Posts concerning science

Considerations for a Space Opera Setting: Artificial Intelligence

23:48 16 Oct 2011

The effect of AI on a setting is similar to the effect of sentient alien beings, in that it helps to define the limits of “humanity”. By AI here I mean strong AI, the ability to create sentient machines, and particularly sentient machines of vastly greater intelligence than humans.

While it’s certainly possible to include AI created by non-human civilizations, that’s really the realm of “sentient aliens” rather than what I have in mind here, which is strong AI created by the human race. The interplay/tension between those two groups is critical a lot of space opera, e.g. Iain M. Banks’ Culture series and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos—not to mention Battlestar Galactica and critical aspects of the background of the Dune setting.

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Considerations for a Space Opera Setting: Energy

19:02 25 Sep 2011

Given that I’ve chosen FTL travel and FTL communication as well as a scale that involves a fair amount of space, energy production and consumption are going to be important in the setting. The availability and cost of energy help to define many of the parameters of the milieu, including its economy.

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Another Dose of Perspective

18:36 14 Jul 2011

I know I wrote unspeakably vast before, but even so, I’m awestruck by this comparison:

As a reminder, our own galaxy supposedly has 100–400 billion stars; Wikipedia claims that IC 1101 has 100 trillion stars, making it between 250 and 1000 times larger by star count.

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Physics-Checking My Little Pony

22:16 27 May 2011

I think this is great:

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4 Philosophical Questions Examined in Light of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

23:45 23 May 2011. Updated: 15:05 12 Mar 2012

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s explorations of scale led me to ponder questions of meaning and meaninglessness, and reminded me of this excellent article by Julia Galef over at 3 Quarks Daily. The answer, of course, must be 42; the questions Galef addresses are:

  1. What’s the point of anything if we’re all going to be dead someday?
  2. What’s the purpose of our existence?
  3. How can any of our lives matter in the grand scheme of things?
  4. Things seem to happen without rhyme or reason.

(Presumably the last one should have been “why do things seem to happen without rhyme or reason?”)

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Considerations for a Space Opera Setting: Scale

19:36 22 May 2011

By “scale” here I mean: how far does space that humans have explored extend? How far is it feasible for humans to travel within the civilization? How many systems make up that civilization?

“Space opera” implies a large setting, but in real terms “large” is fairly meaningless, and allows for rather a lot of variance.

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Considerations for a Space Opera Setting: FTL Communication

22:55 05 Apr 2011

I’m still thinking about my large-scale science-fiction/space opera project, and the next major consideration after FTL travel is faster-than-light communication.

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Considerations for a Space Opera Setting: FTL Travel

23:37 04 Oct 2010. Updated: 00:47 05 Oct 2010

I recently had a chunk of inspiration hit me, and am considering a fairly large-scale science fiction project. It’s in a far-future, large-scale, “big SF” vein, also known as “space opera” (although that genre is rather loosely defined). I don’t think it’s in the same universe as my science fiction novel, although I might change my mind on that. In any case, I do want to go over the major factors that I think define a setting of that kind. The first one of these is the presence/absence/nature of faster-than-light travel.

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Nurture, not Nature

22:54 22 Aug 2010. Updated: 10:54 22 Oct 2014

I’m posting a link to this article primarily because the article agrees with me: “Male and female ability differences down to socialisation, not genetics”—I’ve believed for years that behavioral differences between genders (or between other sets of people, really) are due to cultural and social factors, not differences that are somehow “innate”. That article is a good summary of scientific findings that back up my belief.

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Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

23:57 21 Jun 2010

I’m not a fan of the Harry Potter series. I’ve only read the first one, didn’t particularly like it, and it’s not my kind of fantasy series.

I’m not a fan of fan fiction, despite technically having written some. I regard it as being of dubious quality, despite knowing perfectly well that it’s not more likely to be bad than anything else.

Nevertheless, I was, and remain, captivated by a particular piece of Harry Potter fan fiction: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Its twist is that its Harry is a hyper-rationalist genius. You should go read it now.

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Mario and the Many-Worlds Intepretation

23:52 26 Apr 2010. Updated: 01:30 27 Apr 2010
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“Scott and Scurvy”

19:18 19 Mar 2010

This blog post, about how the Terra Nova Expedition struggled terribly with scurvy, is quite fascinating, particularly because the correct prevention for scurvy had been discovered long before it. It’s an illustrative example of how incomplete understanding, even when already armed with the right answer, can lead to awful mistakes.

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It’s a Big Universe

13:01 29 Jan 2010

Some evidence for that assertion:

There’s also this interactive Flash piece.

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I Just Want to Look Up One More Thing…

07:30 06 Sep 2009. Updated: 15:36 16 Nov 2009

Emily Yoffe has a Slate article about our compulsion to acquire new information—and how it means we’re extremely susceptible to addictive behaviors around Internet use. Critical points: we have drives for both pleasure and for “seeking”, and it is this latter drive that the modern always-online environment feeds. Or overfeeds.

I don’t know how accurate this journalistic take on neuroscientific discoveries is, but I do think that this would be a good article to have printed out, and highlighted, next to my computer.

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Body Mass Index: Bogus

22:05 07 Jul 2009

I’ve never paid much attention to things like body mass index, and always had an idea that it might not be completely reliable as an indicator of individual health, but apparently it really shouldn’t be trusted at all.

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Zipf’s Law

22:06 28 May 2009

I’d heard of Zipf’s Law before, but was still astonished when a friend sent me this New York Times article about some of the things it applies to. The parts of it that really got me:

[T]he largest city is always about twice as big as the second largest, and three times as big as the third largest, and so on. In other words, the population of a city is, to a good approximation, inversely proportional to its rank. Why this should be true, no one knows.
“Guest Column: Math and the City”, Steven Strogatz, The New York Times, 19 May 2009


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The Love Vaccine

20:29 12 Jan 2009. Updated: 15:36 16 Nov 2009

While I tend to be skeptical of scientific claims to understanding the workings of human brains and particularly human emotions, it’s clear that science is improving in this area, and that pharmaceutical behavior/mood modification is increasing in efficacy. So when scientists claim a chemical understanding of love (paywall-protected full version here), and the ability to induce it under some circumstances, it’s definitely interesting.

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Anti-Jam Driving

06:11 23 May 2007
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Frans Lanting

23:59 27 Apr 2007. Updated: 03:10 28 Apr 2007

I went to see a Long Now Foundation essay this evening with Lev, and it was really good. The talk was given by Frans Lanting, a photographer, and was called “Life’s Journey Through Time”.

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