Matt Ridley on filters

I was following the responses – on Twitter – to Matt Ridley promoting Christopher Booker’s latest piece of nonsense. In doing so, I discovered that Matt Ridley recently wrote an article in The Times, called ET hasn’t phoned, but don’t take it personally (which you can read here). It’s a reasonably interesting article, but there are a couple of things that I find a bit irritating, given my own interests.

For example, it starts with (slightly edited by me, for brevity)

…..We now know of 1,879 planets outside the solar system. A few weeks ago, we …. found Earth’s twin, a planet of similar size and a habitable distance from its sun, but 1,400 light years from here. Last week we found a rocky planet close to a star just 21 light years away, which means if anybody lives there and tunes in to us, they could be watching the first episode of Friends.

…..

Which only underlines Enrico Fermi’s famous question, first delivered over lunch at Los Alamos in 1950 during a conversation about UFOs: “Where is everybody?” …..

The Fermi paradox gets ever more baffling, as the evidence grows of other habitable planets. The silence is beginning to seem ominous.

The implication is that we now have all this evidence for other potentially habitable planetary bodies, and yet we still seem to be alone. However, that we’ve confirmed 1879 planets outside our Solar System is largely irrelevant. Most planet detection methods are indirect; we infer their presence by determining their influence on their parent star. All we typically determine is their mass, radius, and their orbital properties. We know a little of the atmospheric properties of very hot, gas giant planets, but these are almost certainly not habitable. The silence isn’t ominous, it’s entirely expected. These planets could be teeming with life, and there is no way that we could know. If anything, the search for extrasolar planets is partly based on a desire to build a sample that we can then use in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

The Earth’s twin is really an example of an extremely poor press release. It refers to Kepler-452b, a 1.63 Earth radius planet in the potentially habitable zone of a Sun-like star. However, we have no knowledge of this planet’s mass, and there was a paper last year with the title Most 1.6 Earth-radius Planets are Not Rocky. Apparently, if you make some rather convenient assumptions about its composition, there’s about a 50% chance of it being rocky. More realistic assumptions reduce this to more like 20%. It is very probable that it is not an Earth twin. To be clear, though, the paper that presented this covered all of this very thoroughly.

I was part of the team that discovered the rocky planet close to a star 21 light years away. It’s a very interesting planet in that we have both mass and radius estimates, which indicate that it probably has an Earth-like composition. However, it is in a 3 day orbit around a star with a surface temperature 80% that of the Sun; it is almost certainly not habitable. There are 3 other planets in the system, but they too are likely un-inhabitable. In fact, the current planet detection methods are extremely successful at finding planets outside our own Solar System, but are not yet particularly good at finding those that may be habitable.

To be fair, though, I think that he was really just trying to set the scene for the rest of his article, which is about filters. These are essentially obstacles that stand in the way of life coming into existence and then evolving to become a complex, technologically advanced civilisation that could colonize the galaxy. It’s discussed in more detail in the video that I posted here. I’m in general agreement with this part of Matt’s article; I think that it may well be extremely difficult to overcome all these filters, and that it may well be possible that we’re effectively the only advanced civilisation in the galaxy.

Matt Ridley, however, finished his article with

Is it not incredibly lucky that we live on a rare planet that did make it? Well, no, because whoever lived on such a planet would say that about themselves. It is for this reason that I am not persuaded yet that the most severe filter, the one that stops most planets colonising the galaxy, comes after the stage we have reached. I think that’s unnecessary pessimism.

This seems like a classic example of Ridleyesque optimism; reasonably confident there are no more filters that will prevent us from colonising the galaxy, without really saying why (the “I’m sure it will all be fine” strategy). However, he fails to mention that climate change is a possible filter. Some might find it a little ironic that Matt Ridley is not persuaded that we will encounter any further obstacles to our colonisation of the galaxy, while being regarded by many as one of those contributing to the possibility that this will turn out to not be the case.

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123 Responses to Matt Ridley on filters

  1. Ethan Allen says:

    Interesting.

  2. Magma says:

    Just as an aside, I don’t understood why researchers fortunate enough to have findings or publications that their organization finds worthy of promoting and the media of covering don’t review the news releases for accuracy much more carefully before they go out.

  3. Magma,
    I agree, and this one was poorly done. Phil Plait commented on this.

    Ethan,
    Thanks.

  4. Willard says:

    A Twin Earth that may be closer to our minds:

    Twin Earth is a thought experiment presented by philosopher Hilary Putnam in his 1973 paper “Meaning and Reference” and subsequent 1975 paper “The Meaning of ‘Meaning'”, as an early argument for what has subsequently come to be known as semantic externalism. Since that time, philosophers have proposed a number of variations on the experiment.

    Putnam’s original formulation of the experiment was this: We begin by supposing that elsewhere in the universe there is a planet exactly like Earth in virtually all respects, which we refer to as “Twin Earth”. (We should also suppose that the relevant surroundings are exactly the same as for Earth; it revolves around a star that appears to be exactly like our sun, and so on.) On Twin Earth, there is a Twin equivalent of every person and thing here on Earth. The one difference between the two planets is that there is no water on Twin Earth. In its place there is a liquid that is superficially identical, but is chemically different, being composed not of H2O, but rather of some more complicated formula which we abbreviate as “XYZ”. The Twin Earthlings who refer to their language as “English” call XYZ “water”. Finally, we set the date of our thought experiment to be several centuries ago, when the residents of Earth and Twin Earth would have no means of knowing that the liquids they called “water” were H2O and XYZ respectively. The experience of people on Earth with water, and that of those on Twin Earth with XYZ would be identical.

    Now the question arises: when an Earthling (or Oscar for simplicity sake) and his twin on Twin Earth say ‘water’ do they mean the same thing?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_Earth_thought_experiment

  5. talies says:

    Sometimes I get the sinking feeling that there were too many Matt Ridleys on the other planets.

  6. Tom Curtis says:

    Willard, Putnam’s thought experiment (intuition pump) is a con job. By making the “twin Earth” merely remote in space, he ensures that the same physical laws apply as on our Earth. Our intuitions are, therefore, that any substance that is not H2O is not water on that basis, for with our current physical laws only water can have those precise properties. Had he allowed his “twin Earth” to instead be an alternate possible world, then our intuitions would have been entirely other – ie, that something cold be water without necessarily being H2O. We know this because water was named before its chemical composition was formed, so that its chemical composition is not a logically necessary part of the definition of “water”.

  7. Tom Curtis says:

    talies, yes! The final filter may well be an excess of optimism in the face of grave risks, so that the Ridley’s or the world, and their publications, may be ensuring we do not pass it.

  8. This reminds me of some of my posts from a year or so ago, where the comments would evolve into detailed philosophical arguments and, fairly quickly, end up way over my head 🙂

  9. The final filter may well be an excess of optimism in the face of grave risks

    We could call it the Ridley filter.

  10. Gingerbaker says:

    Planets with intelligent life in the universe: N = 1.

    There is little reason to suppose that there would be more. The sheer number of expected planets in the Universe is almost matched by the sheer number of ways in which planets can be inhospitable to life. The series of circumstances which just happened to lead to humans were very lucky indeed. The characteristics of Earth that appear to be conducive if not necessary for life to develop and survive are orders of magnitude more rare than simply its size, density and distance from its star. (For example – having such a large single moon, lots of water, a spinning metallic core, a strong protective magnetic field, protection from catastrophic meteor impact, a certain amount of tectonic movement, etc).

    Plus, there is little to zero reason to suppose that highly intelligent life is even strongly selected. Some studies indicate the opposite. A truism of modern evolutionary theory is that if the evolution “tape” were rewound, there is no reason to expect that intelligent apes would arise.

    And then there is the time synchronization problem, as ATTP alludes: we are on the brink of self-destruction after only about 4000 years of supposedly intelligently-derived civilization. Yet, our planet has been capable of sustaining life for billions of years. Odds would seem very high that if intelligent life was to be found elsewhere, there is little chance its lifespan would overlap with ours.

    The more we discover about how extraordinary was our luck to be born on this planet and to live at this point in civilization’s trajectory, together with the fact that the inverse square law renders undetectable any kind of energy signal from civilizations from even moderate distance, the more we should be reticent about our chances to happily discover that N = 2.

    The Drake equation is wildly optimistic, imo.

  11. Eli Rabett says:

    Willard, the properties of water are so basic to our biology that postulating an equivalent Willard w/o water is. . . . well, one is enough. You present another example where a philosopher digs himself into a hole and can’t get out.

  12. Willard says:

    > the properties of water are so basic

    Putnam’s not looking for the properties of water. He’s looking for the properties of “water.” What he’s trying to show is that the meaning of water involves properties that are external to what is referred to as “water.” The argument can been extended to mental contents:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/content-externalism/

    That scientific-minded folks refuse the thought experiment is quite common. Essentialism is a tenacious beast. Platonism is the worst.

  13. The properties of water are also so peculiar, that I doubt it to be possible to create a molecule that is different, but behaves similarly. Already finding another molecule for ice skating (a lower density as solid than as liquid) would be hard. Now make that molecule have its highest density four degrees above its freezing point at 0°C and cook at 100°C. Good luck and that is only the beginning. I would not be surprised if someone had written a complete book with all the special properties of water.

  14. I don’t know whether I’m right in saying this but I think that the only way we’ll ever be able to gather detailed information about other planets which lie outside our solar system is to wait until we have developed artificial intelligence sufficient to send a probe to take a look. Such a probe will need to be much more advanced than the sort of probe we sent to Pluto, for the distances are so great that once we’ve sent it in the right direction the probe will need to plan and navigate its exploration and then find a way to gather the required data and work out its own way to send the captured data back to Earth before either self-destructing or heading home.

    This raises the point that if we are capable of doing that, then surely another intelligent civilisation out there would most likely also do the same in reverse? This leads to the question whether we should be looking out for alien probes coming our way—and in fact if one did, would we be likely to notice it was there? Or will we be the first to develop the capability?

  15. Magma says:

    @ talies: sharp and to the point.

    @ Victor: Water and Life: The Unique Properties of H2O (2010, CRC Press), R.M Lynden-Bell, S.C. Morris, J.D. Barrow, J.L. Finney and C. Harper (Eds)

  16. I don’t know whether I’m right in saying this but I think that the only way we’ll ever be able to gather detailed information about other planets which lie outside our solar system is to wait until we have developed artificial intelligence sufficient to send a probe to take a look.

    There are very clever techniques involving coronography (blocking the starlight) or nulling-interferometry (cancelling the starlight) that could allow you to directly probe the atmospheric spectrum of potentially habitable planets. The problem is that it is technically challenging and expensive. Nulling interferometry, for example, would require flying (IIRC) a suite of Hubble Space Telescopes (5 or 6, I think) in a pattern that was accurate to less than a micron.

  17. Sam Taylor says:

    I think that article gives kind of an interest into Ridley’s idea of what “progress” means, insofar as he seems to think of humanity as progressing linearly towards some kind of specific endpoint. I think this viewpoint is quite deeply embedded in a lot of the thinking behind “great filters”, such as in this diagram ( http://28oa9i1t08037ue3m1l0i861.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Great-Filter1.png ), where the filters are arranged linearly, like hurdles along a racetrack, and once you clear all the hurdles you’ve somehow won, which seems a bit too neat and tidy to me. I kind of feel that the whole linear “human progress” thing is always a bit of a fairytale, as really we’re just a big messy sprawl and nobody has any idea whatsoever where we’re going or what we’re doing.

    I find it odd that Ridley thinks we’re cleared any possible great filters. To me it looks like we’re inventing more and more of them for ourselves all the time. In just the last 100 years we’ve had climate change, potential nuclear war and the ozone hole. As we’re getting bigger, and our scientific knowledge is improving, we’re trying out lots of new technologies with many new unintended consequences, quite a lot of which could end up blowing up in our face. Geoengineering and genetic modification are two things in our near future which almost certainly have the potential for quite incredible unwanted side effects, and are areas where I think we should be trading carefully, if at all. Certainly James Watt invented his engine, I very much doubt he thought that he was kick-starting a process which would ultimately lead to the globes climate potentially changing quite dramatically just a few generations after his death.

    I guess this is why I’m very skeptical of all the techno-fixes which are being thrown around for things like climate change. This is a situation which we innovated our way into, so just hurling more innovation at the problem without slowing down and trying to think about what we’re doing seems like a very poor plan to me. This is something that Sander Van Der Leeuw touches on in some of his lectures ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80dR9Q2glgY ).

  18. That’s very interesting, aTTP, but does it just mean that we be able to better refine where we should send the probe? For I’m guessing, humans being humans, once we’ve found something interesting we’ll be bound to want to know more: ‘seeing-is-believing’ and all that.

    On the question of filters, is one of the biggest the fact that we’re filling up earth orbit with space junk which due to the Kessler syndrome may one day be a barrier to our own ambitions? Or will it just lead to the development of force fields—if such a technology is possible?

  19. That’s very interesting, aTTP, but does it just mean that we be able to better refine where we should send the probe?

    Possibly. We may be able to identify bio-signatures that would give us a good idea if there was life on a planet or not based on spectral analysis of the atmosphere. The problem with a probe is that we really can’t (I don’t think) get around Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity. I think the Pluto mission (New Horizons) was the fastest launch and the fastest probe, and yet that took a decade to get to Pluto.

  20. Sam,

    I find it odd that Ridley thinks we’re cleared any possible great filters. To me it looks like we’re inventing more and more of them for ourselves all the time.

    Yes, I find this very strange too. In geological terms, we’ve only been in this planet (whether you define that a humans, or human civilisations) for a very short space of time. The idea that we can, and will, overcome any obstacle just because we’re innovative seems little naive. That we can do so without actually considering the risks, seems even more bizarre.

  21. John L says:

    I think the “business-as-usual” outlook for humanity is very bleak and that it means that we simple will die out or at least face some global catastrophes. Just take the nuclear weapons. Aside the risk of a real conflict and/or that mad people get their hands on them, there have been a lot of known accidental incidents over the years. Not even mentioning the unknown incidents. Even a small chance of accidental war each year soon becomes a very high probability.

    Future technology will be much more advanced and so the weapons (AI-drones, nanotech, biotech etc.) and it will become more general accessible, increasing the risk of usage. So the only chance to survive is simply to become much more wise and peaceful. And hopefully that will not require any large catastrophe happening first.

    Someone made a nice (or at least clever..) argument that finding life on for example Mars would be something bad. This is because it increases the probability that life exists around the universe. But while we don’t see it, it also increases the chances that advanced life is not stable…

    On the other hand, and I’m actually a quite optimistic person :-), I tend to think that if there are some really advanced civilization out there they are probably “nice”, having a great moral and worth say hello to. This is because otherwise they wouldn’t have survived so long but died out from internal fighting or disrespect for their environment. Perhaps they just are a bit shy…?

  22. I tend to think that if there are some really advanced civilization out there they are probably “nice”, having a great moral and worth say hello to.

    I think this might be the general idea behind a Type III civilisation that has managed to make it through all the obstacles, including the Great Filter.

  23. John L says:

    Maybe, but in the Fermi paradox-video you linked to, the type III civilisation were presented more as ancient space lurkers who killed you off when you got advanced enough… In any case, I think the most dangerous and complex risk with climate change is the triggering of conflicts. For example, a fast sea level rise of a number of meters will cost a lot and kill many innocent people but it would still be quite easy to adapt to for humanity as a whole. But maybe not as easy with the social disruption.

  24. Maybe, but in the Fermi paradox-video you linked to, the type III civilisation were presented more as ancient space lurkers who killed you off when you got advanced enough…

    Okay, yes, you’re right. They were presented in that way.

    In any case, I think the most dangerous and complex risk with climate change is the triggering of conflicts.

    Something that I’ve been thinking about, but haven’t written about, is climate change as a stressor. We may well see all sorts of issues arising that are ultimately associated with climate change, but not directly, so it’s quite hard to make the connection convincingly. So, we’ll end up addressing what’s happening, without really addressing why it’s happening.

  25. Willard says:

    > I doubt it to be possible to create a molecule that is different, but behaves similarly.

    I doubt it would be possible to find a Maxwell daemon, and yet he exists in the mind (or rather the culture) of physicists.

    Welcome to the fascinating world of gedankenexperimenten!

  26. Sam Taylor says:

    These stressors are likely to multiply, too, as you get things like depletion of high quality energy sources and other resources like freshwater, fisheries, high quality ores and other rare earths and so on, which all interlink and feed into things like climate change and so on. Large scale civilisation seems inherently fragile, and these are probably reasons why,

  27. John L says:

    @ATTP
    Recent wars in both Syria and Sudan have been attributed to climate change via amplified droughts and related agricultural problems. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.abstract and http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/jun/23/sudan.climatechange
    But as you mention, it is very difficult to make a strong argument for prediction of these societal kind of things.

  28. Vinny Burgoo says:

    ATTP: ‘Something that I’ve been thinking about, but haven’t written about, is climate change as a stressor. We may well see all sorts of issues arising that are ultimately associated with climate change, but not directly, so it’s quite hard to make the connection convincingly. So, we’ll end up addressing what’s happening, without really addressing why it’s happening.’

    Is a stressor a cause, a ‘why it’s happening’? No. It’s a stressor.

    But thank you for highlighting what has long been one of the most glaring faults of mainstream climactivism, which is to associate every problem that can somehow (or ultimately, if you prefer) be associated with climate change with climate change alone and then to advocate mitigation of climate change as the most important approach to solving such problems. Bugger the primary causes. If climate change gets a look-in then that’s what we should all be looking at.

    Examples: drought, famine, war, pestilence, migration, poverty, flooding, wildfires, extinctions – just about everything, really.

    That’s been pretty much the standard approach to climate change campaigning since the mid-noughties.

    But I look forward to reading your own views on climate change as a stressor.

  29. Vinny,

    Is a stressor a cause, a ‘why it’s happening’? No. It’s a stressor.

    The distinction is rather immaterial. By “stressor” I mean something that makes something more severe without necessarily being some kind of definitive “cause”.

    But thank you for highlighting what has long been one of the most glaring faults of mainstream climactivism, which is to associate every problem that can somehow (or ultimately, if you prefer) be associated with climate change with climate change alone and then to advocate mitigation of climate change as the most important approach to solving such problems. Bugger the primary causes. If climate change gets a look-in then that’s what we should all be looking at.

    No, this is one of the claims of those who Victor typically calls mitigation skeptics. Personally, I’m getting rather tired of people making things up, while appearing to suggest that they’re saying something thougtful and insightful.

    But I look forward to reading your own views on climate change as a stressor.

    It’s comments like yours that have largely lead me to avoid doing so.

  30. Tom Curtis says:

    Willard, I am a philosopher by training and by first preference, so I don’t exactly fall under the category of the scientifically minded. Further, I am firmly a nomilalist by conviction and inclination. Never-the-less, the Putnam’s construction of the thought experiment includes extraneous elements in the thought experiment which are necessary for intuitions to provide the answer he wants. He has his thumb on the scales.

  31. izen says:

    @-Vinny Burgoo
    “Examples: drought, famine, war, pestilence, migration, poverty, flooding, wildfires, extinctions – just about everything, really.”

    Interesting list with a strange mix.
    Drought, flooding, wildfires and extinctions (as a flag of ecological degradation) are predominantly climate change issues.

    Famine, pestilence and migration are frequently outcomes of the droughts and flooding etc above. An argument has already been made for war to have climate change as a contributory factor via drought and famine.

    However both war and poverty would seem to be events much more directly rooted in the failures of human social organisation than anything to do with climate change.

    The only example of climate activists invoking the dangers of climate change as a significant factor in poverty that I can think of involves an argument that it can only be prevented by risking MORE climate change than could be avoided by CO2 emission reductions.

  32. izen says:

    @-” Last week we found a rocky planet close to a star just 21 light years away, which means if anybody lives there and tunes in to us, they could be watching the first episode of Friends.”

    Could they tune in ?

    From ATTPs description (congratulation) it sounds unlikely there is any possibility that they would be broadcasting… but could we detect, or tune in to their version of broadcast media if was a twin of ours?

    This also raises the filter of the time window. Biology appeared early on the Earth and survived a number of threats. It is remotely detectable in theory by the chemical imbalance it creates in a planetary atmosphere.

    Intelligent life has to have an effect beyond this to be detectable. The only example we have has had this capability for less than a century. Both in the capability to create a signal and detect one. Before this only structural building patterns would give any indication of behavior beyond the contingent. How close in space and time would a twin Earth have to be to BE detectable?

    The Fermi paradox arises because we can hypothetically see methods which would spread that evidence of intelligence throughout the galaxy in a small fraction of the time life has existed on Earth. More recent advances in autonomous systems makes the prospect of self-replicating probes for space exploration look increasingly possible. So if we are not surrounded by watching Voyagers, what is going to stop US from sending such systems in the near future?

  33. Willard says:

    > Putnam’s construction of the thought experiment includes extraneous elements in the thought experiment which are necessary for intuitions to provide the answer he wants.

    That applies to any thought experiment, Tom Curtis. The point of creating one in the first place is to “pump our intuitions,” as Dennett might say. Which means we wish to discover what we add to it. This may apply to just about any kind of conceptual analysis. An alternative would be to go for some kind of experimental philosophy:

    Experimental philosophy is an emerging field of philosophical inquiry that makes use of empirical data—often gathered through surveys which probe the intuitions of ordinary people—in order to inform research on philosophical questions. This use of empirical data is widely seen as opposed to a philosophical methodology that relies mainly on a priori justification, sometimes called “armchair” philosophy by experimental philosophers. Experimental philosophy initially began by focusing on philosophical questions related to intentional action, the putative conflict between free will and determinism, and causal vs. descriptive theories of linguistic reference. However, experimental philosophy has continued to expand to new areas of research.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimental_philosophy

    Putnam’s twin-earth example shows something about meaning, not about the world. It’s just one way to get to the inscrutability of reference. Everyone but Realists (with a big R) ought to align themselves with it, nominalists included.

  34. Tom Curtis says:

    Further on Putnam, it turns out that his thought experiment has been carried out in the world of gemstones. Specifically, there are several gemstones known from antiquity that have been found to come in a variety of forms with differing chemical compositions. In particular, there is Garnet, which comes in six distinct chemical species, and tourmaline whose formula is given by the USGS as XY3Al6(PO4)4(OH)8.4H2O, where X is usually “Na but can be replaced by Ca” and Y is “one of several metal ions”.

    What has happened among jewelers is that the different chemical properties have not resulted in relevant differences for their needs, so it has not been necessary to decide that one form of Tourmaline is actually tourmaline, while giving other names to the other varieties.

    Indeed, even water comes in 18 different varieties (most of them very rare), with differing masses but scarcely distinguishable chemical properties (but not indistinguishable, a useful feature for paleoclimatology). So water on Earth could be taken to refute Putnam’s feature depending on whether his use of the word “element” is taken to be scientific (in which case different isotopes are not different elements) of philosophical (in which case different isotopes are certainly different substances so that he stands refuted). To be explicit, if Oscar’s twin Earth counterpart were to discover the relative abundances of O16 and O17 where reversed on his planet, thereby slightly raising the melting and boiling point of water but otherwise having no discernible effect, would he thereby discover that twin Earth “water” was not Earth “water”? I don’t think so.

  35. Tom Curtis says:

    Willard, my charge against Putnam is not just that he introduces extraneous elements, but that he introduces an extraneous element that materially effects out intuitions. Had his “Twin Earth” been in a logically possible world rather than merely remote in space, then many (myself included) would very cheerfully have said of a logically possible world in which atomism is false, but in which the oceans were filled with a fluid, transparent, with low viscosity, less dense when frozen, an excellent solvent etc, on which “humans” depended for life, that it was “water”. But I deny that such an equivalent could exist in a merely remote world (ignoring subtleties about isotopes) because known science (and known science at the time of Putnam’s thought experiment) makes it impossible. And because of that, if I am forced to accept the statement of the thought experiment, I am forced to say XYZ is not water. Of preference, however, I would rather reject the thought experiment and as it is unphilosophical to do so on the basis of crude science (ie, that it is scientifically impossible), I must do so on the basis that the thought experiment by design includes material extraneous elements.

    As to what nominalists should align themselves with, I hold that the correct theory of meaning is given by Russel’s theory of descriptions with the qualifications that:

    1) In natural languages, the meaning of a name or noun is given by a bundle of closely related definitions which are not equivalent in meaning; but which language users agilely run between based on context. So, for example, the (modern) meaning of Shakespeare is something like:

    An elizabethan gentleman, author of numerous well known plays and sonnets, born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, who left his second best bed to his wife in his will.

    But that definition coexists with other definitions which do not make it necessary that Shakespeare wrote his plays (so we can suppress that element which discussing the possibility that Bacon was the author)

    2) The bundle (family grouping) of definitions need not be the same for each individual speaker of the language, and indeed will vary based on knowledge base and background;

    3) The language melange so formed is indeed anchored to the world by acts of reference, but that the anchoring need not be at the same points for all people so that reference is not a necessary element of the meaning of nouns (or more correctly, it will be for some elements of the bundle of meanings, but not for others).

    The gist is that natural languages are incredibly messy things that do not fit neatly into philosophers theories, but that once we allow for that, we need complicate our theory of meaning no more than did Russel, while taking due not of the sage question about “which points are starting points?”.

  36. Willard says:

    > Had his “Twin Earth” been in a logically possible world rather than merely remote in space […]

    That’s exactly what he did:

    For the purpose of the science-fiction that follows, we shall suppose that somewhere in the galaxy there is a planet we shall call Twin Earth.

    http://mcps.umn.edu/assets/pdf/7.3_Putnam.pdf

    Twin Earth’s just a possible world in which Putnam copy-pasted all the properties of the actual one, except the one about the composition of water. He therefore pumps all the intuitions needed, instead of burdening himself with creating another world from scratch. Moreover, Putnam’s argument was against Kripke’s theory of causal reference, which was explained with his possible world apparatus. Here’s a short and sweet review I just found:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B0080448542011482

    From the philosophers’ armchairs, it’s possible worlds all the way down.

  37. izen says:

    @-Willard
    “Putnam’s twin-earth example shows something about meaning, not about the world. It’s just one way to get to the inscrutability of reference.”

    XYZ is water just as the medium sized avians that swim on it and quack are ducks.

    By the way I have this little beetle in a box that only I can see, at least I call it a beetle…
    -Grin-

  38. izen,

    could we detect, or tune in to their version of broadcast media if was a twin of ours?

    There’s an argument that because we’ve gone relatively radio quiet within about 100 years (and will probably continue to do so) that it would be very difficult to detect an human-like ETI even using very sensitive receivers (SKA, for example).

  39. victorpetri says:

    @attp
    If the great filter is yet to come, and is unlikely to have occurred earlier in our existence (due to mankind’s increasing capability to orchestrate his own extinction, e.g. nuclear war or GW), we would likely find radiowaves from some planets of the many millions scanned during the Breakthrough Listen project as their final blip before going silent.

    Very interesting to be involved in the discovery of planets.

  40. vp,

    we would likely find radiowaves from some planets of the many millions scanned during the Breakthrough Listen project as their final blip before going silent.

    I don’t know if this correct, or not. However, there is a vast difference between how likely it would be to detect a signal beamed to us by some ETI, and simply detecting leaked radiation from such a civilisation. The latter becomes even less likely if they’ve followed the same trajectory as us and moved from analog, to digital.

  41. Sam taylor says:

    “The latter becomes even less likely if they’ve followed the same trajectory as us and moved from analog, to digital”

    Is this because we won’t have the necesarry decoder cards to pick up their version of sky?

  42. Andrew Dodds says:

    Sam – actually, due to extreme convergent evolution, all alien species end up watching The Simpsons continuously via satellite with the exact same encoding, this being the end state for sentient species evolution. We have in fact picked up these signals multiple times, but of course they were dismissed as interference.

  43. Willard says:

    > all alien species end up watching The Simpsons continuously via satellite

    Could be worse.

    Just imagine aliens caught This Week Tonight’s YT channel and believed that John Oliver was a journalist reporting on real things that happen on earth. His latest:

    There’s a segment about methane, in case mgw is still around.

    ***

    > I have this little beetle in a box that only I can see, at least I call it a beetle…

    What’s in that box evokes another argument:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/private-language/

    As long as we both refer to the box as “box” without having to settle what’s inside it, externalism wins.

  44. Sam taylor says:

    What happens if you put a radioactive isotope in the box, whose decay triggers a device which kills the beetle?

  45. Sam taylor says:

    Obviously this is something that alternate-earth schrodinger came up with (between Simpsons episodes), but presumably when he says “beetle” he really means “cat”.

  46. Tom Curtis says:

    Returning to the original topic, I do not see the need to invoke filters to solve Fermi’s Paradox. Specifically, the ability to detect radio noise resolvable as being from an intelligent source is very restricted (as per the calculation by Stranger on a Train here). Therefore our ability detect an intelligent race on another star depends on their deliberately broadcasting to us. The probability of our doing so, therefore, depends not only on the number of such civilizations in galaxy, but their patience in broadcasting to prospective systems of other civilizations given the infrequency of response. Just how long can they justify the budgetary cost of such broadcasts (or attempts to listen). My guess is that the patience of governments for funding experiments with null results will not extend much beyond a century or so (if that), and that therefore the total duration of broadcasting and listening is a very small faction of the total duration of planets as potential locations of intelligent civilizations. Even if the period of active SETI for a given civilization extended on average for a thousand years, we would have only a 0.0000125% chance of hearing a signal from any such civilization within effective narrow cast range. That, itself will also be a fairly low number given even higher estimates of the total number of such civilizations, given the shere volume of space within the Milky Way.

  47. Tom,
    Yes, I’d agree with that. However, I don’t think that solves why – if there other technologically advanced civilisations – they haven’t sent out self-replicating, robotic probes that could colonise the galaxy within a million years or so. Where are they?

  48. anoilman says:

    Well, we all have our filters to deal with.

    What strikes me is that Matt is the kind of guy actively denying physics to support coal, yet thinks we can go to the stars with zero evidence to support the notion. Although I bet he’d like it to run on coal!

    There are a few organizations here and there studying alternative energy sources and motive technology but they tend to be on the fringe and rather theoretical/experimental side.

    I have to admit, the Alcubierre Drive sounds neat. I’m reasonably certain the cool looking ship is derived from the equations;
    http://www.andersoninstitute.com/alcubierre-warp-drive.html
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcubierre_drive

  49. Interesting article about Matt Ridley in DeSmogBlog today. Acknowledging a bias doesn’t make it not relevant.

  50. Tom Curtis says:

    Anders, I’m not sure of the percentage. Presumably these robotic probes would establish colonies for the parent civilization. Otherwise, why invest what must be considerable resources to establish the program. Further, because they are robotic probes, presumably the colonists are carried as fertilized eggs which are raised in vitro at the new colonies when founded. At that point, the emotional connection between the founding civilization and the new colonies becomes fairly remote and it is not at all clear that advanced civilizations would be motivated simply by a desire that their species fill the galaxy. Particularly given that by the time of any renewed physical contact with the colonies, the colonists would almost certainly have genetically diverged to the point of speciation.

    In this I am merely projecting my motivations, of course. I could (very easily) be motivated to jump on board a generation ship, but in doing so I know I have a direct human connection with the generations that follow, but I have never had an inclination to be a sperm donor, and the prospect that my sperm will fertilize eggs that are used to colonize stars would not change that.

    But if I am merely projecting my motivations, then so also are those who suppose that advanced civilizations will be such rabid expansionists that robotic probes seem like a good idea. If the force of the Fermi paradox depends on the assumption that so abstract a motivation will be a significant driver of advanced civilizations, it does not rest on a strong basis.

    As an aside, on generation ships – if they were ever developed, I could well imagine that once the crew reach a different, inhabitable planet, they will be so socially adapted to life in space as to have no significant desire for the risks of planetary bound existence. If that is the case, they will indeed by interested in other solar systems as a source of resources, but gravity wells will be merely an excessive cost of harvesting so that habitable planets will be avoided. Further, systems with habitable planets will be no more preferable to systems with asteroid belts. That being the case, even an advanced race spreading outward in generation ships need not make itself known to residents of inhabitable planets.

  51. Tom,
    As I understand it, the idea is that you send self-replicating probes that mined asteroid/Kuiper belts to generate new probes. Consequently, the initial investment could be low. The timescale, of course, would be very long. There may be valid arguments as to why no sensible civilisation would bother doing this.

  52. izen says:

    @-Willard
    “As I understand it, the idea is that you send self-replicating probes that mined asteroid/Kuiper belts to generate new probes…. There may be valid arguments as to why no sensible civilisation would bother doing this.”

    Not just valid but watertight.
    It would only take one slightly less than sensible civilisation to construct Von Neumann machines, either out of curiosity, (a Bracewell probe) or out of xenophobia, a Berserker.

  53. Tom Curtis says:

    izen, given that any self replicating process is subject to copying errors, and hence evolution, it would be a very “less than sensible”, indeed, insane civilization that launched self replicating xenocidal bots onto the universe. The probable consequence of so doing is that they themselves would need to defend themselves from the mutated variants in the future, with no guarantee of a successful defense.

    The Bracewell probe is more interesting, but the pay off in knowledge accrued would be very distant in time from the launching of the initial probes. Indeed, there would only be a payoff if the civilization lasted much longer than its duration as a species at the time of launch (improbable); and if mutation did not not result in the “report back” function being dropped as redundant (again improbable).

  54. semyorka says:

    anoilman says:
    August 10, 2015 at 4:11 pm
    “What strikes me is that Matt is the kind of guy actively denying physics to support coal, yet thinks we can go to the stars with zero evidence to support the notion. Although I bet he’d like it to run on coal!”

    Bit of a mini theme.
    Freeman Dyson was planning to use 800 nuclear bombs to launch vehicles to explore the solar system.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)#Sizes_of_Orion_vehicles
    Fred Singer once supported the idea of an artificial Phobos
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Singer#1960:_Artificial_Phobos_hypothesis

    I think there are some people who are just naturally technotopians who gloss over down sides to technology and readily believe in “exciting” futures. All bit “rayguns and rocketships” 50s sci fi.

    Not to mention the whole group around Seitz who believed in winnable nuclear wars with the right kind of defence.

  55. Joshua says:

    ==> “Acknowledging a bias doesn’t make it not relevant.”

    In general, acknowledgement is a step in the right direction. As is acknowledgment of the pervasiveness of motivated reasoning (referred to in the article as “selection bias.”)

    But what was also interesting about the article, IMO, was his self-victimization – worrying about how terribly he’s been treated – apparently without any realization of his engagement (along with many of the “lukewarmers” he’s associated with ) in the same identity-protective behaviors that he feels himself to be a victim of.

  56. Joshua,
    What I find most amazing was all the acknowledgement that he might have a bias, that he may not be all that well read on the subject, that he may be cherry-picking his evidence, and then ending with a justification for what he called being “sceptical” and which I would call being “dubious”. It just seems bizarre that someone with a high-level science qualification would not recognise this is a very poor way to engage scientifically.

  57. Ron Graf says:

    For those who feel the colonization of space is a waste of resources, that we should take care of Earth first, what do you picture the Earth will look like in 100 years? 1000 years? 10,000? I believe future looking (open minded) people have done the extrapolation in their heads and realize that we have the potential to continually diffuse the population bomb only with advancement. Retreat means a Mad Max scenario, a sparse number of survivors fighting over the scraps.

    Let me ask all of you what part of environmental technology is not also needed for the initiation of space colonization? Once we have closed loop recycling of all raw materials and master nuclear fusion, robotics, etc…, what do we need Earth for? Are we that nostalgic for uncontrolled weather (and climate) volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, pandemics, asteroid collisions?

    Is Elon Musk a warmist or a futurist? Does anyone know (for serious)?

  58. Ron Graf says:

    If we are looking at planets for signs of advanced civilizations we are looking in the wrong place.

  59. Ron,

    Is Elon Musk a warmist or a futurist? Does anyone know (for serious)?

    I’ve no idea why you think that’s a question worth answering.

  60. Ron Graf says:

    Musk is a pretty smart guy. Is he developing Tesla electric cars so we get off fossil fuel for the sake of saving the planet or leaving it? I honestly don’t know but I thought it’s worth pondering and poll opinions.

  61. Ron,
    I see no reason to answer a question as to whether or not someone is a warmist or a futurist. Ask a better question, if you would like some kind of answer.

  62. Ron Graf says:

    My personal hunch is that Musk’s desire to pioneer of space colonization outweighs his worry about CO2. That said, the mitigation of warming and the exit from fossil fuel (and other technological advance) is completely supported by a whole segment of the population that you might label as “deniers.” Just as Musk helps the CO2 cause by being a futurist could not warmist help help their cause in the same manner without vilification of an otherwise supportive group?

  63. Ron,
    Firstly, you’re not really getting my hint about labelling.

    could not warmist help help their cause in the same manner without vilification of an otherwise supportive group?

    I’m really not following you here at all. Who is being vilified by whom?

  64. Ron Graf says:

    Sorry for the typo but I thought I was being clear. Many of the scientist and non-scientists who are concerned that the claims that are being made in the name of science regarding CO2 harm and danger are at present unfounded. And making such claims, although have an upside if they turn out to be right, also have a down side if they turn out to be cries of wolf. These sincere people are being attacked as insane, greedy, dumb, delusional, religious, unscientific “deniers.”

    If the those concerned about taking productive measures toward their ends there is more effective ways to gain needed political support , just sayin.

  65. Willard says:

    > I believe future looking (open minded) people have done the extrapolation in their heads and realize that we have the potential to continually diffuse the population bomb only with advancement.

    But think about all the poor who will starve because they can’t eat Matt King’s coal instead. Or just think about all these problems we could solve with all this money!

  66. Joshua says:

    Ron –

    Your comments are like a gold mine. Let me just pick one nugget.

    ==> “:Many of the scientist and non-scientists who are concerned that the claims that are being made in the name of science regarding CO2 harm and danger are at present unfounded.

    Please review the rules for use of articles. Then please restate the “the claims” part.

  67. Ron Graf says:

    Joshua, i don’t understand your request unless your want me to list a string of CAGW skeptics, or something, that we know will devolve into climateball.” What I proposed was thinking about interesting thoughts that can unite rather than divide those that actually have some mutual political aims.

    Any thoughts?

  68. Steven Mosher says:

    “Musk is a pretty smart guy. Is he developing Tesla electric cars so we get off fossil fuel for the sake of saving the planet or leaving it? I honestly don’t know but I thought it’s worth pondering and poll opinions.”

    I would not ponder it for one second

    You ask why is he developing Tesla cars? Look at the Bio. See how the company started and how he became involved.

    Why SpaceX? again, read the bio.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk

    1. Why someone does something is a tangent
    2. Figuring Why someone starts something, and why they continue is not a simple question.
    3. Listening to the words they say about their motivations can lead u astray

  69. wheelism says:

    Musk was quite specific about CO2 emissions in his Powerwall introduction:

    “So what I’m going to talk about tonight is about a fundamental transformation of how the world works, about how energy is delivered across the Earth. This is how it is today, it’s pretty bad.
    [Photo: (Fumes Burning)] THIS IS REAL.
    It sucks, exactly.
    I just want to be clear because sometimes some people are like, confused about it, this is real, okay.
    This is actually how most power world is generated, with fossil fuels and if you look at the curve, that’s a famous curve, the Keeling curve which shows the growth in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and every year it ratchets up, it gets higher and higher and if we do nothing that’s how, that’s what, where it’s headed, to levels that we don’t even see in the fossil record…

    So we want to show people, most importantly that this is possible. If you look at that – that’s the future we could have. Where the curve slowly rolls over and goes to zero, no incremental CO2, that’s the future we need to have. And that’s something that – and the path that I’ve talked about the solar panels and the batteries, it’s the only path that I know of that can do this, and I think it’s something that we must do and we can do and that we will do.”

  70. Ron Graf says:

    Steven,

    What is your opinion on the value of pushing space colonization efforts? Would such technology spending potentially benefit the environment? Is there benefit even if the desire for the quest for leaving the planet turns out to be pie-in-the-sky folly?

    If human civilization is successful to making it past the last filter will the Earth remain important to humans 400 years from now? 4000? 4 million?

  71. Joshua says:

    Ron –

    ==> “Any thoughts?”

    I didn’t think of any way to interpret your comments in ways that seemed consistent with good faith exchange. IMO, your rhetoric referring to “the claims that are being made in the name of science regarding CO2 harm and danger” was a problem. First, it lumps all “claims” made about the risks of ACO2 emissions into the same bag – which is a pretty pointless thing to do if you’re interested in good faith about anything reasonably interesting related to the variety of arguments that are being made about the risks posed by ACO2 emissions.

    2nd, I think that use of “claims” is inherently problematic in itself. Why talk about “claims” instead of “arguments’ or “analsyses,” or something like that?

    3rd, talking of “claims” being made “in the name of science” likewise is problematic. Why use that language instead of saying something like “arguments being presented about the risks of continued ACO2 emissions?” Your use of “in the name of science” seems to me to imply a kind of pretense or falseness – as if what is arguing ins’t really science, it only “claims” being made “in the name of science.”

    Now perhaps I was wrong about #’s 2 and 3…but #1 is just a problem. How do you envision someone could respond to your lumping all arguments about the potential risk of ACO2 emissions by using “the claims?” The use of the definite article implies that the exact nature of your reference has been made clear. Which “claims” are those that you’re referring to as “the claims?”

    So, no, I don’t “want’ you to respond by, IMO, continuing with climateball maneuvers, but by considering, perhaps, how to de-climateball your previous comments.

  72. Ron Graf says:

    Joshua,

    Why do you ask me to change my views as a pre-condition to explore other views that we may have in common? Why not just leave the AGW debate aside for a moment and consider the same questions I posed to Steven?

  73. Ron,

    These sincere people

    Maybe you can describe who, precisely, is sincere and who isn’t.

  74. Sam taylor says:

    Musk’s a funny one. He seems to think that artificial intelligence is the greatest threat to life on Earth. Seems to me that, based on current evidence, human intelligence is miles out in front. All the Silicon Valley messiahs are a strange bunch.

  75. John says:

    @RON “unless your want me to list a string of CAGW skeptics, or something, that we know will devolve into climateball”

    You’ve already devolved this terrific thread into climateball, and any vilification is likewise originating from you.

  76. Andrew Dodds says:

    Sam –

    Yes.. one of the interesting thing about Silicon Valley is that a few years back they all decided that they could use their innovative expertise to solve the energy/climate problem.

    Unfortunately, the Silicon Valley approach is abnormal in many ways – they produce software which has basically no manufacturing/distribution cost. It’s as if Ford just had to produce car blueprints.. but energy is not really limited by how clever we are, it’s limited by physics and chemistry, most of which is very well known. Fixing the energy/environment issue means serious, sustained, low return investment of the order of several % of GDP for a couple of decades.

    The guys at Google may be clever, but physics.

    Izen –

    Once technology reaches a certain stage, it does not take a whole society to create Von Neuman probes. And on the scale of a galaxy, you only need one bunch of idiots at one point in time..

    I do think that people take a short sighted view on this. IF we get past the overpopulation/wrecked environment filter and technology continues to improve, then the merging of computers and brains seems likely and with it the potential extension of lifespans to near-immortal.

    If your lifespan was measured in millions of years, and you could easily hibernate for thousands of years, the slow speed of light would be less of an issue. We really need to stop thinking in Star Trek terms where organic humans meet organic aliens and almost everyone lives on a planet.

  77. Sam taylor says:

    Plus the silicon valley guys mostly live within their own little bubble, both in terms of the worldviews of the people with whom they interact (which probably explains why so many of them seem to be Kurzweillian singularity types who read too much Rand) and the environment in which they live. When you live and work in the middle of a gleaming futuristic paradise, from which all externalities are hidden, it’s probably easy to convince yourself that you can solve all of humanities problems with apps, smart grids and electric cars. One wonders whether citizens of Baotou or Norilsk would reach similar conclusions.

  78. Thomas says:

    I have visited San Jose several times and I still can’t get used to seeing so many Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches driving past so many homeless people. I wouldn’t say those folks live in a bubble, but they certainly have very selective vision of the world around them.

  79. Joshua says:

    Ron –

    ==> “Why do you ask me to change my views as a pre-condition to explore other views that we may have in common?”

    ???

    Why do you (wrongly) think I am asking you to change your views as a pre-condition for good faith exchange? Which views of yours do you (wrongly) think I am asking you to change as a pre-condition for good faith exchange?

    ==> “Why not just leave the AGW debate aside for a moment and consider the same questions I posed to Steven?”

    I’m pretty agnostic w/r/t the questions you asked. I haven’t given much thought to, let alone investigated, the relative costs and benefits of space colonization efforts. I rather highly doubt that the Earth will be unimportant to humans 400 years from now. It’s very hard for me to wrap my mind around questions of what will remain important to humans in 4,000 or 4 million years in the future.

  80. Ron Graf says:

    ” I rather highly doubt that the Earth will be unimportant to humans 400 years from now.

    Here are my logical assumptions:

    1) Looking back at the last 400 years we saw the rate of technological advancement accelerate as each new tool contributed to the knowledge base. As an aid to see this take any fifty-year period and measure the advances against any prior 50 years. I will grant that WWII and to some extent the cold war acted as a temporary catalyst too.

    2) The direction of technological advancement is taking civilization toward creating man’s environment rather than adapting to it. Living in a cave for it’s protection is pure adaptation. Creating a shack is the next step. Living in a modern building with all services wired and piped in is just a step.

    3) the barriers to off planet habitation are not unbreakable. And, they will diminish to insignificance in a short time if assumption 1) is correct.

    4) Once a sustained off-planet colony is growing there will be sufficient humans willing to emigrate there to accelerate its growth. As the colony becomes more robust the appeal will increase to ever larger portions of the population.

    5) At some point parents of children born in an off-planet colony will feel their home is safer if not just as safe as Earth’s habitat.

    6) In 400 years where will our most inventive minds be living?

    Considering all the above I see it reasonable to forecast that Earth will be the womb of future human civilization not the permanent nest. The Earth will still be visited and perhaps become a giant wildlife refuge for biological study.

  81. Sam taylor says:

    Yeah, extrapolating exponential curves always leads to accurate predictions right guys?

  82. victorpetri says:

    @Ron
    300 years into industrialization and urbanisation and the bulk of mankind still greatly enjoys nature, outdoors and wildlife, together with the fact that we have evolved to enjoy this planet, e.g. its gravity, its air (if its clean), its sounds and its landscapeviews, I would not yet cast aside Earth’s popularity for many generations to come. I do think we will colonize other planets in our solar system in the coming 400 years, and money will be made there, but I don’t think they will be terribly popular places to live. I definitely don’t think the most inventive minds will live there, despite Musk’s outspoken wish to die on Mars, preferably not on impact.

  83. Andrew Dodds says:

    Well..

    My parents lived in a brick built house with mains electricity – from coal, oil and nuclear power – and running water, got their food from large scale agriculture, heated with natural gas, and drove a car powered by oil. And men had only recently stepped on the moon, but commercial supersonic travel was still 3 years away.

    40 years of way-to-go techo-advancement later.. I live in a brick built house with mains electricity – from Gas, coal , nuclear and the solar panels on a good day, running water, get food by large scale agriculture, heat with natural gas and we have 2 oil-powered cars (I also have 3 pushbikes and my dad only had 1..) But there are no moon landings nowadays and supersonic passenger transport is long gone.

    Yes, telecoms and personal computing have advanced massively, which is great and all, but it’s one sector where a process (progressive reduction of CMOS component sizes) has given an exponential result. And improvements in manufacturing have made consumer goods that much cheaper. But the idea that things are getting exponentially better in every way.. nope.

  84. Steven Mosher says:

    What is your opinion on the value of pushing space colonization efforts?
    – its stupid, the technology required to do it would make it unecessary..

    Would such technology spending potentially benefit the environment?
    – ah yes, the Tang argument

    Is there benefit even if the desire for the quest for leaving the planet turns out to be pie-in-the-sky folly?
    – sure

    If human civilization is successful to making it past the last filter will the Earth remain important to humans 400 years from now? 4000? 4 million?

    yes, yes, yes.

    is it 420?

  85. Willard says:

    > I do think we will colonize other planets in our solar system in the coming 400 years, and money will be made there, but I don’t think they will be terribly popular places to live.

    Sometimes, science-fiction is history with more silvery clothing:

    In 1867, after the Russian Empire sold Alaska to America, the US occupied the area following military action. The US government attempted to assimilate the natives of Alaska and Canada, creating a reservation in the US and Canada, as a temporary measure to allow a smooth transition of indigenous peoples from being «primitive» to «civilized». In order to do this, the reservations implemented an education system and boarding schools were created, which were funded by the state and controlled by religious organisations. As a result of these policies, indigenous peoples in both countries were forced from their traditional lands and had to constantly deal with many social problems, especially poverty and disease.

    http://www.arctic-info.com/Encyclopedia/Rubric/the-history-of-the-arctic-

    Why wait for 400 years when nations are yet again racing for the Arctic as we speak?

  86. Joshua says:

    Ron –

    ==> “1) Looking back at the last 400 years we saw the rate of technological advancement accelerate ”

    I wonder about how you are measuring the “rate of technological development.”

    How would you measure the rate of technological advancement during the period where humans started using fire on a widespread basis, or developed the technology of the lever or the wheel? Or agriculture? Less than in the last 400 years? Was that rate of technological growth a constant, such as that it makes sense to describe a trend over a period of hundreds of years? How many years was it between the period when fire was used on a widespread basis and the onset of the industrial age? If we took any given number of 400 year periods during that time, could we extrapolate to determine a “rate” of technological development” that was greater than the period when the use of fire became common?

    How would you measure the rate of technological development, relatively, from the past few decades as compared to the decades encompassing the period when use of electricity for domestic purposes became logistically feasible? Antibiotics? The internal combustion engine?

    I think that Sam’s point in his 1:16 post deserves due diligence. I’m not sure whether it makes sense to define a “rate of technological development,” let alone extrapolate about one into the future.

    Anyway, from my limited brain power, I see certain fundamental obstacles – primarily the boundaries imposed by physical limitations on speed of travel – in the way of colonizing other planets in our solar system that I think would be hard to overcome on a time scale in the hundreds of years to the extent that the Earth becomes “unimportant.” Of course, I well-recognize that a person alive 400 years ago would have said something similar had they been asked to predict whether we’d be able to accomplish many tasks that today we consider routine. But given the nature of those obstacles regarding space travel, while I might be surprised if I were put into a time machine and shot ahead to 2415 and found Earthlings living on other planets, I think it’s rather very unlikely that so much colonization would take place that the Earth would become “unimportant.”

    Anyway –

    Perhaps you could address the other issues we were discussing?


    Why do you (wrongly) think I am asking you to change your views as a pre-condition for good faith exchange? Which views of yours do you (wrongly) think I am asking you to change as a pre-condition for good faith exchange?

  87. Joshua says:

    Ron –

    Anyway, your questions peaked my interest (the latter ones, the earlier ones seemed rather vapid to me)…started Googling… found this to be interesting reading…

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

  88. Joshua says:

    Oh – and please substitute “advancement” for “development” in much of my 2:55 comment.

  89. Joshua says:

    and piqued for “peaked.”

  90. anoilman says:

    Sam taylor: 🙂 Only if you’re one of those wiz bang financial guys. Of course they’d probably point out that its cheaper and easier to stay.

    If we currently can’t live in the arctic or a desert, what the heck are we going to do on another planet?

    Perhaps Musk is just a shrewd business man who see’s an opportunity where others see failure folly;
    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/gms-bob-lutz-thinks-telslas-stationary-storage-business-is-a-really-stupid

  91. Andrew Dodds says:

    aom –

    Two reasons.

    First, there is no where on the planet that hasn’t been claimed by someone/somegovernment.

    Second, Some space rocks do have a lot of useful metals that you really can’t find easily on Earth.

    Similar reasons that sent a large chunk of Europe off to the New World, with probably a better chance of survival and phoning home..

  92. Robotic asteroid mining seems quite plausible. Actual space colonisation, not so plausible – IMO, at least.

  93. Sam taylor says:

    Joshua,

    Ragarding that Kurzweil graph, Geoffrey West (theoretical physicist who now looks at complex systems such as cities and their scaling laws at the Santa Fe institute) talks about Kurzweil’s work and theories and basically calls it (I quote) “bullshit”, in that a lot of kurzweil’s data is probably wrong and that West also disagrees with the conclusions that he’s drawing.

    Pretty good summary (including his opinions on Kurzweil I think) in this talk:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etfRE5-YlXs

  94. anoilman says:

    It might make more sense to defend the Earth and find a way to divert flying rocks. Of course, super volcanoes are equally deadly.

    There are other reasons why colonizing space is difficult;

  95. Joshua says:

    Related:

    http://www.ronpaulforums.com/showthread.php?480142-Stephen-Hawking-Predicts-%93This-Pill-Will-Change-Humanity-quot

    “Stephen Hawking Predicts, “This Pill Will Change Humanity” – Harvard Study Shows Brain Boosting “Smart Drug” Proven To Double IQ Is The Biggest Discovery In History”

    OK. Now that I’ve read that, I’m looking into investing in a real estate deal on Neptune.

  96. BBD says:

    Sounds like your browser’s been compromised.

  97. Joshua says:

    Marco –

    ==> “Joshua, it is a marketing scam:”

    You mean it isn’t the most important invention in history that doubles your intelligence by taking a pill?

    If only you had let me know that before I invested my life savings in that real estate deal on Neptune…

    I’m so embarrassed.

  98. Marco says:

    Did I miss a Poe?

  99. anoilman says:

    Joshua: I have an even better offer. Double your IQ or NO MONEY BACK! Sign up today!

  100. Sorry, I’ve been out running various errands. Should I be tidying up some comments?

  101. BBD says:

    Marco

    Webroot is blocking access to the first site you link and warning of malware.

  102. I think I’ve done as Marco suggested. Not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I have to go and turn some burgers 🙂

  103. BBD says:

    I have to go and turn some burgers

    Told you that physics degree wouldn’t get you a proper job…

    😉

  104. Joshua says:

    Well, since you asked…No biggie either way…. but it would be nice if you could put back my original comment about the earth-shattering, most important discovery in human history endorsed by Stephen Hawking… and just substitute the link from my 4:20 comment?

  105. Joshua says:

    Ooops. The 4:20 comment is gone now also. They’re disappearing faster than I can keep track of!

    Marco’s request was based on a failure to recognize a Poe. If someone one gives you a hard time because they didn’t recognize a Poe, who should be embarrassed?

  106. Joshua,
    The burgers are finished, so I’ll sort it out now.

    Told you that physics degree wouldn’t get you a proper job…

    Judging by the discussion about me on Twitter, that’s all some people think I’m good for 🙂

  107. Joshua,
    Is that what you wanted done?

  108. Marco says:

    “Webroot is blocking access to the first site you link and warning of malware.”
    It is the usual stuff of popups and irritating ads.

    I am not embarrassed of failing to recognize a Poe :-). When dealing with climate pseudoskeptics, even real Poes often sound rather sane…

  109. BBD says:

    Judging by the discussion about me on Twitter, that’s all some people think I’m good for

    Imbecilic contrarian nonsense on Twitter? You amaze me 🙂

  110. BBD says:

    Marco

    Ah, okay. Webroot means well but it can be a bit twitchy at times.

  111. Joshua says:

    Anders – this has gotten way more complicated than a bad joke deserves, but yeah, if you could do as I requested, that would be good.

  112. Joshua,
    I thought I had. I re-instated your 3:57pm with the link from your 4.20pm. Was it something else?

  113. semyorka says:

    “Robotic asteroid mining seems quite plausible. Actual space colonisation, not so plausible – IMO, at least.”
    Water is by a very long way the most important thing we will mine in the solar system. One you start getting even small amounts back to near Earth orbit you can use it plus solar energy to have a self sustaining operation bringing delta v fuel back to low Earth orbit. It could take as little as a getting a couple of tonnes beyond Earths orbit to where ever the current frost line is
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frost_line_(astrophysics)
    or possibly closer.
    http://www.space.com/24366-dwarf-planet-ceres-water-ice-volcanoes.html
    Everyone always goes on about iridium and platinum when talking about asteroid mining. But its not gold that drives the Earth current economy but oil that at $50 for c.159 litres is much cheaper than cola or beer.

    Once we have robotic-ally mined water coming back to Earth it will be the solar exploration equivalent of opening the Suez and Panama canals in 1492.

  114. Joshua says:

    Anders – Good to go. Thanks.

  115. guthrie says:

    Semyorka – water is going to be valuable to mine? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. We don’t need it down here on earth. It would be somewhat useful to have in space, but there’s some on the moon, and it’ll be easier trying to mine a passing comet.

  116. semyorka says:

    “We don’t need it down here on earth.”
    It costs in the order of $100 million to put a tonne in geostationary orbit.
    “it’ll be easier trying to mine a passing comet.”
    They tend to be moving rather fast.

  117. Ron Graf says:

    Kudos semyorka. Water will be important for a source of hydrogen and oxygen storage. All resources will need to be recycled in a tight loop. And, if we can do that in space we can do that on Earth. And, in that case human impact and footprint will be reduced 1000-fold.

    The Earth will always be important. But if human civilization makes it to the final filter then by definition the Earth will be non-critical to human perpetuation.

  118. Ron Graf says:

    Jules Verne foresaw geo-engineering for climate 130 years ago here.

  119. Andrew Dodds says:

    guthrie –

    I think that Semyorka’s point was that putting a tonne of water in orbit is quite hard right now.

    But with a decent mining operation in the Asteroid belts, you could presumably built a whole depot of basic materials in Earth orbit – water, iron sheets, regolith blocks, etc – easily, which in turn means you can build a proper sized space station and use it as a waystation for transport elsewhere.

  120. Brian Dodge says:

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