Scientific Sense Podcast

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Terraforming the Earth

As space agencies around the world race to the red planet and beyond in an attempt to satisfy ego and ignorance, they may want to focus their limited resources on real tactical problems facing the planet. As those, who had a tough time with science at school, rise to make polices that affect humanity, the danger of human extinction is now more real than ever. To top it off, those who were good at science appear to get real excitement by looking at pictures of the dwarf planet and designing ways to punch a one-way ticket for humans to a planet close-by. Admirable, of course, but completely irrelevant.

It is time NASA had a real resource and portfolio management process. Engineers, albeit being good at what they do, often fail to see the big picture. The risk of an asteroid impact or run-away greenhouse effect are so high in close quarters - it does not make any sense to allocate resources to finding green men in the solar system or among the thousands of exo-planets, that were found recently.  Terraforming the Earth, although not as exciting as the projects undertaken by the space agency, has real utility for humanity. Humans, designed to burn anything they get their hands to, have cooked up a real mess, that would require rectifying. It is a solvable problem if the best technologists in the world put their minds to it and perhaps forget the exploration of the universe for a little bit. Sure, this may not propel careers or pave the way to easy Nobel prizes, but limited resources have to be optimally deployed for the sake of humanity. Additionally, although not as exciting as science fiction including a black hole from the LHC devouring us all, an asteroid impact that could substantially extinguish humans is real. Having “plans on paper” to “bomb the rock” may not be realistic. It may require real technology to nudge the Earth bound catastrophe to safety.  

Those who are responsible and accountable for deploying the limited resources to practical uses may need to refocus their priorities. Ego cannot be part of the objective function, rationality has to be.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Barren universe

Not withstanding the efforts of space agencies and academic institutions around the world to find extra-terrestrial life, it appears that disappointment could be in store for humans. Recent excitement about an exoplanet just 14 light years away is symptomatic of scientific quest that is chasing pre-determined answers. Before turning all listening devices to the “target,” one may want to ask a few questions. If we are seeking human like life there, one has to assume that they are enjoying “Friends” and “Seinfeld” now. And, it is difficult to find fault with them not attempting to make contact. If we are seeking something less or more, then it is unlikely they will be spewing garbage into the airways. In other words, the attempts of humans to make contact are unlikely to be rewarded unless an extra-terrestrial civilization of similar incompetence is close at hand.

Humans, locked into a tiny window of space-time, have been chasing an unattainable dream – intelligent life that could teach them better tricks. As they peak through that microscopic window, they are most likely to see a barren universe, devoid of life and intelligence. Expanding the window, either by new Physics or by constructs deemed feasible with the status-quo, such as worm holes, information travelling at speeds many magnitudes higher than light and quantum entanglement, could provide a way out of these hard constraints.

Finding life in the searchable space-time in close proximity is as unlikely as spotting a needle in a haystack as big as the solar system. Good luck getting there by 2020.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The death of logic

In a country of blue, red and grey
In a land of every possible hue
Where policies are made on the back of a napkin
To satisfy donors and those who may become donors
In a country of red, white and blue
In a land of every possible opinion
Where judgments are made by pictures on TV
To satisfy friends and those who may become friends
In a country of East, West and Midwest
In a land of every possible culture
Where biases are made by location and accents
To satisfy those nearby and those who may move close
In a country of wealthy, poor and the middle-class
In a land of disappearing dreams for most
Where classes segregate by every possible means
To satisfy those who hold similar views
In a country of knowledge, ignorance and mediocrity
In a land of expensive and unattainable education
Where students march in the streets to be heard
To satisfy their own cults and egos
In a country of fake hair, fake stories and fake passion
In a land of politicians and incompetent policy-makers
Where debates are designed to expose the hatred
To satisfy the millions glued to the idiot box
In a country of science, religion and agnosticism
In a land of pretense and wisdom
Where they battle each other for superiority
To win prizes, acceptance and money
In a country of coasts, mountains and plains
In a land of inexplicable space and beauty
Where they battle for the last acre of land
To nourish their own false sense of wealth
In a country of finance, technology and movies
In a land of fraud, fallacy and fiction
Where the suits battle the turtle-necks
To stuff their own pockets and wallets
In a country of such complexity
Where logic is dead and buried
But, somehow, one can’t lose hope
For without it, the world will be in despair