Wednesday, 26 January 2011

From little acorns grow

I'd guess most of you have heard the recent news on amino acids and asteroids. It may be harder to trust NASA than it once was, but panspermia is a humbling idea. This and the talk of nature, aliens and souls makes me think of Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. If it's new to you, you can read it here.

The preface could be enough to suck you in. The writing is old world elegant, with a simplicity and directness that makes guessing its age difficult.

Here's a little.

Year by year, month by month, the plight of our fragmentary and precarious civilization becomes more serious. ... Even in our own country we have reason to fear a tendency toward militarization and the curtailment of civil liberty. Moreover, while the decades pass, no resolute step is taken to alleviate the injustice of our social order. Our outworn economic system dooms millions to frustration.

The year was 1937, but it sounds a lot like 2011. What to do? That's the question we probably all ask. Stapledon has an answer we could well recognise and understand.

... perhaps the attempt to see our turbulent world against a background of stars may, after all, increase, not lessen the significance of the present human crisis. It may also strengthen our charity toward one another. ... In this belief I have tried to construct an imaginative sketch of the dread but vital whole of things.

It's definitely a sketch, but with detail and scope enough not to seem like one. It's also a tour de force tour of possible time and space. It's a big book, but easier in bite-sized pieces - and maybe that's the best way - for the pleasure of the cimelia if not more.

To help strengthen that charity towards one another, why not start from the ground up, and by reading this post by Jebediah at the ever thoughtful Book Scorpion's Lair?

And read this for a dose of clear thinking about our future, whether you agree or not.

If that's all too much text, Rachel at Slight Foxing chose well again with this cartoon.


netherwerks said...

Excellent post--Stapledon is amazingly good stuff and it's always nice to see panspermia getting mentioned as something other than a bad joke. This blog just gets better all the time.

Dave Garbe said...

Wow, reading that first paragraph, I coulda sworn it was recent.

The NASA thing was interesting though - I saw the original press release, but didn't realize the outcry following.

It really is small of us to assume that what we can scientifically measure today in all the vastness of space is all that's out there. The ant cartoon is good, but the same thing can be said about when we knew for a fact that the universe revolved around Earth, decided by what we measured and knew at the time.

I really wish I could remember more so I can cite it, but there's apparently a gas moon in our solar system that scientists have been watching because the gas levels have been fluctuating as if something on the moon was consuming and replenishing the gas.

Cyborg Trucker said...

I thought with the post title the answer was going to be Triffids! or maybe the Krynoids from the Seeds of Doom!

Cygnus said...

Love, love, love, the Olaf Stapledon.

The thing about it being "harder to trust NASA," IMHO, has nothing to do with the majority of NASA-funded scientists. Just the few who love to shoot out press-releases about their work, which statistically is no better or worse than the work of the other 99% who toil on without whoring for the media.

I wish there were better filters for (publicly accessible) summaries of NASA results. They do put out Decadal Survey documents that do a good job, but they only come out, well, decadally! :-(

Dan Eastwood said...

Interesting stuff. I knew that amino acids had previously been detected in space, but this is the first I've seen about how they might actually form.

Porky said...

@ NetherWerks - Thanks very much! Praise indeed, but you're cranking up the pressure..!

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - "The ant cartoon is good, but the same thing can be said about when we knew for a fact that the universe revolved around Earth, decided by what we measured and knew at the time." Yep, that's us - so certain we're better than the ants and with absolutely no paradigms left for shifting. Great comment!

@ Cyborg Trucker - Triffids and Krynoids. Now there are two good thoughts... *mind whirring*

@ Cygnus - I agree. It's a pity the need for individual gain is so powerful that even within a shared effort it can harm the work being done and the partners, and in this case potentially vast numbers of others. NASA doesn't need this ever, but especially not right now.

@ EastwoodDC - It was eye-opening for me too. I'm a natural sceptic, despite wanting to believe, so I'll hold out for more; and we really do need to hold out, and keep our minds wide open, if we run with the reasoning in Dave's point. The larger the sphere of light, the further we realise the darkness goes on.

The Happy Whisk said...

Hey Porky, thanks for thinking of me. Came by to say hello and wish you an oogie boogie day.

Porky said...

Good to see that face again - half a week is far too long! An oogie boogie day to you too!

The Happy Whisk said...

Thanks, Porky. Your comment on my blog was the best yet. Made me smile. Tim's headed home and we're about to eat and hit the bookshop. Enjoy the rest of your oogie boogie day. Thanks again. Hope you enjoyed the D20 comic.

Porky said...

Sounds wonderful. I can almost smell that soup. The snow pic was good, but the comments really made it - turns out it might have been a D32..! Nerds. Who'd have them?