Infinite Frontier

So here is sub-chapter two, which is part of Chapter 1, Science, of the Random Rationality rewrite. The book is called Random Rationality, so it won’t start making sense until a ways in, so don’t be worried if you see no relation to the first chapter, which can be found here. Would greatly appreciate any feedback, criticisms, and comments. If you want the MOBI, ePub, or PDF, then please let me know in the comments—if you provide constructive criticisms in return and live in the US, UK, or EU, then I’ll ship you a paperback copy of the book free of charge when it’s published. If you share the same love of space as I do; consider signing the petition for increasing NASA’s budget here, or if you’re American, here. Enjoy the read.

 

regards

Humble Idiot


Infinite Frontier

In 1903, the Wright brothers were the first human beings to fly in a heavier-than-air machine, flying their garage-made contraption a total of one-hundred-twenty feet. Sixty-six years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, traveling 828,752 miles, or an increase of 3,704,811% in total distance travelled over and above the Wright brothers’ historic virgin flight. We stopped pushing this boundary in 1972, relegating ourselves to an earthly existence, though occasionally venturing out to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). That, I and many other space enthusiasts, believe was a mistake.

Let’s play a guessing game extrapolating out the exponential progress from 1903-1969. Accounting for the one-third less time we’ve had, since that sixty-six year period, and assuming that the increase in distance travelled due to technological advancement relative to that sixty-six year period is lineal—which it more than likely wouldn’t be. We may have been able to travel 2,413,740% farther than the distance Apollo 11 travelled to get to the moon relative to the Wright brothers’, or approximately 2,012,051,840,341 miles, as the crow flies—or space monkey floats. That’s beyond Pluto…though it wouldn’t get us to Pluto due to the zigzagged nature of space travel (flying around planets using their gravity to slingshot around giving a free speed boost to the spacecraft).

While the number I just came up with is about as valuable as monkey excrement, it’s only meant to make you think big, space big.

Had we continued with the frantic pace of research and development that started in 1957 with the launch of the first manmade satellite, Sputnik, into orbit by the USSR, there is little doubt that there would be footprints on Mars, though they wouldn’t last long, as Mars actually has weather unlike the moon.

Perhaps we would have created different means of interplanetary transportation, and the exponential rise of technology would have propelled us ever forward, creating unparalleled economic growth in its wake. Instead we got the moving around and creation of electronic zero’s on computer screens on Wall Street.

We could have potentially mined asteroids by now, which are chock-a-block full of yummy resources that we want and/or need. Even a relatively small asteroid a mile across has approximately $20 trillion of resources. That’s one-third of 2011 world GDP in one little space rock, and billions of these rocks are just floating around between Mars and Jupiter.

So why did we stop pushing the space frontier? Why did we stop going beyond LEO in 1972? Well, we stopped going for geopolitical reasons. A travesty of politics—beginning the main theme of governmental shortsightedness this book will continually find itself in the midst of.

Throughout the entire history of Homo sapiens, an epoch of some 200,000 years, we have continuously pushed the final frontier. Expanding outwards from the Rift valley in Africa, we pushed into the vast expanse of the Mideast, then to the wetlands of Asia and to the extremes of Europe, making a final push to the lush Americas, and the remote Oceania. Overcoming our limitations and exploring the frontier is a quintessential aspect of human nature.

The frontier need not always be physical either. When we stopped exploring geographically outwards; we started downwards, inwards, and upwards. Downwards into the rocks to determine the age of the Earth and all manner of fossils. Inwards into our bodies to extend both the length and quality of life. And upwards into space to explore our place in the cosmos. 

We found fossils of ancient monsters, exploited the Atom, discovered mathematics, geology, medicine, and physics. In the process expanding our mental horizons, which allowed us to make sense of our little corner of the Universe, and it just so happens that the pursuit of such endeavors made life better for everyone in the process.

Thankfully we haven’t stopped expanding our mental frontiers. We stopped long ago pushing its sister, the physical frontier, and who knows what insights and discoveries we have missed out on as a result. 

Political expedience should not be a factor in discovering new—or more—knowledge. Neither should naïve thoughts that we have too many problems down here to go exploring up there, otherwise we’d never have left Africa! We need to access such endeavors objectively and with standards, though even that has its shortcomings. Nobody could have foreseen the implications of discovering the atom, and the scientist who discovered it, when pressed, would have been unable to properly articulate a satisfactory answer, yet out of the atom came nuclear power and the atom bomb. Out of Quantum Mechanics (QM), came integrated circuits and information technology, and now thirty-five percent of the US economy exists because of QM. Out of Einstein’s relativity, we discovered the means to keep satellites in orbit in tune with equipment on the ground (GPS). Problems down here are often solved by problems up there! When the Hubble Telescope had a malfunctioning mirror, scientists had to make do with observing a blurry Universe, but in the process, they created image-processing algorithms to clear up some of the blurriness, which was later used in mammograms down here on Earth, allowing earlier detection of breast cancer, potentially saving the lives of millions of women. Because of a mistake!

Be that as it may, did problems in the motherland stop Christopher Columbus, Captain James Cook, or Marco Polo, from exploring and discovering new sections of the Earth. It certainly didn’t stop the Iraqi and Syrian farmers who left the Fertile Crescent ten-thousand years ago due to over-utilization of resources and travelled to modern-day England and everywhere in between? (Eighty-percent of the current British population are descended from those Iraqi and Syrian farmers) 

 No, the problems of their time didn’t slow them down, but spurred them on, and possibly helped to alleviate their problems. For example: 

  • Need more efficient shipping routes, sail the seven seas, map the coastlines, create maps, and plan better next time (We then went onto invent GPS, cars, ships, planes, and meteorology)
  • Old World becoming stagnant, cross the Atlantic and start the New World, which eventually went onto become the dominant financial and military superpower of the world
  • Minerals and resources becoming more expensive and/or scarce, mine deeper or farther away using new techniques and technologies

New, useful and beautiful things are always discovered when pushing that final frontier ever farther; therein lays its significance and the crux upon which our seven-thousand year old civilizations stand. Without it, we are cave dwellers, rendering the 1.6% genetic difference separating us from chimps nothing more than an unnecessary and wasted gift. It’s that mix of new problems in the face of old ones that forces upon us a different mode of thinking, along with practical experimentation that can then be taken back to society, allowing for its economic or geographic expansion. This is the foundation of human prosperity, where new processes, tools, social orders, and technologies spring forth as a result of new understandings. Without this engine of discovery and growth, history has shown us time and time again that society rots from the inside out and empires crumble. You can only coast on the achievements of your forefathers for so long.

 Why do all empires decline? Every single empire in the history of civilization has fallen from its peak due to a failure to anticipate change, and the propensity of government to maintain the status quo—a lesson to be learned in today’s heated political climate. To anyone afraid of change, history shows us that those who fear and push back against economic, scientific, and social change are on the losing side of that battle almost hundred-percent of the time. What are you pushing back against today?   

 It’s not religion, communism, monarchy, government, or any other factor of society that drives this innate human desire to discover—in point of fact, they are its antithesis with their desire for the status quo. It is change that is the instigator, and nothing forces change more than the unknown.

 Our final frontier, if you can call it that, since it is infinite, is space. We’ve conquered LEO, with the manned International Space Station, but we must not stop there. We should aim for permanent habitation of the moon and its exploration, which is chock-a-block full of helium-3—which will became necessary with nuclear fusion technology coming online in the coming decades. We should aim for capture of an asteroid, landing a person on Mars to establish humankind as a multi-planetary species, and have a back-up of Earth’s biosphere in case of a calamity, and then march, actually coast, ever forward. 

 Space doesn’t end. It is infinite and at each turn, there will be a blessing in disguise, maybe in the form of new resources, vast energy reserves, or new scientific understandings expanding our view of the Universe. And who knows, perhaps life, maybe even a sentient alien race. But we are guaranteed something, and the human race as a whole will be the benefactor. 

 This is not to say there will be no risk. Crossing the road entails risk. Getting into a car entails risk, but the rewards will far outweigh the risks, especially in our desolate solar system.

 Space has untold riches just waiting for us. We could diversify our eggs and sperm out of the proverbial single basket that is Earth, thereby increasing the chances of long-term human survival in the event of disaster. The technologies that we would invent to survive in space would be applicable to all our problems here on Earth, and it would greatly accelerate the day we live in a sustainable economy that doesn’t destroy the fragile ecosystems of our small home.

 Through our exploration of only a small section of space, we have already invented technologies that have served a multitude of needs down here at ground level:

  • More nutritious infant formulas that allow a better quality of life for those infants unable to be breast-fed
  • UV sunglasses protecting our eyes from harsh sunlight
  • Memory foam used in helmets and prosthetic legs, saving countless lives and treating injuries
  • Camera optics used in a third of all cell phone cameras capturing life’s beauty
  • Digital imaging techniques such as CT scans and MRIs, potentially saving the lives of thousands, if not millions
  • GPS and weather forecasting, allowing the efficient transportation of goods and people worldwide, increasing the quality of life of billions
  • Smoke detectors that have saved countless people from horrible deaths
  • And 1,723 other inventions that NASA has catalogued with the addendum that this list is far from exhaustive

Space exploration is the most awe-inspiring work that can be undertaken by humankind, simultaneously inspiring a new generation into becoming scientists and engineers instead of bankers and insurance salesmen, and expanding economies and horizons in a real sense. The understanding it brings fosters human innovation in a way that benefits all of humankind, not just those living in the void of space.

 Thankfully, private companies are stepping up to the plate in droves to take over where once government solely had the means. In 2012, SpaceX successfully launched a private spaceship and docked with the International Space Station twice. Another new company, Planetary Resources, has been formed to mine asteroids sometime this decade or next. Last;y, the newly formed company, Golden Spike, is offering tickets to goto the moon for $1.5 billion by the end of this decade. Though the niche they are creating is yet a delicate newborn that needs support. 

 

Exploration is the most sublime expression of what it is to be human, and space exploration is the ultimate expression of this humanity.” Elliot G. Pulham and James DeFrank

How, Not Why…

So, I’m re-writing Random Rationality. After taking a break of several months. I went back and reread it, and realized how sloppy it was. Not much of a surprise really. It was my first book, and I’ve only been writing for a year. But there was many cases of sloppy reasoning, poor word-choice, and unexplored avenues of supporting examples. So I went back and cleaned up as much of that as I could, adding almost sixteen-thousand words in the process, taking it from thirty-eight-thousand words, to just shy of fifty-four-thousand words.

Today, I just finished the first draft of that rewrite, and I wanted to try something new with the editing process. I am going to upload one chapter every second or third day, and gauge the readers response (if any), and take what actions may be required in light of any response, be they spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes, or outright errors. If anyone wants the full MOBI, ePUB, or PDF to read it at their leisure in exchange for constructive criticisms, just leave a comment and I’ll gladly send it over—if you also live in the USA, UK, or Europe, I’ll mail you a paperback, when it’s finished, as thanks for your constructive criticisms.

Here is the first chapter of the book, How, Not Why. I’d gladly appreciate any reader input and criticisms. Thanks!


How, Not Why

There are how questions and why questions. A why question presupposes purpose and therefore agency. The history of human ignorance, has had come with it, the describing of that which we were ignorant of at the time with unwarranted purpose, because we did not understand the how. Nothing in the relatively short history of modern science has given us any reason to believe that our ancestors were correct in placing the why before the how in any age, object, or process. This is the story of the universe, the how, as best we know it. Our understanding of the first second of the universe falls under the purview of speculative (theoretical) physics, but onwards, is empirically based in observation and experimentation (in particle accelerators, telescopes et al).

Approximately 13.72 billion years ago, a singularity exploded creating space, time, matter, and anti-matter. Neither space nor time existed before the Big Bang, so asking the question of what came before the Big Bang is akin to dividing by zero. The matter and anti-matter, being each others polar opposites, annihilated each other on contact (because they have opposite charges). Luckily for us, there existed a one in one-billion surplus of matter over anti-matter, so when all was said and done, there remained one-billionth the amount of the created matter, whence all the gas, stars, planets, and life that we see around us, came.

The instigating factor in the singularity, was a quantum fluctuation, which created a positive energy input into a system of net energy zero. We know today that the net energy of the Universe is zero, and energy cannot be created or destroyed, except to accommodate a total energy of zero (i.e., we cannot create energy, but the Universe seemingly can), and space expanded to accommodate the negative energy to counterbalance the created positive energy, and thus began entropy, and the arrow of time.

Succeeding this explosion (for lack of a better word, though it was amazingly hot; billions of degrees), the Universe expanded exponentially. The process of expansion in the first second is called Inflation, during which the universe expanded faster than the speed of light. During the inflationary period; hydrogen, helium and lithium were created in the intense heat which instigated Nuclear Fusion (more on this soon), in descending quantities of seventy-seven percent, twenty-three percent, and trace amounts of lithium. Also, tiny quantum jitters (particles that pop into and out of nothing, and which instigated the energy imbalance that began the Universe) were magnified during the expansion from subatomic to macroscopic, in the process creating imperfections in the fabric of space-time that allowed gravity to take hold and shape the Universe. We can see these imperfections in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR), which is how we know they happened.

As the Universe expanded, the heat dissipated and it cooled, and as time passed, matter started attracting matter via gravity, made possible due to the aforementioned imperfections in space-time. Everything that exists: stars, planets, us, exist only as a result of those imperfections, otherwise the Universe would have been formless (everything would have pulled on everything else equally and thus nothing would have changed). With time and gravity, clumps of gas began forming. Floating in the gaseous ether, they swirled and formed into ever-bigger clumps, and just like rubbing your hands together in the cold of winter generates heat, so do trillions upon trillions of gas particles rubbing, moving, and banging into each other.

The larger and more voluminous a gas-clump became, the more gravitational pull it exerted on other free-floating gas and gas-clumps nearby, and the faster and hotter the gas within it swirled and whirled; each cycle only reinforcing further gas accumulation and heat. Eventually, this frictionally derived heat reached a critical temperature and nuclear fusion occurred; the process by which two atoms are smashed together at such speed and energy, that they are joined and a new element is created.

At this point, the clump of gas becomes a star and begins using its gas as fuel. Hydrogen fuses into deuterium. Two deuterium atoms fuse to make helium, which fuses into carbon, which when combined with helium, fuses into oxygen (for stars the size of our sun, fusion stops here), into magnesium, neon, and so on until iron is made; a by-product of this fusion reaction is electromagnetic radiation, a small sliver of which we perceive as light and feel as heat: the entire energy of everything on this planet (except for the deepest valleys in the oceans) is derived from the fusion reaction in the Sun, ninety-three million miles away. As each star moves onto the next element, it’s temperature slowly rises—one billion years from now, our sun will be too hot for life on Earth.

This goes on for many millions or billions of years: the star creating new elements, inching down and across the periodic table. Once iron is made, the star has just about reached the end of its life, as it cannot use iron as fuel. As the buildup of iron continues, gradually, the gravitational inward pull of the star’s mass (accelerated by the iron creation) begins to outweigh the outward push of it’s weakening fusion reaction (decelerated by the iron creation), and suddenly it collapses in on itself in stages, breaking the balance of forces that kept it in equilibrium. At each stage, the core becomes hotter and it creates new elements, until finally, if the star is massive enough, it will collapse so violently inwards that it subsequently explodes outwards seeding the Universe with its elements in what is known as a supernova. The resultant fireworks can, for a few weeks, outshine galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars.

On a side note, it is in supernovae that the heaviest elements are created; gold, palladium, uranium, etc. They came from a fireball burning at one-hundred-billion degrees. And if the star is even bigger, a black hole is created, where the entire mass of the star is compressed into so small an area during the implosion that the laws of physics, space, and time itself actually break down. Nothing, not even light itself, which travels at 300,000,000 meters per second, can escape its gravitational pull.

This process repeats ad infinitum until the ninety-two naturally occurring elements are created and flying every which way across the Universe, seeding the next generation of stars, which, in turn, plant the seeds for planets and galaxies to pop into existence, alongside the dinosaurs’ worst nightmare, the asteroid.

Turning the story toward a more personal nature. At this juncture, free-floating gaseous matter meandering through the Universe, in a corner of an otherwise normal, but old spiral galaxy, began coalescing into dust, ice, rock, and metals, co-mingling in this similar process around a newly formed yellow star, from which the planets, our one among them, were born.

More asteroids and meteors, not used in the planetary formation process, but still gravitationally locked in the Sun’s gravity well, zip and shoot around the place, seeding these new planets with elements, and eventually with the required puzzle pieces of life, amino acids—the building block of proteins. In Earth’s case, one among many, theories is that a meteor carrying amino acids landed here on Earth, and in the ensuing millions of years (these building blocks of life  have been found in the core of uncontaminated meteorites), these amino acids mixed with lightning and volcanic activity on a young, violent Earth and became organic matter, which (mysteriously and the search for an explanation is ongoing) went on to become single-celled life. After a few billion years of this mindless tedium, a single bacterium in an involuntary act of self-sacrifice, allowed itself to be swallowed up by another single-celled creature called an archaea, and became the first multi-celled organism (we can still find the genetic sequence of that little bugger in our own genetic code). Many trillions of evolutions later; here there be lions…and humans.

It took almost a billion years from the creation of the Earth to single-celled life, then another three-billion years to Homo sapiens: not coincidentally a carbon-based life-form. Carbon also happens to be the most chemically active compound in the Universe, so no surprise there. The four most common elements in the universe are in order: hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon. The four most common elements in your body are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen (seventh-most common). We are, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “extreme expressions of complex chemistry.

That’s it—that’s how it all started.

A few things have been left out for simplicity’s sake such as dark energy, dark matter, the finer points of planetary formation, and natural selection by random mutation, but the core of it is the gist of it. These extra details fill in the blanks in-between some of the events just told, but the story told without them is much easier to digest, process, and remember.

“Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” ~Richard Feynman (Theoretical Physicist)