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© December 2006 Anthony Lawrence


Don't panic: I haven't suddenly found religion.

However, I was listening to an NPR "On Point" program about the value of space exploration, and the Hawking's assertion that we need to be a multi-planet species was presented as a "Do you agree?" question to the audience.

Well, obviously: if the survival of your long term descendants is of any importance to you, then - duh - of course we need to become multi-planet.

Actually, we need more than that: we need to get out of this solar system before our sun goes away, and we need to get out of this galaxy before it collapses into its black hole center. If the Universe itself expands and collapses periodically, we need to find a way to survive that too (and people are actually thinking about such things even now).

That's all based on the assumption that preservation of the human species is important and worthwhile; I'm not entirely sure that's the case but if it is, Hawkings is exactly right, and starting work toward that goal is better done too soon than too late.

But suppose it's beyond reasonable possibility? We already know that the type of bopping around the Universe depicted in Star Trek et al. probably is impossible - unless we have grossly misunderstood physics. Historically, going against current scientific theory in just about any area has been a good bet, but indulge me momentarily: Captain Kirk is unlikely to ever warp to Alpha Centauri.

So how do we ensure our species survival? Well, we already know that bacterial spores can survive thousands of years at any temperature and the only real obstacle to surviving space travel is radiation: shield against that and you can ship life tremendous distances. With not a tremendous amount of advancement in our understanding of genetics, we might even be able to engineer DNA that would have more than a slight chance of evolving (given the right environment) to something like us. For all we know, that's how we got here originally (2001 Space Odyssey etc.)

That's a bit unsatisfying, but "mind transfer" technology might be packaged for long distance shipment also - you die here, but hopefully "wake up" somewhere else, someday. Yeah, it's not "you", but the mind that wakes up would think it was.. unless told otherwise, of course.

Here's the fun part: mind transfer technology might be thousands of years away, but that doesn't mean that you (or something that thinks it is you, anyway) can't "wake up" on the sun lit shores of some earth like planet a few hundred thousand years from now. Take some DNA from known descendants, do some calculations far beyond our current abilities, and perhaps something genetically very like "you" can be the result. Ship off a "resurrection" machine (or hundreds of them) and many lifetimes later one or more lands in a place where "you" can be recreated. No memories, of course, but that's not necessarily a problem if you were prescient enough to have left a legacy of writings, recordings, etc. - "you" can be recreated, in a sense resurrected. Yes, it's not really you, and there'd be a lot missing, but the new "you" wouldn't know that, or would attribute it to ordinary memory dysfunction. Any other creature that only knew you through your writings etc. would be equally unaware that you were not the genuine article. "You" might even have the same quirks, personality and psychological makeup: a good psychiatrist could probably peg me pretty well just by reading this website. Combine that with deeper DNA knowledge and this could be pretty darn accurate, couldn't it?

I haven't entirely convinced myself that spending money on genetics and DNA research is a better idea than spending it on buliding a moon base, but honestly I am leaning that way.. and that surprises me.

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Mon Dec 11 22:38:46 2006: 2716   drag

This is why science fiction kicks-ass.

It's actually somewhat good fiction based on the best known sciences of today taken to their nth degree. People get mixed up with Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres all the time, unfortunately.

Star Treck is mostly Sci-Fi, at least the original and the 'Next Generation' (after that they went downhill as regular tv writers got their hands on it.). There is fantasy mixed in, but mostly that is due to work around practical restraints on budget and fit into the TV format. For instance the 'Warp' is a nice peice of fantasy.

The other side of it is something like 'Star Wars', which is almost pure fantasy. No basis in reality. It's as loosy-goosy with physics and facts as any barbarian going after a wizard and a gigantic flying fire-breathing monster.

A peice of almost science-fiction that touches on what your talking about is a Japanese Manga/Anime series called 'Ghost in the Shell'. The basis of it revolves around the 'cyber-punk' concept that there is a sort of 'spirit' or 'ghost' that is not fully materialized. This is your conciousness, the 'spark' that makes you alive vs a simple fleshbot. In the 'Ghost in the Shell' you dealing in the near future (maybe a hundred years or so) were human beings have taken to augmenting themselves with cybernetic parts. Replace your eyes so you can see better and get a built-in 'Heads up display'. Replace body parts or entire body parts with faster stronger robots peices. Replace parts of your brain and add extra features like wireless uplink and 'external memory' for storing data and images through mental commands. The main character is a woman called 'major' that works for the special police forces in Japan. Her entire body is entirely cybernetic in nature and it is owned by the state.... so on and so forth.

The original 'cyber-punk' stories goes into what your talking about quite a bit also. William Gibson is the original author of these sort of things and his series of books take what your talking about and moves it to the nth degree. It's quite a good set of books even if your not a big fan of Sci-fi sort of stuff. Fun to read, colorfull. Something that you could conceivably see happenning. The computing and networking stuff is pure fantasy, the author had never touched a computer and had no knowledge of them except discriptions of friends that had access to mainframes and such.
The great thing about them though is that at least the first book is good literature, and the other ones are nice also. Also they are freely aviable online. Gibson apreciated his fans enough that he eventually just released them as text files on the internet.
You can find them at (link)
along with a couple other related short stories.

They are called the 'Sprawl Trilogy' and are in the order of "Neuromancer", "Count Zero", and "Mona Lisa Overdrive".

hint: Good Unix computer systems generally have a lot of layers of abstraction were older more basic programs are used to build bigger more complex programs.

Of course if we end up having the ability to handle the energies created by combining matter and anti-matter then there isn't much point to transfering consiousness to survive space travel.

This would give us the ability to travel near the speed of light. In situations like that even though it takes many millenia for light to travel from one part of the galaxy to another humans could easily make the trip within their lifetimes. You see, of course, as you travel near the speed of light time slows down. It's that whole relativity thing. So what takes seconds for a person travelling at near the speed of light, would take centuries here on earth. The effect is so profound that it's even measurable (by ultra-precision atomic clocks) that a person travelling in a super sonic jet time runs very slightly slower.

This is also a common theme in Sci-fi. One story I've read had 'tradesmen', essentially capitalists, that travelled from one part of the galaxy to another at near the speed of light for the goal of gathering wealth. Their task was to essentially preserve human history.. They would trade technology from one human era to another in exchange for information. It would take hundreds of years to go from one habitable planet to another, buy the time they arived at a place humans could of reach civilization and then had nuclear or environmental disasters and gone back to the stone age several times over.

Mon Dec 11 22:48:11 2006: 2717   TonyLawrence

Aside from everything else, another problem with space travel is knowing where to go. Let's pretend that you could somehow identify an earth-like planet. Unfortunately, that information is old.. very, very old in most cases.

Yet another reason why I think broadcast seeding is the only real possibility.

Tue Dec 12 14:50:57 2006: 2719   BigDumbDinosaur

I'm not at all worried about our sun's eventual transistion into a red giant, followed by earth's vaporization. This is an event (assuming current physics models are correct) that is incredibly far into the future. You, I and the tens of thousands of generations who will come after us have nothing about which to worry -- except maybe a misguided asteroid or two.

Right now, I'd prefer to see us concentrate effort on wiping out the Islamic terrorists who pose a daily threat to life on earth. That would do far more for the human race than spending money to figure which planet might be the best one to inhabit after earth becomes untenable millions of years from now.

Tue Dec 12 18:02:39 2006: 2721   TonyLawrence

Well, the death of our sun is (hopefully) a bit off, but there are other things that threaten life on Earth: asteroids, super volcanoes, pollution and even Islamic terrorists (wide spread nuclear war)..

Wed Dec 13 16:35:33 2006: 2726   BigDumbDinosaur

Well, the death of our sun is (hopefully) a bit off, but there are other things that threaten life on Earth: asteroids, super volcanoes, pollution and even Islamic terrorists (wide spread nuclear war).

We don't have any working volcanoes around here, so they don't pose a threat to our area. As for asteroids, celestial mechanics are well understood. If one is heading our way we should be able to predict exactly when it will smash into the earth and cause all the dinosaurs to go extinct again. Pollution bugs me as well, but that's a geopolitical issue that will never get better unless there's a drastic reduction in population (see approaching asteroid for a possible solution).

Least predictable of the lot are the Islamic jihadists. We should place these folks next to (or into) an active volcano, or perhaps in the general region where the next asteroid is scheduled to land.

Wed Dec 13 16:45:27 2006: 2727   TonyLawrence

We don't have any working volcanoes around here, so they don't pose a threat to our area.

Actually, Yellowstone poses a threat to the entire United States (and maybe even the world). See (link)

Wed Dec 13 23:12:43 2006: 2730   drag

It's pretty impressive what a volcano can do.

Krakatau was a biggy in 1883. Blew up a Island. Ejected 11 cubic miles (imagine...) of material into the atmosphere. Soot blocked out the sun, killed off all plant life in the surrounding islands. This was in Indonesia, and fine ash was recorded as landing as far away as NewYork city. The fallout of it formed these rafts on the ocean that were found floating for up to 2 years after the explosion.

Dropped the average temperature of the earth that year by 1.8 degree centigrade, its estimated that it took 5 years for the earth's climate to return to normal. The total explosive force was equivelent to around 200 Megatons of TNT. The Hiroshima atomic bomb was a mear 20 kilotons.

This thing was big. It took out most of a entire Island. (link)

Of course that was tiny compared to other things. Down by were I live there is this place called 'Ashfalls' in Nebraska. This is obviously in the midwest, towards the Missouri River side of things.

It's a interesting place. It's been under study for many years now. Under the ground there is signs off massive die offs in the areas. You have prehistoric North American horses, rhinos and camels and such all over there as well as other large things. They all seem to have suffocated to death.

This was due to a volcanic explosion up around the Mt. St. Helens area. Massively huge, the fallout travelled many many miles and still by the time it reached the midwest it was enough to kill and bury these animals.

Now in the past 10,000 years there have been 4 volcanic explosions more powerfull then Krakakota. Registered as 'VEI 7'.

The most infamous VEI 7 was the Tambora, Indonesia volcanic explosion that killed 92,000 people in 1815. Most of that was caused by starvation due to local climate change. Ejected 35 cubic miles worth of ash into the atmosphere, 150 times more then Mt. Saint Helen. The plume caused by the explosion was 28 miles tall.

This thing affected the earth so much that it caused snow fall and frost in Europe and New England areas in June, July, and August. "The year without Summer"

The next level above that was VEI 8. That is what made Yellowstone. Those things would eject maybe 250 cubic miles worth of dust into the sky.

These things would block the sun for months. If not years. Cause massive amounts of climate change, massive die-offs all around the world. It would take decades to for the climate to normalize after the explosion.

That's why it's sometimes difficult to get excited about human causes of climate change, sometimes. Sure the U.S. releases 18,000 tons of Sulfur Dioxide in 1999, which sucks because it causes acid rain and smog... but you have Mount Pinatubo which has released 13,000 tons into the atmosphere in _one_day_. And that's not even during a explosion or anything, just burping and such. They had to measure it to know what was going on. (that registered as a VEI of 6)

Of course later that year it exploded which ejected 20,000,000 tons of SO2 into the sky. The effect, combined with a second volcanic explosion, was about a 1 degree drop in tempurature for about 3 years.

Of course nothing holds a candle to human carbon dioxide emissions, which is up into the billions of tons, at least until you get to the very massive explosions. Laughable morons even suggest we should be polluting the atmosphere with S02 to counteract CO2. (of course I still beleive that C02 is a serious problem.).

to show what sort of scale your dealing with...

Thu Dec 14 15:51:38 2006: 2734   BigDumbDinosaur

Actually, Yellowstone poses a threat to the entire United States (and maybe even the world). See (link)

Well, according to the article, you and I are out of pyroclastic flow and ash deposit range, so we won't be dodging any of that stuff anytime soon.

The stuff that would be kicked up into the stratosphere is another matter. A massive Yellowstone eruption could conceivably alter the worldwide climate for many years, which, we could hope, might be interpreted as a sign that the end is near, causing suicide amongst the Islamic jihadists. <Grin>

Of course nothing holds a candle to human carbon dioxide emissions, which is up into the billions of tons, at least until you get to the very massive explosions.

Don't forget the estimated 50 billion tons of hydrocarbon gasses (e.g., methane) that are annually released into the atmosphere by cattle. That's a lot of burping and farting!

Thu Dec 14 15:54:43 2006: 2735   BigDumbDinosaur

Don't forget the estimated 50 billion tons of hydrocarbon gasses...

Er...that was supposed to be 50 million tons. Guess I was imitating Carl Sagan.on one of his science shows.

Fri Dec 15 05:30:01 2006: 2743   drag

I don't think that methane is a big deal.

In fact to me it sound pretty nutty. If anything cattle production is replacing biomass that human activitiy has destroyed. Remember that back in the day you would run into buffalo herds that would extend as far as you could see.

All sorts of stuff like that. If it wasn't covered with cattle then it would be covered by something else. Everything farts. Even the little microbes that chew up and rot vegetation that isn't eaten by larger animals get a bit of the old gas.

Fri Dec 15 12:59:30 2006: 2744   TonyLawrence

I don't remember who said this, but the worry about global warming and pollution is not particularly "will life survive" but rather "will life as we know it survive". In other words, pollute the oceans and eventually things that thrives in that environment will take over and thrive- but that doesn't necessarily give us anything to eat.

Fri Dec 15 14:45:56 2006: 2745   BigDumbDinosaur

I wasn't implying that the gas being expelled by cattle poses a threat to the environment. Cattle have been standing around chewing their cud, belching and ripping for thousands of years, and might continue to do so long after we're gone. Obviously the earth has survived.

There are plenty of natural processes that produce what some might label as pollution. For example, a single lightning stroke can generate enormous quanties of ozone and oxides of nitrogen, two compounds that we consider to be pollution. The later is present in the exhaust of internal combustion engines (especially Diesels) and the former can be produced by photochemical reaction, as anyone in the Los Angeles area knows.

In other words, pollute the oceans and eventually things that thrives in that environment will take over and thrive- but that doesn't necessarily give us anything to eat.

There are already organisms like that to be found in the ocean. A type of shrimp has been found that lives by underwater thermal vents spewing out poisonous (to us) gasses, apparently feeding off the gook coming from the vent. It's doesn't sound like what I would consider dinner (shrimp on the barbie).

Sat Dec 16 11:54:34 2006: 2750   drag


Environmentalism stuff is so loaded it's difficult to talk about.

Sat Dec 16 12:55:04 2006: 2751   drag

Oh I forgot another natural proccess.

Studies after the Exxon Valdis stuff shown that the perminate effects of oil spills like that are actually very small.

In efffect there are critters that litterally live off that stuff. Also the effect of oil suspended in the water has a minimal effect on sea creatures until you get to very high concentrations. Doesn't bother reproduction, doesn't bother eggs and such. Sea brine is already very volitile stuff...

Naturally, as it turns out, millions of gallons of oil are entering the oceans anyways. In the gulf of mexico alone you get about the equivelent of a 'Exxon Vadlis' dumping it's oil into the ocean every year. There is stuff that just eats it.

Also for CO2 effects.. CO2 is about 380 parts per million in the atmosphere. As you get more CO2 trees and such grow faster. Stuff warms up you get more mosture, more CO2, plants grow faster and bigger as a result using more Co2. It's sort of odd how it works out. Modern human activity is adding maybe 3 or 4 parts per million into the atmosphere each year.

Also the effect of external forces is almost unkown. Dispite the effect of CO2 it is small potatoes to very minor fluctuations in Sun's radiation and even cloud cover has a much larger effect on the tempurature of the atmosphere. They are white, and they reflect the Sun's energy back into space. We need the that energy to keep us warm and it has a big effect on our tempurature. We'd be much hotter without it.

One of the odd things about that is just this year they figured out that the amount of cosmic rays the earth gets has a potentially profound effect on cloud formation. Rays hit lower atmosphere, causes chemicals to materialize that form the core of water droplets that draw water vapor out of the atmosphere and turns it into clouds.

they have NO clue what that means. High clouds will warm up the air, they think. Low clouds tend to cool. They are white and they reflect heat and radiation from both directions. Depending on were they are located they figure it has a effect on which way the balance tips. Completely bizzare and unknown.

Then on top of that our effect on the atmosphere may promote how much we are affected by cosmic rays and how they affect cloud growth.

Also it's obvious that the Sun is at a very very busy state right now. It goes through it's normal cycle of active and inactivity, but right now it's more active now then it's been since they started looking at it.

Then again other scientists say that the effect of solar rays and such are BS based on incomplete data.

The measurements of tempurature of Earth is very difficult also.

you have one group of people going by papers published in 1998-9.
Mann et al., 1998. “Global-scale Temperature Patterns and Climate
Forcing over the Past Six Centuries,” Nature, Vol. 392, pp. 779-787.

E. Mann, R.S. Bradley, and M.K. Hughes, 1999. “Northern Hemisphere Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties, and Limitations,”

That show current tempuratures are hotter then they've been in 2000 years. (which begs the question "why was it hotter more then 2000 years ago with no human industrial activity?")

This study is were you get the images and graphs people use for news reports and such. It's very famous.

But then you have dozens of other studies that shown before then and after that paper, that it was much hotter then it is now as little as 500 years ago. That in teh past 100 years we had a rise of .3 degrees, but 500-700 years ago it was 0.6 degrees.

Papers like
S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick, 2003. “Corrections to the Mann et al. (1998)
Proxy Data Base and Northern Hemispheric Average Temperature
Series,” Energy & Environment, Vol. 14, No. 6, pp. 751-771.

You have ancedotal evidence in Europe for instance. Wine makers keep pretty detailed references to tempuratures and such. They've been doing that for hundreds of years. There are places in Europe were it was obviously much hotter back then then it is now. The had vineyards and grapes that could never have grown that far north in modern times.

Tree ring growth proves it to also, that it was much hotter in midevil times in Europe then it was in is now in those same places. As it gets hotter, summers are longer, trees grow bigger faster for longer times. You can determine the tempurature of the region by examine wood and old trees that have been accurately dated.

But then other groups have argued that this is BS and that it's localized to Europe. There are plenty of places that are cooler now on the earth then they were a hundred years ago. So taking a historical perspective on it from human records and such is probably not going to accurately indicated world wide climate change.

You can realy see them go at it in places like

They now have websites and such setup to argue with one another and stuff like that. All of it makes a interesting read and I think that it's great that it's pretty public.

Sat Dec 16 13:14:35 2006: 2752   TonyLawrence

There is tremendous disagreement here. However, as even people on the other side of my fence have said, if we don't know for sure how much effect our pollution is having, it still makes sense to try to reduce it. Global warming may have no cause from human activity, but environmental damage and loss of species are obvious.

Sun Dec 17 00:51:41 2006: 2755   anonymous

oh ya.

For instance high amounts of arsnic in the water supply may not have much, if any, long term effect in the environment, but I don't want to be drinking that stuff.

Or around Chernobal disaster the ecology surrounding the nuclear plant has returned to normal. Deer, warthogs, rabbits, all sorts of life from the most simple to the most complex organism have made a almost total recovery in the area. It has scientists a bit baffled on how that works out.

From a purely visual inspection the only think that you could tell what happenned was from ruins humans left behind.. that and the high levels of cancer people would have if they lived there.

Sun Dec 17 00:52:18 2006: 2756   drag

(forgot my name to the above)


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