Friday, May 6, 2011

Sagan on Mars

A press conference by Carl Sagan from 1993 on Mars. This is interesting because he gets into the political and what we might call "public choice" issues with Mars colonization, which is nice because usually you don't hear him going over that stuff.


  1. The problem with the idea of Mars colonization is that it is hard to make a value-free case for it (assuming such a case exists at all).

    Otherwise, you would have to bet on the entire general public's values being in favour of Mars colonization.

    But people's values are not in that direction. If we were to look at well-funded activist organizations or multimillionare/billionaire donors, we find that they would face severe damage to reputation if they started funding a Mars mission program.

    What would it like if billions of dollars were being used to fund a Mars mission instead of eradicating a disease in Latin America? If Gates or Buffett did it, the public would perceive them as lacking a sense of proportion as to what is really important.

  2. Almost as if the hyperbolically discounted preferences of the currently living generation were internalized into both the political and economic decision making process, but the preferences of future generations (whom we are happy to borrow against and invest in on a regular basis) were external to the decision making process!

  3. I'll trade ag subsidies for NASA and dramatically cut the defense budget and split it evenly between the NIH, NASA, and prize funds for commercial space outfits. I don't feel the need to stand in the way of erradicating disease.

  4. And how do you know what your and mine grandchildren would want?

    I'll point to this blog post in 50 years, and we will ask our grandchildren whether they regret that men never colonized Mars. Or instead ask if they are happy that their future tax incomes will be used to pay off the debt incurred on Mars colonization.

    They would be too busy watching Sesame Street 2061 to care at all, most likely. Or possibly would be happy enough with flying cars to see Mars colonization as a triviality.

  5. I don't know, but I'll differentiate myself from market solutions in noting that those preferences should matter.

    Fifty years from now, preferences are going to depend on what gets done now. If our kids are stuck on Earth they'll almost certainly have a better life compared to us, and no counter-factual to compare it to. Richard Dawkins notes that it's amazing it wasn't until Darwin that someone came up with evolution by natural selection. The Greeks had all the intellectual tools to come up with that! Can you imagine how different life would be if that all got started centuries if not millenia ago! But we don't think like that. The counter-factual that that would entail is completely out of our frame of reference and doesn't inform our preferences. This is the problem of temporal autarky that I've refered to before.

  6. Interesting that he doesn't talk about private enterprise at all (which would be much cheaper than anything the government would do and obviously no one is going to object because the hobby-horse is privately funded).

    Interesting also how views this "some President" making the decision; I find that sort of weird.

  7. Pinhead!

    Maybe humanity could (grasping and straining) get a couple people to Mars within a decade or two... and so what? It buys us nothing but a warm glow... exactly as with the moon.

    Until we develop a bunch of tech that'll also enrich us on Earth, going to Mars is really expensive. As with global warming, the key is primarily to develop cheap energy production. With our current technological base a Mars shot is like obsessing about crossing the Pacific on a canoe.

    But please, get a job in government and find some way to force me to pay for this idiocy.

  8. Daniel wrote: "A press conference by Carl Sagan from 1993 on Mars."

    I couldn't help thinking, "Whoa! I didn't know that Sagan had even been to the moon..."


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