Sci-fi Science- Imagining the Future
#1
I was inspired to start this thread after watching these videos:

http://science.discovery.com/videos/sci-...ce-videos/

It's a Science Channel series featuring Dr. Michio Kaku.

I think that the ability to imagine and make our visions real using reason and science is something that makes being an intelligent lifeform pretty cool. So, let's use this thread to post about our most fantastical ideas, and debate the science involved! Let's get some scientists involved too Thumbup

Here's the promo for the series posted above (this promo is on youtube, but the actual series cannot be embedded)

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#2
Sci-fi always has the most mind blowing ideas. One of the most outrageous ideas I've come across are Dyson Spheres and a more extreme version of them - Matrioshka Brains.

Here is a miniscule step in that direction - Japan plans giant solar power station in space. It is a very difficult step to take, but once that is done, the energy from it can be used to take more steps and all of the energy comes from the Sun and not the Earth. The energy capture rate has the potential to grow exponentially.
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#3
(13-May-2010, 11:55 PM)Lije Wrote: all of the energy comes from the Sun and not the Earth.

I vaguely remember listening to a lecture where the speaker told Indian scientists had come up with this idea of generating energy from the sun. It was picked up by foreign sources and NASA and Boeing (?) showed interest in working together with them. Anybody aware of the actual or any details?
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#4
Lije, I've been thinking about Dyson Spheres, and I think there's a flaw in the idea. I mean the actual envisioning, not the Japanese project to collect sunlight in earth orbit. I'm sure I must be wrong, because someone else would have mentioned it before if it were valid, but here goes.

It's simple, really. By the time humanity has the technological capacity to build a few billion satellites orbiting the sun, collecting all its solar energy, would we not have cracked the secrets of the atom and harnessed the power of nuclear fusion? Going by what I've read about fusion, this seems a certainty to me. Why would we need to go to all that effort if we can recreate the same reaction that powers the sun, right here in our backyard?
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#5
(16-May-2010, 05:26 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Lije, I've been thinking about Dyson Spheres, and I think there's a flaw in the idea. I mean the actual envisioning, not the Japanese project to collect sunlight in earth orbit. I'm sure I must be wrong, because someone else would have mentioned it before if it were valid, but here goes.

It's simple, really. By the time humanity has the technological capacity to build a few billion satellites orbiting the sun, collecting all its solar energy, would we not have cracked the secrets of the atom and harnessed the power of nuclear fusion? Going by what I've read about fusion, this seems a certainty to me. Why would we need to go to all that effort if we can recreate the same reaction that powers the sun, right here in our backyard?


That does seem like a flaw. But I would say it depends on how successful we are in creating controlled fusion and how much energy we can generate from it. According to the Wikipedia article on the Sun, the Sun converts 4.26 million metric tons of mass to energy per sec. That is a lot of energy. On the other hand controlled fusion has a big advantage. It is easier to generate energy in the form we want and then easily distribute it across the planet as compared to using Dyson spheres.
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#6
(24-May-2010, 09:10 PM)Lije Wrote: That does seem like a flaw. But I would say it depends on how successful we are in creating controlled fusion and how much energy we can generate from it. According to the Wikipedia article on the Sun, the Sun converts 4.26 million metric tons of mass to energy per sec. That is a lot of energy. On the other hand controlled fusion has a big advantage. It is easier to generate energy in the form we want and then easily distribute it across the planet as compared to using Dyson spheres.

Are you familiar with the Kardashev scale?

It is a way of categorizing the progress of a civilization into different levels based on the energy consumption of that civilization. Basically there are three levels, known as the three types of civilizations.

Type 1: A civilization that harnesses all available power on the planet.

Type 2: One that harnesses all available power from its star (the sun, in our case).

Type 3: All power from a galaxy.

The concept of the Kardashev scale has some problems. It assumes that increase in technological complexity and effectiveness will always need an increase in energy consumption. That is, it assumes that since we have always needed more energy to improve our technology, we will always need more. Firstly, I disagree that we have always seen this trend. There are many individual cases where today our technology is actually much more energy efficient, in terms of raw input from the environment. Also, I think it is a misunderstanding that energy can be depleted. As we know, it can only be converted from one form to another. If we manage to harness all the energy from the sun, the earth would have as much energy as the sun, although in practice much of it could dissipate as heat. I could be wrong about this part.

The wiki article is actually very well written. Humanity is currently a type 0 civilization. Carl Sagan estimated that we are actually at 0.7 on the scale. Today the estimate is that we are at 0.72 on the scale.

The estimates are that we will be Type 1 by around 2100 ACE, and Type 2 by the year 11000. I find any extrapolations beyond Type 1 ridiculous. We are unable to predict with certainty events and technological paradigms beyond the curve of our horizons.

The main reason I brought this up was to point out to where Dyson spheres come into the scene. According to the article, Dyson spheres may be used in a Type 2 civilization. They predict that fusion will actually probably be used by a Type 1 civ. But there are alternatives to the Kardashev predictions seem in the article. For example, some scientists have predicted that we might be able to make new stars before we reach energy consumption levels that require us to sequester all the energy from the sun.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#7
(27-May-2010, 03:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Are you familiar with the Kardashev scale?

I had come across Kardashev scale earlier, but haven't read about it in depth. Thanks for bringing it up.

(27-May-2010, 03:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: The concept of the Kardashev scale has some problems. It assumes that increase in technological complexity and effectiveness will always need an increase in energy consumption. That is, it assumes that since we have always needed more energy to improve our technology, we will always need more.

From the point of view of technology, energy requirements may not increase. But from a human point of view (and may be all life on Earth?), we have a tendency to use up all available energy. But as the wiki article says, it is still an assumption that can be wrong - "An extremely advanced civilization might also choose to forgo either the projects or the materialistic growth (expansion) humanity associates with high energy demand."

(27-May-2010, 03:38 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Also, I think it is a misunderstanding that energy can be depleted. As we know, it can only be converted from one form to another. If we manage to harness all the energy from the sun, the earth would have as much energy as the sun, although in practice much of it could dissipate as heat. I could be wrong about this part.

Energy and mass may remain constant, but how much of it is useful is dependent on the system's entropy. As entropy keeps increasing, the available energy will be of less use.
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#8
Interesting discussion. Here are excerpts from a book I am still writing:

‘16.8 The macroscopical signal

Humans in the carbocultural energy regime are turning against themselves by exceeding the carrying capacity of the habitat. This is a good example of how history repeats itself sometimes. Some thing similar happened in the pyrocultural regime and the agrocultural regimes as well (Niele 2005). In the pyrocultural regime, when the overshooting of the carrying capacity of the habitat occurred, the Symbolisational Signal provided a new perception of reality, which enabled humans to increase the carrying capacity of the habitat by inventing agriculture. But in due course the agrocultural regime also reached a stage wherein the carrying capacity of the habitat was exceeded once again. Once again, another Signal, namely the Quantificational Signal provided the way out, in the form of exploitation of fossil fuels, heralding the emergence of the carbocultural energy regime.

We are in the carbocultural regime, and there is a clear signal about another overshooting of the carrying capacity of the habitat. What we see now is the Macroscopical Signal.

The term ‘macroscope’ is an apt one. Its meaning is just the opposite of ‘microscope’. A microscope magnifies and shows detail at small length scales (a case of zooming in). A macroscope is a ‘symbolic instrument’ which combines data from various sources and presents the big picture in a way we can comprehend (a case of zooming out). de Rosnay (1979) introduced this tool for investigating the infinitely complex. A variety of macroscopical signals are impinging our consciousness, and are making us acutely aware of problems like the global warming.

Ecological footprint is another important term in this context. It is ‘the area of productive land and water that people need to support their consumption and to dispose of waste’ (McDowell 2002; Rees 2003). The macroscopical signal is telling us that our ecological footprint is overshooting the carrying capacity of the habitat, and this can be dangerous.

The response to the signal is not at all unanimous. Two broad viewpoint have been identified: The ‘imperial view’ and the ‘Arcadian view’ (Worster 1994). We shall outline these in the next two sections. The former is an aggressive approach, aiming to control Nature. The latter advocates humility in the face of forces of Nature, and aims at a life of harmony and peaceful coexistence with other creatures, advocating a reduction in the size of our current ecological footprint.

16.9 A possible nucleocultural regime of the future

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
- Francis Bacon

The imperial approach was advocated by the highly influential 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon. According to Worster (1994), ‘Bacon promised to the world a manmade paradise, to be rendered astonishingly fertile by science and human management. In that utopia, he predicted, man would recover a place of dignity and order, as well as authority over all the other creatures he once enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. Where the Arcadian naturalist exemplified a life of quiet reverence before the natural world, Bacon’s hero was a man of “Active Science”, busy studying how he might remake nature and improve the human estate. Instead of humility, Bacon was all for self-assertiveness: “the enlargement of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible”. . . “The world is made for man”, he announced, “not man for the world”’.

The scientific and technological achievements of humans have been quite remarkable, and they are currently passing through a technologically explosive phase. Naturally, the mood is upbeat, and there is no shortage of people who are confident that we can overcome the ecological footprint problem. Nanotechnology may provide some critical breakthroughs. Progress in the burgeoning field of artificial smart structures (Wadhawan 2007) may well lead to the emergence of cyborgs (creatures who are part human part machine) and ‘Robo sapiens’ (robots so advanced that they would leave their creators, i.e. humans, far behind in all respects that matter) (Kaku 1997; Moravec 1999a, b; Menzel and D’Alusio 2000). Intelligent robots (Moravec 1999a, b; Gibbs 2004), cyborgs, and genetically engineered humans (Sweeney 2004) are expected to be not only less delicate when it comes to survival in harsher conditions, they will actually be far more efficient consumers of energy, having a lower ecological footprint.

How will the energy needs be met in this scenario? Fossil fuels cannot last forever. Conventional oil and gas will be the first to go. Coal can last a little longer. Unconventional oils (oil shales, heavy oils, tar sands) can stretch the economically feasible fossil-fuels era by a century (Smil 2003). Unconventional gas sources (methane in coal-beds and in other deposits such as the tight reservoirs and the high-pressure aquifers, as also the methane in hydrates) can also be exploited for some time, provided the necessary technology becomes available in an economically viable manner (Smil 2003). The gas hydrates comprising of huge amounts of combustible carbon offer a potentially large source of energy, although expert opinion is divided about their economical and ecologically clean exploitation (Smil 2003).

A new energy source, other than fossil fuels, must emerge, and according to the Imperial Man it must be nuclear energy. Nuclear fission is already being exploited for power production on a commercial scale. The so-called second-generation nuclear reactors produce ~16% of the total electricity we consume (Smil 2003). Third-generation reactors, with better safety and productivity features, went into operation a few years ago. Fourth-generation reactors, based on totally new approaches, are in the pipeline. But can nuclear-fission reactors dominate the energy scene for a long time to come, resulting in the emergence of a possible nucleocultural energy regime, superseding the present carbocultural regime?

Some people think that they can. Sustained research and development work can perhaps make available a large supply of fissile nuclear fuel, which may last for centuries, if not millennia. This hope is based on the utilisation of thorium, after uranium stocks have been exhausted. Breeder reactors add further to this sense of optimism. But all this cannot be taken for granted, because it is difficult to predict the course of scientific and technological development.

Nuclear fusion, rather than fission, offers another kind of hope for the possible emergence of a nucleocultural regime, provided certain technological hurdles can be overcome (Key 2001). Nuclear fusion involves the fusing together of two isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium; or deuterium and deuterium), overcoming the strong Coulombic repulsion between them by making their velocities very high by heating them to ~50 million degrees Celsius. Once the Coulombic barrier has been pierced, the very strong and attractive nuclear interaction comes into play, and the end result is the formation of the very stable helium nucleus and release of excess matter as heat. This thermonuclear process is what has been going on in the Sun, and is also what makes a hydrogen bomb.

Tritium for this reaction must be obtained from a nuclear reaction using lithium, and the latter is available in plenty in the Earth’s crust, and also in the seas. Deuterium is also available limitlessly in seawater.

Both fission and fusion operate without emitting greenhouse gases.

According to one estimate, it may be possible to operate a commercial fusion reactor by this century. But this is only an estimate. One can never be sure about such things. Whether or not a nucleocultural energy regime will emerge is a difficult question to answer. The difficulty stems from the inherently unpredictable nature of complex systems. The ecosphere is certainly a most complex system. And so are human affairs. The complexity is not only of a scientific or technological nature, but also involves socio-economic issues and political decisions.
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#9
This is in continuation of my previous post.

16.10 The ‘Green Valley’ approach to system Earth

Nature never betray’d
The heart that loved her.
- William Wordsworth

Speak not of peoples and laws and
Kingdoms, for the whole earth is
My birthplace and all humans are
My brothers.
Kahlil Gibran, Tears and Laughter

The Nuclear Valley approach of the Imperial Man is to be contrasted with the Green Valley approach of the Arcadian Man. The Arcadian Man believes that it is futile to try to conquer Nature, and the most sensible thing to do is to live in harmony with it, and to ensure that all the other creatures with whom we share the Earth get their due share of the bounty. If this requires a reversal of the clock for shrinking our current ecological footprint, then so be it (van der Zwaan and Petersen 2003). The Arcadian Man has no use for nuclear energy, nanotechnology, or genetic engineering. Even economic growth must be arrested, even reversed, if it has a deleterious effect on the ecosphere.

The Arcadian Man aims at using solar power, and emulating Mother Nature in cycling matter in (nearly) closed loops. Four hundred years ago, at the start of the Carbian Period, the man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, resulting from the use of fossil fuels, were so small that they could be readily processed and absorbed by green plants by photosynthesis. But today this emission has reached 24 Gtons per year, and natural processes can fix only a part of it into solid forms. Therefore, it is no longer tenable to go on following the practice of mostly ‘linear’ once-through conversion of natural resources into human waste. The Macroscopical Signal is loud and clear. We must resort to recycling matter in nearly- closed- loops metabolisms, so that the increasing burden on the ecosphere can be reversed.

Innovative means must also be found for sequestering the carbon dioxide gas released into the atmosphere. Some possibilities are: reforestation; chemical fixation; injection into geological formations (Abraham 2004; Nersesian 2007; Kutz 2007).’


I may mention here that the term ‘nucleocultural regime’ has been coined by me. I first used it in an article published in September 2009.
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#10
The goal of science fiction, like any entertainment medium, is not to predict the future, but to entertain an audience. Even serious scholars trying to predict what societal and technological changes the future holds often get it wrong.Sci-Fi stories have a horror emphasis, while others deal with militaristic futures and space battles. Take some notes about what you want to write.
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#11
Well I have read this all of the stuff and I just want to say that the main problem is that many of the negative prejudices sci-fi is at least partly true. And I also believe that much science fiction is a schlocky, impenetrable or harmless.
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#12
i was very much into comic books as a kid , so really liked this book The Science of Supervillains it ponders big questions as to how in reality can a comic book scenario come true if some one had the ability to make it happen. Highly entertaining, well written and informative.

are torrent links allowed here ?
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