The Celibacy Sydrome (Reflections on Japan and Our Posthuman Future)
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
Most of the highly industrious, post-industrial, and prosperous parts of the world have a "birth dearth," a birth rate significantly below the rate of replacement. Japan, of course, has one of the lowest rates. Its population has been decreasing for a decade, and everyone believes that trend will continue or even accelerate. Japan, some say, faces extinction.
The Japanese government has tried to scare people into thinking about the various political and economic implications—those catastrophic effects for national security in the broad sense—of this shrinkage.
But there are more positive ways of viewing it: The population of the world is ecologically unsustainable. The fewer the number of human footprints, the lighter the carbon footprint. Nature cheers as we take up less space and consume fewer resources.
Not only that: One of the great free techno-achievements of our time has been the separation of sexual enjoyment from reproductive necessity. We no longer think of women as reproductive machines for the state or the species. They are free to determine their own destiny, to be moms or not as they please. By thinking of sexual enjoyment as good for its own sake, we have liberated human eros in all its manifold possibilities. Freed from the repression of nature and religious dogma, the techno-progressive narrative goes, we revel in more sexual fulfillment that ever.
Those who celebrate that narrative of erotic progress should pause for a moment and consider what's going on in Japan today.
According to this report, the Japanese young are plagued by a "celibacy syndrome," "a flight from human intimacy," which includes "increasing numbers" who "can't be bothered with sex." Almost half of the young women just have no interest—if they don't despise—having sex with another person. And all that despite the fact that the Japanese, basically not a religious people, have separated sex from reproduction for a long time. Having even a merely sexual relationship with another person, for many, has become just too much trouble.
Now the article goes on to explore reasons specific to Japanese culture and public policy for the nation's extreme case of the celibacy syndrome. It's much harder there than in our country for a woman to have both a career and a family. And it's harder for Japanese women than ours to have casual sex without being judged. It would be easy to say that the Japanese would be more oriented toward sexual enjoyment and intimate relationships if they loosened up in characteristically Western or egalitarian ways.
Still, we can't help but notice that Japanese, like us, spend more time than ever in the virtual worlds displayed on screens. That's the direction in which a lot of erotic longing and even sexual activity seems to have gone to. It's easier than ever to get by, it seems, without the touch of another being with real skin.
The Japanese, as I've noticed before, lead the world in developing robots to care for the elderly. With a growing number of old people and hardly any babies, that Japanese market for caring machines is bound to continue to explode.
Someone could also say, maybe a Darwinian, that if the natural function of sex—generating replacements to improve the species—withered away as a result of free human behavior, then sex itself would too soon enough. The Christians say there would be no sex in heaven because there would be no more need for replacements (although we'd still have the relevant parts).
There's no transhumanist consensus on what happens to sex when we are freed from all the limits of our embodiment. There would certainly be no need for it, and it's unclear exactly how we would do it.
I'm not saying that we're incapable of experiencing sex as enjoyable and relational while having no intention at all to reproduce right now. But techno-progressive trends really are both ambivalent and negative from an erotic point of view.
The Japanese seem to have become the least erotic people ever. Maybe we're going down that road too. Or maybe not. Human nature seems to be more plastic that the evolutionary psychologists believe.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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