Category: society

Advances Vs. Consequences: What Does The 21st Century Have In Store For Humanity?

“We now live in a time where the actions of a small group of people ⁠— whether through malicious or benign intentions ⁠— are capable of leading to global catastrophe. It’s not just climate change or the threat of nuclear war that hangs over us; it’s a slew of facts.

It matters that a mass extinction is occurring right now: we’re destroying this planet’s proverbial “book of life” before we’ve even read it.

It matters that computers are permeating ever-increasing facets of our life, as humanity’s recently rising electricity use (after a plateau earlier this decade) is almost entirely due to new computational uses, like cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

It matters that the population is greater than ever before, as managing and distributing the edible food and drinkable water we produce is a greater challenge than ever before.”

Do you like big, sweeping conversations that tackle the biggest existential questions facing our species today? Looking to the larger picture, of humanity’s future on Earth, scientist Martin Rees has written a book detailing the challenges facing our civilization in the 21st century, and is about to deliver a public lecture on the topic of navigating the course that could lead us into a true golden age… or to ruin.

I’ll be live-blogging the lecture with many thoughts to add, and I hope you’ll join me in enjoying it!

Tribute to the unspoken heroes

Your Glorified Ignorance Wasn’t Cool Then, And Your Scientific Illiteracy Isn’t Cool Now

“You are not right about everything. Many of the opinions that you hold — and some of the facts that you believe to be true — will turn out to be falsely-held beliefs. Some of them, most likely, have already had their falsehood demonstrated beyond a reasonable scientific doubt. Unless you yourself are a huckster, trying to profit off of the willful deception of others, you must be open to changing your mind and deferring to the genuine experts who know more than you.

Glorified underachieving, proclaiming falsehoods as truths, and the derision of actual knowledge are banes on our society. The world is made objectively worse by every anti-science element present within it. Nobody likes to hear that sometimes, they’re the problem. But sometimes, it really is on each of us to do better. The next time you find yourself on the opposite side of an issue from the consensus of experts in a particular field, remember to be humble. Remember to listen and be open to learning. The future of our civilization may hang in the balance.”

Did you ever have an experience in school where you knew the answer, but didn’t raise your hand because it wasn’t cool to do so? Did you ever get a report card full of good grades, but were afraid to be proud of your achievement? Did you ever hear people proudly proclaiming falsehoods so outrageous that it seemed like people were flouting their ignorance, as though they were proud of it?

The seeds of a scientifically illiterate society get planted when we’re young, and it’s up to all of us to work together to overcome them. Here’s the antidote.

Humanity Needs Science To Survive And Thrive 

“The beauty of it all is, therefore, what makes it so disconcerting to some. You can spend your entire life studying a problem, fascinated with the process of investigation and discovery. You can learn everything we know about a field and extend our knowledge within it. And you might have a beautiful idea, a preferred outcome, or a conclusion you wish were true as respects your studies. You may even put together a new theory that has the potential to revolutionize everything we think we know. But no matter how elegant, beautiful, compelling, or intuitive it is, your conclusions must be consistent with the entirety of the information we have. The most successful ideas in science aren’t successful because we love them the most; they’re successful because the evidence overwhelmingly validates and supports them.”

The enterprise of science is one of the most misunderstood in all of society. Some view it as its own religion; others view it as a political ideology gussied up in smart-sounding clothes; still others view it as open to interpretation. But science is none of those things, and is rather the full suite of knowledge humanity has accumulated along with our process of discovery, investigation, and ongoing hard work. When we look at why humanity is so successful as a species, it’s rooted in our ability to understand the natural world. We’ve learned how a variety of systems work, independently and together, and have figured out how various influence affect it. This has led to advances in everything from agriculture, health, safety, and medicine to Earth science, astronomy, and particle physics.

Without science, stagnation is the absolute best humanity can hope for. But with it, our success is limited only by how quickly we can move forward!

Comments of the Week #162: from singularity evaporation to the loss of Earth’s helium

“I want you to consider a black hole of 1 solar mass and a black hole of 1.00001 solar masses. That’s right: just one-thousandth of 1% difference in mass. It takes 10^67 years for a solar mass black hole to evaporate, but what does that mean? It means that after 10^66 years, it’s still approximately a solar mass black hole; it’s lost just a small percent of its mass. It means that after 9.99 × 10^66 years, the black hole will “finally” be down to a 0.1 solar mass black hole. If you wait until the 1 solar mass black hole evaporates — 10^67 years — the 1.00001 solar mass black hole will still have 10^52 years to go before it evaporates, and you will not have any visible-light photons coming out of it until the final few seconds.”

This past week, we considered a whole slew of incredible and important issues facing science and society, from the eventual demise and fate of the Universe to the collapse of bridges, the end of NASA’s education office and the continued wasting of Earth’s precious and rare helium. Yet there’s always more to consider and to learn, both in terms of science and in terms of humanity.

What does this week’s bonus science scoop hold? Find out – plus get a new podcast – on this edition of our comments of the week!