Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

And now, to close out the Reader Request week, short thoughts on a bunch of topics:

Bruce: “I never see you write about sports. Are there any out there that interest you?”

I very occasionally write about sports, but I have to admit that as a general rule I don’t care much about them; they’re just not where my interests lie. That said, I frequently enjoy reading sports journalism, which I think is often livelier than most other sorts, and more fun to read. I also, interestingly, wrote a sports newsletter for AOL that went out to hundreds of thousands of readers weekly, and it deeply amused me to do it. My highlight with that was the time I called the winners all but one of the college bowls. I should have run a pool. All of this means that I am well-informed about sports, even if I don’t care about it. This comes in handy when meeting people outside my usual circles.

Nagol99: “I’d like your thoughts on Taxidermy & if you’d ever have a “stuffed” woodland creature hanging above your fireplace mantle. If so, then what would you have mounted?”

It’s not my thing, really, and I can’t think of a dead animal I’d want hanging about my house. I don’t find it morally repugnant, however, and I can appreciate when someone does a good job of it. It simply isn’t of interest to me in a general sense.

Anon: “Your thoughts on following in your parents footsteps. How many people do you know who are in the same careers as their parents? Did you ever consider it. Would you want your kid to consider it?”

My parents had jobs, not careers, and in any event I knew very early on that I wanted to be a writer, which neither of them were, so that solved that. I know several people who have the same job/career as at least one of their parents — mostly writers, but some doctors and a couple of lawyers. The amount of concern/pride/worry they have in doing what their parents did varies from person to person; the one advantage I can see is that you have someone close to you who can give you unique insight into the gig. My own daughter happens to be a very good writer, and I would be happy to see her try her hand at it for a career. But what I would rather see is for her to do the things that interest her. If that’s writing, great. If not, great.

Rafe Brox: “We all know of (and celebrate/mock) your love of Coke Zero as caffeine delivery system of choice. How did this come about? Did you experiment in college? Was there something you preferred, back in the day, that went off the market, and this was your next-best thing? Do you occasionally peruse other beverages out of curiosity or a sense of novelty?”

It’s not nearly that interesting. When I was younger I preferred the taste of Coke over Pepsi or other colas, and as I got older I switched over to no sugar versions because the sugared version was making me fat because I drank too much of it. I drink Coke Zero because it’s the actual Coke formula (Diet Coke is the New Coke formula). Soda is my preferred caffeine intake vehicle because I don’t like the taste of coffee and tea doesn’t do much for me either. While Coke Zero is my preferred soda, I’m not horribly dogmatic about it; I’ll drink a Diet Pepsi if I’m at a restaurant that only serves that, and I do drink other (mostly no-calorie) sodas. Currently in my fridge I have Diet Cherry Doctor Pepper, Diet Barq’s Root Beer, and Sprite Zero.

ProfMel: “As a parent of a teen, do you see the generation that’s growing up now approaching the world differently than we did? (Lo, these many years ago) If so, what do you see as positive or negative about it?”

Anecdotally speaking I don’t really notice too much of a difference. The trappings of adolescence are different — my daughter texts her friends constantly rather than doing what I did, which was to talk aimlessly on the phone for hours at a time — and new technologies and changes in the culture have fiddled with the dynamic a bit. But, you know, the basic template of adolescence is the same because the human animal hasn’t changed all that much in the three decades since I was a teen. I don’t see a huge philosophical difference between today’s teens and yesterday’s, either. Teenagers continue to be self-centered (which is not always a bad thing in a developing human, to be clear), highly-sensitive and status-observant, and absolutely certain that today, things are different in a way no one else not in their cohort could possibly understand. In short, yeah, I think they’re a lot like us.

Matthew: “I remember the cool video you showed of Athena seeing a record for the first time. What was she like as a kid growing up in rural Ohio and seeing the Ocean for the first time.”

Actually she was born in Virginia and lived her first two years there, and by her second birthday had been to both oceans the US touches. We also travel regularly, so she’s had numerous opportunities to see them in her life. So I don’t think she sees them as being entirely outside her experience of things. She does like the ocean, though. In a larger sense, one of the nice things about being who we are is that we have the opportunity to show our kid lots of the world. Living in rural Ohio is not as limiting as you might imagine.

ArthurD: “What from the world of today would impress the you of twenty or twenty five years ago?”

I suspect the current state of cell phone technology. There were mobile phones in 1989, but they were bricks, and in any event, for today’s cell phones, the actual “phone” part is almost an afterthought — these days I’m always vaguely surprised when someone calls me on mine. Cell phones are (for anyone over say, 40 years of age) genuinely science fictional — a computer you fit in your pocket that can access unfathomable amounts of information, understand when you speak to it and perform the functions you request, and record any moment you choose with full sound and audio. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing — and we don’t think anything of it. Because you get used to the future very quickly. But 1989 me would probably wet himself with amazement.

Noisegeek: “Is it just me, or has the subject of gender identity gotten super complicated in the last 10-15 years (publicly at least, I realize that for people dealing with the issue personally, it’s probably been complicated for a whole lot longer)?”

Yes, it has gotten more complicated in the last several years, in part because more transfolk and folks who feel some degree of gender fluidity have decided to stand up and stop passively accepting the status quo. And I think that’s as it should be. As I’ve noted before I think it’s a good thing for people to get closer to being who they really ought to be. And personally speaking, you know, I would love to be a person with whom other people can feel they can truly be who they are, when it comes to their gender expression. That takes work on my part, because like everyone else I’ve got a raft of assumptions and prejudices and things to get over. But saying it’s work is not saying it’s an imposition. It’s really not. So yeah: More complicated. But, hopefully as we go along, better, too.

Douglas: “Should we bring back extinct animals through cloning or other scientific breakthroughs?”

I’m not opposed to it in a very general sense, but I would say in all seriousness that I think those animals would be very lonely.

iQ666: “Would you write a short story for Playboy if solicited? Or do you intend to pull someday some strings to make this happen?”

It’s been so long since I’ve read Playboy that I’m not even sure they run fiction anymore, or, really, are still in print. Generally speaking I don’t send out work — I wait to be solicited — so I won’t be contriving to get into its pages, no.

Lawrence LaPointe: “Canada. The 51st state or the next superpower? “

Probably neither. I am deeply fond of Canada, however, and seem to be becoming more so as time goes on. I’m happy to share a continent with it.

Greg: “The Drake Equation. Where the heck is everybody?”

They’re out there having fun without us. Figures.

Malkara: “What’s your opinion on so-called cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc)? Do you think there’s any future in them, or are they all a load of shit?”

I only vaguely understand how their value is derived, and it seems to me that trusting a store of value that has almost no regulation is a fine way to lose the value you’ve stored there. So for the near-term future, at least, I’ll stick to nation-based currencies.

Hugh57: “Do you think that anyone other than Hillary Clinton has a realistic shot at the Democratic nomination in 2016? Who do you see as the future face of the Democratic Party?”

No, and likely Cory Booker, in that order. I also strongly suspect that the next realistic shot the GOP has at the White House is 2020, and that itself will depend on how Hillary Clinton’s first term goes.

Dusty: “An issue important to me – How do you feel about the skepticism movement? And folks like James Randi, Michael Shermer, and Phil Plait?”

Phil’s a friend of mine; I like him quite a bit. I don’t know either Randi or Shermer. Philosophically I’m aligned with skepticism; as a community as far as I can see it seems to have a number of social parallels to other geek communities, which includes some very real issues with how women are treated. If my knowledge about that is correct, then hopefully that’s being addressed.

Adam: “Profanity! How the fuck does one use it effectively?”

Fuck if I know, man. I just let that shit happen.

Thanks, everyone, for another successful Reader Request Week! I hope you had as much fun with it as I have.

53 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2014 #10: Short Bits

  1. That last question has made me wish that I thought to ask your opinion of coming up with Futuristic Swear Words for your science fiction. My recollection is that you only use the regular ones; have you actively considered and rejected using, say, “frack” instead of “fuck” for a particular project or has it just not been something you thought about?

  2. I can understand using a word that has to do with extracting energy sources from shale as a swear word, because if I were smoking and turned on the faucet and the natural gas that got into the well water went FLOOMPH! ? I mean, Oh Frack!

  3. I tend to be unconvinced about sports references I find in SF. And I wonder how long can we keep going more and more extreme in sports. That said, I see that either sports or some other kind of competition will be at least as big as now in any wealthy future society.

  4. The smart phone is an indicator of huge changes that impact fiction. So many traditional plots depend upon someone not knowing some vital piece of information (such as your buddy’s gender). But with ubiquitous instant communication, thousands of Big Brothers, never getting lost things will be different. And we can always find people to support our natural tendency to believe that our own ideas are normal, not extreme.

  5. On the modern use for the cell phone, where it started out as a brick, then gradually became smaller, and now with the advent of the tablets integrated with your phone, starting to get bigger. I’m reminded of Asimov’s “Foundation” where Hari Seldon is demonstrating his psychohistorical equations to Dorner, using a tablet. I wonder if Dr. Asimov envisioned people would be doing that not in 5,000 years, but in less than 60 years (from his original copyright date). I have an Android, but because finances are tight right now, I’ve switched back to the basic cell phone. When finances are no longer tight, I’ll consider getting back onto the data plan and reactivate the Android.

  6. “a computer you fit in your pocket that can access unfathomable amounts of information”

    You know what that part of it is? That right there is the Junior Woodchuck Handbook. (My wife pointed that out to me.)

  7. -That last question has made me wish that I thought to ask your opinion of coming up with Futuristic Swear Words for your science fiction.- That worked really well for Harry Harrison. How to represent the language of a future military without filling your book with potty-mouth stuff? Come up with new words. “What is this, bowb your buddy week. –It’s always bowb your buddy week around here.”

  8. I remember reading books a half century ago where main characters admired the skill of side kicks in creative swearing. That worked as long as the writer couldn’t be explicit. But that creative swearing did not become explicit later – and if authors couldn’t do it well, maybe it never existed.

  9. I think it’s really difficult to make up swears that don’t come out sounding silly. As a reader, new words for technology and concepts that we don’t have are easier to absorb, but weird swears just sound awkward. In Firefly, all the swearing was in Chinese which neatly sidestepped the problem.

  10. A grin from a Canadian. Hello, neighbor! We’ll never be an American state, but we welcome you to visit us and enjoy our gun-less policy. You’ll be safe here.

  11. I think I may know quote you when people ask me about bitcoin. Very concise summation of things!

    Regarding following and your parents footsteps, my parents like to remind me that when I was four years old, I asked them worriedly if I would have to be the minister of the church when they died. I have been reading a great deal of colonial era fiction…

  12. Scratch that, I wasn’t reading at four. Now I have no idea how I came up with that question…

  13. @howardbrazee: Geo. Alec Effinger did a whole collection of sports-related SF, which I thought was rather good. But I haven’t come across much else like it. And yes, I’m both a sports fan and an SF fan. Though not a huge sports *story* fan. But enough of one that I’ve tried to keep my eye out for more like that.

    (No, John, this is not a request.) :)

  14. Noisegeek: “Is it just me, or has the subject of gender identity gotten super complicated in the last 10-15 years (publicly at least, I realise that for people dealing with the issue personally, it’s probably been complicated for a whole lot longer)?”

    It’s definitely been personally complex for a lot longer. More visibility in the mainstream makes it much easier to deal with it socially (sharing with friends, colleagues, family etc) because suddenly we have common points of reference.

    I think it’s more complicated now in much the same way that democracy is more complex than autocracy. Rather than a single narrative prevailing, we have more pluralistic engagement.

  15. This is probably not the place for this, but as I’m not known for letting that stop me I’m pushing on. It’s a good story if i tell it well.

    I was on a long road trip with parts of my family yesterday – (the other parts being 1. at college and 2 singing at the concert we where we were headed). I plugged in Fuzzy Nation for us to listen to. I’d already heard it and I thought it was the kind of story that would interest both the 14 year old girl, the sixteen year old boy and his girlfriend AND my husband. Kind of an eclectic group to please. As I thought Fuzzy Nation fit the bill.

    At the end of the day my husband had to split up with us for the last half hour so he could get his car home. (insert a long boring story about logistics here).

    This morning I heard a conversation between my son and husband. My son was saying “So then the scientist starting thinking that the fuzzy creatures were a species.” “Sentient Species?” my husband asked. “Yeah, sentient species,” my son said.

    The conversation went on from there. My husband had missed about thirty minutes and I think my son filled him in pretty well. It made me smile – Firstly because my son thought it was important to update his dad, and secondly because I got it right. Fuzzy Nation was an excellent choice for my family. And Wil Wheaton does an great job at the narration.

    Later this morning my daughter was asking when we could listen to the rest of the story.

    Nice job, John. And thanks. Finding a story that interests all of us can be a challenge.

  16. I recently turned 60 and almost *everything* seems like the science fiction of my youth, only better! I remember collecting Star Trek pictures, now I can watch old ST episodes on DVD.
    What?!!! The new phones are the ‘communicator’ and darned close to the ‘tricorder’ all in one. Laptop computers? Medicine? Google? Siri?

    (But they should have sampled Majel Barrett’s voice for Siri’s ;-) )

  17. @Lumi:

    I think it’s really difficult to make up swears that don’t come out sounding silly.

    I think the best way to go is choose a theme in which your fictional community swears, and extrapolate. For example: English speakers swear in biology (anatomy, sex and defecation) and to a lesser extent, religion. In my observation, Swedish speakers swear almost exclusively in religion. Choose a hot-button topic for your society–pollution? eating? discourtesy?–and go from there.

  18. Greg: “The Drake Equation. Where the heck is everybody?”

    Scalzi: They’re out there having fun without us. Figures.

    Man, I never get invited to the cool parties. Oh well.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/02/26/exoplanets_new_technique_reveals_hundreds_more_alien_worlds.html

    After two years of Keplar data, astronomers annouce: 700 exoplanets have been found. 100 are the size of Earth. 4 are about the size of earth and in the “habital zone” from their suns. The article estimates the number of earth-sized planets in the galaxy to be in the billions. So, earth sized planets in the habital zone don’t seem to be rare.

    It does seem odd to have that many, and have zero signs of life.

    Are the planets teaming with life, but not intelligent? Is there intelligent life, but the laws of physics make travel and communication impossible? Are we stuck in the “slow” zone a la “Fire Upon the Deep”? Or are there many many orders of magnitude of luck bestowed on Earth that allowed a lifeless planet to evolve life, and we’re the only life in the entire galaxy?

  19. The thing I appreciate about your comments on Gender Identity is the acknowledgement of your own prejudices and your willingness to work from there. I think generally, many are more prejudiced than they realize, and believe that they are open-minded (or open-minded “enough”) when they aren’t.

    Dialog and honesty! Oh my!

    Thanks,

    — A

  20. Re: profanity.

    I spent young adulthood mainly with Vietnam Vets (luckily, I missed the draft by a high number). This probably explains why I didn’t even know that profanity was a bad thing. However, my third boss told me to either lose the profanity or find another job, and I thought, “What the fuck – what’s profanity?” I had to learn. Jobs were scarce so what can I say? We were not to offend blue-haired women.

    Well, why offend? Internet Troll-types say why not, but they don’t serve the public. Blue-haired ladies and a lot of other folks in the service world simply won’t patronize us folks who say our “blue things,” and that’s a fact. Clean speech leads to clean dollar signs, so that’s why I now ask why — it’s nothing philosophical.

    Too, I’ve come to wonder if profanity aren’t merely replace exclamation marks – and ask writers about using them!!!!!!!!

    Profanity appears mostly a social thing without even religious overtones IMO. To my dying day (btw, I’m in my 60s not 70s; I’d wrongly stated this earlier), I cannot understand the offensiveness of much of our best profanity – especially concerning that millennium-old useful word “fuck.” But if folks have apoplexies over this or that, who am I to start a liberating bandwagon now? Jobs teach you all about grey areas, and this is one IMO.

    Philosophically, serious profanity really requires an essay in the realm of existentialism, and I don’t want to go there here. I mean, wtf.

  21. @logophage – There’s a good Star Trek fanfic that ascribes to Orions the same sort of social phobias of eating that Humans have to sexual acts. This led to swears like “chew” and “suck” and seemed pretty logical, considering.

  22. Are the planets teaming with life, but not intelligent? Is there intelligent life, but the laws of physics make travel and communication impossible? Are we stuck in the “slow” zone a la “Fire Upon the Deep”? Or are there many many orders of magnitude of luck bestowed on Earth that allowed a lifeless planet to evolve life, and we’re the only life in the entire galaxy?

    Or are they communicating but not in a form that we recognize? Would Tesla or Marconi recognize a compressed and privacy-keyed data stream sent via laser as communication? Or would it be dismissed as random noise? Have we already received the signal and they are just waiting for us to reply?

    This is one of those difficult questions that make life worth living.

  23. “In Firefly, all the swearing was in Chinese which neatly sidestepped the problem.”

    But at the same time, creating other problems. I’m a big fan of Firefly, but Chinese was a running gag on the show and I found it rather uncomfortable (“Asian Language” also became a running joke in season 7 of Buffy, which was kind of sad).

    I much preferred the frequently uttered “gorramit” from Firefly, which sounds pretty sweary to the ear without all the other issues.

  24. JohnD: https://xkcd.com/638/

    Though, I think if you’re tryign to send a message to aliens, you probably wouldn’t compress it and encrypt it. A preamble of pulses counting the first batch of prime numbers, or something simple but unique enough to rule out it being generated by natural phenomenon, would probably be better.

    On the other hand, if the silence reflects the lack of life in the galaxy, it kind of makes me wonder how we got so lucky. What was it that made it possible here that it wasn’t possible elsewhere? spinning iron core to generate a magnetosphere? few enough asteroids that some life always survived?

  25. @ Greg,
    Though, I think if you’re tryign to send a message to aliens, you probably wouldn’t compress it and encrypt it.

    But why would you send a message to aliens who may or may not exist? Very few people one Earth are interested in doing so (and, as Sagan famously demonstrated, even fewer are capable of doing it right); why should aliens be any different? And then there’s the question of “Would contacting aliens be wise?”

    Just as most communications on Earth are sent from one person to another person that they know exists, I would expect that most alien communications are sent from one group of aliens to another group that is known to exist. And, given the limits of space travel, most of those communications are probably extremely limited in terms of the apparent parallax of the two sources and even more limited in the spread of their signals. Consider the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment for an example, or even the Voyager probes; from Proxima Centauri, the signals to and from those experiments would appear to be coming from the Sun and would be lost in its noise. And, even if some alien astronomer should happen to notice them in the solar spectrum, the astronomer would have a very hard time decrypting them.

  26. I am constantly amazed by my smartphone, also that everything about it comes FROM SPACE, OMG. Satellites, etc, it’s all mind-blowing. Is that a factor of my age, 40?

    On another note, I really enjoyed the short bits, this year.

  27. The people claiming that gender confusion can’t happen anymore clearly haven’t played enough MMOGs. In particular, gendered avatars combined with people who have relatively neutral voices can result in quite a bit of confusion for listeners. Extra bonus points for having it be an established fact that the player base is overwhelmingly male and the people in question being transgender.

  28. JohnD: But why would you send a message to aliens who may or may not exist?

    Because science asks questions about things we don’t yet know the answer to.

    And then there’s the question of “Would contacting aliens be wise?”

    I don’t subscribe to xenophobia and besides, it doesn’t make any sense.

    Aliens could be hundreds of millions of years more advanced than we are, possibly billions. I think that means that if they could have exploited our planet they would have already. We just started astronomy mere centuries ago and we’re already discovering exoplanets. If there is alien life out there, and they had milllions of years of astronomy, then they already know our planet exists.

    So, either they can’t get to us because warp drive isn’t possible or they’re not interested exploiting us because they solved their energy problems and so don’t need coal from earth. In either case, the one thing they might be interested in is communication, in which case it goes back to the xkcd cartoon and figuring out what pheremone signal they’re using.

  29. I drink Coke Zero because it’s the actual Coke formula (Diet Coke is the New Coke formula).

    That’s the internet rumor/conventional wisdom, but Coca-Cola has never, to my knowledge, officially confirmed or denied either claim. They certainly advertise Coke Zero as having “Real Coke Taste”, but whether that’s due to specific formulation, the results of consumer taste testing, or pure marketing bullshit is difficult to say. I agree that Coke Zero does taste closer to Coke Classic than Diet Coke. Whether Diet Coke uses the New Coke formula, or a mixture unique to Diet Coke, is near impossible to determine, in no small part because there is not, nor has there been for a quarter century, any New Coke available to compare to.

    There is one significant, verifiable difference between the products: the artificial sweetener. Diet Coke uses just aspartame (or, in the case of “Diet Coke with Splenda”, sucralose). Coke Zero uses a combination sweetener of aspartame and acesulfame potassium, also known as “Ace-K”. I have found that the addition of Ace-K cuts most, but not all, of the “chemical” off-flavors indicative of artificial sweeteners. I personally tend to seek out Ace-K/aspartame and, when I can find them, Ace-K/sucralose drinks.

    As an aside, both Coke and Pepsi have been marketing stevia extract artificial sweeteners: Coke calls it Truvia, while Pepsi markets theirs as Pure-Via. But, neither company has been using stevia in their beverage products, at least not in the western US. Having found and tried some stevia sweetened, off-brand drinks in some health food chains (like Whole Foods), I can see why. It tastes like shit.

  30. Doesn’t the United States touch 3 oceans? According to the National Geographic wall map I have in my office, the U.S. touches the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. So, that sounds like a good trip for your family John – Arctic Ocean here we come!

  31. Greg:

    Coal? Bah. Aliens only come here for our water.

    OK, occasionally for our gold. Or our women. Or our heroin-overdose-induced endorphins. But mostly our water.

  32. Doc: , I can see why. It tastes like shit.

    I cannot stand the taste of aspertame, sucralose, or just about any other sweetner used in diet drinks. I do, on the other hand, use truvia in my coffee and food. It tastes sweet to me, versus aspertame which tastes like cobalt and electricity.

    I haven’t seen truvia sweetened drinks but I don’t go to Whole Foods. Might have to look.

  33. Greg: to clarify, Truvia tastes like shit when used to sweeten sodas. I also use it regularly for coffee and in cooking. Especially coffee, it’s awesome for coffee. I’m also experimenting with it to sweeten a batch of hard cider I have in a secondary fermenter in my basement.

  34. Because science asks questions about things we don’t yet know the answer to.

    Sending a message into the dark isn’t asking a question, it isn’t even good engineering.

    I don’t subscribe to xenophobia and besides, it doesn’t make any sense.

    Xenophobia makes lots of sense if you are willing to subscribe to the possibility that the aliens might follow any of the known hostile patterns seen on Earth. Imagine that the aliens are the ETI equivalent of the Etoro and life gets very ugly very quickly.

    Aliens could be hundreds of millions of years more advanced than we are, possibly billions.

    Or they could be right at our level only with one lucky break that got them warp drive. Or they could be thousands of years behind us only with a captured warp drive.

    I’ll agree that there are few reasons to exploit another planet, given all of the nice little chunks of rock floating out there all ready for use. Gold, silver, rare earth elements? Why head to a planet where they are buried in the crust when you can scoop them out of a handy asteroid? Water, DNA, amino acids? Why use people when those things are abundant on comet?

    But exploitation isn’t the only reason one society interacts with another. Considering a few awful examples from our own history, they could be looking for slaves because there are some tasks that it is easier/cheaper to use an expendable person for than to build a machine to do. They could be looking for “backward” peoples to “civilize” by forcing them to abandon their native language and habits. They could be looking to destroy anything that their religion finds offensive. Or they could just be looking for a new market for their snozzberries. In the absence of data, all well-formed hypotheses are equally viable.

    Note: I hope that any aliens we meet are more akin to ET than to Predator. But I also hope that nobody in the government is stupid enough to count on that being the case.

    If there is alien life out there, and they had milllions of years of astronomy, then they already know our planet exists.

    You are arguing your premise. If their astronomy is based on some other wavelengths of light, then they may very well not know that we exist. If they are a few thousand light years away, then they may not know that we exist. If they happen to be behind a nebular cloud with respect to us, then they may not know that we exist.

  35. Doc, that’s odd. I wonder why it tastes bad in soda but good in coffee. I know flavor is modified by things like heat (apparently that’s why beer is better cold) and other factors. I wonder if it’s affected sideways by something soda-related. I might have to find a Whole Foods just to try an experiment. Truvia coffee versus some kind of truvia soft drink.

    JohnD: Xenophobia makes lots of sense if you are willing to subscribe to fear.

    Yes. Fear makes sense if you subscribe to fear.

    Circular logic. You has it.

    Considering a few awful examples from our own history,

    A history without the technology for interstellar space travel. Written history is mostly based in Bronze Age and Iron Age technology. And Iron Age technology gets you certain kinds of societies. A lot of them aren’t pretty. But you could take a baby born during the Stone Age and raise them in the information age and they would not be anything like their biological parents. They would be a function of the technology around them, a function of the kinds of cultural conversations that technology makes possible.

    In the absence of data, all well-formed hypotheses are equally viable.

    No. In the absense of any data, there are no “well formed” hypothesis. And they aren’t “equally viable”. There are just hypothesis, which is just a fancy way of saying there are guesses and you support them or rule them out with evidence, with data. With no data, then your hypothesis is just a guess with no more “viability” than any randomly generated myth.

    Einstein thought the universe was static, because that’s what he wanted to believe. It felt “right” to him. It seemed to be a more beautiful universe if it were eternal. And he spent a considerable amount of time inventing cosmological constants to add to his equations to try and make the math come out the way he wanted it to come out, rather than looking at the data.

    Don’t give me this nonsense about “no data” making your “hypothesis” “equally valid”. People put the Earth at the center of the universe because they had scant data and a lot of fears of being alone in a universe of no meaning. So they invented a God that created mankind for a special mission and God put mankind on a planet at the center of the universe. Suddenly we had meaning. Suddenly we had purpose. Suddenly we were no longer alone. But inventing a God to counter our existential crisis isn’t the same as proposing a hypothesis of any “validity”. And it isn’t proposing a hypothesis when you take all your worst fears of mankind and channel them into the dark, unknown void of space and suggest we not search for answers lest we be someone’s dinner, slave, or burden. Putting a nightmare to words isn’t a hypothesis simply because there is no data otherwise.

    No data means no data. And one of the biggest mistakes people make when faced with no data is to fill the data with their worst fears or their biggest fantasies, to take no data and use it as an excuse to invent out of nothing, God or the Devil, or both.

    You seriously need to reconsider just how much of your own stuff you’re inserting into “no data”.

    they could be looking for slaves

    Oh. My. God. Dude. That’s about as “equally viable” a “hypothesis” as someone suggesting aliens would travel millions of miles to perform anal experiments on some redneck in the middle of the night on some isolated road and then go back to their home planet.

  36. Well, that kinda depends on the beer, or maybe what you mean by “cold”. For me, if the beer doesn’t get better as it gets warmer, I don’t drink it. :D

  37. JohnD: Xenophobia makes lots of sense if you are willing to subscribe to fear.

    Greg, if you are going to lie about what people have said, you should do a better job of it. Here is what I did say:

    “Xenophobia makes lots of sense if you are willing to subscribe to the possibility that the aliens might follow any of the known hostile patterns seen on Earth. Imagine that the aliens are the ETI equivalent of the Etoro and life gets very ugly very quickly.”

    Notice how I’m not saying “Xenophobia makes lots of sense if you are willing to subscribe to fear”; I’m not even saying “we should fear the unknown because fear”; I am saying that we have plenty of evidence from our own experiences on Earth that not every culture is nice and good and kind. Evidence that you seem intent on wishing away.

    A history without the technology for interstellar space travel.

    Actually, all of those examples were drawn from the past fifty years. We’ve had the technology for interstellar travel that long if you are willing to agree with Project Orion and generation ships.

    And if you assert that merely being able to travel long distances really fast will somehow magically transform us into a peaceful species, then I would ask you once more to look at our history. In your experience, has being able to fly from New York to London in six hours made things any less dangerous than when it took three months to sail there? Indeed, there are many who argue that rapid transportation has made wars more likely, not less, as they make it easier to bring men and material into a combat zone and so lower the cost of doing war.

    No. In the absense of any data, there are no “well formed” hypothesis.

    Actually there are. That you are unaware of what “well-formed” and “equally viable” mean indicates what reliability we should assign to your statements. The cherry on top being that you equate hypothesis with guess. Hint: They aren’t the same, not by a long shot.

    And it isn’t proposing a hypothesis when you take all your worst fears of mankind and channel them into the dark, unknown void of space and suggest we not search for answers lest we be someone’s dinner, slave, or burden.

    On the one hand you castigate me for using what data we have and on the other you argue that there is no data and we should assume the best. Consistency really is a hobgoblin, isn’t it?

    Your fundamental mistake is is asserting that we have no data. We do. It is right here on Earth. Unless you have some compelling reason to assert that an alien race will be fundamentally different in its outlook than a human would be, we must assume that alien motivations will be similar to those of Earthlings. And thus far here on Earth we’ve never seen beings like the ones you hope for. Not in humans, nor in any species.

    You seriously need to reconsider just how much of your own stuff you’re inserting into “no data”.

    I think you meant that for yourself. As noted previously, I’m using our experiences here on Earth as data. You are the one insisting that there is no data whatsoever.

    Oh. My. God. Dude. That’s about as “equally viable” a “hypothesis” as someone suggesting aliens would travel millions of miles to perform anal experiments on some redneck in the middle of the night on some isolated road and then go back to their home planet.

    The difference being that you actually get some value out of a slave (ask Thomas Jefferson about that). What value do you get from an anal probe?

  38. JohnD: if you are going to lie about what people have said,

    Dude. Your quotes were in italics. My words are in standard font. Strawman that all you want, but I didn’t lie.

    past fifty years. We’ve had the technology for interstellar travel that long if you are willing to agree with Project Orion and generation ships

    50 years ago, generation ships were as viable a way off Earth as using wax and feathers to make wings was a viable way off the island of Crete. If you are going to pretend that just because we created a new myth involving generation ships makes us an “interstellar species”, then you are seriously delusional.

    you argue that there is no data and we should assume the best.

    A) We have no data of alien life forms.
    B) I never said anything about “assume the best”. Coming from someone who just chastized me that I “lie” about what you said, that’s kind of funny.

    we must assume that alien motivations will be similar to those of Earthlings.

    Heh. First you make up that I said we must “assume the best”. And then you say that we MUST ASSUME THE WORST

    Yeah, please don’t lecture me on scientific method whilst insisting we must assume as an agreed upon unquestionable premise the very conclusion you seek to prove. Circular logic. You has it. Repeatedly.

    That you are unaware of what “well-formed” and “equally viable” mean

    Jesus. Get over yourself. A hypothesis is nothing more than a proposed explanation for some observations, an explanation that hasn’t been proven yet. It must be testable. And testing could very well prove it wrong.

    You have no observations about aliens, therefore you have no hypothesis about aliens. You merely have an assumption you insist be recognized as valid unless I can disprove it. Which is sooo not how it works.

    What value do you get from an anal probe?

    What is the value of rape? You’re playing shell games now with “value” simply to try and make your “the aliens will travel billions of miles to enslave us” sound more reasonable than “the aliesn will travel billions of miles to rape us”. Sorry. they’re both nuts. They’re both based in the cultural conversation of scarcity and fear.

    has being able to fly from New York to London in six hours made things any less dangerous ?

    So, what you’re saying is you don’t know history and how technology affects culture.And in the absence of any sort of understanding of how technology affects culture, you’re inserting the same assumptions-from-ignorance you keep insisting must be recognized as true untill someone disproves them. ALl the while lecturing me on the scientific method.

    You’re a hoot.

    JUst as a single technological example, the printing press had a massive impact on the planet. So too did radio, television, the internet, cell phones, smart phones. We are in the information age now, and if you don’t think the world is better now because of the technological advances of communications, then I don’t know what to tell you. We are better as a people because of the technological advancements we’ve made around communications.

    The level of tehcnological advances required to be a truly interstellar species (rather than telling ourselves stories about generation ships but not actually implementing them) would be no less than the sort of impact that the printing press had.

    Being able to travel from New York to London in hours instead of months doesn’t make us a better species. But the understanding required to achieve that sort of technological advancement most certainly has made us a better species. We are certainly much better as a people today than we were when sailing ships first brought Europeans to North America.

    Any time dogma and assumptions and the darkness of ignorance has the light of knowledge shine upon it, is an improvement in humanity.

  39. Dude. Your quotes were in italics. My words are in standard font. Strawman that all you want, but I didn’t lie.

    Did you state that you weren’t quoting me? No, you tried to assign words to me that I didn’t say. That’s lying, no matter how you want to put it.

    50 years ago, generation ships were as viable a way off Earth as using wax and feathers to make wings was a viable way off the island of Crete.

    The difference being that the physics for the generation ships works.

    A) We have no data of alien life forms.

    No, but we do have plenty of data on how evolution works and on the sorts of organisms that have evolved to take advantage of the many niches on Earth. Unless you are willing to argue that evolution operates differently on other planets, starting with how it works on Earth seems to be a reasonable beginning. At least, that’s what the folks who study this for a living say.

    B) I never said anything about “assume the best”. Coming from someone who just chastized me that I “lie” about what you said, that’s kind of funny.

    The difference being that I said I was quoting you whereas you effectively did. What I did say (since you seem to be in rare misquoting form today) was “On the one hand you castigate me for using what data we have and on the other you argue that there is no data and we should assume the best.”

    Here are your arguments:
    “I don’t subscribe to xenophobia and besides, it doesn’t make any sense. … Aliens could be hundreds of millions of years more advanced than we are, possibly billions. I think that means that if they could have exploited our planet they would have already. ”

    If that isn’t assuming the best, then what is it?

    Heh. First you make up that I said we must “assume the best”. And then you say that we MUST ASSUME THE WORST

    I never said that we should assume the worst. I said that we should base our judgements on what we’ve already observed.

    Yeah, please don’t lecture me on scientific method

    Yes, that is obviously a lost cause given your disregard of data.

    Jesus. Get over yourself.

    You first, bub.

    A hypothesis is nothing more than a proposed explanation for some observations, an explanation that hasn’t been proven yet. It must be testable. And testing could very well prove it wrong.

    And notice how that differs from a guess? Or are you incapable of making that distinction?

    You have no observations about aliens, therefore you have no hypothesis about aliens.

    And that’s where you make your fundamental mistake. Look, we have no observations of the surface of Gliese 581 g. But, based on what we know about physics, we can make some pretty good statements about what it is probably like. Similarly, even though we don’t have any examples of alien life (unless you wish to subscribe to panspermia), we do know a lot about how life evolves and about how societies interact. Based on those, we can make some statements about how aliens are likely to behave and how they are not. Your sweetness and light scenario is extremely unlikely, based on what we’ve seen on Earth.

    You merely have an assumption

    The only assumptions I’ve got are:
    1) That the laws of evolution and physics are universal (thus far, a pretty good bet) and
    2) That you actually have enough background to be able to discuss this rationally (thus far, not such a good bet).

    What is the value of rape? You’re playing shell games now with “value” simply to try and make your “the aliens will travel billions of miles to enslave us” sound more reasonable than “the aliesn will travel billions of miles to rape us”.

    No, I’m not. You do get value out of slaves, as I pointed out in the original reference (“they could be looking for slaves because there are some tasks that it is easier/cheaper to use an expendable person for than to build a machine to do”). I’ll point out two tasks that would make slaves valuable:
    1) mining asteroids is easier with people than with robots because people are cheap and have reasonably good processors (with certain exceptions); if your transport costs are minimal, it might be less expensive to use people than to build robots for the task.
    2) clean up is better done by people than by machines, which is why every high-end car-wash has a crew of cheaply paid laborers doing the final buffing rather than using a machine.

    Can you point out any tasks that make the sort of rape you described valuable?

    So, what you’re saying is you don’t know history and how technology affects culture.

    Actually, I do. You are the one failing the course by assuming that thchnology will magically create a peaceful species. Again, I ask – has being able to fly from New York to London made war less likely? Or are you afraid to answer the question because you know it will reveal that you are wrong.

    We are better as a people because of the technological advancements we’ve made around communications.

    We are better. But we still go to war. And please note that we are discussing transportation, not communications (which is related but not the same).

    The level of technological advances required to be a truly interstellar species (rather than telling ourselves stories about generation ships but not actually implementing them) would be no less than the sort of impact that the printing press had.

    And you continue to insist that your circular argument is true, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Do you remember what they said about TNT? About planes? About movies? All three were supposed to end the horrors of war. None of them have managed the task. So why should we believe that merely being able to travel to another star will magically change us into a peaceful species when nothing else has? Why should we assume that other species won’t be shaped by evolution as we have?

  40. JHohD: Did you state that you weren’t quoting me?

    Yes, once again, the way you assert things are is teh way they must be unless disproven. I would love to live in your world and get to make assertions that everyone has to accept as truth until someone actively disproves them. What fun you must have.

    I didn’t SAY is wasn’t quoting you because basic formatting protocols say that using italics indicates a quote, and using normal font is NOT a quote. That you don’t understand basic formatting doesn’t mean you get to assert your own very-wrong assumptions as truth from the mountain until disproved.

    Seriously. You’re mangling of the scientific method while trying to “school” me on the scientific method is ghastly.

    I never said that we should assume the worst. I said that we should base our judgements on what we’ve already observed

    Yeah. what was that you said? they could be looking for slaves,… for “backward” peoples to “civilize” by forcing them to abandon their native language and habits. …. to destroy anything that their religion finds offensive.

    If that isn’t assuming the worst, then what is it?

    Do you remember what they said about TNT? About planes? About movies? All three were supposed to end the horrors of war. None of them have managed the task. So why should we believe that merely being able to travel to another star will magically change us into a peaceful species when nothing else has?

    TNT, planes, and movies, were all some technophile thinking they understood people as well as their favoriate technology only to discover that people are a whole specialty to study all on their own. Inventors seldom correctly predict the effects of their inventions on socieity. People often assume it will be the same world but a bit different. Assuming internal combustion engines will lead to nothing more than “horseless carriages” rather than the industrial revolution that it caused.

    On the other hand, there are advances in society tied loosely to technological advances. The death of the notion of “divine right of kings” can be loosely tied to the inventiosn of the printing press and firearms, among other things.

    Why should we assume that other species won’t be shaped by evolution as we have?

    Ah, you’re arguing for what folks commonly refer to as the “thin veneer of civilization”. that no matter how technically advanced we get, we are nothing but animals, and can never be any better than animals. It’s a libertarian view. It the Thatcher argument that “there is no such thing as society”, only individual animals. ANd it is (A) moronic because it ignores the advances of society and acknowledges only the worst that individuals are capable of doing and (B) usually so entrenched that the person advocating it will never acknowledge it colors their own bias.

    You can’t see the forest for the trees, the society for the animals, and so this conversation is pretty much doomed.

  41. JHohD: Did you state that you weren’t quoting me?

    Yes, once again, the way you assert things are is teh way they must be unless disproven.

    Coming from you, that’s a bit of a laugh. All I asked is if you stated that you weren’t quoting me. You have chosen to sidestep the inconvenient question because it would demonstrate that you were, in fact, trying to lie. Here’s an explanation of how to paraphrase people without putting words in their mouths.

    I didn’t SAY is wasn’t quoting you because basic formatting protocols say that using italics indicates a quote, and using normal font is NOT a quote.

    Really? Where is this soi disant “protocol” written down? And how are we to distinguish a sloppy bit of coding from a deliberate change in voice? Had you written JohnD: Xenophobia makes lots of sense if you are willing to subscribe to [fear], then it would have been clear that you were paraphrasing what you thought I said. Instead, you chose to make it look as if I had actually said something that I didn’t.

    Seriously. You’re mangling of the scientific method while trying to “school” me on the scientific method is ghastly.

    Given your lack of understanding of the scientific method, it is time that someone taught you how to use it. However, this is neither the time nor place as our host has already expressed his displeasure with this discussion. I’ll just point you to a primer and leave it at that.

    Yeah. what was that you said? they could be looking for slaves,… for “backward” peoples to “civilize” by forcing them to abandon their native language and habits. …. to destroy anything that their religion finds offensive.

    Are you saying that we haven’t observed those things? And, no they aren’t the worst, not by a long shot. Look up the history of the “Young Turks” or read how David treated his defeated enemies(1 Samuel 18) and what he wanted to do to the children of the defeated (Psalm 137) and you’ll start to see what “the worst” looks like.

    TNT, planes, and movies, were all some technophile thinking they understood people as well as their favoriate technology only to discover that people are a whole specialty to study all on their own.

    Right. And yet you are willing to assert that merely having interstellar capability somehow will make us peaceful. Do you not see that you are making exactly the same mistake that they did?

    Ah, you’re arguing for what folks commonly refer to as the “thin veneer of civilization”.</I.

    No, I am arguing from what we have observed. Do you dispute the fact that we have observed the behaviors that I’ve described?

    ANd it is (A) moronic because it ignores the advances of society and acknowledges only the worst that individuals are capable of doing

    No, it doesn’t “ignore the advances of society”. Instead, it recognizes that there is a spectrum of responses ranging from good to bad. You seem intent on insisting that only the good behaviors will survive after interstellar flight is accomplished. I’m merely pointing out that technology hasn’t made us angels yet and there is no reason to assume that aliens will be any more moral than we are.

  42. JohnD: Where is this soi disant “protocol” written down?

    Right. If it isn’t “written down”, it must be invalid. Yet another arbitrary rule from JohnD. Look.this may be hard for you to grasp, but I quoted you exactly the same way you are quoting me: by italicizing the quoted words and putting everything else in normal font. It’s not hard. It can’t be hard because its exactly the same way you’re quoting me. But it does point to why this conversation has been so doomed: You’ve got double standards for everything from how to quote people, to how to “prove” something, to what we “must assume” be true.

  43. Right. If it isn’t “written down”, it must be invalid.

    No, I am merely pointing out that it is very difficult for people to know about a protocol if it isn’t disseminated in some fashion. This being the internet, writing it down would be the logical method.

    Look.this may be hard for you to grasp, but I quoted you exactly the same way you are quoting me: by italicizing the quoted words and putting everything else in normal font.

    Except you aren’t. When I paraphrase your statements, it is very clear that I am paraphrasing (e.g., “you argue that there is no data and we should assume the best”). You, on the other hand, prefer to invoke non-existent protocols in order to misrepresent what people have said (e.g., by mixing a direct quote with a paraphrase that is not identified as such).

    You’ve got double standards for everything from how to quote people, to how to “prove” something, to what we “must assume” be true.

    And again you are talking to yourself. I’ve pointed to the standards that I use and I follow them. Why can you not point to your standards?

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