Monthly Post

The Terror of Deep Time

Back in the 1950s, sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote cogently about what he called “crackpot realism”—the use of rational, scientific, utilitarian means to pursue irrational, unscientific, or floridly delusional goals. It was a massive feature of American life in Mills’ time, and if anything, it’s become more common since then. Since it plays a central role in the corner of contemporary culture I want to discuss this week, I want to put a few moments into discussing where crackpot realism comes from, and how it wriggles its way into the apple barrel of modern life and rots the apples from skin to core.

Let’s start with the concept of the division of labor. One of the great distinctions between a modern industrial society and other modes of human social organization is that in the former, very few activities are taken from beginning to end by the same person. A woman in a hunter-gatherer community, as she is getting ready for the autumn tuber-digging season, chooses a piece of wood, cuts it, shapes it into a digging stick, carefully hardens the business end in hot coals, and then puts it to work getting tubers out of the ground. Once she carries the tubers back to camp, what’s more, she’s far more likely than not to take part in cleaning them, roasting them, and sharing them out to the members of the band.

A woman in a modern industrial society who wants to have potatoes for dinner, by contrast, may do no more of the total labor involved in that process than sticking a package in the microwave. Even if she has potatoes growing in a container garden out back, say, and serves up potatoes she grew, harvested, and cooked herself, odds are she didn’t make the gardening tools, the cookware, or the stove she uses. That’s division of labor: the social process by which most members of an industrial society specialize in one or another narrow economic niche, and use the money they earn from their work in that niche to buy the products of other economic niches.

Let’s say it up front: there are huge advantages to the division of labor.  It’s more efficient in almost every sense, whether you’re measuring efficiency in terms of output per person per hour, skill level per dollar invested in education, or what have you. What’s more, when it’s combined with a social structure that isn’t too rigidly deterministic, it’s at least possible for people to find their way to occupational specialties for which they’re actually suited, and in which they will be more productive than otherwise. Yet it bears recalling that every good thing has its downsides, especially when it’s pushed to extremes, and the division of labor is no exception.

Crackpot realism is one of the downsides of the division of labor. It emerges reliably whenever two conditions are in effect. The first condition is that the task of choosing goals for an activity is assigned to one group of people and the task of finding means to achieve those goals is left to a different group of people. The second condition is that the first group needs to be enough higher in social status than the second group that members of the first group need pay no attention to the concerns of the second group.

Consider, as an example, the plight of a team of engineers tasked with designing a flying car.  People have been trying to do this for more than a century now, and the results are in: it’s a really dumb idea. It so happens that a great many of the engineering features that make a good car make a bad aircraft, and vice versa; for instance, an auto engine needs to be optimized for torque rather than speed, while an aircraft engine needs to be optimized for speed rather than torque. Thus every flying car ever built—and there have been plenty of them—performed just as poorly as a car as it did as a plane, and cost so much that for the same price you could buy a good car, a good airplane, and enough fuel to keep both of them running for a good long time.

Engineers know this. Still, if you’re an engineer and you’ve been hired by some clueless tech-industry godzillionaire who wants a flying car, you probably don’t have the option of telling your employer the truth about his pet project—that is, that no matter how much of his money he plows into the project, he’s going to get a clunker of a vehicle that won’t be any good at either of its two incompatible roles—because he’ll simply fire you and hire someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. Nor do you have the option of sitting him down and getting him to face what’s behind his own unexamined desires and expectations, so that he might notice that his fixation on having a flying car is an emotionally charged hangover from age eight, when he daydreamed about having one to help him cope with the miserable, bully-ridden public school system in which he was trapped for so many wretched years. So you devote your working hours to finding the most rational, scientific, and utilitarian means to accomplish a pointless, useless, and self-defeating end. That’s crackpot realism.

You can make a great party game out of identifying crackpot realism—try it sometime—but I’ll leave that to my more enterprising readers. What I want to talk about right now is one of the most glaring examples of crackpot realism in contemporary industrial society. Yes, we’re going to talk about space travel again.

No question, a fantastic amount of scientific, technological, and engineering brilliance went into the quest to insert a handful of human beings for a little while into the lethal environment of deep space and bring them back alive. Visit one of the handful of places on the planet where you can get a sense of the sheer scale of a Saturn V rocket, and the raw immensity of the effort that put a small number of human bootprints on the Moon is hard to miss. What’s much easier to miss is the whopping irrationality of the project itself.

(I probably need to insert a parenthetical note here. Every time I blog about the space program, I can count on fielding at least one comment from some troll who insists that the Moon landings never happened. It so happens that I’ve known quite a few people who worked on the Apollo project; some of them have told me their stories and shown me memorabilia from what was one of the proudest times of their lives; and given a choice between believing them, and believing some troll who uses a pseudonym to hide his identity but can’t hide his ignorance of basic historical and scientific facts, well, let’s just say the troll isn’t going to come in first place. Nor is his comment going to go anywhere but the trash. ‘Nuf said.)

Outer space simply isn’t an environment where human beings can survive for long. It’s near-perfect vacuum at a temperature a few degrees above absolute zero; it’s full of hard radiation streaming out from the huge unshielded fusion reactor at the center of our solar system; it’s also got chunks of rock, lots of them, whizzing through it at better than rifle-bullet speeds; and the human body is the product of two billion years of evolutionary adaptation to environments that have the gravity, atmospheric pressure, temperature ranges, and other features that are found on the Earth’s surface and, as far as we know, nowhere else in the universe.

A simple thought experiment will show how irrational the dream of human expansion into space really is. Consider the harshest natural environments on this planet—the stark summits of the Himalayas; the middle of the East Antarctic ice sheet in winter; the bleak Takla Makan desert of central Asia, the place caravans go to die; the bottom of the Marianas Trench, where the water pressure will reduce a human body to paste in seconds. Nowhere in the solar system, or on any of the exoplanets yet discovered by astronomers, is there a place that’s even as well suited to human life as the places I’ve just named. Logically speaking, before we try to settle the distant, airless, radiation-blasted deserts of Mars or the Moon, wouldn’t it make sense first to build cities on the Antarctic ice or in the lightless depths of the ocean?

With one exception, in fact, every one of the arguments that has been trotted out to try to justify the settlement of Mars can be applied with even more force to the project of settling Antarctica. In both cases, you’ve got a great deal of empty real estate amply stocked with mineral wealth, right? Antarctica, though, has a much more comfortable climate than Mars, not to mention abundant supplies of water and a breathable atmosphere, both of which Mars lacks. Furthermore, it costs a lot less to get your colonists to Antarctica, they won’t face lethal irradiation on the way there, and there’s at least a chance that you can rescue them if things go very wrong. If in fact it made any kind of sense to settle Mars, the case for settling Antarctica would be far stronger.

So where are the grand plans, lavishly funded by clueless tech-industry godzillionaires, to settle Antarctica?  Their absence shows the one hard fact about settling outer space that next to nobody is willing to think about: it simply doesn’t make sense. The immense financial and emotional investments we’ve made in the notion of settling human beings on other planets or in outer space itself would be Exhibit A in a museum of crackpot realism.

This is where the one exception I mentioned above comes in—the one argument for settling Mars that can’t also be made for settling Antarctica. This is the argument that a Martian colony is an insurance policy for our species. If something goes really wrong on Earth, the claim goes, and human beings die out here, having a settlement on Mars gives our species a shot at survival.

Inevitably, given the present tenor of popular culture, you can expect to hear this sort of logic backed up by embarrassingly bad arguments. I’m thinking, for example, of a rant by science promoter Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who likes to insist that dinosaurs are extinct today because they didn’t have a space program. We’ll assume charitably that Tyson spent long nights stargazing in his teen years, and so tended to doze off during his high school biology classes; no doubt that’s why he missed three very obvious facts about dinosaurs. The first is that they were the dominant life forms on land for well over a hundred million years, which is a good bit longer than our species shows any likelihood of being able to hang on; the second is that the vast majority of dinosaur species went extinct for ordinary reasons—there were only a very modest number of dinosaur species around when the Chicxulub meteorite came screaming down out of space to end the Cretaceous Period; and the third is that dinosaurs aren’t extinct—we call them birds nowadays, and in terms of number of species, rates of speciation, and other standard measures of evolutionary vigor, they’re doing quite a bit better than mammals just now.

Set aside the bad logic and the sloppy paleontology, though, and the argument just named casts a ruthlessly clear light on certain otherwise obscure factors in our contemporary mindset. The notion that space travel gets its value as a way to avoid human extinction goes back a long ways. I recall a book by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, compiling her interviews with leading figures in the space program during its glory days; she titled it If The Sun Dies, after the passionate comment along these lines by one of her interviewees. Behind this, in turn, lies one of the profound and usually unmentioned fears that shapes the modern mind: the terror of deep time.

There’s a profound irony in the fact that the geologists who first began to figure out the true age of the Earth lived in western Europe in the early nineteenth century, when most people believed that the world was only some six thousand years old. There have been plenty of cultures in recorded history that had a vision of time expansive enough to fit the facts of geological history, but the cultures of western Europe and its diaspora in the Americas and Australasia were not among them. Wedded to literalist interpretations of the Book of Genesis, and more broadly to a set of beliefs that assigned unique importance to human beings, the people who faced the first dim adumbrations of the vastness of Earth’s long history were utterly unprepared for the shock, and even less ready to have the first unnerving guesses that the Earth might be millions of years old replaced by increasingly precise measurements that gave its age in the billions of years, and that of the universe in the tens of billions.

The brutal nature of the shock that resulted shouldn’t be underestimated. A society that had come to think of humanity as creation’s darlings, dwelling in a universe with a human timescale, found itself slammed facefirst into an unwanted encounter with the vast immensities of past and future time. That encounter had a great many awkward moments. The self-defeating fixation of evangelical Christians on young-Earth creationism can be seen in part as an attempt to back away from the unwelcome vista of deep time; so is the insistence, as common outside Christian churches as within them, that the world really will end sometime very soon and spare us the stress of having to deal with the immensity of the future.

For that matter, I’m not sure how many of my readers know how stunningly unwelcome the concept of extinction was when it was first proposed:  if the universe was created for the benefit of human beings, as a great many people seriously argued in those days, how could there have been so many thousands of species that lived and died long ages before the first human being walked the planet?

Worse, the suspicion began to spread that the future waiting for humanity might not be an endless progression toward bigger and better things, as believers in progress insisted, or the end of the world followed by an eternity of bliss for the winning team, as believers in Christianity insisted, but extinction:  the same fate as all those vanished species whose bones kept surfacing in geological deposits. It’s in the nineteenth century that the first stories of human extinction appear on the far end of late Romanticism, just as the same era saw the first tales that imagined the history of modern civilization ending in decline and fall. People read The Purple Cloud and After London for the same rush of fascinated horror that they got from Frankenstein and Dracula, and with the same comfortable disbelief once the last page turned—but the same scientific advances that made the two latter books increasingly less believable made tales of humanity’s twilight increasingly more so.

It became fashionable in many circles to dismiss such ideas as mere misanthropy, and that charge still gets flung at anyone who questions current notions of humanity’s supposed future in space. It’s a curious fact that I tend to field such comments from science fiction writers, more than from anyone else just now. A few years ago, when I sketched out a fictive history of the next ten billion years that included human extinction millions of years from now, SF writer David Brin took time out of his busy schedule to denounce it as “an infuriating paean to despair.” Last month’s post on the worlds that never were, similarly, fielded a spluttering denunciation by S.M. Stirling. It was mostly a forgettable rehash of the standard arguments for an interstellar future—arguments, by the way, that could be used equally well to justify continued faith in perpetual motion—but the point I want to raise here is that Stirling’s sole reaction to Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson’s brilliant fictional critique of the interstellar-travel mythos, was to claim dismissively that Robinson must have suffered an attack of misanthropy.

Some of my readers may remember Verruca Salt, the archetypal spoiled brat in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. When her father didn’t give her whatever she happened to want, her typical response was to shriek, “You don’t love me!” I think of that whenever somebody trots out the accusation of misanthropy in response to any realistic treatment of the limits that will shape the human future. It’s not misanthropy to point out that humanity isn’t going to outlast the sun or leap breezily from star to star; it’s simple realism, just as reminding someone that they will inevitably die is an expression not of hatred but of common sense.

You, dear reader, will die someday. So will I, and so will every other human being. That fact doesn’t make our lives meaningless; quite the contrary, it’s when we come to grips with the fact of our own mortality that we have our best shot at achieving not only basic maturity, but that condition of reflective attention to meaning that goes by the name of wisdom. In exactly the same way, recognizing that humanity will not last forever—that the same Earth that existed and flourished long before our species came on the scene will exist and flourish long after our species is gone—might just provide enough of a boost of wisdom to help us back away from at least some of the more obviously pigheaded ways we’re damaging the biosphere of the only planet on which we can actually live.

There’s something else to be found in the acceptance of our collective mortality, though, and I’m considering exploring it in detail over the months ahead. Grasp the fact that our species is a temporary yet integral part of the whole system we call the biosphere of the Earth, and it becomes a good deal easier to see that we are part of a story that didn’t begin with us, won’t end with us, and doesn’t happen to assign us an overwhelmingly important role. Traumatic though this may be for the Verruca Saltish end of humanity, with its distinctly overinflated sense of importance, there’s much to be gained by ditching the tantrums, coming to terms with our decidedly modest place in the cosmos, and coming to understand the story in which we play our small but significant part. We’ll discuss that further in future posts.

**************

In not completely unrelated news, I’m pleased to say that the latest issue of Into the Ruins, the magazine of science fiction set in the kind of future we might actually get, is on the notional newsstands as I write this. It’s a very solid issue, with crisp and lively stories in a variety of interesting future settings. If you don’t have a subscription yet—and what’s keeping you?—the issue can be bought online here.

Also, a reminder—the current science fiction short story contest, which calls for stories set in the imaginary worlds of the Old Solar System, is under way, and some stories have already been received. The deadline for submissions is January 30, 2018; you can find the details here.

193 Comments

  1. Hello, as always, your articles are very interesting. Deep Time is really fascinating, when one thinks about it.

  2. I simply don’t understand how people can believe that we can make a complete hash of living on this planet which actually suits us and yet make over a hostile planet to suit our needs. Don’t they understand the scale of the effort required? Why not do a better job with what we have?

  3. I am pretty sure future historians will like denote our time as ” the age of crackpot realism”. I will start with some obvious low hanging fruit and introduce what I feel is modern crackpot realisms all purpose excuse. Self Driving Cars are one of todays best examples of crackpot realism. I have arguments with people on nearly a daily basis of why this much vaunted wave of tech will not come to pass, and without fail the biggest boosters of these autonomous vehicles are the ones with the least technical experience. I have years of experience with buying, using, and fixing industrial robots which has given me insight in to why self driving cars will never become common, and mostly has to do with the perfection of sensors and maintenance. But the all purpose answer by those who could not figure out how to change a tire on an ordinary car is artificial intelligence or AI for short. In other words all problems with self driving cars will be solved because they are also self learning. This misses the technical point but acts as a belief in the inevitability of progress crutch. If something is technically unlikely due to contradictions such as those in the flying car, then just wait, they will obviously be solved by artificial intelligence.

  4. I was reading a book from the early 70s the other day and I stumbled across Operation CHASE — Cut Holes And Sink’Em — the US’s program for dealing with unwanted munitions, including chemical weapons, by chucking them into the ocean. Well why not; it isn’t as if ocean water is corrosive or moves around or anything. This had me feeling quite depressed, and for the same reason that talk of colonizing Mars does. As a species, we haven’t come to grips with the most fundamental aspect of our existence. This planet doesn’t belong to us; we belong to it. The idea that we, who go nowhere even on this abundant earth without our stuff, can afford to relocate to a lifeless sphere where it’s cost us countless millions just to drop ship a Roomba, is unhinged. There isn’t time (or pockets) deep enough for that project. I suppose it’s another apocalypse fantasy designed to avoid cleaning up our mess.

    Well as I say I was feeling quite depressed about our prospects as a species and casting about the sky in hopes of finding a stray meteor, when I happened instead upon the Youtube channel of a 61 year old woman in Ireland who, working alone over the past 13 years, has taken 3 acres of “poor agricultural land” on a north-facing slope depleted and destabilized by grazing and turned it into paradise, restoring the bees, the birds, the wildlife, and the woodland, and faster than you would ever imagine. She did this without money — she lives on a tiny pension and is technically impoverished. Anyway, it shook me out of my complacency so I thought I’d share. She’s full of wonderful advice for anyone wanting to have a go at restorative agronomy or just to see what’s possible when we respect ecosystems and put nature first, or as you say, when we learn to play our small but significant part. Her name is Colette O’Neill and the channel is Bealtaine Cottage. A good place to start is with the video “This is What 13 years of Permaculture in Ireland Looks Like!” Enjoy!

  5. Thanks for this post JMG. It follows a lot of similar thought streams I have been moving with lately. I do have a bit of a burning question though…. Would you declare a sense of knowing, or a belief, that there exists a destiny for the human being? I find this highly relevant to the underlying impulses which guide your sharing here… and I am unable to distinguish by your words. And if so, what is the connection of the destiny of the human being to the destiny of the Earth?

  6. @JMS

    Bracing good stuff, as usual, but there’s a time quibble with your description of the age of the universe. As far as the early scientific investigators of the age of things went, you wrote that they:

    “were utterly unprepared for the shock, and even less ready to have the first unnerving guesses that the Earth might be millions of years old replaced by increasingly precise measurements that gave its age in the billions of years, and that of the universe in the trillions.”

    While it is possible that the Universe might endure for trillions, almost all estimates place the Big Bang a “mere” 13 to 19 billion years ago. If one wants to entertain impossible-to-disprove multiverse-spawnings, one can imagine an eternal tapestry of universes sprawling endlessly into the past, but the measurable realities of this universe are measured in billions of years, not trillions.

  7. Hey John, long time reader, first time commenter checking in. While colonizing and terraforming Mars is a pipe dreams, and I fear that our species will never get off Earth, I do think there is merit in trying to at least try to colonize near-Earth space through space habitats and experiment with just how self-sufficient they can be. Because what else is there to be done as a species? What else should be our “goal” and how else should we channel our collective energies?

    There are multiple problems here on Earth that need to be addressed, such as racism, sexism, damaged to the biosphere and the accelerating rate of animal extinctions, but I still feel that space colonization should be something our species keeps researching and working at. It would be a better use of money than spending it on an over-inflated military at any rate! Perhaps I’m stepping into the same kind of post-fact rationalization that you skewer sci-fi fans for doing, but a species gifted with the intelligence to contemplate existence and enjoy the sun and water the way we can and create art in the form of songs and poems may not be unique, but we are statistically rare.

    It would be a shame for us to quietly go extinct without at least trying.

  8. I have made much the same observation about settling Antarctica as a warm and friendly place by comparison to space.

    That stated, there is another reason why a lot of people are interested in space: they think of it as a “high frontier”, where the increasingly Breznevian modern state won’t suffocate people as much. Specifically, they are influenced by a libertarian vision of the interstellar future. This is, at least, a reason that distinguishes space from Antarctica. OTOH, the idea of having lots of liberty in space seems quite suspect to me. Seasteading seems practical by comparison, and the same thing is true there. You may have the liberty of the seas, but you pay for it with being a slave to Neptune. And in any case space is so costly that only governments can play; and thus, you really have no liberty either.

  9. As for interplanetary settlement and/or development, there’s one arguably-justified benefit for humans to pursue massive interplanetary construction investments … but the largest benefits don’t really require much in the way of actual HUMANS going beyond Earth orbit (and even a Moonbase is still in Earth orbit).

    The benefit to massive lunar industrial development and massive asteroid-redirection-to-lunar-orbit projects is to outsource industrial pollution and resource acquisition to places where we don’t really care about the environment AT ALL, and where we can cover 90% of the surface (or the moon-orbital platform) with solar panels without ever once worrying about windstorms or volcanoes or cloudy days.

    But most of that can be done with probes and droneships and other robots, managed remotely. There will be some justification for “Extreme Environment” repair crew population and inspector/overseer population and salvage crew population to reside in subsurface bunker-bases (shielded from hard radiation and wild temperature extremes between surface missions) … but that isn’t really “settlement” in the way that most utopians envision the term. Given the deleterious effects of merely-lunar gravity, such positions might be merely extreme-hazard-pay temp gigs. It’d be more like military bases on remote islands and scientific outposts in Antarctica: super-expensive, hyper-focused, extremely vulnerable to life-support failures, and requiring massive amounts of external-supply commitment from a superpower or a coalition of rich nations or a multimegacorp to even function … but not really anybody LIVING there over the longest haul.

    Even if there are eventually polar greehouses mass-growing Ag products with recycled comet-water, the needed lunar population would be TINY, and the conditions would be claustrophobia alternating with perpetual-threat-of-instant-death. A few tens of thousands of people on an industrially-developed Moon (and several hundred people scattered around the Belt, fishing for and pre-smelting lots of near-pure-metal megasources) could oversee the hordes of robots needed to mass-produce enough solar panels and refineries and offworld chemicals and greenhouse food and metallic goods to keep a couple billion people on Earth lavishly fed and supplied with comforts, with minimal terrestrial pollution … but that isn’t what people usually think about when they talk about “striding out among the stars”.

  10. I suppose it says something about me that I’m surprised by people like David Brin having a strong reaction to the next ten billion years essay. My reaction when I read that essay at the time of posting was to shrug.

    I am guessing that one of the motivations of the OSS writing contest is to revel in how they are just as realistic as the interstellar genre of science fiction, or perhaps more specifically, to show how we have already collectively let go of one set of dreams of interplanetary colonization, we are capable of letting go of another set.

    I enjoy the Space Opera subgenre of SF novels a lot, and I really don’t care if the interstellar travel depicted in the novels is plausible/feasible in reality as long as the story universe follows it own rules to a sufficient degree. I think I could enjoy planetary romance in the OSS just as much, I just haven’t found the right story to hook me (I never finished Princess of Mars).

  11. As a 30 year veteran of the US space program (both NASA and black programs), I share a dim view on the value of human space travel. As part of a Lunar Colony working group we concluded that the lunar regolith was extremely dangerous and to be honest, there is isn’t anything there of value. The manned visits to the Moon came close to total diaster far more often than was publicised. The same goes for Mars.. I have often suggested that the same energy put into subsea or less habitable areas of the Earth would be more productive. The unmanned program on the other hand is very productive and anything useful to be done in space can be done cheaper and easier with robots (99% of scientific value from the space program is from robots).

    We used joke that the goal of the manned space program was to find HB2 (Hot Brazilan Babes) ..the goals of Mars exploration really boils down to fantasies of beautiful Martian women from adolescent readers of Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars series..

    A side note is that those imagined colonies can actually be seen underseas where entire cities are build with remote controlled ROV’s.

  12. Hi JMG,

    I need to leave a comment this time because you have helped me to find my faith. In all of your other articles I have read there is rational discourse, solid reasoning, and things just click. They are thought provoking and while I don’t always agree with the conclusion neither do I find a lack of consideration or thorough examination. This article was different. Pretty much the whole time I was reading it the other voice in the back of my head was saying “NO IT ISN’T TRUE”. I think this is my first experience with someone whom I trust questioning something that I WANT to be true. I am somehow ok with understanding the energy requirements for extra-solar travel not really being possible for the human body/timescale/economy but Mars is sooo close. Anyway you have helped me with some empathy today. Appreciate the work as always.

    Bill

  13. the concept of deep time and the inability of many humans to accept their own demise is a useful template within which to understand the irrational fantasy of space travel. there is a second, complementary, explanation that i think is in play too, especially since the most ardent space fantasists are males. the rocket bears a more than passing resemblance to the male appendage; a fact which was clearly on the minds (conscious or not) of many science fiction writers and fans in the pulp era and may well explain the love affair some have with the concept of explosively blasting off into space. as george carlin put it in another context: “bombs, bullets and rockets are all shaped like d**ks”.

  14. The need for love and the terror of anxiety, are all present and often overwhelming. While you JMG picture the limits of life, as a caretaker, to enable us, to use the existing living-space and focus our energy on activities, which are to realize in that limited space, it will also lead to resistance.

    In traditional daily life, elders formed the living-space for the youngsters, out of a likewise concern. Also to make the young egos fit into the collective, in order for it to function more harmoniously. Yet, like Julia enraged exclaimed to Romeo, that the adults do not understand the burning need for love of young ones. So I see, that all good will, won’t create a perfect society. There will be always a rebellious faction, who wants to fare over the set borders into uncharted territory. And societies better let go the ones among them, who are filled with so much energy, when it overstretches the limits of the present collective.

    In the past did such explosive personalities, by wanting to reach the stars, have to be satisfied to conquer some neighbouring country. Maybe, being limited on that roundabout earth, it will be all about that, that the ambitious ones, as every living-space is already occupied, have to subjugate others, to express their drive in that limited circle our earth happens to be.

    So I say, that vision of an outer space will remain a drive to overcome the limits. Its not only a hubris, but for some an overwhelming desire. Never mind, that in the coming decades the collapse of our tower to Babel to reach the heaven. The desire to do so will die with the last human on earth. Until then it will roam around.

  15. Right on! A minor quibble re: “and even less ready to have the first unnerving guesses that the Earth might be millions of years old replaced by increasingly precise measurements that gave its age in the billions of years, and that of the universe in the trillions.” The standard Big Bang model would still have it that the universe is about 14 billion years old; anything that may have existed before that wouldn’t count as part of this universe. The heretical steady-state hypothesis demands a much longer but undetermined, and perhaps impossible to determine, period of existence.

  16. I do like scifi. But the question of sustainability for space has bothered me repeatedly. I the end if you want to colonize mars or live in space, the first step is to have a perfectly functioning ecosystem so you can live there and produce what you need. The second step is to have an economic and cultural system to handle the upkeep of said ecosystem instead of the forced desire to expand. Third step is indeed to try that out on Earth first where help is a lot closer. Science fiction never really bothers with those kind of details and usually just uses today’s system, hide the details and/or slap on a replicator. It’s fiction anyway.

  17. You talk about the age of the Universe in trillions of years. I remember long time ago you did mention that you think the Big Bang Theory doesn’t fit and the Universe might have existed forever. Can you expand on that?

    I also have a meta question: how do you find all these amazing off-the-wall philosophers, sociologists and even climate scientists? I am trying to read science books and keep up with some blogs but I mostly drown in mainstream religion of progress bs. How do you filter all this mess to find the interesting writers?

    Thanks,

  18. In facing our own mortality, we comfort ourselves by imagining the immortality of our species–i.e.our descendants. If the chain remains unbroken, in a sense we have not died, says the human ego.

    The grief entailed by a break in the chain (when the last person who knew us has died or forgotten us) is described eloquently by Kevin Brockmeyer in The Brief History of the Dead.

  19. Hi John

    Good post. As a geologist I can tell you that the biggest challenge for people studying the science is to get your head around the immensity of time. We are the tiniest layer at the top of of an immense geologic column. It requires a level of humility that is hard to achieve for many in our narcissistic techno-triumphant society.

    Strangely, my exposure to and participation in Christianity helped me to find the necessary humility to comprehend geologic time.

  20. JMG, I generally try to refrain from nitpicking, and your point that space is difficult to survive because of the radiation is true. And I know that in one sense you only intend this as a literary flourish,

    However…

    Indeed the nuclear fusion reactor at the centre of our solar system is very nicely shielded. That’s why we get mostly visible light and heat instead of gamma rays out of it. Nuclear fusion only happens in the core. Between that reactor and the sun’s surface is the shielding, some hundreds of thousands of kilometers of dense hydrogen plasma in which nuclear reactions do not take place. It can take millions of years for a gamma photon emitted from the core, absorbed and re-emitted a very large number of times, to make its way to the surface as light and heat photons.

    I thought you might be interested.

    Cheers,
    Graeme

  21. The stuff about people’s surprise at the age of the earth makes me think of people’s attitudes about the uniqueness of earth as a planet. At the moment we’re only able to detect aliens with much higher levels of technology than us and we aren’t finding any.
    People assume no high-tech aliens means no extra-terrestrial life at all. But it’s only in last 20 or so years that we’ve been able to discover planets around other stars and we might well be able to analyse their atmospheres for biosignature gases by looking at the light they reflect relatively soon. If we do, and if we find a universe full of low(ish)-tech planet-bound life like us, I wonder what unnerving shifts in perspective that would bring.

  22. This is well said, and needs to be said more often as technological determinism and the Stewart Brand influenced Californian ideology take up ever more space in the collective psyche.

    As you point out, species (as well as individuals) come and go. I think of them as members of a relay race, in which runners keep getting replaced by other runners. The outcome depends on many participants, and no one person gets to say they won the race. Relay races preclude the notion of heroes or stars. We may think we are the stars, but as humans we stand on the tiny little shoulders of the microbes — they made us (and still make us) what we are.

    We (all living things) are constantly creating the physical and biological conditions for the next phases of life, the next rounds of the race. Future rounds may or may not include humans. But for me, what matters is that we support the other life forms on our Earth team the best we know how, not so that we can win, but so that the whole team can keep running for as long as possible.

  23. It really is amazing how absurd the idea of interplanetary space travel and especially colonization looks when you can step back from emotional investment and religious faith in progress. It just seems absurd that people can find it possible, and most think it is even INEVITABLE!

  24. Excellent article, but one correction: the current scientifically estimated age of the universe is a little less than 14 billion years, not “trillions.”

  25. I didn’t realize that space travel, or even progress, was part of Steve Stirling’s religion, especially since he did such a good job depicting a budding ecotechnic society in his runaway-best-selling Emberverse series. However, even there he dropped us a few hints that, for example, when humanity learned not to trash out the earth, their former powers would be restored to them. And then would the gods disappear again? I think most members of the post-Change cultures would find that to be their worst nightmare!

    It’s a pity he felt he had to ream you out, but as you’ve pointed out in many a post, the key word here is “religion.” To even question space travel would be like spitting in the face of the deity for a huge chunk of the s/f community, I imagine, if it evoked such an extreme reaction. I think he may have dismissed Kim Stanley Robinson because Robinson had established his church membership much earlier with his Mars trilogy, and therefore can’t be serious in his heresy.

    Oh, well, what is it they say about obsolete theories? You have to wait for the older proponents of them to pass from the scene before they lose their grip. Pity he couldn’t have debated you like a gentleman, however.

  26. I’ve come to think that what one identifies with determines your level of “wisdom,” as you use the term.

    Most people identify with their small social group. Anything that denies the tribe of its special privilege must be combated.

    People like Brin identify with “humanity as the privileged children of the cosmos.” Elevation of the tribe seems small-minded and petty, but anything that robs humanity of its cherished role must be combated.

    And, of course, people like you identify with something greater. Elevation of the species seems small-minded and petty.

  27. Great post, JMG. “Crackpot realism” seems like a real useful term – it made me think first of the current self driving car obsession among certain people. I can’t imagine how someone with an ounce of paranoia would feel comfortable hurtling around in a metal box and putting all trust in someone’s (easily hackable) software. Of course, whenever there’s a crash involving one of these cars – it was the fault of the other driver!

    When people try to sell me on the inevitability of self driving vehicles, I can always count on an eye roll when I mention that we already have self driving cars – they’re called trains! I wish someone smarter than me would do a whole systems analysis and find out how much more energy efficient a regular old train is at getting from point a to b compared to a self driving truck. Who knows how many orders of magnitude?

  28. Notwithstanding the undoubted difficulties (or impossibilities) of getting human beings off Earth, a desire to keep ourselves going as a species is heavily tied up with our psychology. Yes, humans will one day become extinct, or evolve into something else, or both, but how is seeking to prolong the existence of our species different from someone who gives up smoking in order to extend their own individual life? Our smoker is going to die regardless, but a few extra years might make such a decision worth it. If we can eventually (and hypothetically) get humans to Mars, or the upper levels of the Venusian atmosphere, or the moons of Jupiter, or Titan, that might be seen as worth it, even if it only delays the inevitable.

    This is a different issue from the viability, of course – I am only suggesting desirability.

  29. John,

    I wondered over the last few years whether the trolls who deny that the Apollo program did put actual human footsteps on the moon are doing this because the idea that we really didn’t do this, but we could still do it for real sometime in the future, is more acceptable than the dreary reality that space was the final frontier that we can never conquer since we fell back in total disarray after our first attempts.

  30. Manned space exploration (e.g. visiting Mars) falls within the realm of possibility. Therefore, it will be attempted, as a necessary step towards realizing our limits. It is part of the circle of manifestation known as Abred.

  31. I may not be understanding this story. It is my belief that “time” is a human application; that in very real terms the only “time” that one has is the time that one is in: the present moment. Doesn’t this concept offer a little more relief and solace than does “terror?” In fact, in present time there is no future or past, no myth of progress, only the myth of infinity. Happy equinox! ~Nutty Professor

  32. Beautifully put! I sometimes feel like the proposed reader of all political/scientific writing in English is a Veruca Salt. Regardless of whether you are talking about the possibilities of space travel or any other dream that human beings have, anything along the lines of “we must assume that we will never achieve this” or “we have already proven ourselves too stupid to manage this properly” must anticipate that kind of shrill response.

    There is something weird about the formulation of the words “politics” and “science” in English that seem to imply in and of themselves an exciting push to the limits of the possible, rather than more sensible things like, say, the determination of friends and enemies for the former, or simply thinking hard about things for the latter. “Wissenschaft?” That’s what Freud used to dissect his patient’s complaints into an Oedipus complex. But “Science?” It Works, B######s, and damn you if you don’t realize the glorious direction it must inevitably take us.

    Thankfully, fiction does not require us to include Veruca Salt, or even better, we can imagine her turning into a blueberry!

  33. “I’m not sure how many of my readers know how stunningly unwelcome the concept of extinction was when it was first proposed”

    I recall reading that Thomas Jefferson could not believe that the ground sloth he had described from fossil bones was extinct; he thought it still had to be alive somewhere. He even told Lewis and Clark to look for living specimens on their journey west.

  34. Dear John Michael

    Thank you, once again, for your regular infusion of wisdom. May I suggest two references that perhaps you might enjoy.

    1. To learn more about the small, shut-in world that the geologists of the eighteenth century broke apart, I recomment Thomas Burnet’s “Telluris Theoria Sacra”. A vanished conceit, but such a comforting one.

    2. Perhaps one of the first – and best – last man novels is M P Shiel’s “The Purple Cloud”. Published in 1901, it is unashamedly late-Victorian in feel, but it is not an “apocalypse” self indulgence. The narrator is the last man, but as events unfold he explores the idea that, if our lives indeed had a purpose, so might our deaths. A view with which I am deeply sympathetic.

    Blessed be.

  35. “You, dear reader, will die someday. So will I, and so will every other human being.” Although this is true for the biological entities we inhabit, how you define “I” or “I am” leads to a very different conclusion. If I define ‘I am’ as consciousness, then consciousness is eternal, outside of the bounds and limits of time and the universe. Rupert Spira has made countless videos about the ‘I am’ statement, and argues, quite well, that the “I” never had a beginning, nor will it ever have an end. Logically anything that has a beginning will experience an end, so also anything that does not have a beginning will not experience an end. It’s worth spending some time and effort thinking about:

    https://youtu.be/kJbb8uBnnWs?t=21s

  36. One of your best essays! The Antarctica thing…why didn´t I think of that before?!

    Yes, Mars vs Antarctica shows the “religious” character of Space Travel. It´s very, very common, even among people who seem woke or red-pilled on a host of other issues. It´s assumed, as a matter of course, that humanity needs space travel since how else can we leave Earth when the sun turns into a red giant…as if humanity will ever last that long.

    This argument is *more* common than the (slightly less crazy but still unrealistic) “how can we deflect incoming meteorites with space shields so we can save civilization today”, suggesting that it´s indeed a psychologically important myth, not just some pragmatic reasoning.

    Your diss of DeGrasse Tyson was great fun, too. Yes, the dinos were *slightly* more succesful in evolutionary terms than Homo sapiens, I mean, they even lived in Antarctica…

  37. Putting evolution, extinction and humanity together, unsettles polite society. Humans evolved from the great apes – If humans didn’t go extinct, you think it possible humanity might evolve into two or more distinct species? (As was the case in HG Well’ the Time Machine) Biology defines species as individuals in a population able to produce viable offspring togther. The variability in genes is capable of creating new species given enough time. That seems something we can’t even contemplate happening in human societies today, that humanity might evolve like in HG Wells book, because evolution in a human society would inherently be racist/bigoted etc. Sorry if I’m pointing out a very hot potato.

    Sagan’s Cosmos TV series pleaded for world peace, Tyson’s rebooted cosmos pleads for more technology, which brings us to Verucca Salt. (Thanks for the link by the way) Somehow, I could see Mr. Greer playing Willy Wonka in an alternate reality. Anyone who isn’t worshiping humanity as a god now will be called a misanthrope, to address the sci-fi writer’s comments.

  38. JMG and all –

    Hmm, it’s curious that today’s chronophobes profess a passion for traveling to the stars when time’s partner, space, is vertiginously immense in equal proportion. I’d bet that if they really did find themselves floating in space in a “generation ship” outside the solar system they’d psychologically wilt and die, crushed by the immensity of space that they now think would be so adventurous to cross.

    Re the huge Saturn V rocket – how about Project Orion that was seriously considered as a space travel alternative back in the 50’s? (Freeman Dyson worked on it). The idea was that a nuclear pulse propulsion spacecraft, manned by a crew of several hundred, could reach Pluto in several months, and that as initially planned, would take off *from the ground*. Project Orion’s motto was “Saturn by 1970” and they were serious about it. Then, for a variety of reasons, chemical spacecraft propulsion became the thing and P.O. was scrapped.

    I saw the launch of Apollo 12 in FLA when I was a kid and that fire in the sky put a fright in me, believe it. I can hardly imagine a Project Orion launch …. and we could have gone that way.

  39. Dr. Mr. Greer

    A most delightful essay!

    I take it then that the terror of deep time is actually the terror of non existence.But, what of the belief of belligerent atheists in absolute death (i.e. no reincarnation or cycling of any kind)? One would think that sincere believers in absolute death will have no excuse to pretend they can avoid it as it arguably matches the implications of deep time. Yet we can see fantasies of immortality transferred from a theological to pop-science paradise of robot bodies and star travel. Is it just a fashionable pose of hard-nosed realism or most of us simply don’t know any better? Perhaps it is a manifestation of crackpot realism, where one pretends to uphold science and its implications only as long as coincide with one’s fantasies.

    Lordyburd

  40. Soo Many comments I could make here…

    Firstly, your comment about the gap between, shall we say, the people who get things done and the people envisage what should get done. I aspire to being a lawyer (Nearly finished my degree yay!) and also work part time in peoples gardens and as an Arborist (tree care person)/landscaping assistant. All the abstract legal codes bear little or no resemblance to any reality on the ground (most of the time). I doubt most of the people who write the law ever actually have to experience the actual circumstances the law is to be applied. Its my aspiration to bridge the gap (as much as I can) between theory and practice.

    Secondly your point about crackpot realism and deep time. Its often confused me how I’ve always felt (well ok not quite always) perfectly at ease with deep time and the notion that humans and largely insignificant. If anything it makes life a lot easier and lifts a great burden off my shoulders. Yay I’m not at the center of the universe! Being there feels like quite a burden, to say the very least.

    Then Again, I suspect in a previous life (Haven’t looked too far into this, its just a feeling), I was a northern European pagan living in about 500CE. Gnostic fantasies of transcendence have always felt kind of disquieting or downright frightening (going off into cold dead space feels scary and isolating for me!)

  41. Oh, boy. Two gut-checks in one post! The first was finally having a conceptual label for my sense about my former career in educational research, helping primary school teachers teach math more effectively within our current public education system: crackpot realism. While I have certainly witnessed individual teachers doing magnificent work under very difficult circumstances, I came to the belief that the overall project, at least as the goals are currently defined by the many highers-up who invent ever-more demanding sets of often-competing mandates for teachers, is just largely unworkable. Teachers simply cannot do all the things that they are “supposed to”, in the system we have. And as for my attempts to help them do more of those things well- I guess ‘quixotic’ might be a gentler and more romantic way of putting it, but ‘crackpot realism’ fell into the conceptual slot in my mind with a thud. Thanks, I guess?

    The second gut-check was your clear statement that space colonization just doesn’t make sense. Why can’t I ever explain that so clearly to my Final Frontier-dazzled family members? Every time I hear all the justifications for the gazillions spent on space exploration, listing all the technologies developed for space we’ve subsequently applied here on Earth in unanticipated ways, I can’t help but think, yeah, but what if we had focused those same research efforts (and dollars) directly on more worthwhile, known, Earth-rooted problems and issues? The next arguments trotted out always appeal to our species’ supposed need to always be seeking new horizons. Again, I think, hmm, not me, at least not literal spatial ones. Why is it so hard to accept this planet as our appropriate context?

    I’m looking forward to hearing your discussion of the wisdom that can grow from accepting our realistic place – small, but not vanishingly so- in the “big picture”. That’s another gut feeling that I have a hard time articulating. I’ve mentioned before my philosophical discussions with my deep-thinking nine-year-old son. He quite grasps our species’ relative insignificance, more than most adults in our culture, I think, but we keep chewing on the “so what, then?” question. He’s been unconvinced by my examples and suggestions; I look forward to bringing your ideas into our conversation.

  42. Here! here! It occurred to me recently that when viewed from a spaceship, that we ‘life forms’ on our ‘blue ball’ and probably equivalent to the bacterial life on an apple. Life is so much pleasanter if we consider our insignificance and fleeting presence. And best get on with enjoying it all, right now, while we’re here.

  43. Would the microbes in a human body be able to decompose it on Mars? Corpses would remain frozen most of the time, so the question is limited to the odd one or two degree day.

    It’s an important question, you know. What if Mars were to acquire more atmosphere and warm up in a few dozen million years? You’d need well-preserved corpses as a basis the latest CSI Mars series.

  44. Hi John,
    I grew up during the Apollo Era, and was fascinated by the idea of being on another world. It seemed to be the ultimate thrill, one foreshadowed by the earlier European experience (from their perspective) of crossing a vast ocean to be on another continent. If someone had remarked to me that space exploration is one of those things done for its own sake, I’d have readily agreed. It certainly seemed a far nobler venture than the Vietnam War.

    But it’s one thing to personally travel up the Amazon or climb a peak in the High Sierras, and another to press an entire society into the service of these goals, many of whose members may have a different opinion from mine about the inherent worth of space travel. This moral issue persists even if space travel were untouched by crackpot realism.

    I do think robotic space exploration has been a resounding success and can make a much stronger claim to be worth doing for its own sake. It also demands a reassessment of the notion of what constitutes human exploration. Someone at JPL sending commands to a rover on Mars, seeing what the rover sees and getting other telemetered data besides, is arguably a planetary explorer. (The rover is a sort of crude avatar of the Earthbound controller, though the speed of light creates unavoidable delays between command and response.) Even if they were on Mars, the controllers would still be isolated from it in their spacesuits–the only exception being the experience of Mars’ lower gravity. Modern technology allows us to do exploration-by-proxy, giving us pictures and information once thought possible only with crewed explorers.

    So I’d suggest it’s not so much space exploration that’s a candidate for crackpot realism, but space colonization.

  45. But I thought I was going to be the next Luke Skywalker?

    For me there are two questions that this poses. Firstly, as in the Skywalker quip above, what is the point of life without the myth of progress? Obviously an obscure and unimportant question that I doubt anyone has ever asked before, but with humanity focused on the dreams of travel, consumption and getting rich, there is no surprise that people go all Veruca Salt when the only purpose of life that they know is ‘progress’, including that holiday on Mars in a few years time once those lever scientists have given it a breathable atmosphere and it has become a lush forest and beach.

    My second question falls out of the first. Humanity will grow up one way or another but is there a way of doing that quickly and without too much pain?

    I suspect the answer to the second question is no!

  46. Why oh why do foreign pundits never spell Italian names right? Not only you, but essentially all English- (and German-, and Dutch-) speaking journalists, even in authoritative newspapers. Sometimes even our cousins the French, Spanish and Portuguese. It is Fallaci, not Falacci.

    And some more European viewpoints on your post: no one really advocates colonizing the stars on this side of the Atlantic, and few people have a problem with deep time. At least to my knowledge.

    The reason for the first is probably that we do not tie our sense of national self-worth to the space race. Americans probably think something along these lines: if we keep on doing the things that allowed us to defeat the Soviets, we will defeat Mother Nature as well. Europeans do not think like that.

    The reason for Europeans not having a problem with deep time is probably that all major Churches got to grips with science in the 16 and 17 hundreds. Maybe some small, insignificant radical groups still oppose evolution theory. But they do not get to write textbooks.

    Our version of crackpot realism is tied to renewables, electric cars and nuclear power.

    On a final note: I do have at least a doubt about the moon landings. Delete this comment if you wish. The most prominent Italian politician of the post-war perion, Giulio Andreotti, half-openly denied the landings, too. For all his cynism, plotting and back-stabbing, he was Italy’s most lucid analyst. If I have to choose between his opinion and what the TV says, well, let’s just say TV isn’t going to come in first place.

  47. Very gratifying to see you mention the works of Richard Jefferies. JMG.

    I was fortunate enough to happen upon a 1st edition of ‘After London’, going for a song, and very struck by his vision of industrial, Imperial, London sinking into a vast poisonous marsh, made deadly by the effluvia of Victorian civilisation.

    A prescient warning, ignored over the last century and more as our trashing of the Earth has globalised and has been no longer confined to the few centres of industrial activity.

    He was a prophet without honour in his own country, merely a minor literary cult figure for a while, which has now faded, hence the cheap original editions for sale. What English farmers did to their land with chemical muck and machines after 1945 beggars all description.

    Now we read that China with its ‘Miracle has poisoned 20% of agricultural land, that Iran will lose 40% in the very short term, half the water sources in rural Spain are unfit to drink due to chemical tainting, and so on….

    As for Our Bright Mars Future, I’ve always seen that as a propaganda distraction: it’s astonishing that anyone could ever come to believe in it, and place their hope and trust in it! A religion without gods. For bio-phobics…..

  48. Another excellent post, JM! Also, I endorse Liz Mednick’s recommendation of Colette O’Neil’s Bealtaine Cottage odyssey; a wonderful achievement by one retired woman with next to no money, but a lot of heart and wisdom. And a wonderful example of what can be done when ordinary Green Wizards get down to the practical task of doing what they can, within their own small means, to honour the great natural power whom Colette calls ‘The Goddess’.

  49. So you are seeing that religion dealt with eternity by heaven/reincarnation and scientific humanism deals with it by materialist means but both want eternal life for the individual consciousness or species as focal point of all creation so really nothing has changed since Moses only that the modern approach is completely impracticable and leads only to the opposite effect, i.e. civilizational collapse, perhaps extinction due to overreach.

    Another good example besides space travel is alt energy. I read a nice summary at PO .com in an article. We need 10 times as much alt energy to have energy al the time and a traditional fossil fuel backup doing nothing, all at monstrous costs. Modern medicine is another example, keep us alive till 95, come what may. Nobody has stopped to consider how all of this bankrupts us and is a false allocation of resources, like automobility with CO2 or industrialism, polution, overpopulation. Just take immunization. If God had meant all to survive childhood he /she would have made ten earths and allowed mass extinctions as normal. We only think of individual needs. Of course any religious person would say it is evil to withhold help. This is of course how we are made. Individual short term survival is mission critical. When food is in surplus we overeat as food in nature is difficult to find. So now that food is everywhere we have an obesity epidemic. Childhood vaccination plus reliable food supplies have resulted in extreme overpopulation with obesty and combined with modern medicine they live till late 80s on handfuls of pills, in terrible pain, unhapy, lonely in nursing homes at horrendous costs eating all savings, inheritance and forcing children to contribute as well. So be careful what you wish for. In 1700 scientific rationalism was being born. Paradise would be a society without want and hunger, without childhood deaths, with
    long lives for everyone and with ease of life through automation. Now our paradise has turned into hell. A pharoah could have the luxury each of us has today but homo sapiens has destroyed earth. Perhaps our discovery of fossil fuels is to blame. When they are gone we will return to infanticide for birth control to avoid mass starvation without moral qualms and 80 year olds will be a rarity again. Hard physical work will be the norm and reading a rare skill if it exists at all, back to memorized poety.

    Obviously if we are capable of dealing with deep time then only as souls, not in physical form. Avatars, enlightened immortal masters are rare for good reasons, like pharoahs
    and 100 year olds and geniuses. I saw a video of a 112 year old doing tai chi at an exhibition before he died. But such mastery must be of use to help all, not just wanting not to die by taking more pills due to fear of the unknown beyond, death. Any great genius, mastery over age must be due to inspiration, deep connection with the infinite, who then agrees you are in balance with it, otherwise we, by swalllowing pills, vaccinating children, are like vampires drinking nature’s blood to maintain our life artificially.

  50. Just an aside. As always I seem to be more extreme retro than all other commenters. I guess that comes from so many years hanging at peak oil forums. Self driving autos and space colonization are the least of my worries. Your talk of specialization got me. Take that concept back to natural world and we see similar. Trees give us oxygen, soil nutriztion, sun gives us heat, animals are food source, bacteria run our guts. Our very body is a ommunity of a trillion atoms, many independent, conscious organisms working together. We could explore inner space forever just like outer space and the perfect cooperative internal enviroonment or similar inearth ecology. Like I read some guy had a future memory where people had no tech but just gave energy to plants by sitting in front of them(chi type energy I suppose) and they became huge and they spent all spare time raising choldren, not with tech, infrastructure, culture. So this would be a utopia of simplest kind.

  51. Regarding Antarctica, a couple of points. One, the Antarctic treaty puts a big question mark over the legality of any colonies. Secondly, thousands of people actually *do* live there, although in scientific bases rather than colonies. Which means we could well see a situation like the one described here – http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/03/solar-system-for-this-century.html

    As for it’s irrationality… aren’t all things irrational? Why do we do anything? Why write? Why grow a garden? Why get together an construct a monument?

    As for it’s impracticality, you seem to be suffering from chronocentrism. I agree that *at the moment* space travel is prohibitively expensive. So was transatlantic travel in the 5th century. We know that it’s not ruled out by the laws of physics, and if the cost drops low enough (an order of magnitude?), having science bases, hotels, and mining camps out there isn’t implausible. Whether or not we’ll get there before the collapse of our current civilisation is a different question.

    On an aside… talking about civilisation collapse, Charles Marohn at Strong Towns put a post up about infrastructure (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/9/17/everything-thats-wrong-with-america-in-two-charts-not) that illustrated the idea of catabolic collapse ((though he didn’t call it that). If you keep building bridges and have a fixed annual budget, eventually you reach the point where all your bridge money is spent on maintenance, and you can’t build any more. If you’ve built in excess of that… well, people will have to find another crossing.

  52. Patricia, yeah, I’m surprised that SM Stirling would have been so offended by JMG’s writing. For what its worth I really liked Dies The Fire . In his other books, although I’ve read an embarrassing number of them,
    the excellent worldbuilding is not necessarily worth the squeeze.

    Regarding ‘getting our toys back when we’ve learned to play nicely’ – a fair criticism of Stirling’s work, which is interesting in light of the fact that Stirling does not portray life in the ecotechnic society of post-change Oregon as being particularly miserable after the misery of the first few years.

    Of course, Star’s Reach, by our host, doesn’t predict a terribly gloomy future, and in fact explicitly claims that if we are good, in 500 years we will still have some nice things that people didn’t have 500 years ago – and of course some nasty hangovers from the present era as well. Star’s Reach is a much better book – it’s good enough that if it got a bit of a jumpstart – maybe a major Internet personality talking about it or something – it would probably be as successful as the best Emberverse book, Dies The Fire.

    always wanted to go join that group of people in the Emberverse who LARPed as (Tolkien-style) elves.

  53. It’s fun seeing the crackpot optimists come out pushing the space dreams after this post (especially the asteroid mining one).
    I did some rough numbers last month in answer to another asteroid mining query on another site and the energy requirements are just stupendous.
    I figured that moving a million tonne asteroid to earth orbit (the smallest size worth doing if you really want to run an industrial civilisation on asteroid minerals) you’d need something like 35 billion tonnes of LOX/LH2 fuel to do it, which you would need to manufacture on one of the moons of Jupiter and then ship it to the asteroid before moving anything.
    No matter which way you cut it, it just ain’t going to happen.
    for more detail, see http://theedibleforest.com.au/why-asteroid-mining-is-a-croc/
    Cheers,
    Les

  54. JMG, you’ve correctly pointed out that the reasons for pursuing interplanetary colonization apply even more strongly to deeper exploration of the earth… “with one exception”, but you haven’t established that that “one exception” is not actually valid. You’ve correctly identified a societal unwillingness to accept death/extinction, and that it is healthier to accept that they are inevitable. Yes. And yet, what’s the harm in seeking to start habits that may lead to a longer life, if you’re not yet a terminally ill patient?

    It may yet turn out that it IS actually possible to have a self-sustaining human colony on Mars, or in Mercury’s sun-shielded polar regions, or floating habitats in the upper-atmosphere of Venus (“at an altitude of 50 kilometres above Venerian surface, the environment is the most Earth-like in the Solar System”). In that case, it could indeed be an “insurance policy” (and not just for humans; humans would take a miniature earth biosphere with them into space). Elon Musk (or someone else) may yet succeed in vastly decreasing the cost of rocket flights by making them reusable, making the cost of attempting these things much cheaper. It may even be that somebody will build a working Alcubierre drive, shortening travel distances between the stars, and find a more Earth-like environment to colonize.

    Personally, conditions on Mars sound pretty hellish to me. I really wouldn’t want to move there. I really like the earth and its creatures.

    But frankly, I find it very strange to focus philosophically so strongly against spending resources on space exploration when they’re only a small fraction what is spent on endless, badly-waged wars and corrupt military spending.

    I do think we’re nearing a crisis situation as a civilization, and we need to urgently direct resources to healthier ways of living — it’s just that space exploration, EVEN IF self-sufficient interplanetary colonization turns out to be impossible, doesn’t seem like the worst of the resource wastage that’s going on by a long shot, and even stopping it entirely would make barely a dent.

    So, I’m afraid I continue to hold both you and Elon Musk in high regard… my own version of the historical Russian “dvoeverie” (dual belief).

  55. JMG,

    I don’t know where you get your ideas and points of view from, but if you could bottle and market it as a mind-expansion tool, well, it’d be like winning Powerball. Awesome post! Crackpot realism appears to be the norm these days, rather than the exception, as science and reality continues to clash with human psychology and vanity.

    Earth history was one of my favorite classes in college (spring quarter, 1981), and I think the only course in which I not only read the entire textbook, but actually attended all classes and labs. The concepts of deep time and distance across the universe are difficult to grasp, and we spent more than a few hours in and out of class trying to wrap our minds around it. The 24 hour clock helps a bit:

    http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/lrm22/lessons/timeline/24_hours.html

    You’re right about the conflict between geologists/biologists/scientists and the church back in the days of Darwin (and others), which continues to this day. I recall attending a “Creation vs. Evolution” debate sponsored by the University that same quarter in which two esteemed scholars talked past each other for two hours, with one focused on paleontology and the other on psychology. Walking out I thought “120 years after Darwin, and we’re not making much progress”. Humans seem to have a large dose of self-centeredness in their DNA, which up until now has contributed to survival – but now seems to be working against us, as destroying the biosphere is hardly good for our health…

  56. One advantage the hunter-gatherer had that I like to point out is that they understood every part of the tools they used. Not so today. From the pump used to deliver the water used to washing her home-grown potato to the light-bulb inside her microwave, division of labor has separated man from his surroundings. You’ve mentioned this sort of thing before, of course.

    None of it is magic, but given people’s lack of understanding of the workings of the everyday tools in their lives, it may as well be. Hence the easy susceptibility to crackpot realism.

    In preparing for Hurricane Irma in my little corner of north central Florida, if I tried to tell you the number of people who were convinced that a smartphone app could turn their phones into walkie-talkies if the cell network went down it would be easier to just say “everyone”.

    I hate giving in to cynicism. But I so often find myself surrounded by people who can only talk about the celebrity version of current events and who haven’t a clue about what they don’t know that I engage in conversation less and less.

    I’m well on my way to becoming a snarling hermit.

  57. I’ll have to take your word for it that deep space travel is still popular in the SF community. In the science reality community I thiink most people are well aware how terrible an idea space travel/colonization is. There are simply too many obstacles to overcome, at too great cost, for marginal benefit. I suspect most people know this.

    Veering off the main track onto a siding, the space program of the ’60s was useful in so far as it served as a proxy for outright agression with the USSR. Not that we didn’t have our proxy wars all the same, but at least some of the competitveness was channeled into a relatively benign activity.

  58. Exactly 13.8 Billion? This from a science that doesn’t have a clue what 2/3rds of the (dark) matter in the universe is? That when I was a child thought continental drift was a hilarious crackpot theory?

    This may mean that we understand the universe so very, very badly that hundreds of new doors are available we never thought of, trapped as we are in dark of the dogma of the new priests of “science”.

  59. as a provocative note: robots do way better in deep space than humans could ever attempt to do. if automated resource extraction could manage to turn a profit, expansion into the solar system might be feasible, if only for bots. the romanticism of space travel is possibly being used as a means of turning resources into those ventures, as a jump-start capital for resource extraction.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of Nick Land (and I can tell you he’s fascinated with your writing). he’s written a series on space travel, called “Lure of the Void”, which explores a lot of the themes here. I’ll leave the link to the first part here, if that’s not too much of spamming: https://oldnicksite.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/lure-of-the-void-part-1/.

    thanks for the always amazing readings!

  60. I think the concept of Base Load may be an example of Crackpot Realism. The notion that having power 24/7 is an aberration in the human condition that has existed only about 100 years, and still not across the while world. Any number of perfectly useful technologies are summarily dismissed because they are intermittent or cannot meet base load, any of which could make the road ahead a lot less unpleasant. The old saying “Make hay while the sun shines” will like be our new mantra.

  61. JMG, I’m not a physicist nor a cosmologist nor a philosopher so all I know about time is what I read in books like Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos or Elegant Universe. Plus my own half baked notions. But I’ve seen the opposite to the terror of deep time, that is complete indifference towards the idea.

    The odd instance that I’ve tried to talk about what I’d read, for example, that according to one theory, past, present and future co-exist in one vast “block” of space-time encompassing uncountable trillions of years, I get a blank look. I tried it on my wife and the odd work-mate in discussions about what I’d read. No go.

    An incomprehensibly vast future? Nobody cares. At least not that I can see.

    It leads me to think that by-and-large people live their lives in five minute slices. They deal with exigencies, wants, needs of the moment and give short shrift to the future, even as it relates to their own lifetimes and that of their off-spring or even the near future.

    This psychological preference may account for a lot of modern behavior, including financial planning or lack thereof, the mind-boggling debts we carry both privately and publicly. Nobody thinks about tomorrow, never mind deep time. Unsustainable federal debt? Environmental disaster? Let the kids worry about it. Maybe people in the past were deeper thinkers than we are nowadays.

  62. Great and timely post, JMG! Looks like I’ve been a “misanthropist” for as long as I can remember…

    @Clay – thanks for the exposé on flying cars. The only problem I have with flying cars is that they are so… BORING. How about flying motorcycles… nothing boring about that! Can’t wait to buy one next year! (I’m being totally tongue-in-cheek, by the way) http://www.msn.com/en-ca/autos/video/flying-motorcycles-may-hit-the-skies-by-next-year/vi-AAsj5hI?ocid=mailsignout

  63. I’m suddenly feeling far less charitable toward space imperialists than usual for failing to recognize the simple yet somehow ungraspable notion that *we are already in deep space* and for not fundamentally exploring their psychological drives. When you’re fooled by thinking earth is the center of the universe but cling to the complex that it’s a stifling small town, then I guess all the action must be elsewhere. Awww, Americans… ‘All growed up and trying to strike out on their own, community be damned.’ What a weird culture.

    The impulse (to settle elsewhere) is not generated by compassion or concern for future generations though it gets dressed in those clothes. To truly provide a future to the species’ offspring (to heck with other species, apparently) requires hard changes to “lifestyle” that these same people will not make. (Duh. Of course we should be allowed to extract all we want just because we already do. That we can do so makes it right. Only misanthropes want to make life harder for humans. You cannot take away my goodies! /snark).

    My guess is that there’s a deeply held desire to take part in something they can go down in history for, something “heroic”. It’s only self serving, ultimately, what with the refusal to understand the very real costs to life on earth that sort of allegiance to “elsewhere is better, tech is the answer, human destiny is above all else” carries in its wake. But you know, they can go to their graves peacefully secure with the illusion they’ve done their best to ensure future generations’ continuation. Uh… Yeah.

    Imagine if everyone who wanted humans to succeed in space put their hopes and energies into making changes in their lives to decrease the biosphere’s burdens so that those who are here and who are yet to come could flourish…

    To take Dave (above) totally out of context and stand his opinion upside down: “It would be a shame for us to quietly go extinct without at least trying.”

  64. Dave – >> do think there is merit in trying to at least try to colonize near-Earth space through space habitats and experiment with just how self-sufficient they can be. Because what else is there to be done as a species? What else should be our “goal” and how else should we channel our collective energies?<<

    Well, as JMG, I, and others have suggested, the Manifest Destiny desire to travel into space is essentially a misplaced, unconscious desire for spiritual transcendence. Recognize that and you have your "goal" into which you can channel your energies– whether this could be a truly collective enterprise, I'm unsure, but as an individual effort, yes, our energies should be channeled in the metaphorical vertical sense, not in a literally vertical manner.

    I think it's one of those spiritual ironies that the higher we go in a spiritually vertical sense, the more we come down to earth,

  65. Thanks for this. I have pointed out to various friends your point that anything we can do to survive in space or on another planet, we can do far more easily and less expensively here on Earth. Recycle our waste, make use of solar energy, manage our resources wisely? Much easier here, and yet, we don’t. Perhaps the threat of sudden death would provide added impetus.

    I always think of a quote from the movie “Forbidden Planet.” The spaceship lands, the crew disembarked, and the cook is not impressed. “Great. Another one of them new worlds. No booze, no pool halls, no women. Nothing to do but throw rocks at tin cans. And we’ve got to bring our own tin cans.” And your own air, water, and food.

  66. Few questions hit me. how deep is time,how deep is space and how deep is the consciousness of the whole and how human consciousness fits in. Is our cosmos planless and consciousless and why do we think in term of plan if our cosmos is without plan and why we have consciousness and do our language is divorced from the language of the cosmos. Then one wonder about our crackpot realists and their indulgence in distorted flow, misdirected intention and misplaced labour and why we have the ability to diagnose the ills if we do not have the intention and ability to overcome them or at least not to relate ourselves to them and what is our role in relation to them, I do highly appreciate the quality of your writings that while meandering in the fancy fiction you never forget the wise diction. Once we misplace the values as the crackpot realists have done we lose track of what it means to be alive. It is strange how misplacing values impact humans place in this life.and why each one s programmed to reap what he sow. How impatient,and how easily we forget that our life is built on constructive wait. They say knowledge is to prepare for death and prepare for death means to build the land of truth and justice and improve the quality of life before departure.

  67. On crackpot realism…

    Been there, done that, got a 5 year service award. It is nice to have name for it, though I’wll probably continue to refer to it by the title: The-Devourer-of-Men-and-Souls.

    @Stuart Jeffre

    I am afraid the first step onto being Luke Skywalker is to go back in time and make sure you get sired by Darth Vader. But if you’d settle for merely being a humble Jedi, you might want to sign in for a Dojo that teaches both External and Internal Martial Arts. It’s the next best thing, and has the advantage of having measurable (and useful) effects in the reality we happen to inhabit.

  68. @Chris in Lansing
    “…the space program of the ’60s was useful in so far as it served as a proxy for outright aggression with the USSR.” I think it was (and still is) a program of actual aggression: a military endeavour masked behind a smiling civilian face of national pride. Space then and now is little more than a covert testing ground for spying and weapons deployment /deterrence. Where do we think the money for it came from? It wasn’t the Weather Channel. Space ‘exploration’ was never an adventure; it was a military thrust from the get-go. Back then, the U.S. feared Soviet missile capacity and people were alarmed to think that Sputnik was a spycam peering deep into our daily lives. Now, chatty FaceBlab and leaky EquiFacts reveal all an enemy could ever want to know about our daily lives and physical whereabouts at any time of day. All that money and effort spent to protect the nation from spies only to have Big Business come round and spill the guts of the nation out into the open for anyone to read and augur from. It is enough to make a cat laugh.

  69. Hey JMG

    It seems to me like the rise of scientism has exacerbated the urge towards magical thinking of the sort you discuss in this post. As I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I work in a research lab and I regularly hear things from trained scientists who should know better than to expect something from nothing.

    The topic of climate change comes up fairly often, and cries about how the government has to do something about it, as though a piece of paper that a bunch of grifters agree to in a faraway capitol will cause a magical technology to appear via the power of science and eliminate all of the damage that selfish behaviors are doing to the biosphere. These same people are unwilling to give up their frequent pleasure traveling around the world, or even to restrict themselves to a less damaging from of travel than flight. All that is necessary is to use the power of the vote to pressure DC and a flying car that sucks up pollution from the air is right around the corner.

    When I hear things like this, it makes me think than mankind’s extinction may come sooner rather than later, because there is exactly zero willingness to change any behaviors among those who recognize the problem, much less those who don’t.

    Thanks as always for the essay.

  70. JMG,

    Marvelous as always. I ‘m about to discuss Deep Time in my Comparative Neurobiology class. May I have your permission to use this essay?

  71. Yes “self driving cars” are certainly high up in the cultural obsessions these days. I share the view that they won’t amount to much, but am worried that in the process of realizing this we’ll first suffer needlessly. Not only will huge resources be spent on this pipe dream, but Congress is already acting to shield the manufacturers from safety rules and lawsuits. I am worried that human drivers (let along bicyclists and pedestrians) will be pushed off the roads to make room for the golden calf. Meanwhile somehow in the popular discourse these robot-cars are tightly linked to electric cars and to “car-sharing”, although I for one don’t see the connections, they are distinct concepts. Perhaps the fact that “AI” can be somehow used towards all those goals blurs the thinking. Anyway, anything will be done to avoid talking about the need for less driving. Also the aging of the baby boomers may be part of the impetus, since “happy motoring” must go on to eternity regardless.

  72. Re: strda221’s comment about quitting smoking…

    I don’t know about other folks, but I didn’t quit smoking just so I could tack a few more years onto the back end of my life! I quit smoking so I could get up a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. So I wouldn’t be stuffed up all the time. So I could taste the nuance in food and drink again. So I wouldn’t reek of cigarette smoke to my children. (I quit smoking 10 years ago next month, when we found out my wife was pregnant with our first child…actually 2 weeks before we found out…weird, huh?) Plus it’s bloody expensive! And I was tired of being Big Tobacco’s bit…uminous slave;)

    Loved it, JMG. The pro-space arguments, or even what ifs, above, do not resonate with me in the slightest. Not in a good way anyway. Well done. Love the Antarctica analogy. I will be using that one.

    Cheers.

  73. Excellent as usual JMG!

    I think one of the causes of the persistence of the dream of the “Conquest of the Space”, is to continue the same script of the western invasion of the world from XV century till now, because that solve a lot of internal problems, and allow to continue the growth forever

    This myth I think is specially strong in USA, because as a popular culture, the “Conquest of the West” is still painted by, some people, as an heroic adventure against the “evil” indians, as thousands of Hollywood films show. The “space”, as the “far west” myth, could be seen similarly as a place for the heroism, the start a new life, to make new discoveries, and to be free, it is the ideallization of the “national character” at play, which is also losing its brightness

    You still can have a president talking to the UN assembly about the “compassionate wars” that US has had to fight during all the XX century and the current XXI century against a serie of “evil empires and monsters” in the name of the Free World to “save” Humanity from the oppression and destruction. It is also the duty of US to save the Humanity from the Earth that we have destroyed, thanks to the space program as Neyl de Grasse and Elon Musk say. It is a Manifest Destiny both in the earth as well and in the sky

    In the meantime the russian Soyuz space system, with techonology from the 70’s, is the only used routinely to transport reliably people to the space, after the space shuttle program end because was the most lethal space system in history, but it was born with the idea of making an space travel as easy as a plane travel. What could went wrong?

    Cheers
    David

  74. Lets not forget that Apollo was VERY expensive. I’ve seen estimates that it cost anywhere between .75 and 1% of the US GDP of the time. Having seen a couple of Saturn V they are amazing things, I do have to say (and if anyone is in Houston or Florida, a trip to Johnson or Kennedy space centers are well well worth the time).

    The best response to the deniers I’ve seen is XKCD, which pointed out “if NASA faked the moon landings, why haven’t they faked anything as cool since?”

  75. I recall the idea that two atoms can communicate information to one another independent of distance simultaneously. Einstein or someone discovered this. If universe is holographic and every part contains information for all the other parts and can communicate with all other parts instantaneously then space time is sort of an illusion. This theory makes it more like the idea of religious that all time and space is an eternal now. We would need a quantum particle physicist with deep mediitative experience to discuss this but pop books try to explain this sort of thing I think. So maybe latest science and eastern religion are beyond your discussed 19th century mechanical concept of deep time.

  76. Twin Ruler, thank you. Yes, it is!

    Jill, thank you. That kind of simple common sense is surprisingly rare these days.

    Karen, I stole and used it, so by all means!

    Michael, yes, I caught that. Correction duly made.

    Clay, yep. Despite all the chatter, we don’t have functioning artificial intelligence yet, and we may never get it at all — but we’ve certainly managed to produce a vast amount of very effective artificial stupidity…

    Liz, that’s an excellent contrast — a self-defeating technofetishistic fantasy vs. a person actually making a difference using patience, labor, and love.

    Colin, when somebody says “X is humanity’s destiny!” what they’re actually saying is “I want people to do X!” It’s just one of the many ways that people use tricky language to try to pretend that their personal value judgments are objective realities. If you can design and build a destinometer that will allow destinies to be objectively measured, I’ll gladly let you talk about what humanity’s destiny is or is not… 😉

    Darth, yep, and I’ve made the correction.

    RPC, yep — I was actually thinking of that!

    Dave, we, are you really, truly so unimaginative that the only thing you can think of that human beings might do with their time on earth is to keep tossing people a handful at a time into the hard vacuum a couple of hundred miles up so they can ooh and aah as the planet rolls past underneath them? Let’s see, we could start by cleaning up the mess we’ve made of Earth’s biosphere, so that our descendants have a livable planet to inhabit; we could try coming up with political and economic systems less floridly dysfunctional than the ones we’ve got now; we could see whether we can come up with technologies that can support an advanced society without causing ecological damage sufficient to destroy said society; we could do a million and one other things — or we could waste our remaining time chucking people up into orbit in gussied-up Thermos bottles because we haven’t bothered to notice, despite reams of scientific evidence, that space isn’t a viable habitat for human beings, period, end of sentence. You might as well insist at the top of your lungs that we have to keep trying to build perpetual motion machines — because, ahem, “what else is there to be done?”

    Leonard, bingo. In space, the government controls your air supply; in what possible way is this freedom?

    Darth, that all sounds very nice until you try costing it out. As with most of the giddy follies that pass for visions of the future these days, it makes no economic sense at all; for a tiny fraction of the investment needed for your orbital pipe dream, we could reclaim metals from sea water and build those greenhouses in Antarctica.

    Sara, not quite. The points of the story contest are, first, to explore the difference between the imaginary solar system that originally inspired fantasies of space travel and the solar system we actually inhabit, and second, to finish the process of recognizing that stories of interplanetary adventure are fantasies, not images of any kind of future we can actually expect to get. Do you like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, by the way? That’s also set in the Old Solar System.

  77. Josh, FWIW, I think “dark matter” might very well be the immaterial substances that make up the esthetic and astral dimensions of the universe. Nope, modern science is not even close to acknowledging the existence of the immaterial outside of electricity, electromagnetism, etc., not until modern science acquires a 3rd Eye …..

  78. Kind Sir

    Godzillionaires. This is clearly the word the world has been waiting for desperately. If I had a say in the matter it would become the word of the decade if not the century (although the jury is still out on the latter).

    Crackpot realism.
    I have seen it happen. Every day. Everywhere.
    I am an Austrailan. It comes natural to us.
    Especially the crackpot part.
    Especially to the political class.
    I just never had a label for it. Thank you very much for providing me with one.
    I shall have ample opportunity to use it.
    Australian politics all of a sudden makes so much more sense.

    Thanks also for putting the big bang theory in it’s place. Christian creation myth meets scientific materialism like two pimply teenagers on a first date.

    Finally I should like to take the liberty to disagree with one of the points you made.
    We may not currently be designed for outer space, but we seem to be evolving towards it quite fast.
    Over the last half century the average aussie has added a significant amount of blubber while losing muscle tone and we have adapted to surviving on food that is easy to produce industrially and has next to no taste or nutritional value.
    From what i understand Americans are well ahead of us on this curve.
    This should well prepare us for the rigours of outer space.
    Blubber actually gives some protection against radiation and cold and maybe even vacuum but it makes it a bit awkward to navigate an environment with a gravitational pull of 9.8 m/s^2 and minimal buoyancy.

    cheers

  79. Jamie, thank you for this. That’s what I’d gathered from my own reading, but it’s good to hear the same thing from someone who’s worked in the field. Regarding cities under the sea, I recall when that was just as much a part of science fiction as space travel — pity that ocean cities, and so many other interesting things, got tossed aside as SF fixated on the One True Rocketship Future…

    Bill, I hope you’re willing to keep wrestling with the ideas I’ve proposed, and don’t simply start insisting “Tyson said it, I believe it, and that settles it…”

    Jay, yes, there’s also that! I don’t know if this opinion is more generally held, but in rural Washington state, back in my misspent youth, quite a few young women of my acquaintance had a saying: “The bigger the truck, the smaller the d**k.” I sometimes suspect the same point can be generalized to rockets, and those who obsess about gigantic flame-tipped phalluses getting it up into orbit are expressing their own insecurities in a very graphic fashion!

    Hubert, a hundred and fifty years ago nobody anywhere imagined humanity conquering the cosmos. A hundred and fifty years from now, I suspect, nobody anywhere will take that dream seriously. Don’t mistake a fad for an enduring human reality!

    Dewey, yep. Correction already made.

    JC, nicely summarized; thank you. Of course it’s just fiction — science fiction has no more to do with real futures than romance novels have to do with real relationships.

    Omnia, it’s simple: I mostly read books by dead people, and I frequent those unfashionable public and university libraries that don’t purge older books from their stacks.

    Karen, and yet people in many human societies deal with that gracefully. We need to get over ourselves…

    Raymond, delighted to hear it. Too many people seem to take Christianity as an excuse for claiming humanity’s overwhelming importance — “we’re so special, God died for us!” — and too few grasp what’s said very clearly in the Bible about humility.

    Graeme, not so. The fact that much of the Sun’s radiation gets turned to visible light and infrared doesn’t keep the Sun from blasting interplanetary space with lethal doses of ultraviolet, x rays, and gamma rays, as well as alpha and beta particles and more.

    Alex, that would be interesting to watch!

    Ruth, that strikes me as a very sensible perspective.

    De, exactly. What are they thinking — or are they thinking?

    Zak, you’re the fourth or fifth person to have pointed that out. Correction duly made.

    Patricia, I wonder if the reason Stirling couldn’t engage in a thoughtful discussion of the subject is that at some level, he knows we’re not going to the stars. No religion is as loudly proclaimed and as savagely defended as one whose faithful have already been given good reason to question its central doctrines.

    Zak, but I also identify with my own small group, with my country, with my species, and so on. It’s a matter of recognizing that loyalty and love extend in many directions.

  80. Ok, maybe not “almost none” – I wasn’t aware of Solar Proton Events as a source. The wikipedia indicates that they occur relatively rarely, although they can be severe:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_particle_event (and strictly speaking they don’t originate in a nuclear reactor but are plasma ejections)
    Galactic cosmic rays are much more common and derive from sources much more energetic than our sun (black hole accretion discs would be one source – and these are effectively completely unshielded).
    Hard to imagine, but some of these cosmic rays pack as much punch as a baseball travelling at 50 miles per hour!
    Cheers,
    Graeme

  81. JMG, so did Wernher Von Braun have the smallest d**k of all – except for the brains behind the Sea Dragon rocket concept, who probably had some sort of space-time anomaly in their nether regions?

  82. Hello John, I try not to be unimaginative at the very least, though I admit I do fail at times. I am well aware that there are much more pressing issues that need to be addressed in regards to stopping and reversing the degradation of the biosphere and humanity learning to live in genuine peace with each other without people and nations trying to constantly dominate the other. I just don’t think that the door should be completely shut and sealed in regards to space exploration. Maybe the only sustained humans will ever have in the Solar System will be robots, I don’t see the harm in trying with a clear-eyed view of what’s possible. Despite all of humanity’s faults and tragedies, I like what our species can do when we turn our minds to more peaceful pursuits and again, I think it would be a shame to go extinct without pushing the limits, both on Earth and in space of what’s possible. I very much doubt that we’ll ever get off of Earth in any capacity, but still.

  83. Another flaw in “insurance policy” argument is that if you could build a self contained bio dome on Mars, you could just build it on Earth and you would survive and possible environmental catastrophe would be more mild than the normal condition of somewhere like Mars.

    Quote: “the bottom of the Marianas Trench, where the water pressure will reduce a human body to paste in seconds. Nowhere in the solar system, or on any of the exoplanets yet discovered by astronomers, is there a place that’s even as well suited to human life as the places I’ve just named. ”

    Well Marianas trench might be a bad example as some of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter contain oceans beneath their Icy surfaces which will lack the crushing pressures of the Marianas trench. Much harder to get there than any Earth ocean of course but if you can nuclear power could extract oxygen from the water and fish farm with LED lights fed algae etc.

    @Austin Quote: “Biology defines species as individuals in a population able to produce viable offspring together.”

    The definition of species is a bit murkier than that. Lions and Tigers can produce fertile offspring but few will argue they are the same species, there are even fertile mules and zorses. Then there are life forms that reproduce asexually unable to interbreed with others does that make each individual their own species. There are also some bacteria which can assimilate DNA from almost anywhere.

  84. This post made me think of the Three Rays of Light. Do you think, when there’s a situation like this where our culture seems virtually incapable of considering more than two possibilities, that in addition to the factors you outlined, it’s also in part because the Third Ray (or central Ray?) is not active in most people’s consciousness? Does the Third Ray bring with it a particular kind of knowledge and understanding that isn’t possible to grasp otherwise – that is to say, a change in consciousness?

    Or is this extinction or the stars business just our culture’s particular brand of stupidity? It does seem like it should be common sense to want to stay here on Earth and take care of our own planet…

  85. I’m wondering why when discussing humanity’s long-term future, you never mention the possibility that humanity’s descendants will evolve into something very different, or possibly multiple different species as Austin suggested. I think that’s a definite possibility, but it’s unlikely to lead to anything that would make the believers in progress happy.

    Lets say it’s sometime tens of millions of years in the future, and the descendants of raccoons are building civilizations. They happen to have a similar enough ,ind to ours to be interested in things like paleontology, and have found enough evidence of what you’ve termed the “anthropic event” that it’s mostly agreed upon that it was caused by some species in the past rather than purely geologic forces, but what species it was remains a mystery. One of the furthest out, most crackpot theories around is that it was a species of hominid that was the cause. That’s laughed at by the vast majority, after all, hominids to them are vermin. Many species of (much smaller than today’s) hominids exist at that time in many parts of the world, and with their opposable thumbs they’re quite crafty at getting into the raccoon-people’s food supplies, but they’re considered dirty creatures, spreading disease to the raccoon-people, most civilized racoon-people would never think of eating them, unless they were starving and desperate. It’s unthinkable to them that hominids were ever capable of building civilizations.

  86. J. McMillan, I’d also like to see that analysis. I know that modern diesel-electric trains are almost insanely fuel efficient — one gallon of diesel fuel will take a ton of cargo some hundreds of miles — but the broader efficiencies and net energy analysis would be worth seeing.

    Strda, and yet people in most human cultures, through most of history, have been far less hysterical about the prospect of dying. For that matter, I know smokers — and not just a few of them — who say that the pleasure they get from smoking is worth a few years off their lifespans. I don’t think it’s hardwired into our species — I think it’s a specific fetish of modern industrial culture.

    John, bingo. That’s my guess — they’re basically saying, “If we landed on the Moon, why aren’t there Moonbases and cities on Mars and all the rest of the future we were promised?” The answer, of course, is that pop culture is rarely a workable basis for a vision of the future…

    Bumblebee, beating yourself about the head and shoulders with a baseball bat also falls within the range of possibility. Does that mean that you’ll attempt it? Lots of things that are entirely possible have gone untried, so your argument has no force.

    Y. Chireau, and yet I’d be willing to bet that you set the alarm to get up at a certain hour on Monday mornings, say. There’s a mystical sense that all time is the present moment, and then there’s the practical sense that you have to get to the bank by 4 pm or it’ll be closed — and both of those are truths in their own sphere. So, too, is deep time.

    Avery, I tend to see politics and science as the last holdouts of the extreme form of the myth of progress. Philosophy, art, you name it — everything used to be shoved into the Procrustean bed of progress, and seen as progressing toward some glorious end. It’s become impossible to defend that belief for most other things, and we’re nearing the point at which we’re going to have to stop thinking about politics and science that way, too — thus the frantic stridency with which the myth of progress is still being upheld in the teeth of a swelling army of facts.

    Vince, yep — the sloth and also the woolly mammoth. Jefferson also insisted that meteorites couldn’t fall from the sky because there are no rocks up there, and therefore anyone who claimed to have seen a rock fall from the sky was lying. I think of him as the patron saint of UFO debunkers.

    Robert, thank you for both of those! Yes, and I meant “The Purple Cloud” — I’ll correct the post momentarily.

    Workdove, it’s simply not true that the lack of a beginning proves the lack of an end, or vice versa. Consider humanity’s ignorance of atomic structure. That ignorance had no beginning — you can go back forever before the 20th century and not find a point before which humans knew about atomic structure — but it had an end, when the details of atomic structure were discovered. Similarly, there are things that have a beginning and no end — the light from our Sun, for example, will continue to radiate outward through the cosmos forever, even though it had a beginning when the Sun was kindled several billion years ago. It’s always risky to try to make arguments like that based on verbal definition, since words are simply clunky models of a reality that transcends them…

    Tidlosa, thank you. Yeah, the logic gets really shaky sometimes!

    Austin, the future evolution of humanity is a very complicated issue, because we’ve added a second layer of evolution — cultural evolution — on top of biological evolution. To get more than one human species, you’d have to have a really serious barrier that separated two or more breeding populations of human beings for a good long time — say, if global warming goes to the far end of the curve and our species survives only at the two poles, that could do it. Anything less than that, and human xenophilia will ensure that people will keep on reproducing across cultural, class, and ethnic lines.

    Will, there’s a strange polarity between space and time. Worshipers of progress love space and hate time, while worshipers of a golden age in the past love time and hate space. There’s a point of balance in between where you can deal with both of them, but that’s not a popular stance just now.

  87. Lordyburd, no, the terror of deep time isn’t the terror of nonexistence. It’s the terror of being judged by the future — of having the entire industrial project assessed by the cold eyes of our descendants, and their descendants, and of species that don’t even exist yet, and being recognized in 20/20 hindsight as the dumb stunt that it is. The atheist fixation on personal annihilation at death is the same thing in a theological vein — it’s a reaction, sometimes a frantic reaction, to the fear of being judged by God.

    Tom, I feel exactly the same way. Being unimportant in the great scheme of things is a great relief to me!

    Heather, glad to be of help. 😉

    Nancy, works for me!

    NoHype, funny. I admit that’s not something that keeps me up worrying at night…

    Greg, I’ll accept the correction — I should probably have said manned space exploration — but if that’s the case, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. At what point is the further data we get from yet another round of space probes no longer worth the investment, or the opportunities denied to potentially more valuable investment?

    Stuart, as I see it, life doesn’t have a point, in the sense that you don’t get handed a road map to “the point of life.” You have to choose your own direction, decide what you value enough to make happen, and take your chances. As Sartre pointed out, existence precedes essence; in less gnomic language, we get plopped into the cosmos and then have to figure out what to do about it.

    As for humanity getting a clue without suffering — it would be nice, but I haven’t seen any movement in that direction!

  88. Esteemed Archdruid, your description of the flying car debacle is perhaps closer than you know, or else you associate with some well-placed insiders (as I do.) I sent a link to this posting to one of those well-placed insiders and got the following reply (edited to preserve anonymity):

    “I have been watching all this carefully; the current electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing craze started gradually after [Godzillionaire] started [Flying_Pipe_Dream_Company.] I knew about it since friends [World_Expert_1] and [World_Expert_2] got asked to the company’s formative meetings. Neither [Expert] gave [Godzillionaire] any encouragement, so they were not kept on the staff of said Company, but [another_hired_has-been] was telling anyone listening, “we HAVE to succeed, it’s [Godzillionaire].” After news surfaced that [Godzillionaire] was working on an electric vertical take off flying car, the media went nuts (HOT click-bait!) and several other Godzillionaires and Mega-Corporations declared their intentions to, well, Flying Car!, while deluded aeronautic wanna-bees and has-been crackpots came out of the woodwork to scrabble after some of the $$$$ and media spoils.”

    What a spectacle…

    Happy turning of the seasons to all! (Summer to Fall or Winter to Spring, depending on your planetary surface location.)

  89. Hey Justin

    Did you know Werner Von Braun wrote this baby

    https://archive.org/details/ProjectMars

    Now the only question is whether Werner was a lover of BOTH space AND time !

    And what would that mean about Nazis in general , if in fact Werner was ever a Nazi .
    I guess just because you build rockets for Nazis doesnt necessarily make you one

    Cheers !

  90. After reading your response to Hubert that a hundred and fifty years ago nobody anywhere imagined humanity conquering the cosmos, I thought I put for record the two verses that are mentioned in the koran that addressed the issue, verse 34 chapter 55 that reads, oh! assembly of jinns and humans if you were able to transverse the orbits of heaven and earth , do so if you possess the sufficient authority that carries you over but surely you will not be successful because fire and burning copper will be sent into your direction. The second verse is verse 19 of chapter 84 which reads and you shall surely ride layer over layer yet they will remain in a state of reluctance to acknowledge the signs that ordained their progress in this well designed cosmos.

  91. Discwrites, thanks for the correction, which I’ve made. I can’t speak for pundits generally, but I know Latin and French but not Italian, and that probably messes up my chances of spelling it accurately. As for Europe and the space race, glad to hear that at least some parts of the industrial world are a little less besotted on the subject than the people on this side of the pond…

    Xabier, no argument, Jefferies deserves much more attention than he gets. Any of my readers who want to give him a spin can find After London: or, Wild England available for free download here.

    Rhisiart, thank you.

    Gandalfwhite, from my perspective, what you’re describing is the attempt to reduce spiritual realities to mechanical surrogates. In place of the spiritual immortality we all have anyway, indefinite biological prolongation through drugs and machines; in place of engaging with the cycle of the seasons, the manufacture of artificial climates, and so on. One works, the other doesn’t. It seems to me that there’s a lesson here! I don’t think, by the way, that you’re more retro than all my other commenters, though you’re definitely toward the retro end.

    Cassandra, the insistence that space travel will someday inevitably be cheap is exactly the kind of progressivist fallacy I’ve been critiquing for all these years. Let’s take a closer look at it. The reason it was difficult to reach America from Europe in the fifth century had nothing to do with cost; the issue was that the technologies of deepwater maritime travel had been largely lost in Europe with the decline of Rome, and weren’t rediscovered for almost ten centuries. Nor was energy an issue; the winds blowing across the Atlantic were always sufficient to do the thing. Finally, what waited on the other side was an environment very well suited to human existence — where, in fact, people had been living for thirty thousand years or so. None of these things are true of space travel. Nor can you blithely assume that advances in technology will inevitably solve all the gargantuan problems facing any attempt at space colonization, because technological progress is not linear; like nearly everything else, it’s subject to the law of diminishing returns. It’s all very well to resort to handwaving and insist that surely some bit of technological twinkle dust will make it possible for us to act out the fantasies of early 20th century pulp science fiction, but as a source of accurate ideas about the future — well, let’s just say you might as well claim that early 20th century heroic fantasy is a source of accurate ideas about the past…

    J_menadue, I trust you’ve already run out and invested your life’s savings in a flying car startup, then… 😉

    Les, exactly. Sure, in some abstract sense, it’s technologically feasible — well, if you ignore godzillions of unsolved problems and assume that they all must have solutions, because space travel! The problem that matters is that you can’t make it economically viable, and that means it’s never going to happen.

    Esn, that is to say, you’re demanding that I prove a negative, and inserting the tried and (un)true argument from ignorance — “something unknown might happen to make my otherwise implausible theory work anyway!” The extent to which defenders of faith in space settlement rely on such evasive maneuvers does not exactly display confidence, you know…

    Glenn, glad to hear it. If you or someone else would like to stick a link to the original in the comments section, it can be found here.

    Drhooves, I get it from old libraries full of books written by dead people!

    Isaac, the cell phone fantasy is a new one to me, and of course you’re right — people have by and large lost their last grip on how dependent they are on huge infrastructure facilities they don’t happen to see. Rather than snarling, try laughing — the hermit who looks with wry amusement at the idiocies of his fellow hominins is an ancient and appealing figure.

    Chris, I’m glad to hear that! I keep getting lambasted by SF authors and fans for questioning their faith in the Shining Heaven of Space Travel, though.

    Josh, I ain’t arguing.

    Cyborg, sure, but that doesn’t make it economically feasible to do more than a little space exploration with robotic craft, and then only so long as we have enough of a surplus of cheap concentrated fossil fuel to do the thing at all. Thanks for the link; I’ll check it out as time permits.

    Glenn, ding! We have a winner. Yep; alternative energy is perfectly viable so long as you don’t demand as much energy as you want, 24/7. Our descendants, as they build the ecotechnic societies of the future, will take it for granted that you use electricity when the cycles of nature provide it, and don’t worry about it otherwise; we’re just too clueless to do the same.

  92. Roger, I think you’re right, and plan on doing some serious research to try to get a handle on why people in the world’s industrial societies have become so tautly focused on the moment, and so incapable of thinking about the longer term.

    Ron, you’re welcome. I’m considering founding the Grumpy Cat Society for Future Studies… 😉

    Temporaryreality, yeah, it’s weird. I think you’ve made a solid point about the Ptolemaic fixation of the space crowd, too.

    Leo, funny! Yeah, that was a good scene.

    Abdulmunem, how deep is time? That’s like the old riddle, “How deep is a well?’ The answer, of course, is “all the way to the bottom”..

    CR, I wish there were only one such devourer!

    Sub, the difficulty with scientists is that they belong, at least notionally, to the privileged classes of industrial society, and people who belong to the privileged classes of industrial society fear one thing more than anything else, more than death and poverty and fanged peanut brittle from Mars: being mistaken for a member of a poorer caste. They can’t imagine cutting back on lifestyles of absurd extravagance, even though they know what those lifestyles are doing to the planet, even though many of them don’t enjoy those lifestyles and indeed are being made miserable by them — if they don’t zoom around in jets and do all the rest of it, they risk being seen as poorer than they are, and that’s the one thing no member of the privileged classes these days can endure for a moment.

    Edward, please do, with my blessing!

    Moshe, nicely summarized. The show must go on, clowns and all!

    Tripp, use that puppy!

    DFC, no question, that’s an important part of the motive power.

    Whomever, thank you. That’s brilliant.

    Gandalfwhite, the books you want were published in the 1970s — Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters. They got a lot of close reading before the long night of the Reagan counterrevolution closed in.

    Dropbear, funny. No, we’re evolving toward becoming self-basting snacks for hungry deep space critters — the Fungi from Yuggoth, or something of the sort. Human beings go into orbit, get cooked by radiation, and are plucked from their heat-and-serve space capsules by squamous, rugose tentacles…

    Graeme, that’s not what the EPA says.

    Patricia, that’s pretty good!

    Justin, I don’t know that the measurements were ever made, but it’s certainly, er, suggestive.

    Dave, okay, so why shouldn’t we devote billions of dollars and vast amounts of irreplaceable resources to building deep dish pizza franchises on the bottom of the ocean, or covering the state of Kansas from end to end with bright pink poodles? You could just as well insist that our species will be missing out on something if it goes extinct before doing either of these things, or a great many other absurd actions. The core of my argument is that space colonization is just as absurd, and insisting that I can’t prove that there will never be a way to do it doesn’t change the basic lack of common sense of the project itself.

    Randal, another good point — a dome beneath the Antarctic ice cap would be well protected from an impact winter, say. As for the Marianas trench, hmm. I’ll look into that.

    Stefania, excellent. The third ray is the central ray, and the lack of that ray of balance in the middle does indeed leave people flopping from one nonviable extreme to the other!

    Kashtan, intelligence has been sufficiently effective as an evolutionary strategy for human beings that it seems unlikely to me that it will be discarded. That said, I could always be wrong.

    Bryan, many thanks for this! I don’t have any sources of inside information; I made that prediction on the basis of having researched previous attempts to make a flying car, all of which had exactly the same problem, and on the basis of knowing what happens when privilege becomes an excuse for cluelessness, and the people who actually know what’s going on are reduced to providing means for the idiotic goals dreamed up by the clueless.

  93. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/the-revolution-that-didnt_b_5600647.html

    JMG,

    apparently much criticism on fritjof capra initiating new age feel good movement with since debunked ideas and enablng Reagan’s ‘me decade’ by watering down Eastern mysticism for Western pop culture. Still, I will have to see what results I get over time. If God exists it must have an overview of everything all at once even if we cannot. Moses saw God in the burning bush and krishna was indescribable in the Gita. This beyond eternity concept is God to us. If we are theists we accept consciousness being ultimate truth, not deep time or deep space. Much of hinduism is argument between those saying body life is evil, must be left behind and viewpoint which states that body is holy,must be used for spiritual transformation and itself transformed into ‘golden body’. Latter is a minority radical viewpoint. Priest castes do not want people experimenting with personal spiritual transformation. This tabu is similar to rise of catholic orthodoxy over gnostic mysticism and to tabu of alchemical search for philosopher’s stone. Capra’s fault is to have led us to believe that a little meditation would bring us the absolute whereas transmutation of matter(body) into spirit might take many lives of hard effort under a guru. Not for weak of heart. Like landing on the moon and getting bored, these people from new age movement have no deep roots in soil so will ‘wither
    and blow away’ as in jesus parable. Contact with God in oneself is like SETI project, real science , hard work for a lifetime.

  94. Me, I find deep time more fascinating than fearsome. For those, who really love deep time, there is the book “The Five Ages of the Universe”. Regarding science and diminishing returns, my observations of the papers in arxiv.org about planetary science is that there seem to be fewer and fewer discoveries about extrasolar planets and more and more papers exploring what would be possible with this or that technology or with processing of observation data. Besides, the fantasy of flying to Mars has turned into a fully-fledged cargo cult with mock Mars missions, and essays about 3D-printed dwellings for Mars colonists and the like. A good window to this mentality is the website space.com.

  95. Hi John,

    Wouldn’t many of the people who see our destiny in space regard your rejection of manned space travel as a straw man. From what I can understand the plan is that we upload our minds to computers/machines and these machines (that don’t need fresh air to breathe) then go out and take over the cosmos. Even more absurd no doubt but I would very much like to hear your debunking of this particular route to the stars.

  96. Speaking of crackpot realism as applied to technology, it brings to mind that joke:

    1997 problems: your lightbulb emits more heat than light 2017
    2017 problems: your lightbulb is a futuristic color LED currently DDoSing GitHub on behalf of the PRC’s cyber-warfare division.

    And that’s not the only absurd thing out there, there are ovens that won’t allow you to cook dinner if you lost internet connections, (why would anyone buy that? I really can’t think of the reason.)

    It’s going into the lots of reasons why those things exist, but trying to heroically solve problems that just don’t exist in any meaningful ways appears to be fixation of tech world right now. It seems that the consolidation of Sillicon Valley into oligopoly is in the finishing phases and the smaller players are hitting hard against diminishing returns and need to grasp for more and more outlandish ideas.

  97. On feeling appropriately insignificant – or rather, having a sense of due proportion – I feel Sir Richard Burton the explorer had it about right:

    ‘The world is large and thou art small;/The world is old and thou art young: / Cease, atom of a moment’s span/ To think thyself an All-in-All!’ (The Kasidah).

    I run this in my head whenever I’m losing that sense of proportion, or fretting about the news.

  98. JMG, many people have engaged in self-harm, but only a few have walked on the Moon. If you want to be specific, I’d wager that more people have beaten themselves with a baseball bat than have been to outer space. My ‘argument’ is taken from druidic philosophy, where humans must know all, see all and suffer all. Why wouldn’t this include manned space exploration, or self-harm?

  99. From Wikipedia:

    “Biosphere 2 was only used twice for its original intended purposes as a closed-system experiment: once from 1991 to 1993, and the second time from March to September 1994. Both attempts, though heavily publicized, ran into problems including low amounts of food and oxygen, die-offs of many animals and plants included in the experiment, squabbling among the resident scientists, and management issues.”

    So…A round trip to Mars will take. let’s say, three years. It will certainly take longer than that to develop and deploy the means to go. So, as a first viability check, take a set of volunteers for the Mars mission, seal them in a simulated ship environment (and maybe a simulated Mars environment), and see if they can survive three years. (Don’t even bother with zero gravity for the first simulation.) Until this can be done I think we have to regard the mission as a way of creating a set of heroic martyrs for Progress.

    You can infer my opinion of the likelihood of success from my opening quote.

  100. Dear Ruth Henriques Lyon,

    What is the “Stewart Brand influenced Californian ideology?” Do you refer to Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue days or to his later career?

  101. I’ve coined a neologism called “Yesterphobia” to describe an irrational fear of the past. I think there is a word that already exists to describe this fear, but it isn’t very catchy. Perhaps there is a neologism that could be generated for the subject of this post.

    Generally, you can’t argue with advocates of progress or the received wisdom, because they will always respond to reasoned critique with a snappy pejorative, e.g. luddite, pessimist, reactionary etc. Neat little pejoratives are the contemporary method of persuasion, or at least of walling off uncomfortable doubts. The higher up the social scale you go, the greater the number of defensive pejoratives that are employed. Perhaps we should call the contemporary elite “the pejorative class”.

    Therefore you could describe someone like Neil DeGrasse Tyson as “a person who is particularly yesterphobic, even by the standards of the pejorative class.”

  102. I don’t suppose we really know how old the universe is. Recent discoveries of megaclusters of galaxies make it appear much older. Hindus have the manifestation of the universe as lasting many trillions of years, of which we are about half way through.

  103. @Esn: “And yet, what’s the harm in seeking to start habits that may lead to a longer life, if you’re not yet a terminally ill patient?”

    I don’t mean to pick on you in particular – a few people made the same argument and you just did it the most eloquently. In the realm of an individual’s physical health, people sometimes do things in pursuit of longer life expectancy that actually shortens their life expectancy, from continuing to pop prophylactic drugs that are rendering them sick or unable to exercise, to submitting to questionable implanted devices and procedures. And since resources are finite, these pursuits have opportunity costs. Even if you assume that extending your life is the best possible use of your money, pursuing an expensive high-tech avenue can make it economically impossible for you to pursue a lower-tech approach that would have provided more benefit (e.g., spend $14K/yr[!] on a PCSK9 inhibitor or buy organic veggies, pastured meat and a gym membership, not both). I would bet that both of the same issues exist at the societal level. For the cost of setting up a Mars colony large enough to be a viable separate population, you could probably build anti-asteroid weapons, plus end net deforestation and eradicate malaria.

  104. One thing that has stuck with me is the great disparity of attitudes that different cultures have toward death and the afterlife. If my Western Civ class taught me correctly, ancient Sumerian religion apparently assigned most people an afterlife of constant toil, dredging out the gods’ waterworks, and that was supposed to be good enough. Paleolithic and Neolithic peoples often buried their dead with tools, which has been interpreted as a belief in the need to work in the next world.

    In other cultures, you get the conception of the afterlife as a place of salvation, where one can escape from the evils of this world. Where for some us, the concept of reincarnation is a welcome chance to get to experience things we couldn’t in just one lifetime, for Buddhism and Hinduism, each new life is like being held back a grade.

    Of course, the one that Western secular humanism inherited and reacted to was the Christian conception of the Kingdom of Heaven. As you’ve pointed out, outer space is “up there” in the same way heaven was once thought to be, and the mania about colonizing it is in large part an attempt to create an afterlife for the human species. I also notice that it will be an afterlife entirely of humanity’s creation, too. We get to project all our favorite ideas about what life should be like (whether that’s a pacific utopia or a new iteration of the Wild West).

    I wonder if there’s some deeper pattern or meaning to why certain cultures react to death in the way they do. Was there something about the 3rd millennium BCE Fertile Crescent that made an afterlife of toil seem the most reasonable possibility, and then again something about the Indian subcontinent in the time of the brahmins and the Buddha that made escape seem like the only hope? And what is it that makes so many of us want an artificial environment in space so badly?

  105. Hi JMG again

    In the new dream of progress the human space travel will not be as you described it. The current narrative has evolved to overcome the problems you pointed out

    The new dream is to have your mind (“you”) downloaded through an USB port to a robot or drone, and then we will have JMG2.0 , the new release, a much improved model ready for the space conquest

    Then JMG2.0 will be sent in a spacecraft with a Tokamak fusion reactor with enough energy for 10^7 years without reflueling, and ready to spend 10^3 years of travel before to reach any planet worth to be visited. In the meantime JMG2.0 will be learning all the languages on earth, all the song, all the musical instruments, all the phylosophy, and all the technology of the human history in his slepless travesy; for this purpose the Musk Inc engineer team had loaded 10^8 godzibytes of information in the memory system of the spacecraft

    After 10^3 years of travel studying all this information JMG2.0 will be approx. 10^6 more intelligent, 10^7 more clever, 10^8 more creative, it wll have 10^10 more information in his mind, that allow it to be 10^12 better in problem-solving capabilities than the old and fragile JMG1.0 made of flesh and bones, and that need to be true because is the scientific consensus

    Well in fact this is nos a SF story but a horror one

  106. Abdulmunem, as I know the Koran only very poorly and Arabic not at all, I won’t try to debate the issue, but it does look to me as though in both cases Allah is telling human beings not to get too uppity…

    Gandalfwhite, I’d encourage you to read Capra and Zukav for yourself and make up your own mind!

    Booklover, yeah, I’ve seen it. It reminds me of nothing so much as devout fundamentalist Christians doing Rapture drills and making arrangements for someone to take care of their pets once Jesus whisks them away…

    Devonjoe, given that nobody’s taken so much as the first practical step toward a technology that can upload a personality onto a machine, or even developed a testable theory of the personality that shows how (or that) that it can be done, they might as well be out there with the UFO believers insisting that Grays from Zeta Reticuli will swoop down any day now and haul them away to space. It’s the classic argumentum ad ignorantiam — “you can’t prove that I’m wrong, therefore I must be right.”

    Changeling, excellent! I think that a lot of what drives that sort of thing is that true believers in technology seem to be incapable of grasping the law of diminishing returns, and so the only response they can think of to problems caused by too much complexity and interconnectedness is to heap on more complexity and interconnectedness.

    Xabier, thank you for that! I don’t think I’ve encountered it before.

    Bumblebee, that is to say, you can take any brief summary of a spiritual teaching (or anything else for that matter) and, by stretching it to extremes, make it look absurd. If that’s really the way you want to spend your time, hey, by all means.

    RPC, yep. Biosphere 2 was an extremely successful experiment; it demonstrated in no uncertain terms that we don’t currently have the understanding of ecological cycles we would need to manage a voyage to Mars, much less set up a self-sustaining colony there.

    Phil, “yesterphobia” is a keeper. Thank you! As for arguing with true believers in the religion of progress, granted — it’s precisely equivalent to trying to argue with any other dogmatic true believer. “Sagan said it, I believe it, that settles it” is just another fundamentalism.

    Onething, good. You’re right, of course — we have a theory that currently dates the universe to 14-something billion years old, but that theory could be thrown out the window next week if some researcher working on fine details of cosmology finds a fact that it can’t account for.

    James, those are huge and hugely important questions, for which I don’t have canned answers.

    Larry, thanks for this. Now if she’ll factor in resource depletion, she should have no trouble figuring out that the whole space-colonization business belongs in science fiction novels, and there alone.

    DFC, back in the day, when a science fiction editor got a story with a settling full of huge logical holes, he’d write the letters DNC on it in red ink and send it back. That stands for “Does Not Convince.” The scenario you describe ought to get that treatment. To begin with, as I mentioned to Devonjoe above, not only do we not have even the first rudimentary steps toward a technology that can download a personality into a machine, we don’t even have the first rudimentary steps toward a testable theory that could explain how such a thing would be possible, much less how it could be done. What’s more, after decades of effort by some of the world’s best physicists, the tokamak has proven itself to be a fantastically expensive white elephant that can’t be tweaked into producing more power than it consumes, no matter what. Thus you’ve got a plan for the future that depends on one technology nobody’s gotten around to inventing yet, or even providing a theoretical basis for, and another technology that’s been repeatedly proven not to work. You might as well insist that there are unicorns grazing in the forests of Zeta Reticuli 2, and draw up plans for interstellar travel using the radioactive methane from unicorn flatulence…

  107. Self-driving cars: I admit I’d like to see anything that involves fewer humans driving (would prefer pubtrans, but Boston in its infinite wisdom has decided that nobody should be able to go between two outer cities without going into downtown and switching three times) including any AI short of Skynet. Then again, I’m used to “going fewer than 20 MPH over the speed limit is basically castration and God forbid anyone slow down to see a street sign, plus signaling lane changes is for losers” MA drivers, so the bar for stuff I’d prefer is low.

  108. @JMG

    Of course the story of my last comment is DNC as you said; in fact is completely full of garbage because it was intended to be a joke about the pipe dream of the “transhumanist” and similar tribes that try to maintain the same myth of progress, in other forms with the idea of “improving” the human beings through technology

    Julian Huxley wrote the first commandment of transhumanism t in 1957, he said:

    “Up till now human life has generally been, as Hobbes described it, ‘nasty, brutish and short’; the great majority of human beings (if they have not already died young) have been afflicted with misery… we can justifiably hold the belief that these lands of possibility exist, and that the present limitations and miserable frustrations of our existence could be in large measure surmounted… The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity”

    He say we could become another GMO with “irmproved” genes, and more recently these people say we could live forever dowloaded in a good enough PC, and also conquer the stars in this way

    I cannot imagine what kind of live have the people who “aspire” to this kind of nightmarish fantasies

    Of course I agree with you that the Tokamak is a pipe dream, but even if at the end we develope it, it will only accelerate more our own destruction through the environmental destruction. For me the peak oil is one of the many hundreds problems of sustainability we suffer

    Reading your posts I think I am far more luddite than you

    Cheers

  109. I wonder how you reconcile your belief in a relatively modest role of humanity in the cosmic drama with – I assume you possess – a Druidic belief in the existence of something that more or less answers to the description of a “soul?”

  110. Re: transforming one’s “self” into a robot… Regardless of the technology issues, if your “self” were duplicated for upload, then the self that was there before the upload experiment is still “stuck in the meat”. But if the self leaves the meat behind, most of us would consider that step to be synonymous with “death”, no matter how clever the robot was thought to imitate the original self. We have taboos against imposing death upon others, but I might find a reason to shut down your robot “just for a little while”, while the batteries are being recharged or something. Depending on what sort of person you were, when you were meat, I might forget to turn it back on.

  111. Devonjoe

    “From what I can understand the plan is that we upload our minds to computers/machines and these machines (that don’t need fresh air to breathe) then go out and take over the cosmos. ”

    I had a good chuckle over this one!

  112. DFC,

    “The new dream is to have your mind (“you”) downloaded through an USB port to a robot or drone, and then we will have JMG2.0 , the new release, a much improved model ready for the space conquest.”

    Never mind the horror, just what exactly do these, I am guessing atheists, think the mind is and where is it located? Don’t they think it is the brain? Wouldn’t that brain require nutrients?
    Will that brain have a way to communicate once it locates a nice planet somewhere? Can it reject the planet and set forth anew? If it can communicate, then can it communicate with other such brains? Will it be happy trapped inside some tiny piece of hardware forever with no body? Will it have a suicide option?

    All these problems and it seems to me the one we’ve got where we probably travel between lives and then get new bodies and a lot of sensual beauty to enjoy with each one is looking better.

  113. Regarding (electric!) flying cars, well, they will probably work pretty well – obviously the range will be very poor, owing to the low energy density of batteries, but I suspect that they will work reasonably well. Brushless electric motors have the same power-to-weight ratios as gas turbine engines and are far easier to control, and their power output is limited by heat buildup rather than by mechanical failure – so they can be pushed to very high power levels for takeoff and landing – so their short-term peak power-to-weight ratio is much better than a gas turbine.

    Of course, if such craft are ever manufactured, their operating costs will render them inaccessible to most: Their batteries will probably have to be charged to the full 4.2 volts/cell tolerated by lithium chemistry (Tesla only charges the cells in their cars to 4.0 volts to enhance their lifetime), and the batteries will necessarily get quite hot because a lithium-powered aircraft, even one with 50% of it’s weight tied up in batteries like a quadcopter, cannot fly for much more than 90 minutes – so the batteries will degrade to 80% capacity in a few hundred flights, and probably need to be replaced before 1000 flights. Unlike a fossil fueled aircraft, which becomes significantly lighter as it burns fuel, a battery powered aircraft does not become lighter unless it drops dead batteries out the back.

    My prediction for crackpot realism: Electric intercontinental aircraft which manage to achieve ocean-spanning range by dropping dead batteries onto automated droneships which recover the batteries as they parachute to Earth. This is inevitable, because obviously people will be able to cross the Atlantic in 6 hours and the Pacific in 12 hours forever /s.

    The same batteries that one of these hypothetical vehicles will burn through in less than 1000 cycles could probably provide 10,000 cycles in a very conservative use case where they backup renewable energy.

  114. Remember the novel “100 Years Of Solitude”? Well, contemplate 1000 years all alone in the dark reaches of space. Learning all earth languages so as to travel to distant planets…so I guess this little brain container will have to be fitted with some sort of eyes? A visual apparatus, camera-like or telescope-like shouldn’t be a problem, but getting it to interface with the brain so that the brain experiences vision?

    I’m wondering, too, about emotion. Not that we want a lot of emotion while traveling all alone for 1000 years but how much do we know about emotion? Isn’t the body and its chemicals and hormones required for feeling emotion? How much could a disembodied brain feel?

    It’s quite possible that many will not have the fortitude for that kind of austerity, and might go insane.

    So there will be some ability to direct ones ship surely, which means thought control of a physical object? It responds to thoughts?

    A personal hell, but also it seems to me rather obviously the more I contemplate it that it is a matter of man trying to make crude imitations of divine creation, imitations of actual life. It’s hard to imagine an imitation of life being better than life.

  115. The main lesson I took away from Law School: There exists no idea so bad that there can’t be at least one argument to be made in its favor, and someone who will be wiling to make that argument.

  116. Isabel, yeah, the notion that public transit should always force people to go into the largest local population center, even when this involves three times the distance and four times the travel time as compared to a direct run around the periphery, somehow got stuck in the imaginations of transit planners a while ago. It’s very advantageous for auto salesmen!

    Sgage, I wish! I’ve seen that being seriously proposed far too often. Yes, it’s funny, but the absurdity is generally lost on its proponents…

    DFC, fair enough! I’ve heard exactly those claims being made in all seriousness, though. I’ve come to think that the single most unforgiving job in today’s society is that of the would-be satirist — it must be absolutely grueling to have to keep on coming up with something more absurd than the attitudes and actions you actually see these days… As for luddism, I’m not actually that much of a luddite; I appreciate hot running water, public libraries, and trains, for example!

    Dammerung, if everything without exception has a soul, including the dust mites in your armpits and the bacteria on which they’re feeding, why should it be anything other than modest for humans to have one too?

    Lathechuck, that off switch does seem very, very tempting, doesn’t it?

    Justin, my guess is that, like so many other electric technologies, they’ll never actually be economically viable; when the available supply of fossil fuels drops to the point that electric flying cars would be competitive, the resource shortages caused by the lack of fossil fuels to power mining machinery, intercontinental bulk, shipping, etc., etc., will be serious enough that the resources that would go to electric planes will have to go to something more useful instead.

    Phutatorius, that seems like a good generalization!

  117. JMG, humans beings do all sorts of absurd things, such as going to Mars, flagellating themselves with instruments both real and imagined, or coming up with spiritual teachings that are invariably edited for the sake of brevity. Yes, this is how I wish to spend a part of my time. According to general reincarnation theory, I have plenty more to spend!

    If it becomes technically feasible to go to Mars or beyond, that is what we’ll do. It’s not a question of should we do this, but can we do this. This yearning, absurd or not, is immune to criticism. It is limited only by its allotted budget. But not to worry, a much anticipated decline in industrial civilization will put an end to space exploration. Mars will have to wait, Earth will have to recover. And then… our reincarcendants will give it another go. The road to Gwynfydd is a long one.

  118. I think the obsession with self driving cars is the mainstream media taking on the automakers freaking out over younger generations disinterest in driving, and the loss of market share that entails. “By God, if they won’t learn how to drive, we’ll force a self driving car onto them so they don’t have to!” I see it as an act of desperation by automakers parroted by the mainstream media.

  119. It would not surprise me if money-spinning robot gladiatorial contests became a feature of industrial civilization’s declining years, with or without cyborg implants borrowed from humans or other animals. Low tech and virtual versions of these ‘games’ seem to exist already. Scary, well, yes that would be the point. There was a rather more amusing version of this in Michael Frayn’s comic satirical novel ‘The Tin Men’ decades ago. I guess there would be well-resourced actual sinister stuff going on in the background.

    best
    Phil H

  120. JMG, another half baked idea but maybe the modern day concentration on the present is related to the fact that so few of us are tied to agricultural cycles. In this locale at least, with a winter season when nothing grows, the large proportion of people in the past involved in farming had to think ahead and make decisions with respect to what and when to plant, crop rotation etc. These decisions would determine the success of the harvest and whether there was enough later to eat. IOW the farmer needed to think longer term. Plus the farmer is highly aware of risk. Would there be enough rain? What about insect pests, blights and hail-storms? Maybe the aggregation of the thinking and behaviours of these individual farmers became visible on a societal basis.

    But, when the next paycheque is two weeks away, maybe people’s thinking adjusts accordingly. Maybe when enough people become detached from planting and growing and harvesting, the change in temporal focus becomes societal in scope.

  121. Quick postscript – I just came across this fairly recent review of Frayn’s The Tin Men. I am not sure that what I thought hilarious at the time looks so funny now!
    ” … the novel is actually about the activities of the employees of the William Morris Institute of Automation Research, who are endeavoring to relieve mankind of the onerous burden of having to, for instance, watch sport, or go to church, or read the newspaper – or indeed write for a newspaper: …”

    It was amusingly very British, but we forgot about America. Wan smile.

    Phil H

  122. “You, dear reader, will die someday. So will I, and so will every other human being. That fact doesn’t make our lives meaningless; quite the contrary, it’s when we come to grips with the fact of our own mortality that we have our best shot at achieving not only basic maturity, but that condition of reflective attention to meaning that goes by the name of wisdom.”

    JMG- I really liked your ending paragraphs to a great post. Talk about going out with a bang! The stark honesty and poignancy brought tears to my eyes.

    Its that weird space between despair and acceptance where the ultimate meaning to life can be found- as you say wisdom. This line of thought truly captures the essence of the problems facing us today and the myriad solutions that are possible when viewed form this angle. Im looking forward to the future posts mentioned.

    In the meantime, I think I’ll take the dog out back and say good morning to the plants in my garden. I’ve discovered that learning how to preserve food for my own consumption helps protect against crackpot realism. Just one small step for man, one giant leap……

  123. I was on vacation and just now caught up with the comments and posts. It’s the first time I’ve had a chance to comment on Bill’s passing. Bill and I had many back & forth’s, particularly on the pace and trajectory of collapse. In the back of my mind, I always thought that Bill was motivated by the Boomer master wish to stave off any consequences until after he’d passed, and I said as much in many of our exchanges. That is why his passing came as such a shock. I don’t know whether Bill smoked or not, but I certainly did, from a month before my 16th birthday until 11 years ago, and my dad passed @ 67 of cancer. So, mortality is always with us, and everyone dies, and Bill’s early passing is an unfortunate reminder that we never know when our time is up. I must admit, I teared up a bit, and hope he is well in Valhalla.
    I must admit, the week before the notice, when I was discussion Confederate monuments, I was wondering where Bill’s rebuttals were. I thought that Bill lived near to Short Mountain Sanctuary in Tenn., and was disappointed to find out that he didn’t when I traveled down there, because I would have liked to have met him. For Bill, “hale fellow, well met.”

  124. JMG, I think I was not clear enough, because I am certainly not talking about the type of destiny you refer to in your comment reply to my questions. In fact I am not even asking a definition of destiny, or an ability to measure its accuracy. Rather, I simply wanted to know if you believe that there is a force born before human thought that is guiding all of the human experience with some intentional direction…. I wanted to know simply if you believe in destiny, not if you could scrutinize those that perhaps do.

  125. Steve Stirling actually did tip his hand about “Progress — To The Stars – this time, nothing will stand n our way.” It was in the 3rd book of the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy, On the Oceans of Eternity. He put it in the mouth of a character who had seen the old world as a child, Kathryn Hollard, speaking to her downtimer husband. He is shown as enthusiastic about that cause.

    So he’s operating under the same assumption as Eric Flint in his 1632 series, that the sooner you start the Industrial Revolution, the richer and more powerful and better-off everyone will be by (unspoken) the time the end of the 20th century rolls around. And, like Eric’s characters, Steve’s are all exceptionally bright and lucky; except that Eric has a better grip on economics and the things downtimers can teach uptimers. And of course, the vast reservoir of down-home talent to be found in a small town. And less contempt for backwoods folk and (one of Steve’s favorite words for rural people) “yokels.” (You do NOT want to run that one by anyone from Eric’s Grantsville! West Virginia folk don’t take at all kindly to the likes of them that do.)

    Pity.

  126. I send you this commentary about the translation to the spanish of your post , made by a reader of Foro Crashoil called Fleishman.

    ” Fortunately Queen Elizabeth ignored Master Greer of Castile, who complained:

    There is no doubt that a fantastic amount of scientific, technological and engineering ingenuity was devoted to the project of inserting a handful of human beings for a time into the lethal environment of the deep ocean and returning them alive.
    (…)
    the vast immensity of the effort to put a small number of human footprints in the Indies is difficult to ignore. What is much easier to lose is the huge irrationality of the project itself.
    (…)
    The ocean is simply not an environment where humans can survive for a long time. It is an almost immense sea of ​​salt water that can not be drunk; the sun is scorching; is full of sharks; also has pieces of ice, many of them capable of ripping a boat as if it were paper; you can be caught in a hurricane or a storm, and the human body is the product of two million years of evolutionary adaptation on land and, as far as we know, not in the middle of the sea.
    (…)
    Logically, before attempting to inhabit the distant deserts and dense jungles of the Indies, would it not make sense to build cities on the Castilian plateau or in the Asturian mountains first? “

  127. @Bumblebee
    So by your reasoning, if it were technically feasible for me to commit the perfect crime and get away undetected, I’ll do it just because I can? No question of “should I do it”, and my action is immune to criticism.
    Sounds a bit like an Ayn Rand Objectivist fantasy.
    Or were you only talking about “yearnings” that never get lived out in the physical world?

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but you seem to assume that a human soul will NECESSARILY have to experience ALL POSSIBLE human actions during its journey through incarnations. I thought one of the reasons why souls reincarnate, if they do, is to become wise enough to see that certain possible lives and actions don’t have to be lived; the soul can say, “No, I choose NOT to do that in this life because the consequences are not acceptable”.

  128. A problem I see with uploading one’s consciousness into a machine is that it’s conceptually impossible to tell if one has succeeded. If I set a contemporary “deep learning” program the task of imitating my communication, it will eventually get good enough to fool most everyone with whom I communicate. Now, if you ask it whether it’s conscious, it’ll say yes *solely because I would and it’s imitating me*. If there was such a thing as an observable soul which could be ripped out of a human being and injected into a machine, you might be able to tell you’ve succeeded. But the materialists claim that there is no such thing; in that case, you’re not uploading yourself, you’re making a simulacrum, which from then on will have its own “life” to lead, and you will still die.

  129. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks for the new terminology: “Crackpot realism”. You may be interested to know that I have experienced that in the big end of town. I found the behaviour to be very dysfunctional and it was one of the reasons I moved towards small business where the owners live or die by their decisions and are generally not full of bluster and foolhardiness. Anyway, how that concept used to express itself in my own life was that I’d occasionally meet the Board and they had cooked up some pet plan or got a bee in their bonnet about some rubbish. And I would crack it with them (cracking the sads!), sometimes in a not very gentlemanly way. You see the larger point that they missed which you quite rightly elucidated was that they themselves did not work, and as such they saw what they did as work and had somehow (or so it appeared to me) seemed to have forgotten that other people lower in the social pecking order actually did work and got things done.

    And I cannot tell you just how prevalent such thinking is in our society. I reckon it underscores peoples desires for someone, somewhere else, to generate a plan of action that someone else has to implement – generally at someone else’s expense. It is an ugly business, but so common these days.

    I’ve heard trolls talking about “fake moon landings”. I’m not saying it is the stupidest point of view that I’ve seen expressed for a while as the Internet provides rich pickings, but it is certainly right up there. I reckon they believe that because the alternative is much worse: The effort to get boots on the moon, didn’t provide an economic return: i.e. it cost far more than it would ever deliver. There is just no wealth to be gained in space travel, there are only ongoing costs. Previous voyages of discovery generally netted a tidy profit or they were not often repeated.

    Cheers

    Chris

  130. This is way off-topic, and feel free to delete if you want. I just wanted to post this before the election results in Germany come in on Sunday, because it follows so exactly your old essay on the ADR about Frodo refusing to take the ring.

    A psychologist interviewed by Germany’s most highly conceited weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, explains the probable outcome of the election by a widespread desire to maintain the “Shire of the Hobbits” (Auenland, in the German translation of LoTR). “People divide the world into their private Shire and an outer reign of terror… Germans realize that the outer reign of terror may invade the Shire at any moment… Nevertheless, the main goal of the majority of German is to maintain their Shire intact AS LONG AS POSSIBLE – and that is the promise of Angela Merkel… At the moment many people suppose the future can only be worse… Social Democrats are traditionally connected to international solidarity, and that might diminish our wealth… We want to have A FEW MORE NICE YEARS and relegate the problems.”

    http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/wahlkampf-merkel-schulz-wohlstand/komplettansicht

    for those who read German.

    Angela Merkel literally promised “to maintain our current standard of living for the next four years and, if it should be possible, increase it”.

    That is as explicit as it gets: everybody knows the current standard of living will not be maintained for more than a few years.

  131. I don’t think my hominids-as-vermin scenario is all that likely either, but if there are descendants of humanity alive tens of millions of years down the road there are so many different ways they could turn out, and probably none of them would seem very likely to us now.

    The idea of humanity splitting into multiple species down the road doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to me, and I imagine it could happen without anything quite as drastic as humanity only surviving at the poles. RIght now, humans are low in biodiversity compared to other animals, probably because of genetic bottlenecks 70,000 years or so ago, but if the human population avoids any bottlenecks that severe and maintains good sized populations spread over many parts of the world I’d think genetic diversity within humans would increase. How much that increase would spread across the globe versus evolve more regional differences would all depend on the scale of human movement. A world close to as globalized as the present would not lead to much speciation, but speciation can happen without complete isolation, just a restricted gene flow, and if the rate of intermixing of certain populations was less than the rate of genetic divergence, that could eventually lead to a situation where populations in, say, the Andes, Tibet, and the highlands of New Guinea are different enough from each other that they could be considered different species. There would be plenty of intermediate populations in the places between them, and particularly the coastal ports where trade happens would be the most diverse, but if the more isolated regions kept on diverging from each other faster than intermixing happened there, there could end up being multiple human species that evetually would have trouble breeding with each other.

    This scenario does depend on there not being too many instances of a people from another continent largely displacing the native population as happened in the Americas and Australia in the last 500 years, but I have reason to think that may happen less and less often in the far future. Civilization is really still pretty new in geologic terms so this is only speculation, but if civilization ends up having a future in the hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we’re still in the very early phases that are more chaotic. In the short term the chaos will go into overdrive with the aftermath of the “anthropic event” but later on I can imagine a time when technology and social organization enter a more k selected pattern than we’ve seen in the history of civilization so far, as the forms that work in each given environment are optimized through trial and error, and the modest amount of intercontinental travel and trade that’s possible in a sustainable society keep there from being such the imbalance in technology, social structure, and susceptibility to disease that led to the European takeover of the Americas and Australia, thus actually leading to greater population stability than a world in which the continents are isolated for large periods of time and then rediscovered, which would then lead to greater genetic divergence.

    Climate changes and megadisasters could still disrupt this k-selected pattern, and thus bring additional changes, but as long as the bottleneck wasn’t just one surviving population but multiple populations in different parts of the world, that would add to the divergence and make there be more likely to be multiple species in the end.

    Parts of the Earth being too hot to inhabit for a long enough time could make some strange results though, maybe more complicated than one species at each pole, if the lowland tropics and subtropics got too hot to be livable, and the tropical oceans got too hot to reliably traverse, and much of the areas that are currently warm temperate were only seasonably habitable.

    There could be one human species in the majority of the northern hemisphere, mostly in the northerly latitudes but reaching down in the mountains to central America, the Himalayas and southeast Asia. One human species would be in Antarctica and South America, down to the coast in the southern part of South America but retreating to only the higher elevations northward. Possibly New Zealand and Tasmania would be people by this species, as well as the other scattered small islands that are far enough south. Another species would be in Africa, there are enough regions of sub-saharan Africa that are decently high elevation that a large population could live there but be landlocked as the coastal areas wouldn’t be very habitable.

    In this scenario, there could be other isolated human species in elevated areas of the lower latitudes that are surrounded by torrid lowlands, the highlands of New Guinea would be a prime example, but ther could be others if there’s enough habitat to sustain a population over the long term. Hispaniola? The Phillipines? Southeast Australia? Sri Lanka?

    Who knows what would happen when the climate cooled again and all those formerly isolated peoples interacted?

  132. Bumblebee, there you’re quite wrong. Technical feasibility is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one; what determines whether something will be done is whether it’s economically viable. There are countless things that are technically possible but economically absurd — for example, mining a mountain of gold out of seawater — and it doesn’t matter a bit how technically feasible they are; nobody will ever do them, because they make no economic sense. A colony on Mars is another great example. I’m far from sure that it’s technically feasible — again, the failure of Biosphere 2 is a good cautionary tale — but economically speaking it’s the great-grandmother of all white elephants.

    Shane, that might be part of it. My take, though, is that one of the primary drives behind the current set of fashionable technologies is the fantasy of not having to do anything, of having every need and want and temporary whim instantly met by a machine. It’s basically a regression to a surrogate uterus, and makes perfect sense if you keep in mind just how monomaniacal a sense of entitlement the people who like to push such fantasies tend to have…

    Phil, that wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

    Roger, that’s likely to be part of it. Another part is the extent to which our entire culture has become obsessed with the notion that nobody who belongs to the privileged classes must ever be made to experience the consequences of their own actions.

    Scott, thank you for getting it.

    Shane, many thanks for this.

    Colin, I don’t find belief to be a useful habit. I prefer either to know, or to admit my ignorance.

    Patricia, I get bored to tears by the kind of protagonist who’s exceptionally smart and lucky and who is surrounded by people who have this vast amount of talent on which said protagonist can draw at will. It’s been done not merely to death, but through the after-death state to reincarnation and most of the way toward another death from old age. If you’re going to have a character who’s gifted in some way, give ’em the kind of hindrances that gifted people in the real world actually have to face, or it’s going to be just plain dull.

    Anselmo, yes, I’m familiar with the metaphor; it’s the one the space-happy always fall back on when somebody points out the absurdity of space colonization. Notice that your correspondent very carefully excised the core of my argument, which is that even the most lethal environments on Earth are far more supportive of human life than the least lethal environments elsewhere in the solar system. Maybe this will come as a surprise to your correspondent, but there are vast reaches of the New World that are at least as suited to human life as Spain! Thus the two situations aren’t comparable; there’s no green and fertile new world waiting on the other side of space — nor, by the way, is there a free, renewable energy source like the trade winds Columbus harnessed to get our spaceships to the lethal environments your correspondent has mistaken for sites for colonization.

    RPC, good. Yes, that’s one of the many problems any such project faces.

    Chris, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid having to deal with any great amount of crackpot realism first hand, but based on what I’ve seen at second and third hand, it’s just as prevalent as you’ve suggested. I should probably do a post someday discussing the way that interfaces with Hagbard’s Law to explore how reliably progress ends up causing more problems than it solves.

    Matthias, dear gods. I wonder whether it’s the same thing we see in so many Baby Boomers over here — the frantic desire to keep things going until they die, and who cares about the world their descendants have to live with…

    Kashtan, hmm. It’s been a little while since I last read up on evolutionary ecology, but my very strong impression was that you need more than a reproductive gradient — you need actual reproductive isolation in a population facing unusual conditions if you want to get a new species. There are certainly plenty of conditions that could produce that in the future, of course — but we don’t yet have a good reading on the way that cultural evolution interacts with biological evolution among humans.

  133. Hi John,
    The term “crackpot realism” can certainly include schemes that are economically unfeasible, even if technically possible (often a generous assumption.) In addition, there’s a deeper layer of crackpottery to be explored: whether or not crackpot realism fails on its own terms. That is, suppose (among other fantasies) that there was unlimited, clean free energy and a superabundance of other material resources, perhaps from figuring out how to reproduce any physical property with nanoscale silicon or carbon structures. Under those conditions, could the visions of crackpot realism deliver utopia? I think not for several reasons:

    1) To the degree society is driven by status-chasing, there will always be a majority of losers. Utopia’s ordinary stiffs with private islands will wail and gnash their teeth when regarding someone else’s private asteroid, complete with atmosphere, mini-ocean and artificial gravity.

    2) As Dmitry Orlov brilliantly explicates, the technosphere suppresses, truncates and distorts human potential. Members of the technosphere may feel happy (like the Gammas and Deltas of “Brave New World”), but the measure of their happiness may well be the measure of the injustices committed against them.

    3) Exponential growth, even under the assumptions mentioned earlier, will eventually run up against a limitation of some sort (Leibig’s Law.)

    4) I think one of crackpot’s metagoals is to make virtue unnecessary by substituting some technology. E.g., the consequences of sexual shallowness go beyond catching a social disease or creating an unwanted pregnancy. (The moralists have only themselves to blame. Rather than convey the rewards of deep intimacy, which may well have been beyond their own experience, they preached hassle avoidance in a way that only reinforced the selfishness they were supposedly denouncing.) But attempts to make virtue unnecessary only creates Elois.

    If crackpot realism is seen primarily as technical or economic folly, there is always the counterargument that our practical objections say more about the limitations of current human imaginings than about what is actually possible in the universe. One way to defeat that counterargument is to show that crackpot realism fails on its own terms, not just ours.

  134. One of the top figures in sustainability says if you want to experience life on Mars, live in a copper mine and save the interstellar travel.

  135. Excellent idea, JMG! And may I humbly suggest that in order to please your illustrious critics Brin, Stirling, et al, you rename your philosophy (with a nod to Rudolph Steiner) “misanthroposophy”!

  136. Kashtan, you might find this interesting.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2091134-orcas-are-first-non-humans-whose-evolution-is-driven-by-culture/

    Animal populations who are introduced to new environments can undergo changes in phenotype hundreds of times faster than ordinary Darwinian theory would have expected.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080421-lizard-evolution.html

    However its possible that these lizards have evolved (the slow way) the ability for epigenetic changes to make rapid changes to the phenotype of their populations.

    If you take guppies out of a stream in South America and put them in a pond where they are safe from predation, with no intervention other than sexual selection by female guppies, the males will develop brighter colors and larger fins:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/sex/guppy/low_bandwidth.html

    Even chimpanzees, who are arguably much more like humans than any of the other apes have a variety of culturally determined mating patterns – much like us humans. They also go to war with each other and some tribes of chimpanzees make simple tools.

  137. Regarding Bumblebee’s comment, I most recently have worked on tidal energy projects and while I am sure they are technically feasible.. I am not convinced it is economically feasible at any price a ratepayer wants to spend. As far as manned space (Moon, Mars), there is no intention of actually going there. its more a flashy welfare program for engineers while they wait for their security clearances to come through. As evidence, the whole NASA manned budget is about $10B ($17B for the whole program), while the *monthly* budget for air conditioning soldiers in Iraq was $25B. If you really wanted to go, you would need an annual budget more like $200B.. and then you would have a bunch of *smart* people stranded on a dead planet. The hubris that you can “terraform” a dead planet when you are unable to live in a planet designed for life is awe inspiring. Un-manned missions to Uranus to retrieve H3 from the atmosphere *might* provide you with fuel for a H3 fusion reactor.. but very little is spent on either compared with trying to invade and control countries with what accesible fossil fuels we have left.

  138. Just watching a discussion panel from ‘The World Transformed’ conference which is running in parallel to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, UK.
    The discussion topic is the relation between technology and politics, the panelists are Paul Mason (author of ‘Post Capitalism’), David Harvey (well known Marxist academic), Alice Bell (from climate change group 10:10) and James Medway (political advisor to Corbyn’s team), the host is Aaron Bastani (of Novara Media and who is writing a book on ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’).
    I thought that this event exemplified the idealist vision of the emergent Corbyn Labour movement, particularly on this subject. I have not read all the work of the respective panelists, but as far as I have, it seems that they are consistently avoiding the analyses of post peak resource thinkers and the recent papers from the field of biophysics.
    Knowing that you have written so much about the relationship between projected utopian visions and the realities of natural limits, I wondered if you might use this discussion as a case study in contempory leftwing views of the transition to a post fossil fuel world (?).

    https://www.facebook.com/novaramedia/videos/1705391396168687/

  139. I’m not an expert in evolutionary ecology either, but I have read a few things such as this research,

    https://academic.oup.com/sysbio/article-abstract/66/3/440/2682289/Speciation-with-Gene-Flow-in-North-American-Myotis?redirectedFrom=fulltext

    The first sentence of the abstract is “Most speciation events probably occur gradually, without complete and immediate reproductive isolation, but the full extent of gene flow between diverging species has rarely been characterized on a genome-wide scale.”

    I agree that we don’t have much of a clue about how human cultural evolution will interact with biological evolution in the long term, so this will be my last post on the subject.

  140. Few months ago a buddy of mine was explaining to me his interpretation of the Buddhist concept generally known in the west as ‘non-attachment.’ He argued (quite eloquently) that such a title is a misnomer, and that the concept can better be translated as ‘non-identity’. The relevance being that what we identify with, and the degree to which we do so deliberately or freely, commonly relates with what impermanences we can accept with emotional maturity. I haven’t done the research needed to personally endorse or critique his interpretation of texts, but I find the concept quite refreshing.

    Some folks identify with the project of pushing back the frontier, and the idea of an unpushable frontier is like a personal attack to them. To attack that idea is to attack them, and Ms. Salt would surely point out. I think, as a generality, a person’s identity is invested over a series of different, and not always consistent, images. For those spending less on the rugged individualism of Captain Kirk, or Flash Gordon more so Kirk had a government job, identifying with the controlled world of machine servitude might be a main attraction. I have been told ‘Robot’ is derived from an old word meaning slave. The similarity of the dream of Jetson’s robot automated life and the current understanding of the plantation dream of, drinking brandy atop a Tennessee trotter overseeing the crops may be behind some serious shadow projection and shade throwing presently. These identities are conflated with destinies, and threats to those perceived futures are felt as personal attacks, which in a strong spirit can be bore with dignity, but in the confused discomfort of our present day are perceived as existential threats; and not with out cause, even if with out justification.

    Beyond those two examples of identification with present cultural programs this line of thinking can be scaled outward on inward. In the latter case towards projects smaller than the destiny of humanity as a whole, the destiny of ideologies, religions, nationalities, ethnicities, professions, regions, or families. This diverse grab bag contains potencies ranging from honorable to horrifying, but to those propping up universalistic dreams, exemplified by the cases of the previous paragraph, they are tend to seem tribalistic in a pejorative sense. Toward the other extreme identification with the human species as such, with intelligent life in general, with the Earth, or even the Universe offers a broader view, but can become washed out and nihilistic if unaccompanied with a diligent effort to understand that which one identifies with. For instance, identifying with Nature is often plagued by Romantic ideals of what Nature is, especially for those living in particularly human contrived environments.

    Being able to notice what identities and senses of destiny we invest ourselves in, and to then realize that we can, with effort and some risk, choose to change the balance is important to accepting deep time I think. Any particular which we can have experience enough to understand is also tied to our own time and place, before the mind defying vastness of time and space a degree of clam acceptant is useful, however unfashionable it may be in a cultural form which places such high value on the individual will.

  141. To me, manned mars missions are Thorvo the Robot. That will need some explanation…

    Thorvo appeared in a kid’s book, that I read when I was a kid. There’s a boilerplate “brainy kid” eleven year old character in it (not the main character, but a friend) whose braininess is shown in two ways: he plays chess, and as a hobby he’s building a robot out of metal cans. The main character and the brainy kid discuss what color the robot’s light-up eyes are going to be. (I don’t remember either character’s name, but I remember the robot’s!)

    A a reader who also happened to be a real-life brainy kid, I felt cheated. Attaching some flashlight bulbs to a coffee tin and making them light up is trivially easy. I would have loved to know how brainy-kid-character was planning to make the robot move, speak, or do anything interesting at all. Those would be hard; even faking them would take some ingenuity. Instead, he’s working on decorative light-up eyes.

    The effect for me was that the brainy-kid character came across as a phony. He got credit for being a brainy kid and “building a robot,” by doing nothing difficult. If he’d called it “a metal doll with light-up eyes” no one would have been impressed, of course.

    That probably wasn’t the author’s intention. The robot wasn’t at all important to the plot. More likely, a convenient trope the author gave little thought to inadvertently hit me close to home. It wasn’t pleasant to contemplate how many of my own pursuits and mannerisms were really Thorvo the Robot, pursuant to my own brainy-kid persona.

    Anyhow, in subsequent decades I noticed a distinct repeating pattern in NASA manned planetary mission plans. Every few years they would get preliminary funding for the first few years of a decade-long or longer project. The supposed “planning stages.” Naturally the much larger funding for the actual mission would have to kick in a few years down the road, when the plans were done and it was time to actually build something. That never happened. And there were so few complaints about it not happening that it appeared no one had ever really expected it to, any more than anyone expected Thorvo the Robot to do the laundry.

    I don’t imagine it’ll be much different with the private godzillionaire mission plans either. Like the U.S. Space Program, they get a good portion of the actual benefits of a ten-figure (at least) project by spending seven figures on “preliminary phases” and cosmetic work. Publicity shots of cool CGI spaceship and living-module designs, and the prestige of being a brainy-kid company.

    Actual U.S. expenditures on actual scientific and exploratory space missions, if you subtract out the portion supporting military weapon programs and commercial satellites (whose planners could hardly care less about myths of bestriding the stars, I suspect), are minor. They’re currently less, for instance, than the amount Americans spend each year on fantasy football.

  142. I don’t have a lot of time to write, as we are moving some multi-ton stones out of the creek bed this week using winches and logs and such.

    I went to school in pre-Med, changed my mind after getting accepted into med-school, and studied geology and petroleum engineering. It’s an eclectic and uncommon background, but both geology and biology are effective mechanisms to enable one to handle deep time without fear. The reason is that in order to study either, you must grab hold of deep time, and to do so you either abandon your study or come to terms with some anthropocentric myths. I was (and is..) a lover of scifi, so this is the 3rd leg of a very strange stool to base thoughts and ant philosophic musings on.

    In my reading and thinking, I was always more interested in EOW scifi – where something must be met head-on because it has simply happened already. The traditional holds that man, through technocrap or sheer brilliance, wins out and moves forward. But I read several stories where man didn’t win (novellas or short stories mostly) and those intrigued me the most. Then I read one by Octavia Butler where man evolved via controlled genetics. Both were suspensions of disbelief, but made me think. I wasn’t ever fearful of thinking about these things, because I know my time slot mostly resembles a 0 or a 1 in a 40khz data stream.

    I also think that many religions play into the deep time fear, and in fact that may be a reason people seek them out. I never had that fear, and some early experiences had me thinking about things related to spirits/souls more than religion.

    While the drive to forever is a strong one (tombs, monuments, memorial-izations, etc.), there is quite a lot of peace to be had by simply adapting to the reality of deep time. Even if your face is on a bronze statue, the best you can hope for in terms of agelessness is what Charlton Heston sees from the beach in Planet of the Apes. Mother Liberty may survive, but the meaning behind that monument will not, and it may cause some crazy interpretations of the past because the fabric of reality is now different – no reference points in common.

    Being content with your short slot in deep time actually relieves your mind of immediacy to a great degree, and it changes your perspective and your goals and your worries. A grasp of geology by itself is likely to accomplish this, as will biology (genetics, evolution, embryology, etc.). Yet it is techno-faith that most people seem to grab hold of to avoid facing deep time. Even when limits of energy and resources are readily apparent around them, they cling to the belief that technology will make it all ok, and that tomorrow will be better and cooler and even more abundant.

    Had discussion with robotic guy last week, who was hip deep in the “new robotix revolution”. He had no reply at all when asked what happens when fewer people have work due to his amazing creations. He had no concept that expert systems and software had already dismissed millions of jobs from the economy. And no idea what would happen if some disaster decimated the internet – he simply said that was impossible. He refused to continue the discussion we were having, as it simply irritated him that I asked questions he wasn’t prepared to answer.

    I am looking forward to further deep time discussions, and karma and the wheel of life, etc. in your next few musings JMG. Hoping to get time to read these comments too!!

  143. Regarding crackpot realism: Our current education system has been rightly brought up as an ample source of examples, but the first I thought of was our U.S. health care system. (Perhaps that’s because I spent some time participating in that system this week. No doubt the Law of Flow suggests that it’s bad news when a flow that’s supposed to be liquid starts to include solid bits, but I can affirm firsthand the results can be painful.)

    And there’s no use blaming the doctors. Over the past few decades, most of them have been gradually but thoroughly shoved into that “second group” status.

    Regarding Biosphere II: Thanks, RPC, for bringing that up. I suspect Kim Stanley Robinson drew upon the results of those experiments for some of the details of Aurora. Especially, the tendency of manufactured surfaces to react with and lock away elements that are supposed to cycle. (If I recall correctly, in Biosphere II it was the concrete that unexpectedly misbehaved in that manner.)

  144. I don’t find it at all surprising that most people don’t have a realistic concept of Deep Time or their position in it. The explanation for why I don’t find it surprising follows.

    In our discussion of reincarnation a few weeks ago, I introduced the way the Michael Teaching describes reincarnation as a learning process. One aspect of that is very relevant to this week’s discussion of Deep Time, or rather people’s engagement or lack of engagement with the concept.

    The model I introduced has five tiers, representing the accumulation of experience of life here on Earth. In a lot of respects, the accumulation of experience represents a widening of one’s horizons. That gives a very simple way of estimating where a person is in the sequence that I call compelling time frame. Put simply, how close in time does a hypothetical event have to be before engaging with it becomes compelling.

    The time frames are:

    1. A few days
    2. The yearly cycle
    3. 3 to 5 years
    4. 20 to 30 years
    5. Eternity

    In addition, people do not come into an incarnation with their full allotment – they have to grow into it.

    Observation suggests that only between 5% and about 8% of the population could realistically engage with the concept. Most could be taught if it’s done early enough, but it wouldn’t be quite real, the way much of what we’re taught in school might be correct, but doesn’t really engage.

  145. Thanks for this essay; thought-provoking as usual. The one significant problem I see with your argument (the gist of which I generally support), is that you seem to ignore the fact that putting people on the moon or Mars, quixotic as it may be, would consume only a tiny fraction of our economic resources. Compared to the amount of money spent on warfare and its attendant destruction, on civil-engineering boondoggles like unnecessary bridges and highways, on sports, on fashion, on junk food and so on, the cost of space colonization would be no more than that and most likely far less expensive. On that ground, it’s a rational activity simply as entertainment — at least as rational as most of our other entertainment. You seem to be mostly concerned with its rhetorical use as a thought-stopper; an assurance that space colonization will solve all our problems, so don’t bother worrying about what else is going on. In that, I agree with you.

    At a World SF Con a few years ago, I asked the space development panel (which included a number of sensible people), whatever happened to all those grand plans to colonize the deep ocean, that were talked about during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the panelists responded that it turns out, the only two things that get people staying under the ocean for any length of time these days are pure science and tourism. He felt that those same two impulses would ultimately be the long-term drivers of space exploration.

  146. Hi John Michael,

    Do you reckon that occurred in the late Roman Empire as well? You have been very lucky or very astute to have avoided such a situation! The thing that really annoyed me about the situation was that inevitably I (or my team) was asked to undertake tasks that that the askers (sic) themselves would not have been able to undertake. And the other thing that was not lost on me was that because to my eyes the askers (sic) appeared to me to be rather idle, they had forgotten that other people were not in fact idle.

    Our politicians who appear to me to have lost themselves in endless arguments, look from my perspective to be rather indolent. Some people have a taste for arguments rather than outcomes (which are a much harder and more difficult road). Just sayin…

    Cheers

    Chris

  147. Your post here reminds me of what some call the [i] Engineering Triangle[/i] that is integral to any service, product or project. The three corners consist of price, quality & time, and the inherent trade-offs that [b]must[/b] be made balancing the three.

    If you want have the best of two qualities, the third must be sacrificed, e.g. if you want it fast and high quality, it won’t be cheap and so on and so on…The term crackpot applies here too to those who think they’re special snowflakes exempt from the Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics but it doesn’t stop the squandering.

  148. I often wonder if a similar unrealised horror is waiting for us as we plumb into our own minds. Wouldn’t it be shocking if we turned out to not be so complex after all? Or even worse if we manage to create artificial circuits that can reproduce the behaviour of brains through feedback mechanisms that we cannot understand how they actually work either? In fact the last part is already happening. Maybe this will finally crystallise the realisation that science has been tip toeing around the non-linear and chaotic phenomena that make up 99% of our lived experience to avoid admitting that they can’t be meaningfully analysed. Maybe the post science aesthetic will embrace this chaos. One only needs to remember how beautiful flowing water, flickering flames and drifting clouds are to appreciate it.

  149. Greg, a most interesting analysis. I think it’s still relevant to point out that space colonization isn’t economically viable, and faces far more unsolved technical problems (and not a few predicaments) than the space-happy like to think, but yes, there’s also the broader problem with internal contradiction.

    Jenxyz, works for me. Or move into a mobile home in a desolate corner of northern Nevada and never go outside again…

    Ron, funny. Perhaps it would be better named “Misanthropophagy”…

    Jamie, I hadn’t looked into the size of the budget; that’s a fascinating point. I find myself wondering if the whole space colonization thing is deliberate make-believe — people are pretending to believe in it so they don’t have to think about what their lifestyles are doing to the only planet we’ll ever actually inhabit.

    Mog, thanks for this! I may just write a post on that.

    Kashtan, many thanks for the link.

    Eric, I’m still trying to parse that!

    Ray, that very thoughtful meditation on identity wins tonight’s gold star. Thank you.

    Walt, hmm and again hmm. You may be right. You may well be right — in which case the frantic spluttering I always field when I pose straightforward questions about the absurd presuppositions behind the fantasy of colonizing space may have a very simple explanation: it’s all a pretense, but it’s an emotionally comforting pretense, and people who are committed to that pretense get really uncomfortable when you point out that they’re shoveling smoke to keep themselves from paying attention to the realities of our time.

    Oilman, I also find it very comforting to see my own lifespan in its true perspective, as a tiny blip in the immensities of deep time. It intrigues me that so many people have the opposite reaction, and I’m not yet satisfied with any of the suggestions yet offered for what’s behind it all.

    Walt, ouch! I hope you have an easier time with the Law of Flow soon.

    John, hmm. An interesting argument, though I’m not entirely sure I buy it.

    Shark, sure, but it’s not as though our economic resources are just sitting there unused, waiting for some space program or other to use them. Every resource we have is already overcommitted — that’s why our bridges are falling down, our roads are full of potholes, our consumer products are increasingly shoddy, and so on. It’s certainly possible to put a few people on the Moon, say, as a stunt — we already did that, and the Chinese will likely do that as well in another decade or so — but try prying loose the very considerable resources for a permanent Moon base from all the hands, by turns desperate and greedy, clutching at every scrap of resources we’ve got!

    Chris, it happened all the time in ancient Rome. Orders came out from Rome or Constantinople, handed down by praetors and logothetes serenely disconnected from the reality out there beyond the city walls, and the officers on the spot in far-off Britannia or Cyrenaica had to find some way to carry them out no matter how idiotic they turned out to be.

    RCW, nice. A very good way of thinking about the real world!

  150. RCW- I didn’t know the name for that concept was the Engineering Triangle! I first encountered the idea on a sign hanging in a repair shop, which said, “Fast, good, cheap- pick any two.”

  151. I remember star wars movies. Yoda was really old. Emperor fought darth vader with eney from hands. Also similar in Lord of Rings, multi thousand year old wizards who could use magical/energetical transformations to live almost forever and control enviroment, magic as hi tech. This is my angle, not modern hi tech which I find unfeasible. Like I am like a leprechaun or similar, communicate with trees, sun, animals at deeper flowing level chi and live millenium hidden from superficial view of normal mortals influencing them in background. Sounds cool. I suspect angels, fairies, gods, ghosts have basis in this sort of esoteric technology which is ecological, renewable, moral. God as such is of course something else entirely, non local, absolute.

  152. Learning biology and geology may expose one to the idea of deep time, but, unfortunately will not necessarily give one an appreciation for it. Example : a biologist, a candidate for my nation’s astronaut corps, fairly ignorant of basic astronomy. When told about the life-cycle of stars, her reaction was horror; she was galvanized to action. “OMG! We only have 5 billion years! We have to hurry!” — this was said in all seriousness. I really think the “billion” part of “5 billion years” simply did not sink in. She heard it, she repeated it to me, even, but her psyche just ignored all the zeros and reacted to 5. (As it happens, she will not be representing our nation at the most expensive boondoggle in human history, the International Space Station.)

    The “backup” argument seems like it is becoming the more common reason for supporting a human space program. It’s too easy to show that, in terms of science, it has a terrible ROI. Of recent missions, Cassini, the Curiosity rover, the Hubble — all a couple billion each. The ISS? A couple hundred billion. It hasn’t given us 1 Hubble’s worth of discovery– not even 1 milli-Hubble– and everyone knows it.

    I recently had a conversation with a young man in which I told him what Mars was actually like, and pointed out that no imagined catastrophe — from major cometary impact to total nuclear war– could make the surface of THIS planet less hospitable than the surface of Mars. His thought-stopping response was to repeat, over, and over again : “It’s good to have a backup.”

    For myself, I still have a little trouble with deep time. I find it dizzying, in a way that deep space is not. Why should insignificance in one dimension affect me more than the other three? Oddly enough, I feel it more looking backwards — when handling Ordovician fossils or precambrian crystals–than forwards. The 5 billion years until our Sun goes out? The 100-Trillion estimated until all hydrogen is consumed and the last star gutters out? Breathtaking… yet comforting, somehow. (would it surprise you that the same erstwhile-astronaut was virtually incapable of absorbing that last scientific tidbit? I suspect not.) Looking backwards, down the deep march of years, is when I really feel like an ant.

  153. @John Roth,
    Always a pleasure to hear from M.T., and since this is a young enough faith to have yet developed a strong ortodoxy, I will dare comment on your tiers.

    #3 sounds to close to #4 (or perhaps, to #2) to be a category of its own. Surely, if you are conscious enough to plan 5 years ahead, it is not much a stretch to plan 10 or 20 years ahead instead. A matter of degree not quality, unlike the much more robust distinction between days vs yearly seasons.

    On the other hand (and please dont take offense on this), #5 is no Deep Time at all. To me, it sounds like the kind of deep-time mochery that would come out of an archetypical Baby-Boomer mind: “Deep time is anything longer than I expect to live”. Instead, I think #5 is something that a sizeable minority of he people in this forum is concerned about. They (we?) are making changes in their lives, and some of those changes are not expected to pay fruition until long after the changer has died, but not that much longer. I suspect 100 years into the future is as good a ballpark as any. After that, it is not that we do not care at all, but we just accept the fact that the people how are to pick up the torch (and their parents, and probably their grandparents) have not been born yet.

    Therefore, there must be #6, #7, #8, etc. Given the information known to me, Jesus expected his ultimate sacrifice to have lasting consequences for millenia to come. Or maybe not, it all depends on how you interpret his prediction on the fall of Jerusalem.

    @Chri

    In my personal experience, it is not that the bosses cannot do themselves the work they demand, though of course that happens a lot, too. In my former job, I was able to see first hand that the VP in charge of our group remains a competent engineer to this date, and there’s indirect evidence that his boss and his boss’s boss were also competent engineers 20-25 years ago, when they were doing idividual work.

    Rather, the problem is that they cannot focus for long enough in any particular problem, so they rely on plausible abstractions to model the overall workflows instead. When the irrational requirements come from high above (from the C level bosses, but ultimately from the market expectations), they know that the plans they are commiting to are implausible. But, since there will be some other company that commits to such plan, not commiting is equivalent to immediate defeat. Under this assumption, any plan that has the most remote chance of success is preferable.

    Also keep in mind that these plans rarely are the sole responsibility of a single team. So what the middle-bosses do is to gamble that some other team is going to fail even more badly than their own’s, and therefore will be extra time to fix all (or most) of the (major) problems while the Evil Eye of Sauron lays elsewhere. That and the certaintly that the customers are going to pay for a product that is not good but good-enough, does sufficiently explain the outcomes of the crackpot realism.

  154. @JMG: thank you for this essay, and for the term “crackpot reality,” which is a perfect description of the US higher education system, in which I am currently employed while working on an escape plan. In my particular institution, the problems are 1) demographic: the number of college-age students is dropping, and in our area supply exceeds demand, and 2) financial: college tuition has increased much faster than median income, and more and more people are reasonably concluding that saddling oneself with lifelong debt to attend an expensive private college does not make any sense. My institution’s response: add a couple of new sports and tinker (again) with the curriculum. Countless person-hours have been and continue to be expended on committee work to develop these “new initiatives,” at the expense of time and energy that faculty and staff would otherwise spend on teaching and working with the students we actually have, or simply on having some kind of life outside our jobs. I am keeping my head down, evading the committees to the extent possible, and focusing on getting primary literature from defunct cultures into my students’ hands.

  155. @CR Patiño

    I wouldn’t call the MT a faith – most of the people involved with it would not. In fact, that was the very first question I dealt with in the “Curious Christians” article on Dave’s site.

    As far as your actual question: I only deal with the specific aspect here that addresses a specific question or topic. There are a lot of moving parts, and this isn’t the place to deal with it in any depth. There are enough other sources, and I’m active on several of them.

    The reincarnational tiers, as I call them to avoid dealing with jargon, are quite distinct, and there are, as one might suspect, actually 7 of them. 6.1 is very rare, and there have only been four manifestations of 7 that most people would recognize through known historical time. Compelling time frame is a symptom, not something that’s fundamental. I use it because it’s easy for most people to deal with if they keep their eyes open and really observe what people think is important enough to be concerned about.

    As far as your reference to Jesus, the actual Jesus (historical Jesus) is not the same as the Jesus of the Gospels (literary Jesus). That’s a retelling of a very old story that’s buried deep in the collective (un)conscious and manifests from time to time. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does mean that you can’t take anything in the Gospel stories at face value, any more than you can take the characters in a Regency Romance as having any actual value as history.

  156. @Isabel and JMG: When I was there last year, Prague’s public transit system seemed to me to be unusually well-designed. You get around the city center using the underground and trams. Buses, which are slow in the city center because of heavy traffic, frequent stoplights, etc., are not used at all in the center but instead go around the periphery. I hope this model catches on elsewhere.

    Unsurprisingly, my fellow 20%-er American tourists seemed mostly to be getting around by taxi and looked horrified when we told them we were using public transit. I suspect an unacknowledged fear of being seen as poor combined with a baseless yet publically-acceptable fear of public transport as dangerous were at work.

  157. @JMG

    About Luddism, as you know their rebellion was not against technology itself but against that technology that allow a huge concentration of power in few hands, this kind of top-down technology that was destroying their autonomy, their proud as craftman, their control of their time and lives, and were converting them in merely wage slaves, working in the “satanic mills” so common in that time

    All the system of the factories was (and is) designed more and more to remove the special skills from the production process to make people expendable, and then to convert the people in fact in robots, meat robots chained to the needs of the machines, and in the edge of survival. This is the world of Darwin and Spencer, the “struggle for survival” and the “survival of the fittest” and of course of Mr. Malthus

    Luddism was very hard to defeat, it required a lot of military force and it was defeated not only by military force, it was necessary to “invent” the local police, unions and schools, those were the tools to make people adapt to the wage slavery and the needs of The Machine, and also the debt, which is the more effective method to discipline workers

    Marx and Engels and all the “progressive” people in the left (as the english people of the link in the previous comment of mog) were fascinated by The Machine; but they ignore that the problem is not who control de technology, but the kind of technology itself; and modern technology allows a huge concentration of power (that is its purpose, that the reason to build it)

    The new techonology is developed not because is more productive, efficient or make better products, but because it allow a more deep concentration of power. The cotton garments made by the old english crafts or the indian peasants were much more better than the industrial ones, but, at the end, it was not a matter of products it was, and it is, a matter of power

    The film more luddite I saw was “The Forbidden Planet” and it is, in my point of view, a quite good critic of the technology and its unexpected consequences
    The Krells made, at the end, the Techno-Communist-Utopia, building a huge machine, in the center of their planet, powered by 9200 fusion reactors, that allow all of them to “fulfill their dreams”, as Marx said “through the development of the productive forces”
    But, what about the “dreams” fulfilled?, were all the dreams peaceful, and in harmony? Then the “monsters of the Id” (the unconscious) arrived and all the poor Krells died

    There is no way out in this narrative of technolatry, we will only built more and more “Krell machines” to destroy all the things that allow us to live trying to “fulfill our dreams”

    I know all this sound quite “Unabomberist” but this is what I think

    Cheers

  158. I certainly see the appeal of space travel. I would love to stand on a strange, new world. Of course, I feel the same way about Elfland or Pellucidar or any number of realms that may or may not exist. Living in a time when uncharted islands are few and far between, it is tempting to look to the stars for the thrill of exploration. Still, wanting it does not make it so. We may never go to Mars, but it would be quite the thrill if the Curiosity Rover were to find ruins from the ancient past. The Old Solar System may not exist now, but what if it once did?

    I thought Stirling’s comment was more along the lines of a polite disagreement, but perhaps there were other comments that did not make it through. The point that we cannot always predict the future was fair, I think. I agree that a low energy future is the far more likely
    course. In many ways, I look forward to it, though the transition may be painful.

  159. I am a long time reader of your reliably enjoyable and educational essays. From some years ago on ADR. But never prior commentator.
    Though I am late to this post, due to visiting my mother, I found this a glorious post.
    Probably because I think I might have a somewhat original notion to add to the discussion.

    On the overt themes.
    Crackpot realism. I shall seek out some of Mill’s writings, they sound interesting. It seems to me to be everywhere. From electric cars to payday loans.
    On its illustration by our dreams of space colonisation. I well remember myself saying, among people whose respect I desired, some 15 years ago. “If we don’t destroy ourselves first. We will expand to space, it’s in our nature. But we’ll have to go a hell of a long way before we find anywhere near as nice as the planet we evolved on”. In the intervening years, it has become clear to me that is impossible, within any reasonably conceivable term of human future. Even if we don’t destroy ourselves trying.

    On the title theme. Terror of deep time.
    Despite considering myself profoundly irreligious. A recurring theme, when I am in ‘drifting mind’. Is this odd notion.
    Perhaps Mama Gaia has noticed that the current configuration of the major continents. Compounded with the effects of the Milankovich cycles. Alongside her incredible success in using her life to capture almost all the free carbon dioxide the planet was born with. Might precipitate another snowball earth event.
    I wonder whether, in a venture to avert such an event – and maybe in a somewhat vain attempt at a potentially dangerous rejuvenation therapy – she has cooked up a ‘mad monkey’ of a species. With an intent to re-liberate a tolerable amount of that captured carbon dioxide.
    I hope she has not gone too far, and precipitated her own end prematurely, with an – eventually inevitable – ‘venusian runaway’.

    If that makes me a misanthrope, So be it.
    I can and do love individuals, and small collectives.
    No matter how much the mass of humanity, and what it is wreaking, horrifies me when I look.

  160. Shane, good. Notice that this implies that a simple system can still be incomprehensible to us, which is of course true, but flies in the face of currently popular delusions concerning the supposed omnipotence of the human intellect. The scientific method is one of the five or six greatest creations of the human mind, no question, but it remains true that the human mind functions inside of a lump of gray meat around eight inches long, and a lump of gray meat eight inches long is simply not equipped to understand a universe trillions of light years across.

    Gandalfwhite, why think of it using the mental straitjacket of “technology”?

    Dusk Shine, in my consistent experience, when people just keep on repeating some thoughtstopping mantra such as “It’s good to have a backup,” it means that they’re making a mighty effort not to think about something else, and they’ll repeat it ever more frantically, the more you push them on it. The question is what the young man was desperately trying not to think about.

    Ann, I’ve heard the same thing from other people currently interned in the halls of academe. Definitely get cracking on your escape plan; my working guess is that the academic industry has been in all-out bubble mode for years now, and the crash may not be that far away.

    DFC, of course you’re quite correct. I sometimes fall into the bad habit of using “Luddism” in its contemporary and rather inaccurate sense.

    Christopher, yes, well, life is full of such little disappointments, isn’t it? 😉

  161. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks for the history as I didn’t know that, but sort of suspected it. Implementing some kooky pet project under duress, dictated by remote powers that be, who lack concern for local conditions, would have been a challenging problem for the locals and ultimately I guess it leads to failure for the local group. Plus competing local interests may have got wind of the kookiness and taken advantage of the situation. Not good.

    I have mentioned my experiences with community groups in the past and to be honest, it doesn’t sound that different to me. I am forever amazed that these groups failed to have a formal raison d’être and so they got hijacked by anyone with a loud enough voice. Or even worse, they couldn’t understand why they were a group in the first place. I have seen a lot of that. Do you reckon the same principles are at work in those examples?

    The next two items are a bit off topic and I appreciate your indulgence:

    And in breaking news for the folks who have such great faith in renewables that they believe gas powered power plants will provide base load supply when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining (which happens far more often than people will admit): Gas export controls ‘ready to go’ if energy industry doesn’t address shortages, PM says. This matter has been brewing for months and months now with a wait and see response. I like renewable energy technology and have relied on it for about seven years now, and it is really good, but it cannot replicate the feat of fossil fuels.

    You may have missed this energy drama of our south eastern friends in New Zealand from a week or two back… Airlines asked to carry enough fuel for return flights amid shortage at Auckland Airport. I believe the pipeline has since been fixed.

    Cheers

    Chris

  162. Hi CR Patiño,

    Thanks for the shout out and comment. Mate, I had to re-read your comment a few times and it did sort of reinforce in my mind why I work nowadays with small business.

    Interestingly, you have an unquestioned assumption underlying your comment which you may not be aware of. Your comment assumes that people are willing and able to do work. I dispute your assumption as it does not correlate with what I saw and experienced. There is a word which I reckon applies quite well to the situation that you described in your comment: Obfuscation. Dunno really.

    Cheers

    Chris

  163. @JMG

    “The scientific method is one of the five or six greatest creations of the human mind, no question, but it remains true that the human mind functions inside of a lump of gray meat around eight inches long, and a lump of gray meat eight inches long is simply not equipped to understand a universe trillions of light years across. ”

    Or, as the late, strange Terence McKenna put it, “where is it written that talking monkeys should understand the Universe in all its glory?”

    :Love him or hate him, the man was a goldmine for pithy aphorisms…

  164. @Ann GRoa – not just expensive private universities! This sounds like some of the University of New Mexico’s fancier initiatives. Remodel the gym to make it more Upscale! Set up apartment-like complexes off campus, such as Lobo Village, where students can live as adults … out of which those who want to study are moving in droves, as Lobo Village et. al get a reputation for partying, noise, and calls to the police. And our repeated attempts to run with the big dogs in research (Harvard on the Rio Grande, I am not kidding, that’s what one of our university presidents said we aspire to be.) and OMG, in football and men’s basketball, which have actually been *losing* money hand over fist. And a lot of money put into luxury suites in the sports arenas to attract big donors – whom we don’t even invoice! All their gods forbid we ever settle down and say “We’re minor league in a poor state. Let’s take it from there.”

    Meanwhile, the retirement of our world-renowned professor of Old English went unnoticed in the university newspaper. Dr. Damico taught the handful of us who really were interested, most of whom would go on to become professors (remind you all of any novel by JMG?) and put up with my livelier attempts at translations thereof. She’s about 4’10” tall if that, impossible to tell how old she is, and you have to listen closely and organize your notes later. She still shows up for our Medieval Studies events.

  165. Engineering triangle has a limited applicability. It works well to describe some situations but it also blows back spectacularly when it’s abused. Quality as the least quantifiable of the three goes out of the window with any kind of strain on a project particularly when deadlines are tough. No amount of money can buy the quality back. Also no amount of money can reduce the time component to zero. Nine women can’t give birth to one child in one month.

    I had a few friends spread between three big government projects (1 Australia wide and 2 Victoria wide) that had to be done before the next election day so the ruling party could collect electoral dividends from their investments. All three projects had incredible amount of money flowing through them – people on those projects were paid through the roof (and worked 14+ hours a day including weekends). All three were a disaster on more than one level. For one of them, myki – the ticketing system for Melbourne and Victoran public transport, there is even a web page that lists some spectacular projects that cost less then myki: https://sites.google.com/site/cheaperthanmyki/

  166. @John Roth,

    Ok, thank you for your explanation. I will take a look as time permits and if needed ask questions in the appropriate forum. We are off-topic enough as it is.

  167. @Chris Fernglade

    I do not deny that indolent or incompetent people do exist. I have met my fair share of them in the past (and might have been one of them from time to time, even). I simply stated that my most recent experience did not seem to share that pattern, and it did not make it any less challenging.

    I think that is important because we have a culture that tries to assign blame to either the workers or the individual managers, but consistently fails to notice structural defects in the way work itself is organized. It is easier and more fun to blame the problems to the degenerate plutocrats on top, but that might tempt us to try and replace leadership. And how well that works will depend to what degree the problems were caused by personal shortcomings vs built-in perverse incentives.

  168. re: academia: agreed. My former college is adding a ridiculous “MBA but more so*” program for something like 50K for a one-year course. My mom, who used to be a college counselor, was really disillusioned by the end because of the number of kids whose parents were set on them going to four-year prestigious colleges while their talents and inclination were really elsewhere.

    And it’s too bad, because I do think that there’s value in secondary education, and *definitely* value in getting young adults away from their hometowns for a few years, exposing them to different people and so forth. (For some people, those who are gay in FundieTown or bookish in a community full of jocks or whatever, that can literally be a life-saver.) The need for college provides a good counter to possible parental issues, too. And I’m glad I went to college, despite student loans, even though I basically majored in drinking, boys, and D&D, with the occasional English class on the side. 😛 That said, I really don’t think new stadiums or luxury housing help anyone, and I’d far rather the money were spent on scholarships, or treating professors decently.

    @Ann and JMG, re: pubtrans: Exactly, on both counts. I get that actual train tracks are a major investment, but there’s no reason they couldn’t set up a bus route between “spoke” areas out here.

    (The MBTA is also hindered by the fact that the locals kick and scream every time someone proposes a gas tax in the city to help fund pubtrans, so the system is underfunded, with the delays and breakdowns that involves, so people use it less, so it’s harder to make arguments for funding…and vicious cycle. Sigh.)

    On “danger”, one of the things that made me contemptuous of a then-friend’s GF was the fact that she was “scared of the T.” I think I nearly severed an optic nerve rolling my eyes. (Reader, he married her–alas–but then proved to be a jerk himself, so I can’t be too sad about it.)

    *If I had a time machine, I would strangle the person who came up with the idea of the MBA, or at least kick them in the soft bits for a while.

  169. JMG – I chuckled at your recounting of David Brin’s comments. Of course he did – he’s a High Priest and Cheerleader for the concept of “progress” as a universal fact. I rather like him, in his less inflammatory moments, but there is no question in my mind that Progress is his religion.

  170. @ Isabelcooper…

    It’s not just the gay bunch or nerds or any other sub-group. It is good for everyone to change environments, even if just for a time. I think this is just as important as apprenticeship in many ways. Seeing how other people do things, meeting people and realizing that we all have nearly identical needs and wishes, noting the differences and seeing that humans are similar in both good and bad ways. These things don’t happen unless one gets out of town or country to allow perspective.

    I also think that while secondary education is valuable, offering courses such as keyboarding and not requiring people to learn handwriting is going to end up ugly. There have always been blow-off courses, but there is quite a boatload of them, such as the ever-touted MBA – where you learn exactly the wrong way to grow a company, but the right way to work for a giant one. Government Studies? Social Service Administration?

    Even in medicine I am seeing where the pre-Med curricula have been gutted of many of the things I took when I was in, such as embryology. There is nothing out there offered to make people generally educated in any given field – everything is a specialty, and I view that as very problematic as things move forward. The system perpetuates all of these by requiring certificates and licenses within each of these esoteric job types. A doctor, wishing to practice nursing instead, must get a certificate, even though nurses are generally taking order from doctors.

    I think it ought to be mandatory that, at a minimum, kids take a summer job or extended trip away from where they were raised or where they live. It’s just a good experience that is not available by social media or reading or talking to others.

    @ Chris at Fernglade…

    Your country has the largest geothermal on the planet – why isn’t NZ using it to push more electric and battery driven things? I lived in New Plymouth for almost a year – there is plenty there to be had just drilling down a little bit. Is it just the usual NZ gov trying to mimic the wrong plan?

    I’m curious, as the Oilman2 government plan would be to reduce the NZ oil needs to almost nil. And it’s not like there aren’t enough sheep to make quite the biogas supply there either. And there is a lot of cheese-gas as well, eh?

  171. JMG – >> … a lump of gray meat eight inches long is simply not equipped to understand a universe trillions of light years across.<<

    Yes, the human intellect is very limited; the brain is a material, physical object after all, no matter how fast its synapses are firing. I still find it amazing that people can conflate intellect with wisdom – not that the intellect and spiritual insight can't be wedded of course. But I suppose the human brain could be considered a microcosm of the macrocosmic universe, or at least some think so. Over a 100 trillion synapses per, you know. If so, wouldn't this micro/macro relation indicate that we have within us the potentiality of understanding the universe far better than we currently do? – because we *are* the universe in microcosm?

    Would it be fair to say that our divine essence, our Individuality – which our physical brains represent, so to speak, while we inhabit the material world – is capable of comprehending the universe? All in the fullness of time of course.

  172. Hello all, not to engage in braggadocio, but I too have re-created a viable, thriving small plot of Sonoran Desert in my own very large backyard. The land was utterly stripped of Saguaro Cactus, Palo Verde, Desert Acacia, birds, bees, prior to the developer building the house. Now there are all these same aforementioned trees, and cactus, plus, 15 or so specie of birds – Northern Cardinal, Gila Woodpecker, Verdin, Inca Dove, Coopers Hawk… a you name it of Southern AZ ornithology. Its beautiful.

  173. Hi CR Patiño,

    Thank you for taking the time to address the matters that I raised. That does not always happen in Internet conversations so I appreciate that.

    Fair enough, the concept of indolence is personally unknown to me, if only because of my very early experiences in both life and the workforce. I have experienced the world drop out from beneath me without warning on several occasions and, well, it kind of sharpens your perspective. Not everyone would choose the path I did given the same circumstances and there are many different paths to take from that point anyway. Some choose despondency and I see a lot of that.

    Of course, I was not actually blaming anyone in particular. In fact my comment related to a wide variety of people. But I agree with your larger point in that it is tempting to blame some sections of the community, particularly those pushing the levers. Interestingly too, there is the larger point that those who wield power and enjoy perquisites are also by necessity required to be burdened with responsibilities. They can’t ignore that for long.

    Mate, I really can’t talk to the story of large corporate structures as my experience with them has clearly been different to yours and so there is not a great deal to be gained by discussing the differences.

    Cheers

    Chris

  174. It is interesting to note the veracity with which the current theories (and they are nothing more than theories) of cosmology are enforced by the common layperson, gaining and reinforcing intellectual credence amongst their peers through conformity. The Big Bang theory will be proven wrong, much the same as bearded and sandalled God. To claim to know the universe is 13.8 billion years old (it has also been 20 billion years old in my lifetime) is unrecognised hubris.
    There are myriad alternative theories regarding cosmology – many available to view on youtube – including ‘Symbols of an Alien Sky’ and Halton Arp’s Red Shift anomolies – both of which raise questions about currently accepted and largely uncritical status quo.
    Regardless of how we interpret the universe, setting our own house in order is a priority.

  175. @oilman: Absolutely, on both counts! (Although re: handwriting, I admit that I haven’t written anything by hand for anyone else to read *since* my college days, except for copying out Book of Shadows stuff, and definitely haven’t done anything with cursive since way before then. I don’t even bother signing when using my credit card any more–nobody checks, and they have better ways of preventing fraud. And I do think typing is pretty useful, at least as society is now.)

    I suspect that the whole “you must have a certificate in this specific area” trend comes down to jobs not wanting to train new employees–but then, when those jobs vanish or the person gets laid off, they don’t have the qualifications that’d let them move to another job. Whereas being able to think critically, work to deadlines, write coherent sentences, do research, and so forth are far more widely applicable, as is having a good general understanding of the field you’re in.

    And moving around is really important, I think–people who don’t fit in their home environment have the most urgent need, but it does us all good. (Heck, I think boarding school helped me a lot for a number of reasons, being able to do my own laundry among them, and I’d endorse it for most kids.) Whether that’s college education, a stint in the Army/Peace Corps, working at a summer camp, or the sort of fostering nobles used to do with kids in medieval times, it’s a thing just about everyone should do. (In addition to getting a broader experience of the world, having authorities who aren’t your parents and are therefore harder to get around is very valuable.) I’d support your suggestion if I ruled the world, along with my “everyone has to spend at least three months working retail/customer service, so that they’re not a jerk customer later in life” plan.

    (Otherwise, me ruling the world would be an awful idea, and I would totally abuse my power in a late-French-king/Roman-emperor way.)

  176. Good Day…..

    I want an Omoopa Loompa now Daddy! Before it is too late…

    There is much to be said about daydreaming in our age. Provides a means for not making the same mistake twice…or in some cases more than twice.

    As far as the cosmos goes…seems to me your personall planetary focus decides your overall demeanor. The old men are from Mars thing!

    Back to dreaming. What happens when the persons dream n which you hatch into gives up on his/her dream. Where are all those little hatchling suppose to go once they have been dreamed into existance? Well they die an unforseen death or they get on the dreaming band wagon.

    As “We are the makers of mus-ic and the dreamers of dreams.”

    As my husband just kindly accepted the No. 5 2017 Edition of The Watchtower from his Jehovah’s Witness friend this beautiful Saturday morning. After he closed the door with a smile he utter got another pamphlet from my buddy it is about Angels.

    His final comment, “Angels, can’t leave with them…can’t leave without ’em.”

    Keep dreaming

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss . Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

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