Re: Shallow

1

Every post happens for a reason.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:28 AM
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Isn't this sense of "meaning" metaphorical? Like, my life is not a waste because it's intrinsically connected to something big and possibly unnameable, the way "cat" is non-nonsensical because of a relation to cats?


Posted by: Vance Maverick | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:37 AM
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Then I really don't feel like my life has meaning, and yet that's not distressing to me on any level.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:39 AM
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Your job is kind of meaningful-ish in its way, though. Molding young minds, keeping them from falling into ravines full of axes and so on.

When I was working helping a marketing department of a software company figure out how to convince people to buy our software designed to help businesses convince other businesses to buy things I struggled with questions of meaning. Now, hey, whatever, I do science.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:50 AM
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From that article: Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a "taker" while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a "giver."

I am definitely on the "giver" side of the spectrum (and Lee is totally not, and I'm not sure to what extent that's a normal relationship dynamic except that each of us wishes the other were a bit more like herself) and yet that whole article made me sort of queasy and inclined to kick someone's shins. I do think that if more people were more giving, society would work better. But I don't think that I'm a better person who lives deeply in meaning just because I'm a "giver" and that's a weird and gross concept and hinging the whole article on how to ethically survive a concentration camp is even weirder and grosser, no offense to Viktor Frankl.

I also got in another fight with people (including Lee) about heaven a week or two ago and I'm still angry about that. I can live what I think is a good and worthwhile life and then go into the ground and that's the end of it and so what??? That doesn't mean I'm a worse person than those two judgmental "takers" and I'm sorry they're only able to see things their way, especially since I'm right. But I'll shut up now.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:53 AM
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3: I'm with you on that. As gswift suggests, though, "meaning" for many is a euphemism for God-talk or at least the supernatural. I suspect that may be true for Seligman ("blessed man") as well.


Posted by: Vance Maverick | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:54 AM
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Your job is kind of meaningful-ish in its way, though. Molding young minds, keeping them from falling into ravines full of axes and so on.

Sort of? I think of my job as being world-neutral: if I do a fantastic job, a bunch of kids learn math and every now and then one of them gets a feel-good moment. If I do an utterly shitty job, a bunch of kids learn less math than they might have otherwise. The stakes are low.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:56 AM
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I think when most people talk about life having meaning, they mean it in the sense of leaving footprints in the sands of time (strong version), or the world being a better place for them having been it it (weak version). IME the strong version is commonly associated with psychopathic personalities and the weak version is something we can generally aspire to, but we need to understand that the world is a big place and the impact most people can have is pretty much undetectable in the longer term.

If we try to be there for our loved ones, remember to tip in restaurants and generally do the right thing, our contemporaries may remember us fondly for a few years until they die in their turn. But I think interpreting trying to to be an arse as living "meaningfully" is a stretch.

The universe continues to be indifferent.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:01 AM
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With what I'm doing now, meaningfulness can be quantified. If I generate a publication that gets cited 50 times, I'll know that I changed the way a lot of people think about something. Most people don't end up staying in the "generate publications" race when they stop being trainees, though.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:03 AM
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Folk life.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:04 AM
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I think that "meaning" is here an antonym for "empty and stupid." Are you an addict or an alcoholic? Hopeless couch potato? Habitual shopper or overeater? If none of the above, then your life has meaning.

I don't think this style of writing stands up to scrutiny, or is written to be thought about. It's written to resonate with people who have a particular type of imbalance.

There are people who are hopelessly selfish and exploitative, lots of these. No point in considering their "thoughts," actions are sufficient. There are also (fewer) people who are compulsive givers-- when their lives don't present them with objects of compassion, they seek damaged people, or attach to animals if they're isolated. That's also unbalanced.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:04 AM
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The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire -- like hunger -- you satisfy it, and that makes you happy.

What about this is "evolutionary"? And is "meaningfulness," therefore, non-evolutionary?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:06 AM
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Folk life.

Everybody needs a thrill.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:06 AM
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"Meaning" has always seemed like a strange thing to apply to a person or a life to me -- what the hell is my life supposed to "mean"? But I do think about things along the lines of "what is the point of me?" (Generally, I come up pretty short on this measure, so I try not to dwell on it too much.) In more practical terms, I believe that most people, like border collies, get pretty squirrelly when they don't have some at least moderately useful work to do.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:11 AM
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I do think that most people try to figure out some kind of narrative for their lives and I'm more than okay with talking about that.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:15 AM
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14: I'm not sure the distinction between "point" and "meaning" is helpful. But that's OK!

"We're put on this Earth to help others. What the others are here for, I couldn't say." (attributed to Auden, but he was quoting someone)


Posted by: Vance Maverick | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:15 AM
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16. To give you somebody to help, obvs.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:17 AM
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Supporting causes is great I suppose but the need to fight for one's team or family against the world has a dark side.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:21 AM
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There is, as you might expect, a whole philosophical literature on "the meaning of life" including extensive discussion of whether life can have a meaning the way words can have meaning.

It always strikes me as a good topic for an intro course, and there are a number of intro level textbooks on it. There is one from Thomas Nagel that looks good. He had some really nice things to say about the meaning of life in The View from Nowhere.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:21 AM
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I just found out that one of my FB friends from college works in IT for the robocalling industry. (I was tempted to unfriend him upon getting the news.) That is definitely a life that I could not find meaning in.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:23 AM
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I guess I basically question the point of a short glossy magazine article with a thumbnail biography of Victor Frankl. Paradoxically, I enjoy reading Oprah and like her style of enthusiastic suggestions for everyday improvements at the margin.

Maybe the difference is between raising the floor and raising the ceiling-- at some level, Oprah is focused on not leading a bad life, which is a sentiment that fits into glossies and is suited to frequent reminders and examples. This article is about leading a good life, which is IMO something different than just avoiding problems, requires different presentation. I snort derisively when O runs Eckhart Tolle, or whatever his name is, for similar reasoins. Also he's a dead ringer for a friend.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:24 AM
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If you raise the floor without raising the ceiling everybody has to duck.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:26 AM
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The Meaning of Life.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:26 AM
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I'm a big believer in "meaning," and yet - as in the case of the Atlantic piece - I generally find discussions of it unsatisfying.

The current Atlantic also has a piece on Life of Pi, which deals with some of these issues and which I found quite satisfying (both the movie and the Atlantic piece about it).

The Atlantic piece revolves around discussion of the movie/book's central spoiler, though, so be warned.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:26 AM
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Auden's Caliban to his Audience is a nicely done prose poem that's apropos.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:30 AM
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'Meaning' if it means anything, emerges from the projects one chooses to pursue, I'd guess? I find it hard to make sense of the idea that someone would seek meaning qua meaning, rather than just get the hell on with doing things they thought were important (or interesting/entertaining/engrossing) to themselves or others.

I'm generally antithetical to most pop-cultural things that purport to evince meaning, though. Through a combination of intellectual snobbery --- I'll just read the philosophy, thanks, rather than some second hand bad rehashing of it -- and a suspicion that almost everyone actively claiming to be delivering it is either a psychopath in the sense Chris Y mentions above, or a charlatan.

I suspect most of the people doing good/interesting/important things think of those things as goals in themselves and put little, if any, thought into second-order questions such as whether or not such and such a task has 'meaning'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:34 AM
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I've been brooding a bit over this sort of thing in the last couple of years in a midlife-crisisy kind of way. My work is useful, sort of like fixing-potholes, but not terribly individually significant. Family and other relationships, eh -- getting the kids to responsible, happy adulthood is important, but god only knows how to do it well. I'm not really expecting anything different out of life, but I do feel as if I'm slacking.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:36 AM
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27. But you have the accomplishment of editing an eclectic web magazine to mollify any possible inner critic.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:39 AM
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Don't laugh -- when thinking about useful things I've done in my life, helping to facilitate mild amusement here for some indefinite number of people makes it onto the list easily.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:41 AM
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Article linked in the OP is the worst Godwin violation guilt trip ever.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:47 AM
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I don't know why I'm incapable of hyphenating sanely.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:49 AM
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I'm with you, heebs, and it makes reading many, many papers in philosophy kind of irritating.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:49 AM
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30 pwned by lw in 21.1.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:51 AM
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Leave aside concentrated spiritual or intellectual pursuits, which are not for everybody. I think that in most ordinary lives, meaning comes from choices and conflicts, from doing something that's right when it is not easy to do it, or coming to grips with some failure.

But by design, life in the middle-class US is atomized and free of consequences, outside of contact with immediate family.

Anomie is a pretty well inevitable consequence of a safe, individualized life. It's the flipside of not having the lives of anyone you love destroyed by war or unjust imprisonment.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:52 AM
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I suppose people confuse "meaning" and "value." I like ice cream, I value it, but I don't know in what sense ice cream, as a thing, has "meaning." Most days I don't understand "meaning" at all. I guess I should read some semiotics.

What is the meaning of ice cream, not the words, anyway?

They also can "mean," I suppose, what is the purpose of my existence and my history, outside of myself and my valuing. My valuation would of course include others' values.

Nietzsche 101:What is human is to value, in a hierarchy of values, and to attempt to project your values onto others and the world through "meaning." "Meaning" supposedly grounds value outside oneself.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:02 AM
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I find the idea of "purpose" easier to manage than "meaning." Is there a purpose to what I'm doing at any given moment? Commenting on a blog? Sure! My purpose is to connect in some small way with other human beings. Reading cases? You bet! My purpose is to assimilate legal principles for a motion I am writing. Lots of other time I'm doing shit that serves no purpose other than filling a vast chasm of emptiness and boredom. When I can justify what I am doing as serving some sort of purpose, it makes me feel better about doing it.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:02 AM
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Real => Desire => Imaginary => Symbolic => Real

To put it another way


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:07 AM
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This research sounds very lame but I think the switch from hedonic-based to 'meaning'-based ways of thinking about human motivations is one of the most important things people can do in thinking about psychology and social theory. People are not motivated by a hedonic calculus, they are motivated by fitting into a system of 'meanings'. But the problem is that the term meaning is much too associated with giant abstractions -- ironically, 'searching for meaning' in the abstract, is there a God sense, is something we tend to do when we are not sufficiently engaged in actually meaningful activity.

I think it's better to start with the idea of roles, responsibilities, or (as Di said) purpose rather than 'meaning' as a big abstraction. So I'm sure that Heebie's life is structured by the feeling that she is being responsible in performing her roles as a mother and a teacher, and that she gets a sense of structure and satisfaction from performing those roles well and faithfully. But the more comfortable we feel in our roles and the structure they give us, the less likely we are to stop and think, 'OMG what is the meaning of life!?'. So it's perfectly natural to think that you aren't motivated by 'meaning' even when you are very engaged in satisfying responsibilities that are meaningful to you.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:14 AM
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God, perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.


Posted by: OPINIONATED CATECHISM 1.1 | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:14 AM
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the switch from hedonic-based to 'meaning'-based ways of thinking about human motivations is one of the most important things people can do in thinking about psychology and social theory.

Send up the Neil the Ethical Werewolf symbol!


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:53 AM
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Speaking of whom.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:04 AM
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Also, gswift won the thread in 1.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:04 AM
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Don't laugh -- when thinking about useful things I've done in my life, helping to facilitate mild amusement ...

Wait, I can't figure this out. If I don't laugh, am I not undermining your quest for meaning?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:08 AM
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I'm good with facilitating bafflement, too. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, really.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:10 AM
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30: You know who else was motivated by a higher purpose?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:15 AM
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Steve Martin in The Jerk?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:17 AM
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45: Steve Martin, but he never shot anybody.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:18 AM
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rats


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:18 AM
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That movie made it impossible to put marble statuary in one's home.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:21 AM
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46 made me laugh. Well done, LB!


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:24 AM
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We host and communicate viruses. Isn't that meaning enough?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:24 AM
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Seriusly, though, Heebie, in your roles as teacher, wife, mother, daughter, friend, entertainer, you're making the lives of other people better, if not with every single interaction, than at least more often than not. Coupled with hosting and communicating viruses, isn't *that* meaning enough?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:27 AM
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41: Neil needs to option that paper for a romantic comedy.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:28 AM
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Don't laugh -- when thinking about useful things I've done in my life, helping to facilitate mild amusement here for some indefinite number of people makes it onto the list easily.

As well it should.

I'm with you, heebs, and it makes reading many, many papers in philosophy kind of irritating.

Possibly analogous, I remember coming across a variety of people in philosophy who were interested in the idea that identity is not stable, and that people have multiple identities in different circumstances. I could see why that was important philosophically and why some people would find that an import question to wrestle with, but it didn't connect to my own experience. I've always felt like the sense of my self that I present to the world and the self that I perceive are pretty stable and closely connected.

As to the original post: as long as I'm being pretentious, one of the vaguely remembered ideas that's stuck with me from undergraduate philosophy is the difficulty of finding the balance between needing to commit oneself to things in the world [Family/friends, Ideals, Institutions, Activism, etc . . .] and the inevitability that whatever one invests in will inevitably disappoint and fail to live up to our hopes and visions for it (writing that out, it sounds like horribly mangled pop-philosophy, but I do find it useful).

Part of the challenge of finding meaning, if one doesn't believe in spiritual meaning, is the feeling that sources of meaning are important but never final -- always provisional in some ways.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:29 AM
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We host and communicate viruses. Isn't that meaning enough?

No. We must also host and communicate bacteria.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:35 AM
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TYPICAL. NO ONE EVER THINKS OF ME.


Posted by: OPINIONATED PRION | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:38 AM
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This discussion reminds me a bit a quote from Adam Phillips's new book that I read in The New Yorker last night:

Phillips, Britain's foremost psychoanalytic writer, dislikes the modern notion that we should all be out there fulfilling our potential. In his new book, he argues that, instead of feeling that we should have a better life, we should just live, as gratifyingly as possible, the life we have. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for bitterness. What makes us think that we could have been a contender? Yet, in the dark of night, we do think this, and grieve that it wasn't possible. "And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives," Phillips writes. "Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live."

Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:42 AM
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr0YZzL8KCI


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:44 AM
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54 -- I don't get that stability at all. I'm still a lawyer when I go skiing, yes, but in terms of identity, it's skier, not lawyer. I'm still a Bobcat when I go to a Red Sox game. I'm a dad when I research my great grandfather.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:45 AM
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alternatively --

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lul1BZLX28s


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:46 AM
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57 -- I was thinking yesterday, and then this morning, about the situation of one of our colleagues -- surviving a really awful childhood and creating a truly loving home for husband and children -- and the kind of resignation that rings in that quote looks awfully privileged to me.

OK, yes, our friend is extraordinary.

But I still don't like submission to the will of the Almighty (or to simple chance) as the preferred alternative for we ordinary folk.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:56 AM
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Seriusly, though, Heebie, in your roles as teacher, wife, mother, daughter, friend, entertainer, you're making the lives of other people better, if not with every single interaction, than at least more often than not. Coupled with hosting and communicating viruses, isn't *that* meaning enough?

I really enjoy relating to other people and having authentic friendships and family relationships. I also enjoy my cat, and awesome clothes. Not the same importance, but it's a spectrum. None of them seem to make my life have a overall (special) purpose or meaning.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:00 AM
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He's lame and also Britain's foremost psychoanalytic writer-- being British is not necessarily a constraint to being sensible, so being a psychoanalyst must be one.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:04 AM
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Specialization cuts down on meaningfulness. It is more meaningful to make a pin than to make a pinhead. Further, Meaning gets squeezed out of most people's lives as decision making becomes more centralized. More freedom also means that people can decide that your life is not meaningful. under traditional systems, peple were required to belive that your role as a parent or teacher or tradesman had value.

On the whole, modern society is good materially and morally. things are getting better. but the lack of consential meaning generated by modern society is a problem that I think leads to high rates of depression.

There is a strong evolutionary component to the desire for meaning. For example, the desire for meaning is the number 1 reason given by teen moms for having a baby:

https://www.google.com/search?q=promises+i+can+keep&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:05 AM
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64 is Auden again--


He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:09 AM
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Man Didn't Expect Sex With Prostitute Would Be So Emotionally Fulfilling


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:11 AM
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War is a force that gives us meaning.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:13 AM
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54 -- I don't get that stability at all.

I was thinking of something like this

I'm with you, heebs, and it makes reading many, many papers in philosophy kind of irritating.

This is hardly a serious problem for some. But I tend to see myself as an entity that has chose to make its life career out of playing with identity. It sometimes seems as though everything in my past has been a kind of extended excuse for experiments with subject positions and interaction. After all, what material is better to experiment with than one's self? Academically speaking, it's not exactly breaking new ground to say that any subject position is a mask. That's well and good, but still most people take some primary subject position for granted. When pressed, they may give lip service to the idea that perhaps even their current "root" person is also a mask, but nobody really believe it. For all intents and purposes, your "root" persona is you. Take that one away, and there's nobody home.

Perhaps someone with training in drama already perceives this, but it was a revelation to me. In the social sciences, symbolic interactionists believe that the root persona is always a momentary expression of ongoing negotiations among a horde of subidentities, but this process is invisible both to the onlooker and to the persona within whom the negotiations are taking place. For me this has never been particularly true. My current I has been as palpably a mask to me as any of my other I's have been. Perceiving that which is generally invisible as really a kind of capital has been more than a passing asset (as it were); it has been a continual education, a source of endless challenge, not to mention fear, and certainly not least, an ongoing celebration of the sacred nature of the universe of passing forms. . . .

Count me as somebody who does not naturally think of myself as the result of a continuous negotiation between a horde of subidentities, and who is oblivious to that process. I can make myself think that way if I squint hard enough but for me, unlike her, that does not come naturally at all.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:14 AM
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cut and paste error, the first line in the blockquote, in italics, doesn't belong there.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:15 AM
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61 has a point, but Phillips might equally be taken as trying to counteract what an American psychologist described as the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess success.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:19 AM
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There is a strong evolutionary component to the desire for meaning.

Now that is some quality trolling.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:20 AM
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I actually think that 67 is profound, and that war is one of the clearest ways of generating a sense of human purpose. Much of life is structured to create ersatz warfare (corporate rivalry, sports teams, political parties) not so much for their own sake but to provide that feeling of deadly struggle with camaraderie for a greater purpose that is a generator of that sense of "meaning."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:23 AM
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How exactly is war profound? I just think of dead civillians and survivors who've lost tons of friends and family and had their homes destroyed and have to start over, and it's hard to see a silver lining.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:26 AM
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73: You don't think there's something profound about the liberation of Europe from the Nazis? Or destroying the Confederacy?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:29 AM
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61: The line between resignation and acceptance is a fine one, indeed. But I didn't read the quote in 57 as a message of resignation or submission to the Almighty. Rather, the message I got from it is simply encouragement to make the most of the present moment, minimizing regrets about the past as well as expectations for the future. There's a lot in life that I cannot change and dwelling on those things leads to unhappiness. Better to stay focused on what I can change and/or accomplish in this given moment.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:29 AM
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I think there's something monstrous about the existence of the Holocaust and the Confederacy, and sure, there was no other way that I know of to end those horrific situations. That doesn't mean that the cure itself is profound.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:31 AM
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76: But (as noted in 45) the Holocaust and Confederacy were themselves profound. After all, Nazis and Rebels fought those wars, too.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:34 AM
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War gets a special award for great achievements in senseless violence combined with great achievements in narratives of ultimate heroism/drama/import/glory/etc. Epic sense and epic senselessness in one explosive package!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:35 AM
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Furthermore, if there was some magical way of ending the Holocaust and the Confederacy that didn't require all the loss of lives and destruction, and got the bad guys out of power and dead, I can't imagine why someone would ever choose war.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:36 AM
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76: Anything I could say would simply be rephrasing 72. "[T]hat feeling of deadly struggle with camaraderie for a greater purpose" is, I think, exactly what so many people are looking for in life.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:38 AM
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Heebie, you seem to be looking at war as an outsider, rather than as a participant. Any group endeavor requires a person to subsume themselves to a larger purpose, and one where you spend years with a small bunch of people trying not to get killed, while doing some kind of thing that your society cares about more than you, has a profound impact (for good and ill) on the people involved.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:38 AM
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How exactly is war profound? I just think of dead civillians and survivors who've lost tons of friends and family and had their homes destroyed and have to start over, and it's hard to see a silver lining.

When Hedges said that war was a force that gives us meaning, or before him, when James spoke of the need for a moral equivalent of war, they weren't saying that war was a good thing to find meaning in. Their point was simply that people do find incredible amounts of meaning in it. It allows you to organize your entire life--entire society--around a struggle. James in particular thought that if you end war, you are going to need another grand struggle in people's hearts to replace it with.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:39 AM
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"[T]hat feeling of deadly struggle with camaraderie for a greater purpose" is, I think, exactly what so many people are looking for in life.

Can I play the mom card? It's not what their moms are looking for.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:39 AM
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Heebie, you seem to be looking at war as an outsider, rather than as a participant.

I'm thinking of it as a civillian caught in the middle, not as a soldier. Civillians are certainly participants, and they bear the cost.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:41 AM
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83: And yet even as a mom, you play competitive organized sports. That's got everything in it but the 'deadly'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:41 AM
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When Hedges said that war was a force that gives us meaning, or before him, when James spoke of the need for a moral equivalent of war, they weren't saying that war was a good thing to find meaning in. Their point was simply that people do find incredible amounts of meaning in it.

Indeed.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:42 AM
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Furthermore, if there was some magical way of ending the Holocaust and the Confederacy that didn't require all the loss of lives and destruction, and got the bad guys out of power and dead, I can't imagine why someone would ever choose war.

Duh. You'd fight a war in order to keep that solution from being implemented. It's like you're not even reading my comments!


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:42 AM
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It's not what their moms are looking for.

You don't have to personally like structuring your life around grand struggles and faithful warriors to recognize that a fuck-ton of people do feel the need to structure their lives that way.

The question of creating a nonviolent society is the question of how much to work with this impulse and how much to work against it. James's point, I take it, was that you can only create a world without war by working with this impulse, and rechanneling it.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:43 AM
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You don't need an armed force to end slavery if you have a Wilber-force. (Try the veal.)

My problem with honoring war because-it-ended-H-and-C is that we wouldn't have had the immovable H and C without *their* supporting cultures glorifying war.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:44 AM
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Their point was simply that people do find incredible amounts of meaning in it. It allows you to organize your entire life--entire society--around a struggle.

If I map this onto the Iraq war and the veterans, then yes, a lot of them seem incredibly lost and without purpose when they return.

But that war wasn't meaningful by any stretch of the imagination - these veterans were basically lied to, and many have PTSD and significant medical and emotional injuries to heal. The lost-and-without-purpose-ness is part of the terrible consequences.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:45 AM
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Hm. This thread is confusing and mildly alienating. I don't find the idea of "meaning" perplexing at all; I could see thinking it's poorly named, but I take it to mean having a sense of purpose and goals, feeling connected to something outside the self, a synonym for eudaimonia. I did a meditation the other week, the first part of which came from Deepak Chopra, the second part of which was an invention of the teacher. In the meditation, lying on my back, I was supposed to find the answers to the following three questions in the first thing that came to mind: 1) Who am I? 2) What do I truly want? and 3) What is my dharma?/What is my purpose in this life? My answers were, respectively: a lamb, a pair of embracing arms, and a pair of embracing arms around the lamb. I took this to mean that my dharma was to learn to love myself, to accept love, and to give love. I don't see how this is insufficient to constitute "meaning" (read: purpose), although I haven't read the linked article, and maybe it is making some weirder claim. Then in the second part of the meditation we inhaled whichever of the answers we chose and exhaled obstacles to its manifestation.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:45 AM
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84: Can we accept that everyone in the conversation believes that war is a bad thing, to be avoided where at all possible, and we're not overlooking the fact that it's bad for children and other living things?

That said, as much as we all disapprove of war, you have to admit that people (even good people who disapprove of it just like you do) do often find it to be a profoundly meaningful experience. They write books about it. They build statues to commemorate it. Reactions to war are one of the big three topics of human culture. (Off the cuff, but if you classified cultural products into God, love, and war, you'd cover most of what there is out there.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:46 AM
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I get that people find meaning in an epic struggle, and being part of a fighting group. The idea that war is profound still strikes me as grotesque.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:47 AM
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You know, it's funny - I've unknowingly struggled with this for a long while, and struggled with my acknowledgement of it for just under the past year. And it's funny to see Selig/man named-checked, as my "guy" studied under him and has recommended some of his other books to read. So the short answer is Heebie is lucky not to struggle with it.

At its most immediate, it's a search for a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Unlike Heebie (and not to pick on you, but it's an immediate contrast), I'm single with no kids, and I feel the lack of a personal-life reason (friends are fine, but as we grow older, there's been a notable drift). Work is distinctly unrewarding - I'm a mid-level bureaucrat, writing reports that no one reads in an office full of introverts where I'm the only extrovert. So there's no growth or development (no promotions, no growing kids, etc), which - admittedly from the outside looking in - fuels the purpose in many people's lives. With no immediate change to any of that on the horizon, I'm sympathetic to trying to find meaning in doing the same thing you don't like over and over again.

(Caveat all that with my recognition that I'm very fortunate, in terms of education, opportunity, etc.; the problem is that I feel like I'm not taking those gifts and "doing" anything with them.)


Posted by: Albert Gallatin | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:48 AM
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My memory of the last time I brought this up was a massive tizzy-fit of ``That's too hard | Mom, you don't want us to have any fun!!!!'', but -- infrastructure takes small dedicated physically risk-taking groups lifetimes to build, and we need to rebuild pretty much all of it, at every scale from sidewalks to the San Francisco sewage system.

I don't think even Bob Black imagined rebuilding *that* by amateur groups, but hey, he didn't know about Kickstarter.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:49 AM
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90: Again, you are asking whether we should find meaning in war, which is not what the original quotes were about. I'm a pretty firm pacifist, so I definitely agree that we should not find meaning in war. The question that James raises, which I think is a good one, is how we deal with this martial impulse, which does as a matter of fact, find meaning in war.

I'd say more, but I promised myself that I would stay focused like a ninja on work today. I even a little spreadsheet where I keep track of how much time I spend in Total Fucking Ninja focus.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:49 AM
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Murdering somebody is pretty meaningful, I'd wager. Especially if you get together with friends to do it, and undergo real personal risk. I bet a lot more people would write thoughtfully about the meaningfulness of murder if it was more socially appropriate.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:49 AM
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The point wasn't originally phrased "Do lots of people find meaning in war?" The point was phrased "War is profound." Those are two different things. Sure, lots of people find meaning in war.

(IMHO, they find meaning in war because good god, what a lot of death and destruction to justify. But whatever, they do.)

If no one here is actually arguing that war is profound, then we're groovy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:49 AM
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...and funny that the most meaning I've found recently is helping people deal with natural disasters, supporting them in their epic struggle against mother nature.


Posted by: Albert Gallatin | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:49 AM
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You know what I bet is a fucking profound-ass moment? Your first killing as a gang member.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:51 AM
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My problem with honoring war because-it-ended-H-and-C is that we wouldn't have had the immovable H and C without *their* supporting cultures glorifying war.
Right, so we can't let there be a war glory gap.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:51 AM
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Murdering somebody is pretty meaningful, I'd wager. Especially if you get together with friends to do it, and undergo real personal risk.

Is it really the murdering though? And not the disposing of the body afterwards? That's the part where things tend to bog down.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:52 AM
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I think you're reading 'profound' as incorporating a value judgment, and other people in the conversation aren't. I don't really know what it means to call something 'profound', so I tend not to talk that way, but I would understand someone talking about war as a profound experience generally to be treating it as an inevitability, rather than as something to be approved or disapproved of.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:53 AM
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Excuse my runaway italics. I got a little swept up in the majesty of it all.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:53 AM
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Like, all your life you have been kicked around by the world, lacking not only meaning, but a sense that the larger forces that control the world don't care about you, even though you've been told that they should, or will. But now, having found a small band of people who you believe will have your back, you've taken an irrevocable step towards believing in that fellowship and rejecting the orthodoxy, no matter how likely it is that it will eventually destroy you. Oof. It must be such a proud, complex, intensely meaningful moment.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:54 AM
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Thanks for the Possible Girls link, Sir Kraab!

As a hedonist about value, I think that pleasure is the only good thing, and more of it is what makes the world a better place. But I agree with PGD in 38 that pleasure is far from the only thing people want. People want all sorts of weird shit, and sometimes they want it for its own sake and not as a means to pleasure.


Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:54 AM
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101 was me.
At its most immediate, it's a search for a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Caffeine.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:54 AM
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102: in a sense it's both, though, you know? Finding yourself face to face with the enormity of life and death -- in all of its brutal viscerality -- in the company of people you now you must trust with your life. Such an amazing, singular thing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:55 AM
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The point was phrased "War is profound."

Nope. Halford was saying the insight in "war is a force that gives us meaning" is profound.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:55 AM
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The other point that was motivating me is that people I know who've lived through war tend to not be reverential about it whatsoever. They've considered it horrific and meaningless.

Are the people writing the books and building the monuments necessarily the ones who've fought the wars? Or are they fancy-masturbators?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:55 AM
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"know" not "now".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:56 AM
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Note that "war is a force that gives us meaning" is a descriptive statement about what attracts people to war.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:56 AM
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That's the part where things tend to bog down.
There are other places to dump a body, you know.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:56 AM
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I'm not even sure what it would mean to say "war is profound" (or that this would necessarily be a statement of approbation of war) but the only point I was trying to make was that the notion that "war is a force that gives us meaning" is profound, and basically to make the point that Helpy-Chalk is doing a much better job of making.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:57 AM
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ninjas don't lose their italics, helpy-chalk.

Tweety, you're totally being a dick clad in the armor of righteousness, and now I need a unicorn chaser.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:57 AM
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Oh hey and I've been pwn'd about my own intentions. There should be a German word for that.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:58 AM
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Ok, ok, I get it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:58 AM
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115.2 is meant as a horrified compliment.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:00 PM
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How exactly is war profound? I just think of dead civillians and survivors who've lost tons of friends and family and had their homes destroyed and have to start over, and it's hard to see a silver lining.

I think this is in part a male/female thing. I've observed that many men (me included) are war junkies in a way that women mostly aren't, even if the man in question is ideologically anti-war (me again). Never forget going with my now-wife to the Gettysburg battlefield and waxing poetic about meaning this, significance that, and then having her say she just felt totally disgusted at the image of big piles of young guys bodies rotting in the sun. Not inspired and disgusted, or enlightened and disgusted, just disgusted.

It's hard to imagine a woman settling in for a night of watching old WWII videos on the History Channel.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:02 PM
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Are the people writing the books and building the monuments necessarily the ones who've fought the wars?

Ernst J√ľnger says hi.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:05 PM
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I've been reading that Scientology book that just came out (which is great, and does a great job of settling the age old "L. Ron Hubbard: huckster or insane?" debate (both!)) and just got to a part where Hubbard and the original Sea Org are sailing around the Mediterranean in their fleet of ships, more-or-less on the run from various governments, and L. Ron announces that they have to go to northern Corsica, where at specified coordinates they will discover a fleet of spaceships, fully fueled and ready for them to launch. Standing there on deck right then, when this amazing, charismatic person tells you you're going to do that? Shit must have been profound.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:06 PM
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It's hard to imagine a woman settling in for a night of watching old WWII videos on the History Channel

You just don't know the right kind of women.

It's harder to imagine me doing that.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:06 PM
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war is profound, is profound. And guys I want to draw your attention to that, because I find it to be profound.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:12 PM
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Tweety looks to be about two comments away from using the phrase "invisible sky fairy."


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:12 PM
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Heebie, I would hazard that the value you place in Unfogged is some kind of clue to where you find meaning and what meaning your profession lacks for you.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:13 PM
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119: I know this is a repeated hot button for me, and I'm sure everyone's sick of it. But this kind of gender essentializing about how men and women respond to things is very unpleasant to listen to for those of us who don't fit the paradigm.

I'm not particularly proud of it -- war is, as Heebie says, a terrible thing, to be avoided wherever possible. And yet I read novels about the Peninsular War, and Civil War memoirs, and and and, because it's fascinating. And it's just sort of grimly depressing to think of the response to that as "Well, of course, you may find war fascinating, but women don't. You know, real women. Or normal women. However you want to put it."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:15 PM
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Something tells me this is not just a hot button for you, but a related one.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:15 PM
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Unfogged arguments are the moral equivalent of war.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:15 PM
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DAMN YOU AUTOCORRECT


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:16 PM
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124: really? I'm not sure how I would get there. I would guess I'm about two comments away from babbling about Chick Corea having ninja battles for the rest of the afternoon.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:16 PM
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and damn you fpp privileges. Guys, there is a possible world in which my 127 was PERFECT.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:17 PM
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One comment away. We'll see, won't we?


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:17 PM
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AND THEN WHAT IF YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO BE IN A NINJA BATTLE WITH CHICK COREA EXCEPT IT WAS A BOSS LEVEL AND YOU HAD TO FIGHT THE INVISIBLE SKY FAIRY AND YOU COULD ONLY SEE IT WHEN IT SHOT FIREBALLS BUT THEN CHICK COREA CLAMPED A MEATY HAND ON YOUR SHOULDER AND SAID "LET MY JAZZ FUSION SHOW YOU THE WAY" AND THEN YOU CLOSED YOUR EYES AND LISTENED TO HIS PIANO AND STABBED THE SKY FAIRY RIGHT IN THE HEART WITH AN AMERICAN FLAG AIEEEEEEEEEEE THE PROFUNDITY


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:19 PM
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Well I'll be.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:19 PM
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You know, real women. Or normal women. However you want to put it.

Platonic women.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:19 PM
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131: The possibility of error is what gives our comments meaning.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:19 PM
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134: we're both right!


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:21 PM
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What novel about the Penninsular War are you reading?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:23 PM
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126: Lady Homerists are no ladies at all! Or anyone who works on 5th-century tragedy. Or comedy. War war war politics war.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:25 PM
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A google search suggests this, maybe, but frankly that seems like some super hardcore Penninsular War fiction.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:25 PM
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Sharpe?


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:26 PM
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Oh right duh. I haven't read those but maybe I should.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:27 PM
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Meaning, just like happiness, can easily be bad. I am trying to make my way through the book "roll Jordan roll". Slave owning gave meaning to the Slave owners lives. That's what they said and I don't really doubt them. It involved interactions with people. You got to play god. The slaves were in no position to burst your bubble.

Hazing gives meaning to fraternity life. Oppressive confutionism gives meaning to parenting. War gives meaning to soldiers. Hunting big game gives meaning over hunting small game that would provide more calories.


Posted by: Lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:27 PM
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There's a solid genre of SFnal war novels with female protagonists; I think Honor Harrington is written for the kyriarchy, but the series by Bear and Moon and Traviss not. Certainly the latter are read by many, many women.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:28 PM
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and then having her say she just felt totally disgusted at the image of big piles of young guys bodies rotting in the sun. Not inspired and disgusted, or enlightened and disgusted, just disgusted.

Why would anyone in their right mind be inspired by the image of big piles of rotting bodies?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:29 PM
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And hey Patrick O'Brian!


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:30 PM
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I have little to no interest in the history of war, except perhaps war's socio-politico-economic effects on the homefront. Nor weapons, tactics, strategy, battles, generals.

Sharpe books don't count much as war geek material. Nor whatever, the Australian Napoleonic naval series that I forget because they have never interested me.

The partner, a woman, has a very narrow window of action/violent material she likes. Actual war moves, like Hurt Locker, no way. Torture porn like Saw or Hostel, not really. Westerns not. Anything with Jason Stethem, you bet. Taken 1 & 2. Bourne. Supernatural tv series. Justified. True Blood. There is a pattern.

I don't watch any of that stuff. Maybe Sailor Moon counts as action-violence? I am shoujo at heart. Maria-sama Watches over Us All, you know.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:33 PM
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145: it was more that when we passed memorials that detailed how such and such a unit had lost 50 percent of its members in such and such a heroic stand, my mind would go to some idealized image of brave men doing brave things, while she would just flash on the rotting bodies of the aforementioned 50 percent. My instinctive aesthetic was much closer to that expressed in the memorials than hers was.

I hereby apologize to all the real women war junkies in the audience!


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:34 PM
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145: A zombie?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:37 PM
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Murdering somebody is pretty meaningful, I'd wager. Especially if you get together with friends to do it, and undergo real personal risk.

Not quite the same, but going in with several other guys into a scene or building with the expectation that you're likely going to be killing someone is quite noticeably in a whole different league from the team building exercises at my old cubicle jobs.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:41 PM
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yZNMWFqvM

Not the bodies, obviously. But they were occupied by people trying to accomplish something.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:44 PM
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151: the hundred years war was a typically pointless war, basically the issue was England's desire to extort money and land from France. But that is accomplishing something! And you should hold your manhood cheap if you were not on the front line of that particular extortion racket.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:50 PM
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Whenever I think that life has meaning, I look at this picture of the Earth, and realize that it clearly does not.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:51 PM
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Shortly after 9/11, I had a very keen sense that, if my hometown came under military attack, I would take up arms to defend it to the point of death. This surprised me a lot, and the scenario is pretty silly to begin with. I did not exactly feel a strong sense of patriotism, or jingoism; I was opposed to the war in Afghanistan. But I did think, at age 22, that my city was worth a fight. I don't know how I feel about it now, although it's clear that my emotional connection to the place (where I no longer live, and may never live again) is very deep.

I'll admit that I'm having a tough time imagining a reaction to Gettysburg that isn't more or less equal parts PGD's and his wife's.

Oh hey philosophers! Are there any good papers on, roughly put, the ethics of no-win situations? That was the thing I thought I'd try to tackle if I went into philosophy, although it's looking a bit late for that now.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 12:59 PM
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154.last: Kirk's late writings on the Kobayashi Maru are quite profound.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:02 PM
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Haven't RTFA or all the comments, but to me, when I'm not thinking in religious terms, a meaningful life beyond childhood is one that can a provide a "well, at least they ____'d" that's proportionate to its years and means and sufficient to comfort any survivors at the end of its term--some action or endeavor (finished or started well) or consistency of character or habit that could be a source of genuinely heartwarming pride--a sense that that there were enough whose lives were 'touched' in good ways. I don't think there's a magic number, b/c everyone has their own context.

I heard that Coretta Scott King said we should be ashamed to die without having won some victory for the oppressed. That strikes me as too heavy a burden, but I suppose one could say one is ashamed to die without at least trying to help the helpless.


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:03 PM
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"well, at least they ____'d"

fuck'd?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:04 PM
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now there is a source of meaning I'm down with.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:07 PM
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152 -- But the French! Isn't defeating the French meaning enough? (Along with the viruses, bacteria, and entertaining virtual friends)

WS wrote that knowing that it would fire up his audience, as Olivier knew when he played the part in the early 40s.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:09 PM
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155: sorry, I'm a girl, I need you to name a book. And not like the last time I tried to learn about ethics from books and got "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats."


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:12 PM
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Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


Posted by: OPINIONATED MACBETH | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:14 PM
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160: Happy to help!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:15 PM
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Henry V's point about scars and sacred memories applies with equal force, in our world, to the people who walked that bridge in Selma, and plenty of other collective endeavors.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:27 PM
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The blank was meant to connote verb of choice---whatever makes your loved ones proud.


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:36 PM
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Someday, long long hence, some folks are going to be surprised to read in heebie's obit that the became an international celebrity writing for an ecledtic web magazine in the early days of the internet. Others will say I know it!


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:40 PM
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She1


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:41 PM
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Shit. Goddam phone.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:44 PM
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Whenever I think that life has meaning, I look at this picture of the Earth, and realize that it clearly does not.

Really? All that empty space and we're on the one interesting little corner of it and you think that means we're meaningless? It's even weirder when you realize how delicately tuned the physics of our universe seems to be to allow for life. Not that this leads me to anything religious, but it seems like we're kind of a special accident.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:56 PM
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"[T]hat feeling of deadly struggle with camaraderie for a greater purpose"

I'm still reading and may be pwned, but warmonger, please. The struggle need hardly be deadly to induce feelings of camaraderie and great purpose.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 1:57 PM
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169: Yes, but it helps. See 150.

(kidding mostly -- I know nothing, having experienced only a slight camraderie and tiny purpose).


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:01 PM
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168: You're feeling tempted to quote Neutral Milk Hotel again, aren't you?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:02 PM
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Really? All that empty space and we're on the one interesting little corner of it and you think that means we're meaningless?

Of course!


Posted by: OPINIONATED H.P. LOVECRAFT | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:04 PM
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Not that this leads me to anything religious, but it seems like we're kind of a special accident.

Alternatively, there's the weak anthropic principle.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:04 PM
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I just thought I'd pop in to say that as a gender-nonconforming person who is often read as female (look, I feel weird about specifying that too, but I also feel weird about describing myself as a woman)...er, anyway, as me, I have read quite a lot about war stuff. I mean, old black and white footage of shit blowing up is not my idea of a wonderful cinematic amusement, and whole patriotic blech of US narratives about WWII annoys me no end...but I am perfectly happy to sit down to a documentary about other war-related matters.

I recommend, by the way, PJ Harvey's harrowing album Let England Shake (although all the reviews are like "oooh, a girl writing about something other than lurv, how novel!") and the also-harrowing Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.

I think war is a subset of things which give people the sense that what they do matters to someone other than themselves and that they have some power, however slight, to shape history. Activism is the same way. Also, I suspect that war stuff turns off a lot of mental chatter and shuts down a lot of nagging questions - definitely when I have been in intense activist situations, whether campaigns or particular protests, that sharp focus on the present and the need to muster all resources to a single, clear goal were unpleasantly compelling. And no one was even really likely to die!

This probably has much more to do with the anomie of modern life and the deskilling of work than the actual allure of war, though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:20 PM
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we're on the one interesting little corner of it
??
I want to a make a misanthropic principle joke.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:29 PM
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Are there any good papers on, roughly put, the ethics of no-win situations? That was the thing I thought I'd try to tackle if I went into philosophy, although it's looking a bit late for that now.

Nagel's 'War and Massacre' is the usual starting point on that.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:41 PM
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||

They're trying to breed a super-race of Republican senators. (Note: Not a link from the Onion.)

|>


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:50 PM
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The super race voted most likely to lose an argument with a table.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:54 PM
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The Laxalt/Domenici strain of super-senators has already lost out to the more virulent and aggressive Tea Party strain.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:56 PM
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178: The super race voted most likely to lose an argument with a table.

Their son, [privacy respected here!], is a lawyer and ex-Marine who once worked as "a special assistant to John Bolton." [emphasis added]

True, but he found employment commensurate with that skill.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 2:59 PM
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A whole lot of Nagel in this thread. I've generally been put off by the controversy, but perhaps that's unfair.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:02 PM
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133: You've got the next Zelda game right there.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:03 PM
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177: Holy shite! My mother's first husband (prior to my dad) was a black sheep hippie boy from the L/x/lt family... apparently I narrowly escaped a life as John Bolton's special assistant. (I know, counterfactuals, the kid that would have been half or 25% me or whatever.)

My mom started out in a fairly upper-crust Nevada family, but it wasn't quite that level. The L/x/lts used to enjoy purposely excluding her by speaking French whenever she was around.


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:06 PM
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181: what is it like to hit qualia with a bat?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:06 PM
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184: PROFOUND.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:08 PM
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Woulda been funnier if it was "people who go on about qualia" OH WELL NEXT TIME MR. COREA.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:09 PM
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185 also to 183.1, obviously.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:10 PM
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It would've been cool if the spoke Basque. French is just lame.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:12 PM
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Speaking of stupid Republican tricks, has the actual source of the Hagel/"Friends of Hamas" rumor which Rand Paul touted come up here?

Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the "Junior League of Hezbollah, in France"? And: What about "Friends of Hamas"? The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed -- let alone that a former senator would speak to them.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:16 PM
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188: I know - what a buncha arrivistes, right? I don't think the famous Basque restaurants in Winnemucca actually serve ortolan either.


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:20 PM
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but perhaps that's unfair.

The relevant part of the paper is independent of that. (It's also short and not very meaty.) Here are a couple better links to PhilPapers lists:
Conflicts of Duty

Moral Dilemmas, misc.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:21 PM
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189- My favorite is the response from the Breitbart "reporter" (why yes, it's Virgin Ben Sharpiro of 2003-era blog fame):

"The story as reported is correct," Shapiro insisted. "Whether the information I was given by the source is correct I am not sure."

That's right! Don't you people know that DC is high school for grownups? All that matters is what people are saying- they call it Buzz!- not whether it's true or not.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:24 PM
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186: also what if every time i hear chick corea it sounds to me like herbie hancock but i still use the words chick corea so no one can have access to my hancock experience ALSO THERE ARE ZOMBIES WHO HEAR EVERYTHING AS A HARPSICHORD


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:28 PM
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why yes, it's Virgin Ben

OMG, it is.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:29 PM
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Guys, what is the deal with the lurid keyaki, lourdes kayak distinction. This is giving me whiplash.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:32 PM
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Lurid brought Lourdes to the blog, but they are, in fact, two separate people. They just look alike from here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:33 PM
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When I say 'in fact', I mean that he/she/they said so a couple of threads ago. I have no firsthand knowledge of anything. Internet/dog.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:33 PM
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I have no firsthand knowledge of anything

LB is Ben Shapiro?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:40 PM
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Dude has a crush on me or something.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:41 PM
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They just look alike from here.

Huh, I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't even noticed (and probably subliminally assumed it was some heebie-gebie/heebie-heebie style autocorrect).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 3:45 PM
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Heebie-heebie is actually Jammies posting.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 4:05 PM
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I thought the clarification in that other thread ambiguous.

I use a different handle on my phone from the one I use on my laptops. I don't worry that anyone is confused.


Posted by: CCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 4:33 PM
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It took me a while to remember that lourdes is not female. We have a fairly high number of cross-gender pseuds like that.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 4:40 PM
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I had thought I would just play my Telecaster under lurid keyaki's window, but I couldn't find anywhere to plug it in, so I went to Unfogged instead. I am not at all her. It hadn't even crossed my mind that Lourdes would scan as female, and possibly as virginal or aquatic.l No confusion intended!


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 4:59 PM
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Lourdes Kayak is actually Madonna's daughter; only the last name has been changed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:03 PM
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I'm going to resist the impulse to find out what "keyaki" means, so when I eventually see the word somewhere it will look bizarre that a specific person's name is being used to refer to something else. Just like what happened with "sifu".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:06 PM
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You have to admit that the kayak part is aquatic. I have just been a little sad since lurid keyaki stopped being lurkey for something more memorable, because I liked lurkey a lot.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:08 PM
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I kind of like the similar pseuds. It gives the effect of having shown up at a party in inexplicably matching sweaters.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:13 PM
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It's not so confusing. One is a tiny canoe ferrying visitors across the holy baths; the other is a tree with brilliant fall colors.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:14 PM
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208: or, as the case may be, pinstriped suits.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:16 PM
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Man, that was a great suit. I hope someone's still wearing it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:17 PM
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208: You might regret that comment.


Posted by: Lazarus'Bath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:37 PM
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201: Then who posts as Jammies?


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:38 PM
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Ask not for whom Jammies posts, but for who posts for Jammies.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 5:52 PM
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I kind of like the similar pseuds. It gives the effect of having shown up at a party in inexplicably matching sweaters.

For me, unfortunately, it gives the effect of having shown up at a party as identically dressed identical twins.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:18 PM
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I mentioned the friend of mine who married a man who I had not known until the day of the wedding was an identical twin? I was very confused before the ceremony as to why he kept changing from a bow tie to a four-in-hand, and only figured it out when I saw the both of them up at the altar as groom and best man.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:21 PM
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And then the couple went to Palm Beach?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:32 PM
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Having banded together to successfully dispatch the meaning of life, the group turned to the higher purpose of discussing internet pseudonyms.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:39 PM
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then the couple went to Palm Beach

Yay.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:40 PM
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156: I heard that Coretta Scott King said we should be ashamed to die without having won some victory for the oppressed.

Paraphrasing Horace Mann's Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Not necessarily surprisingly as she did attend Antioch* (bit did not graduate from there).

*Apparently her sister was the first African American to attend Antioch on "a completely integrated basis." In the 1940s. Which *is* surprising to me.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:54 PM
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Are you an addict or an alcoholic? Hopeless couch potato? Habitual shopper or overeater? If none of the above, then your life has meaning.

Wait, really with this? I can't tell if you're giving these as bad examples of metrics for meaningfulness which of course they are.

Distantly in response to 22, am I the only one for whom the trash compactor scene in Star Wars was an instant archetype of horror?


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:55 PM
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the other is a tree with brilliant fall colors

A google image search for keyaki brings up mostly a bunch of trees and wooden items. A google image search for lurid keyaki brings up mostly crowds of Japanese people not under trees.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 6:57 PM
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I'm gonna give him one more year, and then I'm kayakin' to Lourdes.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:03 PM
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A google image search of lurid is much more SFW than I might have hoped thought.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:04 PM
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Really? All that empty space and we're on the one interesting little corner of it and you think that means we're meaningless?

What I get out of that picture is that the entirety of humanity doesn't amount to jack shit. Especially when you consider there are probably, what, a hundred-trillion other inhabited planets out there?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:12 PM
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a hundred-trillion other inhabited planets out there?

But what have they done for us lately?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:19 PM
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"My dear fellow, we sit here on a blind rock careening through space; we are all of us rushing headlong to the grave. Think you the worms will care, when anon they make a meal of you, whether you spent your moment sighing wigless in your chamber, or sacked the golden towns of Montezuma? Lookee, the day's nigh spent; 'tis gone careening into time forever. Not a tale's length past we lined our bowels with dinner, and already they growl for more. We are dying men, Ebenezer: i'faith, there's time for naught but bold resolves!"


Posted by: Henry Burlingame | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:19 PM
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Getting back to the original thread:

Can I play the mom card? It's not what their moms are looking for.

Wasn't it not uncommon - I don't know how common - in past times for mothers to exhort their sons to join in wars and possibly even be embarrassed by sons who could but have not gone off to fight?

I can't remember where I've come across this, though. Could be old movies, in which case it's not the most reliable indicator of commonly-held values. But I thought I'd seen it in, like, history books, and historians are always right, right?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:21 PM
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then the couple went to Palm Beach

Nitz! It'll be nitz to you, Toto!

Unfortunately for lurid keyaki, to the extent I'm confused with her I only gain by association, so I have no incentive to disambiguate.

In this way "meaning" or "value" arises.


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:27 PM
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Could be old movies

Sonja: Boris, you can't be serious, you're talking about Mother Russia.
Boris: She's not my mother. My mother's standing right here, and she's not gonna let her youngest baby get shrapnel in his gums.
Mother: He'll go and he'll fight, and I hope they will put him in the front lines.
Boris: Thanks a lot, Mom. My mother, folks.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:28 PM
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173 Alternatively, there's the weak anthropic principle.

That's kind of what I was getting at. I've been thinking about this a fair amount lately as I'm learning basic astrophysics, and I think formation of galaxies and stars imposes a lot of anthropic constraints that people haven't fully appreciated. Everything is really weirdly delicate and kind of poised on the edge of not working at all.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:31 PM
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DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI


Posted by: OPINIONATED HORACE | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:33 PM
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Everything is really weirdly delicate and kind of poised on the edge of not working at all.

That's the case in subatomic physics too, isn't it? I thought there were some "barely futz with the weight of the electron and atoms can't form" constraints etc.


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:36 PM
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COME BACK WITH YOUR SHIELD OR ON IT.


Posted by: OPINIONATED SPARTAN MATRON | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:37 PM
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225 Especially when you consider there are probably, what, a hundred-trillion other inhabited planets out there?

I think that works out to about a thousand per galaxy in the observable universe, which I doubt is true.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:37 PM
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228: "Come back with your shield or on it" is the earliest version I know, though one could argue it was noteworthy because it was unusual. (It was also a sort of mantra of mine when extricating myself from the abusive relationship, though in retrospect I'm not fully sure what the resonance was.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:38 PM
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If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Posted by: Opinionated Wilfred Owen | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:38 PM
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I was thinking more in the modern world, but yes that too. I don't think Faust's Mothers of Invention had much to say about this as it's more about women in the Confederacy than about mothers specifically.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:39 PM
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The against superfluous opinionation has certainly been lost at this point. Fighting it would serve no purpose, have no meaning.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:40 PM
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war


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:40 PM
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239: GOOD.


Posted by: OPINIONATED FRONT PAGE POSTER WHO HAS CONSISTENTLY FOUND THIS SORT OF THING FUNNIER WHEN FROM AN 'OP | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:42 PM
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233: I think the constraints are cosmological more often than not, but I would have to remind myself of more of them. Forming atoms is really not so hard: any positively-charged and negatively-charged thing will tend to do it.

There's a weird, semi-crazy book by Barrow and Tipler called The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, which goes through a lot of this stuff. It's kind of amazing in that, in the process of working out all these arguments, they basically estimate how every single kind of thing in the universe scales with fundamental constants of nature, which makes it a great reference for lots of physics even if you don't care about the anthropic principle.

It's a bit out of date, though. In my less sane moments I think that it would be worth taking the time to write my own version of it reflecting all the interesting developments of the last few decades.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:42 PM
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WHO KNEW THERE WAS A CHARACTER LIMIT ON NAMES?


Posted by: INIONATED' SOURCE | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:43 PM
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Shit, I'm supposed to be writing a problem set and a lecture and a referee report.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:43 PM
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235: Too low or too high? There seem to be a lot of planets out there, and life started pretty early on Earth.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:44 PM
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244: I've got two answers due in the immediate future, and am unable to buckle down to either. I don't know what's wrong with me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:45 PM
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245: Lame. You should stay here and discuss the Fermi paradox.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:46 PM
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I think that works out to about a thousand per galaxy in the observable universe, which I doubt is true.

Yeah, I guess that seems low to me. Maybe its more like a quadrillion. Give or take.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:48 PM
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... Which doesn't seem to have been mentioned on Unfogged before.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:48 PM
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I was going to work on all these things today at work but instead I got sucked into never-ending conversations about irrelevancies. I'm starting to think senior collaborator doesn't want our paper to ever be finished because senior collaborator just enjoys keeping people in their office to talk for hours on end.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:48 PM
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And it seems really high to me, but I was taking "inhabited" to mean something more than "by bacteria".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:49 PM
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Consider that in using the Earth as an example you have one hell of a big selection bias.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:49 PM
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To qualify as inhabited, I'd say some sort of sentient beings. So, bacteria wouldn't count, and neither would plants, but, birds or dinosaurs or octopuses probably would.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:55 PM
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239:


Posted by: opinionation was supposed to be funny; quotes from dead authors not always so | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:56 PM
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239 was supposed to be 241.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 7:56 PM
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And, with 300 billion stars in the Milky Way, if there only 1000 inhabited planets, then what you are saying is that only 1 in 300 million stars has a planet that can support an octopus. To me that sounds way too low.

Suddenly a quadrillion as the number of inhabited planets is also sounding way low to me as well, but we are well into the realm of numbers that are way to big for my brain to actually conceptualize. Which isn't helping me feel any more significant, I might add.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:02 PM
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Can we agree that rocky planets covered in microbial life are pretty common? The galaxy is positively sticky with the stuff.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:04 PM
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240: what is it good for?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:04 PM
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230: Have we hit the 50 percent mark yet?


Posted by: Mr. Blandings | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:07 PM
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Can we agree that rocky planets covered in microbial life are pretty common?

Oh, yeah, I'm sure they are. Although, as far as I know, we haven't yet found any solid evidence of this. So far its all conjecture.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:08 PM
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Anyway, the only resolution to the FP that makes any sense is they're already here.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:09 PM
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126

...And it's just sort of grimly depressing to think of the response to that as "Well, of course, you may find war fascinating, but women don't. You know, real women. Or normal women. However you want to put it."

So what is the polite way of saying you don't come across (on the internet at least) like a typical woman? Because you don't.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:12 PM
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As for war I think many people find particpating in any sort of intense group effort makes their lives more meaningful.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:15 PM
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259: I might start tracking on a script. I'll do that when I get around to helping Sir Kraab with the book thread compilation.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:20 PM
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262; Please to explicate sampling procedure.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:22 PM
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You know, the thing about our sun is that its way out in the boonies of the Milky Way. All the cool interstellar-colonization action is probably happening down in the galaxy's core, and we're stuck out here in the exurbs, missing it all. If the Milky Way were the Washington, DC metro area, we would be in Poolesville, MD. Aliens have never contacted us because nobody ever goes to Poolesville.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:22 PM
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266.last: IT'S TOO CROWDED.


Posted by: OPINIONATED YOGI BERRA | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:24 PM
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258: That was actually German for "was."


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:26 PM
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262: I'm trying to figure out why you'd want to know the polite way of saying anything much. It can't possibly be for personal usage.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:34 PM
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But to actually answer the question, I don't think there's generally a polite way to point out similarities or differences between an individual and the 'typical' member of a broad demographic group they're a part of. Try it for something other than gender: "You're not nearly as excitable as most Italians."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:38 PM
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225 et seq.: there is a very good argument that the two parameters in the Drake equation that you are implicitly setting to one should probably be quite a lot lower, per a somewhat less common construction of the weak anthropic principle.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:42 PM
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270: "you're way smarter than most black people"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:42 PM
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"You're pretty fly for a white guy."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:42 PM
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"You can bring home the bacon AND fry it up in the pan!"


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:43 PM
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"You're pretty biotic for an otherwise nondescript planet on the outskirts of the galaxy."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:45 PM
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we're stuck out here in the exurbs, missing it all

IIRC the galactic downtown has too much radiation for organisms like us. Anthropic flight!


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:46 PM
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276: "Earth is a planet, in a Wittgensteinian sort of way."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:49 PM
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225 et seq.: there is a very good argument that the two parameters in the Drake equation that you are implicitly setting to one should probably be quite a lot lower

Which two parameters are those?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:49 PM
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IIRC the galactic downtown has too much radiation for organisms like us evolution on steroids


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:51 PM
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And Heebie knows what kind of planet Earth is.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:52 PM
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278: probability of life given etc. and probability of intelligent life given etc.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:55 PM
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fl and fi, I guess.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 8:58 PM
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Yeah. There are multiple big bottlenecks. Just to name one among many places where things could have gone wrong, evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis on Earth nearly led to planetary-scale suicide, because oxygen was really poisonous to pretty much everything alive at the time.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:00 PM
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281: I never understood where the odds for either of those were supposed to come from. We've got one data point. How do you pull a probability out of that?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:00 PM
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"Hey Rocky, do you want to see me pull a probability out of a hat?"


Posted by: Bullwinkle J. Moose | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:02 PM
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281: Well, even when I plug in lowball estimates for those two into the calculator I'm still getting about 100 million intelligent life-bearing planets just this galaxy.

I'm not clear if the 100 million figure means "100 million right now" or "100 million since the galaxy started".


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:08 PM
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We've got one data point. How do you pull a probability out of that?

Isn't that what Bayesian statistics are for?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:11 PM
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Doesn't surviving a big environmental change increase any estimate of life's robustness and weaken fine tuning arguments?
Intelligence did take a long time, and the ocean doesn't seem to have produced anything with much of a brain, so it's more convincing.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:12 PM
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284: To some degree you can use time averages to substitute for multiple runs (ergodicity). But yeah, it's limited.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:15 PM
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270

But to actually answer the question, I don't think there's generally a polite way to point out similarities or differences between an individual and the 'typical' member of a broad demographic group they're a part of. Try it for something other than gender: "You're not nearly as excitable as most Italians."

This amounts to saying it is offensive to note any statistical differences between between broad demographic groups. I think it should be possible to note average differences without implying they apply to everybody. Does the existence of rich black people mean no should refer to the fact that black people are poorer on average?

To be sure PGD did say:

It's hard to imagine a woman settling in for a night of watching old WWII videos on the History Channel.

which is going beyond a statement about averages. He was probably just being careless but I can see how the cumulative effect of many such sloppy errors could become annoying.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:16 PM
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Intelligence did take a long time, and the ocean doesn't seem to have produced anything with much of a brain, so it's more convincing.

I wasn't joking about octopuses.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:17 PM
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286: I get 1875 leaving everything else constant but they'll only go down to 1%.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:17 PM
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I think if you go down to 1%, you've gone way too far in the other direction. 10%, or ever 30% seems like a more reasonable number to me. Especially when you consider that 100% of observed Earthlike planets have evolved intelligent life.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:22 PM
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That's true. Probably 100 million planets in the galaxy have species that are identical to humans on them, and also have McDonalds restaurants that have the McRib, but only sporadically.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:24 PM
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Which is to say, come on.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:25 PM
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Priors fight!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:27 PM
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284

281: I never understood where the odds for either of those were supposed to come from. We've got one data point. How do you pull a probability out of that?

I believe the technical term is SWAG.

As 289 notes you can get some information from how long things took but the error bars are going to be large.

Generally speaking if intelligent life were really common you would expect to see some evidence of it (besides us). This will give upper bound estimates. I don't see any strong reason for a lower bound estimate above 0 (not counting us).


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:29 PM
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That calculator is for estimating the number of civilizations that might broadcast so's we can detect them, which is a very different question. Von Neumann probes and the time it takes to traverse the galaxy as a percent of it's age give a different equation.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:32 PM
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The most compelling aspect of a doctrine of meaninglessness is the intrinsic and fundamental lack of urgency in convincing anyone of its rightness.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:33 PM
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And so to bed.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:33 PM
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293

... Especially when you consider that 100% of observed Earthlike planets have evolved intelligent life.

That is not a random sample.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:34 PM
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A strange principle, the only pragmatic move is not to think about it.


Posted by: ANTHROP | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:41 PM
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That is not a random sample.

I am aware of that, James.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:43 PM
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That calculator is for estimating the number of civilizations that might broadcast so's we can detect them, which is a very different question.

This is true. I'm estimating for the number of planets that develop moderately sentient fauna, Sifu is estimating for planets that develop Roy Kroc.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:45 PM
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Nnnno. I am just pointing out that your estimating technique runs afoul of the very fallacy I had hoped to point out.

Also, it was Ray Kroc.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:47 PM
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Although, I might add, the number of observed Earthlike planets that developed Roy Kroc is 100%.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:48 PM
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No, you are thinking of Ray Rodgers.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:48 PM
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I am just pointing out that your estimating technique runs afoul of the very fallacy I had hoped to point out.

The fallacy that all the coefficients for the Drake equation must, by necessity, be pulled out of someones ass? I don't dispute that at all.

I have no valid estimate. My larger point was that there is some mind-boggleingly large number of other populated worlds out there, give or take a few orders of magnitude, and that just goes to illustrate the extreme meaninglessness of, not just our individual lives, but of the entirety of human experience itself.

I guess that's a bit of a downer. Sorry :)


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 9:55 PM
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308

... My larger point was that there is some mind-boggleingly large number of other populated worlds out there, ...

Maybe or maybe we are all alone.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:01 PM
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Maybe or maybe we are all alone.

With 150 billion galaxies of 300 billion stars apiece, the only way I think that would even be possible would be if some omnipotent being put us here for some unknown reason. While that would imbue each of our lives with a staggering amount of meaning and purpose, I find the prospect highly implausible, given the lack of supporting evidence for such a hypothesis.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:15 PM
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I find the prospect highly implausible, given the lack of supporting evidence for such a hypothesis.

Where's the supporting evidence for yours?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:32 PM
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I'm kind of surprised the theory of planetary formation isn't firmly understood and the statistical distribution of planets of various sizes isn't theoretically grounded.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 10:52 PM
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|| The movie Central Park 5 is well done. Seek it out. |>


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:19 PM
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I think to know about the setting in which planets are formed you need to know about the setting in which stars are formed, and star formation is messy and complicated and there's all kinds of feedback, plus to even set up the initial conditions you have to know about distributions of different kinds of gas clouds and whatnot, and that depends on all sorts of detailed atomic and molecular physics that tell you how gas cools within galaxies, and oh god it's a mess. I've had good reasons to look into this stuff a little bit lately and came away with the impression that it's fascinating but really poorly understood and intrinsically just really complicated. Maybe I can report back if I start learning about it more seriously.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:31 PM
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It seems probable that the interested parties have heard Buckminster Fuller's remark Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. Either way the thought is staggering. ... but it seems worth sharing regardless.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:32 PM
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NYT Review which is, imo, unfairly nitpicky. Yes, the movie talks about that other stuff. No, it doesn't go out of its way to say that maybe these kids were railroaded for a crime they didn't commit, but they darn well deserved it anyway. (And the people who did the railroading, including the detectives who seem to have lied on the stand about the circumstances of the interrogations, well, no reason to even think about whether they might have done anything wrong.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:40 PM
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Maybe I can report back if I start learning about it more seriously.
Please do. I have this vague intuition that all stars form out of some fairly homogenous accretion disk yielding predictable results. Shockingly, reality proves to be more complicated.
if intelligent life were really common you would expect to see some evidence of it
If you have a better explanation for dark matter than Dyson Spheres I'd like to hear it.*
*Trolling delayed because I had assumed essear had gone off to bed or work.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:42 PM
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I'm still writing my lecture for tomorrow morning. Or maybe for next week; I'm proving pretty terrible at gauging how long it takes to get through the amount of notes I write down.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:44 PM
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311: Law of Large Numbers.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:54 PM
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Come to think of it, my astrophysics intuitions are mostly based off of Star Trek airbrushed backgrounds, so perhaps not the best guide.
315: I used to viscerally agree with that quote but now only the former possibility in any way staggers me.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:56 PM
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Walt!


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-20-13 11:56 PM
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I don't actually have an opinion on this at all, but I still fail to see why the (apparent) fact that we know that there are vast numbers of planets that could have life counts as evidence that any of those planets other than earth actually does have life, given that we've still never found another one that definitely does. Sure it sounds improbable that we're all alone with all those other planets out there, but sometimes improbable things happen.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 12:03 AM
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320: I do have to read either "not [alone]" or "staggering" differently now to make the quotation as agreeable as it was when I first read it, but as an incorrigible quotist (and occasional neologist), I am never likely to let that stop me.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 12:05 AM
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Eggplant, you magnificent bastard.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 12:15 AM
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312: We had it all figured out before extrasolar planets were discovered: debris disk, snow lines, planets forming in one orbit and then staying there. We were very good at explaining why all planetary systems should be set up just like ours! Then, of course, reality got in the way of our nice pretty picture.


Posted by: opinionated astronomer | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:30 AM
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299: Let me be the first to say.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 5:20 AM
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Where's the supporting evidence for yours?

What Someguy said. We know there are an incredibly large amount of extra-solar planets out there, and, from observation, we know that the chances of life developing on a planet is some value above 0.

The fact that we haven't found any yet says more about our own technical capabilities than it does about the likeliness of our being alone. Its only in the past decade or so that we've even been able to detect Earth-sized extra-solar planets, and there appear to be scads of them.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 5:59 AM
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322: Sure it sounds improbable that we're all alone with all those other planets out there, but sometimes improbable things happen.

Sure. But I'm not sure whether to throw Inigo Montaya at your use of "improbable" or of "evidence." One of the two, though.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 6:11 AM
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Ray Kroc did not create the McRib.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 6:50 AM
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An important point of clarification, should anybody be confused.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 6:51 AM
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Wait, there's an actual astronomer here? Now I have to be more careful about what I say.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:04 AM
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Anyhow, all of the law-of-large-numbers it-has-happened-once arguments are pretty silly, since they also argue for billions of planets with dinosaurs and, at that, chain restaurants. Unless you're saying that everything that happened on this planet is likely to have also happened on billions of other planets -- dudes dressed in gray flannel suits, income tax, planes that look like DC-8s -- then it doesn't seem terribly sufficient.

I mean, the whole conversation (the whole Drake equation!) is pretty damn silly anyhow, but if you're going to base your assessments of the fundamental meaningfulness of life on literally cosmically unbounded back of the envelope calculations that's bound to happen.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:05 AM
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331: I too live in fear that a real blogger will show up.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:06 AM
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that just goes to illustrate the extreme meaninglessness of, not just our individual lives, but of the entirety of human experience itself

I know you all are having a conversation about probability of extraterrestrial life and I know this make *me* sound like a conehead that doesn't get existential despair -- but seriously, wtf? What is your definition of meaning such that the fact that it diminishes proportionally to the number of other sentient beings in the universe? The reductio of this position is that your life is most meaningful if you are the only person who exists. That other beings exist and experience things does not diminish the value of your existence and experiences.


Posted by: Tia | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:06 AM
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331: yesterday a guy in my (not remotely in your field) lab was explaining to me why he disagreed with what I imagined your project (that I do not actually know anything about) to be. It was really informative.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:06 AM
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Without a normalization term I take on god-like importance.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:07 AM
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I was trying to figure out how to say something like 334 but in a more insulting and scatological way.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:15 AM
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That other beings exist and experience things does not diminish the value of your existence and experiences.

Chicks don't get this because they never collected baseball cards.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:23 AM
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332. Not helpful, since the number of possible forms of multicellular life is much, much bigger than say the number of possible Susan Gosselin lifelines.

Leaving nearly metaphysical speculation aside, the most immediate possibly relevant data is whether early life landed here from a comet or an asteroid. Seeing whether any landed on Mars also would be a big help in answering.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:25 AM
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Anyhow the conter-argument is that if you define "importance" as "the percentage of [ sentient beings ] whose lives you are able to improve [ or, less grandly, affect ] by your actions" (which is a weird-ish definition, I grant, but also semi-plausibly implicit in the Coretta Scott King/Horace Mann formulation) then the normalization term is at least relevant. And if you don't accept something a little bit like that formulation then the difference between helping lots of people and helping just yourself (or helping one person who you just like a super lot) has to be constructed a different, less Spock-like way.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:25 AM
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339: I was mostly restricting myself to the development-of-intelligence term, since the ergodicity argument seems mildly stronger for the development-of-life term and also I don't really know shit about that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:27 AM
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335 is excellent. I wouldn't be at all surprised if one of our postdocs (the one who explained that Serif is a font without the little things attached to the letters) were to start pontificating on your field. He was recently explaining that Wall Street gets a bad rap even though it's all about helping ordinary people to wisely invest their money in ways that help pay for their retirement. Further questioning revealed that he didn't know what a hedge fund is, was fuzzy on the concept of a mutual fund, and thought finance was mostly about bonds. He is probably leaving our field and thinks he will get a job in finance.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:31 AM
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341. For that we have life on earth, though. Birds, cetaceans, primates, and maybe cephalopods (yes, I have read about them, but they are much shorter-lived than any of the other species, IMO a significant limitation on an argument for intelligence). Development of technology is a subsequent step that's only happened once.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:40 AM
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Anyway, as to the discussion, one of Brandon Carter's original ideas about the anthropic principle from 30 years ago or whatever was that it suggested that multiple stages in the evolution of life on Earth were extremely unlikely. The book I was recommending here a month or so ago (which I still haven't gotten around to reading the last third of), Revolutions that Made the Earth by Lenton and Watson, is mostly organized around this idea. They try to identify some of these steps, and I think the development of (prokaryotic) cells in the first place, oxygenic photosynthesis, and eukaryotes are three steps that IIRC they come down on the side of identifying as having a characteristic timescale much longer than the age of the universe. Part of the argument is that, if this is true, then we should expect these things to have been roughly evenly spaced in the history of the Earth, and they pretty much are. It's weak evidence, to be sure, but it doesn't seem implausible. (Of course, you have to go quite a bit further than "much longer than the age of the universe" before you get to "unlikely to have happened anywhere else", given the number of planets around.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:45 AM
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334: I think its partly because I view meaning as having some purposeful impact on that which surrounds you. The observation that that which surrounds me - the Earth - doesn't itself have any purposeful impact on that which surrounds it, and is itself impressively un-unique, is what makes me question the whole point of it all.

I can accept that I am a insignificant cog in a giant planetary machine. But the fact that the giant planetary machine is itself an insignificant cog - and that it seems that if it were to disappear tomorrow would be missed by precisely no-one else in the universe - well, I just think it undermines the whole idea that there is any meaning to be had in the first place.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:48 AM
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Well, of course there's no point of it all in that sense. Meaning is something we construct in the context of our lives, not some external thing the universe imposes upon us.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:49 AM
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345: I agree that we, our planet, any single non-Cordwainer-Smith species are unlikely to have any determinative power in the course of the universe; but why should that have cupcakes to do with our having meaning?

Try Le Guin's _Lavinia_.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 7:56 AM
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I can accept that I am a insignificant cog in a giant planetary machine. But the fact that the giant planetary machine is itself an insignificant cog - and that it seems that if it were to disappear tomorrow would be missed by precisely no-one else in the universe - well, I just think it undermines the whole idea that there is any meaning to be had in the first place.

Sounds like someone's had a go in the Total Perspective Vortex.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:01 AM
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Ray Kroc did not create the McRib.

I KNEW there was a demiurge!


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:01 AM
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348: So he's got that goin' for him, which is nice.


Posted by: Carl Spackler | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:09 AM
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Spike, Country Joe has your answer. In a reggae beat.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:11 AM
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Sounds like someone's had a go in the Total Perspective Vortex.

Yeah, it probably has something to do with having eaten psychedelic mushrooms in my younger days.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:16 AM
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I used to worry about it a lot, but the meaning of life doesn't seem important anymore.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:22 AM
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(Here's more of a straight up rock version of the same song. Love that Cipollina sound.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:23 AM
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Q. What is the chief end of Man?
A. Man's chief end is to praise God and enjoy him forever.

Which I learned via the rhyme about the difference between Episcopalians and Presbyterians:

Pisky, Pisky, say Amen,
Doon on your knees and up again,
Presby, Presby, dinna bend,
Sit ye doon on Man's Chief End.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:26 AM
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354 to 352, I guess. (That's Albin, Cip, Dryden, Hunter, Melton, McDonald, billed as The Dinosaurs.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:26 AM
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351 was a good song, although Country Joe says its all part of a Master Plan, and I don't really see any evidence for that. Sure, maybe it would be nice if there was, but 353 is basically where I'm at right now. I used to worry about it. But now, its no big deal.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:30 AM
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299 -> 353 sort of.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:32 AM
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342 is really something. It is nice (sort of) to know that overconfident morons are everywhere.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:37 AM
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I hadn't realized until now, looking back, how much I've changed in that regard. It use to seem like if I could really nail that MoL thing down maybe I wouldn't be so miserable.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:40 AM
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morons are everywhere in the known universe.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:42 AM
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Using the Drake Equation, it can be shown that there are over eleventy trillion overconfident morons in this galaxy alone.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:44 AM
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338: Chicks don't get meaning, man. But they love war. That's my takeaway from the thread.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:44 AM
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357 -- That verse wasn't in the version originally released on Rock and Roll Music from the Planet Earth. The song was the third in a blended together set with Space Patrol and UFO, which creates a context you'll find amusing.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 8:52 AM
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363: That's my takeaway from the thread.

No doubt. But that's because your favorite band sucks.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:06 AM
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344 is pretty interesting, if I understand it at all. What is a "characteristic timetable" for eg the development of eukaryotic life, and why would it be longer than the age of the universe?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:29 AM
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366: It means, suppose you had a zillion different planets starting out in the same initial conditions as the Earth. By random chance, some of them will evolve eukaryotic life more quickly than others. Take the average amount of time it takes them all to evolve eukaryotic life (assuming that, given infinite time, they all would eventually). That's the "characteristic timescale". The suggestion is that on Earth we probably just got really lucky and it happened much, much faster than that characteristic timescale, so that even if there are zillions of Earthlike planets in the universe, most of them won't have eukaryotic life because they haven't been around long enough to evolve it (and most will be wiped out by their stars or whatever long before they ever get a chance to).


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:34 AM
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With 150 billion galaxies of 300 billion stars apiece, the only way I think that would even be possible would be if some omnipotent being put us here for some unknown reason.

essear points out above that it is wildly unlikely that a particular universe would be constructed in such a way that it could support human-like life. It's completely reasonable to suppose that the vast majority of universes with life only managed the trick once. We don't have a decent idea of how hard it is to create life from nonliving elements, but we know it's pretty damn hard.

And once you've got life, getting to human-like intelligence is far from a gimme. The dinosaurs existed for - what? - a thousand times longer than humans, and never managed to build a civilization. There's absolutely nothing in evolution that requires the development of human-like intelligence, any more than evolution requires the creation of elephant-like trunks.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:34 AM
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any more than evolution requires the creation of elephant-like trunks.

Good point, since elephants only have trunks, because one young elephant happened to be insatiably curious.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:44 AM
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>
never managed to build a civilization as far as we know.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:45 AM
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367. This is a misuse of scientific language. For decades, people studied how proteins might get made out of a soup that contained a few amino acids. Now it's widely believed that the first self-reproducing molecules were RNA rather than protein.

There's room for speculation, it can lead to testable hypotheses that would otherwise never occur to anyone. But until there's something to test, talking about this as if it's anything other than handwaving is a mistake-- only the most ridiculous or thoughtless claims are falsifiable.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:47 AM
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369 is awesome.

To fake accent's point on whether women want their sons to go to war made me think of a book I read on women terrorists, except I still can't remember the name and am too lazy to scroll through my goodreads list to find it yet. I think what I'd say, though, is that it tends to be one of those arguments where, you know, THOSE barbaric mothers are raising their children to throw their lives away and value bloodthirstiness, while WE of course support our children who've bravely gone to war to protect our superior way of life.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:48 AM
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The dinosaurs existed for - what? - a thousand times longer than humans, and never managed to build a civilization.

False analogy, though - "the dinosaurs" isn't a single species. "The mammals" existed for even longer than the dinosaurs before humans appeared. (First mammals in the Triassic.)

We don't have a decent idea of how hard it is to create life from nonliving elements, but we know it's pretty damn hard.

I'd say the opposite, in fact - life appeared in the fossil record pretty much as soon as the earth had cooled to the point where life could survive. Life is easy. Multicellular life might be the sticking point - that took ages.

This is the Great Filter argument, basically. There's something at some stage of the Drake Equation that makes it vastly unlikely for intelligent, communicating life to be around. We know it's not lack of stars and we're pretty sure now that it isn't lack of planets. (One hopes, of course, that the Great Filter is behind us - it's something like "multicellular life is highly improbable - rather than being still ahead.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:49 AM
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Life is easy.

Sez you.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:50 AM
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Fermi suggested that the filter was decadence-- once a civilization became powerful enough to affect its environment, the outer space equivalent of Gangnam Style and eclectic webzines would distract them from useful work.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:53 AM
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It seems implausible to me that we have the foggiest idea how long it takes, on average, to evolve eukaryotic life. The sample size we have is far too limited, and was not under direct observation at the time it happened.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:56 AM
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370: Or not in a way that we can understand today.

Culture necessarily evolves in a way that biology cannot. Modern humans have existed for something like 200,000 years, and we've created some pretty noticeable public works. Dinosaurs existed for something like 160 million years.

Now humans and dinosaurs aren't really comparable classifications, but the point is, there were lots of opportunities to develop archeologically recognizable cultures, and it never panned out until humans.

At the risk of re-stating the obvious: You've got a sampling problem when the only creatures that are able to ponder the existence of intelligence must, as a precondition, develop intelligence. Life is always going to seem a lot more common to creatures that live where there is life - that is to say, all creatures.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:57 AM
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@375

So we've been spared from a War of the Worlds style alien invasion because the aliens are all too distracted by blog arguments and porn to be bothered.

Cool.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 9:58 AM
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376: true, of course, but the endosymbiotic theory relies on an apparently fairly unlikely set of events that AFAIK only happened once - there's only one clade of eukaryotes IIRC - and prokaryotes had been around for a long time before it happened. So the highly limited evidence we have suggests that it takes some time.

Life is easy.
Sez you.

Well, I would say that - I'm a prokaryote.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:00 AM
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365: My favorite band is Led Zeppelin. Joke's on you, because they do suck.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:01 AM
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(One hopes, of course, that the Great Filter is behind us - it's something like "multicellular life is highly improbable - rather than being still ahead.)

Nuclear weapons and run-away global warming seem like two potential Great Filters that humanity has yet to successfully navigate past. Maybe there comes a time in the development of every civilization where it manages to destroy itself through the use of its own technology.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:01 AM
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Modern humans have existed for something like 200,000 years, and we've created some pretty noticeable public works. Dinosaurs existed for something like 160 million years.

But how much of human civilisation would be recognisable 65 million years after humans became extinct, though?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:02 AM
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375: "Reviewing the thousands of failed civilizations we almost always find a very perplexing sequence; an increased mention in the records of something that always translates in the local language as 'Brooklyn', followed by mentions of 'Hastings-on-Hudson', followed by nothing."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:02 AM
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373: I don't actually disagree with anything you've said, but I will say that the quick creation of life on earth is not a terribly compelling piece of evidence. It's the sample-size thing again.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:03 AM
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377: I'm joking, mostly. How long would traces of tool use or even Stone Age civilizations last?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:03 AM
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363: War is the only thing that gives meaning to women's lives.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:03 AM
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302 -> everything since.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:04 AM
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384: true, of course. This is why we must immediately construct a fleet of Orion-class spaceships with which to search for life on other worlds.
"$50 billion per ship is a small price to pay for a sample size that will allow statistically robust conclusions," remarked the Vice-President at the launch of the latest, the HMS Cosma Shalizi.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:05 AM
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381: Maybe there comes a time in the development of every civilization where it manages to destroy itself through the use of its own technology.

I know kids! Let's write a book with that as premise!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:06 AM
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382, 385: everything humans do could already have been pwned by dinosaurs millions of years earlier.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:06 AM
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386: Specifically, the war against men.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:06 AM
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378. Fermi was superhuman and obsessive. If he had been interested in porn, then humanity would have already ceased to exist.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:07 AM
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So we've been spared from a War of the Worlds style alien invasion because the aliens are all too distracted by blog arguments and porn to be bothered neoliberal economists to find the funding.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:07 AM
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But how much of human civilisation would be recognisable 65 million years after humans became extinct, though?

Surely skyscrapers and interstate highways and whatnot would leave traces that would be discovered by a civilization as sophisticated as our own. No?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:07 AM
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Just off the top of my head, I suspect the Apollo LEM descent stages will still be around in a few million years. Some human bones would survive as fossils, and some of those might be found in association with recognisable artifacts. A fossilised pelvis with a hip replacement would be pretty good evidence of civilisation.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:08 AM
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Ajay pwned. I've always thought that once life started there should be a steady progression towards diversity and complexity as more niches get created and exploited, but the time to eukaryotes does argue against that. How well do we know that time? That it only happened once here doesn't necessarily mean anything, since any newer eukaryotes would've had to compete long enough with already established populations to leave behind detectable evidence.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:09 AM
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394. Not even maize or the Panama canal. Possibly the detritus we have left on the moon and on Mars.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:11 AM
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Maybe the dinosaurs cleaned up after they left. Turned us into a nature preserve, neatly resolving the FP.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:12 AM
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395: Current civilization would be massively recognizable to any civilization similar to ours, particularly on stable cratonic platforms. For instance, the spatial distribution of metallic elements.

397: Millions of clues.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:15 AM
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398: I have an even better theory! G-d created the fossils to confuse people of little faith, and the earth is only a few thousand years old.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:16 AM
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399.1: spatial distribution of metallic elements = what exactly?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:16 AM
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Actually, synthetic gems, maybe glass objects, isotopically improbably nonreactive objects, all of these might last.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:16 AM
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65 million years is nothing.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:18 AM
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401: I figure the meaning that if everyone drops dead tomorrow, current patterns of civilization are preserved in the form of oddly located piles of rust/aluminum oxide/other metals where cities used to be for a very very long time. You might not have recognizable artifacts, but a city full of cars and girders is going to be a geologically implausible ore deposit.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:20 AM
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401: Were is uranium, zinc, etc. found? What compounds are they in? What else are they associated with? What strata are the surrounding strata?

A lot will be eroded away and re-deposited so it will be a mess, and some submerged etc., but in 65M years a lot will be near where it is now. A few billion, getting tougher.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:21 AM
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LB understands, but without the added value typos and grammatical errors.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:22 AM
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A billion years, now that's an epoch.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:23 AM
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400: Omphalos!


Posted by: Philip Henry Gosse | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:25 AM
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It'd be so great if people dropped souvenirs into the La Brea Tar Pits. Sabertooth, sloth, sabertooth, cup with curly straw, sloth, baseball cap.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:26 AM
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A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real time.


Posted by: Zombie Everett Dirksen | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:27 AM
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Placards saying "END NUCLEAR TESTING NOW", for all you Terry Pratchett fans.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:27 AM
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Actually, what about the current great extinction? It's big enough to show up in the fossil record as a major event, I'd guess. I don't know if the pattern of extinct species is such that you could deduce that it was caused by a civilization, but it seems possible.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:28 AM
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*My* takeaway from this thread was that it led me to discover that Vonnegut's "The Big Space Fuck" is available online.

This was a period of great permissiveness in matters of language, so even the President was saying shit and fuck and so on, without anybody's feeling threatened or taking offense. It was perfectly OK. He called the Space Fuck a Space Fuck and so did everybody else. It was a rocket ship with eight-hundred pounds of freeze dried jizzum in its nose. It was going to fired at the Andromeda Galazy, two-million light years away. The ship was named the Arthur C. Clarke, in honor of a famous space pioneer.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:30 AM
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Very frequently homeless people/misguided suicide attempts/reckless teenagers/detritus from Wilshire Bouelevard/sabertooth tiger souvenir balloons do fall in.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:30 AM
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All that will remain of us---

The Immortality Drive is a large memory device which was taken to the International Space Station in a Soyuz spacecraft on October 12, 2008. The Immortality Drive contains digitized DNA sequences of a select group of humans, such as physicist Stephen Hawking, comedian Stephen Colbert, Playboy model Jo Garcia, game designer Richard Garriot, fantasy authors Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, pro wrestler Matt Morgan, and athlete Lance Armstrong


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:35 AM
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412: Assuming a civilization was getting to the point where they were re-creating the geological and biological sciences*, I think there would be a very interesting period where there are some "wackos" with this previous civilization theory. And then they'd win! And their equivalent of Alfred Wegener would walk like a God among them.

*I think they'd get to the extinction thing, but I suspect it would be a secondary thing (although maybe a part of the evidence that the emerging God King Wegener would amass).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:35 AM
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The dinosaurs should never have left asteroid mining in the hands of the private sector.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:42 AM
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For real, wouldn't there probably be some fossilized or or otherwise accidentally preserved artifacts? I'm unclear on the details of how fossilization happens, but you've got to figure that however a log turns into petrified wood, the same thing would happen to a chair left undisturbed in the same circumstances. And so on.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:43 AM
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There have been a lot more forests than chairs.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:47 AM
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This is a business opportunity to sell to the people who subscribe to cryogenics newsletters. I think that fossilization requires pretty special circumstances-- dying in sediment or something. Our knowledge of the past is so shitty for this reason, most ancient remains left no trace, and we have only a few islands. The fossil record isn't much of a population survey.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:49 AM
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Oh, I guess that's right -- I have no idea how long we'd need to keep civilization running to have good odds of some artifacts showing up in the fossil record.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:50 AM
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421: There will be a degradation curve which would correspond with an increase in the technical sophistication of the civilization required to detect the prior civilization the longer time goes on. However, I am almost 100% confident we would be able detect "ourselves*" from anytime in the last billion years and probably from anytime in the last 4 billion (or at least would be detectable, but the signal-to-noise would be quite low and might impeded putting 2 and 2 together).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 10:57 AM
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A very good chance of getting into the record given the geographical ubiquity of our artifacts. Getting into the record widely enough that it is likely to be found or exposed in an outcrop is another thing.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:00 AM
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Yeah, the same way that iridium concentration tells us about a big meteor, there are a bunch of isotopes present in fallout that will be evidenec of fission reactions forever. The point about geological stability is a good one-- maybe Toronto, Stockholm, and Delhi will have recognizable bits very far into the future.

I was just googling to see if I could find which living person had the largest number of gemstones embedded in their teeth.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:06 AM
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A scenario which I am pretty sure has 0% chance of happening is the configuration of the rocks, coastline and Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. Not even worrying about the reshuffling of the Hominidae, just the configuration of those three elements as presented in the movie.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:10 AM
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415: don't worry. The International Space Station is in a really shitty orbit. It needs to be boosted back up again every six months or so because of atmospheric drag. Without that it wouldn't last more than a few years before burning up, and the Immortality Drive with it. It'd survive longer, post-humanity, if it was just on a shelf somewhere.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:11 AM
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As seen in the Wall Street Journal's Smart Money: http://www.thegoldencasket.com/details_monarch_white.php

I think that they are doing it wrong. Powder-coated sintered iridium with personalized decorative elements in synthetic emerald, offered at six times the price. And a perpetual recording of Biggie's Hypnotize.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:17 AM
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423: You need a Drake equation for ancient civilization detection.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:26 AM
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424: Biggest risk to Toronto and Stockholm in the relatively short term would be glaciation wiping out their remains. And thinking about it, I may be overstating preservation a bit. High places get eroded, low places get covered up; so visually recognizable surface evidence will become pretty scarce fairly quickly (say a few millions of years). But very unambiguous clues not that far underground (pieces of Toronto in a terminal moraine in ex-Pennsylvania).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:28 AM
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I can't remember what the claim was for length of time -- geology isn't a thing of mine at all. But I read somewhere, sometime, that Manhattan could be expected to last an unusually long time as far as signs of human inhabitation go: that the bedrock could be expected to last a long time unchanged, and it has all these rectangular holes in it now that aren't going anyplace.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:30 AM
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How likely is it that we would look in the right places (to find a now buried and filled rectangular hole several miles off the coast) or recognize what we see (distinguishing a localized, barely detectable, metallic smear in the geologic record from background noise)?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:35 AM
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How likely is it that we would look in the right places (to find a now buried and filled rectangular hole several miles off the coast) or recognize what we see (distinguishing a localized, barely detectable, metallic smear in the geologic record from background noise)?

Are you kidding me? A civilization no more advanced than our own routinely finds deposits of metallic ores deep underground in the most remote parts of the world, even where the concentration of metal in the ores can be as little as 3X the background level. The rusted remains of Manhattan would be a higher grade iron ore than any almost remaining natural ores.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:41 AM
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You think if we grind Manhattan down it's going to be more than 10% iron?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:47 AM
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If Manhattan wakes up in a bathtub packed in ice with a note that says "Go to a hospital", how much would its kidneys sell for on the black market?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:50 AM
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How privileged of you to use that example, some children have never seen a bathtub.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:50 AM
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And I think we'd all understand if those kids cut off their parents once they grew up.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:53 AM
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What if you never heard of a violin or a bathtub?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:54 AM
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And again, iron deposits are everywhere, and we tend to know where to look for them. Cities ground to dust and pancaked under eons of sediment? Not so much.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:55 AM
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Isn't it the case that we have an archaeological record of human habitation of the British Isles significantly prior to the last period of glaciation? And that wasn't no skyscrapers. Shit, there'll be like 80 quintillion plastic toothbrushes scattered all over the planet for people to find millions of years from now.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:56 AM
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437: Then your picture is on LATFO


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 11:57 AM
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You think if we grind Manhattan down it's going to be more than 10% iron?

Not implausible. What's not steel girders is going to be a combination of glass, asphalt, and steel reinforced concrete, which is typically more than 10% metal by weight.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 12:01 PM
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In Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Peter Ward (biologist) and Donald Brownlee (astronomer) make a case that, well, complex life is uncommon in the universe. They lay out reasons to think that while getting simple life appears very easy, there are a huge number of contingent steps after that, and a lot of things that contribute that seem to get rarer the more we learn. It's a good read, as are Ward's later books on related subjects.


Posted by: Hidden Heart | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:35 PM
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430: But I read somewhere, sometime, that Manhattan could be expected to last an unusually long time as far as signs of human inhabitation go: that the bedrock could be expected to last a long time unchanged, and it has all these rectangular holes in it now that aren't going anyplace.

This would conform with my understanding of the geology, and likely geologic trajectories (and is closely related to why I was willing to be so definitive about PotA in 425) . The good parts are mostly very resistant metamorphic rocks of Cambrian age. It is on a continental margin but a "stable" one. The last time it was tectonically active was the Triassic/Jurassic (Palisades dates from then--breakup of the Atlantic, but closer to our time than to when the Manhattan rocks were formed). So tectonically it would take a new subduction zone forming offshore, or a rifting zone in the vicinity or a "hot spot" to do much; and none of those seem to be in the offing (granted how/when/why those things arise is not that well understood).

So, the more likely next geologically-significant things to happen are subsidence and/or sea-level rise, or some manner of erosion (or over time, both). Going beneath sea level by either mechanism is probable and would almost certainly result in burial under sediments (so preserved, but, you know, buried). However, in any subsequent re-emergence the covering sediments would erode away far faster than the bedrock which is quite resistant. Water and/or ice are the likely erosional issues and will probably be what wipes out any traces in the end. However, if Manhattan stays close to its current elevation relative to sea level it will erode relatively slowly. This despite having big rivers and other waters all about. The Hudson has already found a channel and by the time it gets to NYC it is slow. And Manhattan has no water draining "across" it from an adjacent upland on its way to the sea or the Hudson (it just drains what falls on it). Increase in water erosion would come from a significant sea-level fall, tectonic uplift (but see above) or big increase in water coming into the Hudson (or some successor river). The latter might be associated with a continental glacier even if the ice does not get to New York, or the ice could get there. But even for those scenarios, the erosion of Manhattan Island will be relatively slow given the rock and the surroundings.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:37 PM
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The fact that my hometown is likely to remain geologically intact for a long time is probably the most ridiculous possible thing to feel vaguely smug about, right?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:38 PM
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And yet I do.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:39 PM
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I'm sure all that is true of Florida, too.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:43 PM
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442: I've been trying to recall the name of a book I read decades ago (so probably way out of date) where the authors took a very broad look at where in the universe there was sufficient energy flux for organizational complexity to arise (potentially quite different from terrestrial biology). So it was very general (and probably wrong) but I'm curious if the approach was a dead-end or part of any continuing intellectual history. (Since I can't seem to find anything from tracing back citations it was probably a dead end or just poorly executed.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:45 PM
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444, 445: You've got both that and the idiolect with the most vowel sounds in American English thing going for you. So not quite total consciousness when you die, but not nothing.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:50 PM
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Come to think, I guess there's competition for 'most ridiculous thing I feel smug about.' I'd forgotten the vowel sounds bit.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 1:56 PM
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It really is waste great that NYC has such wonderful fucking geology. Not that I'm jealous.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:03 PM
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449: Don;t forget Manhattanites closest to Hastings-on-Hudson.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:05 PM
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I might feel smug about proximity to the Bronx, but not H-on-H. I wonder if 'idiotic things I feel smug about' would make a good thread, or if idiotic smugness is just me, and no one else would chime in. I could pivot to 'insane things to feel insecure about' in that case, I suppose.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:10 PM
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Always err on the side of posting dumb things.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:13 PM
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There is probably a whole genre of "< things> I feel <x> about" that could be on-topic. "stupid things I feel jealous about" like 450, or even "dumb things Heebie likes to post about."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:16 PM
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The dumb thread had a good friend named heebie.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:19 PM
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The dumb thread was good folks.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:20 PM
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Heebie would do things for her like take her camping.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:20 PM
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But she was sad that after Heebie started having babies she wouldn't hang out with her on the sofa by the railroad tracks.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:22 PM
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It just didn't seem safe anymore. What used to seem shabby-chic just seemed bed-buggy. What used to seem alt-rock just seemed like scabies.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 2:29 PM
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Timely and on topic (to a sub-thread)! Pictures of Villa Epecuen, an old tourist town south of Buenos Aires that spent a quarter of a century underwater.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 3:01 PM
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On-topic for the thread title too!.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 02-21-13 3:18 PM
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442: I would think that astronomers working from a sample size of 1 completely failed to predict the distribution of solar systems would serve as a cautionary tale for the results of any confident expert analysis based on a simple sample size. We know literally nothing about what's necessary for the formation of intelligent life.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 3:54 AM
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463

I read this thing yesterday. Among other interesting tidbits, it says that, based on observed distribution, there is a 95% chance that there is another Earth-sized planet orbiting inside the habitable zone of a class M star within 25 light years of our solar system. That's practically next door!


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 7:34 AM
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Speaking of the Drake equation, I was able to get an estimate of slightly over one "communicating" civilization per galaxy from that calculator in 286 by choosing somewhat different parameter values that I think are still well within the range of plausibility (and might well still be too optimistic in some cases). My choices (and justifications):

Number of new stars born each year: 10 (no reason for me to change the default here).
% of stars with planets: 40 (might as well go with the observed frequency mentioned in the text, rather than the more optimistic 50%).
Average # of habitable planets per solar system: 0.5 (we don't have good data on this, but I don't see any good reason our sample size of 1 shouldn't be a bit on the high side rather than the low. I don't really consider Mars to be habitable for purposes of this calculation.)
% chance a habitable planet develops life: 33% (a WAG, but I don't see life as inevitable).
% chance that life develops intelligence: 10% (for purposes of this question, I'm considering "intelligence" to require some form of written culture transmission that survives an individual lifetime, which I think is a necessary prerequisite for any serious scientific progress. That leaves the octopi, dolphins, and chimps out of the picture, and us as the sole example of intelligence on our planet, and only that for the last few thousand years.)

That still leaves around 2 billion planets in our galaxy with intelligent life, but the next few filters narrow that down quite a bit:

% chance that life can communicate across space: 5% (How inevitable are Hertz, Maxwell, and Marconi, once you have written culture? I don't know, and this interacts with the previous question a bit - if this estimate is too low, the previous one might be too high, but these numbers are easier to enter in the calculator. A product of 0.5% for microbial life going on to eventually develop radio-wave transmission doesn't seem out of line, and might well be too high, not too low.)

Length of time a civilization sends signals into space: 400 years. This is a big difference from the default setting, and makes a huge difference in the result. But our sample size of one has managed this for only a bit over 100 years at this point, and might have been cut off well short of that had we made different decisions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even if our current civilization survives for millenia yet to come, I'm not at all sure that we will continue to transmit at current energy levels once the era of cheap fossil fuels draws to a close. And the real standard here is "transmits on a level that is detectably different from background noise at interstellar distances," not "sends some low-powered signals out on the electromagnetic spectrum." Four hundred years ago, the Pilgrims hadn't yet landed at Plymouth Rock, and the energy economy was water, wind, and muscle-powered. I'm not at all sure what energy sources we'll be using four hundred years hence, and a mean of four hundred years here might well still be too high.

Number of times civilization could re-develop: 1 (to the level of sending prodigious EM-energy out again. If the reason the previous civ collapsed was the exhaustion of fossil fuels, I'm not sure how many more retries are available that discover equivalent sources of energy.).

Put that all together, and the # of communicating civs per galaxy at any given time is just over 1. And if the only neighbors we have available to talk to are at inter-galactic distances, I'm not sure we'll ever open communication.



Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 8:40 AM
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Length of time a civilization sends signals into space: 400 years.

Even this is pretty optimistic. Why broadcast TV signals when everyone has broadband cable?

Number of times civilization could re-develop: 1 (to the level of sending prodigious EM-energy out again. If the reason the previous civ collapsed was the exhaustion of fossil fuels, I'm not sure how many more retries are available that discover equivalent sources of energy.).

Give it a hundred million years and there'll be more fossil fuels laid down to use!


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 8:53 AM
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Terrestrial broadcast signals are indistinguishable from thermal background by Saturn. Only directed transmission is a plausible means of communication, and that needs to be aimed somewhere.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 8:58 AM
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Average # of habitable planets per solar system: 0.5 (we don't have good data on this, but I don't see any good reason our sample size of 1 shouldn't be a bit on the high side rather than the low. I don't really consider Mars to be habitable for purposes of this calculation.

The sample size could actually be 2. Not Mars, but one of the moons of Jupiter - Europa. For all we know, there could be a highly-advanced civilization of super-intelligent cephalopods living in the liquid ocean beneath the ice on that moon.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 8:58 AM
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Enceladus.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:00 AM
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I'm not sure how many more retries are available that discover equivalent sources of energy

That's interesting. You certainly couldn't have developed industrial civilization on our scale without fossil fuels, but a wood/hydropower/wind power base seems like it might be enough to bootstrap to solar/nuclear.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:00 AM
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Give it a hundred million years and there'll be more fossil fuels laid down to use!

Not if white rot fungi have anything to say about it.

A new study--which includes the first large-scale comparison of fungi that cause rot decay--suggests that the evolution of a type of fungi known as white rot may have brought an end to a 60-million-year-long period of coal deposition known as the Carboniferous period.

Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:01 AM
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462 is right, we just don't know much about this stuff. Hell, we don't even know where else there's life in our own solar system. Until we know a lot more about Mars you should ignore anything anyone says about life and probability. (With one caveat: I think we have good evidence that the evolution of complex life from simple life is pretty unlikely given that it took 3 billion years here.)


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:04 AM
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Not Mars, but one of the moons of Jupiter - Europa

ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.


Posted by: OPINIONATED DAVE BOWMAN | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:10 AM
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465: Give it a hundred million years and there'll be more fossil fuels laid down to use!

Yeah, but if there's a civilization around during those hundred million years, they may very well be using those fossil fuels up as fast as they are laid down.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:12 AM
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The problem with not counting Mars, is that it may very well have been habitable in the past, and Earth may very well not be habitable in the future.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:14 AM
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470: Right, coal probably wouldn't get reformed, but oil would eventually.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 9:24 AM
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If we assume that light speed really is an inviolable limit, then I have to admit that encountering aliens we can have a conversation with is vanishingly unlikely. Even if you're generous with the Drake equation and assume that there are 10 technological civilizations in our galaxy, it would take too long to get to them. The closest star to us is more than four light-years away, the longest a human has been in space is 437 days, and even that was just on an orbiting station with frequent support. Getting to Gliege 581 g (the closest suspected possibly habitable exoplanet so far) would be an undertaking dwarfing the International Space Station as much as that dwarfs a Model T Ford.

If you assume it's possible to get around light speed, meeting aliens becomes a lot more likely, but then again so do a lot of things.

Fun fact, when I start typing "longest time a human has been in space" into Google, by the time I just get "longest time a human" in there, the "has been in space" is the third autocomplete prompt. Clearly I'm not the only person wondering about this.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 10:42 AM
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WE'VE ALWAYS BEEN IN SPACE.


Posted by: OPINIONATED BARBARA WARD | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 11:02 AM
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Getting to Gliege 581 g (the closest suspected possibly habitable exoplanet so far) would be an undertaking dwarfing the International Space Station as much as that dwarfs a Model T Ford.

So... less than a hundred years of technological progress? That seems too optimistic to me.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 11:17 AM
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I have to admit I haven't read most of the last couple hundred comments because (a) really busy and (b) I got kind of annoyed at lw's saying I was misusing scientific language.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 11:18 AM
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So... less than a hundred years of technological progress? That seems too optimistic to me.

Especially considering that man has not so much as walked on the moon in my lifetime.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 11:28 AM
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I've been looking for a version of Country Joe's 'Space Patrol' on the internet, without luck. So, instead, Oh Jamaica because you can't really go wrong with that in a search for meaning.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 11:47 AM
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His UFO is out there, though.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 11:54 AM
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466 is the point I get stuck on. We haven't spent very long transmitting accidentally into space, and as we get better at communications, our transmission power levels go down, we limit ourselves to as-narrow-as-possible transmissions, and we use all sorts of modulations and codings that make the communication as close to pure noise as possible, to someone who isn't listening specifically for that modulation.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 12:10 PM
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Radio communication is improbable, but as the galaxy is small compared to it's age, traversing it is possible, as is filling it with replicating probes, so conversations are not impossible. If it seems strange and too scifi-ey to consider meeting an intelligent alien probe more probable than radio communication, consider that it only takes one civilization in the last, say, billion years in the galaxy to have successfully produced Von Neumann probes to make it almost inevitable.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 12:15 PM
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The Frozen Sky (Carlson) is a lot of fun.

470 is excellent. Fungi: secret masters of terrestrial life. 3600 sexes, y'all.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 12:25 PM
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478
So... less than a hundred years of technological progress? That seems too optimistic to me.

OK, if "vanishingly unlikely" is too optimistic, then how about "really vanishingly unlikely"? "Supendously hard to believe"?


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 12:26 PM
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Apparently we sent a radio message to Gliege 581 in 2008. If anyone is listening, they should get the message in 2029. If they choose respond, we could hear back as early as 2051.

2051 is near the tail-end of my expected lifetime, so I hope they don't dilly-dally in sending their response. I'd hate to miss it.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 12:35 PM
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468: Shadow'd Enceladus; once tame and mild
As grazing ox unworried in the meads;
Now tiger-passion'd, lion-thoughted, wroth,
He meditated, plotted, and even now
Was hurling mountains in that second war,
Not long delay'd, that scar'd the younger Gods
To hide themselves in forms of beast and bird.

Don't fuck with Enceladus!


Posted by: lourdes kayak | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 12:59 PM
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486: I think essear is saying that "an undertaking dwarfing the International Space Station as much as that dwarfs a Model T Ford" means "pretty easy" not "vanishingly unlikely."


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 2:12 PM
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467, 474: I think the whole argument as commonly posed suffers from an implicit "shifting base" problem, where a state is defined as expansively as possible when considering the probability of reaching it, but then is considered restrictively when estimating the probability of reaching subsequent states. So if any planet or moon that could possibly support microbes for a few million years counts as habitable, fine, that can push up the frequency of habitable planets, but then you need to take that definition into account when estimating the probability of life occurring on habitable planets and the probability that such life subsequently develops intelligence. If Mars and Europa count as habitable, you don't then get to implicitly assume earthlike conditions when estimating the subsequent probabilities.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 2:22 PM
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I'll also note that there can be cultural benefits from one-way space communication even if we never get to establish two-way communications. I think both we and the Kryptonians could derive cultural meaning and satisfaction from a decoded broadcast of the last days of Krypton, even if Jor-El never gets to launch his space probe or know for sure that anyone has heard him.

(Though if lw is right in 466, the chances of a strictly one-way communication being successfully received drop way down.)


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 02-22-13 2:42 PM
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