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.



Americans under 40 want major reforms, expanded Supreme Court

Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.

Credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
  • The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
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Can fake news help you remember real facts better?

A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.

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  • In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
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The Sun was half of a binary system, a new paper suggests

The theory could resolve some unanswered questions.

Image source: NASA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • Most stars begin in binary systems, why not ours?
  • Puzzles posed by the Oort cloud and the possibility of Planet 9 may be solved by a new theory of our sun's lost companion.
  • The sun and its partner would have become separated long, long ago.

If most stars form in binary pairs, what about our Sun? A new paper presents a model supporting the theory that the Sun may have started out as one member of a temporary binary system. There's a certain elegance to the idea — if it's true, this origin story could resolve some vexing solar-system puzzles, among them the genesis of the Oort Cloud, and the presence of massive captured objects like a Planet Nine.

The paper is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Oort cloud

Oort Cloud graphic

Image source: NASA

Scientist believe that surrounding the generally flat solar system is a spherical shell comprised of more than a trillion icy objects more than a mile wide. This is the Oort cloud, and it's likely the source of our solar system's long-term comets — objects that take 200 years or more to orbit the Sun. Inside that shell and surrounding the planets is the Kuiper Belt, a flat disk of scattered objects considered the source of shorter-term comets.

Long-term comets come at us from all directions and astronomers at first suspected their origins to be random. However, it turns out their likely trajectories lead back to a shared aphelion between 2,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun to about 100,000 AU, with their different points of origin revealing the shell shape of the Oort cloud along that common aphelion. (An astronomical unit is the distance from the Sun to the Earth.)

No object in the Oort cloud has been directly observed, though Voyager 1 and 2, New Horizons, and Pioneer 10 and 11 are all en route. (The cloud is so far away that all five of the craft will be dead by the time they get there.) To derive a clearer view of the Oort cloud absent actually imagery, scientists utilize computer models based on planetary orbits, solar-system formation simulations, and comet trajectories.

It's generally assumed that the Oort cloud is comprised of debris from the formation of the solar system and neighboring systems, stuff from other systems that we somehow captured. However, says paper co-author Amir Siraj of Harvard, "previous models have had difficulty producing the expected ratio between scattered disk objects and outer Oort cloud objects." As an answer to that, he says, "the binary capture model offers significant improvement and refinement, which is seemingly obvious in retrospect: most sun-like stars are born with binary companions."

"Binary systems are far more efficient at capturing objects than are single stars," co-author Ari Loeb, also of Harvard, explains. "If the Oort cloud formed as [indirectly] observed, it would imply that the sun did in fact have a companion of similar mass that was lost before the sun left its birth cluster."

Working out the source of the objects in the Oort cloud is more than just an interesting astronomical riddle, says Siraj. "Objects in the outer Oort Cloud may have played important roles in Earth's history, such as possibly delivering water to Earth and causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. Understanding their origins is important."

Planet 9

rendering of a planet in space

Image source: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)/NASA

The gravitational pull resulting from a binary companion to the Sun may also help explain another intriguing phenomenon: the warping of orbital paths either by something big beyond Pluto — a Planet 9, perhaps — or smaller trans-Neptunian objects closer in, at the outer edges of the Kuiper Belt.

"The puzzle is not only regarding the Oort clouds, but also extreme trans-Neptunian objects, like the potential Planet Nine," Loeb says. "It is unclear where they came from, and our new model predicts that there should be more objects with a similar orbital orientation to [a] Planet Nine."

The authors are looking forward to the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory (VRO) , a Large Synoptic Survey Telescope expected to capture its first light from the cosmos in 2021. It's expected that the VRO will definitively confirm or dismiss the existence of Planet 9. Siraj says, "If the VRO verifies the existence of Planet Nine, and a captured origin, and also finds a population of similarly captured dwarf planets, then the binary model will be favored over the lone stellar history that has been long-assumed."

Missing in action

Lord and Siraj consider it unsurprising that we see no clear sign of the Sun's former companion at this point. Says Loeb, "Passing stars in the birth cluster would have removed the companion from the sun through their gravitational influence. He adds that, "Before the loss of the binary, however, the solar system already would have captured its outer envelope of objects, namely the Oort cloud and the Planet Nine population."

So, where'd it go? Siraj answers, "The sun's long-lost companion could now be anywhere in the Milky Way."

Can you solve what an MIT professor once called 'the hardest logic puzzle ever'?

Logic puzzles can teach reasoning in a fun way that doesn't feel like work.

Credit: Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Logician Raymond Smullyan devised tons of logic puzzles, but one was declared by another philosopher to be the hardest of all time.
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