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peterkienle
2010-Mar-27, 04:42 AM
Just finished reading "Playing with Planets" by Gerard 't Hooft who is a Nobel laureate physicist from the Netherlands.

The title led me to believe that this would be about our grand future in space (and beyond.) Now it seems all my pipe dreams of a SF future for my offspring are up in smoke. This guy refutes everything. No cheap way off of Earth. No trips to Mars anytime soon. No trips out of the Solar System - ever. No communication with extra solar aliens. No space warps or black hole travel. No FTL. No microbes on Mars or anywhere in the Solar System. Except for the possibility of a space elevator and van Neumann probes it seems we're pretty much stuck. I so want to be skeptical of this skeptic but his arguments are clear (even though I find the translation into English a bit awkward)

Ronald Brak
2010-Mar-27, 11:42 AM
Well, if you have von neuman probes then there is very little that can't be done. Tack on some form of near immortality and you're set for intersteller travel. If you can do without a biological body while travelling it's even easier. Now even a coke can sized ship will need a lot of fuel to average 10% the speed of light, but with self replicating machines turning a ten mile chunk of ice into fuel is pretty trivial.

But that might be a bit in the future. However, a science fiction future for your offspring is not out of the question. If current trends persist your children are likely to live for a long time and will probably have quite a science fictional future, although it might be one that is Buck Rogers light. But perhaps not. Depending on how technology advances it could be fairly easy to build a colony on mars in fifty years time.

stutefish
2010-Mar-27, 03:27 PM
The thing is, I think there's enough to do in our own solar system to keep us busy for several millenia yet. Dozens of planets and moons, comets, asteroids... All kinds of environments to challenge us.

How can we adapt ourselves, to be better suited for life on Mars or Venus, or in Jupiter's upper atmosphere, or under Europa's crust? What changes can we make to these worlds, to better suit them for our living there? What technologies can we develop to bridge the gap between the two?

Between here and the heliopause there's a handful of oceans to explore. Millions of miles of caverns. Vast skies in which to soar. How close can we get to the surface of the sun? How deep into Jupiter's atmosphere? How long on the surface of Venus?

Not that I'm arguing we should stay home. Nor do I think we will stay home. Sooner or later, more experienced in space travel and better adapted to it, we'll think nothing of riding a hollowed-out asteroid to our nearest neighbors to see the sights and try our hands (and other appendages, no doubt), at other, even stranger worlds.

redshifter
2010-Mar-28, 08:11 PM
I've never bought anyone's "we'll never do XXX because of..." How does he know? Heck, people in the early 19th century figured we'd never get beyond travelling on horseback. There's just so much we don't know that it seems counter productive to simply say "we'll never do XXX". Who knows what discoveries await? Sure, right now a manned trip to Mars is difficult at best, and a trip further than that all but impossible. But who knows for absolute certain where the future leads? No one.

SkepticJ
2010-Mar-28, 09:11 PM
How does he know there aren't bacteria on Mars or elsewhere? Has he been there?

Liquid water was fairly recently discovered there. Europa likely has a huge subsurface ocean and hydrothermal vents. Other moons in the solar system possibly have sub-ice oceans, too.

Is he familiar with Deinococcus radiodurans, or other extremophile bacteria, like ones who digest rocks kilometers down in Earths crust?

He's a physicist, not a biologist. His field of expertise is quantum mechanics.

One shouldn't pontificate on subjects outside of one's purview.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Mar-28, 11:16 PM
One shouldn't pontificate on subjects outside of one's purview.
Everyone should pontificate on everything:) What one shouldn't is demand to be taken seriously when it's done outside one's purview.

Moose
2010-Mar-29, 12:08 AM
Heh. That's not a depressing book. This (http://www.spreadthefword.com/2010/03/saddest-book-ever.html) is a depressing book.

(Page looks SFW at a fairly quick glance, despite the url. I can't guarantee the comments are all SFW, nor other pages on that site.)

peterkienle
2010-Mar-29, 03:57 AM
After reading the first book (Playing with Planets) I was depressed but not because of what is in the book exactly. But because as a life-long SF consumer (and sometimes producer) there has never been any doubt that our future will be glorious. In other words, I have a certain 'faith' in these things (yuck!)

As mentioned here in various magazines I read (Technology Review, Scientific American, almost forgot Wired etc) I am relieved that I am not alone. On the other side of the spectrum would be Michio Kaku's book 'Physics of the Impossible'.

SkepticJ
2010-Mar-29, 05:33 PM
Oh. Well, you don't have to read books to get depressed, you just have to look at the myopia of humanity. We're more concerned with fighting over stupid stuff (to enumerate them would cross into no-go territory on this board) than taking the long view and trying to save our butts.

I hope we make it, but we've got to shed this culture-level ADD.

Ilya
2010-Mar-29, 05:57 PM
Oh. Well, you don't have to read books to get depressed, you just have to look at the myopia of humanity. We're more concerned with fighting over stupid stuff (to enumerate them would cross into no-go territory on this board) than taking the long view and trying to save our butts.

I hope we make it, but we've got to shed this culture-level ADD.
Personally, I think greatly prolonged lifespans (preferably indefinite) would be the best cure for this cultural ADD. People who live forever must take a long view out of self-interest alone. If polar caps will melt in 500 years, if an asteroid will hit Earth in 10,000 years, if Sun expands in 5 billion years, it becomes MY problem, and I have to do something about it. This is truly unprecedented.

Those who stubbornly refuse to take the long view will die at higher rate and eventually die out.

JonClarke
2010-Mar-29, 10:24 PM
He's a physicist, not a biologist. His field of expertise is quantum mechanics.

One shouldn't pontificate on subjects outside of one's purview.

Physicists seem especially prone to this form of hubris. Kevin, Rutherford, Weinberg, Park, and van Allen come to mind.

Van Rijn
2010-Mar-29, 11:25 PM
Just finished reading "Playing with Planets" by Gerard 't Hooft who is a Nobel laureate physicist from the Netherlands.

The title led me to believe that this would be about our grand future in space (and beyond.) Now it seems all my pipe dreams of a SF future for my offspring are up in smoke. This guy refutes everything.


Well, if this is an accurate portrayal of his arguments, here are my comments:



No cheap way off of Earth.


That depends on what is meant by "cheap." Certainly there is no expectation for magic space drives, but much of the cost currently is in development and operations. Higher flight rates with more reusable, lower maintenance designs could bring down cost per flight dramatically.



No trips to Mars anytime soon.


I assume he means no crewed trips? And, what is meant by "soon"? Anyway, this is not a physics issue, but a cost issue.


No trips out of the Solar System - ever.


Again, crewed trips? While real physics does make it appear to be quite difficult, there is no physical law stopping us. This is too strong a statement: One can argue for difficulties, but it is unreasonable to declare it impossible.



No communication with extra solar aliens.


That would depend on whether there are intelligent aliens close enough, and willing to communicate. And, for that, we simply don't know, though people love to speculate.

Again, one can lay out an argument for one's opinion, but it is unreasonable to make an absolute declaration on this issue.



No space warps or black hole travel. No FTL.


Ah, finally something that seems to be on pretty solid scientific ground.



No microbes on Mars or anywhere in the Solar System.


Did he declare that microbes on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system are impossible, or just that we don't have good evidence for them at this time?

Still again, a declaration is unreasonable. There is nothing in science that rules out the possibility.



I so want to be skeptical of this skeptic but his arguments are clear (even though I find the translation into English a bit awkward)

Well, if his arguments are as you presented, only the FTL one is on really solid ground.