“Hard” Sci Fi and the Future of the Human Race

I’m a big fan of the “hard” science fiction genre – sci fi that attempts to visualize what life will be like in the distant future, by extrapolating from current scientific knowledge. Authors like Greg Egan, Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds, and Neal Stephenson.

I love the following quote by Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and professor of cosmology, and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge:

“I’d like to widen people’s awareness of the tremendous timespan lying ahead — for our planet, and for life itself. Most educated people are aware that we’re the outcome of nearly 4bn years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise, 6bn years from now. Any creatures that exist then will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.”

Wow! Think how complex we are now, and consider that homo sapiens probably evolved about 2 million years ago, and I think that we are evolving at a faster rate now than we ever have in the past. Also we are evolving ourselves, with body modifications, brain modifications, and tools. I find it hard to imagine what we are going to be like in 1000 years, let alone 6 billion years!

First post for the new year!

OK, better late than never, I guess. I actually promised myself that I would be posting more often in 2007, but that resolution is lying still-born on the birthing room floor. Probably buried in amongst the champagne and party poppers.

I have stopped working this January in order to concentrate on studying mathematical methods. This has felt very, very weird. I feel far more stressed about taking time off than I would have in the past, I think for a few main reasons:

  1. Things here are very expensive. Rent is expensive. Taking a month off feels like being in a big black tunnel and seeing a light at the other end, and half suspecting that it’s an oncoming train.
  2. Maths is hard. You think you know something, then you encounter it in another form and all of a sudden it’s like a gremlin that just got coated in water – it’s got teeth, a mo-hawk and it wants to differentiate you to the bottom of the food chain. Having a maths exam as a deadline is just no fun at all!

As a consequence, I need to have a holiday from the whole non-working thing. Luckily Helen and I have booked a skiing/yoga retreat in Switzerland for the beginning of February. Maybe that actually IS daylight at the end of the tunnel!

Great Quotes

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Henry Roberts

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.” – Albert Einstein

“All models are wrong but some are useful.” – George Box

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus
Note that there is also a great Zen story about this idea.

“I am rarely happier than when spending entire day programming my computer to perform automatically a task that it would otherwise take me a good ten seconds to do by hand.” – Douglas Adams

Rowdy Santas

Last night Helen and I heard some hullabaloo coming from Oxford Street. We went out onto our balcony to be greeted by the sight of a huge crowd of rowdy Santas milling on the corner of Oxford Street and Wardour Street.

My own pet theory is that they were a group of dyslexics devil worshippers (who had sold their souls to Santa). They were probably supposed to meet up at Oxdorf Street or something and sacrifice an elf.

Alternatively they could be the famous Santa A cappella band “Santana”.

Helen says that they all piled on a bus, so maybe there was a reindeer strike. I guess we’ll never know.

Dyslexic Devil Worshippers

Fallacy to Doctrine…

So I was at our morning programmer’s coffee and the topic of religion drifted onto the agenda. We started talking about how much misinterpretation of hebrew scriptures has made it into religious doctrine. The Virgin Mary… I mean, come on! Married and still a virgin? Apparently the word for “virgin” and “maiden” are pretty similar, if not the same. Check out the Wikipedia entry for more details. Anyway, there’s a pretty funny video on YouTube which is an animation based on how ridiculous a literal translation of the Book of Job is. Check it out!

Coombe Abbey

To kick off Helly’s birthday week, I took her to Coombe Abbey in Coventry. It was originally a 12th Century Cistercian Abbey, that has been restored and turned into a hotel. It was great arriving at the Abbey at night, and walking into the foyer of the hotel which looks like something out of “The Name of the Rose”. Our room, which was apparently one of the old rooms in the Abbey, had a view stretching out over the sculptured gardens. We spent many hours exploring the grounds – 500 acres of gardens, woodlands, lakes and marshes.