Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Decade Past

Have been thinking a lot lately about this past decade, from where I've come to where I am going.  Ten years ago, when I was 17, I was still using a lot of drugs, still expelled from high school, still doing a lot of self-discovery, and I had just given my son for adoption.  I think my son's birth, the three days we had with him, and his adoption were moments that strengthened me.  They made consider my own mortality and my own ambitions. When I was a kid I had such great dreams of becoming a scientist and sharing my knowledge with the world.  I wanted to go to space, I wanted to learn about life and the cosmos, and I wanted to be a great person.  My adolescence was a change from that ambition.  my adolescence really taught me humility; taught me about who I really was and what it would take for me to excel.  Ten years ago I realized, to quote from Star Trek: First Contact, that I should not "try to be a great man" but rather "just be a man, and let history decide the rest".  I intend to be the best human being I can be, knowing that I will make mistakes and sometimes fall to my own wants, needs, and simple pleasures along my journeys, and accepting that.  These past ten years have taught me so much about what it means to be human, to have to work for something you want, and to feel unsure about the future.  I wonder where these next ten years will take me.  What will I be doing when I'm 37?  I hope, whatever it is that I am doing in ten years from now, that I will be doing something far different than what I'm doing now and exploring and discovering new things about myself and others.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Island of Dr. Moreau

I had never before read The Island of Dr. Moreau (H.G. Wells, 1896), but I had seen two film versions.  I was very curious to see how it was the Moreau had turned the animals on his island into humanesque creations.  I was a little surprised to learn of the method.  Moreau created the Beast Men by tinkering with adding and removing body parts through vivisection (live surgery).  Wells speculated that in his near future that the process of tissue graphing and tissue manipulations that a simple surgeon could be capable of making animals walk as bipeds and think and speak like humans.  Of course, this idea is very fallacious, but then you have to consider the time in which Wells wrote his story.  The novel was first published in 1896, though Wells' end-note to the book claims that the story stemmed from a short essay he had written for The Saturday Review in Januray of 1895.  At that time, vivisection was becoming hotly debated as a current issue of scientific morality in England.  It seems that Wells was triggered by the topic and inspired to dream what could happen if tissue graphing through vivisection allowed for the creation of new organisms, such that were alike to humans.  In the modern time, our knowledge of physiology and biology make it apparent that such manipulation is just not possible, but it is still a fun flight of fantasy to read the story.  I feel now that I must watch the films again.  If I recall correctly, the 1996 version (with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer) changed the basic premise such that Moreau uses modern genetic engineering to create his beasts, which is far easier to 'swallow' for the modern science-savvy person.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Time Machine

Just finished H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" for the third time in my life.  I love this story.  Such a provocative consideration of how social distinctions may drive the future differentiation of our species from the view of an educated man living in the late 1800's C.E.  I think a reading of "The Time Machine" is probably obligatory for anyone interested in ideas of time travel.  Though very dated, and lacking in scientific explanation for the underpinnings of the actual machine itself, "The Time Machine" shows how a rational thinker could view time before the beginnings of modern physics and without all of the inundation of temporal travel we see in modern sci-fi media.  I won't take up too much space here appraising the value of this fantastic read, but I will quote one line from the story that I found very interesting:

"There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it."

I thought this line was interesting for two reasons.  1) Wells' wrote this story in 1895, yet he is thinking fully in the realm of space-time, with time only serving as another dimension of space as we perceive it and possibly just as physically tangible of a dimension as the others, and 2) Wells wrote that our consciousness moves along in time, but implies that our consciousness does not necessarily move along in space.  I found this second bit to be really intriguing.  Was Wells implying that our consciousness is just that part of us that moves in time (the way our body moves in three-dimensional space), or was Wells stating something deeper about his take on what consciousness is?  I'm not sure what Wells meant to say with this, but I do have to wonder.  Any thoughts?

H.G. Wells: Seven Novels

Amanda and I recently went on another book-buying binge.  Wanted to get some more sci-fi for the shelves (well, more for the brain, but then for the shelves).  I came upon an H.G. Wells collection book at Barnes & Noble which contains seven of this famous authors most fantastical works.  Included are The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, The Food of the Gods, and In the Days of the Comet.  The book is bound in a beautiful purple cover with exceptional, classic sci-fi graphics.  Totally stoked to read all of Wells' classic writings.  Expect reports on this in the coming days/weeks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Life Out There

David Grinspoon

Amanda and I went down to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science last Friday to check out a show called "Life Out There".  Here's a little snippet from the museum's webpage about the show:

State-of-the-art digital visuals and live musical interpretation by House Band to the Universe is your key to a mind-blowing trip through space and time. Search for the clues to life with space scientists David Grinspoon and Ka Chun Yu, PhDs, from the infant Earth to the mysterious, promising depths of Saturn's strangely vibrant moons. Presented with support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

The show was awesome!  The instruments in the band were a saxophone, trombone, flute, vibraphone, drums, bass guitar, lead guitar, and rhythm guitar.  Their sound was fantastical and the show was intense.  I can't recall all of the names of the songs, but if they put this show on again I am definitely going to be there to feel that groove.  Here's what I can recall:  With their song "Lightbubble", they led us on a tour of the early universe, from the formation of atoms to the first quasars and superclusters, to the formations of galaxies, leading us to our own Local Group and spiraling us into the Milky Way Galaxy (with sounds and visuals that made my head spin in a psychedelic, thought-provoking way).  Their second movement was a journey into our solar system and toward our sol.  They brought us into a vibe with their third song, set to a sweet African sound, while they led us through the development and evolution of life on Earth, leading us to explore fractals both in nature and produced by mathematical modeling.  They took us out with a trip to Saturn's large moon, Titan, in a song they called "Titan Haze".  The music was almost a call for action; a call to learn about Titan and to be mystified by the processes occurring on that moon.  I walked out of the show feeling inspired by the eclectic mix of thought and feeling.  

Update: 6 March 2015

I recently wrote about a concept design for a submarine to explore the lakes of Titan. Check out that post here: 

A NASA team is working on a submarine robot for deployment on Titan. Whoa!