Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

Consciousness is one of the biggest mysteries remaining in science, right up there with trying to figure out what Dark Matter is.  And despite all of our recent technological progress we’re still no closer to figuring out what it is.

There is, however, an interesting theory making the rounds as some people are of the belief that consciousness is a result of quantum physics.  Something that always happens, no matter what, if certain conditions are met on a quantum level.  An inevitable outcome just like how the third law of thermodynamics and a system’s natural inclination to lose energy is an inevitability.  One that explains why the cells in our body die, why stars turn into black holes, and why sub-atomic particles pop out of existence.  Could it be possible then that there’s another Universal rule out there?  One that would explain consciousness?  And if consciousness is the result of quantum effects what impact does that have on our understanding of the Universe?

As Futurism puts it, “In 2006, German physicist Bernard Haisch, known both for his studies of active stars and his openness to unorthodox science, took Penrose’s idea a big step further. Haisch proposed that the quantum fields that permeate all of empty space (the so-called ‘quantum vacuum’) produce and transmit consciousness, which then emerges in any sufficiently complex system with energy flowing through it. And not just a brain, but potentially any physical structure.”

Any physical structure?! Like what?

“Stars may be thinking entities that deliberately control their paths. Put more bluntly, the entire cosmos may be self-aware.”

We can’t really fathom that the Universe may be conscious anymore than a plant can fathom the existence of people.  It’s just so far beyond our understanding and occurring on such a wide scale that even if we did have the capacity to fathom it we’d lack the perspective required to test it and prove it.  But at the same time it does make sense.  Star formation and planet formation happen so often that surely it can’t just be occurring randomly.  Perhaps there’s a larger rhyme and reason to it.  Something governing what happens, when it happens, and how it happens.

Is the Universe conscious?  Probably not.  Are some of its larger systems exhibiting conscious like behavior because of quantum effects?  Possibly.  Will we ever know for sure?  Definitely not.

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Is the Universe conscious?

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To some people the future will always be out of our reach; impossible to predict despite the best efforts of today’s leading futurists and science fiction authors.  To others, we’re already living in it.  There are plenty of examples that could be used to help support either argument but one idea happens to work as an example for both: synthetic biology.  On the one hand, we’re starting to scratch the surface of what is possible so you could argue that the technology has already arrived.  On the other hand, the science is so new to use that we probably can’t even imagine how it will play out.

One person who may have a good idea of what is possible though is maverick pioneer Craig Venter.  Already one of the world’s leading synthetic biologists, Venter has now, for the first time, invented a machine capable of turning his own wild science fiction fantasies into a reality.

The machine is known as a DBC, a Digital to Biological Converter, and it sounds like something straight out of Star Trek.  The machine, once further refined, and shrunken down to a more manageable size so as to be commercially viable, would be capable of completing some pretty mind blowing tasks.  A homeowner could have one to print out the medications that they need to take or to create a sudden vaccine during a disease outbreak.  An astronaut could use one to print out life on another planet, thereby eliminating the need to transport already existing people across the vastness of space.  The machine could even be used to terraform a planet or to send unique alien lifeforms back to Earth from another world.  The possibilities are truly endless.

The Singularity Hub explains how it works:

“While automated DNA printers have already hit the market, the DBC takes it one step further. The machine is capable of building proteins from the genetic code (printing biological hardware, so to speak), bringing it one step closer to building living cells from scratch.

At the heart of the system is Archetype, proprietary software that optimally breaks down the input DNA sequence into more manageable short sequences to synthesize in parallel. This massively increases efficiency and reduces sequencing errors that increase with longer DNA strands.

Once assembled, the machine scans the strands for any errors before ‘pasting’ the bits back into complete DNA assembles. From there, a series of robotic arms transfer the DNA from module to module, automatically adding reagents that turn the synthetic genes into functional proteins.”

Obviously there is still a lot more work that needs to be done before we start seeing DBC’s on every street corner.  And if the struggles of the 3-D printing industry have taught us anything it’s that printing on demand isn’t as widely a sought after convenience as one might have imagined.  But then again, having the ability to print out your own medicine and vaccines could change that.  As could its ability to help us colonize space.

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Is the DBC the Greatest Idea Ever?


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I can only imagine how incredible it must have been to be alive when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon.  My generation hasn’t had that one singular moment where the entire world stood together in awe and marveled at a feat of modern ingenuity.  But just because we’re no longer paying attention that doesn’t mean the innovation has stopped.  It’s just shifted, from NASA and government sponsorship, to Space X and the private sector.  And based on Space X’s progress of late, that’s a good thing.

That’s because this past week they successfully launched reusable rockets on successive days for the first time.  Overall this marks their 13th successful launch, their 8th at sea, and their 9th in a row.  But the biggest news of all, was not just that Space X completed two successful launches within 48 hours.  It’s how they did it.

As the Verge reported:

“Today’s Falcon 9 was a new one sporting larger, upgraded titanium hypersonic grid fins. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that these are made out of a single piece of cast and cut titanium, and that they can withstand the heat of reentry without shielding. After the launch, Musk tweeted: ‘New titanium grid fins worked even better than expected. Should be capable of an indefinite number of flights with no service.’”

Musk is known for making bold statements but he’s also known for backing them up.  If he’s claiming that it’s now possible to have an indefinite number of flights with no service we’d have to take that statement at face value.  And if that’s true that’s a pretty remarkable feat of engineering, one that should drastically reduce the cost of flying to space even further.

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Is Space X’s reusable rocket the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Prepare to have your mind blown yet again for we may have finally figured out what dark matter is.  And we have the burgeoning field of superfluids to thank.

As Science Alert explains:

Superfluids are a form of cold, densely packed matter that has zero friction and viscosity, and can sometimes become a Bose-Einstein condensate, referred to as the ‘fifth state of matter’.  And as strange as they sound, superfluids are starting to appear more accessible than ever before, with researchers announcing just last week that they were able to create light that acts like a liquid – a form of superfluid – at room temperature for the first time.  The more we come to understand superfluids, the more physicists are willing to entertain the idea that they could be far more common in the Universe than we thought.”

Common enough to help us define what dark matter is?  Perhaps.

That’s the latest theory, at least, as put forth by University of Pennsylvania professor Justin Khoury and Princeton’s Lasha Berezhiani.  Essentially what they’re proposing is that Dark Matter isn’t just one phenomenon but rather a conglomeration of two different properties, one that takes hold on a micro scale, the scale of individual galaxies, and one that appears on a macro scale, when much larger structures are in play.

Basically, what they’re saying is that Dark Matter could be both a superfluid and weakly interacting ordinary particles at different times, holding galaxies together while also allowing ordinary matter to operate within the confines of that galaxy.  Which is why our calculations have always befuddled us up to this point.  We were looking for one explanation for all the unaccounted for matter in the Universe, for whatever undetectable force it was that was exerting gravitational influence on the structure of galaxies and the orbits of celestial objects within those galaxies but in vastly different ways.  If Dark Matter can behave differently on the macro and micro levels that could be the explanation that we were looking for.

As Science Alert puts it, “The idea is that the ‘halos’ of dark matter that exist around individual galaxies create the conditions necessary to form a superfluid – the gravitational pull of the galaxy ensures that it’s densely packed, and the coldness of space keeps the temperature suitably low.  Zoom out to a larger scale, and this gravitational pull becomes too weak to form a superfluid.”

Essentially, “The key here is that the existence of superfluid dark matter could explain the strange behaviors of individual galaxies that gravity alone can’t explain – it could be creating a second, as-yet-undefined force that acts just like gravity within the dark matter halos surrounding them.”

What could that as-yet-undefined force be?  Sound waves perhaps?

“When you disturb an electric field, you get radio waves, and when you disturb a gravitational field, you get gravitational waves. When you disturb a superfluid? You get phonons (sound waves), and this extra force could work in addition to gravity.”

If that’s true and the reason why Dark Matter has proven to be so elusive up to this point is because it’s really a superfluid most of the time then it may stand to reason that superfluids are far more prevalent throughout the Universe than we had imagined.  In fact, it may even be possible that the Universe itself is just one giant superfluid.

As Science Alert reported:

“’Recently, more physicists have warmed to the possibility of superfluid phases forming naturally in the extreme conditions of space,’ Jennifer Ouellette explains for Quanta Magazine.

“Superfluids may exist inside neutron stars, and some researchers have speculated that space-time itself may be a superfluid.”

I can get on board with this theory.  After all, I’ve always wondered what space was made up of.  It appears as total nothingness but I never believed that you could truly have nothing.  You’d have to have something.  And the superfluid explanation of space-time itself seems to fit.

Mind blown yet?


Have we finally figured out what Dark Matter is?

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We knew the human brain was special.  A remarkable information processing machine that we don’t fully understand.  Not yet, at least.  There was always the hope, though, that one day we might be able to figure out how it worked.  To figure out which part of the brain was responsible for which actions so that we might one day hope to reverse engineer it and then use that knowledge to create artificial intelligence that could mirror its properties.  However, a new mind-boggling discovery may be a damper on those plans.

As I Fucking Love Science puts it:

“The human brain is a convoluted labyrinth of passages in constant flux – routes are being created, strengthened, and deconstructed on a daily basis. On top of this, there are billions of neurons communicating with each other all day, every day via these ever-changing passages. At their junctions, there are synapses – about 1 quadrillion of them. If this all sounds complicated enough, then add a mind-boggling 11 dimensions to the mix.”

That’s right.  We just discovered that the human brain processes information in 11 dimensions!  11!!!  How do we know this?

According to Pionic, “Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.

The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.”

We can barely comprehend three dimension on a daily basis.  How in the world are we going to analyze 11 dimensions?!  I have no idea but I do find it interesting that the precise number of dimensions that the brain was found to process information in is 11.  After all, that’s the same number of dimensions that exist in the Universe according to String Theory.  Is this purely a coincidence?  Or a mathematical inevitability predicated on the design limitations of information processing networks whether they be individual brains or entire universes?

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Have we finally figured out how the brain works?  And for that matter, the Universe?

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In the ground breaking book What Technology Wants, Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly puts forth the theory that, in a way, technology is alive, more of an inevitable force with its own desires than just a benign by-product of human evolution.  He refers to the sum total of technology and all it entails as the Technium.

One of the key traits of the Technium is the rise of networks.  Just like how tissue can accomplish more than individual cells, networks of inter-connected humans can accomplish more than individual people.  Wikipedia, eBay, and YouTube, are all examples of shared communicative spaces that have thrived on the Internet whereas in the pre-Internet era we couldn’t have fathomed that people would edit encyclopedia pages for free, buy cars from strangers, or create countless amateur videos that others would actually want to watch.

So the question that technologists like Kelly struggle with is what comes next for the Technium?  If the most popular websites today are places that bring us closer together in ways we never could have imagined in the past what does the future hold?

The most popular answer is that what comes next will be a super network.  A global hive mind that would let us somehow communicate with one another on a global scale in real time.  A global brain of sorts with the various nodes of the internet acting in much the same way as neurons in the human brain, processing information and forming valuable connections.  However, when I think of a global brain I think of something else entirely.  More of a threat assessment lab than a hive mind.

What I’m imagining is a system capable of sorting through all of the data created on a daily basis and then making informed decisions off of that data.  A system capable of monitoring weather patterns, ocean currents, ice drifts, and the such to analyze the environment.  Why waste time debating climate change when a global brain could just end the debate once and for all and then tell us exactly what we need to do to fix it.

Or imagine a system capable of monitoring satellite imagery for crime monitoring or disaster relief.  If there’s an issue anywhere in the world, whether it’s a growing protest movement or a natural disaster like a mud slide, Earthquake, or sink hole, the system could tell us right away what areas are in need of relief and repair.  Better yet it could even help us coordinate our disaster relief efforts.  Making sure that the affected areas got the help that they needed.  The system could even monitor outer space, keeping an eye out for asteroids or other space debris that could pose a problem, acting as a sort of global defense system.

In short, what I’m imagining is a global system, free of human control, capable of acting autonomously in the best interests, not of itself, or just one group of people, but rather, in the best interests of the planet itself.   Forming connections, drawing insights, and spreading ideas that benefited us all.  Doing anything and everything in its power to keep us safe whether that’s monitoring and quarantining disease outbreaks or monitoring online chatter to prevent terrorist attacks.  A global brain programmed with just one basic instinct: survival for all.

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Is a global brain the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Earlier this year I wrote about Asgardia, the world’s first space nation.  More than just a science fiction fantasy this collection of like-minded individuals was determined to create an actual nation in space, one that would be taken seriously, have voting rights in the United Nations, and even compete in the Olympics.  Their primary objective was a noble one: to protect the Earth from asteroids and other space debris and ensure access to space to those individuals who belong to countries that don’t have their own space programs.

Some of Asgardia’s plans may seem a little bit far out such as their plan to create their own currency and 13 month long calendar with an extra month added in between June and July.  While other initiatives, such as their upcoming Satellite launch that will piggyback on an upcoming mission to the International Space Station and test the viability of space based data storage has some merits.  Even if it could be used to store data illegally, free from Earthly regulations.

But regardless of what you think about Asgardia so far (full disclosure: I’m an Asgardian, one of the first 100,000 to sign up for citizenship!) you’d have to admit that they’ve really stepped up their game lately and taken things to the next level by announcing plans to create an actual space station that would orbit the Moon!

Is this colony feasible or just a pie in the sky moonshot?  That remains to be seen.  The International Space Station is great but it can only house a few astronauts at a time.  Mankind hasn’t even gone back to the moon since 1972 yet alone made progress on building a space station there.  Although China is now reporting plans to go there in 2018 to try to plant potatoes Matt Damon style.  We’re basically relative amateurs though when it comes to conducting operations in space so how likely is it that a collection of actual amateurs would be able to create an actual working space station?  Especially when Elon Musk isn’t even involved in the project!

That’s not to say that it can’t be done though.  Based on how quickly Asgardia has been moving towards statehood and how effectively they were able to follow through on their first promise of launching a satellite there is definitely the sense that they know what they are doing and will stop at nothing to ensure that success is met.  For all of our sakes let’s hope that the trend continues.  Space vacation 2020 here I come!

Is Asgardia’s space station the Greatest Idea Ever?

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