Assortments of Thought

Archive for the ‘Academics’ Category

Other than all the stars, the Moon and the planets classically held attention and commanded wonder, whenever a civilization gazed into the heavens. Of course this was largely because so little was known of outer space, about what else was up there besides what could clearly be seen, but it shouldn’t be denied that the planets of our own solar system are indeed magnificent. And now, while we unfortunately have to rely as yet on artists’ conceptions to visualize them, the recent multitudes of exoplanets found have, along with theoretical considerations, yielded even more diverse and wondrous planets to inspire us. Yet moons and rings are presumably integral parts of planetary systems as well, and while moons at least are virtually certain to exist alongside and beyond many of the planets of our galaxy’s systems, their small sizes have presumably kept them invisible as yet to our instruments and detection methods. Even so, we might hazard that “large” planets nearly always have moons and rings, while “small” ones have them much less so; that most moons are “very small”, except that “large” planets typically have a few “larger” but still non-gaseous ones; that extensive rings are less common, and only ever exist around “large” planets; that most moons lack atmospheres, yet a fair number of systems have at least one atmospheric moon; and that non-unitary planets and moons are comparatively rare, as are moons or rings of moons. To see why these conjectures might be true, let us consider what, in terms of moons, rings, and non-unitary bodies, planetary systems in our galaxy and across all the cosmos might be like.

Continue reading “Moons and Rings of the Cosmos” …

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By our own standards at least, communication of a high order remains the hallmark of an intelligent, sentient species. The ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and abstract ideas sets us apart from all other known animals, and is arguably the basis of sentience itself, for to communicate without, one must first think (“communicate”) within. Yet in spite of its magnificence, should it ever come to meeting with intelligent aliens, communication will likely present a great many barriers to be overcome, beyond even “practical” and environmental ones that may hinder mere attempts at it. For different species may communicate through varying physical means, for instance, or else be physiologically incapable of producing or of even perceiving others’ languages. Further, just as two equally-functional computer processors typically can’t understand the other’s “languages”, so too might alien minds be incapable of comprehending languages that developed independently of them. While the use of multiple sign languages though–each species perceiving all others, while producing just their own–could likely be a workaround for the physical and physiological barriers (in fact, given certain characteristics of light versus sound, spoken languages could probably work in this way as well), no such simple workaround exists for the potential comprehension barrier. Indeed, only the rather extreme and questionable approach of creating a new species could seemingly handle it, for “universal translators” could only be built once someone had comprehension of the languages to be interpreted between. Hence inter-species communication may be far trickier than science fiction at least nearly always suggests, and with it, so too may be any true form of a cosmic community; serving as a reminder, perhaps, of the very special bond that we–like all members of any given species–truly share.

Continue reading “Cosmic Language” …

It has often been noted that over the past 100 years or so, we’ve developed technology to a degree never before seen, greatly transforming our societies as a result. Indeed, unlike the advancements of previous centuries, the creation and widespread proliferation of computers, smart phones, and various online services in particular has eliminated some of the space between us all, and drastically impacted both how we live our lives, and how the world at large operates. Yet in spite of all that, our newest technologies have still served only to assist us, offering us much, while requiring only a few lifestyle changes in return. Now in the 21st century though, as we advance toward the creation of virtual brains and artificial life, we’re encroaching on the verge of a technological transformation that will impact us far more greatly than that of the previous century even, should we choose to fully pursue it. Indeed, strong and steady progress is being made toward the creation both of conscious software and of android bodies, and since there’s no reason to think that an android with a sufficiently sophisticated mechanical brain won’t possess awareness, within the upcoming decades, it seems that for once, “our technology” will compete with us and challenge us. Beyond some early years then when artificial life is still underdeveloped, it’s creation will cast us into great ethical and rights struggles, and present us with at least one other sentient species that we’ll have to learn to live with; a species that could even render us functionally obsolete, possibly forcing us to transition to mechanical bodies ourselves–if even possible by then–to keep pace. Over the next few decades then, we will have to contemplate our progress regarding artificial life closely, for however we proceed, unless we simply avoid creating it at human-level consciousness, it will impact us greatly, marking the greatest transformation of technology and society ever seen.

Continue reading “Creating Androids” …

Of all the world’s documents concerning liberties and freedom, perhaps none remain as celebrated as the U.S. Constitution. By establishing a government of checked and limited power, it enabled a society of liberty, a society unlike any the world had ever seen. Hence it’s gone on to mark the greatest turning point in political approaches and realities of all time, and has truly provided the inspiration and model for countless other, similar documents for governments around the world. Nevertheless, many people admire and look to it primarily for the support of rights, when in fact granting rights is something the Constitution basically doesn’t do. While it does cover some very fundamental ones like freedom of speech, even those are so simply stated that they require laws by Congress and occasional Supreme Court interpretation to be effectively applied. Further, many of the rights so integral to contemporary American society are nowhere to be found in the Constitution, because it guarantees little to nothing, for instance, about labor regulations, civil rights, or decent treatment for non-citizen groups. Nor is it practical that it even could guarantee many rights, for in writing such a document, no one could ever have the vision to foresee the situations of the future, or the understanding to specify the precise rights of everyone throughout all of society. Instead though, the Constitution does something far more achievable, and yet altogether more remarkable: it establishes a system in which injustices can be witnessed, recognized, and protected against by law, as the political advancements since its implementation have shown. That’s not as ideal as a perfect society, of course, in which everyone is treated fairly from the beginning and forever, and no one knows what the far future may hold. In lieu of the impossible document that could create such perfection though, the Constitution remains a truly brilliant, original document of freedom, and hence worthy of all the reverence that so many people hold for it.

Continue reading “The Constitutional Way” …

Formal contact with an extraterrestrial species remains one of the most tantalizing possibilities today. While everyone can’t agree on the desirability of such contact, nearly everyone agrees on how significant it would be, for the grand question of our uniqueness in the universe would be answered. Yet it’s possible and perhaps even likely that contact is about as much as we might achieve with an alien civilization, let alone social relations, because the barriers may be too great. Whether they’re out there isn’t the problem; the size and age of the universe guarantees us that. Rather, the problems of contact hinge on how widespread such civilizations are, and whether they have the technology to find and travel to us. For establishing and maintaining social relationships, however, the potential barriers are far greater. Not only could individuals of an alien species require radically different environmental conditions than we do, their varying biological senses and psychologies could present them with vastly different perceptions and understandings of the world, while mismatches of cognitive and linguistic abilities could present problems as well. Even assuming then that a given civilization was at all like ours, which is to say, not so scientifically advanced that we’d have trouble relating to or even fathoming it, we could still be different in ways that would preclude or at least greatly hinder social relationships. Thus the problem in notions of an eventual inter-species community is probably not whether extraterrestrials exist or whether we’ll eventually make contact, but rather that contact may never lead to meaningful social relationships.

Continue reading “Barriers Beyond Contact” …

A really good story often leads to interest in a sequel, probably because everyone that likes it imagines that whatever happens after it must be equally compelling. This of course applies regardless of the medium that it’s told through. In reality though, much to everyone’s disappointment, sequels often aren’t as good as the originals even if they’re good on their own terms. To understand why, and to see how sequels can be better written, it’s useful to consider what sequels are exactly as well as what makes a good story in the first place. It turns out, for instance, that a good story is so well-constructed that effectively using all the same characters in a new story is often extremely difficult. Therefore, many sequels aren’t as good as the originals precisely because they do this. Granted, that probably sounds odd because it sounds like I’m saying sequels as a concept are inherently flawed, but as it turns out, there are in fact many ways to construct sequels besides using all the same characters. Consequently, the key to writing better sequels is to recognize the sheer diversity of options available for writing them, and to choose a way that’s suitable for a particular sequel.

Continue reading “Writing Better Sequels” …

In science, as with any subject, there’re plenty of things a lot of people don’t know. Then there’re things they think they do know because they seem so intuitive, but which they’re actually wrong about. This is probably so more with physics than anything else, but it’s certainly so with other scientific fields as well. Therefore, in this post, I’d like to recount a few things that really surprised me personally when I first came across them, things that seem almost counter-intuitive at first. Specifically, I’ll discuss the notions of water only freezing at 0 ÂșC; people freezing in space; and one temperature that’s twice that of another being twice as hot.

Continue reading “Some Surprising Science” …


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