Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Debate About Space

On Friday, I had an interesting Facebook debate on a mutual friend's wall about the view that humans need to search the universe for a habitable planet to colonize before our species becomes extinct on planet Earth. I did not expect the debate to go the way it did. I thought I was being rational, but the person who took offense to my views started launching personal insults about my intelligence and views, calling me a "Luddite" and a "curmudgeon" of all things! He used other names, too, as well as profanity just to prove how intelligent he is. All because I disagreed with him!

The following has been lifted from the Facebook wall so you can read for yourself how the discussion deteriorated. I left everything intact, including comments other people made in the debate. There were comments made before and after this debate occurred, which I did not include because it is not relevant to the discussion between this guy and myself. After the debate, I will further comment about his ideas and about what I think of him.

Jim Davidson
"Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever." ~ Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
Friday at 09:45 ·

Me
There's no where else to go. We're stuck with this planet for better or for worse.
Friday at 10:01

Jim Davidson
On the contrary, there is an entire universe out there, over ten billion lightyears across. There are hundreds of known extra-Solar planets, and there are dozens of inhabitable bodies in our Solar system. To imagine that we're stuck here is ignorant.
Friday at 10:19

Ani DeGroot
I second Jim's comment. The discoveries have hardly begun.
Friday at 10:20

Me
So...other planets have the exact oxygen / atmosphere requirements and gravity that we do that would allow us to live there, which is easy to get to so we won't spend centuries traveling there?!?

In our solar system, Venus's atmosphere is no good for humans, and Mars is too far from the sun, not to mention we couldn't be able to breath there.

Call me a realist, not an escapist. We need to take better care of our planet rather than fantasize about running away when things get bad. We're here to stay.
Friday at 10:26

Jim Davidson
In 1969, Gerard K. O'Neill, a Princeton physicist, posed an interesting question to his students. "Is the surface of a planet the best place for a technological civilisation?" His students concluded that the answer is "no" and a little later, O'Neill wrote "The High Frontier." Many of the designs for space habitats in that book were also found in the Stanford Summer study on the topic.

In 1993, Robert Zubrin, a Ph.D. nuclear engineer, wrote "The Case for Mars" which includes extensive information not only on travelling to Mars, but also terraforming its atmosphere. Within about 40 years, the pressure would be high enough that humans could walk around without pressure suits, and within not more than 400 years, the partial pressure of oxygen would be high enough to breathe normally outside.

Since the early 1970s scientists have been working on suspended animation techniques. Some of these technologies may contribute to star travel. Though, of course, if one uses gravity sling trajectories around the Sun, one can reach speeds above 10% of the speed of light. If the limit were 10% of the speed of light, Alpha Centauri is only 40 years away. The other side of the galaxy is only a million years away, at that speed.

I won't call you a realist. I'll call you a curmudgeon. You have no spirit of adventure. The dream of space flight does not live for you. Too bad.

Things are already bad. But they aren't bad for the planet. The planet does not care whether humans live here or not. It is not concerns about the Earth that motivate me, it is irritation at tyranny.

However, I would like to ask you whether you would rather I mined the Moon and the lifeless asteroids for minerals instead of the Earth. How about if I refine metals in space rather than in Earth's atmosphere - look into copper refineries if you want to talk pollution. Maybe your Earth would be better off if more industry were moved off planet. Realist. Ha. You walk outside at night and see infinite vistas in every direction, and you talk to me of realism. Open your eyes, please.
Friday at 10:37

Me
I'm definitely not a curmudgeon. The point is that a planet that is habitable out there in the cosmos probably already has species living on it, and perhaps intelligent species as well. Would they take very well an invasion force from earth? Are we to be galactic refugees? Would we take too kindly a bunch of aliens landing on our planet who destroyed their own? Um...watch the classic miniseries "V"! We are on this planet and for all the expense we're willing to commit to search the galaxy for a habitable planet, we could use to solve the energy crisis on earth!

Oh...and I do support a manned mission to Mars, no matter the cost. The only thing I agree with Bush on when he proposed it in one State of the Union speech. But if I recall correctly, our Biosphere project failed and that was to be a prototype for living on the moon or on Mars.
Friday at 10:45

Dan McCall
‎"Adventure is worthwhile." -Aristotle
Friday at 10:45

Dan McCall
I'd love to see exploration outside of our solar system within my lifetime. The only way that will happen will be if its left to the market system. If I'm lucky I have a few decades left, and at the rate of innovation of NASA, I'd need at least 150 years.
Friday at 10:47

Jim Davidson
So, have you visited all of these planets? Or how do you arrive at this probability claim? It sounds like nonsense to me, Nicholas. There are no spotted owls on Mars. There are no whales on the Moon.

I oppose all government boondoggles, especially flags and footprints on Mars. On the other hand, I have no desire to live on the same planet as a narrow-minded and ill-informed twit like yourself, Nick. You can all go to hell, I'm going to Mars.
Friday at 10:48

Jim Davidson
You say "our biosphere project" as though you owned it. Which sounds like horse shit to me. There have been many closed loop life support system experiments, many of which have been very successful. But if you get all your information by watching 1980-era science fiction miniseries on television, you'll remain as clueless and inept as you seem.
Friday at 10:50

Me
Gosh, you're really getting defensive and angry. Why is this issue so emotionally important to you?

Most of the people I know who talk about moving human civilization to another planet because we screwed up our own world so badly happen to be atheists, which I find amusing.

Its not ignorant to be a realist and look at the costs involved, and the understanding of basic science. I think science-fiction stories do a fantastic job of firing the imagination and provoking deep thoughts about ideas that most don't want to consider. It is rather simple-minded to think that we can just rescue ourselves with a new planet somewhere, and for such a habitable planet to be free of life forms that would offer resistance to invaders, especially ones who wrecked their own planet's environment. Its a pipe dream.

Suppose we have such technology to accomplish a mass exodus. Would it happen in our lifetime or will we likely be dead before then? Would only the superwealthy be able to afford passage between the planets? Would we do to alien species what we did to native populations on earth? Are we going to be like the humans in the film "Avatar"?

I personally think people should come to terms with their own mortality rather believe that some other planet out there will save us from ourselves and continue the human species for another millennia.

Friday at 11:00


Karen Rambat
Maybe we can start using that money to feed people.
Friday at 11:43

Robert Mayer
Governments using money to feed people?!? PREPOSTEROUS!
Friday at 11:49

Jim Davidson
Gosh, you're sounding really narrow-minded and Luddite. Why are you such an ass hat, Nick?
Friday at 11:50

Me
Why are you so personally insulting just because someone disagrees with you?

Honestly, if you really want to leave planet Earth, I'm not stopping you.
Friday at 11:53

Jim Davidson
Why are you? "Gosh, you're really getting defensive and angry" - Either you are being deliberately provocative, in which case you are a filthy fucking fool and deserving of a perfect mirror of your comments, or you are projecting your own emotional state onto me. In either case, I see no reason to have a conversation with someone whose knowledge of science and technology is entirely derived from watching the occasional film or television show, whose arguments are egregious idiocy, and whose courtesy is non-existent. I'm eager to get away from worthless fucks like you.
Friday at 12:07

Me
I don't understand your comments. Have I personally insulted your intelligence, used profanity, and called you ignorant or worthless? No, you're the one who's doing that towards me, which tells me that you are the one being emotional about a reasonable disagreement and that you are obviously passionate about your views to the point where you don't care what level of personal insults you level at a person you don't know who does not share your viewpoints. You are out of line. Really. We disagree on this. Its not the end of the world and it doesn't make either one of us ignorant. Just that we view things differently. I'm a believer in committing our limited resources towards preserving life on planet earth. You're all for colonizing new planets. One is simply more realistic than the other view.
Friday at 12:16

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So, that was the extent of that dialogue. He gave up after that. Based on what he wrote, the impression I got from him was that he is obviously one of those highly intelligent space geeks, a science nerd who feels more comfortable in a lab doing experiments than in a social setting where you have to have a real conversation with people. He's intelligent and proud of his intelligence, so anyone who does not share the same views as him is ignorant and not worth talking to. I thought it was interesting that he berated me for using the word "our" when I mentioned the Biosphere project that was done in Arizona, yet he was dismissive when he referred to Earth with a "your" (as though he disowns it). To me, that indicates he's already mentally out of orbit. He lives in space. Earth is for "morons" like me.

That I made a few sci-fi references (the miniseries V and the movie Avatar) really seemed to annoy him, which again tells me that he is truly into his own intellect because he reads Scientific articles and journals about space. He probably doesn't have time to "waste" on such popular culture stuff. Yet, as one who is a creative writer and thinker, I love the way movies, television, and literature can explore ideas in far easier to understand concepts than intellectual journals that only get read by academia. Popular sci-fi films and movies do a great job of provoking thought in people who aren't exposed to or even interested in serious academic work about space. My point in mentioning the miniseries V is that the original miniseries and its sequel that aired on TV in the mid-1980s raised a good point. The reason for the alien visitors is because they were searching the galaxy for a planet with resources they needed, which their home planet no longer had. True, its a cheesy sci-fi show with dated special effects, but essentially, that is what we would be doing to another planet if we had the means to do so. Do we want to be that way? The film Avatar also explores this idea...with humans from Earth acting as the lizard aliens. It is us going to another planet to extract their precious resource and destroying the life of the native species that lives there.

I know that using pop culture references to talk about another planet is probably not a credible thing with intellectual types, but that's their problem. He accuses me of being unrealistic in my views, but what is more realistic? The way he carried on, it sounds like he was influenced by Star Wars, where humans can travel from planet to planet and step off their spacecraft without concern for atmospheric differences, lack of oxygen, differences in gravitational pull, etc. Within our own solar system, which we know fairly well, the next planet over that's closet to the sun (Venus) is a lot hotter than Earth and has a lot of toxic gases. We could not live on such a planet. The planet in the other direction from the sun, Mars, is a lot colder and does not have the oxygen we would require to live on there. In our solar system, Earth is the only inhabitable planet and there's a reason for it. We are the right distance from the sun and we have water and an ozone layer. On our moon, one would burn up in the daytime or freeze at night. There's no moderation at all and no atmosphere in which to breathe, thus why our astronauts had to wear protective suits.

My mention of funding a manned mission to Mars seemed to make this guy incensed, though he did say that he'd rather go to Mars than deal with "fucks" like me! His objection to a government program is a belief that all we would do is plant a flag and walk on the surface. But the point of a manned mission to Mars is to prove that we can do it. After all, how could we travel to another galaxy in search of a habitable planet if we can't even get to Mars?

The only people I've heard talk about the need for human civilization to search for another planet to live on tend to be atheists. I was surprised a few years ago when my dad mentioned that humans needed to find a new planet. My dad isn't an atheist, though I did find his conflicting view between his doubting nature and his Judeo-Christian views (my father has an unexplainable fascination with the Jewish religion, which I believe is a strong indication of his past life, since no one else in his family--parents, brothers, children--is interested in Judaism as he is) to be a little confusing. I would go so far as to say that anyone who believes that the ultimate goal of humankind is to live on some other planet is not a spiritually minded person. In fact, I think there might be a real fear of extinction / annihilation behind this viewpoint. That was my ultimate impression of this guy on Facebook. I even checked his profile and saw that he has a website, in which he reveals his personal info.

Its even worse than I thought. He calls himself a "sovereign citizen" (the same thing that the troubled young church member that I've had many debates with calls himself). No wonder why we don't see eye-to-eye. The guy has a problem with authority (he describes being arrested and beaten by cops, which is also an obsession that the young, argumentative church member shares). What I found most interesting in his write-up is that he seems obsessed with making his life longer. I couldn't find anything where he mentions his spiritual or atheist beliefs, but I suspect that he's likely an atheist who has a real fear of death, which is why he reacted so strongly to my comments about focusing on improving the quality of life on this planet rather than wasting resources and money in some centuries long quest for a new planet to inhabit. How much better for him if he would just come to terms with his mortality! I have known quite a few atheists who are highly intelligent with a strong ego and a hostility towards anyone with a spiritual view. It doesn't surprise me, really. The highly intelligent atheist is far too egotistical to view God and religion as anything more than a delusion and a controlling device. Its a toxic combination, but the reality is, they've made their own intelligence into their gods. To admit that there is a being far superior to them is something they are unable to do. Thus the arrogance and disregard for others who don't share their MENSA IQ. I actually feel sorry for people like that.

In this debate, he claimed to be the realistic one while saying that I was being an ignorant idiot for not believing in this future outcome. But really, what makes more sense to an average person? That we can find a habitable planet in which to send colonies of human beings to ensure the survivability of our species for a far foreseeable future? That we could find a planet which has the same oxygen content, the right soil qualities, the cultivating of plants, an abundance of animals for food? That this planet will have the right gravitational pull (we already know that the gravitational pull of Jupiter would make us flatter than a pancake, and that the gravitational pull on the moon can make us leap like Superman)? That such a planet will not have hostile life forms that would view our invasion the same way we on planet Earth would view an invasion of space aliens? And once we found such a planet, we would have the means to transport hundreds and eventually thousands and ultimately millions of humans across the expanse of space, which would take decades at a minimum to travel? That we could afford such travel and that we would have enough food to last on a spacecraft for such a long journey, since it would be virtually impossible to grow plants or raise animals for food on spacecraft?

In the fall of 2009, when Al Gore last came to Portland to speak, he mentioned that we needed to take better care of our planet and that people who say that we can just find a new planet to inhabit are being unrealistic. I agree with what he said about that. He's a fairly scientifically minded person and well versed in technology. He is absolutely right that instead of looking to the heavens to save us from ourselves, we need to take an active role in moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The view of those who advocate finding another planet for humans to inhabit is unrealistic escapism of the worst sort. So, let's get real.

Finally, I wanted to say that my spiritual views have a big influence on how I think about such matters. I believe that we are on Earth for a purpose and its not an accident. If we mess up this planet, it is our responsibility. The whole purpose of human existence is to participate in the evolutionary process. Its how we grow as spiritual beings from a life of complete selfish self-preservation towards selfless and unconditional love. Our world is our training ground, a school, and a project. We are tasked with evolving Earth to the point where heaven and Earth shall be one, a perfect place where one day, we will be able to transfigure our human bodies of flesh and bone into a spiritual body of light and love. We keep on incarnating on Earth because that's how we get to know it, and the culture so well. I'm certain that there are other planets in our universe that have other intelligent life forms. Perhaps we will be able to meet these other beings someday or in the afterlife existence. But I believe that one of the reasons why God created planets to be so far from one another is so that civilizations would have to develop to a certain point before contact can occur. And frankly, humanity simply is not there yet. Perhaps when we stop killing each other, we will be able to achieve the level of enlightenment in which to visit another world. Until then, this world is all we have. Let's use our resources wisely for the sustainability of this planet and save the space colony fantasies for Hollywood.

2 comments:

T said...

Interesting exchange there, sansego!!

Sansego said...

Yeah...I think atheists must really hate me! Our worldviews are so different. They can't see beyond the scientific / materialism.

The way this guy reacted to my comments tells me that my ideas got under his skin a little bit. He wouldn't have been so personally insulting if he was open-minded to ideas. Fortunately, I know his personality type very well. Highly intelligent / scientific people seem to be atheists and in love with their own egos, so if you disagree with them, its a threat to their existence.