More Natural Oil Spills than Manmade

May 8, 2010

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound released 10.8 million gallons of oil — or almost 250,000 barrels of oil.  But natural oil seeps off California release up to 80 times that amount.  And natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico release twice the amount as the Exxon Valdez every year.

The Transocean Deep Horizon oil spill may eventually match that of the Exxon Valdez — if it continues leaking at the current rate for the next month or two or more.  Politicians and environmentalists are already declaring states of emergency, but better technology may yet break up the oil spill and allow natural forces to dissipate it.

Curious claims are being made from various sources regarding the origin of the oil platform fire, explosion, and sinking.  But even if the oil platform was deliberately destroyed, as some are claiming, the well itself should have had some type of inbuilt mechanism — a blowout preventer — to stop oil flow in case of a catastrophic disruption in continuity of the piping. [Update 1 May 2010: Apparently the blowout preventer at the site failed to operate.  At this time no one knows why the blowout preventer failed.  Certain automatic safety switches that were not included in the operation may have been able to trigger the blowout preventer.]
Other offshore wells incorporate such safety features, which would likely have stopped the oil spill very early in its course. So the problem is not offshore drilling so much as it is making sure the best technology is utilised when drilling offshore.  And, yes, try to maintain a sense of perspective.
This Denver Post article presents a bit of background


Can Senator Obama Help Black Males?

August 4, 2008

There is a sense of optimism among many US blacks regarding the so-far successful candidacy of Barak Obama. This ecstatic burst of utopianism extends well beyond the US black community into Europe–even to Islamic terror organisations–but it is US blacks whose hopes are elevated to the most rapturous levels.

If Obama could do anything to help black males in the US, perhaps it would be worth it to elect him president just for that. What are the challenges?

In examining graduation rates, the report finds a national graduation rate for black males (47 percent) that is 28 percentage points lower than the graduation rate for white males (75 percent). In ten states, the difference in graduation rates for black males and white males is 30 percentage points or more…In addition to low graduation rates, black males also have “consistently low educational attainment levels, are more chronically unemployed and underemployed, are less healthy and have access to fewer health care resources, die much younger, and are many times more likely to be sent to jail for periods significantly longer than males of other racial/ethnic groups,” according to the report. _Source_via_JoanneJacobs

As a group, black males are the chronic statistical laggards of US society. Can Barak Obama do anything at all to help them? The problem is vast and begins at a very early age.

In the country as a whole, the number of Black students in Special Education classes is disproportionately high and the number in Gifted/Talented programs is disproportionately low. The number of Black students, particularly Black male students, who receive out-of-school suspensions and are expelled is also disproportionately high. _Source_via_JoanneJacobs

A quick look at the chart above shows that as bad as young black males are doing in school, their sisters–born of the same parents, raised in the same homes, and eating the same foods–are actually doing fairly well.

Why are black girls doing reasonably well by comparison? Black girls, in contrast to the boys, get pretty good grades, go to college at decent rates and graduate from college at very good rates, earning degrees as twice the rate of men. _Source_via_JoanneJacobs

Black males are staggeringly over-represented in the prison population–44% of prisoners, and only 5% or so of the population (black males of prison age). The overall IQ average for American blacks is 85. That is 1 standard deviation below the overall mean of roughly 100. It very possible that the black male average IQ is even less than the overall US black average IQ, looking at comparative life success.

We know that executive function (EF) is more important than IQ for life success, although EF lacks a comparably accepted metric to IQ, so it is more difficult to compare EF statistics. EF can be improved by training (Posner, Rothbart), which should be done not much later than age 6. Even so, EF–like IQ–is highly heritable, so that there are limits to what training can do. Still, better trained than not.

Finally, if Barak Obama becomes US President next January, will the IQ’s and EF’s of black males magically and instantly normalise? Will we see abrupt drops in criminal and delinquent behaviour from black males? Will black males suddenly begin succeeding in school–from kindergarten through college? Will the exaggerated strut of young black males suddenly have a full complement of efficacy and competence backing it up?

Probably not. Not immediately, and not for a very long time. Then what will become of all of the magical expectations floating around the messianic candidacy of Barak Obama?

Obama has no substantive achievements, no particular experience or accomplishments to prepare him for the challenges he would face as chief executive of the world’s only superpower. But never mind all that. Born of a white mother, raised largely by a white family, and only absorbing the victimist culture of black America secondhand–what has prepared Obama to pull black males out of the incredibly deep hole they are in?

Post-Humans Among Us

June 25, 2008

Image Source

The recent IEEE Spectrum special on the singularity brought a lot of comment across the blogosphere. The NYT’s John Tierney weighed in on the topic recently with a piece: When Do Post-Humans Show Up? Tierney gives Ray Kurzweil a chance to fight back against the “singularity deniers”, and Kurzweil obliges.

These critics obviously have not read my book and have not read this chapter because they do not respond to anything I’ve written. It is as if they’ve just heard a superficial presentation of these ideas and respond without any engagement of the extensive discussion that has already taken place about these issues. _NYT

That may very well be, or it may be that Kurzweil is mentally fixed on a particular set of mechanisms and scenarios of singularity. It may be that Kurzweil’s “extensive discussion that has already taken place about these issues…” is not as extensive or profound as Kurzweil imagines.

Kurzweil’s discussion about how easily the human brain/mind will be emulated is particularly naive. This naivete comes naturally when a prolific and esteemed person such as Kurzweil is insufficiently familiar with the subject matter he is discussing–the genetics (and epigenetics) of the mind/brain.

I point out that the complexity of the design of the brain is at least 100 million times simpler than it appears because the design is in the genome. Even including the genetic machinery that implements the genome, the compressed genome is only about 50 million bytes (which I analyze in the book), and that is a level of complexity we can handle. We are already showing that we can develop realistic models and simulations of brain regions like the cerebellum and others. The cerebellum, for example, repeats a basic pattern a few billion times with some random variation within certain prescribed constraints. There is a lot of apparent complexity in the cerebellum but not very much unique design information, and we’re showing we can reverse-engineer it.

Of course the cerebellum is only peripherally involved in most conscious activity. It is an important “co-processor”, but not the central processing center of consciousness. One can derive no comfort in the quest to understand human cognition from the apparent simplicity of cerebellar structure.

Similarly, if one supposed that the apparent simplicity of the brain genome implied a simplicity of the brain/mind itself, one would have to overlook much recent research detailing the “post-genomic”, meta-genomic, and epigenetic development of central nervous system structures. These critical aspects of brain development are not well enough understood to allow useful modeling or quantification. Worse yet, even a complete understanding of how to create a human brain will not immediately put us in a place to understand how that brain works, or how it might be improved.

The road to the “singularity” will not be a smooth exponential curve. It will be a fractal fracturing of boundaries and limitations that will take decades to sort out. We will have pieces of the singularity existing a hand’s breadth away from other pieces, with neither recognising the other. It will be up to post-humans to put the pieces together so that they do not blow up into a Skynet or Colossus.

If western civilisation survives attacks from desert religious fanaticisms, and 19th century cloistered ghetto-inspired central planning, various critical parts of the “singularity” may achieve capabilities and versatilities that allow them to connect with other critical parts in the same place at the same time. It is up to the post-humans among us to follow the threads of accomplishment, splice them together into a self-generative, autopoietic symbiotic whole, and wrap it all in a sustainable energy/matter matrix.

In Kurzweil’s vision, the singularity drives the post-human. But doesn’t it make more sense the other way around?

Eventually, the biological substrate of consciousness will be outpaced by other forms of conscious cognition. Post-humans will build their world around that knowledge, so as not to be left behind. Currently, only science fiction provides the speculative power to imagine the transformations that will come from genomics, nanotechnology, advanced hyper-parallel computation, robotics, evolved machine intelligences, and any combination of the above. After science fiction, Kurzweil provides a more “connected” view of our potential. Finally, there is mainstream science, which runs a very distant third in scope and vision to SF and Kurzweil.

But if you want a realistic assessment of what is likely to happen, you need scientist/engineers trained in multiple disciplines, who are also thoroughly steeped in biology, cognitive science, history, and science fiction. Post-humans will have to be able to bridge disciplines, cultures, even civilisations.

Heaven Is A Long-Shot Gamble

May 10, 2008

Asteroid Apophis, a 390 m Aten asteroid , has a rendezvous with near-Earth space on 13 April 2036.    We will not really know how close a rendezvous Apophis will have with Earth in 2036, until its 2029 near-Earth fly-by.   Earth-crossing asteroids such as Apophis represent both hazard and opportunity.   The hazard of being struck by a mountain-sized rock-from-space should be evident.  The opportunity perhaps less so.

Suppose that the chance of Apophis striking planet Earth were 30% or greater.  That would be a significant level of threat from above.  Would such a risk justify an expensive space intercept mission, to attempt to deflect Apophis to a safer orbital distance?  I would think so.   Yet, there are potentially devastating, but earth-bound, dangers lurking even closer in time than 2036, which have much higher odds of occurring than the current odds for Apophis to contact Earth.

The earth-bound catastrophe being created by human governments is not dramatic enough, not dazzling enough to warrant the attention of the gatekeepers of the human mind–news media and popular media outlets.  And certainly government officials want no part of exposing the nightmare they are inexorably bringing down on the heads of the citizens they are supposed to be serving and protecting.  But there are ways to avoid catastrophe, both from the threat from above and the threat from below.

We can avoid danger from Earth-crossing asteroids by establishing an active and expanding infrastructure in space.  If we are already in space, we can build intercept missions to Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) at our leisure–for purposes of exploring, mining, or deflecting.  The value of a single NEA, Eros, is estimated to be at least $ 20-30 Trillion!  That is for one asteroid, albeit one somewhat larger than Apophis.  Just a few such asteroids could easily make up the budgetary deficits of any number of profligate Earthly governments.

In fact, there is  enough value in the solar systems asteroid belt to provide each citizen of Earth with approximately $100 Billion–more wealth than any single super-rich billionaire currently possesses.   Not that the wealth of the asteroids will ever be distributed equally to everyone, no.  No more than was the wealth from any of a large number of gold-rushes, silver-rushes, diamond-rushes, or large scale rushes to other mineral resources including oil and gas equally distributed.   The wealth of the asteroids will go to those who can get there, establish a claim (for now just being there will do that), mine the valuables, get the goods to market, and sell to the highest bidder.

And that is precisely what we are involved in–a NEA “gold rush”–although not many people are aware of it at this time.   We do occasionally hear that we are in “ The Next Space Race“, being driven by hungry young billionaires and entrepreneurs.

Alaska serves as an excellent analogy. Once thought of as worthless territory (in 1867 William Seward, America’s secretary of state, was criticised for paying $7.2m to the Russians for Alaska, known then as “Seward’s folly”), Alaska has since become a trillion-dollar economy. The transport infrastructure has made Alaska’s gold, oil, timber and fishing industries super-profitable. The same will hold true for space.  A 0.5km (0.3-mile) diameter asteroid is worth more than $20 trillion in nickel, iron and platinum-group metals.

Aside from the economic incentives, technology is reaching a critical point, making space exploration an inevitable component of human progress. Moore’s Law has given us exponential growth in computing technology, which in turn has led to exponential growth in nearly every other technological industry. Breakthroughs in rocket propulsion will allow us to go farther, faster and more safely into space.

…Recently, the X Prize Foundation joined with Google to announce a $30m Google Lunar X Prize, to be paid out to the first teams able to land on the lunar surface, rove for 500 metres and send back two video/photographic moon-casts. Amazingly, within the first two weeks following the announcement, we received over 190 requests from 25 countries from prospective teams looking for registration materials. This is the new generation of entrepreneurs who will reinvent space exploration the same way that Apple and Dell reinvented the computer industry. ___ Economist

Most people think the goal of these hungry young entrepreneurs is space tourism, space hotels, and other local space fun and games.  But with the stakes as high as $20 Trillion (!) for one asteroid, something tells me that a lot of these young guns may be secretly gunning for a bigger long-shot gamble than shooting a few overweight tourists into suborbital space.

Getting into space is expensive.  Moving mining equipment into a matching orbit with an NEA, landing, setting up, and staying for years to mine and perhaps process the materials on site, will  cost many billions of dollars–assuming you can acquire the necessary technical expertise to accomplish the task. That means dealing with financing organisations, insurance companies, and space lawyers.   Getting mined materials back to market may be a greater challenge than getting to the NEA in the first place.  Then you can expect to face a wide array of lawsuits based upon  international space law, which is still being hammered out.

In the end, the greatest obstacle to achieving super-wealth from the asteroids may be in being allowed to keep the wealth after returning to Earth.  Certain to face lawsuits from NGOs, Earth governments, UN agencies, and private parties, where are the entrepreneurs who are willing to risk everything for an uncertain chance to keep the hard-won loot?

Mainstream corporations would want strong assurances of protection from lawsuits by their governments.  But in a realm where world courts, inter-governmental, and international non-governmental agencies lead the legal charge, single governments can be quite limited.  Which means that many early-generation space miners might choose to establish and work with a space-based economy that does not fall under the authority of Earth’s United Nations or any of its government members.

How could such an economy start?  Incrementally, and with a lot of luck to those who succeed.  The idea would be to first start mining the more likely and accessible NEAs. Then using the wealth and the mass from the NEAs, the more successful “space 49ers” work toward the main asteroid belt–and the massive riches waiting there.  Any long term permanent space enterprises have to eventually be able to pay their own way–or at least be lucrative enough to attract ready financing on good terms.  The alternative is the “long-shot gamble.”

Such a space-based infrastructure–independent of the UN and Earth governments–would have to be very resourceful, ingenious, and even disreputable.   They will have to be skilled with improvising rocket propellant and reaction mass, space  robotics, orbital maneuvers, life support systems, and quick thinking in emergencies, among other things necessary for survival and acquiring mineral wealth.  Almost every step of the way from Earth to the main belt would be a long shot gamble.  But once in possession of that type of wealth and resources, the Earth would be in no position to dictate terms.

Think of it as a ” The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” scenario, except in the main asteroid belt instead of on the moon.  What type of person is capable of throwing the dice that far?  Not George Bush.  Not Barack Obama.  Not Kevin Rudd or Al Gore.  None of the people who occupy the news pages of most media outlets have even a fraction of the substance necessary for such a play as is described  here.

There’s still a place in the world for a gambler.  But to get to heaven, only long-shot gamblers need apply.

Previously published at Al Fin blog

Earth’s Carbon Cycle

April 14, 2008

The first image portrays the Earth’s carbon cycle in the absence of life and the biosphere.  Atmospheric carbon levels are quite high, lacking the feedbacks that a living biosphere provides.

In the geological carbon cycle, carbon moves between rocks and minerals, seawater, and the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacts with some minerals to form the mineral calcium carbonate (limestone). This mineral is then dissolved by rainwater and carried to the oceans. Once there, it can precipitate out of the ocean water, forming layers of sediment on the sea floor. As the Earth’s plates move, through the processes of plate tectonics, these sediments are subducted underneath the continents. Under the great heat and pressure far below the Earth’s surface, the limestone melts and reacts with other minerals, releasing carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is then re-emitted into the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions. (Illustration by Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC)

The balance between weathering, subduction, and volcanism controls atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over time periods of hundreds of millions of years. The oldest geologic sediments suggest that, before life evolved, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide may have been one-hundred times that of the present… Source

The next image looks at the much richer carbon cycle that includes many of the contributions of the biospheres of land and sea.  We are just beginning to quantify the movement of carbon between the various biospheric compartments, the oceans, the lithosphere, and the atmosphere.  At least a third of human-generated CO2 ends up sequestered by either the biosphere of land and sea, or by going into solution in the oceans.

Local land biosphere carbon sequestration may involve incorporation into growing plants such as trees, or incorporating into micro-organisms, fungi, and animals in the soil.

This graphic looks at global turnover of carbon from various compartments.  As you can see, human contributions to atmospheric carbon are quite low compared to natural contributions.  As long as the biosphere is allowed to grow, it is capable of sequestering the larger part of human emissions of CO2.

This image looks at the photosynthetic activity of the Earth seen from space, during the time period of 18-25 Dec, 2000.  Observe that the northern hemisphere displays very low photosynthetic activity compared to the southern hemisphere, at that time of year.  You would expect to see a mirror image of photosynthesis north to south when viewing the time period of 18-25 June.

CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is roughly 380 parts per million, or 0.000380 of the atmosphere, or 0.038 per cent of the atmosphere.   Since modern measurements of CO2 have begun, CO2 concentrations have steadily increased–although the rate of increase may have temporarily slowed, as measured at Mauna Loa.

These images are meant as a preliminary to a future more detailed look at the carbon cycle, and possible biological feedbacks in the carbon cycle.  Significant sequestering of CO2 can be carried out through a number of human interventions, including biochar agriculture, wiser forestry practises, and other ways of making carbon work for us as the valuable resource that it is.

Michael Crichton–Hero of the Al Fin Republic

February 24, 2007

Ever since The Andromeda Strain, I have followed the story of Michael Crichton–his life and works.

Michael Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School, and chose a career in publishing and the entertainment media over medicine. Although Crichton would have made a very good physician, his impact has probably been much greater through the world of entertainment. American mythology is written in bestselling books, highly rated TV series, and box office hit films. Crichton has scored big on all three fronts.

But Crichton is certainly much more than fiction writer, TV producer, and motion picture screenplay writer and producer. He has become something of a cultural icon. Crichton has been the boogeyman of radical feminists ( Disclosure), and the hated villain of the environmental left (State of Fear). Nanotechnologists did not appreciate his novel “Prey,” and it is certain that Biotechnologists will not like his latest novel “Next.”

Crichton attracts controversy, and although media controversy may annoy him at times, he does not fear controversy. Contrast that relative fearlessness of Crichton’s with Al Gore’s refusal to appear on an interview with anyone who even has equitable relations with Bjorn Lomborg. Talk about a limp wristed controversialist! It would be wonderful to see a debate on catastrophic anthropogenic global warming between Al Gore and Michael Crichton. Do you think Charlie Rose could arrange it?

Hat tip Fatknowledge Blog.

Is That a Robot! In Your Pocket (Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?)

January 27, 2007

cricket microbot

Robots are getting smaller–micro-robots, or microbots as they are called. Small and almost invisible, but with good optics. It is not impossible that you are being watched by a robot at this very moment. Especially if you are a terrorist.

Israel is developing a robot the size of a hornet to attack terrorists. And although the prototype will not fly for three years, killer Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, are much closer than that.British Special Forces already use 6-inch MAV aircraft called WASPs for reconnaissance in Afghanistan. The $3,000 WASP is operated with a Gameboy-style controller and is nearly silent, so it can get very close without being detected. A new development will reportedly see the WASP fitted with a C4 explosive warhead for kamikaze attacks on snipers. One newspaper dubbed it “The Talibanator.” Source.

Other engineers are developing microbots for exploring difficult to access caves and other planets.

In Phase I, we wanted to focus on robotic units that were small, very numerous (hence expendable), largely autonomous, and that had the mobility that was needed for getting into rugged terrains. Based on Dr. Dubowsky’s ongoing work with artificial-muscle-activated robotic motion, we came up with the idea of many, many, tiny little spheres, about the size of tennis balls, that essentially hop, almost like Mexican jumping beans. They store up muscle energy, so to speak, and then they boink themselves off in various directions. That’s how they move.We’ve calculated that we could probably pack about a thousand of these guys into a payload mass the size of one of the current MERs (Mars Exploration Rovers). That would give us the flexibility to suffer the loss of a large percentage of the units and still have a network that could be doing recon and sensing, imaging, and perhaps even some other science functions.

AM: How do all these little spheres co-ordinate with each other?

PB: They behave as a swarm. They relate to each other using very simple rules, but that produces a great deal of flexibility in their collective behavior that enables them to meet the demands of unpredictable and hazardous terrain. The ultimate product that we’re envisioning is a fleet of these little guys being sent to some promising landing site, exiting from the lander and then making their way over to some subsurface or other hazardous terrain, where they deploy themselves as a network. They create a cellular communication network, on a node-to-node basis. More at Source.

You can find movies of microbots and scholarly papers here.

Here is a report discussing Micro-Air Vehicle research; for the US Air Force.

You can read about an earlier micro-copter and view a movie of the micro-bot flying here. State of the art microbots now are much smaller and potentially more letal.

If you could teach a continuously deformable microbot to fly, there is no end to the amount of mischief such a sneaky little bugger could create.

How Civilisation Can Fall

January 9, 2007

It happened before. When Rome fell, Pax Romana was ended. International trade ground to a standstill while international piracy, brigandry, and warlordism prospered. It is happening in Europe now, gradually but inexorably. Let’s look at Russia:

There are ten million people in Moscow. Do you know how many of them are Muslim? Two and a half million. Or about a quarter of the population. The ethnic Russians are older; the Muslims are younger. The ethnic Russians are already in net population decline; the Muslim population in the country has increased by 40% in the last 15 years. Seven out of ten Russian pregnancies (according to some surveys) are aborted; in some Muslim communities, the fertility rate is ten babies per woman. Russian men have record rates of heart disease, liver disease, drug addiction and Aids; Muslims are the only guys in the country who aren’t face down in the vodka.

Faced with these trends, most experts extrapolate: thus, it’s generally accepted that by mid-century the Russian Federation will be majority Muslim. But you don’t really need to extrapolate when the future’s already checking in at reception. The Toronto Star (which is Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper and impeccably liberal) recently noted that by 2015 Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s army.


Science Fiction author Orson Scott Card looks at how civilisations can fall:

What Grant finds, though, is that an international economic system that functioned smoothly throughout the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, despite blips like the Trojan War, staggered to a complete collapse.

Starting in the late 1200s bce, a “prolonged series of destructive movements of peoples” (i.e., barbarian invasions) swept through the area. It seemed to be closely related to the fall of the Hittite empire in Asia minor, though whether the barbarian invasions toppled the Hittites, or the fall of the Hittites provided a power vacuum into which barbarians swept is hard to determine from our present vantage point.

What is unarguable is that a high level of arts and crafts staggered downward, getting shoddier all the time; meanwhile, pollen counts showed a drastic drop in crop production, suggesting an equally drastic crash in populations sustained by local farming.

Once again, as with the fall of the Roman West, there were areas that held out a little longer or that recovered more quickly. But in this case, the collapse came in an international system. In other words, it wasn’t a single empire falling, it was a mutually dependent system of neighboring nations and city-states that plunged into chaos.


In other words, an international system of economy and trade is like a house of cards that must be propped up by a protecting power. In modern times, the US protects international shipping and trade–even for its putative enemies China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and the other increasingly rabid muslim states.

Although it is the goal of jihadis and leftists to topple “globalism” and the infidel hegemony, the end result of such a discontinuity would not be the results of a glorious revolution, or a religious utopia. It will be hell on earth, with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons being used. Although leftists would deny that this is what they are working toward, nevertheless it is.

Changing demographics is an undeniable argument. Civilisation is fragile. Only a few cultures have been able to sustain it for long–and never before has it been sustained except on the back of widespread slavery. The death of western culture will be hardest on women and the weak–children and the aged. But leftists have the best of intentions when they ally with jihadis to topple free market capitalism. Surely the hundreds of millions who will die will not be their fault? Surely.

Lagrange Points as Space Stations to Deep Space

January 6, 2007

Lagrange points are stable orbital positions in specific spatial relation to two massive orbital bodies, such as the Earth and Sol. These points were discovered by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1772 while working on the “3 body problem.”

Nextsteps, a fascinating report on the best near term plan for space exploration, discusses the placing of a permanent human base located at Earth-Sol L2.

Final Report July 9, 2004
While the early astronomy missions to SEL2 have not been designed for human servicing and repair, this situation will surely change as the telescopes become more complex and expensive. Thus the construction and maintenance of large astronomical facilities at SEL2 may provide a compelling rationale for the initial step in a program of human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The capabilities developed to enable construction and servicing of these large facilities will be an important step toward the overall set of capabilities required to provide human access to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.
The table below lists some of the possible investigations and the human-assembled or serviced telescope systems they will require.

  • Investigation Candidate System

  • X-ray studies of high-energy objects (quasars, black holes)

  • Interferometric constellation of 10-meter class grazing-incidence telescopes

  • Optical and infrared studies of the deep universe and extra-solar planetary systems
  • 20-meter class cooled aperture telescope, expandable to 100-meter class with upgrades
  • including a coronagraph

  • Optical and infrared imaging of extra-solar planets

  • Multiple 20-meter class cooled apertures, expandable to 100-meters, coherently linked
  • optically over a baseline of 1000 -10000 kilometers

  • Far infrared and sub-millimeter imaging of proto-stellar gas, dust, disks, and young
  • planetary systems

  • Dual 30 meter or larger cooled (~10K or less) apertures over a 10 km interferometric
  • baseline, with narrow-band Terahertz receivers (500-1500 Ghz)

SEL2 also represents a relatively benign and low-risk destination for human space flight
development and staging. Its unique location at the edge of Earth’s gravitational influence
makes it an energy-efficient starting point for missions to deep space. Having developed the
capability to travel to SEL2 for telescope construction and servicing, astronauts at SEL2 may
also help to develop and test systems that will be used for journeys to more distant destinations. Preparing, servicing, and fueling interplanetary vehicles at SEL2 prior to their departure for NEO’s or Mars will allow us to minimize the program’s dependence on expensive new propulsion technologies and will help to reduce the total flight time an interplanetary crew must spend The value of human space flight as an enabler of
science was amply demonstrated by astronaut deployment and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hat tip, Brian Wang’s Nanotechnology Blog.

Psychological Neoteny: Bruce Charlton’s View

December 30, 2006

The problems of the neotenous society, and psychological neoteny, have received extensive coverage on another Al Fin blog. But it seems that I am not the only one to ride this particular hobbyhorse. Bruce Charlton is an Evolutionary Psychiatrist at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Charlton is the author of a fascinating online ebook–The Modernization Imperative–and was featured in a Discovery Channel news article earlier this year.

…it seems a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth.

As a consequence, many older people simply never achieve mental adulthood, according to a leading expert on evolutionary psychiatry.

…Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

“The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product — the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity,” he explained.

“But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility.”

“When formal education continues into the early twenties,” he continued, “it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.”

Charlton pointed out that past cultures often marked the advent of adulthood with initiation ceremonies.

While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individual’s lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a person’s late teens or early twenties, he said.

“By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people,” he said.

People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”Source.

Isolating children and young adults inside classrooms, away from the productive world and meaningful responsibility, will probably result in large numbers of “failure-to-mature” adults, as we see in modern western societies. Immature adults are unprepared to face the momentous challenges that western civilisation faces today. There are many “micro-pockets” of maturity within these societies–small arenas where teens and young adults are faced with meaningful responsibility, and acquire useful competencies.

These micro-pockets of reality necessarily exist outside of school curricula.