Big Think Interview With Wylie Dufresne
Wylie Dufresne is the chef and owner of wd-50, a restaurant in Manhattan. Dufresne is a leading American proponent of molecular gastronomy, the movement to incorporate science and new techniques in the preparation and presentation of food.
Born in Providence, R.I. in 1970, Dufresne graduated from The French Culinary Institute in New York and also completed a B.A. in philosophy at Colby College. From 1994 through 1999, he worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where he was eventually named sous chef at Vongerichten's eponymous Jean Georges. In 1999, he left to become the first chef at 71 Clinton Fresh Food. In April 2003, he opened wd~50 (named for the chef's initials and the street address) in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Dufresne was a James Beard Foundation nominee for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2000 and chosen the same year by New York Magazine for their New York Awards. Food & Wine magazine named him one of 2001 America's Ten Best Chefs award and, in 2006, New York Magazine's Adam Platt placed wd-50 fourth in his list of New York's 101 best restaurants. He was awarded a star in Michelin's New York City Guide, from 2006 through 2010, and was nominated for Best Chef New York by the James Beard Foundation. wd-50 has also been recognized as one of the Top 10 Molecular Gastronomy Restaurants in the U.S. by GAYOT.com.
Question: What is molecular gastronomy?
Wylie Dufresne: Yeah, I would say that molecular gastronomy is a field of science. I would, I would say that it’s probably lumped under chemistry, maybe. Because cooking while it has certainly biology and some physics, it’s mostly chemistry. But molecular gastronomy was a term coined by scientists to describe the work that they were doing in an effort to understand what’s happening to the food that we eat... or the food that we cook, I’m sorry. What’s happening to food as we cook it... as we put it through a myriad of physical, mechanical processes.
People like how Harold McGee and Nicholas Kurti... Nicholas Kurti is one of those scientists that coined the term along with Harold, Hervé This, and some other people. And I believe it was Kurti who famously said, “We know more about what’s going on, on the surface of the Moon than inside a soufflé." And that’s—again I can’t weigh in on whether or not that’s true because I don’t know how much we know about either—but I think it was a group of people that were curious to understand what makes a soufflé rise, what are the mechanics. What’s happening? Let’s pick it apart and understand it. And I think that a large number of chefs, certainly myself included, found that field of study not only very interesting, but useful.
So we’ve been, for probably the last 15 years or so trying to avail ourselves to the information these people are generating along with generating our own, and other outside sources that are maybe not food scientists per se. And take that information to use it to learn more about what we are doing, to understand how to cook, to understand what’s happening to food as we cook it in an effort, I think, to be better cooks
Question: How much has molecular gastronomy taught us about food?
Wylie Dufresne: Well we have learned a lot. I would say that in the last, the last 15 years, you know, plus or minus five, we’ve learned more about cooking than we have in the 15,000 prior... 15,000 years prior to that. And I think that that makes... that’s exciting to me and I think that makes for an exciting time to be cooking for anyone for any curious cook. For anyone who desires to understand more what’s happening to a chicken when you roast it or a vegetable when you blanch it, or a fish when you poach it, in an effort to cook it better and to cook it in a more informed way. Because, again, like taste, there is subjectivity in cooking as well. And I think that that’s good because there is no right way necessarily to cook something, but understanding what’s happening to it, any given object while you’re cooking it, allows you to make an informed decision about how to cook it. And again, I like the fact that there’s no right or wrong way to poach an egg, but knowing what’s happening to an egg as it goes from 60 degrees Celsius to 70 degrees Celsius helps you make the decisions about at what point you want to start or stop the cooking. And that I find really, really very fascinating. Because to me, knowing mechanically how to poach an egg, but not what’s happening to it while it’s poaching is almost an empty knowledge. It’s not as useful as knowing, okay the egg white proteins are coagulating at this temperature and the yolks are coagulating at that temperature, and so I can control this or that. And knowing the variables and understanding the variables I think makes anybody a better cook.
Question: What are some examples of ways molecular gastronomy changed what we know about cooking?
Wylie Dufresne: There is vast sort of bodies of work that we have learned, but generally or specifically, you know, one of the famous misconceptions for years has been that searing a piece of steak, for instance, seals in the juices. That’s how you keep your steak moist, your piece of meat moist by searing it on the outside, trapping the juices inside. That was proven to be a fallacy by molecular gastronomy because, in fact, anytime you get something super hot, you actually begin to draw the moisture out of it rather than seal it in. That was an early sort of wow moment I think for a lot of people. And you still hear chefs today, unfortunately, mistakenly say, “Ah, we like to sear our steaks to seal in the juices and”... I find myself feeling bad for them because that’s not… I understand the thought process, but it’s—it’s almost like the dark ages, in a way, that approach; that we’ve come so far in our understanding of cooking.
I would say, for instance, what have we learned about eggs? We’ve learned a tremendous amount about eggs. I did not know when I started cooking that... and maybe because I never stopped to think about it, but nor was it part of my education at the time that an egg white and an egg yolk don’t cook—meaning the proteins don’t set at the same temperature. Whites cook at a lower temperature, set at a lower temperature than yolks. That to me is very interesting. That has opened up, as an egg lover that has opened up sort of a world of possibilities, of applications.
So, let’s say it’s 63 Celsius, if you want Fahrenheit, that’s 145 degrees Fahrenheit, for an egg white versus 65 Celsius, that’s about 150 Fahrenheit for a yolk in terms of cook times. Now that only sounds like a couple of degrees, but with something very gentle, very... I guess gentle is a good word, those couple of degrees make a big difference. And that’s an interesting, I find, I think a very interesting byproduct of the work that molecular gastronomists are doing on any given subject.
Green vegetables are something that fascinate chefs; the ability to keep vegetables green. How do we keep them green? What makes them green? Why are they green? And then that sort of army green. Why do they go from bright vibrant electric green to army green, and how can we avoid that? And that’s another element of molecular gastronomy, another by-product is that there’s a temperature range—chlorophyll is what makes vegetables green and there’s a temperature range that the chlorophyll will bleed out at. And if you, if you go below, if you stay within that temperature range, you can fix the chlorophyll, for lack of a better term. And when you... well no, I’m sorry. That’s not right. There’s a temperature range that will affect a vegetable’s ability to hold onto the chlorophyll, it will bleed out. And so when you pass through that range, you want to pass through it quickly. And that’s interesting. Chlorophyll bleeds out at between 150 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. So you want to either be above the, or below that as quickly as possible. You want to pass through that range.
And some interesting experiments have been done where if you get a large pot of boiling water and you put, say broccoli in there, as long as you stay above 170, your broccoli will be green for days. And that it will no longer be something you want to eat, but that’s useful information in terms of understanding how to make sure your vegetables are bright. Again, as a new parent feeding my daughter you know, Gerber green beans. They clearly did not use that temperature range as a gauge and you get this really grey, stinky green bean that is a crime against vegetables. So that’s another thing that I think is useful to the chef and understanding what’s happening to the chlorophyll in order to keep the vegetable bright and vibrant. And then we’re still probably going to learn more about the nutritive value and how that’s associated with the color.
Question: What percentage of your food experiments ends up tasting good?
Wylie Dufresne: Well luckily, as we mentioned earlier, taste is subjective. So I could lie and say they all taste good. But you know, people ask us that a lot, what is our percentage of success and failure? And that’s not a statistic that we keep. But maybe we should because so many people have been asking what percentage. And so, I can sort of guesstimate, but failure is an interesting term because, for instance, we’ve been trying for seven and a half years to make hot ice cream. Ice cream that eats the same way ice cream does cold, but is thermally hot, as a concept. We’ve been trying to do that.
We’ve never succeeded in... I mean I’d have to go back and look, but there’s probably close to 50 iterations, experiments that... none of which have yielded a successful result, but many things have come out of those failures. So, does that get chalked up each time as a failure or does a failure that leads to a new idea, a new success really count as a failure? And I guess the philosophy major in me kind of isn’t so concerned with quantifying it specifically, because I see the glass is half-full even with a failure. But we certain fail more than we succeed, I think, but we’ve also gotten better at the process. And we’ve also learned more. We know more today than we did yesterday, than we did last week, than we did five years ago.
And so that allows us, in some respects, to be more effective in our experimentation because we’ve probably gotten better at shaving off 20% of failures and getting closer to succeeding sooner.
But I can’t tell you how... you know, a percentage because at the end of the day, I don’t know that that’s... I mean, some might argue that it’s useful, but it’s not really useful in my mind right now.
Question: If marijuana were legalized, would you consider experimenting with it?
Wylie Dufresne: Well, it’s very food-friendly, let’s say that. It’s very food-friendly on a number of levels. So, there is, I think... there are people right now exploiting its relationship to the cookie or the brownie or, you know, things like that. And it would be very conducive to ice cream.
Question: At what point does it become experimentation for experimentation's sake, or is that an important part of innovation?
Wylie Dufresne: Both. I think that, yes, you have to experiment for experimentation's sake. I mean, wasn’t the guy that speared that animal and held it over a fire experimenting? I mean, he didn’t know that it was going to taste delicious. He didn’t know that roasting that piece of meat was good. And how that person even got there I’m not entirely sure. But that was a very successful experiment. And thank God that somebody did it.
I mean, why can’t I... if I’m serving you food that isn’t spoiled, then why can’t I play with it? What says that I can’t, or shouldn’t play with it. To play with it and to learn more about it because in playing with it, I’m going to learn something if I have my eyes open and my mind open. There’s no way I can’t play with my food and not learn something.
And so I see... I see nothing but good coming out of playing with my food because I’m gonna learn something. And I understand that, as I mentioned earlier, not everybody comes to the dinner table at 7:00 saying, "Let’s see what’s going on here." Sometimes... I mean, I run a business and I know that four guys from Wall Street show up during, you know, bonus season and they want to buy some big burly red wine. They want to have some steak and they want to laugh and make noise and be rambunctious and celebrate their success. They don’t necessarily want to pay attention to their food. But I want to take their money and give them a good meal, but if... four other people want to come at 7:00 and have the tasting menu and say, "Geez, let's see what’s going on here." I think that my responsibility is to meet both of those people wherever they want to be met. Not to force it upon them necessarily, but to understand what the diner... where the diner wants to go and to meet that person at that expectation level. But, I don’t see why I can’t go a little bit further. You’re not going to get a steak and mashed potatoes at wd-50. You might get steak and you might get mashed potatoes, but what we do with them will probably be a little left or right of center.
Question: Is there a method behind your madness when it comes to experimentation?
Wylie Dufresne: one of the things that we like to do, one of the formats that we play with a lot and I think successfully is, we will take something very familiar and serve it in an unfamiliar way. But then we will take things unfamiliar and serve them in familiar ways because I think taking something unfamiliar and serving it in an unfamiliar way is maybe... you run the risk of asking too much of people, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. But I still think, as a society... people are beginning to see that dining, eating can be an art form, but it’s not—it’s still not sky’s the limit, no holds barred all the time with eating as it is with other art forms like painting, sculpture. There it’s "Go wherever you want and we’ll decide there." But it’s still eating. People still... you have to eat, you don’t have to paint, you don’t have to do these other things.
And so I think there’s still a large number of people that eating is about sustenance and it’s not about a creative process or anything like that. So, that being said, we like to, I think, a very successful way of delivering food in the restaurant is something familiar like eggs benedict. We will take that apart and serve it to you in a way that does not resemble the eggs benedict of your childhood or of Sunday brunch or of whatever your particular memory of eggs benedict is, but when you eat it, you can still be transported; it's still all the flavors that, it still taps the memory of eggs benedict, but we serve it in an unfamiliar way. We break it down, we deep fry the Hollandaise, we poach an egg yolk and shape it, restructure it in another way, we do a lot of things, but when you eat it, you go" Ah, I’m still having eggs benedict." I can still—the taste is linked to memory and that usually makes—often makes for a successful dish. When you eat something and have it tap a memory, as long as that memory is positive, then you can... that’s a good for us to serve you.
But then if we take a combination of things, for instance, again, a dish that we’re going to put on the menu today is... it’s going to be veal brisket with honeydew melon, ricotta cheese, block olives, and green tomatoes. And those are flavors that probably don’t sound... they might sound disparate to some people. Why do I want olives with my melon? Why Ricotta and green tomatoes, well that doesn’t sound... to me that doesn’t sound crazy but there are elements to that dish that maybe don’t sound like they are going to go together, but we’re not going to present it in a very... We’re going to present it in a way that’s going to make it seem friendly, going to make you want to interact with it in a nice way. It’s gonna... it’s not going to be intimidating and I don’t... And again, I’m hesitant to use these words because I don’t want to challenge – sound like I’m challenging people. But I think, for instance, another dish that we do is, is we have a wall-eyed pike that we serve with mashed potatoes, yeast, zucchini, and nasturtiums. And again, mashed potatoes flavored with yeast is something that probably at first glance you’d think, they taste funky. They taste like they’re off. Because yeast has that, that funk, that yeastiness to it that is what makes beer so delicious and bread so wonderful. But it also is something that is approaching an off note.
But when you have a piece of fish with mashed potatoes and a vegetable and a sauce, then you’re using a framework that's familiar to people, but we’re delivering flavors that are a little unfamiliar, or a lot unfamiliar, but we’re presenting it in a way that is familiar. That people can sort of say, "Ah, okay, I can see my mashed potato pile, I see my fish, I see my pile of vegetables. Okay, I get it." And then as they begin to eat it, our hope is that someone would say, "Oh, wow! Yeast, that’s that never would have—I didn’t think of that." Or "Wow! Nasturtium, that’s interesting. I don’t even know what that is. And how did... what? I don’t understand how they cook this fish, but the texture is fabulous. And you know, some people don’t even notice that, but for those that do, we have found that those are successful ways of delivering food to people. Familiar things in unfamiliar ways. And unfamiliar things in familiar ways.
Question: What’s with all the foam?
Wylie Dufresne: Well, without foam there’d be no bread, there’d be no ice cream, there’d be no cappuccino. Let’s see, what else is foam? The cushion I’m sitting on is a foam. There’s a lot of foams that have been around long before the sort of the "foam movement" and therefore the "anti-foam movement." I think that people have a responsibility if they’re going to criticize something to understand the past, the present, and then the, you know, hopefully a little bit of the future and people attacking foam is a little bit misguided. I think that it was an easy thing to latch onto because some chefs and myself included recognized that taking heavy things, for instance, and lightening them and then presenting them that way in some ways can make them... was another way to eat it, another way to experience it, but also made it more pleasant. I mean, I think that that’s what, that’s the joy in a cappuccino is that you have milk, which is heavy, fatty, rich. I mean, up until recently, you only had full fat milk. So, a cappuccino was made with full fat milk. And in my mind a proper cappuccino still is made with full fat milk. But by frothing it up, you lighten it and it makes it feel less heavy, less weighty. So what’s bad about that? You’re eating something rich whether it’s butter... a butter-based sauce or a Foie gras or any number of rich luxurious things, but you’re having it in this very light ethereal delicate way. I think that that’s a nice juxtaposition in many ways.
But like anything, when done poorly, it's easy to attack and I think... again, I think that for as many people that were making foams, well, properly, there were many more that were doing it improperly and that didn’t help. And I also think that as much as people cry out for something new, you give them something new and then they lash out against it for being new and being different.
But foam has been around for a long time. You’re not going to get a lot of people that don’t like ice cream, that are anti-ice cream other than the healthful... the unhealthfulness of it. But who’s going to say—and ice cream is a foam I’m sorry to say, and it’s not going anywhere. Bread is a foam and is one of—is a universal food that virtually every culture has figured out how to make, but it’s a foam.
So I think that people criticizing foam, and I know that they are using foam to mean that little frothy bit, and if that little frothy bit on something isn’t made right, it can be kind of watery and weepy. But I just feel like that was an easy one. You know, we chefs almost put a target on our back when we decided to embrace that notion. But I still find it very interesting that you can whip something, lighten something, put is on a plate and eat it because I think that engaging something in a new way, whether it be vinegar or butter or a flavor, but encountering it in a new form is often very exciting to me. And foam was something that a lot of people played with and I just think that people went after it unnecessarily.
Question: How does a trend, like the recent craze for pork belly, begin and spread?
Wylie Dufresne: I mean, that’s a funny question or interesting question because it’s not as if suddenly 10 years ago pigs started having bellies and prior to that they didn’t have bellies and nobody ate them because you know we’ve been enjoying pigs and all of is parts for a long time. I mean bacon is not a new idea. And bacon has been beloved for as long as I can remember bacon.
But I think that, you know, trends come and go and we’re not gonna... we’re dealing with more or less a finite number of ingredients. We aren’t creating really with any sort of regularity, new foods to work with. And I think that as chefs, we kind of work our way around an animal and how and why suddenly you see pork belly on everyone’s menu, I can’t exactly explain other than it tastes good. But... or why it might be lamb spareribs the next month, or it might be duck tongues after that. And then we go back to veal sweetbreads or something. I think that a curious cook or a thoughtful cook is always sort of moving around and as economics become an issue, we look for cheaper, more affordable cuts that still offer a lot of flavor. And I think that there are also people... you know, there’s a trickle-down. There’s people looking for the—I don’t want to say the "new cut" because again, the animal has had that muscular structure for its whole life, but if we can sort of... with the help of our butchers look at the animal and think of a different way to form it or a different way to carve that bit out and use it, you will see that trickle down. I mean, you know TGI Friday’s now does, you know, flat iron beef. And that’s not something that you would have seen at TGI Friday’s if you know, chefs like myself hadn’t started using it as a delicious, cheap cut from the shoulder, you know, five, six, seven, years ago, but now it’s on TGI Friday’s menu. That’s part of the trickle down and that’s how it finds its way all over the place.
But I think again, that thoughtful cooks are looking at exploring the whole animal and so we move around and you use a cut for a while and you get tired of it, so you move to another cut. Why pork belly was so hot? You know, that’s a fair question I can’t answer, but I was probably as guilty as anyone else of cooking a lot of pork belly, you know, five, six years ago because I thought it was delicious. And for me, it was about how can we cook it in a different way that it hasn’t been cooked prior, or what techniques, modern techniques can we apply to it.
You know, we might get excited in a restaurant about an ingredient that’s new, but it’s new insofar as it’s new to us. It’s not a new ingredient; it didn’t just drop out of the sky. But it’s new to us so we get excited about it and so we work with it and try to put it through its paces and learn about it and understand it and then use it. And sometimes it does... another chef might get wind of it and—boom, boom, boom, boom—and there it goes.
Or we might... or I might hear from a friend, “Oh, check out the crab tails. These are pretty cool.” And you say, “Well what the hell’s a crab tail? I’ve never seen a crab tail?” And it’s not really the tail, but it’s this piece of meat that’s really interesting. And you know, unfortunately that was not something that found widespread appeal, but it was a really delicious piece of meat.
Question: Are there any food trends that you find uninspiring?
Wylie Dufresne: You know, I think "uninspiring" is a little harsh. I don’t, I don’t take maybe as negative a stance as that. But I think things like like “farm to table” are misleading. I think sometimes that becomes a pedestal or a soap box to get people into your restaurant, but is not... it’s almost empty in a way. I mean, my food comes from a farm and I serve it on a table.
You know, it’s not as if, what they’re trying to say is that not much is being done to it. But it’s not, it’s not to say... I think to use “farm to table” to imply that there’s something, that that equals quality is misleading because I think that if you need... there’s something wrong with needing to say, “Hey, we use good ingredients.” Because any chef—it should be understood that when you go to a restaurant of a certain caliber, it should be expected that chef X is using good ingredients. It should be a sounding board. “Hey, come here, we use good ingredients.” Well, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. “Come here, we use mediocre ingredients, but it’s cheaper.” Like that’s nuts!
I think you have a right as a diner to expect when you come to my restaurant that I’m using good ingredients, responsibly sourced. If you want to ask me about them, I’m happy to tell you, but the notion that “farm to table” somehow signifies I’m shopping well, or "responsibly," I think is unfair. Is almost... it’s like smoke and mirrors for the diner. It’s like false advertising because I’m at the green market every week buying things. And I have been, but I don’t stand up on it and say “Hey, come see really good vegetables at wd-50 because you should assume that we are using really good vegetables. So I think sometimes that notion is a little bit of a misnomer.
Question: What country is the new culinary hot spot?
Wylie Dufresne: I would certainly say that Scandinavia is enjoying a well-deserved moment. There are many chefs in Scandinavia right now that are doing some very, very interesting things. Again, they’re introducing us, the world, the culinary world, to a whole new group of ingredients that we're unfamiliar with. They’re exposing us to an approach, to a style of cooking that I think is... has been around for a long time, but we’re seeing it come back into vogue. I think they’re doing some really good people, like René Redzepi, and Ulla Ruden, and Matthias Dahlgren and I mean the list goes on and on and on. There’s a tremendous number of people in Scandinavia that are doing fantastic, fantastic stuff over there.
And it’s good technique mixed with good ingredients mixed with a curiosity that’s yielding some delicious, fantastic food and I think that it’s really an exciting moment for that part of the world, and I think that that’s part of the natural sort of evolution of things. We get excited about one place and then we get excited about another place.
I also think Japan... I find Japan endlessly fascinating. Part of that is because they have been so, so good at keeping us out and not letting us in, but now they’ve really... there’s a push right now to get Japanese food and culture, certainly here in America, in Europe, but even in New York, there’s a lot of people that are saying, Japanese people that are saying, look at what we are doing. And it’s fascinating and it’s really interesting. I find the Japanese approach to cooking to be endlessly interesting. You know, we certainly haven’t heard the last of Spain and I don’t thing anyone should ever forget about France because France still has a pretty good track record.
Recorded August 6, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
A conversation with the chef.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.
- Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
- The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
- Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
Immortality and identity<p>The paper defines life as a "continued stream of subjective experiences" and death as the permanent end of that stream. Immortality, to them, is a "life stream without end," and resurrection is the "continuation of that same stream of experiences after an arbitrarily long gap."</p><p>Another key clarification is the identity problem: How would you know that a downloaded copy of yourself really was going to be <em>you? </em>Couldn't it just be a convincing yet incomplete and fundamentally distinct representation of your brain?</p><p>If you believe that your copy is not <em>you</em>, that implies you believe there's something more to your identity than the (currently) quantifiable information contained within your brain and body, according to the researchers. In other words, your "informational identity" does not constitute your true identity.</p><p>In this scenario, there must exist what the researchers call a "non-informational identity carrier" (NIIC). This could be something like a "soul." It could be "qualia," which are the unmeasurable "subjective experiences which could be unique to every person." Or maybe it doesn't exist at all.</p><p>It's no matter: The researchers say resurrection, in some form, should be possible in either scenario.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If no 'soul' exist[s], resurrection is possible via information preservation; if soul[s] exist, resurrection is possible via returning of the "soul" into the new body. But some forms of NIIC are also very fragile and mortal, like continuity," the researchers noted.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The problem of the nature of human identity could be solved by future superintelligent AI, but for now it cannot be definitively solved. This means that we should try to preserve as much identity as possible and not refuse any approaches to life extension and resurrection even if they contradict our intuitions about identity, as our notions of identity could change later."</p>
Potential resurrection methods<p>Turchin and Chernyakov outline seven broad categories of potential resurrection methods, ranked from the most plausible to most speculative.<br></p><p>The first category includes methods practiced while the person is alive, like cryonics, plastination, and preserving brain tissue through processes like chemical fixation. The researchers noted that there have been "suggestions that the claustrum, hypothalamus, or even a single neuron is the neural correlate of consciousness," so it may be possible to preserve just that part of a person, and later implant it into another organism.</p><p>Other methods get far stranger. For example, one method includes super-intelligent AI that uses a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere#:~:text=A%20Dyson%20sphere%20is%20a,percentage%20of%20its%20power%20output." target="_blank">Dyson sphere</a> to harness the power of the sun to "power enormous calculation engines" that would "reconstruct" people who collected a sufficient amount of data on their identities.</p>
Turchin<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The main idea of a resurrection-simulation is that if one takes the DNA of a past person and subjects it to the same developmental condition, as well as correcting the development based on some known outcomes, it is possible to create a model of a past person which is very close to the original," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"DNA samples of most people who lived in past 1 to 2 centuries could be extracted via global archeology. After the moment of death, the simulated person is moved into some form of the afterlife, perhaps similar to his religious expectations, where he meets his relatives."</p><p>Delving further into sci-fi territory, another resurrection method would use time-travel technology.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there will at some point be technology that allows travel to the past, then our future descendants will be able to directly save people dying in the past by collecting their brains at the moment of death and replacing them with replicas," the paper states.</p><p>How? Sending tiny robots back in time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A nanorobot could be sent several billion years before now, where it could secretly replicate and sow nanotech within all living being[s] without affecting the course of history. At the moment of death, such nanorobots could be activated to collect data about the brain and preserve it somewhere until its future resurrection; thus, there would be no need for forward time travel."</p>
Pixabay<p>The paper <a href="https://www.academia.edu/36998733/Classification_of_the_approaches_to_the_technological_resurrection" target="_blank">goes on to outline some more resurrection methods</a>, including ones that involve parallel worlds, aliens, and clones, along with a good, old-fashioned possibility: God exists and one day he resurrects us. </p><p>In short, it's all extremely speculative.</p><p>But the aim of the paper was to catalogue known potential ways humans might be able to cheat death. For Turchin, that's not some far-off project: In addition to studying global risks and transhumanism, the Russian researcher heads the <a href="http://immortality-roadmap.com/" target="_blank">Immortality Roadmap</a>, which, similar to the 2018 paper, outlines various ways in which we might someday achieve immortality.</p><p>Although it may take centuries before humans come close to "digital immortality," Turchin believes that life-extension technology could allow some modern people to survive long enough to see it happen. </p><p>Want a shot at being among them? Beyond the obvious, like staying healthy, the Immortality Roadmap suggests you start collecting extensive data on yourself: diaries, video recordings, DNA information, EEGs, complex creative objects — all of which could someday be used to digitally "reconstruct" your identity.</p>But odds are you're not interested. Although Turchin and other scientists are bent on finding ways to avoid death and extend life indefinitely, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/16/dying-still-taboo-subject-poll" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surveys</a> <a href="https://quillette.com/2018/03/02/would-you-opt-for-immortality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repeatedly</a> <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutesvanity-fair-poll-the-afterlife/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> that most people would not opt to live forever if given the choice.
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Credit: Airspeeder<p>To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a <a href="https://airspeeder.com/news/2020/9/7/airspeeder-worlds-first-flying-electric-car-racing-series-partners-with-cyber-protection-leader-acronis-34g4k" target="_blank">blog post</a>.</p>
Credit: Airspeeder<p>Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like <a href="https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/business-aviation/2020-01-07/hyundai-and-uber-announce-evtol-air-taxi-partnership" target="_blank">Uber, Hyundai</a>, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/autonomous-aircraft" target="_blank">2019 report</a> from Morgan Stanley.</p><p>Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.</p>
Archaeology clues us in on the dangers of letting viruses hang around.
- A University of Otago researcher investigates the spread of disease in ancient Vietnam.
- The infectious disease, yaws, has been with us for thousands of years with no known cure.
- Using archaeology to investigate disease offers clues into modern-day pandemics.
History-Changing Archaeological Finds<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed6ad05071e93f257aa0b73f4001c805"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gydYHHfnLhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While we rightfully look toward infectious disease experts during times such as now, archaeologists also have plenty to offer. A <a href="http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/bioarchaeology/article/view/1173" target="_blank">new research article</a>, published in the journal, Bioarchaeology Journal, turns back the clock to ancient Vietnam. The findings offer important clues about why we need to eradicate COVID-19.</p><p>Lead author Melandri Vlok, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand (with support from researchers in Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and the UK), investigated a case of yaws that ran through the Neolithic archeological site of Mán Bạc in Northeast Vietnam. </p><p>Yaws remains a common infectious disease in at least 13 tropical countries, with up to a half-million infected each year. Hard skin lesions form on the victim's bodies; they can form painful ulcers. While lesions usually subside within six months, bone and joint pain and fatigue are common. Some cases last many years and result in permanent scars. On occasion, death follows a long battle. </p><p>Subsistence farmers in mainland China have long battled the environment. Finding the right soil and water sources for their crops has been a generational battle. Roughly 4,000 years ago, such farmers made their way into Mainland Southeast China (modern day Vietnam), where, as Vlok writes, "genetic admixture and social transition occurs between foragers and farmers." In 2018, Vlok traveled to Mán Bạc to study the remains of seven skeletons, which included two adults, two adolescents, and two children.</p><p>Her findings help give us perspective on today's proliferation of the coronavirus. As she <a href="https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/releases/otago744185.html" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This matters, because knowing more about this disease and its evolution, it changes how we understand the relationship people have with it. It helps us understand why it's so difficult to eradicate. If it's been with us thousands of years it has probably developed to fit very well with humans." </p>
My Son Sanctuary, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Credit: Mrkela / Shutterstock<p>Yaws is not the only disease considered in the article. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and cancers were also discussed. The goal of the research was to identify disease spread through cultures and the chronic problems left behind, sometimes for millennia. Vlok notes how temperature fluctuations in the Mán Bạc region affected a variety of diseases. Yaws appeared to have spread easily due to an abundance of water and vegetation, combined with increased population density—children are more likely to spread this disease.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Pre-industrialized agricultural communities have also been associated with increased incidence of yaws. The coastal region is also slightly warmer and more humid than inland northern Vietnam and therefore more conducive to the spread of yaws."</p><p>The Climate Clock is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/21/climate-change-metronome-clock-nyc/" target="_blank">ticking down</a>. We're already experiencing the ravages of this global shift, and it's not going to get any easier if interventions are not immediately legislated. While no single science will help us wrap our heads around the immediate future, Vlok suggests factoring in archaeology. Past precedent matters.</p><p>Gazing back a few hundred generations offers important clues for the future—really, the present—that we must confront. A concerted effort by the World Health Organization in the 1950s couldn't eradicate yaws. Diseases that have an opportunity to hang around will exploit every advantage it can. The blasé attitude too many Americans currently hold about the novel coronavirus's dangers is going to have a reverberating effect through the generations. As Vlok concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This shows us what happens when we don't take action with these diseases. It's a lesson of what infectious diseases can do to a population if you let them spread widely. It highlights the need to intervene, because sometimes these diseases are so good at adapting to us, at spreading between us."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>