What kind of government will exist on Mars?

The lessons we've learned here on Earth will affect how we govern a new world.

MICHAEL SHERMER: So governing Mars. Are there any lessons for the Red planet that we can take there from the Blue planet? I think there are. So I included this chapter in my book because in the section on government and economics and classical liberalism and political philosophy I think we have an opportunity here that we're about to colonize Mars. This is stunning that we can even contemplate doing this. And maybe it'll never happen, but let's say it does because it's a very realistic possibility either through Elon Musk or through a government program like NASA. This is possible. So we should start thinking now about, well, what are we going to take there? And I don't just mean what kind of food and records and books. I mean what kind of government are we going to set up there. Now it's possible that future Martians will think of something completely new that we've never thought of and they'll try some experiments and they'll come up with something great and we can important from the Red planet lessons for our own planet. That's possible. That's a sci-fi scenario that people have considered.

But I think it's not just let's abandon everything we've done on Earth because it was a failure. It's not a failure. I think there are certain things, experiments we've run that work better than others. In general democracies work better than autocracies. Free markets, even though regulated, free markets work better than command economies like in the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China before 1980's. I think those are some big global lessons that are obvious. And then more specific things like again granting people free thought and free speech. No censorship. That's a hard earned lesson. When you look at the history of free speech going back thousands of years, what we take for granted today like I can think and say anything I want and go on the internet and create my own blog and just rip into the government or to rip religion or whatever. That is really new and unusual in most centuries prior to this one. You'd be hung, burned at the stake, jailed for saying these things, thinking those things.
So those kinds of lessons I think we should take with us. I tweeted just for fun at Elon Musk and he tweeted back to my astonishment because he likes to think about these sorts of issues. What kind of government? He said well direct democracy. Okay, our founding fathers considered that. There was evidence even then that it doesn't work and lots of evidence since then that it doesn't work. The reason is because direct democracy is something like a mob mentality that is let's just do whatever the majority says. Well, the problem is you get mobs of people hysterical about something and the majority says burn women at the stake because we think they're cavorting with demons in the middle of the night and that's the cause of crop failures and pandemics and disasters. No, that's a crazy idea. That's a wrong idea and the mob got it wrong. There's this business about the wisdom of crowds. Sometimes crowds are correct on simple questions that you see on television shows. But something complex like running a government the mob is probably not the best. So a representative democracy. Something like what we have. A constitutional republic where you have a set of rules. These are called the Bill of Rights that says it doesn't matter what the mob thinks. It doesn't matter if it's 51 percent or 99 percent. You still can't. And then follow down the enumerated Bill of Rights.

These are the things that it doesn't matter what the majority thinks, people have a right to these particular things or to be protected from these particular things. There's certain basic human characteristics of human nature that we have to take into consideration because it isn't Martians colonizing Mars. It's humans colonizing Mars, taking with us all the human nature elements that we know can be good and bad here on Earth because it's going to happen there on Mars.

  • The colonization of Mars is a real possibility for the not-too-distant future. A big question that author Michael Shermer and others are considering is how what we know about government on Earth will shape the politics of a new planet.
  • Favored by Elon Musk, Shermer shoots down the suggestion of a direct democracy because he says that historically it does not work. Direct democracy can lead to a "mob mentality" where hysterics overtake logic, leading to witch hunts and other bad consequences.
  • Shermer explains why he thinks the government on Mars will, in many ways, mirror what we know as a representative democracy. There will be constitutional republic and a Bill of Rights that determines what people can and can't do.



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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants can last over a year, new study finds

We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.

Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Surprising Science
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Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

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