Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Space Farming: Little Green Tendrils of Chaos

You can take it with you: Nigella damascena, a type of buttercup, germinated in a lab on the International Space Station. Image Source: Wiki.

When we depart for the Final Frontier, we will have to become very good at farming in zero gravity and on other worlds. Anyone who has tried the most basic seed planting and coaxed a plant to maturity under ideal earthly conditions may start to appreciate what a daunting task that is. Even in today's era of Frankenfoods, plants don't care what humans think they should be or do. If you try to force plants or their environment to run counter to the laws they expect to follow, they simply die. If scientists are able to force plants in the short term via genetic modification to satisfy artificial human fads and demands, there will always be a correction in the environment, somewhere, that will decimate the plan. Period. For thousands of years, people have tried to play god with plants. Even when they achieve some success, that never become god. Biology will never be fully instrumentalized by humans, and it's a good thing too. It is that scary unknown factor in agriculture which brings a host of problems to space colonization.

On 12 March 2015, NASA confirmed via Hubble's observations that Jupiter's moon Ganymede has a huge water ocean under an ice crust, which could mean that it harbours life. Image Souce: Sci Tech Daily.

Experts claim that the only way for humanity to survive over the long term is that we clear that hurdle in the future. According to Stephen Hawking, whatever problems we may have down here on earth, a bigger one trumps them all. Our future lies in the stars, he argues, and humanity must eventually abandon this planet or face extinction. Does God play dice he asks, paraphrasing Einstein? Yes, He does, Hawking argues, asserting that there is an underlying range of chaotic variability, an unpredictability, to everything. Hawking contradicts Einstein's insistence that there had to be an underlying order in everything which we could not yet grasp. Despite Hawking's faith that the future cannot be predicted, he is certain humankind must go through a cataclysmic bottleneck, a test of survival, a possible extinction event. Over the next thousand years, space exploration must be our inevitable future. There is no wiggle room on this, he concludes, due to global warming, nuclear annihilation, or a genetically-engineered virus.

Cultural expectations of transcendent Singularity (which include a faith in space colonization) continue the very mechanistic mentality, a 19th century positivism, which quantum physicists criticize. Humans-as-machines is a very popular idea now, and culturally speaking, it is big, but not that deep. Humans are now addicted to, and obsessed by, their species' new computing power. Pause to observe the stunning fact that 40 per cent of the world's population got a new heroin habit over the past 20 years that was socially acceptable, economically profitable (if also economically tumultuous), politically unstable, and governmentally dubious. Then imagine that the most hard core tech addicts insist that we must lose ourselves in the addiction, becoming more and more like the technological objects of our adoration.

In fact, successful space exploration might be achieved only by an antithetical stance, a renewal of the organic, in a move that counters the seductive, semi-sexual love affair with computer gadgetry. In this post, I noted how popular ideas in the 1920s and 1930s shaped scientists' early conceptions of dark matter. In cultural terms, today's Singularity and quantum aficionados are 1920s' and 1930s' revivalists.

That is the kind of point that confirms that culture and science are not contending opposites; instead, they make an unexpected pair of yoked oxen. How scientists interpret and conceptualize their findings is heavily influenced by their cultural values, about which they are rarely objective or intensively schooled. This is why science fiction author Charlie Stross argued that space colonization is not a story about extending technology, despite all the technical trappings of the exercise. It is a story, as Frank Herbert knew well, about our relationship with the environment. And that relationship, given our psychology, almost always is expressed mystically and philosophically through the expansion and transformation of religion; Stross pondered some of this:
I'm going to take it as read that the idea of space colonization isn't unfamiliar; domed cities on Mars, orbiting cylindrical space habitats a la J. D. Bernal or Gerard K. O'Neill, that sort of thing. Generation ships that take hundreds of years to ferry colonists out to other star systems where — as we are now discovering — there are profusions of planets to explore. And I don't want to spend much time talking about the unspoken ideological underpinnings of the urge to space colonization, other than to point out that they're there, that the case for space colonization isn't usually presented as an economic enterprise so much as a quasi-religious one. "We can't afford to keep all our eggs in one basket" isn't so much a justification as an appeal to sentimentality.
A response to that post, quoted at the Daily Galaxy, dismissed these culturally-derived warnings because transhumanists believe we will meld with machines and morph into something non-human, or superhuman, or post-human:
[Stross doesn't take] into account the possibility of post-Singularity, Drexlerian, Kardashev Type II civilizations. Essentially, we're talking about post-scarcity civilizations with access to molecular assembling nanotechnology, radically advanced materials, artificial superintelligence, and access to most of the energy available in the solar system. "Stross also too easily dismisses how machine intelligences, uploaded entities and AGI will impact on how space could be colonized. He speculates about biological humans being sent from solar system to solar system, and complains of the psychological and social hardships that could be inflicted on an individual or crew. He even speculates about the presence of extraterrestrial pathogens that undoubtedly awaits our daring explorers. This is a highly unlikely scenario. Biological humans will have no role to play in space. Instead, this work will be done by robots and quite possibly cyborgs.
That is such a 2000s' thing to say. Super-this, nano-that.  In 2005, Ray Kurzweil maintained in The Singularity is Near that we could interface with our technology, the way computers interface with each other, and in so doing we could transcend our biology. It was a fashionable, and now dated, thing to assume. The post-Singularity hypothesis tells you more about 2005 than it does about 2500.

Part of that hypothesis suggests that our addiction to computers is reaching blind adoration, and extends to the assumption that they are, or will be, smarter than we are. We love them so, such that we will either join with them (a typical, unreflective psycho-sexual assumption), and/or they will out-survive us. This is exactly the kind of thing an addict would say about his or her drug: it's stronger than I am; it's destroying me in the long term; but I love it anyway in the short term because it enhances my capabilities. The Daily Galaxy:
In a futuristic mode similar to Hawking, both Steven Dick, chief NASA historian and Carnegie-Mellon robotics pundit, Hans Moravec, believe that human biological evolution is but a passing phase: the future of mankind will be as vastly evolved sentient machines capable of self-replicating and exploring the farthest reaches of the Universe programmed with instructions on how to recreate earth life and humans to target stars. Dick believes that if there is a flaw in the logic of the Fermi Paradox, and extraterrestrials are a natural outcome of cosmic evolution, then cultural evolution may have resulted in a post-biological universe in which machines are the predominant intelligence.
There is so much blind confidence in the secular window dressing around science and technology, that there is no warning that Millennial technological prophets employ the language of cult leaders. They speak the high-priestly language of a sacred mentality with religious fervour, and remain unaware of what they are actually doing, because they are scientists. They predict the future, while in the same breath admit that science tells them that the future cannot be predicted.

Eco horror from John Wyndham: alien trees might be triffid-like on planets in binary, two-sun systems. Image Source: Passenger Films.

Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1.

Image Source.
Will the techno-rapture break down over space farming, when the plants remind us about our bottom line dependence on the environment? That is the final cultural pre-condition. We breathe air. We drink water. And despite our love affair with our shiny tools, we need the other earthly organisms which have evolved alongside us. What will the galaxy gurus do when the plants refuse to grow, or start to die, or grow tendrils 12 feet long so that they can snag and eat the colonists?

What if, in the wilds of space, space colonies and spaceships, plants can survive better than we can, arise to occupy a superior evolutionary niche to do so, and eventually overthrow and destroy us? They are only tamed here on earth because terran conditions allow us to be dominant. Space colony die-hards forget that humans evolved to a dominant position out of, and within, this earthly ecosystem, and no other. Once humankind leaves this planet with other terran species, to interact in long-haul spacecraft and space colony ecosystems, there are no guarantees that humans will dominate those systems. Even with humans supported by the technology they developed, plants may not remain their silent slaves. And this is before animal husbandry comes into the mix.

In a related vein, Mars One - the plan to send colonists on a one way trip to Mars by 2027, aka the final apex of reality television - came under harsh criticism this week. Their candidate selection practices and media entertainment fund-raising took a bashing. Critics dismiss Mars One as a pyramid scheme, even though that is only symptomatic of a more pressing problem. The reason private companies are taking over space exploration is because of politics. For years in the United States, a bizarre scenario has unfolded in which global warming has been pitted politically against space explorationObama's government slashed NASA's budget and money for other Big Science projects, which meant that other countries are now challenging or outcompeting America in these fields. Under these conditions, private companies will merge commercial capitalism with space aspirations and exploration technology. This week, Mars One's technological feasibility critics came through the loudest because a 2014 MIT study declared that Mars One's colonists' first wheat crop would blow their life support systems.

An independent MIT study from October 2014 concluded that the maturation of Mars One colonists' wheat crops would blow their life support systems by creating an overabundance of oxygen. Image Source: Extreme Tech.

Agriculture adds an element of the universe's chaos into any plan for survival in space and space colonies. This is the chaos whose metrics physicists like Hawking constantly seek and which eludes them. This is the chaos which makes them admit that they cannot predict the future, right at the moment when technology dangles a future in front of them that they want to believe (rather than prove). This agricultural element of the unseen, of perceptual error, of the unknowable, confirms that space farming would constantly remind us of our essential humanity, right when space exploration threatened to dehumanize its technologists and engineers. It is organic chaos, culminating in our unpredictable relationship with the unwieldy environment and other organisms which may have the last laugh, which reminds us how fragile we are and that we must colonize the stars with humility. Luke, the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, was raised as a farmer. It's no wonder why George Lucas did that. This is why, this week, the Mars One project came under fire around the question at the heart of all human civilizations: not media, not money, but agriculture.

An earlier post on HOTTC discussed the film, Silent Running (1972), in which the 1970s' back-to-the-land movement met the 1970s' space opera. You can hear Joan Baez's performance for the film's folksy soundtrack below the jump. Will the calls for space colonization overlap with the Millennial back-to-the land movement? So far, they haven't. Below the jump, see a selection of plants which have been planted on the International Space Station, and which plants are planned for future greenhouses on the moon and Mars. Several foods have been tested on the ISS, including the first bagels in space.

"Plant growth chambers, seeds and watering devices that made up part of an experiment flown to the space station during the STS-118 space shuttle mission [in 2007]. The seeds were later returned to Earth and grown within lunar growth chambers designed by students." Image Source: NASA via Phys.org.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Look Skyward: Auroras to Equinoxes

A severe solar storm sent out two coronal mass ejections from the sun on 11 March (an enormous X-class flare) and 15 March 2015. The CMEs do not seem to have disrupted electrical grids or computers, although there have been electrical problems in Ontario, Canada, which may or may not have been caused by the storm. Power in Ontario went down for short periods last week and again on Sunday the 15th and has been flickering for about a week. Ontario's electricity provider, Hydro One, denied that the geomagnetic storm left thousands in the dark across the province; rather it was all due to "a broken insulator" or a "broken line." Discovery reported that the 11 March flare created a radio blackout in large parts of the globe, and scrambled the ionosphere:
Shortly after the huge eruption, that measured X2 on the scale of flare energy, Spaceweather.com reports a radio blackout was detected over large swathes of the globe, including much of the Americas.

“The X-flare scrambled the ionosphere thoroughly so that no decametric radio signals were supported in my part of the world,” said amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft. “The ionosphere started to reform after about fifteen minutes when stations began to reappear. (The stuff visible during the blackout was my own observatory electricity. Nothing exterior.)”

Based in New Mexico, Ashcraft reports that the blackout was most obvious in the frequency range of 15 MHz to 26 MHz.
A more serious scenario is a favourite with apocalyptic Millennial soothsayers: an X-class CME could wipe out the grid and all our technology. In the summer 2014, NASA admitted that this almost happened on 23 July 2012. Discovery:
Wrapped in a powerful magnetic field, CMEs consist of huge bubbles of energized gas from the sun’s superheated corona (the solar atmosphere). The speed at which the CME travels into interplanetary space and the alighnment of its magnetic field can severely influence that CME’s impact on Earth’s magnetic field. ...

Our planet has a global magnetic field called the magnetosphere, so should a CME hit the magnetosphere at just the right alignment, the CME’s magnetic field can reconnect, causing intense magnetic disruption, injecting the magnetosphere with huge quantities of plasma from the sun. In this situation, the CME is said to be “geoeffective” and the resulting geomagnetic storm can be extreme. Today’s storm is so intense that it far overshadows anything that has come before it in our sun’s current solar cycle. ...

The storm is still ongoing and space weather experts will be closely watching developments. Storms such as these can have global impacts — from overloading powergrids and causing communication outages to satellite damage.

On the night of March 17-18, these unusually strong CMEs reached earth, and created a G4 geomagnetic storm (the second highest level) and auroras across the northern and far southern parts of the earth. I just looked outside my northern window and saw the whole sky on fire, alight with a ghostly, night-vision-green mist. For the duration of this evening, there is a live feed from Yellowknife, Canada, here.

Other observers claim that severe geomagnetic storms spark extreme earthquakes. Yet others speculate that mass die-offs of fish and other water-dwelling animals and birds presage earthquakes. This, too, was in the news today and over the past week or so, on the coast of California, where some 35,000 sea lions lie dead on the beaches (reports here, here and here).

If you believe in these omens, then you may also have noted that this entire week is full of intense astrological predictions. Monday 16 March 2015 marked the last of seven Pluto-Uranus squares (see my earlier posts on the 2012-2015 squares here and here) which have been shocking the world (astrologers claim) with radical changes and conflicts. This square is followed by a total solar eclipse in Pisces and a supermoon spring equinox in Aries, both on 20 March 2015. Eclipses and Supermoons are also associated with earthquakes, by folklore, if not by hard science. AstroShaman reads the signs and portents:
The final Uranus-Pluto square (15°18′ Aries-Capricorn) is here at last on 3/16, number seven out of seven. But don’t [lie] down in your comfy hammock and heave a sigh of relief just yet. This aspect will continue to radiate revolutionary transformation for the rest of the 2010s!

This series of Uranus-Pluto squares is the astrological headliner of the decade, and could be considered the primary catalyst for all the rapid, radical change we’re experiencing. ...

The solar eclipse on 3/20 at 5:36 AM EDT is remarkable for three reasons. It’s in the final degree of Pisces, and occurs about an hour before the Spring Equinox. And it only aspects feminine planets: Venus and the four asteroid goddesses!

But let’s start with the basics. Any solar eclipse is like a supercharged New Moon, and its effects can last many months. Any Pisces New Moon is great for new beginnings in the areas of divine union practices and expressing your inspired creativity.

But, since it lines up at 29°27′ Pisces, this solar eclipse is right on the border of Aries. So for the third month in a row, we need to blend adjacent signs into a lunation interpretation. But how can you coherently combine the radically different energies of Aries and Pisces, the alpha and omega of astrological signs?

For starters, we have a common theme: both Aries and New Moons are about fresh starts, or applying new energy to existing projects. So this adds even more juice to the idea of kickstarting or rekindling spirituality and creativity. ...

[T]his solar eclipse only aspects feminine planets. To be specific, it trines Juno, sextiles Ceres, squares Pallas Athena and semi-sextiles Vesta and Venus. In this context, the superabundance of femininity is more important than the meaning of the specific aspects. In my opinion, this is an amazing opportunity for the divine feminine, already on the rise, to root itself even more firmly into Gaia’s energetic matrix.

The soul-crushing millennia of imbalanced patriarchy – domineering “power over” that selfishly exploits for greed and control – is ending. In order to stave off a horrific environmental catastrophe and restore respect for all of the earth’s living beings, we must embrace our feminine sides. ...

The principle of morphic resonance, also called the “hundredth monkey effect,” radiates the energy of everything you do out to the collective. When you embody these feminine qualities in graceful harmony with the masculine, you make it easier for everyone else to do so as well.
One could argue that all this talk of auroras, earthquakes, dead animals, eclipses, equinoxes, New Moons and ancient gods embodied in squared planets together makes an example of the Hundredth Monkey Effect. Regardless, the auroras are beautiful, with or without the superstitions that surround them.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Channel 10 News in 1985

Video Source: Youtube.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même choseRetrontario, the Youtube channel that preserves clips from television in Ontario, Canada (and especially Toronto, see my earlier posts here and here) in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, just posted an old televised computerized ticker with news from Wednesday, 10 July 1985.

Aside from the still-familiar unrest in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the bulletin about the air crash refers to Air India Flight 182, in which 328 people died. Also on that day in 1985, the Greenpeace flagshipRainbow Warrior, was bombed in Auckland Harbour in a French secret service operation. Opération Satanique was carried out under orders from then President François Miterrand, because the ship led the protest against French nuclear tests in the Pacific. Initially, the government denied this, but later admitted that the Greenpeace vessel had been destroyed on official French orders in a flat admission: "The truth is cruel."