Thursday, 29 March 2012

Billions of 'actual banknotes' found in unsold clothing?

I'm thinking of running an occasional series on arguably dodgy science writing, with stand-out snippets. It may or may not be good for sly-fi.

I found this title at the website of a generally well-respected British daily newspaper.

New 'life in space' hope after billions of 'habitable planets' found in Milky Way

Note how the inverted commas suggest the phrases 'life in space' and 'habitable planets' are either quotes or questionable. So far so standard. But why not mark the word 'found' in the same way? Have they really been found in the usual sense, i.e. observed directly?

Not yet. The science itself is also interesting. It seems that indirect observations - and arguably very indirect observations - gave a number for the possible planets orbiting a specific set of stars, and that this number has been scaled up for a much larger set.

It looks a bit like me finding what feels to be a banknote in a jacket I have on and betting I'll find one in a pocket of every item of clothing I own, and maybe items not bought yet.

Is it reasonable to wonder whether our 'knowledge' is based on overeaching, whether it's a house of cards? If you can imagine ulterior motives in things like this, a corruption of language say, or generation of support for a project, it could be used for sly-fi after all.

Using concepts like that in gaming is fairly simple, in roleplaying campaigns especially, maybe as the central idea, and some settings do suggest mass unawareness. I have a setting-specific sci-fi plot table here, but a general old school table also seems possible.

Although fitting it into wargaming is tougher, I should have a loose proposal for the next part of the look at Devastation Drive-In, and I expect that up in the next day or million.


Trey said...

I think if anything our recent rash of planetary discovers has been at a greater rate than a lot of people would have expected (which fits with or estimations being faulty, but in the other direction). Of course, earth-like worlds in habitable zones are still a rarity.

garrisonjames said...

Super-Earths kind of over-turn a lot of previously cherished notions. They were not predicted by the math or models in prevalent use 30 years ago. What'll we find out next, as we get better methods of observation into place, and as more effective methods continue to evolve? What happens when we start to find the littler, more actually Earth-like planets, possibly orbiting as moons around some of these whopping huge super-sized planets? You know, places with gravity we can handle without prosthetics or mechanical walkers...

Porky said...

@ Trey - I agree, and I think we're looking at it the same way. The most interesting thing for me is point of reference, in that we really have no measure for our measures. Although I'd imagine what we're seeing is more or less what it's generally accepted in some areas we should be seeing - give or take the odd order of magnitude - how can we be sure of ourselves when we're still here, at one single point and with so limited a view and proportion of all there might be? Put in sci-fi terms, how can we be sure we're not in a chamber of one-way epistemological glass?

@ garrisonjames - That overturning of notions is more reason for us to be bold with caution. There's certainly no harm in keeping things fluid and being very open to new approaches - and much more open than we are now I'd say - but re the mention of measures above, checking and double-checking can't hurt. That said, it's exciting no matter how accurate our interpretations of the data might be - as the supposedly fantastical moves into the supposedly real, new reaches of fantastical emerge beyond. I also wonder about the presentation and effect of a discovery like a possible other us.

FD Mini Painting said...

I must say I am warily sceptical but can't help but feel excited on the subject. Having said all that I feel i have nothing intelligent to add other than I hope the aliens are nice if said aliens exist and know of/obtain space travel capable of ever reaching us now that I've been rather unintelligent with my offering I don't quite know how to redeem this comment apart from saying yes it does sound a bit like the powers that be are gearing up for spending countless monies on space stuff.

Porky said...

There's a big question for sure - how would we get on if we ever came into contact, assuming we haven't already and actually can? Who knows? But like you, I also hope it's a friendly enough encounter. As for the spending, here's to all of us getting a say in it.