Here's a great video by Neil DeGrasse Tyson covering a couple of super-cool notions that combine what most excite me about astrophysics and life. This is the essence of science fiction for me!

First up, he talks about how we are starstuff, made of the most common elements in the universe. The first part of that statement is pretty basic to everyone who's ever taken a basic astronomy course: All the elements in our bodies were first manufactured in the heart of long-dead stars, starts that went supernova billions of years ago, casting their guts into space, where their matter coalesced into our Sun and the Earth and all the other matter in the Solar System. The notion I hadn't really considered before is that our form of life - carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen - is likely the most common form of life in the universe, because those are the most common elements (excepting helium, which is non-reactive, so useless to life except for using to float around). We're not likely to encounter much advanced life based on, say, lead or arsenic. Much useful idea-fodder there for SF writers.

The other cool SFnal material - perhaps even more relevant for writers thinking about aliens - is that we are only 1% or so different from chimpanzees, and that's what makes all the difference between maybe being able to do sign language and building the Hubble Space Telescope. If we encounter aliens who are only 1% different from us in intelligence, they might naturally intuit the greatest mysteries on the frontiers of science, their toddlers might be able to do astrophysics in their heads like Stephen Hawking, whom they might put in front of their anthropologists who'd say, "Aw, isn't that cute! My little BillyE59X just did that in school today and I put his homework on the fridge" - the way we do display our kids' pasta art.

If we meet superior aliens, would they stop to have a conversation with us? Well, do you stop to have a conversation with a worm? A bird? Well, maybe you do, but you don't expect the bird to hold up its side of the conversation.

Good stuff. Check it out:



I've been watching videos by him for the past couple of hours, since getting home from running errands after my Dad left to return to Minneapolis (great visit by the way! We went to see Cowboys and Aliens and the Douglas County Fair demolition derby, among other things). TONS of wonderfully insightful yet simple and accessible thoughts, much as Carl Sagan was the voice of reason and wonder from my youth. How did I miss knowing about Tyson for so long? I guess this is the sort of thing one gives up by not having cable.

In short: Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome. The universe is awesome. Everything is awesome!

Chris
In this essay, Mike Selinker strikes a sad note in England's history, when they killed national hero and genius Alan Turing, thereby relegating themselves to the dustbin of history. It's a must-read.

One can see this tragedy as an opportunity for an alternate-history story. Has anyone written this: What if England hadn't forced Alan Turing into an intolerable situation? What if he had gone on to establish a British computer industry in the 1950s? What if computer science had flourished twenty years sooner than it did?

Questions that elicit answers that make Turing's death even more tragic.

Chris
Clay Skirky at the Web 2.0 (yes, I also hate that label) Expo 2008 in San Francisco, gave a talk on "the cognitive surplus" that's driving the current revolution in our civilization. It's 16 minutes long, but if I sat through it from home, you can too... or just read some excerpts:

[The cognitive surplus] "is so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let's say that everything stays 99% the same, that people watch 99% as much television as they used to, but 1% of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That's about five times the size of the annual US consumption. One per cent of that is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation. I think that's going to be a big deal. Don't you?"

"Here's what four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for.

"Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change [like the Industrial Revolution, unlike flagpole-sitting]. Because four-year-olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unpack a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing, and sharing."

"If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus we now recognize we can deploy, could we make a good thing happen?"


This is what Shirky discusses in depth in his new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] starstraf for the tip.)

Damn. Here we are, in the midst of a cultural revolution. Y'all out there, reading this and doing your own blogging and editing Wikipedia and sharing photos and music online? You writers, musicians, and other artists finding ways to involve your audience? You're part of this revolution.

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (stone monkey)
( May. 3rd, 2007 06:52 pm)
This is brilliant and funny and moving. One of the students in my SF class brought this in today. Watch:

Chris
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Changing the definition of "death."

Wow. Think it over for a while and it will suddenly seem completely intuitive. Why should we die just because our blood supply drops off? Because our mitochondria are confused!

Thanks [livejournal.com profile] rougewench for the tip.

Chris
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This article describes how Intel has found a way to keep Moore's Law working toward the Singularity. Cool, and of course we knew the hardware developers would create something like this, because The Singularity Is Near, as they say.

Fun day today, with so many people stopping by that we used up all the grown-up chairs, all the nice patio furniture, and even had to bring in the pile of stackable chairs; that means 14 people were here at one point, wheeee! Thanks for coming to visit and goof off! It's so good to see you.

Hope y'all're well.

Best,
Chris
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Listening to NPR's Science Friday show and heard about a new 3D map of the cosmic dark-matter framework. Cool.
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (whale breaching)
( Mar. 28th, 2006 11:56 am)
This is a fascinating article. We are not alone in the universe, not the only sentient species; the irony is that our sentient siblings have lived here with us for millions of years.

Chris
mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Virgin Galactic)
( Jan. 10th, 2006 11:12 am)
This is too cool. Article about Heim's "hyperspace drive" system, akin to dark energy or antigrav drives. Interesting stuff! Article is here.

EDIT: Here's a translation of Heim's theories into English.
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Wow, mind-expanding thoughts. Scary too. Read Vernor Vinge's essay -- here's the abstract:

"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended. Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive? These questions are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further dangers) are presented."

Here's the full essay:
http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~phoenix/vinge/vinge-sing.html

Fascinating stuff! I hadn't read Vinge's essay before. Also read "Inside the unfathomable superhuman future after the 'singularity,'" by Bruce Sterling. A thought-provoking response to Vinge. Let's hope this refutation helps develop SF as a whole.

Sterling's essay:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.09/view.html?pg=4

Chris
So perhaps it's not religious fundamentalism itself that is the root of evil, but something deeper. I mean, whatever causes religious fundamentalism is probably the same thing responsible for patriotism, nationalism, and sundry other evils.

Could it be fear, then? Here's an interesting article: )
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After participating in the original discussion (find it here: http://www.livejournal.com/~mckitterick/32356.html ), I think perhaps that if such a virus were to hit us, it would be a bad thing. Even if [livejournal.com profile] taffy23110's suggestion that we would descend into animals weren't the case (and that's an entirely different conversation, I think), I think several people's argument that religiousity isn't the root of the problem, rather black vs. white / right vs. wrong is (and they just use their chosen religion as a shield and a weapon).

Bad people using religion is the problem, then. "We can kill them because they're heathens"; "They're going to hell anyway, so let's end their suffering"; "God hates fags"; and so on. So what kind of intentional attack would remove that? It's a tough one; I mean, do you want to eliminate decision-making? I suspect that's related to thinking one is right. Eliminate the capacity for evil thoughts...? Hmmm, that one scares me; how do we know if that's not a requirement for survival? And what would that entail, anyway?

So what would eliminate the fundamentalist's smug assumption that he is right, everyone else is wrong and headed for hell? That's what got me started: If no one could feel the divine, they could no longer use it as an excuse. But y'all're right: It would also eliminate all kinds of good things, things that make us great and good like creativity, the "eureka!" moment, and the sense of one-ness with others. Perhaps this conversation does return to our needing to sense the divine in order to be human...

I would like to hear an atheist point of view, as well. Atheists, hello? Certainly they have their own sense of this via non-religious experiences.

Thanks,
Chris
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[livejournal.com profile] scarlettina's recent post got me thinking again about a story I intend to write.

What would happen if the world were suddenly infected with a virus, say, that destroyed the part of our brains which provided the religous impulse? That is, suddenly all fundamentalists became simple freaks, because the drive to believe in God were no longer something our biology responded to?

Chris
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