Thursday, April 23, 2009

thinking it through...

Watched a very interesting movie yesterday - The 11th Hour. watch it whenever you get the chance. Informative, eye-opening - and very, very scary.

It got me thinking - let's look at the future, logically.
The Earth's ecosystems are collapsing under the pressure of human civilization. We use too many resources, generate too much waste. We do this because our culture has a built-in greed; a desire to have more things. We don't treat clean air, genetic health, fresh water, and a future as things. So, we have our cars, houses, entertainment, possessions, and desires that come at their expense. It doesn't affect us - yet.

Take this to it's logical conclusion.
The first world -
Will we, as individuals, choose a slower, less versatile, and more expensive car because it's electric? Eat premium, organic foods? Probably. Will large corporations do the same?
The developing nations -
No. They aspire to the first world. Making all the same mistakes, but at a scale several hundred times greater because of the populations.

The Earth will continue to warm. Ice caps will melt, forests will vanish, weather systems will collapse.
Flooding. Famines. Natural disasters. Plagues.
Huge losses of life.
Markets for the first world literally die, or slide into such a wretched condition they are no longer viable. Companies collapse.
Food supplies - and natural resource supplies - dry up.
Economic systems collapse in the first world.
As resources get more scarce, large scale wars will erupt over those few remaining resources. The first world will inevitably win, because they have greater technology. The third world will continue to subsist in unwanted areas until they die.
But the Earth doesn't differentiate on economic parameters. Living conditions will worsen equally everywhere. Developed countries may use tech to stave off the worst of it for a while - but that's expensive. Resources will continue to shrink to the point that wars will come to the developed countries. And plagues. And failing health - sterility. Drastic population decline. Coupled with a collapse in Law & Order. Anarchy.

Regression to self-sustaining systems. When large-scale systems fail, in an anarchic system, it's very difficult to rebuild them. But self-sustaining systems - unless seeded and very, very well-prepared - don't really use very high-end tech, or don't need it. A large global one must be technologically developed. A self-contained community need not be.

But even after a complete collapse of large scale systems, the Earth won't heal so fast. A couple of centuries, possibly millenia. Will unused tech be remembered until then?

This is, of course, assuming that life-sustaining conditions can survive. If the average temperature rises to over 250 degrees C, there's not much tech can do, in a failed economic system.

Space habitats? Unlikely. On Earth? Maybe. Sealed communities. Generation ships in the desert. Working on history's second terraforming project, trying to undo the inadvertent first.

And yes - 90% of all existing life on Earth will die. I really don't see any way that can be averted.

The Drake Equation states - mathematically - that intelligent life will arise, again and again, in the universe. Observed evidence shows there isn't. So there's some factor missing - either intelligent life doesn't arise so easily, or dies very easily. And I guess we can see why.

And as they said - this is our finest hour. We know we can beat this, solve the ecological crisis, develop spacefaring ability, and go out there. And find thousands of dead or barbaric civilizations, who couldn't do what we did.
It can be our destiny to be Gods. And if we succeed - but that's another story.

Read this. It's awesome.
Rare Earth Hypothesis
The Drake Equation
The Fermi Paradox

Monday, April 13, 2009


'what's up,' they ask

somebody was biking through snow and hail
somebody was taking pictures
somebody was upgrading
chains and hooks, and a huge rusty weight on the other end
pinned like a butterfly on the board
dust settling, slowly, gently, and always
i miss the crystal air
wings wheeling across a blazing, cool sky
stars come out

heaviness constant
dead zone
stagnant silence

'chal raha hai,' i tell them

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vote for the Vogons

Adsense used to come up with howlers pretty easily, since the only real reason to display an ad was whether someone's talking about the subject, rather than listening to what they're saying.
With SEM, the bar has just jumped a notch higher.

So as of today, the top 3 contenders for your vote (in the digital space) stand before you arrayed thus -

Am I the only one who is actually reassured?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Playing God

This was a completely random post, inspired by a friend's status update.

Why did God place the Tree of Knowledge in such an easily accessible place? Why does He make it so easy for humanity to face temptation? Why does He, to put it bluntly, screw around with our heads with the whole issue of 'Does God Exist?'
The whole concept of Faith - believing in something greater than ourselves, moral codes, denying our natural instincts - raises some pretty deep questions. Foremost among which is that if He really existed, wouldn't it have been all too easy for him to completely and unequivocally answer all these issues once and for all? Why does He screw around with our heads?

I think there are 2 answers.
  • The sociological answer: God does not exist. We created an anthromorphic personification of the needs of society, some rules to make sure society can survive, with guilt and fear as the stick and life beyond death and paradise as the carrot.
  • The gaming answer: God does exist. He created the universe as a gaming map, laws of nature as game rules, and intelligence as a collective AI. He then created scenarios that unfold according to those rules, just to see what happens.
    Think about it. Ever played Red Alert? Or any RTS war game? Scenarios, rules, behaviors, certain responses to certain stimuli. Get too close to an enemy soldier, and he will shoot at you. Built-in speeds and firepower. Objectives and goals. But the fun comes from the randomness created when large numbers of these rules interact with each other. When you do a tank rush, are you really controlling each unit? No. You've just unleashed them. You can send a spy into an enemy base, but even though you have the power to make him invulnerable, and the enemy deaf, blind, dumb, and weak as kittens, would you do it? It takes all the fun out of the game.
    When a game protagonist plays with cheatcodes, he knows that God exists. God is stopping the bullets, letting him fly, achieving superhuman feats, untouched by fire, falls, teeth and claws. But is the gamer having fun? No. Fun comes with the unexpected. With setbacks. With risk. When you have something to lose, you feel that you have everything to gain. Winning is a rush. When nothing can kill you, you're just a rat wandering through an empty maze.
Maybe there were super-civilizations, masters of the Earth and all creation, intelligent, aware, kind, caring, responsible, in harmony with nature and with each other. Enlightened, perfect, and utterly, butterly boring. What more is left to achieve? A perfect civilization will never go beyond it's city, it's kingdom, it's planet at the most. Even planet is unlikely; they will be smart enough to control birthrate, eradicate threats, handle all contingencies. A civilization under constant threat of destruction fights, struggles, spreads, creates backup plans, fallbacks, contingency bases. DNA spreads. Launches generation starships, sets up lunar bases and buried bunkers with hibernating colonists. Reaches for the stars because the planet is on the edge, reaches across galaxies in the face of all-destroying interstellar war, slips into parallel dimensions when the fabric of this reality is likely to be torn.
Perfection is stable. Imperfection, combined with intelligence, explodes like a bomb across creation.
Sweden, with social security, order, sufficiency, and all amenities and comforts has a negative birthrate, because people have all they need. India, with it's near-billion starving and barely able to feed itself, has a population explosion.
A perfect, harmonious civilization, at it's pinnacle with no possibility of a fall, looks like a giant bulls-eye from space, with cosmic arrows all around pointing to it marked Asteroid Strike Here.
Innate imperfection. A flawed human being is unhappy, greedy, fearful... and drives ambition. Knows that life is unstable. Knows he is surrounded by other flawed creatures, by frightening randomness and intransigence. Knows he must amass resources far greater than his immediate need to prepare for this randomness. Establish his escape routes.

And for a gaming God, this is entertainment. Not perfection. Not stability. With an entire universe to explore, why would he tolerate a game protagonist who does not go beyond his own self? Wouldn't it be so much more fun to watch how the randomness manifests in extraordinary leaps of intellect, art, beauty, strength, achievement, skill, discovery... beyond even what He may have originally conceived?
When we do leave the planet, we will meet Others. They will be like us. They will be flawed. Galaxies will sparkle with a million wars, extinctions and escapes, dominions and insurrections, and everything else that is this infinitely varied, kaleidoscopic, random, churning, intoxication explosion called Life.

After all, anything else is so boring, isn't it?