100 Year Starship Study Symposium 2011 Day 1

30 September 2011


I am just back from the first day of the 100 Year Starship Study symposium. The largest conference room used for the keynote address was filled to capacity with what I estimate were several hundred people. The first session and several subsequent sessions were standing room only, so the event is quite well attended.

It is obvious that many of those in attendance have been inspired by science fiction. One theme that came up several different times in different talks was that of science fiction as a thought experiment for the future. I wrote a longish post about science fiction — The Role of Science Fiction in Industrialized Civilization — but did not even consider this theme. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but apparently wasn’t obvious to me previously.

Another theme that occurred throughout the talks to which I listened was the question of the institutional framework that would be needed to take responsibility for a very long term project such as a one hundred year initiative to build a starship. These discussions pose an obvious question: is it only possible to undertake a large-scale, long-term project as an institutional undertaking? What are the alternatives?

Recently in This could go somewhere, or it could go absolutely nowhere… I contrasted the heroic conception of science with the iterative conception of science, as extensions of my previous discussions of The Heroic Conception of Civilization and The Iterative Conception of Civilization. It strikes me now that the idea of planning a starship has something heroic about it, but in so far as it is planned as part of a large-scale institutional undertaking it also falls under the iterative conception.

Comparisons were made between multi-generational projects like building the pyramids or the cathedrals and building a starship. These historical analogies also involve both the heroic conception of the project and the institutional iteration that allows the project to be continued. Probably most great projects in history are like this: an admixture of the heroic and the iterative. Yet to realize that a presupposition is being made obviously suggests the possibility of an alternative, and in so far as science fiction has served as a thought experiment (as mentioned above) this suggests a thought experiment of a large-scale, long-term project that is not conceived or carried out as an institutional undertaking.

There was also a good deal of earnest discussion over how to interest the public and keep the public interested. There were many interesting ideas (things I wouldn’t have thought about, like video games), and lots of proposals were formulated. That makes this symposium a hopeful start.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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