Thursday, June 24, 2010

We Are Marching to Utopia . . . We Will Soon Be There!

...optimists and idealists -- with their ignorance about the truths of human nature and human society, and their naive hopes about what can be changed -- have wrought havoc for centuries....instead of utopian efforts to reform human society or human nature, we [should] focus on the only reform that we can truly master -- the improvement of ourselves through the cultivation of our better instincts. _OUP Review of "Uses of Pessimism"
Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. _Captain Malcolm Reynolds
There is something deep in human nature which has resisted change -- despite the best efforts of crusaders, utopians, religionists, and wishful thinkers -- for many [tens of?] thousands of years. After countless failures to reform the human spirit, most utopians are unfazed. If they can only grab enough power and control over how resources are distributed, they are sure that they can bring perfection to the land, under their own benevolent leadership. "The land will heal, the sea levels will begin to subside, and every man will say to every other man, you are my brother." And so on.

Philosopher Roger Scruton -- author of The Uses of Pessimism -- takes a somewhat more reluctant view:
The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a wilful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a wilful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognise the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition. Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt.

...In order to see human beings as they are, therefore, and to school oneself in the art of loving them, it is necessary to apply a dose of pessimism to all one’s plans and aspirations. _GloomMerchant
In another piece, Scruton presents a paradoxical recommendation for how to teach children to think for themselves, logically and clearly:
...children are drawn to magic...they spontaneously animate their world with spirits and spells...they find relief and excitement in stories in which the heroes can summon supernatural forces to their aid and vanquish untold enemies – these facts reflect layers of deep settlement in the human psyche. But they also remind us that, in the life of the child, belief and imagination are not to be clearly distinguished, and that both serve other functions than the pursuit of truth.

...humanists should wake up to this point, and be careful when they seek to deprive their children of enchantment, or to replace their spontaneous fantasies with the cold hard facts of empirical science. It could well be that religion is a better discipline than pop science, when it comes to shaping the rational intellect, and that [we can offer our] children more in the way of a solid foundation, by anchoring their imagination in sacred stories and religious doctrines, than they are likely to be offered by those “Darwinian fairy tales’” as David Stove has called them, which have gained such currency in the wake of Dawkins and Hitchens.

In response to a child’s metaphysical curiosity grown-ups can say that everything has a scientific explanation. But they will know that this is a lie. The proposition that everything has a scientific explanation does not have a scientific explanation – it describes an amazing fact about our universe, a point where reasoning falls silent. There are many such points, as anyone who has children knows: why is there anything? Why should I be good? What existed before the Big Bang? What is consciousness? You can wrestle with these questions through philosophy, but science won’t answer them.

Children have an inkling of this. They also recognise that behind these questions lies a huge void – an emptiness which must be filled with love and reassurance, if their existence is not to seem like an accident. _Art_of_Certainty
Utopians try so hard to purge their children's minds of falsehood and "error", to create the perfect children of rational thought, capable of seeing through all the corrupt fables of the past. Except...children will be who they will be. You cannot make boys into girls or girls into boys without destroying who they are. And you cannot make humans into angels without ruining the essence of what they are. And still the utopians continue to try -- until they finally throw their hands up in complete exasperation at and condemnation of the utter evil of those who do not think along the same lines as themselves, the utopians.
The disgusted dismissal of homo rapiens and all his works that we find spelled out by John Gray in Straw Dogs is not a form of pessimism. It is an attempt to dismiss humanity entirely, as a kind of plague on the face of the earth. That kind of misanthropic nihilism is of no use to us. It removes the ground from all our values, and puts nothing in their place. _GloomMerchant
At that point, they often begin to plot and fantasize the great dieoff, to cleanse the otherwise pristine Earth of the incorrigible human demons who infest the lands and oceans. Fortunately, utopians are as incompetent in planning the great dieoff as they are in most other aspects of their lives.

The point is not to resist all change or improvement of humans. But any lasting change for the better is likely to happen from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Nothing illustrates the different approaches to a better world than the contrast between the French and American revolutions of the late 19th century.
The primary difference in causes that led to the American Revolution and the French Revolution was based in the world view of the innate goodness or innate evil of man. _Hyperhistory
Not all utopians believe in the innate goodness of men -- sometimes they only believe in the innate perfectibility of men. But utopias born of such ideas all come to a bitter end.

Every child has to learn to think for himself, from the beginning. But he must have a beginning from which to start.
The need for foundations is quite clearly an adaptation, and these foundations must provide the promise of protection and love, if they are to fit the new organism for its brief time in the world. If that is so, you are not going to eliminate the need for faith: the best you can do is to withhold all objects of faith, so that a child goes hungry into the life to which he or she is destined. More often than not, a humanist education will leave a child exposed to massive and mind-clogging superstitions of the Harry Potter and Star Wars kind. But these superstitions contain far less in the way of insight than is contained in the first chapter of Genesis.

Religious stories are also the result of natural selection – though selection at another level: they have come down to us because they have fulfilled a moral need. They have survived refutation because they contain, beneath their superficial falsehood, the moral truths that people need, when they must order their lives by good examples. _The Art of Certainty
This is true not only of religious stories, but of all the mythology and lasting moral fables from antiquity. Children must have some kind of foundation that transcends deductive logic, because that is how minds begin. Then, later, when they choose to either reshape or reaffirm their beliefs, they will have a sense of having decided for themselves, and feel stronger for it.

Yes, humans can make choices that make them better. Improved nutrition of mother and child can make humans stronger, smarter, taller, and sometimes capable of clearer thought. But a power structure that attempts to legislate morality, to engineer the moral and ideological purity of the human souls of its citizens -- that power structure is morally bankrupt, and deserves to die quickly. If it is allowed to continue, its leaders will eventually decide that the recalcitrant citizens do not deserve the benefit of the leaders' great wisdom. Then, beware.

This question has been acquiring an ever greater urgency over the past century -- even longer. It is now coming to a head in the demographic and economic crises of many of the world's most advanced nations. A culture that has rested on its own laurels, that has comforted itself with mental images of its own progressive improvement, is soon to be reawakened to a coarse and unruly history.

Previously published at Al Fin blog.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

10 Foot Diameter Virtu-Sphere Virtual Reality in Las Vegas


The first public VirtuSphere was installed in Las Vegas at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in May 2010. If the venture proves profitable, expect similar VR spheres to pop up in arcades, amusement parks, shopping malls, and tourist traps across North America. High throughput virtual reality may well lead to continent-wide leagues of virtual reality sports. The VirtuSphere is in the lead now, but inventors are sure to come up with virtual competitors soon.
The 10-foot sphere is made of the same plastic as Legos, and its curvature helps to cushion players if they fall. The ball spins on a platform fitted with 45 caster-mounted wheels. Beneath, an optical sensor tracks motion the same way a computer mouse does, watching for relative movement across x and y axes. To make the experience truly immersive, the player is fitted with a head-mounted display with two internal LCD screens. A laptop wirelessly collects the data from the sensor and the gyroscopes, magnetometers and accelerometers on the headset to create the image the player sees.
As new spheres pop up in malls and arcades, users will be able to jump into movie trailers or globe-trot using Google Earth. _PopSci


Obama is Death to the American Economy

Obama's Economic Policies Stifle Growth
The chairman of the Business Roundtable, an association of top corporate executives that has been President Obama's closest ally in the business community, accused the president and Democratic lawmakers Tuesday of creating an "increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation."

Ivan G. Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications, said that Democrats in Washington are pursuing tax increases, policy changes and regulatory actions that together threaten to dampen economic growth and "harm our ability . . . to grow private-sector jobs in the U.S." _WaPo
Obama's anti growth and anti-private sector bias was evident two years ago. But it's nice that a few people are beginning to notice.

The Next Big Economic Crisis is the Default of State Bonds

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are sucking up Stimulus Funds and destroying the mortgage system of the US

Americans are losing hope in the Messiah of hope and change

President Obama is an incompetent, inexperienced, clown of a child-in-man's-clothing. Only an idiot could have ever expected him to put the country on a sound economic footing.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fresh Water from the Sea: Cheap, Clean, Abundant

The surface of Earth is 70% seawater. There would be a lot more seacoast available for human settlement if only more freshwater for drinking and plant cultivation were available. Desalination is the sensible answer, but desalination requires a lot of energy. New approaches to cheaper desalination promise to open up a lot more of the oceans and seacoasts to human settlement.

Brian Wang provides a look at a new desalination technology from Saltwork Technologies that promises to reduce the energy costs of desalination by up to 80%.

Canadian scientists from Saltworks Technologies have recently discovered a new technology for water desalination. The process reduces the electrical energy consumption needed by the process by 70%. Saltworks Technologies reported that they can produce 1 cubic meter of fresh water using just 1kWh compared to 3.7kWh per cubic meter achievable using reverse osmosis.
But how does the actual technology really work? Simple: solar heat or waste heat is used to evaporate water and concentrate salt water. As a fact, solar energy is converted into osmotic energy and the resulted osmotic energy is used to desalinate water. The concentrated salt water is exposed to two separate solutions of regular salt water via two different ‘bridges’, one which is porous to chloride ion and the other which is porous to sodium ions.

Sodium and chloride ion are able to migrated across the bridges into the salt water solution. The two elements have the role to equalize the difference in ion concentration between the two solutions. In this way the two solutions get charged positively with the sodium ions and negatively with the chloride ion. To continue the process, the resulted solutions are exposed across two similar bridges to the water to be desalinated.
Sodium ions are attracted into the chloride solution and chloride ions into the sodium solution (different changes attract themselves) resulting desalination. The 1kWh energy used in the process for 1 cubic meter of water, comes mainly from pumping fluids around the pipework. To reduce costs, plastic pipes can be used instead of steel pipes as the system in not working under high pressure. _GreenOptimist_via_BrianWang

More approaches to cheaper desalination from NextBigFuture:
Dais Analytic
Dais Analytic’s “new generation of desalination technology” concentrates on desalination by molecular diffusion. This low-cost, pressure desalination process uses commercialized nanotechnology, and employs a solid polymer membrane to reject dissolved solids by size, polarity and diffusion concentration, leaving fewer than 100 PPM TDS. The Dais “MD” membrane does not foul or need regeneration, nor does it scale or support marine growth, making it a viable option where environmental concerns are uppermost. It can be used in applications with capacities of up to 10,000m3/d.
NanoH20 has developed a membrane that attracts water molecules and repels other types of molecules, thus speeding up the desalination process. A membrane that uses nanotechnology to separate pure water from seawater at a lower energy cost than existing reverse osmosis membranes. NanoH2O’s next generation reverse osmosis membranes are thin-film composite membranes that contain nano-structured material. Their enhanced permeability should enable dramatic improvements to be made in the process economics of seawater reverse osmosis. NanoH2O claims that their thin-film nanocomposite membranes will allow 10-15% to be shaved off the cost of producing potable grade water. The company aims to have its first commercial product available within 18-24 months. Research into the application of the technology in brackish water and fresh water scenarios is planned to follow from 2009, making the product suitable for a variety of desalination and water reuse applications.
Clathrate Desalination (Mouchel and Water Science)
A joint venture between Mouchel and Water Science has come up with a new approach to separating fresh water from seawater based on trapping water molecules in carbon dioxide molecules as clathrates. Carbon dioxide forms a clathrate with water spontaneously at more than 30 bar pressure and less than 80 degrees Celcius temperature. The new multipass solution developed by the team for separating and cleaning the clathrate crystals holds the key to the concept’s main attraction – ultra-low energy use. The breakthrough system is predicted to reduce energy consumption to below 1.3 kWh/m3, with the thermodynamics of salt solutions providing the simple explanation behind the baseline economics. The goal is to apply the technology in large-scale industrial desalination plants, remote desalination facilities using renewable energy, and in the oil & gas sector, for the treatment of waste well water.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Light of Future Night

This LED light bulb is packed full of rechargeable batteries, so that if the power goes down, you will still have 2 hours of light. Or just unscrew the bulb and use it as a flashlight. Source_Engadget

Light Up the Night With Your Heavy Breathing!
These unique algae-powered glow-lamps are charged by sunlight in the day, then fueled by your own CO2 at night. So do something that will cause you to breathe fast and heavy. Your algae will thank you for it.
Inspired by recent research into harnessing energy directly from plants, Netherlands-based designer Mike Thompson has come up with a concept for an algae powered lamp that runs on only sunlight, water and your breath.

Called the Latro (latin for thief), Thompson's concept design consists of a conical jar with a spout and a cross between a handle and a built-in straw at the top. Water is added through the spout, CO2 is added by breathing through the handle, sunlight enters from all sides and everything is in place to harvest energy from the algae. _Gizmag
Humans have used microbes to produce food and drink for several thousand years. Microbial fuels are destined to replace petroleum within 50 years. Why not also use microbes to produce electricity, and light? It is a microbial world.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Rise of Lunar Self-Replicating Robots

Japan is planning a $2.2 billion robot colonising mission to the moon. Giant robots will be delivered to the lunar surface, where they will set about building an unmanned lunar base.

As forward thinking as the Japanese robot mission to Luna may seem, it would be more sustainable if the robots were capable of self-replicating. The hobby replicator enterprise is rapidly evolving and expanding, with some desktop replicators able to build as many as half of all their replacement parts.

It is not so important that each machine be able to replicate itself. Instead, think of colonies of complementary machines, capable of making some of their own replacement parts along with replacement parts for other types of machines. Maintenance and controller machines would be given top time and resource priority, under the discipline of a type of "machine economics."

Speaking of space travel, private space launch company SpaceX plans its debut launch for its Falcon 9 rocket tomorrow, June 4.
The one major hurdle left before the fledgling rocket can attempt to launch is final approval of its flight termination system (FTS), an explosive charge that would destroy the rocket if it flew off course. Both SpaceX and the U.S. air force, which monitors the launch area, must be confident that the system works before Falcon 9 can lift off.

"We are now looking good for final approval of the FTS by this Friday, June 4th, just in time for our first launch attempt," SpaceX officials said in a Tuesday statement.

This test version of Falcon 9 will carry a mockup of SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which is designed to carry cargo, and eventually humans, to the International Space Station. This graphic shows how SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon stack up to other rockets. _Space
Best wishes for a successful launch!

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