from the world's big
Why all politicians should travel to space (and some should come back)
Here's how looking down at 4 billion years of Earth's history changes you.
“Good morning, Earth." That is how Colonel Chris Hadfield—writing on Twitter—woke up the world every day while living aboard the International Space Station for over five months. Since blasting off from Kazakhstan in December 2012, Hadfield has become a worldwide sensation, harnessing the power of social media to make outer space accessible to millions and infusing a sense of wonder into the collective consciousness not felt since man first walked on the moon. Called “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong" by the BBC, Hadfield, now safely back on Earth, continues to bring the glory of science and space travel to everyone he encounters.
Hadfield is the pioneer of many firsts. In 1992, he was selected by the Canadian Space Agency as a NASA Mission Specialist – Canada's first fully-qualified Space Shuttle crewmember. Three years later, he was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in space, and the first Canadian to board a Russian spacecraft as he helped build the Russian space station 'Mir'. In 2001, he performed two spacewalks - the first Canadian to do so - and in 2010 the CSA and NASA announced Hadfield's third mission: commanding the International Space Station (ISS)—again a first for a Canadian.
Hadfield launched into space on December 19, 2012 and took command of the ISS in March. His multiple daily Tweets and photographs from space made people see the world differently. His accessibility, whether answering questions such as, “How do you wring out a washcloth in space," via Skype or collaborating with The Barenaked Ladies for a song sung by nearly a million people simultaneously, endeared him to all while he orbited Earth.
A heavily decorated astronaut, engineer, and pilot, Hadfield's many awards include receiving the Order of Ontario, the Meritorious Service Cross, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was named the top Test Pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and has been inducted into Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame. He is also commemorated on Canadian postage stamps, Royal Canadian Mint silver and gold coins, and on Canada's new 5 dollar bill.
Chris Hadfield: When we are born we have a very small view of the world: our mother’s womb and the delivery room. And, as you’re raised, your parents are probably trying to control the environment that you’re in and so you end up with a very centralized, tiny little view of the world—naturally. As you get older, as you travel more, as you read more, you start to understand a little more of the world around you; and all of those influences affect your choices in life.
What are you going to imagine that you could be? If you’ve never left Main Street, small town, Ohio, then you’re probably not going to visualize yourself doing something that is wildly different than that. You’re never going to be the head of a religious sect in Pakistan; it’s not inside your worldview. You can only draw your own aspirations and hopes and decisions based on the things that you even know exist.
It’s easier now to understand and see the world than ever in history. Our ability to communicate and our ability to travel has greatly improved. But space travel is sort of like the wildly exaggerated version of that, where you can go around the whole world in the time it takes to eat supper, and see everywhere, see the whole world 16 times a day. That widens and deepens your worldview like nothing we’ve ever seen before in history.
And it’s very difficult to maintain artificially drawn biases like nationalistic borders and “my little tribe”, “my little street”, “my little gang”, “my little town”, my little whatever when, 15 minutes later, you’re over at the exact same-looking sort of town—but it’s in Africa, and 40 minutes later the exact same-looking sort of town and it’s in Australia—and then you come up to Indonesia—and you go, “Man, it’s all the same. They build their towns just like we build our towns, and how are they “They” then? It’s just sort of all “Us”. We’re all doing this thing together, and everyone has got the same sort of hopes and dreams amongst themselves.
And that pervasive sense of the shared collective experience of being a human being, that seeps into you onboard a spaceship. Not the first time around. The first time is overwhelming, but somewhere, you know, a hundred times around, 500 times around, suddenly the world becomes one place in your mind. It’s not very big, and that I think is a really important worldview to have.
Life can be full of magnificent experiences. Being at the wedding of a loved one in a beautiful, big house of worship somewhere where there’s the sound and the beauty and the structure—it affects how you feel that day, and you act a little bit differently. Or walking into a gigantic ancient redwood forest, your head is naturally drawn upwards and you think a little different. It’s not the same as just walking down your street.
Imagine what it’s like on a spaceship, where you’re floating weightless at a window, where you see an entire continent in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, where you go from L.A. to New York in nine minutes and you see all of that history and culture and climate and geography and geology, and it’s all right there underneath you. And you see a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes; you see the world for what it actually is. It has that same sort of personal effect on you, of a feeling of privilege and sort of a reverence, an awe that is pervasive.
When we’re floating in the bulging window, the Cupola of the space station—normally it’s just one person because everybody is busy, but if there is two of you in there—you talk in hushed tones to each other just because you feel like you’re just wildly lucky to even be there to see this happening.
And that sense of wonder and privilege and clarity of the world slowly shifts your view, of course. Your understanding of what is “us” and what is “them”; what is old and what is new; what does four billion years actually mean? You can see where the ice ages were, you can see where the volcanoes were and the huge asteroid impacts and such, and it all starts to shift in your head.
There was a fellow in the late-'60s, early-'70s who wrote a book trying to capture that. He called it 'the overview effect'. You can call it whatever you like. It doesn’t have to be involved with spaceflight. It’s more when you sense that there is something so much bigger than you, so much more deep than you are, ancient, has sort of a natural importance that dwarfs your own—but you’re a person seeing it, you’re a person that’s interpreting it, you’re understanding it in your own way, and you’d have to be a stone to not have that effect you. It changes how you think about things. But it’s not the same for everybody, and it’s not instantaneous, it’s not like, “Hey I’ve gone over 60 miles an hour now, I’ve done this thing.” it’s very much a gradual, creeping improvement in perception of the world around us. I think that’s what the author was trying to talk about when he wrote about the overview effect.
And some people are much more emotive and it affects them very deeply; some people, they just have a better understanding of the world itself. Either way, it’s healthy. It’s a perspective of the world that allows us, hopefully, to make better collective, global decisions about what’s happening—less jealous, narrow, local decisions. And we need that type of thinking if we’re truly going to have this many people and this standard of living for the foreseeable future. We just need to see the world as one place, the fact that we’re all in this together, and that we are in the position to actually understand it and appreciate it and therefore make different decisions about it.
What is it like to see humanity from space? Imagine being able to tour our 4 billion-year-old planet 16 times a day, and see a sunset every 45 minutes. Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, has done just that—and it has opened his eyes and his mind to the idea that, from above, we're not so different at all. "It’s a perspective of the world that allows us, hopefully, to make better collective, global decisions about what’s happening—less jealous, narrow, local decisions. And we need that type of thinking if we’re truly going to have this many people and this standard of living for the foreseeable future," says Hadfield. Chris Hadfield is the author of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything and features in the new docuseries One Strange Rock
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
- Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </p><p><span></span>--</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">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.
- 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
- Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
- Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.
The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.
In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.
That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.
70 data points and machine learning
Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash
Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:
"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."
The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.
Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."
Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.
Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.
On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.
Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash
Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."
"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.
The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.