Monday, July 15, 2013

Surprised to find one of those whatever-happened-to-the-future essays on Daily Kos of all places - by a dude called Mark Sumner

Who draws parallels with the curious fact about acceleration, that "as an object approaches the speed of light... you can throw more and more energy into accelerating that object" but  "it becomes increasingly reluctant to pick up speed. Instead, that energy gets added to the mass of the object, making it even harder to accelerate. Eventually, despite any effort you might make, the object just becomes more massive, stubbornly staying short of exceeding, or even completely reaching, the speed of light"

and limits-to-growth, innovation-gets-harder-and-more-expensive type ideas

  "As John Horgan pointed out in his book The End of Science the cost of making fundamental technological discoveries has been a steady march from basement tinkers to the Large Hadron Collider. Where we could once make fundamental leaps for the cost of some polished lenses and a few pounds of chemicals, it now takes massive international efforts to move the goal line an inch. To make the kind of breakthroughs required to reach the Singularity, or clear any of the hurdles standing in its way, an investment greater than anything we’ve seen before will be required."

as well as the mystery of why we haven't heard from alien civilisations yet, given that there's millions or even billions of solar systems that could have planets that might support life.

"Maybe civilizations just … run out of steam. Maybe instead of a never-ending climb, we’re doomed to just follow an arc of our own making, right back into the ground.....  perhaps the answer to “where are they” can be derived simply from the one intelligent civilization we know. Where are they? Nowhere. They didn’t spread to the stars. They didn’t reach a technical nirvana. Instead they just … failed.... They built systems in which technical progress was too closely allied with the profit motive, and as the scale of investment increased and the prospect of gain became both more long term and speculative, they simply stalled out. Like a rocket with insufficient velocity to achieve orbit, they surged up, up, up but eventually could not move any higher, or even maintain the peak of their flight. They fell back. They used up, wore down, wore out....

 "One day going to the moon was a dream. Then it was a fact. Then it was history. Then it was a myth"

This "Moon landing as myth' idea reminded me of two things -- Daft Punk's "Contact", which I talked about at the Tomorrow Never Knows Symposium as an elegy for Space and the Western Faustian drive of a "perpetual spiritual reaching out into boundless space" (Spengler) and then I quoted not the bit that DP  sampled from Eugene Cernan on "Contact" ("there's something out there" etc etc) but what he actually said, as the last man to stand on the Moon's surface, when he climbed up the ladder into the lunar module:

“As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.

The other thing "then it was a myth" re. the Moon missions reminded me of was that when I did an interview with about Retromania, and during the course of it mentioned the space race, some idiot in the rebarbative comments section made fun of that: "how dated, he's talking about the space race" . As if the idea of Humanity pushing beyond its terrestial confines was somehow camp - not an epic civilisational project or essential spiritual imperative - but more or less on the same level as the open-necked shirt and medallion-in-a-nest-of-chest-hair.  Something that went out of style in the Seventies.

Actually the analogy is more with something like Woodstock -- the Space Race, as a locus of excitement and expectation, now regarded, with the enormous condescension of posterity, as a form of generational over-estimation - something it's embarrassing when the old folks keep banging on and on about it....


  1. These ideas sound very very tied to the present, particularly the idea that aliens haven't contacted us because they have the same problems as present day America. Reminds me of some conversations I've had at shows recently about capitalism, our society, the way people treat each other - a lot of people think that there are patterns and cycles in history and that seems bogus to me. Things are chaotic, a pattern can appear, repeat for a while, and suddenly turn into something else. It's a reflection of present society and the way we think that we only explain the part where it's repeating.

    The space race might be out of style to talk about, but so is the idea of a nuclear holocaust. I'm excited about how growing up with the internet could change ideas and beliefs for this generation, particularly in rural areas - it's possible for kids to look at so many different voices and styles of communication, rather than only their friends and a few authority figures.

    I'd also say, on a more concrete level, some of the present stagnation of music (and I'm thinking dance music) is as much due to tools as to anything else - there hasn't recently been as much of a leap as there was from tape machines to samplers, and every computer based tool (except the ones that are really hard to learn!) just makes it easier to replicate that 80s-90s method of production. That part is definitely tied to capitalism, the "need" to keep repeating, but we're still at a point where anybody can learn to program, a lot of new things could happen...

  2. Thought experiment: say you're an ET and part of a race of beings that has worked out how to traverse vast distances in space. Would you want to contact a species as dangerous and double dealing as the human race (at least as represented by our institutions and power structures.)

    Thought experiment #2: Who's to say ETs are in any way like us ie physical beings. "They" may be undetectable to our senses/instruments.