Couldn't keep going. A bunch of bureaucratic history (and whining) that makes the volume impenetrable in places. I'd rather read about the technology...moreCouldn't keep going. A bunch of bureaucratic history (and whining) that makes the volume impenetrable in places. I'd rather read about the technology and how it applies. Moving on.(less)
Here are your choices, world: (1) the extreme effects of global warming, (2) crushing third world poverty, or (3) a renewable+nuclear future. Every al...moreHere are your choices, world: (1) the extreme effects of global warming, (2) crushing third world poverty, or (3) a renewable+nuclear future. Every alternative has its plusses and minuses, but the minuses of (1) and (2) are so large and destabilizing, it is scary to contemplate.
People in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are not "noble savages." People in the developed world are going to want more and more power. What choice is left? The main drawback to (3) is not the potential for terrorism or the waste storage problem as Lynas points out, but the potential proliferation of weapons grade materials—which he only obliquely references. But, as Lynas does point out, all that means is that nations must comply with the NNPT.
I wish I could give a copy to everyone I know.(less)
Informative, but almost as if he's trying to hard to be skeptical. It seems like maybe he's putting his thumb on the scale of "we are alone." That's f...moreInformative, but almost as if he's trying to hard to be skeptical. It seems like maybe he's putting his thumb on the scale of "we are alone." That's fine, but it's more in the manner of philosophy than science, and the man is a scientist. As with many books about SETI, there is no clear delineation for the lay reader for when we transcend established science and facts and go into bleeding edge hypotheses, or just into speculation. Fermi's Paradox, for example, is not a scientific theory. It is an argument—a philosophical one. The idea that life on Earth may have originated on Mars at least is a scientific hypothesis that can have evidence adduced in its favor or against it. That there is no known contact with or other evidence of other intelligent life is a fact.
But it seems that in this field so much rides questions that may not be dispositive of anything. We haven't heard them broadcasting on the few frequencies we've been listing on, from the few places in space we've pointed our antennas, for the 50 short years we've been engaged in the process.The question of whether there is (or was) life on Mars would only increase our data incrementally, and may even simply confirm that terrestrial and martian life are one. Indeed, any other life in the solar system can be dismissed by the ETI skeptic as simply expanding the argument from "Earth is special" to "this solar system is special."
It's been an even shorter amount of time since the first exoplanets were detected and an even shorter amount of time since we've been able to see ones with the basic properties of Earth, even in nearby star systems. The jury is still out. Putting the pieces together, out to the wildest speculations about computerized AI probing the universe, is fun and educational, but it is not dispositive about the existence or non-extstence of ETI.
Another ridiculous and irrelevant point that some people like to raise about SETI is that it's "not science." Even if that's the case, so what? Whatever it is, it's the search for an answer to an important question. And, anyway, what makes it not science? Is the statement "intelligence exists on other worlds" liable to proof or not? Of course it is. Can we use experiments, observations, and measurements to find that out? Of course we can. But even if SETI is merely an application of what we know from physics, astronomy, biology, geology, and other fields without being a "field" of its own—even if it takes grant money that competitors are jealous of, or telescope time that might arguably be better used, it is an important endeavor.
Davies wants to take the mere 50 years of SETI's failure as an excuse to correct its course due to what he calls some kind of bureaucratic inertia. Well, is that a long time? Sure. But in the grand scheme of things, it's hardly enough time to draw firm conclusions about anything at all. Radiotelescopy remains one of, if not the, most logical way to detect ETI. There are others, such as neutrino detection, that Davies points out. Davies also wants us to learn more about what is right here on Earth and in our own Solar System in order to refine our calculations. That's great, but the "Rare Earth" hypothesis, as I mentioned above, will just expand into the "Rare Solar System" hypothesis at that juncture.
People who want to dismiss SETI as just the latest search for angels are drawing overly facile comparisons. If everything scientists did was discountable because it had some parallel in the past, I'd hate to think of what such a censor would have made of the germ theory of disease (sounds just like demons!) or numerous other advances. That there is an almost theological yearning in SETI is no knock. To me, it inures to the credit of the project that it strikes at such deep feelings within us.
There is a fine line between skepticism and nihilism. Healthy skepticism brings out the best in big ideas; nihilism shoots them down for selfish reasons. Davies avoids the latter, but just barely (except his pointless attack on Carl Sagan's choice of baggage on the Voyager probes which sounds personal, as do some of the other "Inside Baseball" items). There is exciting and futuristic thought in this book. But it is a bit of a puzzle why a man leading the taskforce deciding how to handle a first contact seems so intent on poopooing that event. Who is he trying to convince? Is he maybe trying to quell his own passions on the subject? I don't know. But the fact that I'm asking means that there's more to science than this book, and that muddles its message.
In any event, a true skeptic says "I don't know" much faster than he says, "no." And "I don't know" is the answer to the existence of ETI, not "no." Not at this point. (less)
In my heart of hearts, I already knew everything that was in this book. What made it so powerful for me is that as I read this, I too, am expecting a...moreIn my heart of hearts, I already knew everything that was in this book. What made it so powerful for me is that as I read this, I too, am expecting a first-born son. I too went from liking dogs to really loving dogs. Since I got my pug Charlie in 2005, I have really wrestled with the question of the morality of eating meat.
I don't struggle with the environmental questions. I know it's bad. I don't struggle with the health issues. I know I'm better off both because of the dietary effects and of the terrible condition of the food product.
I struggle with the tension between feeding the world and our latter day bourgeoise sense of morality trumping hunger. Come on, let's not pretend you don't know someone whose own concern about what they do is actually more important that what it means for, say, starving folks in Africa. But, this book should convince you that feeding the hungry is not the problem. That could be done simply by diverting a fraction of the animals' feed to hungry people.
What it should also convince you of, even if it doesn't convince you not to eat meat, is that eating meat now is not the same as it was in 1910, or even 1980. The factory farm process reminds me of one thing with its sadistic guards, unnatural conditions, cramped and inhumane transport to and fro, and assembly-line efficient slaughter: a Nazi death camp. I used to call the highly visible factory farm along I-5 in California's central valley "Cowschwitz." I was always serious, but people thought I was kidding. Though he doesn't mention it, I don't think these similarities are accidental. The chapter on pig slaughter evokes an echo of the horrifying and sad images of death camps.
Now, no. Stop. I'm not saying factory farming is in all ways the same as the Shoah. Nowadays people seem to overreact to analogies. I agree that human life is more important. But the lack of total parity does not defeat an analogy, especially when it is something like a fleeting deja vu.
The suffering of animals and the morality of meat are always at the center of this debate. I've never been able to convince myself that all meat is "murder" (especially things like shrimp or even higher fishes), but what I can tell you is that factory farming is an abomination, even if you think eating meat is a commandment.
Foer doesn't talk about the terrible state of plant-based agriculture, though. Sure, its environmental impact is less. But to imply that the strawberry you ate isn't brought to you on the backs of quasi-slave labor, at the cost of environmental poisoning, and for the sheer sake of profits is to paint a misleading picture. For that reason, Foer's absolutist position about meat, at least in part, breaks down. The alternative is only less worse, not good.
So, at least for environmental reasons, grazing beef is much, much better than any vegetable grown somewhere like the Central Valley, where entire ecosystems and rivers must be destroyed to grow it there, only to leave a festering cloud of VOCs in the groundwater, on the surface, an in the air.
Let's not forget: plants have the life force, too. It is wrong to frivolously kill them on some level too. Though less so than the shrimp example I gave above. Further, polluting the environment is a per se bad thing.
What I take away from this is that if you take the sanctity of life seriously, you must think as much about food as an orthodox Jew, but you must think about what is kosher in a broader way.