Tag Archives: SETI

Sifting the skies for “others”

Let’s talk sci and tech! So much cool stuff and so little time… so we’ll start by looking upward for this posting.

First… the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is planning to spend more than $1 billion on satellites that will offer internet access worldwide from space. My contacts at ViaSat confirm that something is in the works. People familiar with the project say the devices Google intends to use will weigh less than 250 pounds. The WSJ’s sources say the costs for the venture could top $3 billion. Among many other aspects, this could be the jiu jitsu move that allows Earth citizens to evade the censorship of national governments. And many other good things! But of course, there’s always a cost.


== Sift the skies for “others”! ==

JBIS-METI-SETI-DEBATE My paper on the search for – and worries about – alien contact is one of a dozen in the latest issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society – a special volume that is formatted as a debate over the controversial matter of beaming “yoohoo messages to ET.” It is a serious matter that should be discussed openly by humanity’s greatest sages, before a fascinated and participating world populace! Instead, a dozen or so zealots want to make the decision on our behalf, without a scintilla of consultation. The debate is here… though (for now) at a small fee that goes to a good cause…

… getting out there, ourselves.

aaic-nasa How We’ll Talk to Aliens: Now available from NASA for free download (print also available) is “Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication” edited by Doug Vakoch, with articles about a wide range of non-astronomical aspects of contact with ExtraTerrestrial Civilizations.

See more on Shouting to the Cosmos: SETI vs METI. 

Meanwhile, we learn about planets! Like… Godzilla earth? Here’s an interesting discovery of a rocky planet which has a mass some 17 times that of Earth. Combining transit-eclipse size measurements from the Kepler telescope with mass-tug effects from a scope in the Canary Islands, researchers showed that Kepler-10c cannot be a gaseous world but must comprise very dense material. Interestingly, the age of the host star (a red dwarf) is about 11 billion years old, which is early in the evolution of the Universe when generations of exploding stars have not had long to make the heavy elements needed to construct rocky planets. Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought.

== Piecing together the puzzle ==

Gravitational wave discovery faces scrutiny: Inspiring to witness science at work, both collegial and relentlessly competitive and self-critical. In this case, the BICEP results reported in March — suggesting that polarization in the cosmic background might reveal inflation patterns in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the universe — might have contained some flawed image processing assumptions. We can all wait and see. But the process is fascinating to follow in this excellent NATURE article.

Universe-simulationModeling the universe, starting with the Big Bang, only became possible with the advent of supercomputers, fantastic software and the realization of the existence of mysterious dark matter. Combining all of these resulted in what may be one of the great scientific achievements of our time — a model that portrays the Bang, then natural evolution into the cosmos we see today, with the same array of numbers of sizes and types of galaxies. If verified, it is a stunning validation of our current models and our growing ability as simulators… then creators?… in our own right.

See also this video about the simulation. I hope it’s valid.

It used to be generally thought that our solar system’s largest moon contained an ocean with ice on bottom and top. But crushing pressure on Ganymede could create up to three layers of ice, with different kinds in each layer. The densest and heaviest ice on Ganymede is called “Ice VI.” Hence, Jupiter’s moon Ganymede may have a multi-layered ocean of alternating ice and liquid water that resembles a “club sandwich,” according to NASA.

== We need … more SPACE! ==

spacex-dragonElon does it again. Unveils version 2 of the Dragon Capsule… this one capable of carrying astronauts. The fellow’s timing is amazing… just as the US and Europe are looking for a way to stop paying Russia for manned Soyuz transports carrying our astronauts to the space station.

And then…

The surprise donation to NASA of two identical space telescopes by the United States National Reconnaissance Office has put NASA in a bind. They are essentially brand new Hubbles… a super gift, but then comes the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to turn them into scientific instruments. Read about a petition to make use of these (potentially) amazing gifts for astronomy.


== Will OCO help cure madness? ==

NASA plans to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on July 1, 2014.  The OCO-2 mission will be NASA’s first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide from space.  I plan to be there! Additional information about the mission can be found on the NASA site. 

Why has it taken so long? There was an attempt to launch a climate satellite early in the Bush administration… a launch that mysteriously (even suspiciously?) blew up. After a second failure, budgets for climate science were slashed and satellites cancelled, while the GOP Congress passed measures eliminating Earth studies from the NASA mission and tried to do the same to NOAA! There were some interim sats and their work has universally confirmed global warming models, but at levels of accuracy that still allowed denialists to wriggle and squirm.

One can hope the new satellite will put doubts to rest and that mature citizens will rally behind whatever the science shows. One can hope.

Climate-change-report-2014Meanwhile, the most definitive climate change report so far has been issued by the US Government and it paints a serious-sobering picture… that climate change is already adversely affecting our lives and economy and picking up speed. The response? Not “maybe we should take prudent measures to prepare and ameliorate, just in case 97% of scientists prove to be right.” (Look up TWODA.)

No, the response is hatred of scientists and all “government.” Ponder that.

The question I have for (the recent, neo-crazy version of) conservatives is this: “Do you really want to base the entire credibility of your whole movement on obstinate rejection of science?” On a fabulated image that scientists know less, are dumber, more herd-like and less credible… than a hireling propagandist on Fox News?

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Galactic Self-Reproducing Probes? (Plus tweet-ready miscellany!)

HideBigBrotherCropFirst a note: my op-editorial, If You Can’t Hide From Big Brother, Adapt was syndicated around the world in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune and a longer version, Snooping vs. Privacy: Lessons for an Age of Transparency in the Christian Science Monitor, among other venues, offering a little wisdom about the value of calm pragmatism in the defense of liberty and safety in the Information Age.

Oh, and regarding a matter that’s “completely different”: In The Immortality Debate“Decision theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky, biologist PZ Myers, author David Brin and moderator Eneasz Brodski discuss the potential pitfalls and implications of human immortality – both biological and socio-political. Disagreement on the desirability of indefinite lifespans leads to a fascinating conversation.”  

== Are alien probes already in our solar system? ==

It’s Easier for Aliens to Visit than previously thought: George Dvorsky lately reported – on the ever-brash io9 site – about recent calculations suggesting that “Von Neumann” self-replicating probes, (which I’ve put into my fiction since 1983) might be able to “fill the galaxy” — leaving one copy at every star in the Milky Way — within just 10 million years after the first such probe was launched into space.

That is a mere eyeblink, in comparison to the Milky Way’s 10-to-12 billion year age, or its 220 million year rotation rate (at our distance from galactic center.) This new calculation is based on a number of assumptions.  First that Einstein rules. Sorry, no warp drive or even traveling faster than 10% of the speed of light.  In other words, it’s a robotic mission.  (Though, as I show in Existence, that doesn’t mean it can’t be ‘human.”)

Second, while the traditional Von Neumann probe would decelerate into the next star system, then use asteroidal resources to make and launch its copies, the recent paper by Nicholson and Forgan, offers a unique version, based on a speculative notion: that probes might gather enough raw material (and energy) to copy themselves while hurtling across the cold, black near-emptiness between stars. By building its daughters out of interstellar atoms — not having to stop and mine asteroids — a mother probe might drop one into a system that it passes and toss others at varied angles past the new sun, using a slingshot effect to hurl them in varied directions with great efficiency.

I’m rather skeptical of the core assumption — building robot copies extirely from collected interstellar atoms… but I’m willing to ponder it, maybe in a future story!

OpenLetterAlienLurkersIn fact, I have been working at this general topic — both as a scientist and as a science fiction author — ever since I attended the Los Alamos conference on Interstellar Migration around 1983, when Jones and Finney first analyzed the rate at which such “Von Neumann probes” might be able to set a daughter in place around every star in the galaxy.  By the way, they calculated a figure even lower than Nicholson and Forgan.

Of course, the question of why we haven’t yet encountered such probes in our solar system is provocative.  It makes the already puzzling problem of the “Fermi Paradox” or Great Silence even more daunting. Folks can read a dozen reasons why such probes – lurking in our solar system – might choose not to respond, even to earnest entreaties that have been made already, by radio and internet. Or else, read more about SETI.

I chose to make this quandary, in fact, the core element of Existence.

That is less a “plug” than simply a followup and offer to those of you who wish to follow up this teaser with scads and skeins of threads leading in new directions. There are many quirky aspects to this one idea, and the number of possible variations can be mind boggling. Even (especially) to the voraciously curious!

== Amazing Miscellany ==

It can be difficult to know what’s real and what’s fake when it comes to digital art these days. But don’t torture yourself worrying about it now: Here are some of the most photorealistic 3D renderings on the web.

Bites from a voracious tick known as the Lone Star are leaving some suddenly allergic to red meat.  Unlike most food allergies, the symptoms typically set in three to six hours after an affected person eats beef, pork or lamb—often in the middle of the night. The bite that seems to precipitate it may occur weeks or months before, often making it difficult for people to make the link. Geez one could come up with a dozen sci fi scenarios behind this one. Hm. Villainous PETA conspirators… honey, call agent!

Daily closing of India and Pakistan Border crossing — a terrific show. Almost a Monty Python comedy skit, but actually kind of encouraging as it is choreographed and sure beats use of nuclear weapons!

== TWEETable Highlights! ==

Bowing to the inevitable, I have decided to do my latest dump of amazing miscelklany in handy, tweetable bits, for your convenience! That means both linking and displaying the web URLs.  We’ll see if folks like this.

How the Tesla Model S is made — Behind the scenes: a wonderful video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_lfxPI5ObM

adriftRivers and tides of fog and clouds and air, flowing around the bridges of San Francisco.  A gorgeous video homage – Adrift by Simon Christen.  http://vimeo.com/69445362

xkcd offers perspective on the changing pace of modern life. Still… Twitter lobotomizes. http://xkcd.com/1227/

Forty websites that will make you cleverer right now!  http://inktank.fi/40-websites-that-will-make-you-cleverer-right-now/

AmericaWaterwaysGorgeous view of America’s waterways…Zoomable map highlights extensive #USGS data http://bit.ly/19h09CZ 

New life for hobbled planet-hunter #Kepler? Microlensing could allow continued search for #exoplanets http://bit.ly/18XSU66 

Quirky Quark Quartet…First particle containing four quarks is confirmed http://bit.ly/19OqZoK 

We need a Fixer not just a #Maker Movement  http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/06/qq_thompson/

The difference between Geeks & Nerds — based on Twitter Research: http://www.bitrebels.com/geek/differences-geeks-nerds-twitter-research/

This Robotics Dad makes me feel wholly inadequate as a father! https://www.sparkfun.com/news/1159

Chinese anti-pervert stockings. Girls wear these hairy panty hose to deter men with inappropriate intentions. http://bit.ly/18Fx9EW

Flash Mob – re-enacts Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Ten epochal inventors who did not get rich.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23179103

Existential Star Wars: If Sartre had co-written StarWars! http://bit.ly/177HG8s

Here’s what Elon Musk’s new project may look like: http://io9.com/heres-what-elon-musks-secret-project-might-actually-l-793683502

Ten of the scariest aircraft landings caught on video.  http://jalopnik.com/the-ten-scariest-aircraft-landings-caught-on-video-866278053

Like Synthpop electronic music?  Try “Drunken Saucer Attack” and others by Talin. https://soundcloud.com/music-by-talin/carpe-noctem

The great Pitch Drop experiment.  Since 1927, only eight droplets of the decade-slow goo have plummeted from funnel to cup.  Finally, caught in the act! http://bit.ly/13lRr0x

All right, this is fascinating. Why are testicles kept in a vulnerable dangling sac? It’s not why you think. http://slate.me/1bZzjmy

or follow more tweets at: https://twitter.com/DavidBrin

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Calling all flash mobs! Defend the planet from noisy fools!

On Science 2.0, Hank Campbell interviews the folks from Lone Signal who plan to beam “messages to ET” starting on Monday, targeting signals at the Gliese 526 star system. Read their profit-and-ego-centered rationalizations, then scroll to the bottom and see the announcement of their opening party in New York City on June 17.

Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to get a flash mob to picket the event? New Yorkers, think about it, will you? Half-serious and half in jest? But aimed at getting real discussion going.

And you SF Bay Area street theater folk… there’s an opportunity for you too! (See below.)

For background from the “dissident” community, see what i09 says about it: New Project to Message Aliens is both Useless and Potentially Reckless, where George Dvorsky writes, “No one has given them permission to do this, nor have they consulted the larger community.” Nevertheless, “This is the perfect opportunity for people who don’t like their money,” to purchase credits to send messages to space.

ShoutingCosmos… then go into greater depth via my own paper on METI, Should We Be Shouting at the Cosmos? — unveiling how many specious assumptions these guys make.  Like the hoary old (but technically disproved) cliche that “the cat is already out of the bag and the horses have already left the barn” — because of past TV signals like “I love Lucy.”  It is an old wives tale, refuted by real science.

Let’s be plain, this is not science and these are not scientists.  They are pulling a stunt.  They are willing to fundamentally alter one of our planet’s observable properties by orders of magnitude – a kind of deliberate pollution – while shrugging off and pooh-poohing any effort to get them to TALK about it first with scientific peers, before screaming “yoohoo” on our behalf. Those who refuse such discussion — shrugging aside any need or moral obligation to consult the rest of us — are the ones practicing censorship.

dishantennaAnd point of fact, calm and openly collegial discussion is all we have asked! Dr. John Billingham of NASA’s SETI program, Senior U.S. diplomat Michael Michaud and astronomers like Dr. James Benford and me.  Contrast our decades patiently working in this area with these people who are willing to throw dice with human destiny based on impulse, ego, and a profit motive, without ever bothering to converse with the wide array of real scientists who might offer useful insights about risk and benefits. Eager to gamble our posterity based on untested assumptions, these are not responsible persons.  My deepest hope is that they will not someday be remembered the way La Malinche (look her up) is recalled by the native peoples of Mexico. But that precedent should be on our minds.

ShallWeShoutThose who wish to explore more deeply can find resources at: SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

And yes, I have been exploring concepts of the alien in both science and fiction for a very very long time!  (I portray many of these concepts in Existence and in  short stories.)

Look, I won’t convince most of you.  But if some of you live happen to know some theatrical or vigorous types near Manhattan, who might want to let the press attending that “gala” opening know there are two sides? And you others who dwell in the San Francisco Bay area,  it shouldn’t be hard to find the newly recommissioned Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel Valley, CA and let them know how you feel on June 18, 2013.  Call in press and get your faces on TV!

Even better, open public awareness to a new form of human generated “pollution” that – though unlikely – might (a slight but real risk) endanger our kids. Make clear that such endeavors merit discussion.  All we have ever asked is to talk about it, first.

== And if you thought that was far out… ==

NewOthernesscoverA couple of really creepy ones for the Predictions Registry!  Or for the predictions wiki some of you keep, tracking my veracity. (Oh but am I proud to have predicted these?)

First, one reader wrote in “Saw this and thought of your story ‘Natu-Life’!  See a Terrarium for growing Edible insects in your home.

Another fan pointed out, “This link reminded me of your disturbing story “Piecework” – (one of my “ickier” tales!) – Woman wants to give birth to a shark!  Ai Hasegawa envisions women giving birth to endangered species…or even to their own food. Eeek! I’m not sure I want credit for that prediction…

You can find both tales in Otherness.

==Other stuff of a sci-fi-ish bent== 

A fun if slow-to-load graphic: Sci Fi characters who survived their planet’s destruction.

Amazon Storyteller lets you upload a story/script and produce a customizable storyboard.

== And finally ==

BTRiconMy podcast radio appearance on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd can be accessed now!  We start with transparency and secrecy and all that but go on the sci fi and SETI and other big picture talk-a-thon topics.

…and… a perfect one minute film that distills so much about relationships… and is hilarious as well.

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Science – nostalgia and foresight

got_civilization_magnetFirst some nostalgia for the future!  Need that gift for your nerdy sci fi friend? Underbrain offers T-shirts, mugs and caps with all sorts of logos from David Brin’s Uplift Universe – symbols of the Five Galaxies, dolphins & chimps posing for the Uplift Center, and the Terragens Marines patch! And the Eye-Q symbol for the Quantum Eye oracle computer in Existence. Got civilization? This will ensure that you do!

Ah, but the future used to be so cool! Some of us old timers recall the Sunday newspaper comic “Our New Age“, a shining example of techno-utopian idealism written by Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus between 1958  and 1975. Spilhaus, a distinguished academic whom JFK appointed to help run Worlds’ Fairs, responded to questions about his wide range of activities with the following quotation that I find especially apropos and inspiring:

“I don’t do ‘so many things.’ I do one. I think about the future.” — Athelstan Spilhaus, creator of the Our New Age series of science comic strips in the 1950s. Some of the strip’s predictions – e.g. consulting books electronically at vast distances – were on target.  Less so this one suggesting intelligent trained kangaroos as waiters and butlers by 2056!

== Distributed Science? ==

A sky-monitoring project, called SpaceView, is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program that enrolls the talents of amateur astronomers to help protect American space assets from orbital trash. DARPA has been becoming way, way cool in the last 4 years, sponsoring the Maker Movement and dozens of citizen-empowerment or distributed inventiveness endeavors. This has long been a focus of mine. I quoted DARPA’s  director discussing this, in my graphic novel about citizen-level manufacturing, TINKERERS.

A field that should be especially ripe for this? Distributed SETI! See how the SETI League’s Project Argus would (with help from some millionaire) get 5000 amateur radio telescopes set up around the world, watching the whole sky, instead of a tiny patch at a time.  Nothing could ever sneak up on us!  Take that you nasty UFOs.

And if we ever find nasty science-villains?  Well then. Get yer Heroes of Science action figures! Max Planck! J. Robert Oppenheimer!  Marie Curie! Alas, they’re Photoshopped, and not actual plastic … but perhaps with a Kickstarter campaign they might attain reality? We need double as many, just for starters.  Galileo and Newton and Jonas Salk and Craig Venter and Kip Thorne and Louis Pasteur…. But… but what about sci fi authors? What about scientist sci fi authors?

Take this hero, for example! In Slate: Kim Stanley Robinson shows us the path of reasonableness on geoengineering, or  “terraforming” the Earth.  It should not substitue or reduce a scintilla our determination to do better at not polluting out nest.  But KSR also wisely suggests we should explore one or two ways to have a “Plan B.”

== New Minds on the Horizon ==

The Navy is pondering retiring its program enlisting dolphins and sea lions to do sophisticated security work, finding mines, recovering objects and guarding against sneak attacks. The program is very successful and adaptable and I’ve met some of the animals who are kept healthy by a very extensive — and expensive — infrastructure of support staff. Only now the Navy is building an inventory of underwater robots that can do many of the same things at lower cost.  And yet…some very important studies  and insights have come out of the marine mammal programs. All the dolphins were born there and always come back of their own free will. There’s no program like it. And there may be long range outcomes…

Speaking of which. Ray Kurzweil’s new book, How to Create a Mind: The Science of Human Thought Revealed presents a discussion of artificial intelligence, exploring how the brain works…and how we can reverse engineer the human brain to produce a non-biological brain.

Along those lines…IBM recently announced a simulation of 530 billion neurons, 100 trillion synapses on supercomputer. Of course, all of this assumes that synapses are the only features that must be emulated in the “connectome” to simulate human consciousness. Therer are hints of intra-cellular computing within neurons and astrocytes… but let’s not spoil the celebration.

And the world’s new fastest computer, Titan, housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, owes its rapid computing power to graphics processing units (GPUs) — developed for video games.

== Your Potpourri of Cool Advances ==

Only now, extrapolating… a little Uplift anyone? A newly discovered gene appears to have played a crucial role in human brain development and may shed light on how we learned to use tools and language. Apparently, the gene emerged fully functional out of non-coding genetic material, previously termed “junk DNA”, in a startlingly brief interval of evolutionary time. Until now, it has been remarkably difficult to see this process in action. This new molecule sprang from nowhere (or was “donated?) at a time when our species was undergoing dramatic changes: living longer, walking upright, learning how to use tools and how to communicate.

The key thing about disasters is to learn from them and plan to do better next time.  And perhaps the next time a super-storm hits Manhattan — and other urban areas — super-sized balloons will be on-hand to inflate and prevent flooding of transportation tunnels.

New battery-capacitor technology based on graphene: SMCs gets their amazing performance by using a cathode and anode that contain very large graphene surfaces. When fabricating the cell, the researchers put lithium metal (in the form of particles or foil) at the anode. Now, we can expect a lot of news items like this one and the odds are that a majority will be false leads or busts or disappointments.  But the curves are already fantastic.  Next year’s Tesla cars will have vastly improved range and the next year’s will have reduced battery weight. And within five years no one will be wanting internal combustion cars for their commute or drive-around-town car.  Get used to the idea!

Electrochromic windows promise to cut energy costs and respond to inhabitants’ needs with the speed of electric current. A thin layer of tungsten oxide sandwiched between two glass panes can make it shine as-u-like.

New artificial muscles made from nanotech yarns and infused with paraffin wax can lift more than 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more mechanical power than the same size natural muscle.

Hydrogen is an attractive fuel source because it can easily be converted into electric energy and gives off no greenhouse emissions. New results now increase the output and lower cost of current light-driven hydrogen-production systems. The chemists say their work advances what is sometimes considered the “holy grail” of energy science—efficiently using sunlight to provide clean, carbon-free energy for vehicles and anything that requires electricity. Still a long way to go.

Companies that have built multimillion-dollar factories say they are very close to beginning large-scale, commercial production of these so-called cellulosic biofuels, and others are predicting success in the months to come.

Although the overall size and asymmetrical shape of Einstein’s brain were normal, the prefrontal, somatosensory, primary motor, parietal, temporal and occipital cortices were extraordinary. These may have provided the neurological underpinnings for some of his visuospatial and mathematical abilities… and his penchant for “thought experiments” projecting himself into hypothetical realms.

Recall the “OttoDogs” in EXISTENCE? Now comes a detector that uses microfluidic nanotechnology to mimic the biological mechanism behind canine scent receptors. The device is both highly sensitive to trace amounts of certain vapor molecules, and able to tell a specific substance apart from similar molecules.

Three innovative new energy technologies are explored in the current issue of Technology and Innovation — Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors:

  • Tidal currents and ocean waves that can be recovered using ocean thermal conversion technology.
  • Infrared thermal radiation (more than half of the power provided by the Sun).
  • A new nanophosphor-based electroluminesence lighting device that caters to the exact wavelengths of light required for photosynthesis in indoor, hydroponic agriculture.

== And finally: Science weeps =

Tea Party senatorial candidates (and troglodytes) Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were not anomalies, alas. It seems that every anti-science cultist in the U.S. House of Representatives GOP Caucus is eager to join the House Science Committee, packing it not only with Climate Change denialists, but men (entirely) who proclaim the Earth to be six or nine thousand years old, who repeat bizarre theories about rape, who decry vaccination, who rail against genetic research and who denounce sciences as diverse as geology, ecology and meteorology. Do not blame the people. The total number of national votes for the two major parties’ congressional  candidates was not won by the GOP.  Blame Gerrymandering.

As I’ve long emphasized, things weren’t always this uniform on the right.  Sure, there were witch hunts against scientists in the 1950s… balanced by the fact that Jonas Salk was the most popular man in America and soon so would be the NASA techies.  And a bipartisan consensus in Congress supported Adm Hyman Rickover’s upheaval of the US Navy to go nuclear. For every idiot decying the inherent inequality of minorities, there was a William F. Buckley inviting great minds on his show.  And not all Republicans helped Big Tobacco and Big Smog do their multli-decade obstruction campaigns. (So similar to climate denialism, today, using some of the same tactics and firms.)

This past diversity among Republicans is illustrated in a fascinating piece in The Chronicle: Why Conservatives turned against science: early environmental issues were bipartisan, by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes.

Summary: “Climate scientists came under attack not just because their research threatened the oil industry (although it certainly did that), but also because they had exposed significant market failures. Pollution is a market failure because, in general, polluters do not pay a price for environmental damage (and this includes not just polluting industries, like electrical utilities, but also anyone who uses a product—like gasoline—that takes up a portion of the planetary sink without paying for it). Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank, has declared climate change “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.”

And this: “Accepting the need to correct market failures required one to concede the need to reform capitalism—in short, to concede the reality of market failure and limits. This became increasingly difficult for Republicans during the 1990s and 2000s. Party leadership began supporting primary challenges against party members deemed insufficiently conservative, driving many moderates into retirement, and some out of the party entirely. Some Republicans who had acknowledged the reality of global warming lost their seats; others—including Mitt Romney—began to deny the problem, knowing that if they didn’t they would not be electable as Republicans….”

Ah, but there is movement elsewhere.  That core institution of international capitalism, the World Bank, has issued a major report examining the likely economic outcomes  (mostly disastrous) expected from Global Climate Change.

Remember, the recent election was not the core event, but a sideshow to the main battle. A “culture war” that was not chosen or started by those who side with science and reason and evidenc-based thinking But it has becomes clear, that kind of thinking — and a civilization that supports it — is fighting for its life. And as the great historian Arnold Toynbee said.  When a society turns its back on its “creative minority”… that is when most kingdoms, nations, empires and commonwealths fail.

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Are we alone in the cosmos, cursed by Fermi’s paradox?

And now the news from Alpha Centauri

(Oh, I’ve waited for so long to utter those words! News. From Alpha Centauri. Wow)…

ALONECOSMOSAfter an incredible decade, in which the number of planets known beyond our solar system increased from zero to several hundred, with a couple of thousand potential “hits” still to verify, astronomers have now detected a roughly Earth-sized world orbiting between the two stars nearest to our system, Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B.  Much too hot to sustain life, it nevertheless will help in narrowing down the search space for others.  Moreover, now we have a target for the first interstellar probes, which are already under discussion.  Indeed, the youngest of you readers may live to see them launched.

Ah, but this raises the perennial question.  If planets are more common than we ever thought, then what about life-worlds? And even alien intelligences?

I have been involved in this topic all my life, having grown up in Southern California, the part of human civilization least rooted in the familiar, traditional or… perhaps… sane.  I am best-known today as an author of novels and stories about our many possible-plausible futures, including some that explore a wide range of possible extraterrestrial civilizations. My scientific career, ranging from optics to astrophysics, led to papers about SETI in the 1980s that include what is still the only full review article in the field, compiling all then public theories for what I called The Great Silence, but that is now more widely known as the Fermi Paradox. (See a collection of articles and speculations about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).)

Today, we’ll dive into the Fermi Paradox, in some detail. But first a little background.

The first time I witnessed the subject of extraterrestrial intelligence brought up in a scientific setting was at a Caltech physics colloquium in 1968, when I was just seventeen. The speaker remarked on the remote possibility that pulsars — recently discovered radio sources that emitted bursts in perfect rhythm — might turn out to be beacons of an advanced civilization. They were, after all, several thousand times more regular in their repetitive “beepings” than any other astronomical radio source ever discovered.

The speaker was only partly serious, though pulsars to this day are listed in catalogues with the prefix LGM — a smiling reference to “Little Green Man.” Despite that whimsy,  sides were quickly taken, and it was soon very clear that most of those with tenure didn’t like this kind of talk at all.

But attitudes were changing rapidly during that decade — the exciting era of Apollo moon landings and stunning pop music. A few years later some of those who seemed angriest in 1968 applauded loudly when Carl Sagan unveiled the gold plaque that was to be placed upon Pioneer 10, the first human artifact launched on a trajectory that would take it out of the solar system.

Today that plaque is famous, along with “messages” that followed on Pioneer 11 and the Voyager probes. They depict the nude figures of a woman and a man, an arm raised in greeting, a schematic of the planets of our system, and a rayed pattern of lines and binary dots representing the most prominent pulsars detectable from Earth. The pulsar map should enable any distant beings who recover the spacecraft to trace its point of origin within a light-year in space, and its launch date to within six months.  Oh, and the Voyager probes famously carry disks with recorded sounds and images of Earth. In fact, no scientist expects the messages to be recovered by aliens, though our own speedy descendants may collect Voyager for a museum.

Ever since the 1960s another, related project went through many ups and downs.  SETI programs (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) prospered and withered under public excitement and ridicule, a cycle that continues even today… and that we may discuss another time. But let’s stay focused.

Of course other-worlds and their inhabitants had already long been the topic of stories — some great and others dismal — on the pages of science fiction pulps of the thirties and forties, then more insightful thought experiments by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury Robert Heinlein and others.  A tradition that extends through authors like C.J. Cherryh, Greg Bear and Dan Simmons all the way to more recent speculations about alien thought processes by Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks.

In fact, this tradition goes back much farther, to wanderers’ tales like Journey to the West and the Odyssey. The expansion of our horizons of interest may be among the most human of all activities, as we stretch our gaze and curiosity beyond the mere present, the mere town, nation or even planet.  If we ever do encounter the alien, it can be hoped that the vast literature of science fiction gedankenexperiments (thought experiments) about contact will be consulted by our wisest sages, who will be amazed and enlightened by the vast range of possibilities we humans have already imagined.

== The Essential Questions About Alien Life ==

The Fermi Paradox refers to a question posed by the great physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1940s, demanding: “If it seems so likely the universe may host other life forms, how come we haven’t seen any signs?”  Not just of radio beacons, but of mighty structures that our own descendants might someday build out there in space. Or leakage from chatty commerce between civilizations.  Or indeed, any trace that the Earth was visited during the 2 billion years that it was “prime real estate” with an oxygen atmosphere, but nothing higher than slime molds to defend it.

It is a fascinating topic… perhaps the fascinating topic.  For it takes you from pondering the birth and death of stars and planets to the dynamics of atmospheres and the potential origins or life… to intelligence (what is it and how many varieties can it come in?)… all the way to the stark possibility that few technological species survive their tense adolescence, attempting to cross a minefield of potentially lethal errors, from nuclear war or designer plagues to ecological devastation or cultural stagnation…

… all of which I talk about in my most recent novel, EXISTENCE.   In ways that I hope readers find both fascinating and thrilling, embedded in an exciting, near-future plot  There’s a new idea on almost every page.  And why not? I’ve been cataloguing the possibilities for what feels like eons.

== The Drake Equation ==

The most common tool that folks use, in appraising the Great Silence is a little gem called the Drake Equation (D.E.), concocted by the early SETI pioneer Frank Drake when he was at the Arecibo National Radio Observatory. It remains the most widely accepted tool for xenological speculation.

Let N = the current number of technological civilizations in the galaxy. Then,

N = R P n(e) f(1) f(i) f(c) L

Here R is the average rate of production of suitable stars since the formation of the galaxy, approximately one per year. (The current rate is slower. R is an average that includes the burst of star creation early in the galaxy’s history.)  f(s) is the fraction of stars that are accompanied by stably orbiting planets. Factor n(e) is the average number of planets per system that have the requisite conditions to support life.

The other factors include f(1), the fraction of these congenial planets on which life actually occurs; f(i), the fraction of these on which “intelligence” appears; f(c), the fraction of intelligent species that attain technological civilizations, and L, the average lifespan of each species.

The D.E. certainly seems to line up the varied factors involved in bringing sapient life to prominence in our galaxy.  All the terms on the far left of the D.E. have to do with the prevalence of stable, reliable stars… and then how many have planets. There are plenty of stable, long-lived G-type dwarf stars like the Sun out there… about 6 percent of the galaxy’s several hundred billion stars. Are there planets circling many of them? (We astronomers were always sure there were, for reasons of angular momentum that I won’t go into here. We’ve grown a lot more confident in recent years! Though mysteries still abound.)

== The likelihood of life ==

What are the chances of life erupting spontaneously on isolated worlds? It appeared to do so swiftly on Earth, almost as soon as the planet cooled enough for oceans to form. Three scientific discoveries and one useful philosophical tool gave researchers the courage to make crude estimates about the distribution of life among the stars.

The first discovery came when it was found almost ridiculously easy to make amino acids, and other precursors to living matter, from abundant molecules such as methane, ammonia and cyanogen. Stanley Miller subjected a water solution of these substances to electrical discharge and ultraviolet radiation and got an organic “soup” in short order. Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute accomplished the same thing by a freezing process. The high pressures of ice formation not only gave up amino acids, but the purine adenine as well. (Adenine is one of the four building blocks of DNA, and is the core of ATP, adenosine tri-phosphate, which controls the energy economy of the living cell.

So many mechanisms have been found that can change crude precursors into “biological” molecules that today organic activity seems almost an automatic consequence of the distribution of chemical elements in the universe.

The second major discovery supports this point of view. During the last two decades, radio astronomers — listening to narrow emission lines from interstellar space — have discovered great clouds of complex molecules: ethylene, formaldehyde, ethyl alcohol; some even claim evidence for — you guessed it — adenine. (Astronomer and science fiction author Sir Fred Hoyle, looking at starlight scattered from interstellar dust, even thought that the dust itself might actually be something akin to bacteria… living cells about a micron in size, in diffuse colonies spanning light-years and outmassing suns. It’s an extravagant speculation, but fun to think about.)

It’s clear, then, from basic chemistry and radio astronomy, that the basic materials for life are out there. What about the right environments? We have to assume, until we have reason to think otherwise, that complex life must grow and evolve to intelligence on planets orbiting stable stars. Are there other “nursery worlds” like the Earth? Or might ecosystems more likely be found under the ice coverings of “roofed worlds” like Europa and Enceledus, where life-giving heat rises from below and any denizens would never see the stars?

== The Role of Sapience ==

Assuming planets are common and life is not rare, then how do we explain the Fermi Paradox?  Well, some hold that the factor that’s small — that keeps the numbers down –if f(l), the likelihood that a planet will create an intelligent species.  After all, it appears to have happened just once in 4.5 billion years on Earth… though some question whether it has happened yet, on this planet, at all!

What about dolphins, apes, sea lions, crows, parrots… even prairie dogs and octopus, who now show signs of some linguistic ability and problem solving savvy?  They all seem to crowd under a “glass ceiling” that none has ever broken through (except us).  Could that represent some kind of law of nature, and might we be a fluke?

A separate question, that I explore in EXISTENCE and also in my Uplift Series of novels – (now being re-released in the UK in beautiful omnibus editions by Orbit Books) — is whether we should start to help other species burst through that glass ceiling and join us, as fully sapient fellow citizens of a much broader and more diverse Earthly culture.  The end result, that I portray in Startide Rising and The Uplift War (both won the Hugo Award for best novel), is a much richer and wiser civilization.

But oh, the pain of the two centuries it might take, to get there.  Are we willing – and sure enough of our skill and compassion – to embark on such a journey? Would it be the height of hubris and arrogance? Or would it be the ultimate act of selfishness to reject this challenge? To say to such species “we made it to the level of art and literature and ideas and science… and we refuse to offer anybody else a hand!”

== The Minefield Ahead of Us ==

All of the factors in the Drake Equation that we’ve discussed so far are ones that might explain the Fermi Paradox by keeping down the numbers of intelligent beings who reach our level.  If any of those factors were responsible for the Great Silence, then that means the Big Filter lies behind us.  We are rare… but the galaxy lies open before us and nothing stands in our way!

Then come the grouches who insist that life and intelligence and good planets and all that must be abundant, but that the Filter lies ahead of us.  Remember the minefield of possible mistakes that a “smart” race might make, from nuclear war to eco-devastation? (I explore a much longer list in EXISTENCE.) With that long litany of potential failure modes in mind, these folks ask how long any technological species can survive that endless expanse of snake pits, quicksand and possible ways to commit suicide. All of which falls into the Drake Equation factor “L” or how long such a species can survive.

(As it turns out, Drake left out several possible factors, but I’ll leave it as an exercise for the fanatics among you to read my astrophysical article about this.)

Suffice it to say that these two sides — those who think the Filter lies behind us and those who cry “look out!” — are in furious debate to this day.  And it may surprise you that the “grouches” include many in the SETI community, those looking the hardest with radio telescopes, who openly admit that they are searching for the exceptions who do not kill themselves.

Again, there is no topic like this one, so rife with mind-blowing possibilities… and so free of any data about actual alien life! And yet so prone to sudden, premature conclusions, in which smart people declare “I know the answer!” without a shred of supporting evidence.

And why not?  This is, after all, the greatest Rorsach Test… a mirror or ink blot on which we project our personalities and notions and worries about our own species… our own selves. (And if so, what does it say about me, that I am one of the few saying “wait! We don’t know enough yet. Don’t jettison any of the possibilities too soon. The universe may yet surprise us.)

And yes, the most painless and entertaining way to learn more is probably on the pages of my novel (I promise).  But I’ll supply plenty of other links for those who relish our most precious human gift.  The wonder of curiosity.  The insatiable thirst to know about what we know… and to speculate about what we don’t and to explore this vast realm. A topic we all find fascinating… and as-yet we understand so poorly.


Filed under future, science, space

A Sudden Burgeoning Into Space? Especially Amateur SETI!

The Exoplanet next door: Astronomers have discovered the lowest-mass planet yet orbiting a Sun-like star. But the even-more exciting news is that it orbits α Centauri B, a member of the stellar system that is our Solar System’s nearest neighbour. Although nearly identical to Earth in mass, the planet is much closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun, meaning that it is likely a scorched and barren rock. Nevertheless, its astronomical proximity to Earth will undoubtedly stir dreams of interstellar exploration, particularly as astronomers search α Centauri for more hospitable worlds.

A brown dwarf or a failed star? Astronomers find a truly lonely planet: a “homeless” wandering exoplanet without a star.  The free-floating planet CFBDSIR J214947.2-040308.9 was discovered by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Array.

BepiColumbo: The European Space Agency’s new ‘flying fridge‘ mission to Mercury will require a refrigerator and huge radiator on a van-sized spacecraft orbiting the mysterious planet closest to the sun.. (Recall the “refrigerator laser” in my novel Sundiver? The hardest of hard sci fi.) The mission is named after the great Italian space expert Bepi Columbo whom I met a couple of times.

Contemplating a New Date for the End of the Universe...Hank Campbell takes a fascinating look at the weird speedup/slowdown/speedup of (the current model of) the Universe. Consider this: Today’s model has our Big Bang cosmos first (1) expanding superluminally hyperfast in so-called “inflation”… then (2) slowing down because of intense gravity (when things were closer together… then (3) speeding up again because of dark energy.   Will there come a point in “time” when we turn toward the fourth wall, give a cold stare at the audience of this funhouse simulation, and say to them: “You’re kidding, right? Who writes this stuff?”

==SETI & the Fermi Paradox==

The asteroid belt in our solar system, located between Mars and Jupiter, is a region of millions of space rocks that sits near the “snow line,” which marks the border of a cold region where volatile material such as water ice is far enough from the sun to remain condensed and not a gas. When Jupiter formed just beyond the snow line, its powerful gravity prevented nearby material inside its orbit from coalescing and building planets.  Instead, Jupiter’s influence caused the material to collide and break apart. These fragmented rocks settled into an asteroid belt around the sun, but not a belt so huge that it would relentlessly bombard small, inner worlds. This combination is calculated to be rare, in perhaps just 4% of solar systems.  That rarity offers yet one more new, rather daunting candidate for the Fermi Paradox.  

An excellent and rather cogent overview article in Astrobiology Magazine summarized the current status of thinking about a difficult problem – how to detect “leakage” radio from nearby advanced civilizations.

A core focus of the article is progress that is slowing being made in designing and planning the billion dollar “Square Kilometer Array” — a vast assortment of interferometry-linked dishes that will be set up primarily in South Africa, with other support arrays and Australia and South America.  It’s worth reading on that basis, alone.  But the added implications for SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) also get a fairly detailed appraisal.

I find it fascinating that the entire baseline assumption is attempting to eavesdrop on leakage.  No talk of beacons or intentional attempts at communication.  (SETI zealots have given up on finding vast, blaring-eager “tutorial beacons” of the sort once optimistically promised by Sagan and Drake, it is happenstance leakage that they now speak of searching for.) The article does mention – in passing – the possibility of “wow”-type pings, but without going into detail — e.g. that such pings might be deliberate, as advanced ETIS catalogue all the nearby worlds that have oxygen atmospheres and traces of life, then poke at them every century or so, as if to ask: “Is there anybody there yet?  How about now?”

(Demonstrating the staggering economic advantages of that scenario for deliberate contact was a key point of the Benford-cubed paper.   

It would have been nice if the article had mentioned the amateur alternative that satisfies most of these new ways of viewing the sky search. The SETI League’s almost dormant Argus Project aimed to foster 5000 backyard-networked amateur ratio telescopes, allowing full-sky coverage to catch any future wow-pings.  Alas, Argus has faded away till there is just one fully functional  backyard station left.

In my opinion, a billionaire who wanted to trump Paul Allen would spend 10% as much as he did on the Allen Array, by funding the design and subsidized sale of a turn-key backyard Argus telescope kit. A couple of thousand of these, and we’d catch most transient major rafio phenomena, a tremendous boon to science… and a blow to all #$#! sneaky UFOs everywhere!

And now the amazing synchronicity-news.  While I was signing my new novel at Comicon — a novel that includes mention of amateur sky searches — a fellow stepped up to show me pictures of his baby… the only SETI-League Argus backyard radio telescope still functioning.  Retired engineer James Brown of Del Mar, CA, also known by his amateur radio call sign W6KYP.

How cool it would be if we got thousands of such dishes operating.  Networked so anything they spotted was instantly checked, then reported to the professionals with the big dishes.  That the way this show ought to go.

=== A sudden burgeoning into space? ===

The spaceflight firm Excalibur Almaz estimates that it can sell about 30 seats between 2015 and 2025, for $150 million each, aboard moon-bound missions on a Salyut-class space station driven by electric hall-effect thrusters. CEO Art Dula (who also runs the Heinlein Trust) estimates it will take 24 to 30 months to refurbish the ex-Soviet spacecraft and space stations the company already owns.

Interesting and hopeful.  Stack this news alongside the recent achievements of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Burt Rutan’s work with Virgin Galactic on suborbital tourisms, plus glimmers of excitement from tech-eager billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen, who have projects of their own. Is all of this happening because the technologies are finally ripening?  Or because society is ready (at last) to shake off the doldrums of the Naughty Oughts?  Or…   should we notice the common denominator here?  The clue in this news article… $150 million a ticket?

Gee wiz.  It’s not for nothing that, in my new novel, I portray spaceflight as a playground for the uber rich.

But, we may at last be ready to embark on the equivalent of the great age of barnstorming aircraft development in the 1920s. If so, it will come about from a mix of government investment in meticulous process and detail—and the unleashing of private ambition.

==Space Snippets==

National Geographic online features a photo tour of coming manned space ventures, accompanied by commentary by NASA consultant David Brin.

A space elevator on the moon? LiftPort is pursuing initial steps of tethered towers and tether-climbing robots, with the long-term goal of placing an elevator on the moon by 2020.

Impressed with Curiosity?    Well let’s recall that Spirit and Opportunity weren’t shabby either.  Watch this cool video on how they got there.  (I was on the committee that chose their names from submissions from school kids.  very cool.)

Comet collisions every six seconds explains a long-standing stellar mystery.

Heh. Nifty. Yo-yos in space.

==Visualizing the Universe==

Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, by Michael Benson, is a stunning collection of interplanetary images.

Google has created a visualization of the 100,000 stars nearest to the solar system, based on actual astronomical data. You can zoom in all the way to the solar system to see how small Neptune’s orbit is relative to the Oort Cloud, or zoom right out to see how puny 100,000 stars is in just our quarter of the Milky Way galaxy. Intended for Chrome.

Watching a particularly beautiful movie of the sun helps show how the lines between science and art can sometimes blur. This NASA Goddard movie of solar photosphere gradients might as well have been signed by Vincent Van God.

The latest of many “powers of ten” online graphics … this one is way-cool.

Another source of gorgeous images: National Geographic’s Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond.  Okay then… signs of optimism and hope.  Now let’s build a civilization that’s confident and science-friendly and eager and agile and ready to go out there!

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Filed under science, space

“Solutions” to the Fermi Paradox – Contest Winners! (Part One)

Prepare for a feast of ideas (below) about why we seem alone in the cosmos.  But first…

Illustration by Patrick Farley

A wonderful review of Existence from io9: “The story is about life — though he’s calling it Existence, since not all the characters are alive in a biological sense. It’s all about the chaos and passion of adolescence — the designs we make for our lives when we’re young, before unforeseeable events send us spinning into strange new orbits. It’s about the way the world narrows and focuses, as hobbies turn to avocations, legacies are considered and the afterlife looms….     The book proposes that there is not one answer to Fermi’s paradox, but hundreds of answers, ranging from the quotidian to the weird. It also proposes that the best way to confront these answers is deeply human: to be creative, diverse, compromising, curious. That to reach Heaven — or something like it — requires that we look beyond ourselves, beyond humanity (all six species of it), and into the universe beyond.”

=== Winners of the “why are we alone” contest ===

My latest novel, Existence (published yesterday) reveals dozens of scenario about first contact, including a couple of unique ones concerning the Fermi Paradox or The Great Silence, as the quandary of why we have never encountered extraterrestrial civilization has been called. I’ve written about all this extensively in scientific papers and in fiction.

Only then I figured, why not go all-modern and crowd-source this question! So I put it to the folks at may Facebook Fan site, spurred by the offer of a prize — a hardcover first printing of EXISTENCE going to the top vote-getter.  We got a fair number of submissions and the top responses are presented here, ranging from the serious and thoughtful to the humorous and ironic…

…starting with our Grand Prize winner, Mr. Tony Farley, a physics teacher from California.

#1 We don’t have the capabilities to detect anything but a tightly beamed signal. And like detecting the sound of a jet in the sky, where you can see it, is not where you can detect signals from it. You have to point your microphone behind it. With tightly beamed signals over galactic distances, you have to know the proper motion of the planet and its sun and they have to know our proper motion to beam it to us. If they are ten light years away, they have to beam it to where we were ten years ago and we have to point our detectors to where they were ten years ago. All the SETI searches ignore this and hope a civilization is sending out a ridiculously powerful beam in all directions.  –Tony Farley

Tony Farley has also published a physics text, The Electric Force, for the iPad. (I don’t suppose he is related to Patrick Farley, the brilliant web artist who created the vivid preview trailer for Existence? )

In fact, Tony, you are partly on-target with this one. But first, where you are wrong. SETI searches engaged in by the top group near Berkeley do compensate for motions and Doppler shifts and orbital variations to a degree that would amaze you.  They can detect a signal that is spectrum-varying with time and compensate for that as the source spins and rotates and revolves around a noisy star. These are clever folks.

Still, you are right that they still make untenable assumptions. They search the sky with narrow listening beams… looking for aliens who might be BROADcasting hello signals in all directions.  But there’s no reason that even a beneficent race would do that, around the clock, for eons.  Horribly expensive.  They would, as you say, “ping” likely targets like our solar system, maybe once a century.  To detect such pings, instead of one expensive SETI program in one place, we should have a thousand backyard receivers, networked, scanning the whole sky at once.  Look up Project Argus of the SETI League!

And congratulations on your prize! A hardcover of Existence is winging its way to you.

#2 The universe is big in space AND time. It would be a major accomplishment for a technological society to remain intact for a million years, yet that is just a blip on the scale of the universe. How many galactic empires came and went before the Earth was even capable of supporting life? –Thomas Nackid

A good question.  And yes, we might simply not overlap with the others!  But note, Thomas, your assumption is that the numbers of tech races must be very small (and that may be the case) in order for the statistical non-overlap idea to work.  But if there are numerous long-lived species, then we get the Fermi Paradox. And if they travel?  A lot?  Colonization changes all the numbers!

Even if they just explore and don’t colonize, then the Earth would likely have been visited.  But even one toilet flush during the Archaean would have changed life on Earth in ways we’d detect in the rocks.

#3 Life, even intelligent life, is common in the universe, but advanced civilizations are rare, and hard to find in the small window of time that we have been looking, and not all advanced civilizations are nice. Getting between stars and communicating between stars is hard, and having someone close enough to communicate with at the same time you’re communicating is rare, and sometimes perilous. We have not found anyone yet because we can only shout at our nearest neighbors, and our local neighborhood is currently empty, probably by chance and possibly by malice. –Ilithi Dragon

I am one of the SETI experts who has been arguing that the Great Silence may be telling us something.  “If all the races more advanced than us are being quiet… maybe they know something we don’t know?”

Several major voices in the field, Like former NASA SETI chief John Billingham, have joined me in resigning from major committees in protest over the SETI Institute’s role in helping clear a path for METI or “MESSAGE to ETI.”  See our complaint: Shouting at the Cosmos — or How SETI has taken a Worrisome Turn into Dangerous Territory.

#4 They won’t unscramble the signal until we put a deposit down.  –Lone Hanks

hrm… you REALLY want to read my novel EXISTENCE!  There will come a couple of moments when you just break down with guffaws!

Along those same lines: We haven’t yet chosen a intergalactic long distance carrier. —Christopher R. Vesely

#5 The “Do Not Feed the Humans” sign just past Pluto deters all but delinquents making crop circles.  –Kevin King

Ditto my answer to #4!

#6 Civilized people do not just drop in uninvited. –Eli Roth

We’ve been inviting!

Along those same lines: There may be a “Prime Directive” ethos that they stick to. –Glenn Brockett

That’s the “Zoo Hypothesis” that comes in dozens of variations… all of which assume either that the ETIS are few and share the same value system, or else have one heckuva police force…

I’ll toss in one last one:

As society gets rich enough and technologically sophisticated enough, eventually everyone is able to live in their own personal Matrix, customized to provide them with their ideal life. Soon after the civilization stops bothering to expand any further, as the perfect existence can already be found on their home planet and nothing more could be wanted. Humans have a rare neurological structure that prevents them from being satisfied with this sort of simulation. –Eneasz Brodski

See also a discussion of The Great Filter: Does a Galaxy Filled with Habitable Planets Mean Humanity is Doomed? on io9 — Robin Hanson’s concept that there may be some obstacle that consistently prevents species from reaching the technological stage where they can traverse interstellar distances.  (That’s the core topic in my new novel.)

Hey, we’ve run out of space (get it?) So we’ll go through the remaining top candidates next time.  Meanwhile, Congratulations Mr. Farley… and the rest of you for having lively minds!



Filed under science fiction

Longevity and Life Extension

I was interviewed about the likelihood that human lifespan can be extended indefinitely, any time soon. “When Will Life Expectancy Reach 200 Years? Aubrey de Grey and David Brin Disagree in Inteview” 

This is a topic I’ve covered in my article, Do We Really Want Immortality? Funny thing about these immortalist fellows.  Their calculations always seem to portray it happening in time to save them!  But in fact, the news from science seems to keep getting worse for them, not better… e.g. in recent insights into the vastly complex inner computation abilities of human neurons.  It is a case where I’ll be pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong.  But I feel grownups should focus on the guaranteed right bet… investing in our posterity.

To see how far back the fantasy goes, read about Gilgamesh and the Chinese First Emperor, who drank mercury in order to live forever… and died in his forties.  Or read the creepily familiar reasonings of very similar fanatics in Huxley’s brilliant (if slow) After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, a book that you find out on the very last page was actually a sci fi novel, all along!
This quasi-debate provoked a firestorm of controversy over on my Facebook page. One of my responses: I appreciate the enthusiasm of those urging me to BELIEVE(!) that tech-delivered eternal life is just around the bend. Indeed, I am told that BELIEVING(!) is essential to get there and that NOT believing might prevent it from happening. One fellow wrote:
“The power of your expectations is crucial. “

Um right. I get the same pitch from SETI zealots, who proclaim that detection of advanced alien civilizations will result in scientific leaps that may solve all our problems.

Now bear in mind that I am a scientist and sci fi author and I have explored concepts of both future and alien with far more eagerness, breadth and relentlessness that any hundred others you will ever meet. I want us funding ten times as much scientific research as now. I support SETI and have served on some of the commissions, and my name is on the first contact rolladexes. I know all the singularity guys and have listened to them for hours.

So why do I — and Vernor Vinge, the coiner of the term “tech singularity” react with sighs and eye-rolls to all this fervent “hossanah” shouting over salvation from above or an imminent Day of Transcendence, when Death shalt be no more and ye true believers will all be rewarded…

…because we’ve heard it all before. The terminology may be different, but the PSYCHOLOGY is still the same as in every tent show revival meeting across 6,000 years. It’s not just the substitution of anecdotes for actual capabilities. (Lots of stem cell papers, but not one regrown nervous system, yet.) Nor the coincidence that Salvation Day always calculates out to be just in time for YOU!

None of that offends me. Heckfire, I hope you guys turn out to be right. It might happen. I think simplistic notions are stymied by recent results showing how vastly complicated the internal processes of a neuron are — that the intracellular automata interactions and computations going on in there are FAR more complex than just unrolling an charting the incredibly simple and easy human genome……but sure. Let’s all hope. In fact, lots of stuff discovered along the way might be Earth-saving. Like cheap tissue culture meat. That’d be great

But no, I’ll tell you what bugs me. It’s the psychology. The incredibly self-centered, solipsistic, self-serving, “I-am Soooooo-darned-important!” narcissism of the fantasy is what bugs me. The hand-rubbing, chortling I-am-So-gonna-live-forever! zealotry that seems never to entail ANY of the virtues that we’ve long associated with adulthood.

Dig it, find me the extropian who understands how we stand on the shoulders of every generation of parents who tried to raise better kids than themselves, or who ever speaks about the beauty of that chain of pay-forward generosity, the most tragic-poetic tale ever told. Or the noble honor we’ll all have, even if we die, if we can only be one of the most important of the pay-forward generations. ALL I hear is paeans to how grand it will be to receive the end result. Never anything about the OBLIGATION that falls upon us, from that great chain.

I see the quest for individual immortality as kinda cool, tempting… and fundamentally *irrelevant* to the Great Project that I have inherited — that WE have inherited. To build and improve the Enlightenment Civilization of Ben Franklin and the others. To ensure we never slump back into darkness. To build something like Star Trek that deserves to move outward. To make kids who are better than us…

…so much better that THEY will have ideas about what’s wise and good and proper — wisdom that’s far beyond ours. (BTW, this is happening.) Building that posterity is a far greater challenge, yet one our ancestors were up to. It is a project that is far more noble, precedented and plausible than some grand leap to transcendent immortal suppersmart godhood. It is the project that should have YOUR loyalty. And if we happen to get some of the goodies while doing all that, well then fine.

=== Would Extended Life Bring Cowardice? ===

In a related article, Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute (and my frequent nemesis on the issue of METI), speculates that living forever may be a bad idea: “Here’s the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot — to millennia, rather than centuries — all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We’ll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world.”  

Sigh.  Seth is a smart fellow who often has interesting insights. Alas, he also keeps making broadly absurd declarations about what will automatically happen… Advanced aliens WILL do this&such!  They can only beam messages THIS way! If discussions about METI (sending messages to space) are opened up to a broad spectrum of sages and the public, the result will be a clamp of silence on Earth that will last… Forever!!!  Whatever just-so story enters his head — that is the way the universe operates, without exception.

In this case, the counter-examples are blatant.  Rich, healthy, long-lived folk are the principal source of participants in extreme sports, in thrill seeking hobbies and attempts to break world records. Will dynamic immortals, plagued by ennui, really sit and twiddle their thumbs, just because Seth Shostak decides “logically” that they ought to?  Feh.

=== and Related Science Matters ===

A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has developed a ‘pioneering’ lighting system that can kill hospital superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. The technology decontaminates the air and exposes surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light. It works by exciting molecules within the bacteria, which in turn produces ‘highly reactive’ chemical species that are lethal to it.  (Hey, didn’t I predict something like this in EARTH?)

Forty years after federal laws criminalized the use of psychedelics for non-medical purposes in FDA-regulated psychological and drug research, the study of these drugs is picking up again, and their use in treating certain patients shows promise. Researchers are finding that the drugs may help improve functioning and lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have eased regulations and also given approval to researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University’s Langone Medical Center to study the use of psilocybin to treat death anxiety among cancer patients.

In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth’s largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change.  ALSO… The past 12 months have been the warmest ever recorded by NASA. Until now, the hottest year on record has been 1998, when temperatures were pushed up by a strong El Nino – a warming event in the Pacific. This year saw a weaker El Nino, and that fizzled out to be replaced by a La Nina cooling event. So scientists might have expected this year’s temperatures to be substantially lower than 1998 – but they are not. Within the bounds of statistical error, the two years are likely to be the same.

On April 8, the networking hardware that routes traffic on the Internet got new marching orders: Requests for data from 15% of Internet addresses-includingDell.comYahoo.comMicrosoft.com, and U.S. government sites-were directed to go through China.

Recently NASA quietly moved its two long-grounded X-34 space planesfrom open storage at the space agency’s Dryden center – located on Edwards Air Force Base in California – to a test pilot school in the Mojave Desert. At the desert facility, the mid-’90s-vintage, robotic X-34s would be inspected to determine if they were capable of flying again. Provided they’re in flyable shape, it’s far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry.

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Astronomy, SETI, science, transparency and wonders!

DragonflightScience fiction is one of the most “American” literary genres, because, like America itself, SF has a relentless fascination with change. In fact, I believe that this trait – rather than technology – is what most distinguishes SF from fantasy.  (It is certainly why Anne MacCaffrey, author of the “Dragonrider” series, proclaims quite firmly that “I am a science fiction author; I don’t do fantasy.”

Societies, families, and individuals have always lived on shifting sands.  When just a few of your comfy assumptions are rocked, you may find wisdom and solace in a closely-focused literary view. But if you want or need a bigger picture — to ride the tsunami that change has become in modern times — then literary science fiction turns the reader from a hapless recipient of change into an explorer.

The “what-if” thought experiment is the purest expression of a courageous mind.  Because authors hurl, and readers accept, the ultimate challenge to empathy —

— not just putting on the shoes of your neighbor, but stretching your empathic power to other places, times, cultures and states of being.  To put aside the comfort food of familiarity, repetition, nostalgia or the myopic here-and-now… and instead reconnoiter the vast range of things that (for better or worse) our children might do and become.

Despite the simplistic banality of Hollywood sci fi, there is more to science fiction than garish, clanking monsters.  It can infect children with the dangerous mental habit of imagining things different than they are. And a surprising majority of scientists, doctors, astronauts, engineers, teachers, diplomats and world-changers all grew up devouring SF.  It can stir discontent with past and current injustice and then go on to warn of dangers on – or just beyond – the horizon.

A habit of questioning all dogmas – even those that your parents taught you – can makes science fiction seem dangerous, even to lit-professors, who cannot force the genre into slots or pigeonholes.  Because an SF author – once slotted – may bend all of his or her energy and considerable imagination to the project of breaking out.

It is the literature of rambunctious questioning.  And to the extent that Americans loved it — we thrived.


The Astronomy Now site  has a 6 min piece about the debate that was hel in Britain a few weeks ago, at the Royal Society’s new Kavli Conference Center.  Featured are clips of Dr. James Benford & me on our side (urging that the issue of “messages to aliens” be discussed in more open fora) and Dr. Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute, on the other.  Of course nothing was resolved.

The most significant outcome? A straw poll of the attendees at the conference overwhelmingly and almost unanimously asked that the Royal Society and the AAAS support our appeal for international symposia on the issue, bringing in the world’s greatest sages from fields like History, anthropology, biology, philosophy etc into a discussion that may ultimately include — and affect — us all.

Oh… and in related news….

Richard Dawkins speculates about extraterrestrial life in this video.

NASA Ames reveals DARPA-funded “Hundred Year Starship” program, with $1 million funding from DARPA. Announced at a Long Now Foundation event, the program is aimed at settling other worlds


That 90 minute audio interview I gave last month, for Jay Ackroyd’s BlogTalkRadio (in conjunction with an event on Second Life), is now available on podcast.

UK firm crowdsources security camera monitoring so you never know who’s watching:

“Back in 1996, writer and scientist David Brin wrote “The Transparent Society,” a tale of two fundamentally similar yet very different 21st century cities. Both were littered with security cameras monitoring every inch of public space, but in one city the police did the watching, while in the other the citizens monitored the feeds to keep an eye on each other (and the police). These days, many UK police forces monitor their city streets with cameras mounted on every corner. Now, for a fee, a private company is crowdsourcing security surveillance to any citizen willing to watch, fulfilling Brin’s prophecy in a sense.”

Augmented Reality?…. Try diminished reality!

And? Pope Benedict XVI said on Thursday that the media’s increasing reliance on images, fuelled by the endless development of new technologies, risked confusing real life with virtual reality.  (Um… go to the Jesuit church in Rome and see the trompe l’oeil ceilings (fool the eye) that they are so proud of! dang. It was the immersion 3-D mind-blow of it’s day!)

Fascinating possible alternative way to collect solar energy in the stratosphere and deliver it to the ground.

Fun stuff!

A fabulous leap in the use of the Codona Coronagraph to block light from a distant star and see Jupiter-scale planets, as close as 5 au to their sun.

See a great image of the tree of life and evolution in action. Look carefully and see how the tree suddenly THINS at certain extinction times (notice the dinosaurs vanish) but life soon fills in the gaps.  This really is terrific… even if it does prejudice by implying we are the “most evolved.” http://evogeneao.com/images/Evo_large.gif

Cool video: Imagining the tenth dimension

A cartoon comparison of Huxley and Orwell Orwell feared those who would ban books; Huxley feared there would be no reason to ban books, for there would be no one to read them…

Five times we almost nuked ourselves by accident.

Fifty ideas to change science: Artificial life : biologists will make artificial cells, enzymes, stem cells, induce photosynthesis in the lab…you need a subscription to read the whole article.

=== WANT MORE? ===

A test of truthiness: Fascinating to see how memes spread across the web, passed from peer to peer. But how can one tell what ideas are grass roots and which are spread by political campaigns or corporations? Truthy, based at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing attempts to chart the diffusion of information & misinformation on Twitter – by tracking keywords and retweets. http://truthy.indiana.edu/

At Carnegie Mellon, a computer named NELL (Never-Ending Language Learner) is busy uplifting itself: scanning info 24/7, calculating, categorizing – learning language as humans do. A step toward the semantic web and possibly true artificial intelligence? You can watch Nell find correlations via twitter. @cmunell http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/science/05compute.html?_r=1

The Lunar X Prize (backed by Google) will grant $30 million to the first privately funded team that lands a robot rover on the moon. The rover must travel more than 500 meters and transmit video and data back to earth. Deadline is 2012 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Lunar_X_Prize

Be sure to see Comet Hartley 2 (discovered in 1986). It should be visible with binoculars, appearing as a greenish smudge near Cassiopeia if you have dark skies. This comet will be targeted by NASA’s Deep Impact probe (EPOXI) for a flyby in November – coming within 435 miles of the comet. http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/comet-hartley-2-might-be-2010s-brightest-comet

Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford, once issued a challenge to young researchers: Concisely explain your research topic in an “elevator pitch”: Imagine riding an elevator with a friend who is bright but not a scientist. Explain what you do, what it means and why it matters – all before reaching the 15th floor. A worthy challenge in communicating science to the general public – who does pay the bills, after all.

How will technology impact personal liberties? The ACLU is analyzing sci-fi plots to plan its future battles over individual freedom. Its report, Technology, Liberties and the Future, draws upon science fiction for worst-case scenarios to study possible civil liberties violations that may result from advances in technology: omni-surveillance, cloning, gene splicing, nanotech, cyborgs, AI…

Is it censorship if the government buys the entire first printing of a book (Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart), in return for the publisher’s agreement to destroy ever copy? http://www.utne.com/Great-Writing/government-operation-dark-heart-book-burning.aspx

Kenyan tinkerer builds plane from scratch, using a Toyota engine and a wooden propeller, wings from aluminum siding http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/2010-10/video-kenyan-tinkerer-builds-plane-scratch-aims-fly-next-week

An animated look at Changing Educational Paradigms http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/10/14/rsa-animate-changing-education-paradigms/

Danny Gold’s new movie: 100 voices A journey Home: the revival of Jewish culture in Poland http://www.100voicesmovie.com/

Check out this assembly of sculptures of human ancestors — ranging from Australopithecus to Homo erectus — amazingly realistic reconstructions created by French artist Elisabeth Daynes, fleshed out from casts of skulls. See her website with details on the reconstructions and methodology: http://www.daynes.com/en/reconstructions.php http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/10/15/5296825-a-family-portrait-for-the-ages?chromedomain=cosmiclog

Our most precious resource, water, is increasingly being privatized. Global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, and demand will soon outstrip supply. The rights to divert water are a sellable commodity, but will markets deal with this problem equitably — or pit industry against drought-stricken countries –  water haves against water have-nots…

A Moh’s Scale of Hardness for science fiction: how ‘hard’ is the science – is the story consistent with the laws of physics – and are the fictional extrapolations plausible? Click to expand the categories at the end.  My opinion?  Eh.

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Truthiness, aliens and science

I’m quoted on Stephen Colbert’s Restoring Truthiness site: “Sci fi author David Brin: humorists are precisely the kinds of guys who can cut through the orgy of petty indignation that we aging baby boomers are imposing on this country.”

And now I see that liberal so-’n-so Jon Stewart stole the title for his new guide book to the planet Earth (for aliens)? I am so ticked off over his hilarious tome-of-the-stolen-name that I won’t even link to it here!  You’ll have to google or amazon “Stewart” and “Earth” in order to rush & buy it for yourselves!  (Take that Stewart!)

In fact, I plan – on October 30 – to attend the local “Keep Fear Alive!” Colbert rally, in my hometown.  Find your own town’s satellite rally at www.rallymao.com.  And march in support of Stephen’s campaign to resist sanity!  If Stewart’s ilk have their way, Republicans and Democrats will go back to negotiating with each other, reason will prevail, science will thrive and we’ll resume modernist quests for progress. Heck, we’ll even start settling outer space… and my far-out tales of futuristic adventure will all become obsolete!  For the sake of my children, march with Stephen!

(Side note: for us realist-paranoids rallymao.com means “rally-my-ass-off” for the Colbert Nation.  Clearly that means it will be a great way to trim those extra pounds!  But for Stewart’s crowd of pinko namby-pambies, rallymao has another meaning! Did you notice the last three letters? It’s a code! Clearly, they’re congregating to support the murderous commie founder of Red China.  Ooh, that burns, even worse than discovering that Che-Ney was Russian for the “new Che Guevarra.” And he seemed such a nice fellow!)

(More about this at the end.)


Announcement to e-book readers! Reports of poor quality control have plagued the electronic versions of my books. Now it appears Bantam/Randomhouse is about to pull and recall all my books from Kindle and other e-readers, in order to re-do the editions.  Generally good news.  So please be patient.

Oh, have you heard? Tim Powers’s great book On Stranger Tides was bought by the producers of Part IV in the Pirates of the Caribbeanseries, starring Johnny Depp.   That bodes well for a hilarious film with some content for the mind and heart, as well!  And it couldn’t happen to a better book, or author.

Meanwhile, I just returned from the Royal Society’s gorgeous new conference facility, in the beautiful countryside outside London, where I participated in a debate over the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the silly notion that Earthlings should shout Yoohoo! into a dauntingly mysterious cosmos. On the blithe assumption that all advanced aliens will automatically be as beneficent as Californian and Canadian radio astronomers. Which proved ironic.  Illustrating the benign maturity they expect to find out there, three speakers in a row proceeded to use strawman arguments and ridicule against the three of us who were there to ask for serious discussion.  Although not one of us mentioned even a single “danger” in our proposal to expand the advisory panels to include historians, biologists, anthropologists, philosophers — our opponents evaded this simple suggestion, instead choosing to concentrate on mocking the notion of “danger!” Presenting lists of lurid alien invasion scenarios straight out of bad Hollywood thrillers (“Are they coming to take our water? Our women?”)

Above all, it seems that the core SETI community has acquired a deeply-felt and pervasive rationalized hatred of science fiction, bolstered by willful ignorance of the literary genre where most thought experiments about contact with alien life have taken place.

The irony is almost too rich.  A field that was engendered by science fiction, that had its roots in SF and that owes it everything, has turned inward, avoiding contact with most other human scientific specialties… so how will they deal with truly alien beings?  Above all, they offer only hackles toward the one literary realm that should be viewed as the R&D department of the entire field. Especially during the era when SETI has no palpable subject matter other than ideas.

From the Transparency Front — Eeek!  Creeped out, even though I both predicted this and expect it will be part of a generally good trend. With LOTS of irksome aspects to get used-to. Snoopers paid to catch shoplifters.

Past observations at visible and near infrared wavelengths had implied the presence of primitive carbon-rich materials on the moons  of Mars, which are usually associated with asteroids that populate the central part of the Asteroid Belt. But recent thermal infrared observations from Mars Express’ Planetary Fourier Spectrometer did not find any such evidence, instead finding signatures that match types of minerals identified on Mars’ surface.  Also low density and highly porous. This may be bad news.  But the Russians are persisting, fortunatley, in their space mission to Phobos.  Perhaps they’ll find resources – including water – making it one of the most valuable spots in the solar system.  Let’s hope.

Father and son film outer space, do-it-yourself style.

Hilarious: Glenn Beck’s words selling fear, set to a Donald Duck cartoon.

China has launched its second lunar orbiter.

Cyberweapons will continue to haunt us. The Stuxnet software worm – designed to destroy industrial control systems — may have been designed to target Iran’s nuclear program. It infected 45,000 computers worldwide, most in Iran. The next generation of malware could be a danger to power plants and electrical grids worldwide.

The building blocks of life may be constant throughout the cosmos: humans and aliens may share the same DNA roots: ten amino acids form at low temperatures and pressures – you don’t need a miracle to arrive at the chemical cocktail for life. (Actually, Leslie Orgel predicted this decades ago.) Ah… but life ITSELF?  Stay tuned, stay ambitious.  And actually READ the passages in Genesis about the Tower of Babel.  This time, we have auto-translation software on iPods!!!

Nobel Prize awarded to two University of Manchester physicists for work with graphene – a two-dimensional, one-atom thick carbon sheet extracted from graphite. Graphene is the thinnest, strongest material ever developed, nearly transparent, an excellent conductor of electricity & heat. Can be mixed with plastic to generate flexible solar cells, smaller, faster transistors, high-capacity batteries & ultracapacitors.

NTT DoCoMo has developed a tiny display that clips onto a pair of eyeglasses and provides navigation services or information about local shops.

Filming human embryos used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) at an early stage in their development has allowed scientists to select those with the best chance of going on to develop into healthy babies, with an accuracy of more than 93%.

A new microphone system allows broadcasters to zoom in on sounds as well as sights, to pick out a single conversation.

A fascinating persepective suggests that our human ability to empathize broadly with other species… and perhaps even some of our intelligence… arose because of our 100,000 year co-evolution (perhaps a love affair?) with dogs.


It turns out that almost all the job growth  over the last year has come from those who have reached “retirement age” (whatever that is) continuing to work or going back to work. The total number of people over 65 who are employed has risen by 318,000 over the last year, accounting for nearly all the job growth

And… oh… Ack!  Share this with your Ostrich.

===  FINALLY, BE AROUND PEOPLE on 10/30/10! ===

Seriously folks. (Or not.) Find a place outdoors with lots of people, on October 30. Stephen Colbert says we should all be VERY afraid of being indoors or alone, or too quiet, that day!

He’s being vague, but some of his hints may imply some kind of alien pod-people replacement attack in which the invaders feel a need to avoid crowds of people who are chanting, marching, waving placard/signs and having fun.  Especially the placards. (Ask any alien invader; those signs can really sting, when they smack you on the antennae or the sucker-pads!)

Or  maybe it’s not aliens but something similarly fear-inducing. Anyway, Colbert has good instincts about these things.  So get OUT of the house and join one of Stephen’s fear-preserving rallies.  Go to the main one in Washington DC (the safest place from alien probes, that day), or in your own town, via www.rallymao.com!

(Or else join Jon Stewart and his militantly-moderate-reasonable-rational-politeness-troopers… if you really must.)

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