Friday, August 26, 2016

Earth-Like Planet Orbits Nearby Star

The recent discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri confirms the speculation, in my free online novel 2052 - The Hawking Plan, that the three-star Alpha Centauri system is a likely target for preserving human life and civilization in the event a natural or man-made disaster wipes out life on Earth.

From CNN (24 August 2016):
... researchers have confirmed the existence of a rocky planet named Proxima b orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun, according to a new study. It is the closest exoplanet to us in the universe.

Given the fact that Proxima b is within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water could exist on the surface, it may also be the closest possible home for life outside of our solar system, the researchers said.

Because of its location, the researchers hope it provides an opportunity for possible "robotic exploration in the coming centuries."

"The good news is that it is so close," study author Ansgar Reiners said. "It is not only nice for having it in our neighborhood, but it's a dream come true for astronomers if we think about follow-up observation.
My novel, 2052 - The Hawking Plan, as the title indicates, is set in the year 2052. I wrote it primarily as a vehicle to convey my predictions of "life, liberty, and technology in future decades." It was published in 2008. Here are the applicable excerpts:
“Stephen Hawking,” said Stephanie Goldenrod in a reverent tone, "The famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist who happens to be my great-grandfather, said, some fifty years ago, the human race will not survive on Earth for a thousand years. He wanted us to spread out, very fast, to Earth-like planets beyond our Solar System! He embraced human space travel!” As she said “Human space travel,” a video of Stephen Hawking floating in zero gravity appeared on the display wall.

She gazed at the video and smiled broadly. “Despite his physical limitations, my great-grandfather accepted an opportunity, in 2007, to fly in a special airplane that went to high altitudes and plunged to Earth to allow him to experience zero gravity in person! Unfortunately, by the time he passed away, human space travel had all but ceased, in favor of space probes ‘manned’ by intelligent robotic agents.

“He warned a natural disaster or human-made accident could wipe life out on a single planet."

I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years.
Unless we spread into space.
There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.
But I'm an optimist.
We will reach out to the stars.
[Stephen Hawking, Physicist and Cosmologist, 2001]

Animated charts appeared on the display wall behind her. “My Hawking Plan calls for nothing less than a massive effort to spread human civilization and genes far and wide throughout space. We’re talking about thousands of spaceships launched over a period of hundreds of years, starting by 2062, no more than ten to twenty years from today.”

As she spoke, a high-resolution satellite image of our TABB building in Orlando appeared on the display wall. Slowly the view zoomed out and all of the greater Orlando area filled the display screen. The view expanded to Florida and eastern North America, and then the entire Earth. A label appeared:

Mother Earth – Our Big Blue-Green Marble.

The image zoomed out further and faster to contain Venus and Mars, and then our Sun and Solar System. A label appeared:

Our Solar System – Our Planet Neighborhood.

The zoom-out ceased when our galaxy filled the screen. A label appeared: Our Galaxy – The Milky Way. The view shifted a few degrees and slowly started to zoom in on what, at first, seemed to be a single star. A label appeared:

Alpha Centauri – Our Nearest Neighbor Solar System. (Only Four and a Third Light Years Away).

As it zoomed in further Alpha Centauri morphed into two stars, one quite bright and the other a duller, reddish neighbor. Further zooming split the bright star in two, one whitish-yellow, and the other yellowish orange. Those two large stars, together with the tiny reddish one, made for a dramatic triple star-system.

The zoom-in slowed a bit and more detailed labels appeared. According to the text, the largest star was:

Centauri A – A Bit Larger and Brighter than Earth’s Sun.

It was in a binary partnership with:

Centauri B – A Bit Smaller and Duller than Earth’s Sun.

The smallest star was:

Proxima Centauri – A Red Dwarf.

The view panned between the three stars and then slowly zoomed in on Centauri A, showing a number of planets.

The zoom descended towards the fourth planet out from Centauri A – a “big blue-brown marble.” A label proclaimed:

Planet Hawking – Fourth Planet Out from Centauri A. (First Target for Extra-Solar Colonization).

A peninsula, similar to Florida, jutted out into the ocean. The zooming concluded with a satellite-like view of an area near the coastline. Inland were the foothills and a chain of lakes. A river flowed from the largest lake towards the ocean. The land was bare – no grass or trees – mostly brown, with some large areas of gray and black. The view morphed into a “live” video image.

As it panned towards the ground, a large hangar-like structure came into view. It was parked on a promontory between the river bank and the ocean beach. The hangar was surrounded by a park-like area of grass, bushes, and trees. Further zoom-in revealed the words:

TABB, Hawking 0001 (First Extra Solar System Human Colony, circa 2100).

The Hawking Plan logo, a stylized DNA molecule, was visible on the side of the hangar. Behind it could be seen a bright-yellow Sun, labeled: Centauri A. In the distance, lower in the sky and to the left, a second and duller-yellow-orange Sun, quite a bit smaller, was labeled: Centauri B. Far to the right and low in the sky a sharp-eyed observer could see a dull red Sun labeled: Proxima Centauri.

“The first step,” Stephanie continued, “Will be to use our authorized funding for internal studies augmented by ongoing TABB-funded university research. We need to define the parameters of human travel over awesome distances and extended times to reach well outside our Solar System. We must use our imaginations to their utmost limits to figure the best alternatives for spreading human genetics and civilization. Do we send living people, perhaps in suspended animation? Or, will it be frozen embryos to be thawed, gestated in artificial wombs, and raised and properly socialized by robot nannies? What about plants and animals? Not since Noah’s Ark has there been a task as far-reaching as our Hawking Plan.”
The novel outlines and considers three general concepts for exporting human life and civilization to an Earth-like planet. They are:

Noah’s Ark – live humans and a selection of other animals and plants in suspended animation.

Embryonic – frozen human embryos and a selection of other animals and plants. The embryos to be thawed and brought to term in artificial wombs and socialized by “nanny robots”.

Panspermia* – frozen or salted prokaryotic (bacteria) and eukaryotic (plants, animals) cells to be thawed and evolved to advanced complexity over several thousand years in robot run genetic engineering laboratories, using modern plant, animal, and human genome data as a starting point.

In the novel, the first two options are discarded due to ethical overtones of sending humans on one-way journeys to space knowing that many would likely perish.

The third, Panspermia (or, more properly, Directed Panspermia**), has no such ethical overtones. In addition, the target planet, while "Earth-like", would most likely be somewhat different from Earth. If it was larger or smaller than Earth, the attraction of gravity would be greater or lesser. The solar radiation spectrum at the surface of the planet would vary, depending upon the size and age of their Sun and other factors. There could be more ultraviolet, or less, and more infrared, or less. The atmosphere would likely differ somewhat in percentages of nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases, etc. Thus, the "Panspermia" plan starts with basic cells and intends to tailor the plant, animal, and human genomes during a 6,000 to 10,000 year period of "rapid assisted evolution", to better match actual conditions.

On the other hand, in the novel, some fiscally conservative opponents of the Hawking Plan note that the idea of planting bacteria, plant, and animal cells and using rapid assisted evolution to adapt them to a new home planet, contains echoes of the supposedly discredited theory of "Intelligent Design" to account for the origin of  life on Earth. Uh oh! Read all about it here: 2052 - The Hawking Plan

Ira Glickstein

[From Wikipedia]

*Panspermia (from Greek πᾶν (pan), meaning "all", and σπέρμα (sperma), meaning "seed") is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids, comets,[1] planetoids,[2] and, also, by spacecraft in the form of unintended contamination by microorganisms.[3][4]

Panspermia is a hypothesis proposing that microscopic life forms that can survive the effects of space, such as extremophiles, become trapped in debris that is ejected into space after collisions between planets and small Solar System bodies that harbor life. Some organisms may travel dormant for an extended amount of time before colliding randomly with other planets or intermingling with protoplanetary disks. If met with ideal conditions on a new planet's surfaces, the organisms become active and the process of evolution begins. Panspermia is not meant to address how life began, just the method that may cause its distribution in the Universe.[5][6][7]

The first known mention of the term was in the writings of the 5th century BC Greek philosopher Anaxagoras.[12] Panspermia began to assume a more scientific form through the proposals of Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1834),[13] Hermann E. Richter (1865),[14] Kelvin (1871),[15] Hermann von Helmholtz (1879)[16][17] and finally reaching the level of a detailed hypothesis through the efforts of the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius (1903).[18]
Fred Hoyle (1915–2001) and Chandra Wickramasinghe (born 1939) were influential proponents of panspermia.[19][20] In 1974 they proposed the hypothesis that some dust in interstellar space was largely organic (containing carbon), which Wickramasinghe later proved to be correct.[21][22][23] Hoyle and Wickramasinghe further contended that life forms continue to enter the Earth's atmosphere, and may be responsible for epidemic outbreaks, new diseases, and the genetic novelty necessary for macroevolution.[24]

In an Origins Symposium presentation on April 7, 2009, physicist Stephen Hawking stated his opinion about what humans may find when venturing into space, such as the possibility of alien life through the theory of panspermia: "Life could spread from planet to planet or from stellar system to stellar system, carried on meteors."[25]

** Directed panspermia concerns the deliberate transport of microorganisms in space to be used as introduced species on lifeless planets. Directed panspermia may have been sent to Earth to start life here, or may be sent from Earth to seed exoplanets with life.
Historically, Shklovskii and Sagan (1966) and Crick and Orgel (1973) hypothesized that life on Earth may have been seeded deliberately by other civilizations. Conversely, Mautner and Matloff (1979) and Mautner (1995, 1997) proposed that we ourselves should seed new planetary systems,
protoplanetary discs or star-forming clouds with microorganisms, to secure and expand our organic gene/protein life-form. To avoid interference with local life, the targets may be young planetary systems where local life is unlikely. Directed panspermia can be motivated by biotic ethics that value the basic patterns of organic gene/protein life with its unique complexity and unity, and its drive for self-propagation.
Belonging to life then implies panbiotic ethics with a purpose to propagate and expand life in space. Directed panspermia for this purpose is becoming possible due to developments in
solar sails, precise astrometry, the discovery of extrasolar planets, extremophiles and microbial genetic engineering. Cosmological projections suggests that life in space can then have an immense future.[1][2]

Friday, August 5, 2016

Evolution of Non-Traditional News Sources

Presented to The Villages Philosophy Club, 5 August 2016. The ubiquitous smart phone camera and social-media have empowered “citizen journalists” to greatly augment, and in some cases replace, traditional news reporters and photographers. What is our part in this revolution and the mostly positive results?
When I was a kid, the only news sources were newspapers and the major broadcast networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC, first radio and then TV.


Nowadays, when surveillance cameras are everywhere and "everyone" has a SmartPhone with a camera, and many  of us have multiple channels on social media, a new type of "news" media has evolved.

Of course, the "major media" are concerned about losing their elite position at the head of the news "food chain", but even their reports often feature SmartPhone video and FaceBook postings and Twitter Tweets from celebrities..

There is no doubt that what I call the "SmartPhone Video Camera Effect" has some serious negative effects, distorting our collective view of things like the danger of criminal violence, extreme weather, terrorism, unjustified shooting of unarmed young (black) men and police officers.

However, IMHO, the overall effect is positive. As non-traditional news sources continue to evolve, we'll gain a more complete and overall more accurate view of the society we live in and the world around us.


4.5 Billion years ago - the primitive LITHOSPHERE, HYDROSPHERE and ATMOSPHERE - The Earth started as a ball of molten material and gas. Over many millions of years, the land cooled and the tectonic plates that were to become the continents solidified and took form, along with the oceans.. "Litho-" means "Stone". "Hydro-" means "Water". "Atmos-" means "Vapor".  These foundational levels continue to evolve.

3.5 Billion years ago - the BIOSPHERE - According to the best available estimates, about three and a half Billion years ago, life originated and developed into primitive blue-green algae (single-cell bacteria).  Then, around a Billion and a half years ago, multi-cell life evolved. Around half a Billion years ago multi-cell life evolved into plants and animals. These forms of life continue to evolve. "Bio-" means "Life".

100,000 Years ago - the NOOSPHERE - Mammals we call the "Primates" ("prime" or "first rank") evolved around 60 or 70 Million  years ago, and then into the "Great Apes" and then into "Hominids".  "Humans" with large brains like our own evolved about 100,000 years ago. "Noos-" means "Mind".


100,000 years ago, when a Human had an idea, he or she passed it on to another, and, if it was a good idea, it would be passed on to many others. Perhaps, combined with other ideas, it would spread far and wide. Indeed, although it might take hundreds or thousands of years, really good ideas were practically guaranteed to eventually spread worldwide.

Thus, the original NOOSPHERE, the "mind" of the Earth, was worldwide, but incredibly slow. However, it is said that thinking, no matter how slowly, is still thinking!

With the invention of written language, monuments, clay tablets, papyrus documents, books, and newspapers, our ideas became inscribed into a fixed form that would extend beyond individual lifetimes.

Thus, the evolving NOOSPHERE developed a "memory" something like that of an individual human mind. The Earth's "mind" was then not only worldwide, but more stable, and perhaps a bit faster.

With the advent of the telegraph, telephone, and radio in our grandparents and parent's time, and television in our own time, the speed and extent of communications was greatly extended. Thus, the evolving NOOSPHERE developed a speed and extent of "thinking" that exceeded that of an individual human mind.

However, the NOOSPHERE did not really come into its own until the advent of computers, especially personal computers, and the Internet. Add to that emails, blogs, and Social Media, and any idea that occurred to any human anywhere on Earth could be transmitted instantly to any other human, and could be shared and discussed and further developed by dozens, hundreds, or millions of people.

With the advent of the Tablet Computer and the SmartPhone, "everyone" had access to a high-quality camera (both still and video) and a way to share those images instantly with others, potentially a large fraction of the human race.

I find it amazing privilege to have lived at a time when the evolving NOOSPHERE developed a worldwide "awareness" that greatly exceeds that of an individual human mind. The Earth's "mind" has worldwide awareness and photographic memory of unprecedented scope, speed, and "intelligence".

We cannot be certain if the Universe exists "in the Mind of God" or in the "Matrix", but we can be certain that we have created an incredible worldwide Mind and Matrix. The only question in doubt is if we shall be able to manage it or not!


Anything new threatens the Elitist Authorities. The invention of written language was a threat to the keepers of "oral traditions" who passed down "history" from generation to generation. Once fixed into written form, these stories could not be altered as easily, which was an advantage for accuracy, but exposed many of the stories as unfounded "myths".

The invention of movable type made books available to more people, which was perceived as a threat to the religious and intellectual elite. Mass publication further diluted the power of the elite.

The elite, however, maintained control of the mass media (major newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV broadcasting). Professional authors and reporters wrote the news and, under the control of the massive media conglomerate publishing and broadcasting corporations, they passed on a version of what they considered to be the "news" to us, "the great unwashed public". Of course, we had a voice, of sorts, via letters to the editor. And, we could choose which newspapers and broadcast stations we would patronize, but, when they were all basically the same, our control was limited.

However,  with the advent of (mostly) conservative Talk Radio, with opportunity for listener call-in, the public found a greater voice. With the advent of Fox News and other conservative-leaning broadcasting, the (mostly) liberal elite were set back further. However, even conservative-leaning media are elite in a sense.

Thus, as I noted above, it was the advent of personal computers, the internet, and especially the SmartPhone and Social Media that have really unseated the elite, both left, right, and middle!

We Citizen Journalists now have a presence via blogs, YouTube, FaceBook, and other Social Media!

Even the mass media find themselves using video posted by Citizen Journalists as the most far-reaching, real-time window on whatever is happening anywhere in the world at any moment in time.


Anything new both illuminates and distorts current reality. Here are a few examples


Many people are convinced that Global Warming (aka "Climate Change") is causing much more dangerous "Extreme Weather" events and that human activities, such as burning unprecedented quantities of fossil fuels, are mostly responsible.

Could it be that Citizen Journalist's graphic images and videos of Extreme Weather disasters, shared via Social Media and broadcast on TV news programs, are responsible for this misperception?

Is the US government, via NASA/NOAA hopping on that meme in an unfair way to push the "Environmentalist" political agenda?

The graphic below seems to indicate a dramatic INCREASE in Billion-Dollar Extreme Weather events between 1980 and 2016.
However, while the data are adjusted for CPI (Consumer Price Index, basically inflation) since 1980, they do not take into account the 42% population growth, and the 67% GDP per capita growth since 1980! We are living in larger homes, and business, industry, and public infrastructure has increased. Thus, any given storm that hits in a highly populated and developed area will naturally cause more expensive damage than one that impacts a remote, unpopulated region.

For that reason, the cost curves in the above graphic (the gray and black lines) are misleading. The 2016 level is drawn more than double the height it should occupy if population and GDP growth per capita are considered!

Furthermore, the  bar  graph gives equal representation to a "Severe Storm" (average cost $2.2B) and a "Tropical Cyclone" (average cost $16.1B), which is seven times more. (Reminds me of the restaurant that advertised 50/50% surf and turf that was heavy on  the steak and light on the lobster. They used one lobster and one cow and figured it was 50/50%!)


The graphic below, from
indicates that, although Violent Crimes actually DECREASED between 1993 and 2014, the general public believes that Violent Crimes have INCREASED year-to-year during that period!

Could it be that "citizen journalist's" graphic images and videos of Violent Crime incidents, shared via Social Media and broadcast on TV news programs, are responsible for this misperception?

Perhaps the amazing increase in SmartPhone and Tablet ownership, from fewer than 1 million in 2001 to over 200 million in 2014, is what distorted our perceptions.


ARCHIE BUNKER famously said "The only difference between New York and Los Angeles is that, when they shoot you in New York, you know why!"

If I asked you which major US cities are the most dangerous, which would  you guess? Well, since we are probably most sensitive to the number of especially noteworthy crimes, such as police shootings of unarmed men (especially Blacks) and the shootings of police by terrorists or mentally disturbed individuals, our perceptions may be distorted. The graphic nature of SmartPhone videos may add to the distortion.
The graphic above considers six large US cities. The leftmost panel shows that New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the most Violent Crimes per year (NYC over 50,000, Chicago over 24,000, and Los Angeles over 19,000 in 2014). But, considering population differences, which  US cities are really  the most dangerous?

The rightmost panel gives the answer. Detroit, with 13,616 Violent Crimes in 2014, has only one-twelfth the population of NYC, so its actual Violent Crime RATE is 3.7 times greater! Similarly, Philadelphia has a 3.3 times higher rate, and Chicago a rate 2.1 times greater. San Jose, the safest of the cities shown in the graphic, actually has a population greater than Detroit, the most dangerous!

Ira Glickstein