Sunday, November 23, 2008

Life and Intelligence

I enjoy thinking about life and whether we have companions in the universe. The fascinating question - Are we alone? And beyond that, the implications, religious and otherwise. The fundamental equation for estimating the existence of other intelligent civilizations is the Drake Equation.

Essentially we start with the rate of production of stars in our galaxy, then add factors such as the likelyhood of a star having planets, then having ones which can support life, then which of those will develop life, and then those which will develop intelligent life, then those which will create technology which will make themselves visible to us, and finally then length of time which these civilizations last.

Naturally, there are a lot of factors in there which we have no idea about, but you can put in intelligent guesses and see what kind of numbers we are working with. In 1961 Drake Estimated N = 10 × 0.5 × 2 × 1 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10,000 = 10. More current analysis gives an estimate of 2.31. Meaning that at our best guess, on average there will be around 2 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy. Interesting.

Now, where am I getting with this. Nowhere really. It is just a neat idea. I always like to think of all the crazy things which could have influenced our development of intelligence and technology. For instance, what if the Earth rotated faster? This would have made throwing objects very difficult and that may have severely restricted the development and use of tools. Motions on the earth would be very non-linear, so dynamics and mathematics may have evolved along a different route. Simple linearization in physics and engineering would not have been valid, making the math much more difficult. Or this could have all gone the opposite way. Maybe the challenge of throwing objects in a rotating reference frame would have amplified our intelligence and given us a more non-linear way of thinking. Our math could be entirely different and maybe non-linear equations would be no big deal.

Another thought. What if there was no Moon. Avoiding the geographical and climate changes, the moon was our clear evidence of time. The phases of the moon gave way to calendars, the passing of time evolves to counting and then math. The moon inspires us to look in the night sky. Everything else is a point of light. The moon is dynamic. Eclipses, harvest moons, the phases give clear signs to the orientation of the solar system. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, maybe it would have just slowed our progress. Nonetheless, it is interesting to think about.

I am sure you could think of a millions variables like this. All these would need to be accounted for in Drakes Equation to get a really accurate estimate. In the end, it seems like there is a decent chance that we are alone, or only one of a few civilizations in this galaxy. That kind of makes me feel lonely.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
-Excerpt from inscription which accompanies the statue of liberty.
I just wanted to put up a quick post saying that I do not understand the current national sentiment on immigration. In my mind we should allow anyone to quickly and easily become a citizen. Simply check someones background and then let them in. This is the foundation of our country and the reason we have been successful. As long as people want to come here, then we know we are doing something right.

Additionally, we should encourage higher educated individuals to come to America. The more educated you are, the easier it should be to become a citizen. We want talented individuals and their creativity.

Putting up walls and limiting immigration is silly. We have plenty of room and resources here. Allowing individuals to come legally will create more revenue and taxes. Creating barriers only will prevent the educated and responsible individuals from entering the country, those are the people we want.

We should not be afraid of cultural influences. This is what we are. We are all German, Irish, Italian, English, Asian, African... everything. Our culture is simply a reflection of all the worlds cultures. Why not involve another?

If we close our borders and claim that this land is only for 'Americans' then we have completely forgotten who we are and how we got here. It will be the end of the beautiful idea of America and we'll become just another country.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ben Franklin's 8 Reasons to Prefer Old Women to Young Ones

Ben Franklin wrote this essay in 1745, he would have been 40 years old. He begins with:
"It is the most natural state of man, and therefore the state in which you are most likely to find solid happiness.... It is the man and woman united that make the complete human being. Separate, she wants his force of body and strength of reason; he, her softness, sensibility and acute discernment. Together the are more likely to succeed in the world. A single man has not nearly the value he would have in that state of union. He is an incomplete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors. If you get a prudent, healthy wife, your industry in your profession, with her good economy, will be a fortune sufficient."

However, recognizing the youthful male attitude and the unlikely event of accepting a rational argument he suggested what sort of mistress one should have.
"In all your amours, you should prefer old women to young ones."

For which he presented 8 reasons.
"1. Because as they have more knowledge of the world and their minds are better stored with observations, their conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreeable.

2. Because when women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their influence over men, they supply the diminution of beauty by an arguement of utility. They learn to do 1000 services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing as an old woman who is not a good woman.

3. Because there is no hazard of children, which irregularly produced may be attended with much inconvenience.

4. Because the more experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an intrigue to prevent suspicion. The commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the affair should happen to be known, considerate people might be inclined to excuse an old woman who would kindly take care of a young man, form his manners by her good counsels, and prevent his ruining his health and fortune among mercenary prostitutes.

5. Because every animal that walks upright, the deficiency of the fluids that fills the muscles appears first in the highest part. The face grows lank and wrinkled, then the neck, the the breast and arms, the lower parts continuing to the last as plump as ever. So that covering all above with a basket, and regarding only what is below the girdle, it is impossible of two woman to know an old one from a young one. And as in the dark all cats are grey, the pleasure of corporal enjoyment with an old woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every knack being by practice capable of improvement.

6. Because the sin is less. The debauching a virgin may be her ruin, and make her for life unhappy.

7. Because compunction is less. The having made a young girl miserable may give you frequent bitter reflections, none of which can attend making an old woman happy.

8thly and lastly. They are so grateful."
As a final note, Ben Franklin is generally referred to as being a 'ladies man' with the implications that he slept around. This essay certainly makes it seem so. He did seem to have a healthy libido and did have a child, with an woman unknown to history, before he was married, but all accounts seem to show that he was faithful throughout his marriage.

He did seem to maintain his interest in women, at one point maintaining flirtatious written contact with a younger women during his marriage and similarly with other women during his time in France. I don't think you can blame him for that.