Via Flowing Data, here are a set of world, regional, and country maps made of beeswax by Chinese artist Ren Ri by manipulating the movement of the hive’s queen, thus directing the hive’s workers to build up the wax according to the artist’s template. The result is an impressively faithful maps. You can see these maps and more in his Yuansu catalogue off of his PearlLam Galleries exhibition page.
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Nick Land recently pointed to Robin Hanson’s 1998 essay, The Great Filter, which looks at possible explanations to Fermi’s Paradox, by looking at critical steps necessary to galactic colonization and asking where the greatest barrier to further progression is. Land sees this implying that many civilizations are exterminated Shortly thereafter, Jim posted a response that the Great Filter lies not before us, but behind us.
While Jim might be right that intelligent life of similar caliber to humans is rare in the galaxy, he starts his post off with an assumption that seems to me to be unwarranted:
There seem to be no great obstacles to intelligent life devouring the galaxy.
In fact, obstacles are legion in a project of interstellar colonization. The first of these is the sheer distance between stars. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is over 2,000 times further away than the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which, launched in 1977, is the furthest manmade object from Earth. To send a living crew that distance, the spacecraft would require speeds at least hundreds of times that of the voyager probes, and the amount of energy required rises with the square of the speed, so hundreds of times the speed requires myriads of times the energy
Second, not all stars are going to have habitable way stations for a prospectively interstellar civilizations to colonize and develop before sending out more colonists to the next waypoint. Proxima Centauri is again a good example. As a red dwarf flare star whose stellar flares make any potentially habitable planets that might orbit it less accommodating and possibly entirely useless for the purpose of installing a colonial civilization capable of sending future generations of colonists to worlds further out. This challenge both effectively increases both the necessary distance traveled per voyage between stars and the cost of the measures put in place to allow colonists to settle an alien world.
Earth has countless amenities that we don’t even notice by virtue of our having evolved in response to Earth’s environment. The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere closely matches what is ideal for us because we are sculpted around such parameters, not vice versa. As such, the likelihood of finding a planet with the right oxygen levels to support human life outside of a sealed environment with the gas balance controlled by humans is minimal and the probability only goes down when other parameters like temperature or surface pressure are added. This adds an additional challenge, because it limits the possible development of any potential daughter civilization, as it will likely be confined to an environment sealed off from the original atmosphere of the planet it inhabits. Since such civilizations serve as launching pads for a second wave of colonization to stars further on in any scenario by which a civilization successfully conquers an entire galaxy, this also introduces a barrier beyond the initial wave of colonization.
The third and most important problem is motivation. Humans have done a remarkable job of proliferating around the planet and we have the ability to venture into space, though we haven’t yet sent ourselves out of Earth’s gravity well. However, contrary to Robin Hanson’s suggestions, our ability to colonize and proliferate on Earth combined with our ability to reach beyond the Earth’s atmosphere does not imply that we will actively pursue a voyage to the stars. We have a fundamental difference in the magnitude of the challenges that face humans colonizing Earth versus colonizing a planet around another star, and ultimately, because it requires a capital investment that dwarfs that of any human project past or present with little to no hope of a return on investment for those who stay on Earth.
While it is true as Robin Hanson suggests, that natural selection rewards those who break with the established strategy in ways that exploit previously untapped resources, the means by which it does so tend not to involve an actual conscious desire to proliferate. Instead, strategies developed through natural selection involve the confluence of many instincts. Instincts, which have if anything, proven themselves to be thwarted by the mix of technology an intelligence, as the use of contraception shows. Yes, it’s possible that a select few individuals could muster the necessary resources to back a project to send Earthly life to a planet orbiting another star, but the chance of success combined with the cost and sheer difficulty of such a mission makes it unlikely that such individuals will arise.
Ultimately, the barriers to interstellar travel do represent a great filter preventing the colonization of the galaxy by an intelligent civilization. Whether they are the Great Factor is difficult to judge. However, it should be noted that as exterminators go, the lack of will to send colonists to other stars is one of the slowest-acting civilization killers in existence, and probably less consequential than more proximate causes.
Recently, the OneZoom website, run by James Rosindell and Luke Harmon at Imperial College London, released an illustration of the ancestral tree of all tetrapods–that is, all birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians. Previously, the group had produced trees for birds, mammals, and amphibians alone, but now all three have been combined with the various groups of reptiles filled in as well. In the immediate future, the group is planning on adding fish and plants with the ultimate goal being an illustration of the ancestral relationships of all extant life on Earth.
Here’s the launch video the group released at the same time that the mammalian tree became available:
If you spend some time playing around with it, you can find out quite a few surprising relationships. For instance, as the tree above shows, crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to turtles or lizards.
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Recently, Matt Parrot wrote a couple of articles at Counter-Currents on two of the Republican candidates for President of the United States and I would highly recommend the latter of those two articles, which concerns Mitt Romney. It covers, in a way that won’t be seen in a mainstream outlet, Romney’s Mormon roots and gives speculation as to how those roots affect Romney’s demeanor and sense of purpose. I cannot say that I fully endorse the article as my knowledge of Mormonism is incomplete and the article is a bit speculative.
Mr. Parrot’s earlier article about Herman Cain is also worth a look. It’s a bit more polemic in nature and I disagree with the fundamental assessment that Herman Cain has a significant chance of winning the Republican nomination for the Presidency, which he then translates into an argument against the functioning of American democracy. I do think that there are flaws with our political system, but it would take an actual Herman Cain nomination for me to see as dire a situation as appears to Mr. Parrot.
That said, I do find myself more in agreement with Mr. Parrot than I am with John Derbyshire concerning the seriousness of Herman Cain’s candidacy. While Mr. Derbyshire seems quite a bit overoptimistic about Herman Cain’s chances in a general election against President Barack Obama, he does offer some interesting speculation concerning the aptitude of black politicians, pivoting off of the admittedly limited sample of the executives in the levels of government over Harvard University at the time of the media furor over the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates.
All three articles go beyond the bounds of what is considered polite or acceptable in modern American political discussion and all three articles leave the reader with material to think over as the first contests leading to the Republican nomination get underway this coming January.
Until the discovery of Neanderthal admixture in all non-African populations by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the most publicly popular narrative of human evolution and settlement around the globe was the Out of Africa model, which posited that all humans descended from a single population of humans originating in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago who proceeded to settle the globe in the subsequent years, completely replacing whatever archaic hominids may have been occupying the lands that they settled. The model received a further blow after the sequencing of DNA from a fossil finger bone found in Denisova revealed that Melanesian populations had further admixture with the population to which the individual whose finger was found belonged.
The notion that all humans were completely descended from a single population living in Africa 200,000 years ago appealed to the ideological framework of some on the secular left who saw it both as a rebuke to the Creationist narratives that were held by scriptural literalists as well as a possible means of arguing that race itself was a meaningless concept. Ironically, just as this worldview was disintegrating, Richard Dawkins placed this T-shirt for sale at his site’s store:
But Dawkin’s design is certainly not the only “We are all Africans” T-shirt design. Here’s one that is cataloged with a set of “Atheist Designs” at Spreadshirt:
Here is one version from Squidoo that actually directly incorporates the Out of Africa model:
One of the popular signifiers of Christianity has been the ΙΧΘΥΣ symbol, which has been standardized for use on the rear bumpers of devoutly Christian drivers everywhere, sometimes with the Greek written on the belly as can be seen below on the left. In response, some secularists produced the image on the right showing a fish with legs and DARWIN written on its body as can be seen below on the right. Since then there have been an explosion of competing bumper logos symbolizing the ideological combat of Darwinians and Christian Creationists made on both sides.
While I like the concept, I think that the execution needs some improvement in two areas. The first is that in the inequality sign (≠), the slash runs in the opposite direction. The second is that, though Glaivester’s version seems to be a parody on the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, the formost LGBT* lobbying organization in the United States, it is quite a bit more elongated than the original logo. As such, using the original logo as a template (the blue background version, on the left), I’ve made my own version of the Galton Inequality, as shown on the left.
I’ve also created a Logos page where I have some variations on the graphic for those who would prefer a different color combination. Feel free to use and distribute these logos as you see fit.
*Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender, for those uninitiated in gender politics