Archaeology That Gillian Would Understand

It’s been a slightly odd sort of day. Apparently I’m the 16th most popular artist over on Renderosity, which is odd given I rarely post there. I prefer DeviantArt most of the time because Renderosity has some harsh limits on image size. Still, have to put some more modern pictures up. They’re using one I did about 4 years ago as my featured image. The week seems to be dragging terminally…

But there’s a programme on tonight on BBC Two which looks like it could be well worth it. I’m hoping that those of you outside the UK will be able to see it on catch-up at some point. I’ll be in the same boat; I don’t have any live TV source currently (by choice). Anyway, look out for Jungle AtlantisThe programme is about Angkor Wat, hardly a new subject and, supposedly, a well known site, but what’s got me taking an interest is the massive use of technology to dig up new information about the temple and its environs. Seriously, lidar scans and such; Gillian and Ella would be going, “So where’s your terahertz radar system?” But I think they might be a little impressed. You know, given that before Aneka turns up they pretty much thought we wore animal skins and hit each other with sticks.

The Wonders of Modern Science

I’m sat on a train heading down to London as I write this on my Nexus. Across the aisle are an older couple, she’s playing patience on a tablet, he’s reading something on a Kindle. I can see two Apple laptops and a Dell from my seat.
When I went to university I started programming by writing out the code on sheets of paper which were turned into punch cards for batch processing on a machine which took up most of one floor in the computer sciences building. Today I’m sitting in a train carriage with full internet connectivity and the sheer computing power is likely greater than a hundred of those old mainframes.
All that in thirty years. We live in wonderful times; imagine what the future will bring.
PS. Announcement on the book 5 release date is imminent.

Out There in the Blackness of Space…

…scientists have discovered a planet.

Long a staple of science fiction, rogue planets are likely the result of catastrophic orbital disturbance throwing them out of the system which created them and into open space. It’s long been theorised that they exist, and even that there are quite a lot of them, but now there is direct proof.

Going by the catchy name of PSO J318.5-22, it’s 80 light years away, pretty big, and very young. It’s also kind of fascinating.

Read more:

http://www.sen.com/news/newborn-planet-found-drifting-alone-in-space

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PSO_J318.5-22

Important Scientific Discoveries!

Two truly important scientific discoveries to discuss this week.

First, lightsabres could be a scientific reality. Actually it’s less light-sabre and more light popsicle since the trick involves making photon “molecules” by cooling them down to almost absolute zero. Still, soon…

There is also news of the structure and nature of Titan.

Are We the Aliens?

So, this BBC News story caught my eye this morning: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23872765

Basically there’s more evidence for the “Panspermia” theory, which says that life began elsewhere in the solar system (or even beyond it) and was brought to Earth in comets or asteroids. It’s a theory with a venerable history in both science and science fiction, and I include all those “Chariots of the Gods” style books in the latter category. It’s a fascinating idea; biological life originates out in space, we really are spacemen, aliens to this world we find ourselves on (because everything down to the smallest microbe is an immigrant).

Of course, it also makes Mars a bit boring. Why? Well, if we go there and find evidence of ancient life, and that ancient life is basically identical to us, then we’ve learned nothing. Sure, we found out we were once Martians, but so what? If Panspermia is true, especially where it suggests that life originated on comets and came to Earth, then we learn nothing about life outside our solar system. If we were once Martians then we’ve got some of the bigger moons in the outer solar system we might get lucky with, but if it turns out to be comets then we’re stuck.

You see, if we can prove that life developed independently on other worlds in our solar system, then we can probably say with certainty that it has also developed on many, many worlds out there in the galaxy and the wider universe. If, on the other hand, all the life here originated in one place, maybe it did not develop anywhere else. Maybe we are alone. We’re not going to find out until we actually have some proof from other worlds though. Let’s get out there and see, shall we?

Memories Aren’t What They Used to Be

Memories, Aneka has a few problems with hers, but then most of us would like our memories to be better than they are. Scientists, both popular ones and more traditional ones, will tell you that human memory is a little more subjective than we think it is. We don’t always remember what really happened. But what if someone else could make you remember things that never happened?

Science-fiction, of course. That can’t be done except by super-science gizmos or fantasy/science psionics… Not so much. There’s an article over on the BBC’s web site concerning some experimentation done on mice to alter the way they remember events. Basically, by stimulating neurons in the brain, it was possible to make a mouse think that it had had a bad experience in bright light, thus the mouse avoided the light. Actually it had had the bad experience in the dark. Of course that’s a long way from inserting memories into the mind and requires direct insertion of electrodes into the brain. And anyway, what’s it got to do with Steel Beneath the Skin, you might ask.

Jenlay in the core worlds of the Federation tend to be very law abiding citizens. It’s stated a couple of times that there is more crime on the Rim because the medical systems are not as good out there. Kind of odd, right? Worse medicine brings more crime?

Here’s another BBC article on some new research on psychopathic behaviour. It seems that psychopaths are not entirely lacking in empathy, but they only feel it when it’s triggered. So the “charming psychopath” isn’t pretending to feel empathy, they’ve just triggered their empathic “mirror neurons.” So, a genetic basis to psychopathic behaviour which can be fixed, and there have been suggestions before that various anti-social behaviours have genetic characteristics. It’s probably not all nature rather than nurture, but if you take out the genetic tendency for some criminal behaviour, then it’s easier to make sure that carefully engineered neuro-cognitive education teaches the kids that crime is just wrong. The Jenlay don’t leave it down to good genetics, they make careful use of teaching techniques based on their knowledge of how the brain works to reinforce good behaviour. It’s not quite brainwashing; the Jenlay aren’t mindless drones, they do have free will.

So is a peaceful, relatively crime free society worth the loss of a few minor liberties? At the moment, here in our world, we seem to think it is. We’ve allowed the slow erosion of our civil liberties in the name of security for over a decade, probably far longer, but so far we haven’t started changing what we fundamentally are with the aim of making life safer. Would we? I’m quite sure we would. Or at least we would happily contemplate changing other people to make ourselves more secure. When it comes to altering our own children things are likely to get more controversial.