Expanding our horizons in space: asteroid mining, lunar bases, and planetary exploration are some of the frontiers we face in the coming years. Where is NASA headed and what is the role of private enterprise? Will we return to the moon, or move on to explore and mine the resources of asteroids? A collection of articles and videos exploring our near and distant future in space.
SciFi author David Brin led an amazing roundtable of space entrepreneurs, experts and NASA scientists to rough out some of the ambitious new goals that could drive the next Barnstorming Era in space, ranging from mining asteroids to exploring for...
Physics might be considered the most fundamental of all sciences, for all other sciences derive from basic principles of forces, motion, electromagnetism and... thermodynamics. And yet, physical laws are mathematical models of the world. But mathematics itself is abstract, deriving from constructs of philosophy...
Scientist and science fiction writer David Brin carries Intelligent Design creationism to its logical conclusion by showing the numerous “other alternatives” to Darwinian evolution that creationists don’t want you to know about, such as Guided Evolution, Intelligent Design of Intelligent Deisgners, Evolution of Intelligent Designers, Cycles of Creation, Panspermia...
Among the many battlefronts in culture war, few have raised a specter of worry among scientists more than the great big imbroglio over Human-generated Global Climate Change (HGCC)... also called Anthopogenic Global Warming (AGW). Especially in America, positions are staked and fiercely held, by parties who claim they are evidence-based, while their opponents are either conspirators or the gullible "koolaid-drinking" tools of a propaganda machine. An especially vexing aspect of this polarization is the near perfect correlation of one side in this controversy with a pre-established position along the left-right political axis. Even worse is an undercurrent of spite for expert opinion, as a basis for guiding public policy.
Whatever your level of involvement, you can have the satisfaction of participating in humanity's greatest endeavor. In an era when political factions and media empires are waging relentless "war on science" this trend toward active participation -- or providing some financial support -- is the surest way to help support an active, vigorous, future hungry and scientific civilization.
Agility and scientific creativity have not become endangered species -- despite the efforts of some at both political extremes. Indeed, we're still displaying an eagerness for pragmatic problem-solving may yet help us to thrive.
Increasingly, scientific consensus is failing to influence public policy. Facts, statistics and data appear insufficient to change highly politicized minds... and science has started scrutinizing why. Chris Mooney describes in detail how bad it is - that millions of our neighbors deem facts to be malleably ignorable. Though soundly refuted by scientific studies, angry parents continue to believe their children acquired autism through vaccinations: "Where do they get their 'science' from? From the Internet, celebrities, other frantic-angry parents, and a few non-mainstream researchers and doctors who continue to challenge the scientific consensus, all of which forms a self-reinforcing echo chamber of misinformation," writes Mooney, noting that for every five hours of cable news, just one minute is devoted to science. In 2009, 15 year old U.S. students ranked 17th out of 34 developed countries in science.
Lately we've been hearing more from a corner of the New Age that was strangely quiet for a while: Parapsychology. This perennial favorite keeps returning to grab the public's imagination, so maybe it's time to try for a little perspective.
Let me admit from the start that I have a murky and conflicted relationship with the quaint concept of "psi." On the one hand, trained as a physical scientist, I find little to admire about a field that has almost nothing to show after two hundred years of strenuous and diligent effort. Every year, the claims that are made by proponents shrink as our horizons of measurement advance. A field that once purported to find treasures, cure illnesses, convey infinite energy and speak with the dead now craves marginal evidence for a few statistical anomalies in some randomized card tricks. That's pretty hard to respect.
For years I've followed advances that investigate reinforcement processes in the human brain, especially those involving dopamine and other messenger chemicals that are active in mediating pleasure response. One might call this topic chemically-mediated states of arousal that self-reinforce patterns of behavior. Certainly, knowing that life's wholesome pleasures are chemically reinforced doesn't make love any less sincere, a sunset less beautiful, or even faith in God any less sincere.
How do we recapture our enthusiasm for space? Neil deGrasse Tyson examines America’s ailing aerospace industry and NASA’s shrinking vision -- and asks what it would take for America to remain the leading power in space: “In fact we may be entering a new age of geopolitics, in which economic strength wields greater power than military strength. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t need reminders that innovations in science and technology drive tomorrow’s economies. That’s been true since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. And so healthy investment in space exploration—something we saw 50 years ago, and something many other countries have just figured out—is like a new force of nature operating on a nation’s economic prosperity. As nothing else does, the frontier of space exploration, which draws upon a dozen fields of science and engineering, attracts the ambitions of those who are still in the educational pipeline. It is they who become the scientists and technologists. It is they who invent tomorrow.”
Science has accumulated enemies. Some are put off by the ambitious and optimistic Modernist Agenda of perpetual human self-improvement -- a program aimed at discovering and then applying the very tools of Creation, in order to make better societies, better lives, better generations. Is this ambitious goal possible, or ethical, or even sane? Aldous Huxley once spoke for all grouchy intellectuals, when he derided progress as "just another idol." Grumbling that it will all come to no good, voices ranging from Bill Joy and Francis Fukuyama to Osama and the Unabomber have shared a common underlying theme, protesting the West's headlong plunge into territories and powers once left to God. Artists and authors, from Michael Crichton to Margaret Atwood, portray technological ambition as hubris, that age-old, prideful route to chaos or damnatio
David Brin, a physicist and science fiction author presents "A SciFi Author's take on space technology innovations in the near and distant future" at Vint Cerf's Space Technology Innovations Conference at Google Headquarters..
We are ready for the dawn of a new era, one of private space ventures. And, fortunately, the politicians seem perfectly ready to welcome non-state activity. Instead of raising obstacles, the present administration seems bent on clearing a path. We may, at last be ready to embark on the equivalent of the the great age of barnstorming aircraft development, that our grandparents saw in the 1920s, when risk - and even some loss - was considered part and parcel of courage and exploration. When the new frontier was legitimate territory for tinkerers (albeit, today they would be billionaire tinkerers).
Earlier we discussed the drawbacks of the bludgeon-like initial attempts at ocean fertilization, that have created crude plankton blooms by dumping iron powder into currents. We also saw that care must be taken to make sure that (as when arid land is irrigated) the new zones of fecundity must be "well-drained" like the Grand Banks and Chile, and unlike the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where "fecundity" can translate into a poisoned morass of algae and jellyfish. My conclusion: if you want to emulate the main life-process that removes CO2 from the air, do it by lifting submerged nutrients to higher, sun-lit realms, exactly as Nature does it. Several methods have been proposed and I showed a couple of them way back in in EARTH (1989).
Science: What are we discovering about ourselves and our world? Space: How we inhabit our solar system, our galaxy, our universe. SETI: Are we alone? Inventions: What new tools are the world's greatest toolmakers devising?
Are we alone in the universe? How to explain the Great Silence? Is there intelligent life on other planets? A collection of articles on SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Drake Equation.
The notion of gun-propelled launch goes back to Jules Verne. Such Mass Drivers have been envisioned in numerous Sci Fi tales, including Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Heart of the Comet by Benford & Brin. We've also seen them portrayed in Buck Rogers, Babylon 5 and Halo. Now, two researchers propose that a space-capable mass driver may be feasible. Startram would act as an electromagnetic catapult, using maglev technology, to accelerate and launch spacecraft into orbit, without using rockets or propellant. James Powell and George Maise take a highly optimistic view, claiming that a system capable of launching payload into orbit for less than $40/kg could be built using existing technology—if we were to gather substantial international support.
If we cannot find aliens in the stars, we might create alien intelligences on Earth. If we cannot find aliens in the stars, we might create alien intelligences on Earth. Humanity has often looked outward beyond the tribe with a combination of sociability and paranoia for mates or insights or the next potential threat. Now we scan the skies for extraterrestrial intelligences, but so far all we have run across is a Great Silence, also known as the Fermi Paradox — the quandary that asks where all the alien civilizations are.If we lack extraterrestrials to contact, humans might look closer to home, Brin suggests. "If we want others to talk to, hey, let’s make them," he speculates.
Here David Brin offers some rebuttals to those denying the possibilty of human-caused climate change— with links to the full climate science. It's extended, exhausting and somewhat repetitious. Print it before your next crazy-uncle encounter.
In that spirit I will focus on the trait of neoteny -- or the retention of childlike characteristics in mature members of a species. This process appears so amplified in humanity that we have been called the neotenous clan of apes. Humans much more closely resemble chimp or gorilla infants than adults of either species, e.g., in the smooth, vertical dome of the forehead and the relative ease of bipedality displayed by very young apes.
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. "Reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on the minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Read the article in The New York Times.
It appears that a small cabal of the Good Billionaires -- those who got rich through innovation and who feel loyal to the future -- are about to to fund a new effort worth some excitement and attention. It aims at transforming not just our Earth -- but the whole solar system. And, along the way, this endeavor may help bootstrap us back into our natural condition... a species, nation and civilization that believes (again) in can-do ambition. Can that be achieved - while making us all rich - through asteroid mining?