Monthly Archives: January 2016

Science and science fiction


Ostensibly, both of the logos have a connection to some element of Science; one represents NASA, at the forefront of space exploration in the US, and the other denotes a generic flood warning sign, which we’ll probably have more of as time goes on, as the usual suspects make their appearance on the soon-to-be-soggier world stage.

The reason they appear in today’s post is that at a recent science fiction convention (a ‘con’, in the argot of the age), I had a chance to sit in on some interesting discussion panels; one regarding the Challenger disaster, and one regarding fiction (cli-fi) and some of the stories that were being told in current science fiction world.

The mood of the NASA panel was mixed; while everyone lamented the failure of the Challenger (with of course, the comparison to the Columbia accident), the general view was one of “we shall go on.”  The follow-on comments (some by former NASA folks) varied from “we’ve figured this out much better”, “space travel is inherently dangerous,” and “yes, we were lucky all those years in Mercury/Gemini/Apollo.”   Although the complex system of the Space Transportation System (the official name of the shuttle program) had issues, our “change management” procedures and “safety cultures” did catch up, and we’ve now got better systems in place to deal with future complicated devices.  In spite of it all, they still believed in their systems, and the righteousness of their cause.

The less attended session, on climate change fiction (cli-fi) was more realistic, and with the exception of one audience member, the view was the traditional one (where the world’s weather was going to get weird, sea levels were going to rise, etc).   So, with that basic premise (climate change was coming), the discussion centered around cli-fi books and stories which painted realistic pictures of our possible futures.

One of the panelists, who hosts a radio show on ecological issues, said this telling bit (paraphrasing here):

“Fifteen years ago, when I had scientists on my program, they didn’t speak as normal people would.  They’d use a lot of jargon (which I had to translate), and they were so sure of their science.   Now, when scientists come on my show, they are far, far more erudite and politically savvy, and ready to ‘speak normal English.’  However, in sad twist (and perhaps more frighteningly) – they say that nobody really listens to them.”

The interesting part of all of this was the dichotomy of the two worlds, even among the well-learned and technically astute.   One group was still in the “we must/we will reach the stars,” and the other was in the more realistic camp that most of us in the peak-everything/climate change world are familiar with.

I’m not saying or claiming that folks who attended the NASA panel don’t think that fact of  climate change is incorrect; I think most of them do.  If there was anything to take away from these two groups, is that one still believed in technology (complex systems can be handled correctly), whereas the other accepted the fact there was a limit to our cleverness, and that we were going to have to change the way we lived our lives.



More (and less) action, less (and more) talk

action++; action – – ;


talk++; talk – – ;

A bit of an odd title there, and yes that’s a bit of C/C++ like programming syntax there, as a bit of humor.   But the obviousness should be apparent; I thought about writing about the classic “A little less conversation (talk), and a lot more action,” (Thanks, Elvis), but it hit me – we need more and less of both. To be a bit more specific:

More action:

  • More bike riding,
  • More building things with your hands,
  • More reading about real things, and real skills,
  • More learning,
  • More finding people who have changed the world for the better, and supporting them.

Less action:

  • Less driving,
  • Less buying of trivial things,
  • Less flying (a rare thing for me, but let us not get complacent),
  • Less watching/reading nonsense, about the world of celebrity, professional sports, and ‘lite’ news,
  • Less ignoring of the facts.

Less talking:

  • About trite things,
  • About complaints (certainly as a citizen of the US) about our ‘tough’ lives,
  • About what we are “going to do…”.

More talking:

  • About the realities of our situation, with everyone we know,
  • About how we can change our behaviors,
  • With compassion,
  • With a clear mind.

A lot of folks give Guy McPherson a lot of flack, but one of his key points is “Our days are numbered.  Passionately pursue a life of excellence.”   Not bad advice at all.  The new year is upon us; time to get ourselves going.


Changing worldviews and existential threats


Over at the well-thought out Decline of the Empire, there was a Christmas post on the Meaning of Life, which ended with, “Otherwise, without the rationalizations, life would be impossible. There’s your “meaning” of life.”

Pretty dark stuff.  At one point, he writes, “This view of life offers no hope or redemption at all.”  Again, wow.   Makes you wonder how any of us gets out of bed in the morning (but of course, the answer, from the DOE point of view, is rationalization).

If we had a purely scientific materialistic worldview, that would probably be a good conclusion.  Yet, there are things that might exist outside our normal scientific system, that could have incredible impacts on both our view of our place in the world, and how we might live.

OK, take a deep breath.  Some of the following stuff has been touched upon somewhat in a past post, but today it is time to trot out some other interesting bits which may fly in the face of what many hold be as “absolute truth.”   It is important to note that these interesting bits will most likely not change our climate trajectory, nor the course of our coming economic stair-step collapse, nor any of the other the increasing problems with our world.  Yet they might change some of the worldview that point to a meaningless life.  So, without further ado, here’s one book that brings a lot to the table on the subject.  The title, of course, gives it away:


(Paranormal Experience and Survival of Death, by Carl B. Becker)

At this point, all we might be hearing is crickets (what is this survival of death nonsense?!  Good grief!), but this book (and only very few like it) brings up a good deal of interesting questions about life and death, but more importantly, how our “modern” and scientific society reacts to things that it finds distasteful.  The book was published in 1993, but still retains a clear outlook on the topic.

One reason why this book is a fantastic read for this subject is that Becker does not give a breezy pop culture version of the issue of the survival of death, and, as the classic complaint goes, “have us sit around and sing campfire songs (Kumbaya is the traditional song inserted here).”  In the first part of the book,  he methodically goes through many objections to the NDE (near-death experience) data that point to an existence beyond death, and points out that there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on which can’t be and shouldn’t be rejected.

More importantly (and in the second half of the book) he goes through the reasons why the objection to this is so strong in the scientific community.  It is in this area that the book shines.  The existence of a soul/afterlife may not at all interfere with any known (or future) physics, for example, but the very thought of an afterlife may just be too much for the current scientific hierarchy to handle, so it is rejected outright.  Now, it is true that there have been frauds in the paranormal research area, and a lot of “woo” nonsense.  But that shouldn’t stop honest research from being conducted, nor should it stop valid results from being published.  The arguments of the book aren’t repeated here (it’s available from a few places), but it is highly suggested you pick up a copy and give it a read.

Now, don’t get take this the wrong way – the scientific method can do some interesting things; find medicines, determine the arc of a thrown object, and figure things out about the subatomic world.   But the method is performed by a scientific establishment (made up of people), and all groups of people (no matter how smart) have quite human frailties and biases, leading to all manners of human problems.

In some ways, objections to the data from NDEs are like objections to the reality of the UFO phenomenon, discussed by Wendt and Duvall, in their paper, “Sovereignty and the UFO.” One of the chief reasons nations deny and/or reject the existence of the reality of the phenomenon is that it undermines their sovereignty, which is an existential threat that they cannot handle.

If one is to accept the overwhelming evidence of the reality of our financial Ponzi scheme, resource depletion, climate change, NDEs or UFOs, it would mean that if you had any bit of decency, you might start to  live your life very differently, and not buy into the world as we know it.   None of these elements will most likely change our trajectory (no deus ex machina or alien space bats will change the laws of physics), yet they (especially the NDE data) might change our thought of why we are here, and for what purpose we are going through all this turmoil.    Accepting any of the topics mentioned above (and changing an entire worldview) is an existential threat to the current way things “work,” (quite the euphemism!) and therefore, finds immense opposition.

One shouldn’t take these ideas on faith, of course, or be bound by confirmation bias and only read books and articles by those who we agree with.   A more recent book (yet to be read; on the list!) Fringe-ology, by Steve Volk, brings up these questions (his bit about Carl Sagan is spot on), and ask that both sides of the NDE worldview be honest with themselves as well.


For sure, it is damn difficult to try to be open-minded all the time.    The truth is (somewhere) out there, and might, just might, give some meaning to all of this.