What-if 0007: "Everybody Out"

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby bmonk » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:31 pm UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:
Faramir wrote:
As we get dumber and dumber, our chances for breaking free of cradle earth grow dimmer and dimmer.


Not to get all philosophical, but I'm more concerned not with the arrogant tone but with the idea that Earth is merely a "cradle" which humanity will presumably outgrow. I'm perfectly happy living on "cradle" Earth and hope we never have to leave. Whatever your problems are that make you wish you could get off of Earth, I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be magically solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri.


We do have rather pressing deadlines, unless we somehow learn how to switch the Sun with another star, and being able to colonize other planets has pretty obvious benefits that would make humanity as a species exponentially more long-living and well-equipped.

"Pressing deadlines"? If we manage to avoid messing up the Earth's ecology too much, and avoid depleting scarce resources, we should have a reasonable expectation of millions of years, if not billions. Not exactly pressing in my calculations.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Aug 29, 2012 11:42 pm UTC

bmonk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:
Faramir wrote:
As we get dumber and dumber, our chances for breaking free of cradle earth grow dimmer and dimmer.


Not to get all philosophical, but I'm more concerned not with the arrogant tone but with the idea that Earth is merely a "cradle" which humanity will presumably outgrow. I'm perfectly happy living on "cradle" Earth and hope we never have to leave. Whatever your problems are that make you wish you could get off of Earth, I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be magically solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri.


We do have rather pressing deadlines, unless we somehow learn how to switch the Sun with another star, and being able to colonize other planets has pretty obvious benefits that would make humanity as a species exponentially more long-living and well-equipped.

"Pressing deadlines"? If we manage to avoid messing up the Earth's ecology too much, and avoid depleting scarce resources, we should have a reasonable expectation of millions of years, if not billions. Not exactly pressing in my calculations.


There's also the inevitable large chunks of space debris that we can expect to drop by any time - one of those dropping in at an inconvenient time (before we have either self-sustaining colonies, or the ability to predict and prevent the impact) would be fairly terminal...

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby KrytenKoro » Thu Aug 30, 2012 6:14 pm UTC

bmonk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:
Faramir wrote:
As we get dumber and dumber, our chances for breaking free of cradle earth grow dimmer and dimmer.


Not to get all philosophical, but I'm more concerned not with the arrogant tone but with the idea that Earth is merely a "cradle" which humanity will presumably outgrow. I'm perfectly happy living on "cradle" Earth and hope we never have to leave. Whatever your problems are that make you wish you could get off of Earth, I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be magically solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri.


We do have rather pressing deadlines, unless we somehow learn how to switch the Sun with another star, and being able to colonize other planets has pretty obvious benefits that would make humanity as a species exponentially more long-living and well-equipped.


"Pressing deadlines"? If we manage to avoid messing up the Earth's ecology too much, and avoid depleting scarce resources, we should have a reasonable expectation of millions of years, if not billions. Not exactly pressing in my calculations.

First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough, especially with attitudes like yours. Please be either more realistic, or less callous about your inheritors.

Secondly:
*We have a hard deadline of five billion years. After that, we're fire.
*We have rather shorter but less definite deadlines in the hundreds of millions of years range. You might have noticed that we have global extinction events less than a billion years apart, totally without any dependence on human interference.
*On top of that, we have the rather less definite but still very likely extinction events from space, which can happen with very little warning.
*Finally, we have the ecological-disaster or shortage related deadlines, such as running out of helium or rare earth magnets and having to abandon a significant portion of our modern technology. Or just, you know, that whole pollution thing that people keep wanting to say, "well it's not my fault, so there's no reason for me to want to deal with it."

Will the last two eliminate the human species completely? Possibly not. Would it be willfully stupid to ignore obvious means of mitigating them because they wouldn't wreack total destruction? Yes, very.

And again, we have a set date for the immolation of the planet, and it's long before life becomes inviable elsewhere in the universe reality. Ignoring the deadline until it arrives because "it's not me that gets to be incinerated" is...well, "apathetic and heartless" comes to mind. It's frankly moronic to reject the benefits and even minimum safety to our species that space colonization would provide out of some sense of...sentimentality for this planet. It's a rock with water and air on it, whoop-de-fricking-doo.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Felis cattus diabolicus » Thu Aug 30, 2012 6:22 pm UTC

Hilarious what-if.

But a sci-fi novel set in such post-jump world would be even more interesting! Just imagine these archaeologists exploring the "past world" (our world) relics, "archaeolinguists" deciphering the pre-catastrophic languages, historicists seeking for the truth preserved in legends and myths, all of the future explorers trying to discover what happened.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby KrytenKoro » Thu Aug 30, 2012 8:37 pm UTC

I think you wanted the "Everybody Jump" thread. This one's about space travel.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Felis cattus diabolicus » Thu Aug 30, 2012 8:40 pm UTC

Ahh right, sorry.

So, that's why I couldn't understand the pun!
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Aug 30, 2012 11:55 pm UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough
Even with *current* technology, we could get every human being off the planet in rather less than billions of years.

It's frankly moronic to reject the benefits and even minimum safety to our species that space colonization would provide out of some sense of...sentimentality for this planet. It's a rock with water and air on it, whoop-de-fricking-doo.
No, it is not moronic. You can't logic yourself into an ethical position. If my values are such that I think we should live on this planet or not at all, then you can't assail those values with insults of idiocy or illogic or whatever.

Plus, it won't be our species in 5 billion years. Thinking it will be *is* moronic on your part, as it indicates pretty extreme ignorance about the nature of evolutionary change.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:20 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough
Even with *current* technology, we could get every human being off the planet in rather less than billions of years.


I'm not convinced that's true - you'd have to lift people at a rate higher than the growth rate of the remaining population...

Plus, it won't be our species in 5 billion years. Thinking it will be *is* moronic on your part, as it indicates pretty extreme ignorance about the nature of evolutionary change.


The question of identity is a deep philosophical one - as long as you are prepared to say that I am the same person as the little boy 30 years ago with whom I share a name, some relatives and a genome, and pretty much nothing else, it's valid to describe at least some of our putative distant descendants as "us"

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:47 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough
Even with *current* technology, we could get every human being off the planet in rather less than billions of years.
I'm not convinced that's true - you'd have to lift people at a rate higher than the growth rate of the remaining population...
Population growth has been slowing for awhile now. Give it a billion more years to fall to 0 (which it must do one way or another), and you've still got 4 billion remaining to get everyone off world.

The question of identity is a deep philosophical one - as long as you are prepared to say that I am the same person as the little boy 30 years ago with whom I share a name, some relatives and a genome, and pretty much nothing else, it's valid to describe at least some of our putative distant descendants as "us"
Are you similarly prepared to say the single-celled prokaryotes from which all life descended were "us"? If so, you're using a radically different notion of identity from the rest of the English-speaking world, and if not, you're using inconsistent logic.

And of course, whether you choose to call them "us" or not is separate from the scientific question of whether they are the same species, to which the answer is assuredly "no".
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Aug 31, 2012 2:18 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough
Even with *current* technology, we could get every human being off the planet in rather less than billions of years.
I'm not convinced that's true - you'd have to lift people at a rate higher than the growth rate of the remaining population...
Population growth has been slowing for awhile now. Give it a billion more years to fall to 0 (which it must do one way or another), and you've still got 4 billion remaining to get everyone off world.


Depends on the way it falls to 0 - if it falls to 0 because the excess birth rate matches the net emigration rate, then you can keep shuttling people off-planet and still not get anywhere...

The question of identity is a deep philosophical one - as long as you are prepared to say that I am the same person as the little boy 30 years ago with whom I share a name, some relatives and a genome, and pretty much nothing else, it's valid to describe at least some of our putative distant descendants as "us"
Are you similarly prepared to say the single-celled prokaryotes from which all life descended were "us"? If so, you're using a radically different notion of identity from the rest of the English-speaking world, and if not, you're using inconsistent logic.

And of course, whether you choose to call them "us" or not is separate from the scientific question of whether they are the same species, to which the answer is assuredly "no".


If you want the question to be "are all living homo sapiens off Earth?" then, sure, those single-celled prokaryotes had all the technology we need to make the answer become "yes" - wait for our descendants to evolve into a different species, and no living homo sapiens will be left on Earth.

As for identity, it's possible that our distant descendants will be as alien to us as the earliest cellular life-forms, but I wouldn't want to bet on them being more alien than, say, dolphins. If they are, then I'd be happy to call them other. On the other hand, if they're that different, they probably won't still be trying to evacuate, one way or another...

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 31, 2012 2:30 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Give it a billion more years to fall to 0 (which it must do one way or another), and you've still got 4 billion remaining to get everyone off world.
Depends on the way it falls to 0 - if it falls to 0 because the excess birth rate matches the net emigration rate, then you can keep shuttling people off-planet and still not get anywhere...
I'm pretty sure you knew I meant total population growth.

If you want the question to be "are all living homo sapiens off Earth?" then, sure, those single-celled prokaryotes had all the technology we need to make the answer become "yes" - wait for our descendants to evolve into a different species, and no living homo sapiens will be left on Earth.
You're the one who talked about survival of the "species". It's not my fault you don't like the actual logical implications of that.

I wouldn't want to bet on them being more alien than, say, dolphins.
I wouldn't bet on them being less alien than dolphins, either. I feel like you're fundamentally failing to realize just how incredibly long 5 billion years really is. I'm pretty comfortable saying that just about anything could happen in that amount of time, as long as it's physically possible in the first place.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Aug 31, 2012 2:58 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Give it a billion more years to fall to 0 (which it must do one way or another), and you've still got 4 billion remaining to get everyone off world.
Depends on the way it falls to 0 - if it falls to 0 because the excess birth rate matches the net emigration rate, then you can keep shuttling people off-planet and still not get anywhere...
I'm pretty sure you knew I meant total population growth.


You can still get a quasi-stable state where more people are born on Earth than die there, with the excess being shipped off planet and dying there.

If you want the question to be "are all living homo sapiens off Earth?" then, sure, those single-celled prokaryotes had all the technology we need to make the answer become "yes" - wait for our descendants to evolve into a different species, and no living homo sapiens will be left on Earth.
You're the one who talked about survival of the "species". It's not my fault you don't like the actual logical implications of that.


Actually, I'm the one who jumped into a conversation where you were discussing "survival of the species" with someone else...

I wouldn't want to bet on them being more alien than, say, dolphins.
I wouldn't bet on them being less alien than dolphins, either. I feel like you're fundamentally failing to realize just how incredibly long 5 billion years really is. I'm pretty comfortable saying that just about anything could happen in that amount of time, as long as it's physically possible in the first place.

The laws of physics (and the facts of chemistry that derive from them) impose considerable constraints on the possibility space. Our distant descendants will have many of the same fundamental forces to contend with as we do - there are a lot of physically possible outcomes that are massively improbable because they would be out-competed by other possibilities.

And you may be failing to realise how flexible I am prepared to be in recognising something as "human" - it's more to do with a minimum quality of mind than physical form...

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 31, 2012 4:45 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:Actually, I'm the one who jumped into a conversation where you were discussing "survival of the species" with someone else...
Yes, the what-if is about the survival of the species as it exists today. You were the first to talk about "deadlines" orders of magnitude farther into the future than any species has existed thus far in the history of life on this planet.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:06 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:Actually, I'm the one who jumped into a conversation where you were discussing "survival of the species" with someone else...
Yes, the what-if is about the survival of the species as it exists today. You were the first to talk about "deadlines" orders of magnitude farther into the future than any species has existed thus far in the history of life on this planet.


No, I really, really wasn't.

My posts on this thread before today were one about how space fountains were a cool alternative to the space elevator, then one about how large chunks of rock falling from the sky would impose a shorter deadline than the one then being discussed.

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby KrytenKoro » Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:48 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Even with *current* technology, we could get every human being off the planet in rather less than billions of years.

Off the planet itself was not my discussion; which is why I talked about getting to another solar system. We might conceivably be able to send manned missions to Mars, but we are absolutely no where near interstellar worldships yet.

No, it is not moronic. You can't logic yourself into an ethical position. If my values are such that I think we should live on this planet or not at all, then you can't assail those values with insults of idiocy or illogic or whatever.

I wasn't discussing an ethical position, and neither were those I was responding to, as far as I can tell. If the argument is "why would we ever want to leave" and "we'll be able to survive until then, it's fine", and it's fairly easy to see what the benefits would be...yes, charges of idiocy and illogic come up.

On another note, yes, I believe you absolutely can logic yourself into an ethical position, and I see no reason you wouldn't be able to.

Plus, it won't be our species in 5 billion years. Thinking it will be *is* moronic on your part, as it indicates pretty extreme ignorance about the nature of evolutionary change.

In the short term, it is our species, and in the short term, we still have plenty of ways to be wiped out that would be mitigated by space colonization. In the long term...even if it's not us, I see no reason not to provide safety for our inheritors (or any other intelligent being, actually). Just because we (might) have the ability to ignore fatal certainties and just sit on our asses, does not at all make it ethical or even reasonable to do so.

And you may be failing to realise how flexible I am prepared to be in recognising something as "human" - it's more to do with a minimum quality of mind than physical form...

If I am interpreting this correctly, I agree. I have a hard time believing that if the human lineage is still around in five billion years, it would have been willing to give up intelligence or the desire to avoid death at some point.

Yes, the what-if is about the survival of the species as it exists today. You were the first to talk about "deadlines" orders of magnitude farther into the future than any species has existed thus far in the history of life on this planet.

Yeah, that was me who brought up the five billion year deadline. And true, I did say "species" when referring to the short-term asteroid impact or ecological disaster (which is well within the species timeframe), so I will apologize for not clarifying "our inheritors" for the longer-range Sun-going-red-giant or gamma-ray-burst deadlines.

I think my point still stands: We have plenty of basic material benefits in developing space colonization now, as well as longevity benefits to both us and our inheritors (direct or spiritual). As for staying here...we have sentimentality about the mudball, and what sounds like anger from the sentimentalists that anybody would not be as sentimental about it as they are (the charge of "arrogance").

"How dare you be so arrogant as to look beyond Earth!" is not a valid argument against colonization, I think.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby bmonk » Fri Aug 31, 2012 9:08 pm UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:
bmonk wrote:"Pressing deadlines"? If we manage to avoid messing up the Earth's ecology too much, and avoid depleting scarce resources, we should have a reasonable expectation of millions of years, if not billions. Not exactly pressing in my calculations.

First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough, especially with attitudes like yours. Please be either more realistic, or less callous about your inheritors.

Secondly:
*We have a hard deadline of five billion years. After that, we're fire.
*We have rather shorter but less definite deadlines in the hundreds of millions of years range. You might have noticed that we have global extinction events less than a billion years apart, totally without any dependence on human interference.
*On top of that, we have the rather less definite but still very likely extinction events from space, which can happen with very little warning.
*Finally, we have the ecological-disaster or shortage related deadlines, such as running out of helium or rare earth magnets and having to abandon a significant portion of our modern technology. Or just, you know, that whole pollution thing that people keep wanting to say, "well it's not my fault, so there's no reason for me to want to deal with it."

Will the last two eliminate the human species completely? Possibly not. Would it be willfully stupid to ignore obvious means of mitigating them because they wouldn't wreak total destruction? Yes, very.

And again, we have a set date for the immolation of the planet, and it's long before life becomes inviable elsewhere in the universe reality. Ignoring the deadline until it arrives because "it's not me that gets to be incinerated" is...well, "apathetic and heartless" comes to mind. It's frankly moronic to reject the benefits and even minimum safety to our species that space colonization would provide out of some sense of...sentimentality for this planet. It's a rock with water and air on it, whoop-de-fricking-doo.



I think you misunderstand me. I'm saying that, with a million years (to pick a nice round number) to play with--if we make sure we have that, by being more careful until we can develop the needed tech to find, reach and colonize suitable planets--we should have plenty of time to do whatever is possible. It's the survival until we can reach the stars that's the pressing deadline.

Nor do we need pursue only one line of development. By all means, consider and develop star drives. But we certainly need to be more careful with our sole life-support system, including an early warning system for foreseeable dangers, such as asteroid collisions. Even our reliance on wide-area electrical systems leaves us vulnerable: it wouldn't take much to leave most or all of the world in "Nineteenth Century" conditions, but without the systems that allowed the Nineteenth Century to do as well as it did.

The alternative is to develop, or envision a star drive, but find that we will not survive to use it. Or perish without coming even that close.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:26 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:No, I really, really wasn't.
Right you are. Sorry about that, I somehow missed when the person I was having this discussion with switched.

KrytenKoro wrote:On another note, yes, I believe you absolutely can logic yourself into an ethical position, and I see no reason you wouldn't be able to.
My point was that you can't do it *purely* by logic, because there's no purely logical reason to accept one ethical premise over another. If I take the premise, "Humanity ought to either live on Earth or not at all," there's nothing intrinsically illogical about that.

KrytenKoro wrote:"How dare you be so arrogant as to look beyond Earth!" is not a valid argument against colonization, I think.
Nor, I think, is that an argument anyone here has ever used.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby KrytenKoro » Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:42 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:My point was that you can't do it *purely* by logic, because there's no purely logical reason to accept one ethical premise over another. If I take the premise, "Humanity ought to either live on Earth or not at all," there's nothing intrinsically illogical about that.

It doesn't really follow from anything and has no logical build up to its conclusion that humanity should not live if it's not on Earth.

KrytenKoro wrote:"How dare you be so arrogant as to look beyond Earth!" is not a valid argument against colonization, I think.
Nor, I think, is that an argument anyone here has ever used.[/quote]
Not to get all philosophical, but I'm more concerned not with the arrogant tone but with the idea that Earth is merely a "cradle" which humanity will presumably outgrow. I'm perfectly happy living on "cradle" Earth and hope we never have to leave. Whatever your problems are that make you wish you could get off of Earth, I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be magically solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri.

I apologize, I missed the "not" in "with the arrogant tone". I still think that the argument made above is pretty fallacious, though, both on a short-term and long-term basis.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:44 pm UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:It doesn't really follow from anything and has no logical build up to its conclusion that humanity should not live if it's not on Earth.
That's what makes it a premise.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Sat Sep 01, 2012 4:59 am UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:
bmonk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:We do have rather pressing deadlines, unless we somehow learn how to switch the Sun with another star, and being able to colonize other planets has pretty obvious benefits that would make humanity as a species exponentially more long-living and well-equipped.


"Pressing deadlines"? If we manage to avoid messing up the Earth's ecology too much, and avoid depleting scarce resources, we should have a reasonable expectation of millions of years, if not billions. Not exactly pressing in my calculations.

First off...billions of years, in the scheme of how long it would take to get off this rock and to another solar system successfully, is not necessarily long enough, especially with attitudes like yours. Please be either more realistic, or less callous about your inheritors.


Try out a historical perspective. Look where were were 200 years ago. 1812. Ritter thought there was a connection between electricity and magnetism, but Oersted did not find one until 1820. The known laws of physics at the time did not explain the sun and had no reasonable estimate how long it would continue to burn or what would happen when it failed. There was no plausible way to get off the planet but in 1865 Jules Verne considered the possibility of doing it by shooting people out of a big cannon.

Where were we 400 years ago? 1612. Isaac Newton would be born in 30 years. We didn't know why the moon doesn't fall down.

Where will we be 200 years from now? Any guesses?

Secondly:
*We have a hard deadline of five billion years. After that, we're fire.


That looks plausible by today's science. Give us another thousand years and we might figure out how to keep it from happening.

*We have rather shorter but less definite deadlines in the hundreds of millions of years range. You might have noticed that we have global extinction events less than a billion years apart, totally without any dependence on human interference.


?? Considerably more often than that. People argue about how periodic they are -- it looks to me like the time series is too short to be sure. We won't know whether we can prevent them in the future until we find out why they happen. Also we might get advanced theories about whether we ought to prevent them.

*On top of that, we have the rather less definite but still very likely extinction events from space, which can happen with very little warning.


Yes. 200 years ago we would not have been able to do anything about them at all. Now we can, if we make considerable sacrifices. If we put it off for 200 more years will it be cheap? I say that if it's a question of spending those resources now for that purpose, don't do it. We need to learn how to avoid destructive wars first. One of the big achievements of the 20th century was we had nukes and we didn't use them in WWIII. We haven't gotten very far about destructive wars apart from that single success. So if we make big sacrifices to gain the ability to turn asteroid hits on the earth into near-misses, we would at the same time get the ability to turn near-misses into hits. Figure out which nation to aim one at, and you have a cute weapon. When we get that capability, we will be a bigger threat to the world than random hits are. So how about we avoid doing that until after we have learned not to use it that way.....

*Finally, we have the ecological-disaster or shortage related deadlines, such as running out of helium or rare earth magnets and having to abandon a significant portion of our modern technology. Or just, you know, that whole pollution thing that people keep wanting to say, "well it's not my fault, so there's no reason for me to want to deal with it."


Over the past 200 years we have already abandoned big portions of technology that was modern at the time. In 1812 canals were a profitable method to transport heavy goods, but soon after we got railroads with steam engines. Steam engines aren't used that much anymore, unless you count the ones connected to nuclear reactors. Etc etc.

Will the last two eliminate the human species completely? Possibly not. Would it be willfully stupid to ignore obvious means of mitigating them because they wouldn't wreack total destruction? Yes, very.


Capitalist economic theory says that the best way to handle technological change is to let markets adjust. No method of planning can ever do better than markets. Do you believe that? If so, then you don't need to worry your little head about those big old problems. They will be taken care of. You just need to predict what kind of portfolio will do well, so you personally can benefit from those efficient markets.

Well, but that's obviously idiotic. We're losing a lot of valuable ecosystem stuff, but consider -- in 1812 Darwin was 3 years old. Warming, Clements, Lotka, Elton wouldn't be born for generations. Odum wouldn't be born for another century. Our concepts of ecology are very recent. It isn't all that unlikely that within another 200 years we will be good at designing ecosystems. The historical data preserved in natural populations will probably be tremendously valuable and it will be a shame we're losing it now. But them's the breaks.

And again, we have a set date for the immolation of the planet, and it's long before life becomes inviable elsewhere in the universe reality. Ignoring the deadline until it arrives because "it's not me that gets to be incinerated" is...well, "apathetic and heartless" comes to mind. It's frankly moronic to reject the benefits and even minimum safety to our species that space colonization would provide out of some sense of...sentimentality for this planet. It's a rock with water and air on it, whoop-de-fricking-doo.


Our curent views of physics are less than 100 years old. People say QM is true because it makes some successful predictions, but isn't it likely that within the next 200 years it will be overturned? Most of what you think you know is probably useful approximations. No, we don't have a set date for the immolation of the planet. We're doing the best we know how to understand the world, and we might as well go with our current best guesses -- lacking anything better -- but there is no reason whatsoever to think we have it right.

To make sweeping decisions for the long term on the basis of current understanding, you have to assume that our understanding won't change much before the events happen that we are preparing for.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby KrytenKoro » Sat Sep 01, 2012 7:20 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:Try out a historical perspective. Look where were were 200 years ago. 1812. Ritter thought there was a connection between electricity and magnetism, but Oersted did not find one until 1820. The known laws of physics at the time did not explain the sun and had no reasonable estimate how long it would continue to burn or what would happen when it failed. There was no plausible way to get off the planet but in 1865 Jules Verne considered the possibility of doing it by shooting people out of a big cannon.

Where were we 400 years ago? 1612. Isaac Newton would be born in 30 years. We didn't know why the moon doesn't fall down.

Where will we be 200 years from now? Any guesses?

"Guesses"? Yes, we have plenty. "Statements that are necessarily true"? Not so much. I did say "necessary", not "there's absolutely no way we can make it".


Secondly:
*We have a hard deadline of five billion years. After that, we're fire.

That looks plausible by today's science. Give us another thousand years and we might figure out how to keep it from happening.

The Sun is out in space. Again, discarding space exploration and colonization because "we can live fine on Earth" is not doable.

Please read what I was responding to, the context is important.

*We have rather shorter but less definite deadlines in the hundreds of millions of years range. You might have noticed that we have global extinction events less than a billion years apart, totally without any dependence on human interference.


?? Considerably more often than that. People argue about how periodic they are -- it looks to me like the time series is too short to be sure. We won't know whether we can prevent them in the future until we find out why they happen. Also we might get advanced theories about whether we ought to prevent them.

We know how to prevent the human race being exterminated by global extinction events already: get off the planet.

*On top of that, we have the rather less definite but still very likely extinction events from space, which can happen with very little warning.


Yes. 200 years ago we would not have been able to do anything about them at all. Now we can, if we make considerable sacrifices. If we put it off for 200 more years will it be cheap? I say that if it's a question of spending those resources now for that purpose, don't do it. We need to learn how to avoid destructive wars first. One of the big achievements of the 20th century was we had nukes and we didn't use them in WWIII. We haven't gotten very far about destructive wars apart from that single success. So if we make big sacrifices to gain the ability to turn asteroid hits on the earth into near-misses, we would at the same time get the ability to turn near-misses into hits. Figure out which nation to aim one at, and you have a cute weapon. When we get that capability, we will be a bigger threat to the world than random hits are. So how about we avoid doing that until after we have learned not to use it that way.....

To my knowledge, current predictions are that the world's entire nuclear arsenal would still not be enough to eliminate an ELE-sized asteroid as a threat unless we spotted it from a long way off, which we aren't doing yet.

The bit about wars is true, I guess?

*Finally, we have the ecological-disaster or shortage related deadlines, such as running out of helium or rare earth magnets and having to abandon a significant portion of our modern technology. Or just, you know, that whole pollution thing that people keep wanting to say, "well it's not my fault, so there's no reason for me to want to deal with it."


Over the past 200 years we have already abandoned big portions of technology that was modern at the time. In 1812 canals were a profitable method to transport heavy goods, but soon after we got railroads with steam engines. Steam engines aren't used that much anymore, unless you count the ones connected to nuclear reactors. Etc etc.

Canals and steam engines can still be cheaply built, they're just not the most efficient technology we've invented. That's totally different than what I was talking about.

Capitalist economic theory says that the best way to handle technological change is to let markets adjust. No method of planning can ever do better than markets. Do you believe that? If so, then you don't need to worry your little head about those big old problems. They will be taken care of. You just need to predict what kind of portfolio will do well, so you personally can benefit from those efficient markets.

Well, but that's obviously idiotic. We're losing a lot of valuable ecosystem stuff, but consider -- in 1812 Darwin was 3 years old. Warming, Clements, Lotka, Elton wouldn't be born for generations. Odum wouldn't be born for another century. Our concepts of ecology are very recent. It isn't all that unlikely that within another 200 years we will be good at designing ecosystems. The historical data preserved in natural populations will probably be tremendously valuable and it will be a shame we're losing it now. But them's the breaks.


Our curent views of physics are less than 100 years old. People say QM is true because it makes some successful predictions, but isn't it likely that within the next 200 years it will be overturned? Most of what you think you know is probably useful approximations. No, we don't have a set date for the immolation of the planet. We're doing the best we know how to understand the world, and we might as well go with our current best guesses -- lacking anything better -- but there is no reason whatsoever to think we have it right.

To make sweeping decisions for the long term on the basis of current understanding, you have to assume that our understanding won't change much before the events happen that we are preparing for.

Under that criteria, you could also say our "current views of physics" are about a week old.

Yes, I'm assuming that the predictions and observations we've arrived at over the sum total of human history and which have been extremely well-tested won't suddenly tell us that, contrary to our observations of other stars or even entropy, the sun will never run out of juice or go red giant, and that colonizing another planet will make all of humanity explode.

"Scienctists have refined their theories in their past to account for better quality data, therefore all science is useless" is...an odd viewpoint, if I'm intrepreting your post correctly.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:48 pm UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:The Sun is out in space. Again, discarding space exploration and colonization because "we can live fine on Earth" is not doable.
No one is discarding all space exploration and colonization. Stop moving the damn goalposts. And no one needs to actually colonize space, necessarily, for us to figure out a way to keep Earth from being fried. Hell, no one *necessarily* has to leave the planet at all, if we have advanced enough robots.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Sat Sep 01, 2012 9:38 pm UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Try out a historical perspective. Look where were were 200 years ago. 1812. Ritter thought there was a connection between electricity and magnetism, but Oersted did not find one until 1820. The known laws of physics at the time did not explain the sun and had no reasonable estimate how long it would continue to burn or what would happen when it failed. There was no plausible way to get off the planet but in 1865 Jules Verne considered the possibility of doing it by shooting people out of a big cannon.

Where were we 400 years ago? 1612. Isaac Newton would be born in 30 years. We didn't know why the moon doesn't fall down.

Where will we be 200 years from now? Any guesses?

"Guesses"? Yes, we have plenty. "Statements that are necessarily true"? Not so much. I did say "necessary", not "there's absolutely no way we can make it".


Secondly:
*We have a hard deadline of five billion years. After that, we're fire.

That looks plausible by today's science. Give us another thousand years and we might figure out how to keep it from happening.

The Sun is out in space. Again, discarding space exploration and colonization because "we can live fine on Earth" is not doable.


What decisions should we make different today, because we think that the sun may explode in 5 billion years?

If it turns out that in 500 years interstellar travel looks pretty cheap, then at that point we'll want to try it out. How much good do we do looking for ways to do it now instead of then? None whatsoever. What do we lose by sacrificing for it now? We lose whatever we sacrifice. It's an extremely bad deal.

*We have rather shorter but less definite deadlines in the hundreds of millions of years range. You might have noticed that we have global extinction events less than a billion years apart, totally without any dependence on human interference.


?? Considerably more often than that. People argue about how periodic they are -- it looks to me like the time series is too short to be sure. We won't know whether we can prevent them in the future until we find out why they happen. Also we might get advanced theories about whether we ought to prevent them.

We know how to prevent the human race being exterminated by global extinction events already: get off the planet.


We don't yet know how to run a stable ecology in space that does not depend on anything from earth. We do not yet know whether the possibly-periodic extinctions happen because of something in space that would hit space colonies harder than it hits earth. So I say, when the time comes that the decision whether to go to space is like the decision whether to travel around the world in a small sailboat, then anybody who wants to go to space should do so. When it's a gigantic investment with no known payoff, that requires arguments about extinction events and the sun blowing up, then I say let's put it off. We can easily afford to put it off a few hundred or a few thousand years. Just don't delay too long.

*On top of that, we have the rather less definite but still very likely extinction events from space, which can happen with very little warning.


Yes. 200 years ago we would not have been able to do anything about them at all. Now we can, if we make considerable sacrifices. If we put it off for 200 more years will it be cheap? I say that if it's a question of spending those resources now for that purpose, don't do it. We need to learn how to avoid destructive wars first. One of the big achievements of the 20th century was we had nukes and we didn't use them in WWIII. We haven't gotten very far about destructive wars apart from that single success. So if we make big sacrifices to gain the ability to turn asteroid hits on the earth into near-misses, we would at the same time get the ability to turn near-misses into hits. Figure out which nation to aim one at, and you have a cute weapon. When we get that capability, we will be a bigger threat to the world than random hits are. So how about we avoid doing that until after we have learned not to use it that way.....

To my knowledge, current predictions are that the world's entire nuclear arsenal would still not be enough to eliminate an ELE-sized asteroid as a threat unless we spotted it from a long way off, which we aren't doing yet.

The bit about wars is true, I guess?


So you aren't arguing that we should get into space to prevent destruction of earth. You're saying to get into space to escape the destruction of earth. OK, go right ahead, and you don't need to convince anybody you're doing the right thing. As soon as you can afford it. When the earth is destroyed your descendents will get the benefits of your investment.

*Finally, we have the ecological-disaster or shortage related deadlines, such as running out of helium or rare earth magnets and having to abandon a significant portion of our modern technology. Or just, you know, that whole pollution thing that people keep wanting to say, "well it's not my fault, so there's no reason for me to want to deal with it."


Over the past 200 years we have already abandoned big portions of technology that was modern at the time. In 1812 canals were a profitable method to transport heavy goods, but soon after we got railroads with steam engines. Steam engines aren't used that much anymore, unless you count the ones connected to nuclear reactors. Etc etc.

Canals and steam engines can still be cheaply built, they're just not the most efficient technology we've invented. That's totally different than what I was talking about.


Perhaps so. But "engineering is the art of making what you need out of what you can get". There are various technologies that are not practical because we don't have the materials. One reason we don't have giant fleets of helium dirigibles is that we don't have enough helium. We have important uses for all the hafnium we can get, but we can't get much. Etc etc. If somebody wants a technology that depends on stuff he can't get, then too bad for him, he isn't an engineer.

Capitalist economic theory says that the best way to handle technological change is to let markets adjust. No method of planning can ever do better than markets. Do you believe that? If so, then you don't need to worry your little head about those big old problems. They will be taken care of. You just need to predict what kind of portfolio will do well, so you personally can benefit from those efficient markets.

Well, but that's obviously idiotic. We're losing a lot of valuable ecosystem stuff, but consider -- in 1812 Darwin was 3 years old. Warming, Clements, Lotka, Elton wouldn't be born for generations. Odum wouldn't be born for another century. Our concepts of ecology are very recent. It isn't all that unlikely that within another 200 years we will be good at designing ecosystems. The historical data preserved in natural populations will probably be tremendously valuable and it will be a shame we're losing it now. But them's the breaks.


Our curent views of physics are less than 100 years old. People say QM is true because it makes some successful predictions, but isn't it likely that within the next 200 years it will be overturned? Most of what you think you know is probably useful approximations. No, we don't have a set date for the immolation of the planet. We're doing the best we know how to understand the world, and we might as well go with our current best guesses -- lacking anything better -- but there is no reason whatsoever to think we have it right.

To make sweeping decisions for the long term on the basis of current understanding, you have to assume that our understanding won't change much before the events happen that we are preparing for.


Under that criteria, you could also say our "current views of physics" are about a week old.


Yes, it isn't clear how the probable existence of the particular Higgs boson that has probably been observed will affect things. Perhaps our concept of mass is ready for dramatic change. Maybe within 100 years we'll get cheap antigravity. After all, we have cheap electromagnets now, and in 1812 there was no hint it was possible.

Yes, I'm assuming that the predictions and observations we've arrived at over the sum total of human history and which have been extremely well-tested won't suddenly tell us that, contrary to our observations of other stars or even entropy, the sun will never run out of juice or go red giant, and that colonizing another planet will make all of humanity explode.


Are we better off to try to colonize other planets using the technology we have now, or the technology we will have 200 years from now? How do we decide? will a 200 year delay affect the timetable for the sun going nova or anything much? Well, there's the economic benefit we get from exploring space. That might be considerable. Or it might be nothing. When we get cheap space travel the benefits will likely still be there, just as big but cheaper. I dunno.

"Scienctists have refined their theories in their past to account for better quality data, therefore all science is useless" is...an odd viewpoint, if I'm intrepreting your post correctly.


That sounds odd to me too. That isn't at all what I'm talking about. Look at our problems with AGW. It looks like we're facing climate change which will be extremely costly, but we can't effectively predict how bad it will be and how fast it will hit us. The proposal on the table is for the USA to reduce our fuel consumption enough to reduce our standard of living from the biggest consumers on the planet to something third-world, to help solve the problem. Of course the US military would be cut way back. Naturally, lots of Americans strenuously oppose that idea. It's the sort of thing that might happen to them if they lose a world war, they sure aren't going to agree to it when they have the strongest fuel-gobblingest military in the world. They argue that the science is not definitive, and of course it isn't completely. It all fits together, it's by far the best guess we have available, but it isn't convincing enough to get Americans to surrender.

Now you argue that we ought to go to space. Well, sure, but how much should we spend this decade? How many kilograms should reach escape velocity at 30 to 50 kilograms of fossil fuels each, plus overhead? You argue we need to do it because of various benefits we may receive in the distant future. OK, if Verne had persuaded the world we needed to do it in 1870 we would likely have built a lot of giant cannons at gigantic expense. Rockets are better and cheaper. Are you sad we didn't do it then? Think how much better off we would be today if Britain or France had had moon colonies a hundred years ago! Well, I dunno. I don't know we'd be better off at all.

I don't see that we're better off to burn all that much fossil fuel to put that many more things in space today. But let's do research that might lead to cheaper space travel.

If you have physics that says you can probably make a space elevator, that's great! It will probably work. If you have physics that says there's no way to orbit except with 40 kg of fossil fuel per kg, it's probably wrong. For all we know in the next 10 years or so we might find ways to make gazillions of neutrinos all going the same direction. Currently we know how to make one neutrino per spontaneous nuclear reaction. But if we could make a whole lot of them, and they go one direction at almost lightspeed while we go the other way somewhat slower, that would change the game. Do you know whether there's new physics just over the horizon that will allow things we can hardly imagine? I don't know. I look at what physicists knew in 1912, and in 1812, and in 1712....
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Max™ » Sun Sep 02, 2012 12:47 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:The Sun is out in space. Again, discarding space exploration and colonization because "we can live fine on Earth" is not doable.
No one is discarding all space exploration and colonization. Stop moving the damn goalposts. And no one needs to actually colonize space, necessarily, for us to figure out a way to keep Earth from being fried. Hell, no one *necessarily* has to leave the planet at all, if we have advanced enough robots.

Well, it would be nice to be around for the sun to enter red giant stages, but yes, we either need to move the planet, or leave, assuming we're around long enough for a main sequence star to near the end of it's lifespan.

If we're still not capable of trivially farting around the solar system by then, I doubt we would manage to survive that long anyways.


Btw, a neutrino imparts jack and squat for thrust, that is part of why supernova explosions are so dramatic, the neutrino fireball passes through the outer layers without holding them up, and the whole star slams down on the core like whoa.

If we could harness any sort of thrust from a neutrino, we could use the same tech for photon rockets, way better.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Yakk » Sun Sep 02, 2012 1:34 am UTC

And no, physics hasn't thrown out Newton. The domain of Newtonian physics is better understood, and within its domain it remains more than good enough.

Physics doesn't go "that was all wrong". Physics goes "oh, that is an interesting corner case, and the math isn't working... ah, if we use this math, in the standard cases it works indistinguishably from our old model, and in this strange corner case it also predicts observations! By the way, anyone need a bomb capable of leveling an entire city? Some of this math seems to diverge..."
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Sun Sep 02, 2012 3:24 am UTC

Yakk wrote:And no, physics hasn't thrown out Newton. The domain of Newtonian physics is better understood, and within its domain it remains more than good enough.

Physics doesn't go "that was all wrong". Physics goes "oh, that is an interesting corner case, and the math isn't working... ah, if we use this math, in the standard cases it works indistinguishably from our old model, and in this strange corner case it also predicts observations! By the way, anyone need a bomb capable of leveling an entire city? Some of this math seems to diverge..."


Yes, exactly. Currently we have no clue to any method to stop a sun from blowing up when its time comes. But it might turn out that we do find ways to do that within the next 5000 years.

Currently we can't produce enough neutrinos in one selected direction to get a whole lot of thrust. It might happen.

While the physics we know now will probably continue to be as good as ever within its limitations, new physics will probably give us a series of new cosmologies with new methods for the world to end and new timeframes.

Max™ wrote: wrote:Btw, a neutrino imparts jack and squat for thrust, that is part of why supernova explosions are so dramatic, the neutrino fireball passes through the outer layers without holding them up, and the whole star slams down on the core like whoa.


The neutrino goes one way and the particle that produced it goes another. It isn't much thrust because the neutrino has so little mass.

But if you can produce a *whole lot* of neutrinos it adds up. Right now it looks like one per particle. But if you could get your particles to produce one neutrino after another until they're all used up, and every neutrino but the last is going close to lightspeed all in the same direction, then it would start to add up. Currently we have no clue how to do that, and no particular reason to think it's possible. But our phsyics isn't advanced enough to definitely say it is impossible. WE can't be sure what we'll find, later.

If we could harness any sort of thrust from a neutrino, we could use the same tech for photon rockets, way better.


Sure. But particularly if you're doing things like leaving the earth, it's likely better if you bathe the earth in a whole bunch of neutrinos (maybe some variety that nobody has detected yet because they have so little effect on anything) rather than the amount of high-energy photons it takes to lift a lot of mass to escape velocity. Of course, we don't get to choose what results the new physic will give us. We'll just have to look for ways to use whatever new capabilities we get.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Yakk » Sun Sep 02, 2012 1:16 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:Yes, exactly.

No, exactly the opposite of what you are saying. Please don't pretend you being agreeable while spouting the opposite of what I'm saying. It is ridiculous.
Currently we can't produce enough neutrinos in one selected direction to get a whole lot of thrust. It might happen.

We understand momentum at "reasonable" scales. We've understood it since Newton. It wouldn't be merely revolutionary to replace that, but an unprecedented revolution.

Noether's symmetries aren't about to be broken on our everyday physical scale by naming some slightly exotic particle like neutrinos. And so long as momentum is conserved, shooting particles at nearly the speed of light will be an intensely (free) energy inefficient way to propel yourself, and photons will do instead of neutrinos. Admittedly, if you count the mass of the propellant as mass, c-speed thrusters energy efficiency skyrockets.
But if you can produce a *whole lot* of neutrinos it adds up. Right now it looks like one per particle. But if you could get your particles to produce one neutrino after another until they're all used up, and every neutrino but the last is going close to lightspeed all in the same direction, then it would start to add up. Currently we have no clue how to do that, and no particular reason to think it's possible. But our phsyics isn't advanced enough to definitely say it is impossible. WE can't be sure what we'll find, later.

Yes, we know how to make photon rockets -- rockets propelled by emitting c-speed momentum-carrying packets. They require ridiculous amounts of free energy, but are mass efficient. Replacing photon with neutrino doesn't change the mass-energy budget of the rocket in any way.

We don't use them, because the energy efficiency of a rocket is roughly inversely proportional to the exhaust velocity, while the mass-efficiency is proportional to the exhaust velocity. And the amount of energy required to use a photon rocket to move a large object to relativistic velocities is rather large (as in, capture-entire-solar-output-of-sun large), and we'd require rather high efficiencies (in terms of waste heat management) to prevent the ship from melting itself from waste heat.

Now, we have an engineering path to get to that level of civilization, which involves getting out of our gravity well and exploiting the huge flux of free energy that the sun is shoving out of its maw, that we can see right now, and we have current technology plans that (if expensive) would get us closer to that goal. Or we can wait for a magic fairy of "new physics" to solve all of our problems.

New physics is probably going to be useful, but in ways that we have little control over, if the last handful of years is to judge. But new engineering will be useful as well, and in ways that we can understand today, and maybe even budget for. Today, there are people working on getting ridiculous ROI from space (in particular, getting an industrial infrastructure up there, and getting a hold of raw materials up there, so we no longer have to burn 50 kg of manufactured materials down here (fuel) to get 1 kg of manufactured materials into orbit). If that works (and it is merely engineering), each additional step becomes closer, and a type 2 civilization becomes an engineering problem, instead of a magic fairy reliant plan.

And it could easily require a supercollidor the size of Saturn's rings to find the magic fairy physics that will solve all of our problems, which we won't reach unless we put the grunt work in first.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Sun Sep 02, 2012 3:11 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Yes, exactly.

No, exactly the opposite of what you are saying. Please don't pretend you being agreeable while spouting the opposite of what I'm saying. It is ridiculous.


Oh, Sorry. I thought you were saying something sensible. Now I'm not sure what to think.

Currently we can't produce enough neutrinos in one selected direction to get a whole lot of thrust. It might happen.

We understand momentum at "reasonable" scales. We've understood it since Newton. It wouldn't be merely revolutionary to replace that, but an unprecedented revolution.


I don't understand. Why would we need to replace momentum with something else? This doesn't make any sense to me.

Noether's symmetries aren't about to be broken on our everyday physical scale by naming some slightly exotic particle like neutrinos. And so long as momentum is conserved, shooting particles at nearly the speed of light will be an intensely (free) energy inefficient way to propel yourself, and photons will do instead of neutrinos. Admittedly, if you count the mass of the propellant as mass, c-speed thrusters energy efficiency skyrockets.


Why would you need to break symmetry?

But if you can produce a *whole lot* of neutrinos it adds up. Right now it looks like one per particle. But if you could get your particles to produce one neutrino after another until they're all used up, and every neutrino but the last is going close to lightspeed all in the same direction, then it would start to add up. Currently we have no clue how to do that, and no particular reason to think it's possible. But our phsyics isn't advanced enough to definitely say it is impossible. WE can't be sure what we'll find, later.

Yes, we know how to make photon rockets -- rockets propelled by emitting c-speed momentum-carrying packets. They require ridiculous amounts of free energy, but are mass efficient. Replacing photon with neutrino doesn't change the mass-energy budget of the rocket in any way.


Ah, we know how to make lights and shine them in one direction. It takes a whole lot of free energy to make the light. So if we had a way to pack a whole lot of free energy into a small mass, we could convert it into light and shine it backward, and get momentum forward. We'd save on not having to carry gobs of propellant that we shoot backward, but currently we have no way to carry giant amounts of energy in a small mass and convert it to light. So we'd lose more by carrying a big load of D cells than we would carrying a big load of gasoline.

I'm with yuou so far. And if we had a way to make neutrinos that used D cells to provide the energy to move those neutrinos close to lightspeed, that would be no better.

We don't use them, because the energy efficiency of a rocket is roughly inversely proportional to the exhaust velocity, while the mass-efficiency is proportional to the exhaust velocity. And the amount of energy required to use a photon rocket to move a large object to relativistic velocities is rather large (as in, capture-entire-solar-output-of-sun large), and we'd require rather high efficiencies (in terms of waste heat management) to prevent the ship from melting itself from waste heat.


Sure. If we provide the energy to accelerate our reaction mass to high speeds, then we need less reaction mass but we have to provide more energy.

But I say that when physics advances we don't know what we'll find. So as one example of something we might possibly find, perhaps we might find a way to get iron atoms to release neutrinos on demand. Before, you have an iron atom. Afterward, you have an iron atom minus one neutrino, that has the momentum it gains from that neutrino. Does this violate any laws of physics? No. Have we observed any iron atoms with neutrinos missing? I don't know, how would we tell the difference? Maybe we've observed them and not noticed. Maybe none have been created on earth yet. We haven't observed the neutrinos, but they could be a kind of neutrino we haven't observed yet.

OK, if you carry an iron atom and you get one neutrino from it, that's a bad bargain for mass versus acceleration. Maybe we'll find that we can get lots of neutrinos from an iron atom on demand. Maybe after an iron atom has released a whole lot of neutrinos then it turns to manganese or something. There would be a lot of details to work out, and there's no point in me elaborating on them when at this point it's all fantasy. But I want to point out that this violates no fundamental laws as we currently envision them. Does a Mn55 atom contain more binding energy than a Fe56 atom? Sure, but we just harvested the mass-energy from an entire neutron. We can spare some for binding energy.

Could you get just the iron atoms that are in one orientation to produce their neutrinos all in the same direction? Maybe. That might subtly violate some sort of symmetry but I don't see that it necessarily would. Would it take a lot of energy to orient them, compared to what you get from the neutrinos? Would they lose their orientation when they lost a neutrino and have to regain it? Maybe a lot of that could take care of itself, like magnetic domains in crystals that heal themselves of small perturbations though not large ones.

I don't see that current physics proves we can never have cheap safe travel from earth. It just doesn't give us any way to do it today. Future physics might give us that without having to break conservation laws.

I particularly like neutrinos because there's the possibility they could be safe. If we want to lift millions of tons from earth's surface we can't afford a tremendous amount of pollution from the spent fuel. And if we want to someday have a thriving space economy that pays off, we need lots of trade. To make that work we need very cheap safe travel from earth to escape velocity and back. Future physics might give us that. But JustSo stories aside (I guess this is kind of the opposite of a JustSo story, but there are similarities), you want to make a giant investment in current technology, with an uncertain payoff that is unlikely to be good for the investors on earth. And you want to do that while science and technology are both rapidly changing.

Now, we have an engineering path to get to that level of civilization, which involves getting out of our gravity well and exploiting the huge flux of free energy that the sun is shoving out of its maw, that we can see right now, and we have current technology plans that (if expensive) would get us closer to that goal. Or we can wait for a magic fairy of "new physics" to solve all of our problems.


Currently we have a vague idea how to do that for the few people who get out, who cannot return much to the people on earth who paid the bills. After you burn most of the fossil fuel getting up there, you get tremendous free energy that you mostly can't sell to us. Why should the billions of people who will live on earth pay for the thousands who escape? Well, depending on what you find up there you might wind up with a whole lot of bomb-grade nuclear material that you could drop on us if you wanted to. Maybe after you get established we will have no choice but to keep supporting you.

New physics is probably going to be useful, but in ways that we have little control over, if the last handful of years is to judge. But new engineering will be useful as well, and in ways that we can understand today, and maybe even budget for.


We mostly can't plan for the new engineering any more than the new science. We can extrapolate the little things, but the big things are unpredictable beyond a horizon of maybe a decade.

Today, there are people working on getting ridiculous ROI from space (in particular, getting an industrial infrastructure up there, and getting a hold of raw materials up there, so we no longer have to burn 50 kg of manufactured materials down here (fuel) to get 1 kg of manufactured materials into orbit). If that works (and it is merely engineering), each additional step becomes closer, and a type 2 civilization becomes an engineering problem, instead of a magic fairy reliant plan.


Currently those are pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams, based on utterly inadequate data. Currently, sending stuff home from space is expensive. Ablation shields and all that, plus if we did a lot of it we don't know what it would do to the climate. Or the insurance rates -- it only takes one big package off course to do a lot of damage anywhere in the world there's a lot of stuff to damage.

I can understand how you'd think it's urgent to get to space. Things are likely to go pretty badly here over the next 30 years or so, and if you don't manage to burn a lot of the fossil fuels getting into space right away, then they will be gone and you'll never get to use them. You could be stuck here in horrible conditions with the rest of us peasants. But see, if we can do good enough science and engineering here, we can get past those temporary problems. We can get to space without the fossil fuels. It might take a little longer, but we could get an actual space economy that works.

Send the rest of us to hell getting up there now, and you just might find out that you personally are allergic to the algae you have to eat, and the space economy can't grow fast enough because there isn't enough zinc, and you can't mine zinc fast enough because you don't have enough zinc to do the mining. And your local technologists are franticly trying to find a workaround, while the remaining scientists on earth who could help you are having trouble keeping the internet together, much less send messages to you....

And it could easily require a supercollidor the size of Saturn's rings to find the magic fairy physics that will solve all of our problems, which we won't reach unless we put the grunt work in first.


That's sheer failure of imagination. Compare the quality of physics done before 1945 versus since then. Physicists need super-expensive tools because they can get super-expensive tools. Without that budget they would look carefully at things they can look at, and discover new physics that way. They might not discover the same things. But there isn't just one right path for physic advances to take.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby KrytenKoro » Sun Sep 02, 2012 10:13 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:The Sun is out in space. Again, discarding space exploration and colonization because "we can live fine on Earth" is not doable.
No one is discarding all space exploration and colonization. Stop moving the damn goalposts. And no one needs to actually colonize space, necessarily, for us to figure out a way to keep Earth from being fried. Hell, no one *necessarily* has to leave the planet at all, if we have advanced enough robots.


Not to get all philosophical, but I'm more concerned not with the arrogant tone but with the idea that Earth is merely a "cradle" which humanity will presumably outgrow. I'm perfectly happy living on "cradle" Earth and hope we never have to leave. Whatever your problems are that make you wish you could get off of Earth, I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be magically solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri.


I have not moved the goalposts a single inch, dood. I am, as I was, responding to the assertion that we have no need to "get off of Earth", and no problems that "could be solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri."

When you have to leave the cradle to extinguish the fire raging outside of it, I think that counts as outgrowing it.

In regards to not leaving the planet:
However the results of studies announced in 2008 show that due to tidal interaction between Sun and Earth, Earth would actually fall back into a lower orbit, and get engulfed and incorporated inside the sun before the Sun reaches its largest size, despite the Sun losing about 38% of its mass.

So yeah.


To J Thomas: I am not advocating that we throw everyone into space NOW before we know how to colonize planets. I am not saying we should pursue it solely to avoid events that render the Earth uninhabitable. I'm not saying that the benefits to space colonization would necessarily remain far in the future. And I do NOT think it will be possible to research space travel and suddenly discover better ways to colonize space without...researching space travel, which is what I AM advocating.

I am advocating we focus on researching and developing a space exploration and colonization program that will allow us to establish somewhere to live, as well as to procure resources (Simple asteroid mining is not expected to require much greater advances in technology to be profitable, and it would be useful NOW). The technology to allow us to survive in inhospitable space will also, necessarily, provide benefits for dealing with ecological fallout on Earth. It is neither reasonable nor accurate to suggest that we can safely put off this research until "far in the future when known threats are impending."

Furthermore, running out of helium (because we refused to invest in space mining colonies, etc.) and thus having to revert to a more expensive form of technology is NOT analogous to making progress in finding or manufacturing resources so that a higher quality material or more advanced technology is now cheaper. It's the exact opposite, in fact. AWG is also not an issue of "we're not sure whether cutting down pollution will make us healthier"; it's an issue of "can we still survive AND allow enough pollution to remain profitable." I would be surprised to meet anyone suggesting that pollution provides health benefits.

Finally, I don't think the paranoid tone I've been getting from some posts in this forum, that allowing space colonization will definitely lead to the colonies attacking Earth in some more profound way than nations already do, is anything more than a Gundam-based fantasy.

While the physics we know now will probably continue to be as good as ever within its limitations, new physics will probably give us a series of new cosmologies with new methods for the world to end and new timeframes.

How red giants work is pretty well within current physics' domain.

As Asimov explains in "The Relativity of Wrong", just because we now know the Earth is an oblate spheroid doesn't mean we can't make useful predictions at certain scales with reasonable accuracy by treating it as flat or as a perfect sphere. Our old physics is merely less precise, it is not "totally, undeniably useless in making predictions."

As xkcd has joked about, you can still make the predictions by assuming 1 kg is approximately 1 lb.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Max™ » Mon Sep 03, 2012 2:43 am UTC

Edit: I mixed up my interactions, inverse beta decay is when a proton "captures" an electron and turns into a neutron while releasing a neutrino. Beta decay is the reverse, a neutron releasing an electron and anti-neutrino to become a proton.

J Thomas wrote:But I say that when physics advances we don't know what we'll find. So as one example of something we might possibly find, perhaps we might find a way to get iron atoms to release neutrinos on demand. Before, you have an iron atom. Afterward, you have an iron atom minus one neutrino, that has the momentum it gains from that neutrino. Does this violate any laws of physics? No. Have we observed any iron atoms with neutrinos missing? I don't know, how would we tell the difference? Maybe we've observed them and not noticed. Maybe none have been created on earth yet. We haven't observed the neutrinos, but they could be a kind of neutrino we haven't observed yet.

Iron atoms don't "contain" or "lose" neutrinos, they contain neutrons, protons, and electrons. Sometimes a proton can capture an electron and turn into a neutron, and a neutrino. You can tell for certain when this happens.

OK, if you carry an iron atom and you get one neutrino from it, that's a bad bargain for mass versus acceleration. Maybe we'll find that we can get lots of neutrinos from an iron atom on demand. Maybe after an iron atom has released a whole lot of neutrinos then it turns to manganese or something. There would be a lot of details to work out, and there's no point in me elaborating on them when at this point it's all fantasy. But I want to point out that this violates no fundamental laws as we currently envision them. Does a Mn55 atom contain more binding energy than a Fe56 atom? Sure, but we just harvested the mass-energy from an entire neutron. We can spare some for binding energy.

The processes which release neutrinos in large amounts all involve what are usually known as thermonuclear reactions, iron in particular is not much good for this, as you lose energy fusing iron, thus iron is literally a starkiller metal.

If you were spitting neutrinos out of any atom, something has to be changing to cause this, proton + electron -> neutron + neutrino is the most common form of such a reaction I can think of, but it is not the only one. However there is no way you could just have a "neutrino leak" without a different end product than the iron or whatnot which you began with.

As I recall, Iron tends to turn into a really radioactive form of Cobalt during some of these processes, and you should be more worried about that than launching with a photon rocket.

Rockets are stupid for ground launch though, elevators, loops, cannons, anything where you can spend energy once to get most of the mass up without carrying propellant is generally going to win.

Could you get just the iron atoms that are in one orientation to produce their neutrinos all in the same direction? Maybe. That might subtly violate some sort of symmetry but I don't see that it necessarily would.

This would rather unsubtly violate symmetries, hence the mention of Noether's Theorem.
Would it take a lot of energy to orient them, compared to what you get from the neutrinos? Would they lose their orientation when they lost a neutrino and have to regain it? Maybe a lot of that could take care of itself, like magnetic domains in crystals that heal themselves of small perturbations though not large ones.

If it could happen this easily, it would happen all the time. Since it doesn't ever happen, it won't happen easily, you can safely assume.

I don't see that current physics proves we can never have cheap safe travel from earth. It just doesn't give us any way to do it today. Future physics might give us that without having to break conservation laws.

I particularly like neutrinos because there's the possibility they could be safe. If we want to lift millions of tons from earth's surface we can't afford a tremendous amount of pollution from the spent fuel. And if we want to someday have a thriving space economy that pays off, we need lots of trade. To make that work we need very cheap safe travel from earth to escape velocity and back. Future physics might give us that. But JustSo stories aside (I guess this is kind of the opposite of a JustSo story, but there are similarities), you want to make a giant investment in current technology, with an uncertain payoff that is unlikely to be good for the investors on earth. And you want to do that while science and technology are both rapidly changing.

There is no real possibility that any process which emits huge quantities of neutrinos would be safe. The main ones we know of involve active stellar cores, and of course supernova events produce tons of them.
Currently we have a vague idea how to do that for the few people who get out, who cannot return much to the people on earth who paid the bills. After you burn most of the fossil fuel getting up there, you get tremendous free energy that you mostly can't sell to us. Why should the billions of people who will live on earth pay for the thousands who escape? Well, depending on what you find up there you might wind up with a whole lot of bomb-grade nuclear material that you could drop on us if you wanted to. Maybe after you get established we will have no choice but to keep supporting you.

You can very easily beam energy down from space, where did you get the idea that you can't use microwave power transmission and the like?
Currently those are pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams, based on utterly inadequate data. Currently, sending stuff home from space is expensive. Ablation shields and all that, plus if we did a lot of it we don't know what it would do to the climate. Or the insurance rates -- it only takes one big package off course to do a lot of damage anywhere in the world there's a lot of stuff to damage.

I can understand how you'd think it's urgent to get to space. Things are likely to go pretty badly here over the next 30 years or so, and if you don't manage to burn a lot of the fossil fuels getting into space right away, then they will be gone and you'll never get to use them. You could be stuck here in horrible conditions with the rest of us peasants. But see, if we can do good enough science and engineering here, we can get past those temporary problems. We can get to space without the fossil fuels. It might take a little longer, but we could get an actual space economy that works.

Uh, where did you get the idea you need to use fossil fuels to get to space?

Yes, there are some LOX+Kerosene rockets, but LOX+Liquid Hydrogen, Nitrogen Tetroxide+Hydrazine, and so forth can all be synthesized fairly simply.

The real issue is if we're still completely relying on rockets with no progress for a non-rocket launch system in 30 years, we're pretty screwed as far as getting any significant amount of material into orbit or beyond.

Send the rest of us to hell getting up there now, and you just might find out that you personally are allergic to the algae you have to eat, and the space economy can't grow fast enough because there isn't enough zinc, and you can't mine zinc fast enough because you don't have enough zinc to do the mining. And your local technologists are franticly trying to find a workaround, while the remaining scientists on earth who could help you are having trouble keeping the internet together, much less send messages to you....

???

You seem to have this idea that the world is on some tipping point or whatever apocalyptic bullshit is being spewed by the latest blowhard touring the news.

That's sheer failure of imagination. Compare the quality of physics done before 1945 versus since then. Physicists need super-expensive tools because they can get super-expensive tools. Without that budget they would look carefully at things they can look at, and discover new physics that way. They might not discover the same things. But there isn't just one right path for physic advances to take.

...so your argument is that physicists need expensive stuff like the SSC just because they can get away with spending so much on it... though they didn't get it because shortsighted shitbags in Congress couldn't see a reason for it and decided it was too expensive?

There are scientists doing all sorts of science without massive budgets, but arguing that we'd do just as well without these tools is doing a huge disservice to the folks over at the Tevatron, as well as the discoveries made at accelerators before and since.

Arguing that there is some magical way we might be able to probe the high energy regime with stuff whipped up by a kid genius in his basement only works on the assumption that this is a movie, and it isn't a movie, that shit only works in the movies because of script writers not doing research... I mean fuck, this is a well known trope.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Yakk » Mon Sep 03, 2012 3:40 am UTC

I don't understand. Why would we need to replace momentum with something else? This doesn't make any sense to me.
Well, if you have a magic fairy rocket based off neutrino emission, you either need to replace or rewrite the physics of Energy, Entropy or Momentum.
Why would you need to break symmetry?
If you want a neutrino rocket with magic emission of momentum and energy carrying particles to be somehow superior to just shooting photons out your ass, you do.
Ah, we know how to make lights and shine them in one direction. It takes a whole lot of free energy to make the light. So if we had a way to pack a whole lot of free energy into a small mass, we could convert it into light and shine it backward, and get momentum forward. We'd save on not having to carry gobs of propellant that we shoot backward, but currently we have no way to carry giant amounts of energy in a small mass and convert it to light. So we'd lose more by carrying a big load of D cells than we would carrying a big load of gasoline.

I'm with yuou so far. And if we had a way to make neutrinos that used D cells to provide the energy to move those neutrinos close to lightspeed, that would be no better.
No, if we had any way to make neutrinos and shoot them out our ass, that would be a form of free energy (or, low entropy energy). Shooting neutrinos or photons or relatavistic protons with that free (low entropy) energy is an engineering issue.
Sure. If we provide the energy to accelerate our reaction mass to high speeds, then we need less reaction mass but we have to provide more energy.

Yes. The efficiency of a rocket engine, which includes shooting photons, rocks, neutrinos, hot gasses or chickens out the ass end of a rocket, is well understood. It is in the "solved and solid" part of physics. Just as rolling balls down ramps in Earth gravity was solved by Newton, and all of the revolutions of physics since then haven't changed how we predict the behavior of rocks rolling down smooth slopes...
But I say that when physics advances we don't know what we'll find. So as one example of something we might possibly find, perhaps we might find a way to get iron atoms to release neutrinos on demand

Yes, we could find a magic fairy energy source. Because that is what you are describing -- a tool powerful enough to reverse stellar-scale entropy, if it doesn't actually require ridiculous energy (read low-entropy energy) input.
Before, you have an iron atom. Afterward, you have an iron atom minus one neutrino, that has the momentum it gains from that neutrino. Does this violate any laws of physics?
Yes.
No.
No, it does.

I mean, I suppose we could be in a false vacuum, and when we step down from it iron suddenly prefers to be in a different state (and when an iron atom emits a neutrino, it isn't in the same state -- if it remains in the same state, then remember those conservation laws I was babbling on about? Thrown out the fucking window baby)

Neutrinos carry energy. They carry enough energy that they where originally postulated because physcists found an energy gap in beta decay. An iron atom with a neutrino missing has less rest mass than an iron atom without one missing, and nature abhores wasting mass, and we look really really hard for strange isotopes of various atomic substances (which such an iron atom would appear to be). So the process that would have to produce this "neutrino missing" atom would have to be somehow impossible to occur in nature... and then, the process could not continue indefinitely, because the resulting iron atom isn't in the same state as it was before.

I mean, fuck?
Have we observed any iron atoms with neutrinos missing? I don't know, how would we tell the difference?

So, your position is "I don't know, so because I don't know, it must be possible!"

What you are describing is ridiculously less likely than us just finding a generic way to extract a ridiculous amount of energy from some unknown entropic gradient. We are more likely to find a way to collapse the false vacuume or discover magnetic monopoles or a cheap way to mass produce antimatter or antigravity or harness the dark energy force to warp space itself than "discover how to make iron atoms emit neutrinos without otherwise changing".

And all of those things? Far less likely than us figuring out how to self-assemble a carbon nanotube (or some other exotic structure) and hanging a beanstalk down from a captured asteroid and then constructing (via planetary disassembly) a solar-system sized energy capture sphere to harness the entire power of the sun to run our civilization.

Yet your plan seems to be "lets bet on some fantasy I can invent, so I don't have to do anything today". And no, I don't agree with your plan: not all fantasies are equally likely, and magic science fairies shouldn't be relied upon to solve our problems.
We mostly can't plan for the new engineering any more than the new science. We can extrapolate the little things, but the big things are unpredictable beyond a horizon of maybe a decade.

Ya. No. Product development in many industries is longer than a decade from initial research through to produced output. So yes, we can predict engineering a decade out.
Currently those are pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams, based on utterly inadequate data. Currently, sending stuff home from space is expensive. Ablation shields and all that, plus if we did a lot of it we don't know what it would do to the climate. Or the insurance rates -- it only takes one big package off course to do a lot of damage anywhere in the world there's a lot of stuff to damage.

Wait, the person whose plan it is to have magic science fairies solve the problem calls mining asteroids pie-in-the-sky?

I wasn't talking about sending the resources back down the gravity well. You don't have to send them down for them to be useful: reducing the cost of emplacing satalies by a few orders of magnitude isn't a trivial contribution to civilization. And there are myraids of ways to get energy down the gravitational well that don't involve dropping rocks.
I can understand how you'd think it's urgent to get to space. Things are likely to go pretty badly here over the next 30 years or so, and if you don't manage to burn a lot of the fossil fuels getting into space right away, then they will be gone and you'll never get to use them.

Fossil fuels are not that effective a way to get to space. While they are cheap, they also have an annoyingly low thrust-to-weight ratio. Which is why there are a whole bunch of people in this thread pointing out non-fossil fuel based ways to get to space, some of which are actual products we engineered and built, and others are relatively modest (compared to magic fairy science that solves all of our problems) technological improvements. Heck, compared to magic fairy science, building a beanstock is modest (and that is one of the harder ways proposed in this thread!)
You could be stuck here in horrible conditions with the rest of us peasants.

I don't think many people in this thread are astronaughts. Nor are many of us millionares. Going to space on fossil fuels is ridiculously expensive, so I'm not really sure what kind of paranoid fantasy you are putting forward that makes you think that my plan is to bug off of this planet.

I was talking about building a space industry, which is a hard problem but not an impossible one, so we don't have to burn 50 kg of fuel for every kg of payload in space. Most of the difficulty here isn't in the form of energy budgets, but rather in the form of automation and bootstrapping an independent industrial base in exotic conditions.
But see, if we can do good enough science and engineering here, we can get past those temporary problems. We can get to space without the fossil fuels. It might take a little longer, but we could get an actual space economy that works.

Yes, if we invent magic fairy science that solves all of our problems, well, we don't have to actually attempt to solve any problems at all! Just pretend that some magic fairy science will appear and solve it for us!

Yes, we could get lucky, and a magic fairy will show up and solve our problems. I'd propose we aim to solve our problems without relying on a magic fairy showing up and solving our problems. If the magic fairy does show up (and it could! We cannot know the ways and means of magic fairy science!), then bonus: if not, we still get to reap the rewards of actual goal-directed efforts.
That's sheer failure of imagination. Compare the quality of physics done before 1945 versus since then. Physicists need super-expensive tools because they can get super-expensive tools. Without that budget they would look carefully at things they can look at, and discover new physics that way. They might not discover the same things. But there isn't just one right path for physic advances to take.

Oh, so now the physicists are being blinded by the huge amounts of money we throw at them?

I mean, really? Are you serious?

Remind me not to click on "view this post" next time.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:14 am UTC

KrytenKoro wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:
KrytenKoro wrote:The Sun is out in space. Again, discarding space exploration and colonization because "we can live fine on Earth" is not doable.
No one is discarding all space exploration and colonization. Stop moving the damn goalposts. And no one needs to actually colonize space, necessarily, for us to figure out a way to keep Earth from being fried. Hell, no one *necessarily* has to leave the planet at all, if we have advanced enough robots.


Not to get all philosophical, but I'm more concerned not with the arrogant tone but with the idea that Earth is merely a "cradle" which humanity will presumably outgrow. I'm perfectly happy living on "cradle" Earth and hope we never have to leave. Whatever your problems are that make you wish you could get off of Earth, I'm pretty sure that they're not going to be magically solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri.


I have not moved the goalposts a single inch, dood. I am, as I was, responding to the assertion that we have no need to "get off of Earth", and no problems that "could be solved on a space station/the Moon/Mars/Alpha Centauri."

When you have to leave the cradle to extinguish the fire raging outside of it, I think that counts as outgrowing it.


You make a good case for leaving earth sometime within the next 4 billion years, assuming in that time our understanding of astronomy doesn't change.

To J Thomas: I am not advocating that we throw everyone into space NOW before we know how to colonize planets. I am not saying we should pursue it solely to avoid events that render the Earth uninhabitable. I'm not saying that the benefits to space colonization would necessarily remain far in the future. And I do NOT think it will be possible to research space travel and suddenly discover better ways to colonize space without...researching space travel, which is what I AM advocating.


I agree with that completely. We should do research, and our research might eventually give us practical, affordable space travel.

I am advocating we focus on researching and developing a space exploration and colonization program that will allow us to establish somewhere to live, as well as to procure resources (Simple asteroid mining is not expected to require much greater advances in technology to be profitable, and it would be useful NOW).


I don't see that it's useful or important to focus our research that way. However, if you can persuade venture capitalists or governments that they will make a lot of money quick enough to suit them by doing simple asteroid mining, then go right ahead. I doubt that it will be profitable enough, or profitable quickly enough, with current technology. But if you can persuade the guys with the resources that it will be, if you can persuade them enough that they want to dedicate those resources, then we'll find out whether you're right about that or not. Just don't do it with my tax dollars.

The technology to allow us to survive in inhospitable space will also, necessarily, provide benefits for dealing with ecological fallout on Earth. It is neither reasonable nor accurate to suggest that we can safely put off this research until "far in the future when known threats are impending."


That's a good point. The research we do to find out how to deal with ecological fallout on earth will necessarily aid future space programs.

Furthermore, running out of helium (because we refused to invest in space mining colonies, etc.) and thus having to revert to a more expensive form of technology is NOT analogous to making progress in finding or manufacturing resources so that a higher quality material or more advanced technology is now cheaper. It's the exact opposite, in fact.


We have a collection of potential technologies that are limited because they depend on unobtainium. If it turns out that space mining gives us cheap unobtainium after all, then that's great. There is currently no evidence whatsoever that will happen. The big argument for asteroid mining etc so far is that it gives us lots of stuff in space, that we don't have to spend megatons of fossil fuel to get there. But that argument is circular.

AWG is also not an issue of "we're not sure whether cutting down pollution will make us healthier"; it's an issue of "can we still survive AND allow enough pollution to remain profitable." I would be surprised to meet anyone suggesting that pollution provides health benefits.


There's no end to the arguments people will make to support doing what they want to do. Look up "radiation hormesis" for an example. They want nuclear power so they argue that nuclear reactor accidents are good for you. It isn't impossible that they're right, but they argue that they are definitely right based on evidence they say is unpublished because the science journals have a conspiracy not to publish research that proves it.

People who start with the conclusion they want and work their way backward to the data that would support it, wind up with all sorts of crazy stuff. Like for example, the idea that the sun will blow up in 5 billion years so that should significantly change our research budget this century. And I dislike the idea that AGW is likely to set humanity back for a long time, so therefore we need to burn a whole lot of fossil fuels right now so a chosen few can get into space before it happens.

Finally, I don't think the paranoid tone I've been getting from some posts in this forum, that allowing space colonization will definitely lead to the colonies attacking Earth in some more profound way than nations already do, is anything more than a Gundam-based fantasy.


Sorry about that. My tone has been harsher than I like. I think I'm letting my personal situation affect things. I'm not sure what to do about it, maybe I'll take a break from posting here for awhile. Certainly no particular political or diplomatic outcome is inevitable considering that the technology and the economics is hypothetical and could change fast. If it turns out that space is not profitable, then there might be some little space colonies that drain resources until they are abandoned. If it were to turn out that space is quite profitable and can provide lots of unobtainium to earth, then whoever controls those resources will have a lot of power. There are lots of ways that can turn out badly for earth. Not unprecedented. Very often people who discover new resources work out ways to change the politics. Like, when the Panama canal looked feasible, the USA basicly took panama away from Colombia, though we allowed considerable self-rule for the Colombians who lived in panama outside the Canal Zone. It hasn't been all that uncommon when oil was discovered in weak nations that the oil-producing part was separated out as a special nation. Kuwait and Timor are examples. Biafra is a failed example. People or nations that want to invest in space face the possibility that if they succeed their winnings might be taken from them. And if space has military potential, that potential might be controlled for awhile by an earth nation and then controlled by people who live in space and who feel no loyalty to anyone on earth.

While the physics we know now will probably continue to be as good as ever within its limitations, new physics will probably give us a series of new cosmologies with new methods for the world to end and new timeframes.

How red giants work is pretty well within current physics' domain.


We know some about that. There's a whole lot we don't know. For example we don't know how to start the process, and we don't know how to keep it from starting.

As Asimov explains in "The Relativity of Wrong", just because we now know the Earth is an oblate spheroid doesn't mean we can't make useful predictions at certain scales with reasonable accuracy by treating it as flat or as a perfect sphere. Our old physics is merely less precise, it is not "totally, undeniably useless in making predictions."


It might be true that we basicly know all there is to know about physics now, and all that's left is to keep improving the precision. Just get it down to the next decimal. Are you arguing that this is true?
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby VectorZero » Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:49 am UTC

I thought this seemed relevant. Someone is at least having a go.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Mon Sep 03, 2012 12:02 pm UTC

Max™ wrote:Iron atoms don't "contain" or "lose" neutrinos, they contain neutrons, protons, and electrons. Sometimes a proton can capture an electron and turn into a neutron, and a neutrino. You can tell for certain when this happens.


I think you have a valid interpretation there of current understanding. I want to point out though that when a nucleus emits a beta particle, you can figure that it created an electron on the spot and ejected it, or that the electron was already there all along somehow inside the nucleus. Similarly when it emits a positron, maybe the positron was created on the spot or maybe it was already somehow inside a proton or something. And when it also emits a neutrino, did it create it on the spot or was it residing inside the nucleus? At the moment I think the distinction is more one for philosophy than for physics.

OK, if you carry an iron atom and you get one neutrino from it, that's a bad bargain for mass versus acceleration. Maybe we'll find that we can get lots of neutrinos from an iron atom on demand. Maybe after an iron atom has released a whole lot of neutrinos then it turns to manganese or something. There would be a lot of details to work out, and there's no point in me elaborating on them when at this point it's all fantasy. But I want to point out that this violates no fundamental laws as we currently envision them. Does a Mn55 atom contain more binding energy than a Fe56 atom? Sure, but we just harvested the mass-energy from an entire neutron. We can spare some for binding energy.

The processes which release neutrinos in large amounts all involve what are usually known as thermonuclear reactions, iron in particular is not much good for this, as you lose energy fusing iron, thus iron is literally a starkiller metal.


Everything you say is correct by our current understanding. But remember that there's lots we don't understand about neutrinos. Current beliefs hold that some neutrinos oscillate between a form that is indirectly detectable, versus a form that we currently have no way to detect at all. Why can't there be neutrinos traveling everywhere that we currently cannot detect, that do not oscillate into a form we can detect? Well, currently the standard model does not predict them. There is one kind of neutrino for each kind of lepton, and there has been no need to postulate neutrinos for quarks, bosons, etc. Completely undetectable neutrinos have not been observed, so why predict they're there? If we find a way to detect them then the standard model will be revised.

If you were spitting neutrinos out of any atom, something has to be changing to cause this, proton + electron -> neutron + neutrino is the most common form of such a reaction I can think of, but it is not the only one. However there is no way you could just have a "neutrino leak" without a different end product than the iron or whatnot which you began with.


Yes, you would get a different end product. It would probably be a form of iron, if no charges are gained or lost.

As I recall, Iron tends to turn into a really radioactive form of Cobalt during some of these processes, and you should be more worried about that than launching with a photon rocket.


This is an entirely hypothetical example of something that might possibly be found by future physics. It isn't appropriate to consider the engineering details of manned spaceships that use it, yet. ;) I picked iron for the example because iron as you say is lowest on the fusion/fission scale, and because we have plenty of iron. If by some sort of coincidence the new physics turns out somehow similar to my description, likely some other element would be more practical to use.

Rockets are stupid for ground launch though, elevators, loops, cannons, anything where you can spend energy once to get most of the mass up without carrying propellant is generally going to win.


Yes, sort of. Once you get high enough, further acceleration has to be from something onboard. You'll probably need some rocketry involved. But it's valuable to reduce that.

Could you get just the iron atoms that are in one orientation to produce their neutrinos all in the same direction? Maybe. That might subtly violate some sort of symmetry but I don't see that it necessarily would.

This would rather unsubtly violate symmetries, hence the mention of Noether's Theorem.


I don't see why it necessarily violates symmetries any more than lasers or magnets do. (Incidentally, I read a story that when Townes proposed the laser, based on his interpretation of Maxwell's equations, various experts in quantum mechanics told him it was incompatible with quantum mechanics and therefore impossible. After he did it, they figured out why it was compatible with QM after all. But when I read his autobiography he didn't tell it that way. They figured merely that it would be impractical to get all the atoms lined up correctly so they would produce their light in the same direction in unison. They were indeed QM experts but they weren't arguing that QM forbade it, they were only expressing their gut feel about statistics.)

Would it take a lot of energy to orient them, compared to what you get from the neutrinos? Would they lose their orientation when they lost a neutrino and have to regain it? Maybe a lot of that could take care of itself, like magnetic domains in crystals that heal themselves of small perturbations though not large ones.

If it could happen this easily, it would happen all the time. Since it doesn't ever happen, it won't happen easily, you can safely assume.


This is the argument that goes "We haven't noticed it happen, therefore it can't happen." Clearly, atoms are mostly stable. But then, a sackful of sugar sitting on a shelf is mostly stable. You can leave it there 10 years dry at room temperature and nothing will happen. However, if you mix it into 5 gallons of water with a few salts etc and some yeast, the sugar will be mostly gone in a week. There is a high energy barrier required for the sugar to burn and it doesn't happen without a lot of heat to start the process. But yeast have enzymes that catalyze a slow burn. They tunnel through the activation barrier.

Could here be something analogous going on with, say, iron? Each of those protons contains a tremendous amount of energy, but they're in a stable state so the energy is trapped in place. You can release all that energy quickly if you have an anti-proton handy.... If there turns out to be some way to catalyze the reaction, you might get energy out of iron. The method that catalyzes it would be rare in nature, which is why we have so many atoms lying around. Similarly, yeast and liquid water are both rare in our solar system so we only observe enzymes catalyzing chemical reactions here on earth.

I don't see that current physics proves we can never have cheap safe travel from earth. It just doesn't give us any way to do it today. Future physics might give us that without having to break conservation laws.

I particularly like neutrinos because there's the possibility they could be safe. If we want to lift millions of tons from earth's surface we can't afford a tremendous amount of pollution from the spent fuel. And if we want to someday have a thriving space economy that pays off, we need lots of trade. To make that work we need very cheap safe travel from earth to escape velocity and back. Future physics might give us that. But JustSo stories aside (I guess this is kind of the opposite of a JustSo story, but there are similarities), you want to make a giant investment in current technology, with an uncertain payoff that is unlikely to be good for the investors on earth. And you want to do that while science and technology are both rapidly changing.

There is no real possibility that any process which emits huge quantities of neutrinos would be safe. The main ones we know of involve active stellar cores, and of course supernova events produce tons of them.


You are not qualified to make that claim, from your understanding of the way that future physics must inevitably develop. I certainly do not claim it will go the way I say. I do claim that physics 200 years from now is likely to be no more similar to what we have today, than today's physics is like the physics of 1812. If you believe that physics progresses faster now than it did then (when it was pursued largely by amateurs and tenured professors puttering in cheap labs), it is likely to change even more in that time.

Currently we have a vague idea how to do that for the few people who get out, who cannot return much to the people on earth who paid the bills. After you burn most of the fossil fuel getting up there, you get tremendous free energy that you mostly can't sell to us. Why should the billions of people who will live on earth pay for the thousands who escape? Well, depending on what you find up there you might wind up with a whole lot of bomb-grade nuclear material that you could drop on us if you wanted to. Maybe after you get established we will have no choice but to keep supporting you.

You can very easily beam energy down from space, where did you get the idea that you can't use microwave power transmission and the like?


How many terawatts do you want to maser to earth?

Currently those are pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams, based on utterly inadequate data. Currently, sending stuff home from space is expensive. Ablation shields and all that, plus if we did a lot of it we don't know what it would do to the climate. Or the insurance rates -- it only takes one big package off course to do a lot of damage anywhere in the world there's a lot of stuff to damage.

I can understand how you'd think it's urgent to get to space. Things are likely to go pretty badly here over the next 30 years or so, and if you don't manage to burn a lot of the fossil fuels getting into space right away, then they will be gone and you'll never get to use them. You could be stuck here in horrible conditions with the rest of us peasants. But see, if we can do good enough science and engineering here, we can get past those temporary problems. We can get to space without the fossil fuels. It might take a little longer, but we could get an actual space economy that works.

Uh, where did you get the idea you need to use fossil fuels to get to space?


Randall calculated it takes about the energy of 1.5 kg of gasoline to lift 1 kg of mass to escape velocity, assuming you don't have to lift any fuel. Where will that energy come from? I guess it could come from nuclear power or possibly solar power. But the bulk of our energy use today comes from fossil fuels.

Yes, there are some LOX+Kerosene rockets, but LOX+Liquid Hydrogen, Nitrogen Tetroxide+Hydrazine, and so forth can all be synthesized fairly simply.


How much fossil fuel do you use to get liquid hydrogen? How much fossil fuel does it take to make your hydrazine? Etc. The advantage is that when you make fuels with more concentrated energy, you don't have to carry as much. Saving on weight can more than make up for the cost of creating the fuel in the first place. Plus the incidental engineering issues, that might say to use one fuel over another. But when you use a solid fuel, you don't dig its components out of the thermite mines. You use up lots of energy making them, and that energy is usually going to come from burning fossil fuels.

The real issue is if we're still completely relying on rockets with no progress for a non-rocket launch system in 30 years, we're pretty screwed as far as getting any significant amount of material into orbit or beyond.


Agreed.

Send the rest of us to hell getting up there now, and you just might find out that you personally are allergic to the algae you have to eat, and the space economy can't grow fast enough because there isn't enough zinc, and you can't mine zinc fast enough because you don't have enough zinc to do the mining. And your local technologists are franticly trying to find a workaround, while the remaining scientists on earth who could help you are having trouble keeping the internet together, much less send messages to you....

???

You seem to have this idea that the world is on some tipping point or whatever apocalyptic bullshit is being spewed by the latest blowhard touring the news.


I get this from some space enthusiasts. The argument goes that we have to get to space before the fossil fuels are gone, because after that it isn't going to happen and they'll be stuck down here with a bunch of welfare cases and Democrats. I think they're paranoid. But then, they think I'm paranoid. "What? The gigawatt masers? Those aren't death rays! We want to to give away free energy to earth!"

That's sheer failure of imagination. Compare the quality of physics done before 1945 versus since then. Physicists need super-expensive tools because they can get super-expensive tools. Without that budget they would look carefully at things they can look at, and discover new physics that way. They might not discover the same things. But there isn't just one right path for physic advances to take.

...so your argument is that physicists need expensive stuff like the SSC just because they can get away with spending so much on it... though they didn't get it because shortsighted shitbags in Congress couldn't see a reason for it and decided it was too expensive?

There are scientists doing all sorts of science without massive budgets, but arguing that we'd do just as well without these tools is doing a huge disservice to the folks over at the Tevatron, as well as the discoveries made at accelerators before and since.


I'm not saying they'd necessarily be better off with a lower budget. Just -- look at how it's gone with biology. They needed to study DNA. Now, every major university biology department has a scanning electron microscope. People like to look at stuff. And it's easy and cheap to get micromanipulators that can do things like separate out yeast cells. You look at them with a microscope and you move a little oil globule to the one you want, and then you move it around. Over the last 20 years or so scientists have developed methods to manipulate single atoms using a scanning tunneling microscope. If that had come early enough, and if biology had gotten enough money, we would be using that sort of thing to study DNA. When we wanted to create new DNA sequences we would assemble them one subunit at a time, with nanomanipulators. It would be extremely expensive, but that's just how you have to do it, you get what you pay for.

But the way it actually happened, the money just was not there. And researchers studying viruses that attacked bacteria, noticed that when they transferred the same virus to a slightly different strain of bacteria, at first less than 1 in 1000 of the viruses were successful. But after awhile most of them were. It turned out that each kind of bacteria made enzymes that chewed up foreign DNA, but they changed their own DNA in subtle ways to protect it. Eventually researchers learned how to use those enzymes for themselves, to cut up DNA and splice it back together. They got cheap ways to manipulate DNA. Would they even have thought of that if they were busy competing for time on the nanomanipulators? Maybe not.

Science advances when researchers notice little rough edges that don't fit their expectations, and they look closely at them and figure out what's going on. I am not a professional physicist so I don't know what's really going on with them, but for a few years now a lot of the nontechnical talk has implied a lot of theoretical particle physics could not progress until they found out whether there was a Higgs boson. Maybe that was just hype to justify the funding, but if it's real it indicates a massive failure of imagination. Get too many people focused too tightly on one expensive project, and they are not looking everywhere for little anomalies to investigate.

If there was funding to support a lot of physicists, and moderate funding for equipment, they'd look for innovative ways to get results. They'd find some.

Arguing that there is some magical way we might be able to probe the high energy regime with stuff whipped up by a kid genius in his basement only works on the assumption that this is a movie, and it isn't a movie, that shit only works in the movies because of script writers not doing research... I mean fuck, this is a well known trope.


We are doing high-energy stuff because we have the funding for it. There is no guarantee that it will not be mostly a dead end, but it looks like a very good approach to follow, since the money is there. Without so much funding we'd have more emphasis on cosmic rays, more emphasis on cheap ways to bootstrap results, more indirect observation, more low-energy physics, etc. Physics results would come about as fast (or maybe faster) but they would not be the same results. Would the bottom line be better or worse? I don't know. The experiment has not been done. There is no control group.

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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby bmonk » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:46 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:
As Asimov explains in "The Relativity of Wrong", just because we now know the Earth is an oblate spheroid doesn't mean we can't make useful predictions at certain scales with reasonable accuracy by treating it as flat or as a perfect sphere. Our old physics is merely less precise, it is not "totally, undeniably useless in making predictions."


It might be true that we basically know all there is to know about physics now, and all that's left is to keep improving the precision. Just get it down to the next decimal. Are you arguing that this is true?


Of course, the next decimal might have some very interesting qualities.

And much modern physics isn't really concerned with better precision anyway. Look at how little Relativity affects us (greater precision) vs. how Quantum Mechanics opened up a whole new understanding of particle physics, including such things as electronics, silicon-based transistors, and so on. Less a matter of greater precision and more asking new questions, like "if there's no actual orbit for electrons, how can we characterize their behavior?"

Or the understanding of chaotic systems, as opposed to the Classical systems Newton liked to deal with.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Max™ » Tue Sep 04, 2012 1:19 am UTC

On the subject of relativity precision, GPS affects us every day and ONLY exists because of relativity, and the accuracy of GPS is directly related to the level of precision in our understanding of relativity.
J Thomas wrote:
Max™ wrote:Iron atoms don't "contain" or "lose" neutrinos, they contain neutrons, protons, and electrons. Sometimes a proton can capture an electron and turn into a neutron, and a neutrino. You can tell for certain when this happens.


I think you have a valid interpretation there of current understanding. I want to point out though that when a nucleus emits a beta particle, you can figure that it created an electron on the spot and ejected it, or that the electron was already there all along somehow inside the nucleus. Similarly when it emits a positron, maybe the positron was created on the spot or maybe it was already somehow inside a proton or something. And when it also emits a neutrino, did it create it on the spot or was it residing inside the nucleus? At the moment I think the distinction is more one for philosophy than for physics.

When it's experimentally confirmed, it's not just current understanding. Most of the terms we use for particles just represent a particular state of energy anyways, so it remains a physics distinction.

Everything you say is correct by our current understanding. But remember that there's lots we don't understand about neutrinos. Current beliefs hold that some neutrinos oscillate between a form that is indirectly detectable, versus a form that we currently have no way to detect at all. Why can't there be neutrinos traveling everywhere that we currently cannot detect, that do not oscillate into a form we can detect? Well, currently the standard model does not predict them. There is one kind of neutrino for each kind of lepton, and there has been no need to postulate neutrinos for quarks, bosons, etc. Completely undetectable neutrinos have not been observed, so why predict they're there? If we find a way to detect them then the standard model will be revised.

The term you're looking for is "sterile neutrino", as I recall.

Yes, you would get a different end product. It would probably be a form of iron, if no charges are gained or lost.

Releasing a neutrino usually implies that one particle turned into another one. If you're proposing a way in which one could produce any quantity of neutrinos without changing the element you started with, then that amounts to free energy, and violates numerous physical laws.

I don't see why it necessarily violates symmetries any more than lasers or magnets do. (Incidentally, I read a story that when Townes proposed the laser, based on his interpretation of Maxwell's equations, various experts in quantum mechanics told him it was incompatible with quantum mechanics and therefore impossible. After he did it, they figured out why it was compatible with QM after all. But when I read his autobiography he didn't tell it that way. They figured merely that it would be impractical to get all the atoms lined up correctly so they would produce their light in the same direction in unison. They were indeed QM experts but they weren't arguing that QM forbade it, they were only expressing their gut feel about statistics.)

Being able to get a particle to emit a particle preferentially in one direction violates conservation of momentum I think, it violates other aspects of CPT-symmetry as well. It would impart a unique frame of reference for various processes which currently do not have one, I could go on, but suffice to say there is a huge difference between lasing materials and making them only emit neutrinos in a single direction.

This is the argument that goes "We haven't noticed it happen, therefore it can't happen." Clearly, atoms are mostly stable. But then, a sackful of sugar sitting on a shelf is mostly stable. You can leave it there 10 years dry at room temperature and nothing will happen. However, if you mix it into 5 gallons of water with a few salts etc and some yeast, the sugar will be mostly gone in a week. There is a high energy barrier required for the sugar to burn and it doesn't happen without a lot of heat to start the process. But yeast have enzymes that catalyze a slow burn. They tunnel through the activation barrier.

Could here be something analogous going on with, say, iron? Each of those protons contains a tremendous amount of energy, but they're in a stable state so the energy is trapped in place. You can release all that energy quickly if you have an anti-proton handy.... If there turns out to be some way to catalyze the reaction, you might get energy out of iron. The method that catalyzes it would be rare in nature, which is why we have so many atoms lying around. Similarly, yeast and liquid water are both rare in our solar system so we only observe enzymes catalyzing chemical reactions here on earth.

If protons aren't stable against numerous types of effects and last for a certain length of time, you wouldn't be able to support your own mass.

There is no real possibility that any process which emits huge quantities of neutrinos would be safe. The main ones we know of involve active stellar cores, and of course supernova events produce tons of them.


You are not qualified to make that claim, from your understanding of the way that future physics must inevitably develop. I certainly do not claim it will go the way I say. I do claim that physics 200 years from now is likely to be no more similar to what we have today, than today's physics is like the physics of 1812. If you believe that physics progresses faster now than it did then (when it was pursued largely by amateurs and tenured professors puttering in cheap labs), it is likely to change even more in that time.

I am indeed qualified to make this claim, there is no real possibility that we'll find a way to milk neutrinos out of nothing and thus produce endless free energy, as you are proposing.

COULD it happen? Sure, it's possible, but no, there is no significant likelihood that it will.

Physics of 200 years from now will have to reproduce the current physics results, and that rather soundly eliminates the possibility of certain types of new magic-fairy effects being found.

How many terawatts do you want to maser to earth?

Enough.

Randall calculated it takes about the energy of 1.5 kg of gasoline to lift 1 kg of mass to escape velocity, assuming you don't have to lift any fuel. Where will that energy come from? I guess it could come from nuclear power or possibly solar power. But the bulk of our energy use today comes from fossil fuels.

That was just convenient for calculations, people understand gasoline, people don't understand LOX+LH or other rocket fuels as well.
How much fossil fuel do you use to get liquid hydrogen? How much fossil fuel does it take to make your hydrazine?

You don't use fossil fuels to make liquid hydrogen or hydrazine.

I get this from some space enthusiasts. The argument goes that we have to get to space before the fossil fuels are gone, because after that it isn't going to happen and they'll be stuck down here with a bunch of welfare cases and Democrats. I think they're paranoid. But then, they think I'm paranoid. "What? The gigawatt masers? Those aren't death rays! We want to to give away free energy to earth!"

Yes they are death rays, but they're far too difficult to be worth it.

You want to screw up shit on the ground, just drop crowbars from orbit, it will work just as well for far less money and effort.

Science advances when researchers notice little rough edges that don't fit their expectations, and they look closely at them and figure out what's going on. I am not a professional physicist so I don't know what's really going on with them, but for a few years now a lot of the nontechnical talk has implied a lot of theoretical particle physics could not progress until they found out whether there was a Higgs boson. Maybe that was just hype to justify the funding, but if it's real it indicates a massive failure of imagination. Get too many people focused too tightly on one expensive project, and they are not looking everywhere for little anomalies to investigate.

No, in absolutely no way whatsoever was the Higgs hype to justify funding, whoever told you that is ignorant or lying.

Theoretical particle physics needed higher energy experiments to examine certain things specifically because the "low hanging fruit" is mostly found already. The early universe was very high energy, and examining what the conditions were like requires powerful accelerators.

It is not a failure of imagination, it is a very successful theory which has so far been borne out on all of it's predictions besides the Higgs.

If there was funding to support a lot of physicists, and moderate funding for equipment, they'd look for innovative ways to get results. They'd find some.

There are lots of physicists doing research without billion dollar colliders, but there are things which can only be found with billion dollar colliders, so it is better to have them than not.

You seem to have weird ideas about how funding works in science, to say the least.

We are doing high-energy stuff because we have the funding for it. There is no guarantee that it will not be mostly a dead end, but it looks like a very good approach to follow, since the money is there. Without so much funding we'd have more emphasis on cosmic rays, more emphasis on cheap ways to bootstrap results, more indirect observation, more low-energy physics, etc. Physics results would come about as fast (or maybe faster) but they would not be the same results. Would the bottom line be better or worse? I don't know. The experiment has not been done. There is no control group.

No, there is not much funding for science, we spend a tiny fraction of the money wasted blowing shit up on actual science research.

There is a guarantee that it will further the advance of knowledge and understanding. If you want a guarantee about tangible results, I'd say the internet, improved cloud infrastructure, and so on are good reasons to fund high energy science.

There would be the same amount of low energy physics being done, we'd just lack high energy research, we wouldn't be better off in any way in this hypothetical you're proposing.
Last edited by Max™ on Tue Sep 04, 2012 1:52 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 04, 2012 1:48 am UTC

Max™ wrote:Being able to get a particle to emit a particle preferentially in one direction violates conservation of momentum I think, it violates other aspects of CPT-symmetry as well. It would impart a unique frame of reference for various processes which currently do not have one, I could go on, but suffice to say there is a huge difference between lasing materials and making them only emit neutrinos in a single direction.
To be fair, I don't think J Thomas is actually suggesting in this thread that neutrinos might be able to violate conservation of momentum or energy (though has essentially said as much elsewhere, so I can't really be sure). Rather, he is suggesting that none of those basic fundamental laws would be violated by some kind of black-box drive that was able to spew out its energy in the form of neutrinos instead of photons. If such a drive could be created, it would have one advantage over a photon drive in that it wouldn't be so dangerous to get in the way of its exhaust, since so much of it would pass harmlessly through you.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby Max™ » Tue Sep 04, 2012 2:10 am UTC

Yeah, still amounts to a magic-fairy-box drive.
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Sep 04, 2012 3:54 am UTC

Sure, but not for reasons so fundamental as clearly violating conservation of energy or momentum.
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J Thomas
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Re: What-if 0007: Everybody Out

Postby J Thomas » Tue Sep 04, 2012 4:49 am UTC

Max™ wrote:On the subject of relativity precision, GPS affects us every day and ONLY exists because of relativity, and the accuracy of GPS is directly related to the level of precision in our understanding of relativity.


I'm sorry. This is utter and complete nonsense. I can't blame you for not thinking it through since so many other people repeat it uncritically. With so much repetition it must seem like it doesn't need any thought, it must be true or they wouldn't say it so much.

Our engineers don't need a complete theory to explain in detail how everything works before they can use it. If they built a GPS system without knowing about relativity, they could and would measure the systematic errors and adjust for them. They have to do that *anyway*, because they get lots of small errors from unknown sources, that add up. The systematic ones are the easiest to deal with. The idea that it's so very important that there is a theory which sort of predicts one of the systematic errors is ludicrous.

J Thomas wrote:
Max™ wrote:Iron atoms don't "contain" or "lose" neutrinos, they contain neutrons, protons, and electrons. Sometimes a proton can capture an electron and turn into a neutron, and a neutrino. You can tell for certain when this happens.


I think you have a valid interpretation there of current understanding. I want to point out though that when a nucleus emits a beta particle, you can figure that it created an electron on the spot and ejected it, or that the electron was already there all along somehow inside the nucleus. Similarly when it emits a positron, maybe the positron was created on the spot or maybe it was already somehow inside a proton or something. And when it also emits a neutrino, did it create it on the spot or was it residing inside the nucleus? At the moment I think the distinction is more one for philosophy than for physics.

When it's experimentally confirmed, it's not just current understanding. Most of the terms we use for particles just represent a particular state of energy anyways, so it remains a physics distinction.


Current theories about what happens inside an iron nucleus tend to suppose that maybe something the size of an alpha particle tends to have some stability in there, and there's some sort of binding energy mediated by some sort of particle.... Some theories suppose an almost crystalline structure of smaller pieces. Others emphasize quarks. It might turn out that individual protons and neutrons maintain their identity inside a nucleus, or maybe they have no more existence than individual H2O molecules in liquid water. You can look at the electromagnetic radiation that comes out of nuclei to get some idea how they're organized, but when you induce them to radiate that stuff they are not in the same states they're in when they aren't radiating it.... It was only natural to assume that they have a structure analogous to electron shells, and interpret everything in those terms, and it's possible to get reasonable results that way.

So OK, I ask you again, when a nucleus emits a beta particle, did it create an electron from scratch just at that moment, or was the electron already there? Perhaps inside a neutron? And when a nucleus emits a positron, did it create that positron from scratch just at that moment, or was the positron already there? Perhaps inside a proton? Do you understand experiments which confirm one of those interpretations over the other?

Everything you say is correct by our current understanding. But remember that there's lots we don't understand about neutrinos. Current beliefs hold that some neutrinos oscillate between a form that is indirectly detectable, versus a form that we currently have no way to detect at all. Why can't there be neutrinos traveling everywhere that we currently cannot detect, that do not oscillate into a form we can detect? Well, currently the standard model does not predict them. There is one kind of neutrino for each kind of lepton, and there has been no need to postulate neutrinos for quarks, bosons, etc. Completely undetectable neutrinos have not been observed, so why predict they're there? If we find a way to detect them then the standard model will be revised.

The term you're looking for is "sterile neutrino", as I recall.

Yes, you would get a different end product. It would probably be a form of iron, if no charges are gained or lost.

Releasing a neutrino usually implies that one particle turned into another one. If you're proposing a way in which one could produce any quantity of neutrinos without changing the element you started with, then that amounts to free energy, and violates numerous physical laws.


I don't say the iron atom in the new state would have the same energy it had when it contained one more neutrino. How could it? That would violate various physical laws.

I don't see why it necessarily violates symmetries any more than lasers or magnets do. (Incidentally, I read a story that when Townes proposed the laser, based on his interpretation of Maxwell's equations, various experts in quantum mechanics told him it was incompatible with quantum mechanics and therefore impossible. After he did it, they figured out why it was compatible with QM after all. But when I read his autobiography he didn't tell it that way. They figured merely that it would be impractical to get all the atoms lined up correctly so they would produce their light in the same direction in unison. They were indeed QM experts but they weren't arguing that QM forbade it, they were only expressing their gut feel about statistics.)

Being able to get a particle to emit a particle preferentially in one direction violates conservation of momentum I think, it violates other aspects of CPT-symmetry as well. It would impart a unique frame of reference for various processes which currently do not have one, I could go on, but suffice to say there is a huge difference between lasing materials and making them only emit neutrinos in a single direction.


I probably don't understand all the subtleties of the conservation laws. I notice that when talented amateurs discuss this sort of thing typically some of them are confused. Maybe I could learn something here. If it's possible to set up special conditions that result in atoms preferentially emitting neutrinos (of a type which is currently unknown) in a single direction, how does that violate symmetry? It's an unknown type of neutrino, imagine that something as simple as an electric or magnetic field affected the direction that atoms emit these neutrinos. How does that violate symmetry?

But no matter, even if the neutrinos were emitted in all directions equally, all we need is a neutrino mirror and we can get well over half of them going in roughly the right direction. Currently I have no idea how to make a neutrino mirror, of course. And if it's possible I don't know how heavy it would be or how much energy would be required to maintain it. But hey, tell somebody in 1812 that you have a magnet you can turn on and off instantly, and they probably wouldn't believe it until they saw it. There were people making guesses that electricity was somehow connected to magnetism, but nobody had found a connection. Do you know that neutrino mirrors violate physical law?

This is the argument that goes "We haven't noticed it happen, therefore it can't happen." Clearly, atoms are mostly stable. But then, a sackful of sugar sitting on a shelf is mostly stable. You can leave it there 10 years dry at room temperature and nothing will happen. However, if you mix it into 5 gallons of water with a few salts etc and some yeast, the sugar will be mostly gone in a week. There is a high energy barrier required for the sugar to burn and it doesn't happen without a lot of heat to start the process. But yeast have enzymes that catalyze a slow burn. They tunnel through the activation barrier. ....

If protons aren't stable against numerous types of effects and last for a certain length of time, you wouldn't be able to support your own mass.


Sure, and if sugar wasn't stable against numerous effects and last a certain length of time you couldn't have a candy cane. But you can still suck on it, when it isn't being quite so stable.

There is no real possibility that any process which emits huge quantities of neutrinos would be safe. The main ones we know of involve active stellar cores, and of course supernova events produce tons of them.


You are not qualified to make that claim, from your understanding of the way that future physics must inevitably develop. I certainly do not claim it will go the way I say. I do claim that physics 200 years from now is likely to be no more similar to what we have today, than today's physics is like the physics of 1812. If you believe that physics progresses faster now than it did then (when it was pursued largely by amateurs and tenured professors puttering in cheap labs), it is likely to change even more in that time.

I am indeed qualified to make this claim, there is no real possibility that we'll find a way to milk neutrinos out of nothing and thus produce endless free energy, as you are proposing.


I don't propose endless free energy. If it turns out that we can convert an iron nucleus entirely into neutrinos, then after it is converted entirely into neutrinos it will be gone. That would be the end. Since neutrinos aren't observed to have charge, after emitting neutrinos an atom should still have all its charges. But it might not continue to be stable that way, and might eventually eject some charges. That could give radioactivity etc. Hoping that the whole thing could become neutrinos is pretty much a best-case wish.

COULD it happen? Sure, it's possible, but no, there is no significant likelihood that it will.


You aren't qualified to decide that. If the future path of physics runs qualitatively like its past and present, we will find that our current understanding of physics is fundamentally incomplete and maybe flawed, but it still works adequately in a limited range of circumstances. What will be possible with the new physics, in circumstances we currently don't know how to set up? You don't know. If you did know, you would understand the new physics, and you do not.

Physics of 200 years from now will have to reproduce the current physics results, and that rather soundly eliminates the possibility of certain types of new magic-fairy effects being found.


You don't know what is possible outside the circumstances you understand. You don't know what it takes to get outside the circumstances you understand.

Randall calculated it takes about the energy of 1.5 kg of gasoline to lift 1 kg of mass to escape velocity, assuming you don't have to lift any fuel. Where will that energy come from? I guess it could come from nuclear power or possibly solar power. But the bulk of our energy use today comes from fossil fuels.

That was just convenient for calculations, people understand gasoline, people don't understand LOX+LH or other rocket fuels as well.

How much fossil fuel do you use to get liquid hydrogen? How much fossil fuel does it take to make your hydrazine?

You don't use fossil fuels to make liquid hydrogen or hydrazine.


I must have been unclear. Look, do you use electricity to make liquid hydrogen? Yes. Where does the electricity come from? A little bit is hydroelectric, and some is nuclear, and a whole lot comes from burning fossil fuels. Yes, you use fossil fuels to make liquid hydrogen. Similarly with hydrazine. To make the precursors you do various endothermic reactions, and the energy comes mostly from fossil fuels.

I get this from some space enthusiasts. The argument goes that we have to get to space before the fossil fuels are gone, because after that it isn't going to happen and they'll be stuck down here with a bunch of welfare cases and Democrats. I think they're paranoid. But then, they think I'm paranoid. "What? The gigawatt masers? Those aren't death rays! We want to to give away free energy to earth!"

Yes they are death rays, but they're far too difficult to be worth it.

You want to screw up shit on the ground, just drop crowbars from orbit, it will work just as well for far less money and effort.


You ever play one of those games where you drop coins into water and try to land them in the right spot? Crowbars are fine if you don't care what you hit. Just keep dropping them until you're sure you hit what you want. You can probably get a lot better precision with masers or maybe with particle beams. But that aside, it's in general easy to attack earth from space, particularly if you have spare mass to drop. And it's hard to attack space from earth. If you live on earth, you are better off not to create a culture in space that considers itself separate from your culture.

.... Theoretical particle physics needed higher energy experiments to examine certain things specifically because the "low hanging fruit" is mostly found already. The early universe was very high energy, and examining what the conditions were like requires powerful accelerators.

It is not a failure of imagination, it is a very successful theory which has so far been borne out on all of it's predictions besides the Higgs.


Well see, ecologists have harvested their low hanging fruit, and to make their next breakthroughs they need to build artificial sealed ecosystems and study them. We need about 100 glassed structures about one square kilometer each, a cost of perhaps $1 billion apiece. If all the money isn't available right away we could start out building a few of them and build the rest over time. We have to get this to test our ecological theories. It will be worth the money, I promise.

You disagree? You think the money should be spent on physics experiments instead? OK, is there a way we can resolve this scientifically to decide which experiments are worth more -- before we actually get the experimental results and find out what we win?
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