- It must be in orbit around the sun.
- It must be massive enough for its gravity to pull it into an approximately spherical shape.
- It must have “cleared its neighborhood” of similarly sized objects and become the gravitationally dominant body.
Wanderers, a short film from digital artist Erik Wernquist, is an amazing visual exploration of what the future may hold for the human race. Wernquist provides digital reconstructions of what various places in the solar system might look like as they are explored and settled by people, and it’s all overlaid with the voice of Carl Sagan. It’s quite beautiful.
I am reminded of a quote from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in which the protagonist imagines what it would be like to have approached our own home planet as someplace new:
“We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet.”
Posting has been pretty non-existent over the last several months, and I suppose that requires some explanation. I am currently entering the last stages of my PhD program, and this, understandably, has been taking up much of my time. I hope not to drop this blog entirely, and I will try to find some things to say from time to time.
I’m quite interested in how new technologies change the way we think, and I often wonder which of these changes are desirable and which are not. All the same, when I found this article from Dean Burnett, I had to chuckle a bit. Burnett lays out for us once and for all how to write any article addressing the question of technology and the brain.
The article is concerned about the effects this new technology will have on the brain, so you will need to include a general explanation of the brain’s workings, particularly a feature of it that is somehow relevant to this new thing people should be scared of.
For example, if the new technology offers new types of visual stimulation, briefly describe the brain’s complex visual system. If it’s more language based, the language processing features of the brain can be discussed. It’s a big, complex organ, the brain; there’s probably some feature of it that seemingly supports your “concerns”, so don’t feel restricted.
Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, is developing a scaled up version of 3D printing that he has dubbed ‘contour crafting’. He hopes that it may one day be able to alleviate housing shortages in the world due to its speed (he estimates that an entire house can be constructed in about 20 hours) and the reduced costs associated with its use.
This is a clear cut example of a solution that, as Khoshnevis says, “benefits from advanced technology”. It tackles the complicated problem of affordable and abundant housing head on, though it would appear to do nothing about addressing the larger problem of poverty. Opponents to the technological approach might argue that the real problem has to do with the structure of societal and financial systems. Though a cheap and sturdy home might be a step up from the slums, if the underlying problems of income inequality and resource allocation still remain, they will surface in other ways. One only needs to look towards housing projects in American cities and elsewhere to know that giving someone a roof over their head doesn’t necessarily free them from a life of poverty and crime.
Khoshnevis mentions another potential use, which is using contour crafting to construct buildings in situations where previous construction methods could not work (such as in building a moon base). This strikes me as a better use of the technology, since the problems it solves here are more straightforward and direct, rather than being simply one small subset of larger socio-economic issues.
Wendell Berry, in his essay ‘Preserving Wildness’, defines his position on the issue of protecting ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’. He views this problem as one which there is often a high degree of polarization between ‘nature extremists’ on the one hand, who see the natural operations of the environment as dominant over mankind’s imposed artificiality and who favor something like a primitivist, back-to-the-land ideology, and ‘technology extremists’ on the other hand, who believe that the creativity of the human species reigns supreme and all problems can be solved by our wits combined with new technologies. The outline of his middle ground is as follows:
1. We live in a wilderness, in which we and our works occupy a tiny space and play a tiny part. We exist under its dispensation and by its tolerance.2. This wilderness, the universe, is somewhat hospitable to us, but it is also absolutely dangerous to us (it is going to kill us, sooner or later), and we are absolutely dependent upon it.3. That we depend on what we are endangered by is a problem not solvable by “problem solving.” It does not have what the nature romantic or the technocrat would regard as a solution. We are not going back to the Garden of Eden, nor are we going to manufacture an Industrial Paradise.4. There does exist a possibility that we can live more or less in harmony with our native wilderness; I am betting my life that such a harmony is possible. But I do not believe that it can be achieved simply or easily or that it can ever be perfect, and I am certain that it can never be made, once and for all, but is the forever unfinished lifework of our species.5. It is not possible (at least, not for very long) for humans to intend their own good, in the long run, without intending the good of our place – which means, ultimately, the good of the world.6. To use or not to use nature is not a choice that is available to us; we can live only at the expense of other lives. Our choice has rather to do with how and how much to use. This is not a choice that can be decided satisfactorily in principle or in theory; it is a choice intransigently impractical. That is, it must be worked out in local practice because, by necessity, the practice will vary somewhat from one locality to another. There is, thus, no practical way that we can intend the good of the world; practice can only be local.7. If there is no escape from the human use of nature, then human good cannot be simply synonymous with natural good.
We have no way to work at this question, it seems to me, except by perceiving that, in order to have the world, we must share it, both with each other and with other creatures, which is immediately complicated by the further perception that, in order to live in the world, we must use it somewhat at the expense of other creatures. We must acknowledge both the centrality and the limits of our self-interest. One can hardly imagine a tougher situation.
The worst disease of the world now is probably the ideology of technological heroism, according to which more and more people willingly cause large-scale effects that they do not foresee and that they cannot control.