The Stone Conjecture

Today I was listening to my favorite Saturday morning radio broadcast, Dr. Yitzhak Noy reading and commenting on interesting newspaper articles from around the world. I had just come back from walking Daisy and tuned in to the tail end of an article he read about these strange bursts of radio energy and how some astronomers at Harvard had suggested they might be alien space travelers zipping around our galaxy at close to the speed of light.

Well, since I didn’t think Harvard was your usual source of unsubstantiated “Abducted by UFO” headlines, my curiosity was piqued and I Googled some key words and phrases I remembered from the article Dr. Noy had talked about and found Fast Radio Bursts Might Come From Nearby Stars from 2013 and then Harvard Scientists Theorize That Fast Radio Bursts Come From Alien Space Travel from a couple weeks ago (March 9, 2017).

Why was I intrigued? Although the conspiracy theories about incarcerating little green beings with elongated heads in Area 51 or UFOs coming to us from millions of light years away just to make crop circles, mess with our minds, and leave before we can talk to them may very well be true, I tend not to believe them because there seem to me to be many alternate explanations that could be offered that would be just as good if not better. Remember Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation of those available to us is most probably the correct one. Here’s what intrigued me about the Fast Radio Bursts: since 2007 when they were first discovered by astronomers, nobody had ever come up with an explanation of how they could occur naturally. In other words, there were no other competing theories. The Harvard researchers went one step further and used currently accepted engineering principles to show how an alien technology could propel space craft weighing a million tons at 20% of the speed of light and be visible to us in the frequency and amplitude our radio telescopes recorded.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about this particular speculation about Fast Radio Bursts. If you want, you can read the articles yourselves. But the articles did get me thinking about what other kinds of conjectures might be made.

So, without further ado …

The Stone Conjecture:

  1. Life is probably pretty common in a mature universe. The first generation of stars after the Big Bang were made of relatively simple elements, but subsequent generations of stars were composed of increasingly heavier elements in a variety of configurations. Atoms of various elements bound together into increasingly complex molecules, giving rise to organic molecules. When the circumstances proved adequate, organic molecules combined into organelles and cellular structures igniting the engine of life. Cells differentiated into colonies of specialized organs giving rise to plants and animals on our planet to adapt to its ecosystem. When the variety and complexity of these adaptive systems reached a critical mass, consciousness arose and then self-consciousness. The same kinds of processes probably happened with other kinds of systems in other kinds of ecosystems randomly occurring around our galaxy and others throughout the universe. A system beyond a certain level of quantity, variety, and complexity would be unlikely to remain integrated in a dynamically changing ecosystem over a certain period of time without developing self-consciousness. Entropy would cause the system to break down. This is what happens when we die.
  2. Given #1, self-conscious life that developed significantly before us would possibly be significantly more advanced than us. The stars in the center of our galaxy probably gave rise to civilizations far more advanced than civilizations in our solar system located pretty far out along an arm of our galaxy. Our local star was created long after the stars clustering around our galactic center. What I’m talking about is only orthogonal to the Kardashev scale.
  3. There may be more dimensions of space than the three we perceive. Given #2, an advanced civilization might know whether there are more than three dimensions and take advantage of those dimensions in traveling from one point to another or they would perceive only the three dimensions of space that we perceive.
  4. Given #3, if space spreads out over more than the three dimensions we perceive, then an advanced alien civilization would either know the short cuts through higher dimensions from one point to another or know how to warp one of the observable dimensions to access hyperspace.
  5. As far as we can see with our telescopes pointed in every direction from the vicinity of our planet, there is something: meteors, moons, planets, stars, and galaxies. What we can’t see is probably dark matter. These are all potential obstacles for us to travel in a single vector at or near the speed of light. In other words, in order to avoid running into these obstacles we’d probably have to slow down our speed significantly and jinx up, down, left, or right, to go around.
  6. If there are only the three dimensions we perceive, then traveling through the galaxy at close to the speed of light would require tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy. Tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy or any other would not appear naturally. It might be an indication that an advanced civilization had ploughed that tunnel to allow near light speed travel. Travel between galaxies at light speed could probably be made without tunnels because the space is mostly empty. Of course there is the issue of dark matter, but current theories posit that matter does not interact with dark matter. See Why Doesn’t Dark Matter Interact with Ordinary Matter.

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Roll Over Maslow

Some of you have heard of Maslow’s Pyramid, a diagram representing a man’s or woman’s hierarchy of needs. The pyramid is divided into five levels from the wide base to the narrow apex.

The first and lowest level at the base of the pyramid represents our Physiological needs: the physical requirements for human survival, air, water, and food. The inability to satisfy needs at this level means death for the individual.

The second level just above the first represents our Safety and Security needs: the absence of war, natural disaster, violence, abuse, and the requirements for personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and protection from the adverse impacts of accidents or illness. The inability to satisfy needs at this level can engender post-traumatic stress disorder and other extreme psychological coping mechanisms.

The third level represents our need for Love and Belonging: being part of a family, having friends, and having a significant Other with whom one can be intimate, both sexually and non-sexually. Not satisfying these needs can lead to loneliness, anxiety, or depression.

The fourth level represents our need for Esteem: status, recognition, fame, prestige, attention, strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.

The fifth and highest level at the top of the pyramid represents our need for Self-Actualization: to become the most that one can be. Whatever one can do, one must do.

During Maslow’s final years, he posited a sixth level, above all the rest, which he called self-transcendence: giving oneself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality, thinking about the ends rather than the means, to oneself, to significant Others, to all mankind, to other species, and to the Universe.

The most basic needs must be satisfied before the higher needs. Each level of needs depends on the satisfaction of the needs of the previous levels.

But then I thought about what an amazing species we really are and how there are those among us who could flip Maslow’s Pyramid over on its head, so that the highest levels become prerequisites, pre-conditions, for what were previously the lower levels, that our need for self-transcendence precedes and overrides our need for self-actualization, which overrides our need for esteem, which overrides our need for love and belonging, which overrides our need for safety and security, which overrides our physiological needs.

Yes, there are people like that.

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The War of the Wells by H. G. Worlds or The House of Mirrors

Once, a long long time ago, when the world was still pristine and a few good men and women treaded lightly on the earth, the water in the lakes and streams was crystal clear and quenched our collective thirst. Then we grew to be many. Someone found that there was also water under the ground and they built their wells to ladle up the clear fresh water to their cracked lips and parched throats, and it also quenched their thirst. The people grew around these wells. We found we could live almost anywhere as long as we could somehow stay connected to these wells and lakes and streams.

Soon there were too many of us, so we divided ourselves into us and them. We were good and true, of course, and they were bad and false. We found that we could put salt into their wells, so that they would not be able to drink and would become so weak that they would die or we could kill them. Just to make sure we had enough energy to kill them, we put sugar in our wells. Of course, they did the same to us because, for them, they were us and we were them. All the wells and lakes and streams came to be poisoned with the sugar and salt we put into them, not to speak of the constant spills from oil pipes, chemical and nuclear waste dumps, and acid rains.

Although this is really happening all around us, I intended it as an allegory about facts and factoids, fake news, spin, and such. The wells are our sources of information, be they books, newspapers, TV, radio, or Internet, the crystal clear waters are the facts and truths, and the salted, sugared, and otherwise polluted waters are the manufactured factoids, fake news, spin, and such.

A little about the alternate title of this post: we find ourselves in a house of mirrors. The mirrors don’t let us see where to go or who’s behind them. All we can see is what the mirrors reflect. All they reflect is us, whether distorted or “true”. The fake news sources are just mirrors that reflect our own beliefs, desires, and prejudices. In a house of mirrors there are no windows through which to see what’s going on in the real world outside, just mirrors that reflect your image, fat or skinny, elongated or short and squat.

After the people have quenched their thirst, filled their bellies, and satisfied their other needs for survival, they will look around for facts and truths because they can’t survive on sugar and salt alone and they can’t survive without truth and facts. A person without the capability to sense the truth in order to interact with the world will not survive.

You can go on a long time without having access to the truth, nobody knows quite how long, but eventually you’ll collide with a reality you didn’t prepare for and die.

I’m an optimist of sorts. I tend to believe people will eventually begin to thirst for “real” news and truths, not just the fake news that confirms what they already think they know or want to believe.

A healthy skepticism is in order; not the Doubting Thomas kind or the perennial Devil’s Advocate kind. It’s more like the “I’m from Missouri, show me” kind:

  1. Don’t automatically trust the snake oil salesman, or anyone else for that matter, who’s telling you something you’d like or need to be true;
  2. Check the source of the information: does it come from just one source or several? Does one of those sources include what’s been considered a reliable source for a long time, like since before the Internet?
  3. Does the source’s domain of expertise include the subject of the information? Don’t trust a scientist’s opinion on morality or ethics as being better than your own, but do trust his or her opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as better than yours. Don’t trust a priest’s, minister’s, rabbi’s, imam’s, or guru’s opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as being better than yours, but you may trust their opinions on religious commandments, rituals, and lore as better than yours.
  4. Ask yourself whether the information really makes sense to you, is it consistent with everything you know (when you are being honest with yourself), or is it something you really have to act on (or is it something you can wait on until you get more facts)? If you have to act now, then go with what you’ve got; if not, then wait until you have more facts or have to act.

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The Truth about Fiction

Animals are realists. All the species except for us. There are a couple significant differences between the rest of the animals and us that are probably related to each other.

The first difference is that animals are born with the knowledge of how to make use of all their bodily functions and how to get along in the world whereas we are born with only a partial knowledge of our bodily functions and how to get along in the world. Animal instincts are transferred and stored in their genes. Sapiens’ knowledge is acquired through our senses, stored in the brain, and transferred by means of language. Animals are capable of learning varying amounts of information but could probably get along with nothing more than their instincts for most of their lives. Sapiens have instincts too, but not enough to survive on.

The second difference is that animals have only rudimentary languages, if at all, for conveying only real concepts, commands, and warnings whereas we have highly developed languages for conveying representations of internal and external realities, as well as fictions. Fictions include assertions that may or may not be true, that haven’t been proven yet, that we’d like to be true, that we wish were true, that we want to believe are true, that we want others to believe are true, that were once thought to be true, that we are willing to accept for the moment as true, or that are patently false.

Examples of fiction include stories, myths, religious dogma, beliefs, astrology, political propaganda, rights, duties, lies, traffic lights, metaphors, hyperboles, scientific conjectures and theories, histories, nationalities, communities, races, cultures, civilizations, money, corporations, gender roles, purpose, meaning, romance, and our world views. Examples of reality might be hungry, lion, waiting, and waterhole.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind”, written by Doctor (of Philosophy) Yuval Noah Harari. One of the interesting points he makes in his book is that animal species cannot aggregate and cooperate in groups composed of more than a few hundred individuals whereas Homo Sapiens can and in many cases do aggregate and cooperate in groups numbering millions or more. Harari attributes this capacity of Sapiens to get such massive numbers of individuals to live, work, and fight together to their ability to convey fictions with their languages. Our fictions unite us, keep us together, and direct us towards common goals far more so than our reality. If a lion enters our camp, it’s every man for himself. As we say, you don’t have to run faster than the lion. You just have to run faster than the guy in front of you. If you want to kill a mastodon, you don’t need more than a hundred or so men with spears to surround it and bring it down. If you wanted to launch a Christian Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims back in 1099, you’d need thousands of foot soldiers and 300 knights and if the Muslims wanted to take Jerusalem back, they’d need even more soldiers and horsemen, which they were able to muster easily. For the Christians, God was on their side, but for the Muslims their God was greater, or Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر).

Lest we conclude that civilizations would be a lot better off without their fictions, Harari goes on to point out that every social structure comprising more than a few hundred individuals would break down without the fictions that organize them. Many large groups enforce religious beliefs or official party lines, such that non-believers are subject to violence and/or death, for the groups to survive. If, however, enough members of a group stop believing the organizing fictions, that group will cease to exist, as will any benefits accrued by members of the group.

Remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative? Kant’s criterion for whether an action was moral or not was derived by asking what would happen if everybody were to perform that action. If the answer were that society would survive or even thrive, then it would be considered a moral action. If, however, the answer was that society would break down, then it would be considered an immoral action. For example, is it moral to steal from a person? No, because if everybody were to steal from each other, then society would break down. Is it moral to give charity? Yes, because if everybody gave charity, society would survive or thrive. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If not, read the link above.

So the bottom line is I shouldn’t attempt to persuade people to give up their fictions. If I did, society would break down, people would stop working at their jobs, drive through red lights, crash into each other, babble meaninglessly, commit crimes, acts of violence, and suicide, starve, get sick, and die. As a matter of fact, I should probably keep my opinions to myself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Message in a Bottle

Nothing is more desperate, more poignant, more romantic than a message in a bottle. You visualize a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man on a lost island writing a letter, possibly with a description of the constellations he sees in the night sky, tracking them in their arcs from sunset to sunrise, possibly including an inventory of the few remaining supplies, and possibly mentioning the young family waiting at home, the love that was abandoned or passed up, or the wrong which was never admitted.

You visualize these things written on a ragged scrap of parchment rolled into a cylinder, stuffed into a bottle, sealed with a cork, and cast in a long arc over the waves crashing against the beach, into waters moving in a deeper current away from the island toward someone also handsome or beautiful who will find the small bottle floating between the waves in the immenseness of the ocean stretching from horizon to horizon, someone who will be able to decipher the strange markings on the parchment, someone who will care enough to drop everything and change course, setting sail for the lost island where the desperate writer waits before it is too late.

And what is the Voyager 1 space probe, launched from Earth in 1977, reporting back to us all it sees until 2025 when it will continue its blind inertia towards the star Gliese 445 somewhere in the constellation Camelopardalis about 40,000 years from now, carrying a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems, but a message in a bottle cast into the endless seas of space, even smaller and darker than a bottle floating between the waves on a moonless night?

But if it is found, the Voyager 1 that is, will the finders be smart enough to decipher our strange markings? Will they be kind enough to come rescue us from our loneliness and ourselves? Will they laugh at our primitive efforts or even recognize them as worthy of scrutiny? If they do come, will they come in peace or will they come as we do, wreaking havoc and extinction upon us? We are the most destructive species that has ever lived on our planet. Are we the norm in our galaxy or in our universe? If not, then how do we expect our alien rescuers to welcome us into the family of worlds? But if so, then we should cease shining our beacons at the stars and our explorations of distant worlds before they detect us and come to root out the risk to the universe while it is still small and confined.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 19: Journey to the Center of the Universe

Cadmus woke up twice during his first sleeping period. Lonesome raised an eyebrow but otherwise continued snoring away. He sat up in his hammock, swung his legs over the side, and slipped down onto the floor careful not to step on his sleeping dagu.

He opened his hand against the smooth wall to orient himself and followed the ambient lighting to the personal service room. He entered and slid the door shut behind him.

The first time he tried to pass water he relaxed his bladder in one dimension but the water squirted out in another dimension. Fortunately, the inside of his suit dried almost instantaneously,

The second time he tried to pass water, a couple hours later, he couldn’t figure out which dimension his bladder was in to relax and had to wait a few minutes before his bladder, his stream of water, and the toilet were dimensionally in synch.

He made his way back to his hammock somewhat proud of himself and fell back asleep.

The next waking period, after the lights made their presence felt through his eyelids and his dreams, and the smells of spiced tea wafted into the room, Cadmus looked over at Galen’s hammock and saw it was empty. Lonesome was not under his hammock either. He got out of his hammock and hobbled stiff-leggedly over to the shower room, took off his suit and googles, put them in the bin, and stepped into the shower stall.

After refreshing himself in the shower, he dried himself off, opened the bin, and found his suit and goggles good and fresh. He suited up and donned his goggles, and followed his nose to the kitchenette where Galen was putting breakfast on the table. Lonesome was eating his kibble in a bowl with gusto.

Sleeping period followed waking period, which followed sleeping period, so on and so forth until it became a routine of sorts that belied the danger and the desperation of their adventure, three insignificant microbes rushing to the defense of a dying universe.

After a while Cadmus became so proficient in the use of his suit and goggles that he became totally unaware of them. He was able to run through the halls effortlessly jinxing one way into one dimension and another way into another dimension, moving in ways he could not have imagined before. Lonesome followed along on his jogs around the ship anticipating his friend’s moves.

Galen was pleased that Cadmus was now his physical equal, and his sensory and motor skills were on a par with his own. The way Cadmus processed his sensations was the same as always though, and that also pleased Galen.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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From Generation to Generation: Aidan’s Great-Great Aunt Rochel

From generation to generation. Reflections on Aidan and his Great-great-aunt.

Source: From Generation to Generation: Aidan’s Great-Great Aunt Rochel

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