How to keep peace in outer space? Create commercial development.
“To promote the development of a commercial asteroid resources industry for outer space in the United States and to increase the exploration and utilization of asteroid resources in outer space.”
For most of human history, we’ve had a grand frontier on the horizon, ready to be explored, settled and conquered if need be. We are natural-born explorers. From one perspective, the entirety of human civilization has been a journey westward. From the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia, in China and the Indus Valley where agricultural practices took root, onwards to Egyptian society and beyond to where Phoenicians, inspired by hieroglyphics, set the alphabet in stone, later to be used by Greek and Roman societies, the birthplaces of new empires, art and the foundation of modern Western societies.
Spinning westward like some ephemeral world destiny, technological advances from Gutenberg's printing press to the microchip have taken us full circle around the globe.
Where do we have left to go, but up? Space is the premier frontier—a great challenge for our globalized world.
Our history, laden with nation-states waging threats of total war, now needs to give way to market-based competition and the collaboration and cooperation of international companies and countries alike. As we expand to the stars in the wild upness of space, we can strive for peace by creating stable environments for new space-markets to flourish. This next great human expedition in space doesn’t have to call for war or increased militarization. The grand expanse of space has a lot to offer for us if we approach it with humility and the right intentions. Here’s how we can keep space a peaceful place.
Market-based solutions for peace in outer space
Our intentions to conquer space have changed over the years. What was once a race between two superpowers is now a competition between international companies. Nowadays it’s even evolved into partnerships between nation-states and private companies. Space isn’t just big, it’s big business.
Governments and private entities have their own unique parts to play in space exploration and commercialization. Take for example the prospect of asteroid mining. There are potentially trillions of dollars floating around in space in the form of precious metals. Rather than limit or curb space innovation, the United States Congress in 2014 passed the Asteroid Act. In the bill’s own words:
“To promote the development of a commercial asteroid resources industry for outer space in the United States and to increase the exploration and utilization of asteroid resources in outer space.”
Any company that can successfully mine an asteroid will be able to claim its resources as private property. Entering into space is a lot easier than it once was. Overblown bureaucratic obstacles are coming down and space is more accessible for private companies. Bills like the Asteroid Act might be indicative of a larger trend: that governments can find better ways to utilize their space programs rather than for increased militarization and geopolitical maneuvering that harkens back to the Cold War. Instead, nation-states might be able to provide a fair regulatory framework for private enterprise and help foster their growth, leaving agencies like NASA to focus on long-scale research endeavors. There are just certain things that private industry does better. Take reusable rockets. “We’re starting to see advances made by private entities that are more significant than any advances in the last three years that were made by the government," Chris Lewicki, CEO and President of Planetary Resources—a future hopeful asteroid mining company—tells Futurism. "The government was never able to [build reusable rockets], but now, two private companies within the space of the same year have done that.”
Private industry needs a stable environment in order to flourish and grow. In most cases, a natural side effect of this is peace. The last thing these companies want to contend with in the harsh frontier of space is militarization. Commercial interests are better suited to space for this very reason.
Frontrunners of the new frontier
Two of the big hitters in this new space age are Blue Origin and SpaceX, companies by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In 2015, both of their companies were the first to ever successfully land a vertical rocket. Private companies aren’t chained to government processes and oversights. They can work faster and more efficiently. There’s a lot of opportunity for partnership between the two sectors. For example, NASA contracting SpaceX to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and future human transport to be contracted by Boeing.
It can’t be stressed enough how important peaceful partnerships are for the future of space. So, what about relations between other nations? How does that stack up on the world stage?
A precedent for peace in space
Sometimes it feels like the Cold War never ended. Surprisingly, one of the greatest areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation has been in space. For nearly 20 years, the ISS has been a shining jewel of human cooperation between the two countries. Two space veterans, American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko, both lived in space for an entire year together. Throughout the years the many American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts had a lot to say about their host country's political struggles and their relations with each other.
Cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev on the subject of his life aboard the ISS once said: “We do our work that we love and we respect each other... Whatever the politicians want to get up to, that is their business.”
It’s different out in space; NASA analysts know that the U.S. and Russia need one another. Since the Space Shuttle flights stopped ferrying astronauts to the ISS, the U.S. has been dependent on Soyuz Russian rockets, while the entirety of the space station depends on NASA communication systems.
Russian space expert Vadim Lukashevich says, "Even though we are butting heads on Earth, up on the ISS we can't work without them and they can't work without us... It's impossible to break up this cooperation."
The Outer Space treaty
A patchwork of laws determines how space commerce and national interests function. The seminal law, signed and ratified by the United States and many other nations, is the Outer Space Treaty. Created back in 1967, it laid the groundwork for the future of how we’d interact and conduct ourselves in space.
Henry Hertzfeld, research professor at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said of the treaty: “There's an obligation to act safely, that space should only be used for peaceful purposes, nobody can launch any weapons of mass destruction, and freedom of access for all."
While this treaty will serve as a great starting point, it is not the final arbiter of how to conduct ourselves in space. We’re going to have to figure that out for ourselves. There are a few steps we can take to get things in motion for our future space explorers.
The first step: Unified global projects
Right now there is a real problem surrounding the globe: space debris. Hundreds of thousands of objects have gathered in our skies. This multitude of debris can affect satellite trajectories, future space flights and orbital stations.
How is the international community dealing with this encroaching global problem? Currently, efforts are strained. In order to avoid collisions with this debris, we’d need a central database tracking where all this detritus is orbiting. That kind of database is difficult to compile because of the disparate nature of tracking that each nation implements. For example, the United States would never reveal if one of their unknown spy satellites was destroyed and created new debris. Basically, each country has their own secrets in the sky they don't want to reveal as well as different methods of tracking their space junk. So that's one problem that we have to overcome to create the central database—international space transparency!
However, some national space programs and private companies are working together to develop advanced tracking systems for the hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris. One such effort is the Space Fence program, developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. government, which aims to track a catalog of 200,000 space objects. The need for a proto-space traffic control system is becoming ever more crucial in a developing space environment.
A governing body for space
Our current legal frameworks are insufficient to regulate and deal with a space that includes government and private companies alike. The absence of a governing body is something that will need to be remedied one day.
As outer space is the last bastion of global cooperation, we must work to ensure that it stays apolitical and with humanity's best interests at heart. The international community can take steps to mitigate this one problem and set the stage for further coordination.
In the future, we can avoid taking our terrestrial-bound feuds to the stars. Through encouraging peaceful competitive markets and by shifting governmental forces to roles of regulation and research, we just might be able to create a new frontier of peace and prosperity.
New data have set the particle physics community abuzz.
- The first question ever asked in Western philosophy, "What's the world made of?" continues to inspire high energy physicists.
- New experimental results probing the magnetic properties of the muon, a heavier cousin of the electron, seem to indicate that new particles of nature may exist, potentially shedding light on the mystery of dark matter.
- The results are a celebration of the human spirit and our insatiable curiosity to understand the world and our place in it.
If brute force doesn't work, then look into the peculiarities of nothingness. This may sound like a Zen koan, but it's actually the strategy that particle physicists are using to find physics beyond the Standard Model, the current registry of all known particles and their interactions. Instead of the usual colliding experiments that smash particles against one another, exciting new results indicate that new vistas into exotic kinds of matter may be glimpsed by carefully measuring the properties of the quantum vacuum. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's go piecemeal.
It is fitting that the first question asked in Western philosophy concerned the material composition of the world. Writing around 350 BCE, Aristotle credited Thales of Miletus (circa 600 BCE) with the honor of being the first Western philosopher when he asked the question, "What is the world made of?" What modern high energy physicists do, albeit with very different methodology and equipment, is to follow along the same philosophical tradition of trying to answer this question, assuming that there are indivisible bricks of matter called elementary particles.
Deficits in the Standard Model
Jumping thousands of years of spectacular discoveries, we now have a very neat understanding of the material composition of the world at the subatomic level: a total of 12 particles and the Higgs boson. The 12 particles of matter are divided into two groups, six leptons and six quarks. The six quarks comprise all particles that interact via the strong nuclear force, like protons and neutrons. The leptons include the familiar electron and its two heavier cousins, the muon and the tau. The muon is the star of the new experiments.
For all its glory, the Standard Model described above is incomplete. The goal of fundamental physics is to answer the most questions with the least number of assumptions. As it stands, the values of the masses of all particles are parameters that we measure in the laboratory, related to how strongly they interact with the Higgs. We don't know why some interact much stronger than others (and, as a consequence, have larger masses), why there is a prevalence of matter over antimatter, or why the universe seems to be dominated by dark matter — a kind of matter we know nothing about, apart from the fact that it's not part of the recipe included in the Standard Model. We know dark matter has mass since its gravitational effects are felt in familiar matter, the matter that makes up galaxies and stars. But we don't know what it is.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned.
Physicists had hoped that the powerful Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland would shed light on the nature of dark matter, but nothing has come up there or in many direct searches, where detectors were mounted to collect dark matter that presumably would rain down from the skies and hit particles of ordinary matter.
Could muons fill in the gaps?
Enter the muons. The hope that these particles can help solve the shortcomings of the Standard Model has two parts to it. The first is that every particle, like a muon, that has an electric charge can be pictured simplistically as a spinning sphere. Spinning spheres and disks of charge create a magnetic field perpendicular to the direction of the spin. Picture the muon as a tiny spinning top. If it's rotating counterclockwise, its magnetic field would point vertically up. (Grab a glass of water with your right hand and turn it counterclockwise. Your thumb will be pointing up, the direction of the magnetic field.) The spinning muons will be placed into a doughnut-shaped tunnel and forced to go around and around. The tunnel will have its own magnetic field that will interact with the tiny magnetic field of the muons. As the muons circle the doughnut, they will wobble about, just like spinning-tops wobble on the ground due to their interaction with Earth's gravity. The amount of wobbling depends on the magnetic properties of the muon which, in turn, depend on what's going on with the muon in space.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images
This is where the second idea comes in, the quantum vacuum. In physics, there is no empty space. The so-called vacuum is actually a bubbling soup of particles that appear and disappear in fractions of a second. Everything fluctuates, as encapsulated in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Energy fluctuates too, what we call zero-point energy. Since energy and mass are interconvertible (E=mc2, remember?), these tiny fluctuations of energy can be momentarily converted into particles that pop out and back into the busy nothingness of the quantum vacuum. Every particle of matter is cloaked with these particles emerging from vacuum fluctuations. Thus, a muon is not only a muon, but a muon dressed with these extra fleeting bits of stuff. That being the case, these extra particles affect a muon's magnetic field, and thus, its wobbling properties.
About 20 years ago, physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory detected anomalies in the muon's magnetic properties, larger than what theory predicted. This would mean that the quantum vacuum produces particles not accounted for by the Standard Model: new physics! Fast forward to 2017, and the experiment, at four times higher sensitivity, was repeated at the Fermi National Laboratory, where yours truly was a postdoctoral fellow a while back. The first results of the Muon g-2 experiment were unveiled on 7-April-2021 and not only confirmed the existence of a magnetic moment anomaly but greatly amplified it.
To most people, the official results, published recently, don't seem so exciting: a "tension between theory and experiment of 4.2 standard deviations." The gold standard for a new discovery in particle physics is a 5-sigma variation, or one part in 3.5 million. (That is, running the experiment 3.5 million times and only observing the anomaly once.) However, that's enough for plenty of excitement in the particle physics community, given the remarkable precision of the experimental measurements.
A time for excitement?
Now, results must be reanalyzed very carefully to make sure that (1) there are no hidden experimental errors; and (2) the theoretical calculations are not off. There will be a frenzy of calculations and papers in the coming months, all trying to make sense of the results, both on the experimental and theoretical fronts. And this is exactly how it should be. Science is a community-based effort, and the work of many compete with and complete each other.
Whatever happens, new science will be learned, even if less exciting than new particles. Or maybe, new particles have been there all along, blipping in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum, waiting to be pulled out of this busy nothingness by our tenacious efforts to find out what the world is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin wrote essays on a whole range of subjects, but one of his finest was on how to be a nice, likable person.
- Franklin lists a whole series of common errors people make while in the company of others, like over-talking or storytelling.
- His simple recipe for being good company is to be genuinely interested in others and to accept them for who they are.
Think of the nicest person you know. The person who would fit into any group configuration, who no one can dislike, or who makes a room warmer and happier just by being there.
What makes them this way? Why are they so amiable, likeable, or good-natured? What is it, you think, that makes a person good company?
There are really only two things that make someone likable.
This is the kind of advice that comes from one of history's most famously good-natured thinkers: Benjamin Franklin. His essay "On Conversation" is full of practical, surprisingly modern tips about how to be a nice person.
Franklin begins by arguing that there are really only two things that make someone likable. First, they have to be genuinely interested in what others say. Second, they have to be willing "to overlook or excuse Foibles." In other words, being good company means listening to people and ignoring their faults. Being witty, well-read, intelligent, or incredibly handsome can all make a good impression, but they're nothing without these two simple rules.
The sort of person nobody likes
From here, Franklin goes on to give a list of the common errors people tend to make while in company. These are the things people do that makes us dislike them. We might even find, with a sinking feeling in our stomach, that we do some of these ourselves.
1) Talking too much and becoming a "chaos of noise and nonsense." These people invariably talk about themselves, but even if "they speak beautifully," it's still ultimately more a soliloquy than a real conversation. Franklin mentions how funny it can be to see these kinds of people come together. They "neither hear nor care what the other says; but both talk on at any rate, and never fail to part highly disgusted with each other."
2) Asking too many questions. Interrogators are those people who have an "impertinent Inquisitiveness… of ten thousand questions," and it can feel like you're caught between a psychoanalyst and a lawyer. In itself, this might not be a bad thing, but Franklin notes it's usually just from a sense of nosiness and gossip. The questions are only designed to "discover secrets…and expose the mistakes of others."
3) Storytelling. You know those people who always have a scripted story they tell at every single gathering? Utterly painful. They'll either be entirely oblivious to how little others care for their story, or they'll be aware and carry on regardless. Franklin notes, "Old Folks are most subject to this Error," which we might think is perhaps harsh, or comically honest, depending on our age.
4) Debating. Some people are always itching for a fight or debate. The "Wrangling and Disputing" types inevitably make everyone else feel like they need to watch what they say. If you give even the lightest or most modest opinion on something, "you throw them into Rage and Passion." For them, the conversation is a boxing fight, and words are punches to be thrown.
5) Misjudging. Ribbing or mocking someone should be a careful business. We must never mock "Misfortunes, Defects, or Deformities of any kind", and should always be 100% sure we won't upset anyone. If there's any doubt about how a "joke" will be taken, don't say it. Offense is easily taken and hard to forget.
On practical philosophy
Franklin's essay is a trove of great advice, and this article only touches on the major themes. It really is worth your time to read it in its entirety. As you do, it's hard not to smile along or to think, "Yes! I've been in that situation." Though the world has changed dramatically in the 300 years since Franklin's essay, much is exactly the same. Basic etiquette doesn't change.
If there's only one thing to take away from Franklin's essay, it comes at the end, where he revises his simple recipe for being nice:
"Be ever ready to hear what others say… and do not censure others, nor expose their Failings, but kindly excuse or hide them"
So, all it takes to be good company is to listen and accept someone for who they are.
Philosophy doesn't always have to be about huge questions of truth, beauty, morality, art, or meaning. Sometimes it can teach us simply how to not be a jerk.
A recent study analyzed the skulls of early Homo species to learn more about the evolution of primate brains.
- Using computed tomography, a team of researchers generated images of what the brains of early Homo species likely looked like.
- The team then compared these images to the brains of great apes and modern humans.
- The results suggest that Homo species developed humanlike brains about 1.7 million years ago and that this cognitive evolution occurred at the same time early Homo culture and technology were becoming more complex.
For nearly two centuries, scientists have known that humans descended from the great apes. But it's proven difficult to precisely map out the branches of that evolutionary tree, especially in terms of determining when and where early Homo species first developed brains similar to modern humans.
There are clear differences between ape and human brains. Compared to apes, the Homo sapiens brain is larger, and its frontal lobe is organized such that we can engage in toolmaking, planning, and language. Other Homo species also enjoyed some of these cognitive innovations, from the Neanderthals to Homo floresiensis, the hobbit-like people who once inhabited Indonesia.
One reason it's been difficult to discern the details of this cognitive evolution from apes to Homo species is that brains don't fossilize, so scientists can't directly study early primate brains. But primate skulls offer clues.
Brains of yore
In a new study published in Science, an international team of researchers analyzed impressions left on the skulls of Homo species to better understand the evolution of primate brains. Using computer tomography on fossil skulls, the team generated images of what the brain structures of early Homo species probably looked like, and then compared those structures to the brains of great apes and modern humans.
The results suggest that Homo species first developed humanlike brains approximately 1.7 to 1.5 million years ago in Africa. This cognitive evolution occurred at roughly the same time Homo species' technology and culture were becoming more complex, with these species developing more sophisticated stone tools and animal food resources.
The team hypothesized that "this pattern reflects interdependent processes of brain-culture coevolution, where cultural innovation triggered changes in cortical interconnectivity and ultimately in external frontal lobe topography."
The team also found that these structural changes occurred after Homo species migrated out of Africa for regions like modern-day Georgia and Southeast Asia, which is where the fossils in the study were discovered. In other words, Homo species still had ape-like brains when some groups first left Africa.
While the study sheds new light on the evolution of primate brains, the team said there's still much to learn about the history of early Homo species, particularly in terms of explaining the morphological diversity of Homo fossils discovered in Africa.
"Deciphering evolutionary process in early Homo remains a challenge that will be met only through the recovery of expanded fossil samples from well-controlled chronological contexts," the researchers wrote.
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