Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wanderers 2006.3.21

Last night we were treated to some cosmic-scale modeling by Bob McGown, recently returned from Namibia, where he was overseeing a small observatory. He mentioned his encounters with giant spiders and hyenas only briefly, as he's giving his Africa talk later, to a different group.

He had our universe divided into five epochs, of which we were in the second or third. The age of black holes was still to come. The conditions for biological life might not be so favorable then. Perhaps machine life would take our place?

Bob's focus was emergence (synergy) and its centrality in evolutionary scenarios (analogies to fractals). Allen wondered if "emergence" was just another pinhead jargon, while Rick pointed out that at least reductionists still try to anticipate our future (something we need to keep working at), whereas players suckering for "emergence" might give up trying to see into any kind of crystal ball at all -- a kind of defeatism. Bob, to his credit, clearly had his crystal ball out, and was trying to look farther ahead than most of us ever dare.

For my part, I expressed some doubt that the early 21st century would be remembered for its cosmology, given its poor benchmark scores on such simple matters as feeding people and providing them with shelter, instead of blowing them to bits. Why take a dysfunctional civilization's science so seriously? Our thinking is obviously quite warped ("we are devo"). Well, we know a lot about killing I suppose. Some reputation.

Still, if I'm going to enjoy some long haul cosmology, I'm happy to get it from Bob. His dedication to this subject is obvious and admirable. He lives and breathes dark energy. More power to him. Wanderers purchased both of his well-executed cosmology posters for $5 apiece, out of the coffee fund. We hope to display them in the Pauling House somewhere.

And besides, as Laughlin pointed out in his ISEPP lecture, cosmology is good for fund raising, and we do need satellites for lots of stuff. Keeping people interested in their extraterrestrial environment remains a priority, just like we want them to care about undersea life and other wilderness areas.

What humans care about, they're less likely to destroy.