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Middle aged heterosexual, WASP male. Semi retired, semi-sane and semi-serious. And endangered species and I'm not going quitely!!!!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Space Colonization - Our Future or Fantasy?

I just ran across a site that should be a must read for anyone that is interested in where humanity is going as a race! (Or even REQUIRED reading!)

There is enough stuff on this site to give you many a night of fascinating conjecture.

(With special thanks to "The Daily Galaxy!" http://www.dailygalaxy.com)

Here is an example:

Humans have always been fascinated by the idea of space travel. Some even believe that colonizing new planets is man’s best hope for the future.

The popular idea is that we’ll eventually need some fresh, unexploited new worlds to inhabit.

In a recent Galaxy post we wrote that Stephen Hawking, world-celebrated expert on the cosmological theories of gravity and black holes who holds Issac Newton's Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University, believes that traveling into space is the only way humans will be able to survive in the long-term.

"Life on Earth," Hawking has said, "is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers ... I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space."

Another of his famous quotes reiterates his position that we need to get off the planet relatively soon. "I don't think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years unless we spread into space."
The problems with Hawking’s solution is that while it may save a “seed” of human life- a few lucky specimens- it won’t save Earth’s inhabitants. The majority of Earthlings would surely be left behind on a planet increasingly unfit for life.

In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: "The future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars."

Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.

On the other hand, renowned science-fiction writer, Charlie Stross, argued last week in his High Frontier Redux blog that space colonization is not in our future. Not because it's impossible, but because to do so effectively you need either outrageous amounts of cheap energy, highly efficient robot probes, or "a magic wand."

"I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar," Stross opens his post, "domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing.

Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore."

"The obstacles facing us are immense distance and time -the scale factor involved in space travel is strongly counter-intuitive."

Stross adds that "Planets that are already habitable insofar as they orbit inside the habitable zone of their star, possess free oxygen in their atmosphere, and have a mass, surface gravity and escape velocity that are not too forbidding, are likely to be somewhat rarer.

And if there is free oxygen in the atmosphere on a planet, that implies something else — the presence of pre-existing photosynthetic life, a carbon cycle, and a bunch of other stuff that could well unleash a big can of whoop-ass on an unprimed human immune system."

Stross sums up by saying that while "I won't rule out the possibility of such seemingly-magical technology appearing at some time in the future in the absence of technology indistinguishable from magic that, interstellar travel for human beings even in the comfort of our own Solar System is near-as-dammit a non-starter."
Stross's blog received over 450 comments as of this writing. The most prescient follows:

First, Stross's analysis fails to take into account future civilization types; I get the sense that he takes a normative view of today's technological and economic realities and projects them into the future.

This is surprising, not only because he's an outstanding science fiction visionary, but also because he's a transhumanist who has a very good grasp on what awaits humanity in the future.

Specifically, he should be taking into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations.

Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system.

Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized.

He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew.

He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers.

This is a highly unlikely scenario.

Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs (which is how the term 'cyborg' came to exist in the first place)."
"Biologically based technological civilization...is a fleeting phenomenon limited to a few thousand years, and exists in the universe in the proportion of one thousand to one billion, so that only one in a million civilizations are biological."
Steven J. Dick, NASA Chief Historian.


If extraterrestrial intelligence exists, Stephen Dick concludes in an article in the International Journal of Astrobiology, it has probably evolved beyond biology to an advanced form of artificial intelligence that is the product of million or billions of years of technological and cultural evolution similar to the civilizations Arthur C Clarke envisioned that created the Tycho Monoliths in 2001 -A Space Odyssey.

In a post-biological universe machines are the dominant form of intelligence.

To Dick, the emergence of life and the evolution of intelligence is literally pre-programmed by the laws and constants of physics, which function similar to cosmic DNA.

The emergence of life and intelligence, according to Dick, was coded into the cosmic playbook from the first moment of the Big Bang.

Intelligent life is destined to eventually dominate the cosmos and ultimately to serve as the instrument of cosmic replication.

In his book, The Biological Universe: The 20th Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science, Dick argues that at the dawn of the 21st century calls for us to take into account the Copernican principle that life on earth and humanity is in no way physically central in the universe: "we are located on a small planet around a star on the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy."

The first concept, the question of life beyond our home planet, Dick explained in his essay, has exercised human imagination, and has stirred irrational fears, since the ancient Greeks, fears that in large part were responsible for the death more than 400 years ago, on February 17, 1600, when Giordano Bruno was summoned from his Inquisition prison cell in Castel S'ant Angelo across the Tiber from the Vatican, marched to the Campo dei Fiori, and burned at the stake in large part for his belief in an infinite number of inhabited worlds.

So anathema, Dick writes, was the subject of other worlds that even historians of science avoided it until the 1970s.

This worldview of the cosmos as a biological universe is a revolutionary perspective as profound a revision in our way of think as the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. It is a worldview that believes that "planetary systems are common, that life originates wherever conditions are favorable, and that evolution eventually culminates with artificial intelligence."

Also, there seems to be a form of "Cosmic Conciousness" that is only now being studied!

In February, 1971, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell experienced the little understood phenomenon sometimes called the “Overview Effect”.

He describes being completely engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness.

Without warning, he says, a feeing of bliss, timelessness, and connectedness began to overwhelm him. He describes becoming instantly and profoundly aware that each of his constituent atoms were connected to the fragile planet he saw in the window and to every other atom in the Universe.

He described experiencing an intense awareness that Earth, with its humans, other animal species, and systems were all one synergistic whole. He says the feeling that rushed over him was a sense of interconnected euphoria. He was not the first—nor the last—to experience this strange “cosmic connection”.

Rusty Schweikart experienced it on March 6th 1969 during a spacewalk outside his Apollo 9 vehicle: “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing.

That makes a change…it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.” Schweikart, similar to what Mitchell experienced, describes intuitively sensing that everything is profoundly connected.

Their experiences, along with dozens of other similar experiences described by other astronauts, intrigue scientists who study the brain.

This “Overview Effect”, or acute awareness of all matter as synergistically connected, sounds somewhat similar to certain religious experiences described by Buddhist monks, for example.

Where does it come from and why?

Andy Newberg, a neuroscientist/physician with a background in space medicine, is learning how to identify the markers of someone who has had the experience. “You can often tell when you’re with someone who has flown in space,” he says, “It’s palpable.”

Andy scans brains for a living: praying nuns, transcendental mediators, and others in the act of focused states.

Newberg can pinpoint regions in subjects’ gray matter that correlate to these circumstances.

Newberg is seriously looking at how to fly equipment that could study—in action—the brain functions of space travelers.

If this Overview Effect is a real, physiological phenomenon—he wants to watch it happen.

Newberg’s first test subject will not be a paid astronaut, but rather a paying space tourist: Reda Andersen slated to fly with Rocketplane Kistler says, “It would be criminal NOT to study the first of us (space adventure travelers).”

After decades of study and contemplation about his experience, Ed Mitchell believes that the feeling of “oneness” with the Universe that he and others have experienced is a consequence of little understood quantum physics.

In a recent interview with writer Diana deRegnier of American Chronicle, Mitchell explains how the event changed his life and his entire perspective on the world and how each of us fits into the grand scale of the cosmos.

Four hundred years ago. the philosopher Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that physicality, spirituality, mind and body belonged to different realms of reality that didn't interact.

Now, that served the purpose to get the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals so they could disagree on material things with the church and without the fear of being burned at the stake.

So that ended that, but it did cause, for four hundred years, science to consider consciousness and mind a subject for philosophy and religion and not a subject for science.

Now, one of the things that happened, in the 1940s, was the mathematician, physicist, Norbert Wiener (MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for the first time really defined information as the negative of entropy, and entropy as the idea of the universe is running down and wastes energy.

But, Wiener defined information as the negative of entropy, and that's wonderful but it didn't go far enough.”

Mitchell says that in an attempt to fill in some of the missing gap, the 2008 revised edition of his book The Way of the Explorer explores the largely ignored science of human consciousness.

Using what he calls the “dyadic model” he outlines the “two faces” of energy. “Instead of being two separate things, it's the energy as the basis of our existence in matter. And, it’s the basis of our knowing and information,” Mitchell explains.

“We had not had, in science, a definition of consciousness. The only definition of consciousness from the dictionary is that at its basic level it is awareness. Consciousness means to be aware, and then we have different levels of consciousness depending upon how complex the substance is.

It has been demonstrated many times over in laboratories that basic awareness is demonstrable at the level of plants, at simple bacteria, at simple life forms.

This is done with Faraday cages. It's shown that this information at this deep level, at the quantum level, can transcend electromagnetic theory.

And, now we're getting into quantum physics and we don´t want to go there at this point. But it's a very fundamental notion that awareness is at the very basis of things.”


Mitchell believes that perhaps both the theologians and scientists have missed the mark.

“All I can suggest to the mystic and the theologian is that our gods have been too small; they fill the universe. And to the scientist all I can say is that the gods do exist; they are the eternal, connected, and aware Self experienced by all intelligent beings."

In response to DeRegnier questioning whether or not Mitchell believes in the idea of God, he responds that while he does not believe in the traditional “grandfather figure” version of God, “we do have great mystery about what is the origin of the universe, how it came to be.

There's a great deal of question as to whether the big bang is the correct answer to the way the universe arose, and under what auspices and conditions. I don't think we have the full answers to that yet. Hopefully in due course we'll be able to find a much better way to describe all this.”


But while Mitchell does not claim to know how to perfectly interpret his experience, he is certain that it was a glimpse into a largely ignored reality: People, places and things are all more closely connected than they sometimes appear.

Allan W Janssen is the author of the book The Plain Truth About God (What the mainstream religions don't want you to know!) and is available at the web site www.God-101.com

Visit the blog "Perspective" at http://Allans-Perspective.blogspot.com

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