3 Things That Blew My Mind

I reflect on each day and figure out what lesson I learned in life. Then I share each day’s lesson with you, so I can blow your mind, too…

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I was talking to Nicole about 3 of the most mind-blowing moments I ever experienced. These might not be the absolute 3 but they are the first 3 that came to mind. I wonder what your 3 are. If you are game, share them with me on FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Google+!

1.  The first time I saw Saturn and Jupiter through a telescope. I can not explain what a bizarre and amazing experience it is to see another planet, for real. Looking through a telescope at a pinpoint in the sky and seeing something a hundred times larger than everything I know, but so far away, it looked smaller than a quarter solidified my love for logic and science. When I pulled my eye away from the telescope, I saw my Astronomy Lab teacher smiling at me. He said, “That. That moment right there. That look on your face. That’s why I do this.”

  2.  Scuba diving. The first time I sat on the bottom of a lake and stared at all the life I never saw from above the surface stunned me. To this day, when I describe the experience of scuba-diving to people, I say, “It is the closest thing you can imagine to visiting another planet.” Seeing what lives deep underwater is like visiting an alien landscape where all the rules of Physics you grew up with are bendable. Trees in this foreign place, sway. Its occupants seem to fly magically along and with amazing diversity and size. Even you are stronger and capable of stunts you could never do on (dry) earth.

3.  High-Speed Internet for the first time. It might sound mundane next to scuba-diving and star-gazing but my mind was blown wide-open the first day I had high-speed internet at home. Napster was at its prime and suddenly I had open access to all the music I wanted and more. I found every deep-cut, rare single, and extended remix of every song I could think of. It seems like that whole year was just one amazement after another of what I could do or see on the internet (and yes, it was not all G-rated or for polite conversation, but I was mostly just building my music collection).

 

Those are definitely three pivotal moments in my life that probably changed the course of whatever my destiny was going to be each time. Each of them, in the moment, was just a really cool experience. It is only with the wisdom of time I am able to look back and witness the ripples they created and the lasting impact they left at their center.

What were 3 of your mind-blowing moments in life so far? If you are game, share them with me on FaceBook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Google+!

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Time to Die, Part 4 (of 5)

Over time, I think humans will become essentially immortal.
Looking at current trends in technology, it is not a leap to consider humanity may be on the verge of an unprecedented leap forward. We may cure death within the next hundred years. In 300 years, we might even be challenged with what it means to be human when our physical bodies are no longer necessary (and might be a liability).

When that happens, we will be able to travel farther than we can imagine and with unlimited resources and lifespans to throw at the universe’s biggest problems, we could potentially solve issues like being able to travel faster than light. What would that look like? (Well… I suppose it would not look like anything because if we were moving faster than light, we would be unable to see what is ahead!)

If we can beat the barriers imposed by Relativity and move faster than light, we would also have access to purely science fiction technology like time travel.

Consider this: when we look into space, we look into the past. It takes time for the light of other objects to reach our eyes, even someone standing in front of you. Light travels so fast (about 186,000 miles per second!) it seems like you see people and things instantly. Of course, that is not true. It takes time for light to reach your eyes because light has to cross the space between the object you are looking at and you, the same way your body has to cross space to reach the other side of a room.

Bigger spaces require more time for light to cross. When we look at the nearest galaxy to our own (the Andromeda galaxy), we are seeing it as it was about 2 million years ago. The space between our own Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy is so great it took the light, traveling 186,000 miles per second, about 2 million years to reach our telescopes! That means they also see our galaxy as it was 2 million years ago. If someone in the Andromeda galaxy today could see Earth, they would see dinosaurs roaming the planet now. You and I have not even been born!

You do not have to travel to another galaxy to grasp this concept, though. Just think of how we have other time zones on our planet. Some of us appear to be either 3 hours in the future or 3 hours in the past from others. It is not the same, of course, but it is an easier scale to understand.

Because you and I reflect light, too, we can think of our lives as channels on television being broadcast forever, until it reaches the edge of space. We are the ultimate reality TV shows for the universe! That means if you can race faster than the signal (light) of your own life, then theoretically you could be in front of it to be there when it reaches you and you could watch your life again!

If we want to travel backward in time, the trick will be to out race light. This raises more questions than I can possibly explore in a series of posts (or even in a hundred years of blogging about it) but it is a fun thought experiment, and in a few hundred years, it may not be an experiment at all. We may be dealing with the results of that experiment (or we may already be dealing with it!).

Here is the core of today’s lesson: when you think about it… really, truly, quite literally… anything is possible.

 

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Where Is The Other Intelligent Life?

 

I like thinking about the universe and Humanity’s place in the scope of Everything.

My friends sometimes ask my opinion on big outer-space questions–maybe the most common question I hear is, “do you think there are aliens?” Of course, my friends mean, do I think there is other intelligent life in the universe?

Yes, is my answer. There almost certainly is other intelligent life, but the question actually implies an additional question. The implied part is “…And are they here?” That has a different answer, I think. The answer is no, and no we have not been visited before, and no, we almost certainly will never find other intelligent life in the universe.

Here is how I think about it: it’s a numbers game. The universe is infinite (or nigh-infinite, but close enough as far as we are concerned). There are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there with hundreds of billions of stars inside each one. As you approach a number like Infinity, it becomes evident every possibility has an increased chance of becoming true–maybe even millions or billions of times over.

Think about it in terms of winning the lottery. Your chances of winning the mega-millions jackpot (matching the numbers of 5 balls, each numbered between 0 and 56) is one in 175,711,536. Not impossible, but certainly not very good. The lottery jackpot is usually shared between one, or a few, states. What if we had everyone on Earth playing for the same jackpot? The chances of you winning become slimmer (because there are 7 billion of us on Earth–many more than the population of a few states), but the chances of someone winning increase. There are 7 billion chances instead of just a few million (the population of a few states).

If the jackpot we are playing for is finding other intelligent life, then again, the chances of us hitting the jackpot are unfortunately very small, but the chances of someone hitting the jackpot eventually are very good.

The likelihood that all the right combinations of ingredients to create life have occurred before and elsewhere are high. The universe could be teeming with life. But we will almost certainly never find it, and it might not be a good thing if it finds us first.

The reason we will likely never encounter life is simple: space. The distance to even the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) is 4.2 light years. That means if we had the technology to travel 186,000 miles per second (the speed of light) then it would take us more than 4 years to get there. We, of course, can not travel that fast and with the best technology we have, it would take us hundreds of years, if not thousands. That’s assuming there is life anywhere near Proxima Centauri, and that we could find it or that it could find us.

Here’s the more logical issue, though: if space aliens developed the technology required to get here (technology we can not imagine yet, even if they were in our own cosmic backyard), then we would be of almost no significance to them. If they can get here, they will seem so far advanced to us we would not even be able to communicate. It would be like us trying to talk to amoeba. Not to mention, if they can get here, they will already have had the technology to study us from afar and may not even need to come. It is only our vanity that makes us think they would care enough to probe us or want to sit down for a chat or engage in war.

The same is true in reverse. If we develop the technology required to defy Time and Space and travel the cosmos at any significant speed, whatever species we encounter would seem, well, retarded. In fact, chances are if we have the means to warp space or exceed the speed of light, we have evolved beyond anything you or I would recognize as human. We would more likely be, at that point, a race of energy beings, perhaps indistinguishable from light itself. Our fragile human bodies simply could not endure faster than light travel so we would need something new.

It is not difficult for me to imagine (even within the next 100 years) a technology that essentially allows us to “upload” a personality (via brain-mapping, and then transfer of information) onto the world wide web for storage and then download the same personality into a different body later. We could potentially travel this way, carrying in our spaceship only the separate ingredients of a human body, to be assembled molecule-by-molecule when we arrive at our destination. That might even be thinking too small. If such a scenario becomes reality in the near future, we might stop thinking about the human body as an ideal form anyway. Instead, we might download our personalities to specialized robot bodies specifically fitted for the task of, say, surviving an atmosphere like that of Mars.

 

This is a very simplified view, but the main take-away is there is almost certainly other intelligent life in the universe, though we will almost as certainly never find each other. If we did, it would look nothing like it does in the movies.

Space aliens would not be interested enough to want to steal our resources (or if they were, the war would not last but a few seconds–there would be no hand-to-hand combat–if they have the technology to get here, we have already lost), and space aliens would definitely have no interest in anally probing hillbillies. Arizona just needs to accept that.

I love thinking about space aliens and being part of an even more enriching universe. I love sci-fi films; I never miss a space movie–but I also recognize it is only hubris that compels us to buy into conspiracy theories and make fantastic the unexplained.

Sadly, the only space aliens we will likely ever see are the ones created by special effects and comic book artists.

 

But it’s still fun to imagine we are not alone.

 

 

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Top 3 Priorities for the Human Race

 

Here is an intriguing question: What do you think Humanity’s top 3 priorities should be?

If world leaders paused for a moment to debate that question and its implications, it might help streamline decision-making and better determine the course of our future. I should note that by “world leaders” I am not referring to politicians. I am referring to scientists and thought leaders who, at minimum, must pass an IQ test to earn their position.

How great would it be to hear this question debated by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Leonard Piekoff, Ron Paul (there’s one obligatory politician), Seth Godin, and Richard Branson (a random list off the top of my head, but I would love to see that panel take on nearly any important question…)?

Thought leaders and Mensa members aside, here is my humble list of priorities for the Human Race:

 

1. Colonize another planet. To me, there is nothing that should supersede this priority, even given so many other problems to address in the world (hunger, disease, and equality to name a few). Though other problems are important and pressing, our unified action to get off this rock and learn to live on another planet is our best, most promising hope for survival as a species. Given some of the more imminent catastrophic dangers (nuclear war, global warming, an asteroid strike, super-viruses, etc…), colonizing a second Earth, at minimum, doubles our chances of survival. In the U.S., the space program has been cut to less than 2 percent of the national budget–a travesty–it should be the top priority for Humanity and the primary consideration when it comes to the allocation of funds.

2. End religion. Getting to another planet should be our first, foremost priority and has actual potential to be realized in the relatively near future. Being done with religion is  loftier, but only slightly less important. Religion, I think, is the core of most wrong-thinking and evil-doing in the world (in point of fact, every major war in human history was started by religious zealots; how many wars have been started by atheists?). Religion is filled with ludicrous claims (like there is an old invisible man who lives in the sky and watches everything you do so he can punish you accordingly without ever telling you why or when he might strike). Religion has ambiguous morality (“Thou shalt not kill” but thou should “Take an eye for an eye”) and  false hope (if there was life after death, what would be the point of dying? If there was life after death, there would be no distinction; it would just be called “life”). Religion also encourages subservience and removes Man’s power, influence, and responsibility over his own life and the destiny of the world. I think if people were instead taught to think clearly and critically, science would be a thousand years or more further along and humanity’s first priority (get to another planet and double our chances for survival) would probably be solved.

3. Protect the Environment. For real. Until we solve the top priority, this is the only Earth we have. Real scientific education, without political or religious agendas and sensationalized media (maybe that’s our fourth priority–end media sensationalism and bias?), should be the norm instead of the exception. Having (almost) every citizen informed about the unequivocal benefits of a sustainable economy, understand what food is and how it works, and comprehend the basic structure and execution of the agriculture business can have a tremendous impact on how we live in the world and determine its fate. I firmly believe nobody (outside of religious zealots and store-bought politicians) wants to destroy the world, it is just that most people do not understand how to save the world. Not that everybody should turn vegan, wear hemp clothing, and drive a Prius, but everybody should understand the impact that doing things like that can have.

 

There are many huge issues facing mankind and some of them are immediately important (hunger, poverty, inequality, disaster relief are examples that come to mind). They should be addressed, and immediately. Still, there are priorities that will determine the fate of the entire race, perhaps even the fate of the universe (we almost certainly are not the only form of intelligent life in the universe, but if we are… how much more precious and important does that make our continued survival? There would be no chance for other life if we perished). These priorities need to be rallied around and vocalized louder than the others. It is at our peril that we ignore them or delay addressing them any longer.

I am grateful for people much smarter than I who are tackling these big issues and if you are in agreement with any one of those top three priorities, I encourage you to start a conversation about it, learn more, and take action–any action, even if it is as small as donating $50 to NASA, or having 3 meatless meals each week, or compacting your trash and using reusable shopping bags.

For further reading, or just to hear from some really eloquent leaders in these areas, check out:

Stephen Hawking – perhaps the greatest mind on the planet

Richard Dawkins – one of the world’s leading skeptics and non-theists

Michael Pollan – popular author and speaker when it comes to food and culture (don’t worry; he’s not vegan)

 

Did I miss anything? What do you think the greatest problem facing humanity is?

 

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Movie: John Carter… Why Make People Dumber?

 

I saw the movie “John Carter”, which has an origin more interesting than the film itself. It was fine eye-candy but I was struck by how unimaginative the story is on the big screen as well as how badly written.

The original story was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the author of the “Tarzan” books) in 1912. The Disney big screen adaptation marks the story’s hundredth birthday, and it’s interesting to note the character has endured among sci-fi fans almost since its birth, and in works by other authors.

The movie had blockbuster computer-generated effects and stale action-movie acting–which was expected and fine, but the story was so formulaic and predictable (as was the dialogue) that it was hard to bear in parts. I could deal with all of that–I even liked Battle LA (an equally implausible story, but told better). My main disappointment in the movie was in knowing that people already have a fundamentally uneducated view of Astronomy, Physics, and Mysticism, and this movie exacerbates the ignorance already out there.

The planet Mars, which is further away from the sun than Earth, is depicted as a hot desert planet requiring every race to romp around shirtless or in wispy strands of clothing. In reality, Mars is a much colder planet than Earth–with temperatures of (on a balmy summer day) around 50 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 60 degrees at night. Probably not fashionable to wear loincloths there. Of note, the advanced technology used in John Carter (ships that float on light, laser weapons, teleportation) also seems incompatible with Roman armor and sword-fighting swash-buckling armies.

The first violation of science, though, happens when John Carter arrives on Mars. He can breathe. With no help. Just normal breathing. In an atmosphere that has virtually no oxygen (it’s 95% carbon dioxide–deadly to humans). Really. Better than that, though, he is able to understand Martian dialect by drinking water from the planet. I’m not sure how we are supposed to buy that, but the good news is, you only have to believe that part if you can get past there being an alien race on Mars that is human (but not human?), has technology we can only dream of, and has built vast cities and flying ships on the planet never seen by earthlings with even rudimentary telescopes.

Apparently, there is a special laser power derived from the gods, that is somehow related to the nine planets in the solar system (of which there are only 8–Pluto was decidedly down-graded from its planet status in 2006 and was not yet discovered when the original John Carter story was written). It is never explained how this power works, what it is, how it came to be, or why the alien race that created it did not realize there are only 8 planets in our solar system.

There is also a super-speed creature that looks like a giant green salamander with a face like a frog that has mated with a bulldog and the Incredible Hulk, and it barks like a golden retriever. It is supposed to be for comic relief, but it is really just a creepy… thing. The dog-frog is minor, though, compared to the idea John Carter, who is only familiar with Earth technology from 1886, is not only able to master alien technology and defeat an invasion on another planet, but also has the political and moral fortitude to understand why there is a war on Mars (that has allegedly waged for a thousand years, unnoticed) and is able to navigate all the social and sociopolitical quagmires and choose whose side is correct within a day of his arriving there. A day. Even Gandhi wasn’t that good.

There is nothing in the film that could not have been corrected with even just sort-of decent writing, but it is so boring and stupid (the writing, I mean; the movie is still fun eye-candy) and filled with so much Altruism and mysticism it is hard to stomach (“Until you fight for others… {dramatic pause} …you will always be alone”–or something like that).

I am sure most people will like the movie and it will do well enough for an equally intelligence-sucking sequel, but I really hope it doesn’t. Rent Iron Man again instead, or Gladiator. They fill the same niche, but are unbelievable stories told well enough that they don’t offend you or ask you to believe in things that are not only impossible… but just plain dumb.

 

 

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