[Future Earth]

It’s not about wanting to go individually. It’s about running out of ideas about how to expand the human race, running out of energy and resources, and generally needing a new frontier to expand into. We’re stagnating as a civilization.

Space is full of things we need both for up there and down here: energy, metals, water, air, organics, heat, cold, vacuum, zero-G. We can bring a lot of new wealth to us down here and we do a lot up there that isn’t easy here. But it’s more important than resources.

We need a place for the wild wild west to play out over and over. We need to try new ideas in government and society. Down here it’s too easy for these experiments to be swamped by external influences before anything useful is learned. People are too “comfortable” in the sense of “comfort zones”. We need to shove a bunch of people into a new pool and make them swim or die, honestly. It’s what we’re FOR as a species, and it’s what we’re good at. We’re wasting our intrinsic talents down here and we’re wasting away because of it.

Think about this. The population is thousand times or a million times what it was in the time of the original discoverers of most of our basic understanding of government, society, the physical world, human discourse, law, mathematics, and many other subjects. We have, therefore, thousands or millions of geniuses to those eras’ one. Why aren’t we making fundamental progress on such things?

We’re limited by our comfort zones. Capitalism, while powerful and definitely most of the reason we’re all here and alive and eating and housed today, isn’t the last word in solutions to the problems it was evolved to solve. Nor is democracy. Nor socialism, nor Christianity, nor Buddhism, nor Islam, nor American way of doing things, nor are lots of things.

Nobody is trying anymore. Because the cost of trying is just way too high. Natural selection, natural experimentation, evolution - they’ve all stopped in the world of ideas. That is, until there is a crisis or a war or a disaster. Then we might dabble a bit to fix what we think might have been the cause or recover from the devastation. But we don’t have to fix things most of the time.

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There definitely are absolute definitions of good and evil and most systems of belief are far from absolute about which they stand for. Look at the Spanish Inquisition for one example. Or Japanese internment camps. Or the American military involvement in Iraq beginning in the early years of this century. People have often been led by evil or wrong thinking men to do horrifying things in the name of religion or their country.

The tool used in each case is a population of unthinking sheep who will not think for themselves and who blindly follow someone who is charismatic and wrong. Tragedy inevitably results. Don't be a sheep.

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War is cowardly

in thinks

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who From an unlikely source, this wisdom for all ages of humanity. War is stupid, wrong, and cowardly. War covers up for the failures of our world’s leaders and those citizens who permit them to lead. War is an abomination created by humans because we’re human. War is a reflection of our race’s most serious flaw.

We, the Human Race, must mature, to outgrow our propensity for war.

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He was one of the best men I’ve ever known. He taught me to solder, to ride a bike, what to shout when a can of tomatoes falls on a bare toe, and how to be an actual man. A man who cares and believes in you, who builds you up by showing you how men should live by living that way himself.

My father was funny and smart. He had a great deep bass voice that could make anyone feel welcome or comfort them in difficult times. He was endlessly pragmatic, could do all of Heinlein’s list of things a competent man should be able to do, and he was kind. He was not sentimental, but he was careful in the sense of being full of caring.

My dad lived just a few days short of 92 years, surviving the Great Depression, marriage to my wonderful mother, World War II, three smart assed teenagers, and more than thirty years of retirement after more than forty of work. He and my mom (both pictured above when they were just married) traveled around the country, marveling at autumn colors and streams and mountains for years until she lost herself in Dr. Alzheimer’s namesake nightmare.

With a great deal of help from my sister, Dad cared for mom until she died six years ago. When she passed away he was 85. Caring for her nearly killed him too, I think, but he finished the job like he did everything: it needed doing and he simply did it.

A few years ago Dad met a delightful lady named Betty and they became very close friends, doing everything together. She passed away in July, and I think Dad simply realized he was ready to get off the ride.

My dad died last week at nearly the age of 92. He’d been in excellent health until Betty died, and then it all changed. The last few months have been hard for all of us and I think they were for him too.

But like he did everything, it had to be done, and he just did it.

We’ll miss you Dad. I’m proud of you. I’ll try to be as good a man as you showed me how to be.

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This isn’t a science post. I want to use a scientific discovery to show a principle that can be employed in many situations in sociology, government, running companies - and yes in physics as well. ](http://cdn.phys.org/newman/csz/news/800/2015/nistphysicis.jpg) Photons interacting virtually.This article from PHYS.org is a little technical, but the essential point I want to make here can be summarized simply.

Imagine pairs of things. I could call them “photons” here, but they might be people or companies or countries. These things can’t or won’t interact with each other for fundamental reasons of their nature or because of some choice they make. Now imagine that it would be useful for these things to interact with each other. How can this be done?

The answer is to find some other things with which your things (again, these could be people or countries or whatever) will interact. ](https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7f/Israel-Palestine_peace.svg/400px-Israel-Palestine_peace.svg.png) The Oslo Accords logo. This is a lot like the process that led to the Oslo Accords. Countries that wouldn’t interact with each other, but would interact with other countries, under the right circumstances, came together and accomplished something useful.

Schwarzschild black hole](https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/BlackHole_Lensing.gif)Black Hole Lensing. Suppose you can’t see some thing because it’s invisible, but it will interact with other things that you can see. Right. You can use the visible things and the way they are visibly affected by the invisible thing to see where the invisible thing is, what it’s doing, or whatever. This is very commonly used in astronomy, for example, to see black holes. You can’t see them, but their interactions with other things you can see are apparent. This technique is applicable to criminal investigations, espionage, remote sensing of weather, and way more uses than I can think of right now.

These ideas are incredibly powerful. Given their broad applicability across many disciplines, I suspect they were discovered and named called many things over the years.

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It was the wheels on the carriage supporting her open coffin that led me to these thoughts, sitting there among the other family members. I looked back along her lifeline — the one I’d been discovering over the last frantic few days of scanning family photos, seeing her life for the first time as more than the caricature age had made of the beautiful, vibrant person she was. She’d been born, played, learned. She had loved and had been loved. She had laughed and wept, been filled with the love and loneliness and joy and sorrow that comes to all of us — if we’re lucky.

She had lived. I knew it intellectually. But there it was — a life, full of thrills and crises and loves and losses and joy.


Sitting there streaming my own tears and choking on a lump in my throat among the whimpers and sniffles and whispers of those around me, I thought of the inevitability of the process of life. Those wheels, straight and strong and rubbery and sure, supported her there in still silence, ready to go. Those wheels and myself and most of the men around me were the last to carry her to rest, she who had flared as a bright flame of baby and girl and woman, giving off sparks of herself to everyone she came close enough to ignite or to see. Now the direct, immediate light of her was gone, soon to be quenched forever in the earth from which it came. But we still carry bits of her in us, now only as memories to be mulled and treasured.

What did she ponder alone in the wee hours of the night, sleepless and unable to still that bright mind as she felt her life slipping inexorably toward the end? Did she hope it would be quick or soon? Was she angry or bitter that her dimming light would be so ignobly extinguished? I’m sure she was; I’m certain she thought constantly about the unfairness of it — to herself and to her family.

Without doubt she remembered people she knew, had known, might have met. Great- and great-great- and even greater grandchildren she would never hold, and endless ancestors thereafter could never know. I’d have to guess that she imagined looking down on the world from above to see our lives going on, watching the world turn, carrying on with its endlessly bustling, intertwining lives.

What if, at the moment of her conception, she could have seen the world as she did when death neared, would she have chosen not to live? Of course not. There certainly are those whose lives are so empty of meaning and so painful that they would choose never to have lived, but not her. She had lived, drinking fully of the fuel of life, stoking her fiery luminance to shed far and wide. Without her, dozens of those remembering her today would never be and the world would be much dimmed in many ways.

No, her life had been worth all the pain and fear and uncertainty of the cancer that spread inside her, worth every bit of the sorrow she’d felt as those she’d loved had gone — parents, sister, friends. Babies and birds and puppies and flowers, candy and loving and giving birth — the joys of these brightened even that what she felt now.

Death is the enormous black elephant glowering in everyone’s living room. But there is living to do in that room, and the dark bulk looming there is easy to ignore, as it must be. Being born leads to its cold embrace as surely as it does to the joy of jumping into piles of autumn leaves and “I hate you!” door slamming and “I love you” and cuddling your babies. Life goes on — until it doesn’t.

But those sparks? They go on forever.

We’ll miss you Helen. We’ll remember your light. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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Carl Sagan’s words and voice narrate this lovingly crafted short movie, showing scenes from our own Solar System with human explorers among the particles of the rings of Saturn, or flying in the hydrocarbon atmosphere of Titan. It is these vistas that can captivate the spirit of those who will eventually make such experiences possible for everyone. These are the visions are the sort of view we all need to infect our souls with the unscratchable itch to go to these places and to build a new life for ourselves and our progeny. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

[vimeo 108650530 w=500 h=213] Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.

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“Let’s not only watch or follow trends, let’s lead them” http://prsm.tc/0v2lQP

This is like the old saw “The best way to predict the future is to create it” or the inimitable Steve Jobs’ version which goes something like “Users won’t know what they want until I show it to them.” Yes, I can tell you Jobs certainly was like that.

But the fact is that neither ground up creation of the future nor riding along and trying to predict the swerves is a complete strategy. You have to do both in just the right proportions.

Science fiction is the art of doing this on a fairly long time scale.

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If we continue to advance technologically, we will certainly create anachronisms that have lasting visibility. A common example is the floppy disk icon which is used to signify the “save” operation in many applications even today. Many young people have no idea what this is a picture of when they first start using computers or computing devices, but they quickly learn it means “save” nonetheless. Eventually, someone older tells them that strange square is a picture of a floppy disk — a storage medium from the Days of Yore, and they both chuckle about how quaint those old computers were.

Technology won’t stop doing this to us. In fact, we’re going to be seeing this more and more frequently. It will soon seem absurd to adopt an anachronistic icon like this for any purpose, because we’ll all have this silly floppy disk icon as a symbol to remind us what happens when people think only skeumorphically when they’re considering the design of an icon for a common operation. This sort of thing — icons for software applications — isn’t the only example, of course. Airplanes have icons for various features of the cabin like restrooms and smoking and seatbelts that are already seeming aged but not yet outmoded. Cars definitely have images of some already obsolete devices icons: an oil can for the oil pressure, for example.

We’re living in a world that changes faster than any of us can actually incorporate into our thinking, no matter how proactively we embrace change. We have habits of behavior, perception, and reaction that aren’t appropriate for the world we actually live in. Some of these are deeply ingrained by our thinking, often by childhood and youth experiences. I grew up in Southern Mississippi, where many people have built in innate reactions to various racial stereotypes, for example. Even though most know they’re wrong and want to eliminate those reactions, they persist as remnants of learning that was inappropriate at the time, but nevertheless is still stuck in their minds.

I have encountered this over and over as I move through my life. I see young boys standing around on a corner with jeans halfway down their asses and backwards baseball caps on their heads. My reflex is to be wary of them — to assume they’re up to no good. What they’re doing there on the corner is collecting money to help pay for the cost of a medical treatment needed by a little old lady in their neighborhood who has no ability to pay. I’m constantly ashamed of my prejudice, but I have it nonetheless.

We do the best we can with what we have. Humans evolved in hostile situations that ingrained in us quick reflexes based on judgment that bypasses conscious thought. If you see someone who is very large and exhibiting a scary body posture coming toward you in a dark alleyway at night, you’re going to be led by these ingrained reactions to flinch or even try to fend of the coming attack — only to discover that you’re seeing someone’s silhouette who is wearing a dark hat and cape, moving quickly to get to a taxi they see behind you.

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(Blogging using a phone while on a moving bus can be challenging. The first version of this post was gibberish.)

Who decided that collective nouns should be treated as singular in context by Americans and as plural by the English? To illustrate, an American would say “The army is invading,” while a Brit would choose “The army are invading.” This is a perfectly ordinary discrepancy in language like leaving out extra vowels in the spelling of “color.” I think these sorts of differences came about when communication between Americans and real English speakers came with months of delay because a sea voyage was needed to carry people or letters between the two pools of usage. That’s a natural quirk in language as a result of its history.

But I’m here to talk about this because it is also schizophrenic in some cases.

Take the noun “data” for instance. Is it plural? Most people use it as a collective noun, so it’s singular in context but it refers to a number of data items. But stuffy old Scientific American, for example, uses “data” as if they were British: they say things like “The data show” rather than “The data shows.”

What do UKians do with this word? I think they use it like _Americans _for some reason!

Language is weird. Naturally.

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Author's picture

Alan Mimms



Seattle, Washington, USA, Earth