Thursday, January 04, 2018

Strange visitors from beyond...

Oumuamua surprises! The first confirmed and clearly observed visitor from interstellar space has everyone agog. 

Instruments like ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile show that this unique object - traveling through space for millions of years - appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal content object. It varies dramatically in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. About ten times as long as it is wide, Oumuamua exhibits a complex, convoluted shape... So let me guide you through some aspects of this new scientific wonder.

1) Breakthrough Listen used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to aim SETI instruments at Oumuamua, the interstellar asteroid visitor that - (sorry) shows every sign of being just a rock.  And so, despite its weird - even spaceship-like elongated (cigar-ish) profile - is probably not a giant space-probe, like Arthur C. Clarke (who turned 100 December 17) depicted in Rendezvous With Rama. Or Greg Bear’s even more spectacular Thistledown, from his novel Eon.

Still, I have to wonder… have the SETI guys aimed their scopes also at the direction Oumuamua came from? And where (after a hyperbolic swing past our sun) it’s now going? Might our sun have been a swing-by course correction?

2) Note that this won’t be the last! Our instrumentalities have improved so much that we should be spotting more such interstellar visitors from now on, perhaps yearly!  And yes, you are a member of a great, scientific civilization that does stuff like this!

3) At first, astronomers were shocked to see no signs of a comet-like tail from outgassing, as Oumuamua swung past the sun. Theory suggests that the vast majority of small objects flung from planetary systems should be icy.

But the latest findings suggest water might be trapped under a thick, carbon-rich coating on its surface. The way that 'Oumuamua reflects sunlight and found it similar to icy objects from our own Solar System that are covered with a dry crust. Perhaps carbon rich molecules fused by long exposure to interstellar ultraviolet.

Saving ego for last, let me point out that this model - icy small bodies accumulating layers of insulating dust that choke off outgassing over time, happens to be - in the words of a Monty Python character - “mine.”

My own doctoral work at UCSD, way back in 1981, first laid down the theory and simulations of accumulated dust layers or mantles on comets and other bodies, eventually putting them to 'sleep.'

My scientific work has been sparse, as I pursued a wide variety of careers. But a few of my hits might merit remembering.

== More space news ==

My friend William Schopf of UCLA found what he claimed to be the oldest known example of life on Earth, dated back 3.5 billion yearsSome doubted the objects, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, were actually bacteria and microbes. Since then, technology has improved. Schopf and his colleague were able to connect specific carbon-isotope ratios to specific fossil shapes—essentially, enabling them to identify a handful of different ancient living beings. After analyzing the microfossils individually, they identified five species, concluding that two were photosynthesizers, two were methane-consuming organisms, and one produced methane. Wow.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of the TV series “Closer To Truth” gets to ask deep questions of some pretty deep minds. I was privileged to be interviewed for: How should we approach the question of 'are we alone?' "David Brin walks through the logic, along with Jill Tarter, Frank Drake, Francisco Ayala, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrum and others. "

The Planetary Society (I'm on the Advisory Board) is running a contest for Haikus About Space! Here's one - translated from the original dolphin-Trinary:

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

A newly discovered pair of massive black holes, orbiting each other very closely in just 80 or so days, has been discovered in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Preliminary estimates suggest the pair will collide and merge into one black hole “in as little as 350 years or as much as 360,000 years.” When that happens, the show (especially in gravitational radiation) should be very impressive.   (Hm, well, on more careful reading…  we’re seeing them through Andromeda. They may be 2.6 billion light-years behind (1000 times farther away than the Andromeda Galaxy! Still a great show... but somewhat less dazzling.)

A “zombie” star that appears to have gone supernova… and survived.  Perhaps even several times. Really weird.

A new planet in the neighborhood! In 71,000 years, it will become our closest neighbor, and Ross 128 will be the closest temperate planet.

Meanwhile… preliminary evidence for a second planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. I’m a little doubtful.

In 1975, the USSR actually fired a cannon from an orbiting space station. Forty years later, we finally get a good look at this gun

Cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the interiors of large, stony objects. Researchers report using it to study the known and potentially unknown voids in the Great Pyramid in a non-invasive way. They report the discovery of a large void (with a cross section similar to the Grand Gallery and a length of 30 m minimum) above the Grand Gallery, which constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. At NASA NIAC we funded a study to use this method to map the interiors of asteroids. Wow. 

The first and only cat sent into space – Felicette – was sent up by France in 1963. 

A cool new telescope company has a Kickstarter. Skip the expensive and complex secondary optics and use the prime focus to do images digitally.  Alas,  in fact, their imitation of Newtonian optics for viewing is silly. Skip to a VR goggles method. Contact me, I know exactly how to do it and who can implement!

Another player!  Spaceflight startup Vector — which specializes in micro-rockets — plans to launch its first orbit-bound vehicles from Virginia in mid-2018.  The Vector-R is a four-story-high vehicle that can loft satellites weighing up to 145 pounds into lower Earth orbit. The other vehicle is the Vector-H, which is larger, and capable of carrying 350 pounds to LEO.  They hope for hundreds of launches per year.

== Nukes in Space ==

Interesting developments in space nuclear power: “NASA is developing reactors for spacecraft propulsion and for a planetary power source, with the goal of having both available for a crewed mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. But although the agency is advancing a reactor technology that uses low-enriched uranium (LEU), containing less than 20% of 235U for propulsion, its planetary power source, known as Kilopower, utilizes weapons-grade uranium enriched to 90% or more 235U.

“Nonproliferation advocacy organizations have objected to the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU, material containing 20% or more 235U); they say an LEU design, although it would require more time to develop, would be feasible and consistent with US policy.”

Solar energy’s attractiveness is reduced on the Red Planet  because the solar flux reaching Mars is much less than Earth’s and varies greatly depending on the season and geographic position. In addition, Martian dust storms can last for months. Although solar flux on the Moon is comparable to that received on Earth, nonpolar missions would experience a long lunar night period of half a month, which would require massive energy storage.

There is also testing of a nuclear rocket.


DP said...

Are we alone?

According to Occam's Razor we are the only intelligent species at least in this galaxy. If there were any others we would have seen evidence of there existence by now.

According to the Rare Earth Hypothesis ours is the only planet with life more complicated than single celled organisms.

Great summary of the argument in favor of the claim that we are alone can be found here:

"The frequency of GRBs were greater in the past owing to lower levels of metallicity in the galaxy. Metal-rich galaxies (i.e. those with significant accumulations of elements other than hydrogen and helium) feature less gamma-ray bursts. Thus, as our galaxy becomes richer in metals, the frequency of GRBs decreases. What this means is that prior to recent times (and by recent we're talking the past 5 billion years or so), GRB extinction events were quite common. And in fact, some scientists suspect that the Earth was struck by a GRB many billions of years ago. Piran and Jimenez figure that these events were frequent and disbursed enough across the Milky Way to serve as constant evolutionary reset buttons, sending habitable planets back to the microbial dark ages before complex life and intelligence had a chance to develop further. Fascinatingly, before about 5 billion years ago, GRBs were so common that life would have struggled to maintain a presence anywhere in the cosmos (yes, the entire cosmos)."

Odds are, we are alone.

Which means that we get to be the Great Ancient Ones that will one spread life and intelligent species throughout the galaxy. Billions of years form now, intelligent species -our children - will come across evidence of our vast galactic civilization and think we were gods.

DP said...

P.S. Good heavens my typing is bad.

Dr. Brin, can you install an edit feature?

Zepp Jamieson said...

Carried over from prior discussion.
If Hitler had been persuaded to hold off until 1945 to start hostilities, then The Sudetenland would not have happened, and the Brits would have lagged, and the French would have maintained their faith in the Maginot Line.
We do know both nations were woefully unprepared to face Hitler in 1939. France was so weak nine months after the start of the war that Mussolini felt he could take a crack at them (turned out he couldn't). Hitler had already invaded half of France and turned much of the rest into a vassal state by mid June, needing only six weeks to do so. The closest thing to a victory the Brits could manage was Dunkerque, which was the greatest bug-out in history. (This won't make me popular with any French readers, but Churchill's decision to sink much of the French navy on the way out probably made it possible for England to survive the Battle of Britain.)
The US waited pretty late. At the end of 1940, they had 540,000 men in uniform. Anecdotally, many of them trained with wooden rifles because there were so few left from WW1.
When they finally did get it in gear, that allies rose to the challenge magnificently. But in 1939, the need wasn't immediate, and stentorian warnings from future PM Churchill weren't enough.

Anonymous said...

Hello, it's me, again.
Then, the Russians have automatic cannons in orbit .... I wonder how they solve the problem of the recoil of the cannon in space. Since the weapon comes from a weapon used in bombers, the problem of the vibrations and recoil of the weapon were already solved to a large extent; but in space, if precision is required after the first shot, special stabilization systems are required.
Regarding Oumuamua:
The fact that the object did not send radio signals and does not present devices on it, is not an indication that it is not a probe or spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin. Could we detect signals of communication based on gravitational waves? And even if the object does not transmit any signal, I remind you that a lot of man-made probes stopped working and transmitted for various reasons. the Soviet space probes Venera stopped working for different reasons. They could not resist the heat; exhausted batteries; melting by acid atmosphere; shock, etc.
A probe destined for Mars failed because of the infantile error of programming the probe with two different measurement systems. And those probes are in our planetary system. How much more difficult to maintain a ship in optimum operation for more than 250 years!
Yes. The surface of the object is entirely of rock. (apparently) (without a probe there ...) But in my opinion, a rock cylinder is the ideal configuration of a shield. (I had already come to the conclusion that it is ideal to shield a ship with rock to navigate out of the Earth's magnetic field) (until you find out that the ideal shield is magnetic shields and polypropylene plates). (But I guess not all civilizations invented polypropylene, or magnetic shields, and will use whatever is at hand).
We can not prove that Oumuamua is a probe, or a ship with dead crew. But the shape of the object and other very unusual characteristics indicate the possibility that Oumuamua is a ship adrift.
(Someone in my family suggests that Oumuamua is a weapon with a virus thrown at us, in a failed shot) But, as I said before; we can not prove that Oumuamua is a probe, or a ship with dead crew.

Lloyd Flack said...

Germany started reaming first. Britain followed and France followed later.
With the difference in times that rearmament started there was going to be a time of maximum comparative advantage for Germany. This was 1939 to 1940.
Hitler successfully bluffed Chamberlain leading him to believe that Germany's relative strength was Greater in 1938 than it actually was. Chamberlain never believed "peace in our time". That was merely public relations.
Even with their advantages it required a combination of luck and French mistakes for Germany to conquer France. And they took serious losses doing it.
The US arms industry was building up, largely to fulfill large British and French orders, partially for US orders.
If the war had started in 1941 or later the German Army and Air Force would have had a harder time. Only their Navy would have benefited from delay and its achievements de1ended on the bases made available by the conquest of France.

Richard09 said...

per Daniel Duffy: "And in fact, some scientists suspect that the Earth was struck by a GRB many billions of years ago."

Amusing to see they use the 1, 2, 3, many counting scheme.

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's me again.
The google translator made an error.
Correcting and adding data:
It is not possible to deny, with complete certainty, that Oumuamua is a probe or a ship with a dead crew created by an extraterrestrial civilization. But we do see strong indications that Oumuamua itself is a structure created by an extraterrestrial civilization. The indications are sufficient to justify the sending of a probe that takes photos and samples and that can preferably perforate the object up to a quarter of the diameter of depth of the total diameter. (towing the object back would be ideal, but the probe would have to have powerful retro-rockets)

TheMadLibrarian said...

Anon., would you be so kind as to provide links or other ruminations on why you believe that Oumuamua is an ET creation, crewed or non?

Zepp Jamieson said...

On Space Haikus, here's my (very tongue-in-cheek) submission:
Baby Oumuamua
Sing Oumuamua, mua mua mua
The bird is the word.

LarryHart said...


Hello, it's me, again.

Who are you, again?

Anonymous said...

Dear "TheMadLibrarian" and estimated "LarryHart":
There was a Jesuit priest, called "Jaime Balmes". This Jesuit priest studied the questions of logic a lot. He said:
Idea of ​​physical or natural impossibility The physical or natural impossibility is that an event is outside the laws of Nature. It is naturally impossible that a stone released in the air does not fall to the ground, that the water left to itself does not rise to the level, that a body submerged in a fluid of lesser gravity does not sink, that the stars stop in their career , because the laws of Nature prescribe the opposite.
That's what Balmes said. If we agree that what he said is true, we can understand that claiming that Oumuamua is a simple asteroid is a natural impossibility, given that with the exception of Oumuamua, all known asteroids and comets are not huge cylinders without ice . That is, it is a natural impossibility that Oumuamua is a simple asteroid of natural origin.
I will explain the concept from the point of view of politics: All the oligarchs that we have known throughout the history of humanity are malignant and parasitic. Consequently, the kind and just oligarchs are a natural impossibility.
Hi, it's me again: Luis. (I'm a "writer" "inventor" "explorer" etc ...)

Anonymous said...

Dear "TheMadLibrarian" and estimated "LarryHart":
Hi, it's me again: Luis.
I forgot to say that I am from the northeast of Mexico and it is my responsibility to know what other people do not know ........ (the latter is a joke) (But, I wish I knew everything. But no. So if we have lemons, we make lemonade.)

David Brin said...

Oumuamua is departing faster than New Horizons. That's how we know it was interstellar. We have nothing that could catch it.

Laurence said...

ust read the aricle on FĂ©licette. That poor cat!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. David Brin
NASA could create an ion engine with the required power in six months. The ship, built in orbit, would have a first stage of conventional rockets. (Perhaps those of Saturn 5 that are in the museum) And we launched the ship in flight close to Mars, for a gravitational pull. And if we put the ship at the end of a rod with a large plate of titanium fiber with cells filled with graphite, we could take advantage of the explosion of several; old warheads of neutron bombs; to accelerate at high speed. Without human passengers, it is not necessary to shield against heavy radiation. And after using the nuclear explosions, the ship is detached from the rod and impact plate, then activating the powerful ion engine. After having the sun behind the ship, a solar sail is deployed.
Yes. That ship of multiple kinds of propeller does not exist. But NASA has the technology to do it. And getting experience in asteroid interceptors is vital for the survival of the human species. Otherwise, it does not make sense to have a space program.

I should go take a shower. ¡With the cold that makes! I imagine that the Russians never bathe; because in Russia the cold is deadly. Maybe that's why the Russians are tough guys; because they live in a difficult climate. ¡Bye!

Anonymous said...

Ho, the previous message was: Hello, it's me again; Luis.

duncan cairncross said...

I'm still extremely NOT convinced about the Gamma Ray Bursters
Such a thing doing a nasty to one hemisphere - yes - mass extinction - maybe
But causing a planet wide mass extinction NO

The fact that such events are of short duration means that they would need to be very close as in blow the atmosphere off close to cause a planet wide mass extinction

Lloyd Flack said...

A gamma ray burst has been suggested as the cause of the first pulse of the End-Ordovician mass extinction. But glaciation, sea level change and anoxic waters seem enough to explain both pulses. And there is no reason to believe that gamma ray bursts were involved in any of the other mass extinctions.

Catfish N. Cod said...


There should be a “Comment as” menu near the main comment box. You can use it to type in a name; that way you don’t have to be “Anonymous” and write in “Hi this is Luis” every time.

Welcome! Having a new perspective is very valuable to us.

With all due respect to Fr. Balmes, I would have to disagree with your first argument. Just because X has always been observed does not mean that not-X is impossible. It just means you need a lot of evidence to show not-X.

Your second idea, of a bomb and pusher plate, is usually referred to in the United States as an “Orion Drive” after the 1960’s Project Orion that studied the design. You’re right that such a drive could probably intercept Ounuamua. Right now, weapons control treaties prevent the construction or use of an Orion vessel; and we would have to have one ready very quickly to catch it. Rushing an atomic bomb project is not usually a good idea.

An ion drive would probably not be as useful. The virtue of an ion drive is not speed but fuel efficiency: it can run for years on end, but only with a light push. Good for normal asteroid intercept but bad for Oumuamua. Solar sails are the same way, except close to the sun where they become very powerful. I hope we get solar sails working routinely soon, just as we routinely build probes with ion drives now.

LarryHart said...


I wasn't making fun of you. I was really asking who you were, as many different people post as "Anonymous". If you'd rather do so, you can click the "Name/URL" option (or whatever its Spanish translation says) and just enter "Luis" by hand in the Name box. You don't need a URL. That way, your name will appear the way mine does in this post.

LarryHart said...


With all due respect, there are many things which never occurred...until they do. Look at sports. No one ever hit 714 home runs until someone did. No one ever ran a four minute mile until someone did. No idiot ever sat in the White House...sorry!:)

LarryHart said...

First, they came for the recreational marijuana users, and I didn't speak up...

BTW, whoever said the right-wing would stick with Trump over Bannon was right on the money. The thing to watch, though, is who the basket of deplorables is more influenced by.

Jon S. said...

Luis, there is a fatal flaw in the comparison. We have derived physical theories (which those not of a scientific nature like to refer to as "laws") explaining why a rock dropped in a gravity field will fall (while noting that in the absence of gravity, it won't fall) or why an object of lesser density than the medium in which it's suspended will float.

There is no physical theory requiring that all rocks in space must be irregular and somewhat rounded, unless smoothed by gravity. In fact, a shape like that of 'Oumuamua seems inevitable; in an infinite universe (or one close enough to infinite that it makes no nevermind), even the rarest of shapes must occur eventually, and there have been at least 13 billion years for it to happen during). Fr Balmes' hypothesis when applied to this, on the other hand, is not dissimilar from someone who grew up on the banks of a gentle river concluding that all rocks not embedded in the ground must of necessity be small and rounded, because he's certainly never observed any exceptions. He's in for a nasty shock the first time he visits a scree slope or a rock quarry, however...

Jon S. said...

Mr. Duffy, I must also disagree with your application of Occam's Razor. All it tells us is that no technologically advanced civilization with an intense curiosity about their neighbors has arisen less than x years ago, when x is the distance to such a hypothetical civilization in lightyears. (There might well have been an advanced civilization, perhaps even star-spanning, on the other side of the Milky Way some twenty thousand years ago, which collapsed for unknowable reasons ten years ago - but we'd never know, because even if they produced enough EM radiation to be detectable on the far side of a galaxy, the most recent data we have from there is at least a hundred thousand years old.) An absence of data is not the same as negative data, particularly when there are other plausible explanations (such a civilization might not be curious about anything not dealing with immediate survival; they might not broadcast information widely in EM frequencies - Niven hypothesized that interstellar communications would take place using masers and spacecraft; they might not be old enough to have impinged on us yet; and, yes, they might not exist, and we might indeed be trapped into being the Elder Race).

We can hypothesize, but there simply aren't enough data to reach a meaningful conclusion.

Paul SB said...

Laurence (is that Laurence Weppe?),

Agreed about the feline. I'm going to go way off topic here, but I hope no one minds and is so compulsive they can't just skip my post. It brought me back to my home town, where I knew quite a few young males who liked to boast of catching cats and throwing them into a tree shredder or a yard full of guard dogs. Aside from being needlessly sadistic, it got me thinking about the consequences of stereotypes. These twisted sisters hated cats not because they loved dogs, but because they perceived cats as "feminine" and dogs as "masculine." it should be obvious enough that both species have to have both sexes, but what is "manly" and what is "womanly" are cultural ideas, not biological. And since Western cultures have tended to place all things manly on a pedestal and all things womanly in a pit, portraying one as strong and valuable, the other as weak and worthless, the association of manliness with dogs, most breeds being bigger and stronger than cats, makes a certain sort of sense. Never mind the reality that if you put any canine up against a mountain lion, Rover becomes Cat Chow, except possibly if Rover is a Rottweiler. But you see how one idea contaminates another, right? The really ugly side of this is self-perpetuation - so many males think that because being "manly" means being strong, that they necessarily have to be violent, and since being "womanly" means being weak, men necessarily can do anything they want with women. I don't see much of a connection between this and Feliceté, except that perhaps the people who euthanized and dissected her didn't have a problem doing that, seeing kitty as an undesirable life form to begin with, but she was one of several animals to suffer the same fate, so there may have been a different conceptual dynamic at play. Either way, I hope that more people will start to think about these things and re-evaluate their ideas.

Sorry for the digression. I am enjoying the discussion of Oumuamua (and the haiku), Occam's Razor, so-called Laws and the misperceptions of probability and correlation. All good stuff worth wrapping our minds around and applying broadly. If I were awake I would contribute.

Darrell E said...

I've always thought the Rare Earth Hypothesis was . . . , well, let's just leave it at invalid. I think it is ludicrous to think that we have enough data to put any confidence in the REH. Additionally, what data we do have does not support it. Nearly everything knew we learn further contradicts it.

1) The laws of physics appear to be the same as far back in time and as far away as we can detect.

2) The more we learn about biology on our sample of one planet, Earth, the more it appears that life occurred very quickly after conditions became not ludicrously improbable. Currently the oldest evidence of life ranges from 3.465 to 3.95 billion years old, just 500 million years after the formation of the Earth. At the bleeding edge of abiogenesis / entropy research, meaning not well tested but interesting, is recent work (2014) by the physicist Jeremy England which suggests that any system with an outside source of energy, such as Earth / sun, will naturally tend towards evolving life because life is more efficient at dissipating energy, i.e. increasing entropy, than non-living systems.

3) Organic compounds, up to and including a wide range of amino acids, have been found in places ranging from asteroids to the interstellar medium.

4) Prior to 1992 the general consensus was, ridiculously in my opinion, that extrasolar planets were probably rare. Since then we have begun to develop the ability to detect planets around other stars. Guess what? Everywhere we look we find planets. And we're barely able to see yet. Not surprisingly, as our abilities slowly improve the more smaller planets we find. Virtually every pessimistic claim about which we have been able to actually gather some data has been shown to be wrong. Extrasolar planets are rare?
Wrong. Multiple-star systems can't have planets? Wrong. Liquid water is rare? Wrong.

5) The REH is a series of claims based on the specific history of Earth, that certain events in Earth's history were necessary for the evolution of Earth's biosphere to have occurred as it did. I think at least some of the reasons that that is a useless claim are pretty clear. For one, it's trivially true but non sequitur. For another, we don't know what the history of the Earth is with enough precision or assuredness to warrant any confidence in the claim. Already since the REH was formulated the history it assumes has changed.

If we want to invoke Occam's Razor to choose between complex life only happened on Earth and complex life also happened elsewhere it seems obvious to me that life also happened elsewhere is what we're left with. Why? Because we have one example of it and while we do not yet have the capability to look anywhere else we know that the basic composition of the universe and the laws that obtain are the same everywhere as far as we are able to perceive.

But really, I don't understand why anyone would feel sure about either side of this proposition because based on the available evidence the only position that it makes sense to place a high level of assuredness in is "We Don't Know, Yet."

raito said...

Darrell E,

From last time...

I can see the tweet now: "Even better than Caligula! Best orgy Ever!"

Dr. Brin,

Too bad you brought up Eon and spoiled my potato joke.

Re: Felicette. Reminds me of the band Laika and the Cosmonauts.

Jon S. said...

Felicette put me in mind (as so many things tend to lately) of my favorite video game, Fallout 4. Specifically, there's a downloadable mod that adds a pre-War radio station, Atomic Radio, to your Pip-Boy.

Now, remember that the history of the Fallout universe differs from ours starting sometime in the 1950s, when instead of transistors they developed a more efficient version of a vacuum tube...

One of the features that comes up on the station is a PSA, "Great Moments in History". One of the moments regards the first launch of a life form into space, when the US Space Administration beat the Russian launch of a dog with Mr. Pebbles, the first cat in space (chosen because of the species' famed insouciance; it was feared that a dog would become overeager and damage the capsule). While the Russians sat stunned, NATO held a high-level conference in which it was decided that the US would provide Britain, France, and Canada with their own US-trained feline astronauts - "Mr. Whiskers, Miss Pussy, and folk singer Cat Stevens."

Mr. Pebbles also makes a cameo of sorts, at least insofar as a cameo can be made in a radio play; he's the commanding officer of a mission with a human, who passes out in space when something goes wrong and then recovers on the ground, Mr. Pebbles having successfully landed the craft. Only as the story progresses does the man learn that he's somehow returned to the wrong universe - Nuka-Cola has been replaced by something known as Coke, his requests for A Cup o' Joe are filled by someone offering him a weird brand called "Folgers", and he can't find a Joe's Spuckies sandwich shop anywhere. At the end of the story, the space agency administrators we heard at the very beginning (when they were USSA officials - now they're with NASA) are discussing the poor man's case, and how he's had to be locked up because he refuses to accept reality, going so far as to insist his pilot had been a cat even when they showed him Mr. Pebbles' space suit - "clearly designed for a Canine-American."

Marino said...

re: cats
" where I knew quite a few young males who liked to boast of catching cats and throwing them into a tree shredder or a yard full of guard dogs"

cruelty to animals being a sign of sociopathic/serial killer many of them ended their life strapped to a gurney with a IV drip in the arm and waiting for a nice mix of chemicals to act? :-)
(OK. I'm a cat person )

PS: i subscribe to mr. Duffy's request about an editing feature, too.


LarryHart said...

Jon S:

Mr. Duffy, I must also disagree with your application of Occam's Razor. All it tells us is that no technologically advanced civilization with an intense curiosity about their neighbors has arisen less than x years ago, when x is the distance to such a hypothetical civilization in lightyears.

We can hypothesize, but there simply aren't enough data to reach a meaningful conclusion.

To me, this is equivalent to the concept of being "space-wise separated" from events from which there is no possible way (absent FTL travel) of our receiving any information. Whether such events exist or not is a moot point--they can't have any effect on us one way or another.

I feel the same way about the possibility of intelligent life which existed too long ago and far away to interact with us. It doesn't matter whether such things existed or not. Not to us, anyway. If we're the only intelligent life form within our sphere of possible influence, that's just as good (or bad) as our being the only intelligent life form at all.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

These twisted sisters hated cats not because they loved dogs, but because they perceived cats as "feminine" and dogs as "masculine."

When I was a tot, and not understanding the biology at all, I took for granted that all dogs were "boys" and all cats were "girls".

LarryHart said...

Darrell E:

I've always thought the Rare Earth Hypothesis was . . . , well, let's just leave it at invalid. I think it is ludicrous to think that we have enough data to put any confidence in the REH. Additionally, what data we do have does not support it. Nearly everything knew we learn further contradicts it.

I used to think that the evolution of life was such an unlikely event that it was easy to believe it only happened once.

My mind was changed--I can still remember the moment--during my first visit to Disney's EPCOT Center shortly after it opened in the 1980s. There, I saw films of strange "alien" life which formed deep in the ocean where light does not exist, but plenty of geothermal energy does. It occurred to me then that some sort of self-perpetuating energy-using system seems almost inevitably to form in just about any environment.

Ambulocetus said...

Marino said: "how many of them ended their life strapped to a gurney with a IV drip in the arm and waiting for a nice mix of chemicals to act?"

More likely they ended up as CEOs with stock options and a golden parachute

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Jon S.: Radio attenuation in interstellar space is underappreciated: not just the inverse-square law and the requirement for narrow-band, narrow-beam transmission, but also the effects of interstellar dust and gas -- especially over galactic-scale distance. I especially note that we know essentially nothing about the Milky Way diametrically opposed from our position, because the gas/dust/luminous material is too dense to see through on pretty much any wavelength.

The greater the distance, the more one must:
* Increase power and receiver scale in order to punch through
* Target the beam more precisely to prevent signal:noise degradation... which requires knowing the target in advance... unless you MASSIVELY increase the power to do an omnidirectional broadcast.

I would not feel confident in saying that SETI silence means anything for a distance more than a few thousand light-years out, unless the civ on the other end were a Kardashev Type II with an entire sun's power available for broadcast. I would not be sure that any civ could pick us up more than a few hundred light-years out. In Carl Sagan's Contact, communications were established with an automated survey buoy in the Vega system, 26 light-years away; the remainder of the communication links were channeled via wormhole-based FTL, and never propagated in vaccum at all.

In sum, the chances of finding a civ by SETI are, IMHO, low -- unless they want to be found. Likewise, the chances of being found by a civ are low -- unless they are actively looking. We want to find other civs. That may not be a universal trait.

@Darrell: the only part of the Rare Earth hypothesis that made any sense to me were the arguments for a stable orbit and either being or having a large moon (which stabilizes rotation speed and axis) being a requirement for complex life. I agree with you and Larry that life is probably common. Many of the REH criteria are easily met by a Europan hab-zone scenario, for instance. But I can imagine a very large number of planets getting trapped as microbe-only worlds, with conditions unsuited for multicellular life. In Drake Equation terms, I can only buy REH as an argument for low f(i).

@Jon: I didn't remember Atomic Radio; apparently it is a third-party plug-in for Fallout 4, and I was unable to integrate such on my system. I would call attention to the backstory for Fallout as a vision of an American fascism based on 1950's nostalgia (the culture was frozen for most of the 21st century).

Laurence said...

And since Western cultures have tended to place all things manly on a pedestal and all things womanly in a pit, portraying one as strong and valuable, the other as weak and worthless, the association of manliness with dogs, most breeds being bigger and stronger than cats, makes a certain sort of sense

It's interesting that the the Chrisitan world historically took a dim view of cats and idolised dogs, while in the Muslim world it was the other way round. (even today, a cat being kicked is a source of slapstick humour, whereas the same is not true for a dog) Both cultures were equally "macho" in the past, so preumably Mohammed didn't see cats as feminine. Attitudes towards cleanliness might have something to do with it, the koran is so full of injunctions about washing that I've often wondered if Mohammed had OCD. He proably admired cats for their fastidiousness.

Darrell E said...

@ Catfish N. Cod

I don't find the stable orbit or large moon arguments of the REH very convincing either.

I mean, sure, having an orbit stable enough for long enough to maintain favorable enough conditions for evolution to result in complex life does seem like a reasonable requirement for complex life to evolve. But, 1) how long is necessary?, 2) what conditions are favorable enough and how wide is the range? 3) what good reason is there to suppose that such stable orbits are rare? I don't find any of the arguments I've heard regarding the rarity of stable orbits convincing because we have virtually no evidence to go on, many models have been devised giving a wide range of results from rare to not rare, and our one sample solar system has many bodies with long term stable orbits.

Just as one example, as I said earlier it was long thought, even after we began finding extrasolar planets, that planets around multi-star systems would not occur at all or would quickly (relatively speaking) be lost due to significant instability. That's what modeling seemed to indicate. Up until some planets around multi-star systems where found. Now there are models that show that planetary orbits in such systems can be relatively stable.

Regarding the large moon argument, either being or having one in order to stabilize rotation speed and axial tilt, not buying it. Same basic reasons, only more so. We have no idea how stable rotation and axial tilt need to be for complex life to evolve, or whether they are a significant factor at all. All we can say is that the Earth's rotation period and its axial tilt have shaped the evolution of life on Earth. But, how could they not? What reasons do we have to think these same conditions are necessary for complex life to evolve in general? Also, what good reason do we have to think that bodies similar to Earth or the forest moon of Endor are exceptionally rare? None that I would be willing to bet on. And of course it also depends on what is meant by "rare."

More generally, regarding the idea that simple single-celled life may be not rare but complex life probably is? Again, I don't find any of the arguments particularly convincing. Except for some very general terms, like there being enough energy available to support larger more complex organisms, I don't think we have any good idea what barriers there might be to the evolution of complex life once single celled life has evolved. The parameter space is too large and we have virtually no data to work with. We have an example of one and going by just that paltry data, it's a zoo out there.

I want to live for 500 years or so just so I can know what we have discovered about these questions by then. Of course that assumes that we survive and continue to advance at a reasonable pace. We can ill afford the Trumps of the world cramping our style.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@Darrell: I don't think we really understand orbit stability, because we don't really understand the universe of possibilities. Most work prior to 1995 has to be disregarded because the existence of hot Jupiters threw everyone's assumptions out the window. On billion-year timescales, chaos theory seems to reign. I would find the 'shepherd' theory more plausible (that a gas giant in a higher orbit would deflect harmful asteroids and/or direct volatiles to a potential hab-planet). All I meant by 'stable orbit' was 'not being ejected from the star system', which comes back around to 'number of suitable planets'.

The argument on single vs. complex life does not rest solely on Earth, but on Venus (runaway greenhouse), Mars (loss of liquid surface water), and Europa (similar to Earth's deep-water vents but with an ice shield blocking light and radiation). From these data points -- still quite a small N! -- we see that a number of conditions are required to get a self-regulating gardenworld: the right amount of energy input (solar insolation, tidal flexing, etc.), balancing the right gravity with loss of atmosphere, the right volatiles (H2O, but also air mix to keep it liquid and planetbound), etc. It doesn't take a huge leap to see that microbes on Mars or Europa have reduced niches compared to Earth. I expect there to be more planets like them than like Earth.

That's a negative argument, though. The positive argument would rest on what conditions encourage the development of complex life, and there the N really is one. We know the history of life on Earth, and that's all we know. Insufficient data. By the tail-end of my life, I expect us to at least know which planets in which systems to look at more closely. I am not holding my breath on actually finding another gardenworld, though. [But if we do find one or more, it's long-term stupendous news that will have deep effects on our thinking.]

Paul SB said...


I agree with the sentiments re: cruelty to animals. My own sense of justice would suggest that any killer be subjected to the same treatment given to the victim. That would violate the "cruel and unusual punishments" clause, though, but I do indulge the darker side of my imagination at times. But I have no way of knowing the fates of these sickoes, I don't even remember names after so long. Our Walking Whale buddy could easily be right in some cases, but I suspect a majority will end their days in a drunken stupor, a drug overdose or some Spingeresque witless violence.

Ideas about politics also factor into cruelty to animals, and I don't just mean that right-wingers are more often the kind of dog lovers who hate cats. Once I was working with some engineers on a fiber project in Southern California and they proudly boasted about shooting spotted owls and nailing them to the doors of "environmentalists."


Your comment shows just how early enculturation seeps into people and twists their logic around. Your experience is probably extremely common.


I hope we don't end up with fatwas against us, but I've had the same thought, especially given that he fared from a very dry region where drinking water is precious. If we try to psychoanalyze the founders of the world's religions no doubt we will find a whole lot of mental disorders among them, to say nothing of hallucinations that can be induced through extreme asceticism (Buddha, St. Anselm - pretty much anyone who had "visions" under conditions of extreme privation, like wandering through a desert).

Paul SB said...

I like how you guys are taking down the Rare Earth Hypothesis. I have to say that Darrell gets the prize for his simple statement of scientific philosophy: "We Don't Know, Yet." Too much of your species too easily goes with believing in nonsense because they don't want to look stupid and admit that they just don't know everything. That goes dectuple for the trollish subspecies.

LarryHart said...

Back to this for a moment, I wonder if Jeff Flake and Bob Corker backed off from Steve Bannon too quickly:

Mr. Bannon had a momentary victory on that front in September when Mr. Moore easily won the Republican nomination in Alabama, overcoming the opposition of Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell. And he crowed when Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, both of whom have harshly criticized Mr. Trump, said they would not run again in 2018.

duncan cairncross said...

Re Simple v Complex life

I find the huge gap between the two on Earth to be instructive

It looks as if simple life started very early - almost as early as was possible
But more complex life started a lot later - as in over 2 Billion years later - and then exploded into huge numbers of forms in a few tens of millions of years
Two Billion years is a large fraction of the "available" time between planetary creation and planetary end

Rare Earths
How much water do you need?
Too little - obviously a problem
Too much - think about the earth with an ocean 1 km deep at the shallow end
The top layers have sun - but no minerals
The bottom has no sun
You may get life at thermal vents - but if it took 2 billion years of life on a whole planet to move to complex life then it would never happen
And if it did it would not spread

Maybe the only reason that Earth is dry enough is the collision that produced the moon

Zepp Jamieson said...

Since you were a tot, I assume you've learned that the reality is all dogs are Democrats and all cats are Republicans.

LarryHart said...

@Zepp Jamieson,

You've got it reversed. Dogs follow the alpha-male and hunt in packs. Cats are impossible to herd. Which parties do those sound like?

For whoever on this list is familiar with Neil Gaiman's "Sandman", I've been wanting to re-write his episode called "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" as "A Dream of a Thousand Democrats". See, Republicans have dreamed a world into existence where they run everything. And if just a handful of Democrats--maybe a thousand--would dream together, we could recreate the world in our favor.

But have you ever tried to get even ten Democrats to do the same thing?

LarryHart said...

...not to mention that you can't spell "Democrat" without "c", "a", and "t".


David S said...

Zepp, I think you got that backwards.

Zepp Jamieson said...

You're right, of course. I was thinking on an individual level: a dog is generous, caring, and good company. Cats are mean, heedless and ... cats. (And I say that as a cat lover).

LarryHart said...

Lapdogs are certainly Republicans (think Lindsay Graham).

Pitbulls are even more Republicans.

Cats are entertaining. I've never seen an entertaining Republican.

Demo-Cats are satiable. They stop eating when they're full. They're also picky about only consuming very specific foods. And they do their business in private and clean up afterwards.

Republi-Dogs are rapacious. They can't stop consuming until the food is gone, and then they want more. They require servants to clean up after their poo. And they piss on snowflakes.

Zepp Jamieson said...

You guys win. Cats are Democrats, Dogs are Republicans!
I always thought "Snowflake" described Republicans better: they're white, cold, and if you get enough of them together, they close the schools.

LarryHart said...


I loved that Republican snowflake thing when I heard it on Stephanie Miller's radio show. You have to specify "close the public schools" to really make it work. But yes, it's funny because it's true.

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugman knows that #ThereAreNoGoodRepublicans.

the cynical bargain that has been the basis of Republican strategy since Reagan has now turned into a moral trap. And as far as we can tell, no elected Republican – not one – has the strength of character to even attempt an escape.

The cynical bargain I’m talking about, of course, was the decision to exploit racism to advance a right-wing economic agenda. Talk about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, then slash income taxes. Do Willie Horton, then undermine antitrust. Tout your law and order credentials, then block health care.

For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side.

LarryHart said...

same Krugman article:

More specifically, Trump’s very awfulness means that if he falls, the whole party will fall with him. Republicans could conceivably distance themselves from a president who turned out to be a bad manager, or even one who turned out to have engaged in small-time corruption. But when the corruption is big time, and it’s combined with obstruction of justice and collaboration with Putin, nobody will notice which Republicans were a bit less involved, a bit less obsequious, than others. If Trump sinks, he’ll create a vortex that sucks down everyone involved.

And so we now have the Republican party as a whole fully complicit in Trump’s crimes – because that’s what they are, whether or not he and those around him are ever brought to justice.

What this means, among other things, is that expecting the GOP to exercise any oversight or constrain Trump in any way is just foolish at this point. Massive electoral defeat – massive enough to overwhelm gerrymandering and other structural advantages of the right – is the only way out.

TCB said...

RE: cats as "feminine". I have a book about the Proto-Indo-European language (the stone-bronze age root of many modern tongues): Written in Stone: A Journey Through the Stone Age and the Origins of Modern Language by Christopher Stevens, which says that feline and female are both based on the PIE word dha, to suckle, by way of Latin. "The Romans called cats felidae - hence feline- not because they were lucky animals, but because they multiplied so fast: felis means fruitful."

TCB said...

Oh, and for space haiku:

Dark monarch enthroned,
Sagittarius A Star
Rules the Milky Way

Alfred Differ said...

Anyone who thinks cats are 'feminine' hasn't lived with a tomcat who still has all his parts. Unless you take steps to make them fat, lazy, and dependent, they are all rather lethal and aloof.

As for the Rare Earth notion, that died for me as a student in an early astrophysics class when we were taught how to estimate the mass of the interstellar medium in the Milky Way. With a back-of-the-envelope method, we came up with about 90% of the material sitting between the stars instead of being IN the stars. It seemed to me that star formation processes (whatever they might actually be) couldn't be very good at consuming their seed material. Thus.... there were likely to be a lot of planets and smaller bodies. I knew that wasn't a rigorous argument, but estimation is a critical skill when you don't have a lot of data. That made it 'good enough for now' as far as I was concerned.

What I WAS willing to accept is that a Star Trek type of universe with scads of worlds with human-looking intelligent species was unlikely. The green Klingons and the wrinkle-of-the-week are good for keeping production costs down, but that's about it. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

>Swift interloper
Adam's children work their task

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

What I WAS willing to accept is that a Star Trek type of universe with scads of worlds with human-looking intelligent species was unlikely.

1950s (Foundation) and 1960s (Star Trek) sci-fi with populated planets always seemed to me to be analogues to our experience of populated countries. It's also unlikely that the human form would have spontaneously developed on separate continents too. No one seriously believes that happened. Humans migrated across the planet. That didn't prevent the discovery of America from being a surprise to the discoverers and the discoverees.

The opponent races like Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians--yeah, they should probably be entirely different life forms. But that's a misreading of what Star Trek is. It was never meant, either by the writers or the fans, to be a dispassionate projection of what the future will look like a few centuries down the road. It's meant as an action/adventure drama (and sometimes comedy) show plausibly set in the trappings of future technology. The word "plausibly" is what distinguishes the show from more hokey sci-fi, but the fact is that the science is in service to the fiction, not the other way around.

LarryHart said...

Probably not the space haiku you're going for, but...

Eros and Thanos.
Malcolm, Colin, Duncan too.
Clash of the Titans.

Paul SB said...

My God, what have I done?!

Now we are assigning house pets to political parties. Where I grew up, that was considered obvious - dog lovers are REAL MEN and of course REAL MEN are manly, which makes them Republicans. Cats are feminine/gay, like all those snooty intellectual faggots who vote for the Dems.

If that's the case, what household pets would represent Libertarians, the Green Party or the American Nazi Party? Snakes, lizards and scorpions, maybe?


Wasn't it the Orions who were green? Klingons just had a sacrum on their foreheads, making them buttheads.
The problem with making aliens that are really alien is that it requires some real imagination, which is sadly lacking in your run-of-the-mill science fiction writer. What is even harder is making aliens who act alien, and not just like us but with an odd fetish or two related to what Earth animal they were anthropomorphized from (reptilian aliens who like to bask, canine aliens who are always scratching, etc.). If more of these writers had more science education, drawing from biology and cultural anthropology, it might get interesting.

This is one of the things I like about our host, and a few others out there. Treiki are high on my list of cool aliens. Anne McCaffrey, when she wasn't writing dragon rider novels, had some very alien aliens. I loved her Thek, which were huge siliceous pyramids that spoke so slow a single word got stretched out to most of a line of text, and few humans could carry on a conversation. And in his short career James Alan Gardner came up with some crazy stuff, like a super intelligent gestalt made of glow-in-the-dark moss.

Paul SB said...

Okay, I'll take a stab at haiku, though I don't count poetry among my talents.

Even the stars die
For ages we did not know
Nothing forever

LarryHart said...

Star Trek did have a few truly-alien aliens. The Horta and the "companion" energy being come immediately to mind.

But a weekly action/adventure dramatic tv series in the 1960s can't do without the individual vs individual conflict that at least requires the viewer to identify with the opponent as something like a human adversary with humanesque motivations.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

This is one of the things I like about our host, and a few others out there. Treiki are high on my list of cool aliens.

My wife is the one who noticed that the name "Traeki" seems to be a deliberate riff on "Trekkie". I haven't yet had the nerve to ask our host if that was deliberate.:)

There are times in my life when I know something uncomfortable has happened, but because I don't have the documentation in hand yet, a part of my brain wants to stubbornly pretend that it might not be the case (Example: a large check that has already been mailed but hasn't yet cleared the bank). Ever since I read the second Uplift trilogy, I think of myself as Asx in that situation.

Jon S. said...

Yes, Orions were green. As for Klingons, I defer to Voltaire, in the song USS Make Shit Up:

And what is with the Klingons?
Remember in the day
They looked like Puerto Ricans
And they dressed in gold lame
Now they look like heavy metal rockers from the dead
With leather pants and frizzy hair
And lobsters on their heads!

Alfred Differ said...

Okay. They weren't green. I blame my old TV when I was a kid. 8)

Dogs are too willing to be suck-ups to be manly. What's wrong with you people?!
(Don't go there.)

Many libertarians use a porcupine for the group symbol, but I think an armadillo might be a better choice.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
What about an ostrich - IMHO that would be OK for libertarians

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

Okay. They weren't green. I blame my old TV when I was a kid. 8)

Were they green in the animated series? I seem to remember them as green as well. Not bright green like the Orions, but a green tint. Maybe their uniforms were green? Or their ships?

Dogs are too willing to be suck-ups to be manly. What's wrong with you people?!

Dogs are the preferred pets of manly men. That doesn't make them manly themselves. Almost the opposite thing.

Tony Fisk said...

Re: REH. It strikes me that taking a billion years for complex life forms to arise on Earth is evidence the process takes a significant fraction of the life of the Universe. It's possible Earth struck lucky, and that we're significantly quicker tban the mean.

Of course, it may be that everyone evolved beyond organics and compacted their star spanning empires into dark matter based computronium aeons ago. We're kept on as a sort of cosmic Truman Show...

Who can tell? Who can tell?

Marino said...

I'm reading Fire and Fury. Odd that even before being translated, Italian Trumpists* bagan to label it as "garbage and gossip, ounworthy even to buy"

*: think: I met online on a blog about Italian politics a Randroid Trumpist, anti EU, pro Brexit and pro Putin because "Russia ha flat tax". Some virues spread wide...

LarryHart said...


What's funny is that the book seems only to confirm what most people already knew. Maybe not those inside the FOX News bubble (and I know you've got an Italian equivalent), but everyone else could already see that Trump acts like a spoiled six year old, and I myself was noting that he didn't really want to be president* while the campaign was still in progress. All the book does is put documented evidence of the truth out there into the public in a form that many people will now have access to in common. The equivalent of making the latest news/gossip story into a widely-viewed made-for-tv miniseries.

* The conflict was always that he wanted to win the election, but he never wanted to live the role of president afterwards. In fact, the best possible personal outcome for Trump might have been if he won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote. He could spend years then railing at the unfair system from his new Trump TV studio and then spend many hours on the golf course and grabbing women by the p---y.

Paul SB said...


I think any time a person works for a large corporation they are like Asx being forced to work for the Jophur. Instead of having a slave-master ring, we have a mortgage, a car that gets more expensive to feed every time the Corporate Party controls the White House and are shackled with medical bills we wouldn't have if we weren't trapped in one of the most stressful cultures on the planet, with a health care system and affordable nutrition based on the very Biblical adage that Rank Hath its Privileges. Sure, Alexander Hirgensheimer managed to beat the system, but most of us innocent ring-stacks will never be so fortunate.


I thought the original Klingons were many to resemble the Spaniards from the pirate movies of the time, especially after seeing "That Day of the Dove" when a sword fight broke out on the decks of the Enterprise. The one oddity in that episode is that it was Sulu running around bare-chested instead of Kirk. I can see the Puerto Rican resemblance, but only second hand by way of 18th Century Spain.

Alfred and Larry,

Cats and dogs are both predators, but dogs are much more noisy about it, because they are so much larger they can be used to kill other men, and dogs are naturally pack hunters with a hierarchy. In spite of American propaganda about "rugged individualists" it is eminently clear that human males tend more toward the pack animal model than the solitary hunter. In the words of Helen Fisher, "Men tend to be hierarchical, but women are driven to make lateral connections so they can cooperate." You have to place emphasis on the word "tend," but these are the qualities that I think make dogs appear to be "manly" to people of our culture. Once a human has established himself as alpha male, his bitches will do his bidding without question, just like warriors in battle obeying their commander. Cats are the real rugged individualists, though they are happy to express the lap-cat side of their natures, as dogs do in their own canine way. Why do you think that the most commercially successful sports are team sports. Manly types can get pretty fanatically canine loyal and aggressive about their football and basketball teams, but you don't see guys beating each other up in parking lots over a tennis of golf match. It's all about the schemata - how the neural networks grow together.

Tony, who can tell indeed? Honest people will admit that they don't really know, and not get too dogmatic about their assertions. I noticed a correlation long ago between proponents of the REH and church attendance. Can you say ulterior motives?


I think the ostrich designation is a little mean, and could equally apply to parties political in one sense or another. If we were going to go with the Republican are canines idea, we would have to recognize that there are different breeds. Most of the GOP leadership would be things like pit bulls, dobermans and other of the more vicious attack dogs, while the average Republican voter is some kind of lap dog or one of those dumb things that live to obey like Doug from the movie "Up." I'm sure we would have to do the same with Libertarians, but I'm not sure there are such distinctions with ostriches. If there are, they are not widely known.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Alfred Differ wrote: "Many libertarians use a porcupine for the group symbol, but I think an armadillo might be a better choice"

You sure that's a good idea? LBJ has a famous quote regarding armadillos. Not flattering.

LarryHart said...

If I wanted to be mean to Libertarians, I'd suggest the mule as a symbol of both stubbornness and impotence. :)

That would be too confusing with the iconic Democratic donkey, though. It would also confuse the idea that Trump functions as The Mule from Asimov's Foundation series.

locumranch said...

Those two massive black holes collided & merged over 1/2 million years ago but the universe won't witness it for another 20 million years because time dilation (plus there's literally 'nothing to see' there).

Oumuamua was an interstellar 'dic pic' that allegedly beamed a prerecorded message at the White House -- something about "being proud to belong to a civilisation that can do such things" -- to which Trump replied "Mine is bigger".

Now, Oumuamua resumes its lonely interstellar journey in search of a more easily impressed civilisation that will swipe right in recognition of its inner beauty.

Or, would you prefer that our civilisation 'put out' for the first the first interstellar microphallus that shows an interest in us??


David Brin said...

Life appeared just a few millions after conditions allowed it. Complex life took another 2+ billion. That suggests it is a difficult step. But if that's the mean, then there's a fair amount out there.

Intelligence, though, however you define it, is problematic. It took a series of what I am increasingly seeing as flukes, very late in Earth's history. (Greenhouse excess will start deserts spreading in just 100M years, even if we stay clean.

It's chilling to say so, but I am leaning toward the hypothesis that we are anomalously smart. God help the galaxy.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Luis, it appears your reasoning as to why Oumuamua is probably and alien artifact is more philosophical than science based. I'm willing to entertain thought experiments, they're fun, but would like a little more fact seasoning.

Alfred D., one of our outdoor cats (unfixed) is 'Little Brother', aka The Big Baboose. It might be because I am the main person who feeds him, but he is a very big love kitty. Unneutered toms are not necessarily big meanies.

Everyone who commented on TOS Star Trek, the dearth of interesting non-hominid aliens was because they had next to no budget and were stuck with costumes that the (admittedly talented but frustrated) designers could make out of odds and ends from Goodwill. The Horta was a bedspread with rubber lumps glued on and a guy crawling around underneath; tribbles were fake-fur beanbags. Many other writers created far more exotic alien life forms in the books, but they were not constrained by what the special effects dept. could come up with on the cheap.

Paul SB said...

One of the primary drivers of intelligence in human ancestors was microclimates and gradual climate change. You can see that not only in the paleo record of changing climates and diverse microclimates, but in how the human brain and genome both operate. A majority of animals are fairly limited in terms of the territory they can inhabit because they are adapted to one climate well but lack the diversity to adapt to different environments. Humans were lucky enough to get the right mutations to make their brains more flexible, opposable thumbs made tool creation possible to help them adapt to new environments, and increased linguistic capabilities made it possible for humans to cooperate effectively in groups. It was being very generalized in a fluctuating environment that selected for the level of intelligence humans are capable of.

The galaxy is a big place, and we have yet to find real analogues for Earth, but there is a whole lot of real estate out there we have yet to explore. What are the chances of finding worlds that are habitable by some sort of life, and also having enough of an axial tilt to create some climatic diversity? I have no idea, but given that there is not a single planet in the Solar System that does not have an axial tilt, it does not seem too unlikely that there will be other places out there that have both life and climatic diversity that would eventually lead to comparable intelligence. How many are out there that exist at the same time as we do? That's another complication. We may get out there and find a galaxy full of planets with the potential to develop sapient life, and others full of the ruins of dead civilizations.

Twominds said...

Following up on Br. Brins comment: I found the books Revolutions that made the Earth, 2011, from Tim Lenton and Andrew Watson, and The Plausibility of Life, 2005, from Marc W. Kirschner and John C. Gerhard extremely interesting and informative. The first is on how integral life is to the planet, and the revolutions that were needed for complex life. The second one is a thorough discussion on how complex forms could evolve, and what was necessary for that.
They gave me lots of food for thought, and I still reread parts of them.

(I give Amazon links so you can have a bit of an introduction to them.

Thanks for the NASA nuclear power link, it was very interesting! More feasible than Orion too, even if that one caught my imagination like whoa! (The idea of having essentially no weight restrictions is something!)

Paul SB said...

Mad Librarian,

I think most people get that in the original series. Low budget and demanding shoot schedule limits things a whole lot. But Next Gen, DS 9, Voyager and Enterprise were all made on much higher budgets with much greater technology, but even the cartoon did more with aliens than actors with rubber wrinkles on their heads. That's where the real failure of imagination came in.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"It's chilling to say so, but I am leaning toward the hypothesis that we are anomalously smart. God help the galaxy."

Doctor, you just broke my heart. Yeah, I know, Kzinti and Tandu. But possibly Taeki and Guardians.

Zepp Jamieson said...

" Low budget and demanding shoot schedule limits things a whole lot. "

Farscape had a (relatively) low budget, but they had some of the most imaginative aliens I've ever seen.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

...but even the cartoon did more with aliens than actors with rubber wrinkles on their heads. That's where the real failure of imagination came in.

I seem to be the minority opinion around here, but I see the "failure of imagination" in those who propose that Star Trek would have been improved by its being a depiction of the exploration of realistic other-planetary life.

The kind of story a Star Trek episode is was determined already by TOS. Later incarnations had the ability to depict such things more plausibly, not to radically reimagine the "universe" and its backstory.

The blend of science and fiction is different in each example of sci-fi, of course. Jules Verne depicted scientific advances which actually came to pass in his near future (moon rockets, submarines), while H.G. Wells depicted science which is still fantasy in our time (invisible men, time machines). Asimov's Foundation series takes hyperdrive for granted while many of Clarke's books presume we don't break the light barrier. I like to think I can appreciate each type of sci-fi for what it is, but that means not confusing one for the other or judging one as the other.

I'm not knocking you having fun with pointing out the scientific lapses in the series. But I'm sensing actual criticism here, as if the writers should have handled the series differently, putting the fiction in service to the science instead of the other way around. I maintain that we in 2018 would not be discussing "Star Trek" had that been the case.

LarryHart said...

For those who wonder how Evangelical Christians can support Donald Trump:

One individual who definitely gets it is Ralph Drollinger, the founder and president of Capitol Ministries and one of the most politically influential pastors in America. This fall, Mr. Drollinger held a training conference for some 80 international associates at the museum on the topic of “creating and sustaining discipleship ministries to political leaders.”

Mr. Drollinger believes that social welfare programs “have no basis in Scripture,” that Christians in government have an obligation to hire only Christians and that women should not be allowed to teach grown men. He lays out his thinking in a 2013 book, “Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint.”

Mr. Drollinger was an early, passionate supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. The “institution of the state” is “an avenger of wrath,” he explains, and its “God-given responsibility” is “to moralize a fallen world through the use of force.” Apparently, President Trump excels in these biblical criteria for leadership.

LarryHart said...

In that article I just quoted above, I find ” that Christians in government have an obligation to hire only Christians..." to be an interesting juxtaposition with the fact that the speaker supports a secular hedonist for the highest office in the land.

I've been asserting, and so I certainly understand, that Evangelicals see Trump as their soldier, not their exemplar, but then "hire only Christians" goes out the window, doesn't it?

Paul SB said...

Yes, Larry, you are probably right. The human mind is a narrative mind - one of the things that became clear to from ethnography. Science fiction gives us the opportunity to explore stories about difference in a way that did not really exist before. That makes a bit of a mockery of the very small differences that exist between neighbors who often hate each other for very little reason. Most science fiction stories are rather light on the science. Like stories humans have been telling themselves for ages, they are about who we are and what we value in our selves and others. You don't need science fiction to do that, but science fiction does it in some ways that are different. Obviously one of the biggest aspects of Trek is the value of inclusiveness. The Federation is not the Human Federation, it is cosmopolitan and owes its success to its diversity and openness. I enjoyed TOS for what it was, I just wish they could have done more in terms of difference and acceptance. It is not so hard to imagine getting along with aliens who look a lot like us, and whose motivations are easily understood if you know a bit about their customs and history. The mental stretch is more difficult when they are more different, less fathomable.

Do you remember older movies, books and TV shows that described the Chinese as "inscrutable?" That was a word that seems to have been associated with Chinese culture for literally centuries when Westerners talked about them. When I was studying anthropology I came to the conclusion that compared to people like the Yanomami or the Tiv, Chinese culture was a breeze to understand. But by calling them inscrutable the meme sets up a block in people's minds that prevents them from trying, making them into a permanent unknown, and the unknown frightens people.

If you can come to understand and respect beings that are truly alien, then by contrast other human groups are just next-door neighbors. I have helped children who have mental handicaps, and in some ways they are very alien, even though they are the same species. If I never read science fiction and did not accustom my mind to seeing very different life forms as worthwhile people, I probably would not have been able to do that. I'm not saying I'm good at it, but most others won't even try. Hell, a baby is in many ways an alien to us, though a relatively easy one to comprehend. I hope you get my point, though. I don't like really alien aliens because I want to understand things that don't exist and I will never meet. I like really alien aliens because they help open our minds to the value of all life, however different they may be from us. Diversity is cool, and science fiction provides a unique way to get at that cool.

Catfish N. Cod said...

“It's chilling to say so, but I am leaning toward the hypothesis that we are anomalously smart. God help the galaxy.”

Alternate hypothesis: Ecosystems that produce intelligent civilizations are well separated in time. This does not imply that the Drake equation has low L, but rather that scans for other civs may be well spaced in time.

Without an in-system probe, Earth would attract attention only as a well-developed gardenworld up until about 5,000 years ago, when we started having a measurable effect on tiny fractions of the surface. Changes detectable from nearby systems? Probably a few centuries only. As I was arguing above, broadcasts probably only are effective for a few hundred light-years, and as you noted, no one more than 110 ly away could have heard anything yet.

We simply may not have tripped the detector yet. Maybe the threshold is a warp field, as in Star Trek. Or a gazer, as in EARTH. Or having a presence in multiple star systems. Or just surviving long enough to make contact worthwhile.

We may be like astronomical mayflies wondering what this legendary ‘full moon’ looks like.

I have a more worrisome concern: what if we are anomalously gregarious? We assume other civs would want to talk because we do. Is that unusual among sentiences?

TCB said...

>Do you remember older movies, books and TV shows that described the Chinese as "inscrutable?"

Good God! I remember reading an early 20th Century science fiction short story which approvingly described a total genocide of the Chinese mainland (as a "reasonable" response to the overwhelming threat of their sheer numbers) and the sharing out of its depopulated lands to various nations of the correct (Caucasian!) ethnicity.

We're supposed to be beyond all that. But I'm confident the Bannonites and their ilk would eat that shit right up.

Zepp Jamieson said...

For that matter, "Marching Morons" cheerfully advocated genocide. The original "Robocop" had dozens of callouts to that story.

LarryHart said...

Catfish N. Cod:

We may be like astronomical mayflies wondering what this legendary ‘full moon’ looks like.

Wow! I like the image.

Dave Sim once similarly imagined an ant climbing to the top of a giant redwood tree and imagining it had now seen "the known universe".

LarryHart said...


We're supposed to be beyond all that. But I'm confident the Bannonites and their ilk would eat that shit right up.

I'm glad I read to the end of your post before responding that some Holnists right here on this list would eat that shit right up.

The right-wing talkers seem to have chosen Trump over Bannon, but I still wonder how that sits with the grass-roots deplorable voters.

TCB said...

Star Trek: The Next Generation does offer at least one really interesting "alien" life form, which is created by the Enterprise's holodeck and computers. It manifests as a train, at first. Emergence.

Re: Rare Earths or versions thereof: Yep, life seems to get started quickly in our corner of the multiverse, and yes, it seems to take a long time for multicellular life to happen. That doesn't mean the single celled life wasn't evolving. Bacteria and viruses evolve quickly, thankyewverymuch, and their generations pass much more quickly than the 20-ish years for humans... And, single-celled organisms do signal and cooperate in sophisticated ways! Be that as it may, however, the means for complex behavior conferred by multicellular life took, probably, not two but THREE billion years to happen here. Once it did, a brain race set in, leading to where we are now...

Even on this orb, we have several intelligent species that cannot do technology (ever try to start a fire underwater?) It's possible that there are a lot of Earthish planets with creatures we'd call intelligent but who have scant means to create tech. Necessary resources might be lacking. Or they might have evolved a model of society that never led to any perceived need. If honeybees had a hive intelligence equal to our own, what would they do differently? Perhaps nothing.

Interestingly, the key to multicelluar life may be apoptosis: the act of the individual cell 'falling on its own sword' for the good of the many. Until eukaryotes found it advantageous to do that, they were going to keep right on being single cells. Even now, our own cells sometimes renege on this survival compact, and we call it cancer.

If we regard our civilization/species/biosphere as a multi-popular life form, then it also depends on its members' willingness to sacrifice themselves if necessary for the common good. Fascists and Randians, greedheads and narcissists do not recognize the common civilization as worthy of their sacrifice, and would prefer to replicate themselves without limit, unto the same result: cancer.

In any case, it may be that technological societies eat the gardens which grew them, so quickly that they vanish when their radio bubbles are only a few centuries thick, and then wink out.

LarryHart said...

From the same article posted above:

That’s why Cindy Jacobs, a leading figure in the fast-growing world of charismatic Christianity, and a featured speaker at the Revolution 2017 event in December, described the museum as “God’s base camp.” There, in the auditorium of the museum, Ms. Jacobs offered this prediction: “The army of the heavens marches into Washington, D.C., and marches out of Washington, D.C.” Soon enough, “they go into North Korea.”

Skeptics may question whether God is really storing his ammo on the corner of Fourth and D Streets SW. But the people doing his work at the Museum of the Bible don’t, and they’re pretty sure that the election of 2016 proved them right.

According to Ms. Jacobs, Mr. Trump “will be seated and mantled with the power of God.”

Some observations: Not yet having Pence in the Oval Office doesn't prevent this. Trump, although less of a Christian is more of a rallying point for the deplorables.

This, moreso than collusion with Russia, is treason against America qua America.

TCB said...

@LarryHart, yeah, the authoritarians will always back the horse that's winnin'. That's a big part of being an authoritarian.

Also, EGAD. I also read The Marching Morons (Cyril Kornbluth, wasn't it?)

A lot of those earlier SF writers had no problem with wiping out a foe to the last hatchling. Eric Frank Russell, in Basic Right, tells of Earthlings welcoming a conquering race which possesses Death Star technology, sucking up to them for five years, and slowly deducing where they came from. Then comes a surprise hijacking of an alien ship, to go Alderaan the homeworld. As a human explains to one of the crestfallen conquerors, "We humans believe every species has a basic right to go to hell by its own means."

David Brin said...



TCB said...

>This, moreso than collusion with Russia, is treason against America qua America.

Exactly! The United States is a country built on an idea, or several. It doesn't matter how many flags you wrap yourself in, or how you natter about the Original Intent of the Framers of the Constitution, blah de blah... if you are a traitor to the Idea, you are a traitor to the United States.

...which reminds me, what do you think the Framers would say about the War on Some Drugs? About drug testing people's urine? They'd probably tear their hair out: "This violates the Fourth and Fifth amendments at a glance, sir!" Now tell them about the War on Some Terror: "What of habeas? What of speedy trials? What of facing one's accusers? Is there nothing left of the Bill of Rights?"

"Oh, we still have the Second Amendment!"

"It was never meant for the arming of bands of ill-sorted hooligans! Oh, pfah! Fetch me brandy, I feel a heat in my blood."

Catfish N. Cod said...

I have seen Mr. Drollinger’s name before, but did not really know who he was or what theology he was teaching Washington politicians.

Most articles in a Google search take only quotations aimed at particular points, or commentary made by others. But I did find a highly revealing interview made, by all people, by Die Welt am Sonntag. (Don’t worry; it’s in English, not German.)

Meet the preacher who teaches the Bible to the US Cabinet

On the one hand, he does seem to comprehend that the Constitution doesn’t give him exclusivity. He also is avoiding outright partisanship, if only because he wants to influence everyone.

The rest is horrifying. Inerrancy of scripture is his lodestone and he won’t contemplate the possibility that he has made an error in that belief. “Rather than being the interpretive power over the book, I let the book be the interpretive power over me.” He even admits that he holds to this belief because he would “feel much more insecure” otherwise.

Yeah? You’d have more doubts and uncertainties? Too bad, buddy. As you would put it, “Take up your cross.”

He shows no awareness of the possibility that there might be other ways to be Christian, or that his puritanical, strict-construction, highly Calvinist doctrine is anything other than the One True Faith. He knows not to flat-out lobby for any explicit policy, but tries to guide politicians towards a verse that will lead them to a specific conclusion. He wants to have similarly-believing minders — excuse me, “Bible teachers” — influencing politicians in every world capital. He technically acknowledges an institutional barrier between church and state, but his “heart-based” policy includes teaching that ” the state’s primary calling, is to moralize a fallen world through the use of force. I think the best President is the one who is best going to use government as an adjudicator of wrongdoing.”

And he convinces them that the Bible spells out right and wrong — even when their own conscience might tell them differently.

For what tiny virtue it’s worth, he seems sincere that he doesn’t intend theocracy. But his beliefs and methods make it inevitable, if the influence of such as he is allowed to flourish. His explicit goal is to chain the minds of those in authority to his unquestioning worship, not of a Supreme Being of infinite capacity and compassion, but of a highly limited spirit that can only express itself through the idol of a printed book. He has studied every tree down to the tiniest leaf, and he has never beheld the forest.

I pity him, but that doesn’t mean I won’t oppose all he stands for. From my own faith viewpoint, his is a twisted mockery of everything the Church was ever meant to be.

TCB said...

Religion doesn't belong in government for the same reason you don't put a toilet in the kitchen.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin has already gone...onward.


Alfred Differ said...

@Zepp | LBJ has a famous quote regarding armadillos. Not flattering.

Yah. It's not meant to be flattering.
Poke them and many will quickly roll up into a defensive position. 8)

Moving on now.

David Brin said...



Zepp Jamieson said...

To Infinity and Beyond!

Anonymous said...

Hello, it's me, again. Luis.
I was busy doing repairs and getting ready for eventualities.
But here I am.
Dear: TheMadLibrarian:
No. My reasoning about Oumuamua is not a matter of philosophy. I am a practical man. Quite simply, my common sense tells me that Oumuamua is most likely not of natural origin. If there are logical tools to clarify the matter, I use these logical tools.
Dear Jon S: The impossibility Natural Jaime Balmes does not imply total impossibility. Knowing that something is impossible by nature is only a practical tool, not a precision mathematical instrument.
Jaime Balmes was a fan of practical thinking (not the "practical thinking" of Eduard de Bono, which never helped me). Other of the basic tools of practical thought of Jaime Balmes that yes are useful to me:
If we are in a problematic situation, with a confused mind, we can ask ourselves these questions: ¿What is the objective? And ¿what is the best way to achieve that goal?
But if the situation is serious, as, for example, if we are in a bank and suddenly a guy enters the place shooting everyone: We could ask ourselves: ¿What happens? And ¿what is necessary to do? (Esto ultimo creo no es de Jaime Balmes)
And if you still do not react, during a crisis situation. Often, moving my fingers first brings me back into action.
I use some ideas of Jaime Balmes. But I must clarify that I am aware that Jaime Balmes was a damn bastard. Jaime Balmes tried to put pressure on Spanish society for a Spanish princess to be forced to marry someone the princess did not love. (It was supposedly the right thing to do, for the good of the nation.) But that, in my opinion, is perverse.
Dear David Brin.
I believe that the universe is full of intelligent life very similar to human intelligence. Intelligence in most humans is fused with selfishness. We can notice that in nature selfishness is a very common trait. (penguins stealing stones from neighboring nests to create their own nests, wolves from the same herd, fighting for a corpse). Perhaps, selfishness is a perverse tool of survival throughout the universe. (Therefore, the Star Trek universe, full of selfish species is adjusted to reality)
-------------------------------------------------- ----------------------------
Dear: Catfish N. Cod: Right. The asteroids, dust and gas clouds of the galactic disk obstruct the transmission of messages. It may be convenient to send a ship far away, above the plane of the galactic disk, to establish a clearer reception of the messages emitted from distant planets.
Dear: Paul SB. True. The Star Trek philosophy of fraternity regardless of the species is great in my opinion. A future almost impossible to achieve because of the malignant plutocrats. But ... We know what we have to do: Keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. ¿Who knows what the tide might bring? "