Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.
Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.
And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.
Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.
If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.
Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…
Were we to kick aside the boulders of our base knowledge – the works of Newton, Galileo, Edison, Tesla, Shakespeare and the mighty triumvirate of Bell, Biv and Devoe – we would eventually reach the fortified foundation of our species’ early great minds. These are the men (unfortunately, the great female minds were generally thwacked into silence back then) whose cerebral gushings topped the intellectual charts back before the era of empirical science. Hell, we’re even going back before humankind had figured out how to build a decent pair of pants.
Ancient Greece was the time of Plato, of Aristotle, of Socrates – not to mention a number of titan thinkers who haven’t had numerous pizza joints named in their honor. Today I’m talking about the grand-pappy of geography, one of the first great mathematicians, a poet, an astronomer and a music theorist. He voiced an unpopular criticism of Homer’s Odyssey and developed a series of complex calculations that – well, had Chris Columbus read through them a few centuries later they could have really saved him some headaches.
This guy held the most prominent intellectual job posting of his era, and singlehandedly influenced the entire course of science, of map-making, and of how we keep track of history. His name was Eratosthenes. Don’t fret if you haven’t heard of him – I hadn’t until his name flittered across my computer screen this morning.
He was also known as ‘Big Ol’ Bulbous Chrome-Dome’ to his friends.
Eratosthenes was born in Cyrene, a town in modern-day Libya that had been founded by the Greeks back in 630 BC. Thanks to the economic policies of the local head honcho, Ptolemy I Soter (one of Alexander the Great’s generals), Cyrene was a happening burg in which intellectualism and prosperity flourished. Eratosthenes had a standout mind, which led him up to Athens to complete his studies. He was taught Stoicism by the movement’s founder, Zeno of Citium. He became known for his meticulous poetry and a scholarly treatise on the mathematical foundations of Plato’s philosophies, none of which I will repeat here because I’d rather skip ahead to the juicy stuff. Read more…
“Where is everybody?”
So declared physicist Enrico Fermi over lunch with some colleagues in the midst of a discussion about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets. The ensuing talk led Fermi to conclude that by now (or, by then, in 1951) our planet should be splattered with the tentacle-prints of far-off civilizations, or at least a minor tourist stop on the side of some interstellar highway. Here’s Fermi’s logic:
The sun is pretty young; there are billions of stars that are billions of years older than our little yellow sky-ball. Some of those stars will have planets, and assuming Earth is typical and not a one-in-infinity happenstance, some of those planets may develop intelligent life. Since we’re looking into interstellar travel as the next (some would say ‘final’) frontier, we can assume folks on other worlds would feel the same. And once the hurdle of interstellar travel is conquered, the galaxy should be totally colonized in a few tens of millions of years.
So where the hell is everybody?
This is what Earl Holliman wanted to know in the first episode of The Twilight Zone
With all our years of star-scoping and Hubbling, we have yet to find any evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, and apart from the tales of some anally-probed farmers in the American Midwest, we have no trace of their presence here on earth. This is the heart of the Fermi Paradox – given the size and age of the universe, there should be a heap of intelligent beings scooting around, yet there is no evidence to support it. Read more…
Every so often, which is to say almost every day, I find myself writing about a topic I know nothing about, flailing desperately to sound slightly educated on the matter, when in fact I’m mostly relying on information from my dark she-mistress, Wikipedia, and the crap I make up as I go along. This will be one of those days.
Last week, I penned an in-depth horoscope for those who still possess the child-like naivety that fate is guided by the relationship between the stars and planets and (because we’re that important) us. Later that day, whilst chatting with Cynndie, the naturopath who works at the place where I receive my thrice-daily skin-buffings, the topic arose of the mysterious ‘13th Sign’.
Not, apparently, a Demi Moore film.
In case you missed it, there was a controversy a couple years ago in the astrology world. Old-school Babylonians – whose wisdom should no doubt directly influence whether or not you’ll meet an old acquaintance today – invented the Zodiac signs by reading which constellation the sun was creeping through on a given day. That clearly worked out well for them, given that you can’t find a single Babylonian wandering the streets today. Really, these are the people who are telling me what career choices I should make? Read more…