Member 1467
26 entries

Contributor to project:
Marfa, US
Immortal since Jan 12, 2008
Uplinks: 0, Generation 3

Space Canon
Claire L Evans Dot Com
Crystals, Vittles, Vitals
  • Affiliated
  •  /  
  • Invited
  •  /  
  • Descended
  • Claire L. Evans’ project
    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    From Claire L. Evans's personal cargo

    There are two things which have deeply terrified me in recent science news. The first, as you may have heard, is that a bumper crop of some 32 "new" planets was discovered by a team of European researchers armed with a spectrograph called HARPS, or High Accuracy Radial velocity Planetary Searcher. The second is that Israeli scientists have made a robot small enough to crawl through human veins.

    The offending nanobots.

    Why do these things strike horror in my usually demure heart? Because I see the approaching future as an exercise in coming to terms with both the macrocosm and the microcosm. We have spent most of our time as a technological race making, and interfacing with, approximately people-sized objects: other people, tools, cars, industrial machines, personal computers. This world of people-sized functionality and people-sized ideas has always been a delusion of our people-centric worldview and a necessary effect of our people-sized needs. However, as we approach a future with sharper spikes in technological change, and as our science makes increasingly audacious discoveries about this cavernous universe of ours, we'll see our working intellectual environment revert to its more natural scale. That is, the scale of physics and of the Universe, of the forces which drive electrons in their dervish spin and the forces which dictate the universe's acceleration, of the machinations of molecules and the movements of galaxies — of the incomprehensibly small (5 million human genomes could happily dance on the head of a pin, after all) to the incomprehensibly huge, which together represent the overwhelming bulk of the physical reality we're daily immersed in.

    On one side of the spectrum, the knobbed, buttoned, handled, and human-scale tools we're accustomed to will, as nanotechnology evolves, dwindle out of reach into a smallness that borders on abstraction. And, on the other side, we'll see our closely-held Laws of Nature, once designed to explain pedestrian aspects of everyday physical existence (things falling down), bloom into complex, distinctly non-personal systems of knowledge which will begin to encompass an entire universe of things we are incapable relating to — dark matter, energy, gravity waves, unifying "Theories of Everything." We're going to experience a dramatic shock of perspective, like someone casually peering into a hole only to realize, with an awful wrenching of the gut and a quick jump backwards, that it's thousands of feet deep.

    Maybe it's my sturdy sci-fi diet, but this is the way I've come to understand the future. Undoubtedly, this is why infinitesimal vein-crawling robots and distant new life-bearing planets terrify me with equal existential vigor. Why is it that the very large and the very small both strike such visceral feeling in the feeble human Id? Is it because we're anthropocentric, tending to understand things in convenient multiples of ourselves: distance in feet, or time in terms of lifespans and generations (even the humble second handily spans the length of a heartbeat)? When I try to visualize a great height, I often think of how many of me standing on each others' shoulders it might encompass; we often simplify distances by imagining how many people holding hands (or how many hot dogs lain end to end) it would take to broach them.

    Perhaps. As Natalie Angier more eloquently puts it in her excellent science-for-curious-adults primer The Canon, "we have evolved to view life on a human scale, to concern ourselves almost exclusively with the rhythm of hours, days, seasons, years, and with objects we can readily see, touch, and count on, because those are what we have to work with, those are the ambient utensils with which we must build our lives."

    Artist's rendering of the potentially offending new planets.

    At the same time, tiny things fascinate us, from grains of rice daubed with tiny penmanship to the whirling stew of molecules that make the world. And extremely large things awe and humble us, often in life-changing ways. Swimming in the ocean and feeling its tenebrous depths below, gazing at the vast night sky, momentarily getting a sense of the thingness of a thing we hold: it's these momentary glimpses of realization into the small and huge that help us to delineate the teetering edges of our personal reality, our oscillating context, which is in that ballpark between a microbe and a solar system. Ultimately, though, unless we're microbiologists or cosmologists, we're not yet accustomed to dealing with the macro and micro in either an intimate, nor a long-term way.

    And this time, as the nanorobots and new planets march towards our quotidian life, pregnant with possibility, the movie posters warn us, it's personal. Those Israeli nanobots, made of silicone and metal, will be biocompatible, meaning they could live inside our bodies indefinitely — essentially becoming part of us. Sayeth the scientist at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, "we hope the robot will be able to travel through a blood vessel, the digestive tract or the lungs, delivering targeted medicines to specific locations, clearing blockages, performing biopsies, or placed inside a shunt to drain body fluids from clogged areas."

    Bodily fluids — about as personal as it gets. To these tiny medical stewards, we will be a huge environment, a self-contained world with its own set of physical parameters, forces, and mysteries; for its host, the nano-robot is a speck of perspective in the blood, ready at any moment to evoke the boundless, microscopic world we normally utterly ignore. And at the other side of this scale, a brood of new, Jupiter-sized planets serves to remind us of an equally absurd, mind-blowing truth — that our world, our bodies, and even the nano-robots living inside them are all equally small in the larger scale of the universe.

    Wed, Jan 13, 2010  Permanent link

      RSS for this post
      Promote (6)
      Add to favorites (5)
    Create synapse

    Fast T     Thu, Jan 14, 2010  Permanent link
    Beautifuly written post. I am reminded of a passage I recently read in John Scalzi's Old Man's War, where the (augmented) human soldiers face in battle an intelligent race with teeming culture and technology. After beating their fleet in space they land on that race planet and stomp them to death, realizing the other race is only two inches high. That is when horror first strikes the protagonist. Indeed, it is when our scale-based perceptions and conventions challenged that we come to grips with the transitory element in forming perceptions at all. Yet, it seems to me that we gained some substantial adaptation skills in challenging ourselves thus. To relate to one of the examples you use, i think no longer of hight in terms of 'how many me' but 'how many stories', a "measure" that wasn't even relevant not so long ago. At large, it seems to me that as long as we 'reside' in our current bodies, our perceptions will be conditioned to an extent by that body's size (and durance, and biology, and so on). With it, as Xaos put it in Montevideo (part 10) , we enjoy a fragile freedom stemming of our openness, that makes the tension of how we are so interesting.
    rene     Fri, Jan 15, 2010  Permanent link
    Great post! Check out this amazing soliloquy written by B-movie director Jack Arnold as the epilogue for his 1957 movie The Incredible Shrinking Man:

    I was continuing to shrink, to become... what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close - the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man's own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man's conception, not nature's. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!
    folkert     Sat, Jan 16, 2010  Permanent link
    One of my favorite passages from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

    The G'Gugvuntts and the Vl'hurgs Were two species which existed in the distant past, a very great distance from the Milky Way galaxy. The G'Gugvuntt were enemies of the Vl'hurgs, and these strange and warlike beings are on the brink of an interstellar war, because of an insult uttered by the G'Gunvuntt leader to the mother of the Vl'hurg leader. They were meeting for the last time, and a dreadful silence filled the air as the Vl'hurg leader was challenging the G'Gunvuntt leader to retract the insult. At the precise moment, the phrase "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle" (muttered by Arthur Dent to himself, which for some strange reason was carried by a freak wormhole in space back in time to the farthest regions of the universe where the G'Gunvuntts and the Vl'hurgs lived) filled the air, which in the Vl'hurg tongue was the most dreadful insult imaginable. It left them no choice but to declare war on the G'Gunvuntts, which went on for a few thousand years and decimated their entire galaxy.

    After millennia of battle the surviving G'Gugvuntt and Vl'hurg realised what had actually happened, and joined forces to attack the Milky Way in retaliation. They crossed vast reaches of space in a journey lasting thousands of years before reaching their target where they attacked the first planet they encountered, Earth. Due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was swallowed by a small dog.
         Sun, Feb 7, 2010  Permanent link
    I like how people of dem olden days realized they had to come to terms with this stuff, too. Although on a completely insane different level, they still had the idea down.

    As above, so below...

    The purpose of all rituals in ceremonial magic is to unite the microcosm with the macrocosm to join God, or gods when invoked, with the human consciousness. When such a supreme union is achieved the subject and object becomes one. This is because the magician feels that he is consciously in touch with all elements of the universe, therefore, he can control them. It may be said, the magician feels connected with the universe. This feeling intensifies the more the magician successfully practices his skills. Whenever he experiences a failure he knows that the ritual was not performed correctly.

    When feeling unison with the universe the magician knows he has reached his Higher or True Self because he has attained mastery of himself and the universe. Thus he feels his "skillful work ascends from earth to heaven and descends to earth again, and receives the power of the superiors and of the inferiors." Therefore, he "hast the glory of the whole world therefore let all obscurity flee from thee." Now the miracles are possible.

    Arthur C. Clarke's 3 laws of prediction:

    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    P.S. stoked on your show later this month if I'm still in Victoria to see it!
    meganmay     Thu, Feb 11, 2010  Permanent link
    I just read that climate change adversaries think the blizzards in NY make mockery of the whole "global warming" phenomenon...ahem...and it struck me that climate change is yet another incredibly large concept that will, in all likelihood, radically alter the course of human history. And yet again, we are almost incapable of understanding it in relation to our lifespans. Then I wondered what a civilization of immortals would do in the same situation...and now I wonder whether we will go on obliviously re-engineering ourselves, or re-engineer ourselves to conceive of next-to-oblivion.

         Fri, Feb 12, 2010  Permanent link

    That looks like within a lot of our lifetimes.