Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Assault of Thoughts - 8/3/2010

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" -JMK

- Jennifer Ouellette discusses new modeling that suggests that the duration of alien civilizations may be a strong determinant of our ability to make contact. This may address the so called "Fermi Paradox" of why despite the fact that we should expect a lot of life in the universe, we don't see any evidence of it. The point that we need proximity in time as well as space is to alien civilizations is very important, but I always find the way that people frame the Fermi Paradox interesting. We do have evidence of alien contact, or at least we have considerable data on contact. Literally tens of thousands of UFO and abduction experiences catalogued and corroborated. Now - is that useful data, or is it just noise? It's likely that it's all noise. But I always wonder if people who talk about the Fermi Paradox have even looked at the extant sighting data. It seems like a natural place to start. I think it's illogical to assume that there aren't alien civilizations out there. If you're serious about the conjecture, the first place you oughta go is the UFO sightings data. Once you accept that life must exist beyond this planet, the data at least becomes plausible enough to look at, if not accept outright. Anyway - interesting article - Malthus gets a mention. You can search the largest database of UFO sightings that I'm aware of here. They really oughta make this easily available in a format that can be analyzed, though. Make of it what you will. Like I said, I wouldn't be surprised if 100% of the reports are crap and we have never legitimately made contact. It wouldn't surprise me at all. But since I do accept that life has to exist elsewhere, the plausibility that we've made contact is very real.

- Oh, and some people think there's a chance we may make contact with fossilized alien life soon (if we haven't already - there are some claims about microbial fossils in asteroids).

- Paul Krugman dampens hopes for a Martian colony, citing someone that uses the logic from his paper on increasing returns and economic geography (for which he won a Nobel Prize). I'm not sure I entirely agree. The argument is that complex societies need lots of people to function. True, there will need to be a centrally planned umbilical cord to Earth in the beginning. True, the market division of labor will not be able to provide everything for the early human Martians themselves at first. I don't see why this means that we can't plant a colony.

- David Gelernter discusses how Judaism, specifically some Talmudic sources on cruelty to animals and some of Martin Buber's work, can help guide us on how we should respond morally to machines with artificial intelligence (HT Andrew Sullivan).

42 comments:

  1. A Martian colony could be highly robot-centric ... just a few humans and lots of robots.

    "True, there will need to be a centrally planned umbilical cord to Earth in the beginning."

    Or not. It really depends one can do in situ. Indeed, dependence on such an umbilical cord likely increases its chances of failure.

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  2. Xenophon - well right, but that was the whole point of Krugman's discussion - that increasing returns and division of labor severely limit (at least for the time being) what can be done in situ.

    Why does dependence on such an umbilical cord increase the chance of failure?

    Anyway - definitely robot-centric. And that's the way we can lay the groundwork for a colony right now. Robots and zero humans for a while. But if we don't get humans out there as soon as it is feasible, it seems to me to defeat the purpose.

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  3. "Why does dependence on such an umbilical cord increase the chance of failure?"

    Because it takes a couple of years to get there. If you depend on such an umbilical cord ... well, expect someone to scrawl "Croatan" on a rock and for no one to be there when your relief ship arrives.

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  4. Are there any discussions of Mars colonization that draw on historical analogies from colonizing activity? Obviously the two situations would be worlds apart (ha! literally!), but I imagine that one could scrounge up some useful models from the comparison.

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  5. Evan,

    All the centralized planning schemes by the European powers were abject failures. It wasn't as if the English monarchy (or the company's it formed) said we're going to make North America a going concern via tobacco - far from it, they sent silk workers to Roanoke for example.

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  6. Okay, but I'm wondering if folks have done some sort of extensive analysis of the comparison.

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  7. I've heard/read boosters for space colonization make analogies, but I've never seen anything more systematic than that. Most of what I have read/heard demonstrated a fairly poor understanding of the nature of North American colonization by Europeans (and almost all of them focus on that type of colonization - probably because that is all they are aware of).

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  8. Maybe we can have a Thanksgiving feast with Marvin &co.!!

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  9. "Because it takes a couple of years to get there. If you depend on such an umbilical cord ... well, expect someone to scrawl "Croatan" on a rock and for no one to be there when your relief ship arrives."

    This seems exceptionally odd. Why reference the major failure of an umbilical cord as an argument against an umbilical cord??? It seems like that's evidence for why one is so important.

    Can you name me successful colonies that did not have successful umbilical cords?

    Massachusetts Bay? Nope.
    Jamestown? Nope.
    New Netherlands? Nope.

    It seems to me (1.) successful colonies had functional umbilical cords back to the mother country, (2.) to the extent that the umbilical cord was unsuccessful the colony was unsuccessful (i.e. - Roanoke).

    I'm not sure where you get that umbilical cords aren't important from this!

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  10. Evan - ya, I've seen some stuff but haven't read in detail. Usually it's looking into them for examples of financing/organization.

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  11. Jonathan M. F. CatalánAugust 3, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    One of the guys present at the Mises Monday meet-up group last night actually suggested that to him space colonization represented the only pragmatic way an anarchic society could come about. Not sure how correct he is, but nevertheless it is an interesting concept.

    He cites, as an example, how empirically speaking as humans colonize previously unknown parts of the Earth, they become progressively freer (save for Africa, which is a different case, because it was already relatively heavily populated - the Indian population in North America, for the most part, was wiped out by the Spaniards). The colonies in the United States were established as "free zones", as a way of escaping persecution in England.

    Could the same be true regarding space colonization?

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  12. Jonathan -
    One of the things that interests me about space colonization is precisely the social structure that could or would emerge.

    I think we need to think about what he really means by "anarchic" and "freer" too, though. You and I can both appreciate the establishment of a "freer" society, and we can both recognize that the "freer" societies established in the American colonies as a very good thing.

    Does this mean that we will see libertarian, or as your speaker said "anarchic" societies? I'm not sure about that.

    I think it is generally true, and I would look forward to that. I wonder, though, how satisfying it will ultimately be for a libertarian. I hope it will be a free republic. I doubt it will be a libertarian polity, but perhaps. Certainly there is a plethora of libertarian science fiction (of which Robert Heinlein is obviously the best known).

    I also think this is why its so important to push this now and to push for greater global political integration now, while the United States and the European Union is as dominant as it is. These institutions don't form in a vaccuum. If we wait a century for these advances, it's quite plausible that more authoritarian societies are going to be playing a bigger role in forming these institutions. It's a strategic point, but an important one. We oughta establish a Martian colony and stronger world government when republics that recognize human rights and liberties are holding the upper hand. Instead we drag our feet on that goal and play Realpolitik in the desert.

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  13. "Massachusetts Bay? Nope.
    Jamestown? Nope.
    New Netherlands? Nope."

    Actually, none of these actually made themselves going concerns via umbilical cords. All of them made themselves going concerns by exploiting the landscape around them.

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  14. Or let's put it this way, but for the trade with the Algonquian, New Netherlands would not have lasted terribly long. Indeed, there would not have been a reason to have a colony there.

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  15. "Actually, none of these actually made themselves going concerns via umbilical cords. All of them made themselves going concerns by exploiting the landscape around them."

    and re: the Algonquian and all that...


    Of course... so? I never said that that was the exhaustive reason for their survival. All I'm saying is that successful colonies always have strong ties to the mother country. In particular, in the earliest days they rely on those ties for the provision of equipment and goods that can't yet be made in the underdeveloped economy of the colony itself. When those ties are undependable, as in Roanoke, colonies often fail.

    The fact that they had other trading partners (including each other, in this case) doesn't change that fact, now does it!!!!

    If you had to cutoff trade between:
    (1.) New Netherlands and Europe
    (2.) New Netherlands and other European colonies, and
    (3.) New Netherlands and the Algonquian, which of those three do you think was more essential to their survival. All were essential, but the first relationship was the crucial one, at least in the earliest colonial phase.

    Could this play out differently in different places? Sure. Arguably India, for example, was less dependent on the mother country than Massachusetts was. Everything is context specific. But pointing to the relatively obvious impact of inter-American trade doesn't erase the point about ties to the mother country!

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  16. I should take this opportunity to point out that this is precisely what I mean when I say that you often make up arguments for us to engage in. And all sorts of other commenters on here seem capable of disagreeing with me without doing that.

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  17. On alien contact ... besides the basic physics problems with such (and those are most likely insurmountable for any alien species of any significant distance from us) ... there's the whole why would they care to visit in the first place?

    On, the former, it is theoretically possible to build ships which have fold space or what have you and allow one to travel great distances almost instantaneously. But the energy requirements (so far as we understand them today) for such are well beyond the practicable.

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  18. "I should take this opportunity to point out that this is precisely what I mean when I say that you often make up arguments for us to engage in."

    I'm not making anything up. These are the thoughts that come to mind when you make patently silly claims like you have here.

    "All I'm saying is that successful colonies always have strong ties to the mother country. In particular, in the earliest days they rely on those ties for the provision of equipment and goods that can't yet be made in the underdeveloped economy of the colony itself."

    Which is simply not the case. For the most part after the initial provision of goods they were on their own. Read Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation."

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  19. I'd just note that literally dozens of European colonies failed in the 1500s and 1600s (think of the French colonies in Brazil for example). All of them failed because they could not create a lasting order based on the resources around them - this left them open to military attack, starvation, etc.

    If you are talking about Mars missions - which have two to ten year or even greater lengths in time when it comes to resupply missions* - you have an even greater need to cast off any concern for an umbilical cord.

    *The launch windows for Mars aren't exactly regular things after all.

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  20. "I'm not making anything up. These are the thoughts that come to mind when you make patently silly claims like you have here."

    The observation of domestic trade is a fine observation on your part. My concern is how you're engaging my initial point.


    I'm left to wonder exactly what you read in my initial point, and that's my concern. For example - Plymouth. It received regular reinforcement from Europe. You seem to be thinking I'm saying they made nothing themselves, they didn't rely on anyone else, or that they somehow had everything handed to them from Europe. I'm simply not arguing that. Plymouth, like all the successful colonies, had regular reprovisioning. I'm not sure how you expect to spin that. Because life was hard and they did a lot on their own too? I never denied that, Xenophon! I'm repeatedly expected to engage with you on points I've never made and concede points I've never, ever denied!

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  21. Plymouth, like all the successful colonies, had regular reprovisioning. I'm not sure how you expect to spin that."

    No, they had irregular provisioning (at best).

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  22. "All of them failed because they could not create a lasting order based on the resources around them - this left them open to military attack, starvation, etc."

    Definitely - again something I've never made a claim to the contrary regarding. Just to be clear.

    "If you are talking about Mars missions - which have two to ten year or even greater lengths in time when it comes to resupply missions* - you have an even greater need to cast off any concern for an umbilical cord.

    *The launch windows for Mars aren't exactly regular things after all.
    "

    They are actually quite regular! But I get what you mean, yes.

    One of the nice thing about a heavy robotic presence is that time isn't really a factor, though. We would send humans in the six-month trip launch windows, of course. We could send robots during any launch window, and time the robotic launches to reach Mars whenever they're needed there, on a continual basis.

    The reason why the umbilical cord is even more important for Mars is that as hard as New England soil and New England climate was for establishing new life, the Martian soil and the Martian climate is going to be immeasurably more problematic.

    I'm fine even with Buzz Aldrin's idea of giving the early colonists a one-way ticket to Mars. Permanent settlement for the first explorers - no flag planting. That's fine with me. But there is no way you're going to survive without ties to Earth.

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  23. "No, they had irregular provisioning (at best)."

    OK, it didn't come like clockwork. They had "regular" in the sense that they had steady provisioning. 1620, 1621, 1622, 1623, 1624, 1627, 1629. And the ties with Europe grew TIGHTER and MORE REGULAR as time went on, not less regular. You can't simply ignore that and pretend that trading with Indians erases all the complex network of support that went on.

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  24. OK - I really can't engage in this nit-picking anymore... gotta go do some social science

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  25. Note the multi-year gaps, which demonstrates my point quite nicely - they had to last three years between shipments from 1624 and 1627.

    They grew tighter over time because there was some reason for Europeans to be interested in New England. Compare this to the Viking history in North America, Greenland and Iceland.

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  26. Your point is proven by 7 episodes in 10 years (and in some of these years multiple ships came)?

    If that's what you call not depending on a regular umbilical cord, I don't know what to say. I suppose if that's your definition then I would agree that Mars colonies can survive "not depending on a regular umbilical cord".

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  27. Daniel,

    Curious ... how much in the way of daily provisions were sent on any of these expeditions? What were the other goods sent? You make this bold statement without having any sort of sense (apparently) of what was actually sent. I've actually read Bradford's account of what was sent and the provisions could not sustain the colony. They had to depend on their own local resources to survive.

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  28. Well sure. What did you expect, that I was arguing that everything they ate and used came off a boat?

    I'm always amazed when I finally hit the nugget of what you think it was that I was saying.

    Now - again we have to think about how this translates to Mars. Ties to Europe were important enough for the fledgling American colonies. And it was one thing to grow food to feed the early settlers. But that's something American colonists could do that we can't expect Martians to do. The importance of the "umbilical cord" becomes even more obviously important when these settlements grew more complex and moved beyond simply surviving. Any Robinson Crusoe can scratch out a living. Complex societies require interdependencies. Every tie back to Europe that was necessary for making early America what it was is going to be that much more necessary for Mars. And even the basic provisioning that the colonists could provide for themselves is going to be a lot harder for Martian colonists.

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  29. In addition to Bradford's account, another fascinating work on Plymouth is Ruth McIntyre's "Debt's Hopeful and Desperate", which details the debt payments of the colonists. It wasn't simply a matter of getting scant provisioning from Europe - it was the pressure of repaying the debts to the financiers back home simultaneously.

    Despite all this, the ties were immensely important and only became more important as the colony became more advanced and complex, and moved to needs beyond simply feeding themselves. That alone highlights the importance of the "umbilical cord". You're telling me that to go from that to a dead planet like Mars we can't expect the dependencies to increase even further???

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  30. "I'm always amazed when I finally hit the nugget of what you think it was that I was saying."

    The nugget is that I think you are saying something really, really dumb.

    "But that's something American colonists could do that we can't expect Martians to do."

    Actually, they are going to have to do this rather quickly ... there's enough water on Mars to do that as well.

    "Every tie back to Europe that was necessary for making early America what it was is going to be that much more necessary for Mars."

    And those ties depended on what the colonists could do for Europe, not vice versa.

    "...it was the pressure of repaying the debts to the financiers back home simultaneously."

    Which just illustrates my point.

    "That alone highlights the importance of the "umbilical cord"."

    That isn't an "umbilical cord" dude. I realize that you don't have children, but do you realize have inapt that analogy is? How stupid that analogy is? When you have children you will.

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  31. "The nugget is that I think you are saying something really, really dumb."

    My point is what you think I'm saying often doesn't end up being the same as what I've said. How many times have I had to repeat "yes I'm not challenging that" to you? That should be a sign that you're not reading me right, and you're not reading me right consistently, all the while everyone else seems to be reading me right.

    That isn't an "umbilical cord" dude. I realize that you don't have children, but do you realize have inapt that analogy is? How stupid that analogy is? When you have children you will.

    Hahaha - I'm used to getting arguments from authority from you, but this is a new one. I don't think I need to have had kids to understand what an umbilical cord is. What is your concern - that there was also stuff going back to Europe? How in the world does that change my point? Colonists were dependent on the delivery of resources from Europe. Yes, in human society market forces and exchange deliver those resources, and in a womb muscle contractions (or whatever the hell delivers nutrients through an umbilical cord) delivers those resources. What exactly is your point? How does this change anything at all? A Martian colony is not going to survive without receiving resources from Earth, period.

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  32. See, this seems to be what you think I'm saying:

    "Colonies depend on supplies given to them continuously from the mother country, they have little or no source of support outside of these supplies, and commerce does not play a role in this colonial-supply-chain relationship."

    When you invent bizarre versions of my point, like this one, of course I sound dumb. The only problem is, I never said any of that! You make up these arguments by inventing extreme versions of my points and that's what ends up getting discussed in the comment section. Nobody else seems to have such a struggle understanding my points, which leads me to think the problem is on your end, not mine. Sometimes I make brief statements - I don't expound upon every single sentence I write. But when I don't expound upon it, you shouldn't fill in the gap with the most ridiculous straw man you can think of!!!!

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  33. "That should be a sign that you're not reading me right..."

    I'm reading you right.

    Because that isn't an "umbilical cord." It isn't even remotely analogous to an "umbilical cord."

    "A Martian colony is not going to survive without receiving resources from Earth, period."

    You still fucking don't get, do you? This is a matter of emphasis. Of but for causation as I have stated at least once. You can have all the support in the world ... it will collapse without indigenous production. The opposite is not the case ... you can have indigenous production without connections with the "mother country" and a colony can survive (there are plenty of historical examples of this from the Greek colonies to those in the New World).

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  34. "Nobody else seems to have such a struggle understanding my points, which leads me to think the problem is on your end, not mine."

    Lots of people on Cafe Hayek seem to struggle with such.

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  35. Anyway, good luck with the Martian colony.

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  36. ""Because that isn't an "umbilical cord." It isn't even remotely analogous to an "umbilical cord.""

    Please explain a little more.

    I of course agree that it will collapse without indigenous production.

    On this: "The opposite is not the case ... you can have indigenous production without connections with the "mother country" and a colony can survive (there are plenty of historical examples of this from the Greek colonies to those in the New World)."

    I'm still waiting for an example. Roanoke had indigenous production but was short on connections with England at a crucial time.

    One example might be Polynesian colonization.

    It's probably not impossible on Earth, but the record seems to suggest that deep connections with the mother country characterize the most successful colonies.

    That's on Earth - and I wouldn't deny cases like Polynesian colonists and perhaps Greek colonies (could you supply some American examples? I don't know of any).

    You really think we can plop people down on Mars and have them survive from indigenous production? How would that work? Maybe far, far, far into the future when technology is sophisticated enough to support them. But I simply don't see that happening (and even then, that's still going to derive from a very substantial initial technological endowment from Earth)

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  37. "Lots of people on Cafe Hayek seem to struggle with such."

    I imagine the source of their struggles are similar to yours - they often want to find a way to disagree with me. It's why it's pointless to comment there.

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  38. *And I should note - it's not just me that gets treated that way on there. That sounds silly and suspicious. It happens to anyone that doesn't toe the party line.

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  39. "Roanoke had indigenous production..."

    Actually, it didn't. The island itself did not support such. Visit it sometime and see why.

    "You really think we can plop people down on Mars and have them survive from indigenous production?"

    Yes, because that is what will be required of the affair.

    "I imagine the source of their struggles are similar to yours - they often want to find a way to disagree with me. It's why it's pointless to comment there."

    Keep trying that line ... see how far it gets you.

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  40. "It's why it's pointless to comment there."

    Then why are you so active on that site?

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  41. Been there several times. Now when you say things like "actually it didn't", do you realize how absolutist a statement like that is? Of course it did, Xenophon. It most definitely did. The question is, how much and was it enough to support a colony. Obviously not.

    Keep trying that line ... see how far it gets you.

    Well if I'm right, "that line" shouldn't get me very far, and if I'm wrong the problem will probably subside. Experience seems to show I've hit on something, especially since so many other people understand what I'm saying perfectly, suggesting it's not really an issue of my delivery.

    "Then why are you so active on that site? "

    Not sure what you mean - I'm only there ocassionally now.

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  42. "Now when you say things like "actually it didn't", do you realize how absolutist a statement like that is?"

    Yes, and I am right.

    "Of course it did, Xenophon."

    What did the Roanoke colony produce?

    "Experience seems to show I've hit on something, especially since so many other people understand what I'm saying perfectly, suggesting it's not really an issue of my delivery."

    You keep telling yourself that.

    "...I'm only there ocassionally [sic] now."

    You are there every time I visit (every few weeks).

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