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Who was it that once said “Charachter is Destiny”? I think that truer words were probably never spoken when it comes to predicting how a given individual will turn out in life, but this old saying may also be equally applicable to the question of  Humanity’s ultimate fate as a whole. Who we fundamentally ARE, both as persons and as a species surely determines, to a large extent, where we will all wind up in the end.  So, if you want to make educated guesses about Human Destiny, then probably a good place to start is by asking the fundamental question- “Who are we?”… What is the basic nature of our species? The answer to that question should give us a good idea of where we are headed.

I’ll tell you my own theory about human nature, that I arrived at as both an amateur student of history, and as a critical observer of human individual and group behavior. Here’s what I think about people… I think that Humankind can be divided into two groups- I call these groups the Accepters, and the Dreamers. I think that an objective assessment of human history  ( and indeed, of human present ) reveals manifestly that the former group is by far the more prevalent of the two groups. I have observed that -on average- for about every ten people who are open-minded and courageous enough to believe that a good or great thing is possible and worth investing time and effort in,  there are usually about ninety other people who will… A) lack the intellectual curiosity to even consider the possibility of a given good or great thing, … B.) summarily dismiss the notion of a new good or great thing ( if they ever did consider it ), on the simple basis of it being unprecedented – especially if it involves any work or risk on their part,… and C.)  glibly and without the slightest thought as to the alternatives, accept almost any misery, suffering, disease, war, enslavement, injury and outrage as a routine and unavoidable part of life, rather than use a little imagination to aspire to something better than what they have now.

I never fail to be amazed by the things that people will put up with in their lives, and how they will come to just accept as routine, so many things that  should not- and need not- be. In my opinion, a large part of human nature is just laziness and ambivalence. What else could possibly explain how so many people just sit there and take it without doing anything? We all accept so much in this world that is bad and wrong that need not be so. We leave so many things unchanged and undone, that NEED to be changed and done, simply because we don’t CARE enough to do anything. Who will challenge the truth of that statement?

 Another undeniably large part of  human character is selfishness. The scientifically-proven, objectively-observed, and mathematically -measured SUCCESS of survival-of-the-fittest capitalism as the socio-economic system which CONSISTENTLY creates the most human progress, and creates the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, PROVES the inherent prevalence of selfishness in human nature. The most forceful impetus for human action and motivation in this life seems to be self- reward, NOT an interest in helping others. Micheal Douglases’ famous ( infamous?) charachter ” Gordon Gecko” had it about right when he said that ” Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all it’s forms, greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.” Self-interest acts powerfully in capitalism , in concert with basic human nature, to create wealth and prosperity. It’s not so much that capitalism works because that’s how it SHOULD be, it works rather, because it’s based on a cold, hard realization of how things ARE with us. That is not to say that all human motives are bad. They aren’t.  It would be wrong to say that ALL human activity and motivation is based on a desire to expend the least possible effort for the greatest possible personal gain.  But it would be fair to say that a large percentage of human activity is so-motivated.

Given these facts of human nature, it’s not hard to see why the world is what it is- both the bad and the good. You take laziness, ambivalence, selfishness, and some genuine but vaguely-defined good intentions towards others, and turn them loose upon the world and what you see is pretty much what you get.  Progress and stagnation, wealth and poverty, war and peace, side by side. I think it all boils down to this… A lot of us care about others to some extent. Most of us, for instance don’t WANT there to be starving children in Africa. We care about that situation to an extent. It’s just that we don’t care ENOUGH about it to actually do the things necessary to make sure those people have food, because that would require work and self sacrifice. So, by-and-large, it’s like this- humans have the capacity to care about others, but they usually care about themselves a bit more. Predictably, this has mixed results in terms of the world, and the societies that humans create.

In light of my admittedly somewhat cynical view of human nature, it would be reasonable of you to assume that my outlook and predictions for mankind’s ultimate fate would be largely pessimistic. That assumption would be both reasonable, and incorrect.

While it’s easy to get depressed sometimes by looking around ones-self at all of the woe and trouble that the Accepters of this world tolerate and indeed CREATE by their actions and inactions in this life,  one also doesn’t have to look very far to be inspired either, by the efforts of the Dreamers- by the people in this life who will not accept this thing or that, who toil and strive to change this thing, or to improve that other thing, and who usually labor alone with little company except for the  ridicule of the Accepters. The Dreamers are like stars in the night, and the darkness  in which they work merely reinforces by contrast that which they are, and that which others are not.

The saving grace of the Dreamers is that , while smaller in number, they usually accomplish ten times what any given Accepter does, because they work harder, and because they are more highly motivated. By definition, they care more. So while it is true, that the throngs of the lazy, the uncaring, and the selfish can bring much that is wrong to pass upon this earth, it is also equally true that the efforts , courage, and vision of a committed few can counteract much of it.  There is always a struggle going on somewhere between Dreamers and Accepters. You don’t have to look hard to find it. The Acceptors always have the numbers, and the Dreamers always try harder. I root for the Dreamers mainly- at least when the Dream in question is plausible and merely difficult to achieve… ( I consider myself to be a frustrated Dreamer for what it’s worth ). It’s hard to know who ultimately will prevail in this age old struggle between the Dreamers and the Accepters, but I think the Dreamers have the edge because of a third group of people…The Visionaries.

 For every ten thousand Accepters,there are maybe a few hundred Dreamers. The net result of the interactions between these two groups amounts (for the most part ) to a stalemate. Sometimes one group has the upper hand for a while, and sometimes the other does. But for every ten thousand Dreamers, there is also one Visionary, and their works sometimes have the potential to outweigh the works of  the Dreamers and the Accepters combined. Sometimes these unique individuals can unite the efforts of all the other Dreamers and even win the hearts and  long-suppressed hopes of  many of the Accepters, in pursuit of some very noble thing every so often. Every now and then, you will get a dreamer that comes down the pike who has not only the faith to see that a thing is both noble and  possible, but has the vision to see the path to the dream’s fulfillment, has the courage to see the journey through, has the eloquence to communicate the dream to others, and most of all, has the pig-headed force of will to simply not be denied this one thing no matter what. Most fields of human endeavor have visionaries every now and then. They come along  maybe every hundred years or so. They ignore the ignorant and the fearful around them, they apply their particular skills and talents to making some good or great thing a reality, and then, like all spirits who are bound to flesh for a while, they are gone. Then the rest of us gaze upon their works and remember them. Their works are always their legacy. It’s the visionaries who give me hope. Those people who see just a little bit farther than the rest of us. The Founding Fathers who gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1776 to give voice to some long felt, but never adequately expressed ideas were visionaries… ” We hold these truths to be self-evident…” That was a powerful vision!  In science, Galileo and Einstein come to mind. In politics, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , and Ronald Reagan. Strange bedfellows you say, Dr. King and the Gipper? Not really. Each had a true love in his heart for individual freedom, a desire to unleash it’s power as a force for good in this world, and the passion and eloquence to make the case well for the ideas and truths they cherished. They weren’t that different at all.

Emerson described the fundamental nature of visionaries…

” Self-trust is the essence of heroism. It is the state of the state of the soul at war, and it’s objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents.”…”The hero is a mind of such balance that no disturbances can shake his will, but pleasantly and as it were merrily he advances to his own music, alike in frightful alarms and in the tipsy mirth of universal dissoluteness.”

At any rate, that is my basic view of human nature, and it is my view of that innate human character that forms the basis of my predictions for our ultimate fate as a species. Honestly, there is enough bad and good in us, that I think it could break either way for us. But as I spin this great rhetorical roulette wheel, I am putting my money on the Dreamers and on a glorious, wonderful future for Humanity someday . I think I can plausibly imagine a world that is peaceful, happy, free, and just.  It’s not impossible that humanity could one day unite by establishing just a FEW basic, universally-accepted areas of common-ground. Cornerstones of a new era and a better world founded upon human rights, individual freedom, democratic principles of governance, and tolerance for all to worship God as they best see fit- or not at all. I am not saying it will happen, but I am saying that it COULD happen.

 Despite my semi-misanthropic view of humans, the one thing you have to give them, is that if something is possible, it’s a near-certainty that somebody somewhere- sooner or later- will do it. Especially if there is a buck to be made in the process. Sometimes I wonder how progress ever happens. But miraculously, it always seems to. And the rising tide of progress sooner or later lifts all boats, even if it does seem to lift some more than it does others. It’s certainly been a long, dirty, and bloody slog for humanity, but sometimes I think we might actually just make it.

What I wanted to do with this essay / blog entry is to share some of my thoughts on Human Destiny- and about what is possible if we DO “make it” as a species and manage to survive at least a few thousand years more. Nobody can foresee everything, but I do have some thoughts and predictions for a few specific fields of human endeavor that are near and dear to me.

We live in incredible times. Sometimes I will read on the Internet about areas of scientific or technological research that seem to be knocking on the door of things that humans could have never imagined a hundred years ago. Think about how far, and how fast we have come of late. It took us ten thousand years to get from hunter-gatherer status to something as simple as the light bulb, but in the last 50 years, we have unlocked the secret of the atom, decoded the human genome, and walked on the moon. The potential likely advances in many areas of human endeavor  in the next 100 years are breathtaking to consider. Physics, Medicine, Agriculture, Energy, Astronomy, Communications, Information Technology, Computers, Networking, Robotics, the spread of Economic Freedom, the spread of Political Freedom, the establishment of Universal Human Rights, the elimination ( or reduction ) of War, Disease, and Poverty, Space Exploration, Engineering and Materials, Electronic Devices, and even Entertainment. We are primed for advances beyond our wildest dreams in many of these areas. Perhaps the most fundamental , underlying, and critical technological advancement of all – the one that is going to make all the rest of these things possible, is humanity’s new-found and  widespread access to personal computers, and the information technology that these devices make possible. Certain things were simply never going to be possible for mankind without the power to process large volumes of information far faster than the human brain ever could. The E8 structure could never have been specified. The hydrocodes that made nuclear fusion possible could not have been modeled. The ability to unravel the hundreds of billions of lines of coded information that comprise the human genetic program would have been set beyond our reach forever without these particular advances. In fact, I think that the recent advances in  personal computers and information technology are a critical threshold for our species- without them, there were permanent limits on we what we could do and become. But WITH these things? Who knows what is possible now?

 Perhaps the most powerful aspect of these advances is that we have compounded the power of these devices and capabilities by linking  ideas and information together via the Internet. What will be the final result of  connecting the ideas, the hopes, the knowledge, the wisdom, the dreams, and the fears of seven billions souls in a network of open communication and collaboration? We shall see, but I suspect that it now becomes not so much a case of what IS possible anymore, but rather a  question of what ISN’T.

 These are the times in which we are blessed to live. It is a Great Awakening of sorts. The light of Knowledge and of Ideas is shining into all the dark places of the world now. What truth can be hidden now?   All of the ideas, all of the knowledge, and all of the possibilities in the world are cast at our feet like pearls for us to pick up and consider . This blog entry represents an attempt on my part to share some of my considerations of the pearls I found as I went.

Human Possibility # 1:  Mankind Becoming a Permanent Space-Faring Species…

The possibility of Mankind establishing a signifigant presence in space, and making a permanent home out there among the stars is an absolutely critical component of us reaching our full potential as a species. The Apollo program of the 60’s and early 70’s represented- like the power of the personal computer- a critical threshold for us. It represented another way-point on humanity’s journey to a better future. The reason this is so, is that the number one pre-requisite for us to have a glorious future someday is that we have to have a future period…That is to say, for any of our hopes to come true,  we first need to survive. If you step back and look at Humanity’s position in the great scheme of things,  right now, all of our fragile eggs are in one tiny basket. This is not prudent, for we are an utterly minuscule species with  a very tenuous foothold on a tiny speck of rock and water hurtling through the vastness of deep space at insane speeds. We spin  around a  tiny star, and that tiny star is just one in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of them. That Galaxy itself spins through a universe composed of hundreds of billions of other galaxies. Sooner or later-be it tomorrow or  a thousand years from now- we are going to face our terminal crisis if we don’t get off this rock. Be it from war, disease, extra-terrestrial impactors, genetically engineered super-viruses, overpopulation, quantum experiments gone awry, unanticipated consequences of artificial intelligence, or trends/events  involving our our sun or our planet’s radiation shield, – EVENTUALLY, we are going to zig when we should have zagged as a species, and we are going to go the way of the dinosaurs unless we do something to improve our odds. There are just too many perils, trials, unknowns, and hazards out there that we face for us to simply assume that our survival is a lock if we stay where we are. There are NO such guarantees in this hard, cold universe.

 In fact, the deafening silence out there in the universe that SETI is finding is ominous, for it almost IMPLIES that if it IS possible for complex life to arise by natural processes ( ie. independent of design ), then- for whatever reason- that life largely ceases to advance or exist much beyond  a level of technology approximating our own. Otherwise, we would be detecting these advanced space-faring civilizations out there who made it into the great expanse before they destroyed themselves. We may not be the first species to have reached this way-point where computer power and information technology make it possible to delve into areas of research that simply aren’t possible until you reach this particular technological threshold. Those areas of research hold unknown, and unknowable perils. I am referring especially to areas of research in extreme quantum physics, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and synthetic biology. These types of capabilities in the fields of computer science and information technology may be the usual immediate precursors to an advanced species’ imminent self-destruction for all we know. There may be something we haven’t considered yet that we are about t unleash upon ourselves in our cleverness. The current situation reminds me a little bit of the Manhattan Project scientist who realized the night before the Trinity shot, that there was a slim possibility the atomic chain reaction might ignite earth’s atmosphere and kill every living thing on the face of the planet. He spent the night with a couple of grad students checking and re-checking calculations. In the end, it turned out that it wasn’t possible for that to happen, and that’s all well and good I suppose, but what worries me is that a large collection of the brightest minds on the planet hadn’t even considered the possibility until the night before the test. Our knowledge and enthusiasm for technological advancement can never be questioned, but our wisdom and caution in such matters is suspect at best. 

At any rate, we need to get some of our eggs in a few other baskets, and quickly I think. If we stay here, then sooner or later, it ends here. Everything that lives either is growing or dying. Nothing stays the same, and we have just about reached the limits of sustainable human population here on our planet- indeed, we are almost certainly past those sustainable limits. We need to be thinking now about “what next”. Recent advances in astronomy have shown us just how prevalent planetary bodies are in the galaxy and in the universe. In fact, we are now just on the cusp of detecting earth-sized planets. Projects along the lines of the Terrestrial Planet Finder are going to make it possible to directly image those earth-type planets , and to analyze their atmospheres / compositions. It’s a statistical certainty that there are other planets out there compatible with human life and colonization. Probably, a few of them are just within our ultimate capability as a species to reach with slower-than-light travel. That’s the jump we have to make somehow, someway if we are to survive. At a minimum, establishing outposts on other planetary bodies in our own solar system would be a good first step along that path. I heard recently that somewhere in Scandinavia, scientists are building an ark of sorts- seeds and genetic samples of life-forms that exist here on earth- a hedge against catastrophic climate and habitat changes here on our planet. It’s a great idea, but I would like to see an ark of this sort placed somewhere other than on this planet as well- just in case.

Here are my predictions for the human race as pertains to Space Exploration: We WILL become a  space-faring species, and establish a permanent home out there beyond the planet of our birth. The first dipping of our little toe into the water that was Apollo will become a full headfirst plunge into space before it’s all over. The tentative drawing-back from deep space that has characterized the last couple of decades, and our pointless  piddling around in earth-orbit with the ISS and the Space Shuttle, merely represented a necessary acknowledgement of the limitations of government-run, not-for-profit Space Programs. Such programs may have gotten us our first ” Giant leap for mankind”, but as we have seen since,  they don’t have the capability alone, of establishing a sustainable and significant human presence in space. For one thing, government-funded space programs consume insane amounts of money, which is barely justifiable on a moral basis when one considers that war, hunger and disease and poverty are all running rampant here on earth. Secondly, they do not serve any particular purpose from a consumer standpoint, nor are government-run space-programs ruled by the laws of supply and demand. Their product is not  improved by competition in the marketplace. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” does not guide the direction or implementation of their wasteful (and often pointless ) activities, nor does it provide for the efficient use of resources and treasure that is commonly inherant in for-profit operations. This explains the mindless, pointless, directionless activities  of NASA in recent decades, and also explains the waste, fraud and abuse that largely characterizes what NASA seems poised to give us for decades to come. Government-funded and managed space programs are are NOT the vehicle by which humanity will achieve it’s permanent transition into space. With all of the needs that humans have here on earth, there are ALWAYS going to be definite limits to levels of spending on these sorts of things because they do not really fulfill any immediate human needs per-say. We need a space program that GENERATES wealth, not one that consumes it, and if we do not find a way to drive the next era of space exploration forward using the engine of free-enterprise, then financial obstacles will represent the final insurmountable roadblock that dooms our species to live and die here on Terra Firma.  At best, using the Apollo model, we MAY achieve a single plant-the-flag misson to Mars in the next 100 years, but even that will be taxing the limits of what we can afford when we consider the budgetary crisis we face now as  a result of decades of fiscal irresponsibility and deficit spending on the part of the US Government. 

There are two critical thresholds which we must achieve to put mankind’s journey to the stars back on track, and to make our presence in space significant and permanent-

 1. A radically cheaper mass-to-orbit system must be built.

  2. A consumer-demand driven, market-force guided, and for-profit-based  aerospace industry MUST take the lead in terms of putting humans in Space. 

Government spending cannot get us where we need to go, EXCEPT to the extent that it invests in infrastructure conducive to private industry achieving the two goals listed above. A space-based equivalent of the US government’s investment in the intercontinental railroad would be a MUCH better use of funds than George W. Bush’s multi-zillion dollar plan to basically have NASA repeat the Apollo program and build a bunch of government funded moon bases.

The cheaper mass-to-orbit system I am referring to  is the Space Elevator. (A ground-to-orbit “tether” which stays up based on the principles of centrifugal force). I discussed this scheme in more detail in my last essay on Space Exploration, so I won’t get into it too much more here, except to say that I am on record as predicting that the Space Elevator will certainly become a reality one day soon. The missing component that made such a structure impossible up until recently was the lack of a material capable of bearing it’s own weight in a structure of that size. That problem is solved. Carbon nanotubes do have the necessary strength -to-weight ratio. And as I’ve said before, if it’s possible to do something, sooner or later, somebody WILL do it… ESPECIALLY if there is a buck to be made for doing it. Believe me, there are a LOT of bucks to be made by building a cheaper, safer, and more reliable mass-to-orbit system. 

When the cost of getting people and things into orbit drops a hundred-fold as a result of Space Elevator technology, then that’s when everything changes for us as a species. The path to Mars- and beyond- will then lay open to us.  Orbiting hotels, affordable space-tourism, and maybe even a beamed-power generation industry will put us in space permanently, and the power of consumer-demand and market-driven, profit-based BUSINESS competition will keep us there for good- not government spending. I believe that the Space Elevator will be built. I believe that one day, many humans will routinely live and work in earth-orbit. I believe that one day humans will live and die on Mars. I believe that one day humans will look down on Alpha Centauri from orbit. I believe that  humans will one-day live and die on another new Earth that we are going to find out there among the stars. Those are my predictions for the record.

Wikipedia Link on the Space Elevator:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

Human Possibility # 2: The Establishment of A New World Order Based upon Peace, Freedom, and Justice

 When I ponder Human Destiny, and I consider how it will all likely wind up for our species, I can’t help thinking of that scene from the movie Terminator II, where a young John Connor is talking to his Terminator. They are watching two young boys playing together, pretending to kill each other in imaginary battles. The point being made by the director in this scene is that aggression and killing seem almost to be hardwired into our fundamental nature. Connor looks over at the cyborg and asks ” We’re not going to make it are we?”, and the Terminator replies ” It is in your nature to destroy yourselves.” I remember thinking at the time I saw this movie, what a plausible and ( potentially ) prophetic statement this was. Agreement among men and nations on even the most obvious and basic  truths seems so elusive doesn’t it? And our tendency as a species to wantonly kill one another, and to consistently “do unto others as we would NOT have them do unto us” seems fairly clear by any reasonable reading of history. And though many issues of human contention remain largely unresolved through centuries and millinea, and our innate hostility and aggression as a species remains unchanged, our technological capability to unleash the means of our own destruction continues to grow exponentially with each passing year.

We just barely survived nuclear self-annihilation in the dawn of the atomic age as the two cowboy super-powers stared down main-street at one another at high-noon with their WMD six-guns at their sides and their sweaty, twitchy palms resting on the pistol-grips. In the last few decades the nation-states of the Earth have amassed enough explosive firepower to kill every man, woman and child on the planet ten-times over, and scientists have laid that power in the hands of governments and militaries whose wisdom and intentions have often been suspect at best. The Cold War was a tense era, and just one mistake- just one accidental or rogue launch of a single SS18 with it’s multiple MRV’s targeted on American cities would have been the trigger that set off the sequence of the final moments of mankind. Mankind got lucky because one of the super-powers in this Old-West showdown was founded upon an unworkable and completely unsustainable economic and political system – communism . The Soviets simply couldn’t compete with capitalism and democracy objectively speaking, and thankfully things settled down a bit when our Soviet comrades folded and threw in their chips. But lest we forget, the large part of those missiles are still out there-  in the hands of a less-sure command and control structure. Add to that danger the trend towards nuclear proliferation, and now the rise a new superpower ( China ) possessed of great wealth, questionable intentions, and a growing nuclear arsenal, and we must not forget that we are NOT out of the Nuclear Woods just yet. In addition, there is a growing threat  of atomic weapons falling into the hands of  unstable regimes and state-sponsors of islamic terrorism. Doomsday could still happen. The centrifuges are spinning in Iran today,  Musharraf is sitting precariously perched atop an islamic nuclear-armed tinderbox in Pakistan, and the United Nations passes empty resolutions and writes reports. The West is fiddling while Rome burns.

 The need for the nations of the world to reach some common ground, and to forge some universal agreement on a few basic tenets of acceptable human culture is not merely a hope. It is a necessity. We simply can’t continue on like this forever with the same old tensions, disagreements, wars, and contentions keeping the nations of the world at each other’s throats in perpetuity. A New World Order MUST be made if we are to survive, because the weapons that humans have now devised to use against one another are getting too dangerous to even be allowed to exist- never mind to be used.

 But even if a nuclear World War III WERE to happen, while the loss of life would be great, it still would not be a true worst-case scenario for the human species, because there is a likelihood that SOME of us would survive to rebuild what’s left. Mankind might well survive even the worst-case scenario of the nuclear age. But far greater dangers await us than the H-bomb. Pandora’s box has only been cracked open a bit so far. It opens much wider in the century that lies ahead.

We will NOT survive the worst-case scenario of the age of genetically- engineered super-virus WMD’s. It has been said that the 19th century was the age of chemistry, the 2oth century was the age of physics, and that the 21rst century will be the age of biology. That is probably a true statement. The age of Biology is upon us, and it’s weapons will prove far deadlier than those of Chemistry and Physics. Advances in computers and information technology have brought us to the point where we can unlock the secrets of the genetic code and indeed, to the point where we have the abilty to re-write that code. Viruses and bacteria can be, and already have been, modified, augmented, and given new capabilities. Couple this genetic code re-writing capability to the free-flow of data of ANY kind around the world via the Internet, and we are looking at a potential scenario where hackers and genetic programmers can write, exchange, and even unleash genetic programs in the same way that they now create and unleash computer programs. We made it past chemistry and physics, but the power of biology – both for good and for evil- FAR surpasses these things, and the capability to re-write genetic code may be the final turning point for us. I say again- a New World Order isn’t a hope, it’s a necessity.

So does all this  mean we are doomed? No. But it does mean that we have got to get past this era of warring nation-states, and adversarial, hostile relationships between fundamentally incompatible civilizations who are hell-bent on destroying one another. We HAVE to settle some things, and establish some common ground- even if it’s just on a few basic matters of human rights, religious tolerance, and democratic government. Even if we need to just slug it out militarily- at great cost of life- to decide which ideology wins and which one loses, these matters need to be SETTLED one way or another. Continued conflict isn’t an option forever.We need to create a worldwide agreement on some basic things that will allow us to coexist as cultures who tolerate one another, accept one another, and ( gradually ) grow closer together. If we cant achieve that- and the seperate nation-states remain committed to each other’s destruction, the technology of the 21rst century is going to eventually put the means of achieving that destruction in the hands of people who will use it.

As I look around at the geopolitical situation, and survey the forces and powers that may aid or hinder the creation of a New World Order founded on Peace, Freedom, Human Rights, and Justice, I think that the greatest threat that humanity may ever face is the acquisition of biological WMD capability by islamic theocracies who simply are not capable of coexisting peacefully with the western democracies on a fundamental ideological level… In fact If I had to guess what one thing would wind up killing us all – if we wind up not making it as a species- I would guess that it would be a scenario that involves Islam and biological WMD’s.

Here is a link to an Article on the new Field of Synthetic Biology by Rick Weiss of the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/200712/16/AR2007121601900.html

When I survey the rest of the NON-islamic world, I am more encouraged.  I don’t see anything out there ideology-wise that would prevent humanity from moving closer and closer over time to a more-or-less friendly collection of democratic governments who respect human rights, provide for religious tolerance, give people a fair say in their own governance, and  achieve at least minimum standards of prosperity for their peoples. The non-islamic world gets a little closer to that all the time. I can envision these friendly democracies perhaps having differences- for instance, different governments may tinker with various levels of taxation and have different spending priorities. There will be varying,  greater-or-lesser percentages of government and private sector involvement in different aspects of  providing for people’s needs, but by and large these matters will work themselves out within acceptable parameters peacefully as long as the voters of each nation have a voice in what their politicians do. None of these small differences is necessarily fatal to friendly relations among democratic nations . For example- Norway may have more socialistic aspects of governance in areas such as health-care. France may decide to have higher taxes and a shorter work week. That’s fine. That’s not a threat to America or anybody else. These cultures aren’t out to conquer the world, or to impose any form of oppressive rule upon anybody. That’s the kind of world we should be striving to build- a world that agrees on the larger aspect of a few fundamental principles, and implements the details of those principles locally and in such a manner as the voters of each country choose to implement them. In many respects, the world is already headed that way.

Consider how far Democracy, Human Rights, and Freedom have come in the last 50 years.  Many nations now share a large degree of similarity and agreement on these fundamental matters to a greater or lesser extent. People in many far-flung places are moving closer and closer together through peaceful interactions, travel, immigration,  trade, interconnected economies, the Internet, and international currency flow. Consider the combined landmass, the combined natural resources,the combined wealth and capital, the combined Gross Domestic Product, the combined technology,  and the combined military-might of the countries in the world right now who enjoy at least some form of political, cultural, and economic freedom, and whose cultures do not fundamentally threaten one another. Think about it. We are STRONG!

 Honestly, you’d almost have to say that the free peoples of the earth have a serious advantage in these things at this point, relative to the forces of totalitarianism and opression. The war-weary nations of Europe have united politically and economically,  and have established enough common ground for friendly relations and cooperation that that blood-soaked continent can look forward to a new century with genuine hope of peace and prosperity. Britain, Ireland, Scotland, France, a re-united Germany, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey. Together, these countries have a bright future ahead of them. And now most of Eastern Europe is free and democratic as well, with slowly growing hope and prosperity- Poland, Slovakia, the Chech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Belarus,and Romania can add their names to the list of peaceful Western democracies and look ahead with some hope. Look around the world, and you see the astounding prosperity and power of democratic, capitalist socio-economic powerhouses like  America, Canada,  Australia, India, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Israel. They have strong, growing, vibrant democracies, are largely free, and are relatively prosperous. As a result of trade, China ( which now includes Hong Kong ), and it’s people- a billion strong- are embracing the power of economic freedom, and it’s very possible that political freedom may follow closely behind. The Internet is helping there as well. A little freedom is like a little fire. It’s dangerous, and it has a tendency to spread rapidly. The economic trojan horse that we rolled into China may unleash freedom there in many other aspects of that society. We will see.

The last miserable outposts of communism and dictator-based ideology in places like Cuba, South Korea, and some piss-ant countries in Africa that nobody remembers the name of, are looking more and more like sand-castles about to be washed away by the tide of a new era. In Africa, Asia, and Central/South America the real problem is not so much ideology, or religious contention, as it is simple poverty, but global free trade is helping in many of these places, and despite the poverty, there is no fundamental  reason why the world should feel threatened by most of these nations- and nothing in them that would prevent the good people of this world from continuing to find common ground and collaboration. Hugo Chavez is just a simian buffoon railing against historical forces he doesn’t understand, and cannot hope to control. He might as well command the wind to not blow, and the rain to not fall. He will change nothing as we head into the next century. I don’t fear a relapse of any major part of the world into communism . That threat has had it’s day. Economically, it just can’t deliver for the people who live under it, and, given a choice, most people would rather have a democratic voice in their own governance than be ruled by an un-elected elite.

 Russia is worrisome I suppose, but those people just seem to have a permanent need for autocracy , and for a strong central government. What are you going to do? It’s sad, but you have to sympathize with their situation too. Things have been so bad for so long, that maybe only a strong, authoritarian figure like Putin has a chance of straightening out that mess. Give him credit where credit is due. He has turned that country’s financial situation around, and he recognizes that the country’s future depends on utilization of their natural resources. He chose to nationalize the oil resources rather than have them exploited by foreign companies which WAS happening. It was the right thing to do.  Their country is making a difficult transition into the 21rst century, but I don’t see them going back to communism- nobody wants that, including them. I think that Putin is just strengthening his own power to give himself the ability to put Russia’s mess back in order as best he can. Ultimately, Russia’s destiny lies with Europe. Russia is a   European, Christian democracy, so why would it be otherwise? Like China, Russia will depend on trade with the west to bootstrap it’s nation into the 21rst century. Putin has put Russia on that course, even if the loss of some human rights in that country is disturbing. Despite their internal problems, Russia is NOT a threat to the west anymore. They aren’t out to rule the world like the Soviets were. They’ll come around in their own time. They have vast natural resources, and a legacy of technological know-how in the areas of space, military weapons, industrial equipment, and nuclear power that can form the core of a new capitalist infrastructure. The West and Europe should be building stronger trade relations with them, instead of ostracising them economically, irritating them militarily, and driving them into the arms of the ne’er-do-wells of the world like Iran and North Korea. We can surely offer the Russians a lot more than these countries can, in a friendly long-term relationship.

The only thing that worries me very much about the world, in terms of our ability to EVENTUALLY reach a common ground for the nations based on peace and freedom is Islam. There are some real and potentially unsolvable problems with this particularly vile belief system that make it in many ways FUNDAMENTALLY INCOMPATIBLE with progress, freedom, and democracy. And by real problems, I mean problems above and beyond it’s medieval repressiveness, it’s cruelty, and it’s oppression of women. Problem Number One is that Islam does not merely purport to be a religious belief system  or a mode of worshiping God, but rather , it conflates religion and politics by laying claim to an actual right of POLITICAL governance over it’s followers via the rule of un-elected clerical rulers whose word is law. This is unacceptable. Period. You look at many other religions- Christianity, Mormonism, Buddhism, Judeaism, Hinduism, etc and you see that these religions are capable of coexisting within the context of a secular government that protects the rights of ALL faiths to worship as they see fit. Islam however, as a system of both worship AND governance, when left to it’s own devices, and allowed to blossom into it’s full intended expression, is NOT capable of peaceful coexistence in a free, democratic society. It seeks to rule, it seeks to oppress, and it seeks to impose itself upon everybody through Sharia Law. That is not to say that muslims are incapable of getting along with anybody else, it’s just they only seem to be able to do so when an external force of some kind – like a stong secular governmet- keeps them in their place. Islam ALWAYS has to be watched with a wary gimlet eye by freedom-loving people.

The other problem with Islam that makes it such a threat to progress and peace,  is it’s viscous intolerance for other belief systems. A muslim in America may face the peril of being mocked or laughed at, but a Christian in Saudi Arabia faces literal beheading for expressing his or her faith. You don’t see Buddhists rolling hand grenades into muslim prayer services, or followers of Falun Gong flying airplanes into buildings full of women and children, or Hindus strapping bombs to retarded persons and sending them into crowded marketplaces. Only muslims do such things. The true-believers and the fanatic followers of islam seem to be able to rationalize ANY heinous act, no matter how vile or unjustifiable a given act may seem to a normal, rational human being. In Islam, there are the believers and there are the infidels. The infidels are the enemies of the believers, and it is the DUTY of the believers to destroy the infidels, or to make them submit to the word of Allah through the sword of Jihad, and through the Fatwas of the Clerics who rule the faithful. This bullshit is totally unacceptable, and is totally incompatible with any kind of positive future for mankind. The clerics, the madrassas, and the islamic state-run propaganda machines have conditioned a large part of the un-educated muslim faithful to HATE the west, to hope for it’s destruction, and to cheer when any act of violent terrorism is committed against innocent men, women or children- just so long as they are infidels. THAT is the biggest threat facing the world today ( sorry, it’s not global warming folks ). There are LEIGONS of angry, seething, hopeless, ignorant, hate-filled young muslim men who are ready and happy to commit any atrocity their rulers would ask of them. The ironic part of Sharia Rule is that, by coupling an oppressive political system to a deity worship system, the devout are convinced to willingly and enthusiastically hold the chains of their enslavement in their own hands.

This is not to say that all muslims are evil.  Indeed, like all of us talking pink monkeys here on our tiny blue marble, most muslims simply adhere to the belief system in which they happened to be born and raised- as most of us do. Most muslims care more about taking care of their family, and about trying to earn a descent living, than about spreading the word of Allah through Jihad. Because of this fact, the west DOES have a chance to partially defuse the threat of Islam, IF it can successfully de-couple the political aspirations of islam from the worship aspects of it. But to accomplish that, Islam must have IMPOSED upon it, the rule of a strong secular government that denies all political power to the clerics, and which effectively separates the fanatics / jihadists from the resources of the nation-state. Secular governments must FORCE muslim practicioners to reject natural Islamic tendencies of aggression towards other belief systems. Only a strong secular government can impose and enforce Human Rights protections upon the followers ( and potential victims ) of Islam. Without these externally-imposed Human Rights protections, Sharia Law, and the Clerics will hold sway by default, for that is the custom of Islam. All muslims must be made to learn tolerance of others if they are to ever join the family of men and nations in peace. They must be made to understand that they may bow towards mecca three times a day if they wish, but they will NOT be allowed to prevent women from driving, from voting,from working, from showing their faces, or from associating freely with whomever they please. Nor will muslims  be allowed to impose their belief system upon others who choose to believe differently in the New World Order.

 So, to sum up- the only hope for the peaceful coexistence of Islam with the rest of the free world, is for Islamic peoples to be ruled by strong central governments, and to be forced against their will to behave and conduct themselves in a manner contrary to their natural and historic tendencies. That is the best we can hope for from Islam- that they will be put in their proper place, and made to go sulk and brood in the corner with their hate and intolerance where they are not a threat because they are ruled by others with better ideas.

 I believe that the only way for the western democracies and secular governance to impose it’s will upon Islam , and for the rest of the world to drag these intractable people kicking and screaming into the modern age, is by the use of military force. I just can’t see any other way. It’s going to have to be done sooner or later, and I expect that in the end, the muslims will FORCE the west to just go into that part of the world and establish a new way of life there. I predict that radical Islam will accomplish it’s own downfall by lashing out at the West one time too many. They are going to do something so viscous and breathtakingly evil, that we will have no choice but to use all the capabilities at our disposal and end this tit-for-tat kabuki dance.

There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the jihadists would , and will, use a nuclear weapon on an American city if they ever get their hands on one. Their hatred, and their ability to rationalization ANY evil act is total and complete. Sooner or later, they will get what they seek.  I predict a nuclear 911  in the next 50 years. London or New York will be wiped from the face of the Earth, and I predict that the west will do one of two things in response ( It will depend on whether the US caualty count reaches into the millions or not, and on which political party occupies the white house on that fatefiul day). It will be either a full-scale nuclear assault on every single islamic state-sponsor of terrroism ( including the “kernel of evil ” Saudi Arabia ) that will wipe the plague of radical islam from the face of the earth forever , OR a total and PERMANENT military occupation of the entire middle-east by the West, who will have have had by-god-enough of these people. You watch, It’s going to come down to one of those two options one of these days. These people are just going to keep pushing us, and pushing us, and pushing us, until one day we are going to have to open up a can of whoop-ass on them .  And it’s just as well. We need to do that anyways. They’ve gotten away with too much already.

Someday…When the radical Islam has a western boot put permanently on it’s throat for as long as the world lasts…

Someday… When China holds it’s first free and fair elections…

Someday… When the Korean Peninsula is re-united as one people with a common destiny.

Someday… When Russia Joins the Family of Europe that has been it’s destiny all along.

Someday… When the tired, poor people of Cuba finally say “Enough!” and string up their dictator from a lamp-post. 

Someday…  When the weary nations of the earth look around at each other and realize that they now have more in common than they have differences…

On that day the Lion really will lie down with the Lamb, and the good people of the earth will come together to agree on some basic principles of human rights and democratic governance once and for all. Then a new age for humanity will begin, and the trillions of dollars we now spend on weapons and wars can be spent on eliminating hunger and want from our planet entirely.

 It can happen, and I believe that one day it will. It has to if we are to survive. I also believe that the west is going to have to settle accounts in epic fashion with the Islamic world before that day can arrive. Hopefully we can do it before bio-tech weapons make it possible for Islamic terrorist nation-states like Iran to kill us all.

Here is a link to an article about mentally retarded women being used by Al Queada as suicide-bombers in crowded Iraqi marketplaces- by AP writer Steven R. Hurst:

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8UHNN081&show_article=1

Human Possibility #3: The Post-Human Era is Ushered-in via Genetic Modification

The capability of Mankind to process large amounts of information on a scale only possible through the use of computers, represents a critical threshold for many aspects of  Human Destiny. In no other way is this more true than the fact that computers and advances in information technology  have allowed us to begin to understand, and to modify, genetic programming.  Were it not for this ability, it could truly be said that who we fundamentally ARE as a species is permanently limited. But with the ability to understand and modify genetic information, we now are aquiring – very rapidly – the ability to CHANGE who we fundamentally are.

Life- at it’s most basic level- is information. Everything that makes us what we are in the physical sense, has as it’s basis a complex, specified set of instructions coded in billions of lines of genetic programming and stored on the self-replicating information processor known as DNA.  I have argued at length with people on this blog, and on other blogs, about the likelihood of such an assemblage of complex, specified information assembling itself by natural un-guided processes from simple compounds ( never mind where the blank information processor that STORES said information came from in the first place ), but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, the code exists, and we have acquired the ability to read it, and are slowly beginning to understand it. We also have aquired the means to change and re-write that code. The upshot of these developments is that EVERYTHING is on the table now. Nothing is assumed anymore. We are, quite simply, playing God here. The human genetic code is the most unlikely, and fantastically complex thing in the entire universe, and it will surely take us a long time to understand it all. But a lot is already becoming clear. Clear enough that I can state the following prediction with almost total certainty. All genetically passed diseases will be cured in the next hundred years. We are going to understand and specify on a very fundamental level, the information that makes these diseases what they are, and we are going to re-program that information. Period. Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Downs Syndrome… Gone. All of them. In less than 100 years. I guarantee it.

  There are even a number of companies who are very close to creating genetically modified partially-synthetic bacteria that can produce hydrogen fuel by the simple process of digesting cellulose and agricultural waste.  Fifty years from now, middle-eastern oil wont be worth the cost of shipping it here to use. Clean, cheap, non-polluting hydrogen derived as a direct result of genetic engineering will replace oil and coal as a fuel source.

Also, as our knowledge of the human genome grows, many POSITIVE genetically-specified traits- like raw intelligence, creativity, longevity and a thousand other skills and attributes-  will be identified, broken down to basic information, and programed into children before birth. Parents will be able to choose their kids’ attributes like las vegas tourists choosing food from the $5.00 buffet. 

Humanity won’t have to wait around for random genetic luck to give us an Albert Einstein every thousand years or so. We’ll whip up batches of fifty Einsteins at a time- with higher IQ’s, superior creativity and problem solving skills, more mathematical aptitude, and better hair. 

We may even identify a few traits- like raw IQ- that we judge to be UNIVERSALLY beneficial, and introduce those informatic changes into the programming of the WHOLE human race. At which point, we wouldn’t be quite human anymore would we? We would be augmented. Improved. We would be Post-Human… not just the creation of God, or of Darwin’s process ( depending on what you believe ) anymore, but rather, at least partially- what we have CHOSEN to be.

Imagine turning  50, 100, or  100,000 Albert Einsteins loose with time, resources, and the sole instruction to discover and make whatever is possible. What would we get? That’s hard to say, but I’ll  bet it would be pretty amazing. Why not do it?

 Humanity’s mastery of Chemistry has brought forth some very useful things. Humanity’s mastery of Physics has unlocked some amazing secrets, but Humanity’s mastery of Biology will change EVERYTHING.

And the ultimate prize? The most that Humanity could EVER hope for? Why not The Holy Grail itself? Question…What law of physics mandates that human life-spans MUST be limited to about 100 years? Cellular decay, telomer shortening, etc… etc… these processes are all written in the code. They are nothing more than programmed instructions. Who’s to say that we might not write a DIFFERENT code? A BETTER code. If there is anything that humanity should hope and strive for as our penultimate achievement before we end our journey as a species through this universe, should this not be it? Laugh if you will, but can anybody say for certain that it’s impossible now? I sure as hell won’t be around to see that day, but let me add this to my list of predictions- not only will disease be eradicated by the hand of man one day, but death itself is going to be given a serious run for it’s money before it’s all over.

Here is a link to some information on telomers and their role in Cellular Aging:

http://www.atozofhealth.com/Allergies/telomers.htm

 Human Possibility # 4: Mankind Comes to Know it’s True Place in the Universe, and answers “The Great Question”

“Are We Alone?”, “How did we get here?”, ” Is complex life common or rare in the universe?” People have been asking ( and arguing about ) these types of things for a long time. That debate is going to come to an end soon. The definitive answer to ” The Great Question” is not far off. Advocates for  Darwinian naturalism vociferously assert their guess that complex life arose as a result of purely natural ( albeit unexplained and unspecified ) processes, and  that the information processor of DNA self-assembled without the aid of design. They claim further, that tens of billions of lines of complex, specified information wrote itself on that information processor to bring about the coded program that specifies and creates life as we know it today. By their logic then,  all that is required for life to arise is the right environmental conditions, and time. If they are right, then the universe is literally teeming with life- both simple and complex.

 We’ll test that hypothesis one day soon. Intelligent Design advocates, on the other hand,  are somewhat skeptical of this claimed naturalistic process, and would like to actually SEE the unguessed and unknown means by which spontaneous abiogenesis allegedly occurred, and would like very much for darwinists to produce and SPECIFY the exact nature of the highly implausible path that RM+NS supposedly took to self-assemble human complexity from a pile of rocks. ID’ers argue against naturalistic explanations for life on several grounds. The Lack of evidence and specification for the DETAILS of Darwinism’s alleged methodology being one. The total mystery of Abiogenesis being another. Irreducible Complexity is one objection. Universal probability bounds is another too.  Darwinists are long on bluster and assertions, but short on details and specifics. Intelligent design advocates make good, logical arguments, but neither can they point to a specific designer if one does exist, nor can they specify that designer’s location and intentions.

 The truth is that neither side can conclusively say how we got here, because nobody was around when it happened. Nobody has EVER seen, duplicated, or explained abiogenesis, nor has anybody ever specified an EXACT plausible, pathway by which RM+NS ( or any other process ) in this universe managed to create human biological complexity. Hell, we haven’t even completely DESCRIBED human biological complexity, never mind come up with a serious explanation for it’s origins. Talk of human origins, and of Life’s prevalence in the universe is speculation and inference now, but that’s not always going to be the case. The problem is that we have such a small frame of reference. We know of only ONE place in the universe where life exists, and we only have knowledge of only ONE place in the universe where life COULD exist… Earth. Trying to make sweeping generalizations about naturalistic processes we cannot explain, specify, or duplicate , all extrapolated from our measly data-set of one is not so much a case of science, but rather a case of faith.

The observable data that is going to answer  The Great Question, of  Life and of  Life’s Origins is near at hand. We are looking out into the universe now, and we shall see what we shall see. I suspect that a lot of arrogant know-it-alls are going to have to re-think their positions when we see what is actually out there. Space-born interferometric telescopes are going to directly image earth-size planetary bodies within the next 100 years, and we will be able to analyze the composition of atmospheric gases on many, many distant worlds using spectroscopy. If biological processes ARE  going forward on other planets throughout the galaxy, and throughout the universe, we will know it by the presence of gaseous ratios that exist ONLY through biological processes. If an alien civilization were to run a spectrographic analysis on our atmosphere from a billion light-years away, they would KNOW that life is here. It works two ways.  If there ARE other advanced life-forms and civilizations in our galaxy and in our universe, we will know it soon. If they do not exist, we will know that too.  Darwinism is either going to be spectacularly confirmed in the next 100 years, or it is going to be UTTERLY discredited by definitive and undeniable observation. In the next 1000 years, the human race will have a good idea of how common life of ANY complexity is in the universe, and we will have a likely answer to the question of “Are We Alone?”. We will either make First Contact, or we will look into Douglas Adam’s Infinite Perspective Vortex and know just what it truly means to be small.  I am not going to predict an answer to the question here. I did that to some extent in my first essay on this blog. But I do predict that the answer to The Great Question will be known. Whatever the answer is, it’s worth knowing. 

Here is a link to an article in the Boston Globe by Colin Nickerson, about the ENCODE project- which has thrown Darwinism and current theories of evolutionary biology back to “Square One”:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2007/09/24/dna_unraveled/

Here is a link to the Blog of Dr. William Dembski, Arch-advocate for Intelligent Design:

http://www.uncommondescent.com

Human Possibility #5: Humanity will come to understand all of the fundamental particles and forces in the Universe, and that knowledge will allow us to reach many distant stars.

For those of you who know a little physics, ( I’m an amatuer at best ), you know about where we currently stand in terms of the standard model of particles and forces. We know a good bit about how three of the four fundamental forces that govern interactions between all known particles in the universe relate to one another; the Strong Nuclear Force, The Weak Nuclear Force, and Electromagnetism. We have also described and specified  the behaviors of particles associated with these forces.  The 4th fundamental force ( gravity) has been well described in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but has not been unified with the other three forces, and no particle has yet been discovered that is associated with it. In other words, we still lack a fundamental theory that encompasses one of the basic constituent forces that allows our universe to exist.

 The laws of Physics are the FINAL word on what is possible and what is NOT possible for mankind in EVERY field of endeavor. we can dream and hope and wish, just so long  as something has not been proven to violate the laws of physics. But once an idea DOES contradict these laws, well… that’s it. It’s not happening, at least not in this universe. If you believe in multi-verses, then more power to you…The Grand Unification Theory, when it  is successfully put forward, will give us a better idea of where we stand, and an idea of what we are working with in our universe in terms of what MAY be possible, and what is definitly NOT  possible. We are close to understanding those limits, but are not entirely there yet. Until we can identify the particles associated with gravity, and understand what they can and can’t do in interactions with other particles and forces, there are still some open questions. 

An unlikely character by the name of Garret Lisi ( known throughout the Internet as “The Surfer Dude” ), MAY have just come up with a valid Grand Unification Theory. By his own admission, it will either be spectacularly right, or spectacularly wrong. His simple yet elegant theory describes all forces and particles in the universe using something called the E8 geometric shape. It is the most complex structure ever described, and it MAY ( or may not ) be an accurate model of our universe. Even if Lisi’s model is incorrect, ( the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may confirm or deny Lisi’s theory in the next few years by finding actual gravitons ), sooner or later, it looks like we WILL come to understand the fundamental nature of our universe. With that knowledge, we will be able to see what is physically possible.

 These matters bear heavily – indeed definitively- on our species’ prospects for survival, and the finite limits of how far we can go. For one thing, the sheer size of space is daunting. Just getting to our nearest neighbor- Alpha Centauri- is currently beyond our capabilities as a species. But even with conventional slower-than-light travel, we WILL get there someday though… probably. With slower-than-light travel, humanity MIGHT ( maybe ) even make it to  a couple thousand other stars that are within a few thousand light years of our birthplace. I give us a slim, but possible chance of achieving that. But as for the rest of the universe? The other 99.99999% of the universe that comprises untold billions of stars in our galaxy and contains many billions of OTHER galaxies with billions of their OWN stars? We won’t get to experience any of that without a very lucky break from the laws of physics.  A better understanding of gravity and quantum physics is what will tell the tale. Those of you who are Star Trek fans are more-or-less aware of the fact that warp-drive capability is what allowed captain Kirk and his posse to fly around the galaxy from star system to star system. If we are stuck permanently with slower-than-light travel, then that’s not ever going to become reality for us. Faster-than-light travel is the Holy Grail of Physics- and gaining that capability represents  the absolute best that humans could ever hope to achieve in this physical universe. Without that capability, we will go only so far, but no further.

So the question is… is faster-than-light travel possible? For an object traveling through normal, uncompressed space-time, it is NOT possible. But according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, we KNOW that Space IS able to be warped and curved by gravity. Space-time curvature is what actually makes it possible for planets to orbit stars, and the FACT of space-time curvature has been confirmed by one of Einstein’s predictions- the gravitational bending of light- which astronomers observe every day. Since it IS possible to bend space itself, it IS theoretically possible to go faster than the speed of light- relatively speaking- by changing the actual distance that something has to go to get from one point to another.  Black  Holes represent a curvature of space-time so total that nothing – not even light- can escape once it has passed the event horizon, and all matter within it is compressed to a singularity. This is all accomplished gravitationally. The secret to warp-drive capability then lies in the ability to manipulate gravity and it’s ( presumed ) associated particles ( gravitons ) in such away as to amplify space-time compression ahead of a space-ship, and to  create space-time expansion  behind it. To do this without actually destroying the ship, would require the ability ( obviously ) to protect ones-self from the deleterious effects of said gravity using some kind of shielding or material opaque to gravity. In star trek jargon, this would be the “warp bubble”. Until graviton particles are discovered and described, we don’t know if such a thing is possible . The gravity source to power a warp-drive has to be powerful enough to warp space, but small enough  to be portable- which would seem to imply that we would need to gain mastery of a singularity.  Is all of this highly unlikely? Yup. It would be the most that we could ever hope to achieve, even if our species lasts for another million years and we write our names in glory on the concave of the heavens. But is it Impossible? Not yet. We don’t know enough to definitively say one way or the other. Further advances in quantum physics, and a better understanding of the particles associated with gravity will settle the matter. My prediction for faster than light travel? I’d have to say probably not. But we’ll see. 

There IS still one other possibility that may make interstellar travel routine and easy though- even if it’s only travel to a few thousand other stars within our realistic reach. THAT possibility will represent the most ridiculous thing that I will mention in this essay and I am prepared to be laughed at for suggesting it, so go ahead – yuck it up. But it’s actually more likely than warp-drive capability, and there appears to be  at least a plausible possibility that it will be achieved  . What I am referring to is teleportation- ie instantaneous quantum information-transfer using the principle of photon entanglement. Photon entanglement is a creepy, but very real phenomenon of nature in which two photons given off by the same atom can exist in two completely unrelated positions in space-time, but whose spin attributes are inexplicably linked no matter how far apart they are. In other words, information can be instantaneously imparted from one entangled photon to the other with absolutely NO regard for the distance involved.  Einstein referred to the phenomenon as “spukhafte fernwirkung”, which means spooky action at a distance. Using this information transfer technique, it IS possible to instanteously take the charachteristics of a particle or OBJECT that exists in one place, and  have those charachteristics instantaneously appear in ANY other place. Scientists have already transferred entire atoms using this technique ( they started out with single photons ). It works the same whether the particles are ten meters apart, or if one of them is located on earth and the other is in orbit around alpha centauri. When you think about it,  everything that we are can ultimately be broken down to information.  Everything that makes you PHYSICALLY what you are right now, can be informatically defined as matter- atoms- existing in a certain configuration relative to one another. That specification can be expressed mathematically and transmitted as information. It’s a fact. It all comes down to computer speed, scanning speed,  and information technology. Think of it as a 3D fax to anywhere with no busy signals. My prediction? It might take us 10,000 years to master the technology, but I see no law of physics that actually prohibits teleportation using quantum information and photon entanglement. I think it will actually happen someday, and THAT hopefully will be the wackiest prediction I will ever make.

Here is a link to a Fox News article about Garret Lisi:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,311952,00.html

Here is a link to the download page for ” An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” ( Lisi’s Theory ).  Reader beware- apparently the word “simple” has a different meaning to quantum physicists than the one that I am familiar with. :

http://arxiv.org/abs/0711.0770

Here is a link to a Scientific American article on photon entanglement and quantum information transfer:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00014CBD-7633-1C76-9B81809EC588EF21&pageNumber=1&catID=4

At any rate, those are some of my hopes, my wishes, and my predictions for the future of Humanity. I have tried to be both optimistic and realistic. I guess at heart, I will always just be a Dreamer, but that’s OK if you ask me. Sometimes dreams come true, and you’ll never know what’s possible if you don’t have the faith and the hope to try.  Is humankind fated to blow itself to kingdom come, or can we look forward to a glorious future? It could go either way I suppose, but  I prefer Gene Rodenberry’s optimistic vision of the future, and who knows- It may happen.

If anybody out there on the Internet actually reads this entire thing, and your guesses and predictions differ from mine, I would love to hear your opinions on how it will all turn out for us as a species, and I would also like to hear the logic behind how you reached your conclusions.

The real reason I wrote this essay though, is because I wanted to leave a record of what myself, and people like me hope for from the future. With any luck, this entry will survive me, and maybe someday a young person in another place and time will get an idea or two, be inspired, and go out and do their part to make some of this stuff a reality.  If the Dreamers prevail over the Accepters someday, and our human destiny does turn out to be a glorious one, then maybe future “Internet archaeologists” will unearth these primitive digital scrawls and I will become known as the Nostradamus of the 21rst Century. Then again, if the Accepters wind up determining our fate, maybe those future “Internet archaeologists” will get a good laugh at my posthumous expense, and I will become known far and wide in posterity as “The Great Dumbass of 2008”. We’ll see.

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Space exploration is one of the things that I am most passionate about in this life. I guess that my interest in the subject began when I was in Kindergarten. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and spending a lot of time looking through a copy of National Geographic that my parents had, which featured pictures of the Apollo Moon Landings. That  magazine also came with a tear-out record that I played over and over again on our old vinyl record-player. The recording was of Mission-Control talking with the Apollo 11 crew as they made the first lunar landing. So, from a VERY young age, I could quote Neil Armstrong’s famous words… ” That’s one small step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind”. My interest in manned space exploration only grew from there, as I spent the next few years of my life watching the original Star-Trek episodes on our old black and white TV. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty and the whole gang would fly around the galaxy at Warp Factor Nine, having interesting adventures, “encountering new life and new civilizations”, meeting hot alien chicks, and going”boldly where no man had gone before!” Spock would calculate the crew’s curent odds of survival to the 8th decimal point, Scotty would save the Enterprise from a warp-core breach every week ( usually with about ten seconds left to spare ), and Dr. McCoy would say “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a fill-in-the-blank-with-your-occupation-of-choice…” Those were the good ol’ days… when not only were we taking our first bold steps as a species out into the “final frontier” in the REAL world, but space travel was also being semi-plausibly portrayed on TV shows like Star Trek as a fairly routine, and perfectly normal activity in the not-so-distant future. NOTHING seemed impossible in those days. For a young boy with a typical young boy’s infatuation with exploring new things, NASA’s Apollo program was  absolutely as exciting as could possibly be. I mean,  what an incredible concept… to actually fly up to the MOON and walk around up there! Alan Shepard even played GOLF up there! The Apollo 15,16 and 17 astronauts even brought a car with them and drove it around up on the moon! I just assumed- as did many of my generation- that the Apollo program was only the very BEGINNING of a “grand age” of space exploration that I was going to have the PRIVILEGE of  living in. I felt VERY fortunate to be born into such times, and I gazed ahead in the days of my youth, to a future brimming with limitless possibilities- mars landings, moon bases, warp-drive capability etc…etc…

Alas, dreams die hard sometimes. By the time I got my hands on  that issue of National Geographic, the Apollo program had already been canceled by the government as a waste of money that the public was already growing bored with. On December 14th, 1972, Gene Cernan ( commander of Apollo 17 ) climbed up the ladder of his LEM ( Lunar Excursion Module)  and headed back to earth.  Humans haven’t left Earth-orbit since. It’s now been 38 years since Neil Armstrong made his “one small step for man”, and for a generation of dreamers who really, really believed that mankind’s destiny lay in the heavens, the intervening decades have been a cruel disappointment. You see, for many of us, Apollo wasn’t just about going to the moon and beating the Russians- it was an expression of hope for all of humanity. It was a foreshadowing of human POSSIBILITIES- a glimpse at what our species COULD be and do! And those  old Star Trek episodes weren’t ( entirely ) about William Shatner’s hammy acting and the silly paper-mache sets- it was all part of an optimistic VISION of  a human future wherein we set aside our differences as a species, and reach out to the heavens to achieve what we are capable-of,  instead of blowing ourselves to kingdom come with weapons of mass destruction. The dreams, the hopes, and the best qualities of a whole generation were captured by the pioneering spirit of those times. The imagination of a nation, and of a world, was sparked and captivated by WHAT COULD BE!… THAT was the true spirit of Apollo, and THAT is what lives on in me, and a lot of other people out there who watch with dismay as NASA has devolved from being the bold, pioneering vangaurd of an entire generation’s aspirations,  into a sad, rudderless, bloated, bureaucratic monstrosity with low aspirations and even lower achievements.

In the 35 years since the final Apollo mission, the United States, Russia, ESA ( European Space Agency) , JAXA, and other would-be space-faring nations  have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on manned space-flight, and have almost NOTHING to show for it except a lot of pointless space shuttle missions to mere Earth orbit, and the on-going, decade-long assembly of an orbiting flop-house that doesn’t seem to have much purpose. In-orbit construction on the ISS began in 1998, and is expected to be completed in 2010. The life-expectancy of many of the station’s original station components expires sometime in 2016, at which point NASA will have to either have to invest tens of billions of dollars in refurbishing it, or de-orbit it and allow 14 years of work to burn up in the atmosphere. THIS is the the opus-magnus of NASA for the entire post-Apollo era? THIS, is the final result of our nation’s four-decade, hundred-billion dollar investment in manned space exploration? Don’t get me wrong… I don’t want to denigrate ALL of NASA’s achievements in space over the last 35 years- there HAVE been some good things accomplished. GPS and communications satellites come to mind. Rovers  have sent back  amazing HDTV-quality video of the surface of Mars, and many  un-manned deep-space probes have been sent flying all over the solar system in the years since Apollo, which have yielded amazing discoveries, sent back terabytes of valuable data, and vastly increased our knowledge of our  solar-system. Also, The Hubble Space Telescope was ( and still is ) the crown jewel of all our efforts in the field of un-manned space exploration. The pictures we got back from HST are probably the most mind-boggling images ever seen by human eyes. But while unmanned exploration has some great achievements to point to, the manned-exploration side of things has been a miserable, pathetic failure, and a great disappointment to our country and to the world, for a long time now. NASA’s two primary undertakings of the last 30 years have been the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station. And neither one of these programs has even remotely come close to surpassing Apollo, in terms of historical significance or in terms of sparking public interest.

The bold pioneers- the “steely-eyed missile-men”- of the 60’s and 70’s were able to land men on the moon with archaic technology and a flight computer that had less computing power than your average modern wristwatch. NASA’s activities today focus on the Space Shuttle and the ISS. Near as I can tell, the Space Shuttle exists now for little other purpose than to give us a way to get to the ISS, and The ISS apparently exists for little other purpose than to give the shuttle someplace to go to. So we launch our insanely-overpriced shuttle missions up to Earth-orbit, putter around for a while in our insanely-overpriced, orbiting tin-can, and then fly home. What’s the point? I think it’s no wonder that so many people now think that Space Exploration is  just a colossal waste of time, and that the money could be better spent here on Earth. I disagree, as to that sweeping characterization, but I certainly can see where that attitude comes from, and I certainly don’t think that NASA has been good stewards of the national wealth it has been entrusted with. Certainly, there is nothing in what we are currently doing in the area of manned space exploration to capture the spirit and imagination of a new generation. Nothing bold. Nothing audacious. Nothing inspired. Nothing worthy of public interest and attention.  I think that a humorous article from one of my favorite on-line newspapers, ” The Onion”, accurately captures the essence of the frustration that so many people now have with NASA’s pointless and wasteful activities in space these days. For a good laugh please click here….

NASA ANNOUNCES PLAN TO LAUNCH $700 MILLION INTO SPACE:

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/47977

Sadly, the FUTURE that NASA, the bureaucrats, and the politicians have mapped-out for the next 30 years or so looks about as pointless and stupid as the LAST 30 years have been. The current plan du jour is to spend the next few years spending tens of billions of dollars finishing the ISS ( by which time it will be obsolete and in need of major refurbishment or abandonment ). THEN, we are to embark on a decade-long, zillion-dollar quest to RETURN TO THE MOON, and THEN to build insanely-expensive permanent bases there that will be regularly re-supplied and re-staffed with even MORE insanely-priced moon-shots. In other words, NASA’s grand vision is ( IF everything goes to plan) to put us, in the year 2018, right back where APOLLO 11 put us FIFTY YEARS  AGO. From there, the moon is supposed to act as a “stepping-stone” to Mars and ANOTHER multi-decade, multi-zillion dollar NASA extravaganza to get there.

Look, it’s time to face reality here- about NASA, and about the course that manned space exploration in general is currently on. We’ve lost our way. The original NASA was built on the shoulders of committed visionaries like Robert Goddard, Wernher Von Braun, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Gene Kranz. It was an organization that was basically formed to give these dreamers,these explorers, these brave pioneers, a MEANS by which to give shape to their aspirations. The current NASA is a government bureaucracy staffed with government workers who function, aspire, plan, and behave as all government bureaucracies do- inefficiently, slowly, wastefully, and in plodding, drudgerous, safe,  un-inspired fashion. It’s a different culture now, with different attitudes, and different motivations. The CURRENT bunch is simply not cut from the same cloth as the original NASA guys, and I honestly believe now- when I look at NASA’s track record of uninspired mediocrity and waste over the past few decades, and when I look at their truly pathetic and unrealistic plans for the next few decades- that they are fundamentally incapable on a basic INSTITUTIONAL level, of achieving and implementing the next steps that humanity needs to take in the area of Human Space Exploration. If the optimistic vision of a human destiny in space- the kind of vision held by people like Gene Roddenberry, Carl Sagan, Robert Zubrin, and Buzz Aldrin-  is ever going to realistically come to pass, we are going to have to find another way to get there I think. We are going to need a new plan, new leadership, new goals, a new mission, a new paradigm, and a new business model.  I believe we should honor NASA for it’s past achievements, but when you consider the insane amounts of money that they have basically thrown down pointless rat-holes over the past few decades and their plans to throw even MORE money down the same rat-holes in the future, it is becoming increasingly clear that the whole concept of NASA- as it’s currently organized- is becoming a deteriorating scenario of diminishing returns on our national investment.

We need a totally new paradigm for human space exploration if we are ever going to achieve what we are capable-of,  as a nation, and as a species. That’s what it comes down-to. My thoughts on how we can realistically get to that place we are trying to get-to, will comprise the majority of the rest of this essay. 

 A couple of weeks ago, I went to go see “In the Shadow of the Moon”- a limited-release documentary comprised of interviews with the original Apollo astronauts, and never-before-seen footage from the NASA archives. If anybody else out there is feeling as depressed as I am about the current state of NASA, and about the state of manned space exploration on general, do yourself a favor and go see this movie. ( Don’t worry about finding a seat. Public interest in the space program is at a low ebb, so it was me and about six other people watching this movie on a Saturday night, in a city with a population of  about 1 million. ) The documentary was absolutely inspirational. I left the theatre with renewed  hope, renewed pride, and a renewed prayer for the return of  the TRUE spirit of Apollo to our nation. This movie reminded me of why I became interested in manned space exploration in the first place, and reminded me of the POSSIBILITIES that once inspired my generation.  We dont need to settle for this pathetic state of affairs! We can do more, and we deserve better! At this point, I think that things have gone so far astray at NASA that we should just start over with a clean sheet of paper.

First of all, lets start with some basic facts….We don’t even have a realistic vision of what we are even trying to accomplish in space, much less a serious plan for getting us there! Let’s start with a VISION, shall we? It seems to me that the critical component of ANY long-term sustainable human presence in space is that the people who are PAYING for it have to see a REASON to support it. There has to be something in what NASA is doing to inspire us- to capture our interest- and to let us live out our dreams through their bold and audacious plans. “Hello, McFly!”, we’ve already BEEN to the moon! A hundred-billion dollar, multi-decade “vision” to return to the moon is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. There is no possibility of anybody caring about this moronic waste of time, much less any chance of anybody being inspired by it! And after that, why are we building  “bases” there? Bases that are supposed to be continually staffed via endless, insanely-expensive missions like we currently use to restaff and resupply the ISS?… What is the purpose? Why would we do such a thing? NASA should be smacked in the head repeatedly with a dead waterlogged rat for adopting this monstrosity as it’s mission-plan for the next couple of decades. And WHY is the moon a necessary “stepping-stone” to Mars any more than the ISS was a necessary “stepping stone”? That simple question is the 800lb gorilla sitting on the living room couch isn’t it? USA Today said as much in an  editorial, that captures very well, I think,  the absurdity of NASA’s future mission plans…

USA Today Editorial:NASA, The Costly Frontier:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2006-12-05-edit_x.htm

To quote briefly from the article, ” On a practical level, this project raises a number of obvious questions. Why go back to the moon? Why build what is partially rationalized  as a base camp for an eventual trip to Mars in the gravitational sink hole of a planetoid? Where’s the scientific reward that would justify such an expense? “. So at least I am not the only person asking impertinent questions  about NASA’s plans for the next few decades… Just a thought, but instead of going to the moon again, why don’t we at least consider trying to do something we HAVEN’T done before, that MIGHT  at least stand a chance of capturing the public’s interest for a change-ie. a manned mission to MARS. I’m willing to bet that when an astronaut climbs down a ladder, and says something brilliant as he ( or she ) puts their boot down onto the martian soil for the first time, that there will be a few people tuning in to see that! So… Step ONE of a much-needed complete re-vamp of NASA’s mission plans going forward would be to jettison this whole moon-base stupidity, and get on with something that has a realistic hope of rekindling public support and interest in the space program.

 Step TWO, is to have a realistic, straightforward plan of getting to the new goal. We cannot afford to waste hundreds of billions of dollars re-inventing the wheel, and we DON’T need a bunch of intermediate steps and exotic new technologies to get to Mars. The Apollo-era heavy-throw Saturn V booster had everything we needed to put the peices required to get to Mars into orbit. ( As an aside, I’ve seen one of these beasts in person. They’ve got one laying on it’s side in a hanger at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It’s open to public viewing, and I would rank it highly among the most amazing things I have ever seen in this life. Trust me, if you have a chance to go to Houston for any reason, make time to go see the Saturn V. ) It’s not that difficult… you throw up two or three components into orbit with a few Saturns, you do a quick orbital rendezvous ala’ Gemeni and Apollo, you light the damned rockets, and you head to Mars. We have NEVER needed the intermediate steps of moon bases, international space-stations, space-shuttles, orbital assembly of “Battlestar-Galactica”-type ships,  nuclear-thermal propulsion, and warp-drive capability to get to mars. All we need is some leadership! We could have been to Mars  20 years ago with Apollo era technology, and if we committed ourselves to it today, we could be there in 10 years or less. If we cast aside all of NASA’s useless, intermediate steps and pre-conditions,  and instead adopted something like Robert Zubrin’s “Mars Direct” approach ( see Links at the end of this essay ), we could get there NOW, not 50 years from now!

 Let me tell you something that I have learned in the corporate world from real-life experience- a commonly used strategy to avoid doing something hard that really does need to be done, is to commission a bunch of “studies” of the problem. That alone can take years. THEN, you make sure that your “studies”‘ have conclusions that recommend a bunch of pre-conditions and intermediate steps  that would have to be to be fulfilled prior to actually addressing the primary task.Then you make the process of fulfilling the study’s recommendations for intermediate steps, so time-consuming and onerous, that the hoped-to-be-avoided course of action can never actually come about- at least not during a manager’s time there, and THAT’S what really matters.  I have PERSONALLY witnessed this variety of corporate-management-kung-fu in action. I’ll give you a real-life example… At my own company, we own many buildings. We have a problem with leaking flashing, and a multitude of “gaps” in many of our building’s exterior surfaces ( some of them so wide you can stick your whole hand in there ). There are gaps between the siding, the stucco and the wood- which allows rain and snow to just run freely into the walls and to cause widespread mold and drywall damage. The straightforward solution would be to get a bunch of guys with caulking guns to come out and seal the gaps- which I once “boldly” suggested in a memo. But my company has managed to largely  ignore the problem and avoid spending the money, by insisting instead,  that I generate a spread-sheet first, which LISTS each and every crack AND correlates those cracks to SPECIFIC areas of interior water-damage. There are literally thousands of cracks, and many, many hundreds of instances of interior water damage. If I did nothing else but work on crack-detail spreadsheets for the next three years ( I have no time for it whatsoever ) , I MIGHT be able to satisfy the pre-conditions for taking actual steps to solve the problem. But they know that I don’t have the time, and so the can gets kicked on down the road for ANOTHER few years,  ( or at least until the million-dollar toxic-mold lawsuits start flying). NASA is doing EXACTLY the same thing. They don’t want to undertake anything bold, risky, dangerous, or uncertain. What government bureaucrat DOES want to be responsible for something with a significant potential for catastrophic failure? So instead, they commission a bunch of studies and reports which predictably conclude that before we do anything crazy ( like doing something we haven’t done before ), we should FIRST finish the ISS, repeat the entire Apollo program, build a bunch of moon bases, develop nuclear thermal propulsion etc. , etc… NASA has now set so many pre-conditions and intermediate steps that have to occur before we leave orbit and head for Mars, that it will take many decades, and trillions of dollars before that day ever arrives- if it ever does arrive . By THAT time, the current crop of NASA managers will be safely retired on their government pensions. And that’s all that really matters here. NASA is also well aware of the budgetary crisis our nation faces in next few decades. The chickens of all of our multi-generational, unfunded , ponzi-scheme entitlement programs are going to be coming home to roost when the baby-boomers retire soon. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Prescription Drug Benefit ( not to mention interest on the growing national debt, and the cost of rapidly-escalating military commitments around the world ) are going to basically bankrupt the next generation of Americans. There is a realistic limit to what NASA can expect funding-wise in the years to come, and they know that the money is going to run out LONG before all of their intermediate pre-conditions for a Mars Mission are met. They know that they will get a lot of totally-wasted funding in the meantime to keep everybody on the gravy-train, but at least under their plan, they will get that funding without ever having to realistically deliver anything resembling a mission to Mars. That’s the sad and honest truth folks. So that’s what I think of Nasa’s “vision” and of their so-called “plans” for the next several decades. I think it’s a complete crock of bullshit.

So what’s the alternative? Well, as I have already suggested, Step ONE would be to get a realistic vision, and Step Two would be to get a realistic road-map to get there. The best that I could hope for for NASA, would be that somebody sensible becomes president and simply kicks the 800lb gorilla off the living room couch and says- ” Look, this isn’t happening. You guys go back to the drawing-board, and come back with a ten-year-plan to get us to Mars that doesn’t involve moon bases. ” Furthermore,  rather than investing another fifty-billion bucks on the ISS before we de-orbit it into the atmosphere, why not save the money and time and de-orbit the damned thing now? Instead of pursuing this folly to it’s ultimate pointless and wasteful conclusion, why don’t we stop throwing good money after bad, and call it a day shall we? And while we’re at it, let’s save ANOTHER twenty-billion bucks by not waiting until 2010 to retire the shuttle fleet. If I were president, I’d hand the keys to the ISS to Russia today and say “good luck comrade”. They would probably turn a profit on the thing by selling tickets to space-tourists. They need the money, so I say God Bless em’. I’d approve one more shuttle mission to service Hubble, and then I would send the shuttles to the Smithsonian.

The shuttle was supposed to be a cheap, safe, reliable, re-usable system capable of  quick-turnaround times and easy, routine,weekly, launches to and from Earth orbit that would radically lower the cost per-pound of mass-to-orbit. It wasn’t ANY of those things. It was a lemon from the start, and a totally bad idea from the get-go. ( Anytime you spend 50 billion bucks on a peice of equipment and you have to use the phrase ” the tiles fell off”, you pretty much know youv’e got problems.) We’ve wasted the time and treasure of an entire generation puttering around in earth-orbit, and the sooner we put this sad era behind us, the better. I admit, I DO like the next-generation CEV ( Crew Exploration Vehicle ) AKA “Orion”, and the “Ares” heavy-throw Saturn-type booster that NASA is developing as a successor to the shuttle system, but I would change two things. I would immediately divert all  ISS and Shuttle funding to a crash -program to get these new systems operational pronto. I would also insist on developing  Orion and Ares within the architecture of a near-term, Mars-focused mission plan. No moon bases!

We also need to reform  NASA on an institutional level, and give that reformed agency a bigger budget- a budget commensurate with a country that has a GDP of 13 Trillion dollars. Truth be told, I think that the government’s investment in Space Exploration should be quadrupled. As a percentage of GDP, the money IS there, and we could easily come up with the funds, given the VAST size of the federal budget, with even MINUSCULE cuts in the rate of entitlement spending growth , and by curtailing earmarks and blatant pork-barrel waste ( bridges to nowhere and woodstock museums ).  HOWEVER, along with that funding increase, NASA DOES need to be re-focused, and re-organized. Also, we need to introduce some new paradigms into aspects of the system to better utilize the power of market-driven competition to drive progress, spur innovation, and to encourage the flow of private capital into the area of space exploration. Also, we need to invest in new launch technology in the same way that the government once invested in the railroads to open up the rest of the continent to commerce. I will detail some of my specific proposals in these areas below…

 If it were up to me, I would divide the new up-sized NASA budget 4 ways. One Quarter of the new quadrupled budget ( the equivalent of  the entire current budget ) would be focused solely on Orion, Ares, and on a ten-year plan for a manned mission to Mars.  Un-manned science missions would also get a full quarter of the new budget money for probes, orbiters, and un-manned landers- with a large part of that budget focusing on finding suitable landing sites on Mars with frozen sub-surface water ice ( which would open the way for long-term colonization ), and on Robert Zubrin’s in-situ fuel production lander idea. I would green-light a major robotic mission to Europa ( currently canceled ), because it’s oceans probably have the best chance of harboring life of any place in our solar system outside of Earth.  I would absolutely continue to fund ( and upgrade ) from this money,  NASA’s  fine array of space-born astronomical observatories- Chandra, Spitzer, and  Hubble, as well as the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. I would also also make SIM and TPF ( Space Interferometer Mission and Terrestrial Planet Finder ) long-term priorities for the “Science Directorate” of NASA. The unmanned exploration sector within NASA has EARNED the right to be stewards of our hard-earned tax- dollars. Another quarter of Nasa’s new super-budget would go to the development of a totally new launch system, and I would administer that part of the budget in a totally new way.

The new “launch system” that I am referring to, is called “The Space Elevator”. It has the potential to change the fundamental paradigm of space exploration to such an extent that it may wind up being more historically significant to our species than even the Apollo program was. I really do believe that it deserves funding equivalent to the entire current NASA budget. The fact of the matter is that there is only so far we are going to go as a species with space-faring exploration and colonization with conventional chemical rockets. The cost of getting people and material into orbit on a per-pound basis by conventional means is a PERMANENT limiting factor to what is possible for mankind if another cheaper method is not found. People have needs here on earth, and governments have many responsibilities to their peoples. Health-care, the military, retirement, roads, schools etc…., etc… There is only so much money that will EVER be able to be allocated to the space program. The fact of the matter, is that the BULK  of what is currently spent on space, is being wasted on propelling minuscule amounts of mass into orbit atop millions of gallons of propellant in insanely-expensive chemical rockets. Chemical rockets are an economic dead-end for space-exploration in the long-term. They have enabled us to take our first steps out into the great unknown, but they won’t allow us to take human presence in space to the next level for reasons of cost.  Not only are chemical rockets cost-prohibitive for non-profit organizations like NASA, but they are even MORE prohibitive to space-based, for-profit business ventures like space-tourism. Since we must assume that the amount of money that governments can spend on space exploration will ALWAYS be limited as a percentage of budget, the ONLY possibility for a significant expansion of human presence in space is if the cost of launching mass-to-orbit is radically reduced. In this way, it can it become profitable for private industry to drive the next phase of  human expansion into space. To make an analogy to another time in our history, the great expansion of the railroads that connected the east coast to the west coast, and the government’s investment IN those railroads, were only made possible by the fact that economic opportunities awaited at the end of the line. What SUSTAINED that rail infrastructure  ( and later built the interstate highway system as well ) was the economic activity that UTILIZED the road and rail grid. The government has a vested interest now in developing a better mass-to-orbit system that will radically lower launch-costs and make it possible for profitable space tourism to grow and thrive. The impetus of capitalism,of market-driven competition,of private investment,and of consumer demand  can bring to bear a  VASTLY greater power and wealth upon the area of human space exploration than government spending will EVER be able to in the long-term. But there has to be something IN space that motivates people to want to go there, and there has to be a much cheaper and potentially profitable way for private companies to meet that consumer need. The primary reason for average people to ever want to go into space is to see the view. Plain and simple.There is no other compelling reason for most people to need, or want to go there, or for private industry to find a way to send them there. The primary economic engine, therefore,  that will expand human presence in space will be tourism, and the lynch-pin that space tourism hangs upon is the development of a much cheaper mass-to-orbit system. That system is the Space Elevator, and quite frankly, I think that the development of that system should probably be NASA’s PRIMARY focus. It should be AT LEAST equal in terms of funding and in terms of priority, with every other thing that NASA does.

 For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Space Elevator concept, I will give a brief description of what it entails, and a few links to more information. Basically, the idea of the space elevator can be likened to tying a ten pound weight to the end of a rope and swinging it in a circle. The centrifugal force of  a weight attached to a spinning body ( in this case the earth itself ), holds the tether upright and rigidly in position between the weight and the spinning body. The critical component that was lacking in such a scheme, until fairly recently , was a material strong enough to bear the weight and stress loads required to permanently connect an orbiting object with the surface of the Earth. That structural material exists now. The strength-to -weight ratio of carbon nanotubes is sufficient to make a permanent space elevator an actual reality. From the standpoint of an observer on Earth, the space elevator would appear to be a thin, stationary, black ribbon stretching all the way from the ground to outer space. Of course, it would only appear to be stationary, as in reality, the earth would be spinning at many miles per second, as would be the elevator and the structure tied to it’s end.It’s just that it would seem stationary because we are also spinning at the same speed relative to it. A mechanical climber simply rides up and down the “elevator”, with none of the ridiculous costs and infrastructure associated with chemical rockets. Mass-to-orbit costs stand to be reduced a hundred-fold, and the first job of the first space elevator will be to lift up spools of carbon nanotube fibers containing the initial filaments of a hundred MORE space elevators. Many of these elevators will be financed by new businesses, and by a massive influx of venture capital that will be attracted to the new frontier by the now- potentially profitable space tourism industry. Indeed, ALL of the current industries that utilize chemical rockets for mass-to-orbit would find their costs greatly reduced, and capital /investment would flow to these sectors too. Cheaper mass-to-orbit also opens up possibilities for entirely new industries and technologies such as beamed power generation. The space elevator is the key that unlocks the gateway to the final frontier, and also to actual COLONIZATION of Mars, as opposed to just a few “plant-the-flag-and-look-around”  missions.

Discover Magazine Article: “Going Up”

http://discovermagazine.com/2004/jul/cover

Wikipedia: The Space Elevator:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

Also, I would spend Nasa’s  entire Space Elevator budget under a new paradigm. It wouldn’t be an in-house operation at all. It would be along the lines of what DARPA ( Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration ) did with their open-to-the-public Autonomous Vehicle competition- only on a much grander scale. I would dole out the money as grants to approximately five companies that wanted to have a go at it, and have a 50 billion dollar “X-Prize” for the company that gets the first space elevator up and running. Let’s face it,  government bureaucracy is the method of absolute last resort if you want innovation, efficiency, speed, and excellence. On the other hand, try dangling that kind of money  in front of some lean, mean, greedy, hungry, profit-driven corporations, and you’ll have the elevator up before you can say Jack-and-the-Beanstalk.

  

My proposal for the final quarter of Nasa’s new budget would be to spend it on addressing another fundamental problem that is holding back human space exploration . I am talking about trying to do something unheard-of, and almost unimaginable, to recapture the daring spirit of Apollo again. We need to fire the imagination of a NEW generation! We need to capture the hopes, and the dreams of all the hard-working people out there whose tax dollars makes all of this stuff POSSIBLE! We need a bold, visionary goal- an audacious undertaking that is WORTHY of the attention, of the interest, and of the un-flagging support of the PEOPLE. We need a goal whose noble and lofty vision brings a tear to people’s eyes, and makes school-children lay awake at night in their beds thinking ” is such a thing REALLY possible?!”It should be like it USED to be, back in the early days of the Apollo program.  I have an idea of what that goal could be. I think I know what undertaking would be truly worthy of NASA, and worthy of the yearning for brave  EXPLORATION that lies at the core of what is BEST in the human spirit…

 I propose that an American president should lay before the American people the idea of building a vast space-born optical interferometer. The purpose of which would be to answer two fundamental questions-

 1.) Are we alone in the universe? …Does Life exist out there, and if so, is it simple or complex? Rare or prevalent?

2.) Is there another Earth? Are there many?… And are any of them close enough for us to consider what would be the greatest journey of all- going there. ( Via either a multi-generational colony-ship, or via a probe with genetic seed-material that could start a new branch of the tree of life in the universe.)

 For those of you unfamiliar with the possibilities and potential capabilities of space-interferometers, I will briefly outline the idea, and provide a couple of links to more information. Basically, the idea of putting telescopes in space is based on the fact that they are above the atmosphere- which obstructs and distorts our view of distant heavenly bodies from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope ( launched in 1997 ) is one of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of mankind, and just so you don’t have to take my word for it, I’ll include a link to some of the images that Hubble has given us, and let you see for yourself. Honestly,  any words of mine would be totally unable to express the grandeur and majesty of what is out there anyways. Suffice it to say, that our view of the universe will never be the same. The Hubble deep field photographs boggle the mind. They are filled with millions and billions of tiny red, green , blue and pink smudges that fill up the HST’s entire view of the sky. Those tiny multi-colored pinwheels are galaxies. Each of them contains hundreds of billions of stars just like our own , and around those stars are circling billions – if not trillions- of planets. Some are inevitably going to be similar to own tiny blue marble that we call home. Statistically speaking, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that SOMEWHERE out there is a planet that is, for all intents and purposes, practically identical to Earth.  Now consider for a moment that Hubble only has a lense two meters-wide. The principle of interferometers ( in space in this case ) is that it is possible to create a “vitual lense” equivalent to the diameter of a CONSTELLATION of movable telescopes placed at great distances from one another. Someday, it will be possible to create a telescope in space with the equivalent of a lense that is TENS OF THOUSANDS OF KILOMETERS wide. Think what we have seen with Hubble’s tiny lense, and then imagine what we would see with an interferometer of that size! We will look down on distant worlds- maybe even in other galaxies- with the same resolution that CIA spy-satelites currently use to read a car’s licence plate from space. We won’t need SETI to be randomly looking for patterns in interstellar radio signals anymore. We will simply look down on distant worlds in VISIBLE light wavelengths , and SEE if there are any designed structures indicative of complex life. We will also use gas spectroscopy to determine the exact composition of those planet’s atmospheres, and see whether or not there are un-natural combinations of gases which are incapable of forming apart from the presence of life and biological processes going forward. If life is out there, we will know. If we are alone, we will know that too. Darwinists claim that abiogenesis, the origin and evolution of species, the spontaneous creation of self-replicating information processors like DNA , the code that is written on that information processor, and the irreducible biological complexity that code translates into, are all NATURAL processes that merely  require time and the right environmental conditions to occur. Intelligent Design advocates dispute that unproven claim and point to the problems of irreducible complexity, and of universal probability bounds in a finite universe, as proof that Design had a hand in creating complex, specified genetic information and interwoven, interdependent biological structures and processes that would never have come about by the “small, ,sucessive steps” required of Random Mutation and Natural Selection. The fact of the matter though, is that advocates for BOTH Answers to the “Big Question” can only point to a data-set of one. We currently only know of ONE place in the entire universe where life exists, and nobody has ever specifically explained, demonstrated, or duplicated the process by which that life came to be. If Darwinism is correct, then these natural processes must go forth on a trillion other worlds, and CERTAINLY the universe must be teeming with all manner of life- both simple and complex. Space interferometry will tell us if that is so or not. Objectively speaking, so far, SETI has laid a big fat goose egg, and the silence out there is deafening. Observational data so far has NOT supported that notion of complex life existing outside of this planet. Certainly SETI isn’t tuning into the bar-scene from Star Wars like it probably should be if Darwinism and purely naturalistic forces are solely capable of explaining life independent of design. But we’ll never really know the answer to the question of Life until we get out there and look for it. Personally, I think that the Fermi Paradox deserves to be resolved, and I want very much for us to actually get up there and SEE the truth.  The space interferometer will show us that truth, and I believe I can HANDLE the truth- whatever it turns out to be. The Space Interferometer is a worthy goal – for our species and for our nation, and it is a perfect mission for NASA, as it it has no possibility of ever turning a profit. It’s a pure-scientific mission of exploration and discovery.

Wikipedia: NASA’s Space Interferometry Mission ( SIM )

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Interferometry_Mission

NASA’s Long-Term Terrestrial Planet-Finder Plans:

http://origins.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/missions.html#pi

Hubble Images:

http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album

Wikipedia: The Hubble Space Telescope:

Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Space_Telescope

 My first essay on this blog adressed the potential impact that space interferometry will ultimately have on the question of life’s presence and prevolance in the universe. Personally, I think that data from the space interferometer will ultimately  prove to be definitive on the matter. Here is a link to that essay. The ensuing comment-fest following that essay wound up being a spirited and informative debate on the whole Evolution versus Intelligent Design controversy. The link is included here for those interested in the subject, as well as a link to Dr. William Dembski’s Intelligent Design Weblog…

Evolution Versus Intelligent Design:

https://tyharris.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/evolution-versus-intelligent-design-astronomy-may-soon-settle-the-matter-once-and-for-all/

Dr. William Dembski’s Blog:

http://www.uncommondescent.com

 I want to thank everybody out there reading this, for taking the time to consider my opinions and ideas. I realize that I tend to run a bit long, and that I am paragraphically challenged. I dont claim to know everything, or have all the answers, but I am pretty sure that the space program is currently not on the right track, and I hope I have thrown some ideas and alternatives on the table that are worthy of consideration by those interested in the matter. I do think that our long-term survival  depends on us becoming a space-faring species. Remember, we have all of our eggs in one basket here. We are a teensy-weensy carbon-based life-form, with a very small foothold, on a very tiny blue speck of dirt and water, in a VERY large, cold, and un-caring universe. There have already been several ELE’s ( Extinction Level Events ) in our planet’s history, and statistically speaking, we are almost due for another one.  Right now, even as we speak, there probably IS a rock flying though space at millions of miles per hour that the un-ending graviational waltz of heavenly bodies will eventually send our way – with potentially fatal consequences. That could be a thousand years from now, a million years from now, or tomorrow, but it’s probably coming. And perhaps the even greater threat is our own self-threatening tendencies as a species- our warlike tendencies, our hatreds, our inability to get along with one another. Combine those tendencies with advances in biotechnology and the potential production of bio-agents, super-viruses, and biological weapons of mass-destuction, and  you have a human future that is NOT a sure-thing. If it turns out that  we really ARE the only sentient beings in the universe, and anything ever DID happen to wipe us out as a species on this small planet orbiting a tiny yellow star, well… then that’s the proverbial ballgame isnt it? It’s something to think about….It probably IS worth establishing another branch of the human family tree elsewhere- just in case. At any rate, we don’t really seem to be currently on-track to achieve any kind of Human Destiny out there in the stars. I hope that changes, and soon. While my faith in a Human Destiny in space has not died or been shaken by the recent stagnation of the Space Program , my faith in the current caretakers OF that dream HAS died. I think it’s time to do as Sammy Hagar once said, and “Dream another Dream… this Dream is over.”

Suggested Links:

The definitive book on the current state of affairs at NASA… Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age by Greg Klerkx: 

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Space-Fall-NASA-Dream/dp/0375421505

Ward and Brownlee’s Rare Earth Hypothesis / the Fermi Paradox:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis

Books by Micheal Behe, ( arch-advocate for Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity):

http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Evolution-Search-Limits-Darwinism/dp/0743296206

http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-Black-Box-Biochemical-Challenge/dp/0743290313

Robert Zubrin: Author and arch-advocate of “Mars-Direct” plan:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Case_for_Mars

Carl Sagan’s vision of a Human Destiny in space:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot:_A_Vision_of_the_Human_Future_in_Space#Book_summary

The Encode Project… More bad news for Darwinism, and more evidence in support of Irreducible Complexity: “The picture that’s emerging of how living cells actually operate and evolve is so immensely more complicated than anyone imagined, it’s almost depressing”….”illness, health, and evolutionary change appear to be the work of an almost fantastical coordination between genes and swaths of DNA previously written off as junk”:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/health_science/articles/2007/09/24/dna_unraveled/

The Apollo Program:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program

Orion and Ares, the sucessors to the Space Shutle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_%28spacecraft%29

Shadow of the Moon movie:

http://www.intheshadowofthemoon.com

Nasa Budget:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget

The International Space Station:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISS

The Space Shuttle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_shuttle

“Men From Earth”, my favorite first-hand account of the true-life epic adventure that was the Apollo program. Written by my favorite astronaut, Buzz Aldrin:

http://www.buzzaldrin.com/merchandise/books/index.html

Read Full Post »

If you came here looking for the “Evolution versus Intelligent Design” essay, click here:

https://tyharris.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/evolution-versus-intelligent-design-astronomy-may-soon-settle-the-matter-once-and-for-all/

If you came here looking for the “Most Worthless Generation” essay, click here:

https://tyharris.wordpress.com/2007/08/19/the-most-worthless-generation-an-essay-on-the-state-of-american-culture-by-ty-harris/

If you came here looking for “Political Prognostications” on the 2008 Presidential race, click here:

https://tyharris.wordpress.com/2007/09/10/political-prognostications-by-ty-harris-on-the-2008-presidential-election/

To learn more about Ty Harris, click here:

https://tyharris.wordpress.com/author/tyharris

                   So… If I could invite ANY ten people who had ever lived to dinner, who would they be ? I first asked myself this question during the summer of 1992. I was camping in Roosevelt National Forest, and late one night I found myself bored and alone in a tent -in the dark- for several hours with nothing to do. Unable to sleep, and having nothing to read, no television to watch, and no radio to listen to, I began looking for mental exercises to keep my brain occupied and to make the time go by quicker. Some people “count sheep” in this type of circumstance to try to get to sleep. I invite historical dignitaries in my mind to imaginary dinner parties. You may infer whatever you want to about me from that fact….

             Incidentally, on an aside-note before I get to the dinner guest-list, I would never “count sheep”, because having actually LIVED on a sheep ranch when I was younger, I can tell you that sheep are the LAST animals I would voluntarily spend time thinking about for ANY reason.  I can still remember my Dad saying to me with barely-disguised disgust in his voice, that sheep would stand there in the snow and die of starvation right next to a bale of hay because they were too stupid to eat it. But I digress… 

             At any rate, I did manage to pass a few hours in the tent that night, racking my brain as to who it would be best to invite. Once I got the guest list worked-out, I spent a little time on the seating arrangements to try and create the most interesting dinner conversations possible at my imaginary dinner party. I still remember a few of my original invitees, and I find it interesting to note that the guest-list has changed a bit now that I am re-visiting the thought experiment over a decade later. I think that this is one of those mental exercises along the lines of ” If you had a million dollars and you never had to work again, what would you do?” However you answer that question is what you are supposed to do as a career. In much the same way, who you would invite to dinner in this question, reveals a lot about you.  The changes in how I answered that question then and now, also reveal how I have changed as a person in the interim.

The Guest-List:

              Well, like many of you out there reading this, the first thought that comes to mind, when told that I can have dinner with anybody who has EVER lived, is to bring back loved-ones who have passed away. In the great scheme of things, the people that we know and love in our own small, historically-unimportant lives are much more worthy invitees to this hypothetical dinner, than any statesman or heroic figure could ever be, and I am sure most people would do the same thing. So I would save the first seat at the table for my Dad. I miss him all the time, and it’s ironic too, because I took so few opportunities to enjoy his company while I had the chance, and that only makes it worse. My Dad and I shared a lot of the same interests, so I have a feeling that he would enjoy talking to a couple of the other invitees to this dinner party as much as I would. It would be a fun night. For the sake of argument in this thought exercise, I am pre-supposing that my Mom and Sister were already coming to dinner anyways so they don’t count against the  9 more official-invites I have to send to historical figures and such.

             The second seat at the table goes to Albert Einstein. If there is a human being who ever lived that I am most in awe of, it would be him. People like Einstein come along about once every millennium or so, and during their relatively brief time here on earth, they make discoveries so profound that they will be talked about forever basically- or at least as long as our species lasts. His genius, his clarity of thought and perception, and his ability to see, understand, and define the relationships between the fundamental forces of nature that underlie our entire universe were unlike any who ever came before him, and probably will never be surpassed by any who come after him. I mean no disrespect to his family when I say this, but the man’s DNA should seriously be dug-up and cloned in my opinion. As a species, we can’t wait around another thousand years for somebody like him to come along by genetic randomness. Every generation should have their own Einstein. If it were so, we would soon know everything there is to know, comprehend everything there is to comprehend, and reach our full potential as a species. Maybe someday genetic engineering will endow EVERYBODY with this level of perception and intelligence. Wouldn’t that be something?

               The third seat at the table belongs to Abraham Lincoln. I once heard somebody on the radio describing the events of a man’s early-years ( I didn’t know it was Lincoln at the time) – and he was reading off a list, nay an un-ending LITANY, of all the failures and obstacles the man had to overcome in life. ( At the end of the long list of failures and obstacles, the radio-host mentioned that oh-by-the-way, the guy he had been talking about was Abraham Lincoln, who went on to become one of history’s greatest figures.) Failure- time and again- at EVERYTHING he tried, through poverty, defeat, and severe depression… and yet he persisted, and eventually- even when he DID finally hold the highest office in the land- he performed his thankless tasks commendably in one of the darkest times on our nation’s history as the recipient of little encouragement and much derision. If ever there was somebody who had an excuse to fail in life, it was Lincoln. And yet even as he was scorned and hated by so many in his own time, in hindsight, we revere him for his vision, his fore-site, his seeking after justice, and as the living embodiment of the leadership qualities that we desperately seek for now in vain, in an age of lobbyists, special-interest groups, sound-bytes, and focus-groups. Surely if anybody could give us sage advice to guide us through these uncertain times, it would be Lincoln.

           The fourth seat at the table goes to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although he was long dead by the time I picked up his essays as a skinny 16-year old trying to make sense of a world that didn’t seem to make much sense, when I read Emerson, I sometimes felt as though he were speaking DIRECTLY to me personally, through his words. His thoughts were my thoughts,his feelings were my feelings, and his yearnings were my yearnings. No author ever spoke to my soul like Emerson did. Most people wouldn’t be able to guess this about me from my current couch-potato physique, but when I was a teenager, I was a serious middle-distance runner. I didn’t posses the genetic traits requisite to be truly “elite” or to compete in the Olympics, but still, for a time there, when I was 16-17 years old, I was just below that level. I was on a sort of “vision-quest” in those times- seeking the limits of my mind and spirit through athletic exertion, self-discipline, and most-of-all through transcendental thinking. My mental and spiritual approach to running took me a lot further in that sport than I ever had any right to go, and Emerson was a big part of that journey. I can still remember spending the summer of my 16th year in a tent by myself on South Padre Island, Texas, running 3 times a day on the beach, and filling my mind up with Emerson’s writings and philosophy as I watched the sun set over the Laguna Madre. My favorite essays of his are Heroism and Spiritual Laws, and they absolutely changed my life and opened up my world. How I would dearly love to meet Emerson!

               The 5th seat goes to Henry David Thoreau. I didn’t get into him as much as Emerson, but I know that he and Emerson were kindred spirits, and were friends. I think that Ralph would want to see Henry again. I would sit them right next to each other at the dinner table and listen to them talk. It should make for good conversation.

                The 6th seat goes to Thomas Jefferson. His revolutionary ideas and writings changed the world unlike anybody else who came before him or anybody since. In the Declaration of Independence he went WAY beyond merely justifying the birth of new nation. Rather, he spoke as nobody had ever spoken about the inherent rights of ALL men. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident…” He revealed fundamental truths to all mankind that we are all indebted to him for forever. His words are God’s own Truth on this earth as far as I am concerned. The nation that was formed and built upon the vision and principles he set forth, has ushered in a new age of progress, prosperity, freedom, and human enlightenment  for the world. Even today, 200 years later , his words are spoken in hushed, hopeful whispers by the enslaved and oppressed. His ideas are like a light in the darkness in remote corners of the globe where the torch of freedom and democracy has not yet been brought. And don’t tell me that if Thomas Jefferson were presented with the opportunity to expound on today’s current-events, that it wouldn’t make for some good dinner conversation! ( By the way, Saturday Night-Live did a hilarious skit once, in which the founding fathers came back to life and held a news conference to answer questions and solve all the world’s problems. In the skit, Thomas Jefferson loses his temper, because he can’t get the reporters to ask him any relevant questions. All the reporters care about is the “slave-sex ” scandal. They say the funniest humor is based on truth, and this accurately characterizes the shallow, celebrity-obsessed, intellectually incurious nature of the news media today… )

            The 7nth, 8th, and 9th Seats go to Charles Darwin, William Dembski, and Micheal Behe. They are all sitting next to each other, and nobody is getting up from this table until we settle the whole Evolution versus Intelligent Design controversy once and for all. I actually expect that the conversation would be a lot more respectful and congenial than many would predict. All three of these individuals were and are intellectual rebels. They have all had scorn and insults heaped upon them, and they all have the intellectual courage and honesty to see what they see, as opposed to what they want to see. All three state their theories based solely on the facts as they are best able to understand them, with no regard to acclaim, popularity, or approval. Darwin was working in the dark, without the benefit of a lot of modern data and knowledge that we have now. My guess is that the three of them would sit down and find common ground and consensus in the end. Common descent would be agreed upon, as well as Random Mutation and Natural Selection being true, but I expect that when confronted with the irreducibly complex nature of human molecular biology, and the unexplained abiogenesis of a DNA information processor capable of storing tens of millions of lines of ordered and structured CODE,   Darwin would probably acknowledge the limits of his theories to explain EVERYTHING and probably would acknowledge the apparent hand of design in human biological complexity.  Richard Dawkins is not invited. Although he might be able to contribute to the conversation intellectually,  he is so hateful, obnoxious, and poorly-mannered, that he would probably fart at the dinner-table and throw rolls at the other guests. Dembski, Behe, and “the Chuckster” will hash things out without him I am sure. 

           The 10nth seat goes to Buzz Aldrin. Looking back at human history from the future 1000 years from now,  Apollo 11’s “one small step for Man, one giant leap for mankind” may be the single event that most defines the age in which we live. Neil Armstrong was first, but having read an awful lot about the space program, I have a feeling that I have more in common personality-wise with Buzz than I do with Neil. Also, I am in awe of Aldrin in this sense- not only did he have the incredible courage to get out there on “the sharp end of the lance” and boldly face danger and personal risk, he ALSO was the leading authority at NASA on the orbital mechanics and rendezvous theories that actually MADE the apollo missions possible. His mind AND his spirit are unique. Also, he would be one of the few people in the room smart enough to have a conversation with Einstein, so I would seat them next to each other.

                 And that makes 10. However, I am not satisfied with that, so I am dragging a couple of folding-chairs out of the closet, and asking “ole Abe” to please scoot over a little bit so we can squeeze a couple of more people in at the table. There’s plenty of food at my imaginary dinner, and I am sure nobody would mind a couple of extra guests. I’ll stand, so somebody else can have my seat.

             The 11nth seat goes to Galileo Galilei. The man narrowly avoided being burned at the stake for his outrageous, audacious helio-centric theories, and is considered by many to be “the Father of Modern Observational Astronomy”, “the Father of Science”, and “the Father of Modern Physics”. I am bringing my laptop to the dinner table so I can show him some pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. If anyone deserves to see what is out there, it’s him.

            The 12th seat goes to Sir Richard Branson. I’ll sit him next to Galileo. If there was ever a pair of visionaries that were far, far ahead of their times, it would be these two. They are both such outside-the-box thinkers that they would probably have all of the world’s problems worked-out before desert.Besides, if anybody in these times deserves to gain the benefit of the wisdom and advice of luminaries-of -yore, to better lead us forward into the future, it would be Branson. His keen-ness of perception, his vision, and his intellectual courage earn him a seat at this table as far as I am concerned.

            The 13nth seat goes to Bill Russell, and he is going to be sitting right next to me. I’m a lifetime NBA fan, it’s MY imaginary dinner party, and he’s coming- so deal with it. A lot of people don’t realize this, but the Greatest Center in NBA history only stood 6’9″ tall. His keen mind, and his warrior heart allowed him to do things in his sport far beyond what his body should have allowed him to do. A lot of people also don’t know that he was a player-coach – not just a player- during some of the Celtics Dynasty years. In a room of 1000 people talking, I could find him blindfolded just by following the sound of his unique laugh. I haven’t met the man, but I can tell from listening to some of his interviews that he’s the kind of guy that nobody could ever hate- no matter what. ( Unless you are a Laker fan maybe… ) I would ask him to wear his championship rings to dinner, but that would be impossible, since he only has 10 fingers…

             The 14th seat would probably be empty most likely. But just the same,  I would be sending an invitation out to somebody that I would like to see just one more time before I die. If nothing else, just to ask how their life went. The purpose of this thought exercise is to see who you would invite to dinner for just ONE special night if there were NO limitations or considerations to be placed on the guest-list. So I am forced to admit that I would set aside a chair, just to see if this person showed up. And we’ll leave it at that.

              If I could squeeze in a 15th seat, it would be Jesus of Nazareth. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. That’s not a bad idea really… Simple, true, and maybe even the most profound words anybody ever actually uttered in the long, sad, selfish saga of the Greek Tragedy that is human history. If we could all just learn to  follow that ONE simple commandment in our lives, is there a problem anywhere in this world that would NOT be solved? Seriously, would there be ANYTHING that would be impossible?  Naturally, he would be the one to say grace before we ate dinner…( Ha, Ha )

So… The final run-down is:

Me, My Dad, My Mom, My Sister, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, William Dembski, Micheal Behe, Buzz Aldrin, Galileo, Richard Branson, Bill Russell, One Probably-Empty Chair, and Jesus. That’s 18 all-in-all, which doesn’t exactly conform to the rules of the thought -experiment, but the point of the exercise is not really  the specific number. It could be 8, it could be 16. The POINT is to learn something about yourself by the choices you make. Also, I could probably come up with a few more dinner guests if I thought about it longer, but probably the people who come FIRST to mind, are the ones that tell us the most about ourselves. 

If anybody wants to comment on this post, please state what YOUR dinner guest-list would look like, and why you would choose the people you chose.

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Evolution Versus Intelligent Design-Astronomy May Soon Settle the Matter Once and For All

An Essay by Ty Harris

 

( Please click on the above link to see a trailer of Ben Stein’s new Movie Documentary on Intelligent Design versus Darwinism… ” Expelled” )

 

In our world of worry and woe, of toil and trouble, we humans fill our minds up with a lot of things that seem very important at the time. Our comings and goings, our pursuits and labors, our intrigues and transactions. Details, trivia, facts, numbers and plans all form the horizons of a self-centered and manageable-sized view of the world, our life, and our place in all of it. And really, it’s probably just as well that humans posess the ability to keep their perspective on life small and local, because the larger the field of view becomes when we step back and look at our situation from a more distant and less personal vantage point, the scarier the scenario becomes. We strive and struggle. We love and laugh. We plot and strategize our little affairs which all seem so important and large. We give ourselves the illusion of such control, power, and accomplishment. Skyscrapers and cities. The internet and atomic bombs. But step back even just a little bit, and we see a tiny blue marble spinning through a limitless blackness, around a little star that also rests in an infinite void. That tiny star is just one in a galaxy of billions of other stars. That galaxy is itself just a tiny smudge of color in an unimaginably large nothingness that holds billions upon untold billions of other galaxies. The absolute truth is that we are not even merely miniscule.

This viewpoint, although accurate, is not exactly one which is calculated to inflate one’s ego or to reinforce one’s feelings of self-importance. In fact, the cold, hard truth of our actual place in the great scheme of things is too difficult for most of us to dwell on at length. And so we shorten our horizons, narrow our field of vision, and go about our business in a more manageable fashion, whistling past the cosmic graveyard as it were. But at some point in our lives, growing up, most of us have looked up into a clear night sky at least once,  gottten a sense of ourselves in a moment of clarity, and asked some of those Big Questions about Life. About whether we are alone, and how it is that Life even managed to come about in the first place. Questions about God, and about human origins. Sadly, the pace of life, and the attention we have to give to more mundane matters drives out such questions and ponderings as we get older, and busier. We forget ourselves, and those Big Questions, as we attend to all of the little things that need attending to. The years pass us by, and we run around pursuing this thing or that thing. But in the passage of time and the passage of loved-ones, in theunfolding of years, and in the realization that as we get older, our own time here isn’t as long as it used to be, we may again find a quiet mind, and time to think in quiet moments by the wayside, about our true place in the great scheme of things.

As we walk down the path of years, the falling of red and gold leaves in the crisp autumn of our older lives brings to mind the old questions we once asked to the night sky in the springtime of our youth- before our horizons became so small. Why are we here? Is it really just an accident? Are we really just random combinations of amino acids and protiens that happened to swirl together in eons gone by? What are love and laughter? Are they just biochemical impulses emminating from the randomly-formed carbon-based structures who strut about so importantly here on Carl Sagan’s “pale blue dot”? Is life mere chance, or is there intent, design, and purpose in us? Is there a Creator? Or did the Primordial Soup become a Protien, the Protien a Plant, the Plant a Lizard, the Lizard a Bird, The Bird a Mouse, and the Mouse a Man? Is life a product of natural, physical processes, or of Intelligent Design? Is there a God? Are we alone in the Universe? What is our true nature, and what is the role of Humanity in the great cosmic play? In short- what is the meaning of all this?

We have all asked these questions of ourselves- some more than others- in our quieter moments. And in a way, the answers we all gave to these types of questions which we asked in our youth, determined the courses of our lives, and the actions we take every day- whether we know it or not. Every house is built upon foundations, and the MEANING of our lives, and the actual SIGNIFIGANCE of the things we do, really does stem from how we answered the Big Questions once upon a time- even if the answer was ” I don’t know”. Metaphysical foundations inevitably underlie, and give meaning to our physical being. If our lives are founded upon mere random chance, then the MEANING of a particular life or of a particular set of actions is quite different from a life wherein an intentional purpose and design underlies being and action. It’s inescapable. The Big Questions of whether we evolved by random chance or if there is a God, underpin everything we are, and everything we do. Ultimately, the signifigance of life itself comes down to a question of intent. Because without it, there is literally, and by-definition, no purpose to our lives. The philisophical implications of a generation of people attempting to live lives which we have, by convention and by casual scientific consensus, now concluded have no purpose or meaning, are not small. And yet the Theory of Evolution- and it’s inescapable philisophical implications- have now totally supplanted the possibility of there even being a God-Creator in almost all serious academic and scientific circles. Men of great learning, college students, and school-children alike, accept Evolution now, as un-questioned fact. The idea of the spontaneous formation of Man from random chemical combinations occuring over time is now the ONLY explanation for our existence that is allowed to be taught or even postulated in public schools. No debate is tolerated. ” All dissent must be extinguished with buckets of bile.” Question the orthodoxy in any way, and you face instantaneous legal attack and professional recrimination. Christians, of course, have their academic enclaves here and there, in private schools who don’t accept public funding as the price of academic freedom. But by and large, Evolution is now the only acceptable explanation for Life in serious academia. And that conscerns me, because this theory seems to have some serious logical ( and indeed mathematical ) holes in it, and some unsatisfactory philisophical implications as well.

There are fundamental problems with evolution as as explanation for the origin of our species which are clear to anybody who is open-minded and brazen enough to ask the forbidden questions. The first is the most obvious, and is philisophical and logical more than it is scientific, for evolution is an idea which has imlpications far beyond biology. Without intent or design in the formation of life there is- literally- no purpose to life. If you accept the fundamental premise that human life is just a random, chance grouping of amino acids and protiens with no plan, design, or intent, then you accept that your life has no possible meaning or signifigance to it. A human-being, a clump of dirt- what is the difference? Laughter, learning, tears, love, freindship, aspiration, freedom and bondage, war and peace, home and hearth, family and neighbors, your first love, and your child’s first steps, birth, marriage and death… to accept that life is random and without intent is to set these all aside as meaningless aspects of a – literally- purposeless life. Electrochemical impulses in self-organized protiens. Kill somebody in cold blood, and all you have really done is rearrange some elemental particles. Morality of ANY kind has no credence or foundation to it if we accept the idea of a purposeless life. Any person who truly believes in a life without purpose or intent, and who has the intellectual honesty to extrapolate his or her own arguments out to their sad, lonely conclusions must feel very lost and alone in this world. This probably explains why it is that most people DON’T think about these types of things so much anymore. I mean, if you are a rational, well-adjusted person with an open mind, you have to accept scientific facts- which by all appearances now includes the Theory of Evolution, but at the same time, if you are truly HUMAN, ( and you arent a complete sociopath ), you instinctively KNOW that life does matter. It IS signifigant. It DOES have purpose. Intellectual theories are well and good, but deep-down, even most of the people who accept evolution as fact, do NOT think of their children as random groupings of amino-acids, or of their spouses as soul-less protien conglomerations. Nor do they go about their lives, their marriages, or their vocations as though they don’t matter in a universe governed soley by chance. To the contrary, even the most evolution-innured atheists seem to proceed about their lives as though their lives ( and certainly their opinions ) DO matter, despite the inherent contradiction in caring about things which- according to their beliefs- CAN’T matter.

The second big problem with Evolution, as I see it, ( at least with Evolution as an explanation for the origin of life ) is Math. Statistics in particular. the basic principle underlying any God-less or Intelligent Design-less explanation for Life as we know it, is that you start with elements- the basic constituent remnants of the Big-Bang, and SOMEHOW- through random chance interactions between these elements you wind up with Man. Mutation, natural selection, organic molecules and lightning bolts- HOWEVER you spin the tale, you have to start with basic elements, and wind up with DNA. And DNA really is the problem, because the more we learn about the awesome complexity of what a human fundamentally IS, the more of a stretch it becomes to get from basic elements to almost unimaginable complexity. We are talking about a CODED, self-replicating double-helix structure whose purpose is to store astoundingly complex, and extremely specific INFORMATION in memory, and to translate that complex, specific information into all of the biological organs and processes that make up a human-being, including the human brain. The data stored on the double-helix is SPECIFICALLY arranged, written, and ORDERED in such a way as to bring about life and everything we are. You see how hard it is to refer to billions of lines of carefully structured CODE without using words like written, arranged, ordered, and designed. And yet such phrases ARE misnomers if we accept that it all came about by chance, because all such terms imply a writer, a designer, or an arranger. ” Evolved” is really just a way of saying “happened”. It doesn’t explain HOW it happened. But to get back to the matter of statistics- there ARE people who have taken a stab at calculating the odds of human DNA spontaneously forming from elemental particles. One very smart fellow by the name of William Dembski ( Dual PHD in Mathematics and Philosophy- an interesting combination to say the least ) has written extensively on the subject, and has adressed the probabilistic limitations to evolutionary theory. I highly reccomend his book- Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology- to anybody interested in Evolution or in Intelligent Design. In his book, Dembski states; ” The universe will experience heat death before random typing at a keyboard produces a Shakespearean sonnet. The French mathematician Emile Borel proposed 10 to the 50th power as a universal probability bound below which, chance could definitely be precluded- that is any specified event as improbable as this could not be attributed to chance.” Dembski goes on… ” In the Design Inference, I justify a more stringent universal probability bound of 10 to the 150th power- based on the number of elementary particles in the observable universe, the duration of the observable universe until it’s heat death, and the Plank time.” British mathematician Roger Penrose attempted to calculate the odds against Life occuring by random chance in our universe. He came up with odds of 10 to the 10nth power to the 123rd power against. Penrose elaborates- ” Even if we were to write a 0 on each seperate proton, and on each seperate neutron in the entire universe- and we could throw in all the other particles for good measure- we would fall far short of writing down the figure needed.”

In other words,the statistical odds against Evolution are so bad that not only could it never happen, it would be impossible to even write down the number expressing the probablity against it happening, because there aren’t enough particles in the universe to write it with! THIS is the theory which no serious academic is allowed to question? Another way of looking at the matter from a statistical standpoint would be to use the old “monkeys typing at typewriters” analogy. How many monkeys does it take, and how long does it take, for random keystrokes to write the encyclopedia Britannica? It’s not even a rhetorical question, because it’s possible to give an exact answer using math. Now consider a million encyclopedia Britannica’s all precisely worded, ordered, and arranged, and you have human DNA. It’s a very good analogy, because DNA and encyclopedias both exist to store and impart complex, specific information. It isn’t random data. It is precisely ordered and arranged to yield a specific result when it translates. The complexity and specificity in human DNA appears to exceed the universal probability bounds calculated by Borel, Penrose and Dembski.

There are other problems with Evolution too. As I understand it, one of them is referred to as “irreducible complexity”. Natural selection can’t explain how something as complex as the human eye ( or many other complex biological systems ) came about as a result of a favorable mutation. There are just too many SEPERATE things that had to come together all at once for the structure to function at all. Seperately, the neccesary structures of the eye- the rods, the cones, the optic nerve etc. didnt have any inherent advantages in and of themselves, and wouldn’t have survived as  favorable mutations. The whole structure would have had to then just simultaneously leap itself into existence one fine day, apart from mutation or natural selection. This strains credulity at best. Irreducible complexity, universal probability bounds, and Dembski’s postulations regarding design being inferred in complex, specified information are real, scientific arguments that are not easily dismissed by open-minded thinkers. It really IS statistically unlikely that Evolution is a natural process that occured even ONCE in our universe to produce complex life. It is utterly beyond belief to think that Evolution is a natural process which functions WHEREVER the neccesary conditions for life exist in our universe, yet that is what many scientists would have us believe now.

So if not Evolution, then what? We ARE here, after all. We can hopefully agree on that. ( Although if you read too much Nietsche, you may wind up concluding that you are just a figment of your own imagination. But for purposes of argument, let’s just stipulate that we ARE here… ) We had to get here somehow, and there are only so many explanations. Douglas Adam’s notion that we were all sneezed out of the nose of the “Great Green Arkleseizure” is one, but I am willing to set it aside. Evolution is one. Intelligent Design is another. Ultimately, I believe, the question of whether or not Life arises by natural physical processes will have to be answered definitively, by looking elsewhere. You really can’t draw reliable scientific conclusions based on a data set of one. Thus far, we only have actual knowledge of the presence of life on ONE tiny planet in a VERY big universe, and we do NOT conclusively know how it got here. There are billions, if not trillions, of planets out there in the universe, and I think that the question of whether there is life on any of them- other than ours- is a question that has to be answered before we start making definitive and sweeping conclusions as to our own origins.

Varying estimates of Life’s prevalence in our galaxy have been made- The Drake Equation is the most famous-

N* X fs X fp X nc X fi X fc X fl = N

Where: N*= stars in the Milky Way galaxy

               fs = the fraction of sun-like stars

               fp = the fraction of stars with planets

              nc = the planets in a star’s habitable zone

               fi = the fraction of habitable planets where life does arise

               fc = the fraction of planets inhabited by intelligent beings

               fl = the pecentage of a lifetime of a planet that is marked by the

                      presence of a communicative civilization

Quite a few scientists have plugged their own estimates into the variables of the Drake Equation and concluded that the universe is literally teeming with life. If such life is detected, then it will be hard to argue that Evolution isn’t a legitimate- if unexplainable- natural physical law very little different than gravity. If complex extra-solar life is discovered to be prevalent in the universe, then creationists and Intelligent Design advocates will have a tough row to hoe. Conversely though, if the data comes back in the negative- as it has so far- then as Ricky Ricardo would have said- the evolutionists will have some serious ” ‘splain’in ” to do. Despite claims of total certainty from many in science and academia on the question of Evolution versus Intelligent Design, the question does seem to come down to data that we don’t even have yet.

If we do assume, as many scientists claim, that evolution is a natural physical process that occurs WHEREVER the physical conditions neccesary for life exist, then not only is life teeming in the universe, but COMPLEX life probably is out there as well. In other words, self-aware, thinking, reasoning beings such as ourselves who are capable of communication, exist out there, and presumably they will be detected and encountered at some point. New data and new discoveries have come to light in the past few years that would seem to add both negative and positive factors to the Drake Equation. We are finding incredible life-forms here on our own planet in the most unlikely and inhospitable of places – everything from arctic lichens that thrive in freezing temperatures, to new species known as thermophiles which live in boiling sub-sea volcanic vents.  The variety of life that exists in extreme environmental conditions here on earth, seems to lend credence to the idea that life may be more common in our universe than we think. On the other hand, scientists like Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee have put forth some very interesting ( and persuasive ) arguments pertaining to how many things have to go RIGHT on a planet, for Life to even have a fighting chance. Factors such as radiation levels, distance from the sun, which elements are present on a given planet, and in what proportion etc.. Their conclusion is that if life IS the result of a natural process, then complex life, at least, is extremely rare in the universe.

I think that Douglas Adams probably best sums up the crux of the argument for Evolution in The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy ( Life, the Universe, and Everything ). He basically reasons ( presumably in jest ), that in an infinite universe, anything that is POSSIBLE, however improbable or ridiculous, is actually INEVITABLE from a statistical standpoint. He illustrates this graphically in some of his hillarious vignettes which take place on distant worlds where screwdrivers and mattresses are the dominant evolved life-forms. Galactic commerce in Adams’ fictional universe consists of simply locating the planet where the statistically-improbable ( and therefore inevitable ) manufactured good you wish to sell has become the dominant life-form. You just go to that planet and harvest said product- be it screwdrivers, ballpoint pens, or mattresses. Mattresses, according to Adams, are the dominant, evolved life-form on ” Squornshelles Zeta”. ” They are large, friendly, pocket sprung creatures that live quiet, private lives in the marshes”… ” many of them get caught, slaughtered, dried-out, shipped-out, and slept on. None of them seems to mind this, and all of them are called Zem.” To quote one of the matresses, “we live quiet, retired lives in the swamp where we are content to flollop and vollue, and regard the wetness in a fairly floopy manner. Some of us are killed, but all of us are called Zem, so we never know which, and globbering is thus kept to a minimum.” If you believe in Evolution as an explanation for the existence of human life, then you need to realize that this is the kind of ground you are standing on, philisophically and statistically. I am not saying that you aren’t right. Maybe you are. Maybe there ARE talking mattresses out there named Zem. But if you do believe this, you have to admit at least, that your theory is- statistically and mathematically- the most UNLIKELY possibility of all the possibilities. At least be humble enough to admit that, and consequently, please try to be a little less scornful of others who have different ideas. 

So- what’s The Answer to the Big Question of Life, if not Evolution? How do we reconcile real scientific evidence for the PROCESS of evolution ( mutation and natural selection DO happen ), with the apparent statistical unlikelihood of it being an explanation for life’s ORIGINS? Is there a God? And more importantly, how do we settle the matter once and for all? Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do think that the question is at least still open- NOT closed as a matter of scientific fact as some would pretend.  I think that reasonable people can disagree, and I wish there was more open-mindedness, and less cocksure arrogance on the matter. I think that from the beginning of human history, the beginning of wisdom has been the courage and intellectual honesty to open one’s mind enough to say the words ” I don’t know”. Scientific, and indeed societal progress, depend on the ability to see what one sees- not what one wants to see, and upon the willingness of people to look at facts rationally, and accept the reasonable conclusions that those facts imply, and to do so even when those facts and conclusions conflict with preconceived notions, traditions, and orthodoxy. The mantle of intolerance- for reasonable debate, and for dissent, has been worn by both sides of the Great Debate over the Big Questions down through the long years. It wasn’t too long ago when scientific minds like Galileo faced burning at the stake for heresy, when they dared to question established belief systems and stated outrageous opinions like the idea that the earth was NOT the center of the Universe. Now, in that same spirit of arrogance, any teacher, in any school anywhere who dares to question Evolution as fact, or has the audacity to even present contrary, alternate theories like Intelligent Design in the classroom, will be attacked mercilessly by the forces of secular-progressivism. Anybody who speaks out is AT LEAST going to get sued ( ironically, sometimes , by the lawyers for the American CIVIL LIBERTIES Union ). Very likely, that teacher or professor will be fired if they refuse to be silenced. If you think I exaggerate, please follow the link in the notes below to an article entitled ” The Lynching of Bill Dembski”. It’s genuinely frightening, and really saddening, the lengths to which tenured, secular-progressive academics will go to silence dissent.

As for myself, based on the reading I have done on the subject, and based on what little of his ideas I am mentally capable of penetrating, I have concluded that William Dembski ( the chief proponent of Intelligent Design ) may actually be the most intelligent man currently walking the face of the planet earth. Whether he is right or not, he certainly has intellectual curiosity and courage far beyond that of his peers who dare not even allow his forbidden ideas to be spoken. It’s ironic and sad that academics who so often go around preaching “tolerance” and “diversity” will do anything to silence anybody who questions any of the central tenants of the new religion known as secular progressivism. I think it’s sad that we are still such a close-minded species. Our technology has improved since Galileo was alive, but our wisdom as a species has not grown along with our knowledge I am afraid. If we would drop our pre-conceived notions in MANY fields of human endeavor, and would be willing to just look at problems practically and with open eyes and open minds outside the confines of orthodoxy and ideology, I think that the world would be a much better place. There are many flawed ideas which endure with us today long after they should have found their way to Reagan’s “ash heap of history” , because of this tendency of the human species to not tolerate opposing viewpoints, and to try to explain everything within the confines of narrow ideologies. As John Milton once said-“Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.” Personally, whenever somebody holds ANY position that they are unwilling to expose to the hazards of free and open debate, my immediate reaction is to suspect underlying weaknesses in their arguments. I feel that way about the Theory of Evolution as an explanation for the origin of Life.

For what it’s worth, my own personal theories on the Big Questions of “Life, the Universe, and Everything” are as follows- I personally reconcile evolutionary facts with statistical improbabilities by accepting evolution and natural selection as natural processes that IMPROVE a species. I don’t however, accept evolution as a process to explain the ORIGIN of species. Mathematically, and logically, it’s hard to argue that human DNA wrote itself by random chance. The human genetic code probably didn’t write itself, the human brain probably didn’t create itself, and it is fairly evident that intent and intelligent design ARE inherent in our existence in my opinion. Also, from a metaphysical standpoint, I cannot accept the neccesary underlying philisophical implications inherent in evolution, and in a life that does not matter. I have known what true love is, and neither it, nor the sadness of it’s loss are insignifigant. We are not random molecules. There is a meaning and a purpose to this life. I don’t claim to be able to explain it, or to be able to tell you what that purpose IS, but I am certain that Life matters. I have real pity for any man or woman who manages to go through this life so empty and cold that they believe that their life holds no special signifigance. I am comfortable standing on that ground philisophically, and I am prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of any atheist, secular-progressive, or evolutionist who would care to try and knock me off that perch.

MY confidence ends at that point, however, because claims of “intent” and “design” lead naturally to questions about the nature and purpose of the designer. There I have to stop and utter the humble words “I don’t know.” I do my best to try and understand the maker’s nature and itent, and my own purpose, but it really is beyond me. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes it’s hard. Like “the Grinch”, sometimes I “puzzle, and puzzle until my puzzler gets sore”. But maybe in the end it doesn’t have to all make sense. Maybe a willingness to accept that certain things are beyond us puts us in our proper place. Why is it so neccesary for Mankind to assume that they are smart enough to understand and know everything? Can an ant understand us? Maybe it’s that way between us and God. Even with our tiny, limited minds, and our limited knowledge and wisdom, we are already tinkering with a genetic code that we don’t fully understand, and getting our first inklings of the possibilities of A.I. ( Artificial Intelligence, not Allen Iverson- as a lifelong NBA fan, I have concluded that understanding what goes on in HIS mind would be truly impossible). If a species as young and immature as we are, can do such things, what would a designer capable of creating the DNA molecule understand and be capable of? Really, to that kind of being, our understanding would be similar to that of an ant’s understanding of a human. And yet people act so sure of everything, as though nothing is beyond our comprehension or power. Personally, I think that a humble ” I don’t know” is the beginning of a productive willingness to learn and grow.

I am extremely excited by the times in which we live. Stodgy old men in their ivory towers, and impetuous youths with their impertinent questions have been hurling ideas, insults, and theories at each other for centuries abut the answers to the Big Questions- about the meaning and origins of Man’s existence. The problem with the Big Questions, though, is that there have never really been definitive, irrefutable Answers that both sides can point to, after the debating is done, and say “Well, that settles that.” But for the first time in history, scientific progress in the areas of space exploration and astronomy have brought us to the brink of actually finding out what our role in the Universe IS. We are very close to gaining the benefit of VERY definitive data on the matter of whether Life is the unique creation of intelligent design, or if it’s the common result of prevalent natural processes that go forward on a billion other worlds in a billion other galaxies. The data, when it comes in, will be clear, comprehensive, and definitive. And people who stand on both sides of the Big Question had better tone down the rhetoric, and get humble, because the Answer to the Big Question may well be that “You Were Wrong.” We all may have to modify our world-views when the final analysis comes in.

I am speaking about the imminent dawn of the grandest age of human exploration, and what will be it’s crowning achievement and glory- spaceborne optical-interferometer-based astronomy. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and if you haven’t seen the pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope yet, my friend, you are missing out, becasue they will leave you speechless. Even this first child’s step that our species has taken out into our universe with the little looking-glass of Hubble, has given us images that have changed everything. Our view of the universe and our place in it have already been altered irrevocably, and it’s just the merest hint of what is to come. These are the seminal images of the times in which we live. As recently as 75 years ago, young and upcoming scientists like Albert Einstein promulgated their early theories in the presumption that the Milky Way galaxy WAS the Universe, and that it contained all the matter and energy in it. Well, the Hubble Deep Field images have definitly put that one to rest, and they nearly boggle the mind. Pink, green, and blue pinwheels painted in the sky, which are in reality tens of billions upon tens of billions of galaxies far beyond our own- each of those galaxies containing billions of their own stars. Billions and billions of which, are orbited by planets of all shapes and sizes. Some, inevitably, are not very different than our own little speck of water and dirt. And yet this is just the first small glimpse. The Hubble has a tiny lense only a few meters wide. But by coordinating the movements of a CONSTELLATION of spaceborne observatories, and by combining their observations from different vantage-points, while focused on the same object, optical interferometry will make it possible to create a telescope which will possess a virtual-lense of THOUSANDS of meters- maybe even tens of thousands of meters. When THOSE pictures come back, they really will change everything for our species. Because we won’t need SETI, or the Allen Array, or Dr. Ellie Arroway listening for structure in the background noise of their radio telescopes. We will KNOW whether we are alone in the universe or not. We’ll look right down on worlds in other galaxies with the same resolution that the US Government currently uses to read the letters off a car’s license plate from their orbiting satellites. If there IS complex life in the universe, we will know about it LONG before we ever have the ability to cross the vast distances between them and us. Spaceborne optical interferometery is what will make it possible, and soon. It’s coming. It’s right around the corner. And I can’t wait for the Answers! If there ARE cities out there on other worlds, or other obviously-designed structures that are visible from space, we will see them. And if that day ever comes, when we gaze down at cities on distant worlds form space, an evolutionist somewhere, will turn to an Intelligent Design advocate and say “See, the complex specificity of those structures proves they were made by the intelligent designers of an alien civilization! Complex life is present elsewhere in the universe, so there is no God, and Evolution is proven!”. It would be justified, if on that day, the Intelligent Design advocate replies- “But by your own argument, the presence of specific complexity proves nothing. If probablility and chance can build a DNA molecule here on earth, then they can certainly build a city on a distant world. Therefore, the city could have built itself, and complex life is NOT neccesarily present on that world!” Perhaps God will look down on both of them and chuckle at the irony.If it does happen that way, then evolutionists will finally know how exasperated Intelligent Design advocates feel sometimes.

At any rate, someday, when historians look back on our times from the very, very distant future, only a few people, places, and events will stand out from the rest of our petty doings- A few men signing a Declaration in a tiny hall in Philidelphia that launched a tidal wave of human freedom around the world. A windy beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina perhaps. Scientists in the New Mexico desert unlocking the secrets of a power that our limited wisdom was unworthy of. One event that will certainly define us, will be be Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking “One small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind.” The first steps of our species to reach beyond our small world, into a new understanding of the universe and our place in it. The heady days of Apollo inspired the dreams and hopes of a whole generation, and it’s sad to see what has now become of the U.S. space-program. NASA’s “bold” plan for the last 40 years has been to spend trillions of dollars on the Space Shuttle and on the International Space Station so we can putter around in low earth orbit. Unmanned missions like Hubble, and a few robotic probes like Voyager have been the only real high-points of a sad and uninspired era in space exploration. The Space Station exists to give the Shuttle some place to go to, and the Shuttle exists to give us a way to get up to the Space Station. We actually debate whether it’s worth the risk, to use one of an endless series of pointless shuttle missions to repair Hubble. It’s no wonder that NASA no longer inspires kids to dream, and most adults think it’s just a big waste of money. But the good news is, that while the MANNED space program slouches towards mediocrity, the UNMANNED programs are slowly, yet persistently creeping forward. The most exciting of which, is the ORIGINS program, of which Hubble was only the first tiny step. Mark my words, when future historians look back on these times, the REAL big event that may top them all- even Apollo-is soon to come. The children of today can look forward to exciting events in the field of astronomy that may change everything. The answers we get from this new journey of exploration, depending on what we find, may be THE pivotal moment of human history. We may make “First Contact”, or we may come to the deeply sobering realization that we are truly ALONE. Either way, the question is worth asking, even if we don’t like te answers we get. Whatever the answers, the implications are as big as they come, and the results will certainly change our view of the universe, and of ourselves. 

Notes/ Links / Suggested Reading / Articles of Interest:

The Lynching of Bill Dembski, Fred Hereen ( The American Spectator ):

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=532

The Writings of William A. Dembsi:

http://www.designinference.com

Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, William Dembski:

http://www.amazon.com/Intelligent-Design-Between-Science-Theology/dp/083082314X

Salon, on secular-progressive intolerance- “every spark of dissent has to be extinguished with buckets of bile.”:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2007/03/14/coulter/index.html?source=rss

Intelligent Design weblog, William Dembski:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/

MSNBC Documentary: Confessions of a Serial Killer- In this interview just prior to his death, Jeffery Dahmer stated that his belief in Evolution signifigantly contributed to his ability to commit mass murder without ” feeling accountable to anybody”. He further stated that ” there is no point in modifying behaviors to conform to acceptable ranges”… ” if we all just evolved from slime.” He also stated that the Theory of Evolution “cheapens life”. :

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036750/

Godless: The Church of Liberalism, Ann Coulter:

http://www.amazon.com/Godless-Church-Liberalism-Ann-Coulter/dp/1400054206

Hubble Images ( Downloadable free from NASA ):

http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/

NASA ORIGINS Mission Plans:

http://origins.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/missions.html#pi

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams:

http://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Hitchhikers-Guide-Galaxy/dp/o345453743

John Milton:

http://www.online-literature.com/milton/

Ralph Waldo Emerson on intellectual honesty ( Essays: Heroism, Spiritual Laws ):

http://www.rwe.org/comm/?option=com_content&task=view&id=131&Itemid=42

http://www.rwe.org/comm/?option=com_content&task=view&id=127&Itemid=42

Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age, Greg Klerkx:

http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Space-Fall-NASA-Dream/dp/0375421505

Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Peter Ward / Donald Greenlee

http://www.amazon.com/Rare-Earth-Complex-Uncommon-Universe/dp/0387952896

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Carl Sagan:

http://www.amazon.com/Pale-Blue-Dot-Vision-Future/dp/0345376595

Contact, Carl Sagan:

http://www.amazon.com/Contact-Carl-Sagan/dp/2266079999

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