## Photons Dancing on the Head of a Match

May 1, 2014

Who cares about angels on the end of a pin? Let’s get real; how many photons are there on the end of a match?

There’s a lot of data out there to help us calculate this; one article says that the human eye can detect a candle in the dark at 30 miles. Isn’t that something? The same article says it takes at least 54 photons just for the human eye to register an event. So that match (or candle) has to get 54 photons into that fraction of your eye that actually receives and focuses the photons. But the whole eye doesn’t actually receive the photons; it’s just the black opening in the middle. The largest it ever gets is about 7 millimeters diameter, which is 38.5 square millimeters in area, or .385 square centimeters.

How many events can the human eye see in one second? If we’re looking at the match from 30 miles away, and it looks continuous, then we are receiving over 50 frames a second (though the human eye has been recorded as being able to discern and identify an image in 1/255th of a second, we’ll be conservative). If the image were less than 50 times per second, we would detect a choppiness in the image; still, overlap in the match’s photon emissions could turn a choppy image into a smooth one. But lets assume we get a continuous 54 photons, all the time, at least 50 times a second; anything less would look like a flicker off.

Now we have everything we need to calculate how many photons are coming off the head of a match!

Just put an eyeball…or just the iris, the bit that receives the light, in every spot in a 30 mile radius, add up the total number of irises, multiply by the 50 times-per-second, times the 54 photons per eyeball, and we should have the number we need.

The sphere of irises is 4*pi*r-squared. Or 4*3.14*30*30 = 11,310 square miles, or 29,292 square kilometers. Or 29,292,000,000 square meters. Or 292,920,000,000,000 square centimeters. Since each dissected eyeball (just the iris, you see) only takes up .385 square centimeters, that’s about 760,000,000,000,000 irises stuffed carefully into the perimeter of the sphere to capture all the photons.  Just as a point of interest, that’s about 50,000 times the number of human eyeballs on Earth. Guess we’ll be dissecting all the other animals, too. May as well start with fisheyes; they’re sort of gross to begin with.

Each of those eyes is gathering 54 photons at least 50 times a second, so we get to multiply the 760 million million by another 250-ish, giving us a grand total of about 190,000 million million photons off the head of a match every second. Or, just because I like a lot of zeros, 190,000,000,000,000,000 photons. Every second. From a freakin’ MATCH HEAD. We are awash in a photon bath.

Now, leave the darkness of night, and realize that when you walk outside, you are no longer looking at one tiny spot radiating onto 190 quadrillion eyes, now you have a hemisphere of 30 cubic miles of daylight radiating onto your eyeball. Well, okay, you can’t look at the hemisphere all at the same time. Your turn to do the math! How many photons are hitting your eye every second? Hint; it’s an absolute crapload of photons.

## We Are The Meteor

July 20, 2013

Not that long ago I was reading an article by Robert Zubrin, called “Carbon Emissions are Good“, where he stated an oft-repeated mantra by those who think global warming, while real, is no big deal.

It generally goes like this; “Global Warming cycles have occurred in the past, life has dealt with it, and in some cases, done even better than now due to all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere.” Zubrin writes, “while it is entirely possible that the earth may be warming — as it has done so many times in the past — there is no rational basis whatsoever to support the contention that carbon-dioxide-driven global warming would be on the whole harmful to life and civilization. Quite the contrary: All available evidence supports the contention that human CO2 emissions offer great benefits to the earth’s community of life.”

Sorry, but this is a completely false statement, and apparently Zubrin neglected to read much of the “all available evidence” he mentions. It completely ignores one of the major components to the problem. As Brian Huntley puts it, “The rate of climate change forecast for the future is 10–100 times faster than the rate of deglacial warming.” His paper, “How Plants Respond to Climate Change: Migration Rates, Individualism and the Consequences for Plant Communities” in Annals of Botany talks about the critical issue; how fast plants and animals can migrate when an environment changes too much to support the plant life.

Herbivores can’t live without the plants they eat. Plants can’t migrate themselves except through a few very slow processes, including undigested seeds, wind distribution, sticky seeds, and water and mud flows. Given a thousand years of slow warming, the natural random distribution of seeds with these mechanisms might allow plant and animal species to spread to local environments that are more habitable. Given a hundred years, the slow random redistribution of seeds means that the old environment will die out before the new one has a chance to migrate or take hold; massive extinctions of the whole food chain will occur. Plants and animals have, indeed, evolved mechanisms to allow migration, but these depend on slow, natural rates of heating and cooling, rates that allow a slow peripheral migration, not the wholesale destruction of one habitat to be replaced by another more suitable 1000 miles away. There are barriers and thermal pinch-points that can prevent a species from migrating at all.

If you were in a room quickly filling with milk, and you had no exits, Dr. Zubrin would point out how healthful the milk is for you.

Rather than the slow process of deglaciation, a climate altering event more comparable to human global warming is a giant meteor strike, resulting in climate change that occurs in weeks and lasts for decades or longer. Sure, this is the other end of the scale, but we also know for a fact that such events are quite capable of wiping out 90% of the extant species. Species have no chance to recover from such an event, or migrate to more pleasant climes.

Unfortunately, we have become the meteor.

## Billionaires of Mars

August 10, 2012

`If you could write a check for a spaceship to Mars, would you?`

That’s exactly the situation we have right now. There are over a hundred people on Earth right now with personal wealth weighing in at over \$10 billion dollars. Gates has over \$60 billion bucks available. Any one of these people with any interest at all in putting a colony on Mars, basically, owning Mars, could do so within a decade.

Robert Zubrin, an advocate of a unique mission profile, stated in an article, “…while Mars Direct might cost \$30 to \$50 billion if implemented by NASA, if done by a private outfit spending its own money, the out-of-pocket cost would probably be in the \$5 billion range.” Wow. Five billion. And his mission profile advocates bringing people back, unlike the Mars One group from the Netherlands who wants to do a one-way mission to colonize the planet; of course, now you’re paying to take enough food and infrastructure for people to stay there.

The key point of this is that, given the will of one person (one very rich person), we could be standing on Mars in 10 years time. We could be living on Mars. The Mars rover, Curiosity, just did a radiation measurement that indicated levels are “not a showstopper”. About the same as low-Earth-orbit. Woo-hoo!

And most important of all, if this rich person has a brain, they can make money on the effort. Richard Branson (\$4 billion) or Elon Musk (\$2 billion) seem to already be heading this direction, building the infrastructure to get to space on their own terms and making money at it as they go (via Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX). The Mars One people talk about turning the mission into a media extravaganza, a reality show to beat all reality shows, an advertising blitz to beat all others. What would Pepsi pay to have their logo on the first manned lander? What would the first returned samples from Mars be worth to collectors? Can you imagine what actual fossils would be worth if they find them?

And you don’t even have to spend a cent developing the rockets to get you into Earth Orbit. Elon Musk has already done the design work; you can launch 10 Falcon Heavies for a billion dollars, delivering a half-million kg of fuel and hardware to low-Earth orbit.

Let’s look at the potential returns on this for a billionaire entrepreneur;

1. It’s been suggested that a \$5-10 billion NASA X-Prize be offered for a private manned mission too Mars. Fine, but likely with lots of strings attached. Still, there it is; your entire mission paid for if you’re successful.

2. Advertising. This starts the moment you actually commit to the project. Just the televised weeding-out process for wannabee astronauts could bring in millions of dollars as a reality show. Competition between countries for seats on the rockets, Olympic fervor and excitement. That could last years. Licensing for games, the official mission logo plastered on every product on Earth, books, autographs from the team members, photo ops, speaking gigs (hey, you own those astronauts, part of the contract), product placements, donations for a variety of perks, or just donations…the list just goes on and on. If I were in advertising, I could make back the \$5 billion in the 5 years before the first rocket left the launch pad. How many million-dollar stickers could you get on the side of your lander?

3. Building the rocket to get there, assembled in Earth orbit offers more advertising, more excitement, pay-per-view.

4. The trip there, of course, would be televised. Interviews would be sold. Unlike NASA’s model, nothing is free. Perhaps a bit more reality show programming and product placement advertising. Nothing like a Mars bar when you need a break from your EVA, is there?

5. And when you land, what is that worth? Renting out the copyrighted footage from the first manned landing? Aforementioned ad-space on your hardware? Commercial breaks? The knowledge that you’ll be getting royalties off this footage for the lifetime of the copyright? And the check you got from the country (or company, or person) that paid you off so their guy would be the first on Mars?

6. Experiment space could be sold for your arrival on Mars. Personal items or human ashes carried there and buried there. Designer bacteria could be taken along and tested in the Martian environment. Designer plant species, lichen and such, patented and ready for the colonists to spread around. If the colony was set up inside one of the many known lava tubes on the planet (such as those near Pavonis Mons), with solar collectors and solar pipes channeling the light inside, the colony would be surrounded by rock and safe from radiation. Lava tubes could provide huge living quarters with very little preparation.

7. And once you’re settled? Rent out your colonists. Tell us where you want to go, what samples you want collected, where you want that pickaxe swung. We’ll hop on our Martian bicycles and go check it out. Now that you’re there, anything you sell is just a bonus for you. For that matter, rent out little rovers with cameras. Sure, it’ll take 4 to 20 minutes for Earth-commands to go back and forth, but you know folks would rent time on them. Why stop there; super-light-weight flyers can be programmed to see all sorts of interesting things.

8. Property. Oh yeah, barring international agreements which won’t really apply to you since they can’t reach you, you own Mars. You want to buy 20 acres on Mars? We’ll sell it to you with a deed. It might be underwater when Mars starts to warm up, but that’s the risk you take. Lava tubes, now those are premium property! Create your own Government for your colony and claim it all. Work out deals with Earth governments so they don’t try to steal it all back. Better yet, sell them large swaths of Mars.

9. Sell support services for other colonists and countries. Once you prove it can be done, others will follow, and you can sell some of your infrastructure services (like a communications satellite, if you left one in orbit, you can rent bandwidth. Or a berth in your colony, if the new arrival wants to rent or buy a place to stay). Once they find out you’re trying to claim Mars for yourself, well, there won’t be any lack of newbies clamoring for a piece of the action, and they’ll all be paying you rent for your existing infrastructure.

10. Propellant; assuming you’ve tapped off of some of Zubrin’s brilliant ideas for making propellant from the Martian atmosphere, you can sell that to potential customers. Hey, we have water and propellant for sale! Come as you are. We have the supplies to send you back. For a price.

11. Patents on new minerals, compounds, and materials, and if you’re very, very lucky, microfossils. Unique gemstones on Mars? Who knows. Getting them back to Earth is a problem, but once your infrastructure is in place, heck, that’s a mission you could pay for with pocket change and make your money back ten-fold. Take stamps to Mars and ship them back.

12. And it gets stranger…once your colony is pressurized to 0.5 Earth-atmosphere in 1/3rd G, it’s time to pull out your sports-wings and fly around inside your 200-meter wide lava tube (yeah…they’re huge). You get to start your very own Martian sport. Which team will you bet on? Which Earth-network is going to pay to broadcast it? And Superbowl advertising for \$4 million dollars per ad? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Okay, sure I forgot some things. Let me know. Point is, we can go to Mars now; all we need is a billionaire with a dream and a marketing team that makes sure he remains a billionaire. After all, you’ll want to have money left over for that next colony.

UPDATE: Elon Musk (the Paypal billionaire) spoke at the Mars Society Convention in Pasadena last week, and expressed his interest in colonizing Mars, and making seats available for \$500,000 a head for would-be colonists. Go, Elon! I might be too old to make the trip by the time this happens (being a spry 58 now), but at least I can make the trip vicariously! If you want to have your spirits bolstered by what he says, you can watch it here. Skip the Zubrin introduction – it’s lengthy.

## Rich People, Rich Companies, Rich Government, and Jobs

June 15, 2012

There’s a peculiar dichotomy in the discussion on “the rich” creating more jobs by getting tax cuts.

When we talk about the wealthy, we have to be aware that “taxation on the rich” takes two very different paths; one is regarding tax upon the upper-level management that’s getting paid in millions of dollars regardless of the performance of the company. The other is tax on corporate profits.

Clearly, if an individual is sitting on a pile of cash, then there is no job creation going on there. If the money is invested in stocks, it’s accomplished little more than raising that stock’s artificial value for someone else. This is not job creation. Two stock owners can buy and sell stock back and forth until the stocks have doubled in price. All they’ve succeeded in doing is tying up their profits in inflated stock prices. When the stock market is doing great, cash is being tied up to inflate the prices; this cash is not creating jobs.

Likewise, the concern about taxing profits on companies is totally irrelevant if the company is actually using their extra money to create jobs. in which case their profits will be very small and they will pay very few taxes.  If you think about it, high corporate taxes could, in fact, encourage corporations to reinvest heavily in themselves and in job creation – they maintain corporate growth, new jobs, and thus investors to jack up their own stock prices.

But if we look back over the last thirty years, the tax on the wealthy has been lower than ever so there’s been less of an incentive to dodge taxes by reinvesting in job growth without the company. The job situation is worse than ever. The government, collecting less money, has the worst deficit problem ever, escalating every year for the last 30 years or so (excepting Clinton’s time in office – we can only assume he raised taxes). The jobs that the government created by taxing the wealthy went away with their tax cuts.

Contrary to conservative beliefs, lowering taxes eliminates jobs. The government tends to spend ALL of the money they bring in, as everyone has noticed, and when they spend it, they create jobs.

So if CEOs have a pile of cash to burn, what are their choices? Sit on the cash, that’s an option. Invest in stocks, inflate stock prices, thus tying up the cash? Or expand their companies.

Expanding their companies only makes sense if there’s a demand. So in a depression or recession, there’s zero incentive, no matter how low you make their taxes, to invest in creating jobs. Think about it…put yourself in the CEO’s position. It’s pretty simple math.

So what options are we left with in  a recession? Tax breaks for the rich…no, that clearly doesn’t work. Compare unemployment when peak tax rates were  90% to current times. Pretty obvious, isn’t it? And if the government has this tax money, what do you think they’ll do with it? Put in in stocks, spend it in China on cheap labor, or make jobs for Americans?

## The Biggest Slam-dunk Against Intelligent Design Ever

November 21, 2010

The key to exposing those processes of evolution that appear completely nonsensical if attributed to an intelligent designer is to ask these two questions;

1. If God designed this, what would he likely have done? And
2. If the process of evolution produced this, what would be the end result?

A great example of this is the case of every living thing eating every other living thing just to survive (but this is not the “slam dunk” I’ve promised in the title). If I assume as a basic foundation that God is a loving, caring individual and really likes humans more than anything else, then one would have to guess that he would not design an entire ecosystem where the primary goal of each member of that system is to kill and eat one of the others. Humans are just “food” to a number of viruses, bacteria, parasites, scavengers, and large predators. While this appears to be a perfect characteristic for an evolutionary process of competitive consumption and mutation, it’s entirely moronic from the perspective of any sort of intelligent design. Add to this the fact that some vegetarian humans choose to avoid killing any other animals and it tells us that it is, in fact, possible to have an ecosystem where nothing kills anything. God was just too stupid to figure it out. There are quite literally thousands of species of scavengers and insects and plants that eat nothing but already-dead organics. Wouldn’t that be something; an ecosystem where animals would only eat each other after they died from other causes?

Of course, an evolutionist would argue that this could not stand; eventually one animal would evolve the brilliant trait of killing other animals to assure their timely death, drag the carcass off, and nibble on it only after it had decomposed to an edible state, like a pheasant hanging in front of a British butcher’s shop. Killing to eat, as you can see, is an inevitable state of evolution, not the hand of intelligent design. But this, again, assumes that an animal could naturally evolve at all without God’s thick fingers in the dough. Even if God had started with such a benevolent, non-violent system, mutation and evolution would inevitably have driven us in the direction that it has.

So, again, look at the questions; How would God design something, and how would evolution mould it?

Take genetics. There’s the obvious fact that every living thing, even viruses, use DNA, and use the same code sequences that all the other organisms do. The gene that makes haemoglobin in humans is very much like the gene that makes haemoglobin in pigs, and in fact can and has been spliced into pig DNA so that the pig had both human and pig haemoglobin coursing through its veins. The genes are just little strings of codes, and the fact that genes that do the same thing in each animal tend to be nearly identical should be a pretty obvious clue that evolution, with its accumulation of mutations, has been at work. However, the ID proponents will tell you that God has merely taken a good design and used it elsewhere, tweaking it for that particular organism.

So the ID argument is founded on the idea that God can apparently pick and choose what genes he wants to use in each animal. After all, he designed them, right? We might expect each animal to have its own unique genes, with common functions duplicated in between species as very similar genes.

But here’s the problem. If there are 5 genes in a Human, let’s just call them A, B, C, D, and E, and we compare them to their functionally equivalent genes in a muskrat, we would expect some variation between each pair of common genes in the two animals. If God can just pick and choose genes and tweak them to his heart’s content, we would expect the Human-A gene to be different from the Muskrat-A gene by some percentage, like 5%. Evolutionists would consider this 5% as an accumulation of mutations after splitting from a common ancestor. The B-gene might be 20% different, and the C-gene 50% different. And so on. God can pull genes from anywhere and do anything he wants with them. So any level of variance between two genes between two animals would be possible, right?

Wrong.

What we find is the answer to “what would evolution do?” question. If two animals descend from a common ancestor (well…they ALL do), then we would expect a certain mutation rate to occur in the genes of the each animal, a “molecular clock”. All the genes in the animal would maintain this same rate of mutation accumulation, being exposed to the same mutating environment, the same statistical distribution of unexpected change. What we would expect is that the 5 genes between human and muskrat would have roughly the same percentage difference for each pair of common genes.

This, not surprisingly, was the result of an experiment done by David Penny and published in 1985, using 5 genes which were so similar between species that they have the same name in each species (the experiment is described by Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth, page 322). Except they checked the 5 genes across a group of 11 mammals. The results were as mentioned above; for a given pair of animals, the number of mutations in similar pairs of genes were consistently close to the same percentage across all 5 pairs of genes. Other experiments since then have expanded on Penny’s work, with similar results. Incontrovertibly, it points to the FACT that each pair of animals had a common ancestor and accumulated a statistical average of mutations since the speciation event occurred.

What it does NOT show is that God picked whatever gene he felt would help the animal survive best and slap it into the animal’s DNA matrix. This would have given totally different results, with a broad variance of mutations between pairs of similar genes.

This experiment, above and beyond any other experiment I’ve read about, proves beyond a doubt that ID is bogus, and evolution suitably describes exactly what we would expect. There is no intelligent designer picking and choosing; there is only a random, statistically averaged accumulation of mutations weeded out by competition and speciation events.

If this isn’t enough of a nail-in-the-cofffin for doubters, there is the issue of viral scarring in human DNA, which not only hammers in the last nail, but buries the coffin besides. Retroviruses have a nasty habit of inserting their own code into the human DNA sequence. Estimates are that 8% of human DNA (of the 95% that’s considered “junk DNA”) is viral in nature, inserted in the past by retroviruses. This portion of our DNA is, in essence, a fossil record of every virus that humans and their animal ancestors have had to fight during their long history.

It should be pretty clear even to ID proponents that God wouldn’t go out of his way to add inert viral sequences into our own DNA. However, just the fact of its existence is not the telling point (although it isn’t a bad point by itself).

Viral scarring in DNA shows up in the same place in the gene sequence in different creatures with whom we share a common ancestor. Apes and humans, humans and rats, if you look, you find that both species carry the signature of ancient viral attacks that left a physical scar behind, inserted in exactly the same place in the equivalent gene in both animals, a viral attack that occurred before the two species went their separate genetic ways from their common ancestor. Here you have two different animals that both just happen to have the same viral-scar in the same place in the equivalent gene in both their DNA sequences; only an evolutionary process can explain this.

The fabrication and rationalization of an ID proponent could only stretch so far before it shatters into nonsensical fragments while attempting to explain these evolutionary results. The fact of evolution is sealed in genetic documentation, a book merely waiting to be opened and translated into the history it provides.

## Are There Two (or more) Living Species of Humans?

November 9, 2010

For those of you looking for some racist rant, you’re not going to find it here, despite the interesting title.

Here’s the conjecture; there’s a lot of genetic diversity in humans. Is there enough variation between humans to prevent two of them from producing fertile offspring, and if so, could they be considered two different species of humans?

Amongst the seven species in the genus Equus, we know that horses and donkeys can breed together, but always create sterile offspring (mules, that is). Likewise, zebras and donkeys have produced the “zeedonk”, which is also sterile. The definition of a species separation is that two animals from separate species cannot produce fertile offspring. Sterile mules and zeedonks, fine, but you won’t be seeing a purebred line of mules any time soon.

So theory has it that speciation occurs when two groups from one species are separated for so long that accumulated mutations in their DNA prevent them from making babies effectively, or making effective babies. It’s actually senseless to speak of two species that can crossbreed, because then, of course, by definition they are the same species.

But here is where it gets interesting. Let’s break a species up into tribes, or herds, whatever. What if tribe A can breed with tribe B, and tribe B can breed with tribe C, and C with D, and D with E. But they are spread across the country, and though there’s been some local mixing, tribe A is so genetically different from E that they can’t breed at all. Are they then different species? If a meteor came along and wiped out B, C, and D, then there would be no doubt at all that A and E were now different species. And yet, if you plopped all these tribes into a city, you would only have a statistic for “infertility” between certain members that appeared to be unable to produce fertile kids; the Zeedonks of the human species, the chance meeting of a type A and type E person.

So it’s entirely conceivable that all humans could mate with 99% of all other humans, but would qualify as a “different species” when paired up with any member of the other 1%. Thus, though the species superficially looks like a single species, you could selectively sample two humans and technically prove they are different species, even though each of them could produce viable offspring with a large and overlapping majority of other humans. Wouldn’t that be odd?

It would be interesting and informative to take a broad sampling of genes from both parents of sterile children and see if, statistically, they have a much broader genetic difference than parents of non-sterile kids. It would also be telling to know if children from mixed marriages (racial, not religious!) tend to have a higher incident of sterile offspring. And lastly, if any of this is correct at all, I would expect that the percentage of sterile offspring would be on the rise, because the world has lost its tribal nature and interracial marriages are much more common than they used to be. This should be a fairly easy statistic to locate and correlate with the evolution of travel in the world, with isolationist communities like China offering a valuable “control experiment”.

A problem with this list of data-mining “experiments” is that our society tends to associate sterility with an individual, not with his or her parents. We need to establish a data-base of genetic information that goes back a generation from the sterile individual, not assume that the cause of the problem started with him.

Of greater significance and concern is that our rush toward universal mixing, though perhaps ethically desirable, could result in such an incredible diversity of genetic mixing due to the huge population involved that the norm might become sterility. There may be a maximum population-mixing size allowable before it self-sterilizes, and forces itself into a mass speciation event. Or it could mean the opposite, and human blending will become so complete that there could never be a human Zeedonk. It’s hard to say; the rules of human society have had such a non-natural effect on the rules of evolution that they hardly apply to us anymore, despite the fact that we continue to mutate and evolve, or devolve as medical advances help keep us alive. However, I find the questions that I’ve proposed of weighty enough substance that, hopefully, someone with more intelligence and energy than myself may decide to pursue them to their natural solutions.

## Defining Self-Awareness

July 29, 2010

Anyone who has ever had to put up with the flippant attitude of a cat or the drooling devotion of a dog knows that these animals are self-aware. Each has such a distinct personality that we can’t question this fact. But defining what constitutes awareness of self has always been a terribly difficult issue. Naturally, my humble yet perfect opinion will clarify all that.

Self-awareness, I think, originates from our awareness that we need something, and then our desire to fulfill that need. You are hungry, you understand that you, not someone else is hungry, and you choose to mobilize the entity you think of as yourself (not someone else…although I have asked someone to get me a beer before) to fulfill this hunger. Self-awareness is mandatory for an animal to feed itself. It requires some planning to do this, and one might argue that the planning itself to perform the “getting food” process does not require self-awareness, although it does require an awareness of one’s external environment. I can’t argue that. However, first you have to know who it is that’s hungry (or horny, or tired, or whatever else constitutes the immediate need of your body). Personal needs mandate self-awareness.

Imagine, for a second, a bird that has no self-awareness. It senses hunger, but isn’t certain what it is that’s hungry. Is it a nearby cat? The gaping maws of its chicks? Itself? Of course, it can’t actually be confused, since that would imply an awareness that multiple options were available to its recognizable self that were confusing it. It sits motionless while its hunger kills it. Not a particularly favorable genetic mutation, I would say.

This can go pretty far down the evolutionary scale. Rats, well, certainly they have to be self aware if this argument is correct. Insects? Hmm. They get hungry, they know who it is that’s hungry, and they service that need. Self-awareness needn’t be complicated or full of emotional insight; it is just a veneer of human conceit that makes us believe only humans have souls, have an awareness of death, or feel pain or have self-awareness. Ridiculous.

So self-awareness might be as simple as a chemical reaction in a cell, or a computer program that recognizes a need and fulfills it, or maybe just a thermostat that triggers when it gets too cold. Self-awareness may be no more than a simple reaction to an internal change.

When humans speak of their own self-awareness, there are layers of contemplation and thought behind it, analyzing it, but it may be no more than a single digital toggle switch of need followed by gratification.  They add the recursive baggage of their awareness of their self-awareness. Why make it complicated?

## VOTING – The Lack of Representation for Distributed Minorities

July 23, 2010

It’s an odd character of our politics that it’s possible for a 30% minority, a hundred million Americans, to have nobody in Congress to represent their interests.

Think about it. Say you’re in a group representing 15% of the US citizens. Now, you’d think in any sort of democracy with any sense to it, 15% of the folks representing us in Congress would have this same opinion. But that’s not the way it works, unless the members of this group all happen to live in the same state. A case in point is Humanists, or non-believers in general, who do actually make up about 15% of the US. But there’s only one Representative who professes to be a nonbeliever, and no Senators at all.

It’s easy to see how this happens. If every community in the US is 1% Buddhist, 2% Jewish, 15% Humanist, 1% Wiccan, 1% Moslem, and 80% Christian, then you’re going to have a Congress that consists of 100% Christians. Likewise, if 49% of every community were gun-owners, and everyone voted, they would have zero representation in Congress.

This goes for every minority opinion. In a perfectly mixed society, the minority will not have significant representation in Congress. This isn’t always the case, of course, since societies often segregate themselves based on their interests; the Deep South is chock-full of conservatives, and the east and west coasts are liberal. Different races tend to clump together, too. So people that stick together can get represented. But those minority-opinions that distribute themselves evenly throughout the population don’t.

How could a democracy that believes in voter representation allow this, or more importantly, how could we correct this?

First of all, we could toss out the concept of districts, and thus eliminate redistricting and gerrymandering. Then create a pool of eligible candidates that post their positions and opinions on-line. Make it fairly easy to get into this pool; you want a diverse group of individuals that represent a lot of opinions. Then, let everyone in the US vote for whomever they wish to represent them.

Currently each member of the House of Representatives represents, on average, about 750,000 people. So getting back to our hypothetical solution, when any person in the pool reaches 750,000 votes, Shazam! they’re an official Representative. You’d end up with the same number of Representatives, but hey, they’d actually be representing the people who voted for them. Wouldn’t that be unusual!

Naturally, this would have a couple of bugs to work out, like how to sidestep all the irate special interests and corporations who wouldn’t be able to control the voting anymore. That’d be tough.

But we still have to figure out how to deal with those idiots in the Senate.

## Silicon Based Lifeforms vs Creationists

July 23, 2010

Ever since the ground-breaking experiments of Urey and Miller, who proved it was possible for amino acids to spontaneously arise out of a laboratory-controlled “primordial soup” of inorganic chemicals, scientists have been racing to take the next step and find out just how the amino acids can become self-replicating organic strings. The importance of this is obvious. This would give us a continuous lineage from rocks to humans. Evolution in a nutshell, a complete package end-to-end with which to torment creationists.

Unfortunately, lacking this final detail in the string of continuity, mutation, and speciation, creationists will cling to this last vestige of their delusion like a drowning man rubbing a rabbit’s foot. Of course, they will do that anyway, even with absolute proof that evolution can stand on its own, and continue to perpetuate the lie that evolution is still grounded in Lamarkian concepts. Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a Jehovah’s Witness tract knows just what I’m talking about – their sum total knowledge of evolution comes from the latest theories of the 1880s and the rants from their apparently uneducated pastors.

Even if scientists complete the experimental foundations of the RNA World, there will still remain skeptics who will blame the results on contamination from external sources, unless, of course, the carbon-based replicating organism is completely alien to anything that currently exists. But the odds of that are considered low; carbon compounds like to react with other carbon compounds in very specific ways that restrict the options available.

But why go this route? Why not select a version of life that can’t possibly be contaminated by Earthly life forms? For example, silicon (versus carbon) based life? Something that will provide incontrovertible proof that life can arise spontaneously in some of the nastiest conditions the universe can lob at us.

I’ve read a bit about the possibility of silicon-based life forms. Most people don’t think it’s possible, usually based on speculation about how silicon bonds with oxygen and can’t properly build long, strong chains like carbon does (not completely true – look up polysilanes). Most of these articles assume certain things; that oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and other low-level atoms are still going to be around for silicon to bond with, and that the temperature of the silicon-based chemistry will have to be about the same as our own. Silicon doesn’t do well at this temperature. Too hard, too short a chain, blah, blah, blah.

But to create a true silicon analog of the carbon based world, we have to eliminate the whole top line of the periodic chart (barring lithium – we need that). This might seem to be a crazy task until we look at Venus, which at a mere 600 degrees C, and with the aid of ultraviolet rays, has lost most of its hydrogen and oxygen into space. It has very little water left. However, for a silicon analog to exist, with no carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen or helium to pollute its atmosphere, we would need a fairly small planet with a surface temperature of over 1000 degrees C. Taking a look at the next row down on our periodic charts, we can see that the analog to H20 would be Li2S, oceans of dilithium sulfide (not to be confused with dilithium crystals, which are used in starships). This happens to melt at about 950 degrees C. The second row in the chart below nitrogen is phosphorus. P2 gas forms from P4 at over 800 C, which works just great for us as our analog to N2 in our own atmosphere. An atmosphere consisting mostly of phosphorus might be hard on us humans, but it’d likely be just fine for the siliconites. The analog to C02 would be SiS2, silicon sulfide.

I’m not sure how silicon would do as a chain at 1100 degrees if it was isolated from lower-level chemical elements. Probably not as well, after all, you are dealing with a valence shell that’s one shell further away from the nucleus than carbon. But once you eliminate all these reactive impurities, who’s to say?

What I’d love to do is build a nicely insulated ceramic chamber, dump a lot of these second-level elements into it, heat it up to 2000 degrees to vent off the light elements, then let it cook for a few years around 1100 degrees. Make a “freezing side” of the box at 900 degrees, and a hot side at 1150 to give it a nice thermal gradient. Add a spark-gap generator. Then watch and see what grows. Repeat Urey and Miller’s 1-week experiment, but on silicon. Would we get analog-silicon amino acids? I’d bet on it. Analog RNA? Analog life? Who knows? But it would sure be cool to find out.

## Mass-creation From the Vacuum – Heisenberg Meets the 3-body Problem

March 27, 2010

I’ve been considering the conundrum of Mass-Energy conservation and the violation of this principle in light of the Big Bang. One of my friends described this as the “elephant in the room” with regard to the law of mass-energy conservation.

So we have to wonder if there are any existing mechanics that allow violation of this law. The first one that pops to mind is the Heisenberg time-energy relationship that allows virtual particles to pop into existence from the vacuum; the shorter the time, the greater the potential mass-energy. Sadly, the brief existence is confined to a duration so short that it’s impossible to detect, although certain effects, such as the Casimir effect, strongly suggest that virtual particle interactions are quite real (look it up on Wikipedia, if you’re curious).

Now put two of these virtual particle pair-productions adjacent to each other when they pop into existence (this has to happen some tiny fraction of the time) and the 4 particles produced are suddenly involved with the chaotic 4-body problem, interacting in such a way as to acquire stability before disappearing from our universe, potentially creating any variety of subatomic particles and pairs, half matter and half antimatter.

The net result is a continuous mass-creation with high-energy particles appearing from nowhere.

Your initial response will be, “Yes, but the antiparticles are going to combine with regular particles and annihilate a mass equal to that created.” Absolutely true. However, the energy produced will not be dragged back down into the closed-loop non-existence of a virtual particle. It will be released as two high-energy photons that go zipping around the universe and adding to the overall mass-energy of the universe, adding its little contribution to the light-pressure factor of its expansion.

Perhaps Fred Hoyle’s discounted steady-state universe still has a viable solution, and perhaps if we go back in time toward a Big Bang, we will find out that this mechanism decreases the mass of the universe so that there is no Big Bang at all, just a slow and continuous chaotic production of mass energy from the vacuum.

Perhaps it starting not with a bang, but a whisper.