Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NPR and Livable Planets

A perky woman was interviewing a scientist on NPR tonight about finding goldilocks-planets: not too hot, not too cold.  "Our planet isn't going to last forever. We'll need to find places that our descendents can live when that happens.  Is that what scientists are thinking when they look for livable planets?" I didn't stick around to find out who she, or he, was.

The scientist politely deflected this.

It is this sort of vacuity, even among clever people, that causes me to again say "Tell me again why you think the foolishness of Young Earth Creationists is a problem.  Isn't this worse?"

First, the time frame. Does she think we are going to be heading out for these distant places anytime soon?  Mars, maybe. But both suspended animation or life-sustaining rocket colonies that last for thousands of years are uh, not on the drawing board at the moment.I suppose if the singularity occurs in 2039 and our technology improves superfast then all bets are off as to what we could accomplish.

But then all bets are off as to what human beings, intelligent machines, and hybrids or assisted-intelligence creatures will be like as well. Which leads to the second point: if we don't know what these creatures are like, why are we rooting for them to spread about the universe?  It's one of those things that the folks who like the idea just feel is obvious.  That life-forms vaguely related to us should be able to go on indefinitely seems not only permissible - that I could see - but an obvious positive, something to be encouraged, the ground of heroes.

I can understand someone wanting to be one of those travelers and explorers. Adventure, novelty, being part of something larger than oneself - all quite comprehensible.  Or just wanting to get away from other humans because they are unutterably stupid, or doomed, or boring - that I can also see.  But what's in it for everyone else?  Why are we thinking of paying for it, hoping for it, rhapsodizing about it? The feeling that life has gone on, has persevered, has triumphed, because an unrepresentative and unpredictable set of flawed humans might wake up and live in some distant place...seems to not even rise to the level of a religious aspiration, but a merely aesthetic one.


james said...

Maybe it is a corollary of religious doctrine--the doctrine that if we can say it we can do it. All it requires is more time, more ingenuity, more rules. My office mate keeps coming back to the theme of "One day brain science will be good enough that..." We'll build that tower to Heaven yet!

So people believe science fiction. And politicians. And..

"It's like this : when your Majesty says, "Let a thing be done", it's as good as done--
practically, it is done--because your Majesty's will is law. Your Majesty says "Kill a gentleman", and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead--practically he is dead--and if he is dead, why not say so?

Mikado: I see. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!

Texan99 said...

I see it in a simpler light: if we identify more or less with all humans, including past, present, and not-too-distant future, we have the usual reaction to feeling "we're" on a sinking vessel: get in a lifeboat and find some place more secure. Not that the impulse is necessarily very realistic or that our identification with these future cultures is very well thought out, but it's a basic instinct.

If I can identify somewhat with Cro Magnon man, I don't find it crazy to think he might have been able to identify with me, had he been able to entertain the idea at all, which would admittedly have been asking a lot.

There was a time when scarcely anyone could envision crossing an ocean and finding a new land to live in. Probably almost all of the first ones to give it a try failed miserably and died, but they kept trying, and eventually some succeeded.

Sam L. said...

To dream the impossible dream...ans work to make it possible. Who among us, alive in 1969, really BELIEVED we could put men on the Moon?

There are some of us who'd like to see that done again.

Earl Wajenberg said...

The other side of the time scale issue is that, barring unexpected asteroids, the Earth is good for another half-billion years or so, at least.

A pet peeve of mine about science stories in the media is how the subject is relentlessly brought around to "What's the practical use?"

"I've discovered a six-winged butterfly."
"What's the practical use of this discovery?"
"Nothing, you Philistine. It's just interesting."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think pure research is a wonderful thing. And sometimes it even pays benefits to humanity.

I don't think people colonise because it's interesting, though. I think they hope to get rich, or get away from some group or government. Mostly.

Texan99 said...

Or the flip side of "get rich," which is simply avoiding starvation or other disaster. When prospects are bleak enough at home, people may be willing to take a desperate chance on an unknown world.