Saturday, April 25, 2020

Science patterns and speculations... and Freeman Dyson and Stephen Wolfram

My friend and legendary polymath Freeman Dyson passed away at 96. We had lunch planned for when he and his irrepressibly impressive wife Imme next came to their apartment in La Jolla. Alas, it’s not to be.

Freeman’s long and creative life was spent being a scientific and philosophical rascal — rewarded for impudent skills at questioning anything and everything… skills that would likely have got him strangled in any other culture. Born into this one, he rose from World War II Blitz survivor to one of the most original thinkers in mathematics, physics and space technology.

One thing you’ll not read in any of the bios spilling across media is my judgement that Freeman Dyson was the greatest theologian of the 20th Century! He and Tulane University Professor Frank Tipler had books in the 80s forecasting the likely condition and interests and survival of intelligent super-beings in the distant future. Tipler’s notions centered on a cyclical cosmology — gravity slowing the Bang expansion, then reversing it into a Big Crunch — as illustrated in Poul Anderson's famed novel Tau Zero. 

Meanwhile, Freeman pursued the logic of the Great Dissipation, assuming that the expansion goes on forever; how might intelligence continue long after galaxies, stars and even protons decay away?

Freeman “won” that rivalry when astronomers discovered universal acceleration of expansion (the fact behind “Dark Energy” speculations.) Hence my awarding him that title. 

(The title of Greatest 21st Century Theologian may be won by another friend - Roger Penrose - who has revived cyclical universe notions in new and funky ways that are totally consistent with Freeman.)

Of his many legacies, Freeman's absurdly creative and productive offspring -- first George & Esther and then four more with Imme -- count highly. One recent memory was taking him (with the Benford boys) to revisit the glider point at Torrey Pines (near UCSD) where he 60 years ago helped to invent a new kind of launcher catapult. What a guy.

Okay, that was an impulsively garrulous riff, borne out of my sitting here perplexed and grieving, but celebrating a life like no other.

== Speculations and advances ==

Speculations run rampant about the source of the coronavirus pandemic, which I went into elsewhere… and whether it might have repercussions similar to Chernobyl.  

Meanwhile folks might find interesting my stories about infectious disease, offering insights into how some become killers and others might evolve into something else. Maybe cooperative. Or even weird? "The Giving Plague" was a Hugo nominee (It's in Otherness but also available on my website.)

And "Chrysalis" Is a biology tale found in my third and best collection Insistence of Vision.


And moving on... this woman apparently has the super-power to smell early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, long before a victim shows any outward symptoms.

Researchers have created a mutant bacterial enzyme that can in only a couple of hours break down PET plastic bottles into their individual chemical composites, which could later be reused to make brand new bottles. Conventional recycled plastic that goes through a “thermomechanical” process isn’t high enough quality and is mostly used for other products such as clothing and carpets.

An interesting claim: “ "Air-gen" or air-powered generator, connects electrodes to microbe-created protein nanowires to produce electrical current generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.” I’d like to see the energy gradients, to believe it.

Scientists describe how they assembled genomes made up of blueprints for proteins — and demonstrated that it was capable of replicating 116 kilobytes worth of its own RNA and DNA. The team plans to build an “enveloped system” that can reproduce like this last one — but also consume nutrition and dispose of waste, like a living cell.

Between the 1860s-1890s, father-and-son glassworkers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created thousands of anatomically correct models of marine invertebrates. They're so delicate it could be mistaken as a real sea creature. Thank you David Crosby!

Scientists outlined a method to “shape intense laser light in a way that accelerates electrons to record energies in very short distances: the researchers estimate the accelerator would be 10,000 times smaller than a proposed setup recording similar energy, reducing the accelerator from nearly the length of Rhode Island to the length of a dining room table.”


Especially interesting as an amateur beekeeper who does have problems with wax moths… Showing how beekeeping has multiple uses, an amateur beekeeper and scientist at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria learned of the ability of the greater wax moth larvae in eating plastics after she plucked the larvae out of her beehives and tossed them in the garbage only to find them chewing holes in the bag. The one drawback is they excrete a toxic substance when fed plastic. 

==  A Theory of All ?  ==

More diversion from those exploring the smart-edge of civilization. Polymath Stephen Wolfram - inventor of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language - wrote me a note about his new venture… solving the Riddle of Everything and "cracking the code in physics." Do visit his linked site - Stephen has credibility! In addition to the web-posted missive linked below, see his "Physics project.”

While I'm a licensed, if minor league physicist, it strikes me that his approach has much in common with (1) cellular automata using simple rule sets to create complexity (and note that John Conway, inventor of the Game of life (featured in Glory Season), died of Covid, last week), plus (2) pattern-sifting... plus (3) big-data machine-learning systems... both of the latter needed in order to cull the vast population of rule-based 'universes' down to a few worth contemplating.

When we last spoke - gosh a year ago - we mulled over how different statistical regimes -- e.g. Bose-Einstein vs Fermi-Dirac -- would certainly apply to the range of rule sets. And sure enough, in this missive Stephen says "the only requirement is that it’s distinct from all other elements," suggesting that the example he gives in this web presentation uses the Fermi-Dirac approach. But of course in a "universe model" you'd have to generate both types, since fermions make up all the "matter" -- Leptons and quarks -- while bosons carry the forces of light and EM and gravity etc. It will be a combination of both rule sets, that interact, with bosons created-destroyed in a simple tabulation of energy... while fermions must keep careful track of their identity and net-sum number.

The first exampled network that SW's rule pattern "grows" will strike you as looking like a human brain. I wouldn't make anything of that. But the stringy clumping of the galactic clusters - according to recent maps -- also comes to mind.

109 comments:

Unknown said...

I remember reading an essay by Dyson many years ago called "Infinite in All Directions". It just blew my mind and imagination, even this old-time SF reader. It had the same effect on me tha--at various other times in life-- "He Who Shrank", by Hasse; the Book of Job; The Stars My Destination; and yes, Tipler's book--also had. And others, of course. (Should have mentioned *Tau Zero*.) Rest in peace, Professor Dyson. You were a great man.

Acacia H. said...

Heyla all!

So, first I thought I'd mention chemistry-related politics, or how Donald Trump was so stupid as to not realize that injecting household cleaners into your body would in fact be lethal. Honestly, at this point I need not link the stories, though it does appear interesting that Trump has gone into hiding after his latest gaffe... one so bad that I would not be at all surprised to learn that some of his supporters didn't think to call and ask if it was effective and instead ended up in the hospital for poisoning (or dead).

Sadly, any such incidents won't be an effective foil against Trump. But at this point the 25th Amendment must be looking VERY tasty to the Republican Party. If you had one "good" doctor willing to lie, the Republicans could even claim "Trump caught COVID-19 despite our best efforts" and put Pence in office while sedating and intubating Trump. It seems that there is a fatality rate for ANYONE (COVID-positive or not) on an ventilator and if he died because of COVID-19 (whether actually sick with it or not) then the Trumpists would have no point but to vote Pence. (I could even see Pence selecting one of Trump's kids as a VP candidate to "placate" the MAGA crowd.)

My flatmate has speculated that if Trump loses, he may very well take his own life. Given how things are currently going, I have to wonder if the Secret Service is taking care to keep any and all firearms as far away from Trump as possible lest he take the easy route out.

----------

Last post I commented on my diminished lung function and I suppose I should specify... the hill in question goes up maybe 20 or 30 feet? So it's not a matter of being so far above the sea level that the air's thinner. I've done that in the past actually and suffered altitude sickness (though the altitude was a little bit under 9,000 feet). My lungs didn't hurt like they are hurting now.

Further, when I was suffering from COVID-19, my lungs were bubbling when I exhaled and was on my back. They'd stopped that as far as I can recall, though I also have enough pillows under the foam mattress that I'm sleeping these days more at a 20-degree tilt and usually on my side. Last night my lungs were bubbling again.

Maybe I never got over this. Maybe I've just been at a point where it's letting me exist while it lurks deep in my lungs. And I've never been tested as by the time I found out about the person I was exposed to, I was on the mend. (You can be sick as a dog but if they aren't hospitalizing you then the doctors won't run tests without a line-of-contact to an actual COVID-19 patient.) So maybe the fact I've worn masks when going out is a good thing. I might still be infectious.

This is a rather scary thing. The only time I was ever close to this sick was the first time I was exposed to one of the flues that originated overseas, and was sick enough that one minute felt like an hour or more had gone by (and I literally looked at the clock after an "hour" passed only to find it was one actual minute). I've never had something stick with me for over a month and wreck my body like this. And I'm only mildly overweight and was in fantastic health.

I know it is a nuisance to wear masks and stay isolated from folks. But gang? Seriously. You don't want to catch this. I don't want you guys to go silent one by one because you got sick and died or got so badly ill you just can't do anything anymore. And I'm just a 50-year-old transwoman. The older you are, the harder this tends to hit.

Stay safe and healthy.

Acacia

David Brin said...

All of you, focus good vibes for Acacia into the middle dot in the following Ellipsis. Ommmmm ...

Alfred Differ said...

Acacia,

It can take a while to clear the lungs. I don't recall how long it took me, but it wasn't measured in days. More like weeks. At least two months I think. The nurses in the hospital were adamant about me working at it and expected me to continue after I left. Infection risk is higher when fluid remains in the lungs, so the next bug is the danger.

Don't fret too much about some lurking bug down there. Just get the fluid out as quickly and as best you can. If the rest of us stay masked-up around you, you'll have the time. Cough. Spit. Whatever it takes as long as it isn't on someone else. 8) Just don't work so hard at it you bleed. That's worse. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

As a story idea, I'm willing to suspend my sense of disbelief for a lot of things, but for science fiction I still prefer non-fantasy speculation. The more I learn, the harder I make it on authors. No fault of theirs.

you are claiming weather forecasting to be impossible

No. I get why you think I am, but it turns out there are different classes of problems that look about the same. Lots of problems have huge numbers of independent variables and there are practical difficulties solving them in micro-detail. We resort to simplifying heuristics and occasionally get lucky and find aggregate variables that suffice for the problems that interest us most. For example, I don't care which helium atom is striking a particular patch on the inside of my balloon at any one moment. As long as enough of them do, I use 'pressure' as an aggregate for momentum transfers that occur with a bazillion collisions/sec on that patch and call it good enough.

Weather prediction is on the simpler end of impractical computation problems because we can find useful aggregates and methods from thermodynamics and applied mathematics. By no means is this simple [I'd have to crack the books again to recall more], but there ARE things like fitness functions for weather problems. Energy and momentum conservation count. Mass is conserved too. These are universal.

When no single fitness function exists, there can still be local fitness functions we patch together. In that type of problem, we can't calculate a global solution, but can find local solutions and then patch them through iterations. The N-body gravitation problem is like that. In general, there are no closed form solutions except for VERY particular cases. Start with a well described initial condition, though, and we can say pretty well what happens next and less well what happens after that. Around any one 'given condition' we can know what happened a bit before and a bit after. That's a solution patch. What we can't do is make the patches continuous. How is this different from statistical mechanics that underlies thermodynamics? No useful, universal, well-defined aggregates.

Then there are the class of problems where local fitness functions fail to exist at all. It is POSSIBLE that is the economic situation with us, but I tend to reject that claim. Families and small bands of people often agree on how to economize. That means they have an unspoken fitness function. I waffle a bit, though, because we don't know what we want in the future. We think we do, but we really don't. We have a partially constrained range of expectations of what we want in the future… and no time machine to improve what we know.

The worse our understanding of the details of the problem to be solved, the less the problem is actually defined. No definition? Nothing to solve! Carried to the logical conclusion, of course, it is utter nonsense. As individuals, we economize. We have a built in fitness function honed by evolution whether we understand not. So… somewhere between 'simplistic but impractical' and 'utter nonsense' are the real problems we try to solve every day… and do to some degree.

There is also a matter of what qualifies as scientific modeling. Popper was pretty strict. Ex ante predictions that can be falsified AND precision improvements for initial conditions leading to predictable improvements in prediction precision that can separately be falsified. Difficult requirements for good stories.

Jon S. said...

My wife's made a selection of masks for everyone in the household (most of us have Doctor Who patterns, but our daughter, who is autistic and perseverates on Disney, has a princess mask), then some for my niece the phlebotomist (hers, IIRC, was the Avengers logo), and is currently working on masks for the folks at the animal hospital (who donated all their PPE to the local people hospital). So we go out masked, and I for one wear disposable gloves as well, because my wife's immunocompromised (lupus, fibromyalgia, and diabetes - oh, what fun!) and we're not giving this crap a chance.

Acacia, I hope you feel better soon. Would you be offended if we prayed for your health? (Some folks are, and I would hate to give offense.)

Bart Massey said...

Freeman Dyson came to my home town many years ago and gave one of the best public talks I've ever seen. My favorite story from his talk was about an incident in which Jimmy Carter came to JASON and asked them to work on the problem of affordable housing (!). I can't seem to find the story anywhere online, but I'm assuming it is, somewhere. If not let me know and I'll retell it as best as I remember… Dyson was one of the great ones, for sure.

My PhD Advisor's PhD Advisor was Sir Roger Penrose — I've had the honor of meeting him a couple of times. He gave a general-audience talk at our University and started out by putting up the table of contents of some physics conference he was just at, to show what physicists were interested in at the time. There was this giant pile of papers on string theory and M theory and the like, and then down on the bottom was this one out of place paper on Twistor theory. I burst out laughing immediately — and then realized that everyone in the room was staring at me and had no idea what I found amusing :-). Fortunately, Penrose of course went on to explain…

I have a treasured copy of Winning Ways signed by Conway, Berlekamp and Guy from when they visited a few years back. All three were really friendly, nice people. I have always admired them, and am really sad to lose Conway to this plague: it seems to me to be the greatest public loss so far.

Sorry to ramble on, but this blog post really brought back some memories. Hope everyone is staying safe and well out there.

Smurphs said...

Acacia, you're in my prayers.

My immediate family is safe and health. But in my extended family, there are three relatives/in-laws down with Covid right now. Spread out all over the country, FL, MA, CA. Two are in their 70's, frail and immune-compromised, but they are both on the mend. The hardest hit? My 18-year old nephew. A young man previously in perfect health. He has spent the last week on a ventilator, but was weaned off yesterday. Signs are hopeful, but we really don't know yet.

My point is not to ask for prayers and sympathy, although they are welcome.

My point is that this in not damned flu. Different although congruent, symptoms, different progression, different long-term effects, and different mortality rates.

Stay safe.

Smurphs said...

To our friends down under, Happy Anzac Day. (or did I miss it? The Date Line always screws me up.)

Enjoy the virtual parades!

Larry Hart said...

@Acacia,

From my admittedly-amateur understanding, could it be that what you are feeling now is a secondary infection of pneumonia? I'm not a doctor and wouldn't prescribe at a distance, but maybe you do need antibiotics at this point, even though that is not effective against COVID-19 itself?

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ under the previous post:

If it helps any, try to avoid too much elevation gain. I made the mistake of retreating to a nice pretty So Cal lake after my first hospital visit. Turns out being 2km above sea level and being anemic aren't a good mix. Lower lung capacity will produce the same impact. It was one of those D'oh! moments for me and I did the rest of my recovery therapy near sea level.


You had the luxury of a choice. The flat surface of northern Illinois is at about 600 ft above sea level, and there aren't many different options around here.

David Brin said...

Dang, we’re getting some seriously interesting and /or moving stories. Smurphs you and your family hang in there. Hope you get everything you need. Jon S good point about the veterinary folks. People have adopted most of the dogs & cats out of the shelters… I hope not too many get ‘returned’ traumatized, later.

Bart M… good stories.

Alfred my concern is meta, with maintaining an overall fitness function for a civilization that can thereupon generate maximum flexible resilience and discovery of new models and new -iterated - solutions. I believe that meta function is fairly simple to describe and has been experimentally verified…

…transparency, plus vigorous measures to maximize the number of confident/skilled/healthy/educated participants in competitive arenas and to minimize cheating via accountability. Throw in cultural values of diversity, individualism + voluntary community responsibility, freedom… maybe some occasional reset power/wealth leveling.

Acacia H. said...

Prayers are prayers, and in many ways are for those speaking them instead of those you often pray for. If you wish to speak to the divinity of your choice, you can. But honestly, while my lungs are diminished now... there are many who are actually sick, not just having a slow recovery. My comments were more to warn you all to be careful and avoid coming down with this if at all possible.

I've avoided family (outside of my flatmate) and the like... admittedly part of it is that my parents disapprove of me being transgender and hey, social distancing and not wanting elderly parents to come down ill gives me a perfect reason to stay away ;) but I've also avoided friends to try and avoid them getting ill. (Though given two of those friends work in hospitals cleaning rooms and the like, I dunno if I'm that active a risk to them!) And this has also given me a chance to reconnect with other friends who are immunocompromised and truly at risk.

Ultimately, this is what a virus like this has done - remind us that the rat race isn't what is important. Money is only of value to help us live. No. It is friends and family which matter. And the Republicans may screech like seagulls fighting over fish claiming we need to reopen the economy and just let people die as they may but... more and more Americans are realizing those assholes don't care about anyone but themselves.

Society itself will be stronger as a result of this as the idiots get sick and die while those of us who care and isolate to avoid spreading this will prevail. In a way this *is* a "giving virus" like Dr. Brin's story but the virus itself isn't spreading altruism. No, it is society itself pulling away from the brink and realizing that idiots advocating medicinal bleach are in fact the disease... and that our friends, the family we choose... these are what truly matter. That society matters.

Acacia H.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

As a story idea, I'm willing to suspend my sense of disbelief for a lot of things, but for science fiction I still prefer non-fantasy speculation. The more I learn, the harder I make it on authors. No fault of theirs.


I get that. This is one of those "There are two types of people in the world..." things. I tend to willfully give the writers more slack, especially taking into account what was known at the time they wrote the stories. Probably more of the respondents here on this list are like you than like me.

(Incidntally, I tend to find the introduction of the Second Foundation mentalists to be more of a "fantasy" element than psychohistory.)

In the late 1980s, I read then-recent editions of Asimov's earlier, pre-Foundation novels The Stars Like Dust, The Currents of Space, and Pebble in the Sky. Each paperback had a forward comment from the author explaining how such-and-such story element seemed to be plausible back in the 1950s, but have since been discredited. He asked the readers' indulgence on those points. That's the sort of license I would tend to grant in any case. What else can he (the writer) do?

The difficulty with the Foundation series comes from actually trying to pick it up again after a 30 year gap. Me personally--I would have preferred for him to simply write more stories in the style of the older ones, warts and all. But I can certainly understand why a modern readership (and the writer himself) might chafe at using premises which no longer seem plausible. But to me, the worst of both worlds is devoting the series to an extended backstory which attempts to reconcile the old stories with modern sensibilities. That kind of thing is good for one book among many, but not for the overall direction of the series itself. It essentially relegates the original books to a kind of alternate history of the newer books, because they can't be made to fit as the actual history of those books.

Marvel Comics essentially ruined itself for me by doing the same with most of their major titles. Star Trek did the same thing with Enterprise which had too many elements (like the Ferrengi) which simply don't fit in a timeline with TOS.

TCB said...

My son in law sent me a link to that Wolfram page about a week ago. Half of it is miles above my head, but the parts I understand make perfect sense and are congruent with what I've expected for years. Max Tegmark proposed that our universe is a mathematical structure, and it does seem like Wolfram has a framework for which sort of mathematical structure actually describes ours. I can't wait to see what Tegmark says about this.

Deuxglass said...

Jon,

You brought up two incidences of which I wasn’t aware in the last thread so I looked them up. I can’t fault you for getting the story wrong because you probably don’t speak French and you had to rely on sources second or third degrees away from the truth so it is easy to get a false impression especially if the articles you read have a slant.

Dr. Raoult in 2006 was sanctioned over a paper which he had co-authored along four other scientists in which there were an aberration on two pictures. Apparently they were from a preliminary study and not from the study presented for publication. One of the other scientists admitted responsibility and said that he screwed it up. Also the scientist said the paper in question hadn’t been able to be proofread by Dr. Raoult because he was on vacation at the time. The Journal gave the team a group sanction and Dr. Raoult felt that sanctioning him when another scientist admitted to the fault was unjust which is where he said that if he had been in the US he would have sued them. That was the only time this has happened to him. There was no accusations of him faking data or anything like that. I would expect that after that episode he never would let a paper with his name on it be presented for publication before he had proofread it. The episode certainly didn’t hurt his career or reputation and he never has had a problem publishing in prestigious journals as the list of his publications can attest. Here is a link that described the incident:

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/335/6072/1033

The next accusation you make is a very serious one. From your commentary one gets the idea that Dr. Raoult himself has been accused of sexual harassment but that has never been the case. One of the directors of a research project in the Institute was accused of sexual harassment and was fired because if them after and internal investigation which also included investigations by the police. There was a group complaint from 17 grad students and lab techs over long hours, low pay, not being sufficiently appreciated and generally not being treated well. The Institute employs over 900. The sexual harassment was bad jokes made by some scientists and colleges. It is a high pressure environment that rewards good results and sanctions failure severely. Dr. Raoult said that he uses the carrot and the stick approach to research and that's not for everybody. The report from the government’s audit recommended some changes to lighten up the atmosphere. Dr. Raoult has never been accused of any wrongdoing except verbally ripping apart an underling’s argument during the weekly progress report meetings. I can understand why that can make some young researchers nervous.

The studies you mentioned are not conclusive because they did not follow Dr. Raoul’s treatment protocol which is strict. As soon as symptoms appear you take hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. If you give it to those already at the critical level then it doesn’t work because it’s too late.

Lastly, Jon, I am not French even though I live here. I am American so your patriotic preference argument doesn’t apply.

Deuxglass said...

Acacia,

Hang in there.

Alfred Differ said...

I got to see Dyson speak when he was doing a book tour for 'Disturbing the Universe'. He came to our campus, spoke at a general public lecture, and then met with physics students later. We asked him some usual questions about his work in the 40's which he politely answered though they had nothing to do with the new book. 8)

What stuck with me was how he described how he got to the connection between the way Feynman's and Schwinger's(+) QED approaches worked. He spoke of it as an exercise in mathematical intuition. I couldn't follow him at the time as I had only recently started to learn linear algebra, but the gist of it was how broad knowledge enabled one to connect seemingly separate ideas. Later when I learned how to do inner products on continuous functions (~another two years) AND saw how QED calculations were done (~10 years later), I got it. Intuition is terribly important, but training it is absolutely vital.

As for Wolfram, I'll go look. One can't speed-read him and get anything accomplished, so it will take awhile to look at his Physics project and the backstory. Should be fun.

I DID look at the video suggested by scidata, though, and mostly agree with Wolfram. Mathematics-as-artifact makes sense to me, but that is probably connected to the fact that I'm not a believer in any of the big faith systems adopted by humanity. The religious ones anyway. Without that, there is no 'universal' truth to be discovered. Even in physics. I love the philosophical debates people have about mathematics, but I'm fairly convinced it's a human language. I hadn't thought to make it plural like Wolfram does, but if you look at the way it is used, I think it obvious that mathematics is a language.

Jon S. said...

Yes, Larry, I must agree that Enterprise needs considerable redaction in order to fit the Trek timeline. The Borg incident is barely permissible given the events of First Contact, but the Ferengi aren't even supposed to be in that quadrant of the galaxy yet! (And people complain that Discovery is "canon-breaking"...)

With Marvel Comics, though, I'd say the retcons are an unavoidable consequence of all the casual time-travel. I mean, Rachel Summers wasn't even born in the main timeline; she was supposed to be the daughter of Scott and Jean but came from a point after Jean's death (well, Jean's first death - it's complicated). She came backtime from an alternate future, which act by its very nature changed the future of the timeline she came to. Then there was the version from some time in the far future that came backtime to rescue her "brother" Nathan, son of Scott and Jean's clone Madelyn Prior, after he was infected with the Transmode Virus. He eventually traveled back to his original time, but hid who he was for a prolonged period because it made sense to some of the writers even though it turned out to be really stupid in the long run and made it possible for an alternate version of him to pose as him while releasing Legacy, a virus specifically tailored to kill people with the "X-gene" (the one that enables mutant powers). This act also altered the timeline, leading eventually to a minor war between the X-Men and the Avengers that was sparked when five X-Men were possessed by fragments of the Phoenix Force.

So yeah, one coherent Marvel timeline is impossible, because no one will stay when they were supposed to. Everybody's gotta be skipping back and forth in time, or sideways among the over 200,000 alternate Marvel universes, or some combination thereof, and then there are the multiversal collapse events that cause multiple timelines to merge into one another (at least the last such even gave Miles Morales back his parents, who'd been killed on Earth-1016 but were alive and well on Earth-616).

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

I lived on the east side of North Dakota a couple of years. If you wanted elevation change, you had to dig a hole.
So yah... I remember what the land scraped flat under the ice sheet looks like. Nothing to stop the wind. No thanks. 8)

especially taking into account what was known at the time they wrote the stories

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the novels. What was known generally and what was known personally should be considered upon reflection and authors given the slack they need to tell a good story.

In recent years, all I've done is shift stories out fo the 'science fiction' category I loosely define as 'speculation stories'. I've learned to treat the broader category of stories as examples of how to think, how to be, and all that. I still enjoy them for what they are. Where I categorize a story is mostly personal and not meant to reflect much on whether the story is any good.

I got asked (exactly) once to help play the role of a science advisor for a would-be science fiction author. He asked me to kibitz on the tech ideas. I did and then went further by kibitzing on his humans. They weren't. Human. The relationship didn't last long because he saw himself as a science fiction writer and I saw him as a fantasy writer. The story was fun enough, but jarring at times because I understood that he thought his human characters were portrayed as humans. Probably uncanny valley type reaction for me.

Alfred Differ said...

David,

You and I are likely to agree on a lot of details about a meta-fitness function. As long as we recognize it as meta, though, we aren't doing any harm. (Map is not Terrain.) We are quite in line with every other group wanting to make the world a better place... except the ones who think their meta function isn't meta. Revealed Truth kinda stuff is what makes my head snap around.

The meta fitness functions people like Jim or Treebeard would defend are another matter.


What I find so nifty about all this is that mathematics informs even here. Translating a problem from a spoken language to math occasionally reveals structure that suggests possible solutions. Economics isn't a science, but the problems to be solved are important anyway. We can show HOW confident, skilled, healthy, educated participants improve more than harm many local solutions. Not because we have a universal model, but because we have the language to show how patched local models work.


Heh. I get kinda preachy on this topic. I may not be a 'big religion' believer, but on this my faith is strong. The personification of this ideal is a lady called Liberty. 8)

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

In recent years, all I've done is shift stories out fo the 'science fiction' category I loosely define as 'speculation stories'. I've learned to treat the broader category of stories as examples of how to think, how to be, and all that.


I think one problem I have communicating about this stuff is that you and most other posters here have come to see both Star Trek and the Foundation series as "speculative fiction" in the sense that they are meant to portray an accurate representation of our actual future, and that without a detailed, believable road map of how we get from here to there ruins the story for you, or at least turns it into pure fantasy. Me, I'm willing to grant the series' premises--a naval ship in space instead of at sea, or an Empire of planets instead of continents--and let the story proceed from there. The plausibility comes from how well the story proceeds from the premises, not from whether I believe the premises themselves.

I think the nature of sci-fi has changed between Asimov's 1940s/50s and the present day, and maybe that's because science itself has changed, or more accurately, fascination with science has changed. Early sci-fi invoked a sense of wonder at the potential that science had to offer. We fans didn't know nearly as much about actual science, and scientists themselves didn't know nearly as much, but the concept of science seemed as if it was about to produce wonders beyond imagination, and that era's sci-fi let us peek into what some of that would look and feel like. It didn't matter so much if we could explain the specific elements of the stories because those elements stood in for more general idea of science, technology, and engineering to come. Whether or not one could believe in actual positronic brains or warp drive or teleportation (all of which remain more fantasy than science to this day), the stories presented those things in terms that felt science-y. The scientist and engineer characters talked like scientists and engineers, not like cultists or priests. The widgets and maguffins felt like tools, not like spells.

Today's fans expect more realism in their science because they know more, and because science itself knows more. In a way, this is what psychohistory latched onto as a reason for the decaying empire--archaeologists like Lord Dorwin spend their time mining other people's writings rather than bothering to do primary research themselves. That could be seen as an analogue of sci-fi (or comics or tv) series spending more time explaining their backstories than engaging in fresh stories.

I said I was willing to accept an empire of planets as an analogue for an empire of territories. I wonder if it was intentional that Donald Kingsbury's unofficial Foundation novel (Psychohistorical Crisis) had as a major theme the fact that such things don't scale--that representative government for a nation of 300M citizens does not work for an empire of quadrillions. Either you need way too many representatives to make a useful legislative body, or each representative has too many constituents to possibly represent. Maybe the author was explicitly trying to tell readers of my ilk that the Galactic Empire as we imagined it was not possible.

Jon S. said...

Deaux, perhaps you should read up on Raoult's "protocols" yourself. That "experiment" was bad science, from the tiny starting dataset to the tendency to dismiss subjects from the experiment when the results clashed with the hypothesis, right on up to the initial publication in a newspaper rather than a scientific journal with peer review.

As I said, we tried the cocktail. It doesn't work - it is in fact worse than useless. Meanwhile, lupus patients (like my wife) and RA patients are being denied a medication required and proven to treat their conditions because a questionable French study claimed it might help and then our idiot president went on with his "what have you got to lose" crap (which even he's backed off on, and now he's advocating cleaning out your lungs with bleach and injecting ultraviolet light, which is even stupider, but there you go).

I presented you with the evidence. You've chosen to ignore all that with an Appeal To Authority, then tried to defend that with an accusation of ad hominem, and of course you led off with the sort of thing we're used to hearing from homeopaths and other snake-oil salesmen, that any failure of their technique in experiments means you didn't follow their experimental protocols strictly enough, because of course their brilliant insights can't possibly be wrong...

The facts are what they are, however. Immunosuppressants and antibiotics will not stop a viral infection, any more than running a blow-drier into your throat will. I'm sorry you find that so offensive. As for the other matters, well, all I can say is what I've been able to find on the topic, which suggests that Dr. Raoult is indeed not a very nice person. And it wasn't just his co-author who was banned from the microbiology journal; Dr. Raoult himself was specifically mentioned as one of the parties not permitted to so much as submit a paper for a year following the incident. Make of that what you will, but please argue facts, not personalities nor claims.

David Brin said...

“I lived on the east side of North Dakota a couple of years. If you wanted elevation change, you had to dig a hole. “

Um — grain elevators. Some are built with deliberate provisions for locals to climb up top for a view.

ENTERPRISE had a consistency howler in the very first episode. The CAPITAL of the Klingon Empire should not have been within easy reach of a warp 5 starship. Hell, they shouldn’t even have HEARD of Kronos and Klingons should at that point be a nasty rumor.

“Donald Kingsbury's unofficial Foundation novel (Psychohistorical Crisis) had as a major theme the fact that such things don't scale--that representative government for a nation of 300M citizens does not work for an empire of quadrillions.”

I dealt with this in my OFFICIAL Foundation novel, Foundation’s Triumph. I visit Demarchia, the legislative planet near Trantor where various ‘houses” meet from time to time, such as the Cumulative Chamber, where delegates were sent from each sector, who were elected by the delegates to each sector house from its constituent clusters, where each planet was represented by three delegates to make for diversity… and so on. That was just one type of “democracy” and I discussed (briefly) its flaws vs. others.

Kingsbury is very bright. But his spite toward democracy runs deep.

duncan cairncross said...

Kingsbury did not think US democracy would work with large numbers

And I think he is correct -

But there are flavours of Democracy -

The Chinese have a "flavour" that sounds similar to Demarchia

The people elect the "National People's Congress" - about 3,000 people
Who then elect the "State Council" - that actually runs the country


David Brin said...

The candidates the people can vote for in CHina are all pre-approved and selected by the Communist Party.

Jon S. said...

"ENTERPRISE had a consistency howler in the very first episode. The CAPITAL of the Klingon Empire should not have been within easy reach of a warp 5 starship. Hell, they shouldn’t even have HEARD of Kronos and Klingons should at that point be a nasty rumor."

Hell, the fringes of the Empire shouldn't have been less than a week away at Warp 5. Because that leaves hanging the question of why the Empire, which has been a spacefaring civilization since at least the 17th century, never once in all that time even attempted to seize Earth, despite its being a handy point from which to attack Vulcan (40 Eridani) and Andoria (Procyon) at the very least.

duncan cairncross said...

"The candidates the people can vote for in CHina are all pre-approved and selected by the Communist Party."

YES
And I can understand how that sounds!

If we were to say "The candidates the people can vote for in China all have to go through a rigorous training regime and all have to maintain high personal standards for a number of years before becoming eligible to stand for public office"

Would that sound different?

One of the common "wishes" is that the GOP could disappear and the Dems could then split into a sensible conservative wing and a progressive wing

Is that not what has happened in China??

The "Communist Party" is the only "party" - so it has split into its internal divisions - which are now the "parties"



Anonymous said...

Alfred Differ said...

To all that to say... also as to main post cellular automata...

It is impossible to "predict" behavior of discrete structure/algorithm.
I think it's self-evident.
Because to predict you need to perform it.
And when/if you performed -- question, what is the difference? ;)


...In a way this *is* a "giving virus" like Dr. Brin's story but the virus itself isn't spreading altruism.

Stanislav Lem's story about "cure" named Altruizine. ;P


Larry Hart said...
The plausibility comes from how well the story proceeds from the premises, not from whether I believe the premises themselves.

You do not know about Soviet Union internal discussions about role and merit of Sci-Fi.
From where would you? :)
But it was long, hardcore and... undecided.
If not take into account legacy of Strugatsky Brothers -- that scifi is not about future or sci-gimmicks... but about US, HUMANS... and as such gave way for "social fantastic"...

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Hadn't thought to use the grain elevators. Climb up and see a whole lot of nothing... for those of us who didn't grow up there to appreciate what we could see. [I grew up where forested mountains were near and didn't think much of anything else until I grew up a bit more.]

I was in ND for the bicentennial year and grain elevators showed up on the evening news occasionally when they went bang. Not often, but I never forgot. I'm sure they keep them safer now. Hope so.

Alfred Differ said...

Larry,

I'm willing to give science fiction authors a lot of room when speculating on tech. I'm less forgiving when the speculate on human behavior. Especially Human behavior.

From my early years I saw Star Trek as a western in space. Gun battles, heroes, and all that. Later, when I was a little more emotionally mature, I saw some of the points Roddenberry had placed in the stories and began to understand the series as 'vision'. Not the kind delivered by an oracle, though. What we can be instead of what we will be. Then that first movie came out. Oof. Good thing the second one reset the vision. I think they should have stopped with the old characters and moved on from there.

My 'relationship' with Asimov and his stories is more complicated. As a kid, I avoided science fiction though my mother pushed and pushed for it. I read science fact and that's how I saw Asimov. When I finally did read some of his fiction, I stuck too close to my earlier habits and wanted the road maps. It took a while, but I got past it. I was well into HS by then.

I get now the point my mother was making back then. She was trying to get me to imagine the world as it could be and not just what it appears to be. She was a Bradbury fan, so I read a little of his stuff and didn't get into it much. [Met him years later at a conference and saw him explain to us that he viewed most of his material as fantasy. The light bulb lit in my head when he said that. Aha! That's what Mom was trying to do. 8) ]

To cope with the distinction I make between speculative fiction and fantasy, I've learned to distinguish story tech into five broad buckets. COTS-ium, SpecialOrder-ium, NotYet-ium, Unobtain-ium, and Fantas-ium. Each grouping lumps ideas together based on how we would go about getting there. If it is already mass produced or a commodity, it's in the first bucket. If it can never work, it's in the last bucket. I'm fine with science fiction with realistic humans and fantasy warp engines. Well… I'll still think about it in case the warp engine should be brought down one category. 8)

but the concept of science seemed as if it was about to produce wonders beyond imagination

Sounds plausible, but I'm an Orphan of Apollo. Real science/engineering had produced wonders beyond the imagination right in front of me at an impressionable age. I recall VIVIDLY the sense of awe and wonder on the faces of the adults around me when I was just seven years old witnessing the first lunar landing. The kid I was wanted to reproduce that reaction in them and science was a viable path. No speculation needed.

Darrell E said...

Speaking of Tipler and cyclical cosmology, anybody ever read the short novel Firebird by Charles L. Harness? The underlying premise of the story is a cyclic universe. The basic story is that a computer entity that controls everything hatches a scheme to achieve immortality by causing a temporary loss of mass, enough to prevent the next Big Crunch. Of course there are heroes that fight to thwart this scheme. An interesting little story with a strange "feel" that I rather liked, plot holes, physics improbabilities and all. Haven't read it in about 35-40 years though.

Darrell E said...

Dr. Brin from the OP,

"While I'm a licensed, if minor league physicist, it strikes me that his approach has much in common with (1) cellular automata using simple rule sets to create complexity (and note that John Conway, inventor of the Game of life (featured in Glory Season), died of Covid, last week), plus (2) pattern-sifting..."

Sounds like an evolutionary algorithm. I've always thought the 10^500 possible universes of string theory would benefit from such an approach. I'm thinking that implementing such a project would be very difficult, time consuming and resource intensive though.

The Wolfram Physics Project site is fascinating and I've only read through the Project Announcement link so far. Of course most of the project materials will be way beyond me, but I'm likely to spend a lot of time looking through this material.

An interesting comparison of insights about the same characteristic of reality from different times and different lines of investigation.

"What happened here? We have such a simple rule. Yet applying this rule over and over again produces something that looks really complicated. It’s not what our ordinary intuition tells us should happen. But actually—as I first discovered in the early 1980s—this kind of intrinsic, spontaneous generation of complexity turns out to be completely ubiquitous among simple rules and simple programs."[Stephen Wolfram, Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics… and It’s Beautiful, April 14, 2020]

And.

"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." [Charles Darwin, final paragraph of The Origin of Species, 1859 edition]

Keith Halperin said...

@ Scidata-
Re: Psychohistory: "Psychohistory" sounds kinda cool, but "Applied Sociology" (which is what Psychohistory or Poul Anderson's Psychodynamics/Psychotechnics really would be) sounds kinda dull-
"I got my B.A. in Applied Sociology from Middlebury College, and after I took a year off to see Southeast Asia I got a job as a barista here at Grounds Hog..."

@ Alfred Differ-
Re: Psychohistory: I believe we already have a crude form of PH- as OGH indicated since 1980 (and I believe based on further thought, since 1964) the “olies” ( (oligarchs) and their neo-confederate allies have been working to remake American society and political culture more to their liking, and have succeeded, particularly since 2016.

While I agree with you that PH couldn’t be more than probabilistic, I believe it could function like asteroid deflection: if you know enough, have enough resources, and a sufficiently long lead-time- you MAY be able to make a difference. However, you need to be constantly aware that there could be “black swans” like the Mule. (My reading of that Foundation book goes back scores of decades, but I’d think in a more realistic setting, the Mule would have had a lot of opportunistic folks voluntarily riding on his skinny-ass coattails, just like today…)

@ Dr. Brin
Re: Titles and ideas: Thanks, I'm good at those. We should talk.... ;)

Re: "the Walter Whiting of America": That's consistent with what I think, too. I've read the; 80s were when we should have started making serious efforts to prevent the "*Slowpocalypse". Can't remember if I said this here or at all- IMSM, many of the neocons were former Trotskyists. My joke is that if they'd have been former Stalinists instead, we'd have won the Gulf War!

Re: "The Logs": I really liked your Coss stuff, and though I know you don't like to repeat yourself I hope you'll write more about that universe. BTW, it's so well-liked that I've heard some fans have dramatized one of those stories, though I can't recall which one in particular. It seems to have been quite well-received, because when I asked my contact about how it was doing, they said: "Coss play is very popular..."


SW "Stay Well"


*There's a guy on the Charles Stross blog who frequently states that, due to CC and the instability and uncertainty of weather, modern agriculture is likely to collapse. I refer to this as "agrocalypse" or "cropalypse"..

David Brin said...

Duncan asks: “One of the common "wishes" is that the GOP could disappear and the Dems could then split into a sensible conservative wing and a progressive wing Is that not what has happened in China??”

Um absolutely not. Not in any way, shape or form. Not even remotely except in some bizarro sense.

The Chinese approach has always been to cover the iron grip of top-down, utterly hierarchical and brutally-enforced oligarchic rule with a soft glove of Confucian paternalistic responsibility and incantations of kindness and mature honesty. Now lace in some genuine meritocracy and it is probably the BEST form of feudalism ever concocted! But it is still feudalism, a steep pyramid of absolute power supported by towers of rationalization and bloody force. It is the diametric opposite to rambunctiously individualistic and transparent reciprocally-competitive accountability.

“The "Communist Party" is the only "party" - so it has split into its internal divisions - which are now the "parties””

At times, a bit, but always with one court-faction or another crushed at intervals, brutally, as is happening now.

David Brin said...

How many of you vote that Alfred should start his own blog? Seriously, a lot of you guys are very interesting folks. But he oughta do one sorta autobiographically.

Adarrell, that Harness story may have inspired the very final scenes of Liu Cixin's THREE BODY trilogy.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

To cope with the distinction I make between speculative fiction and fantasy, I've learned to distinguish story tech into five broad buckets. COTS-ium, SpecialOrder-ium, NotYet-ium, Unobtain-ium, and Fantas-ium. Each grouping lumps ideas together based on how we would go about getting there.


I can't argue with that. And really, I think we understand each other, despite differences in personal taste. I've continued this conversation because I enjoy the subject matter, not to argue.

scidata said...

Re: Alfred should start his own blog

It's rare to find knowledgeable people on social media who are generous with their time, and sincerely answer others' questions.

Darrell E said...

Interesting science fiction discussion.

I might be an outlier (and heretic!) among this group when it comes to Asimov. I've read the majority of his science fiction output and while I did like his most famous novels (Caves of Steel through the Foundation novels) just fine I thought he was at his best in the short story format. My favorite Asimov is his robot short stories and his Wendell Urth mystery short stories. In these short stories, particularly the robot stories, I think he spoke to the human condition better than he generally did in his novels. Asimov's stories tend to be rather cold and often more like technical writing than prose. His characters aren't often directly relatable, they are more often like a 2nd hand description of a person. The robot short stories aren't really an exception in those respects, but in them he often somehow was able to achieve very human, very emotional stories anyway. More so, for me, than in his novels.

The Foundation novels are epic in scope and decent story telling, but I never thought the concept of psychohistory was any more compelling or interesting than any number of other concepts put forth by any number of other successful authors. And, much like Alfred I think, I've never thought that Asimov's depiction of human behavior in the Foundation novels was particularly plausible in real life. Though I was willing enough to grant him the premises for the universe he was creating for me, it never felt like it could possibly be a real future of humanity.

Darrell E said...

My take on Star Trek, which I've always very much liked, has always been that it is an example of the kind of better society that we could possibly achieve if we are able to maintain a strong enough commitment to reason, science, curiosity, adventure and, especially, decency. Not necessarily in any specifics, not at all. Simply that we could plausibly achieve a society that is as "good" as what was depicted in Star Trek. In some unknown number of generations. I still think it is plausible and in fact, despite the Trump-Putin era and despite the environmental challenges we've created for ourselves, I think we have made some progress in the right direction during the course of my life so far.

Darrell E said...

My tastes in science fiction may have changed a bit over my life. When I was younger I tended to favor clever concepts and technology oriented stories over human-centric stories and strong character development. And the technology didn't necessarily have to be real world plausible. I like hard science fiction just fine but I've never been bothered in the slightest by fantastical technology in my science fiction. However, it does have to work well story-wise and be internally consistent.

As I've aged I seem to have now come to favor science fiction that has rich, well developed characters and is as much, or more, about telling "human" stories rather than just about technological wonders. Let me clarify that by "human" I really mean any kind of entity that has relatable experiences, human, alien, machine intelligence or anything else.

Of course, I think the best science fiction is when an author is able to tick all of the boxes. Technological wonders well reasoned in their universe, well developed and interesting characters and great "human" story telling that can be empathized with. Some great examples of that, in my opinion, would be Dr. Brin's Startide Rising and The Uplift War. Lois McMaster Bujold is another that has often pulled this off. A great example from her is her novella The Mountains Of Mourning. There are of course other examples.

Sometimes I get a bit pessimistic about the current state of science fiction. For the past 20 years or so when I visit the science fiction section of the typical bookstore, internet or meat-space based, urban fantasy and vampire stories overwhelm. They don't belong in science fiction, yet at first glance you might think that's all that's available these days. It's similar to the situation with new music. To find the good stuff you have to know where to look, and it ain't the science fiction section at the typical bookstore.

David Brin said...

Keith this is the 1st I have heard of any groundswell of popularity among fans of my Coss stories. Really? I've seen/heard nothing. Interesting!

Alfred Differ said...

I did start a blog of my own many years ago. My interest in keeping it up waxes and wanes. It's not a problem of finding things to write about, though. It's a problem of talking to the vacuum. Not IN a vacuum, but TO the vacuum. I like to think I'm an interesting person, but I understand that any value I add to civilization occurs in a social context where the conversation probably isn't about me. It's about something else and my anecdotes might help others connect otherwise unconnected ideas in their own heads.

The danger with that (of course) is talking too much at someone else's party. 8)

In case anyone is interested, though, the five broad buckets for tech are defined at https://adiffer.blogspot.com/2013/02/for-cynics-unobtanium-obtanium.html. I wrote it as a response to particular (unnamed) people who would know themselves if they read it, but I use it broadly in tech discussions. How I spell the terms seems to have drifted a bit, but oh well. 8)

matthew said...

My favorite "new" SciFi, meaning written this millennium, is The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Not that it is unknown or anything. It won both the Nebula and tied for the novel Hugo. But it introduced me to many new concepts and it is a richly detailed "bio-punk" dystopia. I recommend it often.

I'd put The Martian and The Three-Body problem at the top of the list for this millennium too. Still reading my copy of The Ancient Ones so no finished opinion yet. I'd include Kiln People but I don't classify it as SciFi, but rather as pure fantasy. Too much technology as magic to be SciFi. I've always wanted a sequel to Sky Horizon too, Doc (more work for your magic ditto).

jim said...

Alfred
I don’t think that I have ever proposed a “fitness function” for mankind.
What I have repeatedly pointed out that the social system is limited by the systems it is in embedded with.
The social system is a physical system that obeys the laws of thermodynamics. That size and complexity of a society is limited by the amount of surplus energy it can obtain.

The social system is also embedded within the worlds living ecosystems and depends on those systems for its very life. We are currently in ecological overshoot to a frightening degree and that will have long lasting effects on societies.

The current pandemic is showing us that the white swans we have been expecting are coming and will be coming home to roost. (White swans are those real and expected problems like pandemics, famine, climate change, limits to growth, ecosystem collapse etc. etc.)

A German Nurse said...

Dr. Brin: My condolences for your loss.

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin
The key feature about a feudal system is the inheritance of power

The leadership goes in families

Now when I compare the Chinese system with the American - and British - which one has the power being inherited in families??

Although the very limited number of Chinese leaders since Mao Zedong does make that a bit of an unfair comparison

mythusmage said...

Great dissipation?

And what if there is only so far that space-time can "thin" out? That there comes a point when space-time is as thin as it can get, and because there is still an energy of expansion we get a sort of rebound and the universe starts contracting again?

Keith Halperin said...

@ Everybody: Re SF-
ISTM that much of SF becomes fantasy over time, as we learn more about how things really are. e.g., "Swampy Venus"? Was SF, is now fantasy. "Psionics"? Was SF, is now fantasy. "Known Space Stuff"? Was SF, is now fantasy.

@ Darrell E: Re: The Good Doctor Asimov's limited portrayals of people-
As Dr. Asimov was quite likely a fellow member of the Autistic Spectrum Club, it shouldn't be surprising that his innate understanding of people might be rather limited.

@ Everybody: Re: Star Trek-
I've loved ST since 1966, but don't look under the hood too closely, unless you want to:(http://www.ditl.org/, http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org, https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Portal:Main). What I have a bit of trouble with is how they get from a post-nuclear war society to a near idyllic post-scarcity one in under a century, while staying pretty much just like mid-20th-early-21st Century Americans. If you gave us Trek tech, WE couldn't create a society like that. (Wouldn't it be ironic if the ones holding everything together and keeping things nice are actually the nasty Section 31 SePo types?)

@ Dr. Brin: Re "Coss Play-
Once again, my attempts at clever punmanship results in an epic fail.
While I very much enjoy those stories and want to read more of them, they were a set up for an attempt that only the most broadminded could call humor:
A dramatized David Brin shorty story = "Coss Play"--> sounds like "cos play" = "a portmanteau of the words costume play, is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character" which appears to be (to an outsider like me) quite popular...


Keith "Won't Quit His Day Job" Halperin

Larry Hart said...

matthew:

I'd include Kiln People but I don't classify it as SciFi, but rather as pure fantasy. Too much technology as magic to be SciFi.


That's some of the discussion/argument I was having with Alfred. To me, the difference between sci-fi and fantasy has less to do with whether I accept the technology as real and more about how it is presented in the story. Ditto tech in Kiln People was treated by the characters as based on scientific principles which, once discovered, became almost banal in its ubiquity by the time of the story. I'm willing to count it as sci-fi, although I won't argue that anyone else has to do so.

I will say that if (say) Sundiver is sci-fi action-adventure and (say) Glory Season is sci-fi drama, then Kiln People is more like sci-fi dramatic comedy.

Going off on a tangent, for those who mentioned human characters acting like humans, I think one of Asimov's best early stories in that regard was The Caves of Steel. From what I've read, Joseph Campbell had asserted that it was impossible to write a sci-fi murder mystery, because the tech would make it too easy for the writer to cheat. Asimov set out to prove him wrong. Caves of Steel is essentially a traditional murder mystery taking place in a futuristic setting in which robots exist. But the ebb and flow of the plot is that of a mystery story much more than that of a generic science fiction story.

Smurphs said...

Keith, The Doc is a master punster. The fact that I got your pun and he didn't amazes me.

Nice job.

Larry Hart said...

Oh, and I meant to say, if plausibility of the technology actually following from our own experience is the distinction between sci-fi and fantasy, then neither teleportation nor warp drive survives as sci-fi. Neither does anything that HG Wells based his sci-fi novels on.

As opposed to Jules Verne, whose fictional inventions became reality in relatively short order.

TCB said...

Darrell E said: I might be an outlier (and heretic!) among this group when it comes to Asimov. I've read the majority of his science fiction output and while I did like his most famous novels (Caves of Steel through the Foundation novels) just fine I thought he was at his best in the short story format.

WRONG! Wrong, sir. Asimov was at his best in his collections of dirty limericks. Everything else he wrote was a mere pastime.

(I joke! Also, did anybody else here used to read his science-fact books? He was Carl Sagan before Sagan was Sagan. He was so fucking cool.)

scidata said...

Starship SN4 5bar cryo test passed.
Static fire test later this week.
Looks like SN4 will get the first crack at the 150m hop (using one Raptor engine).
20km flight waiting for upgraded steel & 8bar cryo test (SN5+).
SN5 stacking nearing completion.
Mars inches closer.


David Brin said...

MAtthew I took Sky Horizon one chapter further in memory of my collaborator Jeff Carlson. But getting it published has been problematic. I need a new collaborator for part III.

Alfred one advantage of a blog is you have a permanent URL for this or that rumination so that when you later talk to more than a vacuum about something specific, you can do as you just did.

Duncan inheritance is a major trait of feudalism but not THE major trait which is fiercely controlled power by a ruling clique over those below on the pyramid. The USSR did not have inherited top position (though yes family privileges). But it was utterly tyrannical.

Mythusmage that’s quite an incantation but does it mean anything? In fact, your cosmology has real similarities to the conformal mapping cosmology of Roger Penrose!

Larry Hart said...

TCB:

Also, did anybody else here used to read his [Asimov's] science-fact books?


Yes, I have two collections of his essays, and the man can make any subject interesting.

I don't have them in front of me to quote directly, but two of my favorite essays are one about the discovery of vitamins and one about how the different approximations of the shape of the earth (flat, spherical, oblate, asymetrically oblate) were not "wrong" in the absolute sense, but each was a better approximation of reality.

The latter essay is the source for an observation I used to make to locumranch--that just because we don't know the exact shape of the earth doesn't make "round" and "pyramid shape" equally valid guesses. Not knowing an exact right answer doesn't make us blind to the obvious wrongness of some. The former essay describes how the first vitamins discovered belonged to the amine group, hence the name "vit-amine", and that even after non-amine vitamins were discovered, the name had already stuck. Which leads up to another favorite quote of mine. Paraphrased from memory: "We've known for hundreds of years that 'oxygen' is a misnomer too, but what can we do?"

duncan cairncross said...

If power is not inherited then a lot (not all) of the problems with Feudalism simply evaporate

The Soviet Union did not have a "rule of law" - they were still in the absolute ruler stage - what I say IS the law

25 years ago the same was true of China
20 years ago they were going through a change to a "rule of law"
I haven't been back since then to see for myself but the people that I trusted have told me that after a few hiccups they DID change to a "Rule of Law"
Along with one of Dr Brin's favorite tools - a type of "sousveillance" only in China it's a phone line dedicated to "dobbing in" party members

I suppose we need to wait for at least a generation to see if it has worked!

If it has and they have managed to avoid the inheritance of power THEN I would say that they have a reasonable and "democratic" system

The "Bar" is not actually very high - it just has to be better than the existing systems with their demonstrated "inheritance of power" and their demonstrated immunity to the "rule of law" shown by those in power

Alfred Differ said...

matthew,

I put Kiln People squarely in the science fiction category. Thought about it not being in briefly and decided against it. I already knew the author's views on the plausibility of a singularity and cornering Truth, so I wasn't surprised at how he imagined the ditto tech working. Unlikely, of course, but the coherence thing near 'the end' was well done. A reader who tried earlier to make an actual laser has an interpretation advantage. Pump? Check. Mirrors? Check. Cascade? Check.

I'll typically grant authors two story elements that seem fantastical as long as they stick to speculation from there. Personal choice, I suppose, but it caused me issues with long running TV series like Star Trek. 'Wrinkle of the week' for the aliens and 'deus ex physica' to escape the trap our intrepid characters find themselves in all too often. Sub-space this and exotic particle that. It got old, but the vision the writers tried to shape of a better future did not.

David Brin said...

Good Lord, did someone kidnap Duncan and replace him with... I mean his recent stuff is so incredibly wrongheaded and tendentiously awful that I hardly know where to begin. Geez, I tried to find even one of his assertions (above) that was even worth my time grappling with to disagree! A serious pile of doggies-stuff. my man.

Alfred Differ said...

David,

you can do as you just did

Fair point.

The reason I get kinda preachy about economic problem types and resource optimization problems is because I HAVE written those ideas down elsewhere and had years to accumulate criticism of them. I'm not referencing them here, though, so I'll try that in the future.

Keith,

quite likely a fellow member of the Autistic Spectrum Club

Ah. I had not thought of that. My son is on the spectrum, so I'm going to have to ponder this.

Anonymous said...

Vau, Brinny! Yet one post disclosed. What's happening?!! :))))

Do you think that way to "teach" me to NOT disclose your blatant digital TYRANY and FACTUAL falsehood? ;P

Let's try. Let's try. :)))

duncan cairncross said...

Dr Brin
As I said the Chinese have SAID they have done several things - and the people I know in China appear to believe them

IF they have
(1) Instituted a rule of LAW - not power
(2) Put laws in place to control their politicians

THEN they have built/designed a potentially good system

The rule of Law and the limitations appear to answer your criticism

"fiercely controlled power by a ruling clique over those below on the pyramid"

The questions then become -
Have they???
Will it work for several generations???

My colleagues from my time in China say that they are hopeful

Meanwhile in the "West" we have political "families" and the powerful ignoring the laws

If the Chinese had been "ruled" by the Orange One - how many millions would have died?

Democracy involves the people selecting their representatives
Selecting from "who" ???

If you want to become a member of Parliament (or of Congress) you have to join a political party

Then from that limited selection the people choose

Joe Biden is a nice guy and a great improvement on the incumbent - but out of 300+ million people in America surely you have somebody better and younger?

Of course you do - tens of thousands of them

But you will not get the chance to vote for any of those tens of thousands of people

Conceptually the idea that a politician should prove themselves by putting in the hard yards and actually helping people
And should be held to a HIGHER standard than the rest of us makes sense to me

Now it may well be that the Chinese are NOT doing as they say they are doing and that the son of the current leader will replace him

Maybe that is the way to bet?

But their "advertised system" - is pretty good
Maybe they are not doing that - maybe some other nations should have a look and say
We are not sure what the Chinese are doing but that "model" is worth a good look


duncan cairncross said...

Just to add to my ramble

Limiting the VOTERS is a bad bad idea

Limiting the Candidates - well you already have limits - birthplace and age
I was going to say that our Jacinda who is doing a cracking job here would have been to young to be elected as POTUS - but when I checked she was just old enough !

Limiting candidates?? - IF (big if) it could be done in a fair and balanced way???

What is the group thought ?
Bad idea ?
too difficult to be "fair" ?

duncan cairncross said...

Something non political and less likely to get our host grumpy

We (NZ) came off full lockdown last night - we came down from level four to level three

Something that I had not realised is that the reason that we are able to drop down a step is that we have tracked down where 95% of our patients caught the disease

Out of 1472 cases we have identified the source in all but 70 of them

This does give some feeling of security that the numbers will not start to explode

Australia is ahead of us in one way - they have an app - which people can download

What it does is it remembers who (or who's cellphone) has been within 2 meters of your cellphone
Then if you do come down with the virus it can identify everybody else who has been at risk

The Australian Parliament is meant to be making some legislation to ensure that the data can ONLY be used for that

Jacinda say we will have something similar in two weeks - then we will all have to install the app

This looks like NZ and Ozz will soon become virus "free" - effectively eliminated - our political leaders brought "the hammer" down hard and fast enough to be effective

The economy - from my POV the worry is NOT that the economy will take a huge "hit" - but that your leaders will not react in time

The UK was effectively "shutdown" from 1939 to 1945 - with enormous economic resources expended on things that go bang

By comparison even if the economy is shut down for a whole year or 18 months the economic impact will be much much less

Probably less expensive than the Iraqi war

The USA can survive that with no major problems - as long as you have the political guts

duncan cairncross said...

One worrying feature about the virus is the death rate - we have a solid lock on the total number of cases and over 1% deaths

I think this is because we ended up with the virus at two "Rest Homes" - and the casualty rate with people who are already ill.......

Darrell E said...

Keith Halperin said...

"@ Everybody: Re: Star Trek-
If you gave us Trek tech, WE couldn't create a society like that. (Wouldn't it be ironic if the ones holding everything together and keeping things nice are actually the nasty Section 31 SePo types?)
"

Oh, I think it would absolutely improve our odds. There has been a pretty clear trend in modern history of all of the metrics used to try and measure the health of societies and the quality of life in them increasing along with technological advancement. There's more to it, the type of government is of course key, but yeah, technology that eliminates scarcity of pretty much everything needed for everybody to live a good life and pursue their interests? That's definitely gonna help achieve a better society.

Darrell E said...

TCB said...

"WRONG! Wrong, sir. Asimov was at his best in his collections of dirty limericks. Everything else he wrote was a mere pastime."

*laughing*

I gotta admit, you may be right!

Anonymous said...

Robert here,

Climb up and see a whole lot of nothing... for those of us who didn't grow up there to appreciate what we could see.

I grew up in Saskatchewan. Not the flattest part of the Prairies, but several days drive to hills or mountains.

In the 80s I visited Flag Fen, an archaeological site in England.

https://peterborougharchaeology.org/peterborough-archaeological-sites/flag-fen/

The Fens are flat, which to me was how ground should be :-) I took the guided tour, and the archaeology was telling us about some discoveries that he'd made on "that rise over there". No one else on the tour was looking in the right direction, even though it was an obvious rise — at least a foot higher than the surrounding landscape. :-)

jim said...

Duncan,
I think that New Zealand (if it can remain an independent country) looks to be well positioned, compared to most other countries, for the coming de-growth. You have a decent government, mild climate, oceans separating you folks for the rest of the world, good ratio between population size and resource base, and lots of potential for the best types renewable energy resources hydro and geothermal (They don’t have the intermittency problems that solar and wind have, although NZ has good wind and OK solar potential). I think only Iceland comes close to your country’s potential resilience.

The worlds next great civilization may just arise from NZ,
long after the current Age of Abundance ends,
after the coming Times of Troubles and
after the Scavenger Societies are done feeding off our waste,

So keep your libraries in tact and try to save the best of what that our society has learned.

Alfred Differ said...

at least a foot higher than the surrounding landscape

I like it. 8)

We used to joke that cruise control on cars should manage the steering wheel too.
The roads went straight over the horizon. Point once and let go.

David Brin said...

jim would be less disturbing if (1) he ever tried to back up his dyspeptic jeremiads of doom with factual analysis, and (2) did not so clearly and desperately WANT it all to come true, and (3) showed any sign of being actively involved in helping to prevent it from coming true.

A.F. Rey said...

Joe Biden is a nice guy and a great improvement on the incumbent - but out of 300+ million people in America surely you have somebody better and younger?

Of course you do - tens of thousands of them

But you will not get the chance to vote for any of those tens of thousands of people


Duncan, what are you talking about?

There were 313 candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination alone.

https://ballotpedia.org/List_of_registered_2020_presidential_candidates

You could have voted for [I]any[/I] of them. Just write in the name if nothing else.

Sure, it would have been a waste of a vote, but that not because of any law or anyone specifically excluding them from running. It's the nature of democracy--a candidate needs name recognition in order to win. Which means there is only a limited number of people who can achieve that for any given election. That's a limitation of humans, not of the system.

It wasn't the Democratic party that limited us to the top 20 (or so) contenders. It was the fact that out of the 313 candidates, only a couple of dozen would ever achieve significant nationwide name recognition to be contenders.

Tell me a system that would give these tens of thousands of better alternatives a fighting chance to run for office? I don't think such exists. It's not because people are stopping them; it's because it's hard, and only a few will rise to the top.

David Brin said...

AFR is right. Should we have better ways to choose candidates? Sure. But EVERY bitch-moan complaint about the 2016 DP selection process gotg addressed in party reforms! EVERY ONE! And did the bros and leftists acknowledge this? Hell no. They stopped complaining about super delegates etc after the reforms, but never once actually mention the fact that their complaints were all heeded, because to admit it would undermine the main goal...

... which is flouncing, preening sanctimony and the ability to rave "DNC" fantasy conspiracy theories that not ONE of their favorite candidates gave the slightest credence to. Nor do they ever... ever... construct an actually plausible scenario for who these "DNC masters" are and how they manipulated millions of votes. In fact, of course, these shouts are racist! Because the biggest and most effective voting bloc - black people - came out for Biden in droves.

In fact, you'll recall I was thrilled by the extended and pervasive and populated DP debates, which revealed a great slate and deep bench of talent (and a few loser-flakes who soon fell aside.) My one complaint - later absolutely verified - was that DP GOVERNORS should have been given more presence and credance, compared to too many Senators. And if it all wer done today, several guvs would be top runners.

Indeed, should Biden fall for some reason and Bernie be king maker, I'd hope he'd help broker-in Cuomo-Warren, or my first choice long ago Warren-Inslee.

But we need to target splitters as surely as RASRs. Both types need to hold their noses and vote for a B+ candidate who will appoint an A+ team.

David Brin said...

Just to revise my rebuke of jim a bit. I hope he is also capable of noticing a victory of sorts. The fragile, delicate web of long range supply chains has slapped most industries hard and there are signs that many are seeking to source more locally... as are cities, grocers, restaurants and private citizens.

Twenty years ago, this might have had a negative side, short-circuiting the trade-engendered rise of China and Vietnam etc. But whatever good that phase of globalization did has already been accomplished. All the kids in those places are now in school. Oh, Bangladesh still desperately needs its horrid textile mills and we'll keep buying clothes that way... hopefully egged by activists to send more factory inspectors. But the life and industry essentials may wind up made nearby, contributing to robustness and reducing the wasteful cargo ships and planes.

Alas, jim is unlikely to see this as a win-win and common ground with me.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

which is flouncing, preening sanctimony and the ability to rave "DNC" fantasy conspiracy theories that not ONE of their favorite candidates gave the slightest credence to. Nor do they ever... ever... construct an actually plausible scenario for who these "DNC masters" are and how they manipulated millions of votes.


The complaint is that the candidate who received more votes and more delegates (even without super-delegates) somehow cheated, and that the candidate who received fewer votes and fewer delegates should be the nominee because the people want him--well, it's a very Republican argument if you think about it.

The most charitable way I can paraphrase it is thus:
"Our candidate is the clear favorite of 'the people', so it's the duty of the Democratic Party to insure that our guy wins the nomination. If they don't rig the game in our favor--if our guy gets fewer votes and fewer delegates--that in itself means that the election was rigged against us."

Zepp Jamieson said...

"And did the bros and leftists acknowledge this? Hell no. They stopped complaining about super delegates etc after the reforms, but never once actually mention the fact that their complaints were all heeded, because to admit it would undermine the main goal..."

Well, I'm here as a leftist to tell you that you're generalizing again. I noted the changes.

Put it this way: I'm disappointed with how things turned out this primary season. But I don't think the Dems cheated Bernie. There was a circle-the-wagons movement which was frustrating, but well within the realm of legitimate politics, and of course the political effects of the pandemic worked against sudden, bold change in the minds of voters.

Doesn't matter if I think Biden is a great candidate. At least he's sane, and loyal to his country. We must get rid of Trump. We must get rid of Trump. We must get rid of Trump. If we don't, we will never have another opportunity to end the fascist rule the Republicans want.

David Brin said...

Zepp, you may be to the "left" of me, but you are absolutely NOT any kind of person my crit was aimed at. You don't flouce or preen... you pragmatically want the major saves we can all make, united, then argue and negotiate our differences later.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Smurphs: Re: Pun-
Thank you.

@Alfred Dimmer: Re: The Good Doctor Asimov quite likely a fellow member of the Autistic Spectrum Club-
I’d be willing to wager (shout out to OGH) that more than 1:62 of those on this forum are either OTS “otties”/”auties” (on the autistic spectrum), NTS (near the spectrum), or have a close relative who is. The last Worldcon I attended- I used my “aspie-sense” to guess who was a “club member” and I
Figured ~60% of the fens I saw probably were… My joke is that cons should work to provide accommodation so “enties” (neurotypicals) could more fully participate and enjoy themselves…

@ Darrell E: Re: Trek Tech makes our society better-
I respectively disagree, in that we don’t need it to create a better world. From what I can tell, RIGHT NOW: we have what we need to allow a WW population of *2-3 G folks to live at a comfortable, ~Western European-standard of living INDEFINITELY, and we could get there without lots of people **dying before their time in about 300 years., aka, ST/B5 time.

I hope we get really cool drives to explore the Solar System (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/appcalchistory.php), terraforming, small exa-scale computers, uplift, etc. but we don’t NEED them to make a good life for everybody (except the “olies”).

I also think (but happy to be proven wrong) that in a few decades, technological change is going to slow down, just because major improvements will take considerably more resources than are ***practical, aka, “we’ve picked the low-hanging fruit, and it’s A LOT harder to get the ones higher up”. (I’m NOT a Singulatarian- I eat all sorts of non-singularities...)


SW (Stay Well)



*This level isn’t just better for us, it’s better for the whole environment.

**Assuming we can successfully make it through the “Slow Apocalypse” (another reason for the lower population).

**Just read in Atomic Rockets (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/slowerlight.php) that Zubrin thinks a 1kT, 0.1c starship to a Cen would cost about $125T. Could a future, wealthy society pay for that? Maybe. Would they WANT to?
That’s a BIG Kickstarter project….

Keith Halperin said...

@ Smurphs: Re: Pun-
Thank you.

@Alfred Dimmer: Re: The Good Doctor Asimov quite likely a fellow member of the Autistic Spectrum Club-
I’d be willing to wager (shout out to OGH) that more than 1:62 of those on this forum are either OTS “otties”/”auties” (on the autistic spectrum), NTS (near the spectrum), or have a close relative who is. The last Worldcon I attended- I used my “aspie-sense” to guess who was a “club member” and I
Figured ~60% of the fens I saw probably were… My joke is that cons should work to provide accommodation so “enties” (neurotypicals) could more fully participate and enjoy themselves…

@ Darrell E: Re: Trek Tech makes our society better-
I respectively disagree, in that we don’t need it to create a better world. From what I can tell, RIGHT NOW: we have what we need to allow a WW population of *2-3 G folks to live at a comfortable, ~Western European-standard of living INDEFINITELY, and we could get there without lots of people **dying before their time in about 300 years., aka, ST/B5 time.

I hope we get really cool drives to explore the Solar System (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/appcalchistory.php), terraforming, small exa-scale computers, uplift, etc. but we don’t NEED them to make a good life for everybody (except the “olies”).

I also think (but happy to be proven wrong) that in a few decades, technological change is going to slow down, just because major improvements will take considerably more resources than are ***practical, aka, “we’ve picked the low-hanging fruit, and it’s A LOT harder to get the ones higher up”. (I’m NOT a Singulatarian- I eat all sorts of non-singularities...)


SW (Stay Well)



*This level isn’t just better for us, it’s better for the whole environment.

**Assuming we can successfully make it through the “Slow Apocalypse” (another reason for the lower population).

**Just read in Atomic Rockets (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/slowerlight.php) that Zubrin thinks a 1kT, 0.1c starship to a Cen would cost about $125T. Could a future, wealthy society pay for that? Maybe. Would they WANT to?
That’s a BIG Kickstarter project….

duncan cairncross said...

From 20,000 ft the US method of selecting candidates looks as if it is a lot more "democratic" than the "smoke filled rooms" that the rest of the "west" uses

In actual practise ......
The results are not encouraging!

This may be due to the amount of money in US politics - or it may just be that we need another different method of selecting candidates

What are the possible alternatives??

If we had infinite time and resources we could do a staged system

Step (1) - get 1000 unique signatures (1000 people saying - this is my representative)
Step (2) - as a representative get 1000 signatures from "representatives"
Step (3) - the rep squareds become the legislature and appoint their leaders

Would need to have a database to ensure everybody get one vote/signature

Thinking about it - would that actually take any longer than today's system??

You could elect the "representatives" in one cycle so that they have served as local politicians for a cycle (four years) to get to know each other before they elect the rep squareds

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. The next great civilization won't arise in NZ. It will appear in one of the major river basins as they usually do. For someone who goes on about the costs of energy to consider even a remote possibility that civilization will rise again from NZ shows how little they know about surpluses required to create civilizations at all.

Self-sustaining islands will be impoverished and face possible extinction occasionally.
Trade is the ONLY way to generate the surpluses needed to avoid that.
River basins are where transportation costs are cheapest, thus the place where trade surpluses accumulate fastest.

Look to history.
Look to geography.
Where did our civilizations arise?
What happened to isolated populations?

There is no going back to some idyllic soft landing.
The way out is forward.

Alfred Differ said...

All the talk I see about how various democratic systems work and should work ignores one of the fundamental lessons the US system should point out to everyone.

There is a difference between these kinds of choices.

1. Directing how government systems are to be directed and associated money spent.
2. Determining legislation that enforces penalties against 'unjust behaviors.'

It's one thing to use a majority vote to decide government budgets.

It is a different thing to use a majority vote to determine that Behavior X is disallowed and impose penalties ranging through fines, imprisonment, and death.

Where the US system demonstrates a legislative flaw is in treating these types of decisions the same. Because we must be hyper-vigilant about the second type, we over-focus our attention on candidates who will enforce things the way we prefer. That might include not enforcing things. People willing to do that aren't necessarily the people we should have running the agencies spending the budgets, so we've settled into a compromise between Civil Servants (unelected) being led (barely) by Politicians (elected).

How we pick the politicians isn't as important as the tasks we authorize them to perform and the level of consensus they must reach to make a particular type of decision. For example…

1. Majority votes are probably sufficient for directing government action.
2. Super-majority votes should probably be required to enact 'just behavior' rules and ALL those rules should have sunset clauses with easy extensions if the consensus remains close to the initial bar. (Imagine 90% required to enact and 80% required to extend sunset as an example.)

The exact numbers aren't the point, though. Making the distinction is. One of the best justifications for the Senate's filibuster rule is that it leans in this direction when tempers might otherwise get heated.

I'm not making this stuff up out of thin air. It's described in Hayek's "Law, Legislation, and Liberty". The first volume starts with the issues associated with democracy and what we've learned of late.

yana said...


previous thread, Alfred Differ thought:

"... the way Hollywood portrays our military might in space and what it actually is. Almost all of our orbital assets..."

Almost a peach is still a nectarine. I could give a damn about what Hollywood thinks, it was obvious in the 80's that weapons in space were inevitable. It bubbled up through the chain, West Wingers smartly turned it into a propaganda tool. But that was not the original intent, never was. The quite intelligent folks in the US military pursued a program to win wars quickly. That's their job, and they did it. Someone who thinks there are no weapons in orbit = Pollyanna.

I know, the geopolitical detriment to having this fact known is great. They are only to be used if the fit truly hits the shan. I'm with you, hope it never does, hope we can quietly get rid of the nukes and filthys once humanity finds something to unite us, at last. But even then, the beam weapons will remain, silently upgraded over time. I wish this wasn't the world we live in, but damn glad that the US military is on top of it, so to speak.

yana said...


Acacia H. thought:

"screech like seagulls fighting over fish claiming we need to reopen the economy and just let people die as they may ... Society itself will be stronger as a result of this as the idiots get sick and die"

Obviously, hope you get weller and weller. But moreso, hope you grasp the irony of what you've said above. Anger, fear, these are normal emotions to cope with uncertainty. Won't pray, but do see one use for mature religions... they urge people to examine their own ego to extrapolate other human beings.

Big difference between "we're all in this together," and "most of us are in this together."

yana said...


Alfred Differ thought:

"the distinction I make between speculative fiction and fantasy"

Don't believe there is a distinction. All fiction is fantasy, definitively.

yana said...


David Brin thought:

"I'd hope he'd help broker-in Cuomo-Warren"

Ah alas. But Andy isn't an option. He brings no new Electoral College votes, and there's things... let's just say oppo ads would be horrendous. Every 4, use the Holiday Letdown to set down, and look at who's running. It's my duty. Nearly never, my pick goes the distance. This time it was Warren, so par for my civic course. Liked her detailed papers, even if some were too far and some math ilked magical.

If it's not Biden-Abrams, it's got to be with Klobuchar. If it's not Biden at all, then Kamala atop, undercard Bernie.

David Brin said...

WOuld someone explain to me how Abrams or Klobuchar are remotely qualified to be president? Warren has no administrative chops but is an experienced hand who has been tested. Harris has both legislated and administered and executed the laws.

Larry Hart said...

yana:

Big difference between "we're all in this together," and "most of us are in this together."


With all due respece, big difference between "We're all in this together" and "We're all in this together except the ones actively shooting at the rest of us."

Larry Hart said...

yana:

All fiction is fantasy, definitively.


Only in a sense so narrow that it renders the term "fantasy" meaningless. Most people here are using "fantasy" to describe something a bit more specific than just "It didn't actually happen that way."

Larry Hart said...

Linked by Dr Brin on another site:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/28/full-appeals-court-weighs-whether-mcgahn-can-testify-214759


...
The discussion occurred as lawyers for the House and Justice Department sparred over efforts by Democrats to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about his knowledge of alleged wrongdoing by President Donald Trump.


Most of the nine judges who joined in the rare en banc session Tuesday seemed receptive to the House’s concerns, with one judge musing the Trump administration was so intent on sidelining the courts that the public would be left only with "revolution" as an alternative.
...


In related news, guillotine futures rose sharply in active trading. :)

jim said...

Alfred
Sense ocean going sailing ships have the lowest transportation costs and give you access to far greater potential access to markets and resources than any river system, I see no reason why New Zealand would not be able to carve out a trading empire in the far future, especially if they are able to retain much of our scientific and some of our technological knowledge.

And given the ancestry of the people there I would not too surprised if they tried to imitate the British Empire. (it is kind of frightening to think what the combination of Maori, Europeans and Chinese could bring about. )

jim said...

Nouriel Roubini lays out the problems the economy is now facing at it looks like we have a “Greater Depression” coming:
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/29/ten-reasons-why-greater-depression-for-the-2020s-is-inevitable-covid
from the article
10 ominous and risky trends
1) The policy response to the Covid-19 crisis entails a massive increase in fiscal deficits – on the order of 10% of GDP or more – at a time when public debt levels in many countries were already high, if not unsustainable.
2) the demographic timebomb in advanced economies
3) the growing risk of deflation. In addition to causing a deep recession, the crisis is also creating a massive slack in goods (unused machines and capacity) and labour markets (mass unemployment), as well as driving a price collapse in commodities such as oil and industrial metals. That makes debt deflation likely, increasing the risk of insolvency.
4) currency debasement.
5) the broader digital disruption of the economy
6) deglobalisation.
7) The backlash against democracy will reinforce this trend. Populist leaders often benefit from economic weakness, mass unemployment, and rising inequality. Under conditions of heightened economic insecurity, there will be a strong impulse to scapegoat foreigners for the crisis. Blue-collar workers and broad cohorts of the middle class will become more susceptible to populist rhetoric, particularly proposals to restrict migration and trade
8) the geostrategic standoff between the US and China
9) this diplomatic breakup will set the stage for a new cold war between the US and its rivals – not just China, but also Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
10) A final risk that cannot be ignored is environmental disruption, which, as the Covid-19 crisis has shown, can wreak far more economic havoc than a financial crisis.

David Brin said...

I do neglect to share with you guys some of my FB postings. here's that one: Given that the majority of the US Supreme Court consists of a cabal of suborned partisans, the true highest court in the land is the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, now considering the Trump Administration's refusal to comply with any Congressional subpoenas. Any at all, while insisting that Congress's Constitutional right of oversight, which Republicans used to probe every orifice of the Clintons and Obamas, suddenly does not exist. This reversal of 240 years of precedent has been supported by Fox and Sinclair pundits and a craven GOP political caste.

“Issuing subpoenas — that's a prerogative of Congress. Enforcing subpoenas and enforcing laws — that’s a prerogative of the president,” said a Justice Department attorney, declaring that a rogue administration has absolute freedom from accountability. This led one judge to muse that the Trump administration was so intent on sidelining Congress and the courts that the public would be left only with "revolution" as an alternative.

California Governor Newsom a couple of weeks ago seemed to allude to that glimmering downstream possibility, and elsewhere I expressed fear that our current phase 8 of the US Civil War might turn into a blazing hot phase 9.

One knows why the GOP must stonewall. If the Deutsche Bank money laundering stuff... and a myriad other mafia/KGB monstrosities... ever comes out, they will suffer the worst political snuffing since the end of the Whigs or the Know Nothings.

Oh, alas, that even smart fellows like Adam Schiff cannot see the solution that is right under their noses. It is there, simple, executable and legal and there isn't a chance in hell that it wouldn't work. I explain it in Polemical Judo... but who reads books, these days?

I'll explain it to a Congressional staffer in less than 120 seconds. If anyone can lift one head out of the trenches long enough to see a sky full of possibilities.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/28/full-appeals-court-weighs-whether-mcgahn-can-testify-214759

David Brin said...

Yes, jim, a daunting range of challenges. And you seem to relish your assumption that we're not a people who could rise up to them. That trait may be chemical and not your fault. But if you are a ckawing-cloying drag on our ankles, as we try to rise, well, that's - to put it in mildest form -unhelpful.

Deuxglass said...

Jon,

Come on Jon. In this blog we have been hashing over logical fallacies for years now. If you do not recognize Dr. Faoult as an authority in infectious diseases then you can see my taking into account his views as an “appeal to authority” but it depends on you rejecting him as an expert because if both parties agree to the authority of the expert in question then an ”appeal to authority” argument cannot hold. Jon, do you reject him as an authority or not? I myself see him as an expert. I also see Dr. Fauci as an expert along with others who are highly regarded in their fields. On the other hand I do not see politicians and talk show hosts as experts if the SARS-CoV-2 virus and do not take their advice in anything relating to it. Call it a character flaw if you like. I am sorry that your wife had trouble getting her medication for her Lupus. My wife of over forty years has had to put off her cancer treatments for the last two months because of the risk of infection in the hospitals from the SARS-CoV-2 virus so I too have a reason to be angry.

Jon, I think you are one of those that see everything through the lens of politics. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic and you can’t discuss a medical issue without it descending into accusations of supporting Trump so it really is of no interest to interact with you because I already know what you will say.

Jon S. said...

Deaux, I prefer to see things through a lens of data. I gave you the data on hydroxycholorquine and azithromycin. You decided to pivot to Dr. Raoult's "prestige" and accusations that they weren't doing his protocols "right", which smacks very much of how snake-oil salesmen have traditionally defended themselves against accusations of fraud.

Put it this way - if a treatment claims 100% efficacy, you go to the doctor because you're ill, and the treatment not only fails but kills you, is the problem here with the doctor administering the treatment, or the treatment?

Here's the link again: https://www.contagionlive.com/news/preprint-results-of-hydroxychloroquine-use-among-va-health-systems- As you can see, your contention that we "don't know" if this cocktail will work is no longer accurate. We do know, because it's been tried. It doesn't work. Now, if we can stop chasing our tails trying to find a way to make this work anyway just because it's backed by the all-powerful, all-knowing Dr. Raoult, perhaps we can make progress on therapies that do work once we find them.

You're beginning to remind me of the many people I run into who worship at the feet of Elon Musk, and believe that because he can successfully design spacecraft he must therefore also be correct in his idea that we need to immediately cease all social-distancing protocols and reopen all of America's businesses so his bottom line will improve.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Alfred, @ Jim: Re: Future New Zealand-based Civilization-
Poul Anderson's Maurai https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurai

jim said...

Well David I have been watching how our political and economic elites have handled challenges over the last 40 years and I feel quite confident in my assumption that the USA will handle the coming challenges poorly.

The basic problem is structural, we need an economy that is growing in order for our system to be stable. If you don’t think that is true, consider how can debt and interest be payed off if you don’t increase your income? (answer by becoming poorer or defaulting on your debt)

The fact is, the US was so successful during the period of rapid economic growth that we became structurally adapted to rapid economic growth. Now that the age of rapid economic growth (probably economic growth in general) is over we will be wasting a bunch of time and effort trying to bring back the old status quo rather than adapting to the new reality.

Alfred Differ said...

jim,

especially if they are able to retain much of our scientific and some of our technological knowledge

That's the part everyone likes to believe would happen. It's one heck of an assumption, though. I argue it is incorrect. In civilization collapse, parents will have less time to teach non-essential knowledge to children. We will lose what we know to the dusty archives maybe to be re-discovered by the next civilization. Maybe. That next civilization, though, will start up the growth curve without the archive.

So... no cheap deep ocean transport. What we would have is the lower tech brown-water and littoral fleets.

I suspect the Chinese civilization would survive all this, though. They are the oldest civ on the planet and survived worse.

TCB said...

@ Deuxglass and Jon S., I barely noted your debate on Dr. Didier Raoul, but then I saw this on Metafilter this morning: Pandemic Science Out of Control, subheaded "A toxic legacy of poor-quality research, media hype, lax regulatory oversight, and vicious partisanship has come home to roost in the search for effective treatments for COVID-19."

Dr. Raoul gets mauled in this article. I will go ahead and quote four paras:

Today, doctors and researchers are making the same mistake Rush did, and more. Take Didier Raoult, the founder and director of the Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection, in Marseille, France, who was the principal investigator of the study that launched the hubbub over hydroxychloroquine. Raoult and colleagues evaluated 26 patients treated with the drug (six patients were also treated with the antibiotic azithromycin) and 16 control patients who were given supportive care only. Such a small study is inherently problematic. After all, the majority of people with the coronavirus, even those who are hospitalized, will recover. That means a large study is needed in order to trust the results. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, says: “We’re studying a virus in whom 99% of the patients recover. So, if you tell me you did a study of ten or even thirty patients, that’s too small to tell me they wouldn’t have done well anyway.” Thus, the size of Raoult’s study alone should have been a red flag.

More worrisome was the fact that six of the patients Raoult treated with the drug were excluded from the analysis. Why? Because they didn’t complete the full six days of treatment. One died, which makes it difficult to complete any treatment; three got much sicker and had to be transferred to the intensive care unit; and two withdrew from the study. None of the patients in the control arm died, had to be admitted to the ICU, or withdrew.

In other words, all the bad outcomes were among the patients treated with hydroxychloroquine. So how did Raoult manage to claim success? The answer has to do with the use of “surrogate markers,” which are measures, such as laboratory tests, that may or may not have important implications for how well or poorly patients do. In this case, the laboratory measure was a test to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the nose. At day six, 70% of patients who got the drug had cleared the virus from their nose compared with only 12.5% in the control group. In other words, the patients who were treated had less virus, but they still had worse outcomes. Which brings to mind the old joke about the surgeon who comes out of the operating room and announces, “I have good news and bad news. The operation was a success, but the patient died.”

And did we mention that Raoult first publicized the results of this study not in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but on YouTube? Convinced of the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine based on his first, flawed study, Raoult later publicized larger (still unpublished) studies, which he also proclaimed a success. However, in the style of Benjamin Rush, those studies lacked control arms, making it impossible to know what his results mean.

FWIW.

David Brin said...

We know that "growth" has several factors beyond simply increased population and increased use of expendable resources.

One factor was invention, of course, which jim never mentions or addresses. Anothe is "selling rocks to each other" via artificial demand for personal services like nail salons... and the fast-rising realm of amateur avocations. I am on a Covid solutions conference call as we speak, so I am uninterested in debating a dyspeptic grouch with nothing helpful to say. But sure, jim may be right. Either way though, future generations will see no reason to simulate or revive his useless ass. But some of you will be remembered as having fought for the future.

jim said...

Oh my gods David, that was the funniest thing you have written in ages.

OH NOOOO!!!!

Some fantasy super-duper computer will not simulate or revive me in some non-existent future of your imagination.

OH WHAT WILL I EVER DO????

Is Roko’s Basilisk coming to get me???

And it is all because I realized we are deep into ecological overshoot and all the good options are gone.

Treebeard said...

Either way though, future generations will see no reason to simulate or revive his useless ass. But some of you will be remembered as having fought for the future.

LOL, so I guess the cutting edge in Religion of Progress theological thought is: “if you don’t please the god of Progress in this life, you won’t get to live eternally in computer simulation heaven with those who did. You may even be put in a simulation where you experience torment for a long time or forever. Or maybe you’ll be put in an intermediate simulation where you’ll get a second chance to atone for your bad behavior in this life – with enough tries, you may finally get to simulated nirvana.”

Real cutting-edge stuff, I tell you. No one in the pre-modern dark ages ever had such ideas as these highly rational, progressive and scientific modern intellects. Hilarious, as always.

David Brin said...

OMG you two... it ...was... a... freaking... metaphor. Yipping and yapping with glee that overlays and conceals the underlying meaning of the metaphor. One that terrifies you.

That someday the part of you that you have so desperately suppressed -- your conscience -- might someday rise out of the prison where you confined it, and resume pestering your lazy, useless, ingrate asses.

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin, Treebeard Re: "But some of you will be remembered as having fought for the future."-
"Fame after life is no better than oblivion."
-Marcus Aurelius

Since I am such a "jolly soul," a number of years ago I had this thought:
Suppose that after we die we are at ultimate peace (whatever that means).
However, whenever we are remembered, spoken of, read about, etc., we are torn out of this peace and suffer the pains of hell for what seems like an eternity; it is only the unknown and forgotten who can be and remain at peace....

SW (Stay Well),

Keith "A Real Barrel of Laughs Today" Halperin

David Brin said...

What was that flick with Peter O'Toole where the afterlife is all about your fame on Earth?

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin: Re: Movie-
You may mean Wings of Fame:
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098658/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl
Never heard of this one....

@ Everybody: Movies-
To figure out what YOU might like, go here:
https://movielens.org/

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Keith Halperin said...

@ Dr. Brin and Everybody: Re: Fun and Silliness-
Dr. Brin, can't remember if you said you were doing more Uplift stuff or not. (Hope so...)
Anyway, if you ARE, here's an idea- you put create a contest for the names of new races and you pick the ones you like, crediting the winners in the book.

Meanwhile, the names of a new faction and a few races:
The Fabricator Faction-
They believe all other factions tell lies about the Progenitors (and about them).
A major race of this greatly-despised faction is the Tarrumph (a Tarrumph -ab Narcis -ab Le'er -ab Krimnall -ul Vank'uhh) closely aligned with Mak-Koh-Nul and the P'uH T!en (designations unknown). Besides this basic disbelief in- and disrespect for- the values of any other faction, they seem to have few if any other core beliefs beyond a belief in their own innate superiority and a desire for power and wealth within the Five Galaxies.
The Tarrumph are regarded as both bullies and cowards, the Mak-Koh-Nul as obstructionists and tradition-breakers, and the P'uH T!en as greatly manipulative toward other races. Approximately 12,000 hab-years ago, the Fabricators attempted to form an alliance with the Thennanin
(a-Thennanin ab-Wortl ab-Kosh ab-Rosh ab-Tothtoon ul-Paimin ul-Rammin ul-Ynnin ul-Olumimin) and the Oo'tAh (designation unknown) of the Abdicator Faction, feigning commonality of interests, but neither race was persuaded, and to this day both races regard the Fabricator races with loathing....

SW,

Keith