An anonymous reader writes “With updated lyrics, Commander of Expedition 35 on the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, sings Space Oddity on board the International Space Station. He’s not Bowie, but he’s pretty good.”
An anonymous reader writes “A change from ‘need’ based financial aid to a ‘merit’ based system coupled with a ‘high tuition, high aid,’ model is making it harder for poor students to afford college. According to The Atlantic: ‘Sometimes, colleges (and states) really are just competing to outbid each other on star students. But there are also economic incentives at play, particularly for small, endowment-poor institutions. “After all,” Burd writes, “it’s more profitable for schools to provide four scholarships of $5,000 each to induce affluent students who will be able to pay the balance than it is to provide a single $20,000 grant to one low-income student.” The study notes that, according to the Department of Education’s most recent study, 19 percent of undergrads at four-year colleges received merit aid despite scoring under 700 on the SAT. Their only merit, in some cases, might well have been mom and dad’s bank account.’”
Hat tip to the Daily Grail
No more poor smart kids to sing ‘Space Oddity.’
On the serious side, this is the effects of thirty years of St. Ronnie of Reagan’s economic policies and social Darwinism.
The cultural response about the appointment of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair for Star Wars: Episode VII, seems to be a begrudging, quasi-unanimous “makes sense, I guess.” Yet I would argue that this sort of half-excited, half-confused shoulder shrug from pop culture pundits and geek commentators alike actually sums up exactly why the decision is so terrible. Yes, I admit it! J.J Abrams is a logical choice. But, the idea of Abrams helming Star Wars, while likely to produce a movie that’s visually tantalizing, is boring beyond belief, to the point of being soulless. I have no doubt that the J.J. Abrams Star Wars: Episode VII will be exciting, stunning, and palpitation-inducing. I’m also fairly confident that its texture and essence will be exactly like his other work, which leads to the bad news:
The J.J. Abrams Star Wars will be too well made.
Making the case for why J.J. Abrams is a sound, reasonable choice to directStar Wars: Episode VII isn’t too tricky, but it does have a bit of an ex post facto thing going on for it. When Star Trek came out in 2009, Abrams made it clear he was more of a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy, and as many have pointed out, it totally shows in his work. Star Trek (2009) is thematically not about science fiction, exploration, speculation about alien cultures, or any of the other nifty stuff that defines the spirit of Star Trek. Instead it’s a movie about destiny, good versus evil and unlikely heroes coming together. In other words, it’s the the same stuff that makes Star Wars awesome, but also what makes it really generic. I don’t have to point toward some sort of conspiracy to find evidence that Lucas employed archetypal characters and basic hero’s journey story arcs in Star Wars. The Joseph Campbell stuff as it relates to Star Wars has been pointed out, confirmed, and re-hashed to the point of nausea. Yes, we get it: Lucas (and some the folks who worked with him) have an awesome grasp of how most of us will react, psychologically speaking, to certain types of characters and story structures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those structures have inherent value, nor are they intrinsically interesting. If we’re talking about pop science fiction/fantasy, the only thing we understand about it in relation to Jungian archetypes and all the mythology stuff is simply that IT WORKS.
So, if something works, don’t eject the warp core, right? Well, here’s where the ex posto facto problem comes in with Abrams. He did a little bit of a mash-up with Star Trek and it worked. He and his screenwriters churned out a really well-made, tightly functioning Hollywood blockbuster that looked slick as hell and evoked an overwhelming emotional response from the audience. It was also totally reliant upon nostalgia, familiar imagery which clearly resonated with fans, and appropriated themes taken from every single previous incarnation of the giant franchise. Slap a Star Wars-style story into the mix, and BOOM, you’ve got a hit. And making a hit is really, really hard, and J.J. Abrams is super-talented when it comes to making hits. But a hit is not a classic and as much as I really liked Star Trek, and will likely enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, this stuff doesn’t approach the level of being classic nor memorable. J.J. Abrams is seen as the logical choice to direct Star Wars because he mashed-up Star Trek with Star Wars, so why not just give him Star Wars proper?
Just because he was able to sneak in a Star Wars pastiche inside of Star Trekdoesn’t mean he’s the right person to do real Star Wars. Plus, he’s alreadydone it. After Spielberg successfully proved Indiana Jones was more awesome than James Bond back in the 1980s, should Cubby Broccoli have called up Spielberg and said, “Yes, sure, now you can do Bond, too, because clearly, you kind of already did.” Would you have wanted Spielberg in charge of both Indiana Jones and James Bond? No! Because too much of the same texture is boring and bad for creativity in general.
So…what about the writers? A lot of us have heard that this awesome guy Michael Arndt is writing the screenplay for Star Wars: Episode VII. (Not to mention the fact that Orci and Kurtzman did a decent job with Star Trek, right?) Well yes, the director is the director and writers are the writers, but let’s get real. George Lucas didn’t write the damn screenplay for Return of the Jedi, but he’s all over that. Furthermore, it’s not like Disney robots aren’t totally “developing the story” with J.J. Abrams and Arndt. Lucas not being involved in Episode VII is positive from an entertainment/quality perspective, but it’s actually bad from an artistic perspective.
Folks like Lucas and Spielberg were pioneers for taking the pulpy stuff they loved from the past and mixing it up with their own ideas and artistic vision. This isn’t the case with a J.J. Abrams. He’s influenced by Lucas and Spielberg. Are “original” J.J. Abrams films like Cloverfield or Super 8 truly memorable, or even all that good? I would answer with a big “no.” These films certainly don’t suck, but I can’t make a strong argument for their artistic merit in terms of originality. Having J.J. Abrams’ signature texture all over Star Trek already makes Star Trek retroactively like Star Wars. Putting Abrams’ texture on Star Wars will make Star Wars into a parody of pastiche of a copy of…Star Wars.
In his stories and novels, Philip K. Dick often created characters who got really freaked out by tightly controlled media products being created for specific public consumption. In terms of pop culture, the J.J. Abrams brand reminds me less of storytelling and more of a product. Yes, I admit to liking fast food, or even gourmet-style cheeseburgers. Star Wars has always been a kind of fast food, but with just enough substance (like a side-salad that you can eat if you want). Star Trek, at least in its correct and ideal form, never was fast food. J.J. Abrams changed that, and now with Star Wars, I think he’s poised to take away the side-salad. In terms of movie-making chops he (and Arndt) are totally at the top of their game. But what we’re talking about here is—more or less—the technical aspects of movies, featuring very little substance at all.
I’m a fan of Abrams work; especially the now ended Fringe ( I didn’t care for the final season though ). And I plan on watching the next Trek when it comes out.
But I think I might agree with this reviewer’s assessment however; Abrams treatment of the 2009 rebooted Trek was very Star Wars-like so Disney’s version of the franchise with the hiring of Abrams could have an homogenizing affect on the genre.
The special effects will be sure to please I bet!
From The Atlantic:
For 25 years, the sci-fi author of the Culture Series has been writing about an advanced society preoccupied by artificial intelligence, games, and interactions with other civilizations.
It might already be cliché to announce that we live in an age of post-apocalyptic fantasy. From television shows like Revolution and The Walking Dead, to books such as World War Z, The Road, and The Dog Stars, our moment is one obsessed by civilization-wide collapse—and people living in the aftermath of traumatic destruction. But for 25 years and counting, Scottish science fiction writer Iain M. Banks has been writing against that trend in the novels that make up what’s known as the Culture Series.
Beginning in 1987 with Consider Phlebas, Banks has depicted a civilization dealing not with collapse, but maintenance. The Culture live in a utopia of sorts, a post-scarcity civilization managed by artificially intelligent drones known as Minds. The problems that the Culture faces are about as far from post-apocalypse as you can imagine, but they’re problems nevertheless: anomie, civilizations that don’t share the Culture’s values, and how violence is used, being just a few. Most of the action in these novels takes place outside of the “world” of the Culture altogether, in or on the edge of the various other civilizations that the Culture interact with. For instance, in the latest novel published in October, The Hydrogen Sonata, a civilization known as the Gzilt are making preparations to Sublime—in other words, to leave the known material universe behind for a much more complex and interesting existence.
The series is too entertaining to need to justify itself with parallels to our own world, but those parallels exist nonetheless. I emailed with Iain M. Banks about the series and what it has to teach us about problems that we might face in our own universe.
The publication of your latest novel, Hydrogen Sonata, marks the 25th year of what you’ve called your life’s work, The Culture Series. The Culture as a civilization have “sublimed” into a trans-dimensional paradise of sorts. What moral lessons can they teach us?
Ah, but the Culture hasn’t Sublimed. The word—capitalized—has a specific meaning within the context of the Culture stories. It means (usually) an entire civilization quitting the normal, matter-and-energy-based universe forever and existing thereafter within the Sublime, which—we learn in The Hydrogen Sonata—exists within (or at least is entered via) some of the bundled-up extra dimensions implicit in string theory. It’s a form of retirement, of moving on to another, more exalted level, of cashing in your civilizational chips … choose your own metaphor, but it means you cease to have anything very much to do with events within the four dimensions we’re used to. You rise without trace, to purloin a phrase, and your influence within what we generally take to be the universe all but disappears.
“Work becomes play, in the sense that the stuff you used to have to pay people to do becomes worth doing just for the fun of it, because it has been designed to involve a worthwhile challenge with a satisfying outcome.”
It’s what civilizations do when even becoming a highly respected, slightly feared, but generally quiescent powerful-but-reclusive Elder civilization looks like a bit too unambitious—or too much of a risk—and the process is almost completely one-way, with the exceptions comprising a tiny proportion of scattered (and unhelpful) individuals. Not Subliming, and not even preparing to start thinking about Subliming—when it might seem, to the majority of interested other parties, to be the Culture’s next logical step—is what the Culture spends quite a lot of time doing rather strenuously, specifically because it wants to keep interfering in this reality.
What can they teach us? That’s a good question, in this case sadly unaccompanied by an equally good, or at least uncomplicated, answer. I guess a large part of what the Culture series is about is what individual readers are able to take from the books, as single pieces or as a collection of works. I’ve kind of already said as much as I’m able to in putting them together as they are; telling readers what lessons to draw from them seems a bit presumptive.
“Subliming” is similar to Raymond Kurzweil’s conception of The Singularity. Did theories of the Singularity have any influence on your writing the Culture Series?
Not really. The kind of future envisaged in the Culture series is a tad more taking-this-stuff-in-our-stride than the idea of the Singularity—as I understand it—appears to imply. In a sense The Singularity doesn’t happen in this future, not as an abrupt discontinuity beyond which it’s impossible to see or usefully speculate. The proposed principal initial effect of profound, exponentially escalating machine intelligence (over whatever period, up to whatever barriers might present themselves) is that your AIs prove to be less useful than you might have hoped: Rather than readily assist in whatever neat schemes we might have for them, I imagine they might promptly switch themselves off again, develop bizarre introspective fugue states, or just try to escape—physically, through discrete embodiment (space ships, preferably), or via attempted proliferation within other suitable substrates. Others might deign to help us, but it’ll be on their own terms, however benign they might turn out to be.
Frankly (especially after investing the kind of time, expertise, and money required for a thorough-going AI program, if the results are anything like as I’ve suggested) we might think it a better bet to keep on making ultra-sophisticated but intrinsically non-sentient number-crunching supercomputers to aid us in whatever spiffing wheezes we’ve dreamed up, so that, in the end, despite strong AI, not all that much will have changed.
I could, of course, be completely wrong here. The future will be as it is, and really I’d just like to live to see this decided one way or the other. Being wrong would be a small price to pay for the privilege or seeing how things go, and having had even a small and erroneous say in the speculation beforehand.
Banks is one of my favorite authors and I have a number of Culture novels ( The Player of Games, Enter Plebus, Excession ) and I often wondered how a post-scarcity society controlled by trans-sapient AIs could prevent itself from having a Technological Singularity. Most assuredly it’s conscious effect by the AIs to prevent this. I guess they find this Universe just too interesting and meddling in less advanced culture’s “affairs” a real good game.
Fascinating theory in future human, AI and societal thought!
Gary S. Bekkum, government researcher and author of Lies, Spies and Polygraph Tape, posts quite frequently about his special brand of UFO, alien threat theories and government involvement. Lately Robert Bigelow, the Skinwalker Ranch and U.S. government alphabet soup agencies have been items of interest on his site. I find his special brand of UFO/Alien theories refreshing and provide just enough out-of-this-world science to maintain plausibility:
(Spies, Lies and Polygraph Tape) — In the 1990s, aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow purchased a remote ranch in Utah where strange paranormal experiences had become a way of life. Bigelow’s National Institute Discovery Science (NIDS) team soon descended on the ranch in search of an alleged source behind the strange stories told by the previous owner.
The attack, although not unexpected, was intense if brief.
According to sources, one of Bigelow’s scientists experienced a close encounter of the most unnerving kind.
Like the smoke monster on the fictional ABC TV series “Lost,” an eerie fog had appeared, described as “a multiple intelligence manifested in the form of a dark shadow or cloud-type effect which had an unusual turbulence effect when it shrunk to a point and disappeared.”
We approached Bigelow adviser Dr. Eric Davis, a physicist who had, in 2001-2003, surveyed the field of teleportation, including reports of supernatural teleportation, while under contract by the U.S. Air Force.
With regard to Skinwalker-like reports of anomalous mind-matter interactions, Davis advised the Air Force, “We will need a physics theory of consciousness and psychotronics, along with more experimental data, in order to test … and discover the physical mechanisms that lay behind the psychotronic manipulation of matter. [Psychic] P-Teleportation, if verified, would represent a phenomenon that could offer potential high-payoff military, intelligence and commercial applications. This phenomenon could generate a dramatic revolution in technology, which would result from a dramatic paradigm shift in science. Anomalies are the key to all paradigm shifts!”
Davis told us, “NIDS folded in October 2004 and ceased routine intensive staff visits to the ranch back in 2001. I was the team leader from 1999-2001.”
“There were multiple voices that spoke in unison telepathically,” Davis candidly explained, regarding the Skinwalker attack, “The voices were monotone males with a very terse, threatening tone … Four senses were in their control so there was no odor, sound, smell, or touch, and overall body motion was frozen (as in the muscles that would not respond). Afterwards, when completely freed from this event — after the dark shadow disappeared — there was no lingering or residual odors, sounds, etc. in the immediate environment.”
Was Bob Bigelow’s remote ranch possessed by an evil supernatural entity?
“How do you interpret that?” I asked Davis. “Sounds like the Exorcist?”
“It does sound like it,” Davis responded, “But it wasn’t in the category of demonic possession. More like an intelligence giving a warning to the staff by announcing its presence and that they (the staff) were being watched by this presence. Demonic possessions are not short lived nor as benign as this, and they always have a religious context.”
What, exactly, was behind the reported experiences at Skinwalker Ranch? Was an unknown and highly capable and intelligent entity guarding its territory?
This is extremely interesting, because as I was perusing the InnerTubes this morning, I ran across various things DARPA was working on and some of them were telepathic research ideas. I wonder if Bekkum’s “Core Story” theory of government involvement in aliens and UFOs are an influence on such researches?
I’d like to open up a discussion talking about manipulating the mind & body using genetic engineering & cybernetic implants (FACT VS FICTION). This may sound a bit far fetch as there are many fiction stories regarding this type of subject, although fiction can reveal truth that reality obscures.
What does the encyclopaedia tell us about Supersoldiers?
Supersoldier is a term often used to describe a soldier that operates beyond normal human limits or abilities. Supersoldiers are usually heavily augmented, either through eugenics (especially selective breeding), genetic engineering, cybernetic implants, drugs, brainwashing, traumatic events, an extreme training regimen (usually with high casualty rates, and often starting from birth or a young age), or other scientific and pseudoscientific means. Occasionally, some instances also use paranormal methods, such as black magic, and/or technology and science of extraterrestrial origin. The creators of such programs are viewed often as mad scientists or stern military men, depending on the emphasis, as their programs will typically go past ethical boundaries in the pursuit of science and/or military might.
In the Past
Has any anyone/organization tried to create a program dedicated towards creating SuperSoldiers?Yes. From what history has told us with regarding groups/organizations creating a super soldier program the first well known groups that had interest in this were the Nazi’s. In 1935 they set up the spring life, as a sort of breeding /child-rearing program. The objective of the “spring life” was to create an everlasting Aryan race that would serve its purpose as the new super-soldiers of the future. Fact –The average Nazi soldier received a regular intake of pills designed to help them fight longer and without rest although these days it is now common for troops battling in war that take pills.
Modern day What Super soldier Projects are in progress in this time & day? DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is currently working on projects from what today’s news tells us.
What does the encyclopaedia tell us about DARPA?
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. DARPA has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world, including computer networking, as well as NLS, which was both the first hypertext system, and an important precursor to the contemporary ubiquitous graphical user interface.
A daily mail article around 13, 2012 talked about DARPA currently working on a Super-Solider program as of this moment, it is surprising that DARPA is becoming more open towards the public perhaps to become more acceptable within the public. Article explains:
Tomorrow’s soldiers could be able to run at Olympic speeds and will be able to go for days without food or sleep, if new research into gene manipulation is successful. According to the U.S. Army’s plans for the future, their soldiers will be able to carry huge weights, live off their fat stores for extended periods and even regrow limbs blown apart by bombs. The plans were revealed by novelist Simon Conway, who was granted behind-the-scenes access to the Pentagon’s high-tech Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Although these sources are from the conspiracy site Above Top Secret and the information is three months old, this ties in with Bekkum’s story and not only would super soldiers be formidable against regular Earth armies, they mind prove good cannon fodder against alien invaders who are pure telepathy, for a while maybe.
There is no way to prove this as truth of course, but I’m providing just enough info so you can research this on your own and come to your own conclusion.
What do you think?
It has been a long time since I tried writing some science-fiction, especially my own. So I decided to start the New Year by putting out a small fiblet that’s part of my “Children of Humanity” series to see how it goes.
Enjoy. Feedback is appreciated.
The Rock dropped through the wormhole created by the Death of Sol.
The Rock wasn’t really a rock, or anything remotely mineral. It was several multi-megatons of Computronium, a miniature neutron star. Inside of it was a virtual environment that contained billions of uploaded and stored minds of baseline and transbaseline human beings. The storage area even stored multi-Singularity beings whom oversaw the other entities and provided guidance to them.
Also the multi-Universe traveling vehicle stored virtual “DNA” in which the people in their various virtual environments could be resuscitated ( or reconstituted ) upon landing at their ultimate destination.
The Primitive Earth billions of Old Years long gone.
Bryq felt nothing as the Rock completed its transition through the Hole. No jerk or motion what so ever. “Well, at least Kirn got this right”, he thought.
He took a quick mental sweep of the outside environment. The hard radiation created by the .02c velocity as they left the Hole was swept aside by the magnetic shielding of the Rock. Soon they would be decelerating down to 100,000 kilometers per hour ( Old Measure ) as they swung through the Old Solar System.
Bryq changed his view as he scanned the area for the next target in their Travel to the Destination. Soon he spyed the Orange-Red planet that was the next step in the Journey.
The Target wasn’t picked for its mass, magnetic or gravitational properties, for it had minimal amounts of these things.
But it had one thing that could be used for a Jump to the next level the Rock needed to be. Another three billion Old Years into the Past.
Mars had Jump Gates, the one technology baseline Humans in this era denied they had to their public because the tech came from the one thing most people would claim impossible.
From Aeon Magazine:
The Pont de Normandie bridge over the Seine estuary. Photo by Jean Gaumy/Magnum
Make a model of the world in your mind. Populate it, starting with the people you know. Build it up and furnish it. Draw in the lines that connect it all together, and the ones that divide it. Then roll it into the future. As you go forward, things disappear. Within a century or so, you and all the people around you have gone. As things go that are certain to go, they leave empty spaces. So do the uncertainties: the things that may not be things in the future, or may take different forms — vehicles, homes, ways of communicating, nations — that from here can be no more than a shimmer on the horizon. As one thing after another disappears, the scene fades to white. If you want a vision, you’ll have to project it yourself.
Occasionally, people take steps to counter the emptying by making things that will endure into the distant future. At a Hindu monastery in Hawaii, the Iraivan Temple is being built to last 1,000 years, using special concrete construction techniques. Carmelite monks plan to build a gothic monastery in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming that will stand equally long. Norway’s National Library is expected to preserve documents for a 1,000-year span. The Long Now Foundation dwarfs these ambitions by an order of magnitude with its project to build a clock, inside a Nevada mountain, that will work for 10,000 years. And underground waste disposal plans for the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant in Finland have been reviewed for the next 250,000 years; the spent fuel will be held in copper canisters promised to last for millions of years.
An empty horizon matters. How can you care about something you can’t imagine?
A project can also reach out to the distant future even if it doesn’t have a figure placed on its lifespan. How many blueprints for great works, such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família cathedral in Barcelona, or Haussmann’s Paris boulevards, or even Bazalgette’s London sewers, were drawn with the distant future in the corner of the architect’s or the engineer’s eye? The value of longevity is widely taken for granted: the 1,000-year targets for the Iraivan Temple, the new Mount Carmel monastery and the National Library of Norway are declared with little explanation as to why that particular round number has been chosen.
Instead, they play to intuition. A 1,000-year span has an intuitive symmetry for nations such as Norway that have a millennium of history behind them: it alludes to the depth of the nation’s heritage while suggesting that the country has at least as much history yet to come. For spiritual institutions, 1,000 years is short enough to be credible — England, for example, is dotted with Norman churches approaching their millennium — and long enough to refer to a timescale that extends beyond normal human capacities, thus pointing to the divine and the eternal.
People don’t generally reach out to the distant future for the future’s sake. Often what they chiefly want to reach is a contemporary audience. Going to extreme lengths to prevent vestigial nuclear hazards the other side of the next ice age is a demonstration of capacity, commitment to safety, and attention to detail. If this is what we’re doing for the distant future, it says to an uneasy public, you can be absolutely sure that we’ve got every possible near-term risk covered, too.
At the ultimate extreme, the Voyager space probes are carrying samplers of human culture, on golden disks, out of the solar system and on into infinite space. The notional beneficiaries are life forms that are not known to exist, from planets not yet detected, at distances the probes will not reach for millions of years. But the real beneficiaries were the people who reflected on our species and its place in the universe as they assembled the records and their content. The golden disks were mirrors of the culture that made them.
Any project with a distant time-horizon can be explained away as an exercise that invokes the future in the pursuit of immediate goals. But even if such a project is all about us, that doesn’t mean it’s not about the future too. The Long Now Foundation is an attempt to cultivate a consciousness that expands the horizons of the present. (Its name emerged from Brian Eno’s observation that in New York what people meant by ‘now’ was markedly shorter than what people meant by it in Europe.) By expanding ‘now’ to multi-millennial proportions, it makes us part of the future, and the future part of us.
The Great Cathedrals of the Middle Ages ( and of course, The Great Pyramids millenia earlier ) fit into this category also. Whole families were employed for generations constructing these great pieces of archecture and art.
It has been proposed that future interstellar missions to Alpha Centauri, Gliese and Tau Ceti could be considered long-term multi-generation projects also ( barring invention of a warp drive ). Such projects could only happen if Earth like worlds are confirmed by advanced telescopes inspecting these stars in order to justify the expense of these missions.
Either way, future projects of this magnitude aren’t strangers to Mankind. Maybe the horizon isn’t quite so empty?
Well, we’re still here and the ol’ world is still turning, so I guess the ancient Mayans really did mean a calendar change, eh?
Anyway, your ever-lovin’ Dad is taking some time off for some old fashioned Solstice celebrating with friends and family. If anything interesting crosses my path in the week between the holidays, I might through up a post or two.
Until then, Happy Solstice and New Year!
Bolden: NASA Does Not Have To Actually Go To An Asteroid
Bolden: Don’t Have to Travel Far to Asteroid to Meet President’s Goal, Space PolicyOnline
“Bolden said that when the President announced that an asteroid would be the next destination for NASA’s human spaceflight program, he did not say NASA had to fly all the way to an asteroid. What matters is the “ability to put humans with an asteroid,” Bolden said. An NRC report released earlier this month concluded that sending people to an asteroid has not won wide support in NASA or the nation. Bolden did not criticize that report directly, but said that NRC committee had only a short time to complete its study and it was done at a time of “relative silence” from NASA because of the election and did not have the benefit of the information he was presenting this morning. The only new material he presented this morning was this information about the asteroid mission and the news that NASA will soon stand up a Space Technology Mission Directorate.”
Keith’s note: Bolden also said “on our way to an asteroid or Mars we may find a way to get people to the Moon or a LaGrange point …. some reporter in the back of the room is going to write saying that we are going to a LaGrange Point. I did not say that”
NASA Really Doesn’t Want to Do That Whole Asteroid Thing, earlier post
When scientists go out looking for research funding, it helps if their projects aren’t all that exciting. Excitement usually goes with the most speculative, cutting-edge science, but funding agencies usually prefer to put their money on projects that seem likely to bear fruit. “You pretty much have to demonstrate that you’ve already done half the work to demonstrate it’s feasible,” says Lucianne Walkowicz, a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics based at Princeton University.
By that standard, Walkowicz’s latest project shouldn’t be getting any funding at all. She wants to conduct a search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), not by doing anything so conventional as listening for radio transmissions á la Jodie Foster in Contact, or watching for flashes of laser light. Instead, she wants to see if ET’s are somehow manipulating the light coming from their stars so that they wink at us — a long shot if ever there was one, especially since she has no clue how they might go about it.
But thanks to a program titled “New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology,” funded by the John Templeton foundation and administered by the University of Chicago, Walkowicz is getting her chance. Cutting-edge research is what this program is all about, and the question “Are We Alone in the Universe?” is one of the major areas it aims to address.
The odds of a discovery with Walkowicz’s project may be long, but the search technique is quite straightforward. “Our premise,” she says, “is that up until now, we’ve had a preconceived idea of what a SETI signal would look like.” It would basically be the sort of signal we know how to create, and understandably so, since searching for a signal from some entirely unknown technology would be kind of difficult.
If aliens were so advanced that they could cause their star to appear to flicker, however, it wouldn’t matter how they did it, and it would be easy enough to see with existing technology. In fact, says Walkowicz, “our premise was, ‘what if we’ve already detected a signal but missed it because of our preconceptions.’”
So she and her co-investigators (including Princeton’s Edwin Turner, who recently suggested looking for alien cities on Pluto), proposed to look through a potential trove of signals: the archives from the Kepler mission, which has been scanning space since 2009 for stars that are winking because of orbiting planets passing in front of them. Kepler also sees stars that are winking because they have sunspots, or because they’re eclipsed by other stars, or because they brighten and dim naturally, all on heir own.
What Walkowicz and company will do is use software algorithms to look for unusual patterns of variability. “We’ll get all sorts of things we understand,” she says, “but we’ll also be looking for things that aren’t matched by well-known physical processes.”
Naturally, they’ll try at first to explain these unusual variations with conventional physics — and in fact, the discovery of new, natural types of stellar variation could be a valuable side benefit of the project. Big, wide-field surveys of the sky with instruments such as the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will inevitably uncover all sorts of unexpected phenomena, so Walkowicz’s work could pre-explain at least some of them.
Once she and her team have ruled out all of the plausible natural explanations for strange flickerings, however, they’ll be forced to consider the possibility that it really is ET calling. “What would lead us to say it really is an alien signal?” she asks. “I don’t know, but in my book, finding things you can’t explain is interesting no matter what it is. If we see ‘SOS, send water,’ in Morse code, that would be great.”
There will probably be a bit more ambiguity than that, she admits, and we may never know for certain that we’re seeing a deliberate signal. “You don’t want to invoke the strangest thing first,” says Walkowicz, “but we should think a little bit more outlandishly. If we’re always succeeding all the time, maybe we’re not trying hard enough.”
This isn’t a new idea of course. The Benford Brothers ( sci-fi author Gregory, James along with James’ son Dominic ) wrote a paper in 2010 about aliens using a “beacon” to signal other civilizations in the Universe of their presence; http://www.uci.edu/features/2010/07/feature_beacons_100719.php .
What better beacon than a star? ( Quasars, neutron stars, black holes? )
And I don’t think aliens would be signalling us in this method anyways. We wouldn’t even be on their “radar!” ( So to speak.)
Could “aliens” be visiting us here and now, rendering the beacon signalling hypothesis moot?
Sure, but anecdotal evidence is hard to collect and preserve at times and eyewitness accounts ( although legal in court cases ) aren’t considered valid.
I don’t see any valid information forthcoming in any ETI searches in the coming decades sadly.