100 Year Starship Study Symposium 2011 Day 2

1 October 2011


Today I had my opportunity to speak at the 100 Year Starship Study symposium. Prior to arriving, nothing was said about the length of individual presentations, or about the number of one’s PowerPoint slides. Upon arrival, my first contact with organization staff consisted of being scolded for the number of slides I had prepared (132). Also, the speakers were held to a close 20 minute time limit, with no appreciable time between speakers.

As a consequence, I had far too much material. I had to talk fast in order to give the better part of my presentation, and I had to skip over a good deal of material. So this was dissatisfying. My sister suggested that I gestured too much with the remote control for the slides, that I didn’t look at the audience enough but rather looked at the screen, and that I said “so” too many times. These constructive criticisms were welcome, as they were valid.

The result was that my talk was less than optimal, but I still managed to get my point across in a few areas. Given my near total lack of experience in public speaking, if I judge myself leniently for my inexperience, I could say that I didn’t do too badly. But it could have been much better. A couple of people approached me after I spoke and expressed an interest in what I had to say, which was rewarding.

Beyond my own presentation, which was the very last of the philosophical and religious talks which were held in one room (which was the poor cousin of the room where technical talks were held, in which latter there was standing room only), there were several other speakers. The most intellectually rigorous presentations were given by two German Protestant theologians, C. Weidemann and M. Waltemathe, both from Ruhr-Universität Bochum, who presented, respectfully, “Did Jesus Die for Klingons Too?” and “A Religious Vision for Interstellar Travel?”

In his exposition of the principle of mediocrity, C. Weidemann made an analogy with a lottery ticket, which was both insightful and a fruitful way to think about mediocrity after the Copernican Revolution (which is something I think about often). He suggested that most holders of a lottery ticket realize that they hold the “average” ticket, which is to say that they don’t win the prize. However, with further investigation you may discover that you have in fact won the prize and that the ticket you hold is an exception to the mediocre rule. This incorporates a perspective of increasing knowledge into the formulation of the principle of mediocrity, which corresponds better to our actual epistemic perspective than an unstated assumption of static knowledge.

In another talk, as well as in remarks following the presentations, K. Denning of York University offered another good example of a highly optimistic estimate of the accuracy of futurist predictions, which is something that I discussed previously in Synchronicities of Futurism. Professor Denning in particular cited H. G. Wells’ 1908 work The War in the Air as preternaturally accurate futurism.

I should emphasize that this was not the focus of Professor Dennning’s talk, but only a comment made in passing, but I think that this is revelatory of a particular conception of history, as I also had in mind when I mentioned this in connection with Michio Kaku and the Tofflers. If you hold that history can be accurately predicted (at least reasonably accurately) a very different conception of the scope of human moral action must be accepted as compared to a conception of history that assumes (as I do) what we are mostly blindsided by history.

A conception of history dominated by the idea that things mostly happen to us that we cannot prevent (and mostly can’t change) is what I have previously called the cataclysmic conception of history. The antithetical position is that in which the future can be predicted because agents are able to realize their projects. This is different in a subtle and an important way from either fatalism or determinism since this conception of predictability assumes human agency. This is what I have elsewhere called the political conception of history.

Perhaps it is only when I see this perspective up close that I realize how different it is from my own point of view. When I originally formulated the idea of the political conception of history I saw much of myself in it, but now that I realize that it corresponds to a commitment to the accuracy of futurism, I see in concrete detail why I must reject it except for special cases that are the exception to the rule.

. . . . .

The political conception of history.

. . . . .


. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .


10 Responses to “100 Year Starship Study Symposium 2011 Day 2”

  1. BurntSynapse said

    Bumped into you at this event. I study history & philosophy of science revolutions, for which Copernicus is an exemplar.

    An interview last weekend on this is at http://t.co/mSE4PK6l

    • geopolicraticus said

      Thanks much for the link to the interview, which I read and enjoyed. While I think I disagree with you regarding space and time, I strongly concur about the need to include philosophers of science in such matters.

      If you organize any conferences involving philosophy of science and space travel I would be very interested in participating.

      Best wishes,


      • BurntSynapse said

        Hi Nick,

        I post some on Twitter as BurntSynapse, and post some related info at http://StructuredDream.blogspot.com

        I’m always interested in objections to my opinions on space-time research.

      • geopolicraticus said

        Thanks for the links. I’ll be reading your blog and Twitter posts.



      • BurntSynapse said

        Hello Nick!

        Upcoming events include: 100YSS in Houston, TVIW in Oak Ridge, and next year: Icarus’ Starship Congress.

        I also started “The Starship Vlog” you may like.

      • geopolicraticus said

        Hi Buck,

        Will you be attending all these events? Thanks for telling me about your starship vlog. I’ve been thinking about turning my Centauri Dreams posts (which are all about interstellar travel and spacefaring civilization) into video blog posts, as this would be a good way to respond to comments. I would be interested to hear about your experience vlogging.

        Best wishes,


      • BurntSynapse said

        Hi Nick,

        Yes I’ll be at each of these, and still may attend AIAA Space 2014 in San Diego, but overseeing finalization of a new (but far behind schedule) house in Patagonian Chile, and the length of the flights make it a pain.

        Since being blacklisted by Centauri Dreams a couple of years ago, I stopped following it, but I’d be interested in any favorites you’d like to share.

        The vlogging experience is a non-trivial story, perhaps we can talk about it over a beer at one of these events. I’ve just unpacked my main computer in the new house, and looking forward to shooting a new vlog. I’m working on a calendar of upcoming events now. Anything besides those I mentioned that you think I should include?

      • geopolicraticus said

        Hi Buck,

        After I spoke at the Icarus Interstellar Congress in Dallas last year Paul Gilster invited Heath Rezabek and myself to post once per month there. Since then, I’ve written a series of posts about interstellar travel and spacefaring civilization. Here is a list:

        Existential Risk and Far Future Civilization

        Deep Time, Big History, and Existential Risk

        SETI, METI, and Existential Risk

        Cosmic Loneliness and Interstellar Travel

        Stepping Stones Across the Cosmos

        Extraterrestrial Dispersal Vectors

        What Kardeshev Really Said

        The Infrastructure Problem

        How We Get There Matters

        I’m working on another post for Centauri Dreams now.

        I do hope we can talk about your experiences at one of these meetings. I’ve very impressed by the quality of your production and the set you have for your videos.

        If I learn of any other events I will send notices your way.

        Best wishes,


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