June 8, 2012

"Put me in a room with a pad and a pencil and set me up against a hundred people with a hundred computers - I'll outcreate every goddamn sonofabitch in the room."

Said Ray Bradbury, in a 1998 interview, quoted in a new NYT op-ed, by the writer Tim Kreider, who says:
[Bradbury] opposed the kind of technology that deadened imagination, the modernity that would trash the past, the kind of intellectualism that tried to centrifuge out awe and beauty. He famously did not care to drive or fly, but he was a passionate proponent of space travel, not because of its practical benefits but because he saw it as the great spiritual endeavor of the age, our generation’s cathedral building, a bid for immortality among the stars.

His visions of a better world weren’t high-tech but archaic, bucolic. In “Fahrenheit,” Montag remembers “a farm he had visited when he was very young, one of the rare few times he had discovered that somewhere behind the seven veils of unreality, beyond the walls of parlors and the tin moat of the city, cows chewed cud and pigs sat in warm ponds at noon and dogs barked after white sheep on a hill.” His utopia isn’t some flying city or exotic planet but prewar, small-town America — specifically, Waukeagan, Ill., circa 1928, a town of porch swings and bandshells, dandelion wine stored up in cool cellars and fire balloons on the Fourth of July. His Martians are not alien like Heinlein’s or futuristically evolved like Welles’s but a premodern people akin to the ancient Egyptians or American Indians (or a boy’s idealized conception of them), our superiors not technologically but spiritually. He was, like most of my favorite artists, a misanthropic humanist.
That's nice. I respect the art and aesthetics. But back away from the government. Do not lay your hands on the people's money to pay for your nostalgic, utopian trips to Mars. Keep dreaming your dreams and penning your stories, but do not use tax money to make these things real. Trips to Mars belong in the same category with the high-speed rail.

61 comments:

jimspice said...

Imagine what life would be like today had there been no moon missions.

The Farmer said...

I've never understood writers who think computers are bad for creativity. What kind of lunatic would choose a pencil and a pad of paper over a MacBook?

Also, the NYT misspelled Waukegan.

Synova said...

And then what do we do? We pass treaties against anyone owning the moon, or Mars.

In reality, if private parties reach either of those places, they will own what they can hold.

Can't have private exploration and investment without respecting private property.

Government can take away their money, but they can't then insist that they still have any authority. If they're not going to play, they can't dictate the rules.

And... ultimate high ground you know. If someone else is up there, how do we justify the strategic idiocy of allowing it.

Seeing Red said...

We need to go to Mars. For our future. We need to get off this rock. It fires our imaginations. Teh One's 1st SOTU - what did he inspire us to do? Weatherstrip.

I get the "soft bigotry of low expectations," but weatherstrip?

Lem said...

Trips to Mars belong in the same category with the high-speed rail.

Professor Althouse if you tell me that not one red cent of tax payer money went into the early American Expansion of the west.. I'll go along with you.. well, maybe not even then.

We are explorers.. and other planets is a frontier we must colonize.. yes conquer.

Be fruitful and multiply.. yadi yada.

I cant believe you really believe that professor.

Revenant said...

I don't think anyone is arguing against a presence in space, Synova. It argument is over where and what the presence should consist of.

I'm in the "unmanned probes all over the dang place" camp, myself. :)

Palladian said...

Keep dreaming your dreams and penning your stories, but do not use tax money to make these things real. Trips to Mars belong in the same category with the high-speed rail.

Women tend to have small dreams. Maybe it has something to do with all those eons of doing laundry.

Synova said...

Rev, it's more the "no one gets to own Antarctica" theory.

I'm all for probes (thinks about that a moment, decides to leave it) but as a precursor to the diaspora. :)

traditionalguy said...

But Professor, aren't you courious of what children born on Mars to astronaut families could mean?

Would they be "aliens?" Their birth certificate would be interesting, as would their hororscope charts and immune systems. Being a Martian settler would mean a new world order.

Would Human Imaginaton on Mars keep using the Holy Scriptures as their meaning for life, or would that just be an Earth Book?

dbp said...

At the very least, the government should not impede progress by imposing pettifogging rules and restrictions.

Ideally it would help to get the job done via carefully placed x-prize type bench marks.

Space will be colonized and commercially exploited. It is in our interest that it be done mostly with American know-how and people.

Revenant said...

the early American Expansion of the west

Ah yes, the old west. Where wagon trains left the safety of the eastern cities, crossed the Rockies, and reached the west coast, only for everyone to die because there was no air, their blood literally froze in their veins, and they were constantly bathed in deadly radiation.

Those were tough days. It is surprising we colonized the west at all, really. One wonders how the Native Americans had survived all those millennia with only stone-age technology..

Lem said...

Yes maybe tax payers should not bear all the load.. but the risk and complexity of say a Mars Mission has to be backed up by the full faith and credit of the US government.

We will be very sorry if we let China take it for themselves.. all because of some short sightedness in our part.

Whats happened to the American Spirit?

Eugene said...

Bradbury would have loved Yokohama Shopping Log. A combination of natural disasters and rising oceans has destroyed most of the "post" in postmodern Japan. But all things considered, life didn't turn out half bad. Think of Little House on the Prairie with modern plumbing and an android who runs a coffee shop. Bucolic science fiction at its best.

Rabel said...

"Trips to Mars belong in the same category with the high-speed rail."

I disagree, mildly, in theory, as NASA in its current, politicized state makes a Mars project likely to become something other than a purely scientific exercise.

But speaking of the red planet, one of the cable networks has been playing an old concert by Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

And, wow, I must have been gay back in the seventies and not even known it. Short shorts and glitter galore.

Maybe I shouldn't judge the rappers so harshly.

Paddy O said...

"Trips to Mars belong in the same category with the high-speed rail."

Not surprising you'd have this opinion. A trip to Venus, on the other hand, would probably strike your fancy.

Synova said...

So... I was thinking about Mars on account of following a link from here about something else that had a link on the same page to a "are you scientifically literate" quiz.

One of the questions was, IIRC, the red color of mars is due to the oxidation of what mineral? Iron, right? But something was bugging me about that and I realized what it was this morning.

Where did the oxygen come from?

Supposedly, in the process of forming the Earth, there was no free oxygen. None. Nada. Zip. Thus, no oxidation of anything whatsoever, until long after oceans formed, bacteria evolved and one day cyanobacteria discovered photosynthesis about 3.5 billion years ago. And from *then* it took 1.5 billion years for there to be enough oxygen to form "red beds" of which none are older than 2 billion years.

So how the heck did there end up being free oxygen on Mars?

Balfegor said...

Re: Eugene:

That is one of my favourite manga. If not my favourite manga. It's slow and sometimes funny, sometimes melancholy, and sometimes terribly, terribly sad.

Synova said...

"But Professor, aren't you courious of what children born on Mars to astronaut families could mean?

Would they be "aliens?"
"

Ha! That was one of the Smart Ass
Awards I got in my philosophy class. We were asked to argue belief in the existence of extraterrestrials and I raised my hand and said... "Does the international space station exist?"

Bradford Smith said...

Waukegan was pretty idyllic ninety years ago. Now it's pretty dystopic thanks to bad government, corrupt and shortsighted unions, and corporate myopia.

My idea of idyllic is more along the lines of Russell, though Wadsworth will do in a pinch.

As for Mars ... we'll go there when someone figures out how to make a buck at it. And solves some of the problems associated with long-term space flight. It's not like going to the moon.

Revenant said...

I'm all for probes (thinks about that a moment, decides to leave it) but as a precursor to the diaspora. :)

There isn't going to be a diaspora.

The Americas were colonized for economic reasons, not because people were motivated by a spirit of adventure. If the Americas had been utterly hostile to human life and posed no economic benefit to the people of Europe -- i.e., if it was like Antarctica, except worse -- nobody would have colonized the Americas. They would still be like Antarctica is, inhabited by a handful of explorers and ignored by the rest of humanity.

Alex said...

I just don't see humans in space. Our bodies are evolved for this atmosphere, this level of radiation, a certain amount of sunlight. Men do not belong in space.

edutcher said...

Sci Fi has never been my dish of oolong, but Bradbury was right about formularized media - it's what's certainly killing the movies.

Lem said...

Trips to Mars belong in the same category with the high-speed rail.

Professor Althouse if you tell me that not one red cent of tax payer money went into the early American Expansion of the west.. I'll go along with you.. well, maybe not even then.


Exploration by the government and military protection was funded with an eyedropper (troops were allowed something like 5 rounds a year for target practice). Just about all of it was done with plain old grit.

Revenant said...

We will be very sorry if we let China take it for themselves

Why?

Oh, sure, I guess in the short term they get bragging rights for having "beaten us to Mars" -- although I don't think it counts as "beating X to Y" if X never tried going to Y in the first place. Nobody talks about how we "beat the French to the Moon".

In the long term, though? Hm. You really think there's a foreign government that regrets "letting" American beat them to the Moon?

Peter said...

"NASA in its current, politicized state makes a Mars project likely to become something other than a purely scientific exercise"

If it's just about science, it can (and will) be done by robotic probes.

At least, until/unless dramatically better space transportation technology is available.

Balfegor said...

Re: Children born in space -- I'm pretty sure fetal development doesn't proceed properly in low gravity environments, probably in part for the same reasons astronauts suffer catastrophic loss of bone density when they're in zero-G. Unless we solve that issue, I don't think we're going to be seeing functional humans born off Earth. Unless they're in an O'Neill colony or something.

Re: diaspora -- the only way a diaspora would work is if we had extensive robotic pre-preparation, to set everything up (and I mean everything -- mining of oxygen and metal ore, refineries, manufacturing and repair facilities, hydroponic gardens, etc.) because I don't think there's any way we can send up humans and expect them to build the kinds of things necessary for long term human habitation in a series of discrete missions. But if our robots can do all that, then from an economic perspective, there's not much point in humans going up there in the first place. Just have the robots mine or manufacture whatever they need to mine or manufacture and launch it back into LEO.

Alex said...

We need to think different here. With the current state of technology, we can create androids that we can send out into space to explore without any harm from radiation or temperature. They can explore 'round the clock. Also I'd think of sending a few hundred near light speed probe to the Alpha Centauri system. That would rock.

Alex said...

Given human physiology, what purpose is served putting humans under domes on Mars or Ganymede?

Synova said...

"There isn't going to be a diaspora.

The Americas were colonized for economic reasons, not because people were motivated by a spirit of adventure.
"

Economic reasons including a desire to be out from under oppression, righteous or otherwise. A convenient place to send the riff-raff counts as economic I suppose.

And the situation was such that if you could just *get* there you could live; though the Norse got run off by Indians.

In any case Rev... "economic" reasons is mostly a ratio of reward/difficulty. As it is *now* we're a lot like the vikings... it was just a little bit too hard to go to the new world, you ended up with too few people to make it worthwhile, and the natives did their best to kill you.

Add guns and the ratio changed.

What might change the ratio of reward/difficulty for colonizing space? The reward side could change, if something ridiculously valuable were discovered, or alien life or whatever... then the difficulty would be worth it. I think this is unlikely. Or else the difficulty side could change. That's mostly a matter of energy and having enough of it.

We don't know what we could do, not knowing what we don't know. And we don't know what we could do if we don't bother to try to find out.

Granted, no one is going to solve the energy problems of how to support a diaspora when our approach to earthbound energy problems is to curl up and die.

Politically preferred, curl up and die.

AllieOop said...

There's a face on Mars, how the heck did it get there? I think it's telling us to stay home on our own planet.

rhhardin said...

The trouble with high speed rail is that you seldom can get more than one shot off at passing buffalo, if that many.

Balfegor said...

Re: Alex:

We need to think different here. With the current state of technology, we can create androids that we can send out into space to explore without any harm from radiation or temperature.

Unless you're aware of some secret development that has entirely passed me by, I don't think the current state of technology is quite adequate to that task.

Re: Synova:

Granted, no one is going to solve the energy problems of how to support a diaspora when our approach to earthbound energy problems is to curl up and die.

I think the energy problem of a diaspora is actually comparatively simple -- for a long term habitation in deep space or on the moon or whatever, the only realistic solution is nuclear energy. Disposing of nuclear waste in deep space doesn't seem terribly problematic either, since you can bury it deep in the moon or Mars or wherever or shoot it into the sun. And who really cares if the reactor melts down so long as you locate it away from human habitation? Outside the atmosphere, we'd already be exposed to lethal amounts of radiation on a regular basis, so everything would have to be shielded anyway.

I think the real problems are food, water, air, and physical deterioration from staying in low-G environments.

shirley elizabeth said...

Sounds like Spectre from Big Fish.

shirley elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

This is why you don't ask your Mom to take you camping.

bagoh20 said...

President Romney will announce a JFK type goal of revisiting the moon within 80 years. It will be wildly beyond the ability of our nation, but we will complete all the studies, modelling, documentation and testing ahead of schedule in 79-1/2 years.

The reason Mars is only a dream is because that's all we do anymore and not even that very well.

Now days if something looks hard to accomplish, we just get the government to prove it.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Bradbury never said that it was the government that would take us to Mars and elsewhere, just that we needed to go. Now that the first privately funded spaceship has docked with the ISS, we might finally be on our way.

Icepick said...

reached the west coast, only for everyone to die because there was no air, their blood literally froze in their veins, and they were constantly bathed in deadly radiation.

So you've been to the high desert in winter too! I rather liked it, despite of all that. Wouldn't want to live there though....

Icepick said...

We will be very sorry if we let China take it for themselves.. all because of some short sightedness in our part.

China, or Russia, or the USA may get there, may colonize, but they won't hold it. As soon as a population can sustain itself it will want to be free of those yobs back on Earth.

Balfegor said...

Re: Icepick:

China, or Russia, or the USA may get there, may colonize, but they won't hold it. As soon as a population can sustain itself it will want to be free of those yobs back on Earth.

AND HOW.

Crunchy Frog said...

Until someone figures out how to manipulate gravity (both creating where it does not exist, and nullifying it where it does) nobody is going anywhere.

Quoth the Insty: faster, please.

Cedarford said...

Oh, I see a need to go to Mars and beyond. Just with low cost unmanned missions that give us the best science for the buck.

There are about 40 problems, serious ones, related to long term manned exploration of space that have been known since the beginning of Apollo or discovered when we put people in space stations under long exposure to zero gravity. We haven't solved any of them. They relate to biological, cost, and serious technological barriers (cannot design a lower cost launcher than the Soviets created in the late 50s, there will be a need for a nuclear reactor and a backup reactor on any long term mission, etc.)

AS for Synova's "high ground" argument...Mars, Jovian moons, Pluto, even our own moon with "Heroes in Uniform" on them is not a high ground argument even the most ardent "cost is no barrier!" military strategist buys into.

The military isn't even interested in unmanned platforms on the moon, as low Earth and Geosychronous satellites cover that without the moons huge technological challenges 270 to minus 470 deg, solar power useless because any point on the moon spends 14 days in pitch darkness in -400 or lower temps. You would need two reactors or isotopic generators to power ops up, prevent components from dying in deepfreeze, shielding when it reached 200 DEG plus for 8 continuous days. And it wouldn't point at the same places on Earth but tidally locked, take 19-20 days to "see" each part of the earth under it.

Sorry Synova. "High ground" is as bogus as "vast resources of Helium 3 for fusion that we can't achieve on earth,"

X said...

You have a larger vision of the proper role of government than Bradbury had professor, so remove the mote from your own eye before telling him how to remove the speck from his.

Balfegor said...

Re: Cedarford:

"vast resources of Helium 3 for fusion that we can't achieve on earth,"

Oh come on! It worked for the Nazis!

EMD said...

What kind of lunatic would choose a pencil and a pad of paper over a MacBook?

In advertising, when in the conceptual phase, it is highly regarded in order to find ideas, one takes just a pencil, a pad, and their mind (and a concepting partner.)

That's not to say you don't eventually create with the computer.

None of the ideas I've come up with have been through the use of a computer or machine.

Cedarford said...

Balfegor - "I think the energy problem of a diaspora is actually comparatively simple -- for a long term habitation in deep space or on the moon or whatever, the only realistic solution is nuclear energy."

It is not simple in the sense that while technologically feasible - unlike fixing the tissue loss humans have in space or the cosmic ray threat - it is part of the problem that launching stuff from Earth is hugely expensive per pound (50,000) and when you add reactors and their sheilding components to the mix of thousands of tons of stuff a manned long duration mission or worse, a colony would entail...it just isn't within our financial means.

Especially since a half ton unmanned craft can do it longer, better, at no risk, and vastly cheaper.

"I think the real problems are food, water, air, and physical deterioration from staying in low-G environments."

For starters. Add solar and cosmic radiation, radiation from exciting hydrogen and other molecules in space hitting spacecraft at speeds greater than 1/80th the speed of light, huge issues with 0-gravity fires, abrasive soils on the Moon and Mars, psychological issues of years in small "cells". Waste and recycling.

Many think our future in space will not be as biological humans, but as artificial AI machines that are adapted to the environment outside the Earth magnetospere zone humans and their living predecessors evolved in over a billion and a half years.
AI machines with human intelligence and a semblence of human personality. Not bothered by lack of food, water, air, temperature extremes, even hard radiation. That could colonize places like Europa, Mars, Titan.

That most importantly, can be designed to be self-repairing and effectively immortal for long interstellar voyages lasting tens of thousands of years...if speed of light and relativistic gaining of infinite mass as we approach the speed of light is a hard and fast fact of physics we cannot get around. And no sci-fi writers workarounds like wormholes and space dimensional distortion are to be had.

Of course we could design such missions so that the AI machines were hard-wired to spend tens of thousands of years find suitable planets around other stars, sterilize them of indigenous life incompatable with our own genetic expressions (probably have some rule you couldn;t kill off intelligent alien life). Then reseed them with life maybe even tweak back a semblance of biological humans after tens of thousands more years of terraforming had passed.

Astro said...

Ann I'm with you, and I'm an astronomer interested in planet exploration. Until we have a propulsion system that can sustain at least 1/10th g acceleration during the trip (perhaps with in-flight refueling)- and can get to Mars within weeks, not months - a trip there makes no sense.
What I find really fascinating now is the potential to mine asteroids. That's exciting, and looks like it might be done by private means. Waay cool.

Robert Cook said...

Better a trip to Mars than making wars and killing people. We seem to have no lack of enthusiasm (or money) for that wholly destructive pursuit.

Robert Cook said...

"I've never understood writers who think computers are bad for creativity. What kind of lunatic would choose a pencil and a pad of paper over a MacBook?"

Some writers feel the speed with which one can pour words on the page using a computer--or, for some older writers, a typewriter--is inimical to the thoughtfulness necessary to compose prose that is truly well-considered and well-crafted. They feel that composing with a writing utensil imposes a necessary limit to speed of composition, permitting one to meditate, as it were, on their thoughts rather than blurting onto the page.

Robert Cook said...

"What I find really fascinating now is the potential to mine asteroids. That's exciting, and looks like it might be done by private means. Waay cool."

No doubt. But why would it be preferable that it be done by private means rather than public means, necessarily?

Gene said...

We're not going to Mars anytime soon and if we do it will be a one way trip for the cosmic ray brain-damaged astronauts who make it. When we landed on the moon in 1969 everyone said it was the beginning of man's exploration of the stars. Actually it was the end of his exploration of earth. I believe it was Freeman Dyson who said any trip to the stars was at least 500 years in the future (if ever).

Gene said...

I talked to Ray Bradbury on two occasions. Neither time was he polite or generous-minded. I think he wrote some great stuff early in his career and then spent the next 60 years giving talks about how much he liked dinosaurs when he was a kid.

Synova said...

"When we landed on the moon in 1969 everyone said it was the beginning of man's exploration of the stars. Actually it was the end of his exploration of earth."

It's funny...

From Earth, you can see the stars.

From space, you can see the Earth.

In other words, I profoundly disagree. We can measure so many things from "up there" that we were utterly blind to "down here."

Synova said...

"No doubt. But why would it be preferable that it be done by private means rather than public means, necessarily?"

Because government sucks the life and innovation out of anything it touches?

Synova said...

"AS for Synova's "high ground" argument...Mars, Jovian moons, Pluto, even our own moon with "Heroes in Uniform" on them is not a high ground argument even the most ardent "cost is no barrier!" military strategist buys into."

It's not necessarily a military argument except in the abstract. The Greenies want us to be small. the Liberals want us to be humble in the world.

In the larger sense I don't even care that much if it's not US. Let someone else do the heavy lifting, why not? But the nation with the ability, with the R&D and the resources and the WILL, will also have the ability, the R&D, and the will to dominate otherwise.

And we can become a supplicant state. It will likely be entirely comfortable to be a supplicant state.

Gene said...

Synova:
In other words, I profoundly disagree. We can measure so many things from "up there" that we were utterly blind to "down here."


We learned a lot from going to low earth orbit and the moon. But these are child's play compared to traveling to the stars. My point was that the stars are out of man's reach now and perhaps forever. If they weren't intelligent creatures from other star systems would have landed here long ago. Since they haven't (as far as we can tell), they probably can't do it either. The distances are too vast. Their lifespans (like ours) are too short.

Scott said...

"You can't take the sky from me...."

Synova said...

Darn you Scott!

Adam Baldwin is supposed to be at the Albuquerque Comic Expo this weekend (and Jewel Staite too, I think) and I had just convinced myself that I wouldn't be sorry if I didn't go tomorrow.

:-P

CLH said...

Doh! I used to like this blog, then she went and crapped all over my favorite subject! Just kidding, I still like the blog. Space travel is mankind's only hope for continued existence. We'll have to leave this rock someday, or we'll be boiled by the sun. While there are those who, of course, believe in religous based finality pre-sun-exploding, I'm not one of them, and make no apologies about that. We have to start expanding our resource base at some point- and I'd like for it to be in my life time. If I only had a few billion, I'd send my own team (or myself) to Mars. It's not always about the dollar signs. Sometimes it's just about building the cathedral of tomorrow.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Put me in a room with a pad and a pencil and set me up against a hundred people with a hundred computers - I'll outcreate every goddamn sonofabitch in the room."

I can hear half of the people here - NewAgers every one of them - demanding he "BE HUMBLE!"

The fucking losers,...

Robert Cook said...

"Because government sucks the life and innovation out of anything it touches?"

Prove it.

Synova said...

"Prove it."

Solyndra?

Government being in charge of innovation is like the church being in charge of innovation. They do all right from time to time, but they've got other priorities. And both are afraid of competition.

Governments (ours) shut down lemonade stands and soup kitchens, and chose winners and losers in the economic realm, but they chose the winners on the basis of politics and optics... thus, Solyndra.

Because Solyndra is the sort of "innovative" decision that governments make.

I won't ask you to present a counter example, since there are none, since no government so far operates in the purity of spirit needed to accomplish what such a system should so obviously accomplish were it not corrupted.

"Let me," as the man said, "show you a world without sin."