in “The Life Eaters”!

Now a cute irony.  I had this idea originally at age 13 while watching the original series in its first run!  I sent a letter describing it, to Gene Roddenberry… and felt crushed when I got a form letter refusing (for good reasons) to look at unsolicited ideas. Well, well. Decades later I got the last laugh. Get my graphic novel Forgiveness and see how clever that pre-teen was!

== More science fiction news! ==

NPR Science Friday’s Christian Skotte asked several of us to name science fiction novels that do great world-building. Kim Stanley Robinson, Andy Weir, Jeff Vandermeer and Daniel Wilson chose some already famous classics, such as Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness and Mieville's Perdido Street Station. Turning forward, I cited Semiosis by newcomer Sue Burke.

My colleague Ramez Naam cogently and entertainingly provides perspectives on potential for human augmentation via neural connectivity… the topic of his famed NEXUS Trilogy. A fine podcast interview. Very interesting.

OMNI Magazine back in digital version -- visit their site online for more information.

For those of you who do online art, images, or backgrounds for presentations, the craft of designing textures can be very important. There is a real-time, interactive, browser-based texture generator. 

A lovely, little rumination on the beauty of space. One reason to go.  

== And … ==

Huh: “Did you know that in 1953, before his first recordings, Johnny Cash wrote a science fiction short story called "The Holografik Danser"? According to Steve Turner's biography, "The Man Called CASH," he wrote a number of short stories during this period, many under the pen name "Johnny Dollar." As Turner explains, "The Holografik Danser" "portrayed a twenty-first-century America that had been conquered by Russia — major cities had been razed by nuclear attack, and entertainment was paid for in kiosks and then piped into homes via phone lines. Partly inspired by the news of the explosion in television broadcasting, he envisaged a time when live holographic entertainment would be beamed into living rooms for twelve dollars a show. He further imagined the possibility of a man projecting himself into the hologram." -- writes Will Stephenson in the Arkansas Times. You can find it in Songs Without Rhyme: Prose by Celebrated Songwriters, by Rosanne Cash.

The 13 Unluckiest Characters in Science Fiction & Fantasy. Heroes—no matter the trials they face on their journeys—seem inherently lucky. No matter how long it takes, in the end, they usually win. But where’s the fun in making iteasy on them? Which brings up one of my top 20 explanations for the Fermi Paradox… that they are addicted to us as a Reality Show.  And since we were getting smart real fast, they had to mess with us and slow us down… by helping to saddled us with a reality TV clown… hey, can you come up with a better explanation for the state we’re in?

I did an extensive interview for the Facebook Science Fiction Book Club. Check out the fun group.

A fascinating article explores the roots of the Uncanny Valley, and why children under 9 years old appear not to get creeped out by quasi-humanoid robots… but older people do.

Daniel Jeffries offers an insightful view into crypto-currencies, Bitcoin and the art of predicting an uncertain future. He’s also a science fiction author. Lively stuff.

Melissa A. Schilling’s new book QUIRKY tells the stories of men and women who have transformed the world through innovation. “The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World,” it revolves around the three main themes of creativity and originality, effort and persistence, and situational advantage. Edison, Musk, Einstein, Curie and many others are compared. An interesting and well-crafted journey through the lives of those "quirky" women and men who dance along the edge for us, so we all benefit from human inventiveness.

Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere is a collection of fiction, illustrations, and speculative timelines exploring the near future of near space. It is available here to download, entirely free and available in EPUB and MOBI formats, and through the Apple iBooks store. I collaborated in one of the stories, above a heroine who has to leap from balloon to balloon at 100,000 feet near the boundary of space!

Science fiction literary legend John Crowley, author of books such as Little, Big -- has a new web site

HYBRID (not Hybrin)  is a riveting nine-part audio drama about a world-changing virus that threatens to kill billions and the heroic, damaged woman – herself a victim of the virus – who takes it upon herself to stop it. 

Oceans everywhere!
    Ice roof sheltered, life…
       …may fill the cosmos.


84 comments:

Paul SB said...

I can say with some confidence that, had I been asked to recommend a novel full of great world-building, I might have been able to convince some of the merits of "Glory Season" - which in spite of being outdated on the biology today was very well thought-out sociologically. It parallels LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness" in some ways, but partly because it was so much longer it went into a lot more detail and ramifications (okay, that's enough brown-nosing - it's still heartfelt though).

Paul SB said...

Alfred, (if no one objects to a throwback from the last thread)

You have a tendency to use terms in an overly broad manner. When you do this, it weakens the usefulness of the term, and takes away precision. This stood out immediately:

"Think about all the little behaviors that we layer on top of traffic rules at stop lights. It’s not just “Green light go | red light stop”. Drivers make eye contact, use sign language, and interact with pedestrians and cyclists who do something similar. Traditions are OFTEN solutions ..."

These are not traditions. Use of signals could be thought of as a tradition, as it is an arbitrary symbol used for a generally accepted purpose. As symbols those signals can vary through time and space. But things like eye contact are not traditions, they are simply reflexes, common reactions shared by the species. Flick something toward your eye and you will blink automatically, no decision-making involved, and the same things happens whether you were raised in Brooklyn or Vanuatu. You do the same thing with "Market" metaphorically extending the idea to the point where it means everything, which makes it useful for nothing.

Traditions are often solutions? That is very, very basic functionalism, á la Franz Boas' revolution in social thought of the 1890s. Move a little forward in time, to say, the 1950s, and you will come across the term "survival" - meaning a tradition that has survived to solve a problem that no longer exists, and is often maladaptive in the ethnographic present (in other words, now). I'm not sure where you get the idea that I want to burn down all tradition. We live in a time of rapid change, in which many old traditions have become survivals - they do us more harm than good. Traditions that worked in the Wild West, got the land conquered and colonized very quickly, can bring a crowded civilization to its knees. Laissez faire capitalism is one of these traditions. It builds economies up real fast, then slowly eats societies from within as the wealth and power becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of oligarchs who run roughshod over the rest of civilization. A shepherd shears the flock, he doesn't slaughter them all.

Sure, government can create a huge power imbalance in a market if it chooses to do so, and that is not going to have good results. That is called crony capitalism. The role government needs to play in markets is as referee, not as a player on any one team. That doesn't mean government has no role, it has a critical role, preventing the market from destroying the nation. This is only restricting the freedoms of individuals if those individuals are doing something harmful to society. We do this with common criminals, murderers, thieves, etc. What we don't do is apply the same logic to CEOs, politicians and theologians. Somehow these castes are sacred and immune from responsibility for their actions.

And here I agree with Duncan - the purpose of everything needs to be examined and made clear. But if that happened - the radical transparency that our host wants to see - we will discover which of the "meritocracy" are robbing us blind and slaughtering the flock.

LarryHart said...

From the "Startide Rising" remembrance, linked in the main post:

Like many of the best adventure stories, we enter the story in mid-stream, with our heroes in peril and the action in progress. The narrative also jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint, building tension as we wonder what is happening to characters who are offstage while we’re spending time with others.


I used to only find that narrative shift in comic books. Nowadays, it seems more common in novels, at least in sci-fi or action/adventure novels. I did notice Dr Brin using the technique, not only in the Uplift series, but in Earth, Kiln People, and Existence as well (though IIRC, not in The Postman, which was pretty much confined to Gordon's POV).


The first character we meet is human Gillian Baskin, an agent of the human Terragens Council. She and her fellow human agent Thomas Orley...


That reminds me--aren't there still untold adventures of Thomas Orley left out there? We left him hanging after Startide Rising, and never did see him in the second trilogy.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | In the ideal world a "tradition" would also have a purpose statement so we could see if it was still relevant

You are in good company with this desire, but I think it demonstrates who little people understand what 'tradition' does for us all.

There is a certain class of problems we face and don't realize we face. We can still find solutions to some of them simply by evolving attempts. It is not necessary for us to know the problem or even that we are working at a solution.

Traditions are probably (often!) solutions to such problems. They can also be problems in themselves if they linger beyond their time of relevance. If we can't see the problem, though, we might invent one or some other rationalization to explain a tradition. Those can also become problems, but we would have a better chance of knowing them even if we mistakenly categorize them.

I'm sure you've seen this in your work. Work-arounds get invented and cause other issues. Some get kept. Some solve issues no one knew existed and might not until they are removed again at a future date.

Serial monogamy mitigates some disease risks for people who have not yet discovered germ theory. Is it needed now? 8)

In a pre-mechanized world where humans are learning to domesticate anything that will serve us, slavery makes some biological sense absent theological support. Is it needed now? 8)

Since we are on a science fiction thread now, I would be remiss if I didn't mention there are some really neat stories one can write by exploring questions of 'why' regarding our long standing traditions. One doesn't have to be correct and I'd argue we might never know the so-called Truth unless these stories are written in large numbers.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | I see a spectrum between personal habits, local customs, and surviving traditions. I also think they grow out of those smaller reflexes you describe. Am I using ‘tradition’ and ‘market’ in a broader sense than you? I don’t doubt it. Of course you can reject my attempts to stretch them by adding abstractions (which actually subtract unimportant details), but you’ll still have to face the fact that I see relationship there that I think are relevant and WANT to use each term more abstractly.

The traffic light scenario is a common one we use in when talking to new, wanna-be software engineers. It is a wonderful example of a problem that is so complex to describe that is demonstrates a possible boundary to problems that can be solved algorithmically. The problem starts with trying to model how humans navigate traffic intersections and bogs down so fast that everyone settles on looking for an expert system solution that might model a reasonable way to navigate them safely. The later problem is still difficult, but it is potentially knowable. The initial problem isn’t knowable in any useful way because the best answer to ‘how do I create a car that drives itself through intersections’ turns out to be ‘put a human in them and let them learn how.’ Fortunately, as we get richer and more capable, we are leaning away from using humans for such mind-numbingly boring work.

Watch what humans do at intersections like software engineers do and you’ll see it is a lot more than reflexes. There are behaviors occurring that are learned. There are different behaviors at different intersections and in different cities and in different nations. There are behaviors the people don’t even realize they are doing. There are rapid learning experiences for the young taught by the old that are really fast. These are bits of reflex, bits of non-verbal language use, and bits of shared custom that can grow in the minds of the community without them thinking about having it grow.

I don’t think you want to burn down all traditions. You couldn’t even if you tried because you’d need a lot of help. You don’t strike me as that kind of lunatic. 8) However, the French made a concerted effort at tackling a large fraction of theirs after their revolution and paid for it. The Russians tried too much as well through the 20th century and it cost them dearly. China too. We’ve made an occasional effort at toppling big ones too with some interesting successes and profound failures. Rarely, though, do we hunt down large blocs of traditions with intent to kill them simply because they are the way we used to do things. In the US, we tend to aim a little smaller, but keep at it. As a result, I think we’ve managed to kill off a number of maladaptive ones in the sanest way possible. We are obviously still working at some of them.

What I ask of modern liberals is that they pay attention to the possibility that the critter they hunt might serve a purpose they do not understand. How can we know a problem no longer exists if we didn’t see it in the first place?

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | (continued) My inclination to expand the definitions for terms I use is simply the result that what I’ve read and learned and how I mash it all together in my head. Think about the term ‘coffee’. Is it a bean? (There is more than one type.) Is it a drink? (Which ones count?) Is it a flavor? (Lots of those and rather subjective.) Is it a setting? Dictionaries tend to list alternate definitions, but I take my view of these things from Hofstadter. Structures in our languages are analogies all the way down. So when I think of ‘tradition’, I think about bit about Hayek’s view, David’s uplift hyperspace where the chimp acquired a tail, popular writings describing memes, and my own experiences watching habits become rituals with my son. I have no doubt some of what Hayek wrote has a conceptual pedigree that includes Boas, but he referred more to Acton in the earlier writings. When I think of ‘market’, I also have a mashup in my head that includes Hayek (obviously), Smith, McCloskey, and countless others. I actually like the distinction that Hayek made (and no one else adopted) between an economy and a catallaxy and between law and legislation. Hayek in his later years was more of a philosopher than anything else and he pointed out (correctly I think) that without some thought given at that level, we are going to remain mired in how we see economics and a few of the other social sciences.

The role government needs to play in markets is as referee, not as a player on any one team.

Here is an example of an error I don’t think you would make if you understood Hayek’s point. We’d all agree that government shouldn’t pick winners, but he’d point out that referees can be corrupted so you might want to think very careful about how you do this. What does a referee get to decide? What about the players who are impacted by decisions who are not on the field?

What Hayek would probably point out is that we have a number of solutions to economic cheating problems and yes… they involve government. We’ve even tried to solve some of the cheating problems that happen when government is corrupted… with more government. The US Constitution enshrines some of our good attempts and a few of our dumb ones too. What have we learned? What can we do better? How can we do it in a way that enables people with local knowledge to act on what they know better than anyone else on the planet?

the purpose of everything needs to be examined and made clear

Here is another. You are assuming this is even possible. I’m not. I seriously think this is beyond us, but I’m all for tackling it anyway. It doesn’t matter that the problem is impossible because we learn so much in exploring our ignorance.

Think about the assumptions behind 'purpose.' It is a wonderful concept that has ancient roots. Does one need it to create? Is it possible to know ours? 8)

Duncan Cairncross said...

Worlds with ice on top

Or even just deep water worlds
These are going to be "wet deserts" with less life than a baked dry martian desert

Because the sunlight and the nutrients are separated by kilometers of water

There may be life around the deep thermal vents but there is so little energy there compared to sun on the planets surface that I don't think it will be able to support the type of expansive life that spreads - so it will dies out every time a vent dies

Rather than the old science fiction of earth being a pleasant and rare place because it is wet maybe the creation of the moon dried earth out enough that it became exceptionally dry and therefore somewhere where life could develop

Changing the subject to politics
I see the tribal aspect - and the "stick it to the other"

BUT I still think that a sizable amount of the Right Wing vote is NOT for (dubious) personal gain but is for "the country" - voting for the people who will help the country and that concentrating on personal loss/gain does not help to persuade these people

You (USA) are "lucky" in that the results that you can quote show such an unmistakable GOP/DEM relationship

Here and in the UK we don't have so much clear water between the results

Winter7 said...

LarryHart :
You said:
“I mentioned a few days ago what I would say to my past self if I could communicate with him via a working time machine, but of course, that's just fantasy. The true "working time machine" is the next generation.”
All right. Maybe it's possible someday. You think I'm new here, but actually I've been here. I told you before that it is possible to create a kind of time machine. (not to send people, that is very difficult, because people sent through a powerful field of temporary distortion, certainly can be sent to another place and moment in time, but they will come from the other side in the form of particles and energy ( with luck, some molecules will also arrive on the other side).
But it seems that some physicists agree with me on the theory that it is possible to send messages through a wormhole. (I communicated to many physicists my theory just before an important meeting they had) After that meeting, a scientific article was published with this idea (they did not mention me, of course) (But it occurred to me)
This is the link to this news:
https://phys.org/news/2014-05-physicist-wormholes-photon.html
But, as I told you. It may be possible to send a message to the past. ¡We could save Anne Frank !; ¡We could warn the Democrats of the trick of the Republicans in the last elections! ¡We could modify everything!
Of course, it is not enough to build the machine. There is an important element, without which said machine will not work. But that key fact, I keep it as a security measure. (if everyone has a time machine, the matter could be very complicated)
But we could perfect the machine over the years. That way you could go back in time and find yourself with yourself; but the encounter could create a time paradox, the result of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the spacetime continuum and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that's a worst-case scenario. The destruction might in fact be very localised, limited to merely our own galaxy. (Just kidding what the galaxy would be destroyed) (I think)
No. Nothing to send people. But, as I said before, we could send messages.
Of course, I could not convince anyone to start such a project, so that subject will be archived possibly for many more years.

As for the matter of the "Bitcoins". If I had those electronic coins, I would be selling them. I suspect that the value of these coins will disappear suddenly.
How could I buy a coin that is imaginary? Do I have to buy several kilos of air at the price of gold and then, I must assume that I made a good business? I think Bitcoin is the best trick since the time of P.T. Barnum. The matter of that coin seems like a great deception. And I'm surprised that greed makes so many fall. But, of course. Maybe I'm wrong. But if I could buy Bitcoins, I would not.

But I think that if Bitcoin does not disappear, eventually it will disappear in an ocean of other currencies, coming from more reliable sources. That is the point: A virtual currency must be issued by a reliable company. People will go for the most reliable currencies, and those coins will be the ones that will win in the end.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Winter
You have just doomed us all
You have killed the entire human race

Your time machine is our death sentence - if anybody can go back into time and make changes then the universe becomes unstable because the whole of the future is ahead of us and any changes that can be made can be unmade

Except ONE
Any change that prevents the time machine from being invented is stable
But it has to prevent it from being re-invented in the future

So the only stable change is one that prevents the human race from existing

So you have killed us all!

Winter7 said...

Duncan Cairncross.
¡But you are assuming that I am going to act in a frivolous and selfish way! No. I just want to make some small changes. Not much. I know that a small change can trigger unsuspected consequences. But, as I said before, I only plan to make a couple of changes. I doubt that changes in my timeline affect the timelines of others before the date the machine is built. (if it is built, then, after all, everyone thinks that time travel is crazy) (And maybe it is better that it be)
And if it were possible to create a work team to build the time machine, this machine can only be useful from the time when radio transmission became popular. Unless we can start sending small objects that resist the temporal distortion fields. In which case, we could affect history from the time of the Babylonians.

Winter7 said...

It's already 2:30 am I'm going to sleep.
Bye.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Winter
It's 9,38 at night on the 17th

And it does not matter what you do - any change will doom us
Just the fact that you know how to build the machine means that somebody will build one in the future - and that changes will accumulate until the human race is gone
Nobody is going to act in a frivolous and selfish way - but the cumulative effect is annihilation as that is the only stable position

We may be able to keep the situation in balance for a while but we can't juggle hand grenades for ever

The Cuban missile crisis? - that may be the starting point

JustThisTwice said...

All right, this is a consequence of time travel and the Many-World theory that has often been used in science fiction, as an example Stephen Baxter "The Time Ships" comes to mind, but whose consequence, as far as I know, has never been spelled out.

To recapitulate, IF time travel is possible, and IF the Many-World interpretation is correct, time travel originated from our universe can never have an impact on us. Every time someone uses a time machine they will simply disappear.

There will be another universe, split from the original the moment the time traveller appeared in it. All the time travelers will never be able to come back to their original timeline, but will just split up another universe the moment they go back in time.

Therefore, in a universe there can be many time travellers disappearing from it, but no more than one time traveller appearing, and only if the existence of that universe is the result of time travel.

And just as an aside, imagine if the answer to the Fermi paradox was that time travel is possible, and as soon as a technological civilization is able to do it, its sophonts can't resist the temptation to play god and decide to leave this universe and go back to a time where they'll try to shape it to their liking.
They'll just leave back empty worlds.

And I just remembered that there was a hint of that in the short story by Niven where he introduced the Kzinti. One of them made a comment about a world where all the inhabitants had disappeared before they conquered it. The inhabitants had claimed to have time travel, but the Kzinti didn't want to believe them.

So, could someone from the 30th century suddenly appear in front of you? Certainly, but maybe you are out of luck and it already happened in Andromeda some million years ago.

LarryHart said...

Time travel--one of my favorite topics to go off on.

While I love the concept in fiction, I just can't believe the past can really be changed. If backwards time travel is possible, the effects must already be incorporated into the experienced past. And note that even in the novel The Time Machine (different from the movie), H.G. Wells did not imagine backwards time travel--only forward.

You can't go back in time and kill Hitler unless you do it on May 30, 1945 in his bunker, for the simple reason that that's the only way he died.

(If what happens is that you go to an "alternate history", then that's not really time travel, is it?)

If I'm wrong and it is possible to alter the experienced past, then history is likely doomed to become a series of re-writes and retcons as more and more actors get into the game with different intentions. Dave Sim once said of F. Scott Fitzgerald that if Fitzgerald had had access to word processors, he'd have never advanced beyond (endless re-writes of) the first ten pages of his first novel, This Side Of Paradise. With backwards time travel, all of history would be like that.

LarryHart said...

If you remember the movie Somewhere In Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, part of the story involved a watch that aged Elise gives to young Richard in 1980, and then time-traveling Richard gives it to young Elise back in 1912. It's meant as a paradox, as the watch seemingly has no beginning and no end. It's just there.

This was my resolution, posted on another forum:

Or maybe Old Jane (Elise) accidentally dropped the watch into a sewer some time in the 1920s, but then shortly therefter she saw the same watch for sale at a Bazzar in Marakesh or Cleveland or some other exotic location. Realizing it's not just a similar watch to the one her beloved owned, but *the same watch* (only "newer"), she bought it and hung onto it for the express purpose of giving it back to Chris (Richard) in 1980.

LarryHart said...

...my past self having obviously forgotten that old Elise gave the watch to young Richard in 1972, and that eight years pass before he travels back in time.

Jon S. said...

Twice, that wasn't a Known Space story - that was a standalone, "Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation," which swiped its title from Frank Tipler's paper regarding that (although Tipler required a cylinder of infinite length rotating around its axis at the speed of light). Each civilization that developed the technology was mysteriously erased just before starting it up. This go-around, the civilization hadn't developed spaceflight outside its own solar system, and was wiped out by a sudden inexplicable supernova. (Central conceit of the story was that the Universe didn't want to allow time travel.)

He also wrote "All the Myriad Ways," a story that posited that if multiversal travel were possible, people would suddenly become extremely nihilistic because some version of them has taken every possible choice in every possible universe. (To which I respond, this may well be true, but none of those other people with my face and my name are me. Part of what makes me uniquely "me" is the series of choices I've made that have put me into a given situation, for good or ill. The fact that alternate mes have made different choices doesn't affect that at all.)

The story that introduced the kzinti, "The Warriors," didn't mention any other cultures the kzinti had encountered, other than to imply that it must have happened. Their shipboard telepath determined the sublight human ship they'd found, the Angel's Pencil, was unarmed and crewed by beings that eschewed violence, so the captain elected to use a slow weapon, one that heated every metal surface in the ship. That was when the ship's pilot, who was a Belter and hadn't been raised in Earth's utterly pacifistic culture, demonstrated what became known as the Kzinti Lesson - that any reaction drive is also a weapon, in proportion to its efficiency as a drive. He rotated the Pencil and used the exhaust from her fusion-powered light-pressure drive to slice the kzin ship in twain.

(That also started the First Man-Kzin War, which the kzinti were winning until the mayor of the human colony We Made It, around Procyon A, purchased a hyperdrive shunt from the outsiders. Kzin gravity drives just couldn't keep up with an enemy capable of crossing three lightyears per day.)

Michael C. Rush said...

>>they may be silent in order to let us earn the highest honor of all – saving ourselves.

Highest and, possibly, rarest.

Robert said...

Tying up some business from the previous post.

First, a lesson in obscurity.
Go to Eastern Oregon. Do not collect $200.
Say you're on the West Coast. They'll think you're in California.
Say you're in the Northwest. They'll think you're in Washington.
Say you're in Oregon. They'll locate you on the other side of the Cascades.
It's like "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Some runners-up.
Say you're in California. Live in the northeastern corner. No one will ever guess.
Say you live in Southern California. Everyone will think LA. Right, David?

Admittedly, Eastern Oregon isn't completely obscure to David - he let a postman wander through.


On to some thoughts on one of the last thread's main topics, starting silly and getting more serious.

"All the nice guys already have boyfriends."

Getting a little more serious, the dating thread was really, uncannily familiar, to the point of being eerie. The grass is not greener on the other side of the street. And differences between sexual orientations are trivial compared to the differences between the sexes.

More serious yet, the ideal of the gentleman was a very useful way of raising men who would behave like decent human beings. Most men of my father's and grandfather's generations would be appalled at Weinstein's and Trump's behavior and would refuse to associate with men like them. There were drawbacks, of course.
- Enforcement was up to the decent men, not women.
- There was substantial built-in class prejudice.
- There was little or no room for women's agency.
Still, feminists should consider modifying the ideal, rather than dropping it.


Bob Pfeiffer
Pendleton, Oregon.

Darrell E said...

Some of the most impressive feats of world-building in my opinion and experience are, in no particular order . . .

Tolkien's universe. Neither The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings is sufficient by themselves to experience the depth of it. You need to at least also read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

Herbert's Dune universe.

Exordium by Sherwood Smith & Dave Trowbridge.

The Uplift universe by David Brin. Even after all the years since I first read Startide Rising and The Uplift War and having recently re-read them, I think they are some of the finest examples of the genre to be found. I am keeping an eye out for some sort of unique or special edition of either or both of these for my 13 year old twins. Over the past few years I've got them turned on to science fiction and they are ready for Startide Rising and The Uplift War.

A.F. Rey said...

A variation of time travel I've been kicking around for a few years is that there is only one universe, we can change the past, but the universe doesn't care about paradoxes.

Go ahead and go back and kill your grandfather. Then you will have never been born. But you were born before you went back and you appeared in the "new" past. The universe simply treats the time traveler as a new input, and cause and effect continue on its merry way. So what if the new way means you aren't born in the future? What does it care if you "never" existed? :)

This would, of course, break conservation of matter and energy. And I haven't figured out how it would significantly differ from the Many Worlds scenario. But it would have an interesting existential problem.

Any time traveler would almost automatically destroy his past. Himself, his family, his friends, the events that shaped him, everything he knew. He would be worse than a ghost, since a ghost once lived. He would never have been at all. All he has is memories of things that never will exist.

What is left of a person when he has erased everything that defined him?

LarryHart said...

A.F. Rey:

A variation of time travel I've been kicking around for a few years is that there is only one universe, we can change the past, but the universe doesn't care about paradoxes.

Go ahead and go back and kill your grandfather. Then you will have never been born. But you were born before you went back and you appeared in the "new" past. The universe simply treats the time traveler as a new input, and cause and effect continue on its merry way. So what if the new way means you aren't born in the future? What does it care if you "never" existed? :)


Well, I agree that resolution of paradoxes shouldn't rely on the universe caring about preventing them. Either a paradox is possible or it isn't. If it is possible, then the universe shouldn't need or "want" to work against them.

OTOH, I don't like treating time travel in a manner that ignores the impact it has on temporal concepts of "before", "after", "change", etc. If you go back in time and do something so that the Nazis win WWII (for example), then events of 1944 and after are "changed". But in what sense? Did our history "once" exist, but "now" does not? Why does your meddling supercede the previous history? It can't be just because it came "later", can it?

I still maintain I can't go back in time and kill myself as a baby. Not because then I'd never have survived to go back, but because I didn't die as a baby.

But maybe the way to think about time-travel paradoxes is to take a lesson from economics. When you borrow money to invest in a scheme that will make you a profit, even after paying back the loan, you are essentially spending future money in the present. In effect, you've borrowed the money from yourself in the future. Your lender has acted as a catalyst in the process, but once you've paid back the loan, the lender drops out of the equation as if the loan never existed. The paradox is therefore resolved.

But what if your scheme fails? You've then (essentially) borrowed money from the future even though that money never actually comes into being. It's a time paradox of sorts. But there's nothing supernatural about the resolution. Someone ends up being out that money, and the specifics of that (depending on the terms of the loan and other such items) happens in a very clear, non-mysterious way. Maybe the lender is out the money. Maybe you are, and you're paying it out every week over time. Maybe an insurance company is on the hook. There are myriad possibilities, but one of them is going to happen, not because the universe cares about fixing paradoxes, but because of the physical mechanism by which the money is acquired and spent.

I suspect that the laws of physics would determine in similar manner what happens with seemingly-incompatible events in the timestream.

Duncan Ocel said...

David,
"No One Said it Would Be Easy" was well-contrived, as usual. I didn't know there was a place for such glib writing in an academic journal, but I guess JSPC is of a different ilk.

You touched on some ideas in the early part of your essay that you haven't yet beat dead on the blog. It would be nice to see you elaborate on "rising expectations" and "blaming violence on progress," a little!

Duncan Ocel

Jon S. said...

Robert:

"Some runners-up.
Say you're in California. Live in the northeastern corner. No one will ever guess.
Say you live in Southern California. Everyone will think LA. Right, David?"


Say you live in Washington. Everyone will assume it's forested, and maybe you can see the Space Needle on a clear day. Nobody's ever heard of Yakima, Spokane, or Moses Lake, and if they've ever heard of Walla Walla they think it's some kind of joke.

Larry:
"I still maintain I can't go back in time and kill myself as a baby. Not because then I'd never have survived to go back, but because I didn't die as a baby."

Reminds me of Douglas Adams discussing time travel in The Restaurant At the End of the Universe:

"One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broadminded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is also no problem about changing the course of history – the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end."

LarryHart said...

Jon S:

Say you live in Washington. Everyone will assume it's forested, and maybe you can see the Space Needle on a clear day. Nobody's ever heard of Yakima, Spokane, or Moses Lake, and if they've ever heard of Walla Walla they think it's some kind of joke.


I suspect that, like myself, most people heard of Walla Walla, Washington in the baseball song with the line, "From Walla Walla, Washington to Kalamazoo." And yes, I thought both were made up joke names for quite some time.

You're wrong about Spokane, though. People have heard of that city, although at the moment, I can't tell you why that is, or exactly what we've heard about it.

LarryHart said...

@Jon S,

Yes, I may not be making my position on time-travel clear, but in a nutshell, I believe that if you travel backwards to the past, you become part of the past rather than change the past. What happened in 1776 or 2000 BC or whatever is history, whether recorded or not. If those events happen to include a time-traveler arriving from the future, then they "always" included the time traveler and his activities. You can't add something new to the past. Anything you "add" to the past must have "always been" there in the first place.

(I try to put into quote marks any temporal words or phrases whose meaning is muddied by the very concept of time travel)

Alfred Differ said...

@A.F. Rey | I suspect the best resolution possible to the time traveler paradox that fits your approach requires that we recognize that ‘continuity’ of energy/momentum is preserved, thus in world #1 no paradox occurs. Eliminating one’s own birth is a world #3 issue (Popper’s way of describing an extension to dualism) because the mind is a ‘pattern’ at a higher level of abstraction. The atoms and molecules of which I’m made continue and my mind continues, thus continuity is respected. How the pattern was invented, though, is a question that assumes causality. In a universe with continuity loops, causality is not expected.

Some interesting physical constraints vanish when one understands that conservation laws in 3-D are really continuity laws in 4-D. The question becomes whether or not anything can loop and the apparent answer is ‘Yes’. Even in classical theories, causality appears to be an unnecessary assumption. Feynman’s dissertation explores a classical E&M theory that permits backward propagation through time of information from future events. The theory he described produces observables that are consistent with the standard E&M that requires causality.

A.F. Rey said...

Why does your meddling supercede the previous history? It can't be just because it came "later", can it?

It supersedes because it introduces new interactions that were not "previously" in the past. If you think of history as a record of how the various bits of the universe interact, then throwing in a new bit inevitably will change the outcome.

But the memories of the time traveler will come from the interactions that occurred before the time traveler's new interactions occurred. Thus, they will be from a universe which no longer exists.

Of course, there would be no conservation of information in this scenario. But it looks like black holes are destroying information all the time, so that not matter.

Even in classical theories, causality appears to be an unnecessary assumption. Feynman’s dissertation explores a classical E&M theory that permits backward propagation through time of information from future events.

Yes! So it can work!

Now if I could only figure out how... :(

A.F. Rey said...

Even though we are all fans of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, this one has to be posted on this comment section.

https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/come-together-2

LarryHart said...

A.F. Rey:

Go ahead and go back and kill your grandfather. Then you will have never been born. But you were born before you went back and you appeared in the "new" past. The universe simply treats the time traveler as a new input, and cause and effect continue on its merry way. So what if the new way means you aren't born in the future? What does it care if you "never" existed? :)


We can't know for certain what backwards time travel is really like, but we can pretty easily rule out some options. What won't happen is the scene near the end of "Back To The Future" where Marty slowly begins fading away as his parents' first meeting becomes less likely, and then he pops into full being again once his parents kiss after all. That doesn't make any sense.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Jon S., Robert: You might or might not enjoy Steve Stirling's "Emberverse" series. I am familiar with Walla Walla and Pendleton specifically because of those stories. Warning: the setting, while technically science fiction, is philosophically opposed to much of Dr. Brin's work.

@A.F. Rey, Jon S., Larry: After reading a bunch of both stories and physics books over the years, I theorized that quantum effects would tend to produce two kinds of backwards time travel -- and which one occurred depended on circumstances as well as whether Many-Worlds is correct or not.

The basic idea -- which I never worked out the math for -- was that any closed timelike loop of causal links must inevitably set up feedback in quantum waveforms. Any path that intrudes onto the past light cone of any other portion of the path will create interactions that lead to a closed timelike loop; the chances of closed timelike loops appearing are increased with every time travel event throughout the history of the universe. If time travel is possible, then even one time machine one per galaxy per million years starts seriously constraining any effort to avoid a CTL.

Scenario One: If you have a quantum feedback loop established, then the waveforms will either constructively interfere or destructively interfere. Timeline paths that have destructive interference tend towards a probability of zero: the time trip fails to exist and the time machine never travels. Timeline paths that have constructive interference tend towards a probability of one: these trips are successful, but do not change history, as the existence of the trip in the past is what makes it possible for it to exist in the present. This method allows for new events to be created via the 'bootstrap' paradox, but otherwise the timeline remains consistent (Novikov self-consistency principle).

Scenario Two: However! If the Many-Worlds interpretation is correct, *and* it is possible to move between alternate timelines (a big ask!), then somewhere in the phase space of the Universe, there will almost always exist at least one alternate universe in which constructive interference happened. In that case, if destructive interference occurred in the time machine's home universe, the only possible path for the time machine is jump to (one of) the alternate timeline(s). This creates the scenario where grandfather paradoxes appear to be possible, unlike Scenario One (a history in which you kill your grandfather as a child will destructively interfere). The paradox doesn't actually happen: not only is this an alternate universe, but it must be subtly different from your home universe (because otherwise you would have jumped within your home universe and "Already Changed History"). However, you may or may not be able to detect what is different about the alternate universe. The appearance is of the freedom to change history without limit. In fact, all you did was jump to the universe where, against all laws of probability, you suddenly materialize! Every universe remains internally consistent; the only constraint is at the time travel events, where the junctions must match (and do so, via constructive interference).

But Scenario Two requires it to be possible to physically interact between timelines, which it is not clear is even possible. Even Scenario One is somewhat problematic, because it places boundary conditions on the Universe by "pre-collapsing" waveforms: the probability of the timejump is one, therefore some sequence of events must lead to the timejump regardless of what the probabilities would be otherwise. A distortion of quantum effects, therefore, is the signature of a recent/approaching/nearby Scenario One timejump.

You can use this for all sorts of "destiny" and "prophecy" effects. For instance, what if the human race survives improbable scrapes because the past and future are linked by human-built time machines....

Winter7 said...

Sorry. I got up late, because I have a cold. (and I have issues to solve in my house).
Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. The flu already lasted more than five weeks. Which is kind of weird The flu does not last that long.
Moving on to another issue. Since we are talking about time machines, I hope you do not mind if I do a little experiment. I will use this page as a brand in time. A reference point: 3:55 PM. January 17, 2018.
Someone once said that no data is lost on the internet. Everything is stored. So I can leave a message here for the future constructor of the time machine to read.
Of course, our host can delete the message if he wishes. It is not necessary that you read the message, so I will not translate it.
This is the message:


Mensaje enviado al constructor de la máquina del tiempo:
¿Recuerdas el día que más detesto? Bien. Envía los datos a ese día, todos los años, y a los veinte días anteriores y posteriores a ese día. Puedes iniciar las transmisiones después del año 2032. Transmite mediante el tipo de señal que tú y yo sabemos que no puede ser detectada, durante cinco años. Conserva “la llave- Lugar” Yo no le diré a nadie de ese detalle.)
Si no recibo la señal después de cinco años, (y lo sabrás) comienza a intentar obtener datos del futuro. (ya sabes el procedimiento). E intenta enviarme los datos en todas las frecuencias que hemos considerado en el “pasado”. Recuerda que modificar mi línea de tiempo, puede modificar tu línea de tiempo. De modo que ten cuidado con lo que haces. Quizás prefieras utilizar la máquina únicamente para comunicarte con el futuro. Talvez sólo convenga regresar en el tiempo sólo una semana, o un par de meses, para evitar crímenes y solucionar problemas graves. Eso es más seguro.
Sé justo, ten coraje. Y en cuanto a precauciones, recuerda que el tamaño y fuerza de una presa, depende del volumen de agua que debe ser contenida.

Winter7 said...

See you later. I have to repair something.

LarryHart said...

Winter7:

The flu already lasted more than five weeks. Which is kind of weird The flu does not last that long.


Back in college (30 years ago), I had something like the flu that kept going for 7 weeks. Later, I thought it might have been undiagnosed mononucleosis, but there's no way to know for sure at this late date.

Winter7 said...

LarryHart:
Thanks for the info. But I do not have a fever. But, maybe it's a mutation of the virus. Or maybe I got another flu virus (an unknown variety)
(Perhaps the virus was sent from the future to stop the construction of the time machine ... 8)
You said:
“ If I'm wrong and it is possible to alter the experienced past, then history is likely doomed to become a series of re-writes and retcons as more and more actors get into the game with different intentions. Dave Sim once said of F. Scott Fitzgerald that if Fitzgerald had had access to word processors, he'd have never advanced beyond (endless re-writes of) the first ten pages of his first novel, This Side Of Paradise. With backwards time travel, all of history would be like that.”
All right. If so, that explains why I have that feeling of "déjà vu". Maybe we're all stuck in a temporary loop caused by my recklessness.

In another matter: A system of trans-temporal communication, could be a better option than the system "Precrime" that uses young people who are "autistic savant", because we could have the total certainty that a crime was committed. Consequently, the necessary measures can be taken so that the crime can not be committed.

You are a writer?

Winter7 said...

LarryHart:
You said:
“Yes, I may not be making my position on time-travel clear, but in a nutshell, I believe that if you travel backwards to the past, you become part of the past rather than change the past. What happened in 1776 or 2000 BC or whatever is history, whether recorded or not. If those events happen to include a time-traveler arriving from the future, then they "always" included the time traveler and his activities. You can't add something new to the past. Anything you "add" to the past must have "always been" there in the first place.”
True. If I managed to build the time machine in the future, and made some changes, those changes are the "historical reality" at the moment. But that "historical reality" could be totally different from the one we will live when the next movement that takes place in the future reaches us. Either an event modified by me or by others.
In view of the fact that the planet is a chaos, I gather that more than one group will be able to create time machines.
If so, it will be necessary to go back further back in time, and try to modify the story, again.

Winter7 said...

Duncan Cairncross:
If I do not build the machine, others will.
But I have noticed that nobody has realized that a time machine can only be useful in combination with a certain device. I think you know what it is about (please do not say it). And that is something that can give us a time advantage.
Also, if one day the AI robots of the Russians get out of control, owning a time machine could be our only salvation. After all, your country has nuclear weapons, but that does not mean they have to use them, right? And if you only use it to alter events of no more than a week in the past, everything would remain almost the same.
By the way. A hypothetical question Suppose you have a time machine, and you learn that the Russians are going to do something very bad against humanity. ¿Would you use the time machine?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Doom Doom I tell you!
Winter has killed us all!

Seriously looking for stable points is very useful if you are trying to predict what will happen in the future and with time travel that actually changes anything the only stable point is no time travel - and if time travel is relatively easy that means no humans


Actual flu does last a few weeks - most people get a cold and call it flu

When you actually do get flu it's a different animal altogether!

LarryHart said...

Winter7:

You are a writer?


Not professionally, but I probably should have been.

Maybe someday.

Winter7 said...

Alfred Differ.
¡You are a writer! I did not know, I did not know it. The United States is an excellent place to work as a writer.
¿Can I comment on the covers ?: In my opinion, (and maybe I'm wrong) creating covers with spaceships exploding and sexy girls with a gun in hand, could improve sales)
But the important thing is the content. All the old books of Ursula K. le Guin have very simple covers, and in any case her books sold very well. Therefore, my comment is irrelevant.

LarryHart said...

Here's a thought on time travel...

Imagine reality as a series of frames in a film. For the moment, ignore the fact that frames are discreet rather than continuous--I don't think that will be relevant.

Look at a film, say Casablanca. If you've never seen it before, it unfolds before you just like real life does. You don't know what's coming until it happens. When you watch it a second or tenth time, it's as if you've gone back in time (as an observer). You watch the same events unfold exactly as they did the first time. Your travelling backwards in time doesn't change the past.

Time-travel as a participant--not a mere observer--is the equivalent of an editor rolling the film back to an earlier spot and inserting changes to the film. George Lucas has done this to his films--essentially changing the past of those films.

Consider the result, though. Lucas's retcons in particular scenes of Star Wars don't resonate further throughout the rest of the film. They don't alter the plot. Greedo shot first? Han shot first? Either way, the rest of the scene (and the rest of the film) continue on as they always have. What if I were to insert a scene into Casablanca in which Major Strasser gets a call that says someone just killed Hitler and the war is over? That doesn't change the ending of the film. Rick and Louis still join the Free French. The only changes to the past are the very specific changes made by the editor hands-on. Those changes don't propagate causality into the future.

LarryHart said...

Winter7:

By the way. A hypothetical question Suppose you have a time machine, and you learn that the Russians are going to do something very bad against humanity. ¿Would you use the time machine?


If I had a time machine, I would go back and relive the year 1977 endlessly. And I wouldn't let Stacey get away this time. :)

A.F. Rey said...

Seriously looking for stable points is very useful if you are trying to predict what will happen in the future and with time travel that actually changes anything the only stable point is no time travel - and if time travel is relatively easy that means no humans.

That assumes that time travelers have the ability to go far enough back to completely eradicate humans. Perhaps there is a limitation, such as a barrier so they can't go back farther than, say, the year 1900? ;)

And all living things are unstable systems. Yet we survive. :)

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Perhaps there is a limitation, such as a barrier so they can't go back farther than, say, the year 1900? ;)"

Then we keep re-living the period from the 1900's until something is sufficiently different that we don't survive it

The trajectory of a comet is variable - every time it passes the sun it's trajectory changes
We would re-visit the 1900's again and again and again until a comet throws 20 sixes in a row and its orbit intersects the earth

If a dinosaur killer hits every 100 million years then after repeating the last 100 years a million times .......

If you keep going down to the well eventually you will fall in

Living things climb out of the well - but if you want to find asteroids you look at the Jovian Trojan points
A stability zone collects things

David Brin said...

Alfred, I’m sure you’ve read my Parable of the Four-Way stop sign intersection. I'll reprint it next.

Duncan Ocel glad you got the Journal! First I’ve heard of anyone. I’ll talk about those ideas too, some time. Sorry I beat ideas dead! But at least most of them are ideas you’ll see nowhere else.

Catfish dang. constructive & destructive interference. Though yeah, I did write about consciousness Standing Waves, so…

David Brin said...

From one of my best and most important papers: http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/disputation.html

"First, if you want to see clues about our future, step away from your computer screen. Go outside and stand near a four-way intersection that's regulated only by stop signs.

Watch for a while as drivers take turns, not-quite-stopping while they gauge each others' intentions, negotiating rapid deals with nods and flashes of eye-contact. You'll spot some rudeness, certainly. But exceptions seldom rattle this silent dance of brief courtesies and tacit bargains — a strange mixture of competition and cooperation.

The four-way stop doesn't work in some cultures, and it's hard to picture anything like it functioning in times past, when mostly-illiterate humans lived in steep social hierarchies and "right of-way" was a matter of status, not fair play. Nor would robots, adhering to rigid laws, handle traffic half so well as the drivers I see, dealing with a myriad fuzzy situations, making up micro rules and exceptions on the spot, even as they talk on cell phones or quell squabbles among kids riding in the back seat. This phenomenon visibly illustrates how simple rules can be used by sophisticated autonomous systems (e.g., modern citizens) to solve intricate problems without any authority figures present to enforce obedience.

How does it happen? Experts in complexity theory coined a term — emergent properties — to describe new levels of order that seem to arise out of chaos, when conditions are right. For example, Kevin Kelly's book, Out of Control, depicts how rudimentary genetic drives coalesce into the fantastic flocking behavior of birds. When intelligence extends this process to higher levels, the result — our own unique kind of flocking — is called civilization.

Can the Internet enhance and extend this self-organizing marvel to untold heights? Alas, despite the glad cries of cyber-utopians, today's Net just doesn't look ready. Not yet.

Winter7 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winter7 said...

Catfish N. Cod:
I think it will only be possible to send data over time. But, I could be wrong. If a time machine is perfected; It may be possible to send small probes. The data that the probes send before disappearing at the end of the temporal distortion field could allow us to obtain data that will allow us to know what actually happens at the other end of the machine, and with these calculations new problems and equations will arrive. (and better control of the trip through time) But you need to have a time machine that works. With the machine, we will know which is the environment in which, the physical laws would allow the operation of said machine.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | I have indeed read your parable. I especially liked how it mixed together the notion of ‘emergent properties’ and how we rely upon shared ethics to do it. Writing down any of that is a challenge if one doesn’t remain at the correct level of abstraction.

I have also run into intersection analysis stories elsewhere. One posed the problem to be solved algorithmically and then started working it out. It only takes a page or two to demonstrate that the requirements aren’t really known, thus this isn’t approachable with algorithms. It is more of a learning problem. Another story focused on the emergent properties angle. Yet another looked at is as a demonstration of the gap between ‘designed solution’ and ‘unpredictable phenomenon’ thus as a lesson that not all ordered things are designed.

My first experience, though, is as someone who actually sat near intersections and watched them. I used to take small contract work in the 90’s. There are times when cities decide whether to expand left turn lanes or add right turn lanes at busy intersections. They lay down those hose-like pressure sensors to count cars that run over them, but those sensors aren’t quite enough to collect the data they need. To complete the picture, they (used to?) hire real humans to sit at corners with clipboards and counters and measure the traffic. I did that a few times, so I’ve actually watched some of the rarer events occur where it is obvious people are making up rules as they go. For example, little old ladies crossing too slowly in a crosswalk aren’t as likely to get honked at as distracted teenagers going too slow. It happens, but then a nearby car often reacts to the jerk doing it.

My experience watching and counting enabled me to connect the stories I read later to detailed examples. When I finally encountered the ‘emergent properties’ concept, the mash-up gave me a very broad definition for ‘evolution’. Rules can exist and be simple, and might not lead to order or predictability, but sometimes they do just long enough for meta-rules to evolve too.

Winter7 said...

Jon S:
All right! You are optimistic
Yes. Sometimes I wonder if a time machine actually leads to another universe (perhaps at the selected time, but in another parallel universe)
If so, I could not change my past. But I could jump to another universe, where there are more women than men because of a strange epidemic. Wooooow It would be great. (unless that universe is populated by cannibalistic and totally insane women) (which would not matter if the girls in that universe look like Zooey Deschanel)
The data of gravitational measurement of some sections of the universe seem to confirm that there is at least another parallel universe. But it would be formidable if there were thousands of parallel universes.
If I build my time machine, I guess I'll have to carry all the tools I can. And a towel; Of course.

Winter7 said...

Doctor Brin:
¿Does it mean that some circumstances of social interaction are principles of accumulation and aggregation of information, in which the opinions or strongest preferences of people influence the probability of their behavior changing given the information they have accumulated. Which, in both humans and animals, leads to predominant behavior? But the most possible thing is that I did not fully understand his idea.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Your time machine is our death sentence - if anybody can go back into time and make changes then the universe becomes unstable because the whole of the future is ahead of us and any changes that can be made can be unmade"

Hitler never caused any trouble because he spent all his time fighting off assassins sent back in time to kill him.

I posited a time travel situation in which any significant change simply created an entirely new universe. There are billions of universes in which Hitler never existed. While there is a remelding effect (universes separated by minor changes tended to remerge into one time stream) there's also a balancing effect: universes without Hitler are not necessarily better. Each of us has quintrillions of versions in other universes, some essentially identical, some changed beyond all recognition.

Winter7 said...
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Winter7 said...

Zepp Jamieson:
I have meditated on the warning words of Duncan Cairncross. Certainly, humans are emotional beings and we tend to be irrational at times. Maybe it is not prudent for such a dangerous machine to be in the hands of humans. Consequently, humans must create an AI that can not be hacked. We must create an AI that is kind; fair and perfect. When we have the perfect AI, it will be convenient to pass the control of the time machine to the AI. But this solution is possible, only if we determine that the AI is perfect and loves all of humanity.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Even an all powerful all loving AI will doom us all

The future is infinite - so your loving AI has all infinity to make a mistake

Only by always being right - being correct 100% of the time for all infinity would it be able to prevent doomsday

And an AI that can do that is not an AI it is an omnipotent god

David Brin said...

Alfred it’s interesting. If an old geezer toddling at 1mph across a crosswalk speeds up to 1.5, the effort wins my thumbs up. An indolent SOB sauntering at 3mph, when he clearly could do 3.5 and get out of peoples’ way? A different finger twitches.

Alfred Differ said...

@David | The variation I've been thinking about lately is how a properly sized obstruction in the intersection can simplify things and possibly eliminate the need for a stop light completely. Outside the US they are called round-a-bouts, I think. 8)

There is probably a Navier-Stokes explanation for it, I suppose. Bounding surface shapes, analogous Reynolds number, laminar flow and all that stuff. As little particles in the flow we can do so much more than change our speed, so it should be a wonderfully hairy class of problems.

Alfred Differ said...

@winter7 | Me? A writer? I enjoy writing, but there is a big difference between doing it and getting paid (well) to do it. There is a big difference between someone who can write and someone who can tell a story that will hold people. Storytellers weave a kind of magic. When you are in the presence of someone who is good at it, you'll know whether they write, speak, sing, dance, or mime it.

What interests me about some of the space colonization stories science fiction writers build is that they consider timelines that respect the history of human migrations across Earth's continents and the lessons those migrations teach. Humans generally don't pack up in self-sufficient units, travel a long distance, and then plunk down roots with no intention of returning. We certainly CAN and DO at times, but that isn't typical of us. If one is going to write science fiction instead of science fantasy, I argue the humans in the story should behave like actual humans. Our HG ancestors roved, but they also returned to each other and traded goods and children recently grown and suitable for having children of their own. Look at a common urge experienced by teens to JUST GET AWAY from their parents. It is an ancient human trait suitable for HG's swapping genes. A story told of them that involves uprooting to live elsewhere far from such possibilities probably should address the rarity of that undertaking.

I've been to a lot of 'space' conventions where the same presenters pitch their ideas year after year. The stories they tell often are NOT about real humans. Instead they are about their idealized view of humans and it is no wonder their pitches flop. As storytellers, their magic fizzles in our minds because we are... human.

Alfred Differ said...

@winter7 | AI's that can't be hacked? How would you know you succeeded or if that was even possible?

I've been enjoying Duncan's 'We are all DOOMED' explanations. I think some of them might be a bit over the top, but he's on the mark about loops. If a thing is possible with a finite probability in a loop, it becomes a certainty in an infinite loop. I'm not sure how a time traveler to 1800 could alter the eruption date for Krakatoa many years later, but that might be my own lack of imagination. I'm not sure how they would alter the Maunder minimum with a loop reaching back to 1632, but maybe I'm failing to wrap my head around it. I'm also not sure the future is infinite, but an AI can up-clock itself relative to us making a whole lot of the time it needs. There might be physical limits, but one doesn't need to multiply by infinity to turn a finite probability into a practical certainty.

Besides, when we get around to building AI's, we will probably build them as IA's. (Intelligence Augmentations) That means we would be redesigning ourselves, so you can't duck Duncan's concern that way either. 8)

Jon S. said...

On a side note, if I did have a time machine, I don't think I'd want to kill Hitler. Then someone competent might become Fuhrer.

Instead, I'd want to visit Bavaria in 1905, and persuade His Majesty to permit Freidrich Trump to return home despite his failure to complete his military service. It might save us all a lot of trouble 111 years later...

Tony Fisk said...

I have occasionally dabbled with the notion of a "Panglossian" Universe, wherein the timeline we are/I am on is the most 'fit' to survive.

The side view at the moment must be truly alarming!

greg byshenk said...

I, also, enjoyed "No one said it would be easy", if for no other reason than the title. It seems not not infrequently I see someone stopping by here to present some version of "but even with souveillance, things could still go wrong!" What such people don't seem to realize is that there is no "magic bullet" that will guarantee that things work out well, but only things that make it easier or harder for people to worth things out in better or worse ways. But even the best require people to act.

A side note for Duncan Ocel: the issues around "rising expectations" and the like are not new. There is a fairly well-known (?) paper from the APSR of 1977 ("The J-Curve Theory and the Black Urban Riots") that deals in part with that sort of thing.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The variation I've been thinking about lately is how a properly sized obstruction in the intersection can simplify things and possibly eliminate the need for a stop light completely. Outside the US they are called round-a-bouts, I think.


Some exist in the US now, but most drivers don't know how to use them properly. When I have the right-of-way, I still have to be careful about the other driver deciding that it's his turn now. That might be true of a driver running a red light as well, but I hardly ever see that, probably because doing so is a clearly delineated violation, whereas the roundabout entry is a judgement call based on relative speeds and distances--a kind of legalized game of "chicken".

My issue with roundabouts is that in heavy enough traffic, it is theoretically possible to never have the right to enter. If I were a terrorist intent on disrupting commerce, I would have several drivers enter strategically-positioned roundabouts and just keep driving in circles for as long as their gas tanks held up.


LarryHart said...

Jon S:

On a side note, if I did have a time machine, I don't think I'd want to kill Hitler. Then someone competent might become Fuhrer.


That's ultimately the problem with many "fixing history" scenarios. Why would an American want to go back and mess with the timeline in which we won WWII? The only scenario that makes a lot of sense is the X-Men "Days of Future Past" one, where the time travelers are at the end of their rope with no hope but a retcon.


Instead, I'd want to visit Bavaria in 1905, and persuade His Majesty to permit Freidrich Trump to return home despite his failure to complete his military service. It might save us all a lot of trouble 111 years later...


But then a more competent Republican might be president. Same problem.

Tangentially, why do most "fix history" scenarios assume that the time traveler is the only one with free will in the past? What makes you think you'd have powers to persuade a German Kaiser to do anything, let alone something he's inclined against in the first place? You could go back in time trying to influence a certain change only to find a Rasputin or a Cardinal Richelieu or a Julius Caesar actively working against you. Heck, maybe the thing that prevents you from killing your grandfather is that immediately upon arrival in the past, you are mugged and rolled for your wallet and left to die as an anonymous vagrant.

Steven King's novel 11/22/63 dealt with the canard of a time traveler living off his winnings from sports betting on contests he already knows the outcome of. In the late 50s/early 60s time frame of the novel, sports betting meant dealing with gangsters. And even a single longshot win was enough for them to take notice of you in a bad way.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

I have occasionally dabbled with the notion of a "Panglossian" Universe, wherein the timeline we are/I am on is the most 'fit' to survive.

The side view at the moment must be truly alarming!


That jibes well with a favorite line of my late father's:

"The optimist says, 'This is the best of all possible worlds,' and the pessimist agrees with him."

Robert said...

David and Alfred,

You could also have a large English sheepdog go around and around the roundabout, courtesy of the same British terrorist organization that gave the world it's most famous time traveler.

Bob Pfeiffer.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Maybe it is not prudent for such a dangerous machine to be in the hands of humans."
The aliens, which are utterly inscrutable, seemingly give the humans this technology without explanation or any apparent motive. Since the device are immensely powerful and have unknown capabilities, one of the prevalent theories is that the aliens want the humans to destroy themselves.
The problems with such devices become manifest fairly rapidly.

Winter7 said...
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matthew said...

Note that the current budget-shutdown crisis over CHIP gives lie to David's argument that Obamacare should have been instead Medicare-for-all-under-18 (or 26 or whatever) Paul Ryan has admitted that withholding funding for CHIP is being done simply because it is a program the Democrats want to continue. Tribalism for the sake of more tribalism.

#ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans

Winter7 said...

LarryHart; you say:
“That's ultimately the problem with many "fixing history" scenarios. Why would an American want to go back and mess with the timeline in which we won WWII? The only scenario that makes a lot of sense is the X-Men "Days of Future Past" one, where the time travelers are at the end of their rope with no hope but a retcon.”

¡Retrocontinuity! Yes. And that's why, a time machine is a formidable advantage.
In fact, I suspect that Republicans may already have a time machine, which would explain the great success that Republicans have had in tying the laws and will of the American people. But if the Republicans have a time machine, in that case, I am finished, and I will not be able to save humanity. Well, in the past, during my childhood, someone will leave the cage of lions open, that day when I went to a certain zoo.
What if we prevent the Donald Trump of the past from entering that brothel in Russia where it was videotaped by the Russians? If we change that event, the Russians can not have total control of Donald Trump, because Vladimir Putin will not have videogames with which to perform extortion, and we will avoid the Russian invasion of the year .... 8)

Winter7 said...

Corrected version:
Huuuuuuyyyyy This flu has evolved to migraine. It seems that the universe wants to avoid the construction of a time machine. 8) Houuuuuchhhh. I have to prepare my garlic tea with chamomile and oregano. (the antibiotic and natural anti-inflammatory that is more available)
Returning to the subject of time travel.
Jon S; you say:
On a side note, if I did have a time machine, I do not think I'd want to kill Hitler. Then someone competent might become Fuhrer.
True. The biggest problem for the agents of time are not tyrants. The biggest problem is the group and the plutocrats who support the tyrant. Which implies more work for the agents of the time ("agents of the time" does not sound good, but, "blades -Runners" yes)
No. Do not worry. There will be no agents of time. (I suppose) If we alter major historical events, the chain of events could break in the United States and Europe. But it is very possible that stopping the Second World War did not affect Mexico very much, since Mexico practically did not participate, and the economic fluctuations abroad do not seem to affect the feudal society in Mexico in the period that goes from ten years before my birth and my adolescence in the eighties, when I started to bake the idea of the space-time distorter. (Hell, I'm giving too much data to the agents of the enemy's time 8) (Better not say more details of key dates 8) Therefore, stopping the Second World War, possibly not stop the development of a time machine. Huuuuuuyyyyggggg (migraine, migraine, migraine). But. Anyway. It is not convenient to change large events.
Huugg ... I just deleted a huge paragraph. I was giving too many details ... 8) Huuuuugggg Yupy! , I have come up with two ideas for short stories about time travel ...

LarryHart said...

Winter7:

In fact, I suspect that Republicans may already have a time machine, which would explain the great success that Republicans have had in tying the laws and will of the American people.
...
What if we prevent the Donald Trump of the past from entering that brothel in Russia where it was videotaped by the Russians?


That would actually explain some things. They might be expecting to alter recent memory of the current time come the 2018 elections. Or wipe out evidence that Mueller is gathering on Trump and Russia.

Now what if time travel is really like someone else proposed, where paradoxes are no problem? That is, you go back in time and kill your grandfather, but you're still here because you "already were" here. Causation does not propagate into the subjective past of the traveler.

Maybe some Republicans from the future of 2012 went back in time to change the 2012 vote totals in Ohio. That's why Karl Rove was so sure Romney would win. But whatever they did had no effect on the actual moment when the votes were tallied. Therefore, Obama won, and the Karl Rove was surprised because the time-travelers who tipped him off were ineffective. Their changes didn't "stick".

Winter7 said...

Alfred Differ:
¿Do you want to know how to stop the eruption of Krakatoa volcano? Yes. If possible. In the eruption of 1883, the Krakatoa volcano exploded because the lava caldera was below sea level, and the lava dome allowed the lava lake to grow enormously. Until suddenly, the dome was destroyed by an earthquake and water suddenly entered the boiler, evaporating the instantaneous, causing the most powerful explosion before the atomic age. (The explosion was heard by the captain of a vessel in Cuba, who recorded the event in the ship's log). Consequently, you must interfere with the process of forming the lava boiler every so often. An agent of the time, could use the resources of the time to carry out the mission. I think it is now clear how the trick could be done and with what materials.
You asked:
“¿AI's that can't be hacked? ¿How would you know you succeeded or if that was even possible?”
All right. I have several ideas about it. But if I tell you the solution to that problem, maybe the malignant AI could get the data if they can find this conversation stored in a database. Which would leave at a disadvantage the benign AI that protect the machines of time and the city. (in the future)
Moving to another subject:
I suppose you were in the blog of writers of Amazon books.
Years ago, when I noticed that my book was not sold, I put it in the option "KDP Select", but, it seems that "KDP Select" is only a place where it is possible to bury books forever.
And I've always wondered if the Kindle-Amazon advertising services are useful.
In Latin America, people do not read much. The causes are many. (yes, it is also the fault of the plutocrats) and, therefore, only books written in English can hope for success. so you should take more advantage of the favorable circumstance that you are an American citizen. And if you put sexy girls on the covers of the books, that might be convenient.

Winter7 said...
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Winter7 said...

Comment correction to change the translator's catastrophic error:
LarryHart.
you say:
“Now what if time travel is really like someone else proposed, where paradoxes are no problem? That is, you go back in time and kill your grandfather, but you're still here because you "already were" here. Causation does not propagate into the subjective past of the traveler”
All right. ¡That would be great! ¡We could change many things!
(I could get that world sport calendar) But we will not know if your theory is possible until it is possible to send people to the past. Obviously, the first trips can not be beyond a week in time, to experiment changing facts in an area close to the two laboratories. Only with direct experimentation is it possible to understand what is hidden by the barriers of time. By the way. The journey in time, sending people is not what we see in the novels or in the movies. It is very different. If it's about sending people, it's incredibly expensive. But sending messages is very cheap. Yes, a huge amount of energy is spent to open the portal, but it is only for a few seconds if they are messages sent to the future. Messages sent to the past are more expensive because they can not be compressed and encoded.
I must go to eat. ¡Bye! (or, until any other moment in time) 8)

raito said...

Alfred Differ,

(from last time) My problem with some incrementalism is the phenomena of the local maximum. Disruption can fix that, but it may also make things worse. And regardless of current times, moving backwards really never happens.

And some of those neat stories have been written. Many are despised by many people because they don't appreciate anyone questioning traditions, as if those traditions are the only way to do things (hint: they weren't even for the hater's ancestors).

As far as driving through intersections, the simplest answer is to keep humans out of it completely.

Duncan Cairncross, Winter7,

Which is the Spider and which the Snake?

LarryHart,

The Outer Limits, "Controlled Experiment" (There's a story about that!)

Laurence said...

Steven King's novel 11/22/63 dealt with the canard of a time traveler living off his winnings from sports betting on contests he already knows the outcome of. In the late 50s/early 60s time frame of the novel, sports betting meant dealing with gangsters. And even a single longshot win was enough for them to take notice of you in a bad way.

It would make more sense to use time travel to play the stock market!

David Brin said...

"It would make more sense to use time travel to play the stock market!"

See Ken Grimwood's terrific REPLAY, which has been ripped off more times than one can imagine.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Oceans everywhere!
Ice roof sheltered, life…
…may fill the cosmos.


Isn't that supposed to be a haiku? I mean, it almost is.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Larry: I know we've been onwarded, but in the haiku: you can legitimately say "sheltered" as three syllables. Thus, it meets the demands of form. The ellipses aren't needed, though.

alaa ammar said...
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