Alien Hunters Still Thinking Inside The Box (or Dyson Sphere)

As those who are familiar with my writing already know, I have long thought that the SETI program was highly illogical, for a number of reason, some of which are outlined here and here.

To summarize, it is the height of anthropomorphic and unimaginative thinking to assume that ET will evolve just like we did and develop radio technology at all.  Even if they did, and followed a technology evolution similar to our own, the era of high-powered radio broadcasts should be insignificant in relation to the duration of their evolutionary history.  In our own case even, that era is almost over, as we are moving to highly networked and low-powered data communication (e.g. Wi-Fi), which is barely detectable a few blocks away, let alone light years.  And even if we happened to overlap a 100-year radio broadcast era of a civilization in our galactic neighborhood, they would still never hear us, and vice versa, because the signal level required to reliably communicate around the world becomes lost in the noise of the cosmic microwave background radiation before it even leaves the solar system.

So, no, SETI is not the way to uncover extraterrestrial intelligences.

Dyson Sphere

Some astronomers are getting a bit more creative and are beginning to explore some different ways of detecting ET.  One such technique hinges on the concept of a Dyson Sphere.  Physicist Freeman Dyson postulated the idea in 1960, theorizing that advanced civilizations will continuously increase their demand for energy, to the point where they need to capture all of the energy of the star that they orbit.  A possible mechanism for doing so could be a network of satellites surrounding the solar system and collecting all of the energy of the star.  Theoretically, a signature of a distant Dyson Sphere would be a region of space emitting no visible light but generating high levels of infrared radiation as waste.  Some astronomers have mapped the sky over the years, searching for such signatures, but to no avail.

Today, a team at Penn State is resuming the search via data from infrared observatories WISE and Spitzer.  Another group from Princeton has also joined in the search, but are using a different technique by searching for dimming patterns in the data.

I applaud these scientists who are expanding the experimental boundaries a bit.  But I doubt that Dyson Spheres are the answer.  There are at least two flaws with this idea.

First, the assumption that we will continuously need more energy is false.  Part of the reason for this is the fact that once a nation has achieved a particular level of industrialization and technology, there is little to drive further demand.  The figure below, taken from The Atlantic article “A Short History of 200 Years of Global Energy Use” demonstrates this clearly.

per-capita-energy-consumption300

In addition, technological advances make it cheaper to obtain the same general benefit over time.  For example, in terms of computing, performing capacity per watt has increased by a factor of over one trillion in the past 50 years.  Dyson was unaware of this trend because Moore’s Law hadn’t been postulated until 1965.  Even in the highly corrupt oil industry, with their collusion, lobbying, and artificial scarcity, performance per gallon of gas has steadily increased over the years.

The second flaw with the Dyson Sphere argument is the more interesting one – the assumptions around how humans will evolve.  I am sure that in the booming 1960s, it seemed logical that we would be driven by the need to consume more and more, controlling more and more powerful tools as time went on.  But, all evidence actually points to the contrary.

We are in the beginning stages of a new facet of evolution as a species.  Not a physical one, but a consciousness-oriented one.  Quantum Mechanics has shown us that objective reality doesn’t exist.  Scientists are so frightened by the implications of this that they are for the most part in complete denial.  But the construct of reality is looking more and more like it is simply data.  And the evidence is overwhelming that consciousness is controlling the body and not emerging from it.  As individuals are beginning to understand this, they are beginning to recognize that they are not trapped by their bodies, nor this apparent physical reality.

Think about this from the perspective of the evolution of humanity.  If this trend continues, why will we even need the body?

Robert Monroe experienced a potential future (1000 years hence), which may be very much in line with the mega-trends that I have been discussing on theuniversesolved.com: “No sound, it was NVC [non-vocal communication]! We made it! Humans did it! We made the quantum jump from monkey chatter and all it implied.” (“Far Journeys“)

earthWe may continue to use the (virtual) physical reality as a “learning lab”, but since we won’t really need it, neither will we need the full energy of the virtual star.  And we can let virtual earth get back to the beautiful virtual place it once was.

THIS is why astronomers are not finding any sign of intelligent life in outer space, no matter what tools they use.  A sufficiently advanced civilization does not communicate using monkey chatter, nor any technological carrier like radio waves.

They use consciousness.

So will we, some day.

Grand Unified Humanity Theory

OK, maybe this post is going to be a little silly – apologies in advance.  I’m in that kind of mood.

Physicists recently created a fascinating concoction – a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) that was stable at a temperature 50% higher than critical.  Check out this phys.org article with the deets.  In this bizarre state of matter, all particles act in unison, entangled, as if they were collectively a single particle.  Back in Einstein’s day, BECs were envisioned to be composed of bosons.  Later, theory predicted and experiments demonstrated fermions, and ultimately, atoms.

bose185A comparison is made to an analogous process of getting highly purified water to exist at temperatures above boiling point.  It seems that phase transitions of various types can be pushed beyond their normal critical point if the underlying material is “special” in some way – pure, balanced, coherent.

Superfluids.  Laser light.

It reminds me of the continuous advances in achieving superlative or “perfect” conditions, like superconductivity (zero resistance) at temperatures closer and closer to room.  I then think of a characteristic that new agers ascribe to physical matter – “vibrational levels.”

Always connecting dots, sometimes finding connections that shouldn’t exist.

Given the trend of raising purity, alignment, and coherence in conditions closer and closer to “normal” transitions and scales, might we someday see entangled complex molecules, like proteins?  BECs of DNA strands?

Why stop there?  Could I eventually be my own BEC?  A completely coherent vibrationally-aligned entity?  Cool.  I’ll bet I would be transparent and could walk through doors.

And what if science could figure out how to create a BEC out of all living things?  Nirvana.  Reconnecting with the cosmic consciousness.

Grand Unified Humanity Theory.

The Power of Intuition in the Age of Uncertainty

Have you ever considered why it is that you decide some of the things that you do?

Like how to divide your time across the multiple projects that you have at work, when to discipline your kids, what to do on vacation, who to marry, what college to attend, which car to buy?

The ridiculously slow way to figure these things out is to do an exhaustive analysis on all of the options, potential outcomes and probabilities.  This can be extremely difficult when the parameters of the analysis are constantly changing, as is often the case.  Such analysis is making use of your conscious mind.

The other option is to use your subconscious mind and make a quick intuitive decision.

We who have been educated in the West, and especially those of us who received our training in engineering or the sciences, are conditioned to believe that “analysis” represents rigorous logical scientific thinking and “intuition” represents new age claptrap or occasional maternal wisdom.  Analysis good, intuition silly.

This view is quite inaccurate.

According to Gary Klein, ex-Marine, psychologist, and author of the book “The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work,” 90% of the critical decisions that we make are made by intuition in any case.  Intuition can actually be a far more accurate and certainly faster way to make an important decision.  Here’s why…

Consider the mind to be composed of two parts – conscious and subconscious.  Admittedly, this division may be somewhat arbitrary, but it is also realistic.

The conscious mind is that part of the mind that deals with your current awareness (sensations, perceptions, memories, feelings, fantasies, etc.)  Research shows that the information processing rate of the conscious mind is actually very low.  Tor Nørretranders, author of “The User Illusion”, estimates the rate at only 16 bits per second.  Dr. Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia estimates the conscious mind’s processing capacity to be little higher at 40 bits per second.  In terms of the number of items that can be retained at one time by the conscious mind, estimates vary from 4 – 7, with the lower number being reported in a 2008 study by the National Academy of Sciences.

Contrast that with the subconscious mind, which is responsible for all sorts of things: autonomous functions, subliminal perceptions (all of that data streaming in to your five sensory interfaces that you barely notice), implicit thought, implicit learning, automatic skills, association, implicit memory, and automatic processing.  Much of this can be combined into what we consider “intuition.”  Estimates for the information processing capacity and storage capacity of the subconscious mind vary widely, but they are all orders of magnitude larger than their conscious counterparts.  Dr. Bruce Lipton, in “The Biology of Belief,” notes that the processing rate is at least 20 Mbits/sec and maybe as high as 400 Gbits/sec.  Estimates for storage capacity is as high as 2.5 petabytes, or 2,500,000,000,000,000.

Isn’t it interesting that the rigorous analysis that we are so proud of is effectively done on a processing system that is excruciatingly slow and has little memory capacity?

Whereas, intuition is effectively done on a processing system that is blazingly fast and contains an unimaginable amount of data. (Note: as an aside, I might mention that there is actually significant evidence that the subconscious mind connects with powerful data and processing elements outside of the brain, which only serves to underscore the message of this post)

Kind of gives you a little more respect for intuition, doesn’t it?

In fact, that’s what intuition is – the same analysis that you might consider doing consciously, but doing it instead with access to far more data, such as your entire wealth of experience, and the entire set of knowledge to which you have ever been exposed.

Sounds great, right?  It might be a skill that could be very useful to hone, if possible.

But the importance of intuition only grows exponentially as time goes on.  Here’s why…

Eddie Obeng is the Professor at the School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, HenleyBusinessSchool, in the UK.  He gave a TED talk which nicely captured the essence of our times, in terms of information overload.  The following chart from that talk demonstrates what we all know and feel is happening to us:

Image

The horizontal axis is time, with “now” being all the way to the right.  The vertical axis depicts information rate.

The green curve represents the rate at which we humans can absorb information, aka “learn.”  It doesn’t change much over time, because our biology stays pretty much the same.

The red curve represents the rate at which information is coming at us.

Clearly, there was a time in the past, where we had the luxury of being able to take the necessary time to absorb all of the information necessary to understand the task, or project at hand.  If you are over 40, you probably remember working in such an environment.  At some point, however, the incoming data rate exceeded our capacity to absorb it.  TV news with two or three rolling tickers, tabloids, zillions of web sites to scan, Facebook posts, tweets, texts, blogs, social networks, information repositories, big data, etc.  For some of us, it happened a while ago, for others; more recently.  I’m sure there are still some folks who live  simpler lives on farms in rural areas that haven’t passed the threshold yet.  But they aren’t reading this blog.  As for the rest of us…

It is easy to see that as time goes on, the ratio of unprocessed incoming information to human learning capacity grows exponentially.  What this means is that there is increasingly more uncertainty in our world, because we just don’t have the ability to absorb the information needed to be “certain”, like we used to.  Some call it “The Age of Uncertainty.”  Some refer to the need to be “comfortable with ambiguity.”

This is a true paradigm shift.  A “megatrend.”   It demands entirely new ways of doing business, of structuring companies, of planning, of living.  In my “day job”, I help companies come to terms with these changes by implementing agile and lean processes, structures, and frameworks in order for them to be more adaptable to the constantly changing environment.  But this affects all of us, not just companies.  How do we cope?

One part to the answer is to embrace intuition.  We don’t have time to use the limited conscious mind apparatus to do rigorous analysis to solve our problems anymore.  As time goes on, that method becomes less and less effective.  But perhaps we can make better use of that powerful subconscious mind apparatus by paying more attention to our intuition.  It seems to be what some of our most successful scientists, entrepreneurs, and financial wizards are doing:

George Soros said: “My [trading] decisions are really made using a combination of theory and instinct. If you like, you may call it intuition.”

Albert Einstein said: “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you, and you don’t know how or why.”  He also said: “The only real valuable thing is intuition.”

Steve Jobs said: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

So how do the rest of us start paying more attention to our intuition?  Here are some ideas:

  • Have positive intent and an open mind
  • Go with first thing that comes to mind
  • Notice impressions, connections, coincidences (a journal or buddy may help)
  • Put yourself in situations where you gain more experience about the desired subject(s)
  • 2-column exercises
  • Meditate / develop point-focus
  • Visualize success
  • Follow your path

I am doing much of this and finding it very valuable.

Things We Can’t Feel – The Mystery Deepens

In my last blog “Things We Can’t See”, we explored the many different ways that our eyes, brains, and/or technology can fool us into seeing something that isn’t there or not seeing something that is.

So apparently, our sense of sight is not necessarily the most reliable sense in terms of identifying what is and isn’t in our objective reality.  We would probably suspect that our sense of touch is fairly foolproof; that is, if an object is “there”, we can “feel” it, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, we have a lot of the same problems with the brain as we did with the sense of sight.  The brain processes all of that sensory data from our nerve endings.  How do we know what the brain really does with that information?  Research shows that sometimes your brain can think that you are touching something that you aren’t or vice versa.  People who have lost limbs still have sensations in their missing extremities.  Hypnosis has been shown to have a significant effect in terms of pain control, which seems to indicate the mind’s capacity to override one’s tactile senses.  And virtual reality experiments have demonstrated the ability for the mind to be fooled into feeling something that isn’t there.

In addition, technology can be made to create havoc with our sense of touch, although the most dramatic of such effects are dozens of years into the future.  Let me explain…

Computer Scientist J. Storrs Hall developed the concept of a “Utility Fog.”  Imagine a “nanoscopic” object called a Foglet, which is an intelligent nanobot, capable of communicating with its peers and having arms that can hook together to form larger structures.  Trillions of these Foglets could conceivably fill a room and not be at all noticeable as long as they were in “invisible mode.”  In fact, not only might they be programmed to appear transparent to the sight, but they may be imperceptible to the touch.  This is not hard to imagine, if you allow that they could have sensors that detect your presence.  For example, if you punch your fist into a swarm of nanobots programmed to be imperceptible, they would sense your motion and move aside as you swung your fist through the air.  But at any point, they could conspire to form a structure – an impenetrable wall, for example.  And then your fist would be well aware of their existence.  In this way, technology may be able to have a dramatic effect on our complete ability to determine what is really “there.”

nanobot

But even now, long before nanobot swarms are possible, the mystery really begins, as we have to dive deeply into what is meant by “feeling” something.

Feeling is the result of a part of our body coming in contact with another object.  That contact is “felt” by the interaction between the molecules of the body and the molecules of the object.

Even solid objects are mostly empty space.  If subatomic particles, such as neutrons, are made of solid mass, like little billiard balls, then 99.999999999999% of normal matter would still be empty space.  That is, of course, unless those particles themselves are not really solid matter, in which case, even more of space is truly empty, more about which in a bit.

So why don’t solid objects like your fist slide right through other solid objects like bricks?  Because of the repulsive effect that the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the fist apply against the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the brick.

But what about that neutron?  What is it made of?  Is it solid?  Is it made of the same stuff as all other subatomic particles?

The leading theories of matter do not favor the idea that subatomic particles are like little billiard balls of differing masses.  For example, string theorists speculate that all particles are made of the same stuff; namely, vibrating bits of string.  Except that they each vibrate at different frequencies.  Problem is, string theory is purely theoretical and really falls more in the mathematical domain than the scientific domain, inasmuch as there is no supporting evidence for the theory.  If it does turn out to be true, even the neutron is mostly empty space because the string is supposedly one-dimensional, with a theoretical cross section of a Planck length.

Here’s where it gets really interesting…

Neutrinos are an extremely common yet extremely elusive particle of matter.  About 100 trillion neutrinos generated in the sun pass through our bodies every second.  Yet they barely interact at all with ordinary matter.  Neutrino capture experiments consist of configurations such as a huge underground tank containing 100,000 gallons of tetrachloroethylene buried nearly a mile below the surface of the earth.  100 billion neutrinos strike every square centimeter of the tank per second.  Yet, any particular molecule of tetrachloroethylene is likely to interact with a neutrino only once every 10E36 seconds (which is 10 billion billion times the age of the universe).

The argument usually given for the neutrino’s elusiveness is that they are massless (and therefore not easily captured by a nucleus) and charge-less (and therefore not subject to the electromagnetic force).  Then again, photons are massless and charge-less and are easily captured, to which anyone who has spent too much time in the sun can attest.  So there has to be some other reason that we can’t detect neutrinos.  Unfortunately, given the current understanding of particle physics, no good answer is forthcoming.

And then there is dark matter.  This concept is the current favorite explanation for some anomalies around orbital speeds of galaxies.  Gravity can’t explain the anomalies, so dark matter is inferred.  If it really exists, it represents about 83% of the mass in the universe, but doesn’t interact again with any of the known forces with the exception of gravity.  This means that dark matter is all around us; we just can’t see it or feel it.

So it seems that modern physics allows for all sorts of types of matter that we can’t see or feel.  When you get down to it, the reason for this is that we don’t understand what matter is at all.  According to the standard model of physics, particles should have no mass, unless there is a special quantum field that pervades the universe and gives rise to mass upon interacting with those particles.  Unfortunately, for that to have any credibility, the signature particle, the Higgs boson, would have to exist.  Thus far, it seems to be eluding even the most powerful of particle colliders.  One alternative theory of matter has it being an emergent property of particle fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.

For a variety of reasons, some of which are outlined in “The Universe – Solved!” and many others which have come to light since I wrote that book, I suspect that ultimately matter is simply a property of an entity that is described purely by data and a set of rules, driven by a complex computational mechanism.  Our attempt to discover the nature of matter is synonymous with our attempt to discover those rules and associated fundamental constants (data).

In terms of other things that we can’t perceive, new age enthusiasts might call out ghosts, spirits, auras, and all sorts of other mysterious invisible and tenuous entities.

starwarsghosts

Given that we know that things exist that we can’t perceive, one has to wonder if it might be possible for macroscopic objects, or even macroscopic entities that are driven by similar energies as humans, to be made from stuff that we can only tenuously detect, not unlike neutrinos or dark matter.  Scientists speculate about multiple dimensions and parallel universes via Hilbert Space and other such constructs.  If such things exist (and wouldn’t it be hypocritical of anyone to speculate or work out the math for such things if it weren’t possible for them to exist?), the rules that govern our interaction with them, across the dimensions, are clearly not at all understood.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t possible.

In fact, the scientific world is filled with trends leading toward the implication of an information-based reality.

In which almost anything is possible.

Things We Can’t See

When you think about it, there is a great deal out there that we can’t see.

Our eyes only respond to a very narrow range of electromagnetic radiation.  The following diagram demonstrates just how narrow our range of vision compared to the overall electromagnetic spectrum.

em_spectrum

So we can’t see anything that generates or reflects wavelengths equal to or longer than infrared, as the following image demonstrates.  Even the Hubble Space Telescope can’t see the distant infrared galaxy that the Spitzer Space Telescope can see with its infrared sensors.

(http://9-4fordham.wikispaces.com/Electro+Magnetic+Spectrum+and+light)

600px-Distant_Galaxy_in_Visible_and_Infrared

And we can’t see anything that generates or reflects wavelengths equal to or shorter than ultraviolet, as the image from NASA demonstrates at left. Only instruments with special sensors that can detect ultraviolet or x-rays can see some of the objects in the sky.

Of course, we can’t see things that are smaller in size than about 40 microns, which includes germs and molecules.

 

 

We can’t see things that are camouflaged by technology, such as the Mercedes in the following picture.

invisiblemercedes

Sometimes, it isn’t our eyes that can’t sense something that is right in front of us, but rather, our brain.  We actually stare at our noses all day long but don’t notice because our brains effectively subtract it out from our perception, given that we don’t really need it.  Our brains also fill in the imagery that is missing from the blind spot that we all have due to the optic nerve in our retinas.

In addition to these limitations of static perception, there are significant limitations to how we perceive motion.  It actually does not take much in terms of speed to render something invisible to our perception.

Clearly, we can’t see something zip by as fast as a bullet, which might typically move at speeds of 700 mph or more.  And yet, a plane moving at 700 mph is easy to see from a distance.  Our limitations of motion perception are a function of the speed of the object and the size of the image that it casts upon your retina; e.g. for a given speed, the further away something is, the larger it has to be to register in our conscious perception.  This is because our perception of reality refreshes no more than 13-15 times per second, or every 77 ms. So, if something is moving so fast that it passes by our frame of perception in less than 77 ms or so, or it is so small that it doesn’t make a significant impression in our conscious perception within that time period, we simply won’t be aware of its existence.

It makes one wonder what kinds of things may be in our presence, but moving too quickly to be observed.  Some researchers have captured objects on high-speed cameras, for which there appears to be no natural explanation.  For example, there is this strange object captured on official NBC video at an NFL football game in 2011:  Whether these objects have mundane explanations or might be hints of something a little more exotic, one thing is for certain: our eye cannot capture them.  They are effectively invisible to us, yet exist in our reality.

In my next blog we will dive down the rabbit hole and explore the real possibilities that things exist around us that we can’t even touch.

Yesterday’s Sci-Fi is Tomorrow’s Technology

It is the end of 2011 and it has been an exciting year for science and technology.  Announcements about artificial life, earthlike worlds, faster-than-light particles, clones, teleportation, memory implants, and tractor beams have captured our imagination.  Most of these things would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago.

So, what better way to close out the year than to take stock of yesterday’s science fiction in light of today’s reality and tomorrow’s technology.  Here is my take:

yesterdaysscifi

Smart Phones as Transformative Devices

I live in Southern California, where, at any point in time, about 1 out of every 2 people are staring at their phone.  As a long time iPhone owner, I have to admit that I also fall into that category.  Smart phones are simply so enticing – camera, stock ticker, weather forecast, stored music, videos, and photos, GPS, maps, email, texting, twitter, facebook, games, radio rebroadcasts, internet, newpapers, webcams, and so much more.  What’s not to love?

The internet is often hailed as a transformative invention, which it certainly was.  But it kind of pales in comparison to that Droid in your pocket.  After all, the smart phone includes the internet at your fingertips, which, by itself is transformative in how people interact.  Instead of having to call your buddy after you get home and look up the factoid that you argued about at the bar, now you can settle immediately.  But, as the web app is just one of the thousands of apps that can be stored on the phone, it stands to reason that transformative nature of the smart phone can be much more than the web.

For one thing, there is the impact on existing products and services.  Who needs GPS anymore, when you have an iPhone?  Who needs to hear terrestrial radio stations in your car when you can stream Pandora channels tailored to your interests.  Pagers? – a thing of the past.  With all of the market data available at your fingertips and mobile trading easily accessible, do we need the financial section of the newspaper any more?  Or stockbrokers?  While consulting at a large toy manufacturer recently, it was observed that people use smart phones to comparison shop on the fly.  You’re standing in front of a camera at an electronic superstore and in seconds you can determine if their competitor sells it cheaper.  Macy’s doesn’t have your size of that perfect shirt you found in the store?  Check online and find out who does.  I’m less inclined to stay at home to watch a game when I know I can keep track of my team at any time.  Don’t need to carry a pen to write anything down when I can take notes on my phone.  Shazam has saved me tons of time trying to figure out what that song was that I just heard on the radio.

But it’s not all good.

How many deaths are attributed to texting and driving?  Reuters estimates over 2000 per year and growing.  Celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan drove off the Pacific Coast Highway while texting about his dog last year.

Still, these are all relatively small impacts to our society.  The real transformation is in terms of socialization.  At a glance, you can determine who among your friends is nearby where you are dining or drinking, potentially enabling slightly higher socialization.  But, to come back to my original point, what about all of those people starting at their phones all day?  If you are at a restaurant with your family or friends, but are obsessed with twittering, you aren’t really getting much out of the social outing.  When was the last time you made eye contact with someone walking down the street?  It’s kind of difficult if one or both people are staring at the device in their hand.  Maybe you just walked past the person that could become the love of your life.  You’ll never know it.  Maybe you just passed a former colleague who knows of the perfect new job for you.  Opportunity missed.  I even think that people are losing the ability to think.  Some of the best daydreaming, the best brainstorms, occur when you are out and about and simply thinking.  That doesn’t happen much anymore.  Standing at the curb waiting for the walk sign?  Might as well check email.  Waiting for an elevator?  Might as well see what’s going on on Facebook.  Sitting at a stoplight?  Might as well see if anyone responded to my last tweet.

We are doing less reading, more microblogging.  Less thinking, more context switching.  One has to assume that this will impact ideas, innovation, creativity.

Don’t get me wrong.  The last thing I am is a Luddite.  I embrace technology, I love technology.  For $10 I can download a Groovebox app for my iPad, the equivalent of which used to cost $600 and take up rack space.  I can’t wait to “goggle in” in “Snow Crash” parlance, and experience other realities.  But I also can’t help but wonder what we have lost whenever I watch two people crossing a street collide mid-intersection because they are both texting.

Oops, got a text message, gotta run…

paristextanddrive185