5 November 2013
Today I celebrate the fifth anniversary of this blog. I hope you will join me in toasting the end of another year and the beginning of a new year of blogging and ideas.
When I started this blog it was something of a spontaneous amusement, an impulse. My posts were short, simple and required little or no research. I purposefully wrote about matters that interest me while avoiding the “important” ideas I kept in my notebooks for book projects, which I saw at that time the primary beneficiaries of my intellectual effort.
Over time, the blog posts expanded, became longer and more detailed, and required more research. I still save aside material I plan to put into manuscripts, but the topics with which I began — mostly strategy and civilization — now have a much higher profile in my thought and are at least equal beneficiaries of my intellectual effort. In retrospect, I’m glad that I started to write about civilization here, as these thoughts have expanded over time and have pushed me unexpectedly in interesting directions.
With my posts getting longer, I have been posting far less often — once or twice a week. I’ve also been blogging at Tumblr, which has a very different demographic (meaning that I reach a different crowd there than I do by blogging here on WordPress). Also, in the past year I’ve had posts appear on the Transhumanity blog and on Paul Gilster’s Centauri Dreams blog (where, by the way, another post by me is scheduled to appear this coming Friday).
Over the past year the hits to my blog took a major hit, and I have gone from an average of nearly two thousand hits per day to an average of around four hundred or fewer per day. Interestingly, most of the lost traffic seems to have been image searches, so the few of you who come here to read and to reflect is perhaps about the same number as in earlier years.
I guess you could say that I write for my handful of subscribers — those few who return to read, spending precious and irretrievable moments of life to find something in what I have spent precious and irretrievable moments of life to write. That is a fair bargain — a part of my life for a part of your life — and as there are few fair bargains in the world today, I should count myself fortunate (which I do).
Nietzsche wrote, “…everywhere else I have my readers — nothing but first-rate intellects and proven characters, trained in high positions and duties; I even have real geniuses among my readers. In Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in Stockholm, in Copenhagen, in Paris, in New York — everywhere I have been discovered; but not in the shallows of Europe, Germany.” (Ecce Homo)
Nietzsche could perhaps speak in the plural; I must speak in the singular. I may not have readers (in the plural) in these celebrated cultural capitals of the world, but I do know from my statistics (which show repeat visits) that I have a reader in Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand, and in Mercer Island, Washington; in Washington D.C. at the Catholic University of America, and a reader in Groningen in the Netherlands; I have a reader in that ancient center of Western civilization, Greece, and in the ancient centers of learning in Paris, France, and Oxford, England; I have a reader in the Balkans, in Belgrade, Serbia, and elsewhere in the Balkans in Skopje, Macedonia; I even have a reader in Hillsboro, Oregon, just minutes away from my office, as well as a reader elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
To all of you — those who return, and those who stop by only a single time — my thanks.
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18 August 2013
Day 4 – Congress Summary | Sunday August 18th, 2013
Day 4 of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress began with a presentation by science-fiction artist Stephan Martiniere and, because Monsieur Martiniere is an artist the audience was treated to a wide variety of his work. He told the story of his life in pictures, and linked it throughout to developments of the Space Age, which was an artful touch. …
After this Andreas Hein launched into a sober assessment of technologies necessary to interstellar flight in “Project Hyperion: Disruptive Technologies for Manned Interstellar Travel”. Much of what Mr. Hein presented were ideas that I had independently worked out for myself, describing the S-curve of technological maturity and how technological succession can extend this S-curve upward. Using these analytical tools, Hein assessed which technologies would be necessary to any interstellar mission, and which technologies might prove to be disruptive breakthroughs that rendered other technologies obsolete, ending with the suggestion that investments in technologies must be balanced across a spectrum of low risk/high probability of use and high risk/high gain technologies.
Next came Aaron Cardon, a doctor, with “Ideal Biological Characteristics for Long-Duration Manned Space Travel.” This presentation was much more interesting to me than I expected it to be, and suggested to me that designs of a long term interstellar mission would not be uniformly good or bad for human health, but rather that some starship design parameters may compromise human physiology while others may actually optimize human physiology. For example, Dr. Cardon stated that the circadian rhythm of the human body, if taken out of the context of our 24 hour rotation of the Earth may be closer to 26 or 28 hours, which an artificial environment could easily accommodate. Dr. Cardon also spoke about some of the psychological and sociological consequences of long-term missions — something covered in yesterday’s Odyssey presentation — including the dramatic shift that would need to take place in making the transition from an open frontier to prioritizing social cohesion, and how human intuitive heuristics may pose a risk in artificial environments. This talk gave me much to think about.
Rob Swinney gave an update of Project Icarus, which was the seed from which Icarus Interstellar originally grew, and discussed a number of design parameters of the starship project that is, essentially, the successor to the Daedalus project. This was followed by a presentation that was not on the program, Robert Kennedy on “Dyson Dots: Geoengineering is the Killer App.” Mr. Kennedy demonstrated how the interests of those seeking to mitigate anthropogenic climate change coincide with those seeking space industry, since space-based geoengineering could both address climate change and result in space industry. Specifically, we could construct a “Dyson dot” between the Earth and sun that would cast ever so slight a shadow on the Earth, marginally lowering terrestrial insolation. Moreover, the sun side of this Dyson dot could be covered in photovoltaic cells, which could generate a significant amount of electricity. Mr. Kennedy rightly noted that this approach is both scalable and reversible, which are real virtues in this context.
Jim Benford then presented, “Shouting to the Cosmos: The METI Debate” — METI being Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, in contradistinction to SETI or the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. Benford represented that school of thought that feels messaging ought to be discussed before it is undertaken on any great scale, and he contrasted this to the views of some in the field who support vigorous efforts to create a “beacon” and to attempt to send messages out into the cosmos. Benford rightly noted that today a wealthy individual could sponsor such a beacon and engage in METI without anyone to stop such activity. He suggested that international consensus, peer-reviewed publication of messaging details, consultation, and perhaps also an enforcement mechanism were in order.
Benford laid out the case both for and against METI, which was quite interesting to me. There were several stated assumptions and derivations from this assumptions, but each assumed something fundamental that was formative to the given position. Those in favor of METI believe that interstellar travel is impossible, while those opposed to unregulated METI assert that EM leakage cannot be detected. As it happens, I can’t belong to either camp because I disagree with both assumptions. I think that interstellar travel is possible, and I think that it is pretty clear that the EM radiation leakage (unintended signals) of a peer industrial-technological civilization can be detected.
Benford took the trouble to point out contradictions in the position of those advocating unregulated METI, but it seems to me that the glaring contradition in Benford’s position was that he asserted that EM leakage could not be detected, but he openly admitted that an advanced ETI could pretty easily build an antenna large enough and sensitive enough to hear us. The way he gets around this contradiction is something that I have thought about a bit, and I wrote about it last year in The Visibility Presumption. I want to go into this in a little more detail because it is so interesting.
Benford asked the rhetorical question of why ETI would be looking in our direction, in all the vastness of the cosmos. This is a rhetorical question so long as one maintains an unproblematic conception of the cosmological principle, but it becomes a live question and not merely rhetorical once the classical cosmological principle is called into question. Benford’s position perfectly exemplified the cosmological principle, i.e., that we occupy no privileged place in the cosmos, therefore there is no reason for ETI to point their antenna in our direction. I will not here dispute the idea of our not occupying a privileged cosmological position (advocates of the anthropic cosmological principle have spent enough time doing this), but there is a very different way to think about this that undermines the assumption of there being no reason for ETI to look in our direction.
Any peer civilization (i.e., any civilization like us) is going to be looking for peer civilizations because this intrinsic curiosity, at least in part, defines our civilization. In looking for peer civilizations, any advanced ETI will show at least as much ingenuity as we have shown in the search for ETI, since ingenuity of this kind is another quality that, at least in part, defines our civilization. We are now, at the present level of our technology, less than twenty years from the spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres, which could reveal markers of life and civilization. Any advanced peer civilization would have already done this (spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres), and they would have done this for the kind of planets that can host peer civilizations — small, rocky planets in the habitable zones of main sequence stars. In other words, ETI would have already by now done the spectroscopy of Earth’s atmosphere, and in so doing they would have focused in on the Earth as a place of great interest, in the exact same way that we would focus on an “Earth twin.” This would mean that they would focus all their best radio antennas on us, just as we could focus intensively on a planet that would likely host life and civilization.
It would be relatively easy for an advanced ETI of a peer civilization to build a custom antenna for nothing other than the possibility of detecting our EM leakage, since they had already identified us as a promising target for SETI and perhaps also METI.
In the question and answer session following Benford’s talk a new wrinkle in all this appeared. My co-presenter from Day 2, Heath Rezabek, suggested that someone opposed to unregulated METI could broadcast a counter-signal to a METI signal and essentially silence that signal.
The possibility of a counter-signal is an idea that can be scaled up, so that it is possible that what Paul Davies calls the “eerie silence” and David Brin has called the “Great Silence” is not something natural, but could be imposed or generated.
One metaphor that has been used to explain the eerie or great silence is that no one shouts in a jungle. This is plausible. If the universe is a dangerous place filled with predators, you don’t want to call attention to yourself. But it is just as plausible that everyone is “shushed” in a library as that everyone keeps quiet in a jungle, and therefore it is just as plausible to think of our universe as a library as to think of it as a jungle.
And with that discussion I had to leave the 2013 Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress at noon in order to catch my flight back to Portland.
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Here is an incomplete schedule for the day’s events (incomplete because Robert Kennedy’s presentation is not mentioned below.
8:45am Introduction to Day 4
9:00am Keynote: Stephan Martiniere, “FarMaker Speed Sketch Awards”
9:45am Presentation 1: Andreas Hein, “Project Hyperion: Disruptive Technologies for Manned Interstellar Travel”
10:10am Presentation 2: Aaron Cardon, “Ideal Biological Characteristics for Long-Duration Manned Space Travel”
10:40am Presentation 3: Rob Swinney, “Project Icarus”
11:25am Presentation 4: Jim Benford, “Shouting to the Galaxy: The METI Debate”
12:00am Session Chair Panel, “Discussion of Tracks”
12:45pm Icarus Project Lead Panel, “Progress Report and Future Objectives”
1:30pm Mike Mongo, “Build a Starship”
1:45pm Richard Obousy, “Building an Interstellar Community”
2:00pm Icarus Starship Congress Ends
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17 August 2013
Day 3 – Interstellar Future (50 years +) | Saturday August 17th, 2013
Day 3 of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress began with Harold “Sonny” White discussing recent attempts to scientifically test the ideas behind the Alcubierre drive, which would be a form of spacecraft mobility (one can’t quite call it propulsion) that would have the effect of superluminal velocity. The proposed drive does not violate general relativity because space itself can expand or contract faster than the speed of light, even if no physical body can travel at the speed of light. The Alcubierre drive, and other concepts that have followed, involve distorting space around a spacecraft while the spacecraft itself, and its occupants, never exceed the speed of light. White also discussed Q-thrusters (quantum vacuum plasma thruster), which would thrust against quantum vacuum fluctuations. This would not yield the kind of science fiction-like travel of the Alcubierre drive, but it sounded closer to being in reach. On his last slide he showed a figure of 29.9 years to make it to Proxima Centauri with Q-thrusters, which require a lot of energy but don’t require fuel. With this in mind, I note that we can pretty readily (today) manufacture a nuclear reactor that can be fueled upon construction and run continuously for 30 years without refueling (as with the compact nuclear reactors on submarines and aircraft carriers). If we could build Q-thrusters, we could also supply them for long enough to get to the nearest star, and that is an impressive thought.
This was followed by Eric Davis presenting “Faster-Than-Light Space Warps: What’s It All About?” which was a wonderfully clear and intuitive presentation of faster than light possibilities. Mr. Davis suggested that one may someday, “design spacetime to your specifications,” and returned to this theme of engineering spacetime. Next was Hal Puthoff with “Engineering the Spacetime Metric for Interstellar Flight,” which the speaker characterized as “general relativity for engineers.” The speaker presented an alternative formulation of general relativity in terms of the dielectric constant, which should make many problems in general relativity more tractable for engineers. Marc Millis presented “From Sci-Fi to Sci-Method — Space Drives,” which, continuing the exposition of interstellar flight in relation to general relativity, emphasized the remaining theoretical ellipses of general relativity, specifically, that general relativity did not decisively resolve the problem of inertial frames of reference. He had some interesting things to say about Mach’s principle (a topic of some interest to me, which I have been intending to study more closely). Next were two quite technical talks, Jeff Lee on “Singularity Propulsion — Acceleration of a Schwarzschild Kugelblitz Starship” and Gerald Cleaver on “The Quirks of Quark Engines.”
Then came Lance Williams on the “Rise of the Scalar Field, and its Implications for Interstellar Travel.” Williams offered, “the promise of gravitational control,” and ended with the statement that, “Electromagnetic control of gravity is necessary for human control of gravity.” This was very much in the same spirit of the earlier lectures today which emphasized the human ability to engineer spacetime itself. And, certainly, if Alcubierre drives or artificial gravity become a reality we will have a world that is everything that science fiction authors have imagined, and more besides. In the question and answer session following Williams’ talk, in response to a question Williams emphasized that his use of a 5-manifold in his exposition (following Kaluza of Kaluza-Klein fame) was of a fifth macroscopic dimension, and he drew a clear distinction between the compactified dimensions of string theory and macroscopic dimensions in physical theory (which, I might add, warmed my heart). A string theorist in attendance had earlier assured him that string theory had all the dimensional resources his approach could need, but Williams ended by saying that physics had been “locked in” to string theory and QED gravitation for the past century, with the clear implication that this had gone on long enough.
After this the Congress broke for lunch, but instead of eating I went back to my room for a nap. I overslept and returned only for the last few minutes of Rachel Armstrong’s presentation, which was a disappointment for me since I had recently written on my other blog about some of Armstrong’s ideas on urbanism.
Ken Roy then presented “Shell Worlds: an Approach to Terraforming Small Rocky Worlds,” which proposed that smaller worlds (like about the size of Mars) could be completely contained within a structure holding in the atmosphere built somewhere between 2 and 20 kilometers up from the surface. This he contrasted to “traditional” terraforming, and he maintained that shell worlds had certain advantages, as, for example, the ability to construct “designer biospheres,” to have the same time zone all around a planet (since all lighting would have to be artificial, and so forth. Roy also mentioned “paraterraforming,” which term I had not previously heard, and said that it also involved a contained atmosphere, but he didn’t go into much detail on what exactly constitutes paraterraforming.
Next was a joint presentation by a filmmaker and a social scientist, “Odyssey: Global Personality Test for Crewing a Generation-Starship,” which is both a social science project and a film project. Odyssey takes as its presupposition a generational starship and asks how a crew would be selected for this mission. Starship crew questions can be a lot like “lifeboat” exercises in asking who one would include and who one would leave to die, and this exercise in starship crewing certainly had this feel for me. The robust assumptions made by those who designed the project, and the forcefulness with which they asserted these assumptions — Are you prepared to leave everything and everyone you have ever known forever? — were a good splash of cold water for those contemplating generational starships. I think that they must have chosen quite intentionally to tightly constrain the exercise in order to inject some sense of discipline into this question, often raised among interstellar advocates. For me personally, this presentation of a generational starship in which the individual is systematically subordinated to the good of the mission was a kind of dystopian vision of regulation that constitutes the antithesis of the vision of freedom through space travel that attracts me.
There were a couple presentations on SETI efforts, Thomas Hair on “Radio Transients and Base Rate Bias: Bayesian Argument for Conservatism” and Al Jackson on “Extreme SETI.” Hair proposed “the long stare” as a thought experiment in SETI, and gave a Bayesian analysis of the kind of data that would be collected from a concentrated SETI focus on a small part of the sky (think of it something like the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, but for SETI instead of observational astronomy). Hair also suggested that SETI was shifting to a search for “ephemeral leakage,” by which I believe he meant picking up unintended signals from alien civilizations — like what an alien civilization might hear from us at a distance of many lightyears. Al Jackson was difficult to hear, as his speaking voice wasn’t very loud, but he focused on SETI efforts to find mega-engineering projects of highly advanced civilizations, such as detecting starships, gravitational machines, and “surfing” black holes.
The final presentation for this session was Giorgio Gaviraghi, “Code of Ethics for Alien Encounters.” Gaviraghi’s talk yesterday was the most far-reaching and speculative, and he once again put himself out on a limb with a series of hypothetical inmperatives contingent upon the level of development achieved by civilizations potentially in contact. If I had had the chance to ask a question I would have asked if these various hypothetical imperatives could be traced back to any one categorical imperative that was the motivation for the code of ethics he proposed. I had a chance later to speak very briefly to Gaviraghi, but didn’t have enough time to raise this question.
Another panel discussion, like yesterday’s, considered another three questions. This wasn’t as interesting to me as yesterday’s discussion, but in the final question on extraterrestrial contact Kelvin Long said, “ideas can do as much damage as war,” which was a good comment, and Gaviraghi (who replaced Armen Papazian) made a statement that I particularly liked. I didn’t take down his words verbatim, and I may have misunderstood his intent, but what it sounded like to me was that what we can learn about civilization as a result of extraterrestrial contact may tell us something about our own civilization. If this is what Gaviraghi meant, I enthusiastically agree, and it shows another parallelism between biology and civilization, because exactly the same thing is true in biology. As Carl Sagan noted, a single instance of extraterrestrial life would de-provincialize biology.
After the Congress broke for dinner for a couple of hours we assembled again and heard Peter Garretson speak on “Space – A Billion Year Plan for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I agreed with pretty nearly everything that was said here, and I really wanted to ask a question, but there was no question and answer period following his talk. Garretson gave a presentation very indebted tot he vision of Gerard K. O’Neill, involving solar power satellites and O’Neill colonies, and this was much appreciated, as he rightly noted that any space capacity you could want to have would be in place by the time you had built a system of solar power satellites.
After the Congress was over for the day I realized that I often learned more from the question and answer sessions than from the presentations, and it occurred to me that a lot of this material might be better suited to a seminar format rather than a lecture format. A lecture format could be modified to accommodate more questions and answers, but not all talks generate the same level of interest. I think if I were to organize a congress of some sort I might consider making a rule that all presentations had to be made extemporaneously in order to keep them spontaneous, and encourage the audience to raise their hands with a question in the midst of a lecture to keep the exchange going throughout. Slides could be limited to images, graphics, or charts only (in order to generate discussion without being read), and speakers could be asked to finish with a one-sentence “take away” message, perhaps purposefully provocative, once again, to generate discussion.
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Here is the complete program of today’s events:
8:45am Introduction to Day 3
9:00am Keynote: Sonny White, “Warp Field Physics: an Update”
9:45am Presentation 1: Eric Davis, “Faster-Than-Light Space Warps: What’s It All About?”
10:10am Presentation 2: Hal Puthoff, “Engineering the Spacetime Metric for Interstellar Flight”
10:45am Presentation 3: Marc Millis, “Transgalactic Travel Guide” & “From Sci-Fi to Sci-Method – Space Drives”
11:10am Presentation 4: Jeff Lee, “Singularity Propulsion – Acceleration of a Schwarzschild Kugelblitz Starship”
11:35am Presentation 5: Gerald Cleaver, “The Quirks of Quark Engines”
12:00am Presentation 6: Lance Williams, “Rise of the Scalar Field, and its Implications for Interstellar Travel”
1:15pm Keynote: Rachel Armstrong, “Project Persephone”
2:00pm Presentation 7: Ken Roy, “Shell Worlds: an Approach to Terraforming Small Rocky Worlds”
2:25pm Presentation 8: Sheryl Bishop, “Odyssey: Global Personality Test for Crewing a Generation-Starship”
3:00pm Presentation 9: Thomas Hair, “Radio Transients & Base Rate Bias: Bayesian Argument for Conservatism”
3:25pm Presentation 10: Al Jackson, “Extreme SETI”
3:50pm Presentation 11: A. Caminoa & G. Gaviraghi, “Code of Ethics for Alien Encounters”
4:15pm Break | Description of Evening Event
4:30pm STARSHIP CONGRESS: Long-Term Questions
6:00pm Dinner (Individual)
8:00pm Event 3a | Peter Garretson: “Space – A Billion Year Plan for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”
8:45pm Event 3b | “Dream of Starships” with Hailey Bright
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16 August 2013
Day 2 – Interstellar This Lifetime (20 – 50 years) | Friday August 16th, 2013
Today I was present for the whole of Day 2 of the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress, which included by own stint of giving a co-presentation with Heath Rezabek on “Existential Risk for Interstellar Advocates.”
The day began with Michael Minovitch giving an updated perspective on the Bussard ramjet, which by his calculations could obtain 0.7 G acceleration, which puts it in the class of what I have elsewhere called the “game changer” of a 1 G starship. A 1 G starship would allow human beings to travel very long distances within the cosmos in ordinary life spans, which is a point that Carl Sagan also made in his Cosmos television series. Moreover, Mr. Minovitch was quite serious about the possibility of building a Bussard ramjet with contemporary technology, or what we might call nearly contemproary technology. He even suggested that the space shuttle could be take out of math balls to ferry the required parts into orbit for building a Bussard ramjet in the near future.
Many of the day’s talks involved ongoing work on familiar starship designs. It might sound a bit odd that I should say, “familiar starship designs,” because we haven’t yet built any starships, but anyone familiar with the literature can name off a short list of designs that have currency in the community of those who think about such things. For example, Srikanth Reddy gave a detailed structural analysis of the Daedalus starship design, while Friedwardt Winterberg gave a review of several different familiar starship designs, as did Kelvin Long in his talk, “Rise of the Starships.” Winterberg presented one idea that was unfamiliar to me, which was a way to approach the problem of collisions of a starship with micrometeorites, which would impact with devastating force at relativistic velocities. Winterberg suggested that a matter-anti-matter drive could be occasionally turned around and blasted forward to clear a trail for the starship.
Winterberg prefaced his talk with a wonderful quote from Wernher von Braun:
“The importance of the space program is to build a bridge to the stars, so that when the Sun dies, humanity will not die. The Sun is a star that’s burning up, and when it finally burns up, there will be no Earth… no Mars… no Jupiter.”
This is, of course, the essence of existential risk consciousness, and I think that many of those involved with spaceflight are involved because they see the crucial role that spaceflight plays in existential risk mitigation, even if they have never heard the term, “existential risk.” My co-presentation with Heath Rezabek was focused on existential Risk. Heath started with the outline of the idea and some of his proposals, and I followed with a sketch a existential risk in the context of a growing interstellar civilization.
There were many excellent presentations among the above that I have not mentioned here: Robert Freeland on the use of a magsail to slow down a starship, Gwyn Rosaire on nuclear rockets, who clearly presented nuclear rocket technology as part of a developmental process of starship drives, and Armen Papazian on post-scarcity economics for the space age.
The most widely-ranging talk was that of Georgio Gaviraghi on “A Kardashev III Approach to Extra-Solar Colonization.” Gaviraghi gave his own interpretation of Kardeshev which seems to have become commonplace, but he went much further, speaking of singularities in the plural and suggesting that exponential technological growth may result in a K2 and oK3 civilization much earlier than we usually suppose.
After the individual talks there was a panel discussion during which three questions were asked, the panel discussed them, and audience members commented on them. The questions where whether human beings should wait to go to the stars until we have “fixed” things on earth, whether interstellar exploration should be by AI or should be a strictly human undertaking, and whether some policy needs to be adopted in light of the possibility of encountering alien forms of life. These questions generated a lot of interesting comments.
The discussion of the last of the three questions ranged widely over proposed rules for contact with alien life and the unlikelihood that any policy would be impossible to enforce. Kevin Long asked, “Who speaks for alien life?” Several people suggested that if we encounter alien life we should sample it and leave it alone. Someone asked the equivalent of whether human beings want to be an invasive species. Joe Ritter implied his sympathy for directed panspermia. Many seemed to suggest something like the precautionary principle in any exchanges with alien life, and that we should never bring it back to Earth.
My co-presenter, Heath Rezabek, stood up and gave his perspective on this debate, which I thought was quite interesting. Heath suggested that after human beings have spent some time traveling around the cosmos, and had seen a great many barren rocks, that if, after this, we were to find another beautiful blue-green planet like our own, covered in complex life, by that time we may have realized that such things are rare and ought to be treated with respect. I think there is a lot of merit in this observation, and it also incorporates a developmental perspective on human engagement with the cosmos. While we may not learn out lessons reliably, we do sometimes learn our lessons, so that the possibility can’t simply be dismissed.
There is more to say, and I took lots of notes, but I am tired now and must content myself for the moment with this inadequate sketch of the day.
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Here is the complete program of today’s events:
8:45am Introduction to Day 2
9:00am Keynote: Michael Minovitch, “Interstellar Space Travel with Reasonable Round-trip Travel Times”
9:45am Presentation 1: Jason Cassibry, “Vehicle Requirements for an Alpha Centauri Flyby in 50 Years”
10:10am Presentation 2: Srikanth Reddy, “Structural Analysis of the Daedalus Reaction Chamber & Thrust Structure”
10:45am Presentation 4: F. Winterberg, “Cheating the Death of the Sun by Relativistic Interstellar Spaceflight”
11:30am Presentation 3: Robert Freeland, “Trading a Mag-Sail vs. Fusion for Full Deceleration”
11:55am Presentation 6: Gwyn Rosaire, “The Nuclear Thermal Rocket’s Role in Promoting Interstellar Exploration”
1:15pm Keynote: Kelvin Long, “Rise of the Starships”
2:00pm Presentation 7: Armen Papazian, “Money Mechanics for Space”
2:25pm Presentation 8: Chris Wimer, “Using Game Mechanics to Increase Funding and Improve Public Knowledge”
3:00pm Presentation 9: Heath Rezabek & Nick Nielsen, “(Xrisk 101) Existential Risk for Interstellar Advocates”
3:25pm Presentation 10: A. Caminoa & G. Gaviraghi, “Critical Path and Interstellar Routes”
3:50pm Presentation 11: A. Caminoa & G. Gaviraghi, “A Kardashev III Approach to Extra-Solar Colonization”
4:15pm Break | Description of Evening Event
4:30pm STARSHIP CONGRESS: Mid-Term Questions
6:00pm Dinner (Individual)
8:00pm Event 2 | “Starship Congress Cocktail Evening with Sarah Jane Pell”
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15 August 2013
Day 1 – Interstellar Now (Next 20 Years) | Thursday August 15th, 2013
There is a song by Roger Bartlett that I know from a very early performance by Jimmy Buffett (from his A1A album), which starts out like this:
If you ever get the chance to go to Dallas,
Take it from me, pass it by.
‘Cause you’ll only sing the blues down in Dallas,
Take it from me, don’t go and cry.
I don’t know what happened to either Roger Barlett or Jimmy Buffett in Dallas, but I hope my experiences are not anything like those recounted in the song.
I am in Dallas for the Icarus Intersteller Congress, and I have unfortunately missed the first day. Due to work I couldn’t be here for the events of Thursday.
The Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress is one of three starship gatherings this year, one which already took place in -, this one in Dallas, and the third iteration of the 100YSS conference which will take place in Houston in September of this year (I wrote of these three conferences earlier in Starship Conferences Galore!). I’m sorry to say that I didn’t make the deadline for submitting a proposal for a presentation at this year’s 100YSS, so I won’t be going this year.
Here’s what I’ve missed so far:
8:00am Registration Open | Coffee
9:00am Introduction to Day 1
9:15am Keynote: Jim Benford, “Sail Ships”
10:00am Presentation 1: Les Johnson, “Status of Solar Sail Propulsion: Sneaking up on an Interstellar Capability”
10:25am Presentation 2: Charles Quarra, “The Laser Starway: a Light Bridge to the Closest Stars”
11:00am Presentation 3: Eric Malroy, “Lightsails and Nanotech”
11:25am Presentation 4: Martin Halbert, “Scenarios for Long-term Interstellar Distributed Data Networks”
11:50am Presentation 5: D. Messerschmitt, “Interstellar Communications Design to Minimize Energy Consumption”
12:15pm Lunch; “Starship Century” (Jim Benford) and “Going Interstellar” (Les Johnson) Book Signing Event
1:15pm Keynote: Pavel Tsvetkov, “Direct Fission Fragment Energy Conversion for Near-Term Interstellar Exploration”
2:00pm Presentation 6: John Hunter, “The Hydrogen Gas Gun: Part of the Interstellar Roadmap”
2:25pm Presentation 7: Rob Adams, “Building, Repairing and Upgrading Vehicles in Space”
3:00pm Presentation 8: Philip Lubin, “DE-STAR – Beamed Relativistic Propulsion”
3:25pm Presentation 9: Andreas Tziolas, “Project Tin-Tin: Interstellar Nano-Probes”
3:50pm Presentation 10: Buldrini & Seifert, “Innovative Ultra-FEEP Thrusters for Interstellar Precursor Missions”
4:15pm Break | Description of Evening Event
4:30pm STARSHIP CONGRESS: Near-Term Questions
6:00pm Dinner (Individual)
8:00pm Event 1 | “Stakeholder Stage: Celebrating the Impact of DARPA 2011″
That’s a lot to miss in one day.
The plan of the Starship Congress is for day one to focus on the next twenty years, day two to focus on 20 to 50 years in the future, day three to focus on events beyond 50 years, and on the fourth day there will be a summary of the events of the congress.
Tomorrow I am to give a joint presentation with Heath Rezabak on “Existential Risk for Interstellar Advocates,” so wish me luck. If you can show up to be in my cheering section, all the better.
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5 November 2012
Today marks the four year anniversary of Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon, so I would like to invite my readers to celebrate the occasion with me. And I have been given a gift for my four year anniversary. In the US, the traditional four year anniversary gift is linen and silk (elsewhere in the Anglophone world, it’s fruit and flowers in the UK). Well, I didn’t receive linen or silk, fruit or flowers, and, no, I didn’t get the brand new Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale that’s on my wish list, but I did have my statistics for visits recently pass the one million hits mark, which is the best gift for which I could reasonably hope.
My hits on Statcounter turned over a million on 28 October, while my hits on WordPress turned over a million on 30 October. Statcounter obviously counts a little differently, as I started it a year after I started this blog. I racked up about 30,000 hits the first year, so the Statcounter tallies don’t even include this first year’s worth of hits.
Also, Statcounter shows that my Tumblr blog only gets about one percent of the hits that my WordPress blog receives. I don’t doubt that there is a big difference in traffic between the two, but I know that a lot of Tumblr hits go uncounted because there are times when a post gets “liked” or “reblogged” on Tumblr when Statcounter has not recorded any hits to the post in question. On the other hand, the hits that Statcounter does record to my Tumblr blog come with a lot more detail than the recorded hits to my WordPress blog. For example, Statcounter will sometimes show me what search engine was used to find a post, what search terms were used, and what position in the search returns my post had. This has been a fascinating feature to me, and a surprising one. Some Tumblr posts that have never tallied a hit earlier through Statcounter come up at the number one search return for a particular set of terms.
What does a million hits really mean? Well, about 90 percent of all hits that this blog receives are the result of Google image searches, so it’s mostly people looking for pictures. So a million hits means that maybe a hundred thousand people visited for something other than a photograph. Of that hundred thousand, probably only one in ten stayed to read something, so a million hits probably means about 10,000 readers — about one percent of the total. Still, that’s not bad. As I’ve mentioned before, when you start from zero, everything above zero is pure gravy. I am a long way short of those websites that get a million hits in an hour, but I am a long way ahead in readership compared to before this blog.
For the “one percenters” out there who paused to read, possibly to reflect, occasionally to respond, and perhaps also to point and laugh, you have my thanks and my gratitude. I’ll keep writing, and I hope you’ll keep reading.
Fate willing, I look forward to four more years.
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25 March 2012
In what style should we think? It sounds like an odd question. I will attempt to make it sound like a reasonable one.
It would, of course, be preferable (or maybe I should say, “more natural”) to ask, “In what manner should we think?” or simply, “How should we think?” But I have formulated my question as I have in order to refer to Heinrich Hübsch’s essay, “In what style should we build?” (In welchem Style sollen wir bauen? 1828)
Building and thinking are both human activities, and thus both can be assimilated to the formulation of Weyl that I quoted in The Clausewitzean Conception of Civilization:
“The ultimate foundations and the ultimate meaning of mathematics remain an open problem; we do not know in what direction it will find its solution, nor even whether a final objective answer can be expected at all. ‘Mathematizing’ may well be a creative activity of man, like music, the products of which not only in form but also in substance are conditioned by the decisions of history and therefore defy complete objective rationalization.”
Hermann Weyl, Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science, Appendix A, “The Structure of Mathematics”
What Weyl here refers to as “mathematizing” can be generalized to human cognition generally speaking, and, if we like, we can generalize all the way to a comprehensive Cartesian conception of thought:
By the word ‘thought’, I mean everything which happens in us while we are conscious, in so far as there is consciousness of it in us. So in this context, thinking includes sensing as well as understanding, willing, and imagining. If I say, ‘I see therefore I am,’ or ‘I walk therefore I am,’ and mean by that the seeing or walking which is performed by the body, the conclusion is not absolutely certain. After all, when I am asleep I can often think I am seeing or walking, but without opening my eyes or moving, — and perhaps even without my having any body at all. On the other hand, the conclusion is obviously certain if I mean the sensing itself, or the consciousness that I am seeing or walking, since the conclusion then refers to the mind. And it is only the mind which senses, or thinks about its seeing or walking.
Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, section 9
Do thinking and building have anything in common beyond both being human activities? Is there not something essentially constructive in both activities? (This question is surprisingly apt, because we need to understand what constructive thinking is, but I will return to that later.) Did not Kant refer to the “architectonic” of pure reason, and has it not become commonplace among contemporary cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind to speak of our “cognitive architecture.”
Just taking the term “constructive” in its naïve and intuitive signification, we know that thought is not always constructive. Indeed, it is often said that thought, and especially philosophical thought, must be analytical and critical. Critical thought is not always or invariably destructive, and most of us know the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Still, thought can be quite destructive. William of Ockham, for example, is often credited with bringing down the Scholastic philosophical synthesis that reached its apogee in Aquinas.
Similar observations can be made about the building trades. While we usually do not include demolition crews among the construction trades, there is a sense in which demolition and construction are both phases in the building process. Combat engineers must be equally trained in the building and demolition of bridges, for example, which demonstrates both the constructive and the destructive aspects of construction engineering.
Just as we have a choice not only what to build, but in what style we will build, so too we have a choice, not only in what we think, but also how we think. As a matter of historical fact, I think you will find that the thinking of most individuals is not much more than a reaction, or a reflex. People think in the way that comes naturally to them, and they do not realize that they are thinking in a certain style unless they pause to think about their thinking. Well, this would be one way to characterize philosophy: thinking about thinking.
The unthinking way in which most of us think has the consequence of fostering what may be called cognitive monoculture. Individuals rarely step outside the parameters of thought with which they are comfortable, and so they allow their thoughts to follow in the ruts and the grooves left by their ancestors, much as architects, for many generations, reiterated classical building styles for lack of imagination of anything different.
It is probably very nearly impossible that I should write about building and thinking without citing Heidegger, so here is my nearly obligatory Heidegger citation, which, despite my general dislike of Heideggerian thought, suits my purposes quite perfectly:
“We come to know what it means to think when we ourselves try to think. If the attempt is to be successful, we must be ready to learn thinking.”
Martin Heidegger, What is called thinking? Lecture I
I agree with this: a serious attempt at thinking entails that we come to know what it means to think, and moreover we must be ready to learn thinking, and not merely take it for granted. But I find that I do not agree with the very next paragraph in Heidegger:
“As soon as we allow ourselves to become involved in such learning, we have admitted that we are not yet capable of thinking.”
Martin Heidegger, What is called thinking? Lecture I
In fact, we are capable of thinking, though the problem is that we do not really know whether we are thinking well or thinking poorly. When we think about thinking, when we reflect on what we are doing when we are thinking, we will discover that we have been thinking in a particular style, even if we were not aware that we were doing so — much like the physician in Moliere who did not know that he had been speaking prose his entire life.
If we pay attention to our thinking, and think critically about our thinking, we stumble across a number of distinctions that we realize can be used to classify the style of thought in which we have been engaged: formal or informal, constructive or non-constructive, abstract or concrete, objective or subjective, theoretical or practical, a priori or a posteriori, empirical or rational. These distinction define styles of thought, and it is only in reflection that we realize that one or another of these terms has applied to our thought, and thus we have been thinking in this particular style.
Ideally one would be aware of how one was thinking, and be able to shift gears in the middle of thinking and adopt a different mode of thought as the need or desire arose. The value of knowing how one has been thinking, and realizing the unconscious distinctions one has been making, is that one is now in a position to provide counter-examples to one’s own thought, and one is therefore no longer strictly reliant upon the objections of others who think otherwise than ourselves.
The cognitive monoculture that we uncritically accept before we learn to reflect on our own thinking is more often than not borrowed from the world, and not the product of our own initiative. Are we living, intellectually, so to speak, in a structure built by others? If so, ought we to question or to accept that structure?
This is a theme to which Merleau-Ponty often returned:
“…it is by borrowing from the world structure that the universe of truth and of thought is constructed for us. When we want to express strongly the consciousness we have of a truth, we find nothing better than to invoke a topos noetos that would be common to minds or to men, as the sensible world is common to the sensible bodies. And this is not only an analogy: it is the same world that contains our bodies and our minds, provided that we understand by world not only the sum of things that fall or could fall under our eyes, but also the locus of their compossibility, the invariable style they observe, which connects our perspectives, permits transition from one to the other, and — whether in describing a detail of the landscape or in coming to agreement about an invisible truth — makes us feel we are two witnesses capable of hovering over the same true object, or at least of exchanging out situations relative to it, as we can exchange out standpoints in the visible world in the strict sense.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible,
I trust Merleau-Ponty with this idea, but, to put it bluntly, there are many that I would not trust with this idea, since the idea that our cognitive architecture is borrowed from the world that we inhabit can be employed as a strategy to dilute and perhaps even to deny the individual. One could make the case on this basis that we are owned by the past, and certainly there are those who believe that inter-generational moral duties flow in only one direction, from the present to the past, but merely to formulate it in these terms suggests the possibility of inter-generational moral duties that flow from the past to the present.
Certainly by being born into the world we are born into a linguistic and intellectual context at the same time as we are born into an existential context, and this fact has profound consequences. As in the passage from Marx that I have quoted many times:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, first paragraph
Marx gives us a particular perspective on this idea, but we can turn it around and by reformulating Marx attain to a different perspective on the same idea. Marx takes the making of history to be a unidirectional process, but it goes both ways, men make history and history makes men:
“Men begin under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past, and make their own history as they please from what they select of the past. The past has not reality but that which men give to it.”
The circumstances transmitted to us from the past are not arbitrary; these circumstances are the sum total of the efforts of previous generations to re-make the world during their lives according to their vision. We live with the consequences of this vision. Moreover, the circumstances we then create are then transmitted to the past; this is our legacy, and future generations will do with it as they will.
The architect, too, begins with circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. For Hübsch this is the problem. Hübsch begins his brief treatise with a ringing assertion that architectural thought is dominated to an archaic paradigm:
“Painting and sculpture have long since abandoned the lifeless imitation of antiquity. Architecture has yet to come of age and continues to imitate the antique style. Although nearly everyone recognizes the inadequacy of that style in meeting today’s needs and is dissatisfied with the buildings recently erected in it, almost all architects still adhere to it.”
Heinrich Hübsch, In what style should we build? 1828
In the twenty-first century this is no longer true. Building has been substantially liberated from classical forms. In fact, since Hübsch’s time, a new classicism — international modern — rose, dominated for a short time, and now has been displaced by a bewildering plethora of styles, from an ornately decorative post-modernism to outlandish structures that would have been impossible without contemporary materials technology. There are, to be sure, architectural conventions that remain to be challenge, and in the sphere of urban planning these conventions can be quite rigid because they become embodied in legal codes.
For our time, the most forceful way to understand Hübsch’s question would be, “In what style should we build our cities?” Another way in which Hübsch’s question retains its poignant appeal is in the form that I suggested above: in what style should we think?
Are we intellectually owned by the past? Is there a moral obligation for us to think in the style of our grandfathers? A semi-humorous definition attributed to Benjamin Disraeli has it that, “A realist is a man who insists on making the same mistakes his grandfather did.” Are we obliged to be realists?
Here we see the clear connection between building and thinking. Just as we might think like our grandfathers, so too we might build like our grandfathers. This latter was the concern of Hübsch. That is to say, we can as well inhabit (and restore, and reconstruct) the intellectual constructions of our forefathers as well as the material constructions of our forefathers.
It would be entirely possible for us today to construct classical cities on the Greco-Roman model; it is even possible to imagine a traditional Roman house with hot and cold running water, electric kitchen appliances, and wired for WiFi. That is to say, we could have our modern conveniences and still continue to build as the past built. We could choose to literally inhabit the structure of the past, as civilization did in fact choose to do for almost a thousand years when classical cities were built to essentially the same plan throughout the ancient world. (See my remarks on this in The Iterative Conception of Civilization.)
We can take the Middle Ages as the intellectual analogy for thinking that the modernized Roman house is for living: the role of intellectual authority in medieval thinking was unprecedented and unparalleled. If experience contradicted authority, so much the worse for experience. If a classical text stated that something was the case, and the world seemed at variance with the text, the world was assumed to be in error. As classical antiquity lived with the same buildings for a thousand years, so the Middle Ages lived with the same thoughts for a thousand years. There is no reason that we could not take medieval scholarship, as we might update a Roman house, and add a few modern conveniences — like names for chemical elements, etc. — and have this perfectly serviceable intellectual context as our own.
Thus the two previous macro-historical stages of Western civilization prior to modernism — namely, classicism and medievalism — represent, respectively, the attempt to build in the style of the past and the attempt to think in the style of the past. It has been the rude character of modernism to focus on the future and to be dismissive of the past. While this attitude can be nihilistic, we can now clearly see how it came about: the other alternatives were tried and found wanting.
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31 December 2011
It seems appropriate on this, the last day of 2011, to reflect upon the year now almost expired, even as the new year is already being celebrated in time zones in advance of my own. As a night person who is always in better spirits and more energetic very late in the day that than early in the morning, it also seems strangely appropriate that I should be near the end of the global “day,” since the date line lies west of me, out in the Pacific Ocean, and the next large landmass on the other side of the date line lies near the beginning of the global “day” — it is quite literally the Land of the Rising Sun.
It was recently reported that a couple of islands in the Pacific — Samoa and Tokelau — decided to switch to the other side of the international date line, skipping Friday altogether and advancing a day in order to align their calendars with those of their major trading partners, Australia and New Zealand. If I had been a Samoan or a Tokelauer I would have been rather irritated with the date switch, as I would have enjoyed being on the very tail end of the global day.
What is to be said of 2011? Did 2011 reveal any new truths to the world, or exhibit any coherent pattern or structure?
Just a few days ago in The Stratfor Hack I said that I had come to the realization that it is just as important to deny the existence of historical patterns that are not in fact exhibited by events as it is to bear witness to historical patterns that are in fact exhibited in events. The more I think of this, the more I think it is more important to resist the attribution of illusory and fallacious historical patterns and trends, since we as human beings are much more likely to find order where there is none that to deny apparent order where there is, in fact, order.
In Futurism without Predictions I argued for discerning patterns in history as the appropriate form of futurism, as against the attempt to make detailed predictions. This is like the difference between being a day trader in the stock market and buying stocks on the basis of research and value. In Confirmation Bias and Evolutionary Psychology I argued that the well known phenomenon of confirmation bias has a basis in our evolutionary history, since believing viscerally in what one is doing is probably a condition for optimal exertion in the struggle of life.
If we put together the critique of prediction-based futurism, the need to discern patterns in history, and the need to transcend our evolutionary predetermination to find patterns where there are none, we come to the overriding importance of not finding patterns where there are none as one of the most important intellectual exercises in the understanding of history. This strikes me as an application of Copericanism to human history: the principle of mediocrity (or the cosmological principle, if you prefer) demands that we not assume that our perspective is special. Thus to claim for any particular year, such as the year just elapsed, that it was a watershed or an historical pivot or a time a great transition is probably to delude ourselves.
And this is exactly what I see in 2011. Certainly it was a year in which much changed, but there have been at least as many historical continuities as historical discontinuities, if not more continuities. 2011 was in year in which many people suffered horrible events and terrible calamities, but it was also a year in which many of the seven billion people on the planet lived a life largely undisturbed and not greatly differentiated from the previous year. If you were to run the numbers, I suspect that you would find that those who suffered a particularly terrible fate during the year (say, for example, the victims of the combined disasters of the Sendai earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear accident) would constitute a small minority of the world’s total population. This does not mean that their suffering was insignificant, only that it did not necessarily shape world events or constitute an historical pattern.
As I see it then, 2011 was a mixed bag, and in the same spirit of historical Copernicanism, I suspect that 2012 will be a similarly mixed bag. Even as I say this I expect that numerous predictions are being made for great historical watersheds in the coming year, just as numerous retrospectives will be identifying 2011 as the the year in which the world changed entire. But one year is very much like another. Few stand out as anything especially shocking or surprising. There is nothing new under the sun.
My perspective is deflationary (in the best tradition of recent analytical philosophy) but sometimes deflationism is necessary. The alternative is to be deluded, and I prefer not to be deluded.
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H a p p y N e w Y e a r !
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24 November 2011
It is customary in many households across the US to employ Thanksgiving as a pretext for an explicit “counting of one’s blessings,” which may even take the ritualized form of going around the Thanksgiving table, one person at a time (whether before or after the meal — I’m not sure that this makes a difference and may then exemplify the liberty of indifference) — and having each individual present give a recitation of the things for which he or she is grateful to have received.
I have often quoted Joseph Campbell to the effect that a ritual is an opportunity to participate in a myth. In what myth are we participating when we engage in a ritualized recitation of the things for which we are thankful? This seems like an easy enough question, but I think it would actually be quite difficult to give an adequate answer to it.
At the risk of sounding nationalistic, here’s the short answer: Thanksgiving rituals are an opportunity to participate in the Myth of America.
Thanksgiving is among the most recent and among our most “American” of holidays. Unlike, say, All Souls Day, with its medieval roots, or Christmas, with its roots in early antiquity, or Easter, with its roots extending well into the prehistoric past of spring fertility rituals celebrated from time immemorial, Thanksgiving has particular roots in early American history — more especially, American history before America was America. Thanksgiving represents for us the prehistory of America, that is to say, the essential elements that constitute the sine qua non of a free, independent, and prosperous republic.
Nota Bene: If you prefer an ideologically tendentious version, you may choose to call American prehistory the conquest and exploitation of North America by white males of European descent, though I must point out at that the perpetrators of said conquest and exploitation all ultimately became creoles, and therefore would not have been welcome at the Thanksgiving tables of their “family of source” in the Old World, if indeed this family of source had had a Thanksgiving table, which in fact they would not have had prior to this American innovation.
When we give an explicit account of the things for which we are thankful, we are participating in a re-enactment of the essential elements — presumably all present at the mythical Thanksgiving table shared alike by Pilgrim fathers and Native Americans — that made American possible, and which will sustain the myth of America into the future. In so far as a myth is a metaphor, we are, we become, these virtuous Pilgrim fathers in our action of thanksgiving, shared across time.
Given the prevalence today of apocalypticism and declension rhetoric, I don’t suppose that many people today are thinking in terms of the myth of America sustained over la longue durée, as in times of recession the myth of prosperity and plenty is more difficult to sustain.
The tendency of Americans to more or less exemplify the view of Henry Ford that history is bunk, tends to magnify every crisis, and each obstacle in the path of progress is seen as unprecedented and perhaps insuperable. Such things are forgivable in a young republic, but we are under no obligation to perpetuate them ourselves.
Fernand Braudel, who more than any historian exemplified the perspective of la longue durée, occasionally makes reference to contemporary events in his enormous three volume work, Civilization and Capitalism. The book was published in 1979, when the economies the most highly developed industrialized nation-states were, like today, stagnant and not particularly hopeful. All of Braudel’s references to the present reflect this then-current “crisis” of capitalism. Not long after, this “crisis” of capitalism passed, market economies grew dramatically not only in scale but also in productivity, and the whole computer and telecommuncations revolution, which we now take for granted, came about.
That Braudel, the quintessential historian of la longue durée, would characterize economic crisis in terms of the stagnancy of the late 1970s points both to the limitations of all anthropic bias, and the fact that tensions within the world are perennial: both the conflicts and the ideals (not to mention the attempts to put ideals into practice) repeatedly recur in novel iterations. The problems of the late 1970s look a lot like the problems of today; these problems can be expected to re-emerge and re-assert themselves throughout the history of industrialized civilization. However, events that submerge and de-emphasize these same problems will also recur throughout the history of industrialized civilization. Such forces that create long term cycles in economics and society were thus of the greatest interest to structuralist historians. If there are few structuralist historians today, that is only because history, too, is subject to cycles, and the structuralist mode of thought can be expected to emerge and submerge repeatedly in intellectual history.
So much for history. What about today — Thanksgiving Day? For what am I thankful on this Thanksgiving Day? What is my Thanksgiving Latourian litany?
I am thankful to live in a world that is so astonishingly interesting that I never fail to be surprised and fascinated by whatever I find. Whether I am considering natural history or human history or narrowly conceived intellectual history, there is always something to pique my interest and to which I could, had I only several lifetimes, devote a lifetime of study. I am as intrigued by the ecology of predation as I am by medieval controversies about the beatific vision or contemporary research in the ontology of formal systems. In contemporary parlance, It’s all good.
While my gratitude for living an an endlessly interesting world may be merely an artifact of anthropic bias, such that I find the world interesting because I am a part of this world, and indeed a consequence of this world, the possibly paradoxical fact of the matter is that any event or discovery that would reveal the limitations of my perspective due to anthropic bias would be of the greatest interest to me — and would thereby make the world an even more interesting place.
All of the discoveries of science, all of the Copernican heritage that has heretofore shown up anthropic bias and revealed the world in all its counter-intuitive splendor — these things are to me among the most fascinating things about the world for which I feel a certain epistemic gratitude. If further investigation of the world should reveal humanity as being even more marginal, and the world as ultimately far larger and more diverse than we expected, and perhaps more than we can comprehend, that would be very interesting indeed, and I can only envy the future for its knowledge of such a world
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5 November 2011
Today is the third anniversary for Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon! Happy Anniversary to me!
I began back in November 2008 with…
…celebrated my first anniversary in November 2009 with…
…and kept the celebration going in November 2010 with…
Thanks for your readership. I appreciate each and every hit I receive. It has become a great amusement to me to track my hits through StatCounter, and to see what exotic locales around the globe have chanced upon this forum.
In the past year I had a new high day of more than 2,000 hits, and I passed the half million hits mark — still far short of those who write about fashion or Kim Kardashian’s brief marriage or other “trending” topics, but not bad for a philosophical commentary of geopolitics, cosmology, and issues of strictly theoretical interest.
Come back soon!
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